Innovation Blog

Nice Societies Finish First – Why Evolution is About Collaboration, Not Competition

By Shlomo Maital

  Baseball manager Leo Durocher [Brooklyn Dodgers] said in 1939 about an opposing team, “Take a look at them. They’re all nice guys, but they’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last.”

  “Nice guys finish last” is also a way to sum up Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  Survival of the fittest – those best able to compete, to kill, maim and injure, to overcome others in tooth-and-fang battle, they survive to procreate and pass on their genes.  Nice genes finish not only last but disappear. Combative genes survive.  This theory has been used as a metaphor for capitalism.  Companies best able to destroy their competition endure and prevail, it is said, an idea promoted down to the level of the individual by Herbert Spencer. 


   Today’s Int. Herald Tribune carries a David Brooks Op-Ed, titled “Nice Guys Finish First”, citing powerful evidence that “we have an incentive to establish a reputation for niceness, so people will want to work with us”.   For years, he notes, the “selfish-competitor model fostered the utility-maximizing model that is so prevalent in the social sciences, especially economics.”  But there is a new view, the collaborative-cooperative one.  In society, groups (like companies) that are more cohesive, more collaborative, will endure and prevail far better than groups of selfish people out for their own gain.  This new view of evolution is supported by strong new evidence. 

     Evidence?  Well, try Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, AIG, Goldman Sachs, 2007-9…!

     Brooks notes that “for years, people tried to devise a rigorous ‘scientific’ system to analyze behavior divorced from morality.  But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality, and there is no escaping ethics.”

    There is no escaping ethics.  We need to build a new economics, one based on moral markets and permeated, soaked, with ethical values.  Because, as we speak, the same selfish rapacious people who brought you the 2007-9 financial collapse are hard at work, creating the conditions that will generate the next collapse.   Not until capitalism is run by truly nice guys and gals, will we finish, as a cohesive society, in first place.

  • David Brooks. “Nice guys finish first”.  IHT May 16.