Optimality of Social Choice Systems: Complexity, Wisdom, and Wellbeing Centrality
Since circa 1900, civilization has experienced radical changes including changes in the size and distribution of populations, the power of technologies, the magnitude of energy and materials use, and the depth of scientific knowledge. With these have come increasingly complex challenges and elevated risks, and thus a heightened need for wise decision making. Accordingly, the need has grown for efficient and functional decision-making systems, also called social choice systems. I use these terms to refer to economic, governance, and legal systems. The seeming inability of societies, both individually and collectively, to effectively mitigate excessive climate change, poverty, income inequality, pollution, habitat loss, and other major problems suggests that underlying social choice systems are sub-optimal relative to need. I raise two overarching questions: (1) What characteristics would more optimal social choice systems exhibit? (2) How could research and development of more optimal systems best proceed? The answers I explore in this paper are based on the premise that the relative optimality of a social choice system is a measure of its relative capacity to help communities solve problems and organize activities such that collective wellbeing is elevated. The characteristics of complex adaptive systems, successful problem-solving systems found in nature, are explored in order to suggest useful design motifs and monitoring indicators. I emphasize the need for research and development of new social choice system designs, and argue that field testing of these can best occur at the local (e.g., community, city, or county) level. Efforts in this direction by the science and technology sectors and academic community are still nascent. The work described here suggests a new multidisciplinary program that I term wellbeing centrality: the design, testing, promotion, and operation of social choice systems that place wellbeing measurement, evaluation, forecasting, and deliberation at the center of decision-making activities.
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