Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Phone-hacking and spontaneous self-organisation

There's something of a hullabaloo in the UK at the moment over the phone-hacking conducted by Rupert Murdoch's News International publications, and the degree of collusion which has subsequently been revealed between politicians, journalists, and the police.

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, successive editors of The News of the World during the time in which the hacking took place, have both denied all knowledge of the illegal techniques used to obtain numerous stories. One can only presume that they thought their journalists were obtaining personal and private information by means of telepathy.

The collusion between politicians, journalists and police, however, is actually quite an interesting socio-political case study. Free market thinkers, such as Matt Ridley, have long trumpeted the power of bottom-up, spontaneous self-organisation in society, over top-down regulation, and what we have here is, in fact, a perfect demonstration of just such a phenomenon.

There's been no conspiracy here, no centralised command, planning and coordinating the collusion between the various agencies. Instead, the politicians, journalists and police have spontaneously evolved a means of cooperating for mutual benefit. Each individual involved has sought merely to preserve and promote their own careers, making short-term, self-interested decisions based upon incomplete information. The collective result of all these minor, self-interested decisions, has been a high degree of collusion between those who make the law, those who enforce it, and those who report it.

It's a perfect example of the bottom-up, spontaneous formation of cooperative organisation. Unfortunately, when it's necessary for institutions to remain impartial and independent, the existence of such cooperation is equivalent to collusion and minor corruption. Which is one reason why an effective democracy requires top-down regulation to constrain the spontaneous formation of cooperative organisation.

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