From the origin of the universe to the Economy for the Common Good

As you may know, the second law of thermodynamics states —in smarter words— that an isolated system cannot increase their inner order spontaneously. You may also know that what characterises a system’s complexity is, precisely, its inner order (in a homogeneous mix, you find the same regardless where you look in the mix, there is no order; however if you look inside your computer, you see very different components depending where you look at, it is highly ordered).

Then, an obvious question arises: What are we doing here? How is it possible to generate the extreme complexity represented by you and me? Or, in general terms, how is it that complexity seems to spontaneously emerge in the universe?

Well, as long as the ‘total order’ of the system does not increase, nothing prevents an increase in order locally within the system. Such increases in local complexity are extremely rare, though. They can only happen when the conditions are right: not too hot, not too cold; not too much of this, not to few of that. The conditions enabling the emergence of complexity are generally called Goldilocks Conditions, and the moments a new form of complexity appears are referred to as thresholds. With each new threshold, the going gets tougher; structures are more fragile and vulnerable, and conditions tighter.

First, the increases in complexity seemed to be driven by imperfection and random events. We don’t know much about the moment when the universe first appeared, but after a while, tiny inhomogeneities in the distribution of the particle mush lead to distinct clouds of particles which, in time, ended forming planets and galaxies. Threshold after threshold, complexity was increasing. Even until the beginning of life, where complexity grew driven by extremely rare errors occurring randomly in the copying of DNA, chance was the driver of these increases. Since then, however, a new driver took the lead: collaboration.

Universe timeline

Diagram of evolution of the (observable part) of the universe from the Big Bang (left) to the present – Picture by NASA/WMAP Science Team

This collaboration was, at the beginning, undoubtedly unintentional: very primitive cells merged —probably in an attempt of one to ‘infect’ the other— to form a more successful form of life; single cells collaborated to form simple multicellular organisms; these, evolved into large and extremely complex organisms. Such organisms are a symphony of collaboration between thousands of individual cells. From this point on, collaboration turns much more intentional. As we know, animals collaborate with their peers. Collaboration is not only convenient in the animal kingdom, it is mostly imperative, since most reproduction relies on mating and the life of the offspring depends on the progenitors for a period of time. These collaborations continued increasing in complexity; first, with the appearance of small bands, then tribes, then small villages… Cities, kingdoms, states, empires, alliances between nations; religions, companies, parties, cultures, or even wars are expressions of collaboration.

Physics led to chemistry, which led to biology, which led to history, sociology, philosophy, economy, politics… But this is not the end of the story. As we saw, the Goldilocks Conditions needed by higher degrees of complexity are tighter and difficult to keep. And we humans have an ever-increasing power to modify our environment. Some call our era the Anthropocene, where humans are the predominant driver of change at a planetary level. Hence, if we want to continue existing, we have the huge challenge to preserve the narrow Goldilocks Conditions that hold our existence.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has defined the boundary conditions we should not cross to keep our planet hospitable. They reveal our ecological ceiling, beyond which lies unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems. Keeping the planet below this ecological ceiling is, however, not our only challenge. Our global society is extremely unfair, with huge differences in the well-being of their members. This, in our current global civilization and with our enormous destructive power, threatens not only the poor but the stability of the society as a whole. Therefore, there is another leg of the Goldilocks Conditions which hold the extreme complexity of our society and enable us to thrive. This leg is the social boundaries which allow for a decent life for everybody. They reveal our social foundation and are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards. Kate Raworth and Oxfam jointed these two sets of boundaries to form the Doughnut Economics diagram.

Doughnut economy

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries (2017) – Picture by Kate Raworth

Between the social foundations and the environmental ceiling lies the environmentally safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive without threatening the conditions which support the complexity of our societies. Our extraordinary challenge is to keep us and our development within this space. Fortunately, there are a lot of movements in the world that are working to achieve this, either by working in one of its aspects or by working holistically in all them. Probably, many work for our society to lay well within those limits without being even aware they do. They simply work to make the system fair for everyone, sustainable, or for both at the same time. However, the best way to keep us within these safe conditions, is by realising we are dealing with a complex adaptive system which is constantly evolving. Therefore, we need to use systems-thinking to shape it to the design we want. We need to intervene, to steward it, to design it so it is regenerative and distributive rather than merely trying to avoid the boundaries.

This is precisely what the Economy for the Common Good (ECG) does. The ECG —which is gaining momentum every day, especially in Europe— advocates to work towards cooperation and the common good, as opposed to the current pursue of profit within fierce competition. The five fundamental values behind the ECG are: cooperation and solidarity, ecological sustainability, democratic co-determination and transparency, human dignity, and social justice. Based on these values they defined a series of measures which limit uncontrolled growth, reward socio-environmentally responsible products, and democratises power. Their approach is to set a global framework with the specifics decided locally in a democratic debate. There is still a lot of work to do, and it is being done by around 7 thousand people, which are actively engaged on a voluntary basis in more than 100 regional groups. The Common Good Balance Sheet is probably their flagship. It is an easy way for businesses to measure their contribution to the common good. About 400 companies have published their Common Good Balance Sheet or are ECG-members although it does not yet have any other benefit than the recognition of the work well done.


Economy for the Common Good trademark picture

Such measures as the ones proposed by ECG, put their effort in designing a distributive social system with a regenerative productive system. Movements like this one are essential in order to make sure we do not mess too much with the Goldilocks Conditions which are crucial to maintain our level of complexity. It is imperative for us to work hard, but we will hopefully manage it. Or not. But we must try and we will definitely have a lot of fun doing it. Believe me, it is such an interesting challenge! And, the best of all, you will work directly or indirectly with the most amazing people.


For more information on Big History (Goldilocks Conditions, thresholds and the evolution of complexity through history) watch this video or check this website out.

For more information on the Anthropocene check this website out or read this article.

For more information on the nine boundaries to keep our planet hospitable watch this video or check this website out.

For more information on the Doughnut Economics watch this video or check this website out.

For more information on the Economy for the Common Good watch this video or check this website out.

You can also comment the post to ask for more information, suggest an improvement, ask a question, or simply state your opinion. All the respectful and constructive comments are welcome, thank you.

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Distributive justice… of injustice

Translated from the original article by Bru RoviraJustícia distributiva… de la injustícia‘ in the Catalan newspaper ARA (05/02/2016)


There are more and more African governments in favour to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) and create an own court, African, which will judge the crimes against humanity from their continent. The last summit of the African Union (AU) passed some days ago a proposal which opens the possibility for all the countries member of the AU to leave the ICC all together. The driver of this initiative is Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, a man who was charged precisely by the ICC, accused of promoting and financing the confrontations –with huge massacres– in the country after the elections of 2007. In 2014, however, the public prosecutor’s office of the ICC withdrew the charges. The legal ground to do so was the lack of evidences. The reality is that politics has prevailed over the law.

The arguments used by the African heads of state that want to exit the ICC make sense: they are fed up, they say, of being almost the sole countries which are prosecuted by the international law about crimes against humanity. They have a point: if the laws of the ICC would be applied in a fair and egalitarian way in all the world, today the main leaders of countries member of the United Nations Security Council should sit in the Hague’s court.

Every day, every new war, every new refugee’s crisis, the international law in defence of the human rights and the international criminal law get more diluted, ending solely in a political use, but barely independent of the main powers. The interests of the states, the ones with power, are immune to the universal laws they promote… for the others. Just one example: the outlaw summary executions became in a generalized practice in USA, Israel, Russia or France. Leaving aside the meaning of outlaw killing, this executions cause civil massacres and, very often, mad mistakes considering as military objectives innocent civilians.

Also, not everybody can be prosecuted by the ICC. China and the USA did not subscribe it. Bilateral help, cooperation agreements, etc., make it mandatory for African countries and the rest of the countries depending on the rich ones. Therefore, countries subdue international law not because of they believe in it but because they need to  get other advantages. And we all know what happens when interests are against convictions: just remember how the government of PP [Popular Party, the right-wing party in Spain] cancelled the cases opened in Spain under universal law, for example, when they believed them to be against commercial and political interests.

Obviously, if African countries exit the ICC it won’t be a progress for justice. The only thing which will happen will be that straps, the state criminals of this continent, will be able to continue their job without obstructions, without fearing the law. Without having the uncertainty about what will happen when they are not in charge any more (losing the power could lead to prison, there are many examples). What the African countries willing to exit ICC are aiming to, is to also be protected from their criminal actions. They just ask for equal conditions with the states which do whatever they please outside the international and humanitarian law, every time more jeopardized. An act of distributive justice… of the criminal injustice.


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