From Whims to Rules to Principles, Glimpses of the Evolution of a Big Question, “Who Decides?”

Who decides and enforces the decision?” is a big question that has defined political economic inquiry and practice for all humanity for a long time.

Nomos or whims of the divine ruler. For many years, it was the domain of the gods.  Eventually, divine representatives in human form, such as those calling themselves kings, began to lay down the nomos, Greek for law, which they proclaimed they were uniquely qualified, by the gods, to enforce.[1] Over time some people started to question the irregular nature of these nomos, as they seemed to shift with the whims of the king. For example, with the Magna Carta, English feudal barons attempted to limit the king’s powers and protect their rights in 1215.

Economos or the rules of interaction. Whether the “free men” of ancient Greece, the power elite of England in the middle ages, or the revolutionaries of the last two centuries, some peoples have proclaimed that they would devise a system where they the people decided on eco-nomos, Greek for the rules of interaction.[2] Instead of a list of capricious laws, they proposed systems of rules about how people interacted.  While many different systems of political economos have evolved, within diverse cultural settings, they seem to start from two common assumptions: (1) the perceived scarcity of material resources; and (2) that one of the primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit) predominates over the other four in the political economic system of who decides and who enforces. This repurposes the term economos to mean “the rules of interaction to benefit this primary relationship.”  Such as the rules of relationship, economics, to benefit the relationship to self, as seen in liberal economics.  In the past few decades, millions of people have begun to question the efficiency and effectiveness of economos, suggesting that coming from scarcity greatly limits the development and manifestation of human potential.

Ecosynomos or the principles of collaboration. In previous blogs and in my recent book, we have documented tens of thousands of groups experiencing with eco-synomos, Greek for the principles of collaboration.[3] In a gesture opposite to that of economics, these groups have chosen to start from two different common assumptions: (1) the perceived abundance of resources; and (2) that all five primary relationships interact harmonically as experienced through the coherent vibrancy of all five simultaneously. We find that these ecosynomic groups deliver far superior outcomes on a more sustainable basis, simply because they nurture human potential versus limiting it.

Through these glimpses of the evolution of a big question, “Who decides?,” I see that people have continuously taken on more responsibility for providing for themselves out of the best they bring to their lives, and that they have continuously learned how to express this responsibility in the systems of agreements about who decides.


References. For a peek at these glimpses, here are some references.

Lerner, R. (1987). Moses Maimonides. In L. Strauss & J. Cropsey (Eds.), History of Political Philosophy (pp. 228-247). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Mankiw, N. G. (2008). Principles of Economics (Fourth ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson.

Ritchie-Dunham, J. L. (2014). Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance. Amherst, MA: Vibrancy Publishing.

Roncaglia, A. (2006). The Wealth of Ideas: A History of Economic Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Samuelson, P. A., & Nordhaus, W. D. (1995). Economics (Fifteenth ed.). Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill.


[1] From Ralph Lerner’s description of Mose Maimonides (1135-1204) and his principal work Guide of the Perplexed. See (Lerner, 1987, p. 238).

[2] Nobel laureate in economics Paul Samuelson in his popular economics textbook (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995, p. 4) defines economics as “the study of how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable commodities and distribute them among different people.” In Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s top-selling economics textbook, he defines economics as “the study of how society manages its scarce resources” (Mankiw, 2008, p. 4). How long has economics been around? While political economic thought dates back to at least Babylon in the 1700s BC, it was only recognized as a discipline independent of other social sciences in the early 1600s AD, and as a profession in the 1800s AD (Roncaglia, 2006, pp. 18, 23).

[3] See references to classic works, recent works of many other authors, experiences within the emerging Vibrancy global network, and my own writings on my blogsite and (Ritchie-Dunham, 2014).

15 thoughts on “From Whims to Rules to Principles, Glimpses of the Evolution of a Big Question, “Who Decides?”

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