Ants Have Monopolized My Dorm

Brought on by my exasperation at the ant infestation in my dorm, I desired to make a connection between these resilient little creatures and human beings in regard to economic inequality. Not expecting there to make any real association, I was surprised by the extent of the similarities we share, particularly pertaining to our market. Just like ant colonies, economies are self-organizing systems that arise naturally without calculated construction. Ants seemingly move without direction, searching for the pheromone left by returning foragers that indicates sustenance. Often, I feel like I have no real direction and am desperately seeking out the path to success. Don’t humans, like ants, want to follow the path of least resistance that leads to a destination that has what we are looking for? While their social interaction is more limited than ours, ants are social creatures. Millions of them cooperate, coordinate their activities, and live together in colonies which forces some to take on certain roles like worker, soldier, or leader (queen). Millions of us cooperate, coordinate our activities and live together in communities which also forces us to assume distinct positions for the good of our group. We adapt these styles of living because this is the ideal way in which we can exchange information. For example, it would take a great deal of time and energy for a lone ant to forage for food relative to the colony-dwelling ant quickly finding the pheromone trail to success. Spending less time and effort searching for food allows the population to expand thus producing a greater surplus of workers and rewards (food). Human economic coordination also requires billions of people to cooperate in producing millions of goods and services. Market prices are the human equivalent to the ant pheromone trail. Increases mean that we produce more while decreases indicate for us to produce less. The simple way we compress information enables our economic self-organization just as it permits the survival and prosperity of the ant colonies (just take a look at my room).


Obviously, there are some major differences between humans and ants. While ants are genetically hard-wired to cooperate, we have more choice in the matter. When it comes to money, we tend to favor the reptilian part of our brain over the neocortex, and our interest becomes in accumulating wealth at the expense of others. I would argue that our greed and ingenuity are the root for economic inequality in our society. Although broad cooperation is a necessity for the market to continue functioning, the losers of our economic system may choose to stop cooperating when certain individuals and groups consistently win out at their expense. This means that reasonably fair outcomes over the long-term are needed for the market system to persist. For our society to be fair and promote financial stability, we need competition. Competition generally brings more workers to increase the quality and quantity of products to the market. This eliminates the threat of monopolies and a skewed style of leadership in which one group of people can take advantage of everyone else in society. However, competition doesn’t appear to be a significant point of debate in today’s arguments over economic inequality. Since we are humans and differ enormously from ants, thanks to our interest in self over the group, it might be wise for us to utilize our ingenuity by following a path that leads to more competition. It sounds counter-intuitive in the short-term because you would have a lower chance of becoming extravagantly wealthy, but more competition would ultimately lead to a more stable market. This would maximize the efficiency of every worker in the system and place more importance on the well-being of the overall population rather than ensuring grandeur for an exceptionally small number of individuals.  

1 thought on “Ants Have Monopolized My Dorm”

  • Interesting analogy. A couple of thoughts. How does greed differ from self-interest? Where does ingenuity fit in? Shouldn’t both parties benefit from voluntary transactions? If so, how does that cause inequality? Competition *is* the key that allows the market system to operate fairly. Right-leaning thinkers *assume* competition, but the reality is that most markets are not perfectly competitive, which means inequity is often the result. Nice essay!

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