Research Interests and Long-Term Research Plans

1. Project x. Cultural Convergence: with Gigi Foster

This project, which started in 1992, brings together several key ideas about economic development, power politics and cultural traits. It is our ‘magnum opus’ and will take many more years to finish.

Some key ideas included are:

  • Working together requires a psychological make-up that is mostly learned by force. Different types of production and different places in the hierarchy need different make-ups (similar to argument by Norbert Elias).
  • Power is about lines of communications, also known as contacts, linkages, and networks. Economies which thrive on ever changing networks thus have vastly different implications for the political game than those with everlasting networks (deliberately vague) (somewhat like argument by Michael Foucault).
  • United we stand, divided we fall: in normal times, small interest groups will free-ride on the majority (like Machiavelli). This argument is extended to the cultural sphere.
  • Modern economies require the destruction of old ties to achieve technological growth (similar to the Relational Capital project).
  •  Human loyalties are crucial for understanding group cohesion and group action. Essentially, they are shaped by power. These ideas are coupled together, using insights from all the social sciences we can lay our hands on.
  • The ultimate aim is to get reasonable predictions on whether world cultures will converge, what the shape of future political systems will be, and how policies affect cultures (like the argument in God’s Phone Number).


2. Establishing FISSS: Free International Society for Social Sciences

This society, which is yet to be formally founded, has two main aims.

  • To provide a research dissemination and discussion forum for interest-social science. It should be a research ‘haven’ for researchers who do not need to disseminate research to pay the bills, but want to publish research of long term value.
  • To provide high quality free online education material for people everywhere. This would benefit society by removing social science from the hands of the so-called ‘professionals’ and allow ‘interested amateurs’ to participate.

Overcoming the main problem in Social Sciences

FISSS sees the main problem in social sciences is that there is a tremendous amount of prestige and money to be made working in this sphere.

This gives people incentives to build empires, to disagree with each other not out of principle but out of opportunism, and in a million other ways to erect artificial boundaries whose main purpose is to corner a piece of the pie. Youngsters growing up within these boundaries then internalise these boundaries as ‘true’ and perpetuate them.

Coupled with the fact that social science deals in ‘soft evidence’ which requires the highest standards of detachment to analyse fruitfully, these artificial barriers are almost impossible to break down because there is no recognised way to disprove anything in social science.

The current situation thus resembles tribal warfare without ‘prediction success’ as an available arbiter for the outside world. Whilst recognising that the pie will never go away and that the tribes will thus remain and indeed flourish, this society would aim to undo some of its disastrous effect on progress in social science by forming a focal point for interest-free social science.

The future of FISSS

I think that FISSS will only become ‘up and running’ if the founders are above the suspicion that they are participating to try to benefit themselves. At the moment they could not credibly claim to be above this suspicion, but there is hope FISSS in the future.

See the tentative founding document of FISSS here.


3. The psychology of mass-murders during more general conflicts

This is an international research project headed by Sheldon Grant Levy of Wayne State University (US) into the psychological aspects of mass murders. It includes researchers from the UK, Russia, China, US, and the Netherlands.

My side of the research is to provide a basis for survey gathering in the Netherlands and to start a theoretical inquiry as to how mass-murders emerge in a political context and what role the existing attitudes of individuals have in the prevention of occurrence of mass-murders.


4. Relational capital, creative destruction, economic development, transition: co-authors: Dirk Bezemer and Uwe Dulleck

This series of projects attempts to rethink the link between social networks, technological growth, political interference, and economic development.

We introduce the term Relational Capital (RC) which consists of contacts between economic agents that are necessary to acquire inputs and to sell outputs units. These contacts form the individual aspect of social capital that is directly productive. Replacement of old contacts by new ones is part of Schumpeterian creative destruction leading to technological progress.

A growing economy is thus one with ever growing, yet changing networks of contacts. The main growth-preventing role politicians can play is to prevent the break-up of old contacts. Even though that does not hurt in the short run, it hinders technological growth and thereby leads to stagnation in the long run. Cold-turkey liberalisations, such as those in Eastern Europe, lead to such an enormous amount of creative destruction that trade relations collapse to the detriment of the whole economy.

A managed degree of creative destruction, together with the gradual introduction of more and better market institutions turns out to be optimal for economic growth in both developing and developed nations. Informal social networks in this framework are indirectly productive in the sense that they facilitate the search for contacts. Indeed, many empirical studies find that social networks support income generation and innovation.

Market institutions (MI) however perform exactly the same role but enjoy increasing returns to scale in aiding contact formation compared to informal social capital networks: MI does the same thing cheaper. For growth rates in developing countries to increase, a ‘fundamental transformation’ from informal to formal search institutions is therefore required.
Paper 1: RC and transition
Paper 2: RC, social capital and growth (the most technical paper of the series)
Paper 3: The fundamental transformation and a graphical representation (no maths)
Paper 4: RC, political networks, and micro-politics (rap-format) (please email for a copy)
Paper 5 (very preliminary): Micro-models of the value of contacts (pdf format)