What should government do? How big should government be? How can governments improve?
Humanity has labored to answer these questions.
As it turns out, so has nature, during the evolution of the cells that make up our own bodies. We can get some deep insights into the governments we make by examining the workings of the very cells that we are made of.
How can this be? How can cells teach us about government?
The answer lies in parallels between the organization and activities of cells and those of governments. These parallels are close enough that we can study the solutions that cells have developed through billions of years of evolution to shed light on how we design and operate our own governments. Our governments and our cells face the same problems of management and we can learn much about government by seeing the solutions that our cells have arrived at.
We are talking about eukaryotic cells, which make up animals, plants, and all complex life on the planet. Prokaryotic cells, such as bacteria, are much simpler and don't use the ‘big government’ approach of eukaryotic cells.
At the simplest level, we are saying that the cell nucleus is like city hall, and the mitochondria, vital components of the cell, are like citizens of the city. The similarities go much deeper and we will expand on this as we go.
So we are drawing, in some detail, an analogy between eukaryotic cells and big government. Analogies are neither true nor false—instead, they are useful or not. This analogy is very useful, in that it can shed light on the questions about government we led off with. In particular, it can point to a clear set of goals that we can use when managing our government.
The first part of this book fleshes out the analogy by comparing the similarities and differences between big government and eukaryotic cell organization. We will focus on the similarities, and not dwell on the differences.
This isn’t a general treatise on government. We’re going to stick to discussing the analogy and leave other questions alone.
Then, demonstrating the usefulness of the analogy, we discuss the lessons to be learned from the comparisons. This isn't a mystery story—here are some key points right up front: First, if you want to do big things, you need big government. Second, it is possible, though not easy, for big governments to control large, complex organizations. Third, good government entails doing what is necessary and sufficient, in an effective and efficient way. Fourth, government and citizens are in a mutually dependent relationship, and must work in a mutually supportive way for both to succeed.
When I use the word ‘we’ I will be referring to myself and you, the reader.
City, state, and national governments are similar enough to each other and to cells that most of the points covered here apply to each of them. Our examples and discussion will usually refer to cities for convenience.. "Cells and Cities" is the title of the book simply because it sounds good. We’ll use the word ‘system’ to cover cells and governments together, and ‘individuals’ to cover mitochondria and citizens together.
We will use anthropomorphic phrasing from time to time, such as speaking of mitochondria ‘deciding’ what to do. This is just for purposes of getting the point across, and does not imply any kind of consciousness.
We are not concerned with low-level details of either cells or governments. We also will not worry about exceptions, special cases, etc.
Cities exists because citizens build them. We're not going to delve into why the first cities were built, which has nothing to do with how the first eukaryotic cells developed. We are only concerned with more-or-less modern, large cities.