Embedded Growth Obligations (EGOs): The simple theory of universal institutional collapse in a society built around assumptions of growth.1

Picture a skyline of Transamerica Buildings and think of all our institutions as pyramids of some kind with different slopes.

EGOs are structures built into institutions in times of growth that assume growth will continue. Institutions with EGOs became prevalent during the broad, technology-led economic growth following World War II and the unlocking of the twin nuclei of cell and atom in the early 1950s. An institution must grow to meet its EGOs, or its leaders will be compelled to lie about the presence of growth. This compromising of incentives causes institutions to tend towards exploitative or sociopathic behaviors, as their leaders face selective pressures to maintain the status quo.

Historian of science Derek de Solla Price first mapped embedded growth obligations in his 1961 book Science Since Babylon, where he noticed that science was on an exponential trajectory that could not reasonably be sustained.

A few examples of institutions with E.G.O.s

  • Modern U.S. research universities
  • Journalism
  • Medicine
  • Bitcoin
  • Education
  • Finance
  • Law
  • Corporate ladders
  • Pension Plans

Eric Tweets