Nikolai Biryukov and Victor Sergeyev

Institutions of Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development, Institutions of : a system of social institutions of modernity required to pursue the strategy of interaction with the environment based on active and purposeful transformation of rather than on passive adaptation to the latter.

Just like development of human brain marked the beginning of a process that eventually substituted technological development for physical (somatic) evolution as the principal means of adaptation for a particular species of living beings, so emergence of a social order that enabled societies to exist and expand by adapting (altering) their environment rather than by adapting to it signified a radical change in the history of mankind that likewise terminated “natural selection” in the social sphere. Unlike earlier, “traditional”, societies, “modern” societies respond to challenges not so much by reshaping themselves, as by reshaping their environment, i.e. in a way characteristic of human adaptation.

Human activity has always changed the environment, of course, causing new challenges. The specific character of modern development lies in the fact that, starting from a certain minimal level of institutional complexity, societies are no longer destroyed by unanticipated challenges, but learn to respond to them adequately. They owe this ability to the uninterrupted flow of technological, institutional and cultural innovations that generate new resources to make up for those exhausted. (From this standpoint, the so called stagnant societies, i.e. societies that do not maintain a regular flow of innovations, may be viewed as the social analogues of living species adapted to specific niches whose survival is, in the long run, a matter of luck and depends on whether their particular niches are preserved and, if so, whether they are sought by better adapted rivals or not.)

The “minimal configuration” of social institutions that ensures sustainable development is made up of three basic “metainstitutions” of modernity, viz. 1) science, to generate innovations; 2) the banking and exchange system, to regulate distribution of resources on the basis of principles transcending the immediate needs (thus allowing to concentrate resources required to implement the innovations); 3) institutions of representative democracy (parliaments), to legitimate innovations by setting new “rules of the game”; plus three “support institutions”: 4) free press (mass media), to prevent monopoly of knowledge; 5) rational bureaucracy, to manage society in flux; 6) independent judiciary to resolve or prevent internal conflicts.

The above institutions form a system that depends on their mutual support for its proper functioning. Isolated presence of only some of them (as was the case with a number of traditional societies) would not assure regular flow of innovations and secure sustainable development. Another important principle is their functional and institutional independence: if their functions are fused together in a single superinstitution (even partially), societies will suffer – basically for the same reasons why they suffer when the legislative, the executive and the judiciary are fused together.

Thus, commercialisation of science, with its fusing of the innovative and the distributive functions, is likely to result in monopoly, and monopolies are known to suppress innovations. To ensure sustainable development “the market of innovations” must be institutionally separated from “the market of resources”. Fusion of the innovative and the legislative functions is fraught with stagnation; that of the legislative and the distributive functions, with corruption.