We often imagine that unregulated competition produces optimal outcomes, behaviours, efficiencies, but trees and baggage carousels are two examples where the stable solution is worse for everyone than another strategy. This I find surprising and interesting – that evolution doesn’t come to the best solution, it comes to the most stable one.
The Forest of Friendship was a concept I first came across in Richard Dawkin’s book “The Greatest Show on Earth.” One point I’d like to clarify is that being taller comes with a cost – having a longer trunk requires costly expenditure of energy. However, in a forest of uniformly short trees, being a little taller conveys an advantage. That is until all the other trees catch up, at which time the extra height no longer provides a benefit. So over time as the whole forest rises up the conditions are getting worse for each tree, but they are powerless to stop the evolutionary arms race.