An agent is an independent entity with the ability to pursue a goal. A social agent is an agent in the human system, such a people, nations, organizations, cultures, and ideologies.
Why this is important
Thinking in terms of social agent types instead of individual people, organizations, and such allows a higher, more powerful level of abstraction. This is critical if we are to understand why the system behaves the way it does.
All members of an agent type have the same high level goals, constraints, abilities, etc. All large difficult social problems are caused by a system's dominant agent types. So if we can analyze why the dominant agent types behave the way they do, we can understand the problem well enough to solve it at the root cause level.
According to our analysis, in the sustainability problem the dominant social agents are (in order of dominance) corporations, governments, and people. In theory it should be just the opposite. The model of democracy says people control the government, who in turn defines and regulates artificial life forms such as corporations. So right away, by looking at the problem in terms of its dominant agents types we have a major insight that can help in our analysis.
Click the image to see reality or hide it. Since around the time the Industrial Revolution took off and industrialization and corporatization started spreading over the planet, this is the new reality.
In theory people elect and control their government, who creates and regulates corporations. But in reality large for-profit corporations control government through their vast amounts of money and expertise. Once in that that mode, government regulates the behavior of employees/consumers, also called citizens. There's more. Corporations provide the jobs, goods, and services that are the most profitable. And that's all they do. Everything else, including being a little more sustainable to please the public or comply with the law, is to maximize profits. What else can they do? That's their goal. Those that don't compete this way in the new reality are weeded out by the harsh sword of survival of the fittest.
These are the kinds of things you can see when you start thinking in terms of agent types and agent dominance. Of course it helps to have a real smart mouse.
When converging on a solution to the environmental proper coupling subproblem, a question arises: What's the high leverage point for resolving the root cause, which is high transaction costs for managing common property sustainably? Because we are thinking in terms of social agents, the answer appears readily: We need to allow firms to appear to lower transaction costs. Then in solution convergence, when we design how to push on that high leverage point, it's easy to think in terms of designed a new type of social agent. This is stewardship corporations, a key aspect of the Common Property Rights solution element.