Thursday, February 5, 2009
FINANCIAL CRISIS: THE CASE FOR ECO (NOMIC) - DIVERSITY
Nature provides us with many lessons that we all too often overlook or ignore. Take a newly created pond. While initially almost lifeless, it soon becomes the home for millions of bacteria and one celled organism. Water loving plant seeds arrive on the winds of a spring breeze. Frogs find it a haven for their eggs. Bird droppings add more life. Almost miraculously small fish appear. Insects begin to thrive and their eggs add to the pond’s foods supply. Mammals come to quench their thirst and take up nearby residence. Soon predators arrive and a system of checks and balances develops that keep populations under control. All becomes interdependent and the eco-system thrives through diversity.
This stable and thriving eco-system is then visited by a new predator-one with no natural enemy. It soon begins to devour the larger of the pond’s inhabitants. Smaller populations then begin to grow and overcrowd the system. Competition for food leads to a system in distress and the extinction of smaller organisms. The food chain is disrupted and other organisms begin to die out. Scavengers disappear and carcasses once consumed become the home of disease. The system collapses and the once bountiful pond becomes stagnant and putrid. The new predator moves on to its next pond.
Biological diversity keeps the natural environment healthy and thriving and this is a major lesson that should be embraced and studied by economic and political leaders. While anti-trust laws fought some of the early abuses of the Industrial Revolution, later generations found the need to add occupational safety, child labor, consumer protection, and regulatory legislation to combat the growing power of the business elite. In other words, efforts were made to abate the abuses of the economic pond’s major predator. The problem is that those who were being regulated found the way to become the regulator. The growing complexity of the financial systems meant that those being regulated had to advise those who sought to reign in the power of the few. It is clear, that the small fish in the economic pond where losing their battle to maintain a healthy and balanced eco (nomic)-diversity.
Once thriving small town banks were devoured larger financial institutions and small town stores were gobbled up by the ‘mall’. The economic predator grew in size feeding off of the small fry’s and smaller economic species began to die off. The new predator got so large that not a single aspect of society was beyond its grasp. It consumed politicians, the media, social reformists, medicine, literature and foreign policies. It even managed to take over the production of currency and secreted a deadly virus called credit. But like all predators that consume its eco-system, they were destined to collapse the system. This is what we now call the ‘financial crisis.’
The eco (nomic)-system in which this predator lives now borders on extinction. The odd thing is, the prey on which it feeds has grown so accustomed to its presence that it is now offering up sacrifices in the hope of staving off the inevitable. It is feeding it more food, money, and helping it consolidate its power. It is devouring its own offspring, growing even larger, and spelling certain destruction of the system in which it flourished. It has nearly totally eliminated any competitor and yet it still desires to consume even more. In order to survive, the world needs to restore eco (nomic)-diversity. The world, to restore balance, needs more than one bank; more than one oil company; more than one store to shop in; more than one form of energy; and, more than one producer of food. The monopolies are back and they are using our money to grow even bigger.
In order to restore eco-diversity, the notion that ‘big is better’ must be replaced by the old mantra, ‘small is beautiful.’ Smaller, diverse systems create a healthy economic environment. Does this create economies of scale? No. However, it does preserve ‘economies.’ Economic mutualism and the consolidation of perceived economic power has infected the economic organism. If one part of this organism is diseased, it infects the entire economic body and spreads like an unstoppable cancer. Anti-biotic bailouts will not work- the disease has developed immunity. The recent economic stimulus packages are like penicillin, but the diseased organism will not respond and the cure may actually increase the spread of the infection.
A plant that depletes the soil of nutrition will soon die. No amount of added water or sunlight will save its life. Farmer’s in the dust bowl learned this lesson the hard way. Our economy is a plant that has depleted its source of nourishment - the consumer. Add all of the bailouts you want to the plant, but it will still die. The soil, the consumer, needs the nourishment. Want to end the current financial crisis? Then we must fertilize the soil and diversify the plants.