Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Garden Economics


My Friend Jada sent me some articles, with the question (I simplify greatly): "As a gardener, what do you think of the model of economy as a garden?" 

This article by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer describes human political economy as the complex ecosystem of a garden, not a factory assembly line. It sure fits more with our actual experience. (I'm not sure to what degree the authors grow vegetables, but the article is not primarily directed at the kitchen-gardening audience.)
"Markets are a type of ecosystem that is complex, adaptive, and subject to the same evolutionary forces as nature."

Jada: "Here's how I'm thinking. If a gardener buys hybridized seed, as opposed to saving seed from "open pollinators" (OP), it seems to me that his function is to alter the environment to make it fit the design of the seed -- which is exactly opposite of how natural selection usually functions. Thus a gardener acts as a evolutionary roadblock. But if he saves seed from the best producing OPs, while keeping the growing environment constant, then he is encouraging plant evolution."
The Hybrid vs. open-pollinated seed article he sends starts out with the basic differences, and proceeds well into the blur of reality which actually occurs in the garden. I like it for that. This is mostly for vegetable-growers.

Jada: "Liu and Hanauer cite Erick Beinhocker's "The Origin of Wealth." Although I had seen the name, I was not familiar with Beinhocker. Much of what he says forms a big part of Gail Tverberg's conception of what she calls "self-organizing" ("dissipative" structures). Here's Beinhocker's slide presentation outlining his ideas."

Thanks Jada,

Unfortunately I'm "a bear of very little brain". 
You've demanded of me that I compose a complex cognitive framework.
I've now read the articles, reacted, and digested the information through enzymic and complex microbial action.
You get what you get...

Any cognitive framework comes from somewhere and serves some purpose. Mine comes from me and my purpose, as I see it, is to maximize well-being in our world of complex life. 
That's open to interpretation. Of course I am human-centric, but I've seen that the reductio-ad-absurdum of using the whole planet for human economy is global death. We're already getting buildup of waste products and destruction of ecosystems we need to survive, and we're just past the halfway point of using up all the mineral wealth.
Point to Malthus there.
Darwin is as misused as Marx, I think. Evolution is not continuous. It consists of periods of growth and dieback, "selection events". Any winning strategy that wins too much will use up the substrate it runs on, and also, shit-happens. We get resets. T-rex loses to the little mole-things when shit happens. 
"Fitness" keeps getting suddenly redefined and new selections keep getting made.
I like Gail Tverberg's "dissipative structure" model, because it is more general and inclusive. It leads to another understanding of "fit", which is fitting-the-most-into-the-dissipative-structure in the energy flow.
Now we are at complex-self-organizing-systems. We can pick our subsets within their energy flows, which they are dissipating. There are similarities, differences and energy flows, and all the energy flows depend on other factors and are either recurrently threatened or ultimately doomed. We underestimate the risk when things are going well. We have to capitalize on things going well, have kids, make profits, log forests... We would be replaced if we didn't surge to consume energy and resources, by those who did. 
When the energy and resources suddenly decrease, and are unable to support the systemic load, the system can completely die or reorganize to capture and dissipate the much-reduced-flow. The reorganized system has to be much simpler, with fewer dissipative layers, much more locally adequate, like a small farming community of 100 people, good soil, water and sun.
I think our species has repeatedly died back to this unit of 20 to 200 people. I think that's why our programming works at this unit size.
All economies larger than this are less efficient, because we can't self-organize, due to biological limitations.
Bigger is better when there is more energy flow available than is being dissipated. That could be Japan's forests. Society overgrew those forests, and was threatened with massive die-off. The Japanese were able to maintain their complex structure through widespread adherence to austerity, which they made into an art form, elegant simplicity, an organizing social principle. That is as impressive a reset as I know of, in terms of maintaining layers of complexity. Japanese forests have grown steadily for over 300 years, as I recall, though they now have imports... 
The forester was a local fellow, with great responsibility and local accountability, a manager of complexity, one hell of a gardener of the complex ecosystem of humans, forests, farms, rivers, and living creatures.
The global economy we now have is based on massive flows of energy from oil, coal and natural gas, which will not be replaced as such, and will run out. It's also based on oxygen to combust them, and based on copper, iron ore, rare earths, lithium, and all kinds of things that are well into depletion, and more expensive to dig up and refine. We are destroying our own habitat, too.
Within this massive dissipation of fossil wealth, the most aggressive dissipaters of energy have the advantage, and grow fastest, and capture more resources, and capture legislators, and armies, and oilfields, and sea-lanes. Those that destroy our world the biggest and fastest must be at the top of the current heap. The predators are consuming the prey and the entire ecosystem. People are being replaced by machines, which can dissipate energy and resources faster for the peak-predators, global multinational corporations.
Replacing all the workers with machines burns oil and mines iron and copper fastest, which leads to fastest reset of the system, when those substrates suddenly become limited, as through getting very hard and expensive to get out of the ground, slowing the flow to a trickle, while demanding all the energy of the system to get the trickle.
Before that resource-exhaustion can become the limiting factor, our current financial system, based on exponential growth of debt as the coin-of-the-realm, will collapse, saving us. Whew!
What we've seen of financial collapses and economic resets is that the first reflex is to save the top layers, so the bottom and middle layers are cannibalized. People at all the necessary levels of skill and talent are fired from the system, and have to make their own little systems to survive. These are really small survival networks, within the realm of everybody-knows-everybody.
Russia and China went through their reset-collapses in recent history, and in multiple stages, with slaughter and starvation.
Russia always had harsher overall conditions, more natural resources, and fewer people, so their resets were different. China got the Cultural Revolution, and population loss. China has been hovering around carrying capacity for a really long time.
It's better not to be in a city when carrying capacity is exceeded, or not to be completely dependent upon the city system for food, water and fuel. 
Cities will be spared in early rounds, though. It is hard to know if any specific strategic balance will work for a person, family or small group.
America is not homogeneous and is not Russia and is not China. 
Texas is probably not bad, as things go. It has lowish population density, a variety of climates, some good agriculture, oil wells, natural gas, shipping, it's own power grid, with some wind power and growing solar, and some nukes, and lots of military, and a space program.
Water is abundant in some areas, and gone in other areas. There are lots of possibilities and not really an overwhelming limit to kill the system. Society is (mostly) not cannibalizing itself as a lifestyle, except in a few pockets of chronic poverty and frustration.
Growing up dysfunctional is a huge danger. 
Dysfunctional groups will eat each other before functional groups even get to the end of their adaptive fallback positions.
So their is selection for group success, whether genetic or societal, and that selection is already well-advanced in areas of "deaths of despair". 
The apex predators have cut off the economy to some groups and some places for so long, that most of the functional people got out and are functioning elsewhere.
Really, really, really focus on the adaptive health of your children, extended family, and near communities. 
Working together to accomplish goals, grow food, build things, and so on brings out our best adaptive patterns and nourishes them.
Right now, we are mostly captured in an economy ruled by distant hierarchy, with which we must comply. All of our communications pass through centrally-controlled and monitored electronics, which are controlled by the apex predators which have shaped our human ecosystem.
What are our resources outside of that? We are able to plant vegetables, though not economically. We have to spend money and time to do it, but we develop our adaptive capacity. Gardens, little gardens, provided more than half of Russia's fresh vegetables for the decade of the 1990s collapse. Russians were already used to doing with less. We have farther to fall, but we have better weather, too.
It takes time to learn to garden, upfront investment, soil-building, learning to grow and use and store food. The garden ecosystem develops and adapts from year to year and season to season, and the gardener learns from it and guides it and helps it be healthy.
In hard times the English can take all your wheat and leave you to starve from potato-blight, but they can't really take all your potatoes, or sweet potatoes. they have to be dug up, and they don't store and transport calories in a compact and durable way. In hard times, I'd grow sweet potatoes and just work all the time to dig them up and cook them. Nobody steals cucumbers either.
As for the hybrid-vs-open-pollinated seed controversy, the farther you read in the article, the more you realize that it is mostly a matter of perspective. If you are looking at growing your own food, and saving your own seed, you will ultimately be using open-pollinated plants, but you will be selecting for success in your own ecosystem, too, and your own palate. "Stabilizing" hybrids into a new open-pollinated variety is what happens in the normal course of growing-your-own. 
I think we are all about to reorganize our garden again in America. It's already being forced on Greeks, and so many other countries have just had their gardens destroyed by our bombs and depleted-uranium.
To continue this analogy, which is a good one, since we are gardening-animals, we need to plant our physical gardens, and see what pollinators they attract, other busy-bees, the like-minded workers. 
That's probably enough. You get it. We don't develop the ecosystem until we work the ecosystem. It develops as we work together.
We work together best when we use our natural patterns, especially when we perform the essential functions of life together, like growing and cooking and storing food, building our homes, raising our children, caring for our sick and elderly and dying.
We have been "alienated" from the fruits of our labor by the financial-economy machine. 
It takes all of our work, and gives us all that we require to survive. 
Some of us have the resources and insight to start our own gardens outside the machine. Whatever size they may be, we, ourselves, grow and develop from the process. 
Gardens do have to be big enough to grow more than the critters can eat. One tomato plant, watered when you think of it, gets nothing past the squirrels. 
Also, you have to have a good fence to keep deer out, nice as they are...

Growing Beans

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