Photo Journal

Grass Inflorescence, Eagle River, Alaska

Let's spend more time in the garden

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This morning the New York Times published an op-ed by the well known economic pundit James Grant lamenting the world's falling opinion of the US Dollar and suggesting that the solutions which the government are proposing may be less than helpful. As Grant points out the administration has been jumping "from one emergency stopgap to the next" leaving many people in a state of perpetual financial flux. We have lost all sense of underlying principles toward which we can look for guidance. An administration that has told us time and again that we should have faith that the free market will work things out—health care, social security, environmental regulation— is about to throw $700 billion dollars at financial institutions. If the free market can't work out problems in financial institutions, the very core of the market, should we really take it on faith that it is anything more one tool among many when solving our other problems?

I humbly suggest that the Treasury Secretary should spend more time in the garden where he could get his fingers dirty and learn about permaculture, a set of design principles aimed at creating a self-perpetuating, perennial system of plants and animals helpful to man.

The 12 Permaculture Principles

  1. Observe & Interact
  2. Catch & Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-regulation & Accept Feedback
  5. Use & Value Renewable Resources and Services
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
  10. Use and Value Diversity
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

These could apply to economic policy. Although we would find some challenging, such as 3: Obtain a Yield (we have been out-consuming our production for decades), others offer immediate counsel in our current crisis such as 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions (The proposal before us involves immediate use of huge sums of money and is a profound transformation of economic policy).

These principles represent a method of finding equilibrium within a chaotic system (in the case of permaculture, nature itself) by understanding that chaotic systems resists both direct, complete control and linear, positivistic understanding. We are surrounded by these systems in nature: fluid dynamics, predator/prey animal populations, climate. They are also prevalent in sociology, psychology, and of course economics. One of the interesting features of chaotic systems is that they react in unpredictable ways to change and our intervention can create unstable feedback altering the system in ways we did not intend. Successfully controlling world financial markets by means of direct manipulation seems about as likely as controlling the weather. Permaculture suggests methods of working within the system by relinquishing a certain amount of control in exchange for long-term stability. Perhaps now would be a good time to begin developing some guiding principles of perma-economy with the same goals in mind.

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