Friday, March 1, 2013

Trees for Forest

My family must live in a balanced budget.  If we spend more than we make, we fail.  Comparing my family to country, a balanced budget seems needed by government.

A tree house
A tree has different needs than a forest.  Forests may be made of trees, but have different rules for success.  So to, rules for governments are different than individuals.  We confuse needs of individuals with needs of the group at hazard to us all.  As educated voters, we need to see a forest through the trees.

Money Tree
Viewing of forest from a tree

An individual tree desires sun, water, and soil.  Its growth is governed by managing limited resources to its personal gain.  When resources shrink, growth is limited.  When resources disappear, a tree can die.

A tree must be efficient in how it uses its small supply of water, soil, and sun. 

Each extended branch or lowered root comes at an opportunity cost.  When water is low, seeking water is more important.  When sunlight is rare, branches must grow tall to grab what light can be found.  When soil is bare, a single tree may never thrive.

Each tree is concerned only with its own survival and growth.  Trees nearby are competitors.  Each tree struggles to gain advantage for light and liquid in a local supply.  

There is a local market of resources.  Those trees that are able to access and then use resources efficiently grow and prosper.  Trees that do not strive wither and die.

Healthy growing forest
Forests of Wealth

It takes many trees to make a forest. 

Success for forests is tied to individual trees.  When more trees grow, a forest becomes larger.  Many healthy trees yield a more robust forest.

Forests live on, when any one tree dies.  When many trees die at once, a whole forest can be threatened.  A forest is unconcerned with any one tree, but hopes that many will thrive.

Diversity in trees helps a forest be more robust.  When many kinds of trees compete, disaster to one species of tree will not decrease odds for forest survival.  A self interested forest desires competition between trees, encouraging the fit to prosper.

Tree Herding

If a single type of tree becomes dominate, forests are at risk.  A mono-culture is more prone to disease.  Lack of diversity creates vulnerability.

If only a few trees cover a forest, it is in greatest peril.  Monopolizing resources must be avoided so a forest will not die.
Fires kill trees and threaten the whole forest

Forests want corpses of some trees to fertilize others.  Regular, localized death in a forest promotes growth for a majority of trees. 

To promote diversity and stop monopolization, a strong forest will redistribute resources.  Some balancing of sun, water, and soil helps a forest remain strong and growing.

Over balancing resources will limit competition between trees.

No balancing of resources will allow one kind of tree, or even a small number of trees to dominate a forest.

Disaster and Growth

Forests under stress must do things that individual trees can not.

When fire ravages many trees, only a few kinds of trees will sprout from the ashes.   Local lack of diversity is necessary until a more robust ecosystem can revive.  Temporary differences in diversity are necessary sometimes.

Floods will kill many trees and redistribute soil and dead trees so that another area can start to thrive.  Forests will change shape to accommodate this disaster for individual trees.

Regrowth after disaster takes time
Forests promote growth toward areas rich in nutrients, water, and light.  It is in the best interest of a forest to grow toward these areas, even if single trees are stuck in a place.  Trees have more prosperous children by being on near an edge of the forest.

Forests promote death to move away from poor resources.  When some trees may struggle on weak soil, flood prone areas, or even upon a shadow of a mountain, a forest will not prosper there.

In times of trouble and danger, forests that use up soil and water more quickly will return to states of stability faster.  When a forest is under stress it is the wrong time to conserve soil and water.  Forests invest in their future by using more resources now.

Overuse of resources can not be maintained forever.  Some trees may have to die in order for a forest to survive.  Forests slowly move toward more abundant resources, abandoning old, used up land.

When disaster is gone a forest will start to build up resources again, saving up for the next disaster. 

Metaphorical Return
A tree may die, but a forest will grow.  Some people and companies will get hurt in our economy.  Government’s role in an economy is to help as many of us survive as are fit. 

My tree house is not the national forest.
Sometimes key trees must be saved for a whole forest to be safe.  Sometimes governments must intervene for a tree or local grove.  Individual intervention is often in the best interest of a forest.

Encouraging a forest to grow after a disaster is prudent.  Cutting back on growth after a disaster makes the return to a healthy forest take much longer, if it ever even recovers.

When a nation faces a disaster, government must act like the forest.  Government helps those areas in need in order to keep a majority healthy.

When an entire forest is stressed, it will use up stored resources. Resources are used when needed the most.  Running a deficit in a time of trouble is necessary by governments in order for economies to recover.  Only government has an ability to borrow on shared futures, a forest does not.  Wise borrowing can be healthy for an economy.

When we fail to help those areas hurt by financial disaster, we hurt the nation.  As individuals some of us may have to give more to help those in need.  Sectors of the economy may need assistance during crisis in order to help us all in the long run.  United we do better.  Divided we fail.

Controlling interest rates, boosting the money supply, and transfers of wealth by taxation are the tools the government has at its disposal.  These tools can and should help some sectors in crisis.  We will not return to prosperity by letting sections of the forest permanently die off.

Taxes are not paychecks for the nation.  Taxes are our universal will writ large.  Paychecks are payment for labor.  Confusing the two as being the same leads to bad assumptions about proper government action.

In times of plenty, we should save up for future disasters, as forests store nutrients in the ground.  The time to balance a economies budget is during times of growth.  When we fail to put by for a dangerous future, we fail that future.  Our mistake has been to not  save.  Now we all must pay a price in the future.

Families do not behave this way.  Families and businesses tend to spend in good times and scrimp when fortunes wither.  Families can not manipulate the money supply, change interest rates or tax.  

Resource budgets for forests must be managed differently than resources budgets for trees.  Likewise, government’s budgets work differently than families.

Be sure to see the forest, even when you are only a tree.

Note: The economist Kenneth Boulding should be given credit for the forest/tree economic metaphor.  If you desire to have better understanding of the difference between micro and macro economics, his books are a great resource.  He is also famous for the Spaceship Earth view of economics moving from a infinite to a finite resource based economy. Additionally, J. Doug Ohmans provides a great summary of Professor Boulding's ideas.

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