Life is full of the unexpected. And as the saying goes, Shit Happens. Extreme weather, bugs, blights, and disease happen. Even too much of a good thing can create devastating and unpredicted hard times.
In the natural world, diversity and redundancy are keys to survival. (I use the term redundancy in the sense of having a backup system for emergencies – think of space shuttles with multiple redundancies: if one system fails, another kicks in). Nature provides many backup systems. For example, thousands of varieties of maize naturally evolved in Central and South America to thrive in certain microclimates. If one variety was killed off by blight, many others remained to stabilize the food supply for the broad population.
However, modern agriculture, in the interest of efficiency and profitability, plants huge fields with a single crop. While this practice increases short-term profits, it is not resilient; one blight can wipe out the entire crop. Using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to protect the crop merely postpones the inevitable collapse, kills pollinators, destroys topsoil, and creates health problems in the process. On the other hand, a resilient farm, one that plants many crops in rotation, is less efficient. Finding the right balance between efficiency and diversity-redundancy is important for long-term survival.
In any system, there is an inverse relationship between efficiency, diversity and resiliency: to increase efficiency, redundancy and diversity must decrease. Cutting back on diversity and redundancy makes a system more efficient, but cut back too far and the system loses resiliency, becoming vulnerable and unsustainable. When a community springs up around a single major employer, what happens when the big employer shuts down? My home state of Oregon is littered with ghost towns that were once thriving mining, timber or stone quarries. Michael Moore’s film Roger & Me (1989) documented such a regional impact when General Motors shut down several auto plants in Flint, Michigan in 1992.9 The city is still struggling to recover.
Monopolies are changing life in America. Big franchises are displacing small local businesses, effectively gutting Main Street. Amazon has taken over sales of nearly everything, reducing prices with the efficiency of scale. Mergers and acquisitions continue to reduce the number of business owners from many to a few. And when the five biggest banks that control more than half of all the banking assets in the US gambled recklessly, they tanked our economy.
It is not always easy to decide where the right balance lies between profit-making efficiency and life-sustaining diversity-redundancy. Individuals tend to look out for their immediate and personal self-interest, which often pushes toward efficiency and highest short- term profits. Society as a whole, the WE, must demand diversity, redundancy and survival for our communities, our nation and our species. Government is how WE make decisions for the whole – and government must stand up for long-term survival.
Our current money system is highly efficient and extremely vulnerable to collapse, requiring increasingly extraordinary measures to keep it functioning. A collapse of our financial system will utterly cripple our entire economy. This does not need to happen.
Keep this balance of efficiency and redundancy in mind when you think about the best money system for our Nation.