Sorry this is posted late. I had to reset my password/and had computer difficulties last night. I promise this was written before midnight, though…
There are several principles I gleaned from the pages of Tropical Nature that have increased my understanding of social and economic institutions.
Daniel Janzen, via Miyata and Forsyth, suggests that tropical trees allow their trunks to be hollowed out in order to gain greater access to nutrients. “These trees, Janzen argues, may be trading off some structural stability for an increased access to fertility” and greater growth. This is a principle that seems to be found in nearly all aspects of business and finance. In order to achieve rapid and flourishing growth, structural integrity of a business or investment may have to be sacrificed.
Allowing old establishments to fail creates opportunities for new establishments. The authors explain that in rainforests, large tree-fall gaps can occur. When there is a tree-fall gap, an existing large tree and its surrounding foliage cascade to the ground, allowing immense amounts of sunlight to hit the tropical ground. When this happens, new trees and vegetation can begin in areas once dominated by older trees. I would relate this to Schumpeter’s principle of creative destruction.
Specialization is more efficient, but does have drawbacks. A number of plants, insects, and animals adapt to either produce a consumable material designed for a specific consumer, or to consume a material produced by a certain plant. When either the consumer or the producer has its life cycle disrupted, the other will suffer. Generalists have a better chance for survival.
Self-interest should be channeled, not changed. In the rainforest, a number of life forms seem to have parasitic relationships with each other. Not so, say Forsyth and Miyata. Life forms, out of their own selfish interests, adapt to attract other life forms who will have their own interests met. The authors gave an example of a plant which hollows out its core which provides room and board for ant colonies. When the plant is attacked by damaging insects, the ants forcefully remove the other insects. Neither plant nor ant displays any altruism, but rather shows how our social and political institutions should be expected to work – out of self-interest. The key is to create channels for self-interests to be met, rather than recreate self-interest.
In the final chapter, the authors point out that national parks may be only lines on paper, solely important to the bureaucrat who made them. This seems to echo the problems we discussed with national governments creating parks discussed by Karol Bourdreaux in our conversation last week.