Thursday, July 18, 2013

A New Model of the Economy

Within the prevailing wisdom on prosperity and the economy, there really is no visual metaphor for what the economy is, or what prosperity looks like.  It is all very amorphous and unstructured. Chaotic and confusing, really.

This is perhaps because the received wisdom on economics was developed within the shared experience of space as a boundless frontier, into which we can expand endlessly. With our focus on expansion, the visual image that drives us is the trend line. We see prosperity as more of everything. In the lexicon of Corporate/Industrial Capitalism, prosperity is Growth. That is how we sustain our prosperity of "bigger, better, faster, cheaper".

In this metaphor, place is where we start, but we never circle back to the beginning. Instead, each place is its own new beginning.

What happens when we reach the limits of the Earth, and find that it does, in fact, close back in upon itself? We leave the Earth, and venture into Space. Space becomes our Final Frontier, a truly unlimited, omnidirectional horizon into which we really can expand endlessly. Except not.

We ventured out into Space. When we got there, all we found was rocks.

We have the Earth, and it is well and truly ours, but it is all we have.

Instead of the horizon, we now have the biosphere.

What does this mean for our visual metaphors of prosperity and the economy?

I think when we shift our focus of attention from the horizon on the periphery to ourselves at the center,  interesting things happen. We can see that the economy really is all about us. It is about the work we do to fill the needs we have, and that we must fill if we are to live, and live well. Our needs don't change. Our work is constantly evolving changes in the way we live, changes to which we are, in turn, constantly evolving adaptations.  This gives us a structure that we can represent in a visual metaphor of concentric circles.

At the core is Land. We are ontologically terrestrial creatures. We must have somewhere to stand, or we cannot be. So land is central to us, to our experiences and to our economy and prosperity. Next in order of time-sensitive to our biological continuity is Air. We have to breather. Then Water, Food, Shelter. After that, the ordering becomes less physiological, and more open to debate.  To get that debate started, I will venture the following sequence: Healing, Heat, Light, Tools, Power, Recreation, Information, Communication, Transportation and Organization.  See visual metaphor, below.

These domains don't change. They are the needs we all have, and must fill. The work we do to fill those needs changes more or less constantly.

This brings Time into the picture. We live in space. We also live in time. Our work is always about our needs, in place and time. Economically, we experience time in terms of the impacts our activities will have on the spaces in which we live. In an earlier post, we proposed a series of 7 different Impact Horizons that divide our experiences and our expectations into seven slices of a pie chart. If we layer those seven different impact horizons over our concentric circles, you get the visual metaphor, below.

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