Bionomics: Michael Rothschild
We say we are in the midst of the Information Age, but according to Michael Rothschild in Bionomics: The Economy as an Ecosystem, every age is an information age. Information is the very fiber of both cultural and biological evolution. DNA is a biological means of encoding information, consisting of a unique set of assembly and operations instructions for each and every life form on earth. In the economic ecosystem, our products are our information. Every product is built of information we have gathered.
The evolution of human culture and technology has followed a cycle of development remarkably similar to the story of biological evolution. Change came very slowly at first. Our earliest ancestors began by using crude stone, bone, and wooden tools. This body of knowledge was copied by example from one generation to the next for thousands of years, before mutating into new ideas.
But each new idea that came eventually led to another. The advent of human knowledge was like a snowball rolling in slow motion, gaining size and increasing speed over many thousands of years. Homo Sapiens first appeared about 200,000 years ago and spent most of the time since just developing basic technologies. About 35,000 years ago our ancestors started engraving information onto bones. This developed into a full-fledged written language in Sumeria just 5,000 years ago.
Our species was already replicating it's wisdom from one generation to the next, but the advent of writing made this copying more effective. It was still slow, because each piece of work had to be copied by hand. A scribe might only be able to make one or two copies of the Bible in a year. However, the invention of the printing press put technological evolution into high gear.
The printing press allowed the cross-fertilization of ideas. For the first time in history, millions of books were put into print and distributed. Like the advent of bisexual reproduction in living organisms, the cross-fertilization of ideas led to an explosion of new knowledge. The industrial revolution was the result.
The innovation of the computer and the internet led to a new cross-fertilization of technological ideas, as we communicate instantly all over the globe. The ability to collaborate with nearly everyone at once is continually leading to the symbiosis of ideas into diverse new products, transforming the world almost before our eyes.
Biological life forms mate to exchange and combine genetic information. This sharing of information leads to newer, more effective ideas for surviving into future generations. Knowledge is likewise exchanged in the economic ecosystem, leading to new and generally better products. Companies actively seek out new genetic material to keep their products evolving ahead of everyone else. The company that can put useful information on the market with the least expenditure of energy is the company that survives the fiscal year to put forth a progeny of new ideas in future generations of products.
Michael Rothschild was apparently the first widely published author to use the analogy of the economy as an ecosystem. There are some significant similarities between his book and Direct Pointing to Real Wealth: Thomas J. Elpel's Field Guide to Money, but also many differences. One key difference is that Rothschild describes the economic ecosystem, but doesn't detail the specific tools that are available to "tilt succession" (market forces) in favor of a better world.
The analogy that the economy functions similar to an ecosystem may be one of the most important paradigms of the 21st century. We live in a rapidly evolving culture and a fast changing economy. Keeping up in the new world virtually requires a keen understanding of evolutionary theory and biology. Business and politics will never be the same once these ideas integrate into the mainstream.
Books about the Economic Ecosystem
Bionomics: Economy As Ecosystem by Michael L. Rothschild
Paperback Edition. April 1995.
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