Bionomics: Economy as Ecosystem

I recently read Bionomics; Economy as Ecosystem by Michael Rothschild cover to cover, twice. I have never read a non-fiction text so enthralling; and this one is about economics.

Bionomics: Economy as Ecosystem
Photo: untitledprojects, Creative Commons, Flickr

I discovered this book while researching an article I had published on about the Libertarian environmental standpoint. I found the book on for less then $5 with shipping. I received an early paperback edition that was printed in 1990. I am sure you can buy an updated edition and I plan on doing so myself.

Have you ever wondered why that there hasn’t been a household name economist since Karl Marx? Other then Keynes, there hasn’t been a highly influential economist in the last 150 years. Sure there have been industry stalwarts that have shaped the economy by their innovations and sheer strength, but there has not been a new sweeping philosophy that changes the way we think and affects our economic policies.

Bionomics is it.

It baffles me that this school of thought has not permeated our decision-making and still does not get mentioned in academics. It is not that I believe Bionomics should become economic gospel; I just think it should be brought into the discussion. Bionomics flies in the face of the current common economic thought, just as laissez-faire, communism, and socialism did of their predecessors. Rothschild draws on many other sciences to solidify his point but mainly focuses on the comparison between economics, biology, and ecology.

More specifically, he explains how the economy and technology are similar, but parallel lines of evolution to life. Current ecologists assume that technology is just a continuation of the evolution that started with the first formation of DNA. This differentiation may seem trivial but the ramifications of this are immense. Business transforms from its supply & demand and diminishing returns roots to a constantly improving and self organizing ‘life form’. Profit and competition are no longer taboo and capitalism is no longer viewed as the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Rothschild does not ridicule other economic philosophies as wrong or unintelligent; he merely explains how they were a product of the times and created out of the observations of their creators.

Rothschild used many highly detailed yet beautifully straightforward examples to elaborate his point. He juxtaposes the evolution of a strand of DNA into multi-celled organisms to Homo sapiens’ cave drawings as a prelude to the microprocessor. The internal form and function of a cell is remarkably similar to the inner workings of any business. The capital, costs, revenue, and profits of a bumblebee hive can be charted on a supermarket income statement. Examples such as these, along with empirical data from many other studies, sustain the legitimacy that is needed in a philosophy that could revolutionize a society.

Rothschild does not just present the information and leave the readers to be the sole interpreter of the direction we should go. He cites the Japanese electronic industry as a successful implementation of Bionomic policy. He also explains why many US policies are not only useless but usually counterproductive in achieving their intended goal. He also elaborates on some immediate negative effects of a shift to Bionomic policy but also explains how we will be better off in the long run.

Bionomics is a must for amateur and professional economists alike. Any manager or entrepreneur looking to improve their organization’s position in their industry should use this as their guidebook, as well as environmentalists, ecologists, and biologists looking to expand their knowledge of the economy in terms that they hold dear. Michael Rothschild’s extensive citation (over 50 pages) and clear-cut explanations add even greater value to a work that could have repercussions for centuries.

Check out "Nautical Journal" for more of Adam’s writing.