Solomon was a great king, but not a gardener. It turns out that, after all, there is an infinitude of new things under the sun. This is the essence of innovation and evolution, and the antithesis of tradition and the status quo. Thus, Darwin was, perhaps, the truest of all prophets. While I’ll never stand in the company of Darwin, much less Solomon, I’d be quite comfortable with—of all people—the newest investor in The New York Times and Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim Helú. In fact, he quotes what I would call “Burpee scripture”:
“Wealth is like an orchard, a fruit tree. You have to distribute the fruit, not the branch. You have to plant more seeds to create more wealth.”
|(NY Times 6/28/2007)|
Normally an excellent wordsmith, President Obama would do well to take a page from the gospel of Slim Helú and think “seed” rather than “stimulus”. Darwin escaped the mechanistic “stimulus and response” world of early 19th century science for the coastal islands of South America. In that laboratory—the vast unexplored horizons of the New World—there were no scientific orthodoxies, bloodless political or economic philosophies, and endless “zero-sum games” of give and take. There was only regeneration, rebirth, genetic flow and evolutionary flourish. Duplicate dollars make no more sense—or growth—than duplicate genes. Let the financial dinosaurs go extinct, and let the economic chips fall.
For example, a “survivor” seed grows from a 1-inch nut to a 50-foot tree. Thus, in the successful home garden, one corn seed becomes 1,000 more; a tiny speck turns into 35 pounds of tomatoes. Therefore, utilizing Burpee’s new Money Garden, one dollar becomes 25, given a bit of humus, a spot of compost, a dozen hours of tending and two months of sunshine—a drop in the hole in the bucket of our recent economic history. Is not “seed” a worthy paradigm?
The word stimulus fails to stimulate. To the extent it conjures any image whatever, one envisions a god-like doctor delivering a jolt of stimulus to a comatose patient, eliciting the odd spasmodic jerk. If unresponsive, the latter is pronounced dead. This is entirely the wrong metaphor for the dynamics of the economy. Hardly an inert body, our economy is in fact a complex ecosystem—a garden, if you will—of sellers, buyers, investors, borrowers, lenders, winners, losers, supply and demand.
Far from mere cause/effect or “stimulus/response”, the economy is the epitome of “interactive”, as is the garden. Invest for growth doesn’t mean “stimulate”—rather, it means “seed” and “feed”; “tend” and “train” into fruition and harvest. Mr. Obama and his advisers are not, I suspect, gardeners, and, perhaps, fail therefore to grasp either the metaphor or the reality of what is meant by growth in business or markets.
A gardener isn’t a doctor, just as seed isn’t stimuli. Rather, we the people are, all of us, sunlight. All we need are the seeds of knowledge and education, the nutrients of technology, time and patient attention to detail, and the gardens of our labor will grow, ripen and bear much fruit. Instant gratification doesn’t gratify, and the stimulus doesn’t stimulate. On the other hand, seeds—in reality and metaphor—are the beginning as well as the end, the alpha and omega, a link between the past and the future.
Should the President adopt a “seed” metaphor, he needs to remember not to “sow from the center”. Gardens are like the communities of America—not a European style, monocultural monarchy of cultivars, but a broad diversity of geography, climate, customs and ethnicities. Our US gardens are more Noah’s Ark than Eden; more backyard garden than White House garden. As opposed to the Education or Health and Human Services departments—with their feckless efforts to instill or “stimulate” best practices—the new administration must first identify the proper plants for each zone, so to speak. In the garden you need to be close to the ground. To do that, talk to the local gardeners, to avoid the timeless scenario of the cagey farmer who outfoxes the sophisticated city slicker. Fertilize Main Street, not Wall Street.
Once he opens the gate of the American garden, the President might, like Carlos Slim Helù, discover something “new under the sun,” and an innovative economy shall become fruitful and multiply.