Designing Whole Systems
Designing Whole Systems
I have been thinking about these issues for a long time. How can human beings survive without destroying the environment?
I have come to the following conclusions:
1. The standard business model seeks to minimize complexity. "Do one thing and do it well". Build a better mouse trap, streamline production, marketing and distribution, grow to achieve economies of scale, and maximize profits. If your competitor can do it cheaper it drives you into bankruptcy. My thought is that there is a better, and sustainable, way to do business.
2. Modern agriculture has adopted the standard business model. Monocultures and raising animals in factory like settings lowers costs, increases production. It also reduces the number of species that can live in agricultural areas and, for many farm products, produces more than can be consumed, requiring government subsidies and driving less efficient farmers out of the market.
There is another approach with the potential to be more productive and certainly more stable:
1. Ecology teaches us that complexity increases productivity and stability. The more species living in a given space the more each contributes to the well being of the whole.
2. Where any given resource can be used for more than one purpose, ecomomies of complexity can be achieved. The simple example is co-generation. If you are going to create heat to produce electricity, the remaining heat after the steam turns the turbine can be used for another purpose. Two outputs from the same input increase total production.
3. Rather than intergate a company vertically or horizontally, or some combination, it is possible to think of integrating spherically. To the extent possible, design systems that internally produce what is consumed. Each time you create a production/consumption cycle within the system, it is an energy loop or a feed back loop. The more loops you can design into the system, the more you can save in cash costs for shipping, middlemen etc. You create "economies of integration". Its also fun, sort of like designing a Rube Goldberg contraption.
4. I like designs that approach self-sufficiency. Ideally, once the system is in place (and paid for) no further interaction with other systems (the larger economy) would be required. In that ideal case, (Total spherical integration) the system would only interact with other systems when the interaction was highly profitable. (Why work harder than you need to unless its going to be worth your while). As a practical matter, we are probably talking about a partial spherical integration with a component that offers goods and services to others in order to purchase those goods and services that cannot be produced internally.
5. Another reason to design for sale of goods and services is the possibility for growth. Profitable interactions in the larger economy allow the system to acquire new resources and expand production capacity. Profit would also create the possibility for reproducing (franchising) the system into new locations.
6. I talk about the elements of spherical design at The Theory Of Relationships.
7. In a "whole" "balanced" system, all producers are also consumers and everything that is produced is also consumed. Such is an ecosystem prior to human intervention. All life dies and is recycled into new life through decay.
8. For the first ___ billion years of life on earth, there was an imbalanced system in which the waste product of certain algea (oxygen) was poisonous to the prevailing bacterial life forms. Life evolved to create creatures that would utilize this waste product (animals) and close the production loop with consumption.
9. A sustainable system is a whole balanced system. Design is easier at smaller scales with less complexity. Designing for space for "natural" systems to do their own thing simplifies design. Nature will arrange itself and we need only look to avoiding waste through cycling waste. Applying the concepts
There is a general outline for a form of human organization that would apply a spherically integrated design at http://www.selfhelpcorp.com. A Self Help Corporation would employ people, when their skills were not required by the general economy, to provide basic necessities for themselves.
I have drafted a more specific proposal and posted it at Self Help Corp.
Once a self help corporation was operating, there would be no limit to the types of activities it could undertake. I have in mind that it could be a labor contractor for seasonal labor throughout the US. For example, the corporation could provide labor for forest thinning operations in the Rocky Mountains during the summer and employ those workers during the winter to provide services to US retirees in Northern Mexico.
That would require a rational immigration policy like the one I am working on at http://www.omidyar.net/group/community-general/ws/solving_the_immigration_crisis/.
I would also like to link the self help corporation to environmental enhancement projects. I have in mind that a coalition of environmental groups could apply considerable political pressure to have local governments immplement an environmental enhancement plan. I would like to develop a template of biological waste water treatment, increased wetlands, woodlands and prairie habitats and habitat corridors. Immplemented in a way that increases property values and job opportunites for local residents. I will create a workspace called Environmental Enhancement Plans to pursue that idea.
If the reader has reviewed the information on the self help corporation, you will understand that the corporation pays its workers in shares that are then redeemable in goods and services produced by the corporation. This internal economy and method of compensation, gives the corporation a competitive advantage in the general market and allows it to accumulate cash for purchase of assets that may then be put to use to produce more goods and services. Both the Urban model and the Rural model can be reproduced for a relatively modest start up cost. Therefore, the growth of the corporation would only be limited by the number of people who could benefit from its offer of employment. World wide that number may run into the billions.