There are no closed systems
“The word ‘economics’ makes me hiss like Gollum in Tolkien’s The Hobbit: ‘I hates it, I hates it, I hates it forever.’ For I believe classical economic theory, and all the theories it presupposes, is destroying the magic ring of life.” —The Abstract Wild, Jack Turner
At the beginning of this school year, when both my kids were enrolled back in school, I made a slight shift in my life. Since I was almost guaranteed a 25-minute walk to school, and at least the same back home, I decided to give myself permission to walk for one hour per day without listening to podcasts. As someone who’s chronically overcommitted and overwhelmed, walking and listening is one of the ways I get stuff done. It also, though, contributes to the feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Something needed to shift.
I failed almost immediately—there is so much work to get back to! and relatives to phone! and Taylor Swift to listen to!—but have definitely been walking more often, most days, without listening to anything, and finding myself more relaxed after a walk, as well as more focused. (I’m also getting through far fewer podcasts. And essays, too, since I use the Curio app to catch up on many of those.)
Even though I live in a small town and rarely find anywhere to walk that my feet haven’t been before, it’s been a bit of a relief to nudge attention more into the lake, the treetops, the eagle that just flew by, the paucity of chokecherries in my usual foraging spots, the irritation of increased traffic and larger vehicles, the only time I have ever seen a muskrat in the river.
Being connected to the world around us as deeply as we’re able is one of the reasons I care about walking so much. “At its core, this book is about deep human connection,” I wrote in the introduction to A Walking Life. I still believe that, but believe even more that everything is about deep connection. Or should be. And that same connection extends far beyond the human.
In her book Doughnut Economics, economist Kate Raworth laid out a model for a different, more realistic economic system—one that meets human needs within local and planetary ecological boundaries. To do so, she first had to dismantle the models and convictions that have become hardened in economists’ (and laypeople’s minds), beginning with the idea of any economy as a closed, self-reliant system.
She started with a 1948 book by Paul Samuelson, titled Economics, and its iconic Circular Flow diagram, which was an inspiration for engineer Bill Phillips to build a hydraulic machine called the MONIAC machine (Monetary National Income Analog Computer) that generations of economics students have believed to be a perfect model of economic flow.
But it was missing something.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to On the Commons to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.