Emergence of a New Economy & Democracy

Throughout the quarter thus far we have talked on various concepts, one being on emergence. I find this ties in nicely to the required reading by Jane Jacobs because they both have a bottom-up perspective in understanding systems thinking and sustainability.

Jane Jacobs discusses how the current structure of economies are based on an old mercantilist theory that was believed to answer why nations wealth either grew or declined. With this view, one nation would look at another that was doing really well and accruing a vast amount of wealth and believed that the only way for them to thrive as well, they would have to adopt the other countries systems and implement the same exact model on their own country.

This way of thinking has not changed much since then and can still be seen in how our economies are structured today. This is a degenerative system because rather than decisions made at a localized level by the people of that region, a select group of people have the power to make decisions. These decisions are made by people for communities that are far detached from their own and they are imposing what they believe is the correct solution to a scale far too big, which is an entire nation.

The answers to how our economies should be structured can be found in something as small as slime molds. As we all remember the slime mold theory explained emergence and how complex adaptive systems are based on information exchange that starts from low-level rules all the way up to the highest levels. Slime molds consist of millions of individual cells that pass on knowledge based on localized environments, and that behavior gets passed on creating positive feedback loops, encouraging cells to join together. Overtime once conditions are right, the cells all come together to form the slime mold.

If we could begin to understand that cities and even smaller scales than that, are where the knowledge exchange should start, then this too can create a positive feedback loop and bring us all together, creating one big happy superorganism of a nation.


I couldn’t help but also think about emergence and the slime mold theory when watching the required video, We the People 2.0by Mathew Schmid. In this documentary, activists propose that there is a problem with our current democracy and that the restoration of what a democracy originally was created to be must take place.

Similar to our economic structure, our political structure is set up the same way, despite the fact our country is considered a democracy. Sure we have a lot more freedom than living in say, a communist country, but there are many cases all over the United States in which the power to make decisions are being made by corporations and small groups of people who own them; rather than by the people of local communities.

For example, big corporations performing mountain-top removal or hydraulic fracturing to extract resources from the Earth for production purposes. Then once they gather all they need, a huge mess is left behind, with entire ecosystems affected or completely wiped out, and local communities at risk for their health and safety. Why does this happen? As mentioned in the video, there are four legal doctrines that make it very difficult for people to stand up against these big corporations.

  1. State and Federal Preemption: This gives higher laws at the state and federal level seniority over ours.
  2. Dillion’s Rule: Laws can be made by local communities only if the state allows them to do so.
  3. Corporate Commerce Clause: Corporations have rights to interstate commerce if it is used for economic gain.
  4. Corporate Personhood: Treats corporations as a person which gives it individual constitutional rights.

Two quotes that I believe summed up this video very well was by Ben Price and Thomas Linzey.

Price said that, “Right where we live is where we need democracy the most.”

Thomas Linzey said that, “If we don’t have democracy where we live then we don’t have democracy in the system.”

These two both take on a bottom-up approach similar to emergence because once again this belief is where knowledge exchange and decision making begins at the lowest level. Once we start to treat democracy with this perspective, we can truly have democracy doing what it was initially created to do.