Are Boom-and-Bust Cycles Hardwired in Human DNA?

BacteriaColonies Boom and bust is not unique to capitalist economies, to industrialized societies,  it's a cycle common to all of life, from the most primitive level to the most complex. Over three billion years ago, bacteria had a cycle of boom and bust built into their DNA. 

Bacteria are astonishingly social: Isolate one bacterium away from its colony, put it in a petri dish, and if there’s food, it will divide. 72 times a day and multiply, surrounding itself with 144 daughters every 24 hours. Those daughters, in turn, will divide 72 times a day and surround themselves–and their lonely foremother, with progeny. If the bacterial colony could find all the food and housing it needs, that one lonely mother in theory could have 5.2×10^151 kids, grand-kids, and great-grandkids in a week. That’s ten with one hundred and fifty one zeros, more than all the atoms in over a million universes.

A colony of bacteria is one of the biggest and most complex societies this planet has ever seen. A single bacterial colony the size of your palm is so thin that you can’t see it with your naked eye. Yet it contains seven trillion individuals -more than all the human beings this planet has ever seen. All working in concert, pooling their talents and their data and communicating with a chemical vocabulary.  Bacterial metropolises are discovery machines. That’s why they are breakthrough generators. That’s why, writes Howard Bloom in The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism,  they were the first life forms to experience boom and bust, the first to take advantage of the cycle of exploration and digestion, the cycle of expand then consolidate That’s why they were the first to have the pendulum of repurposing built into their biology.

The first bacteria, says Bloom, "were following the mandate of nature—helping each other reinvent themselves. Helping each other advance the enterprise of secular genesis, the enterprise of secular creation, the task of the evolutionary search engine and research and development team. Helping each other advance the family of cells and DNA."

Population boom and bust appear in protozoans, mollusks,8 amphibians, reptiles, insects, fish,9 and mammals, adds Bloom. "Red grouse in England go through a four-to-eight year cycle of boom and crash. Parasites called Trichostrongylus tenuis that feed on the red grouse go through crashes and booms as their meal-supply increases in numbers, then declines.

"Other animals that endure booms and crashes include Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands, reindeer on islands in the Bering Sea, lemmings in the arctic, and hives of honeybees. The snowshoe rabbit and its predator, the lynx, go through a ten-year boom and bust cycle. The vole, a mouse-like rodent, of Finland tunnels through a three-year cycle. The lemming of the Arctic goes through a four-year cycle of boom and crash. So does the animal that feeds on it, the short-tail weasel. And the side-blotched lizard of Santa Cruz, California, goes through a two-year cycle of expansion and contraction, of good times and bad, of boom and bust."

On the human level as with the microbiological world, the cycle of boom and bust is an evolutionary search strategy that uses us to explore the new, then to focus on the flaws in our latest innovations and to build fail-safe systems to prevent future outbreaks of the problems those innovations produce—whether those new innovations are credit default swaps, bundled mortgage securities, or super-banks that span the globe and make high-risk investments with their depositors’ money. The cycle of boom and bust is built into our DNA.

Casey Kazan

Source:"The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism" by Howard Bloom.


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