The Necessity of a Scorched Economy

While going through old issues of National Geographic I came across the July 2008 issue in which was an article about wild fires in western United States. Prior to reading this article, I was under the impression (as many people seem to be) that wild fires are very destructive events — both for people and nature. But the article proved the contrary, at least for nature. It turns out that fires are a natural part of woodland ecosystems and are important because they speed up decomposition, release nutrients into the soil and clear out dead vegetation which makes room for new growth.  In the early 1900s, largely in response to the great fires of 1910, the U.S. started developing methods to control and quell wild fires. Now, half a  century later western forests are encumbered with dense vegetation. The article sites research that shows that from the late 1800s till now, the number of trees in a 2.5 acre plot of Arizona forest has gone from 50 to 1,700 — all because there have been no fires to clear it out.

The author of the article, Neil Shea says, “But we did not understand that fire, like rain, is necessary.”

So it got me thinking… Is an economic downturn much different than this? Before you call out your lynch mobs, hear me out. I know that the sour economy has many families across the U.S and world in a bad way, and I don’t mean to take that lightly, but there are many benefits of a depression – in the end, at least. A depression weeds out that which is unnecessary or is not working. Unsteady businesses like Baer Sterns go belly up. Destructive practices like sub-prime lending are called into question. Yes, job losses and home foreclosures are a terrible thing, but they are both a part of a necessary and natural process. Think of the end of the matter; from a business standpoint, the playing field has been leveled. Startups have all the room in the world to grow and thrive. New technology can be brought to the forefront without having to fight as much competition. 

Consider some of today’s business giants that got their start in a recession. Microsoft, for example, started in the ’73-’75 recession, General Electric started in 1876 in the middle of a six year recession.

The Nat. Geo. article made reference to a particular kind of pine tree whose “seed cones are coated in a waxy resin that must be melted off by heat to free the seeds.” Once the seeds are freed by the fire they find themselves in nutrient-rich soil and unchoked skies above.

In a way, I hope we don’t get too good at fighting economic declines. Certainly, there are things we should start and stop doing that will make life better for everyone and possibly reduce the impact of an economic slide in the future, but I personally believe that it’s inevitable, and possibly necessary.

So, while I don’t enjoy having to tighten the financial belt any more than you do, I look forward to the time when the fire dies out, the old, dead vegetation is cleared away and the economic soils have been infused with nutrients.

It’s a part of life.


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