Croplands are monocultures. Wild areas are diverse. Which is better?
It depends on what you want. If you’re looking to get as much food as possible with the least energy input, then you want managed fields. On the other hand, if you’re looking for new types of plants that can survive the stresses and strains of nature, then you want a diverse wilderness.
I thought about this while considering China’s state-capitalism in comparison to America’s entrepreneurial system. There is no question that China emerged first from the global recession with their massive state spending. And by importing machinery from Germany and coal from Australia, they’ve helped pull those economies out of the downturn as well. As several observers have noted, there’s a certain appeal to this: the country’s leaders can just say “go” and everything takes off.
But there is a downside to this kind of management. Such economies do fine when it comes to implementing established processes. But to develop totally new products or processes, you want a network of innovative trailblazers who can envision a reality that doesn’t yet exist. Consider the Kindle or the iPad. Before Apple or Amazon came out with their blockbuster products, e-readers and tablet computers were curiosities. Now they’re transforming publishing and home computing.
Managed systems are productive but brittle. A major change in conditions could destroy a whole crop, or much of an economy. Diverse systems can be confusing but are highly productive in their own way: a lot goes on in a jungle. And they react to disruptions quickly. When it comes to economics, diversity really is strength.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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