An Economic Parable

In a healthy forest . . .

. . . there are many large trees. There are even more shrubs growing between the trees. And there are even more small plants (ferns, tubers, grasses, flowers, moss, etc.) growing between the shrubs.The tallest trees consume many nutrients in the soil to fuel their growth, and they tend to crowd out or shade out many smaller plants and trees. But they also tend to go deep for their nutrients and shed some of their mass every year (in the form of leaves and needles), so smaller plants and smaller trees will have plenty of nutrients available at the surface.And when a big tree dies, it returns all of its mass to the soil to feed the next generation of plants.

That’s how a healthy forest works.

Imagine what would happen to the health of the forest if the tallest trees forgot where they came from, if they forgot that they too once relied on the surface nutrients provided by the plants that went before them.

Imagine what would happen if they suddenly said, “we’re tired of giving, giving, giving to all the takers at the bottom.” Imagine what would happen if they refused to shed their leaves and needles. Imagine what would happen if they refused to rot when they died.

Over time, I tell you truly, this lush forest would turn to desert.

The analogy, of course, is not perfect. But the imagery is vivid, and it drives home two points: 1) those who are currently wealthy have themselves benefited greatly from redistribution in the past, and 2) the system is more likely to be healthy when there is adequate flow at all scales.