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Economics, Symbiosis and Parasitoids

A Biological Walk Down Wall Street

by STEPHEN MARTIN

It will be a great mistake for the community to shoot the millionaires, for they are the Bees that make the most honey, and contribute most to the hive even after they have gorged themselves full.

So wrote Andrew Carnegie.

Of course, Carnegie was more of a Main Street millionaire than a Wall Street millionaire. His wealth came through actual Industry, the production of steel used in construction and transport. But the comparison of millionaires with the biology of bees and the making of honey can set thought along certain lines, particularly given the bloodbath in progress on Wall St and the remarkable transformation in process; from free market economy to Socialist State. (Socialism for the wealthy, that is, the poor can still have the free market and the rugged individualism of fending for self /dependants in form of debt peonage.)

As POTUS 43 put it ‘If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down’

When it comes to knowing suckers, my money is on George W.  He undoubtedly knows lots of them – especially the ones who believe him President.

There are numerous relationships which species can exist within in terms of biological interaction, and much to be learned from applying the concept of Symbiosis when looking at Wall Street.

The symbiotic relationship assumes a number of forms. There is, for example, the nice variety, or mutualism, where both parties derive benefit.

Evidence, for example the Goby Fish and the shrimp, who often live together in a little burrow in the sand, which the shrimp digs. In return, the Goby fish alerts the shrimp, which is almost blind, to danger – by touching it with its tail. It is plainly this kind of mutualism which Carnegie had in mind when writing of the millionaire; even after having gorged there is still enough left for others on which to feed.

Where only one party derives benefit, but does not harm the other party in so doing, this is known as Commensalism.

Spiders which take advantage of trees to spin their webs are an example.

Then of course there is Parasitism; the success of which form of life is evidenced in the fact that almost all free living animals are host to at least one variety, or taxa, of parasite.

When it comes to parasites, given the success of this form of life, there are two further classifications, which I like to think of as ‘nasty’, and ‘really nasty’. 

The merely nasty ones are ‘biotrophic’. For example, headlice, which are ectoparasites.  Headlice on their own will not kill you, but they will feed on your blood and cause significant irritation of your scalp. The Hookworm is an example of a biotrophic endoparasite; unlike the louse it lives inside the host.

The really nasty ones are the Parasitoids, or necrotrophs as they are more rarely referred to. Unlike biotrophs, parasitoids actually kill the host. An example is the Moth family Epipyropidae, which is an ectoparasitiod of the Planthopper insect. In fiction, the “Shit-weasels” from Stephen King’s novel ‘Dreamcatcher’ exemplify – though probably the best known is the ‘Xenomorph’; the parasitiod in the film ‘Alien’. Best known because of the spectacular bloodbath in which it first reveals itself.

Now what has all this to do with the Economy you may be wondering?

Well it goes back to the remark made by Carnegie.

Most people see the Capitalist Economy as mutualist. The entrepreneur invests and creates employment, distributing fair wage and providing livelihoods in such process, and can look around the community with a measure of pride commensurate.

The sad thing is that competitive advantage can be gained by a shift in symbiosis from such mutualism towards parasitism, a shift motivated by search for the holy grail of  profit maximisation. The maximum return on the minimum investment; the minimising of cost and the maximising of revenue, is not seen as arising from mutualism, but rather from parasitism. To such parasitism, every cost is an erosion of profit, and any costs which can be cut are fair game. Practices such as utilisation of immigrant labour, outsourcing of production facilities to minimise wage cost, through use of children, or slaves, or foreign labour, ( please note, categories are not mutually exclusive), or of minimising anti pollution measures as  reduction of production costs, or fixing prices through operation of cartel, or minimising legislation through  bribery and corruption,  are all parasitical in respect of symbiosis.

In the short term they may give good return to the parasite, as indeed they may bring cheaper goods to the market, but the host undoubtedly suffers. Similarly we can see the case on Wall St.

Honesty is a constraint upon profit. Selling people houses at inflated prices they cannot afford, and then selling on those debts, representing them as sound obligations with collateral, and taking commission, is dishonest, despite the amount of short term gain to be made.

The ‘difficulty’ is that parasitoid behaviour is unsustainable despite short term gain.

When there are no suckers left to buy the trash marketed as mortgage, when all the commissions as good money have been taken; when there are no more trusting dupes,  and only toxic waste is left; the game is up.

The pump is burst, and the dumps are closed for business.

Unless….

Wall Street today, with the collapse of Freddie Mac, Fanny Mae, AIG, Lehmann Brothers, Washington Mutual and the rest as to come, is highly reminiscent of that scene in ‘Alien’ where the parasite begins to burst out.  The host is the free market, the parasitoid about to burst through to blood sprayed on face of those observing with horror. (The haemorrhage of cash so bad, the books so fucked up, that even the perpetrators can’t put a figure on it)

Feeding the parasitoid more, in sense of allowing it to nourish on public funds as new host, will have  the same denouement, only this time the host will not just be a particular market, but the whole market, and the society reliant upon it.

The last sucker, the biggest sucker still standing, will have been brought down, as George W could put it.

Welcome to the third world.

Still, from perspective of the parasite, there are other societies- if just enough more can be gained to allow freedom from this society as ‘soon to die’ sucker.

As in the film ‘Alien’ where there was reverence (albeit militarily motivated) for this new form of life, no matter how degenerate, what such attempt to keep it alive would result in would be continuation of the same behaviour; the bailout money taken – and invested elsewhere!

Parasitoids are not loyal to their hosts, they kill them. Free market profit maximisation is not beholden to state, or country, or taxpayer, but only to profit maximisation; it is not committed to sharing as mutualism or to long term perspective, it is pure in the way that the parasitoid is pure.

Parasitoids evidence their purity in killing. It is what they do. Other than gorging themselves, and surviving, it is all they do.
This particular taxa  is not new; it has been around before.
Roosevelt managed to keep it at bay  – and the host alive.
He didn’t do it by focusing on the needs of the parasite, but on the needs of mutualism across all sectors of the Economy;  that is,  by focus on the needs of the host. Nor did he do so unopposed. The parasitoid was defeated by legislation, the enforcement of rules which supported mutualism as symbiosis, and recognition of the rights of the worker as taxpayer and citizen.

It can be done.

The real issue is whether this time around, biologically speaking, there is the purity within host requisite for the nemesis to arise.

The words of Brecht find chilling resonance considering the victory of Roosevelt in overcoming parasitoid:

‘Do not rejoice in his defeat you men, for though the bastard is dead, the bitch that bore him is again in heat’

STEPHEN MARTIN can be reached at: stephenmarti@yahoo.com

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