In the garden: Honeybees and Adam Smith

One little bee, one big blossom
One little bee, one big blossom

Today a honeybee was doing her thing in one of the squash blossoms. If you get very still you can hear, all around, soft and low-the “bzzzzzzzz” of the honeybees.

Everything is connected in life and honeybees are a good illustration of this.

You see, honeybees go about, busy as a…bee and collect pollen and nectar from blooms. They take this back to their hive so the whole bee society can survive. Without honeybees pollinating our crops, we humans would all die of starvation fairly quickly.

Honeybees, we presume, do not know that their activities serve to keep many other creatures, including ourselves, alive, yet their “self-interested” behavior benefits everyone.

This is the idea behind the oft-misquoted Adam Smith. The misquote is that merchants in their self-interested pursuit of profit, benefit the whole society, even if they don’t care about the whole society. This concept has been stretched to the repulsive, immoral philosophy that Greed is Good.

Smith assumed that a merchant would (without knowing or caring) benefit his own nation by increasing trade within its borders, like a honeybee benefits the hive. But what if a honeybee said, “To heck with the hive. I’m the one flying around collecting nectar and pollen. I’m going to set up my own hive across the Caymen Meadow and keep all this nectar and pollen for myself.”

The hive has suffered a slight loss. The selfish honeybee will die, because she actually needs the hive. She may use the hive for the things she needs and still hoard her nectar and pollen across the meadow, in which case she is like a corporate tax dodger. She may steal honey and nectar others have brought into the hive and become a dangerous parasite.

Because everything is connected, honeybees and merchants are connected in our present world. It seems that merchants who make pesticides at maximum profit are killing honeybees, but since we all need honeybees ourselves to stay alive…I think you can see the problem.

Nova documentary: Tales from the Hive

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