Possible Insight

Willie Smits Is a Genius

with 2 comments

Rafe posted this TED talk by Willie Smits without much commentary. I would like to add some.  When I first started watching, I thought, “Wow, you can make a lot of hay out of simply applying Econ 101.”  This was in response to the fact that they bought the former rainforest land in question, making it private property.  This is one of the classic solutions to a Tragedy of the Commons problem.  But then my appreciation made an exponential run upward.

Somehow, he managed to perfectly balance the economic and ecological package into a rapidly growing and self-sustaining system.  You see, he had to figure out how much economic benefit the land could generate at each point in time and never have more than the corresponding number of people working the land.  He had to figure out how to mesh psychological factors with incentive structures to get the locals to adopt the land both socially and economically. He also had to plot the path for an ecosystem in time and space.

Each of these three prongs represents an effort to control a dynamic system and he had to mesh all of them at once.  He makes it sound obvious in retrospect, but make no mistake, this is a feat of sheer brilliance.  I think there are some good general lessons to learn from this, but the real ongoing value is in the human capital he has built for managing this process.  He should cycle through groups of apprentices that then go forth and attempt to replicate this miracle.  I really hope this lasts and expands in the long term.

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Written by Kevin

March 21, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Climate, Economics

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. I just watched the video. His work is ridiculously awesome. Creating a self-sustaining ecological and economical system out of virtually nothing. He leads one to think that *anything* is possible. That it is not too late. That we can change. That we can turn things around.

    Daniel

    April 19, 2009 at 6:07 pm

  2. […] prioritize and save the 10% of native rainforest they have left.  It’s reminiscent of Willie Smits‘ work in Borneo, though focused on preservation rather than revitalization.  But it has the […]


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