(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

…and Money Came down Sugar Mountain Carrying the Three Commandments

Posted on: Feb. 15, 2011  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: General

…Thou Shalt Buy Meaning.  Thou Shalt Sell Money.  Thou Shalt Hold Change

How to Be a Productive Economic Being in a Changing World

Here are two sugar world stories.  About fifteen years ago, Joshua M. Epstein and Robert Axtell created Sugarscape, a simplified computer model for how an economy can take shape.  There was a landscape of mountains and valleys as well as little sugar eaters.  For the sugar eaters to survive, simulating an economy of decision makers, they had to find, store up, and consume more sugar than the effort  it took to look for the sweet stuff.  To test nature and nurture, they randomly gave some eaters, or agents, different mixes of how much sugar they burn and the how far they can see around them (nature) and how close they were to sugar mountains (nurture).  When all was said and done, even though chances were random, a few of the eaters became very fat, with the rest contained in a long tail distribution (meaning not bell-shaped) with some upper class but mostly everyone else contained in a dwindling middle class along with a large lower class.

Although a simplified game, those who became part of the superrich fat sugar eaters did not get that way just because of only being born rich or having superior skills.  Even in this simplified game, there was no clear answer as to who got rich and who didn’t.  The answer was most likely the ecosystem itself that allowed those who thrived to take advantage of their situation.  This means that the factors that combined to take the fortunate few to becoming the sugar land heavyweights were not only where they were born and the genetic factors possessed but was also how they interacted with other sugar eaters, the terrain, the rules they used and especially luck.

The Sugarscape game shows a world where the actors, or agents, do not set out to realize their goals in a world of financial plans, willpower, and ambitious competitors.  It is a world where the eaters take who they are and what they are given in life and just act and react to their environment.  I think most of us can relate to the being on autopilot in our daily lives and only then we go into some type of turbo-mode for making important life decisions, such as choosing a mate, a career, or a new home.  As for the specifics of how we make decisions, most of our decisions use past history to come up with rules to help us make these decisions, such as “this works,”” this is too risky,” and so on, which is in a sense a form of autopilot.  At other times though, we use analysis and make rational calculations for what the consequences will be in the choices we make.  What the simplified Sugarscape model fails to address though is how much of our decision making is done by what we consider to be our identity and how we should behave based on the roles we play, how these situations should be handled, and the type of person that we think we are.

Sugarscape also touches on how evolution comes into play, since there are times when we are not finding sugar, then at these times we need further exploration.  There are other times, when we just need to feed on a sugar rich area, then at these times we use exploitation.  What was once a sugar mountain then, rapidly becomes eaten away as more and more of the other little creatures find the mountain and start devouring it.  Since, we and others are consuming resources, that means the environment is constantly changing as others consume and take up areas around us that block our movement.  This also means we need to develop an ability to adapt and change based on what others are doing.  Real evolution has another side to it that Sugarscape didn’t try to contend with either.  Evolution has individuals who develop traits and tricks.  These traits or tricks, such as finding new ways or being born with a unique way to take advantage of their environment, gives an organism  a leg up by being more fit resulting in more potential for survival and then reproduction.  Then, others will copy this trick, or be selected by birth with it, in order not to be left behind.

Now you didn’t think I would let you off easy with one little sugar world story.  Here is a contrasting story of change in another land with a sugar mountain but this one is in the form of a fable.  Saccharine Boy lived in the salt flats of the land of Sense.  One day he discovered a street sign hidden by piled up refuse of old consumer products and discarded beauty magazines.  The street sign read “Rational Road” and it led up a mountain.  So Saccharine Boy followed the road and he came to Meaning Mountain where everything was made of sugar.  He wanted to live on Meaning Mountain but everyone else he knew lived down in Sense and while he loved sweet, he also loved savory.  So he built a house on Meaning Mountain where he lived and decided to commute to Sense.  After a while he realized that he had changed.  He no longer had a craving for sweet or savory.  While he spent his days in Sense, he lived in Meaning.  Soon he found that he brought some Meaning with him each day that he went down to Sense.  Others caught on and after a while others started to go up to Meaning Mountain too.  As it were, there were plenty, though, that stayed in Sense.  They never went up Rational Road.  They complained about the traffic and the long commute.

Buying Meaning:  Sugarscape creatures live in an external world.  Where the sugar is located along with who gets to it determines if they are prosperous or not.  As we have already seen, things like luck, the environment, what opens up when things change, how others adapt, and so on all affect outcomes.  Nowhere though do these little creatures have an internal world.  While they may become “happy” when they have found an area booming with sugar, they have no sense of meaning and joy which tends to be part of an internal as well as external world.   In Saccharine Boy’s world, there were three areas of knowledge:  sense, reason, and meaning or higher purpose.  By bringing reason and especially meaning to the world of Sense, he was able to make his world richer by adding meaning and higher purpose to it, an internal component.  Most of us exist in our material, sense driven world but we live for meaning, substance, and transcendent purposes.

Selling money: as was just stated, we cannot escape living in the material world of sense, image, consumerism, and beauty that we have all laid out for ourselves.  Naturally, each of us can put different emphasis and values towards these ends. We must sell money in the sense that it helps to be successful in this world when we come up with an image of who we are and how we fit into the world.  Those who have a good hook that tells a clear emotional story or an interesting variation on a theme has an easier time finding sugar on a mountain.  So we must be our own PR firm while we make a pitch for our own movie script.  Success or not, if you bring meaning down the mountain into the salt flats, you offer yourself an internal sense of joy regardless of whether you come into an external big load of sugar.  As an extension of this, think of what would happen to consumerism if we all were to mainly buy products and services that provide meaning.

In an economy, what is critical is the interaction of each of the participants.  Another limitation of the Sugarscape’s model was that the only way the computer program accounts for how we react to others is by: how others take up physical space; how others drain the resources by eating the sugar they find; or how others find a place to exploit where other eaters have yet to discover.  In Saccharine Boys world, when some others found out about the road, they joined him up the mountain while yet others resisted the change and stayed put.   This, of course, cannot take into account such myriad social interactive effects that we have on each other, such as influence from reputation or popularity, or making decisions out of pride, spite, overconfidence, fear, or just to be a good sport.    Also, if you can come up with a way to cooperate, two sugar eaters can cover more ground than one and when one of the eaters is flush, that creature can help the other when they can’t seem to find any food.  Of course, a game cannot  reflect that even in the name of self-interest ,we are more joyful when we are around others and are healthier with such social traits as gratitude , service to others, and forgiveness, which gives our lives meaning.  This means you can have selfish reasons to be a sweetie.

Hold Change.  Down deep, the two stories though are about change, opportunity, and decision making.  In a Sugarscape-like world where change is a pattern of reaction and action, change comes when times are tough or luck comes your way, or the consequences of your actions hit the sweet spot.  In the land of Saccharine Boy though, change happens by using each of the three settings; sense, reason, and higher purpose or meaning.  If we do one without the other two, change becomes difficult.  We need the Rational Road of rational thinking to understand choices and consequences.  We also need the context of the world we live in within the salt flats that offers expectations, specific concrete examples, appropriateness, and a way to prod us or put us in a good position to do the right thing.  For example, behavioral economics has shown when you increase the number of choices, analysis paralysis sets in and you end up making no decision at all.  Lastly, we need the meaning of a story, an emotion, or something that transcends the daily self of who we are when we are down in the salt flats.

Not only do we need all three components for change, we need just the right amount of them.  Rational analysis can find so many alternatives and demand the need for ever more information, that we end up doing the safe thing that we know, which is to stay the same course and do nothing at all.  Emotion may be high but what to do about it keeps us from directing our efforts and motivation.  Lastly, the complexity or mere hassle of a situation may end up throwing the idea into the waste basket.  To be a successful economic being, you cannot only live life like a Sugarscape eater meaning that you would just be happy when the sugar is abundant and life is sweet.*  The amount of money you have does not correlate with happiness.  Do you worship the Fallen Idol of Sugar?  Most likely we all do but as false gods go, we can make sugar sweeter for all of us.  To be a successful economic being, you cannot only live up in the Meaning Mountain of Saccharine land because while the game is played down in the material world, we must bring the three commandments down the mountain.  Also, meaning is made not only by internal ways but also by how we deal with others.  Because each of us affects each other, things change rapidly and we must be ready to adapt to that change or be left behind.  With some clear thinking and about as many other sugar folk as you can get on your side, we can make money confectioners out of us all.  These are the commandments if you want to be a prophet, or at least, make a profit that is.

* Also, when you live on Sugar Mountain, you won’t always be (Neil) young

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