Putting Economics on a Spider -line

This blog is continuation of: E-Economy from August 1.

Amazing, amazing world.

And what inspired that comment? The mysteries revealed by Robert Raven – an arachnologist talking to Richard Fidler.

Some diving spiders digest their prey outside their bodies. Mr Raven told the story of seeing a spider bite a frog. He collected the pair in a jar, thinking it would be an interesting interaction to follow up. By the time he’d walked 7 minutes back to his camp, the frog had disappeared. Just a grey liquidy goop was left with the spider sucking it up. Apparently those spiders paralyse their prey then vomit into it and it’s their digestive juices that cause the lidquefaction. Disgusting to think about but truly amazing anyhow.

Spiders can navigate their webs confidently without sight.

Some spiders disguise their webs as lumps of smelly (yes, smelly) pooh to attract flies.

Other spiders make their webs smell like the pheromones of certain moths. Even more amazing, the juvenile spiders have different smelling webs because those moths are too big for the juveniles to handle.

And lastly (for this blog) a funnel-web’s venom is incredibly dangerous to humans but not to cats or dogs or horses. Why? Because we are primates and somewhere along the line, primates lost the ability to metabolise this venom. Richard Fidler wanted to know “Why humans?” The arachnologist laughed.

“Why are we so human-centric?” Robert Raven asked. “Funnel web spiders evolved 40 million years ago, long before humans had turned up. It’s not about us. It’s about millipedes. Millipedes have a cyanide-like venom that they use in self-defence and the funnel webs evolved something to combat that.”

All this speaks of history to me – a long history of animals interacting and coping in their worlds. An amazing history of survival and invention and evolution. A history of millions and millions of years.

Humans have only been around for about 2 million years and modern economics is only thought to have begun with Adam Smith in the 1700s. Furthermore, economics is fairly removed from nature. As far as I know, it’s not really based on anything except the history of commerce and trade and industrialisation. So much of what humans have learned, we learned from the natural world. We learned about flight and sight and shapes and colours and structures and physics all from the natural world. Numbers are more abstract. No wonder economics is so mysterious and fallible. We haven’t had time yet to figure out our own evolution of trade.

It must’ve taken a lot of generations to work out the pooh smell trick. And probably a lot of Funnel-webs had to die before they got their venom sorted to deal with the millipedes. But these days, apparently a Funnel Web can distinguish the footsteps of a millipede and can’t be lured out of its lair with a cockroach.

One day (assuming we survive Climate Change and Asteroid strikes), we will be that smooth with economics. We will sense the approach of a downturn almost internally. And, more importantly, we will know what to do about it.

In the meantime, there’s a few more thousand generations of mistakes to make. We need to give ourselves time.

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