The main insight offered by the "Tree" model , based on Psalm 1. is the difference between the Capitalist and Socialist weaknesses.
The picture is of a tree planted by the waters of a stream drawing up water from the stream. The tree yields fruit in its season and it does not wither owing to the abundance of water.
In both Capitalist and Socialist models, water is drawn up from the stream as well, but what happens to that water is the key to the different errors. In the Socialist model, the water is brought up from the roots and sprayed out the branches to water the grass below. Resources are re-distributed without changing them, or multiplying them first. This re-distribution process does indeed water the grass around the tree. The Psalm improves this model by noting that water is drawn up to produce fruit, and the fruit distributed into the community as a multiplied version of the resource drawn up in its raw material form. The Capitalist model does not make this mistake and is always talking about its superior productivity and multiplier concepts etc. The clue to the Capitalist mistake is seen when the Psalm is put up against the Proverb 18:11 "The rich man's wealth is his strong city and like a high wall protecting him (/in his imagination)". In other words, the countervailing advice is to be a tree not a tower. Towers collect fruit, but they are lifeless and dead-end structures, which collect but don't distribute fruit. What the tree model encourages is to be like a tree, and produce fruit but put that fruit out into the community as a life-giving organism.
All parables break down eventually, and must not be pushed too far. Their main purpose is not to carry all the detail in themselves, but rather, to free the listener up to hear and see the common things of life afresh outside a prevailing model. They free us from the shortcomings of whatever model we have been using in the past.
This model of the tree does carry some further detail in itself. For example:
For me personally, the model was sufficiently large to break me out of the mental bondage of our two prevailing economic models, and to look at both Scripture and the world around me with new eyes and ears. It certainly does not carry all the freight in explaining all of the economic aspect of life in our world. But it did free me up to start to look afresh.
- Trees grow in their capacity to produce fruit, and each year can produce more.
- they have no problem with "bigness", but they do have a limit to individual growth, and length of natural life.
- they die in the end and recycle down to enable new life.
- they live in an Eco-system.
The tree model also serves me every now and then as a "road-block-breaker" when I encounter a particularly convoluted economic concept in Scripture or life. I just sit back and consider, "how would this play out in the tree by the water model?" That, of course, is exactly what the Capitalist and Socialist models did in their time: they freed up their users to view the world afresh, freed from the limits of prior models.
Our problem with models comes, I believe, when we cross over and start believing that our models are in fact the reality, rather than a means to understanding reality. For example, take the tree model as a way of understanding and insight about economic life as expressed in Scripture. That is, take the tree model as a way of freeing us to hear afresh an author's implied outlook on the economic aspect of life, written several hundred years BC, long before either of our two prevailing models dominated all thinking on the subject.
In the Psalm, the poet is talking about a man. The man is the unit of focus; the basic unit under consideration. Because of our new association of the tree with the "productivity generating mechanism" economic aspect in our day, we are immediately confronted with a new view of that "productivity generating mechanism". We are encouraged to re-frame our world and ask, what if man is the central productive basic unit in the economic reality of our world, rather than a peripheral "input factor" available as an optional input in a firm's operation, and available in a "factor market", to managers of the firm bent on maximizing profit by obtaining such a factor at the lowest possible price?
So you see? The model doesn't carry the freight, it just opens us up to re-frame our world and hear afresh the insights of others, freed from the particular blinders of our prevailing paradigms.
Then again, the Psalm speaks of the God as being the source of advice and wisdom and life and that such a source is central to the fruitfulness of that man - the basis of his prosperity. The poem does not hesitate to say that righteous living leads to prosperity, and unrighteousness leads to non-fruitfulness, and instability. Nor does it hesitate to point out that if man is the central unit of economics, ethics is central to the discussion, not an optional adjunct, as it often is under the current paradigms. The Hebrew culture was more interested in "orthopraxi" (right living) than "orthodoxy" (right belief). Right thought, for them, must show itself in right action in the community. Our world teeters on the brink of disaster on a number of fronts. The perspective of this poem is timely in its encouragement of rootage in wisdom and life of God, and an expression of that wholesome resource in real life.
The man who is so rooted, grows in capacity, fruitfulness, and stability. Such a man is never short of resources, greenery or fruit. Unlike a tower, he accumulates some of the resource in order to grow in his capacity to produce more fruit, not in order to build a defensive wall to keep others from stealing extra resource. He has built-in limits to growth, and rate of growth. This blend of productivity and growth limits, while maintaining balance in an Eco-system, might well give us a new way to reflect on our current problems of rampant corporate growth, hoarded wealth, and collapsing Eco-system.
This "tree" model is the one which is used throughout this re-visiting of the economic aspect of life, in order to free us up to see and hear afresh both the insights of Scripture and the dynamics of the economic life around us.
[The image of the tree is picked up again in Jer 17:5-8 and Ezekiel 47:12 for those who wish to reflect further on it].