“You had guys been keeping bees longer than I have, they couldn’t keep ’em alive. But they don’t really want to learn how to keep bees. A lot of them still losing all their bees every winter, twenty years after they started keeping bees. Somewhere along the line, people reach a psychological, not an intellectual, block. Where they’ve got to change—the way they look at things has to change.” Then he adds, “Commercial beekeepers go through that all the time. They have to completely learn to look at things differently and let go of things they didn’t even realize they were holding onto.”
“But their livelihood depends on them doing that successfully,” I tell him.
“That’s right,” Barry says. “That’s right.”
“And a hobbyist has no skin in the game?”
“They have no skin in the game because they don’t really care about those bees,” he says. “We just see all the time that who they are prevents them from being good beekeepers. If they don’t think ahead, if they’re procrastinators, if they’re—it’s almost like bee-keeping’s the perfect spiritual mirror. Whatever you are, you’re going to see in caricature.” He takes a bite of his sandwich. “One of the chief researchers at the USDA made a comment to me that eventually hobby beekeepers will destroy bee-keeping and commercial bee-keeping and the bees.”
“Without intent to do so, right?”
“Well,” Barry says, “some of them without intent, but they have these romantic notions.”
“Wanting to live more symbiotically or collaboratively with nature seems like a positive thing,” I suggest.
“That’s what they say they want,” Barry acknowledges, “but that’s not really what they want.” What they really want, he says, is to be part of a fashion. Hobbyists think of commercial beekeepers as “corporate farmers and bee slavers,” he claims. But commercial beekeepers are the ones taking much better care of their bees. “The commercial beekeeper’s not all warm and fuzzy, but he gets up every morning and goes to bed every night thinking about his bees.” He recalls that one of his children told him once, “ ‘Dad, I think you love those bees more than you love us.’ And I said ‘No, but if I don’t take care of the bees, I can’t take care of you.’ ” – The Accidental Beekeeper by Benjamin Rachlin
Taleb, in Antifragile, discusses “skin in the game” at length. His best point, familiar to anyone aware of the Principal–agent problem, is that good decision making is essential consequentialist and without being subject to the consequences of a decision, one lacks the feedback necessary to rationality. Also relevant here is the Socialist calculation debate of the early 20th century. Again and again, without knowing the consequences of an action, without feeling the consequences, how can one make good decisions?
Even though hobbyist beekeepers don’t, and don’t need to, make money from their beekeeping, I think they can still have some skin in the game by embracing a spirit of craftsmanship. By putting their pride up, as their skin in the game, they’ll be pushed to go outside themselves and begin to take seriously their success and failure. That would be good for their bees, their honey production, and even their community.