Stocks and Flows

I am always asking myself "what am I being shown? This changes my relation to the world and makes me pay attention.

In the shower this morning I started thinking about stocks and flows. The shower is a flow-based system. The bath is a stock based system.There is a limit to the amount of water that can be in the bath. There is seemingly no limit to the amount of water that can flow out of the shower. This is a problem!

When I visited India in 2019 I did not understand the "shower" in the bathroom. There was no shower-head. There was simply a tap on the wall and a large bucket with a jug on the floor. I worked it out that the water had to go in the bucket and then I could pour it over myself with the jug. A great compromise between a shower and a bath! A great way of making people aware of their use of a very scarce resource in that part of India. Stocks create a much needed awareness of flows...

Last year Marc and I were "homeless" for a while and slept a number of nights on Marc's boat. We used the shower at the harbour: This involved putting coins in a machine - x cents bought 3 minutes of hot water in the shower. Again a great system to make you aware of the "cost" of water.

These are forms of rationing. It got me thinking about universal basic income. Again this is a continuous flow concept but of a transmutable resource. Will the money be spent on the foundations of shelter, warmth, water and food or will it be spent gambling or a host of other addictions? Why not give a ration of the things that are needed that can't be so easily transmuted? I am thinking a ration of water, food, electric, space to sleep....

I have experience of what it feels like to manage a stock vs a flow of money too. When I worked for PwC etc I got a regular salary (flow of money) paid monthly into my account. It felt abundant. However, I have never been profligate and quickly turned it into a stock of cash and assets (in the form of a house.)

When I quit the world of work I had only a stock to manage and to manage over a length of time that I could not guess. How long was I going to live? Would it last? How might it be lost or taken from me. It is a place of scarcity. It draws attention to the need to manage the stock.

If I knew that if times got tough there would be bed and board provided by the state (A true safety net) I would feel much more secure.


Flows give the illusion of unlimited supply....hence all our global problems! Stocks raise the concept of potential limits.