10 October 2009

Mythical Foundations of Human Culture

William Rees of the University of British Colombia coined the 'Ecological Footprint' concept with his then PhD student, Mathis Wackernagel [who founded the Global Footprint Network] - bold is my emphasis:

Excerpt from Kingdom Matters, 19 January 2009

'Rees went next to the “mythic foundations of human culture,” which directed our attention at the way we use myth, philosophy, economic theory, and other religious tools to justify our cultural structures. The whipping boys here are pretty obvious: globalization and trade, primarily, which “perpetuate the illusions that eliminate negative feedback that would jar us into different aggregate choices” as a human society...

To Rees, the so-called “rising tide that lifts all ships,” or globalized trade, is one of those myths that we use to justify the West’s hyper-consumption of the globe’s finite stocks of natural capital – clean water, productive fisheries, the rainforests’ species diversity (which is a sine qua non for natural selection), and fossil fuel reserves. Rees quoted the young, contemporary philosopher Derrick Jensen: ”we must tell lies to one another” to keep making the self-destructive decisions we’re making as societies and cultures.'

The Power of Questions - Ask, Don't Tell

Excerpt from Transforming Cultures Worldwatch blog, 1 October 2009

'...While GFN has developed a spiffy logo for Earth Overshoot Day and a range of images to convey the significance of the day, the explicit message of reduce your footprint and here’s how is noticeably absent. This is not an oversight on GFN’s part, but rather a signal of their effort to frame the Ecological Footprint concept in a positive light. The goal, as Wackernagel puts it, “is not just to tell people to cut their ecological footprint, but to ask, ‘How can we have the best lives possible?’”

Wackernagel is insistent on this approach, citing the need for people, businesses, and countries to realize their own self-interest in reducing their footprints. The messaging around environmental and climate action is often focused on telling us how to act rather than explaining the root reasons for changing our ways, but Wackernagel says, “We give you the data and the trends, and you make the decisions.”...

If the world needs greater recognition of our ecological impact, whether it be in official reports or in individual daily lives, it must be brought about in a positive manner. Earth Overshoot, then, is not about doom and gloom but about looking forward to the changes that will come when more people realize the benefits of reducing their footprints.'

09 October 2009

The New Economy; Nine Economy Myths Busted

Yes! Magazine's theme guide, The New Economy

'This downturn marks the end of an unsustainable economy. Rather than trying to reinflate the old bubble economy, these activists, visionaries, and upstarts are trying something new: an economy that puts people first and works within the carrying capacity of Mother Earth.'

and:

Nine Economy Myths Busted [reposting in full]


New Economy, New Ways to Do Money

OLD ECONOMY:
The measure of a healthy economy is a growing GDP.

GET REAL:
A healthy economy meets real needs within ecological limits.

OLD ECONOMY:
All you need is money.

GET REAL:
You can’t eat money. What we need is healthy families, communities, and ecosystems.

OLD ECONOMY:
Booms and busts are inevitable in a modern economy.

GET REAL:
The boom/bust cycle is a result of letting banks create money.

We usually think of money as neutral—it allows buyers and sellers to make deals, and that’s good. But it’s not neutral when we give private banks the right to create money that we taxpayers have to borrow. It gets worse when banks get entangled in exotic speculation, creating trillions of electronic dollars that inflate financial bubbles. Then—because the paper wealth is disconnected from the real economy—the bubble pops, and finances crash. The banks don’t know how to untangle the mess, and they stop making loans. Even when things are going well, there’s this little problem about interest-based money—it concentrates more and more wealth in the hands of those lending it at the expense of your average home buyer, credit card holder, or tuition-paying college student. In the new economy, there are better ways to get money circulating.

Money from Nothing :: How Banks Create Money Out of Thin Air :: Dollars with Good Sense: Local Currencies


New Economy, New Ways to Do Finance

OLD ECONOMY:
Wall Street is the engine that powers our economy.

GET REAL:
Most real economic activity is local.

OLD ECONOMY:
Corporate banks are too big to fail. We need them to keep our economy going.

GET REAL:
Small, responsible banks and credit unions build real wealth in our communities.

OLD ECONOMY:
The smart investor insists on high returns.

GET REAL:
Slow community investments pay back in dollars and quality of life.

Fin
ance begins with a simple idea—individuals or groups sell shares to investors or borrow money from banks, and use the funds to start businesses, buy land, or build houses, factories, or roads. Investors gain a stake in these ventures; if these companies are publicly traded, investors can buy and sell shares on stock exchanges. But as the small U.S. stock exchanges of the late 18th century grew into the vast institution that is now Wall Street, the relationship between trading and the real economy of goods and services fell apart. We’ve witnessed what happens when “owners” of businesses have no accountability for outcomes in the real world. Financiers are rewarded for generating short-term profit, even when the investments turn out to be phony or to cause harm. As mega-finance crumbles, many farsighted individuals are putting their money in enterprises and financial institutions that benefit working Americans and the places they live.

Small Banks, Radical Vision :: My Best Investments are Down the Street :: Put Your Money Where Your Life Is :: Tips for Community Investment


New Economy, New Ways to Work

OLD ECONOMY:
Well-run businesses require a hierarchy of highly paid executives.

GET REAL:
Worker co-ops are efficient and democratic, and workers keep the profits.

OLD ECONOMY:
The freedom to do ecological damage improves the business climate.

GET REAL: If we destroy the environment, there is no business … or climate.

OLD ECONOMY:
Large corporations are efficient, innovative, and create jobs.

GET REAL:
Locally rooted small- and medium-sized businesses create the jobs and innovations we need.

Do you want new jobs in your community? With layoffs and businesses closing, who doesn’t? The standard formula is to offer big corporations subsidies and tax breaks. Throw in lax environmental and labor standards, and you may win the new-jobs sweepstakes - until another city offers a better deal. There’s another way - build your economy from local assets. Worker co-ops, in particular, are enjoying a resurgence. The Mondrag√≥n cooperatives in Spain started up to provide jobs during an economic slump; today, they employ 100,000 worker/owners. In the South Bronx, a new green worker co-op is reselling salvaged building materials. In Cleveland, co-ops will soon be servicing the city’s most stable employers—hospitals and colleges. These businesses employ the poor and keep jobs local. Many have a distinctly green tinge. Instead of flying off to distant shareholders, the profits go to the worker/owners who keep them circulating close to home.

Worker Co-ops: Green and Just Jobs You Can Own :: When Worker-Owners Decide How to Ride Out a Downturn :: From Rustbelt to Recovery '

France Looks for Alternatives to GDP

...and again! The call is coming from far and wide...

'A strong stable economy is important, but only as one of several tools for achieving what matters: high, equitable well-being that doesn’t destroy the planet. This must surely be the goal for any society, and we need to measure progress towards this.'

Reposted in full from yes! Magazine, 21 September 2009

'In 1934, one of the original developers of the Gross National Product economic indicator (GDP) cautioned that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.” Deeply flawed though it is, GDP became our primary way to measure the wealth, and health, of nations. But this week, for the first time in seventy years, we may be moving towards using a more accurate barometer.

The leader of a major developed country, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, has announced that he intends to begin a ‘great revolution’ in the way we measure social progress. The announcement came after a year and a half of research by a commission set up by the President to reconsider the way progress is measured. The commission was chaired by former chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, and its star-studded cast included development guru Amartya Sen, Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, and economist-turned-climate-change-hero Lord Nicholas Stern.

The commission’s final report, which has been fully endorsed by President Sarkozy, recognizes that “new political narratives are necessary to identify where our societies should go” and boldly advocates for “a shift of emphasis from a ‘production-oriented’ measurement system to one focused on the well-being of current and future generations.” Their conclusions echo what many normal people feel—in the UK, where I live, a 2006 poll found that 81 percent of people believed that the government's primary objective should be the "greatest happiness" of its citizens, rather than the "'greatest wealth."

The main problem with using GDP as a primary economic indicator is that, ultimately, it is simply the sum of all transactions in a country. It values guns and prisons in the same way it values music and medicine: by how much money changes hands. When the Exxon Valdez spilt its oil on the shores of Alaska in 1989 it increased U.S. GDP by $2 billion, thanks to the costs of the clean-up operation. But when a free concert is put on in a town square, or a parent participates on a school board, or a volunteer helps a charity, the change to the balance sheet is a big zero.

Here in the UK, people are starting to talk about the end of the recession because the GDP is expected to increase a fraction. But meanwhile, unemployment has risen to its highest levels this century, and is expected to continue rising. According to indicators that reflect the effect of the economy on people’s lives, the recession has just begun.

GDP also treats money the same no matter whom it goes to, though economists know full well the concept of diminishing returns. A dollar represents a day’s labor for half the population of sub-Saharan Africa. But for the CEOs of the world’s biggest banks, it wouldn’t even be worth their time to bend over to pick it up off the floor.

GDP is unable to capture any environmental impacts: neither the depletion of finite resources, nor the pollution of a river, nor the long-term effects of climate change. According to GDP, a fish swimming in the sea has no value until it is dead and in a packing factory.

And, perhaps, even more fundamentally, GDP gives no way of assessing people’s well-being. How is it possible that a small Central American country—Costa Rica—has higher average life expectancy and higher levels of happiness than the U.S. despite having a per capita GDP one quarter the size? Material conditions are important to people, but they do not determine everything—far more important are people’s friends, their community, their health, their aspirations, how they use their time and whether they feel valued.

In recognition of these failures, the commission recommended that France find replacement measures of material living standards—such as household income, income distribution, and access to education and health—that shift emphasis from GDP to well-being and sustainability.

Should he enact all of the commission’s twelve recommendations, Sarkozy will have gone a long way towards dealing with many of the criticisms of GDP. However, having better data in our national statistics offices is only the first step. Our political leaders and their economic advisers need to recognize that these new measures must be a first step to a broader redefinition of progress.

A strong stable economy is important, but only as one of several tools for achieving what matters: high, equitable well-being that doesn’t destroy the planet. This must surely be the goal for any society, and we need to measure progress towards this. As the British economist Andrew Oswald says: “Economic things only matter insofar as they make people happier.”

If you realize that you’ve built your house on quicksand, it’s not enough to strengthen the floor. You need to move. Our economies, built on the myth of GDP, are crumbling in the face of economic and environmental crises. We need a stronger foundation on which to build a better life.'

Saamah Abdallah

Saamah Abdallah wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Saamah is a researcher at the Centre for Well-Being in nef (the new economics foundation) and co-author of the National Accounts of Well-Being.

Interested? In The New Economy, read about the activists, visionaries, and upstarts who are trying something new: an economy that works within the carrying capacity of Mother Earth.

Calling for a New Story

Well! That is a layer to the Wizard of Oz I never knew about!! And I think the book mentioned is one I need to read...

Further to this question of myth [cultural stories], not sure whose this quote is, Googled it and can't find a source, but remember reading it many years ago, unattributed:

'If everyone's an actor
And all the world's a stage
Then who is it that's writing
Such destructive plays?'

Reposting in full [because it is so brilliant!] from Green Economy, Worldwatch Institute blog, 6 October 2009


'The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved American stories ever. The novel (1900) is still in print and the film (1939) is still screened regularly. Together they have left an indelible imprint on U.S. language and culture: “Follow the yellow brick road!” “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!” “There’s no place like home!” The story has even given names to at least two popular rock bands (Toto and Kansas).

Oz’s magic is easy to understand. Apart from showcasing the talents of Judy Garland, it has many features that perennially appeal to Americans. It’s a story of virtue and optimism, a story about the triumph of brains, heart, and courage over evil and deception.

It’s also a story about the gold and silver crisis of the 1890s, and about the “little people” fighting the moneyed interests of Wall Street.

That’s hardly what you think about when you watch Dorothy dance off down the yellow brick road with the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. But the original novel appeared after the depression of the 1890s, and author L. Frank Baum was well aware of the currents of resentment and anger coursing through U.S. society at the time. As recounted by George Akerloff and Robert Shiller in Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism, the yellow brick road and Dorothy’s slippers (silver in the novel, changed to ruby in the film because it looked better on screen) “were metaphors for the intense conflict over the gold standard and the proposed free coinage of silver.” The movie’s Munchkins represented the poor working class, the Wicked Witch of the West stood in for the business elite, and the Wizard was President William McKinley (“the great deceiver”). In 1896 McKinley had defeated populist candidate William Jennings Bryan in what some have called the first modern presidential campaign, in which big money and mass communication techniques were combined to carry the day for business interests.

The Wizard of Oz embodied the kind of story that circulated within popular consciousness about what was happening in the economy. Akerloff and Shiller argue that such stories are one of the ways that psychology shapes economies. The 1890s depression, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and today’s recession all share the fact that stories spread by “person-to-person contagion” helped drive them. In 1925, for instance, one of the stories was “that stocks had always had excellent long-term performance.” After the Crash in 1929, say Akerloff and Shiller, “the stories changed completely,” turning to “unfairness, corruption, and deception.” In the run-up to 2008–09, the stories were about skyrocketing real estate values. Now, they’re about big banks milking taxpayers to pay their executives huge bonuses out of the bailout billions.

The point I’m finally getting around to here is that this phenomenon of contagion—stories that spread like viruses—is amazingly powerful, at least when it serves peoples’ interests to believe it. The housing bubble, driven by stories of people who had bought low and sold high and by the availability of easy credit to ordinarily unqualified buyers, grew to astounding dimensions before bursting—because what renter wouldn’t want a house without a down payment, or the need to have a job or credit record? Bankers, too, were swept up in the something-for-nothing frenzy.

But couldn’t this power of stories, as horribly destructive as it was this time, work for us as well as against us? If we need a new story, what should it be? What kind of story would offer comfort and inspiration at a time when both are in short supply, but also encourage us to change direction, not just hold on till we can go back to our old ways?'

08 October 2009

Tribal Leadership

TED Talk by David Logan - are we talking to all five tribes? Are we nudging them into the next level?

The Creation of Money And Illusion of Wealth

Excerpt from Steady State Revolution, 8 June 2009 - emphasis added

'...Banks create money out of thin air by loaning it into existence. Increasing the money in the market creates inflation. This also means the our system is required to continually grow in order to offset this inflation...

Who controls the creation of our currency? The Government? They print the money, but most of our money is digital. Actually, 90% of our money is created through commercial banks by being loaned into existence.

Take the example displayed in the Summer 2009 issue of Yes! Magazine:

“You earn $100 and put it in the bank and then…. The bank keeps $10 in it Federal Reserve account…. Then loans Susie $90, at interest. Susie deposits the $90 in her bank. That bank keeps $9 and loans Joe $81, at interest. See how it all adds up – for the banks. You have $100 in your account. Susie has $90 in hers. Joe has $81. There’s now $271 total in accounts that you and Susie and Joe can spend, and it all came from your $100 deposit. The banks have created an additional $171 by loaning it into existence.

Imagine this money trick over and over. If you do this operation 50 times, that $100 turns into $995.25 – $885.25 in loans, and your original $100...

As we gain interest on savings (or charge interest on debt) we are gaining new money in the market. What happens when more money is placed in a market? Inflation. How can we control inflation? Grow!! If our market grows at the same rate, there is no inflation. We have to grow in order to meet the demands of the greedy banks. Remember, inflation is caused by the banks making money out of nothing for their profit and at our loss.

More over, as the demand to borrow increases in boom times so does the money through the creation of so many new loans and the interest they accrue. These bubbles are created by the increasing amount of money being added to the market. The bubbles are popped when loans are foreclosed, causing the money supply to contact during a recession. The boom-bust cycles since the adoption of these monetary policies has been largely caused by banks creating large sums money out of thin air.

This is a major point in argument for the steady state economy and against the current, neoclassical economy. Money is a tool created to simplify and improve our exchanges, thereby improving our life. We value real things like food, water, clothing, family – real wealth; yet we try so hard to hoard small pieces of paper in big piles instead of the actual goods. This is what David Korten calls “phantom wealth,” not real wealth...

Money is a public service, created to improve our ability to make exchanges. Money should be a service provided by our government (the one run by its people).

The power of the creation of money should rest in the hands of a public agency, not a for-profit commercial bank. We as a community have decided to let the creation of money rest in the hands of privately owned banks. We as a community need to change were the power is stored and return it to our elected government.

There are many ways of doing this:

1. supporting local currencies
2. voting for banking reform
3 .demanding moving to a 100% reserve system, and
4. call for money creation to be controlled by an accountable, public-controlled organization (the government)'

Great Transition Initiative

Archetypal Social Visions...
Bending the Curve...
Proximate and Ultimate Drivers...
Market Forces vs Policy Reform vs Great Transition...
Change Agents - which group is the linchpin?

www.gtinitiative.org/resources/stream.html [35 mins]

07 October 2009

Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money - Book



'Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money presents the path for bringing money back down to earth - philosophically, strategically, and pragmatically - and with an entrepreneurial spirit that is informed by decades of work by the thousands of CEOs, investors, grantmakers, food producers, and consumers who are seeding the restorative economy.

This is the path toward a financial system that serves people and place as much at it serves industry sectors and markets. To discover this path and to begin to walk down it: That is the mission of Slow Money. This mission emerges from Woody Tasch’s decades of work as a venture capitalist, foundation treasurer, and entrepreneur, whose explorations shed new light on a truer, more beautiful, more prudent kind of fiduciary responsibility - a fiduciary responsibility that is not stuck in the industrial concepts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but which reflects the economic, social, and environmental realities of the twenty-first century.

These explorations take us from the jokes of his father to the insights of his son, from the boardrooms of foundations and start-up companies to the farm fields of Vermont, from gopher holes in New Mexico to the possibilities of an alternative stock exchange, from Carlo Petrini to Muhammad Yunus, from Thoreau to Soros.'

Tellus Institute



The Tellus Institute was founded in 1976 '...as an interdisciplinary not-for-profit research and policy organization...Tellus entered a new phase in 2005, consolidating its programs to address the grand challenge of this century: a Great Transition to a sustainable, just, and livable global civilization. To attain this vision, the world must navigate toward ways of producing, consuming, and living that balance the rights of people today, future generations, and the wider community of life. The prospects for such a transition rest with the ascendance of new values, a planetary consciousness, and a sense of global citizenship. These aims will lie at the heart of the Institute’s program of research, education, and network-building in the coming years.'

Detroit Reinvented

Parts of Detroit could end up being an interesting social experiment...



Excerpt from Worldchanging, 6 October 2009

'The city of Detroit has gotten a lot of attention recently, most of it lamenting how far its fortunes have fallen [compared to] to the American self-image of infinite growth and expansion. Detroit's population has plummeted. Huge swaths of land lie vacant. Houses have gone feral...

Detroit’s strength is in its weakness...the city affords many opportunities to artists, entrepreneurs, urban homesteaders, and people who do not want typical 9-to-5 lifestyles. Large, vacant commercial space can be rented out to start-ups at basement sale prices. People can buy homes and land for almost nothing, grow their own food, and form communities of similarly-minded people. Imagine if residents were given financial or technical assistance to build farms, solar panels, micro turbines, grey water systems, vermiculture compost systems, and other household-level or block-level amenities that local government can no longer afford to provide.

Not only is the government relieved to pursue more pressing problems, like education and crime, but people are empowered to run their own communities. In turn, people are relieved of having to join the 9-to-5 workforce – with no mortgage, no car payments and insurance, little -to-no utility payments, and a small food bill from farming, people can use their time to invest in their community or take risks, like starting new companies or producing works of art.'

06 October 2009

Meltdown!



Excerpt from
Culture Buzz, 16 September 2009

'WWF Germany created this street marketing action to remind us that global warming is real and that time to find a solution is running out. To show this, the ecological organization placed 1000 people made of ice on the Gendarmenmarkt plaza in the German capital Berlin. They are all seated on their hands to symbolize the inactivity of governments in the face of this urgent global problem. A creative action that encourages reflection.'

Watch a clip of this action: www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgtKbkT5NtY

05 October 2009

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge

...please circulate and send to anyone who may wish to apply!

http://challenge.bfi.org/home

'“If success or failure of the planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… How would I be? What would I do?” -Buckminster Fuller

Each year a distinguished jury awards a $100,000 prize to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Entries are now being accepted and the deadline is midnight, Eastern Time on October 30, 2009.

"There is a movement afoot- of highly motivated individuals all over the world seriously engaged in coming up with solutions to the mounting set of problems we face. These design pioneers and social innovators are not waiting for large scale institutions to deliver us to a sustainable future. They understand the critical role they play as the change agents for the future we all want to see. These are the people and projects we are excited to see submit an entry to the Challenge.

We have an amazing line-up of the international systems thinkers and design pioneers serving on the jury. This year we plan to capture and publish some of the discussion leading to the selection of the winning solution as we feel it surfaces some of the most critical issues faced in trying to figure out which solutions are leverage points for turning the ship around."

- Executive Director, Elizabeth Thompson'

IMF Presses for Tax on Banks' Risky Behaviour

Excerpt from The Guardian, 2 October 2009

'The International Monetary Fund today threw its weight behind a new tax on the global financial sector designed to limit risky speculative behaviour and help the world's poorest countries.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF's managing director, said banks and other big financial institutions were responsible for systemic risk and it was only right that they provided resources to mitigate those threats to the world economy.

While ruling out a so-called Tobin tax – a levy on foreign currency transactions proposed by the American economist James Tobin in the early 1970s – Strauss-Kahn said a high-level IMF team would work on proposals in the coming months.

"The very simple idea of putting a tax on transactions won't work for many technical reasons," Strauss-Kahn said at a press conference held in the run-up to the IMF's annual meeting in Istanbul next week.

"On the other hand, considering the financial sector is creating a lot of systemic risks for the global economy, it is fair that the sector pay some part of its resources to mitigate risks it is creating itself."

Strauss-Kahn said a team led by the IMF's number two, John Lipsky, would be looking at the merits of setting up a fund that would provide some form of insurance against future financial crises, as well as help for low-income countries.The fund was asked to investigate "Tobin-style" taxes by last week's G20 summit in Pittsburgh following pressure from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy...

This idea returned to public prominence at the end of August when Lord Turner, head of the UK's Financial Services Authority, said that the swollen and "socially useless" banking sector should be taxed back down to size...

Max Lawson, senior policy adviser to Oxfam, said: "This could be a hugely popular tax, making the banks pay for the mess they made. Bankers will fight this tooth and nail but they must be resisted by G20 leaders."'