26 February 2011

World Unrest - Joining the Dots

'...Whilst much of the mainstream media focussed on the repression of public freedoms, corruption and a lack of democracy as the main cause of popular insurrection (across North Africa and the Middle East), common underlying factors also include the growing levels of inequality, ongoing hikes in the price of basic food and energy, and poor access to housing and welfare services. Whilst Mubarak left office in Egypt with a reported $70 bn dollars of stolen public money, citizens remain saddled with $30 bn of debts despite a poverty rate of 1 in 4 and a recurring food crisis...'

Reposted in full from Sharing The World's Resources, 23 February 2011

'In a dramatic series of events since late 2010, a new and intensified phase of public protest has erupted across both wealthy and poor regions of the world. Right across Europe, harsh programs of financial austerity have led to escalating protests and mass public campaigns; in the Middle East and North Africa, a revolutionary wave of civil unrest is gripping the international media; and less reported are countless smaller anti-government demonstrations taking place across diverse continents. As commentators struggle to keep up with the rapid unfolding of these events, it is worthwhile to reflect on the basic connections between these varied struggles, and to pose a simple question: are we witnessing the birth of a truly international public voice calling for wealth redistribution and wholesale political reform?

The pan-European protests were sparked by government plans to cut public spending, slash welfare benefits and freeze pay in response to economic recession and the debt crisis. With European Union finance ministers agreeing rules that would punish countries that fail to bring their debts under control, a new austerity drive swept across the 16-nation eurozone as governments struggled to trim their huge budget deficits. Both the German and UK coalition governments approved their biggest austerity plans since World War II; Italy and Spain joined Europe's austerity club with massive cuts to public services; France announced its controversial plans to cut spending and raise its retirement and pension ages; while the most debt-stricken countries in the EU - Portugal, Greece and the Irish Republic - committed to draconian austerity packages to please international investors, not to mention the ongoing budget cuts in various other EU countries such as Hungary, Latvia, Romania and the Netherlands.

What's most striking about the public outcry that followed is not only the vast scale of civic protests, but the sense that a majority of European people believe that government austerity measures are unnecessary and deeply unjust. On 29th September 2010, the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC) organised coordinated demonstrations in European cities, with hundreds of thousands of union members across the region amassing under the banner ‘No to Austerity'. Countless new campaign groups and social movements have also highlighted the distorted priorities of governments who cut public spending as opposed to targeting the excesses of big corporations, bankers and international investors. This included the voices of leading economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Christopher Pissarides who argued that austerity measures go in exactly the wrong direction, and are more likely to result in lower economic growth, worsening unemployment and protracted recession. In the words of Attac, the French campaign group who stood by the anti-austerity protesters across Europe: "The radical austerity policies now demanded by the EU are a solution in the interest of the wealthy and the financial actors alone. EU governments intend to implement austerity policies everywhere. ...Their policies can only deepen social inequalities and the present crisis, while making the economic situation in Greece and the rest of the EU even worse."

Out of the scores of anti-cuts groups still springing up at a local and national level across Europe, one that has captured the public imagination more than most is UK Uncut. In late October 2010, a group of London-based young activists thought up an ingenious way of highlighting an alternative to the British governments harsh austerity measures. Rather than simply protesting against public spending cuts, they focused upon the tax-avoidance strategies of rich individuals and big corporations. In a series of direct action protests organised spontaneously through the internet, the informal group has mobilised local protests and temporarily closed down more than a hundred stores in towns and cities across the country. The message of an alternative to austerity measures was brilliantly straight-forward: if the government clamped down on corporate tax avoidance, it would greatly reduce the need for public spending cuts. As the fastest-growing protest movement in the UK, its focus is now shifting to the greed and reckless practices of high street banks. And it's now emerged that similar protests are being organised in North America under the banner US Uncut, with more than 30 demonstrations planned for 26 February - the date of UK Uncut's second "day of action" against the banks.

No to Austerity and Ideology

Common to all the protests in Europe is a recognition of the pro-market ideology that is driving government policies to the detriment of the public good. Since the world stock market crash of 2008, it is increasingly evident that a number of governments are using the economic crisis as an excuse to re-shape the economy in the interests of business. In the UK, for example, George Monbiot recently wrote an article in the Guardian showing how the Chancellor of the Exchequer plans to allow money that has passed through tax havens to remain untaxed when it reaches the UK, accompanied by a rapid reduction in the official rate of corporation tax - the lowest rate of any major Western economy. At the same time, the British government is slashing social benefits and public-sector jobs, cutting budgets for government departments, transferring the onus for creating new jobs onto the private sector, and incrementally privatising the National Health Service and state education (with an attempt to privatise thousands of hectares of England's national forests being recently defeated in Parliament). There is no shortage of commentary in the UK pointing out that such policies are ideologically-driven, opportunistic while the country is on the brink of bankruptcy, and even wider in scope than Margaret Thatcher's swingeing program to cut government presence in the economy during the 1980s.

Meanwhile, Greece's 110 bn euro rescue package was agreed on the back of a huge austerity drive, civil service and pension cuts, the easing of restrictions on private-sector layoffs, and a large privatisation and structural adjustment programme that is geared more to saving European banks than protecting the livelihoods of the Greek public. The Irish Republic is suffering a comparable fate in return for a joint EU-IMF bailout package worth 85 bn euros. Alongside the harshest tax hikes and budget cuts in the nation's history, the terms of the bailout stipulate that Ireland must get its budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2015 - promising further budget cuts year-on-year regardless of the effect on jobs, welfare rights or the living standards of the majority. Portugal, Spain and possibly Belgium are all lined up for similar treatment. The message is clear: it is not the nation's people that must be bailed out but the financial plutocrats who hold the nation's debt, even if this spells the destruction of the entire post-war European social welfare system.

As many analysts are now pointing out, these savage austerity packages being unleashed across Europe mirror the fate that many developing nations have faced for decades. Scores of indebted countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have long endured the savage IMF structural adjustment programmes that Ireland, Greece and other EU countries are now suffering. A recent briefing by the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) explains the similarities and differences between the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, and responses to the debt crisis in the Global South by international financial institutions since the late 1970s. Zambia, for example, made extreme cuts in government spending throughout the 1980s and 1990s under pressure from the IMF, yet the cuts failed to prevent the country's debt from doubling while its economy plunged into recession.

A similar logic was applied to Asian countries following the financial crisis in 1998; foreign private lenders were bailed out, government spending was severely cut back, public companies were further privatised, yet the economy still continued to decline. According to JDC, a common theme is that the public face the costs, not private lenders. And not only is private debt paid for by the public, but the cut-backs in public spending by no means guarantees a reduction in national debt. In effect, ordinary people are forced to pay for the reckless behaviour and mistakes of the financial sector - a reality that is now shared and understood by citizens in both the Global North and South.

Growing gap between rich and poor

A major difference for people in the South is that there is often no guaranteed state provisions or social safety nets that exist for them in the first place. Even in those developing countries still experiencing economic prosperity, most notably in the globalisation "success stories" of India and China, rapid GDP growth is being matched by deepening inequalities and social insecurity. As we know from the World Bank's global poverty statistics, at least 80 percent of the 1.1 billion people who live in India somehow manage to survive on less than $2 a day. In China, still 36 percent of its population survives on less than $2 a day, while the rural-urban income gap has continued to widen alongside increases in inequality of health and education outcomes. As what some call "the greatest migration in world history" continues across China, rural migrant workers arriving in industrial areas often find themselves trapped in abysmal working and living conditions, many without basic health and safety protections.

This definite growth in inequality and the lack of economic opportunity and social security that underpins it has long been a recurring theme across the world. A recent UNCTAD report revealed that there are now twice as many low-income countries than there were 30-40 years ago, and twice as many poor people living in them. Even more indicative of this worrying trend in global inequality is the evidence that a new ‘bottom billion' of the world's poor live in middle-income countries - a dramatic change from just two decades ago when the majority of the poor lived in low-income nations. A growing gulf between the rich and poor is also continuing in many high-income countries, not least in the United States where the top 20 percent of wealthy individuals own about 85 percent of the wealth, while the bottom 40 percent own very near 0 percent. As the Economist magazine is keen to point out in a special report, there is an ongoing rise in the share of income going to the very top - the highest 1 percent of earners - who constitute a global power elite or ‘superclass' in many countries. At the other end of the scale, evidence suggests that the number of people living in relative poverty could possibly be 4 billion and rising.

This is the context in which we can better understand the sudden eruption of civil unrest across North Africa and the Middle East. Whilst much of the mainstream media focussed on the repression of public freedoms, corruption and a lack of democracy as the main cause of popular insurrection, common underlying factors also include the growing levels of inequality, ongoing hikes in the price of basic food and energy, and poor access to housing and welfare services. Whilst Mubarak left office in Egypt with a reported $70 bn dollars of stolen public money, citizens remain saddled with $30 bn of debts despite a poverty rate of 1 in 4 and a recurring food crisis. Tunisia, a regional poster child for the success of pro-market reforms, is in a similar predicament with crippling graduate unemployment rates of up to 46 percent, despite strong GDP growth. This underlying pattern of protest against social and economic deprivation alongside political repression is being repeated across Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Syria, Iran, Morocco, Oman, and a number of other countries in the region. All have been spearheaded by the countries' youth, fuelled by social media and television, yet broadly supported by the middle class. In an unprecedented outpouring of goodwill and solidarity, these millions of people on the streets are claiming their democratic right to a fairer share of the vast wealth that their rulers have hoarded for decades.

The pan-Arab protests clearly have much in common with those reacting to austerity across Europe, as well as the millions who have mobilised in support of debt cancellation and an end to ‘economic adjustment' in the South. In every country, the widespread outcomes of debt, austerity, poverty and inequality are the product of political choices - the consequences of a disastrous neoliberal approach to managing a nation and its finances. What we may be witnessing in the popular responses to these hardships is an emerging global consensus in favour of a fundamental reordering of government priorities. In the space of barely a few months, the rapid growth of anti-austerity demonstrations across Europe and massive anti-government protests all over the Middle East indicate the potential for public opinion to take on an international dimension. Given the determination of policymakers across the globe to continue with business as usual, the strengthening of a world public opinion in favour of a more equitable distribution of resources may constitute the first step toward meaningful reforms.

As this increasingly global call for justice unfolds across several continents, an underlying demand being voiced by protesters in different countries is the urgent need for redistribution. Calls for an end to austerity measures, more progressive taxation and the cancellation of debt in the developing world all reflect the need to redistribute wealth and political power downward. An implicit understanding common to all these demands is that governments are better able to secure basic human needs for their citizens through the provision of more effective welfare and social services. The question that remains is whether the need for redistribution can be recognised at the international level where the unequal distribution of power and resources manifests in extreme differences in living standards between the richest and poorest nations. If the case for international sharing captures the public imagination as quickly as the calls for distributive justice in individual countries, the elimination of global poverty could finally become a realistic possibility.'

24 February 2011

Not For Profit World

My friend and colleague Donnie Maclurcan gave this talk in November 2010, and offered the following challenge - by 2050, could we evolve a not-for-profit world, where every business has as its primary objective, the fulfilment of social needs?

Sourced from Tedx Youth Brisbane

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. The annual TED Conference invites the world's leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes. Their talks are then made available, free, at TED.com.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations)

23 February 2011

The Natural Debt Crisis: Learning to Live Within Our Planet's Means

Excerpt from TIME Magazine, 22 February 2011

'Ask any Republican — from the Speaker of the House to a local sheriff — what the biggest problem facing the country is today and you're sure to get the same answer: Debt. Conservatives believe a public debt of $14 trillion and growing is crippling the economy and condemning future generations to penury. In Wisconsin, new Republican governor Scott Walker says that a $137 million deficit leaves him no choice but to force public unions in the state to accept drastic benefits reductions and curtailed bargaining rights — a stance that has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the streets of Madison. In Congress, the Republican-controlled House has passed a budget that would slash $60 billion in government spending, most of it from discretionary programs. "We're broke," Speaker John Boehner told Meet the Press last week. "It's time to get serious about how we're spending the nation's money."...

Now, I'm not a political reporter — thankfully — but I've heard that sort of rhetoric before, this warning that we're living beyond our means, running up a tremendous debt that will one day cause catastrophe. It's the call of the environmentalist, and it was on display just a few blocks away from the Capitol in Washington this weekend at the annual summit of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Speaker after speaker took the podium in stuffy halls around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to warn that we had exceeded the planet's carrying capacity — with too many people, too much pollution and too much carbon dioxide — and that unless we cut back drastically on consumption, our world would collapse, and us with it. "Right now we're living at about 1.5 planets' worth of consumption," says Jason Clay, senior vice president for market transformation at the World Wildlife Fund. "We are living beyond what is sustainable. That can't go on forever."

Even the terms we use to describe our two debts are similar, as the language used in finance bleeds over into ecology. Conservationists like to talk about "natural capital" — the stuff provided by the planet that underpins prosperity. Clean air, clean water, soil, forests, fish, biodiversity — this is the natural capital in our balance sheet, and without it there would be no life, let alone business. One study done in the mid-1990s estimated that the total value of such ecosystem services was approximately $33 trillion — considerably more than the global GDP at the time. The business of the planet is the environment.

If we act sustainably — if we live within our means, as conservatives might put it — our natural capital will regenerate and sustain us, like a bank account delivering interest. But we're not living within our means — not even close...

Admittedly, there are economists who argue that these fears are overblown, that humanity has been able to keep growing through technological innovation that has multiplied the carrying capacity of the planet. There were doomsayers in the 1970s who predicted imminent global starvation; instead, we've thrived economically, pulling hundreds of millions of human beings out of poverty. That's exactly how most conservatives talk about the natural debt, if they talk about it all. We'll keep growing, keep innovating our way out of anything nature throws in our path. And if that doesn't work, there's always divine intervention. "God is not capricious," Minnesota Republican Mike Beard said recently. "He's given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything."

But the truly scary possibility is that the collapse could come quite suddenly, after what may seem to be a long period of global prosperity. It would only be in retrospect, after the fall, that we would see that what we thought was success was built on eating into our capital, like a consumer maxing out his credit cards to buy a second house. The global rise in food prices, which have hit their highest level globally in several decades, might be an early sign that the agricultural system that sustains (some more than others) nearly 7 billion people with the help of fertilizers and irrigation may be hitting its limits. "When the crisis hits, we'll act rapidly, but by then it might be too late for hundreds of millions or even billions of people," says William Rees, an ecologist at UBC.

What's amazing to me, though, is that the very politicians who are so worried about the public debt — and who want deep spending cuts now to save our future, whatever the cost — utterly dismiss the idea that we could face an equal crisis of natural debt. Politicians like Boehner and Ryan order us to tighten our belts immediately, but they utterly deny the climate and resource crisis the world faces. In fact, the Republicans in Congress are going well beyond simple denial — they're now using their budget to erode America's ability to prepare for that very scary future.

The Republican budget would cut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget by one-third — $3 billion — and would prevent the agency from setting any limits on CO2 and a number of other pollutants. It would eliminate U.S. funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — which would save all of $12.5 million. It would cut Department of Energy budgets that promoted renewable energy by $1.7 billion — a 23% reduction at a time when the U.S. is in a clean-energy race with China. The National Science Foundation budget would be cut by $395.5 million. "This is probably the single most irresponsible bill I have seen either Chamber of Congress pass in the more than 20 years I have been in Washington," wrote Dan Lashof, the director of the Natural Resource Defense Council's climate center.

To which the Republicans would respond, We face an unprecedented fiscal crisis, and tough choices have to be made. All right — but if you believe public debt is such a potential catastrophe that it must be defused now, no matter the short-term pain, it only seems right to take our natural debt just as seriously. Either way, we're broke — and it's time we acted like it.'

‘Net Energy’ Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society

Overview of a report about whether humanity's energy bubble is so big, that *no* mix of known energy sources could supply the forecasted demand by the end of the century...

Sourced from the Post Carbon Institute, September 2009

'This report is intended as a non-technical examination of a basic question: Can any combination of known energy sources successfully supply society’s energy needs at least up to the year 2100? In the end, we are left with the disturbing conclusion that all known energy sources are subject to strict limits of one kind or another. Conventional energy sources such as oil, gas, coal, and nuclear are either at or nearing the limits of their ability to grow in annual supply, and will dwindle as the decades proceed—but in any case they are unacceptably hazardous to the environment. And contrary to the hopes of many, there is no clear practical scenario by which we can replace the energy from today’s conventional sources with sufficient energy from alternative sources to sustain industrial society at its present scale of operations. To achieve such a transition would require (1) a vast financial investment beyond society’s practical abilities, (2) a very long time—too long in practical terms—for build-out, and (3) significant sacrifices in terms of energy quality and reliability.

Perhaps the most significant limit to future energy supplies is the “net energy” factor—the requirement that energy systems yield more energy than is invested in their construction and operation. There is a strong likelihood that future energy systems, both conventional and alternative, will have higher energy input costs than those that powered industrial societies during the last century.We will come back to this point repeatedly.

The report explores some of the presently proposed energy transition scenarios, showing why, up to this time, most are overly optimistic, as they do not address all of the relevant limiting factors to the expansion of alternative energy sources. Finally, it shows why energy conservation (using less energy, and also less resource materials) combined with humane, gradual population decline must become primary strategies for achieving sustainability.


The world’s current energy regime is unsustainable. This is the recent, explicit conclusion of the International Energy Agency1, and it is also the substance of a wide and growing public consensus ranging across the political spectrum. One broad segment of this consensus is concerned about the climate and the other environmental impacts of society’s reliance on fossil fuels.The other is mainly troubled by questions regarding the security of future supplies of these fuels—which, as they deplete, are increasingly concentrated in only a few countries.

To say that our current energy regime is unsustainable means that it cannot continue and must therefore be replaced with something else.However, replacing the energy infrastructure of modern industrial societies will be no trivial matter. Decades have been spent building the current oil-coal-gas infrastructure, and trillions of dollars invested. Moreover, if the transition from current energy sources to alternatives is wrongly managed, the consequences could be severe: there is an undeniable connection between per-capita levels of energy consumption and economic well-being.2 A failure to supply sufficient energy, or energy of sufficient quality, could undermine the future welfare of humanity, while a failure to quickly make the transition away from fossil fuels could imperil the Earth’s vital ecosystems.

Nonetheless, it remains a commonly held assumption that alternative energy sources capable of substituting for conventional fossil fuels are readily available—whether fossil (tar sands or oil shale), nuclear, or a long list of renewables—and ready to come on-line in a bigger way. All that is necessary, according to this view, is to invest sufficiently in them, and life will go on essentially as it is.

But is this really the case? Each energy source has highly specific characteristics. In fact, it has been the characteristics of our present energy sources (principally oil, coal, and natural gas) that have enabled the building of a modern society with high mobility, large population, and high economic growth rates. Can alternative energy sources perpetuate this kind of society? Alas, we think not.

While it is possible to point to innumerable successful alternative energy production installations within modern societies (ranging from small homescale photovoltaic systems to large “farms” of threemegawatt wind turbines), it is not possible to point to more than a very few examples of an entire modern industrial nation obtaining the bulk of its energy from sources other than oil, coal, and natural gas. One such rare example is Sweden, which gets most of its energy from nuclear and hydropower. Another is Iceland, which benefits from unusually large domestic geothermal resources, not found in most other countries. Even in these two cases, the situation is more complex than it appears.The construction of the infrastructure for these power plants mostly relied on fossil fuels for the mining of the ores and raw materials, materials processing, transportation, manufacturing of components, the mining of uranium, construction energy, and so on. Thus for most of the world, a meaningful energy transition is still more theory than reality. But if current primary energy sources are unsustainable, this implies a daunting problem. The transition to alternative sources must occur, or the world will lack sufficient energy to maintain basic services for its 6.8 billion people (and counting).

Thus it is vitally important that energy alternatives be evaluated thoroughly according to relevant criteria, and that a staged plan be formulated and funded for a systemic societal transition away from oil, coal, and natural gas and toward the alternative energy sources deemed most fully capable of supplying the kind of economic benefits we have been accustomed to from conventional fossil fuels.

By now, it is possible to assemble a bookshelf filled with reports from nonprofit environmental organizations and books from energy analysts, dating from the early 1970s to the present, all attempting to illuminate alternative energy transition pathways for the United States and the world as a whole.These plans and proposals vary in breadth and quality, and especially in their success at clearly identifying the factors that are limiting specific alternative energy sources from being able to adequately replace conventional fossil fuels.

It is a central purpose of this document to systematically review key limiting factors that are often left out of such analyses.We will begin that process in the next section. Following that, we will go further into depth on one key criterion: net energy, or energy returned on energy invested (EROEI).This measure focuses on the key question: All things considered, how much more energy does a system produce than is required to develop and operate that system? What is the ratio of energy in versus energy out? Some energy “sources” can be shown to produce little or no net energy. Others are only minimally positive.

Unfortunately, as we shall see in more detail below, research on EROEI continues to suffer from lack of standard measurement practices, and its use and implications remain widely misunderstood. Nevertheless, for the purposes of large-scale and long-range planning, net energy may be the most vital criterion for evaluating energy sources, as it so clearly reveals the tradeoffs involved in any shift to new energy sources.

This report is not intended to serve as a final authoritative, comprehensive analysis of available energy options, nor as a plan for a nation-wide or global transition from fossil fuels to alternatives. While such analyses and plans are needed, they will require institutional resources and ongoing reassessment to be of value.The goal here is simply to identify and explain the primary criteria that should be used in such analyses and plans, with special emphasis on net energy, and to offer a cursory evaluation of currently available energy sources, using those criteria.This will provide a general, preliminary sense of whether alternative sources are up to the job of replacing fossil fuels; and if they are not, we can begin to explore what might be the fall-back strategy of governments and the other responsible institutions of modern society.

As we will see, the fundamental disturbing conclusion of the report is that there is little likelihood that either conventional fossil fuels or alternative energy sources can reliably be counted on to provide the amount and quality of energy that will be needed to sustain economic growth—or even current levels of economic activity—during the remainder of the current century.

This preliminary conclusion in turn suggests that a sensible transition energy plan will have to emphasize energy conservation above all. It also raises questions about the sustainability of growth per se, both in terms of human population numbers and economic activity.'

Melbourne Set for Eight Million People in 2051

Reposted in full from the Herald Sun, 22 February 2011

'MELBURNIANS should get excited about the city's rapid growth and take the emotion out of the population debate, says an influential lobby group.

The Committee for Melbourne, which represents more than 180 businesses and organisations, wants to educate people about the benefits of growth, with the city's population expected to be nearly eight million by 2051.

The group's CEO, Andrew MacLeod, said yesterday that his biggest frustration was that the population debate was populist and not pragmatic.

"We want to take the emotion out of the debate and put the logic back in," he said.

"Our parents took a city, doubled its size and improved its liveability. Melbourne is a much better city in 2010 on most levels than 1960.

"We have some congestion problems, we have some public transport problems, but our quality of life, our cultural experience, our cafes are much better."

But Mr MacLeod warned that unplanned growth would be a disaster and could lead to "horrible" conditions such as exist in cities like Manila.

"We must take that challenge, we must get excited about the opportunities that can come from well-planned growth, but be very careful of the threats that come from unplanned growth.

But Ms Julianne Bell, secretary of residents' group Protectors of Public Lands Victoria, said the only people getting excited about rampant growth were land developers, builders and the transport industry.

"We agree growth should be planned but it's not necessary for Melbourne to have eight million people or even five million," she said.

The Committee for Melbourne wants a plan that will determine the city's ultimate physical shape, optimal population densities and the location and character of activity centres beyond the CBD.'

22 February 2011

Hands Up Who Wants A 30 Hour Working Week?

Reposted in full from The Punch, 22 February 2011

'Is there one clear possible area of policy reform that would provide a good basis for making society more civil? A core issue that affects a range of social well being indicators and our life choices? Could too much to do and longer working hours be at the heart of the discontents and social inadequacies of contemporary life?

Reducing standard working hours would challenge some basic political and social assumptions such as the ways our time is allocated between paid work and the rest of our lives. In most developed nations, we have moved in the opposite direction, from long-term commitments to reduce standard working hours (48 hours to 35) in the last century to implicit support for ever longer working hours.

I remember debates in the 60s and 70s about how we might use the increased leisure that we expected to come from technological change and automation.

This shift seems to have come from the move to market models of society with other policy changes that underpin our current obsessions with economic outputs, not social well being. This move that started in the 80s put macho versions of self-interested individualism at the core of policy.

It undermined the original ideas of the women’s liberation movement which was to change dominant macho cultures - not just add women into them. Therefore it is my feminism that questions the relative importance of public paid work and private unpaid tasks.

How about we start the push for a norm of a 30-hour paid working week?

If this is sounding radical or unattainable, the UK think tank, the New Economics Foundation has just produced a report, Towards 21 Hours, suggesting we should aim for a future paid workload of 21 hours per week.

The author, Anna Coote, starts her case with the following points:

1. John Maynard Keynes envisaged that by the beginning of the 21st century, most people would work only 15 hours a week.

2. If time spent on housework and childcare was given a monetary value equal to the minimum wage, it would be worth £253.7 billion: 21 per cent of GDP.

3. Shorter working hours does not mean less productivity. In fact, studies suggest that those who work shorter hours are more productive.’

Later, Coote states:

A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.

I am not proposing we go as far as that at present. However, I am proposing that the Federal government address time issues by:

Initiating a Time Budgeting Policy framework as the basis for assessing which Government policies affect peoples’ allocation of their time to paid work, unpaid work, leisure, production and consumption.

Referring to the Productivity Commission a brief to look at hours of work vis a vis outputs and outcomes and productivity.

Terms of reference could include:

1. Are terms such as full time and part time of any serious value?

2. Changes to current definitions of hours of work as the basis for policy making.

3. Are current terms used by ABS or other policy and reporting authorities for policy making still useful or just for international comparisons with the ILO (International Labour Organisation)?

4. Would it be possible to look at a paid work unit of 3 or 3.5 hours being established as the basic unit of paid work and multiples of this be used to record and assess time allocations?

5. How do we value the productivity of unpaid work and its relationship to paid work in areas such as care and home production?

In the pre-feminist days there was no discussion of unpaid work, just paid work and the problem of too much time off! The feminism of the 70s was devised under the widespread assumption that the future would inevitably contain shorter paid working hours for all. We need to ask what happened as like the paperless office, the ‘leisure’ that never happened.

The 80s saw working hours become longer at more senior levels, while less skilled workers lost their jobs. Productivity became associated with long hours worked, technology was used to get rid of routine support workers and hours lengthened as people became fearful they might lose their jobs.

Women who moved into paid work, often part time, over the previous decades were seen as not serious workers, if not full-time overtime oriented. The feminist options for all workers to be able to combine paid work, career, family and community responsibilities became less possible.

Few, if any, men are prepared to challenge the false proposition that longer hours means more productivity.

Less time on paid work means having more time for other activities that can reduce consumption of services and other goods: care of others, home productions, creative involvements, volunteering, leisure and pleasure.

If both men and women took similar time allocations, it could break down the implicit gender barriers in paid and unpaid work and reduce consumption. It means more paid work to share around, so those in paid work should be more able to manage the multiple demands and pleasures.

And it may increase individual productivity as there is evidence that shorter working hours are more productive. Maybe we can learn more from Aboriginal priority setting values?

Start by doing away with the useless distinction between part time and full time as more or less than 35 hours per week. This could be a first step in defining what reasonable socially responsible workloads could and should be.

Any takers?'

21 February 2011

One Good Cut - Cut Benefits to Bankers, Not Public Services

Money for nothing? How would you feel if someone lent you something that had no real value, had not cost them anything to create - and they asked you to pay it back with interest?

Wondered why we have a Growth Monster on our hands? Fake wealth is driving real social and environmental devastation!

Sourced from
One Good Cut, a campaign by Positive Money UK, 21, February 2011