LIFE SPAN – 2011.05.01

LIFE SPAN 2011.05.01 – First Edition of the new LIFE newsletter – subscribe now!
Situation – Nu-clear Power. Policy – No Alternative to Voting. Analysis – The inflation tiger is out of it’s cage and walking around the world economy with a gaggle of central bankers holding onto it’s tail.

LIFE SPAN 2011.05.01

Situational Policy Analysis & News from LIFE

Subscribe at

Situation – Nu-Clear

Even before you factor in the pollution, proliferation and profligation of nuclear power, the most important thing to understand is the distraction that nuclear power represents.

The situation at Fukushima in Japan has brought the world’s attention to one aspect of the dangers of nuclear power generation, without even touching on the dangerous pollution resulting from mining and producing the nuclear materials in the first place, or dealing with the storage, recycling and disposal of nuclear waste at the other end of the cycle. But these dangers are not even the most dangerous thing about nuclear power, the most dangerous thing about nuclear power is that it distracts us from investing in the development of really sustainable renewable power generation.

Every single dollar invested in nuclear power could be used more productively invested in renewable power or improving efficiency. Every single physicist researching nuclear power could be more productively researching sustainability, deep chemistry or efficiency. The time for stop-gap measures has passed, we must aim straight for the finish line now.

Last month the world also committed to spending $1Bn on putting another protective cap over the leaking Chernobyl nuclear reactor. That has to be done, but it is just another example of time, money and effort that cannot now be spent on developing the sustainable energy infrastructure we need. Will we need to the same thing to Fukushima in 25 years from now?

A new clarity is developing in which we can see that any power source that is not re-newable is going to have insurmountable waste problems providing the energy we need to run a planet with 6, 7 or 8 billion prosperous people on it.

Now we can see Nu-Clear – we don’t want nuclear!

Policy – No Alternative to Voting

This week the UK will hold its second national referendum ever to decide whether to change the vote counting process used in national elections from decrepit to deprecated. It’s a miserable choice that incorporates almost nothing learned from the last 100 years of democratic practice. If the “no” camp wins it will probably be the end of the Liberal-Democrat Party in the UK, but, other than that, either result will make almost no discernible difference to the quality of democracy in the UK. Minority political parties will still be able to win elections, safe seats will remain safe and the diverse, multi-layered needs of citizens will remain unrepresented.

Citizen empowerment through democratic process is at the root of dealing with the most pressing issues we face, and apathy about how our votes are counted and who gets to vote for what betrays a complete failure to grasp the importance of this subject. Voting is not a dry subject for “policy wonks”, it is the most vital issue at the heart of our evolution! Efficable democracy that harnesses the collective wisdom of everyone’s input is the vital building block on which we can make the changes necessary to move to a sustainable prosperity. This is too important to be be left to the whims of incumbent politicians, so the citizenry must take the lead on moving to the best available models for voting and representation.

If we are to retool our civilization for sustainability, the extent, depth and breadth of the changes we need to make to our economic and social structures will require us to have a massively more participatory and effective political structure than we have today. The politics we need must include:

  • self-selected constituency boundaries defined by the resident citizens, not by the politicians
  • multi-layered, multi-constituency, multi-member democratic structures that reflect all the glorious diversity of humanity spread across the surface of the planet
  • bottom up power structures that allow jurisdiction to originate at the bottom and move up and back down the layers, locating decision making power at the appropriate layer for the scale of the decision

These are not difficult structures to imagine or implement, but they will only come about when we, the citizens for whom democracy is supposed to work, take control of the agenda and require proper, modern and comprehensive change. A referendum proposed and framed by incumbent politicians is not the way to change this properly, real change will come as part and parcel of the policy framework of a government specifically elected to make the changes. Over to you, citizens.

Analysis – Tiger Tails

Inflation. Inflation is the increase in prices without any corresponding increase in value, i.e. when the same thing costs more. There are three possible causes for an increase in price: an increase in the underlying cost of producing the thing, an increase in the demand for a thing that is constrained in supply, or an increase in the price just because there’s so much money lying around. The first two cases are not within the control of bankers or politicians and are simply a fact of life as materials, products and services become more or less available, and demand for them falls or rises. The important thing about the first two types of price changes is that they represent real changes in wealth, in other words the price changes are aligned with the change in the value of the thing. It is the last case, the one where the price of something changes without any change in its value, that presents a real problem for capitalist economies and politicians. This kind of inflation can only occur in a “capitalist” economy because the value of the currency in a capitalist economy is not based on anything real – the money supply is managed by special banks called “central banks” who are also responsible for minting the paper/coin money we use to pay for things and controlling the credit which commercial banks use to lend out.

The job of a central bank is manage the amount of money that is flowing around the economy such that it is roughly equal to the amount of value, or wealth, that is recognized in the economy. As you might imagine, this is a pretty tricky thing to get right because the central bankers have to have a really keen grip on the state of the economy, the quantity of transactions and the amount of wealth being generated. If central bankers print too much money, or allow commercial banks to lend too much money, and that money is not matched to real increases in wealth, then the wealth that does exist simply gets revalued in terms of how much money is available: this is called “inflation” because the price of the same thing gets inflated over time without any real change in the value of the thing itself. If the central bank doesn’t print enough money or allow commercial banks to lend enough money, then the economy cannot grow at its natural pace and the lack of money can gum up the works. Not having enough currency can even lead to the strange situation where the price of a thing goes down even though its value remains constant, because the currency has gone up in value to reflect an increase in wealth that has not been matched by an increase in the supply of available currency. In fact, to stop this kind of problem happening, central bankers err very slightly on the side of extra money and allow for a minimal rate of inflation as normal, typically this inflation is considered controllable when it is less than 2% a year.

There are two tools in the central bankers’ briefcase that have proved invaluable for getting this tricky balancing act right: caution and confidence. Normally central bankers are very cautious about increasing the money supply and spend most of their time trying to make lots of small changes over time in response to continuous monitoring of the state of the economy, changes in wealth, and keeping a really keen eye on what the commercial banks are up to. The central bank controls the commercial banks by forcing them to keep a certain amount of cash on hand, as a deposit against what they are lending out – these are called “reserves”. Also, because in a capitalist system the commercial banks can lend more money than they have taken in deposits, there is always the risk that they might get asked by their deposit customers for the return of more money than the bank has on hand; so commercial banks can always turn to the central bank and borrow the money they need at an interest rate set by the central bank. This interest rate, that a commercial bank may at any time have to pay for money they borrow from the central bank, effectively sets the floor on interest rates charged by the commercial banks on loans they make to their borrowers, and in this way the central bank controls the “cost of money” in the marketplace. If the central bank is cautious in managing the supply of money, and keeps the commercial banks on a tight leash, then everyone’s confidence in the ability of the whole system to properly represent their real wealth in paper money is maintained and everyone stays calm.

Now, if things start to go wrong they can head south pretty quickly: prices inflate, depositors loose confidence in the value of their savings, they withdraw their money from the banks, more customers get worried about the ability of the banks to give them their money back; traders lose confidence in the ability of the currency to represent their wealth and start jacking up their prices, or start asking to be paid in other things that they think will maintain their value, like gold or some other country’s currency. It can get really messy really quickly and will cause an economy to collapse with wholesale destruction of wealth and confidence. It is the job of central banks to stop this from ever happening, and that’s why they typically operate independently of politicians so that they don’t get asked to do silly things like just start printing money to pay for things the government wants but doesn’t have any real wealth to pay for. Caution and confidence, caution and confidence: the watchwords of effective, modern, monetary management.

When caution is defrayed, confidence is sure to follow at some point, and that is what happened in 2008. After a couple of decades of deprecated caution, a sudden fall in the perceived value of assets on which the commercial banks had staked their reputations led to an almost complete collapse of confidence overnight. The commercial banks were bankrupt and the central banks were on the hook for keeping the whole system running – the massive fall in real wealth was absorbed by the taxpayers, in the form of loans and gifts to the commercial banks, to stop the commercial banks from actually going bankrupt. At this point in the debacle there was a choice: recognize the loss of wealth and reorganize the banking system, or try and cover the bases until the loss of wealth was regained. The central bankers and politicians chose the latter, and that is the world we live in now. Money was printed and credit expanded on a massive scale to shore up commercial banks around the world, especially in the US and Europe, on the grounds that the depreciated assets would regain their value and any permanent loss in asset value would be made up for by increases in wealth derived from other activities in the economy. In the meantime there shouldn’t be an inflationary risk because all the extra money printed was just going to be absorbed by the balance sheets of the commercial banks and wouldn’t leak out into the rest of the economy. In theory, as assets values recovered and economic activity picked up, the commercial banks would re-establish their balance sheets and the central banks would simply draw back in all the extra money they had printed, so that some time down the road the total wealth and the total amount of money sloshing around would be back in equilibrium again. Neat, tidy and easy, eh? Not quite so much.

In other parts of the world, like China, that weren’t directly affected by a collapse of their commercial banks, they did still feel a pinch from the slow down in economic activity that occurred. In those places they increased the money supply by letting their banks lend out tons of extra credit so that people and business could spend lots to make up for the lost demand that previously came from the economies that are now having banking problems. In these countries they figured they could control the inflationary risk of printing all that money by making sure that the money went into activities that resulted in real increases in wealth, like railways and other infrastructure investments. The trouble with that plan is that real increases in wealth only occur naturally with the development of better things and ways of doing things, wealth does not simply increase in response to expanded cash spending. Just boosting the amount of cash in the system leads to people making silly decisions about what to spend that money on, and too often those decisions fail to generate any real increase in wealth; so the money is wasted and sloshes around looking for a quick bet, like the “inevitable and certain” rise in the price of property or other assets like gold.

Now its 2011 and here’s a summary of where we have ended up. The commercial banks have taken all the cheap money the central banks gave them and used it make huge “profits” using activities that do not create any additional wealth, often by lending the money back to the government at a higher rate than they borrowed that same money from the central bank. There has been no re-appreciation in the value of the assets that lost their value in 2008. The extra money injected into the system by the central banks has found its way into “quick bets” on assets around the world, jacking up the prices of property in Asia and raw materials in developing countries. One intended consequence of the rescue plan has come true: there has been relatively little fall in overall demand, a few percentage points here and there but nothing like the 20% revaluation that the other choice in 2008 would have required. Lastly, we live in a very financially orientated world because we are trying to use money to provide for the future security of our old age, and that means that we have a lot of wealth tied up in financial investments we call pensions. All these investments are effectively part of the overall money supply, and in places like the US the total of these investments is greater than the total annual GDP of the country – that’s a lot of free-floating money in the system.

Now, before we bring the strings of this story together, I want to remind you of the other types of price increases that occur naturally in markets: increases in the demand for constrained things (‘materials, products and services become more or less available, and demand for them falls or rises’). We live in a world where demand (population x aspiration) is increasing faster than we are developing new ways of meeting that demand, so the demand for the materials that drive our current way of life (food, oil, metals) is increasing without a commensurate increase in supply. This means that we are living in a world where the price of basic inputs is rising naturally, and will continue to rise until we retool for sustainability. The more successful we are at raising living standards (aspirations) the greater the increase in demand, and the higher the prices go. It is important to recognize this because the effect on the economy of naturally rising prices is the same as the effect of inflationary price increases: workers demand higher wages to allow them to maintain the same standard of living. This is the “price-wage” spiral that central bankers have learned to fear, because once it starts it stokes inflationary price rises through cyclical reinforcement, and it is really difficult to control without severely affecting living standards, which often results in social unrest and upheaval.

Think of money supply management as the tiger than drives the incredible development of wealth in a modern economy; so long as the tiger remains in a cage, or at least on a leash, the economy grows and wealth can appreciate naturally as a result of everyone’s efforts to add value to each other’s lives. The growth in wealth is not constrained by the availability of some fixed material, like gold, and every contribution by every participant can be recognized at the point when value is created. But if the tiger gets out of its cage and off it’s leash, it marauds around the economy spreading destruction and fear. Then it becomes the problem that has to be dealt with, instead of the enabler of greater good.

The inflation tiger is out of it’s cage and walking around the world economy with a gaggle of central bankers holding onto it’s tail.

While we would all like to wish the central bankers the very best of luck in their attempts to hold on to the tiger’s tail, the following factors suggest that they will not be able to hold on for long:

  • demand for finite resources is increasing naturally (outside of their control) and that will result in price increases
  • price increases will lead, and has already, to demands for increases in pay
  • the imbalance in the ratio between available cash and real asset values remains uncorrected from 2008
  • the socio-political system of attempting to provide social security using financial instruments (i.e. pensions) means that there is a lot of money floating around the system that cannot be controlled without degrading the social security that that money is supposed to provide; i.e. in a capitalist economy where social security is provided by pension investments, it becomes politically unacceptable to properly manage the money supply in line with real asset values if the value of those assets falls, effectively quashing the independence of central banking and degrading the ability to keep the true value of monetary investments in line with wealth
  • democratic politics and capitalist economics both require processes for orderly failure, a “permanent” political power structure cannot accept failure so it will inevitably intervene (unsuccessfully and counterproductively) in monetary management to preserve its political hegemony
  • the money in the current system is controlled by a very small percentage of the population who are already wealthy and who do not see the need to maintain the ratio of money to wealth, they simply seek to increase the quantity of money they have; remember that money affects the human brain the same way that sex and drugs do, it acts on the most primitive reward structures of our brain, overriding the newer “thinking” parts of our brains

The benefit of a capitalist economy is the near universal and instant recognition of value added as wealth; the condition of that is the requirement to carefully manage the money supply. If the social security of the people or the political power of the rulers is dependent on the preservation of wealth, then the necessary leeway to control money supply in line with wealth will be degraded and the economic system will collapse. Capitalist economics requires the ability to recognize wealth destruction, and that in turn requires a political system that allows for the destruction of power and a social system that survives the destruction of wealth.

In the end the only way to maintain monetary credibility is to be able to adjust money supply in line with wealth, both up and down, and that will require that we decouple social security from financial investments. In the meantime we/they will try and make the current system work for as long as we/they can, and so we are in for a spectacle of monetary gymnastics over the coming years as the bankers of the world try and keep the tiger from running loose.

News – SPAN gets wings, fly with us!

This the first issue of the new newsletter from LIFE: Situational Policy Analysis and News (SPAN). LIFE SPAN is published online and provides more in-depth coverage of situations at the forefront of public policy at the current time.

To keep information flowing we encourage you to sign up for direct delivery of LIFE SPAN to your mailbox, so that any disruptions in the availability of Facebook, the blog site or the web wiki site do not affect your ability to get the latest news and updates from LIFE. Just send an email to and we will add your email address to the distribution list, you can always do the same to unsubscribe at a later date if you want to. We will never share your email with any other organization.

Euro Tour 2011: if you are in Europe and would like to meet up to discuss starting a Local LIFE group, we are scheduling events from June 13th to July 7th. Email if you’re interested in hosting an event.

Scale Matters

What do Spain, Japan and Croatia have in common? They are all suffering the consequences of industrialitis. Industrialitis is the inevitable malaise brought on by the failure to understand our economy as a function of our society, which mastaassizes into disease with the concentration of political power.

Business is actually a function of society, it is fundamentally dependent on the political process to create the conditions for commercial success. Businesses need legal systems, infrastructure, academic research and a host of other supporting conditions in order to operate successfully. It follows that businesses coalesce around political structures, and the level of which political power is concentrated is the level at which commerce is most successful. For the last century political power has been concentrating at the national level, and it is businesses that operate at the national level that get the most attention from national politicians. Some of this is a self reinforcing cycle, but once it has started it is certainly a self-perpetuating structure, mostly innocent but inevitably corruption also accompanies decision density concentration.

The true nature of human society is not adequately or properly represented in the concentration of political power at the national level, nor do national scale businesses harness the full economic potential society. Human scale politics and economics start at the local community and build up from there, and that’s how we need to arrange our political and economic structures if they are to serve the humans that comprise the society.

Spain, Japan and Croatia all have different problems, but they are all symptomatic of industrialitis, and their politicians are grasping for industrial-scale solutions, when what they really need to do is to rightscale their politics. In each case, the hollowing out to local and regional economic activity has followed concentrations of political power to the national level.

In Japan the result of their industrialitis is the loss of rural sustainability as commerce has focused in national and global scale clusters, necessitating economic migration to the cities where those businesses are located. Large-scale businesses are capital intensive and naturally gravitate towards geographic concentrations for their operations, a tendency that is only constrained by limits to market access. This is not a failure of the businesses, it is a natural outcome of their capital intensity. The national Japanese government has tried to employ national-scale solutions in an attempt to maintain the economic and social viability of its rural regions: top-down infrastructure projects, and subsidies. In the former, the national government allocates funds to build or improve infrastructure in rural areas, which results in temporary construction booms without sustained commercial activity. In the latter, a very commonly prescribed remedy in countries with industrialitis, the national government attempts to persuade industrial-scale businesses to do what is not in their self-interest, by providing subsidies and other financial incentives to locate some part of their operations in a region that they would not choose to be in, if left to their commercial instincts. Subsidies have the pernicious effect of corrupting the politics, the market and the businesses that accept them, and only further exacerbates the incentive for businesses to build and maintain political influence. It probably never even crosses the mind of most national politicians that the effective and sustainable solution to regional and local economic self-sufficiency is to devolve political power down to the regions and communities.

In Spain there is an employment crisis, with national unemployment at 20% and youth unemployment running at 64%. This symptom of industrialitis, caused by the concentration of financial capital at the national and supranational levels, is the result of a busted property and construction boom. The failure to develop local and regional economic activity independent of centralized, external capital has left the entire economy at risk, now that the global financial crisis has caused the flow of capital to evaporate. The national government sees itself as saving the regions by bailing out regional banks, but it is really just doing debt collection for national and international banks – everyone still has to carry the debt burden, but without the local and regional economic infrastructure to maintain commercial activity and employment. It probably never even crosses the mind of the average national politician that they need to devolve political power down, to get their economy working and make their society sustainable.

In Croatia people are coming out in spontaneous and leaderless protests against the failure of 20 years of “market capitalism” to deliver any improvement in their lives. The reality is that the national government has been concentrating political and economic resources at the top, while waiting for an even bigger entity, the EU, to rescue them by bringing large-scale businesses to their economy. In the meantime economic policy has consisted only of selling public assets to large, and largely foreign, businesses, further impoverishing their ability to develop internal, localized, self-sustaining economic activity. Their legacy of 20th century Communist centralized planning probably contributed to the failure to develop a more diverse economy, but the failure to devolve political power was the root cause.

When the Industrial Revolution started it developed on top of an existing economy that had local and regional fabrics, but during the last century the codevelopment of large-scale industrial commerce and national political concentration has led detrimentally to an almost exclusive focus on enabling national, and increasingly global, businesses. Many, and far too much of, modern societies have become dependent on the prosperity generated by large-scale industrial businesses, and the large-scale service industries that support them. We have neglected local and regional development in favor of an almost exclusive focus on national and international structures. But the reality of human society is multilayered, wherein each person lives in a community, that is part of a region, that comprises some part of a state; and that natural truth of our existence has to be reflected in the way we organize our power structures and economic fabric if we are to develop sustainable human societies.

This weakness in the sustainability of our societies is not confined to Japan, Spain and Croatia; it is ubiquitous and pervasive around the world. Until we acknowledge the multilayered nature of our human condition, we will not make the adjustments to our political structures necessary to enable more deeply rooted and broadly-based economic fabrics.

If Japan devolves political power to their rural regions, those regions will develop the marketplaces and infrastructure that enables local businesses to meet local needs. If Spain and Croatia did the same they wouldn’t be so dependent on external financing to provide employment for such large percentages of their populations. Every society has sustainable economic potential in the needs and wants of its population, but in order to to develop that potential into prosperity each society has to enable marketplaces at each level of social organization (local, regional, national, etc) where needs can be met by willing providers at freely floating prices. The Industrial Revolution spawned the capital revolution so that the creation and recognition of value was not constrained by physical representation, and this revolutionary development allows for accelerated prosperity in non-capital-intensive micro economies, just as it does in large-scale, capital-intensive ones.

A sustainable economy is: multilayered, scale appropriate enterprise operating in free markets, fostered by universal service societies that enable marketplaces for local, regional, national and international commerce. The prerequisite for a sustainable economy is a multilayered, scale appropriate free democracy.

Scale matters. We cannot look to industrial-scale businesses to satisfy local micro needs, anymore than we can expect national politics to satisfy local community aspirations. We humans are multidimensional beings, living in multilayered social configurations, and only a structural organization of power and commerce that reflects those realities will serve us and enable us to develop sustainably.

Money Flows

Hot money flows will not save the bankrupt status quo.

This week two news stories pointed to an issue that, wish it were otherwise, demonstrate the need for fundamental system change. The first story regards the fortune amassed by the Mubarak family during their rule of Egypt and the second concerns the massive scale of the corruption afflicting Indian society. Read the comments after the Indian article to get a real grasp of how this kind of corruption affects the core of a society down to the smallest neighbourhood, and this story that reveals the extent of the theft of public property in Egypt.

Where do these trillions of ‘hot’ currency go? They go into banks in the Western industrialized nations and their lackey tax havens – these three components form a coherent whole, interdependent on each other. This is colonialism by corruption, and the citizens of the beneficiary societies are as guilty of complicity today as they were 100 years ago. If you live in the West, don’t feel bad about it: you’re as much a victim as the citizens of the new ‘colonies’, because the same institutionalized theft is robbing your neighbourhood of resources just as much, through tax avoidance.

Why is this tolerated? Well it’s not tolerated by those who can’t do anything about it, in Egypt and India; they are just in a state of powerless despair. It is tolerated by those of us who can do something about it, because we have been unwitting clients of the system. The availability and use of debt to finance our distracted acquiescence has been the magician’s move that has drawn our attention away from the true play that is being made. In this trick there is a fine balance that the magician must strike, wherein the audience feels like it is getting more than it deserves, without actually getting real benefits. Like any sidewalk hussler, when the opportunity comes along to really cream a willing punter, the escape requires all parties to feel sufficiently guilty that no one feels entitled to recompense. This where the citizenry of the West is: asleep at the table, engorged on the fake food served up by the chefs in the kitchen while they resell the real food out of the back door of the restaurant to their buddies on the black market.

What can be done about it? The complete reorganization of the banking system. Preferably a coordinated reorganization encompassing the US, the EU, the UK and Japan; but even a principled stand by one of those financial centers would put the cat amongst the pigeons enough to disrupt the system and lead to change over the medium term.

What are the consequences? Without the hot, secret money Western banks will not be able to generate the profits they do today, nor would they be able to support the same level of employment. The fall off in tax revenues and employment in the client states would have to be offset, requiring a fundamental reorganization of commercial and social infrastructure. The net effect on tax revenues to Western states might even be positive, as banks pay a smaller percentage of their profits in taxes than the individuals and corporations who use the banks to avoid tax would have to pay on their incomes if they were properly declared. Potential benefits to non-haven states would be massive improvements in social wellfair, but would only accrue if accompanied by a significant democratization of their political systems – that democratization would be much easier to achieve without banking system support for corruption.

When will this happen? When the balance of benefits to the citizens of the haven states falls below even. The citizens of those haven states have already assumed the burden of the 2008 bank bailouts, but they have accounted for that with debt, so the full reality of those costs have not yet been bourn. The “plan” is to meet those debts over the coming decade by leveraging the same financial colonialism and conjuring (the failures of which created the debts in the first place) so that the massive increase in the money supply (aka ‘printing money’) that was used to account for the debts can be matched to grown wealth. This plan relies on the perpetuation of the existing banking system, complete with inflows of hot, corrupt money from all over the world. This is why today’s Western leaders will connive, lie and obstruct as much as they think they need to to protect the status quo, because they do not know how to plan for or adjust to a fundamentally reorganized society – they are not evil, they are just clueless.

The troubles with the “plan” are already becoming obvious. First is that the wealth that is being created is being confined to very small slither of the populations of the haven states, and, in a superb irony, they are using the same financial corruption to avoid adding to the wealth of states they inhabit. Second is that the debts cannot be satisfied with the growth that is available, and must be supplemented by sucking more wealth out of compliant tax payers through ‘austerity measures’. Third, none of the first two plans is happening fast enough to stop the excess money causing inflation, further exacerbated by real increases in the costs of raw materials. These problems mean that the haven states will start, this year, to raise interest rates to combat inflation, and in so doing push the balance of benefits for their average citizen firmly into negative territory. 20% youth unemployment, rising basic living costs and a kleptocratic ruling elite are the perfect ingredients for a revolution – witness North Africa, January 2011.

In the next few years, as real social disruption develops in Western states, a serious debate will emerge around whether completely reorganizing our economic and social frameworks is actually any less disruptive that attempting to maintain the old status quo. If we desire a constructive process of change we need to start thinking now about how that reorganization can manifest positively – that’s the reason to read and contribute to alternative thinking like the Standards of LIFE.

Next Left

“It is clear that centre-left thinking is in need of radical reappraisal”, to quote from an Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) paper entitled “Where Next?“, and which I recommend you read. The paper, subtitled “The challenge for centre-left politics”, is the outcome of a series of events on the subject and includes a summary by Tony Wright, Professor of Government and Public Policy at University College London.

The reality is that centre-left politics has been in dire need of new thinking since the 1970s when the oil shock put paid to the illusion of the imperial-welfare-social-democracy that was born out of post War social ambitions in those nations that were still riding on the subsidies of colonial pasts. When the resource origin nations suddenly demanded their price for their resource the industrial-welfare states had to reconfigure their economies to survive; and thence was born the modern capitalist-democracy in which the welfare of all was dependent on the abilities of their capital-finance agents to revive the same imperial exploitation, but this time in the name of capital instead of their Capitals.

What about the nascent rise of neo-socialist governments in South America, is that the next left? Unfortunately, while heartening in their self-determination, these examples are based on the same flawed socio-economic thinking that has just crashed neo-socialist governments in the old industrial world: a faustian bargain with the “masters of the universe” to bring the riches of resource exploitation and financial alchemy home to support their political ambitions. Not only do the New World resource-socialists risk being taken for a ride by the master manipulators, they also face the certain arrival of curbs on the very resources they hope to exploit, as the realities of atmospheric balance (to which they are most susceptible) start to bite.

It is clear that center-left thinking is in urgent need of radical reshaping, not only in the old industrialized nations but also in the New World and in the two great land powers without whose cooperation any such reshaping will be meaningless: China and Russia. A task indeed! But let’s follow the points raised by the ippr paper to see if we can’t see a way through to what’s next. At the core of the questions raised in the ippr paper is a reboot of the relationship between citizen and state in which the power that people have over their own lives is enhanced so that they can access the means of civilization for themselves, while the statecraft of government is reformed to provide core public functions and underwrite the results with its guarantee. This recognition of the legitimacy of the individual, along with the role of active government to deliver what individuals cannot, is the ground on which the centre-left must stake it’s camp. It is a citizen/service orientation, distinct from the worker/capital or market/government orientations of yesteryear.

A fundamental point raised in the paper is that now is precisely the right time to promote politics, in the face of widespread civic disengagement, as the means by which citizens confront common problems without recourse to violence. To do this effectively and credibly we will have to be open to institutional reform and even some constitutional reform. Enhancing our democracies to enhance the citizen-government relationship requires us to develop and implement better systems of representation, greater localism and a more transparent connection between voter and voted. The difficulties of delivering effective democratic control over the necessarily different levels required for differing purposes is a challenge that has not yet been met. The Next Left must come to bat with proposals, and open minds, to resolve the local through supra-national influence expectations of citizens. A system of multi-layer democracy that incorporates the principle of subsidiarity is the goal, and it can be developed by extending and enhancing what we have today, but not without some reform of our constitutional structures. We have to be prepared to bring this reality with us, develop solutions based on values and be willing to explain ourselves. When we know that local decisions are not well made in national assemblies and that national decisions cannot be made locally, we must embrace those facts in the adoption of a multi-layer structure that seats political power at the level appropriate for decision making. Citizens are not afraid of voting and they would rather vote for multiple assemblies than be disconnected from their right to influence. And when we know that a single transferrable vote in a multi-member constituency is the fairest way to vote, we must have the courage to lead with that as our banner for representation.

A new economic model is also vital. Governments need markets and markets need governments, that debate is done – what still remains is to establish is the basis for our future economy. We now understand that capital exists in relation to environment, regulation, people, society and unprofitable but vital needs: the new capitalism is a component of the total picture, not its foundation. In the Next Left the foundation of society, embodied in the vital service requirements of the people, is the responsibility of the people themselves and forms a foundation on which capitalism operates as a client system. Tackling the “poverty trap” and “incentive” problems inherent in the old welfare models remains critical because there must still be an infrastructure of support services in place that protect against insecurity and expand opportunity. The model that works here is that of Universal Services, whereby the cash-based welfare state is replaced by the delivery of the services themselves at the most local level, financed by taxes collected at the highest level.

Everyone has a stake in Universal Services and they fulfill the promise that links every citizen with the reason for having a state. But equally important is the effect that Universal Services have on the economy, on the ability of every person to participate and contribute to the society as a valid and valuable economic entity. It is at the local level that this effect is most pronounced as microeconomic activity is unleashed, complementing our capital-intensive industries. The economy becomes a client of the society and in so doing it develops a broader, more sustainable and less growth dependent nature. The guaranteed service levels implicit in Universal Services provide real accountability for local government, while directly linking citizens with the obligation to define priorities and accept that doing more of one thing will often mean doing less of something else.

So a framework emerges which combines the enhancement of democracy with a multi-level structure, the replacement of welfare with universal services and the placement of economic activity within the context of the society, not the other way around. This Next Left is grounded in principles and based on standards that provide a coherent narrative, placing the standard of life above the standard of living.

The Next Left must lose its predecessor’s reticence to tell its story, and paint a clear picture of a society that has intentionally moved beyond the democratic-capitalist model, that unashamedly takes responsibility for delivering the core public functions it is best placed to do, and which embraces the natural enterprise of the human spirit.

It’s time to stop asking what’s next, and to start answering that question. The Next Left is what’s next, and we’re all the ones who’ll do it.

Self association addresses key issues at their root causes

The fundamental challenge in the development of human society is to leverage peace for the benefit of all.

Self Association: the legal right of social groups to freely associate themselves within larger groups, as described in the Standards of LIFE for multilayer representation and variable law.

When we look around the world at places where there is conflict and violence, even war, we can distill the root causes into two basic struggles:

  • the right of self-determination
  • control over natural resources

In most ways these two struggles boil down the same issue: the rights of communities to govern themselves. Why is such a basically obvious matter the cause of so much strife? Because the monolithic structures of our outdated political systems have no framework or mechanisms within which local autonomy can be accommodated.

We live in a world where the predominant guiding principles of government have more in common with benevolent imperial dictatorship than with modern democracy. Our nationstates are based on borders defined by cartography more than geography and by control more than empowerment. Having created unnatural and artificial boundaries, it becomes necessary to invoke the appeal of false identities crudely fashioned from a mix of projected ideals, fostered fears and caricatured qualities in order to create any national unity or social cohesion. Because these nationalist identities are so invented, they actually represent no one and are fertile ground for those who would abuse power to satiate their personal foibles.

As rigid, brittle entities our nationstates feel threatened by unique or differentiated identities within their limits and are drawn to suppress their expression lest they lead to separatist intentions. Yet in the very act of suppressing separatism they encourage it by demonizing the separatists while they eviscerate the freedoms of the whole population. The direct negative consequences flowing from these retarded, legacy constructs include: border insecurity, terrorism, migration instability, environmental degradation, inefficient resource utilization and, most significantly, low quality of life for everyone.

Let’s look at these in turn to understand how they go wrong today and how allowing self association would result in better outcomes.

The current attachments of nationstates to cartographic definitions of their borders is only natural given that those borders are the primary defining characteristic of their identity. The result is a disproportionately muscular attention to border security and, in many cases, actual wars fought over the cartographic definition of the borderline. (Let’s call this “borderline insanity”: the maniacal attachment of ruling elites to remote survey points.)

Now imagine two neighbor nationstates that adopt MLR constitutions and you will see that the two large blocks of color on a flat map will be replaced by a multitude of tiny fragments covering the areas inhabited by both states — each fragment representing a community. The communities will freely self associate into regions and those regions into states. Initially a map that only showed the new states may well look very similar to the nationstates they replaced, but there will be one crucial difference. The borders between the states are now defined by the self association of the communities in those locations, and they are free to change their association from one region to another, and in so doing the border between the states changes by that one small fragment represented by that community. No international treaties required, no wars, no fuss and no one’s business save the citizens of that community.

Now imagine that scenario played out in your conflict area of choice: Israel/Palestine, Kosovo/Serbia, India/Pakistan, UK/Ireland or Russia/Chechnya?

The futility and frustration that spawns the cultures from which terrorism leaps out to thrust insane violence on the innocent are nurtured by the rigid nationstates’ incapacity to accommodate differentiated identities.

Freely associated communities would never harbor the decrepit mentality of terror and anyone disposed to such perspectives would be stifled at their emergence by the lack of shelter, succor and support.

Individual terror is a hazard of the human condition, “terrorism” is the progeny of unnatural social orders resulting from suppressed freedoms.

Centrally controlled, monolithic societies with rigid borders have a bipolar relationship with migration: they encourage it in good times and demonize it in hard times. Furthermore, the sublimation of community authority makes their migration policies crude at precisely the point where refined and nuanced practice is required.

When migration is managed by the communities that must accommodate it, it assumes the very human dimension that it autonomically has and which larger entities cannot provide. Migration is the movement of individuals between communities and it is at that level but it must be managed. When communities have authority over, and responsibility for, their own configuration migration is rendered moot at any higher level of social structure.

The control of resources, be it water, minerals, land or energy, is often the driving force behind conflicts between nationstates. The justification used is that the inclusion of these resources within the boundaries of that state will be of benefit to all their citizens.

The actual practice of resource management and exploitation at a macro state level reveals two fundamental flaws in the arguments proffered to support state control. Both of these flaws have their origins in the same characteristic: remote decision-making. The cost-benefit analyses computed by even the most well-intentioned remote actors are based on such poor data that the costs are underestimated and the benefits overestimated. With weak and/or selfish state actors the situation deteriorates further into environmental carnage that results only in the aggrandizement of corrupt central politicians and dealmakers.

The devolution of resource responsibility to democratic local communities results in much more accurate cost assessments and much greater disinclination toward environmental destruction. Local resource management also extracts much greater benefit from the resources at the same time that intercommunity trade, interaction and negotiation are stimulated because full value extraction from the resources requires trade. These trading relationships ensure that the benefits are more evenly and deeply integrated into the societies involved in exploiting the full value of the resource, with lower negative environmental impact.

Large-scale, remote, state actors making poor decisions based on poor data tend to underestimate the true costs of exploitation and so sell the resources at below optimal pricing, resulting in distorted markets where undervalued resources are used inefficiently, because of their low price.

Local ownership that insists on environmentally sound practices and understands the full cost of exploitation will price the resulting resources more accurately, leading to more efficient use. Additionally this fair resource exploitation removes any need to spend money (i.e. other resources) suppressing, repressing and corrupting local populations in the originating region who resist unfair exploitation and may even stimulate separatist ambitions, further exacerbating the cycle of inefficiency.

Quality of life
The fundamental challenge in the development of human society is to leverage peace for the benefit of all. Violence can deliver short-term benefits for the few and if that is only matched by peace, then there is a temptation to gamble on the outcome. Either way, if the benefits only accrue to the few the system is inherently unstable and destined to fail, at which point it is likely to be detrimental to all.

The nationstate is such a system, it subjugates the rights of self-determination in the name of resource control that invariably delivers benefits to the few. Peace is the period during which the few build up resource imbalances and war is the period during which resources are used to protect or enhance the imbalances.

To break out of this destructive cycle it is necessary to adopt social structures which allow for self-determination without social fragmentation. The principle of self association within a multilayered organizational structure that protects local rights while encouraging inter-social cooperation provides the framework for the development of human societies that can exploit the peace dividend for the greater good of all in an inherently sustainable way.

The devolution of the primary organizing structure to our fragmented communities, that then freely self associate into larger and larger social groupings is possible, natural and most likely to ensure our survival and prosperity.

G20: coordinate, stimulate, regulate?

Leaders of 20 nations meet this weekend in Washington, united in their discomfort with their position in the world, their victim status and their common sense that something else is possible.

Together they represent:

  • 100% of the responsibility
  • 90% of world industry
  • 80% of world economic output
  • 70% of the world’s population
  • 60% of the world’s land mass
  • 50% of the world’s resources
  • 40% of the world’s ethno-bio-diversity
  • 30% of the world’s AIDS population
  • 20% of the world’s good intentions
  • 10% of the world’s good ideas

Together, they will produce 0% of the answers and actions capable of leading us all to a sustainable, peaceful prosperity.

On the surface their desires are simple, they want to live long and prosper. They understand in their guts that it would be fair if they could just chop wood and carry water to make ends meet, and have a decent chance at pursuing happiness. Underneath, their goals and ambitions are complicated by a vision tinted by separateness, hearing muffled by unholistic understanding and feeling anesthetized by their knowledge of their own unrepresentativeness.

The features of a group that could deliver solutions would be

  • wholesome representation (integration)
  • common purpose, process and practice (intention)
  • holistic world view (inspiration)

This is a good test run because it represents exactly the kind of coordinated decision-making and action planning that is going to be necessary if we are going to change course from the fate looming over the world in the coming decades, towards our destiny of sustainable peace and prosperity. Achieving the challenging changes that will be required to avert environmental and social degradation, will require inspiration integrated with intention, that stimulates action across the world.

What the G20 leaders could do to start in the right direction:

  • agree to form trans territorial alliances that will allow representatives at the next meeting to represent 100% of the worlds population
  • recognize that national currencies are no longer useful in a globalized economy and yet we are not ready to adopt a global currency, so there must be consolidation towards trans territorial currency units, each managed by an independent central bank
  • define the role of a central bank as an apolitical organization charged with responsibility for management of the money supply, and therefore banking regulation, interest rates and value stability
  • resolve to prioritize their own humanitarian support systems so that coordinated action in the future is about moving forward, not rescuing from past miss steps
  • stimulate microeconomic activity by reforming their tax systems, establishing micro marketplaces, deploying information access networks and implementing basic social security systems
  • advance the Doha round of trade talks by focusing on these two factors:
    • establish the right to food sovereignty
      • remove international recognition of biogenetic patents
      • promote sustainable self-sufficiency
      • ban the export of subsidized agricultural products to stop rich subsidizing blocks contorting the real market for food; if the need is humantarian then give it away
    • establish a carbon tax framework
      • establish unified rates of taxation
      • agree standards governing the use of funds raised from carbon taxes