The Path to A Future: The Mountains of Tradition

Towering over the landscape we can also see the great icy peaks of mountains formed out of the chance encounter of great land masses, rising up faster than the natural forces of erosion can soften their edges. Their peaks are cold because they rise up to where the air is thin, and the clouds gather around their shoulders to obscure their view of the land beneath.

It is in the nature of mountains that they are unaware of their shadows, as they bask in the light that strikes them. The taller they grow, the more inhospitable their peaks become; places from which the beauty and gentleness of the land below becomes almost impossible to recall. They find their identity in the height of their tops. They are jealous of neighbors and oblivious to the violent weather, freezing temperatures and thinning air that surrounds their highest accomplishments.

Beheld from a distance their majesty is clear to see, but up close their inhospitability is keenly felt. Unaware of the simple fortune that created them, and their final destiny as the sand on the shore, they are both dividers of lands and peoples as well as bringers of rain and nourishment.

These mountains represent institutions and traditions of every kind; from the monolithic mega corporation to giant government departments, from established religions to superstitions and legacies laced through every culture. They started with a useful purpose and many still serve valuable roles in our societies, so it is better that we see them for what they are, acknowledge them and then move on.

In navigating the Path, the mountains of tradition are better skirted than summited, tunneled than toppled and appreciated than admonished. For they know not of their origins, their shadows or their value, they know only of their height and the weight of their ice.


Part 12 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

The Path to A Future: Valleys of Conflict

One of the most recognizable features of our landscape today are the valleys of conflict that cuts across the view, trapping people and resources into separated schisms covered by whirling fog. These are the conflicts which obsess our headline writers and dominate our news. They are not most people’s everyday experience of life, but they obscure our view and add so much to the difficulty of navigating across the land that we have no choice but to build the bridges necessary to unite the different sides. We must bring the light of day to all those enured in conflicts, so they can see the view from the outsides of their chasms.

Conflict entraps all those who are touched by it, innocent or not, perpetrator or victim; they are compelled to look in instead of out. The irony is that many of these valleys were dug out purposefully, by some group expecting to improve their view by placing another group out of sight. Not unnaturally, those forced into the valley resist and start to climb out, at which point the original creators of the valley return to dig wider and deeper, until they find themselves living in the same valley with those they sought to displace.

While conflicts originate with an intention to hoard resources, they act like valleys and inevitably develop watersheds that divert resources from all around to flow down their course. The resources (approximately $3,000,000 a minute as of the time of writing this) consumed in conflicts are stolen from their better uses, be they people or materials, ideas or energy, they have been diverted from their alternative application.

Whatever their origins, we must clear the fog and build the steps that will allow those inside and outside the valleys of conflict to look up and move forward.


Part 11 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

The Path to A Future: The Landscape of the Path

Before we build our Path we should understand the nature of the landscape we intend to cross: the state of the world today. We need a clear view of reality, so we can determine the line our Path should take.

We live in a world that is still ravaged by many conflicts, and where the disparities between wasteful over-consumers and the desperately poor grow wider every year. For all our good intentions, we are not living within the bounds of the resources available to us; and the vast majority are not free to enjoy the passage of their lives in peace and security.

The good news is that we do not have to achieve the impossible to remedy our situation – we will not have to fix everything. We do have to change the way we organize our societies and the structure of our economies, and we have to change them pretty fundamentally. Along the way we are going to be challenged, distracted and tempted by our attachments to old ways of doing things. But making fundamental changes, and staying the course through difficult times, are the hallmarks of our greatest moments. Our ability to be flexible and resolute in the face of adversity are natural features of the human landscape, and therefore of you too.

The Path to a Future is all about finding a way from where we are today to a prosperous, sustainable and peaceful future. The Path will not remake the landscape as we find it, it must negotiate the landscape as it is; and that includes us as we are.

Some of the greatest barriers we will have to cross are our own assumptions about what is possible, about what others will do and about what we really think is important. To get started down The Path we’re going to have to open our own gates, step out and get a clear, fresh view of the landscape.

Take a walk with me and let’s have a look at the lay of the land. Using the analogy of a physical landscape, we can examine the contours of our cultural and emotional world. We can get some perspective on the challenges we face, and assess the most effective way through them.


Part 10 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
If you want to get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

Wake up!

Sleep-walking would be a particularly tragic way to go. After all that evolving, developing and civilizing, to just sleep walk into oblivion would hardly seem to do those millennia justice. The good news is that there some fairly sharp jabs to the collective ribcage happening, and there seems to be some awakening.

America makes for a good example because its big, and when a giant is sleepwalking, you can see the others in room scurrying to get out of the way. Mr Obama is a nice enough guy, and that guy Ryan looks decent, but they are both selling a load of twoddle. A 10% cut or a 20% cut? Either way the giant’s pants will fall down, and he’ll trip. Last week Obama warned the good people of the USA that in 14 years from now (2025) the amount of taxes paid would only be enough to cover pensions and medical costs for the poor and the elderly. Wow! Except that: the taxes paid today (2010) are only enough to cover pensions, medical costs for the poor and the elderly, interest on the debt and the other mandatory programs – the entire military and discretionary budgets of the US are uncovered! No education, no transport, no infrastructure, no defense! See for yourself.

This economic model doesn’t work, it simply cannot add up; no matter how many cuts are made or how many taxes are raised. Total Economic Awareness (TEA) is bust – not everything can be priced in dollars and paid in dollars. The TEA Party are the only honest ones about this: their solution is to disband society, every dog for itself, and devil take the hindmost. That’s the only economic model in which TEA works, and it’s not a world I want to live in, do you?

“Can’t we just go back to where we were a few decades ago?” (Old liberals ask some version of this simple question, born of a lifetime fatigue of fighting the good fight and a nostalgia for less urgent times.) No, we can’t. We can’t because we no longer live on borrowed infrastructure, with swollen productive demographics, and easy exploitation of a ‘third world’. Sorry, those times have expired and now we have to deal properly with billions of people, a finite planet and honest respect for everyone’s rights.

We didn’t pay for what we’ve got.
We’re not paying for what we’re using.
We haven’t saved for what we need.

This not a budget balancing problem, this is a philosophical realignment problem.

If we don’t want to live in a TEA-dog-devil world, what’s the alternative? The only real option is a universal-social-love world. It so happens that that is also the cheapest, most sustainable and funnest world to live in!

Let’s get some clarity about the world we do actually live in, so we can be clear about why TEA economics doesn’t and won’t work. We live in relative peace, with fairly good healthcare and decent nutrition: that means that our society has a “balanced demography”, in which less than half the population is out of school, able bodied and under retirement age. We live on a warming planet, on which the next 50 years of climate instability are already locked in by our actions during the last 100 years: a healthy, sustainable society has to have the kind of infrastructure that we will have to work really hard for several decades to build. In a multi-polar, mutually-respecting world, a prosperous economy cannot be dependent on the exploitation of other people, stored energy or the waste of resources: that is going to require a really fundamental reorganization of our society and its economy. We need to be able to rebuild our global infrastructure for sustainability while we support a majority of our contemporaries, without exploiting each other or the planet.

Is it starting to get clearer now? Are we going to get to where we need to go, in the time we have available, with spending cuts and tax rises? No, tinkering with the percentages simply won’t do it. Universal Social Awareness (USA) is the route to understanding how we can rearrange our social and economic structures to achieve what must be done in the coming decade or so. As we wake up we will start to see that our mutual promise of social support is not properly represented in a cheque, and when it is delivered in kind instead it liberates our economy, empowers our democracy, and liberates our nature.

Go to the wiki and read about how simple changes to the way we deliver social security, organize our democracy, and pay for it all, provide a path to a future we want to live in.

Peace, love and awakening.

The Path to A Future: It’s personal, this time.

I realize that it’s a personal moment, it’s just my time to stop hoping, to stop waiting. Don’t get me wrong, I have replaced hope with intention, waiting with action. This is a positive moment for me.

I’m not angry. After all, until I reached this moment I was a contributing member of the lethargic, hopeful establishment. I was waiting for other good people to come out and make a difference. I was hoping that a little better and a different emphasis was going to lead to something. Hopeful that change was just around the corner.

Now I know. Now I’m satisfied that tinkering incrementalism and insider knowledge are not the keys to change. Now I can skip the mini-steps that I had hoped would lead to the big stride, and go straight for the stride.

I no longer look at the moderate candidate that just beat the really extreme candidate, and breathe a sigh of relief. Now I know; they’re not really going to change anything anyway.

They were brought up in that house, they know that house well, and they live in that house. To them, redecorating the inside and repainting the front door are big changes that will require lots of work, coordination and coalition building.

I’m out the front door and past the garden gate, and I can see for myself that I want a different house.

When I see all the public support for change, I see people asking for new houses. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, but I now know that I’ve always wanted a different house. I also used to think that redecorating the old house would somehow, magically, make it different.

Now I know. It won’t. I’m building a new one.

 


 
Part 8 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future. Real security. A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy! If you want to get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

The Path to A Future: Platting the Super-Trio

So there you have The Path: a new democracy, real personal security and a micro economy. No barriers to their implementation save for our own decisions to do so, especially if led by the ‘developed’ world.

To use the same language that you will see repeated later in this book, the term “super-trio” refers to the presence of all three of these primary elements of The Path: super-democracysuper-security and a super-economy.

There is a great deal of synergy between these three aspects of The Path, and in many ways they are interdependent. For instance, the promises of micro-economic inspired prosperity will not bear fruit without universal personal security.

Embedded in the required precursors for the new democracy, are the freedoms and protections that will enable the new economy to leverage technology fully, as is necessary for marketplace development. The new democracy is dependent
on the promises of security and prosperity to stimulate the effort required to make the changes that are necessary. It’s all intertwined.

Although one inevitably wants to start somewhere, all of these processes are interdependent and it is important that we make progress in all aspects of The Path as soon as we can. If we can harness personal security before we have the chance to change the democratic structure, we should do so. If we can start introducing digital marketplaces for micro needs, we should not wait for personal security to arrive first. We don’t have a lot of time, and every small aspect of the path that comes into being supports the rest of its development.

 


Part 9 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future – originally published in 2009.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.

 

New Economics

Along with the newly emerging democracies of the world, a new economics is desperately needed. The current economic model is at the end of its road and that is readily apparent to many savvy observers.

There are two factors driving the need for a new economic model:

  1. The desperate need for social and physical infrastructure investment
  2. The crisis of monetary management

We can see a new economic model by reconnecting with the truth of our existence: individual humans, born in relationship and seeking purpose – in that order. Understanding that sequence and priority, we can place our economy in its appropriate context: our economy is a client of our society. In so doing we can shed the delusion of “total economic valuation” (in which everything has a price tag), and clearly see that there is much activity that is not, and cannot be, valued in monetary terms.

In the new economics, social value is not accounted for with money. Demonetizing social value immediately transforms our economics; it makes investments affordable, protects the value of money and creates sustainable social structures.

Investments

We need to make some massive investments. The demographics of the developed world demands social infrastructure to manage the changing ratios of contributors and dependents. The demographics of the developing world requires economic infrastructure to support the burgeoning youth population. And the demographics of the entire world requires physical infrastructure for transitioning to a sustainable energy supply.

Among the recognized investments that we all need to make are:

  • education – life long, civic and skills
  • energy – replacing stored & extracted with renewable & sustainable
  • transport – leveraging the new energy infrastructure
  • water, food and health
  • shelter and sanitation
  • information, democratic accountability and transparency
  • investment in research, innovation and development

These investments are not only large, they are essential! We have to find a way to make these investments, and no one in the current economic modus has got a clue, let alone a practical path to their accomplishment. The most significant reason why none of the current practitioners has advanced any concrete ideas is because they are mired in the current morass that is modern monetary policy.

Monetary Mess

The worldwide crises in monetary management of fiat currencies has exposed the fundamental flaw of attempting to visualize all human activity as economic activity: the debt burden is unreasonable and unsustainable. This is resulting in the need to bankrupt national societies just to try and maintain a delusion of currency rectitude.

The economists and economic policy makers of today are stuck between what seem to them to be unreconcilable problems:

  • massive public debt
  • unbalanced budgets
  • unaffordable social security systems
  • currency credibility issues
  • inflationary pressures
  • massive investment deficits

Central bankers across the world, in the vacuum created by political inaction, are trying to balance the credibility of their currencies and budgets with massive debts and the need for growth and investment. In a world where prosperity is seen as a gift to the people from the bounty of commercial enterprise, these problems cannot be resolved. But they can, if we just pause for a moment and observe the reality.

New Economics is the only option

Into this world of monetary and investment crises arrive the newly emerging democracies of North Africa and the Middle East. The need to replace decrepit, crony economies with sustainable economies is a parallel requirement of the arrival of freedom and dignity. The demands of the protests are overtly political, but they are subliminally economic as well. What do they see when they look around the existing economies for inspiration for their new world?

None of today’s dominant economic models are providing a sustainable path to a future for their current adherents, nor would they for any new arrivals. Read this collection of essays from some of the preeminent economic experts of the day, and you will see that no one has a solution to the debt v. investment conundrum we are facing. The Western capitalist models cannot balance their books without forever pushing their debts out to the next generation. The Eastern capitalist models are mired in inefficiencies, corruption and environmental degredation that do not deliver sustainability, while also being dependent on the suppression of freedom and dignity.  Neither of these offers a model worthy of adoption.

The new, sustainable economics seats the economy firmly within the context of society and generates growth out of untapped micro-economic capacity. The new economics provides the wellfair necessary to support aging populations, enables affordable infrastructure to create a new energy platform and delivers vibrant growth for coming generations.

New Economics is the result of a three step process that yields sustainable prosperity, affordable investment and sound monetary management:

  1. Understand the economy as a client of human society
  2. Take responsibility for society by delivering social value through Universal Services instead of welfare
  3. Unleash the total potential for growth using modern communications to enable micro-enterprise

To preserve the peace we have, and move forward to sustainable prosperity, we all have to take the first step. Ask yourself: “Am I a human being, or an economic asset, first and foremost?”. I think you will agree that you are a human first; and so it follows that your economic value and activity is a subset of your humanity. That too is the valid order and construction for human society. The economy is a subset of our humanity and it is an illogical and impossible task to try and value all human activity in monetary terms. When we assimilate this understanding and stop trying to “pay” for our social needs, we can liberate our economy to fill its natural role in the firmament of human existence.

The structure of New Economics is laid out at www.standardsoflife.org in full. The principles that reconcile the seemingly intractable problems of today’s economic systems are also discussed extensively in this blog – select the Economics category to see a full list of articles.

Option 2 : Everyone is right

We need to cut our debts down to size. We need to invest in our infrastructure. Taxes reduce incentives, and need to be held to a minimum. Without education and research we cannot build a peaceful and prosperous society. The political system is unresponsive and corrupt, and needs fundamental reform. The financial industry is overweight, and needs to be regulated. Without enterprise we cannot afford our lifestyles, so we must support and encourage businesses. There are bad people in the world, and we need to defend against them. There is oppression in the world, and we need to support the rights of the oppressed. We must balance our budgets. We need alternative energy sources. We are too selfish, ignorant and introverted. We are empathic, loving creatures who all share common ancestors and a common planet.

All of that is true.

And there are the truths we dare not speak aloud because no one has their answers:

  • Capitalist economics is fundamentally dependent on a social safety net for its survival.
  • Humans have never before inhabited this planet with today’s atmospheric configuration.
  • Human-scale is not an option, for humans it is the only option.

In the face of all these seemingly conflicting truths many of us are dazed and confused. How do you lower taxes and spend on infrastructure? How do you regulate banking and enable commercial enterprise? How do you survive in a world of differences without a massive army? How do we get from the mess we’re in, to sustainable prosperity? Confused?

Confusion is only a very short term option. When you are walking in tall grass and you hear a rustle, you have a moment to decide whether you will change direction or speed; after a short time you have made your decision, even if you have not acted. Confusion is not a valid state, it does not appear anywhere in Nature except in the human mind. Confusion is the nexus of choice and contemplation, and it exists within the unyielding contexts of time and consequence. It is the curse on the flip-side of the luxury of choice. We cannot remain confused in our thinking and about our options for long.

It’s time to stop taking sides and start deciding.

Option 2

The choices we face are simple:

  • Option 0 : There’s nothing wrong and nothing needs to change (Ignorance)
  • Option 1 : Things need to change, and I don’t know what to do, but I am ready to support someone else changing them (Confusion)
  • Option 2 : Things need to change and I am changing them now (Action)

Which option are you taking?

In order to take “Option 2” you have to move past describing all the things you know to be true, and decide what to do about them. Everything in the first paragraph of this article is true, there is no sense in splitting one set of truths from another. Identifying with one set of truths might provide you with identity, but it does not move us closer to resolution.

It’s time to start talking seriously about what we’re going to do differently, about what we are actually going to implement in the next few years. We need to engage with solutions: real, practical changes we are going to make in our social, political economic structures now that will actually lead to a sustainable existence.

That’s what we are doing at Standards of LIFE – and we need you to join in. Take Option 2!

Infrastructure has never been commercial

Great civilizations require great infrastructure, and great infrastructure has never been a commercial endeavour. It’s time to face reality and get on with the job.

The great societies, those that have spawned the great advances in learning and development, have been built on great infrastructures. Those infrastructures have never been built by commercial enterprises operating in competitive markets. Great infrastructures (like the Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, Indian, Euro-colonial and American) have been built with public funds subsidized by socialized labour.

The greater Los Angeles area has over 20 million people, with less than 20 days’ food supply – if it were not for the roads and other infrastructure, built with public funds and socialized labour during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the entire LA basin could not survive for long: no food, no water, no power. There would be nowhere in the world to land a jumbo jet, if it were not for publicly funded infrastructure.

Now the world needs to move to a new energy infrastructure that complies with our planet’s laws of thermo-dynamics. This infrastructure, where it does get built in time, will get built by the societies that leverage public funds and socialized labour.

What is “socialized labour”? Socialized labour is labour that is provided at below market rates of monetary compensation, and it is available in three varieties:

  • forced – involuntary labour coerced by violence and manipulation, such as slavery and prison labour
  • reluctant – marginally motivated by meagre rewards and the threat of ostrification
  • cooperative – willing labour provided as part of a mutually recognized common purpose from which all will benefit

Which one of those models for socialized labour is likely to yield the effort required to build our new infrastructure?

Some version of forced labour was the choice of ancient civilizations, and some version of reluctant labour is the option provided by today’s social and economic structures. What we will need is a cooperative effort, and that will require social and economic structures akin to those proposed in the Standards of LIFE.

Our current preference for giving public money to commercial organizations, that operate using market-priced labour, will NOT deliver the infrastructure we need at a price we can afford. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay for the infrastructure we need – this is a fact that would be much more obvious to those of us sitting on infrastructure built by our forebears, if we weren’t. Think about it: we’re broke and we haven’t even invested in maintaining the infrastructure we inherited. This is serious and immediate, we must act now.


Option 0: do nothing

Option 1: fantasize about a different future

Option 2: implement Universal Services and start building our 21st C infrastructure


Vegetarian lions?

What kind of insanity have we fallen so easily into? When did we become so abstracted from what we know about ourselves that we started to swallow whole such counter-intuitive nonsense? Corporations with social “responsibility”, and public services that make a “profit”? How about vegetarian lions and wooden clothing? Or perhaps we should put sails on cars and wheels on boats?

Corporations that have awareness of the society that holds them, and public services that are accountable for their efficiency are both wonderful things; but let’s not let confusion permeate the proper roles for these different entities in our human sociosystem. Commercial enterprises competing in the market for the right to use limited resources, and public services striving to deliver the highest quality services on limited budgets, are both valid and vital components of a sustainable society and economy. It is important that both attend to their primary roles with due diligence, in order for them to contribute their unique qualities to the greater good.

The reason why the word “socialist” is such an ill fitting description of the modern sustainability movement is because it does not convey the fundamental adherence to the “natural order” of things that is at the heart of new political thinking. We are looking out on the world, and inside ourselves, to determine the natural flows that we can harness to fashion sustainable structures for societies and economies. Objective retrospection of the last 2000 years, and especially the last century, has to lead to a recognition of the natural human capacity for competitive enterprise and the benefits that commercial innovation can deliver. Competitive commercial enterprises are a great thing, we can and must acknowledge that. Bludgeoning those enterprises with responsibility for things that are not their natural role, is a rude fig leaf for lacking the moral courage to take responsibility for what is ours to own.

When we paint commercial enterprise with responsibility for our crumbling social fabric, for the desolation of natural resources or for the poverty of the many, we are absolving ourselves of our own responsibility for those undesirable facets of our modern world. The facts of life are that commercial enterprises are clients of our societies, and it is we, the public citizens of those societies, that must take personal responsibility for describing the environment within which commerce is transacted. We must expect that businesses are driven by their profits, and create a framework within which they can operate in that manner without destroying our social fabric, our natural world or our political supremacy.

Similarly with public services, funded by tax payers to deliver efficient services to the citizenry – these are not (typically) operating in environments where competition is desirable, possible or necessary. The profit motive is a reward system that induces risk taking in a competition to reach the most effective result, a competition that is necessary destructive of the less successful alternatives, and in so being it is inefficient. To the extent that the efficiency and quality of public services benefit from innovation and development, these can be achieved most naturally by opening up their management and direction to wider input from the public, non-profits and academia. Rewarding excellence in the performance of public services, by allowing incentive pay for those that work in their delivery, should not be confused with the services themselves having to adhere to a profit motive – they are separate and independent processes (as corporate experience has proved).

Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to your neighbour what is ours. This is the natural order of things: don’t expect businesses not to be profit driven, and don’t force altruistic services to be profit driven. When we accept what we know is the natural order, we are left holding our own responsibility for defining the intended outcomes, and the frameworks within which we wish those natural forces to operate. And when we assume our responsibility we will find it much easier to have clarity and to be effective in reaching the goals we intend. What happens in the world happens with your permission, unless you are actively doing something to change it; when we all own that fact, we can come into the power that has always been ours.