The Path to a Future: Flat Sharing

For my entire working life the conventional wisdom seems to have been that only a mug would pay their full share of taxes, and that it was every citizen’s duty to reduce their responsibilities in this area to a minimum. Those who succeeded in paying the least amount of taxes have generally been lauded as heroes.

Continue reading “The Path to a Future: Flat Sharing”

The Path to a Future: The Mind of Production

To support super-democracy, super-security and build a thriving super-economy we to need to make substantial investments in our societies. To make those changes to our infrastructure we will have to leverage the strengths of private enterprise to help us reach our public policy objectives.

We struggle with the interface between public initiatives and private enterprise, and the debate tends to be rather crudely proposed as pitting right intention against effective action, as if they were incompatible. In fact they are mutually complimentary, and both absolutely necessary if we are to reach our goals.

Continue reading “The Path to a Future: The Mind of Production”

The Path to A Future: Landscape Lessons

So what can we glean from this brief review of the features (conflict, traditions and morality) we must navigate on our path?

• First, all those features do exist and must be navigated. We cannot wish them away.
• Second, they have formed naturally. That is to say that they represent some basically natural aspect of our collective makeup that we must individually own up to. They are not aberrations that we can dismiss as unfortunate. They are simply possibilities that we can seek to exclude from our future, by choosing different aspects of our nature. The difficulty of our passage through them can, and should, serve as a reminder to us about ourselves.
• Third, they are unavoidable and natural, so it behooves us to seek a path that is in harmony with the landscape, which takes advantage of the natural slopes and shelters in the coves eked out by the passage of time. The Path must get across the landscape in order to deliver us to our final destination, and it serves no one to make the journey about flattening mountains or filling valleys. Passage is the password and having built the Path, it will allow everyone to travel along it, from wherever they are now.

In summary, there are three aspects of the world we live in that our path of change has to accommodate: conflict, traditions and morality. These are all reflections of perfectly natural aspects of our human nature, and to fight against them is both futile and fatally distracting.

We have to remember that our purpose is to reach our destination. To do that we need only define a path that navigates the landscape. We need conflicts to be calmed, to reduce their senseless waste. We can allow traditions to fill their role, so long as they do not stifle progress. Morality can continue judging, if it is not harming. To do other than these is to try to change our natures, and that is not the purpose of The Path. The goal of The Path is to show us the way to a sustainable and prosperous future, with, if necessary, all our imperfections unremedied.

So if we’re not going to change these features, what will we do about all the people who have come to identify with them?

Carry on building.

When The Path is mapped all the way to its destination, when they can see the value of the destination and the holistic coherence of its route; their aspirations will trump their old attachments and they will travel with us on the same road.

Fear not!

There is a path across this landscape. We can determine its course, and we can build it.


Part 14 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.

Sustainable Economics paper published!

We have just completed our paper showing a practical path to reaching a sustainable state. This paper brings together various aspects of the Standards of LIFE to focus specifically on why and how universal services are the key to saving our environment. This is an important document – please read it.

Armed with the knowledge in this paper you will be able to explain to others how we can get to a steady state economy and why it will be fantastic once we get there. Truly the next stage in the development of empathic civilization, there’s on need to return to the “dark ages” to save ourselves.

You can read the paper at http://www.standardsoflife.org/Sustainable_Economics as well as download both an ePub version for iPad/iBook/kindle and a PDF version.

The wiki pages are open for adding comments and you can always give feedback via our Facebook page and email to feedback@standardsoflife.org.

Enjoy and educate!

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.

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.