Saturday, 29 January 2011

Return on Investment / Simple pay back

These two terms get at the same concept. The former is more sophisticated and necessary in the accounting / financial world. The latter is simpler, more rule of thumb, but easier to calculate.

The idea of RoI, put simply, is to ask, when considering a non financial investment, whether you can make more money over the same period by putting the same capital into a financial investment.

For instance, if you were to spent (say) £2K double glazing your home, you would have to (by this principle) check whether the money you didn't get investing the £2K in a financial product is more or less than you will save in energy bills.

That all makes financial sense, but it ignores the carrying capacity of the earth, or natural capital to put it another way. If we fail to conserve finite natural resources, we as a planet will run out of them sooner, and all the money in the world can't buy us more. Like everything else, the usefulness of money is contingent on us having a planet to live on that can sustain our lives. That always has to come first.

Money sequence of value

This is a term used in Zeitgeist Moving Forward - see previous post - along with "life sequence of value". This website explains the concepts quite well, I thought:

Today, in every economy of the world, regardless of the social system they claim, money is pursued for the sake of money and nothing else. The underlying idea, which was mysteriously qualified by Adam Smith with his religious declaration of the invisible hand, is that the narrow, self-interested pursuit of this fictional commodity will somehow magically manifest human and social well-being and progress. The reality is that the monetary incentive interest, or what some have termed the “money sequence of value”, has now completely decoupled from the foundational life interest, which could be termed the “life sequence of value”.

What has happened is that there is a complete confusion in economic doctrine between those two sequences. They think the money sequence of value delivers the life sequence of value, and that’s why they say if more goods are sold, if GDPs rise and so on and so forth, therefore there will be more well-being, and hence we can take the GDP to be basic indicator of social health. Well, there you see the confusion – it’s talking about money sequences of value, that is all the receipts, all the revenue that have arrived from selling goods, and they’re confusing that with life reproductions. So that [sc: what] you have built into this thing right from the beginning is a complete conflation of the money and life sequences of values.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Zeitgeist: Moving Forward

Peter Joseph's new film is now available on Youtube and will soon be available on Vimeo subtitles in 30 languages are being uploaded.

At nearly 2:40 it's quite a long film, though you can always hit pause and have a rest. I don't think, though, that he's wasted a minute - OK, there are some arty bits that just give an impression rather than informing, but it's packed full of useful science/knowledge.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Transport Planning

I have been asked to comment on Barking & Dagenham Council's transport plan for the borough - I have been campaigning on transport for many years and a cycling advocate since 1990. The culmination of my ideas and opinions reaches up to my position on a resource based economy, which is what I have been arguing for and explaining on this blog. It is now difficult for me to see transport in isolation from the system of which it is a part (or sub system), and as cycling is a subsystem of transport, and is therefore one level further isolated.

My current thinking and frame of mind constrains me to start from basic, high level things, and see how transport fits in and does its bit in the overall scheme. As far as I am concerned, the role of humans is to preserve and enhance their lives on this planet, within the limits of the resources the planet has. The fact that the planet's resources are finite means we should be striving to use them as efficiently as possible.

One of the stated aims of transport policies is "economic growth" - usually measure as increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is widely criticised as a measure of growth; I've dabbled in such criticisms here, but the overarching criticism of economic growth is that our economy cannot keep growing indefinitely because the world is a finite place. We should examine what we actually want for humanity and express it directly rather than through proxy notions like economic growth (even the good bits of economic growth) or employment.

So what are the basic things people need to survive and thrive on this planet? In no particular order, they must include:

  1. An adequate amount of nutrition to maintain health (and growth to adulthood)
  2. Adequate clean water.
  3. Enough clean air to breathe
  4. Shelter appropriate to the climate / environment
  5. Access to a comprehensive source of information / education
  6. The means to communicate with others anywhere else on the planet
  7. Access to the resources needed to cure/alleviate illness and injury
  8. The means to sufficient recreation for mental and physical health and well being.
  9. Access to equipment / resources to overcome disability
  10. The means to safely deposit human waste out of harm's way
This covers what we seek to get from the planet. It is entirely plausible that we may need to give back physical and or mental effort enough to ensure that we 'tick off' each item on the list - and of course we need more of the items on the list in order to replenish and restore ourselves to be able to work as efficiently as possible.

In this model, transport is only logically necessary to bring physical things together with individual humans, so as to ensure that everything on the list is covered. I will go through the list and see how transport applies, though in several cases transport has an infrastructure role  supporting the production/distribution systems systems in addition to its more obvious role.

  1. Transport clearly has a role in bringing food and people together, but the need for it is reduced by designing and amending the system so that food and people are co-located as far as possible.
  2. IN the developed world the transporting of water is done by pipes and pumps, from where it is processed (made potable) to where it is consumed.
  3. The role of transport here is classically not polluting the air, which means reducing the use of fuel combustion. It may presumably become necessary to clean air on a large scale analogously to water.
  4. Transport would be needed for construction and maintenance.
  5. Travelling to a place of education is increasingly unnecessary with modern communication. We have witnessed already the major inroads that electronic communication has made to interpersonal communication and to information. Penetration of easy to use electronic communication needs to be improved / expanded.
  6. As above.
  7. Technological development is liable to continue to reduce the need for transport for this purpose.
  8. Here it is town planning that is likely to reduce the need for transport. Cycling is recreational in itself
  9. Equipment is likely to need transport for delivery to the user.
  10. Current transport is through the sewage system in the developed world. Perhaps some scope for localising the treatment / use of the 'waste' products.
In each case, transport is simply a means to an end. Where it is used, it is important to arrange it as a product service system - that is we want the service provided by a physical thing, but we don't really want the physical thing itself, in most cases. This is easily understood in public transport, and in private vehicle hire, now increasingly  including pedal bikes.

... to be continued, possibly.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The truth - ?

Couple of news/opinion sites that promise to look beneath the headlines

"The purpose of our news Web site is to provide you with insightful and accurate reporting on current subjects and on issues that need to be brought to your attention. We want to challenge conventional wisdom. We seek to offer a solid and reliable resource for those of you who want to explore particular topics".


"Truthout works to broaden and diversify the political discussion by introducing independent voices and focusing on under-covered issues and unconventional thinking. Harnessing the expanding power of the Internet, we work to spread reliable information, critical thought and progressive ideas.

Collaboratively consuming everyday things

I found this link in the article "can we evolve beyond money?" (see previous post), and it contains a link to a video that is well worth 19:25 of your time (IMHO). The video is on you tube at and is given by Rachel Botsman, author of What's mine is yours - see

The talk is stuffed with good ideas and interesting information, to which I am not going to give you links here, but which may provoke further posts here in my blog

Can we evolve beyond money?

Thought provoking and intelligent written article by Christopher Doll - which I must try to read properly myself!

Here's a little taster:

"Solutions that come from linear thinking hold a special appeal because we know where they come from. Very often we cannot countenance that the system in which we live may be flawed; we point to all the benefits and try and tweak the system to eliminate the less desirable elements only for another problem to emerge elsewhere. The end result is a perpetual ‘ whack-a-mole’ game where we are forced to innovate quicker than the speed at which ‘unforseen’ problems appear.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The country

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, in his New Year podcast, said that of the current financial crisis, "this is not the Government's debt, it's the country's debt." Presumably "the country" is the same "the country" that is "held to ransom" whenever there's a strike.

This, I assume, is another way of saying "we're all in this together". We are, but some up to their ankles and some up to their necks. I assume that the PM is not talking about private debt - such as many of us owe for mortgages and on credit cards - but money that the Government has borrowed from the banks. We'll all be paying it back through our taxes to the Government, but surely it is still the Government's debt?

Many argue for monetary reform, and in particular the government taking back the sole right to issue money, which should be taken back from the banking system, which creates money from thin air by writing a debt on one side of its balance sheet and an asset on the other. To the asset is added the interest the debtor must pay, but as all money comes from banks, the interest must be paid from more loans.

The dignity of labour

In an RBE the need for human work would be minimised by automation, and by ensuring that only what needs to be done to sustain life on this planet - especially human life - gets done. No work is created for people to do so they can "earn" the right to a share of the earth's resources.

A possible counter to this aim for ever decreasing work is that there is dignity in labour. Well, if that's true, people will labour to gain the dignity it imbues, and aren't only motivated by money. Freed from the drudgery of working to survive, people can find their true m├ętier and work at that, if they wanted to. An RBE frees people up to do what they want to do.

War as a unifier

The Revd Canon Dr Giles Fraser mentioned in his Thought for the day address on Radio 4's Today Programme  this morning the idea that wars are fought abroad as a way of trying to bring unity to a country. He didn't say that this is the only motivation for war, and perhaps he wouldn't argue that, but it is unusual to hear such a view put forward in the mainstream (at least in my experience). More usually war is portrayed as protecting us from attacks against our country and way of life.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

We want the miners out!

In the TV drama series 'The Indian Doctor', the dastardly coal mine manager of the south Wales pit village in which the drama is set manages to convince the miners - or to allows them to conclude - that the reason the eponymous GP has set up a chest x-ray programme for them is not because he wants to discover how badly their health is suffering from coal dust inhalation, but because he is colluding with the coal-board to have the mine shut (in fact the manager has been compromising safety to make more money and is on the brink of promotion).

Several miners as well as the manager point out that the village cannot survive without the jobs the mine provides, and thus the miners apparently willingly gamble their lives for a livelihood. Although the manager is portrayed as a nasty piece of work throughout, I think the audience is invited to agree that there is a dilemma. On the one hand coal mines are dangerous places, but on the other they also provide jobs - jobs that are harder to come by as technology takes over some roles and makes mining more efficient.

Setting aside any arguments about the pros and cons of coal, in a resource based economy resources are extracted as efficiently as possible, which means technological advances are sought after and deployed wherever they can save humans doing work. This is especially vital where there are real and present dangers to humans working on recovering the resource. The technology may either aid those humans that have to go into the mine (if a machine can't do the job), or it may go into the mine in place of the human, but either way, the technology brings efficiency.

We can't do this is our current system because we have invented the rule that people have to work to get things and therefore we have to find work for them to do. Workers will therefore resist and/or campaign against the efficiency that technological advances can bring.