Monday, 31 December 2012

Starting from where we are

Those who don't study history are condemned to repeat it is a wise adage. Studying history can lead to regret, remorse and resentment, through bewilderment, to amazement, as we see the dreadful things we (political units) have done to each other but also the amazing things we (sceintists and artist of all kinds) have achieved.

It is vital to remember, especially when looking at negative events in history, that we can only move on from where we are now. This thought was provoked in me by  a more controversial subject - crime and punishment. An offender has done what s/he has done, and blame can achieve nothing, only learning from what has happened can help us. In its broadest sense, history simply means everything that has happened. It cannot be changed.

All individuals' actions are informed by events that have impinged on them up until the point of the action. Right the way from conception, when the individual inherited parental genes, through every event and thought up until the action in question. This applies just as much to those who have done marvellous, positive things, as to those who have done something awful.

Punishing those who have done something wrong adds to the catalogue of events that shape their future decisions. Whist we may be tempted as a society to pay back bad actions with other bad actions, we really have to swalow the idea that making constructive things happen to people will (or is more likely to) make their later actions constructive. If you could punish your washing machine for breaking down, would you do so? No - when it breaks you fix it.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The myth of sustainability

Don't be fooled by the title. Dr Guy McPherson is no climate change sceptic, or anything similar. I don't really understand why he chose this title, but it seems he prefers the term 'durability'.

In this hard-hitting lecture you will hear a lot of important information and ideas. Mcpherson's remedy against the impending doom is to resort to permaculture.

If you can find just under an hour and a half to hear what he says, I think you will agree it's worth listening to, and that you'll hope he's wrong.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

If I ruled the world ...

This intended-to-be-thought-provoking question was rattling around in my head when I came across a productivity article that I had filed away for future reference. It begins like this, except that I replaced the word "goals" in point 6.

"Six simple questions that make you more productive

1. What is the most valuable use of my time right now?
2. What am I ultimately trying to accomplish?
3. What am I giving up to do this?
4. What are my three most important projects or tasks today?
5. Am I being productive or just busy?
6. Is what I'm doing right now moving me measurably closer to what I am ultimately trying to accomplish?"

It stikes me as a good thought experiment to consider how one would rule the world, but I think the set of questions can be reduced to 3:

1. What am I ultimately trying to accomplish?
2. What are my three most important projects or tasks today?
3. Is what I'm doing right now moving me measurably closer to what I am ultimately trying to accomplish?"

Let's examine and perhaps adapt these more closely to the thought experiment.

1. What am I ultimately trying to accomplish? That's good. The answer "rule the world" won't do. I would suggest somehing with a phyiscal referent, or in classic productivity terms a "SMART" target.

2. What are my three most important projects or tasks today? This could be a rather distracting question on day one of your new job as ruler of the world. The best can be the enemy of the good, and I would suggest you do not delay too much while you prioritise. There's some urgent stuff that you need to get on with.

3. Is what I'm doing right now moving me measurably closer to what I am ultimately trying to accomplish?" Well if you're ruler of the world it better be, else there will be moves to displace you. Question 3 might be a variation of question 2; today is the same as right now (more or less) and "important" might be defined as causing a measurable movement towards your goals.

So having decided what your goals are, you are faced with hitting the ground running and getting some quick wins, vs more strategic work like planning, and getting structures in place to help you achieve your goals, freeing up your time.

So question 1) is good. Maybe question (2) should be about quick wins. Not so much focus on the most important things, more on what you could do today

Friday, 5 October 2012

Owning stuff

One of the key ideas in a resource based economy, shared with Natural Capitalism, is access to the service provided by a product, rather than ownership of the product. The obvious example is public transport, but the idea is spreading.

Spending some time recently de-cluttering has made me think about the value of things. In one or two cases I have mad a few £ selling something on e-bay. These £ do not have any value until I redeeem them on some other good or service, and they disguise the true value of the item, which is of course in its use.

Some of the decluttering has been of a shed. It is so ingrained in us that the value of something is in its physical presence in our home (or shed) that many of us have got stuff there which we never use and perhaps will never use, but it is ours and we keep it, because we somehow believe the value of it accrues to us because we possess it. If anything though, it is of negative value. It possibly takes up precious space, and it nags at our conscience, especially if we've paid £ for it and never got value for that £. We wasted the money, we tell ourselves.

But what if we give these items away to someone who will make use of them. Immediately the value of them - which is their use, not how much the cost in £, is released. OK their value doesn't directly accrue to us, but it can't, so why waste it even more by stowing it away? Let someone else have it if they'll use it. Not only does this stop waste, but you'll probably feel good by helping someone.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Libertarianism vs an RBE

Ben McLeish of the Zeitgeist Movement and Graham Wright, author of the above blog, are having an interesting debate on the merits (or not) of an RBE cf the libertarian Austrian Economics model.

There are surprising points of agreement, which make me wonder whether AE isn't closer to an RBE than the current economic system.

But I have lighted on Wright's response to a comment on his blog, here separtaed into individual points with my thoughts:
  •  "Economics is the study of the logical consequences of human action". Maybe. As many know, economics is more literally something like household management, and I prefer that as a definition or starting point.
  • "Political philosophy is about devising a set of principles for ownership (i.e. who has ultimate decision-making jurisdiction over which resources)". In an RBE there is no need for ownership, only access. As to decision-making, decisions would be arrived at by applying the scientific method.
  • "economics can teach what consequences we can expect from different ownership principles being used in societies". Maybe it can, but in an RBE we are not interested in "ownership models".
  • " Economics is the body of knowledge that can tell us whether resources will be used more efficiently for satisfying human desire [in one or another system]". In economics the word 'want' covers what would commonly be distinguished as 'need' and if 'desire' is used in the same sense as 'want' it has the same problem as far as I am concerned.
What is the overarching aim of a system for operating planet earth (which is what economics should be about)? Ownership isn't a first principle. You own something so that you can exclusive and unlimited access it - thus access underlies ownership and it is what an RBE seeks to optimise.

Somewhere in their discussion, McLeish differentiates 'good' growth from 'bad' growth and Wright asks him to explain/clarify. I don't know if he has done so, but Robert Kennedy's critique of GDP/GNP will serve (see

"Our gross national product ... counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. .... Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

So, we are looking for growth in the good things Kennedy lists here. I'm sure that's a close enough description of 'good growth' for McLeish.

As appealing as quality of life and/or happiness are as indicators, they are tricky to enumerate. If you are healthy and happy you will presumably live longer. Maybe life length is a good enough proxy for 'good growth'. That said, if people live longer there will be more of us on the planet. Maybe populatiin is the simplest proxy for good growth? Obviously, there is a limit to how many people the planet can sustain. If our resource efficiency is optimal, we will be sustaining as much population as those resources can allow.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The lights in the tunnel

I have read Martin Ford's book with considerable interest. His main thesis is that technological unemployment will pervade and that we should plan for it.

Where I must part company with him is in his view that consumption and capitalism are sine qua non. He rejects Marx's idea of a planned economy (and I'm not here to defend it) yet at the same time posits an economy where the government arranges for the consumer to have the money he needs to keep consumption going by taxing consumption(!) and levying business taxes. This is also a planned economy.

He accepts that the planet has finite resources, but predicts that nano-technology will radically increase what we can do with available materials. I have no reason (or knowledge) to doubt or question his prediction about nano-technology, but he cannot brush away the finiteness of resources by saying we can exploit them more effectively/efficiently

He is silent on the subject of advertising, which is a key driving force in a consumption based economy. He wants to incentivise people to improve themselves and society by offering what amounts to wages for doing these things. I don't disagree with financial incentives being used to create social / environmental benefits, but presumably Ford's system will have to incentivise people to consume goods and services - that is basically advertising/marketing. As he foresees a world in which most work is done by machines, I assume that advertising will be similarly cybernated.

But in missing out advertising as a subject area, Ford has overlooked a huge gap in his thought process. We can find it by consiering what modern advertising does. It seelks to persuade you that such and such a product will make you a better, more attractive, essentially happier, healthier person. Paradoxically, advertising knows what Ford has omitted. Our true motivation is to be happy and healthy. Advertising couples that motivation to consumption to keep the economy going, because our economic system is basically one of consumption. Ford sees this, but does not challenge it - in fact it is his start point, even though he accepts that the free market is an intellectual construct. It has no physical referent.

It is the supreme and truly immutable fact that we have finite resources to work with. That, combined with the urge of humans, like any species, to survive and thrive, produces the essential train of thought of a Resource Based Economy, in which we apply the scientific method and technology to bear on the issue of how we as a species can survive and thrive on 'spaceship earth'.

It is a pity, because Ford goes so far towards deriving an RBE by his own sound reasoning, yet stops short because of assumptions about money and the "invisible hand" idea of Adam Smith which leaves the latter's ideas exposed to the criticism of being more systematic theology than a plan for how humanity can survive and thrive.

Ford has great expectations of what technology can/will achieve, and I'm not disagreeing, but another omission, and a key building block of an RBE, is applying the technology to knowing what useful stuff we have on the planet, how much of it we have, and where it is. Ford scoffs at the idea of knowledge being on the web and not in people's heads:This rather goes against his high view of artificial intelligence, but surely he must accept by his own logic that an inventory of the earth's resources would be the ultimate application for technology, and the starting point of a properly planned - I assume he does not object to all planning - approach to our survival on this planet.

Saturday, 11 August 2012


I don't want to take anything away from the athletes/performers in the London 2012 Games. I share in the emotion of the winners and losers and marvel at the skill, strength, speed and acuity of these young men and women.

Am I jealous/envious? Yes, of the youth and suppleness and the fact they have found something to excel at, persevered and excelled. They may well be inspirational role models and I take my hat off to them.

There's a Mitchell and Webb sketch in which the former mocks the latter for identifying with the football (soccer) team he supported as if he were actually a contributor, by use of "we" rather than "they" to reference them.

By comparison with many a football supporter, I suppose those of us who were born, brought up, have lived, or have been naturalised in Britain have a strong case for identifying with Team GB. I don't know about you, however, but my part in any success of the team is entirely negligible. So how can I identify with Team GB as "we"? The only connection I can claim is that I was born in Britain - and that is not my achievement in any sense.

The same goes for any achievement or failure of someone British. Only those who had a direct part can / should take any credit/blame. Of course it is convenient and therefore likely that teams will be formed of people based near to each other, and being born near to each other is going to lead to that propinquity.

Well done Olympians all - fantastic, amazing. Well done Britain? Not especially.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Different kinds of money

It is reasonably well-known that banks create money to lend to their customers. Someone in the blogosphere said this can't be true because Northern Rock went bust. But he's wrong. The money that banks lend each other is a different type of money. Clearly, the other banks wouldn't have accepted money created out of thin air by Northern Rock it settlement of their debts, anymore than NR would have accepted money that I create out of thin air as a deposit.

These different types of money are all denominated in the same currency name (eg pounds) but the 'terms and conditions' attached to them are different. You can't spend government bonds in Tesco's.

Daily life reveals examples of types of money that we understand or at least get along with. Money off coupons are an example. They are very restricted as to where, when, and on what youi can spend them, but they are money of a sort. Oyster Pay-as-you-go credit is another example. In practice, you can only spend it on bus and train journeys. You can't readily spend it as freely as cash, but it is denominated in pounds.

Mobile phone companies use this phenomenon. They make it easy to buy the special money that lives on your phone and can only be spent on calls, SMS and data, but converting it back or spendiong it on anything else is difficult if not impossible. O2 offers me a "free" £1 top up when I put £10 on my phone. I have to accept the offer, but it is largely meaningless as this is in effect O2 creating money for me to spend with them.

But because it is not part of daily life for most people, they don't tend to think, I suppose, of the different types of money used in banking. I'm going to try for a generalised list of "Ts and Cs" of types of money to draw this out:

1) Who may hold the type of money. Day to day example - money on a PAYG mobile phone may be held by anyone with a SIM card on the appropriate network. Banking example: Only banks can hold the interbank money that they use to settle net transactions between them.

2) With whom the money may be spent. Day to day example - a money off coupon is typically limited to a particular supermarket. Banking example - the clearing banks and Bank of England have a kind of money that they accept amongst themselves. This is the kind of money created by quantitative easing (I think).

3) On what the money may be spent. Day to day example - Oyster PAYG may only be spent on train / bus fares. (It may be possible to get stored value refunded, but only in special circumstances). Banking example - Government Bonds. Apart from trading the bonds themselves, they are pretty much restricted to buying currency for the banks to circulate amongst themselves (I think).

4) By when the money must be spent. Day to day example - a money off coupon will usually have an expiry date after which it is useless. Banking example - can't think of one.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Bank of Dave

It's hard not to admire Dave Fishwick, the eponymous Dave in 'Bank of Dave' the TV series and "Bank on Dave" (aka Burnley Savings and Loans) the company that he founded to provide banking services to Burnley, Lancashire, England and the area, but which he wanted to be a bank.

In a Dave v Goliath struggle, the entrepreneur, plain-speaker and shooter from the hip takes on the might of banking law and the Financial Services Authority. He sort of wins out, because by the end of episode 2 of the TV series he is allowed to make loans and take deposits, though he must match them. In six months he makes a profit of £000s which he generously give to charity.

But is this all scaleable? He has to charge interest on his loans, even though he is careful about what he invests in. This is in part because he offers savers 5% pa (with a few sweeeners to early adopters). I think he was (is?) lending at around 8-9% pa.

Where does the money to pay interest come from? Other people - well yes, but where ultimately? Money supply has to increase so that there can be enough money in the system to pay back the interest. If it doesn't, mathematically some people have to go bust. (If it does, some people still do go bust, but not because of  shortfall in all money).

This is a big, big problem for money. The total utility of goods and services increases over time, so money should increase in supply in keeping with it. But how do you quantify it?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Problems of lack of co-operation

A few examples have come to my attention recently:

1) Another car journey sharing venture, gocarshare, to compete with Liftshare and the other very similar offerings.

2) Google's beta test of its cycle route directions on its maps, despite parallel offerings from, TfL and others,

3) Qype. I downloaded the Androis app as it had been avourably reviewed in the Webscape segment of BBC TV's Click. One of the first things I found was a reference to a pub that closed ages ago. I entered a 'review' saying this - I could see no other more appropriate facility. There are so many websites / apps holding data about businesses that to tell them all would be a lifetime's work. In Qype, we have an app that cpould be extremely useful, but it can only ever be as useful as the data it is working on and my first experience has put me off.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Money supply

Further to my previous post about the gold standard here, I made a similar point on Facebook alongside a slide published by positive money. I got a reponse - thanks - which I have posted below, interspersed with my further responses:

  • Surely the number of people alive is as arbitrary as the amount of gold that has been discovered!
 Not at all. Gold has very little direct use in improving the quality of human life. It's good as an electrical conductor, but I'm unaware of any other day to day use. If all the gold in the world vanished (except what is in practical use) we would be no worse of so far as health and well being were concerned.

I was looking fo some measure of the quality of human existence, or our ability as a society to protect and preserve our own species. Whilst a long life isn't necessarily a good quality life, it is a reasonably good proxy - if you're healthy you live longer. If there's no war, hunger, disease etc, people live longer. It then occured to me that if people lived longer there would be more people alive at any one time, so perhaps population rather than life length would do.

  • One third of all the worlds refined gold is kept in one place - around the necks of Indian women. Scott's approach would make India rich!
Depends what you mean by rich. You can't eat gold, you can only exchange it for something that actually sustains life - nutrition, shelter, safety, health care to start with.
  • How could we be sure that India, having one of the largest populations, would get it's fair share of the money that is created under your suggestion, any more than it does under the current one? 
My proposal is about money supply, not about its distribution, fair or otherwise. As we know, currently nearly all money is created by banks and lent out at interest to whoever the bank  wants to lend it to to make a profit.Obviously money supply needs to go up and down - but we need sound reasons for that.

Perhaps the Indian Government (or any other government) would be able to create the money that corresponds to India's population, so it would have the money and it could spend it as it chose. What we would have to decide is how many money creating authorities there would be. For example, if the UK created some its per capita money, then England, N Ireland, Scotland and Wales couldn't also do it - this would be double counting.

  •  Also, wouldn't it encourage countries to inflate their population?
As population increased there would be more money, but more people too. The amount of money per person alive would stay the same.  Therefore, what you would have to do is be as efficient as possible with the money you have in order to allow population to grow naturally and live longer. I would guess that would involve 'prevention is better than cure'.

What underlies your question seems to be the tacit assumption that more money is better. We are brought up to think/act like this, but what is in fact better? Better health ( longer life) and more happiness (which may be the same as better health). 

The only way to cause population and longevity to rise is to manage physical resources in order to achieve more and longer lives per unit of  resource.

  • The Greens wouldn't like you.
The planet can obviously only support a finite population. All the greens are pointing out is that our consumption is currently unsuatainable over time. With the current system we are wasting the planet's resources  and also not distributing them at all fairly. Yet we keep creating more and more money. If we managed the planet's resources properly and fairly we would be able to sustain a greater population than we currently can. We should not equate comsumption with quality of life.


 Addendum - what is gold really useful (non aesthetically) for?

1) Its electrical conductivity cf its corrosion resistance makes it useful in electronics
2) Its reflectivity of radiation so for satellites and space suits.
3) Its transparency when thin enables it to be used in heated windscreens in aviation.

Thanks to Wikipedia for information.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Gold standard lunatics

The episode of BBC Radio 4's Analysis programme which aired tonight at 1930 GMT had a scary false dichotomy between the gold standard and our current monetary supply system.

It is true that it doesn't make sense to have a money supply without a physical referent, but that doesn't make the gold standard any more logical. If money supply was related to the amount of gold that has been discovered, the absurd situation arises that discovering a quantity of a comparatively useless metal would increase the size of the economy, and once all gold has been discovered, the economy cannot grow.

Relating money supply to the price of gold is nonsensical, because the price of gold must be in units related to the price of gold (as money is on the gold standard). Or, if the price of gold could float freely, money supply would be related to a free floating variable.

In the gold standard, gold had to be shipped. Ridiculous. All this relatively useless stuff did was sit in vaults wile it wasn't being transferred betwwen them. No wonder governments realised it was utterly stupid, and sold the gold without admitting it.

But the gold standard proponents were right that money supply should not be unrestrained. It is a starting point to say that it should be related to the amount of goods and services being produced. The problem here is the problem of growth in GDP - the planet is finite so far as physical stuff goes, so insofar as it relates to stuff, money supply should not increase. Services are a different matter. Technology is a case in point. Microproccessor based technology is getting smaller as it gets more powerful. It sis clear that, over time, we can get more service per unit of stuff. If we could quantify service, we might have a guide to the quantity of money that there should be, but how do you compare a basic human need (nutrition, say) against a higher order need or service (finding out where the nearest restaurant is using your smart phone).

For me, human well-being is the key and for the moment, I'm thinking money supply should be a function of the number of people alive and their age. I'm sure this is less than perfect, but it is a starting point.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

How would scarce resources be allocated in an RBE?

This is a version of one of the killer questions that is supposed to show the RBE as flawed, but the best is the eneny of the good here.

In the current system if something's abundant it's a problem, because it's hard, if not impossible, to make money out of something that's abundant. This is why food is wasted or stockpiled while people starve to death, and why [alleged] natural cures for illnesses are downplayed, denied, hushed up or exproprited as commercial products. It cannot be any other way with the current system.

An RBE addresses this issue of deliberate scarcity. Yes it is left with actual, irreducible scarcity, but to use that as an argument against it is invalid if it means sticking with the system we've got until we find a flawless replacement.

We don't really know what these irreducible scarcities are, but we certainly know what the avoidable ones are and I say we make a start.

The power principle

A long documentary in 3 parts, each well over an hour long, but worth making the effort. Not very encouraging to think that we're controlled by an elite for their own benefit, especially if we can't do anything about it. Perhaps it's no wonder people just go along with it - but it's tough on the seriously poor and seriously oppressed to have to accept their low station so that social stratification our system requires to continue can be maintained.

Definitely worth watching, but not something to gladn your heart.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Natural Capital

The Now Show on BBC Radio 4 (a comedy show based on current affairs) mocked the UK Governments' attempt to account for the services that the biosphere provides us with in financial terms. I wish they hadn't. We can't continue to liquidate natural capital and call it income, therefore some attempt to cost (say) the pollination service performed by bees, or the various services provided by trees should theoretically go some way to correcting our current system's tendency to ignore 'externalities' and plnder the planet for profit.

The UK's Conservative government (in coalition with Liberal Democrats) could live up to its Conservative name by seeking to find ways to conserve our planet, and focus less on conserving institutions and traditions for their own sake. The need to sustain human life on this planet is very serious. Yes, make humour about it, but be careful not to undermine any effort in that direction.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Money as trust

One of money's main functions day-to-day, for most of us, is about trust. If I give you a (genuine) £10 note, you accept it becuse you trust someone else will accept it on the same basis. It means we don't have to barter, nor have complex contractual aggreements for each transaction.

This trust was (still is, largely) also extended to current accounts at banks, because, for most purposes, the £s in the bank were as good as £s as notes and coins.

This was a pretty good system, because membership of the trust network is phenomenally widespread and pretty much everything could be bought and sold. It also provides a benchmark pricing system. It givesyou and me an idea of how much I should charge you / how much you should pay me to (say) mow your lawn.

But the banks have betrayed this trust by creating money out of thin air. OK, most people have some protection against the results of the banks' gambling losses, but the ever increasing amount of money that exists is far outstripping the increase in the value of goods and services - ie is there is inflation in the long term.

What can we do? For trust to return we need a network of trust, with a currency that is protected from being created out of thin air by members of the trust network for their own gain. Such networks exist, but they are not widespread, possibly because developing trust starts small, perhaps with friends and neighbours. Technology also enables a form of bartering.On line, we can set up a deal where I mow your lawn and you fix my bike. Provided both sides of the bargain are kept within a reasonable time that should work, but it is easy to see how it is not much better than bartering as was hundreds of years ago.

The money created by banks is demoninated in the same units as notes and coins and exchangeable 1:1. Theferore as each unit of bank money devalues, so does the value of notes and coins.

Any new, trustworthy currency might do well to distance itself from existing currencies for fear that the same counterfeiting stunt may be pulled again. Whatever happens, the supply of money should only be increased if the economy needs it, and not so that banks can benefit from it. Bamks should only be alowed to deal in money that exists. They should not be able to create it.

Positive Money says that a commitee independent of Government should decide when to create more £ and how much. Government would decide (have policies) on what money could/should be spent on. This seems a lot better, but I still have concerns that government will find ways of spending to ensure that the party of government will be voted in next time around.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ferguson and Natural Capitalism

Niall Ferguson's first 2012 Reith Lecture (broadcast on Radio 4 this morning, but to be aired again) was primarily about the role of institutions in economic life. He argues that Britain's erstwhile economic success was down to the quality and constitution of our institutions. In the Q&A session after his talk, he admits, though, though not in these words, that capitalism as we have it breaks its own rules as it liquidates [natural] capital and calls it income.

Limits to growth

'Forty years ago, a self-appointed panel of experts called the Club of Rome published a tract entitled the Limits to Growth, a massively influential report that showed how exponential growth in population and resource use, in a world of finite resources, would end very badly.
Bjorn Lomborg, author of the Sceptical Environmentalist, told the Today programme that the 1970s environmentalists were "spectacularly wrong" because they "fundamentally missed innovation".
"Technology can do amazing things," he said. "We have done a lot better than predicted".
"If we're going to tackle future problems such as global warming we need to focus on innovation," he believes.'

As presented here, Bjorn Lomborg's ideas are rather worrying. He is right that (some of) the specific predictions in The limits to growth were wrong and I accept that he is right that the authors underplayed the benefits of technology, but the undisputable  fact is that there ARE limits to growth as resources ARE finite.

At the end of this short interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme (link above) Lomborg says that the idea of telling people that they have to live with less is a hard sell. This is undoubtedly true, but by playing up the mistakes in specifics, and down the key point about finite resources, he makes it seem as if people shouldn't be told the unpalatable inevitable consequence of finite resources even if it is true.

What is living with less? Superficially it sounds like we're all to tighten our belts and live more frugally. That may be so, but one of the benefits of technology is that it aids the separation of services from goods/products, and enables us to get more service from the same physical resource. This is a key tenet of / the book Natural Capitalism and lists an increasing number of ways of arranging to derive service benefits from physical resources.

We win all round by doing this. The obvious example of  taxis illustrates. The driver wants his/her taxi to be reliable, so it is in the manufacturer's interest to make it so. The taxi driver wants his/her taxi to be in use a high proportion of the time. This makes maximum benefit from the investment in the taxi, and also provides maximum capacity to the taxi network.

(The technology has not yet yielded up a unified booking system for private hire vehicles. In the main, they operate as separate companies. It should be possible to tell a system that I want to go from A to B, arriving/departing at time xx:xx and for the system to dispatch a vehicle appropriately for the job. The systems exist, but they ae not comprehensive and we still have to choose which company to contact.)

Friday, 15 June 2012

A job to die for

I saw a documentary featuring people whose livelihood depended on felling trees in a rain-forest and (I think) on farming the cleared land .

But removing the rain-forest  unsustainability is threatening the very existence of the human race and other species.Thus the job myth sets up competition between the tree fellers/farmers and the rest of the human race.

This is an absolute classic case of liquidating natural capital and calling it income. It would make more sense to pay these people not to destroy the rain-forest, or to ascribe a financial value to the biological service it delivers. But no, we carry on. Profit and competition are our deities and we must sacrifice our planet and our lives to them.

Friday, 8 June 2012

European Resource Efficiency Panel

"The European economy’s growth after the financial crisis will not be based on resource intensive growth but instead on resource efficiency, according to environment commissioner Janez Poto─Źnik."

"We will have to become more resource efficient whether we like it or not" he said.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Let's be less productive

I like this opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, for most of what it says, but there are still underlying assumptions with which I disagree.

The author (Tim Jackson) uses this definition of productivity: "the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy". So productivity = output / time. OK, but what is output, and how do you measure it?

Here's where Jackson goes a bit wonky, in my view:

"there are sectors of the economy where chasing productivity growth doesn’t make sense at all. Certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention. The caring professions are a good example: medicine, social work, education. Expanding our economies in these directions has all sorts of advantages.

In the first place, the time spent by these professions directly improves the quality of our lives. Making them more and more efficient is not, after a certain point, actually desirable."


"the time spent by these professions improves the quality of our lives". No - Jackson has mixed up his quantities. If he had said what I think he means - 'the output of these professions improves the quality of our lives' or even 'the output of these professions is improvement in the quality of our lives' - then I would agree with him. The point is that output that does not improve the quality of our lives should not be seen as positive by society, even if economics does not discriminate this.

Jackson also misses the point about employment, in a related way, by classing all employment as good even if is not beneficial to the quality of our lives. I disagree. Here are quotes from Jackson making the point:

"Ever-increasing productivity means that if our economies don’t continue to expand, we risk putting people out of work. If more is possible each passing year with each working hour, then either output has to increase or else there is less work to go around."

Less work to go around is GOOD. It seems obvious, doesn't it?

"Increasing productivity threatens full employment." Yes it does, but so what? It is right to be more productive in improving the quality of human lives .

"there’s another strategy for keeping people in work when demand stagnates".

There is, but our end (and therefore our strategy) should be improving the quality of llives, not keeping people in work for its own sake.

"By easing up on the gas pedal of efficiency and creating jobs in what are traditionally seen as 'low productivity' sectors, we have within our grasp the means to maintain or increase employment."

 No. We should not be less efficient in improving the quality of people's lives. We should be more efficient. Again it seems obvious. Jackson is limiting his definition of efficiency to cost efficiency.

"At first, this may sound crazy; we’ve become so conditioned by the language of efficiency."

Yes it is crazy  because we have been conditioned by the language of cost efficiency, albeit just called 'efficiency' and not of resource efficiency.

We have to use less non-renewable resources (here I agree with Jackson) and we should aim to increase total life quality (as I believe Jackson agrees). We should pull in the human labour we need to do both these things, not seek to create work for its own sake.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Surviving Progress

Please watch this film. It airs in the UK on Fr 8 June at 00:40 (Th 7 June 23:40 UTC) on BBC4 but it's on-line now.

It is lengthened (arguably unnecessarily) by some fancy effects and CGI  (all very impressive and artistic) , but is worth your time. Overall I would say it's pessimistic about the future of humanity but it correctly pinpoints many of the problems we are making for ourselves on the only planet we have.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

What kind of world do you want to see?

Rather than capitalism and socialism/communism defining the political divide, perhaps the end justifies the means. Defenders of communism say that communism as applied in the USSR was not a proper application of communism, but far be it from me to argue that doing the wrong thing righter is a good approach, and if communism in any/every guise is wrong, then there is no point doing it less wrong.

And there are capitalists who are not hardline and do not wholly subscribe to the compete to survive concept. They may genuinely believe that capitalism is a valid way of attemptiong to achieve what socialism/communism wants (or says it wants) to achieve.

So is there an as yet unexpressed  or inadequately defined template, model, paradigm that has yet to be tried, and what are the shared aims - the 'kind of world' indicators?

If the kind of world you want to see (or the kind of world you accept as necessary or unavoidable) is one where babies die of starvation or technically preventable disease in their mothers' arms, then I cannot disagree with you more. Of you think capitalism can prevent this evil, then I'm interested. I'm prepared to consider that applied capitalism has not achieved what theoreretical capitalism wants to achieve, and if it wants to achieve increased human well-being, then good. If it sets up its market / financial ideology in lieu of humanitarian goals then I have to maintain that it is wrong.

So what might be the untested paragdigm? We know for a fact that resources are finite. Any model that doesn't incorporate this fact is by definition seriously if not fatally flawed. So, in the light of this fact, do we co-operate or compete? This is not black and white. We mix these two modes at the moment as can clearly be seen in the EU. It is intended that the EU works together to compete with the rest of the world, yet we see individual ccountries within it also competing. In a competitive set up people/organisations combine/federate/co-operate so as to compete better, but on spaceship earth, surely we have to co-operate for the good of all? Our 'competition' is with the forces of nature and finite resources.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Jobs and growth

Text of letter submitted to Barking & Dagenham Post, for publication:

Like many politicians, Barking’s MP Margaret Hodge repeats the jobs and growth fable. In her MP’s column (BD Post, 23 May) she hints at jobs in defence and Aerospace. British Aerospace makes an impressive fighter jet – if we could sell more of these we could create more jobs. The best thing to do would be to sell them to all sides in any conflict as this should help extend the conflict, increase demand for the planes and create more jobs. Perhaps we could also make and sell land mines - if we don’t already - as there’s a lucrative market in devices to find and neutralise them as well, which we could expand into. The destruction wrought by war is excellent for economic growth, as it creates the need for lots of construction work, not least for hospitals to treat the wounded combatants and innocents. Our own involvement in any conflict will also increase the threat (real or perceived) of attacks on our country. This will generate lots of work for the security services and industry, armed forces and police.

This extreme example of the very serious failings of growth in GDP as a goal for our planet’s economy  may seem sarcastic, but it’s very real. “Growth” sounds positive, but lift up the bonnet and examine more closely what growth in GDP actually entails and it quickly loses its attraction.

An increasing number of people – though apparently not politicians - are realising the truth that we live on a finite planet, so growth cannot continue for ever, and advocating  as the economic goal for ‘spaceship earth’ the well-being of the creatures on this planet, especially humans. First and foremost this requires the meeting of the biological needs of people on the planet – nutrition and water, shelter and such basics that a large number of our fellow human beings want for.  I think the ‘spaceship earth’ metaphor is a good one. On a spaceship you would look to conserve resources and co-operate to ensure the success of the mission. You would mininimise the amount of work needed to fulfil the mission, especially the work done by people (by use of automation). In our homes we broadly welcome the labour saving brought by technology, yet our politicians cry out for more jobs, meaning , more work to do  except  for the public sector, where they say they want greater efficiency, which pretty much entails fewer jobs.)

The future for our species is the use of science and technology to increase human well-being directly, within the finite resources available. Jobs and growth have nothing to do with this."

Friday, 25 May 2012

Rubbish distinction

Walking across a litter-strewn footbridge today, I contemplated that cuts in public services mean that sweeping is probably less frequent. In the private sector, litter would be a good thing, because it generates work, all the way up stream from the landfill site via the lorry driver to the roadsweeper and the people who packaged the product and the people who manufactured the packaging. Introduce the public sector, though, and these same operations are seen as inherently wasteful - and so they are, but irrespective of whether the clear up is paid for by taxes or not.

Popular economics

I don't really expect to see any particularly cogent comment on the letters pages of Metro, but today's crop of letters about the euro crisis are particularly meretricious. The first is a poorly extended shipping metaphor. "Greece is an anchor pulling down the eurozone ship. If you cut the anchor free the ship will not sink." What? Maintaining the shipping metaphor, the writer compares the eurozone to The Titanic. The eurozone's iceberg is "debt created by greed'".

So the Titanic (eurozone) has struck its iceberg (debt/greed) but it will not sink if its anchor (Greece) is cut free (presumably removed from or allowed to leave the euro. I don't actually think the Titanic's anchor was a significant factor in its sinking. It was the ingress of water through the hole made by the iceberg.

Next up - "The reason the whole of Europe is in financial distress is because throughout the continent the public sector is far too large. ... because of hundreds of thousands of EU-introduced laws and regulations." Remember the assumption that more private sector jobs is good, but more public sector jobs is bad. More phone shops, £1 shops, fried chicken shops, coffee shops? Yay!

Let's get to the nub of this. The vast majority of money is created by private banks and lent out at interest. The interest cannot all be paid back, because the money to pay it back does not exist. Therefore people / organisations / countries have to go bust.

That writer continues "Mr Brown [the previous UK Prime Minister and before that finance minister] reckons it's up to us to get us out of the mess he drove us into." I'm not here to defend Gordon Brown, but we can't lay the entire national debt at his feet. And even if he did drive us into this mess all by himself, he can't get us out of it.

Next: "I would have thought that the former Chancellor [Gordon Brown] would have been well advised to keep his mouth shut on the subject of debt.". This is practically straight out of a common comedy line: 'Oh, just ome other thing. Shut up!'

Finally: "What a cheek for Gordon Brown to say that Europe can't save itself. This from a man who acted like he saved the world a few years ago." Setting aside the non seqitur (GB did a, therefore he cannot say B), we have to examine whether what GB said is correct or not. If it's true, why shouldn't he say it?

None of this carping from the sidelines shows any understanding of the actual causes of Europe's or the world's problems, nor (unsurprisingly) does it provide even the slightest suggestion of any solution or ameloration.

OK, one write says there's too much EU legislation, but you can't just weigh legislation and neither can you arbitrarily decide how much is too much. Is the writer suggesting we randomly remove legislation until the "financial distress" stops? Presumably not and therefore we have to look at each piece of legislation. The writer does not cite any example, making his comment just rhetoric.

Picking up the Titanic theme, I would say that what is happening is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, that is pointlesly solving or ameliorating a problem that will become irrelevant in the event of the impending disaster. Moving money from one fund to another does not solve the problem that all the money that exists is owed to banks, and then some.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Critique of current economics by economists

BBC Radio 4's 'Start the week' programme today featured a very temperate debate on 'Money & Morality' between Michael Sandel, Diane Coyle and Grigory Yavlinsky.

Although it did dig into ecomomics, it only (in my view) got as far as society in the abstract, and didn't really get at the concept of the human/biological needs that the economy truly needs to fulfil.

Towards the end of what (in their defence) was only a 28 minute long programme, Coyle gave an opinion with which I strongly disagree. "We need growth ... because it brings jobs." I won't restate here wy I disagree with that, but I will try to contact Coyle to tell her why I think she is wrong to say that.

Nothing new (or much) to say

So the g8 summit can be summed up in 2 words: Jobs and Growth. Fantastic conclusion to an international summit - a two word summary ('more' jobs is to be inferred). I suppose the summit itself generated work for people, making it good in itself by the reckoning of these sound-bite economics.

Are they not even bothering to break down these buzzwords a little bit? Do they just say them now? Jobs, growth austerity, debt, deficit? They have nothing new left to say and nothing new left to do. They are a spent force.

They can't start to relate these terms to actual human needs and problems, because if they do, they immediately expose the inbuilt contradictions in the system.

Growth cannot be infinite on a finite planet
Growth is growth in GDP, and GDP includes things we do not want to see, but which nevertheless cost £ and so count in GDP. GDP also excludes things we do want to see.
Jobs. Why do we want more jobs? We don't want more jobs at work, or in our homes. We don't want our services to cost more, but more jobs will do just that.
And even 'they' don't want more jobs in the public sector. Public sector jobs are bad jobs and must be privatised or got rid of. Private sector jobs are good, even though the private sector needs to be efficient nd therefore achieve the same with fewer jobs.

The only way we can get more jobs without being less cost efficient is by consuming more - there's you growth - and being less resource efficient. When we've used everything up or polluted the planet so it can no longer sustain us we will all die and there won't be any more need for jobs or growth. Meantime, we need to rush as fast towards this cataclysm as we can.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Quantifying planetary resources

This short and clear presentation by Jason Lord entitled "visualising a systems approach" quickly gets to the subject of the planet as a closed system. To manage a closed system we have to know about it. In an RBE we want to manage the system for the benefit of society generally - that is we want to use the finite carrying capacity of the earth as efficiently as possible to sustain human life. This means the radical minimisation of waste.

To know what the carrying capacity of the earth is we have to collect data and take measurements, and this talk gives an important example of where this is already being done - namely NASA's Earth Observation System of satellites. The point is this is now, not in the future.

In the talk Jason also explained how using data gathered from this site in a super computer, they ran a weather model that predicted the planetary weather for 20 days with very good accuracy.

Monday, 14 May 2012


BBC TV's Click ran an item on MOOCs, featuring Stanford's udacity heavily, but also udemy, which is a portal to various on line courses. The University of Phoenix offers something similar as does MIT under the MITx brand, and the University of Michigan as Coursera; and I-tunes offers I-tunes U.

It was impressive to see the academics interviews talk of their desire to remove the elitism from education and of offering their materials for free. In a resource based economy, as many limits to education as possible would be removed - and we already know that there are people who are motivated by education itself to spread education far and wide -  a task that technology can really assist.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

support for business

I know politicians need sound bites, but I still have a problem with easily parroted maxims that don't bear any real exxamination. I heard newly re-elected London Mayor Boris Johns on talk of "support for business" and it kind of sounds good. It's got the word support in it, which is a warm word, like growth.

But business is an abstract thing. It has no physical referent. We have to go through / past it to find such a referent. Businesses provide jobs and deliver goods and some services.  The goods and services will at least in part be worthwhile things. The jobs, in the main, will be a means to get the money to procure the goods and services one needs.

So if someone speaks of support for people, they are closer to a physical referent; we can quickly see how that support might entail people having adequate nutrition and water, protection from the environment, and access to education, amongst their human needs.

If people want to support business because it will lead to the fulfilment of human needs that's fine, but why be indirect? When people say specifically that they want to support business, it naturally arouses suspicion that they don't in fact want to see that human needs are fulfilled. And if you press them on it they fling out labels - socialism, communism.

What is it that they in fact want to see happen by the supportuing of business? We suspect it is the enrichment of their friends and them at the expense of others who have to work in those businesses to stave off the day when they can no longer pay the increasing amount of money they owe.

Friday, 4 May 2012


I watched a very interesting TV programme on the history of bread in the UK (part of the Timeshift series).

There is a subtle interplay of science and monetary economics. The technical developments in bread production enabled far greater volumes of bread to be produced more cheaply, thus enabling poorer people to obtain it. But there was little hesitation by the bakers interviewed or in the developments depicted about the benefit in financial terms to the bakers and corporations.

The primary purpose of food should be to deliver nutrition. In the early days of the period covered by the programme,  British wheat with low nutritional quality was used to make a bread which was unpalatable and hard to eat by people with poor teeth (a feature of poor hygiene and nutrition). So white bread, even though it is nutritionally inferior in theory, through being more palatable and softer, could yet have been more nutritionally valuable, but that the labour costs of refining the flour rendered it costly and therefore sought after as a sort of delicacy.

It's well known that people's diet during the second world war was on the whole very good. What people should/could eat had been studied from a nutritional point of view. Whilst there is no reason that people shouldn't enjoy bread from an aesthetic point of view, at a planetary level, the number one priority for food is its nutritional function, not its aesthetic, nor its ability to produce financial gain for its producers. The defence of current free-market capitalism that it can produce benefits through the profit motive would have a problem for me even if the evidence of millions starving didn't undermine the claim. If you want to adequately nutrify a population, you have a technical problem to directly be addressed. Why construct a complex free market system (using) some of society's best minds to produce a secondary funcion of nutrifying the world's inhabitants? Is there a theistic belief in the free market capitalist system such that anything society wants done must be (or claimed to be) contingent on it? Or is it just a distraction from the task in hand, critcisms of which are deflected or met by the claim that it can deliver social goals?


With various local elections happening in the UK yesterday (May 3) there is pleny of coverage on news broadcasts of results as they come in, and the views of pundits. The non politicians focus on the figures, the impact of individual votes on the outcomes for the various bodies to be elected. The politicians play down any worsening of their electoral success and play up any increase.

Politicians featured in the news I have seen (not much) have said things that suggest they should change what the party does/stands for in order to achieve electoral success. One peer opined that the "economy is flat on its back" but went on to refer to the effect of this on their electoral success, as if that were more important.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion from what I have seen that politicians are just using gaming strategies; what can we say (which is really nore important for their purposes than what will we do) to bring ourselves electoral success.

Stripping away the analysis about what will bring electoral success to see what it is these politicians are offering to do for the direct benefit of their constituents, specifics are hard to come by: jobs, growth, more police on the beat, reduced fares. These are the kinds of bullet point 'policies' we mainly hear.

From my point of view, I want to know what these politicians can and will do for the benefit of the human needs of their constituents. This may include what they will press for as well as what they can actually deliver, though in the latter case I don't think there is actually much. This is because it is only science and technology that can actually deliver true benefits to humanity.

Sunday, 29 April 2012


I can't be the only person struck by the almost juxtaposition of two news news reports:

1) that Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, has accused UK Prime Minister David Cameron of  "acting immorally by favouring the rich", (an allegation Cameron countered by saying "the last Budget took 2m people on the lowest incomes out of debt [sc income tax?] altogether and from April 2012 pensioners will see the largest ever cash rise in the basic state pension." See

2) See "the combined worth of the country's 1,000 wealthiest people is £414bn, up 4.7%" according to the Sunday Times Rich List

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Royal Zeitgeist Movement?

Here is a quotation from The Royal Society's recently published report People and the planet.

'The problem of resource allocation is often referred to as the tragedy of the commons, but that phrase can be taken to mean that by just dividing up the commons into separately owned lots all will be well.

Sometimes that is the case, but some commons are valuable as commons (for example human knowledge), and parts are impossible to divide up (for example the atmosphere). Regulation of the many commons that concern all humanity must be achieved by high level negotiations that do not fall back exclusively on appeals to “my nation’s interests”.

Beyond the very short term, the real interests of nations lie in solving global problems in an equitable fashion, not just in each struggling to stay ahead. Implementation requires farsighted leaders'.

Very close to the definition of  resource based economy.

Proper economics

After listening to some standard economic blather abiut how we need to increase spending and how we need people to do low paid jobs on radio 4's Today programme this morning, my ears pricked up at an item (at 07:49) based on the Royal Society's new People and the planet  report.

"The BBC's listen again page says "The Today programme's Tom Feilden reports on the challenge population growth represents and Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir John Sulston outlines the Royal Society's is major new report,"and Sarah Montague seemed to want to focus onthe issue of trying to reduce population growth, but Sulston was prepared to consider allowing population to grow naturally and criticised our obsession with growth in GDP - which as he pointed out is an attempt to consume more faster when in fact we have a finite amount of resources.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Poor people shouldn't have so many children

I find this often expressed opinion rather chilling; I have a gut reaction against social engineering, though I do understand the problem that exponents of the idea are trying to solve.

First and foremost, the maxim doesn't proffer any remedy for children that are already born, and that is the main problem in hand. How do we ensure that their lives turn out to be worthwewhile and fulfilling?

How do people come to be poor? Do they choose poverty? Poor people are often characterised as lazy. Perhaps some are, but there are certainly many that aren't. So if they are not poor by choice, they are probably poor because their parents were poor or because they lack the capacity to hold down a well-paid job (or both). Middle class people make informed decisions about how many children to have. They can make informed decisions because they are better educated. Therefore if poor peope were better educated, they too would make better or more informed decisions. But do they have the intellectual capacity to take on this education? If they don't, should they also be blamed for it?

It seems to me that we have a socio-economic system that on the one hand creates or allows poverty and on the other admonishes people for not dealing with that poverty by choosing to limit their reproduction. If poor people don't have so  many children, then fewer potentially ill-educated people will come into the world, but crucially, unless innate intelligence is hereditary, so will fewer intelligent yet poor people.

The instinct to reproduce must surely be about the most innate characteristic that humans (like any creature) have. There may be people that don't grasp the long term consequences of their reproduction, but are there seriously any that reproduce because they think they will be financially better off? [OK maybe some women get pregnant to get a coucil property, but that aside].

If better off people have fewer children, then one way of ensuring poor people have fewer children is to make them better off, surely?  But tjose who don't want to subsidise poor people with chilldren presumably don't want to subsidise them to not have children. They don't want to subsidise them full stop. You're poor, you shouild stay poor, and if you place yourself in a worse position by your reproduction, don't come crying to me.

Like any species, we should increase our population. It follows that any new born should be cared for so that s/he can turn into a net ccontributor to society in later life. Society should invest in this. It isn't easy but it is also not something we should shy away from. The basic building blocks of nutrition/water and protection from environmental extremes should be easy to provide, and an excellent start.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

What's your idea, muertos?

J S Bach wrote Baroque music. J S Bach's music is brilliant. Therefore Baroque music is brilliant. Most people with even the most basic introduction can see that this logic is flawed. It is wrong to classify things and then assume that the class of things is homogenous / consistent. (If you do this with ethnicity you finish up with racism.)

This blogger muertos criticises a movement or style in architecture / planning called High Modernism (based on a book called Seeing Like a State). The designs for Brasilia were labelled High Modernism and were (the book argues - I don't know enough to give an opinion) not a success. Therefore, by muertos' logic, it appears, High Modernism was not a success.

He then goes on to label TVP/TZM as "High Modernism" (I assume he is referring to Jacque Fresco's designs for cities) and therefore TVP/TZM will fail and therefore are wrong and their ideas should not be tried.

This technique is usually applied using communism as the failed big idea.

I don't know if muertos shares the ideals of TZM/TVP, but I think not. He mocks TVP for being conspiracy theorists - in fact he writes "primarily aimed at spreading conspiracy theories". I'm not sure that he is misunderstanding; I think he is being rhetorical. He is apparently confusing (deliberately?) TVP with the first Zeigeist movie, which had a conspiracy theory section. It was making the point (rather over making it, I think) that institutions seek to preserve themselves and will stop at nothing to do achieve that end. By any reckoning, the consipracy theories in the first Zeitgeist Movie have nothing to do with Jacque's designs for cities.

I hink muertos doesn't share TVP/TZM's aims, because he opines that they are "at best, doomed never to get off the ground". I see no reason to express this pessimism  - at least not in these terms - if he wants them to succeed in their aims.

Now maybe there are lessons to be learnt from what happened with Brasilia that can be applied to Jacque's designs to improve them. Maybe Jacque has already considered this. I say this openly as I don't know enough about Brasilia or Seeing like a state to be able to agree/disagree.

Seeing like a state's general idea seems to be that top down planning fails through not taking into account the nuances / subtilties of activities that have been carried out organically from the bottom up. Important lesson, but how do we get sustainability and equality if we don't plan?

Muertos is guilty, I thnk, of protesting too much. His heading includes the phrase "recipe for disaster" and he calls TZM a "bizarre organization" and "a recipe for a catastrophe". I would prefer it if he made more constructive criticisms (and spare the rhetoric) because, as its tagline suggests, TVP wants to eradicate poverty and war. If muertos also wants to eradicate poverty and war, I for one welcome his contribution. For the record, I don't want to eradicate politics and money for any other reason than they seem to stand in the way of, or don't contribute to, or oppose the eradication of poverty and war.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

More 9-11

I just watched a documentary on Channel 4 entitled 9-11 The Lost Tapes. Programme title refers to lost tapes, but blurb says they are "newly released." American Aiirlines were pioneering airborne mobile phone calls in 2004, according to this article - yet in the documenatry we hear a crystal clear recording of a fllight attendant apparently phoning air traffic control from a plane in 2001. And the hijackers allegedly turned off the transponder in the plane meaning that ATC lost it. Was the transponder turn off-able from within the aircraft and if so why and  how did the hikackers know how to do it?

The documentary reminded me of the interview with Elizabeth Woodworth of Consensus 9-11 that I saw some months back but didn't blog. Consensus 9-11 don't put forward conspiracy theories about 9-11, but they do have a lengthening list of consensus points about where the official account of what happened is untrue. They reach consensus using the Delphi method.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Money makes the world go round?

The essence of our current socio-economic system is currently, basically, that we should keep chasing after money. As long as we keep doing that, everything will be OK, we're told. Call it trickle down effect, call it economic growth. But this is the jam tomorrow phenomenon. When will the starvation stop? When will the wars stop? When will poverty/inequality be eradicated? When will we stop despoiling the planet on which we have to live. If these really are the things that capitalism wants to achieve, que pasa? If you can achieve it with the monetary system, can you please hurry up?

We chase after money because we can buy the things we need with money, but why can't we work together as a planet to get the things we need without environmental destruction? It's not a technological problem - we have the technology. Why do we have to compete and not co-operate?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Working for a living

The general idea that anyone who contributes nothing should get nothing is widely held, and is a good starting point for socio-economic organisation but needs qualifying. Any work can theoretically be monetised, and anything that could make a profit is likely to be.

Yet society has changed and it is generally accepted that the very young, very old, very ill and very disabled, amogst others, should not be expected to work except perhaps in a very limited way.

Society has also decided that certain kinds of work are not acceptable to society. For example selling drugs that have been made illegal and solicting (prostitution). And certain consumption is limited, and or tolerated but not encouraged: smoking products and alcohol are age-restricted.

I would say there is a general consensus that society (however it is incorporated) can and should place limits on the pure profit motive. There is less consensus on what the nature and extent of those limits should be, but that there should be limits is widely accepted.

Turning this 'limitation consensus' on its head, we find, surely, that we are testing to what end people are working. Is what they do a contribution to society? It cannot be the case that any work will do. Many things that are destructive of property or life and limb are constrained to varying extent by  varying mechanisms from social pressure to the full force of the law.

In the current political environment, the assumption is that paid work should ideally be in the private sector - that is not directly funded by taxation. The test doesn't seem to be to what end the work is being done so much as whether there's financial profit to be made. The assumption seems to be that the money made through profit will eventually yield up benefits, perhaps even social benefits.

Traditionally the public sector delivers services that society collectively wants to see delivered - it expresses this desire, theoretically, through the democratic process. Since the late 20C there has increasingly been a strategy of using private sector organosations to deliver these collectively-desired social benefits.
But the private sector exists to make money, in the main, and the owner / employee model prevails. People are expected to work for a living, preferably in the private sector, and it is that same private sector that according to currently prevalent ideology is best placed as well as preferable to provide the employment. This gives greater control over what is done by way of paid work to the owners of the private sector organisations, who thus have more influence over what ends the work they pay for achieves.

This leaves the individual with a dilemma: s/he cannot decide what is socially desirable or constructive and then use her/his labour of hand and brain to do that. S/he is limited to a large extent to doing what the private sector decides it wants to pay wages for. And not only that, if the private sector changes its mind about the amount and types of work it will pay for, people can instantly be out of work and deemed a drain on society.

Further, the amount of that needs to be done by humans is decreasing, as automation prevails. The effect of this has to be most felt on those without the skills to carry out the remaining non automated jobs, which is a problem for them if they are still expected to work for a living and do not have independent means. What is it they should do?

What is the essential difference between those who it is generally accepted should not be expected to work to live and those who do not have the skills/abilities to do the non-automated work that has been deemed necessary and/or desirable? I think there is only a difference of degree. Obviously people cannot only carry out work beyond the limit of their capability, but how do we determine what work is necessary and socially desirable, and how do we share out the work amongst those who can do it?

If we look at what is generally deemed socially unacceptabe - say dealing in illegal drugs - we can see what the determinants of that unacceptability are. The drugs have been made illegal (ostensibly at least) because of the profound effect they could have on the user, especially with continued use. So society has deemed itself worthy of protecting people from an activity that is profitable and involves work. This seems to be to show that it is in fact human well being that emerges as the end of socio-economic organisation. The question is why it isn't in every case, but only in the extremes.

If the intention of our socio-economic system is to improve human well-being, then money has to play a part in this, and not work against it. And having less work to do must surely benefit human well being (setting aside the personal fulfilment element of work). This is why an RBE makes sense to me. It aims to improve human well being whilst conserving resources.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Ostentatious consumption

It is often argued that without the constraint of money, more people would indulge in more ostentatious consumption. Maybe this would be a problem, but to hold it up as a fatal flaw given all the disadvantages of the current system is special pleading.The first assumption made here is that people would still want ostentatious things in an RBE; they would still want to flaunt as if they had monetary advantage over others. This suggests no change in attitude and is used to hint that there will have to be some kind of control imposed and therefore someone 'in charge' deciding who can and can't have what. Ergo and RBE is a command economy, statist, communist, etc, etc.

Someone I was debating with on Youtube used the idea of a private ice rink in ones basement as an example of ostentatious consumption. It will serve. Supposing you woke up in an RBE and you thought "I would like a private ice rink in my basement". Let's assume you have a basement and don't mind dedicating the space in it to this frivol. So how do you go about it? Are you going to acquire the materials and build it yourself. In an RBE, it is posited that robots will do most work. Who will have designed and programmed a robot to build skating rinks in basements. If such a robot does exist, you would have to reserve use of it.

Or are you going to get people amd machines to come and build your rink? Why will people do this? They will do what they want to do, which probably won't be building something they are expressly excluded from. And how will you keep the rink private? You will have to take measures to physically exxclude people from it - security. Assuming you won't want to skate on your own always, you will probably want to grant access to those who live with you/are related to you or your friends.

This is a lot of effort to achieve rather pointless exclusivity and ostentation. If you proposed to build an ice rink in your neighbourhood for all to use, there would be a much smother path. It would be an easier construction project, and people would be more likely to help if needed as they would benefit from it when it opened.

The implication of my co-debators poin was the energy usage of all these private ice rinks. I don't know how much energy they might use, but as I don't accept that there would be such a desire for and ability to acquire such ostenatatious things, that may not be an issue.