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.

Pharma jobs in an RBE

Supposing it was discovered that (say) eating a handful of grass every day would ward off cancer. In an RBE there would be much rejoicing at the discovery and studies would look into how we can produce and distribute enough grass to meet this new need, and/or how we could extract or manufacure the active ingredient if that would make the remedy more efficient. The objective would be to derive the most human benefit from the least unit of resource.

In our current economy, the jobs of people who work in big pharma and the cancer industry would be at stake. It would be in the vested interest to discredit the claim that grass cures cancer, or to corner the market in grass, or to monetise it or the active ingredient that brings the benefit. It is easy to deride this need to protect vested interests, but it is a very real need. If people don't have jobs their lives collapse. Therefore there's a trade off of jobs for other gains. The "need" to have a job has to be weighed against other needs.

In an RBE, there is no need to do work for its own sake and if work can be handed over to machines or obviates, that is done as soon as possible. Thus if grass cures cancer and there is no more need for people to work in big pharma or the cancer industy that is good. Those people can do something else.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Planned obsolesence

This version of the film has subtitles in ?Danish, and quite a lot of dialogue in French and German, but even if you can't get much from the non English content, it still gives a fascinating insight into the scourge of planned obsolescence.

There are several examples of PO in the film, and some encouraging examples of people defeating it. On strand shows someone hacking his printer, which has and EEPROM chip in it that makes if fail after a preset amount of time. As to the cartel that forced lightbulb manufacturers to limit the life of bulbs to 1000 hours, we should be shocked. The everlasting lightbulb is not a myth! There's one in the US that's burned for >100 years.

What's most harrowing is seeing the computer scrap in Ghana, and the poor people scavenging for recyclable materials. There is a campaigner featyred there who tracks down the end users of the computers and pints out to them where they end up.

Another stand-out for me was the objection of workers to the making of long lasting goods, as this would do them out of their jobs. True, it would, but using up the planets finite resources to create jobs is completely insane. Use the resources consevatively, do only the work that the sustainable systen puls in - don't create work. And finally, share out the food, water, shelter, etc to everyone, so they don't have to work to survive.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Systems thinking and air travel

Alastair Clayton, in a letter to The Times (London) reprinted in The Week magazine, makes a rather insightful observation that instead of building a third runway at Heathrow (a cypher for airport expansion generally) government should spend money making the process of clearing customs faster. (He is a non-EU passport holder).

In the abstract, this is an example of systems thinking. The system in transport should be seen as end-to-end. What time do I need to leave point A to get to point B by time T, and how do I do so most quickly? Mr Clayton says that clearing customs after a flight from Geneva to London can take longer than the flight itself. Optimising the rumway to runway component of air travel is optimising a subsystem. Optimising a subsystem can suboptimise a system.

Of course transport is itself a subsystem. Systems thinking inevitably leads to deciding what is the overall system of systems. For all practical purposes, the top-level system is human beings living sustainably on this planet and the test of any change or development is whether it meets human need better and more sustainably - a Resource Based Economy. So whether Mr Clayton's journeys are shotened by more rapid customs or more runways, we ned to look at what human need is being met by his journey, and how that human need may most sustainably be met.

With transport, the first place to look is electronic communications. How many airports, railway lines, motorways and vehicles could be saved by putting high speed video conferencing in every home and office.

Marketing and rioting

These are some recommendations from the newly published report on the 2011 riots in England, with my comments.

"Better information should be provided to parents and schools about marketing techniques and the way they seek to influence behaviour. The Panel recommends that the Advertising Standards Authority make the impact of advertising and branding techniques on young people a feature of its new school education programme to raise resilience amongst children."

So the ASA should go into schools to educate young people how not to be [unduly] influenced by  marketing trechniques.

"Communities are concerned about the aggressive marketing by brands to young people, who often cannot afford their products. The Panel recommends that the Advertising Standards Authority incorporate commercialism and materialism into their engagement work with young people and take action on the findings."

Right - so marketing to people who can't afford to buy a product is going to entice them into stealing it instead, so the ASA  needs to step in and tell them about commercialsm and materialism, which are the very lifeblood of advertising/marketing.

"Children must be protected from excessive marketing, whilst supporting business and not harming commerce. We also recommend that the Government appoint an independent champion to manage a dialogue between Government and big Brands to further this debate"

What, they should market things just to make children buy them if they can afford them, but not enough to make them steal them? Rather than there not being excessive marketing, we should protect children from it?

Are the report writers blinkered as to what marketing/advertising is? It is a deliberate attempt to get people to buy things by getting them to want them and/or believe they need them. There's an almighty paradox if we accept advertising/marketing, but also educate children in how not to succumb to it. It's analagous to teaching them how to get hit less painfully instead of stopping the hitting. Marketing and advertising are not natural forces like the weather. They're something we deliberately do

In the current system, if the effects of marketing are mitigated, the amount of the product consumed will fall and this will lead to less work making it and so less ability by workers to consume products. It's called cyclic consumption and it's a massive problem. We have to keep consuming to keep economic growth going, but we can't keep consuming stuff as we haven't got an infinite amount of it. The answer is to abandon the riduculous concept of economic growth as we know it and start working on meeting human needs sustainably.

What is wrong with the idea of making the meeting of human needs, especially basic ones, our priority as a planet of humans? Obviously we have to do so using only the finite resources available to us. Therefor it seems logical to conserve those resources so that we can support the maximumm population that is scientifically possible. That's a Resouce Based Economy in a nutshell.

There's a basic human need for protection from the elements/environment, and clothes and shoes are likely to be a way to provide this need, I touched before ( on Amartya Sen's Capability Approach. When advertisers make people crave the latest pair of trainers, they are not trying to appeal to their need to protect their feet and skeleton from the effects of walking and running,  but to higher order needs for feelings of self-worth, acceptance, etc, and suggesting that buying a product or products will help meet that need. But it won't.

Money does not make the world go round

I read a letter from Nicko Williams, founder and Chief Executive of Climate Cars (a taxi service using only Hybrid cars) to The Economist, reprinted in The Week magazine (31/3/2012). I think it is nonsense, reflecting a view that can see past money as the beginning and end of everything.

He writes "my question is whether it is reasonable to expect living standards to keep improving" and his answer appears to be 'no', because he adds "For our generation [he is 28] to work harder and longer than the last seems to me to be an inevitability". This is because, he says, "History tells us that we live in cycles" and "We live in a far more competitive world than our parents, therefore our generation will have to fight harder, with the prospect of lower comparable rewards than our parents."

What brings us an improved standard of living, Nicko, is science and technology. Are you seriously suggesting that there hasn't been phenomenal progress in this? In fact progress in science and technology has been exponential.

Much of this technology has brilliant potential for labour saving, so why are we, or must we, work longer and harder? We were told that technology would liberate us from work, but this seems to quietly have been dropped. The problem is that by saving labour, technology reduces employment, and in our system employment is the main way to get money and money is pretty much the only way to get access to the resources we need to live and thrive. Break this link between work and survival, and you allow techonology free rein to improve our lives.

"History tells us that we live in cycles". No, history tells us that we have lived in cycles. The cycles referred to are, I assume, the so-called economic cycles, which are in fact just monetary cycles. These are entirely man -made and unrelated to the real resources available to us. There is no cycle in technological and scientific development and there is no inevitability that the monetary cycle will repeat.

"We live in a far more competitive world than our parents, therefore our generation will have to fight harder". Fighting harder is virtually the same as competing more, therefore, generalised, this statement becomes X therefore X. Logical flaws aside, do we live in a more competitive world than our parents, and - more imnportantly, is this inevitable?

I don't know how overall competitiveness might be measured or aggregated, but I do know that co-operation rather than competition, is encroaching on the old scarcity mentality of fighting for resources. would be a good place to start some research ino this, but as boss of a taxi firm, Nicko is already working to an access or service model, rather than an ownership model in the field of personalised transport.

Nicko's 'monetary blind spot' is most clearly identified in his reference to the "unprecedented property boom" his parents' generation experienced. 'Property boom' is slang/jargon for house prices going up. Apart from the fact that house prices rising faster than incomes makes it harder for people to afford to buy one ('get on the housing ladder' in the jargon) - a downside that is usually ignored - it is obvious that the true value of a house is independent of how much it can be sold for, and given that left unmaintained a house will eventually fall down, its value (as distinct from its price) tends to fall over time.

Money may indicate true value, albeit rather crudely, but it is not true value itself. If we do not take our eyes off money, and look at human need and the planet as a finite resource, we are doomed as a species.