10 November 2007

Was there a crash, and nobody noticed?

Was the so-called credit crunch more than just another fleeting economic alarm?

On 9 August, all the big international banks simply stopped lending to each other, as jitters over the enormous extent of bad debts riddling world financial markets suddenly turned to tremors. It was unprecedented. It was like a run on the banks – but by other banks.

Now, three months later, people are asking if anything happened. Some say there's nothing to worry about. But others are speculating that a landslide might have been triggered – one to match the worst economic collapses of any time in the past 100 years.

It seems that the facts are still hidden from public gaze.

To understand what is happening, one has to realise how much has changed inside the marble halls of high finance. Subprime mortgages are merely a symptom of a shift far more fundamental.

Putting it simply, the first seismic shift is that credit – other people's debts – has become an asset which can be traded. The second is that trading in general has become wildly leveraged or geared. That is, most professional investing is now done with borrowed money or IOUs. ...

Read the whole article here:

31 October 2007

Abandon the outdated ...

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a NEW model that makes the existing model obsolete."

- Buckminster Fuller

* * * *

"Gandhi is an example of the power of a unified state of consciousness. He was never 'against'. His consciousness was not in a divided state. He was always 'for'. So he acted, spoke, and transmitted into the collective an undivided state of consciousness. That's what has all the power. That's really significant... am I divided?"
-- Adyashanti

22 October 2007

Swiss Election Results

Well, it is interesting to see that the election results in my home country Switzerland are so closely scrutinized here at the other end of the world. The Swiss People's Party may have achieved a resounding success, but I consider it to be a sad sign. It shows what the money backed demagoguery of a billionaire can achieve. As almost everywhere, when we are confronted with new challenges, like climate change, global integration and a declining economy, polarizing the argument and scapegoating immigrants always works - sadly. The only solutions the Swiss People's Party seems to promote is turning back the wheel of time, and kicking out the foreigners. Given the complex changes that are needed to address the problems we face nowadays, this seems to be a simple way out for many people, without having to face reality.

This is also a sad sign, because it shows that there is no real political leadership and vision from the established parties, particularly by the Social Democrats, who were the leading (largest) party for many years. The only exception is maybe the emerging Green Party, which did very well, increasing both voter percentage as well as seats in parliament. While the Greens just missed the 10% mark, it needs to be noted that a fraction that recently split off the main Green Party, the newly constituted Green-Liberal Party, also achieved 3 seats in Parliament.

While the Green emergence is slow yet steady and unstoppable, we shouldn't be worried too much by the backlash of the electoral success by the rightwing People's Party. The political system in Switzerland is very stable, and deeply rooted in local politics. This is also reflected in the Swiss economy, with the Swiss Franc being one of the most stable currencies around the planet. Switzerland is also the only country that never felt threatended by one of the Depression era local currency systems: WIR - all others, among them the JAK in Denmark, Wära in Germany and Wörgl in Austria were soon abolished by the political authorities. WIR has flurished and undergone changes over the decades and is now a firmly established player in the economy. In modern day Switzerland there are also a number of experimental local currencies, modeled on timebanking and others.

Click here for results!
and other related information.

03 July 2007

The Future of LETS

You know, I really admire all of you who made Green Dollars happen here in New Zealand! That was a good job and a lot of work. It was also a learning curve for all of us and the still existing exchanges are certainly more mature for it. Just look at what kind of stuff they are still discussing in South Africa, three years after the introduction of CES there.

However, I also realise that there is a whole generation of practitioners who is now retiring. This leaves us at a critical junction. When LETS was adapted to New Zealand the last time, there was a clear economic imperative and a lot of people in need of a complementary means of exchange. Today the situation is completely different. What is it that is at the forefront of our concerns nowadays? Social issues, though present, are somewhat in the background. To me it looks like environmental issues like peak oil and climate change are fast grabbing the centre stage of our concerns.

Those new issues will require changes to our behaviours which go far beyond what was inflicted on New Zealanders in the 1980s and 90s. If we want to go beyond the rearranging of the deck-chairs of the Titanic, a comprehensive shift of thinking is necessary. There are many who write up post-peak oil scenarios. The Natural Step has developed a science based tool for sustainable development. Yet hardly anyone notices the need to also change such fundamental economic mechanisms like the money system.

And, sadly, those who are already using a complementary money system that could actually be part of a package of solutions to deal with peak-oil and climate change, are not aware of the jewel right in their hands. This is mostly because our way of thinking still makes us blind for the values we need to espouse in order to successfully confront those new challenges.

LETS doesn't work for people who want to become rich. This is simply because 'rich' and 'poor' are irrelevant concepts when it gets to LETS trading. It is a question of 'inclusion'. Either one is included in the community or one is excluded. We need to drop some of our cherished judgements. We need to stop fearing those who might 'take too much' and not return enough. In LETS we are not moving pieces of a commodity around (as in the conventional money system), on the contrary - we are nurturing relationships. Because, at the end of the day, its only the relationships that really matter.

I feel that we might be best off looking for members who are in tune with those different kinds of values I've just listed above. For those people LETS will work. At the same time, we need to undertake an effort and explain and familiarise those who work for environmental conservation and sustainability. We need to convince them that conserving nature only works if we use economic tools that are in tune with and mimic nature itself. LETS certainly does that.

To me, LETS is not just an alternative, or a hobby. LETS is potentially a tool that, if understood correctly, and developed properly, will definitely be able to supplant the conventional money system. Every successful exchange takes us a step closer. This leads to another strongly needed change of mind: understand that 'Small is beautiful' and 'think big' are not contradictions, but actually a much needed complement for success!

Well, we are looking for a new generation of leaders to step forward. I hope they have a vision and the maturity of insight to see and undertake what is necessary!

22 June 2007

On debt and currency

The New Zealand Reserve Bank made some headline recently, when the Governor said that we are not saving enough and there is too much debt. Two days later we read that the same Reserve Bank was gambling money on the international currency markets to influence the exchange rate of the NZ dollar. I felt compelled to write a letter to The Press, but it wasn't published.

Here is a much more polished version of what I wanted to say, by Peter Luiten. His letter was published in the Auckland Herald:

Your correspondents John Elliott and Peter Kelly point out with some passion that New Zealanders are at the mercy of overseas investment bankers.

At the heart of our financial woes is that we continue, against all sense, to let private interests create our money as debt: we mortgage ourselves deep to obtain it and ever deeper to pay for it. Our economy is not fuelled on debt - it is founded on debt. We are not in danger of becoming a serfdom - we are a serfdom already.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Interest is a completely unnecessary burden. There is nothing to prevent us creating our own money, and there is no reason why it should cost us to use it.

It is true that our Government is doing nothing about it. But any local body can make a start. Councils exist solely to promote the wellbeing of their communities and therefore have a mandate to prevent precious resources going to waste.

Local promotions make little sense when profits vanish offshore. Any community keen to stop its wealth draining into distant coffers has it within its power to create its own interest-free means of exchange.

03 April 2007

The Paradox

Today we have bigger houses and smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;

we have more degrees, but less common sense;
more knowledge, but less judgment;

We have more experts, and also more problems;
more medicine, but less wellness.

We spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get to angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too often, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too little and lie too often.

We‘ve learned how to make a living, but not a life;
we’ve added years to life, not life to years.

We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers;
wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.

We spend more, but have less;
we buy more, but enjoy it less

We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour

We've conquered outer space, but not inner space.
We've split the atom, but not our prejudice;

we write more, but learn less;
plan more, but accomplish less

We've learned to rush, but not to wait;
we have higher incomes, but lower morals.

We are long on quantity, but short on quality

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion;
tall men and short character;
steep profits and shallow relationships.

More leisure and less fun;
more kinds of food, and less nutrition;
two incomes, and more divorce;
fancier houses, and broken homes

01 April 2007

Section 59 – or what about non-violent parenting?

(Will the popular childrens series Pingu be banned in New Zealand?)

Currently there is an interesting public discussion making waves in New Zealand. It is about the proposed repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act, brought before parliament by Green Party MP Sue Bradford. The purpose of this Bill is to stop force, and associated violence being inflicted on children in the context of correction and discipline.

The discussion has been noisy, even strident and unpleasant. Is this just a popular political side-show, or how deep does this issue really go? If we can believe the opponents of the bill, then a police state is being born here, and personal freedom of parents to discipline their misbehaving children is severely restricted or even being taken away. An essential part of the Kiwi way of life and culture is about being legislated away and lost – or so most god-fearing Christians like make us believe.

In our constant endeavour to create a civilised and evolved society where do we draw the line? Should it be legal to hit your children, but not your wife and animals? In the Koran, the holy book of Islam, the line is drawn in Surah IV, Verse 34, which states that if the woman doesn't obey the man, they should be beaten (though the situation is not always as clearcut). Now, we all 'know' that Islam is the enemy of our culture – they mistreat women and sanction their beatings. We in New Zealand, would never do that - yet it should be our god-given right to beat our children?

This society is still steeped in institutional violence. How otherwise would one explain the uproar at a bill that basically wants to make non-violent parenting the norm? Our violence is not just against children and a variety of other people, it is also against nature and the environment. We've abused and mistreated the planet to an extent that we are now facing global climate change.

We may have experienced incredible technological advances over the last century. We have also learned a lot about how to educate children, and we know that hitting them is counterproductive if anything. However, we also need to match those advances with moral and ethical evolution as well. The opposition to this bill just shows that we have much more difficulty to mature ethically and morally than we have adopting new technological gadgets. And it shows that we still have long way to go until a non-violent society becomes the norm.

23 March 2007

Mainstream Press takes up Flooding Story

Today, Christchurch's main paper The Press published a story and a picture on the potential chance for half the city to be flooded by rising sealevels. It's exactly the same I reported on in this blog on 3 November last year already!

10 March 2007

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

The other day I went vegetable and fruit shopping at a market garden at the outskirts of the city...

03 February 2007

What is Sustainability?

In my understanding of sustainability it is not "if" some area of our society has relevance to sustainability - all have! To me, sustainability is a way of looking at things (and at the same time a way of life). Either you look from/through a paradigm of sustainability - or not!

In the future it will be irrelevant if you are Christian or Muslim, Chinese or American - the cultural divide will be between those who live a sustainable life-style and those who do not (at the expense of everything and everyone else on the planet)!

08 January 2007

What is Fascism?

We live in times were we risk losing many of our freedoms gained in our western democracies. When the political culture in a country turns sour, it often turns into some sort of fascism. I think it is quite important to recognize the signs of creeping fascism early! Political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt studied several typical fascist regimes of the last century and found that they all had certain aspects in common. Here are 14 characteristics of fascism:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottoes, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights

Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military

Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism

The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media

Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security

Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined

Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected

The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed

Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed .

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment

Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections

Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Read more here!