14 December 2008

12 October 2008

Where from here?



Even though we are in the worst financial crisis in decades, it is still very seldom one comes across anyone who can actually see the big picture of what is going on, someone who dares looking at the long term and recognises the money system for what it is. Most people are oblivious to the mechanics of our financial system and its profound influence on human behaviour!

Here is one of the rare articles that clearly outlines the predicament we are in, and that also doesn't sink into doom and gloom, but actually points a way out! I've noticed that so far all solutions to the financial crisis that are being proposed aim to extend the life of the current system. All those solutions will ultimately fail, if we don't start looking outside the box.

The elephant in the middle of the room, that everyone keeps ignoring, is the mechanism of debt-based money with interest, that set in motion the need for an ever and exponentially growing economy. That means that ultimately all social, cultural, natural and any other capital will need to be converted into money, to feed the system. A good example is the creation of tradeable emission rights, where we even convert pollution into money and create yet another opportunity to make profit.

The system is is like an all-devouring monster on the loose. But the borrowing of new money to pay for old debts and interest cannot go on for ever. There are natural limits to growth on this planet. Sooner or later we have to face bankruptcy and collapse.

What are the solutions, what is the way out? The only solution that will ultimately work is to abolish the bank-run interest-incurring debt-money system. A partial solution could be to reform the money system and restore the ability of government to spend currency interest-free into circulation. But, looking at the wide spectrum of how trade and exchange can happen, it would probably be very wise to move away from a monocultural approach of "one currency rules the whole economy", to an approach of diversity, where a host of systems and currencies take care of balancing out all the giving and receiving that is constantly occurring.

The diversity of systems would include local currency systems as well as national and international systems running concurrently, alongside each other. Time banking and various forms of gift economies would offer even more freedom of choice for all participants in our society. This would provide for a smooth running of the economy, even if one particular system, as right now, is in deep crisis.

To restore the social and environmental damage that has been inflicted on the planet, many other accompanying improvements could be implemented, like taxing the 'bads' instead of the 'goods' (an ecological tax reform) and the restoration of the commons. There are probably quite a few other measures that need to be taken to restore balance in both the economy and in our relationship with the environment. In short: to create a balanced, sustainable and empowering economy - based on and respecting the living systems of our planet.

28 September 2008

Money – why isn't there ever enough?

Our economy is drifting into increasingly difficult times. The media is full of headlines about failing finance companies and investment banks, rising food and fuel prices, unaffordable mortgages, high exchange rates and the 'credit crunch'. After months of assurances that the problem is over, it is getting worse. The American government is preparing to bail out the finance industry on Wall Street with a trillion dollars.

Alongside that, we also notice that the inequality between rich and poor is not being addressed and will likely keep increasing. Further more, we are in an election year, and the main parties are out in force with easy answers - tax cuts, apparently the panacea for our economic woes.

It might be time to explore a bit further what is underlying all those symptoms we are experiencing. At the core of our economic system is something we call money and the financial industry. Most people never think about how money works, except that we will hurt if we don't have it, and therefore the best thing is to have as much of it as possible. The amount of money in circulation is rising rapidly - between 10% and 15% any given year, which is far beyond the increase of population in New Zealand - and this is far beyond the growth of the economy. Yet there never seems to be enough.

If we take a closer look at how the money system works, then we see that the current difficulties were entirely predictable. Price rises across the board are caused by different things. There are at least three major reasons for why everything becomes more expensive: a) offer and demand in the international market place, b) expectation of profits and c) the cost of money.

We are currently experiencing significant increases in the cost of basic items we need in life, like food and fuel. For both of these necessities, and for many other items, we depend on the global market. Peak oil and political uncertainty in many regions drive commodity prices up, fuel and food get more expensive because of higher transport costs, export restrictions and speculation. The demand and supply mechanism of the world markets is further enhanced with exchange rate uncertainties, with the highly valued NZ$ making imports even more expensive.

The second reason for expensive prices is the expectation of profits. Oil prices, after hitting a high of almost $150 in July, have come down to below $100. Why is that in such a short period of time? Has there been a significant change in production – or is this rather a result of speculative trading with investors taking profits? In any case, those variances have a significant impact onto the prices we have to pay as a consumer. The same applies for food items.

The third reason why prices (and mortgages and rents) keep rising ia the cost of money! There is hardly any property in the country that doesn't have a mortgage on it and most businesses operate on borrowed money as well. Despite the recent lowering of interest rates by the Reserve Bank, mortgages and other loans are still really expensive. At today's mortgage rates, one pays about 1.5 times the price of a house to the bank for the service of creating the money – that makes the buying of a house more than twice as expensive than the price advertised by the real estate agency. The cost of money creation – interest – is factored into all prices we pay, for everything, not just for major items like houses.

This takes us right to the heart of how our money is created. It is a fact that about 98.5% of our money is loaned into existence by a bank that is collecting interest for the privilege to do so. Nowadays, money doesn't represent the value of gold anymore, as it used to do in the past. Today's currencies are 'fiat' currencies – money is just created by a key stroke on a computer – out of nothing!

The only protection (or value!) money has, is the law that makes it 'legal tender' – that means that the government requires you to use a particular kind of 'money' to pay taxes. At the same time, if traders cannot agree to use another means of exchange among themselves, the law requires that one uses legal tender to settle any outstanding debt.

When money is loaned into existence, the banks are required to balance the numbers keyed into an account with a balancing account entry – in the case of a mortgage the value of the property mortgaged. This is how the 'sub-prime' crises arose at the first place, when money was created for people who could not service the mortgage and didn't have enough property value to cover the loan. This all got worse when the real estate bubble burst and property values slumped. Since we live with a 'financial monoculture', where we have only one kind of money to run our economy, we all are extremely vulnerable to any upsets in the financial industry.

Well then, what is being done about it? Having only one kind of currency to oil the economy, there are not many means to guide it. Reserve Banks in many countries believe that they only need to adjust interest rates to guide the economy. Currently the main aim seems to be to create a lot of money, by lowering interest rates, to keep the economy oiled – especially the speculative stock and currency markets, which far exceed 95% of all economic turnover.

And still - why is there never enough money? Simply because the system is designed to be that way on purpose!

What can we, the people, do about it? Maybe there is a great opportunity in this crisis! We've been putting all eggs into one basket: bank-issued money. Now, with the financial industry in dire straits, we might start looking at other solutions. Maybe it is time to transition from bank created money to community created money, from money created for private gain to money created for the common good, from money which is very expensive to money which is an almost free medium.

There are many thinkers and economists who have developed concepts of monetary reform and monetary transformation. Monetary reformers usually call on government to retake the power of money creation and to do so in the service of the people. Monetary transformers, often coming together in community groups, go ahead and create their own means of exchange and use it to empower and grow local communities, insulating them somewhat from the ravages of globalisation and insensitive government policies. Both have in common that currency should be issued without interest, and therefore radically reduce the cost of money.

More and more people are discovering that we have a multitude of ways at our disposal of trading and exchanging services and goods among each other. Money was invented because direct barter is often inconvenient. Money that is universally acceptable is a tangible form of trust – trust that we will receive something back for what we have provided on one hand, and trust that we contribute for what we have taken and consumed on the other hand. This trust could very well and easily be expressed in the form of complementary community currencies, timebanks and other non-exploitative exchange mechanisms. Trust could also be an implicit part of a culture of a community or nation. Such a culture would provide naturally occurring opportunities to share in the abundance that exists, unconditionally, without fear of lack. Ultimately, every individual human being can come to the realisation that we are all part of Nature, and that Nature and its intricate and interwoven systems will not stop providing – except of course if we destroy it in the process of satisfying and 'servicing' our current scarcity based money and economic system.

07 September 2008

Transition Aotearoa



I haven't been very active on this blog recently, though quite busy elsewhere. I've been discovering social networking - though in a more sensible fashion than I usually get with Facebook and Co.

My current online social network of choice is Transition Aotearoa, a ning application that has managed to gather 372 members since 18 April this year, attracting 5 new people every two days.

A lot of my online activities went in there! Transition to a new culture of doing this - a promissing start!

05 June 2008

Chainsaw massacre on World Environment Day

http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4573334a6009.html

The Christchurch City Council has ordered the destruction of six trees along City Mall on World Environment Day.

The trees were removed early this morning from an area between Colombo Street and the Bridge of Remembrance as work progresses on Project City Mall.

Concerned residents, who contacted The Press to report the destruction, said it made a mockery of the idea of sustainability on what was World Environment Day.

The Christchurch City Council said the trees were identified for removal either because they were in decline or because their root systems would be affected by the construction of a new service lane planned for the area.

Project director Sean Whitaker said removal of the trees would also open up the mall to create a clear view of the Bridge of Remembrance.

New Zealand has been chosen to host this year's World Environment Day, which was aimed at raising awareness around the wiorld about climate change.

01 June 2008

More than $100!

Last week, for the first time, I paid more than $100 to fill up my tank. Suddenly, it seems, filling up my car changed from being a casual payment to a major expense. It was this additional digit in the price that made peak oil suddenly all real in my personal life.

Of course, high oil prices have been a big problem for many people around the world for some time now (Shocked! How the oil crisis has hit the world.)




The oil price has been creeping up for a long time now. It's been at $135, and is currently at $127 as I'm writing this post. It will continue to rise, and together the price of petrol will rise, too!

What consequences does this have for me? What options do I have to reduce my petrol use? There are several options, though there are also constraints. The obvious constraint that comes to mind is family: currently we are taking our two little girls to the preschool. It would be an inconvenient and time-wasting procedure if we didn't have a car. This, simply, because the way our city is built and the way public transport operates. For my way to work I have a convenient direct bus line, and I suppose I could take up bicycling again - even though I don't feel particularly safe riding a bike. Again, that is mainly due to the way our roading system is built. And yes, of course, we could down-scale the car we are driving, to something more modest, more modern and more fuel-efficient.

However, putting those personal actions into the big context, I realize that it won't bring about the change we need. Nor does government policy that spends millions for transport, where only a tiny little fraction of the budget goes to public transport and bicycling. Because of the general increase of living costs, certain voices call for the reduction of taxes on fuel - that would be a futile move as well, as the temporary relief it gives to the consumer will be voided by further oil price increases in the short term, while government would be permanently losing a source of income. I'm convinced, only radical change really make a difference.

Given our culture of mobility and the layout of modern settlement, it is likely that we will continue to depend on individual personal transport. The only way out is if we finally disconnect our transport modes from the consumption of fossil fuels. It is about time that we develop alternative car engines, and mass-market them.



For years now I've been intrigued by the idea of an air powered car. It seems that now, finally, the Indian company Tata is starting to build them. How long will it take until they come to New Zealand? I hope we don't have to wait for very long ...!!!

21 May 2008

It is slowly sinking in ....

An interesting little video on YouTube ....

30 March 2008

Still a long way to go ...

This is a letter sent the to The Press, in response to the Earth Hour.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4456988a6009.html

The Earth Hour in Christchurch was a success, far exceeding the expectations of the organisers. Yet, it was a small step on a long path. In order to succeed, our society needs to transition to a culture of sustainability. The 12.8% of reduction in electricity use during one hour, preceded by a long media campaign needs to lead to comprehensive Energy Descent Plans for each village, town, city and country. Our mentality of 'more is better' will have to be replaced with the common sense of 'less is better' and our economic systems and ideology need to turn away from the need of constant growth at all costs. Still a long way to go, indeed ...

23 March 2008

'Official Status' of Transition Towns

'Transition Towns' is a new movement that has arisen in response to climate change and peak oil (and peak other stuff). People and groups in the UK have been pioneering the ideas and concept.

They've also started to formalize processes in some ways, and one of them is setting out criterias of what is to constitute an 'official' transition town. This of course has stirred up some discussions, notably on the New Zealand discussion list.

Here is my response to the thread:

Thank you very much for bringing this up. I think this is a very important issue. It is important because in order to succeed with transitioning to a better and sustainable future we need to be
grounded in our local environment. This not only in terms of food and energy production, but also in terms of economics, culture, philosophy and worldview. I noticed that we had some discussions in our Christchurch group on the same subject of this business of 'official status' as well, without coming to a final conclusion on what that is supposed to mean of us.

While things like an 'official status' are clearly hangovers from our current traditional culturally imperialist midset, I also have an explanaition from the permaculture point of view. One of the
permaculture principles my teachers tought me was put into following words: "everything gardens". Every participant in the system is trying to influence its immediate environment in a way as to create more livable conditions for itself to survive and spread. Applying this principle to the social and economic sphere helps me understand a lot of what is going on.

Everyone is constantly engaged in manipulating his or her environment and relationships with others in a way that suits his/her own character and purposes. This is neither good nor bad - this just is. All, everyone and everything is doing it all the time. But just because someone/something else is in the process of remodelling his/her/its systemic environment to suit its own purpose/character doesn't mean that we have to submit to those efforts ourselves.

As far as I'm concerned, if someone declares his/herself as 'official' - then this is just their own problem and not mine. I only have to decide what I need to do in order to stay true to myself. In terms of the Transition Towns movement this might mean: Engage in networking to learn from others, if they have to teach us something useful. Yet on the other hand we might ignore what comes across as cultural imperialism and we should not feel obliged to submit to some 'official
guidelines' that are handed down from some gurus on the other side of the world.

To me, the Transition Town's movement is about more than just energy descent. In order do succeed, we also need to create a new culture that is steeped in the systems' approach, rooted in the local environment of our planet and has evolved to embrace cultural and spiritual diversity.

So, Gail, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think is it absolutely necessary that we are clear on why we are engaging the transition process as well as how we are relating to others who are
engaged in the same process, locally as well as internationally. While we are often engaged in discussing and learning the nuts and bolts - developing an understanding of the big picture of underlying dynamics is often more challenging.

28 February 2008

Tiny village sues big oil and power companies over global warming

http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/nationworld/story/294294.html

A tiny Alaska village eroding into the Arctic Ocean sued two dozen oil, power and coal companies Tuesday, claiming that the large amounts of greenhouse gases they emit contribute to global warming that threatens the community’s existence.

The city of Kivalina and a federally recognized tribe, the Alaska Native Village of Kivalina, sued Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP PL C, seven other oil companies, 14 power companies and one coal company in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco.

Kivalina is a traditional Inupiat Eskimo village of about 390 people about 625 miles northwest of Anchorage. It’s built on an 8-mile barrier reef.

Sea ice traditionally protected the community. But sea ice that forms later and melts sooner because of higher temperatures has left the community unprotected from fall and winter storm waves and surges.

Relocation costs have been estimated at $400 million or more.

25 February 2008

Understanding Complementary Currency

Here is a good introduction into the understanding of what a true complementary currency is. I'm quoting Tom Greco's post from the CC Open Collective Skype channel.


***

[3.Feb.2008 04:59:16] Thomas H. Greco (USA) says: A recent email exchange prompted me to write the following, which i think may be helpful to some of those on this chat:

Because of legal tender laws, the "dollar" has come to have two meanings -- (1) as a medium of exchange or payment (a currency), and (2) as the standard of value measurement or pricing unit.


An alternative currency must eventually decouple from both "dollars" but the more urgent need by far is decoupling from the dollar as a means of payment.


As I've pointed out in my books, an alternative currency that is issued on the basis of a national currency paid in (e.g., sold for dollars), amounts to a "gift certificate" or localized "traveler's check." (See Money Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, Chapter 14, pp 145-163). It essentially amounts to prepayment for the goods or services offered by the accepting merchants. As such, it substitutes a local, limited use currency for a national, universal currency.

That approach provides some limited utility in encouraging the holder of the currency to buy locally, but the option of redeeming the currency back into dollars without penalty raises the question of how many times it will mediate local trades before being redeemed and leaking back to the outside world.


To truly empower a local community, a currency should be issued on the basis of goods and services changing hands, i.e., it should be "spent into circulation" by local business entities and/or individuals who are able to redeem it by providing goods or services that are in everyday demand by local consumers. Such a currency amounts to an i.o.u. of the issuer, an i.o.u. that is voluntarily accepted by some other provider of goods and services (like an employee or supplier), then circulated, then eventually redeemed, not in cash, but "in kind." In this way, community members "monetize" the value of their own production, just as banks monetize the value of collateral assets when they make a loan, except in this case, it is done by the community members themselves based on their own values and criteria, without the "help" or involvement of any government, bank, or ordinary financial institution, and without the need to have any official money to begin with.


This is what I mean when I talk about liberating the exchange process and restoring (some part of) the "credit commons" and bringing it under local control. In this way, the community gains a measure of independence from the supply of official money (dollars) and the policies and decisions of the central bank (which in the US is the Federal Reserve) and the banking cartel. That is the primary mission
that needs to be accomplished if we are to transcend the destructive effects of the global monetary and banking regime, devolve power to the local level, and build sustainable, economic democracy.

With regard to the second meaning -- the "dollar" as a measure of value, we need to understand that a standard becomes established by common usage. We in the United States are accustomed to valuing things in dollar units. We know from our everyday shopping experiences what the value of the dollar unit is in terms of the things we buy and in terms of our own earning power. Any new "language of value" will have to be translated into the dollar "language" that we already understand. How we measure value is a separate question from that of how we create our own payment media. In the process of monetizing local production as
described above, we can choose to give our credit unit any name we wish, but it makes sense initially to define the value of that unit as being equivalent to that of the national currency unit. In the exchange process, large balances will not be held for long so the debasement of the dollar unit through will result in only slight losses for users of the community currency.


It is when we begin to hold long-term claims denominated in our own new value unit that we will need to define it in concrete, objective terms to avoid following the dollar into the abyss of worthlessness.


The US dollar was originally defined as a specified weight of fine silver, then later on, gold, but those objective definitions were obliterated by laws that made paper currency "legal tender" that must be accepted in payment of "all debts public and private." So now the value of the dollar unit of measure of value depends entirely upon the value of the dollar currency, but the value of the dollar currency is
continually declining as more of it is issued on an improper basis, particularly on the basis of government debts that will never be repaid and that bring no concomitant value into the market.

A stable value unit will then need to be defined in terms of some commodity or group of commodities that are commonly traded. Such definition will then provide the "Rosetta stone" that enables us to relate, from day to day and minute to minute, our value unit to the old dollar language. That process is explained in my first book, Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis, Part III and Appendices.

***

Examples of Complementary currencies that still depend on the conventional national currency are the Chiemgauer or Berkshares. Examples of true complementary currencies that do not depend on a conventional currency are LETS, Timebanking and CES.


02 February 2008

We are all One!



There are things that have always been known. One of it is that we are all One!

Many have expressed that throughout history. An example I came across recently is in the writings of the Persian poet Sa'adi, where he writes in 'Bostan':

All human beings are in truth akin;
All in creation share one origin.
When fate allots a member pangs and pains,
No ease for others members then remains.
If, unperturbed, another's grief canst scan,
Thou are not worthy of the name of man.
(http://www.farsinet.com/poetry/saadi1.html)



30 January 2008

A journey around the world, powered by the sun



About a week ago, Louis Palmer, a Swiss national, traveled through Christchurch with his sun-powered Solartaxi. Unfortunately I missed the occasion and only read about it in the paper the next day.

On his website (http://www.solartaxi.ch) Louis states that "Global warming can be stopped. Solutions are available." I couldn't agree more!

Here is his mission statement:
“On 3 July 2007 I set off on my first journey around the world with a solar powered vehicle. Admittedly, as a regular citizen I cannot change the world but I can demonstrate to the world just how dire the global climate situation has become and how many sophisticated solutions to lower the greenhouse gases already exist, which bring with them many other advantages. So that we can have a better world and a more secure future. The solar taxi should rekindle hope and a zest for life, set an example to counteract resignation and stimulate reflection. And show that every single one of us can take a step towards preserving our planet.”

28 January 2008

Words of Wisdom: Patents


"If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. ...

The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors."

Attributed to Bill Gates, 1991

Therefore don't underestimate the danger posed by patents in anyone industry!