Category: Economics

Never taking democracy for granted!

Cold-water shower time again!

All you good people who stick with this blog know that the majority of the posts are to do with dogs or cats in one form or another.

Yet, I am cognizant of the fact that no one can completely hide, metaphorically speaking, in the warm fur of our favourite dog or cat and let the rest of the world go tits up. From time to time I read an article or an essay that touches on something fundamentally important to a civil society and am compelled to share same with you.

That was the case on July 5th when I published a post called The Implications of Inequality.

OK – moving on!

Regulars know that I am a great admirer of the writings of essayist George Monbiot. He is a very regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper. Just a few days ago, Mr. Monbiot published an essay that really does need to be read as widely as possible. It is called Missing Link and is republished here with George Monbiot’s very kind permission.

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Missing Link

21st July 2017
How a secretive network built around a Nobel prizewinner set out to curtail our freedoms

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 19th July 2017

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains: the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year, whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She writes that the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued, in the first half of the 19th century, that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property – including your slaves – however you may wish. Any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called “public choice theory”. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes are forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between what he called “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wished) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was what he called a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he develop both a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like and a strategy for implementing it.

He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American South could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed the privatisation of universities and the imposition of full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism. He urged the privatisation of Social Security and of many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy.

In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship to write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse in its entirety. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend its programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982.

None of this troubled the Swedish Academy, that, through his devotee at Stockholm University, Assar Lindbeck, in 1986 awarded James Buchanan the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics. It is one of several decisions that have turned this prize toxic.

But his power really began to be felt when Charles Koch, currently the seventh richest man in the US, decided that Buchanan held the key to the transformation he sought. Koch saw even such ideologues as Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan as “sellouts”, as they sought to improve the efficiency of government rather than destroying it altogether. But Buchanan took it all the way.

MacLean says that Charles Koch poured millions into Buchanan’s work at George Mason University, whose law and economics departments look as much like corporate-funded thinktanks as they do academic faculties. He employed the economist to select the revolutionary “cadre” that would implement his programme (Murray Rothbard, at the Cato Institute that Koch founded, had urged the billionaire to study Lenin’s techniques and apply them to the libertarian cause). Between them, they began to develop a programme for changing the rules.

The papers Nancy Maclean discovered show that Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.” Instead of revealing their ultimate destination, they would proceed by incremental steps. For example, in seeking to destroy the Social Security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical “reforms”. (The same argument is used by those attacking the NHS over here). Gradually they would build a “counter-intelligentsia”, allied to a “vast network of political power” that would eventually become the new establishment.

Through the network of thinktanks that Koch and other billionaires have sponsored, through their transformation of the Republican Party, and the hundreds of millions they have poured into state congressional and judicial races, through the mass colonisation of Trump’s administration by members of this network and lethally effective campaigns against everything from public health to action on climate change, it would be fair to say that Buchanan’s vision is maturing in the USA.

But not just there. Reading this book felt like a demisting of the window through which I see British politics. The bonfire of regulations highlighted by the Grenfell Tower disaster, the destruction of state architecture through austerity, the budgeting rules, the dismantling of public services, tuition fees and the control of schools: all these measures follow Buchanan’s programme to the letter. I wonder how many people are aware that David Cameron’s free schools project originated with an attempt to hamper racial desegregation in the American South.

In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called “economic freedom” and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.

Buchanan’s programme amounts to a prescription for totalitarian capitalism. And his disciples have only begun to implement it. But at least, thanks to Maclean’s discoveries, we can now apprehend the agenda. One of the first rules of politics is know your enemy. We’re getting there.

http://www.monbiot.com

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I found it very difficult to write these closing thoughts; as is obvious as you read this sentence!

Looking up quotations online under the headings of fairness or equality brought up many that could have worked here. Yet they seemed too trite, too obvious, too remote from the reality of what Mr. Monbiot describes here today.

So let me leave you with this: US income inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928. (Source: Pew Research.) But worse than that, US wealth inequality is even greater than income inequality. (Source: Pew Research.) (I’m certain that this is not exclusive to the USA.)

That is wrong! Plain and Simple!

The implications of inequality

What on earth has inequality to do with dogs!

A fair question one might think. Because this blog is primarily about what we humans should be learning from our dogs. Well, I do see a connection, a message of learning for us. Stay with me for a while.

But first, here’s how I open up Chapter 18 Sharing in my book – Learning from Dogs.

Here’s a silly story that made me laugh when I first came across it.

A man in a casino walks past three men and a dog playing poker.
“Wow!” he says, “That’s a very clever dog.“
“He’s not that clever,” replies one of the other players.
“Every time he gets a good hand he wags his tail.“

This clever dog couldn’t hide his happiness and had to share it by wagging his tail. OK, it was a little bit of fictional fun but we all recognise that inherent quality in our dogs, how they share so much of themselves in such an easy and natural fashion.

Now if one was being pedantic one would say that sharing is not the same as equality. Yet I see them as two separate seats in life’s common carriage.

Many lovers of dogs know that when they lived a life in the wild, slowly evolving from the grey wolf, they replicated, naturally, the pack characteristics of wolves. As in the pack size was around 25 to 30 animals. Yes, there was a hierarchy in the pack but that really only presented itself in the status of three animals: the female ‘alpha’ dog; the male ‘beta’ dog; the ‘omega’ dog that could be of either gender. Ninety percent of the pack were animals on equal standing. If only that was how we humans lived.

A few days ago there was an essay published on The Conversation blogsite under the title of Why poverty is not a personal choice, but a reflection of society.

It opened with this photograph.

A homeless camp in Los Angeles, where homelessness has risen 23 percent in the past year, in May 2017. AP Photo/Richard Vogel

Let me emphasize this: “A homeless camp in Los Angeles, where homelessness has risen 23 percent in the past year, in May 2017.”

Here are two small extracts from that article:

Research Investigator of Psychiatry, Public Health, and Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan


As someone who studies poverty solutions and social and health inequalities, I am convinced by the academic literature that the biggest reason for poverty is how a society is structured. Without structural changes, it may be very difficult if not impossible to eliminate disparities and poverty.


About 13.5 percent of Americans are living in poverty. Many of these people do not have insurance, and efforts to help them gain insurance, be it through Medicaid or private insurance, have been stymied. Medicaid provides insurance for the disabled, people in nursing homes and the poor.

Four states recently asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for permission to require Medicaid recipients in their states who are not disabled or elderly to work.

This request is reflective of the fact that many Americans believe that poverty is, by and large, the result of laziness, immorality and irresponsibility.

In yesterday’s post celebrating July 4th, where I shared that lovely picture sent to me by Neil Kelly from my Devon days, there was an exchange of comments between me and author Colin Chappell. Colin is the author of the book Who Said I Was Up For Adoption.

First, in response to Colin saying “That pic really says it all doesn’t it!”, I replied:

No question. Indeed, one might ‘read’ that picture at many levels. From the level of providing a smile for the day all the way through to a very profound observation on life itself.

Colin then replied to me:

I ‘ll go straight for the profound perspective! As I recently noted on another blog, I cannot recall anybody from history who became famous for their material possessions. In fact, I recently read an article written after an individual had surveyed a few thousand gravestones… and they drew the same conclusion. There was not a single epitaph which alluded to a material possession. Dogs know all that intuitively, so why does our superior (?) mind have trouble grasping such a simple perspective?

I then responded by saying that I thought it would make a fabulous introduction to today’s post. The heart of which I am now coming to.

Here in our local city, Grants Pass, there is a Freethinkers and Humanists group. They meet once a month. Jerry Reed from that group some time ago recommended to me reading the book The Spirit Level authored by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

Jerry and I were exchanging emails in the last couple of days and he reminded me of that book.

There it was sitting on my bookshelf with a bookmark in at page 62. For reasons that escape me, I had become distracted and forgotten to stay with the book. Despite me being very interested in the proposition.

I said as much in an email reply to Jerry. He then replied to my email with this:

Hey, that happens to me a lot too, very frequently. So, I frequently settle for a video that might capture the essence of the book in considerably less time, while also maintaining my attention much better.

So, if you want a video about what Wilkinson has to say, here’s the one I recommend:

Here is that video. It is a little under 17 minutes long. Please watch it.

Published on Oct 24, 2011

http://www.ted.com We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.

I haven’t got anything profound to say by way of closing today’s post.

But what I will say is that if our societies, especially in certain countries not a million miles from home, more closely emulated the sharing and caring that we see in our dogs then that really would be wonderful.

Image seen on this website: http://enlightendogs.com/about/testimonials-2/

The view from across the pond!

The power of unanticipated outcomes.

I am referring to the result of the British election that was held last Thursday.

Now I am well aware that many readers will not have the same relationship with the outcomes of British elections as your faithful scribe. But I am also aware that we live in a very connected world. I am also acutely aware that for many, many years I was a devoted listener to the 15-minute weekly radio broadcast on the BBC by Alistair Cooke Letter from America.

So for me, and many others I don’t doubt, the views of America as to what goes on across the pond are just as fascinating today as they have always been.

But in the absence of dear Mr. Cooke (20 November 1908 – 30 March 2004) passing on his experienced assessment on what the outcomes of British elections mean for America then I turn to a recent item on The Conversation site and republished here within the terms of that site.

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How populism explains May’s stunning UK election upset: Experts react

June 9, 2017 6.04am EDT

Editor’s note: U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s election gamble failed badly as her Conservatives lost 12 seats, leaving them with 318, shy of a majority. It was a stunning loss for a party earlier projected to gain dozens of seats. Without a majority, the Conservatives will have to rely on another party to govern – known as a hung Parliament. If they’re unable to forge a coalition, rival Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – whose party gained 31 seats – would be able to give it a go. We asked two experts to offer their insights on what Americans should make of the election and its results.

May had a bad night and may face a struggle over her party’s leadership

Tories’ growing populism begets a power struggle

Charles Hankla, George State University

The results of this election show how similar, and yet how different, British politics are from what is happening in America.

As in the United States, there has been an explosion of populism in Britain, most recently evidenced by the Brexit referendum. This new political force is translating into less liberal policies from the major parties.

In continental Europe, the new populism is mostly embodied by the resurgent far right. But in Britain, as in America, it is being filtered through the existing two-party system – though the U.K.‘s smaller parties do complicate the electoral map.

To accommodate the political winds, May and her Conservatives decided to shift their electoral strategy away from Margaret Thatcher’s pro-market economic approach toward a greater focus on immigration, security and economic nationalism.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for his part, deserted the more centrist “New Labour” ideas of Tony Blair in favor of a more robust form of social democracy.

The American left, like its British counterpart, has also become increasingly skeptical of unbridled markets. But among Republicans, a traditional hostility to “big government” makes pro-worker redistributive policies, some of which the Tories have adopted to win votes, hard to stomach. For this reason, populism on the American right has mostly taken the form of protectionist and anti-immigrant policies, as embodied by Donald Trump.

Yesterday’s results were devastating for May and indicate that the Conservatives were ultimately unable to balance their new populist message with their traditional support for neo-liberal policies.

Corbyn, for his part, will use this unexpected victory (of sorts) to solidify his hold over the Labour Party and to move it further to the left.

It remains to be seen whether the election will result in a minority or a coalition government, or whether the parties will be well and truly deadlocked. Whatever happens, the British electorate, like its cousin across the pond, has shown itself to be highly polarized.

Still, at a minimum, Britain’s parliamentary structure, along with the ability of the Labour leadership to co-opt disillusioned voters, seems to have spared Britain the fate of America – the takeover of government by a populist insurgent.

Corbyn and his Labour Party had reasons to smile on election night. AP Photo/Frank Augstein

For US companies, it’s business as usual

Terrence Guay, Pennsylvania State University

So now that we know the results, what are the implications for U.S. business interests in the U.K., America’s seventh-biggest trading partner?

May took a calculated political risk and lost. While the market reaction has been severe, with the pound plunging, it’s nothing new to companies, which take calculated risks like that every day – some pay off and some do not.

So first of all, U.S. corporate executives will need to take a deep breath. Assuming a combination of other parties do not cobble together at least 322 seats – despite winning seven seats, Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein will not send MPs to London – the Conservatives will dominate a coalition government and have considerable sway over policy.

This means a “hard Brexit,” as outlined by May in January, and as seen in the European Union’s tough negotiating guidelines, is unlikely to change. But this is what most U.S. companies have been planning for anyway since last June’s Brexit vote. Many companies, particularly banks and financial institutions, are already planning to move some of their U.K. operations to other EU countries to take advantage of the single market rules.

This process will continue no matter who’s in power, since only the low-polling Liberal Democrat and Green parties promised a Brexit revote.

Second, a weakened Conservative Party will need more foreign friends, and that includes U.S. companies. Since Brexit, some foreign businesses have threatened to downsize or close their U.K. operations as leverage for obtaining government subsidies. Expect more companies to use this strategy with a weaker U.K. government.

As I argue in my recent book, the business environment of Europe is much more than the U.K. market, and U.S. companies have become increasingly aware of this since Brexit.

In other words, it’s business as usual, and that means the continued segmenting of companies’ U.K. and EU strategies, regardless of who is governing in London.

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Expect things to continue to be interesting for some time. Or as more eloquently put by Tariq Ramadan “Times have changed; so must the lenses through which we see the political future.”

Back to Alistair Cooke. There are many of his broadcasts available on the BBC Radio website and on YouTube.

I’m closing with just a small part of Charlie Rose interviewing Alistair Cooke in May, 1996.

Uploaded on Sep 25, 2011

Tuesday, May 7, 1996
Charlie Rose: An interview with Alistair Cooke
Alistair Cooke celebrates the 50 year anniversary of his BBC broadcast, “Letter from America”, a 15-minute talk about life in America for British listeners.

Recorded some twenty-one years ago. Somethings don’t seem to change!

Those nine rescued dogs.

The good news keeps coming in.

A week-and-a-half ago I published a post called Little by Little. It was the story of “9 Dogs Successfully Rescued From Backyard Breeder Thanks to George and Amal Clooney.”

Thanks, you two!

Well a few days ago there was an email that contained more wonderful news about these nine dogs.

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UPDATES on the nine dogs rescued from the backyard breeder (now known as the “Mojave 9 dogs”)

It’s been all kinds of hectic with the intake of nine dogs all at once.   What we were most unprepared for was that every single one of these dogs had never been to a vet in their entire lives.

The medical bills have been piling up so quickly and we’ve been asking for donations for the last several weeks.

Abigail, the girl with the massive mammary tumors that were hanging down and dragging on the ground, she had a bi-lateral mastectomy and her biopsies came back clear!   Yaaay!

Piper had her cherry eye surgery, and a half of a mastectomy for some smaller mammary tumors up and down her right side of her mammary chains.   Her biopsies just came back clear as well (whew!).

McKenna just had a double ear ablation surgery (ouchie!).   There was no avoiding this, her ear drums were destroyed and her middle ears were so painful from years of untreated infections, it’s amazing she is still such a sweet doggie.

Hunter is on the waiting list for a right ear ablation surgery.

Abigail just had her dental this week and needed 19 teeth extracted!  (dogs have 42 teeth)   Her mouth is going to be feeling a whole lot better once the bacteria and inflammation goes away.   Poor girl, she really has had it the worst of all these dogs, yet she is happy and wagging her tail and so eager to get any human interaction.

All nine dogs have needed dentals (several are on the upcoming schedule in the next few weeks, we’ve had to stage everything so we can raise donations).    Six spay surgeries, a cherry eye surgery, a full mastectomy, a half mastectomy, two ear ablation surgeries, blood work, urinalysis, thyroid tests, deep ear cleanings/antibiotics, it’s all turning out to be one of THE most expensive rescues ever in the history of Camp Cocker.

We need your help now more than ever!

Please consider making a donation and no amount is too small.

For the rest of the month of May, we have a matching donation campaign going on, click HERE to DONATE!

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Please don’t go until you have watched this video of the surgeries that have been carried out so far.

There are so many good people out there!

Onwards and upwards for socks!

The dog, that is, not what we wear on our feet!

On the 26th April I published a post promoting the Vista Verde Help Fund for Strays. (And well done! That fund is very close to achieving the goal.)

That post in April also included a picture of a recent stray supported by the Fund. He was named Socks by Jean.

Socks starting a new and better life.

Anyway, a few days ago Dionete sent me an email that I wanted to share with you.

Hello Paul – how’s things with you & Jean & dogs? Fine, I hope.

We’ve got some news: Socks has just been neutered. We picked him up at the clinic an hour ago and took him to a temporary shelter. Unfortunately it is just for a couple of nights but at least he is safe and can recover from the grogginess tonight.

Here are the pics we’ve taken.

Thank you very much (again) for allowing it to happen.
All the very best,

Here are those photographs of Socks.

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Socks has a really gentle look in those eyes. Hopefully, he will find a new loving home before too long.

Group goodness

The power of sharing.

(And, please, make a note of my final remark at the end of today’s post.)

Those who are regular visitors to this place will know that John Zande, who lives in Brazil, is a good friend, and, for that matter, I try to be a good friend of his place.  (If you didn’t read my recent review of John’s latest book On The Problem of Good then it is here.)

So when a couple of days ago I received the following email from John you can imagine my positive response to his request.

Paul, hi, I have a favour to ask.

My wife’s sister, Dee (who lives in Australia) has started a gofundme campaign to help cover a rash of vet surgery bills we’ve had recently. These past few months (most of summer, really) has been appalling with the number of dumped animals in our area.

Together with a few other people in our loose group we rescued about ten and got them adopted out to good homes. Plus, we have three in temporary shelters as we nurse them back to health. We took one into our house, Nina, thus making eleven here now, who had her tail amputated last Tuesday. We were fortunate in that our vet worked for free (a 3hr operation) and only charged us for the anesthetist.

We’re lucky to have these wonderful people around, but we’re a tad snowed under right now with the accumulated surgeries and medicines, which is why Dee started this little campaign.

Now there was no question that Jean and I wanted to help. Not only by making a modest donation ourselves but by promoting Dee’s campaign. I emailed a reply to John saying just that.

John then responded with more details, including some photographs:

Dee is married to a very good friend of mine from Uni. She started this campaign to help Dionete, my wife, and I (and if possible a few other Vista Verde folk who’re in our rescue network) here in Brazil. Dee was here just before Christmas and saw the problem first hand. She actually helped us rescue a wonderful little fellow, Terrorista, who now lives a few streets away with a wonderful family.

I didn’t know, but Dionete was chatting to her a week or two ago and it came up just how many vet/surgery/medicine expenses we’d accumulated over the summer. Without either of us knowing, she, Dee, then started this gofundme campaign to lend a hand and help clear the vet bills. We’re not an NGO (we actually help four here in Sao Jose dos Campos, two in Sao Paulo, and Sandra’s Maxmello in another city south of Sao Paulo). Because we’re not an NGO we’ve never thought about doing a campaign ourselves, so was surprised when Dee started this one. It’s quite modest, $1,000 Australian dollars (the goal) converted to Brazilian Reis will make a sizable dent in our backlog of vet surgery bills. Our bills are tiny compared to a guy we know who does have an NGO and owes his network of vets 90,000. He’s a wonderful fellow and I’m actually working with him to try and get a mobile neutering unit started here in Sao Jose dos Campos. But that’s another story. So, to be clear, the campaign is for us here in Vista Verde, which is sadly a dumping ground for animals. Surrounding districts seem to think we’re all wealthy here and therefore they can dump their animals. It’s infuriating, and the animals never stop coming.

I am sure that Jean and I aren’t the only ones that want to help.

So here’s the link to that GoFundMe campaign on behalf of VISTA VERDE HELP FUND for strays.

And John could offer no better reason for seeking some financial support from the wider world. Here’s some of his later email:

My apologies if there was some confusion. I’m actually heading out right now to feed a new fellow I found a few days ago and is sleeping outside a house in another district. When I get back I’ll send some more photos, OK.
Let me close with some more photos of dogs that have been helped by John, Dionete and the rest of the great band of the Vista Verde Fund.
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Finally!
Please offer whatever you can to help. Even the smallest amount makes a real difference.
I am going to run this post for two days. I.e. the next post will be out on Friday, 21st April.

Thinking anew.

Humanity’s safe and viable future depends on seeing things very differently.

Next Tuesday is the 62nd anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein, the famous German theoretical physicist who died on the 18th April, 1955. He delivered many innovative ways of seeing our world way beyond his theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics) (Ref: Wikipedia)

Why do I introduce today’s post with that reference to Mr. Einstein?

Because I wanted to share with you a recent essay from George Monbiot and an Einstein quotation seemed so apt an introduction.

We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.

That essay from George Monbiot was published yesterday and is shared with you all with Mr. Monbiot’s full permission.

It is an essay that deserves being read slowly and carefully. Please take time aside to so do because it really does offer a new manner of thinking.

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Circle of Life

By reframing the economy, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics changes our view of who we are and where we stand.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th April 2017

So what are we going to do about it? This is the only question worth asking. But the answers appear elusive. Faced with a multifaceted crisis  – the capture of governments by billionaires and their lobbyists, extreme inequality, the rise of demagogues, above all the collapse of the living world – those to whom we look for leadership appear stunned, voiceless, clueless. Even if they had the courage to act, they have no idea what to do.

The most they tend to offer is more economic growth: the fairy dust supposed to make all the bad stuff disappear. Never mind that it drives ecological destruction, that it has failed to relieve structural unemployment or soaring inequality, that, in some recent years, almost all the increment in incomes has been harvested by the top 1%. As values, principles and moral purpose are lost, the promise of growth is all that’s left.

You can see the effects in a leaked memo from the UK’s foreign office: “Trade and growth are now priorities for all posts … work like climate change and illegal wildlife trade will be scaled down.” All that counts is the rate at which we turn natural wealth into cash. If this destroys our prosperity and the wonders that surround us, who cares?

We cannot hope to address our predicament without a new worldview. We cannot use the models that caused our crises to solve them. We need to reframe the problem. This is what the most inspiring book published so far this year has done.

In Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist, Kate Raworth reminds us that economic growth was not, at first, intended as a measurement of well-being. Simon Kuznets, who standardised the measurement of growth, warned: “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.” Economic growth, he pointed out, measures only annual flow, rather than stocks of wealth and their distribution.

Raworth points out that economics in the 20th Century “lost the desire to articulate its goals.” It aspired to be a science of human behaviour: a science based on a deeply flawed portrait of humanity. The dominant model – “rational economic man”, self-interested, isolated, calculating – says more about the nature of economists than it does about other humans. The loss of an explicit objective allowed the discipline to be captured by a proxy goal: endless growth.

The aim of economic activity, she argues, should be “meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet.” Instead of economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive, we need economies that “make us thrive, whether or not they grow.” This means changing our picture of what the economy is and how it works.

The central image in mainstream economics is the circular flow diagram. It depicts a closed flow of income cycling between households, businesses, banks, government and trade, operating in a social and ecological vacuum. Energy, materials, the natural world, human society, power, the wealth we hold in common: all are missing from the model. The unpaid work of carers – principally women – is ignored, though no economy could function without them. Like rational economic man, this representation of economic activity bears little relationship to reality.

So Raworth begins by redrawing the economy. She embeds it in the Earth’s systems and in society, showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy, and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital.

The Embedded Economy. Graphic by Kate Raworth and Marcia Mihotich

This recognition of inconvenient realities then leads to her breakthrough: a graphic representation of the world we want to create. Like all the best ideas, her Doughnut model seems so simple and obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. But achieving this clarity and concision requires years of thought: a great decluttering of the myths and misrepresentations in which we have been schooled.

The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy … . Anyone living below that line, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation.

The Doughnut. Graphic by Kate Raworth and Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health

The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there.

As well as describing a better world, the doughnut model allows us to see, in immediate and comprehensible terms, the state in which we now find ourselves. At the moment we transgress both lines. Billions of people still live in the hole in the middle. We have breached the outer boundary in several places.

Where we are now. Graphic by Kate Raworth and Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health

An economics that helps us to live within the doughnut would seek to reduce inequalities in wealth and income. Wealth arising from the gifts of nature would be widely shared. Money, markets, taxation and public investment would be designed to conserve and regenerate resources rather than squander them. State-owned banks would invest in projects that transform our relationship with the living world, such as zero-carbon public transport and community energy schemes. New metrics would measure genuine prosperity, rather than the speed with which we degrade our long-term prospects.

Such proposals are familiar, but without a new framework of thought, piecemeal solutions are unlikely to succeed. By rethinking economics from first principles, Raworth allows us to integrate our specific propositions into a coherent programme, and then to measure the extent to which it is realised. I see her as the John Maynard Keynes of the 21st-Century: by reframing the economy, she allows us to change our view of who we are, where we stand, and what we want to be.

Now we need to turn her ideas into policy. Read her book, then demand that those who wield power start working towards its objectives: human prosperity within a thriving living world.

www.monbiot.com

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 Please, wherever you are and whatever your plans are for this long weekend, do take great care of yourself and all your loved ones!

The State of the World!

Reality warning dear people!

As you all know, my world is dominated by love. My love for my Jeannie and all the wonderful creatures that inhabit this home and these few acres here in Southern Oregon. Time and time again I share with you stories and articles that I come across that underpin that loving umbrella. Time and time again I am deeply moved by your interest in my scribbles. As I said, my world is dominated by love, and your friendship across this blogging world added to Jean’s love for and attachment to me, has created a little paradise for me.

But! (And you may have sensed there was a ‘But’ coming up.)

But that doesn’t mean that I am immune to being deeply affected by other, more worldly issues, that are as far away from love as one could imagine; more accurately, as far away from love for this wonderful planet as one could imagine.

So for today and the next two days I am going to share with you the pain and angst that I do feel, and feel all too easily, at what we, as in the collective global ‘we’, are up to. Madness doesn’t even seem to touch it!

Today, I am going to republish a recent TomDispatch essay, with Tom’s very kind permission. Tomorrow, I am going to contrast what fellow Brit James Lovelock has been predicting for years with where we really are heading in terms of the future of Planet Earth. Then on Friday, I will finish up with an essay by Professor Ronald Pies regarding the “twisted relationships to truth”.

So don’t say you haven’t been warned!

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 Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, War Without End

So what about chickens!

There’s more to chickens that we realise!

p1160876We have a rather run-down ‘home’ for our chickens close to the house. It was run-down before the snow fell and almost brought down the surrounding wire fence.

p1160875But, hopefully, this coming Thursday sees a new walk-in run being constructed for our birds so they are better protected.

So what has brought this topic to mind?

The answer is a recent item that appeared on the Care2 site about how badly we misunderstand chickens.

I thought you would enjoy reading it.

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6 Surprising Chicken Facts

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Written by Katherine Martinko

It’s time we started paying attention to chickens, one of the most misunderstood and ignored species on Earth.

There was a time when chickens were viewed as exotic, fascinating birds. Descendants of exotic Asian jungle fowl, they were revered for their ferocity and intelligence, and domesticated around 8,000 years ago, more for cockfighting than eating. But then, we humans began eating them in ever-larger quantities, until we reached the point where we are now, with 20 billion (mostly white) chickens living in dirty, crowded barns, awaiting slaughter.

Chickens have been a part of human lives for millennia, and yet they are one of the most misunderstood, if not ignored, species on Earth. Lori Marino, an American neuroscientist and animal intelligence researcher, wants to change this. She is intrigued by the fact that chickens are so rarely recognized for their cognitive abilities and frustrated that studies about birds almost always focus on other, less-domesticated species, like crows and parrots.

“Arguably even the scientific community has been influenced by public perceptions of chickens as cognitively simple… This asymmetry in the literature is likely a reflection of, as well as a contributor to, the disconnect scientists and the public have between chickens as commodities and who they actually are as individuals.”

Chickens deserve more attention, and here are some quirky, interesting facts to get you thinking about chickens less as food and more as fascinating co-inhabitants of our world. These come via Marino’s recent paper, “Thinking Chickens,” published online in Animal Cognition in January 2017.

1. Chickens are a sub-species of the red jungle fowl that hails from southeast Asia.

The red jungle fowl (galls gallus) inhabit the edges of fields, scrubland, and groves. Domestication was well established 8,000 years ago, but some records suggest it could have started as much as 58,000 years ago.

2. Domestic chickens are similar to their wild counterparts.

Despite the intense breeding and genetic manipulation of recent years, chickens have not been cognitively or behaviorally affected by domestication. This stands in contrast to dogs and wolves, for example, which have diverged significantly due to domestication. Nor have chickens become less aggressive toward predators through domestication, which is a common outcome; in fact, some chickens are more aggressive even than red jungle fowl.

3. A chicken’s beak is highly sensitive to touch.

The beak, with numerous nerve endings, is used to explore, detect, drink, preen, and defend. This also means that when a bird is de-beaked, as often happens in industrial farming, it experiences great pain, sometimes for months, which changes its behavior. Marino writes, “At the end of the beak is a specialized cluster of highly sensitive mechanoreceptors, called the bill tip organ, which allows chickens to make fine tactile discriminations.”

4. Chickens have finely tuned senses.

They can see long distance and close-up at the same time in different parts of their vision. They can see a broader range of colors than humans. They can hear at low and high frequencies at a variety of pressure levels. They possess well-developed senses of taste and smell. They can orient to magnetic fields, like many other birds.

5. Chickens are surprisingly good at math.

Three-day-old chicks are able to perform basic arithmetic and discriminate quantities, always opting to explore a set of balls with the greater number, even when an object was visibly transferred from one set to another. Five-day-old chicks have been found to track up to five objects.

“When they were presented with two sets of objects of different quantities disappearing behind two screens, they were able to successfully track which screen hid the larger number by apparently performing simple addition and subtraction.”

6. Chickens can exercise self-control.

In an experimental setting, chickens have been given the choice between 2-second delay with 6 seconds of access to food, versus a 6-second delay with 22-seconds of access to food. The hens waited for the longer reward, “demonstrating rational discrimination between different future outcomes while employing self-control to optimize those outcomes.” Self-control usually doesn’t appear in humans until four years of age.

These are just a few of the remarkable discoveries described in Marino’s study, a highly readable, entertaining paper. It’s an important reminder that chickens, arguably the most ubiquitous animals in our world, deserve far more respect than they currently receive. Hopefully this will lead to more people questioning the horrific conditions in which most of them are kept.

Photo Credit: robertsharp/Flickr

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It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for a humourous way to close today’s post. But a more responsible approach would be to repeat the words from the start of the article to serve as a reminder of trying, wherever possible, to think about the food we eat, especially when animals and birds have to be slaughtered to provide us with that food.

…. we reached the point where we are now, with 20 billion (mostly white) chickens living in dirty, crowded barns, awaiting slaughter.

broilerBut please don’t leave this page until you have watched the following video.

Published on Dec 3, 2014

After 22 years of raising chickens for Perdue, one brave factory farmer Craig Watts was at his breaking point and did something no one has done before. He invited us, as farm animal welfare advocates, to his farm to film and tell his story. Ask your supermarket for Better Chicken at http://better-chicken.org.

Economic marginalisation.

For those looking for answers to the crisis in liberal democracy, this may well be it.

In yesterday’s post Tensions abound in many societies I offered a viewpoint that the ‘left’ arguing with the ‘right’ in politics was utterly inappropriate. Simply for we, as in the people who live on this planet, have to start working together if we wish to have a future for mankind on Planet Earth.

Yesterday’s post also referred to Inductive and Deductive Reasoning with me proposing that the future had to be built on a universally acknowledged relationship between ’cause’ and ‘effect’. A relationship that was built on a clear axiom, or theorem; as we see all around us in both the physical and natural worlds.

This idea does take a little time to filter through and I would be the first to say that I had to spend quite a while reflecting on the idea to fully understand the difference, the power, of deductive reasoning. Plus how something that was a behaviourial ‘law’ could be seen as much as an axiom as is, for example, the calculation of the speed of light, or the relationship of gravity to mass.

So returning to economics.

Quite recently there was an essay published on The Conversation blogsite written by Professor Andrew Cumbers of the University of Glasgow.

His thesis is that there is a direct relationship between “… about how well dispersed economic decision-making power is and how much control and financial security people have over their lives.

That relationship is the core message of his essay.

In other words, as I see it, there is an axiom, a theorem, that governs the relationship between the leadership process of a country and the degree to which that country’s society could be classed as a democratic society.

Here is Professor Cumbers’s essay as published by The Conversation blogsite and republished here within the terms of The Conversation.

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New index of economic marginalisation helps explain Trump, Brexit and alt.right

January 12, 2017 10.03am EST

Author:
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“My fellow disenfranchised Americans …” EPA

If 2016 brought Brexit, Donald Trump and a backlash against cosmopolitan visions of globalisation and society, the great fear for 2017 is further shocks from right-wing populists like Geert Wilders in Holland and Marine Le Pen in France. A new mood of intolerance, xenophobia and protectionist economics seems to be in the air.

In a world of zero-hour contracts, Uber, Deliveroo and the gig economy, access to decent work and a sustainable family income remains the main fault line between the winners and losers from globalisation. Drill into the voter data behind Brexit and Trump and they have much to do with economically marginalised voters in old industrial areas, from South Wales to Nord-Pas-de-Calais, from Tyneside to Ohio and Michigan.

These voters’ economic concerns about industrial closures, immigrants and businesses decamping to low-wage countries seemed ignored by a liberal elite espousing free trade, flexible labour and deregulation. They turned instead to populist “outsiders” with simplistic yet ultimately flawed political and economic narratives.

Much has been said about the crisis of liberal political democracy, but these trends look inextricably linked with what is sometimes referred to as economic democracy. This is about how well dispersed economic decision-making power is and how much control and financial security people have over their lives. I’ve been involved in a project to look at how this compares between different countries. The results say much about the point we have reached, and where we might be heading in future.

The index

Our economic democracy index looked at 32 countries in the OECD (omitting Turkey and Mexico, which had too much missing data). While economic democracy tends to focus on levels of trade union influence and the extent of cooperative ownership in a country, we wanted to take in other relevant factors.

We added three additional indicators: “workplace and employment rights”; “distribution of economic decision-making powers”, including everything from the strength of the financial sector to the extent to which tax powers are centralised; and “transparency and democratic engagement in macroeconomic decision-making”, which takes in corruption, accountability, central bank transparency and different social partners’ involvement in shaping policy.

What is striking is the basic difference between a more “social” model of northern European capitalism and the more market-driven Anglo-American model. Hence the Scandinavian countries score among the best, with their higher levels of social protection, employment rights and democratic participation in economic decision-making. The reverse is true of the more deregulated, concentrated and less democratic economies of the English-speaking world. The US ranks particularly low, with only Slovakia below it. The UK too is only 25th out of 32.

 Economic Democracy Index, figures from 2013. Andrew Cumbers
Economic Democracy Index, figures from 2013. Andrew Cumbers

Interestingly, France ranks relatively highly. This reflects its strong levels of job protection and employee involvement in corporate decision-making – the fact that the far right has been strong in France for a number of years indicates its popularity stems from race at least as much as economics.

Yet leading mainstream presidential candidates François Fillon and Emmanuel Macron are committed to reducing France’s protections. These are often blamed – without much real evidence – for the country’s sluggish job creation record. There is a clear danger both here and in the Netherlands that a continuing commitment to such neoliberal labour market policies might push working class voters further towards Le Pen and Wilders.

One other notable disparity in the index is between the scores of Austria and Germany, despite their relatively similar economic governance. Germany’s lower ranking reflects the growth of labour market insecurity and lower levels of job protection, particularly for part-time workers as part of the Hartz IV labour market reforms in the 1990s that followed reunification.

The index also highlights the comparatively poor levels of economic democracy in the “transition” economies of eastern Europe. The one very interesting exception is Slovenia, which merits further study. It might reflect both its relatively stable transition from communism and the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and the continuing presence of active civil society elements in the trade union and cooperative movements. Southern European economies also tend to rank below northern European countries, as does Japan.

Poverty and inequality

The index provides strong evidence that xenophobic politics may be linked to changing levels of economic participation and empowerment – notwithstanding the French data. We found that the greater the poverty and inequality in a country, the lower the rates of economic democracy.

These findings suggest, for example, that the Anglo-American-led attack on trade unions and flexible labour policies may actually drive up poverty and inequality by cutting welfare benefits and driving up individual employment insecurity. While the OECD itself advocated these policies until recently, countries with high levels of economic democracy such as Norway, Denmark and Iceland have much lower levels of poverty than countries such as the US and UK.

 Far right activists in Budapest, Hungary, February 2016. EPA
Far right activists in Budapest, Hungary, February 2016. EPA

Far-right populism is on the march everywhere, including the Nordic countries. But Brexit, Trump and the more serious shift to the far right in Eastern Europe have been accompanied by diminishing economic security and rights at work, disenfranchised trade unions and cooperatives, and economic decision-making concentrated among financial, political and corporate elites.

We will monitor these scores in future to see what happens over time. It will be interesting to see how the correlations between economic democracy, poverty and voting patterns develop in the coming years. For those looking for answers to the crisis in liberal democracy, this may well be it.

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 I shall be writing to Professor Cumbers asking if my analysis of that relationship is supported by his research.

For if it is then we do have a very clear axiom that few would disagree with. That is the political consensus this world needs now.

Oh, and we will be back to dogs tomorrow! 😉