Friday, October 25, 2013

Economic Growth - A Characteristic of Past Economic History?

I see that it's a year since I  last wrote in this blog. It hasn't been a year of rest. You might call it a year of renewal. A year when I was able to put the Christchurch earthquakes behind me and look to the future and what's really important.

The atom model, tells us that “relationships are fundamental” a quote I picked up from Dr Jonas Salk (Polio Vaccine). There is an explanation of this thinking here.

Atom Model

This is obviously so when we examine any economy. An economy is like an ecosystem, it's enormously complex, and the things you can see, like like animals and plants, might be greatly affected by things that external to the local area, like climate change. Or by things that are very local like soil erosion. We would never think to measure the health of an ecology by measuring one single variable, like the movement of carbon, or the transfer of oxygen. Yet we try to do that with the economy, we assume that if we measure the flow of money we can control and grow the economy by good government and good business practices.

We're learning that this is all wrong. We don't understand the critical relationships in the economy because the excessive focus on money hides the reality of current events.

I'll be brief here: Economic growth is being undermined from two directions. First, the price of energy has increased. The margin between the energy cost and the selling price, that used to give us rising wages and profits, and make an interest rate of 6% “normal” has been cut. Real wages have been stable or falling in most of the developed world for close to 30 years. The chart below is for the USA. Remember of course that incomes in China have been rising. While in New Zealand, except at the executive level, real incomes have been very flat for many years.

I heard Bill English, the Minister of Finance, in New Zealand, on the TV programme Q&A last Sunday, justifying current borrowing by saying that money was cheap and that in the next year or so that interest rates would return to their historic "normal" of about 6%. I think he's dreaming. A 6% interest rate would kill the US economy.

Like the USA, New Zealand is living in a finance bubble, created by continuing borrowing. I think we'll live to regret that. House prices are not under control. The cost of the earthquake repairs is blowing out. We are foolish if we think that soon the economy will get back to normal and then we'll be able to repay our debts. On a planet with limited resources, once those limits approach, the margins between costs and revenues are squeezed to zero, and growth vanishes.

The second killer of economic growth is environmental depletion and climate change. It costs more to get almost every commodity, partly because of increased energy costs but also because the easy to mine resources have already been used. In addition, across the world the insurance payouts, losses, because of storm damage have been steadily rising. Although, the insurance industry, or government assistance, might mitigate the cost in any community, the overall loss to the system is real. Our faulty way of measuring the economy, using GDP, counts the repair cost as an increase in value, but it's in fact a true loss.

We're caught between two opposing forces, and the economy is being throttled back, by non-monetary and non-government forces. Hoping for future growth, and seeking to stimulate the economy, many governments are printing money, but that doesn't solve the problem. In fact in the long run that makes it worse.

You can download a very important paper written by Asher Miller and Rob Hopkins, called “Climate After Growth”. (33 pages)

Executive Summary

The nearly ubiquitous belief of our elected officials is that addressing the climate crisis must come second to ensuring economic growth. This is wrongheaded—both because it underestimates the severity of the climate crisis, and because it presupposes that the old economic "normal" of robust growth can be revived. It can't.

In fact, we have entered an era of “new normals”—not only in our economy, but in our energy and climate systems, as well. The implications are profound:

The Link:

John Stephen Veitch The Network Ambassador Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch here:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lessons from Occupy Otautahi Christchurch

This was first published in March, 2012.

The Useful Common

I've been involved, recently, with Occupy Otautahi Christchurch. There have been weekly meetings and quite a lot of voluntary work associated with that. For me the Useful Common, that taught me the most this month, was there. Many of the lessons were unpleasant. Here's my review.

The Importance of Leadership

I thank Douglas Long for his valuable article on Successful Leadership recently published. Douglas demonstrates his New Zealand roots in the core of his message. In the last month of Occupy Otautahi Christchurch, two middle aged Maori men, Wirimu and Gary, stood up in different ways to make the camp work. To bring more harmony into the group.

In the beginning the Occupy Movement tried to operate without leadership. Daily General Assemblies were held. There was a lot of repetitive stuff, week after week, because there were always new people. Those coming in needed to learn what we were doing by participating in the discussion.

Lesson One: Direct democracy works.

Lesson Two: Direct democracy cannot be sustained, it's simply too time consuming and exhausting.

Don't confuse the tactic with the mission

Occupy Otautahi Christchurch went on too long; 196 days. Life in a camp for a week is fun, the second week it's boring, after that every day is hard. Few people lasted more than 30 days. That's why the people in the camp were continually changing and why the message of the original group kept getting lost, and re-found, and lost again.

The energy of the camp was dissipating in December 2010, and I tried to encourage the group to leave in an orderly way on New Years. Day. That wasn't to be.

Lesson Three: Occupying the park is a tactic, not the purpose of the mission. When the tactic ceases to work, give it up.

New Leadership comes from unlikely places.

Two Maori guys both in their 40s arrive in the camp. They realise that there is a problem and take on the leadership role. Two weeks later you can see a real difference. The place is tidy and all the "disruptive element" is gone.

Lesson Four: Every group needs leadership.

Lesson Five: Every group needs to establish agreed rules of conduct.

Gary, another Maori, a street dweller, ex mongrel mob (16 years ago), once a heavy drinker, takes on the role of camp night-watchman. Around the camp Gary set an example. Those who don't care to follow his example were invited to leave. He's a big tough boy, but also honest and hard working. Willing to help. Wanting to contribute. Just watching him was inspiring in many ways. He came to the camp 140 days ago, with no idea what it was about. He left with a good understanding of the purposes of the Occupation, and as a leader with qualities that everyone recognised.

Lesson Six: For some individuals the occupation was trans-formative.

The Importance of Engagement

At a General Assembly where I took the notes on Monday 19th of March, Gary made an impassioned plea for the original occupiers to come back to the camp. "We can't do it without you!" he said.

I said in the early days that the occupation would change many lives forever. Those who came by for a short time and those who spent a month of more in the camp all got something from it.

Lesson Seven: When we retreat from the street to our middle class homes to be "safe"; life on the street continues. Our absence makes a difference. Our presence is necessary, don't abandon your city.

Be careful who you invite to join you.

The idea that "we are the 99%" and that everyone was welcome, created lots of problems. When you can't control who comes in, you have to put up with whatever behaviours, attitudes and problems new arrivals bring with them. Camp rules can help, but you need leaders to enforce rules, someone who sets standards, who other people choose to follow.

Camp maintenance and disputes in the camp sucked energy out to the movement. In January and February, for self protection many middle class people walked away, and the camp became a place for secret drinking and drugs, and crime, and later on open drinking unless someone like me was about. Long established camp rules were ignored.

We came to learn about another 1% of our community. Those who chose to join us but who had no understanding of the cause, and no loyalty to the group or it's members. They abused the rules, and stole from the group, and abused each other. Amazingly, some of the middle class people involved turned a blind eye to this behaviour. The worst one I know of was small, had a lovely smile, spoke well, was full of enthusiasm, and appeared to be "on board" with our intentions. After the police arrested him, I discovered what he had really been up to.

Lesson Eight: Be open to other people, but choose your friends carefully.

Many Views - Diversity of opinion

You can get a good idea of the diversity of views in Occupy Otautahi Christchurch, by reading the minutes I wrote at this GA. General Assembly Minutes - Monday - 19.03.2012 - WEA - 7.15pm

Lesson Nine: While people recognise that there are problems in our society, we're a long way from understanding what those problems are, and how to fix them.

If it is to be it's up to me.

It's entirely up to us if "we" survive or not. That applies to the Occupy Movement and to each reader here. What sort of society do we want? Most of the original Occupiers, middle class idealists, had their dreams pretty badly shattered by the reality of maintaining camp life. Most had possessions stolen or broken. Many donated money that someone else in the camp stole. Some hard lessons learned on the grindstone of reality.

Lesson Ten: Record your primary experience. Write it down. Take the opportunity to reflect on it and to learn from it. Otherwise you'll repeat the same mistakes again. (As our society keeps on doing endlessly. A question for you. Why is it so hard for human beings to learn from their own experience?)

Restoring Order; Being Responsible as a Group

The camp members did get their house in order. They did establish some house rules that worked and managed to enforce them fairly well. They did successfully negotiate the closure of the camp site with the City Council, and the City Council was very helpful in offering a couple of trucks to take away the unwanted rubbish. The camp ended in an ordered way, and the camp leaders were acknowledged for their efforts. The camp ended with dignity.

Lesson Eleven: Each of us has a part to play in keeping our collective house in order.

Lesson Twelve: Begin well and end well. End with a decision, not by exhaustion or forced closure.

Occupy Otautahi Christchurch Open University.

On Sunday, at the Open University, we were blessed by many fine presentations about our hope for the future. New Zealand can be a place with a better future. Even so, our kids are unlikely to be as fortunate as we have been. People want to live lives that are meaningful, that make a difference. There are many opportunities to do that today and into the future. First of all we need to dream a different dream, because the old dream is killing the planet and eventually it will kill us.

Lesson Thirteen: We have much to teach each other. Learn to listen; keep good records; de-school yourself; discover and develop your own voice.

John Stephen Veitch
The Network Ambassador
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch here:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Creating a Sustainable World

This essay was first published in February, 2012.

The Useful Common:

The Secretary General's Report of a High-level Panel on Global Sustainability.

This report has had quite a bit of attention. It's part of the preparation for the Earth Summit to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June, 2012. I suggest that Kiwi you print five pages, 10 to 14, of that report, the section called "The Panel's Vision". (Pages 14 to 18 of the PDF.) The rest is very detailed and technical.

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum said, "For most of the last century, economic growth was fuelled by what seemed to be a certain truth: the abundance of natural resources. ... We believed in consumption without consequences. Those days are gone. Climate change is showing us that the old model is more than obsolete. It is dangerous. Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster. It is a global suicide pact."

Our New Knowledge

I refer you back to a previous Kiwi Scrum Newsletter, August 2011, for some of the history on the development of new knowledge during your own lifetime. None of us (those over 30 anyway) learned about these changes in school or university. In fact your professional training, if it was anything like mine, taught you that with careful planning, innovation, sound financial management and good teamwork, any objective was achievable.

We now know that no amount of apparent financial wealth and military might can do the impossible. The USA and Russia are pulling back from the space adventure for sound practical reasons. Infrastructure in most developed countries is running down, roads, bridges, power grids, sewerage systems, airports and harbours are less usable and less resilient today, than they were 10 years ago.

Donella Meadows in that excellent article, "Leverage Points; Places to Intervene in a System" tells us that when we are faced with problems human beings spend almost all their time changing parts of the system that can never be really effective in changing the outcome. We change the budget, we find a new manager, we elect different people, or we build bigger stocks and resources. We start to be effective when we look at feedback loops and information flows and the rules that govern the system, especially so if we re-examine the goals and objectives we've set ourselves. So often we defeat ourselves by the simple process of choosing a short sighted and ultimately foolish objective.

Meadows explains that the real power of an individual, the driving force for greater democracy and the Achilles heal of existing power structures and governments, is the ability to shift thinking systems, the ability to make a paradigm shift. Alvin Toffler wrote in 1980, about the responsibility for change being with the public, because the elites. the power brokers in any country are always the last to see the need for change.

Given the foolishness of the objectives human beings have pursued for the last 100 years, and the effect we now discover that has had on the Planet, humanity is badly in need of a paradigm shift. The political system in most countries remains primitive and unresponsive to public needs. There is a lack of anything resembling an effective world government. The prospects for reorganising ourselves to have a sustainable future, using the existing structure, look bleak. Looking to the elites to drive change is naive. As Alvin Toffler says, the elites of the western world have been avoiding change for 30 years. They will accept change, but will do so only after they've exhausted every possible alternative.

Events like the Arab Spring and the Russian Winter, and Occupy Wall Street, show us that a new paradigm to drive the twenty-first century may be in development. If so, it will suddenly appear almost everywhere, in a short space of time. The logic of change captured in that paradigm will be inescapable. Those who find it impossible to acknowledge the new thinking will be swept aside.

James Gustave Speth says we need to make eight transitions. This is only possible if we begin to think about our place on Earth in a new way. "What we need now is an international movement of citizens and scientists, one capable of dramatically advancing the political and personal actions needed for the transition to sustainability."

A Revolution in Political Economy:

The established elites have resisted the call for change made in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Agenda 21, identified what we need to do, but action was not taken. As a result we have a world plagued with illogical political and economic decisions. There's too much debt, economies can't grow, and the call for austerity makes matters worse, not better. There is no reasonable solution to the current problems, within the existing paradigm. The world has entered an extended crisis that refuses to go away. Capitalism will be reinvented, sooner or later. Reinvented in such a way that the achievement of Speth's eight transitions is possible.

The Secretary General's Report of a High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, argues for a new approach to political economy. "We will bring the sustainable development paradigm from the margins to the mainstream of the global economic debate. Thus, both the cost of action and the cost of inaction will become transparent. Only then will the political process be able to summon both the arguments and the political will necessary to act for a sustainable future."

"For too long, economists, social activists and environmental scientists have talked past each other. ... The time has come to unify the disciplines to develop a common language for sustainable development." The document argues for economists to price environmental externalities instead of ignoring them. A similar approach is called for regarding social exclusion. The effect of the recommendations is to force the market to recognise what economist call "real prices". This is a political challenge, not an economic challenge. Existing producers everywhere will stand strongly against such a proposal. National governments have to find the strength to stand against that pressure. This is one of the eight transitions Gus Speth is calling for too.

If we can create "real prices", economic theory tells us that the market will protect the environment, ensure the use of appropriate technology, create full employment, and reduce consumption to sustainable levels. The development of "right prices" requires a little experimenting but that need not be a big problem. The wrong price for "externalities" is zero. Any non-zero price is an improvement. As prices approach "real prices" both producer and consumer behaviour will change in a desirable direction.


Each of us is responsible for our own deschooling. We have to learn to understand some very complex things, many of which are new to us. In particular we have to appreciate that some of the things we currently believe, things taught to us by our parents, teachers and other people we trust, are likely to be wrong given our new knowledge.

I've spent part of today (Sunday) at an Occupy Christchurch University. The "university" ran continuously for some 10 hours. I listened to people who put forward many arguments that simply don't stand up to the test of recent history. Christchurch as you may know has a long history of Marxist thinking. That understanding is widely supported, but in my view it's a completely barren field. A class based analysis of society doesn't help us solve the very real current problems we face. Alvin Toffler argues that our elites are trapped in the past. It's not helpful if the rest of us make the same mistake.

Whatever the truth about our situation is, each of us only has our own understanding of it. The test for us is to engage in the discussion and to shift our view as our knowledge grows. To give those in the park some credit, many different views were heard and treated with respect.

The Value of Engagement

The Secretary General's Report of a High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, claims that city councils and community groups have a vital role to play in sustainability. There needs to be a huge shift in public knowledge and attitudes, if the programme is to be enacted. What happens on the ground depends on the quality of public discussion, engagement and willingness to accept major changes in our lifestyles.

Former Czech President, the late Václav Havel said; "The only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It's not enough to have new machines, new regulations and new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose for our existence on this Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behaviour and a new set of values for the planet."

John Stephen Veitch
The Network Ambassador
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch here:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Evaluating Where We are and the Future to Come

This was first posted elsewhere in January, 2012. There have been minor comments added today.

Background to this Post

For the last six weeks, I've been reducing a pile of paper, some 8000 printed pages from the Internet, collected over the last year, into something I can organize and understand. I promised my wife Carolyn to clear away the pile before Christmas.

Now I've now got about 500 pages in six or seven categories. I'm full to overflowing with detail, having read and re-read this material; I'm still trying to make the best sense of it.

The World Economy

The triumph of modern economics was the apparent ability to intervene in business cycles, and to "fine-tune the economy," as a New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr. Robert Muldoon used to say. For all of my adult life when unemployment threatened to rise, we've found ways to pump up the cash supply, and make the big bad wolf go away. For sixty years most countries have been creating a debt bubble that they can't sustain today.

In 1972, we heard about OPEC for the first time, and we suffered the first oil shock, with car-less days, and higher fuel prices. It's recently been argued that real wages stopped rising about the same time, and that the two events are connected. Certainly, the neo-liberal economic reforms that swept the world under Reagan and Thatcher, or with Douglas and Richardson here in New Zealand, were an attempt to deal with changing times, by letting the market play a dominant role. At the time, it was necessary change, in my view. Those reforms bring us our present problems, where the success of markets, combined with the failure of markets, threatens to destroy the world.

Today, most of the developed world has financial obligations that can't be met unless the economy grows at a much faster pace. But in all the developed countries economic growth seems to be impossible to achieve. If there is no growth, the debt can't be repaid and the interest on the debt is also in doubt. The only way out for Europe and the USA, but not only them, is to promote inflation, to devalue the currency in real terms. That's a form of fraud, which meets the letter of the law, but steals from both creditors and savers. Look at the price of gold and silver, for evidence that people with cash reserves, prefer to hold much of that in metal, rather than in bank deposits.

The financial leaders of the world are working overtime to prevent riots in the street, and collapse in the markets. There's no way to tell how that will turn out, there are simply too many variables and unknowns. The status quo can't continue, but perhaps we can find a new solution if we hang in there for long enough.

Is "collapse" likely?

At any time, the financial failure of a nation state, or a major company (or bank), or a strong rise in the price of oil, could tip the economy of a country, probably many countries, into economic collapse. We can go from normal to unsettled in a month, and from unsettled to collapse in two days. By day three the banks are closed. By day five the shops are empty, and many people are out of a job. People agree to work for nothing just to get the system restarted.

Look at the economic history in Argentina and the many Russian Republics for what happens next. Years of struggle made worst by political and economic corruption. People work for months without pay. People with bank savings find they cannot access those savings months or even years later. Billions are made in speculative markets, by insiders, or criminal gangs. as the value of assets plunges. and control of the counties wealth is stripped away. Perhaps in little new Zealand we can do better than that.

The New Zealand Political Scene

Here in New Zealand, today, such a collapse looks impossible. I worry that the face of the smiling Prime Minister, John Key; the man who is troubled by nothing, might be setting NZ up for a fall. I prefer Bill English's more firmly set jaw. I worry that we are borrowing too much now, just to keep political promises made. The National Party (And the Labour Party, for that matter.) are committed to future growth in the economy. For them borrowing makes sense. I'm suggesting that for reasons beyond our control, future growth won't happen, and that the debt we are creating will become a future problem. We should be taking some more pain now.

I expect the price of oil to be volatile this year. Over US$140.00 a barrel at some stage. (Because of the Global Financial Crisis continuing, that prediction was wildly wrong.) This will depress the world economy. The price of oil will fall, but it will rise again. The economy will grind along without growth, perhaps with some depreciation, especially in house prices and commercial rents. The economy can limp along in this way indefinitely, as Japan has for the last 20 years, but always threatened by the possibility of shifting from unsettled to collapse almost overnight.

Commodity prices are currently falling, but they will rise. Inflation will become an everyday reality, but your income won't rise, and may fall. People will become more and more disenchanted with the way things are going.

There are great new business opportunities in this uncertain and cloudy environment, but there are few people with the resources and the courage to take the risk.

We could easily have a change of government in 2014, but to switch from a National led to Labour led coalition is no answer unless someone understands what the problem is. Unless we all understand what the problem is.

What we should be doing.

First task: understand the issues. In 2010, I got involved with a group called "Four Years. Go." which proposed that the four years 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, will be critical years for the future of the planet. They seek, "A Thriving, Just and Sustainable way of life for all." There is no plan to achieve that in four years, just that these four years need to be the turning point, where business as usual stopped and the new economy started to develop. For instance in four years can we agree that GDP is an unsatisfactory measure of economic performance and start to use some more useful tools? Can we see that the continually rising real price of oil, will force each of us to live and work in the same place, and so the way we organize our whole society has to change. Much of what we now do will become impossible in a future with high-priced oil.

One change I expect, for instance, is for small towns of about thirty houses to develop every 20k or so along main highways. Back in the 1920s there may have been towns in those places. They will come back. The new houses will not be like the ones we are now building. They will be small, four rooms and a washhouse, but very well insulated and with solar water heating on every roof. Yes, I expect our cities will tend to get smaller.

Most of us will need to find a way the thrive, without access to a job. You probably won't be able to do that as a consultant, although a few people might. You'll develop a range of practical skills, often learned on the job, helping someone else, or in trying to solve one of your own problems. You may find that you are paid in community hours, rather than in cash.

Try to understand the many different forms of CAPITAL, that are required for business success. Financial capital of two types, first the money to buy and hold land, buildings, and equipment; then the money to run the business from month to month. Then there is the capital resource, managerial skill and experience. And the capital resource, community connections and networks. And the capital resource, of the local natural environment. And the capital resource, of a market that you know and understand, and are a member of. Perhaps finally the capital resource, of the production team who make the business work and sustain the business in changing times.

Local Community

Without formal jobs for much of the year, many of us will work from a home base. Much of the work we will do will be in our local area, often within walking distance from home.

Where we can, most of us will maintain household gardens. I expect that some sort of internal street committee will function in most streets. This won't be too focused on what the street expects from the city council, but more on what do we need to do together and how can we help each other.

I expect it to be commonplace for people to work for community hours and to make payments in community hours. This idea of using a local currency seems very strange, but when there is no cash about, people will create alternatives.

Sustainability - Like it or not

We are all participants in the biggest challenge that's every faced humanity. Are we capable of reorganising our activities to save the ourselves, or will our failure to act responsibly result in the planet reacting against us? Humanity has lived with this sort of challenge ever since WWII. Then it was the threat of two or three powerful politicians starting a nuclear war, that worried us. Today's threat is of a different kind. It's caused by 9 billion people who want nothing more than to live the sort of life I have been privileged to live. In the long run a sustainable earth will be created, the question is about how that balance is achieved.

Humanity either gets the environmental house in order, or the planet will do that for us. 40 years ago we faced the world population challenge. We declined the option to limit the human population on earth. That battle is lost, nature will intervene at some stage. End game for millions, possibly quite soon. Today, we are faced with the threat of human created climate change. Once again, we have declined to act. We're not willing to save the climate. Our children and grandchildren for many generations, will suffer the consequences of that. We will reap what we sow.

I hope that New Zealand is a lucky country. If we can avoid invasion by Indonesia or China, or some similar over-populated country, then what happens to us is largely up to us. We start with many advantages. One of those is our small population.

Many countries in the world will not in future be able to feed themselves. That may also be a problem in some NZ cities, but a problem we can solve. Globally, I expect poverty and famine and disease and riots (war?), droughts and floods and fires will deal to the human population soon enough. We'll reap what we created.

There is hope in the mind of the present government that we'll find significant reserves of oil or gas in the near future. That might be nice, but it would also make us a prime target for an invasion. I don't expect that any alliance with the USA would protect us from that. The USA has problems of it's own.

I suspect that the form of farming we are currently enthusiastically developing is a wrong direction. Given high oil prices it won't be sustainable. I'm picking that within ten years that worm will turn, and we'll be looking for a new way to make a living off the land. What can we do without a lot of mechanisation? As a Child, I saw the last of horse-drawn ploughs, and the mounted drover and his dogs taking sheep through the main street. They may return.

John Stephen Veitch
The Network Ambassador
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch here:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Deschooling Ourselves

A re-post from the Kiwi Scrum Newsletter, November 2011

Occupy Christchurch
Occupy Christchurch - Tentsville

This post is inspired by Occupy Christchurch, where I had the opportunity in October and November, 2011, to meet with some of the young people who are the future of New Zealand. Our task, yours and mine, is to be good mentors to these young adults, and to our grandchildren in turn. We have to be the valuable ancestors; but are we? I'm sure we are not.

Forty-Nine years ago Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring, produced evidence that we were destroying nature and ourselves with pesticides and other chemicals. With 50 years of increased knowledge and confirmation, we now know that Rachel Carson didn't know the half of it. The young people in the park will inherit from us are world partially destroyed and a system that we created and sustained that will by design continue that process until some event we can't control forcefully stops us. We KNOW what we are doing. The endgame will be catastrophic. The young people in the park know it.

In November, 2011, New Zealand elected a new government. That government is no wiser than the previous government. They are trying to build a bigger economy in the old way that worked 60 years ago. They will fail in that endeavour and will make excuses for that, just as the previous New Zealand government did. Most of us allow ourselves to be deluded by false promises. We keep the system running. We know not, what else to do. Neither the National Party nor the Labour Party is willing to address the real issue. We have build a society that creates monetary profits by destroying our real wealth. Our economy is a Ponzi scheme. We know, if we choose to be informed that what we are doing cannot be sustained. NONE of our political parties dare to talk about that. The end game is death and destruction not wealth and prosperity. Hence our dilemma.

About twenty years ago I abandoned party politics and began trying to understand the problem which I had already struggled with for fifteen years. Much of what I've learned, we all need to learn, but I'm wasting my time if I try to take you directly into my present understanding. You have to develop your own consciousness, and your own understanding, and you must do that, in you own way.

Necessary Transitions

Gus Speth
Gus Speth

James Gustave Speth, after 40 years of seeking change in the American political system, having the ear of successive Presidents, but having no real success, proposes Eight Necessary Transitions. They are very much like the things the people in the park are asking for. Sound governance first, with quality information widely disseminated, the best use of green technologies, and a new cultural awareness that all mankind shares a common fate. We must reduce our population or nature will do that for us, we have to reduce consumption, to use less energy and less materials, and at the same time we have to make living a successful sustainable life a reality in every country. We have to develop an economic system that fixes prices in an environmentally sustainable way; that provides both income and employment, and eliminates poverty. These are tall orders.

Speth doesn't look to the government of the USA, to do this work, (Although that would also be desirable.) he looks for citizen action around the world, for the effort of volunteers, because until we get good governance, governments are not our ally in this necessary work. In New Zealand with MMP, we've got a tiny grip on "good governance". We need to strengthen it. We need two strong votes, (One strong vote and one weak vote at the moment.) and we need the democratic processes within political parties to be more open. If we are to have a sustainable future, democracy is important. New Zealand might be the first country to develop a democracy with a 21st Century appreciation of what the term "democracy" means.

The Useful Common:

In the USA, the Occupy Wall Street movement is dealing with issues far more serious than we have. I hope you already understand how corrupted both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have become, and why it's impossible for a viable third party to get any traction. The useful common is full of that background, for those who are interested. I like this speech by Bill Moyers, (21 minutes). After the introductions, from 6 minutes on he makes a plain statement.

De-schooling yourself

Our New Knowledge: New knowledge doesn't suddenly appear out of nowhere. We pick up new knowledge in pieces. Because of our indoctrination we throw away a lot of information we should know. We reject it because it conflicts with our existing "knowledge". Your own deschooling takes a lot of time, and only you can do it. Keep a journal to record your progress.

Deschooling John Veitch: I've left evidence of my progress in my own deschooling in many places on the web. I started with Innovation and Journal Writing, re-examined economics, and ended up with Elephant Mapping in 2004. I tell you this because most of you are somewhere along on this journey. Perhaps in this old work of mine I'll strike a chord with where you are at right now, and something useful might come of that.

The rest of my own journey is in Open Future site. The Open Future concept got it's start in ATE, on this page. Most of the articles of Open future site main page were written 2006-2007. The ten items at the top right are newer (2010). The original effort to explain the "Open Future" concept is here (2007-2008). I'd now like to rewrite the whole site, but that would take about a year. Time I don't have.

I think the world needs a reset. I wish it could be painless, but it won't be. What we can do is be prepared. I thought in February 2009, that depression was likely, and I wrote 12 essays about that. They remain useful reading, and there are printable versions of all pages.

I still think that an economic depression is likely. When? When someone makes a blunder and the whole Ponzi scheme is exposed. When "confidence" collapses.

Write a Blog: I've put a lot of effort into documenting my own efforts to complete my education, and to build my understanding. This is ongoing work. Writing your own material as you go is very beneficial, both to you and to others who read what you are working on. It's not about being "right", it's about taking a journey of discovery, where you keep getting closer to a good understanding. The problem is too big to fully grasp, which is why I've used the Elephant Mapping idea in the past.

Thought Leaders: We are not short of previous thinkers, or good minds today, capable of tackling these problems. Here are some of my sources:
Historians: Howard Zinn, Jared Diamond, John Keane, William Greider, Gar Alperovitz, Lloyd Geering

Futurists: Alvin Toffler, Denis Meadows

Lawyers: James Gustave Speth, Richard A Falk

Environmentalists: Paul Hawken, David C Korten, Bill McKibben, David Suzuki

Climate Scientists: James E Hanson

Ecologists: Donnella Meadows, Garrett Hardin, Paul R Ehrlich, Lester R Brown,

Economists: Tim Jackson, Nicholas Stern, John Perkins, Manfred Max-Neef, Joseph E Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Kenneth E Boulding,

Ecological Economists: Herman E Daly, Philip A Lawn, Robert Costanza

Systems Experts: Peter Senge, Amory B Lovins, Jay Hanson,

There's no shortage of analysis or ideas to correct the problems. However, the determination by the powers that be to keep to old system and their privileges running for as long as possible is considerable. As a reporter on NZ's TV1 said about the Occupation in New Zealand, "If the protesters are going to occupy the parks until we solve the problem of social inequality, they will be there for a long time."

Engage with other people and Groups: Some of the people in the Occupy Movement are followers of the Zeitgeist Philosophy. "Zeitgeist" is from German and translates to "the spirit of the times" or "the spirit of the age." The three Zeitgeist movies might be described as the effort of Peter Joseph to identify the key problems of our time, and to propose some sort of solution. I think he identifies the problems quite well but the solutions he proposes are; technological, scientific and automated. I believe our problems are in ourselves, and cannot be resolved by mere technology. You and I need to change. We can't avoid that by having more computers to run the world.

We live in a society where the answer to all our troubles is supposed to be "more growth". That is environmental and social nonsense, and in the long run it's economic nonsense too. The problem is that we've set up a system that expects and demands growth to sustain itself. Winding back into a way of living that is sustainable requires different means of financing projects, and different ways of thinking about value. We need to embrace the idea that growth will end, rather than fighting it. Perpetual growth is the behaviour of a cancer cell - the result if that growth is unchecked, is death. We are witnessing the beginning of the collapse of the ecosystem that sustains all life on earth. Where are the politicians willing to speak the truth about this? Nowhere to be seen. The film The GrowthBusters, being released this week has much to say about our very broken system. Preview below.

A System Wide Reset

Since the current system cannot be sustained; at some time a system reset will occur. I think the facts point to that happening sometime soon. When it happens people will complain that "nobody saw this coming". The change will be rapid and severe. We are the participants in history, yet we can't stop history from happening. Forces bigger than us are driving the changes we see. Never-the-less the things we choose to do will have an effect, at least on us and those around us. Better to fight for a noble cause, than to merely be a victim of your time. Understanding how and why this will happen will allow you and those you are close too, to make effective choices.

Here are four drivers; any one of them could precipitate a tipping point, with catastrophic effects.

Climate Change, causing famine in multiple regions. Global civil unrest to follow.

Peak Oil, causing high oil prices and preventing economic "development" for many years.

Global Economic Destabilization, a recession that goes on and on, from financial crisis to financial crisis.

Currency Destabilization, the Price of Gold, and the collapsing value of the US dollar, causes the US dollar a loss of reserve currency status.

While all the current talk is about the debt crisis in Europe, the elephant in the room is the much worse debt crisis in the USA. Only the USA, can continually increase the flow of dollars into the market, without apparent penalty. In effect the USA, is imposing a tax on the world for using the US dollar as the reserve currency. At some stage China, Brazil, India and Russia are likely to seek to use some alternative currency that's more stable. Once the US dollar loses it's reserve status the USA is suddenly in severe monetary trouble. Some people suggest that would immediately lead to a world war. It will certainly cause a depression in the USA, that will inevitably spread worldwide.

Here Richard Wilkinson demonstrates why societies that have unequal incomes like New Zealand, create social problems for themselves. This data demonstrates again why the idea that growing our GDP as the critical measure of our success is wrong. Of course Marilyn Waring told us that 30 years ago. Why couldn't we listen?

Volunteers: If we do have a depression, or a war, the work of community agents, the volunteers will make the difference for us here in New Zealand. The economy uses money to make transactions easier and make transactions between people who have no direct connection to each other possible. Volunteers can make economic transactions with people they know, in a local area, even when the money system breaks down. At the district level it's also possible to build local currency systems. People without formal employment can still be highly productive. If the economy we're trying to build breaks because of external forces, provided we're not too heavily indebted, and provided we're not invaded by foreign forces, we in New Zealand should be able to get by, I expect.

John Stephen Veitch The Network Ambassador Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch here:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Capitalism out of Control - A Failure of Government

There's no doubt that capitalism is out of control, but that's not the fault of capitalism, it's the fault of faulty economic theory and a failure of both democratic governments and totalitarian governments. (Most often because those governments have become clients of the interests they are expected to control. Not exercising control becomes the purpose of government, despite the damage that does to the nation as a whole.)

Capitalism has to function inside a framework of rules that governments establish. If governments fail in that task, capitalism becomes a destructive force.

In the introduction to her book "Getting Past Capitalism" Cynthia Kaufman says, "talking about capitalism is one of the best ways to get your ideas dismissed as extreme, as communist, or socialist or simply unrealistic". I agree with that, and several writers I've assembled would also agree. None of them attempt a full frontal assault on capitalism, one of the key principles of our social, political and economic system.

I grew up in a society which hoped that extreme poverty had been abolished, where future prosperity was the expectation. The success of the Marshall Plan in Europe after WWII, demonstrated the power of investment and economic growth. There would be no limits on our potential wealth. All we had to do was manage the economy to avoid the depressions which still seemed to part of the business cycle. Keynes showed us how to do that. Then we had to create full employment. The formula for that was innovation, and investment, and applied science. In the war years and just after that, government investment in industry was critical to the "take off" of faltering economies. Government support for new industries by tariff protection or subsidies was expected. Then the mood changed and government involvement in business was denounced. From the 1970s the key political move on the economy, was to de-regulate and allow capitalism to use the full power of markets to develop dynamic new economies. For a time that appeared to work.

We believed the myth that humanity had full control over the Earth, and that we were limited only by failure of our imagination and resource-fullness. We believed in the consumer society. We expected that with economic development, that people everywhere would be able to prosperous and happy lives as workers and consumers. The bariers were corruption, and lack of democracy, and failure in education, health and business investment. Those were problems our "experts" knew how to fix. We knew nothing of the new Earth sciences that were developing, that were about to shatter these illusions, some of us still don't understand these changes today. "Limits to Growth" was published in 1972. It seemed to make sense on one hand, but it couldn't be true, on the other hand; everything we believed, especially if you were trained in business and economics, told you the opposite.

A key problem is the falsity of our democratic institutions. We might have replaced a divine monarch with an elected parliament, but we are still a society of "big men" and big institutions. Our tribal roots are not far away. This allows the government to be controlled by those "big men", by the use of money, and information, and the ability to control of the agenda. There are many advantages in this. When business and government work together, "the trains run on time" as they said in Italy under Mussolini. However, you also get increasing Fascism, leading to the abuse of power as we currently see in the USA, China and in Russia, to mention only three. Corporate control of the government is a denial of democracy, and the source of a form of capitalism that's out of control. Capitalist excesses caused the financial meltdown of 2008. That there has been no effective remedy or regulation since then is another simple fact. No government, in the USA, the UK, in Canada or New Zealand can act effectively against it's master, the hidden men behind the financial markets.

So there's the problem. Countries that call themselves democracies, have become systems where the power of the people, has been supplanted by financial domination by unseen and unidentified "masters". Because of globalisation, the free flow of capital from market to market forces governments to adopt many "market friendly" attitudes and policies.

In 1980, the Report of the Brandt Commission on International Development Issues, made the link between the environment, social justice, world poverty and social conflict.

The first authoritative assessment of our future situation might have been J.G. Speth's report to Jimmy Carter in 1981; "Global Future; Time to Act". That report was accepted by President Carter but solidly rejected by the American political establishment. (Even though almost all it's predictions turned out to be valid.) Jimmy Carter was defeated at the next election. "Global Future; Time to Act", sank without trace.

In 1986 the Brundtland Commission produced "Our Common Future" which raised 10 principle concerns.

1. Depletion of the ozone layer of the stratosphere.
2. An increase in greenhouse gases.
3. Loss of topsoils in cropping and grasing land.
4. Depletion of old growth forest.
5. Mass extinction of species.
6. Rapid growth in the human population.
7. Mismanagement of freshwater resources.
8. Over fishing, ocean habitat destruction and pollution of the ocean.
9. Chemical pollution which threatens human health.
10. Acid rain effecting fisheries, forests and crops.

At the 1992- Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Agenda 21 was signed. The corporate sector strongly opposed the proposals made. Opposition in the USA was particularly strong, opposing "world government" and rejecting the role of the United Nations in economic affairs. Several conventions were signed, which created a legal framework for action, but the rules were written loosely, and it was easy for governments to avoid taking any action. Business as usual has continued until today. Governments chose to adopt a weak policy that they knew would be ineffective. That's a failure of the political system.

By 1992 the agenda was changed slightly as the 10 principle concerns were better understood.

1. Depletion of the ozone layer. Montreal Protocol signed in 1987.
2. Climate Change. Framework for action framed. Kyoto Protocol followed.
3. Desertification. Convention to combat desertification signed in 1994.
4. Deforestation. Non-binding principles for sustainable forest management were signed.
5. Biodiversity Loss. The Convention on Biological Diversity was signed at Rio in 1992.
6. Growth in the human population. No population convention proposed.
7. Freshwater resources. A Convention on non-navigable uses of international watercourses was discussed be not agreed.
8. Marine Environment. U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea was extended to cover ocean pollution, overfishing, and whaling.
9. Chemical pollution which threatens human health.
10. Acid rain effecting fisheries, forests and crops.

There are significant costs of not acting now, but those are not our costs. Our children will pay that cost on our behalf. Governments dependent on corporate support for funding find it impossible to regulate business in any way that's effective. Government is forced to subsidise things they should regulate and control. The capture of politicians by the corporate sector renders any real democracy weak and ineffective.

The only solution I can see is for the public funding of political parties and elections. That raises many difficult issues, but the present system is designed to discriminate in favour of today's elites, and they are steadfast against necessary change, because for them, change might not be advantageous.

If you ask the public if they are concerned about climate change, over-fishing, toxic pollution of the waterways, and the future supply of energy, you'll find a huge swell of support for action. Even so, governments refuse to act. Here in New Zealand both the Labour Party and the National Party are captive to corporate funding. So are all the others to some degree. MMP has improved the quality of our democracy, but we've still got work to do.

John Stephen Veitch
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch using this form.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Business As Usual

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum said, "For most of the last century, economic growth was fuelled by what seemed to be a certain truth: the abundance of natural resources. ... We believed in consumption without consequences. Those days are gone. Climate change is showing us that the old model is more than obsolete. It is dangerous. Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster. It is a global suicide pact."

"We have to be prepared to make major changes - in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organisation and our political life", Mr Ban continued.

That's the challenge humanity faces, and our task is to use a properly functioning democracy, to create governments that plan for the long-term and set up structures that provide a proper framework in which capitalism can flourish. The unwillingness of governments to do that is a system failure. The unwillingness of economists to deal with the issues of excess corporate power and income distribution, both between and within nations, is another form of system failure. Those problems can be fixed.

Capitalism developed in a world without today's scientific knowledge. Modern economics developed as the handmaiden of the rich and powerful, and served to justify and entrench that wealth and power. The idea of capitalism was strongly reinforced by the development of economic thought from the 1880s until today.

In 1972 there were two bombshells that seemed to explode for a short time and then melted away into the background of our thinking. They were warnings of the future we chose not to take too seriously. The first was the oil shock of 1972, which established OPEC as a force in the oil market. The second was the publication of "Limits to Growth", sponsored by the Club of Rome.

We often read high-sounding statements about the qualities and virtues of capitalism, with no reference at all to the very real challenge facing capitalism. That challenge does not come from communism or from socialist thinking. The challenge comes from science. Science shows us that our economic theory is wrong. Hence much of what we believe about capitalism is also wrong.

If we are to believe science, capitalism is out of control and the long term result of that process is to destroy the both the nations that practice capitalism, and the lives of everyone who lives on this planet.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, has just released the Report of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, "Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing", which talks directly to the issue of what's wrong with Capitalism.

I refer you to pages 12 to 16 of that report, the section called "The Panel's Vision" ( I suggest you print those pages). The Brundtland Commission (1987) set an objective to create "Our Common Future" where the "needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". The present report updates those ideas.

The planet today us under unprecedented stress. The path we are on is NOT sustainable. "We must find a new way forward". That is the challenge for the democracies of the world and for Capitalism. The failure of political will does us no credit. That politicians focus only on the short-term and ignore the long-term effect of that, is a system design failure we need to face. We need to rethink how we run our democracies.

We need new economics too. An economic theory that has at its centre social equity and sustainability is needed. This has to become the focus of mainstream political and economic debate. There is no success, unless we can do that. This requires us to adopt a completely new paradigm of business and economic and political success that unifies the ideas of economics, social issues and environmental sustainability. The core challenge lies with our present-day politicians. If they can't embrace the need for change, the hope for sustainable development by democratic processes is lost.

The key is for governments to govern and control markets and the use of non-renewable resources and take seriously the effects of human activities on the planet. One of the most effective things governments can do is address the many market failures that exist, and use legislative power of more correctly price resources and commodities. Currently that price is usually zero, and sometimes 5% or 10% of the value of the resource used. If those resources were correctly priced, the effect would be to drive all economies towards sustainable solutions.

High on the list of easily achievable objectives, is to get governments everywhere to STOP using GDP as a measure of success and to adopt a sustainable development index, or set of indicators.

Everywhere you look, in every country, politicians are the most obvious weak link in the system. Political Parties often have constitutions that commit them to historic objectives and principles that are now outdated by modern science and knowledge. In some counties politicians are controlled by the military, but most countries politics is dominated by a small political elite, and their business interests. The purpose of government is to serve the interests of those people and to preserve their wealth.

When science tells us that government must act in a way that threatens those interests, excuses are made for doing nothing. Appointing a board to do a new study is a good delaying tactic. Making new law that's weak and unenforceable is another. There are always a hundred things politicians can do, in a pretence of acting in good faith, while in fact the intended purpose is to maintain the status quo.

We've had climate change on the agenda for 20+ years, and the politicians have agreed to do nothing that could possibly be effective. They CHOSE not to act when action was possible. Politicians help us to choose the future we will have, and that our children, and their children will have. Our own politicians are choosing to pursue business as usual, despite the clear evidence that their own children will suffer because of that, and that grandchildren and future generations extending out for several hundred years will be worse and worse affected because of unthinking decisions we are currently making.

The science on this is quite clear, although the magnitude of the changes, we are causing is still being debated. For instance, for at least 10 years NZ planning under the Resource Management Act has assumed a rise in sea levels of half a meter in the next 100 years. Recently, that number has become one meter. James Hanson is currently working on new numbers, but he says the one meter is certainly too little, and he's talking five meters and maybe ten meters, inside 100 years.

Is it OK, if the economy today is prosperous, and by our actions we destroy all the coastal cities of the world? What's the trade-off between today's prosperity and climate change in the future? You think Christchurch is a disaster, after the Earthquake? Try taking on a challenge like that every year for several lifetimes, fighting floods and droughts and famine and disease caused by climate change. What effect will that have on our personal and community wealth?

And that doesn't begin to look at future energy supply problems, and the shortage of many resources.

Ban Ki-Moon said, "We have to be prepared to make major changes - in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organisation, and our political life." It's a big ask. We begin by stopping using GDP as a measure of success. Once we begin to use sensible measures, we'll soon see what needs to be done.

John Stephen Veitch
Open Future Limited - You may comment privately to John S Veitch using this form.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why the Occupy Movement?

I've spent some time with the young people participating in Occupy Christchurch. We need to ask what are they want, and why young people are involved. I believe they are responding to a deep knowledge that what the culture tells them about their future, and the reality of their situation, don't match. They are responding to what they see as injustice and the certain knowledge what the system is doing cannot be sustained and will collapse in their working lives. They are asking good questions. They do not pretend to have the answers.

Occupy Christchurch, October 2011

After WWII in the developed world there was an optimistic belief that, we could control our economic future. We would be as rich as we chose, we would work shorter weeks, retire early, and live long lives. Because of economic management, education and innovation, unemployment would be a problem of the past. As President Ronald Reagan said so well, "It's always morning in America." When I was a teenager, that feeling was widespread in New Zealand too. That culture is full of optimism. "You can do anything." "A good education is the foundation of a good career." "Economic growth is the key to our future prosperity." These ideas come out of the post WWII era, out of the industrial age, out of a time when we were ignorant of new knowledge like peak oil, over-fishing of the oceans, the melting of glaciers and icecaps, and the threats of human caused climate disruption.

In the last 40 years, even with "economic growth" there never seems to be enough money to do what we want to achieve. In addition, unemployment became a problem, beginning in the 1970's almost unseen, and rising into the 1980's; at that time mostly affecting older men. During this time we were steadily adding women to the full time work force. This lifted the income of the average family, but it also had the effect of vastly increasing the price of houses. The wealth effect of that might be seen as positive, but the social effect was certainly negative. Families suffered. Some of today's economists are now talking about "uneconomic growth".

I began to study economics in the 1970's. I wanted to reduce unemployment and to increase innovation. I discovered in an intuitive way that the system doesn't work in the way economic theory claims, but I was also indoctrinated, so I've struggled to explain how an economy works, even to myself. It's clear to me that economists want to be paid. Like politicians, economists are also servants of the paymaster. Economic theory justifies the wealth and power of the wealthy. Economists claim that the market system is the best possible way to ensure that scarce resources are well used. If as the result of markets, some people get very rich while others remain poor, that's a problem for governments to worry about. That's social policy, not economics.

Those who have wealth, buy political power. Political power is used to create law that favours the already powerful, police and military power is used to enforce that position. The law is used to ensure market domination. Free markets only exist at the village level. The major companies of the world control markets where there are few players. They operate trans-nationally to minimise their costs and maximise their revenues. The fact that the wealthy get more wealthy, is a function of politics, not a natural principle of economics.

During WWII, the USA wanted to rapidly increase production for the war effort. They looked for an quick and easy measuring tool that they could use to monitor the growth of production. They chose total cash transactions as that tool, what we now call Gross Domestic Product. This was introduced as a temporary measure only, for the war effort. Economists said at the time that it was a poor measure of what was important in the economy. After the war, politicians liked GDP so much that we've become stuck with it. It's a simple tool and it does relate directly to taxation, especially to taxation on wages. Even so, using GDP as the measure remains a very bad idea because it distorts every economic decision governments make. To understand that, let's try an analogy, football.

In the football league games are played every week and points are awarded for win, lose or draw results. There may be bonus points for high scoring games, but those are hard to earn. In every team there is focus on both attack and defence. It's perhaps even more important to stop the other team scoring than to score for your own team. At least keeping the "against" points as low as possible increases your chance of winning.

What would happen if the league management said that they were not interested in game results any more. From now on each team would be judged only on the total points scored against the opposition. The team scoring the most points at the end of the season would be the winner. So here's the new idea; the points we score count, and points scored against us don't matter. Does that change the nature of the game? Of course it does. All consideration of defence goes out the window. Now the only thing that matters is attack. How quickly can we score.

That's pretty much what we've done with using GDP as an economic tool. We chose to ignore the negative side of business activity, the points scored against the community or the environment, and only to count all the money points scored from whatever activities are undertaken. This bias affects all our decision making especially at government level. Guided by the false signal from increasing the GDP, we make bad decision heaped on bad decision, and tell ourselves we are doing well. We've learnt to pay ourselves by destroying the future, which is the opposite idea to the theme of this blog.

I've been writing about this for several years now. I usually say that the direction we are choosing is stealing the chance of living a successful life from our grandchildren. I'm going to change that call. The young people in the Occupy Movement, who are camped in parks and squares across the world are saying; "Today's bad decision making is already stealing my future. Evidence that the way we have organised the world is not sustainable is coming from all quarters, but the system chooses to ignore that new information." For occupiers the words "not sustainable" mean, few jobs and less opportunity; living in a depleted and hostile environment, probably leading to ongoing wars over resources, which will continue as everyone gets poorer and poorer. There is no good end to the current system. We are destroying our world, knowing what we do, and we seem completely unable to stop that process. We badly need a system wide reset. To achieve that without a long lasting economic depression or a world war is the preferred option.

Alvin Toffler wrote about this problem 30 years ago. He said (1980) that, "Nowhere is obsolescence more advanced or more dangerous than in our political life." Since the political system is incapable of change, the responsibility for change comes back to you and me. It means understanding that a revolution in the way we do things is necessary. We must fight for the freedom to openly discuss what's happening in the world and to organise ourselves so that change becomes possible.

To that end the last 30 years have been wasted. There is a steadfast refusal to acknowledge the need for change. The old industrial world mentality is still formally holding the reins of power. As things get worse protests move into the streets. The example of the Arab Spring, has demonstrated the power of peaceful occupations. The response from Bahrain and Syria on how to deal with occupations is sobering. There is a crisis of leadership here. The public must generate social permission for change, but if the established powers resist that call, as they usually do, violence is inevitable.

The Occupy Movement is protesting are about inequality. They point to the obvious inequality of wealth that the market system is delivering. However the key inequality is political inequality, clearly represented by the dictatorships of the Middle East that are slowly being cast aside, and by the corrupted, gerrymandered, and cash soaked political system in the USA. The USA is an open demonstration of political mismanagement, a joke, in which the ruling elite pretend to be a democracy. Russia has abandoned the pretence of free elections, and China is many things, but mostly authoritarian. Political inequality is the rule almost everywhere.

I should note here that under New Zealand's relatively new voting system, MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) that political privilege has been seriously damaged. Our system is not perfect, but it's delivered some surprising innovation in legislation, and there is plenty of room to improve how it works. My personal idea is a campaign for Two Strong Votes which would increase voter power over the electorate seats by using preferential voting for the local MP.

Alvin Toffler wrote 32 years ago about the unwillingness of the worlds elites, to see and accept the need for change. The time is up. Further pretence that protecting the status of our elite class is good for the nation, can no longer be supported. Access to better information via the Internet allows us all to see that my problem, is your problem, and that across the world most of us face very similar problems. We can stand united against corruption and unfairness wherever we live.

Sadly the political systems of most counties that claim to be democracies are similarly controlled by elites, in such a way that effective democracy is denied. The United Kingdom, Canada and India are clear examples. Better information exposes the systematic corruption of the business/political alliance that seems to be universal. Young people are saying "take the money out of politics." That's a good start. Changing the voting method to abolish first past the post elections would also help. We need to appreciate that failure to create a sustainable system kills people. Today's businessmen and politicians talk about "sustainable development" when what they mean is applying greenwash to the same old destructive practices.

Here is the message:
Droughts are more common and more severe.
Floods are more common and more intense.
Biodiversity is declining everywhere. Deforestation is a particular concern.
The over fishing of the oceans continues. Our oceans are polluted.
Lakes and rivers are polluted with chemical wastes and farm waste.
Ground water is polluted, by drilling activities for oil and gas, and by surface residues seeping into the aquifer.
Soil erosion and the loss of soil structure. Excessive irrigation is also poisoning soils.
Persistent organic chemicals are found in the flesh of Canadian Salmon.
We are all Canadian Salmon, the same chemicals are also now found in human tissues.
Rising human cancer rates and other sicknesses are triggered by chemical pollution and lifestyle choices.
The ice caps and glaciers are retreating.

And for the Future?:
The human population of the world continues to expand: A die off event should be expected.
The coming high price for oil will destroy many "profitable" markets.
Higher oil prices will create food shortages, and that will cause riots in many countries.
Famine in multiple places at once is likely, with no chance of providing adequate food aid.
Water shortages are likely to make the oil crisis look like a children's game.
Resource wars can be expected. That's what desperate and doomed people do.

Can you read that message? We've been refusing to read it since President Jimmy Carter first told the USA about it in 1979. James Gustave Speth was the team leader who advised President Carter, and his current proposals for change, The Eight Necessary Transitions, make interesting reading. The reaction of the American public was to vote Carter out of office. We see what we want to see. Some people, most people in the past, can only see the benefit from what we are doing. They choose to be blind to the real cost of human behaviour. Real costs, cannot be avoided. No law can abolish real costs. No cash payment can stop the effect of a real cost. If by our actions we close our future options, that damage is done. Death will be the result. You, your children your grandchildren? Perhaps. Other people certainly.

The young people involved in the Occupy Movement, understand that message at least vaguely. They know that the new knowledge in the message concerns them, that these crises will play out in this lifetime. Their children will be left to do the best they can with the depleted sort of world this generation creates. The ability to read the message distinguishes a 21st Century person from a 20th Century person. Which of those do you choose to be?

Please use the comments tag below to ask questions and to make further suggestions.

John S Veitch
The Network Ambassador