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Newsletter No. 6 - February 2005

<<< Previous Newsletters

Contents

1. Monetary Reform and the International Simultaneous Policy Organisation

(1) "Monetary Reform - Making it Happen!" now on this website

(2) ISPO Policy Forum meeting, 2 March, London

2. The Church, the Tax System, and Money Creation

3. Basic Income now spreads beyond "Europe" to the "Earth"

4. Climate Change, Nuclear Power or Decentralised Electricity, and Osama bin Laden

5. Oil, the Finance System, and the New Cold War

6. Ecovision - for Spanish Readers

7. Books Received

(2) Paul Hague: The Paragonian Manifesto

(3) Robert Olson & David Rejeski (eds): Environmentalism & the Technologies of Tomorrow.


EDITORIAL COMMENT

Support around the world continues to grow for a shift towards a new world order which,unlike the one we have today, will systematically empower people and systematically conserve the planet's ecosystems, instead of disabling and destroying them.

People are also beginning to realise that an essential part of this shift will be a systematic restructuring of the scoring system - i.e. the system of money - which regulates human behaviour by rewarding some activities and penalising others, and now regulates it perversely.

Items 1-3 report bits of progress on factors that shape how the money system works - who creates money, who contributes to public revenue, and who benefits from public spending.

This year Britain chairs both the G8 group of powerful economic nations, and - in the second half of the year - the European Union. There are no signs yet that any leader of those influential groups of nations realises that our common future requires a systematic restructuring of the world's system of money. It is good that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are pressing for short-term measures to alleviate the poverty and debts of poor countries, and for short-term increases in aid which will offset (to some extent) the inevitable effects of the existing international system. But even they don't yet seem to see that that system, inherited from past imperialisms and reflecting the international relationships of the sterling and dollar hegemonies, cannot meet the needs of today's world community without really fundamental restructuring.

Items 4 and 5 are about an important constellation of linked current issues. Item 6 is about an interesting and potentially important initiative; please make it known to Spanish readers. Item 7 consists of reviews of three books. They differ in significant respects from one another, but they are all relevant to the themes mentioned above. I warmly recommend them all.


1. MONETARY REFORM AND ISPO

(1) "Monetary Reform - Making it Happen!" by James Robertson and John Bunzl can now be downloaded from this website - click here. George Monbiot described it as "a brilliant treatment of a question which has never been so urgent" - one of many favourable comments when the International Simultaneous Policy Organisation published it in paperback a year ago.

(2) A Policy Forum, to discuss how "REFORM OF OUR UNSUSTAINABLE  MONETARY  SYSTEM  IS NOW ACHIEVABLE THROUGH INFORMED ACTION BY VOTERS", will be held by ISPO at 6-9 pm on Wednesday 2 March 2005 in Committee Room 19, House of Commons.

Speakers will be James Robertson; John Bunzl; Peter Challen (of the Christian Council for Monetary Justice); and Tarek El Diwany (author of The Problem with Interest).

The event is open to all. Details from ISPO.

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2. THE CHURCH, THE TAX SYSTEM AND MONEY CREATION

Item 3 in my last newsletter reported the Bishop of Liverpool's public support for a tax shift. Now it is encouraging, even for those who see the Church only as a significant NGO, that the Bishop of Worcester in the House of Lords has:

(1) raised " the question about taxation that has to do with quality rather than simply with quantity - that is: who in our society is taxed on what?";

(2) recognised that "money is a public asset. ... Is it not, then, surprising, that we do so little to regulate the production of money and financial instruments within the private sector for profit?"; and

(3) emphasised that "the way in which our public finances are regulated reflects clearly and affects our social consciousness and the values of our society".

For the full text of Peter Selby's speech in the 12 January House of Lords debate on a "Low Tax Economy", click here.

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3. BASIC INCOME NOW SPREADS BEYOND 'EUROPE' TO THE 'EARTH'

For information on BIEN's recent conversion from Basic Income Europe Network to Basic Income Earth Network, click here.


4. CLIMATE CHANGE, NUCLEAR POWER OR ELECTRICITY DECENTRALISED, AND OSAMA BIN LADEN

As the nuclear lobby gears up to cash in on climate change, we should remind ourselves - and as many other people as we can - why it must not be allowed to succeed.

In a nutshell, the nuclear industry offers a backward-looking, dominating and dangerous technology.

It is backward-looking because it ignores the conclusions of forward-looking researchers on the future of electricity.

An example is Walt Patterson, recently named as "Policy leader of the year for his outstanding work in Energy at the 2004 Scientific American 50 Awards". Three of his recent Working Papers are -

  • "Overview: The Electric Challenge. Keeping the Lights On",
  • "Generating Change. Keeping the Lights On", and
  • "Networking Change. Keeping the Lights On".

They can be downloaded from the Chatham House website - click here and scroll right down to "Publications - Recent".

Among his many significant conclusions are that a trend toward more and smaller generators closer to users is beginning to replace the old trend toward ever-larger power stations ever farther away, supplying electricity to captive customers via a centralised monopoly; and that network vulnerability and risks of breakdowns and blackouts can best be reduced by locating small-scale generating technologies close to users. These include gas-turbines, microturbines, fuel cells, microhydro, wind turbines, biomass gasification and photovoltaics. When total costs and vulnerability risk are counted in, they compete very favourably with conventional centralised electricity supply.

Nuclear power is dominating in that it aims to suppress alternative ways of providing energy, as it suppressed hopeful renewable energy developments in the 1990s - see CorporateWatch News report of 8th December 2004.

Nuclear power is also dangerous. Even in normal times its safety risks and security requirements brings with it heightened secrecy and other features of a police state. This allows, and actually requires, a governmental/scientific/industrial elite to restrict people's democratic freedoms.

At a time of "war against terror" the risks and requirements are even more compelling. Osama bin Laden is smiling at the prospect of our going nuclear - and keeping his fingers crossed.

So whether or not to go nuclear is not a narrow environmental question. It is a wider social and political question - what kind of society do we want to live in? That this is outside their field of professional study may at least partly explain why some eminent environmental scientists - like James Lovelock, the inventor of Gaia theory - have come out in support of nuclear power.

For fuller Arguments Against Building More Nuclear Power Stations, see Beyond The Dependency Culture, chapter 14, "What's Wrong With Nuclear Power?".

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5. OIL, THE FINANCIAL SYSTEM AND THE NEW COLD WAR

The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) is a European network of scientists interested in determining the date and impact of the peak and decline of the world's production of oil and gas.

Item 466 in ASPO's January 2005 Newsletter is "The Financial Community Wakes Up to Depletion". Will the decline of the Age of Oil spell the end of the current Industrial/ Financial System, which both created and depended on economic growth? What happens if the mammoth debt created by the system can't be repaid for lack of energy? Forward-looking politicians, company chiefs and politicians should be encouraged to put their minds to this.

Item 468 is on "The New Cold War". The message is that Cold War-type alliances are unlikely to be replicated completely in the current milieu in which a dollar reserve currency system is breaking up, without any obvious alternative to fill the void. But what is clear is that the changing dynamics of the oil market are creating renewed global fissures not unlike those which existed between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War era.

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6. ECOVISION - FOR SPANISH READERS

In recent years our long-time correspondent and friend in Chile, Pedro di Girolamo has published many Spanish translations of articles in English by writers on ecological themes. These now form an Ecovision collection in twelve sections. For details click here.

Among his authors in just the first two sections are Fritjof Capra, James Robertson, Stephan Harding, Kirkpatrick Sale, Donella Meadows, Murray Bookchin, and Herbert Girardet.

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7. BOOKS RECEIVED

(1) Mark Braund: The Possibility of Progress, Shepheard-Walwyn, London, 2005, 308 pages, paperback, £14.95. Further details at www.markbraund.com.

This is an impressive, important and readable book, supported by wide-ranging research. I summarise it chapter by chapter in the following paragraphs.

Its definition of progress, based on "clear and recognisable moral values", is "movement towards a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable global social order".

"Science and Humankind" disproves the myth that our biological evolution rules out progress of that kind; the evolution of consciousness in humans can enable us to master biological constraints. The message of "Evolution and Culture" is that, unlike our ancestors, we now have the knowledge and capacity to make decisions about our future. We cannot avoid moral responsibility for what we decide.

"Economics and Morals" concludes that progress cannot happen without fundamental changes in the way we organise the economy. So long as we accept it in its current form, "we condone worsening economic polarisation, we condemn hundreds of millions to misery, and we guarantee that the human race can survive only a few more generations, as the means to life are exhausted and the environment destroyed". How we deal with this has "huge moral implications".

The present "State of the World" should "provoke incredulity and anger, and hopefully a determination to do something about the hideous social injustice that blights our supposedly civilised world". This chapter's lucid account of the role of big business, rich-country governments and the IMF in the shameful Third World debt story drives home "what seems obvious to the impartial observer: that the entire thrust of global economic policy is geared to guaranteeing the privileged position of a small minority through the undermining of the economies of the poor nations. Whether this process was premeditated is impossible to know, but if the rich and powerful of the world had set out deliberately to secure an ever-increasing slice of global wealth for themselves, they could not have planned and executed a more effective scheme".

Since questions of ethics and economics cannot be considered in isolation from each other, the question of "A Universal Ethic" arises. This chapter finds that the "crucial values are the ones we all share... They are the values targeted by our current economic system... They are the only values by which all humans can enjoy liberty and freedom from want". Powerful interests profit from people's failure to understand that a better world is possible. They propagate myths and untruths to limit the moral aspirations of society.

"Perception and Reality" points out two inconsistent trends in the last few decades. In an increasing number of countries gender equality and racial equality have been established and homosexuality is no longer penalised. But in most countries the economic gap between rich and poor has widened. Why are we readier to support the rights of people disadvantaged on racial or 'minority' grounds than the rights of those disadvantaged by an economic system designed to produce winners and losers?

One deliberately cultivated myth is that progress depends on a competitive economy. Another is the myth of scarcity. Another, more ancient myth is that divisions between rich and poor are an inevitable part of God's plan for humankind, and reflect the natural order of things. To combat these myths, we need to understand how the individual human psyche is shaped by society, and work out how a conscious, rational and moral human psyche can shape society.

Chapters on "Psyche and Society" and "Moral Development" stress that education aiming to turn out good citizens in terms of the dominant worldview, can only serve to reinforce prevailing inequities. Moral development is not about producing model citizens conditioned to survive in the contemporary world. It is about becoming aware of the world's immense problems, accepting the possibility and desirability of change, and finding strategies to bring it about. In particular, we must bring our leaders to accept that the dreadful reality of the contemporary world is irreconcilable with our moral aspirations, and that a better social and economic order is possible.

Chapters on "A True Economics" and "Freedom and Justice" focus on today's false understanding of economic laws. A critical mass of people must engage in a popular movement committed to progressive change through an understanding of how the economy works and could work better.

The key to progress will be on lines proposed by Henry George - a complete shift from taxing us on the value we create on to the value of the resources we use. Georgists and ecological economists are beginning to find common ground. By informing the economic and environmental understanding of millions of people, their arguments can generate the necessary political commitment for change.

The last chapter, on "The Politics of Progress", points out that our leaders are prisoners of the economic system too. All today's rich-country leaders assume they have to acquiesce in an economic system which clearly conflicts with progressive values. Tony Blair feels he has to accept that "the determining context of economic policy is the new global market; that imposes huge limitations of a practical nature - quite apart from reasons of principle on macroeconomic policies".

So the prospect for progress depends on large numbers of people seriously committing themselves to understanding the economy in practical, ethical terms, and - with that new understanding - acting through democratic processes to change the way it now works.

My main reservation about this excellent book concerns Henry George's proposal to raise public revenue, not from existing taxes but from the "economic rent" of land.

I strongly support that proposal myself. But, first, it needs to be widened. Sources of public revenue should include, not just the value of land and other natural resources, but also the value of non-natural assets created as common wealth - such as the public money supply.

Second, people find it difficult to understand the concept of "economic rent" - naturally confusing it with the normal meaning of rent. But they won't find it difficult to understand that making people pay for the value of the common wealth they take from the economy is fairer than making them pay taxes on their rewards from contributing to it.

With that reservation, I strongly recommend this book. It meets a great need and should be widely read and studied and discussed.

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(2) Paul Hague: The Paragonian Manifesto: Revealing the Coherent Light of Consciousness, Paragonian Publications, Sweden, 2004, 154 pages, paperback - price and further details from www.paragonian.org or email pubs@paragonian.org.

I have known Paul Hague for years and I have admired his lifetime commitment to the frontiers of human understanding. There is much in what he says that I cannot grasp. That doesn't mean it's unimportant; perhaps the reverse. He tells the story about the Cambridge student who, passing Isaac Newton in the street shortly after the Principia came out, commented "There goes the man that writt a book that neither he nor anybody else understands".

By "Paragonian", from the Greek words beyond conflict, he means a new, "healthy, liberated and awakened way of being". He says our situation is "like the Dark Ages prior to the great scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries introduced through Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton". Actually his message is more apocalyptic than that. His aim is to make clear the central issues facing the human race, "as the global economy self-destructs between 2009 and 2014".

The evolution of consciousness in humans is central to his ideas, as to Braund's (above). But he defines progress differently. "As all the diverse strands of evolution converge in a great megasynthesis, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin prophesied, ... an earthquake is set to erupt in the depths of the ocean of Consciousness in the next few years... The synergy that will be generated when the tsunami reaches the surface will face us with a major psychological and spiritual crisis".

His chapters are on Healing Our Sick Society, Our Evolutionary Inheritance, Our Evolutionary Future, An Experiment in Learning, Sharing A Common Vision (much the longest), and Working Harmoniously Together. They summarise the outcome of a lifetime of research and contemplation, backed by references to the work of many well-known thinkers (of recent years and the more distant past), and by personal working experience with IBM at the frontiers of computer modelling and "relational logic".

I can't help questioning some of the points he makes in a section on a "Sharing Economy". I agree we need a fundamental reconstruction of the financial services industry, because in its present form it "prevents us from running our lives with full consciousness and intelligence". But it is misleading to say that money is simply a measuring stick, like a ruler or scales, and that therefore "trading in money is like buying and selling centimetres and grams, an exercise of the utmost absurdity".

That is a nice thought! But actually a sum of money is more than a measurement. It is a claim - an entitlement to future purchasing power. So, as long as we have a money system, it may make good sense to trade one monetary claim (such as money in one's bank now) for another (such as an insurance policy which will provide money in the future in a certain eventuality). In that respect, money differs from measurements of length or weight, even though it also serves as a measurement of value.

It is true of course that "if the global economy mimicked nature, there would be no money in any form whatsoever". But I find it hard to imagine how the Paragonian Society will function if, when it "reaches full maturity, money in any shape or form will have disappeared from this planet". However, I realise that that could be due to a failure of imagination on my part.

Hague believes that "the chance of building the infrastructure of the Sharing Economy before the global economy self-destructs is virtually nil". Even so, in his last chapter he proposes "four living organisms" - Paragonian Publications, Paragonian University, Paragonian Business Academy, and Paragonian Fellowship, collectively constituting a Paragonian Institute. They are to help to take us into the Paragonian Society and then dissolve themselves. One of their key tasks will be to wean us off an economic system "which could drive humanity to extinction before we have had the opportunity to realise our fullest potential as a species".

That Hague believes his relational logic will enable us to correct basic mistakes by Aristotle and Descartes, and by today's physicists attempting to develop a Theory of Everything, testifies to the ambitious nature of this book. Many of us may find his vision of the comparatively near future too hot to handle. But his concept of "panosophy" (combining all wisdoms) will surely interest people with a wide range of concerns and interests - including the future of economic life, the outcomes of continuing interaction between Eastern and Western religions, new consciousness research, and philosophy in its widest and deepest sense.

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(3) Robert Olson & David Rejeski (eds): Environmentalism and the Technologies of Tomorrow, Island Press, 2005, 195 pages, paperback - click here for price and further details.

"We sit at the doorstep of multiple revolutions in robotic, genetic, information, and communication technologies, whose powerful interactions promise social and environmental transformations we are only beginning to understand. How can we anticipate their impacts and ensure that these new technologies help move us in a more sustainable direction?"

This book is in three parts. Part I (chapters 1-3) is on "The Goal: A Transition to Sustainability"; Part II (chapters 4-8) is on "New Technologies"; Part III (chapters 9-17) is on "New Governance", including the editors' summing up of "The Challenge Ahead" in chapter 17. There are many well known names among the twenty-three contributors.

The editors have "purposely collected essays that are optimistic", but "tempered with a realistic assessment of the challenges we face": a credible vision of the future is emerging, very different from earlier ideas about going back to simpler technologies and ways of life - "a vision of a technologically advanced sustainable society with great institutional capabilities and a high quality of life". But "sustainability is not simply a topic to be added to the agenda of governments; it is a lens through which to view the entire agenda in order to develop integrated strategies".

One welcome contribution is on Greening the Global Financial System (by Hazel Henderson). The following are a few among many other points of interest which I noticed.

Nanotechnology (Chapter 4). Of more than $700 million invested in nanotechnology research in the USA in 2003, less than $1 million was for studies of overall societal impact, and a similar sum for environmental impacts. More should be invested in precautionary research at an earlier stage of development.

Ecological Computing (Chapter 5). Ecological computing technologies will fundamentally affect how biologists and ecologists study living systems. An "omnipresent, planet-scale sensor network, or informational grid, will provide entirely new kinds of instruments for doing environmental sciences".

Engineering the Earth (Chapter 8). The dynamics of most major natural systems are now dominated by human activity. Combined human-natural systems increasingly have to be designed and managed rationally in an integrated way. An "earth systems engineering and management (ESEM) capacity" is needed. Profound ethical and religious questions arise. For example, climate-change negotiations are an attempt to engineer the future paths of evolution available for civilisation on this planet. Implicit in them is the question "What kind of world do you want?". We cannot choose if we want an anthropogenically influenced, engineered earth; that is already decided.

A Long Look Ahead: NGOs, Networks, and Future Evolution (Chapter 9) and Advancing Corporate Sustainability: A Critical New Role for Government (Chapter 13). These two chapters emphasise the shift that is taking place from government to governance. While government refers to public institutions (the 'state') that are vested with formal authority to take decisions for the entire community, governance encompasses collective decisions made by the public sector, the private sector, and civil society, and suggests the need for collaboration between them.

Is Free Trade too Costly? (Chapter 15). "World trade is still dominated by a mind-set that the man on the street finds appalling". Overseas investment is attracted by opportunities to pay wages barely approaching subsistence level, and to emit toxics that in the US would lead to prison sentences. "In a famous memo, Larry Summers - then Chief Economist of the World Bank - argued that it is economically most efficient for rich countries to dump their toxic wastes in poor countries because poor people have shorter life spans and less earning potential than rich people". "It is hard to conjure up a process more inimical to the aspirations of international civil society" than the decision-making procedures of the World Trade Organisation. The US should create a new model of sustainable prosperity and spread it through international trade.

The Challenge Ahead (Chapter 17). The editors conclude that the world needs to go beyond environmental protection as we have known it. Instead of concentrating on reducing the environmental impacts of an old technological order, more advanced technologies should aim to eliminate negative environmental impacts altogether.

"Old Ways", "Catch-Up" and "New World" are three scenarios for the future. In "Old Ways", outmoded approaches to governance will give little positive support to new technologies to achieve sustainability. For example, in the past generation hundreds of billions of dollars (over 90% of government energy subsidies) have gone to fossil fuels and nuclear power - not a good way to foster an environmental revolution in energy efficiency and new energy sources. In "Catch-Up", new technologies will emerge more quickly, but governments will still fail to anticipate potentially serious environmental problems. In "New World", new forms of governance will positively help to shape a technologically advanced, more sustainable world. It is, of course, the scenario we should choose.

My reflections on this book include the following.

(1) It will be a very useful and timely guide for people in the corporate sector involved in developing new technologies.

(2) Its proposed new emphasis on designing technological systems to reduce the need for end-of-the-pipe environmental protection suggests parallels in other fields - for example, shifting the emphasis to health creation which will reduce the need for sickness treatment, creating conditions that encourage neighbourly behaviour that will reduce the need for police and prisons, and creating conditions for peace which will reduce the risk of violent conflict and military force. But ...

(3) The book could have said more about the identification of new technologies that are positively needed to meet social and environmental aims, instead of leaving it mainly to scientific curiosity and commercial profit to determine what new technological research and development to initiate, and only then considering its social and environmental angles.

(4) It might have given more attention to the question whether particular technologies would give people and communities more power or less to control their own lives.

(5) Finally - and I apologise to the editors and contributors for saying this - as I read the book, I became increasingly worried by its overwhelmingly American focus, and the apparent assumption that the challenge they were discussing would be handled by America acting alone.

Checking, I found that all the twenty-three contributors, except one Brit and one German, actually were American. I know nearly half of them, either personally or through their work, and I have a high regard for them in every case. But I was surprised.

Virtually none of them mentioned, as a relevant aspect of the challenge, the spreading international image of the US as a positive threat to necessary global development - especially when an organisation called Business for Diplomatic Action has recently been set up, "to sensitize American companies and individuals to the rise of anti-Americanism in the world and to enlist the U.S. business community in specific actions aimed at addressing the issue and reducing the problem". For details of BDA, click here.

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James Robertson

10th February, 2005

The Old Bakehouse, Cholsey
Oxon OX10 9NU, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1491 652346
e-mail: james@jamesrobertson.com

 

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