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Newsletter No. 14 - February 2008

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CONTENTS 

1. The Sane Alternative: A Choice of Futures

2. The Germane Society: Ethical Volunteering - and the Future of Work

3. Business in Society and Environment

(1) Social Business

(2) Education for Responsible Business Management

(3) A Postscript on Social Entrepreneurs

4. The Money System

(1) Northern Rock and the Current Financial Crisis

(2) A Proposed Popular Movement for Reform

(3) Land Value Taxation - Two initiatives for 2009

 

1. THE SANE ALTERNATIVE: A Choice of Futures

The text of the revised (1983) edition of this book is now on the website, including a new five-page 2008 Preface. To download it, click here.

The new Preface looks back 25 years - indeed 30 years to the 1978 first edition. It is humbling to reflect how slowly the world has moved toward the "SHE" (Sane, Humane, Ecological) path into the future, and how fast we have gone down the path toward "Disaster".

But, looking forward, it is still possible to hope. The case for changing the direction of world development which the book put forward is now much more obviously urgent. The need to switch from the present path leading toward "combined system collapse" to a new SHE path of "combined system renewal" has at least begun to reshape some parts of the mainstream agenda. Based on the principle of enable and conserve and pursued comprehensively, that switch could still offer our human species a chance to avoid the ultimate calamity and take a new step up the ladder of evolution.

This website will, I hope, continue to encourage readers to apply that principle to many aspects of worldwide human activity and society, such as work, wellbeing, health, education, politics, money, economics, and so on.

 

2. THE GERMANE SOCIETY: Ethical Volunteering - and the Future of Work

In a three-page letter on Ethical Volunteering – job losses and the use of volunteer labour, circulated in October 2007, the Germane Society has raised a question which is significant for the future of work. (Attached to it were lists of nine people and organisations who had responded to their enquiry the previous March and another of twenty-eight who had not.) To contact the Germane Society email germane@ignetics.co.uk.

They say,

"The signatories of the letter are or have been self-employed and actively involved in volunteering. All of us have (now grown up) children who were educated out of school and encouraged to be resourceful and autonomous in their learning and work. Our shared belief in family, mutuality and community as essentials to the health of the individual and the planet was a catalyst to The Germane Society.

We are interested in questioning  the policies that create conditions that push people into paid work as well as the inconsistent values attached to different types of work; for example - looking after your own child v looking after someone else's; playing the money and commodities market v caring for a woodland. We are compelled to ask what effect these policies have on the humanity of people and their relationship to others."

I would add that this conflict of values is one key factor that could discredit the prevailing view that work means finding an employer to give your work to you. It will also soon be recognised that the total environmental costs of so many people's daily commute combined with the duplication of premises and facilities (heat, light water, etc) for their homes and workplaces is too high to be sustained.

 

3. BUSINESS IN SOCIETY AND ENVIRONMENT

"Social and environmental business responsibility" is a broad concept. It covers a number of different subjects. They include enterprises specifically set up to achieve social and environmental benefits. They also include the need for conventional businesses to meet the growing social and environmental demands upon them, even if their primary aim continues to be to maximise profits for their shareholders.

The first of the two following reports refers to enterprises of the first kind. The second is about a pioneering university management course on responsible business, which directs more attention to businesspeople's attitude to the environment than most management schools yet do.

(1) Social Business. Nobel Prize winner Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, envisages a new wave of social businesses in his book Creating a World Without Poverty published last month. He describes a social business as a sort of hybrid between a charity and a capitalist business.

A social business aims to maximise community benefit while earning enough to sustain the enterprise and perhaps making a little extra to plough back into further benefit to the community. Examples of social businesses in Britain would include community businesses - see, for example, Community Business Scotland - and types of enterprise supported by ethical banks like Triodos.

(2) Education for Responsible Business Management. Peter Reason is a Professor in the School of Management at Bath University. He initiated the MSc course in Responsibility & Business Practice there in 1997.

I warmly recommend his recent paper on "Transforming Education" given at the "Earth is Community" celebration of the vision and path of Thomas Berry in London in September 2007. It discusses four perspectives on the environmental challenge which we now face:

(1) The prosaic and reformist perspective sees the challenge within the current economic and social worldview and focuses on the proper application of markets and technology to meet it.

(2) The prosaic and radical perspective argues that there are real ecological limits to growth; we must cut back economic activity to limit the damage.

(3) The reformist and imaginative perspective holds that we need to be much more creative about how we attain our economic and social goals.

(4) The imaginative and radical perspective seeks to change the way we experience ourselves and the planet. This is the Deep Green perspective that all life on earth has intrinsic value, not just value as a resource to humans.

As I have mentioned to Peter, I detect a difference of category between the first three perspectives and the fourth. While the former are orientated towards doing (acting on the world), Deep Green is more orientated towards feeling (experiencing the world). The normal academic mode is, of course, orientated towards knowing (analysing the world); and all three - doing, feeling and knowing - are necessary components of our response to the present crisis.

Interesting passages in the paper describe the out-of-doors "deep ecology exercises" in the MSc course: imagining how the world we sense is also sensing us; guiding each other in pairs on a blindfolded experience of the trees, rock, and mud; identifying with beings in the natural world and exploring through imaginative meditation how we are part of Gaia’s cycles. Very refreshing to find these exercises in the curriculum of an established programme in a leading business school.

(3) A Postscript on Social Entrepreneurs. The term "social entrepreneur", as I first used it in the first 1978 edition of The Sane Alternative and (see Item 1 above) the 1983 edition (page 98), did not necessarily imply someone in a formally constituted social business. It included people who might be in one. But it referred more generally to people who combined social resources or ideas together with others to create new social well-being, in contrast to the aim of financial entrepreneurs which was to combine economic resources or ideas with others to make money.

 

4. THE MONEY SYSTEM

For many years the arguments for developing alternative, regional, local, community, social and other such currencies, to complement national and international ones have seemed convincing. But, if alternative currencies are to achieve widespread coverage and get accepted as a necessary element in the mainstream worldwide money system, changes in the existing money system are needed to allow it to happen.

One result of existing national and international money systems now being so dominant, and producing such perverse outcomes, is that they make it difficult for people to escape from using national or international currencies on any significant scale for normal purposes. For example it is difficult for most people now to escape dependency either on employers for job incomes (Item 2 above) or on the state for benefits, which are paid in bank-account money in national currencies.

As many items on this website show, switching taxation on to the money value of using common resources and distributing a citizen's income from the proceeds would help to liberate us from that dependency, and encourage us to make greater use of alternative currencies in our daily lives.

That is a strong argument for mainstream money system reform, in addition to the more obvious arguments for removing the economic inefficiencies, social injustices and financial instabilities which it now encourages. At least for the time being, it makes good sense to give priority to mainstream reform.

(1) Northern Rock and the Current Financial Crisis

Although my article in The Quarterly Review , Vol 1, No 4, Winter 2007 on EXPLORING NORTHERN ROCK: The Stone That Must Not Be Left Unturned was written on 28 October and much has happened since then, it has not lost relevance. The stone still needs to be turned.

Still to be established is whether the banks' profitable privilege of creating new money to lend to their customers, including other banks, contributed to the financial turbulence and accompanying credit crunch which scuppered Northern Rock. And did it subsequently make it impossible for the authorities to disentangle the scale of interbank indebtedness and the possible extent of the resulting financial crisis?

Unless that question is looked into as thoroughly as other less fundamental causes - for example see the Treasury Select Committee's The Run on the Rock report of 24 January 2008 - the authorities still won't be able to prevent or respond effectively to the similar future crises that will inevitably arise.

We are still no wiser about where the money comes from and goes to in matters of this kind. Where did the billions of dollars and pounds lost by banks come from and where they have gone to? Who has benefited from them? and who has actually lost them? Where did the money come from that the Bank of England has lent to Northern Rock? The Bank has explained that the money neither came out of taxes nor was created by the Bank as an addition to the money supply but was "a form of central bank money". It doesn't seem to add up.

(2) A Proposed Popular Movement for Reform

In a new section in his website on New Writings, Bruce Nixon proposes a movement of popular pressure for reform. Following the model which led to the House of Commons passing the recent new Sustainable Communities Act, it would work with enlightened Members of Parliament to change the economic system and bring about monetary reform, sustainable taxation and a citizens income.

(3) Land Value Taxation

Two initiatives for 2009 are linked to the centenary of Lloyd George's 1909 Liberal Budget, of which Land Value Taxation was the key feature. We will no doubt hear more of them in the next year or two.

One is the 1909 Group. The other is ALTER (Liberal Democrats Action for Land Taxation and Economic Reform) which has widened its focus on Land Taxation to include related reforms.

 

James Robertson

8th February 2008

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

 

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