Newsletter No. 50 - March 2015
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1. Too Few Hedgehogs, Too Many Foxes
2. The Basis of Money System Reform
3. Recognising Our Global Crisis
5. Some Things To Be Changed or Stopped
6. One Glimpse of the Coming UK Election
This is the 50th newsletter since January 2004. That and other features of the website owe much to Francis Miller, to whom I am very grateful.
To celebrate the occasion we have added the following items to the website:
(1) A Turning Point Paper on The Redistribution of Work (1981) at www.jamesrobertson.com/redistributionofwork.pdf joins the other Turning Point Paper on Impressions of the New South Africa (1996) at www.jamesrobertson.com/impressionsofthenewsouthafrica.pdf.
(2) Addresses for foreign translations of my books, including in Chile (Spanish), Germany, Indonesia, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Portugal, Russia, and France at www.jamesrobertson.com/books.htm.
(3) A free download of the text of Transforming Economic Life: A Millennial Challenge at www.jamesrobertson.com/book/transformingeconomiclife.pdf. (Due to a bug, the text of the book doesn't appear in the Firefox browser. To view it, please either use another browser or download the pdf onto your computer.)
1. TOO FEW HEDGEHOGS, TOO MANY FOXES
"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" (Archilochus, Greek poet, 7th Century BC). What did he mean?
Isaiah Berlin, in The Hedgehog and the Fox, 1953, suggested that Archilocus was underlining a fundamental distinction between people (foxes) who are captivated by the infinite variety of things, and other people (hedgehogs) who concentrate on a single big overarching concern. See www.amazon.com/The-Hedgehog-Fox-Tolstoys-History/dp/1566630193.
Archilocus could well be referring to our situation in the UK today in the run-up to our general election in May. Almost all our would-be leaders and their hangers-on are arguing about possible short-term political policies and alliances, while virtually none are interested in the one big question we face: how to avoid our potential suicide and achieve the survival of human civilisation. The foxes are bogged in detail, when we need is the concern of wise hedgehogs with that big question.
"The agenda of politics must change." That was the theme of a long article I wrote with Harford Thomas in The Guardian newspaper in July 1978 shortly before the UK general election expected later that year: "political parties suffer from institutional lag. They fall behind the pace of events. They fall back on old dogma. Yesterday's dogma is irrelevant today, and still more so for tomorrow."
See www.jamesrobertson.com/article/alternativesarticle-guardian1978.pdf for the full text.
Now, thirty seven years later, more people are aware that we need a new kind of political leadership, capable of the radical change on which the survival of our civilisation depends. We realise that our present ways of living are leading us to global self-destruction. We need to create a new democratic approach, seen by everyone as fair and ecological, effectively protecting our wellbeing and the natural resources on which our survival depends.
We won't achieve that change by more complicated policies and laws and rules. Quite the reverse. The present ones need rigorous simplification.
A central example of that is reform of the world's money system. By the ways it rewards and penalises what we do, money motivates how we live, and how we treat other people and the natural world. At present the way it works encourages us to behave unjustly to one another and to destroy the resources on which our future depends.
2. THE BASIS OF MONEY SYSTEM REFORM
Reform of today's money system should be based on the following core principles.
(1) Each of us should pay for the value we take from the common wealth, which is provided directly by the planet's resources or created by positive personal and collective human actions; and
(2) Each of us should receive a basic citizen's income as our share of that common wealth.
Those core principles can be met by the following practical reforms.
1. Provide the national money supply as a public service:
Stop the creation of money by banks as profit-making debt; and transfer responsibility to a public agency for creating a debt-free money supply as public revenue to be spent into circulation by the elected government.
2. Shift public revenue off 'goods' on to 'bads':
(a) Abolish taxes on incomes and profits and value added, which now penalise useful work and enterprise.
(b) Replace those taxes by taxing or charging things and activities that subtract value from common resources. That will include taxing or charging for land-rent values, and the use or right to use other common resources, especially the limited capacity of the environment to absorb pollution and waste.
3. Shift to people-centred public spending:
Apart from essential national activities like military security, public revenue should be spent on a Citizen's Income - a tax-free income paid to every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship. The additional costs of that should be met by reducing the costs of:
(a) interest on government debt,
(b) the provision of perversely damaging subsidies, and
(c) the provision of public infrastructure and services, either by an inefficient and wasteful public sector, or contracted out to commercial and financial businesses at bloated costs (e.g. PFI).
Those national reforms should be parallelled by similar principles at international and local levels. They provide a central core of principle and action on which it might be possible to build a surviving human future.
That is one "big thing" we should concentrate on.
3. RECOGNISING OUR GLOBAL CRISIS
(1) Climate Change is one, though only one, aspect of the global crisis that threatens our future.
The editor of the Guardian is stepping down this summer. After twenty years he says he has one regret: "that we had not done justice to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species".
For what he is doing about it in the time left to him as editor, see www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/06/climate-change-guardian-threat-to-earth-alan-rusbridger.
(2) The Simpler Way
"We must develop as much self-sufficiency as we reasonably can, both at the national level, meaning much less international trade, but more importantly at local and household levels. We need to convert our presently barren suburbs into thriving economies which produce much of what they need from local resources. ....
... Many in the Voluntary Simplicity, Permaculture, Downshifting, De-growth, Eco-village and Transition Towns movements are now enjoying living in the ways described and are working for transition to some kind of Simpler Way". See www.theconversation.com/the-simple-life-manifesto-and-how-it-could-save-us-33081.
(3) Protecting Nature and Dealing with Climate Change
"Protecting nature is no more an option than tackling climate change, both are necessary and one cannot outweigh the other."
See www. greenallianceblog.org.uk/2015/01/22/is-tackling-climate-change-more-important-than-protecting-nature.
(4) Climate change does not have to be a partisan issue. See
(5) Population, Development and Reproductive Health
"Population and the environment are inseparable factors in sustainable development ... The agreement of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals this year offers an opportunity to recognise these issues and align action with other global policy frameworks. The Goals should include action on poverty, the promotion of family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights and emphasise the role of the natural environment for increased resilience of societies around the world."
(6) Limiting The Environmental Impacts. A team of scientists call attention to nine issues that must be considered if there is to be any hope of limiting the environmental impacts of the ongoing expansion of new roads, road improvements, energy projects, and more now underway or 'coming soon' in countries all around the world.
(7) The Doomsday Clock
It's now "Three Minutes to Midnight", warns the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. This clock is "a visual metaphor to warn the public about how close the world is to a potentially civilization-ending catastrophe".
(8) Leadership In Its Finest Form
How to promote "the concept of stewardship in place of the present self- serving forms of 'leadership'.
(1) How the Money Supply should be created.
Following the first discussion in November for 170 years by the UK Parliament, attention continues to grow on whether a nation's money should be created free of debt by a public agency in the interest of society as a whole, instead of by banks as interest-bearing debts on society. The run-up to the general election in May provides opportunities for progress.
See www.thomasattwood.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/positive-money-structures and www.positivemoney.org/get-involved/hustings.
(2) "Basic Incomes makes unprecedented political progess around the world". See www.basicincome.org/bien/pdf/Flash79.pdf.
(3) Pig 'factory' plan thrown out.
"Now the Environment Agency has turned down the permit application by Midland Pig Producers on the grounds it posed risks to human health as well as human rights.
There is mounting public anxiety that industrial, intensive pig rearing systems cause stress and illness in animals and threaten human health. The regular over-use of antibiotics in such 'factory' farm systems is producing antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The farms also pollute the air and water."
5. SOME THINGS TO BE CHANGED OR STOPPED
(1) A Manifesto for Global Justice and Global Justice Now
"Development has been co-opted... . If we want to re-energise a real movement for global justice, we need to confront development, and replace it with our own vision for a world based on equality, solidarity and democratic control."
See www.globaljustice.org.uk/blog/2015/feb/6/manifesto-global-justice and Dangerous Delusions - Seven Myths - www.globaljustice.org.uk/dangerous-delusions.
(2) The Board of HSBC Should Be Arrested and the Bank Taken Into Public Ownership
"Even when tax evaders have been caught the revelation that HMRC has been doing its utmost to avoid prosecuting them illustrates the fact that we have a two-tier system of justice when it comes to defrauding the taxpayer. Those found guilty of benefit fraud are maligned, shamed, and demonised while their rich counterparts are allowed to avoid the inconvenience of prosecution and court in return for an undisclosed pay off to make the problem disappear."
(3) Water Privatisation Should Be Ruled Out
"Water has emerged as the target of choice for the robber barons of globalization. As freshwater supplies dwindle, global investors are scrambling to own what's left. The World Bank already values water privatization at $1 trillion and predicts that many of the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water."
6. ONE GLIMPSE OF THE COMING UK ELECTION
(1) Greener Britain Coalition of NGOS
Election Hustings in London on 23 March from 6.30pm. "If you can make it, please register here. And if you cannot come, do join in online."
(2) Remarkable Rise of Green Party Membership in UK
"Tens of thousands of new Green Party activists are gathering their strength for the biggest election campaign in the party's history. They may have vast mountains to climb, but their legs are fresh."
18 March 2015