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Archive for the ‘New England’ Category

I’ve noted that there are eight economic scales that I am a part of. Each of the economic scales have economic activity that is natural to that scale, and constitutes its health At each economic scale there are three modes of economic interaction: compulsory contribution, exchange/market, commonwealth.

Individual

My individual health is measured by my physical condition, free from disease, ability to function physically, clarity of mind. Economically, I require minmum necessities, some entertainment, some spiritual life, access to transportation and communications, interaction with family and friends, interaction with those I contract with and colleagues, sleep, leisure, good work to do.

Family (Witty’s)

My family’s health is measured by the composite of the individuals within my family (self, wife, children, mother). Within my family, there are some chores and contributions that are compulsory for each individual to contribute. I and my wife are responsible to contribute a minimum monthly amount towards minimum necessities. I and my wife must contribute some household maintenance effort, cleaning, paying bills, errands, shopping. There is an element of exchange in which compulsory efforts we will each do. We each have some self-assigned regular tasks.

Neighborhood (East of High Street, below the Rocky Mount ridge in
Greenfield, MA)

My neighborhood’s health is also measured by the composite of the individuals within the neighborhood. Our neighborhood really doesn’t have a coherent economy or society. I know my neighbors and look out for them a little, but we don’t have any property in common, nor really any exchange, nor any compulsory work.

The neighborhood though is the most intimate social network that is outside of one’s home. It is the area that MANY cooperative ownership efforts should occur. (Cars, leisure, food buying clubs, cooking groups, energy generation, community gardening, etc.)

Community (Greenfield, MA)

Once at the community level, 20,000 people in the case of Greenfield, we are passed the intimate scale, and into the mass, the statistical. Its really impossible to care for every individual (like it is possible to care for every individual within a neighborhood.) The community is still close, and most retailers will know their customers individually.

It is the scope for most retail, groceries, clothes, etc. The town government comprises the extent of actual commonwealth. There are a couple cooperatives, but they are mostly retail businesses, more than shared wealth. We pay compulsory taxes, and realize the collective benefits of schools, police, library, etc.

Micro-Region (Pioneer Valley – Northampton, MA to Brattleboro, VT including Amherst)

The Pioneer Valley microregion is the site of many intentional community linking norms. Years ago, we had a local currency that suggested serving the Valley micro-region. It could be revived or started anew. There is no formal micro-regional governmental entity (now that counties have been dismantled in Massachusetts), and there is no really micro-regional scale commonwealth (except what is under the state umbrella).

There is much more inter-regional trade occurring relative to the Valley, particularly in education, but also in manufacturing. Employees serve the institutions micro-regionally, via 20 or so town residences comprising bedroom communities. The majority of the region’s economy is constructed of these micro-regional inter-regional exchange.

Macro-Region (New England)

According to the best of regional economy theory, New England should be the scale size that serves the majority (literally) of the industrial needs of its residents. Cars, refrigerators, food, building materials, should be regionally supplied, resulting in functional regional economic independence. But that is a ruralist economic model, not the urban.

It is possible in New England. We have excellent farmland, suitable industrial building lots, well-educated populace.

Again, there is really no New England scale commonwealth, though the states may provide that macro-regional function.

Continent (North America)

Some needs can only be met at a continental scale. While the siting of manufacturing plants can be local, the siting of some industry must be continental, or maybe bi-continental (west coast and east coast). The national scale serves what would otherwise be continental in scope. It provides a globe-like marketplace. That the federal scale marketplace swamped regional even before globalism draws a parallel to continental great cities whether American or global.

As conservative as it may sound, we need protection from the mass national marketplaces, as much as we need protection from the mass global marketplaces. States don’t do it well. Federal law regarding interstate commerce, has stripped the ability of states to regulate. And, the giant scale of federal legislation and institutions, corrupt the processes that could otherwise result in universal regional health.

The continental scale say for agriculture should be a secondary insurance against local draught or blite, not the other way around. Similarly for manufacturing or materials availability.

Globe

Its too big for things, great for ideas. Lets leave it at that.

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I haven’t been following the “Occupy Wall Street” movement very closely.

Nor have I been following the anti-occupy Wall Street denunciations at all. I saw some acknowledgment of the movement on the Sunday news shows this weekend, and the concensus of denunciation and/or dismissal by the talking heads.

I enjoyed the glee that Christiane Amanpour expressed in her sympathetic laughter at the occupy Wall Street’s representative’s comment that he was the only member of the actual working class to have historically appeared on her show.

The rational criticism that I have heard of the demonstrations is that they are only a beginning identification that something is wrong, but with limited credible framing of analysis and with limited framing of proposal for improvement.

I personally believe that the remedy for our long and short-term social ills rest in the discussion of social scales, that comprise an ecology of social scales with varying roles, possibility, importance.

Each social scale constitutes a setting for BOTH individual initiative AND for shared commonwealth.

There is sufficient commonwealth between all of the social scales (if given enough attention to be a healthy) to ensure that no individual is any irreconcilable fundamental risk (except perhaps personal health) and has a path for commerce and for principled contribution to the greater good.

The current framing of an individual’s economic and work like, is primarily, individual entity relative to “the economy”. “The economy” is global, and requires participation in the scope of institutions that can compete in the global economy. The global economy includes niches that are not of international/global scope, but over time the niches diminish, incorporated into the market of global institutions.

Globalism in that sense destroys the ecology of scales that comprise a healthy portfolio of solutions. If all of the regional solutions to food problems say are non-existent, that only the global specialized supply chain is in effect, dependent on fossil fuels in particular for transit, fertilizer and chemicals, then if there is a disruption to a primary commodity, there is then NO resilient response.

If our agricultural land is consumed by sprawl tract homes, if there is a real crisis in fossil fuel supply, if there is a new blight in mono-cropped corn fields, then we don’t have the flexibility to respond to external challenges.

If however, there is a viable and functional regional food distribution system, alongside a healthy global food distribution system, then an obstacle in one sector just diverts the supply path through a different channel. A blip rather than a catastrophe.

So, what is that we are, what is that we are part of? (to quote an Incredible String Band song from 1969).

We are part of:

Families (say the Witty’s)- With economies within families, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Neighborhoods (say precinct 5 in Greenfield, MA under Poet’s Seat)- With economies within neighborhoods, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Towns (say Greenfield, MA) – With economies within towns, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Micro-regions (say Franklin County or larger the Connecticut River Valley between Springfield and Northfield)- With economies within micro-regions, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Macro-regions (say New England) – With economies within macro-regions, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Continental (say North America) – With economies within North America, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Globe (say earth) – With economies within the globe, comprising BOTH a market exchange system AND a commonwealth that all members are shareholders

Right now some families function dually as both individual exchange systems and commonwealth. Some emphasize one over the other, even to the point of exclusion.

Fewer neighborhoods have really ANY organization or commonwealth or even exchange economy.

Towns have some markets, and some commonwealth in the form of municipalities, but MANY of the them are economically weak to the point of dysfunctionality, and don’t conceive of themselves as a commonwealth, but only limited constitutional obligations.

Micro-regions have some markets, but very very limited commonwealth that anyone can truly participate in. (In Massachusetts, the Boston-centric legislature determined that counties are archaic, unnecessary, an additional bureaucracy with fixed costs. That is well and good for Boston for which the suburban counties should be unified in a planning system with the Boston counties themselves. But, it does not serve Western Massachusetts well at all, for which counties are coherent governing and market scale entities.)

States are our current macro-regions, but they are residual of pre-constitutional literal states, 18th century British colonial residue.

A better form would be macro-regions. In any case, there is commonwealth and some distinct markets within states, but again, states are horridly stressed financially, and don’t often constitute a confident commonwealth, providing a safety net.

Similarly at the continental and global scale. There is some market function and some sense of commonwealth, whether distributed to individuals or universally providing capital in various forms to needed regions, communities, families.

There is a valid republican/ conservative criticism of national only setting of commonwealth and safety net. But, the criticism is only a only a partisan griping currently, and NOT a constructive proposal for an ecology of  universally healthy functioning families, communities, towns, micro-regions, macro-regions, globe.

Markets AND commonwealth at each scale.

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I don’t know enough about the European Union to comment much. I rely on more knowledgeable people to explain what is going in Europe and in international banking.

I do know that Europe formerly had strong divided nation-states, that allied, warred, each with independent governments, tax and fiscal policies, currencies (and defined on very different bases).

Now, Europe has a single market, no customs restrictions, no immigration restrictions, functioning with a single currency. Some countries continue to use two currencies (England), but the Euro is legal tender in all of the European Union.

It is more confederated than the United States was before the US Constitution was drafted and ratified. But, each state’s role in the European Union is more independent and significant than states’ roles are in the US.

There are US states that have larger budgets than some even major European countries, and a default on a state’s debt would be devastating. Many states are stressed financially, and a default on some state’s debt is a strong possibility, especially in a localized or generalized double-dip to the current recession.

The combination of unified currency but independent governments is regarded as the cause of the current global banking crisis (that resulted in 14% drop in the global stock market valuation in 3 weeks, and that was without an actual default). European countries are known to have a strong social welfare orientation. There is some racial and regional division though, as the northern countries are regarded as fiscally confident siting the combination of “strong work ethic” with social welfare state, in contrast to the accusation of Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, as not having a strong work ethic, but only the social welfare expectation.

I don’t know if it is true or not, or how anyone could assess even.

The accusation is that the south borrows without hope of repayment, without hope of working their way out of debt, while the north borrows with the hope of working their way out of debt.

Europe is in a state of tension now though. There are times when it looks like the whole European Union could devolve or even dissolve.

If each country reestablished their own national currencies, in addition to a strongly backed Euro that can be exchanged back and forth, that might be a good thing, even if the Euro is valued at a premium. (ie statutory 2 -3% exchange premium favoring the Euro over national currencies).

While the integration of Europe is a jewel (international travel is easy, work permission is easy, cosmopolitanism reigns), there are severe problems with the dominance of continental scale economy over an ecology of market scales that includes continental but also regional and local.

The United States is the teacher. When the US Constitution included the “commerce clause” permitting non-tariffed inter-state commerce, the scale of the US economy became continental (after completion of “manifest destiny”). The rationale of economic management determined the scale of market served by different organizations. When the costs of communication and transportation reduced significantly, all limitations to continental commerce disappeared.

There was a natural tendency towards economies of scale, which came to include all facets, not just siting and manufacturing economies of scale. With the implementation of continental media and advertising, economies of scale came to apply to manufacturing, logistics, marketing, ownership.

Now, the supply chains and markets are global. But, it took a long time to even extend continentally, and only culminated at the end of the 20th century, with the presence of ubiquitous global retail. Before then, regional retail was the largest scale.

The consequence was the demise of regional enterprise, regional retail, regional manufacturing. The social consequence of the demise of regional enterprise, is a dangerous economic fragility resulting from reliance on single or very few alternative paths. If there is a bankruptcy, a natural disaster, a war, that affects a fundamental commodity or supply chain, billions of people will go without.

In the finance world, so much is interdependent, multiplied by the valuation process of modern finance (a million dollars profit doesn’t add or subtract a million dollars to a company’s valuation, but ten million), and still reliant enormous leveraging (speculating using borrowed funds). So, the threat of default of one thousandth of the world’s debt, sends the valuation of all financial entities’ stock value down 10%, one tenth.

In contrast, a setting of ecology of currencies, currencies functioning at multiple social scales, encourages the development of intra-regional trade that gets very thick in value-addition and potentially universally.

In the states, that would work by the presence of the national currency – dollar, combined with say a New England currency, combined with a micro-regional currency (Pioneer Valley), combined with local currencies.

Banks would exchange currencies at a premium for the larger scale. For example, although the New England currency would be stated as NE$ and required to be accepted by retailers at the same valuation, it might be redeemed at .96/dollar. Similarly, the Pioneer Valley currency might be redeemable at .96/NE$ or .92/$. And, the Greenfield MA currency might be redeemable at .96/V$ or .88/$.

Banks could then profit on the issuance of local currency, but the local economy would be enhanced far beyond the loss in currency premium, by individuals exchanging very thickly locally and regionally, particularly on value-adding labor-intensive economy that results in enhanced employment.

Just a thought.

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Anybody remember Michael Dukakis theme song in his run for president in 1988 (from a song by “Timbuk3?”)

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.

What’s important?

  • Surviving
  • Relationships/friendships
  • Accomplishment/respect
  • Justice
  • Ecology
  • Spirituality

How’s your present? How’s your future look?

  • Health
  • Happiness
  • Good work
  • Relationships

Your family’s present? Your family’s future?

Your community’s present? Your community’s future?

  • Participatory culture
  • Public health
  • Employment
  • Ecology
  • Governance

Your region’s present? Your region’s future?

  • Integrated economy
  • Ecology
  • Governance

Our planet’s?

By how we live and the work that we do intentionally, we make a world in which “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”.

We are  co-creators, the leading edge of all evolutionary and cultural tradition.

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Last weekend, I reviewed all of our spending for the past six months, identifying where the money went. I hoped that I would discover that my family’s spending was primarily local, but it wasn’t.

Less than 10% was spent within 5 miles. Less than 20% was spent within 25 miles (even as my mortgage is to a local bank). And just around 30% was within 100 miles.

This was an unusual six months, granted. I flew to Florida three times, spent a couple thousand dollars (on credit), to move my mother from Florida to Amherst, MA.

But still.

How did I conduct the survey you ask?

1. On a spreadsheet with six columns, date, payee, amount, latitude, longitude of zipcode paid to (company headquarters, not the PO box), distance in miles from my home. (There are web services to find the latitude and longitude of a zipcode, and other services to compute the distance from a point. It can be automated, as in the job search queries – “within 25 miles of…”, but I haven’t gotten there yet).

2. Construct a “pivot-table” (I can show you, call me if you know me), to compute the total paid to each vendor.

3. From the pivot-table results, compute the average latitude and longitude, proportional to spending by vendor.

Mine was somewhere in Pennsylvania, NOT even within 500 miles. I support a different economy on average than my local.

4. Then also from the pivot table results, other columns for “true/false” for less than 5 miles, less than 25 miles, less than 100 miles, less than 500 miles applied to each vendor.

That will give you the percentage of spending that occurs within 5 miles, within 25, 100, 500.

I’ll help you through it if you are interested. It is sobering.

And, from sober and collectively understood results, benign responses are possible.

The same analysis applies to companies.

There is in Western Mass a “local hero” campaign conducted for food, by CISA (communities INVOLVED in sustainable agriculture. They do some great things), but to be a designated “local hero” for them is a very very low bar. (Basically, anyone that applies.)

We need an objective measure.

At 5 miles (local), 25 miles (micro-region), 100 miles, and 500 miles. Green if 80% of spending is local, blue if 60%, orange if 40%, yellow if 20%, and red if less than 20%.

Any companies willing? Any courageous enough to see even?

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Money is a medium of exchange. It applies to those things or services or time, that we declare are economic goods. (Economic goods are goods or services that are exchanged, have monetary exchange value.)

If we share in families, or between neighbors and friends, money doesn’t need come into it. After we build passive solar homes and photovoltaic electric cells on our roofs, the free income from sunlight doesn’t come into it.

Value addition and economic value is only computed (even in most of our own measurement) by what we exchange, what we transfer value for, to and from.

Money is always definable as providing purchasing power within a specific social scale. In the world at large, currencies are legal tender, meaning that any exchange legally must be settleable in the national currency of the jurisdiction. So, for example, even in small towns in the US, exchanges must be settleable in dollars.

Money supply that does not easily flow into a community, does not function as money in that community. For example, if within a community, there are people with skills, people with resources or land, but the outflows of dollars from the community exceed the inflows, and to the extent that there is very limited disposable assets, then dollars in that community no longer function as a medium of exchange. There is just no blood circulating through that community. No oxygen getting to cells, no disposal of waste.

For those communities, regional or local currencies are practical additions. They do not facilitate trade between the  regions unless there is some dependable conversion into dollars. (Inter-regional trade)

They do facilitate value-adding trade within the community. (Intra-regional exchange) They constitute debt for the individuals that receive local currency.

Many local currencies have hindered their ability to introduce currency into their communities by requiring conversion from dollars rather than loaning it into the community in exchange for some future redemption. Restricting local currencies to direct conversion from dollars defeats the purpose of a local currency (to facilitate a currently unavailable medium of exchange), and only rewards those that already have sufficient conventional income to not need a local currency.

There are three alternatives for the infusion of a local currency.

1. Exchange for dollars or other marketable commodities

2. Issuance of loans to recipients of local currencies – redeemable in the local currency or others commodities

3. Free issuance

Free issuance is substantiable by free ecological income (sunlight and other ecological services). But, it usually involves some confusion as to the “right” to a share of ecological income. Most local currencies require some future obligation (debt) or exchange for dollars.

One creative local currency that I was part of, issued currency to individuals in exchange for promise to provide services. Each individual would commit to their specific service offering, declare it, and the unredeemed promises were held in the organization’s safe.  So, for example, a massage therapist received V$150 (Valley dollars) for the promise to provide 2 hours of massage.

They could then spend the V$150 where they chose (among those that accepted V$). If they accumulated more V$ than they wanted to retain, they could either redeem the V$ for the centrally banked promised services or $.50 for every V$. (All participants agreed to accept V$ on parity with $ that they charged, and  for at least 10% of any goods or services.)

There was the possibility that no one would want the services offered, or that people would leave the community, but that was a risk that we were willing to take. We accepted that a portion of the service debts would be bad debts, that the community would have to absorb in some inflationary manner.

SO SO much of our trade now is inter-regional rather than intra-regional, that local and regional currencies have limited practicality, and often end up as a failure to facilitate “blood flow” as much as a help.

Money is an economy’s blood. It is only useful if it circulates, and if ALL (literally ALL) individuals and entities have disposable money.

It is better socially that it is spent, than hoarded.

 

Many conceive of money as “congealed time”. Meaning, that if it takes 30 hours of work to meet all of one’s physical and other needs at minimum compensation within a community, then money is worth the time that it frees.

Individuals have around 85 disposable hours during the week to work or do things with. (12 hours/day * 7 = 84). Free time, with good things to use it for, and ability to use it (disposable wealth), is one compelling measure of a successful economy.

It is a more informative measure than income, as in some locales even at $200,000/year income, minimum necessities cost 60 hours/week, while in other locales at $40,000/year income, minimum necessities cost 30 hours.

But, any accumulated free hours are only useful if you stay there. NY free hours translate into MANY Greenfield free hours.

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I’ve had a few discussions recently with individuals that suggested libertarian philosophical bases of sustainable approaches.

I very much respect the integrity and consistency of the individuals that I’ve been conversing with, and at the same time I note what could (or might not be) a fundamental philosophical disagreement.

That is the old bugaboo on the nature and extent of property rights, and critical conclusions derived from those primary assumptions.

The libertarian view, as I understand it, is that property rights are sancrosanct, that all powers derive from individual rights, and that there is no implied or corresponding responsibility of those with net worth, beyond their own voluntary associations and voluntary charitable and collaborative attitudes. The idea of commons only applies to those assets that are not yet titled, with the expectation that every thing under the sun (including the sun) will be assigned private property status under the control of an individual, an organization or in the case of wilds and commons, some authorized agent.

The mature libertarians acknowledge that much of what has constructed private property in reality results from some form of forced taking, that title does not emerge from any natural origination. And, that much of what they derive value from includes free goods from nature (sunlight, ecological services of forests, etc.) that they did not pay for.

In contrast, the theological/posterity view is that all property originates in nature as commons or “from God”, and implies an obligation to preserve assets for its original owner (obligation to restore to nature), or to use as an agent for greater good.

The two views are consistent in ways and inconsistent.

The differences occur in three respects:

1. Is property fundamentally common, or is it fundamentally individual?

2. Do non-human species/individuals bear any existential rights beyond what humans confer on them or represent them?

3. How does the concept of permanent obligation and responsibility affect attitudes, political and social conclusions differently than the concept of permanent title and ownership?

All rights are on a continuum. To any but ideologs (sorry for th dig), no right is unequivocal, unencumbered.

The rights to use land or dwellings – “real property” is a primary example.

The range of rights allowed include:

  1. non-property uses of commons or parks
  2. rights to use a strip of another’s land for conveyances
  3. temporary exclusive rights to use property for conditional purposes in exchange for rent
  4. temporary exclusive rights to use property unconditionally in exchange for rent
  5. extended temporary exclusive rights to use property via transferable lease
  6. what we call private property (unrestricted permanent title unless contested, or claimed by eminent domain, or rendered uninhabitable and unidentifiable by war, revolution, desert or glaciar).

The libertarian view holds that even after war, revolution, desertification or glaciation, property remains property. Once title is born it never dies, it is only transferred.

For all objective purposes within our lifetime, the rights of property authorized apply to both the theological/posterity view and the libertarian view.

The rights to exclusive use, transferable to heirs or others by the property owners’ choosing, is not disputed. Those are social arrangements, agreements per the legislated law of the society. That law is applied, that social agreements and conventions are applied and not ignored, allows us to transact, to minimize our fear and defensiveness.

The difference in views does however affect attitudes, behavior, political and social conclusions.

The view that property derives from nature as commons originally, its native and ultimately permanent status, regards the rights to use property as inevitably containing obligations to return to its original state. The theological/moralist view hold that ownership of title is a current agency obligation to use for the social good.

As the sun shines on all without prejudice and permanently so, that reference is profound and the rock that eco-socialists stand on. We are borrowers from the future, not owners.

In the rohrshach exercise of what comprises sustainability, those that adopt the libertarian view, originating in individual rights, think of their own first, and as community and social institutions as means to firm their own and families’ long-term survival.  Those that adopt the theological/moralist/posterity view tend to think in terms of what society as a whole needs to do survive/thrive, and assume that if society is functional that they and their descendants will be able their way through.

Beyond making sure that I and my family are secure, safe, viable living, I find no merit in thinking in terms of what preserves my family’s wealth for multiple generations. It dissolves into time.

I regard equity in the theological sense, that everything that I have is “God-given” or “nature-given”, and that my life is temporary, and that even the life of the human species is temporary.

I live on land that 20,000 years ago was under a mile of ice, a pattern that has repeated 30+ times in the last 40 100,000 year cycles. I have no basis to assume that it will not repeat.

10,000 years ago (500 generations), the land that I lived on first became inhabited, and very sparsely until maybe 1000 years ago (50 generations). There was not coherent social/legal norms in the Indian society that was here until 400 years ago (20 generation).

And, English law of property was not established at all in the region until 300 years ago (15 generations). And, that the specific surveying and titling of all land in New England (individual or state land) was complete only 160 years ago (8 generations).

For me to conclude that the norms of only 8 generations are permanent, seems to me to be an exercise in a very false vanity.

I regard property as a temporary obligation to use well, and only for my own benefit to the extent of my own experienced well-being, not for power.

And, I conclude that that is the general case.

And, I conclude that that is consistent with the sustainability effort to enhance individual personal responsibility, AND the sustainability effort to enhance social responsibility.

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