Archive for the ‘Progressive Utilization’ Category

There’s got to be a better name for this.

The concept is to form committees (boards or councils if you will) that are responsible to facilitate and ensure optimal community health within their eco-social jurisdiction.

The purpose of the project is to fund the role of neo-ombuds, so that in this by this region, there is a person/committee that works full-time to realize sustainable prosperity in the region of their jurisdiction.

It is meant to empower leadership to take defined responsibility to ensure that minimum necessities are universally available, that the physical environment is healthy and permanently so, that cultural diversity is fostered, and primarily that a sustainable integrated region/economy emerges and remains.

The neo-ombuds project is more regional than local, macro-regional (New England) and micro-regional (Franklin County). It is not a representative body, in which representatives are asked to advocate for their regions in a zero-sum fight for finite Congressional funds. It is more comprised of selected/elected active philosopher-kings, learning and making things happen within the comprehensive palette of social action (governance, commerce, grass-roots movement).

The emphasis is on facilitative responsibility and social intimacy far far more than power. In most cases, the neo-ombods/committee will not be the person/group to do specific work, but the neo-ombuds might arrange to seed-fund, mentor and facilitate projects.

Its different than the role of government in that government actions are legislated publicly, and only those commitments and laws that are legislated get done. A neo-ombuds does not need to wait for politically elected majority to initiate some good in the world. In the modern world of very finite resources, governments are often in the business of staying afloat more than optimizing social welfare.

The neo-ombuds project would not conflict with government (probably sometimes), but would be either indifferent or skew to government or complement it

In order to happen, three things are needed/possible.

1. Definition and mentorship of what is effective neo-ombuds(ing)

2. Funding of position at a moderate pay scale with some funding for associated expenses ($50,000/year, it can start as volunteer or part-time funding)

3. Appointments at macro-regional and micro-regional scale (likely first self appointed, then committee appointed and later elected)

The characteristics of a neo-ombuds.

1. Scrupulous integrity

2. Tangible (not tentative) love of community/region

3. Diverse skillsets (Listener, group process, small group presentation, tangible business skills, energetic, well-organized, good time-management, determined, familiarity with law and government)

4. Knowledge of and commitment to regional sustainability

5. Commitment to full term applied effectively and dynamically (5 years when program is mature)

The Sustainable New England (macro-region) and Sustainable013 (micro-region) projects are meant to be facilitated by ombuds.

What is the one project that an ombuds takes on, neo-ombuds(ing).

Its not an original idea. It is inherent in most religious traditions that I’ve encountered, but not widely practiced in society as a whole (usually only within the specific religious community), and most often not conceived within a context of comprehensively defined sustainability.

Lets do it.


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What is a successful economy?

One that delivers the optimal mix of social welfare. Any other measure is just a secondary indicator.

An example of the Nasruddin story:

Nasruddin (a Sufi holy fool) was seen scrambling about in the gutter obviously desparately looking for something. When asked by a friend “Nasruddin, what are you looking for?”, he replied, “I’m looking for my father’s ring that he gave to me when I turned 13.”

“Where did you lose it, I’ll help you find it”

“I lost it in that building”.

“If you lost it in there, why are you looking out here?”

“The light is better out here.”

So, we measure some of the right things and some things that are totally irrelevant to any assessment of social welfare. And, we attribute authority to some of the measures that are just barely indicators.

The primary example is gross domestic product, a strictly quantitative measure that ignores the efficiency of the economy to allocate resources to those that create experienced value (present and future), in contrast to more arbitrary measures of value or wealth.

GDP is used as a primary measure for social progress for two key reasons (functionally, even if no serious economist will admit to being that one-dimensional).

1. It assumes that the invisible hand of the marketplace allocating dollar votes, realizes the informed best allocation of resources, applying that individuals are themselves responsible to act rationally for their personal welfare optimization.

That assumes of course, that dollar votes are distributed relatively equally or at least equitably, realizing persons’ optimal allocation of resources, rather than “dollars'” optimal allocation of resources.

2. A quantitative metric is comparable between entities, over time, and between options. (I agree. We need to be able to compare in some meaningful way, to know if we are making progress, making good personal and public policy decisions.)

Does that equate? Purchasing power is NOT relatively equally distributed throughout any economy, as appealing as the concept of universal liberty is in theory. (The market economy theory also ignores posterity, commons and wilds, each having no votes in the marketplace.)

I read of a conference on “Gross National Happiness” that a few friends are attending, applying a methodology that the King of Bhutan applied to measure and then apply to the economy that he was responsible for.

I love the effort, and the spirit of the King of Bhutan is a model of a caring, responsible leader.

I don’t find the specific analysis to be applicable in a modern technological society. A step in the right direction, a work in progress. A Copernican effort (articulating perfect circular orbits of planets around the sun), when we need a Keplerian (articulating ovular orbits), or a Galilean or Newtonian elaboration.

I propose a quantitative measure of human welfare that adopts Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, that does regard “higher” functions of motivation and fulfillment as more valuable than simply equality in survival, and is customized to individuals, communities, cultures.

It is not difficult to construct, and I’ve been experimenting with a couple mathematical models to distill out an informative and reliable metric.

The criticism of the methodology, any one that would apply a single format of satisfaction, is that it is a subjective judgement of what is important, that different people will naturally value different things. There is defintely truth in that assertion, but the next question is what is the optimal methodology.

If you know that the one that is used yeilds very misleading information and judgement, and the one that is proposed yeilds somewhat misleading or subjective information that might not apply to everyone equally appropriately, what is best.

In accounting practice, I’m often asked to prepare budgets, forecasts, plans and/or predictions of future events. It is literally impossible to predict the future. Any number that I propose will inevitably be off to some material extent. So, I’ve heard executives dismiss forecasts or budgets as “guesses”.

In contrast I believe that in order of accuracy:

1. Prophecy (there is none)

2. Estimates

3. Dartboard guesses

4. Ignore the questions

An estimate is the best, the most practically accurate, and the most useful. That applies in this case as well. It is more accurate to estimate, to apply a methodology that might need reform, than to conduct a dartboard guess, or to just ignore the question entirely.

In the case of “social welfare”, to ignore the question entirely, is to ignore leaders’ primary responsibility, no matter what scale or scope a leaders’ responsibility entails, or how collaborative that responsibility is. (Citizenship).

One advantage of the Maslowian assessments, is that they are scalable (meaning that they can be assessed at every social scale: individual, family, community, micro-region, macro-region, planet). As a quantitative measure, they are comparable over time and between communities.

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How do we know if public policy is effective at improving lives? How do we know if our charitable and socially responsible business efforts improves lives? Or, are we just kidding ourselves, trying to make ourselves “feel good” rather than “be good and feel good”?

In yogic teachings there is a theme of “subjective approach, objective adjustment”. I wish I knew exactly what that meant. I know how I interpret the slogan. I acknowledge that I “self-talk”, I subjectively theorize, I propose, I endeavor, followed by objective consequences and feeback, which refines my subsequent endeavor and my experience of it.

There is a movement afoot to measure “Gross Domestic Happiness” by some quantitive metric, compile “objective” data on the effects of public policy, charitable efforts, socially responsible business efforts. There are a few different models applied on a national scale, for different political purposes.

One is to take Gross Domestic Product (the measure of market value of value-adding exchanges in a jurisdiction), and adjust it downward for identified negative externalities, and prospectively upward for positive externalities. This is a confusing exercise to say the least. It is unclear what to measure, how to measure the economic impact into some translatable currency definition, or even whether an economic impact is positive or negative. That confusion has led many economists to throw up their hands and just state, “we can’t quantify that” and guide policy decisions to be based on incomplete fundamentally incomplete data.

(This resembles the Sufi Nasruddin story. That is Nasruddin was seen scouring a street obviously looking for something. A friend asked him, “what are you looking for? where did you lose it?”

“I lost a coin inside that dark building.”

“Then why are you looking for it out here in the street?”

“Well, there is not light (data) in there, and there is light (data) out here. I thought that I would have better luck out here.”

GDP does not measure comprehensive social enjoyment, experience.

A contrasting methodology identifies components of levels of personal “happiness”, compiles a score for individuals, adds the scores of those or statistically significant samples of individuals, and defines the “gross happiness” of a community, micro-region, macro-region, planet.

The one that I am most attracted to, and participated in the formation of the metric, applies Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, to define what would otherwise be skew criteria.

The metric applies subjective judgements as to the relative importance of different scales of Maslowian criteria.

Maslow’s heirarchy includes:

Current and short-term survival – To what extent are you confident that you will be able to meet your needs for the next six months?

Long-term security – To what extent are you confident that you will be able to meet your needs and be safe for the next 10 years?

Belonging – To what extent do you feel loved, connected to family and community, accepted?

Esteem – To what extent do you feel that you have earned pride and the respect of others?

Self-actualization – To what extent do you feel that you are accomplishing what you are on the planet to do? To what extent does your work match your natural affinity? To what extent do you enjoy life?

Meta-actualization – To what extent do you feel in a dynamic harmony, at ease, in a state of flow in the world, dancing?

The algorhythm is more complex than I can easily describe here, though is not rocket science.

The weighting of each is the value judgement, and has political implications. Intelligent, moral, committed individuals hold very differing assumptions about the weighting of each criteria, and even if those criteria are in fact heirarchical, complete, or useful at all to measure individual and/or collective well-being.

I do value successful meta-actualization and self-actualization as more important, a higher quality of enjoyment or experience value, than survival. And, that creates elements of class distinctions, some privilige, conflict.

It is a metric that values comprehensive well-being more than literal equality. At the same time, the metric defines a condition of excessive inequality as necessarily resulting in a considerably lower cumulative social level of well-being.

The purpose of developing a metric at all, and particularly a metric that many agree is actually descriptive of human welfare, is that it allows for the determination of the effectiveness of public policy, socially responsible enterprise, charitable efforts, etc.

One ommission of the “gross happiness” metric is that it does not incorporate any social value for  any existential rights of other species (to habitat). The metric and questionnaire (in development) does incorporate the effect of nature on other human experienced needs/values.

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In 1960, an Indian guru named PR Sarkar, elaborated on his suggested spiritual approach of personal meditation interacting with a social service attitude in the world.

He articulated an outline of a worldview and strategy for social change that commented on critical short and long term political and institutional setting of the world.

Particularly, in 1960, the cold war was in full swing, with the vestiges of Stalinism strongly in place in Indian federal and state governments, as well as obviously playing very strongly in world politics. At, the same time, globally, corporate European and American institutions were continuing to develop expropriative  neo-colonial relations with much of the underdeveloped world.

Instead of maturing underdeveloped traditional means of living and value-addition, the neo-colonial approaches sought to replace them with cookie-cutter impositions of power relations centered very remotely with limited and deeply emotionally compromising paths of local improvement or for any mutual accountability as existential peers.

PROUT (Progressive Utilization Theory) attempted to incorporate characteristics of the best of socialism into a decentralized economic democracy orientation that also valued some of the benefits and characteristics of the free market.

Although Prout incorporated and appreciated features of both communism and capitalism, it was neither one nor the other, and severely criticized the impositions of both.

In my life, I encountered Prout at 18, after a determination to adopt a spiritual and progressive outlook to life during the idealistic post-protest period of the early seventies.

It was rich, and very appealing.

The cornerstone of Prout, the link between the social service orientation and the spiritual practice, was the importance of morality/ethics, that incorporated assessing behavior and proposal through multiple windows: intimate, inter-personal, social.

“How did my actions (deeds, words, thoughts) affect my relationship with the Most Dear?

“How did my actions affect my relationships with other people?”

“How did my actions affect the co-creation of political and economic relations?”

Much of my thinking currently that infuses my business and community organizing efforts originate in ideas I learned through Prout.

Optimal decentralization of economy, nurturing of distinct culture (rather than homogeneous commercialization), moderated division of wealth, cooperative development of capital, collegial development of knowledge, concept and nurturing of humane, responsive leadership.

At some point though, the organization associated with Prout, seemed to divert from its original emphasis. In the name of originating an ethically based society, the organization engaged in far less than ethical funding efforts. There came to be factions of cultural elite, confusing the founder’s demonstration of living fully and intimately within a particular cultural setting (Bengali), with a claim that that culture was by association with the guru superior to others.

There were two straws that broke my back as far as direct association with Prout efforts. That was the insistence that the originator be treated as a worshipped guru in all organizing and official events, which conflicted with my understanding of Jewish fundamental commandment to not worship persons or things. That conflict was a fundamental one for me, intimately irreconcilable.

The second was the discovery that the organization had benefited from petty crime that was extending to more serious crime. Smuggling of office equipment from Singapore to India, shifted to smuggling of office equipment from and to Russia, which escalated to smuggling of gold to and from Russia, which culminated in an attempted arms shipment to Maoist terrorists in South of India. Thankfully, the individuals involved were not competent in that level of crime, and the first attempt was botched, discovered, and the issue was confronted and I assume reformed. But, for me, by that time, my trust was broken.

So, I am still attempting to put the ideas into practice, and even popularize the ideas and give credit to the author. Many of the concepts remain elegant and practical and deserve the light of day, which I hope that I will be able to convey in a form that does not depend on any religious prerequisite.

The world needs these ideas to be articulated. I hope that others that are familiar with Sarkar’s ideas will convey them clearly and effectively to a wider audience than just those associated with the particular spiritual path.

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I remember hearing a Sweet Honey in the Rock song 20 years ago “Are My Hands Clean”, that traced the production of a fashion shirt from the source of its materials, labor, machining, all value-addition. Cotton from who knows where, oil drilled in Bahrain -> refined in ____->made into polyester resin in ____-> blend spun in Santo Domingo, assembled in El Salvador, warehoused in Texas.

Where was that shirt made? (How is it even possible to answer that question?)

That single shirt had traveled 30,000 miles, through supply chains owned by 40 or so very giant corporations, to make a product that cost 10% less on the shelf in $, but generated much more corporate profits, than an equally durable shirt made from regional fabrics, sewn regionally, to regional customers, in regionally distinct styles.

Again, where was that shirt made? (How is it even possible to answer that question?)

The answer is “Locus”. Locus is a concept of identifying the geographic center of value-addition using simple latitude and longitude, and the cumulative variance from that latitude and longitude, proportional to price paid.

So, for example, a pound of granola manufactured in New England might sell through a food cooperative in New York.

The supply chain includes:

Oats – grown in Saskatchewan (value added there), shipped to manufacturer in New England (value addition of getting from Saskatchewan to New England, locus would be the average between the locales). Honey collected in New York state (from apple pollination) and then shipped to New England. Canola oil from seed in North Dakota, milled into oil somewhere else in North Dakota, shipped to New England. Granola mixed and baked in New England (proportional value added at that plant), shipped to distributor in Connecticut, then shipped to food co-op in Brooklyn.

That supply chain is complex (if you knew the complete ingredient list and supply chain), but at least a considerable portion of the value-addition occurs relatively close to home.

The locus for that granola product might be somewhere in Ohio. Average of oats, canola oil, honey, labor and processing value addition in New England, distribution to and display in Brooklyn.

Even though the product’s locus would be somewhere in Ohio, the variance for that product (supplies coming from Canada and Great Plains), would be a larger number than the variance for a product from materials grown, processed, and distributed to the locus in Ohio.

The two numbers, “locus” and “variance”, then tell a consumer a great deal about where a product was made, and other value-addition processes.

I think such information would be critical to consumers that valued their community’s health as a characteristic of the product and one’s relationship to it.

Many of us play with attempting a “100-mile diet”. It would be useful to know to what extent that is true.

How do we know? And, how do we compare between options?

In auditing such a supply chain, the results are staggering. Most staggering to me was the degree of “value-addition” that occurs in getting a product the last mile, retailing. For example, a pound of granola that one purchases for $3.00/pound, is sold by the manufacturer for $1.50/pound.

50% of the “value-addition” is in the marketing of the product. The farmers, the manufacturers of the product each make some profit and compensation for their work, but the majority of profits is in the sales portion of the value-addition process.

Ironically, our loved food coops are among the least efficient in adding value in distribution and retailing (but at least it stays local), while giants like Wal-Mart are considerably more efficient.

I’ll talk about this project much more over the years.

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According to Adam Smith, economies can improve by division of labor. More output is possible from the same amount of time expended. Higher quality products are possible when the individuals making those products are good and skilled at making them. More customization is possible. Land or people’s skills may be used for the purpose that they are “best” for.

“Best” meaning solely by that one definition, best for volume and quality of output, defined in the limited characteristics of the particular product.

Not necessarily and unlikely to be the best by the definition of most enjoyable, of the most economically risk-averse requiring a portfolio of industry and competencies in a locale, and certainly considering the need for ecological sustainability.

The trick to accomplish, to optimize, the success of both integrity/diversity and efficiency, is to identify at what social scale, the two are realized to the greatest joint extent.

From my reasoning, that scale is the regional scale, meaning in the cases of most industry, neither global in scale or siting, nor local.

Economically, regional siting is uniquely efficient, especially in a period when freight is increasing in cost per mile. For bulky products in particular, the freight cost from plant to distributor, and then to end user, will become a much more prominent component in the cost of making products/services. It would make much more sense to ship the concentrated raw materials in bulk to the regional factory, perform all the value-addition regionally, then ship a bulky product only the “last mile”, using freight carriers. Its math, siting theory in MBA programs.

If economy is regionalized, it will be possible for families to stay together, as there will be diverse work in multiple regions, career-paths. Very few families stay close to home now. Culture of all kinds would be possible regionally, not only in urban areas. There would be good reasons for doctors and health support to be close to home, rather than solely in wealthy urban areas.

And, importantly, rational regional scale land use planning would enable the best of all considerations. Manufacturing could be sited near residence, close enough to be easy to get to and even cogenerate for residential heating, but far enough to be separate. Farmland and food processing would be universally close to destination, fresh, possible to be a farmer close. Wilds would be universally close, providing habitat for species without horrible obstacles, and room for individuals to adventure close to home.

There are multiple social advantages to a regional scale manufacturing and/or value-adding approach. The greatest advantage is the prospect of diversity of employment and the prospect of near-full employment in every region. Once most manufacturing economies of scale are reached, the economic advantages of increased concentration don’t exist any longer. In fact, there are noted diseconomies of scale, reductions in marginal efficiency when the manufacturing scale is too large or complex to manage. Because the economies of scale of an industry are then in an optimal range (not an optimal “point”), other economic and social concerns may be taken into account without losing efficiency or competitive relationship. A corresponding benefit to the regional scale, is that with employment closer to home, and manufacturing more dispersed both the monetary and social costs of commuting and freight will be greatly reduced.

There are local difficulties with adopting a regional approach currently. Using Greenfield as an example, there is no space to shift currently very concentrated global manufacturing sites to a more regional locales, as very much available land is already used.

It comprises a glass that is full. The only way to make room for “fresh” industry in the glass, is to displace someone else, or in the case of zoning, to “go back to the drawing board” with the prospect that some corruption or confusion will creep into the process. Either a fixation against a needed innovation (like the Meyers Farms office park), or an opportunistic zoning revision to permit a careless or entirely toxifying project (like the proposed bio-mass project).

The remedy to poor governance, is education and clarification as to the appropriate role and integral (almost holy) responsibilities of land use in a sustainable regional economy.

In Western Massachusetts, we live in the best of all worlds. There is some diversity of employement, though certainly NOT full employment. There is diversity of land use. Nature is present. Industry is present.

That is not the case near us. The megalopolis’ surrounding New York (150+ miles along the coast) and Boston are not diverse, not integrated. They require an import/export relationship with the rest of the world, and compel regionally somewhat expropriative and careless relationships to other parts of world.

The patterns of occupancy will change necessarily. There will be less jobs in metropolis’, the cost of living including residing and transporting will get onerous. People will move to the less expensive rural areas, to retire. If we design well, to live and work and stay.

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