Posted by steve on February 19, 2013
The engine of the economy is the consumer citizen.
Preparing a project to explore the finer art of taxation I created this diagram to illustrate the various fee and tax relationships that exist between the entities in the political economy.
Some rather striking things emerge from this simple diagram: there are a lot of transactions going on, separating them all out from each other is going to be a major task.
Another thing that strikes me is that the consumer, whilst being in the centre of the economy, is actually surrounded by the corporate-state economy that she is actually fuelling.
Let us consider what the average citizen wants:
To live in a society where everyone has a job.
Situation: work is taxed heavily in most countries
To give coming generations the opportunity to enjoy the same cheap energy they do
Situation: whilst work is taxed heavily, it is much cheaper for corporations to replace work with automated, fossil-fuel powered machines. In general, it is more profitable to sell things newly made than services or repaired goods.
To have a thriving economy where people buy and sell from each other in abundance
Situation: most transactions are taxed with VAT or sales tax, in Sweden 2o% of what individuals pay is tax.
To live in a clean environment
Situation: companies supplied by long supply chains leave behind massive pollution for every kg of product they sell or every unit of service they provide. The fees paid by companies for recycling and waste are only a tiny fraction of all the other taxes.
To use natural resources like metals sparingly
Situation: the tax framework makes it more profitable to mine iron and other metals anew than to recycle existing materials
To have politicians deliver on promises
Situation: there are no bonuses or taxes on politicians beyond those for normal citizens. Regardless of performance, politicians get paid. The politician role comes with generous pension rights, too.
The political economic system is something we inherited from the the century before last. It is well due for an overhaul. A good start would be to collect revenue to run public services by putting fees on things we want less of.
Read more in Capitalism: a hobby
Posted by steve on
The original board
I am utterly astonished. We have heard of the DaVinci code, but there is a MONOPOLY code. The secret rules of the game from the early 1900s show how, by changing the rules, everyone can live in prosperity.
Back in the early 1900s a woman called Elizabeth J. Magie patented the Landlord’s game to be a “practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.” Elizabeth was not against capitalism, rather defeating monopoly in all its forms (but, particularly, monopoly of nature). Lizzie continued to work on the design of The Landlord’s Game as a way to explain how the political economy system of Henry George would work in real life. Henry George was against all forms of taxation except from those who owned land.
Parker Brothers purchased Elizabeth’s patent in 1932 for $500, on condition that Parker Brothers would continue to publish The Landlord’s Game as well as Monopoly. In the third edition, published in 1939, and consistent with the agreement with Elizabeth, the game came with two sets of rules. However, only the rules copyrighted by Parker Brothers were actually sold with the game. Purchases were required to contact Elizabeth Magie Phillips to obtain the alternative rules. Remarkably, Elizabeth’s rules were made available by Hasbro on the company’s website.
If you download the alternative rules ( I am going to try this as soon as I get my hands on conventional monopoly) and play, do let me know how you get on. The comments are open for you :).
The article explaining the history is here
This is the link to the secret rules. They are at the end of the conventional rules. Look for “THE MONARCH OF THE WORLD” and the SINGLE TAX.
Thomas Forsyth is one of the most knowledgeable collectors of the original game boards and pieces related to The Landlord’s Game. He has compiled a detailed history of the game, which can be examined at The Landlord’s Game.
Posted by steve on February 10, 2013
This new design (Click on it to see a larger image) is a first sketch for the assignment to design a village layout for a project in Brazil, a village that will house a conference centre in the middle of six sustainable farms. The centre and village will get its food (and coffee) from the neighbouring farms on subscription, and the farm will produce biogas and biochar, combining the char with the organic leftovers from the gas process will produce a soil enhancement that goes back to the farmers.
The design is based on the idea of radiality, from my book “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”. Radiality is the design approach of living arrangements, villages or even cities, being designed in circular form.
Some things to note:
The technical park houses toilets showers and laundry to separate urine and grey water for use in the market garden. The toilets are between the large meeting place and the central plaza.
We put the parking lot outside the area to make the place car-free, and designed it using the permaculture idea of zones to minimize walking. The areas that people would like to be private are separate from the public areas and to keep noise interference down, farthest from the meeting centre.
The central plaza houses a cafe and restaurant, a place to pick the food up (using the eco- unit concept of food subscription) and a place to hang out. Being in the centre it is a place for chance meetings and to catch people as they go past.
This is just early stages, but to secure a time-share in the village investments are starting at around 20,000 Euros. Contact me if you are interested in getting in at this early stage!
Posted by steve on February 6, 2013
A lot of people nowadays long for a different lifestyle – a feeling of being close to nature, being part of a community and having somewhere they can enjoy living with a good, green conscience. But making the change is a huge step for many. You need time to get to know what you are getting into and a house or apartment in the village needs financing.
We are offering interested individuals the chance, by participating in our fund, to visit the amazing range of projects for longer or shorter stays. At the same time, we are offering financing for village projects.
The idea is simple: just purchase a number of units from us. These units come with points that you can redeem for accommodation at any of our participating villages. With units come exclusive offers to try out the sustainable life-style at excellent prices – all accommodation redeemed with points gives you a guaranteed generous discount. And as the money goes in advance to the villages, you know that your money is helping a good cause already from the get-go.
If you purchase more than 10 units you can use them as points against shares in the village initiative of your choice to become a member and even buy/lease a house. Shares are always offered at a discount to unit holders.
FUNDING VILLAGE PROJECTS
But there is more: we offer village initiatives the chance to get interest-free funding as well as access to a wide network of potentially interested villagers. The income from the sale of units is transferred to participating villages for them to invest in developing their initiative. Villages get the funding interest-free, and in return offer a discount on accommodation.
The idea is at the concept stage just now, we are looking for villages and individuals to prepare a pilot scheme. Contact us if your are interested.
Posted by steve on January 6, 2013
Inorganic phosphorus in the form of the phosphate PO3-4 is required for all known forms of life, playing a major role in biological molecules such as DNA and RNA where it forms part of the structural framework of these molecules. For humans it is essential in food and Sweden imports some 730,000 tons of fertilizer a year, up to one third of it containing phosphorous. At the same time, much of it ends up in the Baltic seas causing algal blooming and other problems. Some sources give our current system – reliance on phosphorous rocked mined in Morocco – as only having 35 years left,
Although nitrogen is not mined, it is extracted from the air in industrial processes to produce chemical fertilizer, the same issues exist with the massive import into the country and the resulting 120,000 tons of emissions into the Baltic.
Both elements are in the top four the biggest challenges to humanity as exceeding or being close to exceeding planetary boundaries.
In this latest briefing paper, the TSSEF explains how changing the regulatory system can both restrict the amount of dependency on imported fertilizers and encourage new, green business to work with recycling and thereby radically reduce the burden on the environment whilst stimulating organic food production.
Download the report here brief_phosphorousrc
Planetary boundaries already exceeeded
Posted by steve on November 14, 2012
As populations grow, and less and less oil is being found, the fossil fuel-dependent global supply chains and the banking system that supports them are becoming less functional. Relocalizing production and sales of daily needs reduces fuel dependence, waste, and increases local employment and community resilience. However, today’s financial system is more geared to large national and global corporations.
The lack of sustainability in the system is worrying. A sustainable solution would mean that sale and provision of basic goods and services would keep ecosystem and mineral resources intact, would reduce reliance on fossil fuel and create an investment that could be enjoyed by coming generations.
New thinking is required to make capital available to smaller, local businesses for this to be realized. One proposal is a savings bank scheme called Units of Trust (UOT). The scheme makes it possible for consumers to invest in local businesses and to receive goods and services at reduced price whilst their money is with the firm.
To create simplicity, transparency and stability, a support and coordination organization called UOTMC or UOT marketing company, could be set up, along with a fund scheme in a local bank. Unitization allows consumers to invest in a wide range of companies and spread their risk.
Other benefits include: providing local business with affordable capital and long term customers at the same time. Consumers get local produce and a long term secure supply of basic needs whilst investing in a green supply system that will withstand fossil energy shortfalls.
See our video on YouTube, the NEWSLETTER FROM THE FUTURE or read the white paper.
Posted by steve on October 7, 2012
One of the houses in the Village
Last week, our eco-village, Änggärdet, played host to two days of Live Action Role-Play (LARP) along the theme of how life could look in the near future, 2016-2027, post peak oil and economic collapse. Life after Capitalism! Live action role play, as I understand it, (I might have got this wrong, but this is how it looks from being involved this time) is where a story and a situation are created as the framework and players are given roles and scripts to play out, with more or less room for improvisation. There are a series of events that take place, according to a master script. One basic theory being tested was the idea of a participatory economy or Parecon (link to wikilinks).
It is an interesting theme for people like myself, involved in Transition and the eco-village movement, as both these movements see very little hope for us to carry on the way we are, the changes being driven by Peak Oil and economic collapse.
Check out the 2027 website here.
Our eco-village offers a lot of space, a collection of tools, a few sheds and soil in need of working, so from that starting point the role-play activities were devised – to be part of a larger exploration of the theme. And everything had to be done by hand as fossil-fueled machines (and agriculture) were a thing of the past in 2016-2027.
IN ROLE OUT OF ROLE
What I would like to share are my experiences of hosting the Role-Play and being part of the action. This is the “out of role” reflection part, to use LARP language. I will say that these perspectives are entirely my own, with reservation for me having they got the whole LARP idea backwards, the plot designed by the arrangers muddled up and what I thought my role was totally confused. Maybe that is part of the fun and the learning of LARP.
Anyway it was a lot of fun, but at the same time there were some quite profound insights to be had.
It is a powerful thing, I believe, just to give oneself the opportunity to, through play, take a step backwards and consider how the future might play out. They say that so much economics is psychology, and I believe you can’t really understand something unless you get up close to it emotionally, through trying it out, or role-playing. Businesses can gain from the approach, too. You need to put yourself in your customer’s situation, and to try things out from their point of view. And why not politicians and local government officials?
PRISONERS ON WORK DUTY OR CITIZENS DOING THEIR SHARE?
Scenario one was where our eco-village was under the control of the government. Citizens were organized in work parties to help out with the food shortage. My role was farm foreman and I directed the citizens to the field where they had to pick up, with whatever tool they could find, potatoes from very heavy clay soil.
What made the whole thing interesting was the presence of the military. I found myself saying that they were there to protect the citizens from terrorists. In fact they were there to control the citizens. I made up a few stories of how work groups were infiltrated and tools were stolen, work disrupted, etc, and how I was thankful for the military presence and they should be too.
Muttering all the time that the collapse was the fault of the intellectual elite who had not seen Peak Oil coming, I went around encouraging the citizens to work harder as the food was badly needed.
The military players were great at organizing the work details. Without their help I would have had to be running around instructing and advising. If I needed anything I just told a military guy to find a “volunteer” and one appeared.
2019: One of my military crew getting ready to fetch the work detail
As someone who has organized working weekends at the Eco-village and been involved in organizing the members of the village, I can say that if we had five military with machines guns we would have got a lot more done by now, and any potential discussion about the right thing verses the wrong thing or wrong way would have been cut very, very short!
Actually, I saw a spurt of activity when the thought crossed players’ minds that we might be waiting for the potatoes in order to make their evening meal. Anyway, five bags of potatoes, unsorted, were delivered without complaint, and the citizens seemed to be going along with the whole thing.
Citizens are herded into the barn for the warm soup they get in return for their labour
What surprised me is how easily a story like that, believable in itself, can be sold to people when they are in effect being marched from the bus to the field, being interrogated as to their political persuasions and generally harassed by people with guns. It all felt strangely safe and secure and gave me another view of what the military can actually achieve when engaged in civil activities.
Would you want these guys on YOUR farm?
Should the effects of Peak Oil be so drastic that there is civil unrest, I have no doubt that a militarized model where the military are “protecting” could be achieved if the story were made believable enough. To put it another way, as the citizens knew they would be getting warm soup at the end of the exercise, and as everybody was in the same “boat” – the military had to eat with them – they seemed not to be too miserable at all.
There is something in everyone that Aldous Huxley, author of the novel “Brave New World” calls the need for the “good order”. We like to see an effective organization, have everything ordered and even roles divided clearly between us. As long as we are all in the same boat, we will pull together.
On the other hand, if there are large differences, I think that is something that fosters discontent. We didn’t have a huge hierarchy and displays of riches where many were poor in the role-play. If you are going to have wide differences then I think you have to work harder at creating fear, and harder at weaving a plausible story. Was it not Hitler who said that if you are going to tell a lie, a huge one is easier to get across? Anyway, the lack of visible hierarchy was quite a disappointment in a way as I had had visions of me playing the “double hard bastard”. I wonder if the real bastards aren’t the nicest people with the best stories after this.
HIPPY RELIGION OR COMMUNIST DREAM?
Scenario two was from a later period, 2027, where peak oil and the collapse of the economy had galvanized people in this part of the world into taking matters into their own hands and creating self-organising communities.
The scene being played out was where a group of people studying our way of life were invited to spend the day experiencing what it was like to be a part of one of these communities.
To make the scene as dramatic as possible, the idea was to hold an opening circle ceremony in the paddock, and to see how far we could go in chanting, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes – that sort of thing.
2027 "study visit" arrives in the Eco-village on foot.
My first surprise came even before we got to the paddock – a guy playing the “professor” was going around stating that we were living chairman Mao’s dream. To tell the truth, the gameplan was based upon one of the pieces of wisdom from Chairman Mao. He had said that the way to change people is to:
1) Take them out of their ordinary life
2) Give them chance to reflect on their past
3) Build a bridge to the future
4) Stimulate a powerful emotional experience
5) (And this step is needed to give all the others meaning) Introduce a way to repeat and reinforce
2027: the self organising community invites course participants to a welcoming ceremony.
We arrived at the paddock for the opening ceremony, which involved everyone holding hands and me reciting the “circle incantation” about how life is a circle, we organize in circles and we play our part in the circle that is the cycle of nature.
Unfortunately, or maybe luckily for the ones who feel uncomfortable with this sort of thing, it started to rain quite heavily so the more touchy-feely part we had to skip.
However I will say from my own view that the opening was rather a sweet experience. There IS something magical standing in a paddock, in the rain, holding hands talking about that which is important and feeling a connection to nature.
Well in the barn, the task was given to the “visitors” to create a healing garden. A healing garden is a garden that heals the soil, heals the air, heals humans and provides a place to be and to reflect.
The way to heal the soil is to make tons of it. We had chosen Hugel kultur, a method that recreates how the forest builds soil: you cut down trees, place the logs at the bottom and pile twigs and hay and then animal manure and finally leaves and grass on the top.
I also set the task out as self-organizing, drew a rough diagram on a large paper that I had hung up, roughly explained the task and pointed them to the tools and invited them to get on with it.
At this point the rain was coming down still quite heavily. I asked the group if they were up to doing it in the rain and they all (or most at least) said YES!
Now, this is the point in all working weekends and in the affairs of man in general that gets quite interesting. The inner “pull” comes and people feel drawn to one thing or another. It’s amazing to watch as people self-select, self organize and/or go through a bit of soul searching and in this case probably confusion as to if they are playing themselves or the role.
So for this bit I basically took a bit of a back seat and hoped.
Building the garden was heavy, muddy work!
The job was tough, especially for those who had decided to dig as the soil was more or less waterlogged and very muddy.
What people learned, what they went through as they scrambled in the mud, I will leave to them to reflect on and look forward to hearing both in-role and out of role reflections.
Logs in the base build soil and retain moisture
What I learnt was that making gardens is a human activity that can and should involve everyone, and that given a task and a general agreement people like to get on with it. It is healthy and you get good exercise and it creates a good feeling. People will self-organise but it is a journey we all need to take to grow to be really good at it, as our culture is more about having things organized for us.
As if by magic, the Hugel mounds appeared in the beginning of a mandala form. As they took shape, the work seemed to go smoother as players got the idea.
The Hugel mounds, in mandala form, emerged!
What really gave the day a golden edge was the weather. After gushing down for the first part, and drizzling during the mud digging, the skies cleared, the sun came out and we were able to meet back at the paddock in glorious October sunshine, the beginnings of a garden behind us.
Holding hands again, we invited the players to the closing ceremony and to express some of what they felt from the day. Sweet, and for me rather too short as the bus was waiting, the final ceremony brought the day to a close.
One thing I reflect on from the day is that the modern way of life offers too few opportunities to get together like we did, doing fun and useful things in harmony with nature. And the opportunities to get together and express anything from how irritated we feel with minutia to celebrating being alive and part of the universe.
The aim of day two was to create a manifestation of a culture of abundance and appreciation. Everything that was on the timetable was presented as an invitation. The various activities were presented as a celebration or expression of appreciation. And life was presented as an opportunity to enjoy, appreciate to have fun. As I overheard one player say – “I think using a scythe is fun!”. I can hear voices saying things like: “Yes, but if you HAD to do it and were very tired and hungry you would see it another way.” But what if we organized society so we rarely had to be in that position? If day one was an expression of a culture that focused on their being a lack of everything, day two was the opposite: surrounded by abundance, you invite people to be generous, to appreciate and to express that appreciation. Maybe, in some little way this role play gave us a glimpse of what an amazing, healing, healthy culture we can co-create together.
Role-play features on local news programme
The 2027 web-site
The Parecon economy: wikipedia explanation.
Posted by steve on July 28, 2012
This blog from the Cooperative BANK, JAKs, summer seminar, is in English; most people in Sweden are familiar with HSB but co-operative co-housing is not as widespread in many other countries. For Transitioners this form of co-housing maybe offers possibilities to build or convert apartment buildings to be run on renewable energy, to recycle nutrients and use water ecologically.
Magnus Frank, board member for one of the regional cooperatives in central Sweden, presented the organisation for us.
The driver for co-housing and the cooperative housing association goes back to the late 1800s. Swedish towns were growing, housing was hard to find. It was the norm that 25m2 housed 7 people and not all of those m2 were standing room!
Most housing was rental and renters had not rights whatsoever and could find themselves suddenly out on the snowy streets with nowhere to go.
HSB started in 1923 with the ambition to provide “good living” housing. Like most co-operatives it held a variety of operations: construction, savings bank and factory -. even a stone quarry!
HSB demonstrates another quality many successful cooperatives show: innovation., HSB introduced rubbish chutes, communal laundry and were early with day care centres.
Like all cooperatives, one member one vote is the norm. Each building or block is a separate cooperative and a board takes care of the building. Each cooperative requires members to purchase both a share in the building as a whole and a right to use one particular house or apartment. It is this “right to use” that can be sold on the open market when the owner leaves.
There are 3800 such cooperatives in Sweden, and a total of some 500,000 individual members. Each cooperative in turn is a member of the regional cooperative which provides maintenance and operation and administration services to the member cooperatives and education and other services like a savings facility and bulk purchasing of white goods to members. The regional cooperative works to establish new cooperatives by being the main contractor for new buildings. They often have no construction operations themselves, but engage construction companies in the project. Financing can be 50 – 50 between the regional cooperative and the construction company. When the building is finished, it is sold to the cooperative that will live there. Profit is shared between the regional cooperative and the construction company.
Just now, new construction is expensive, meaning that only those who are a good way up the housing ladder can afford to buy an apartment. HSB regions are building apartments to rent instead to give young people a good start in life. At the same time, HSB runs a saving scheme that gives savers points in the queue to new apartments and money to invest in their new home.
HSB aligns to the seven principles of cooperatives as laid down by ICA the international Cooperative Association, so HSB is committed to teaching about cooperative principles and working sustainably and to promote the social good.
Posted by steve on June 20, 2012
Many inventors’ eyes glaze over in wonder at the thought of having the opportunity to invent clean, more efficient, technology.
If only there were a market for it, the most wondrous machines could be manufactured and sold at a huge profit, they reason. And pollution would stop.
But more effective solutions actually, according to the famous Jevon’s paradox, encourage more consumption. Famously, refrigerators are far more efficient that they were 40 years ago. On the other hand, the total energy used by refrigerators is still increasing, as more people are buying larger refrigerators – because they are relatively cheaper.
Read a general account of the paradox on wikipedia here.
So the challenge that Jevons lays down is to find a way to encourage more efficient uses of resources in a way that will, at the same time, reduce demand for them. As illustrated in the refrigerator example above, making things more energy efficient merely increases their use and energy use goes up.
Extremely efficient cars would make them cheaper to run and encourage more people to buy them and to use them more thus pushing energy consumption up.
One researcher may have just found a way to bust the paradox. Anders Höglund, an engine efficiency expert who turned to exploring ways to apply advance control engineering to the economy, proposes a fee placed upstream of the energy source. For example, oil could be taxed when imported to the country, or when it leaves the refineries as petrol or diesel. The tax woudl be raised at regular intervals until the market responded by reducing demand.
If we are to understand Jevons, this would mean that more and more efficient uses would appear and a cat and mouse game with raised levies could go on for a long time: inventors would find ways to increase efficiency, demand would fall, the levy would fall, but then demand would rise again as the use of the fuel would be cheaper. Levies would be raised, demand would fall off, but innovators would be back on track for more efficiency gains. And so on.
But this cycle of increases efficiency then fee, then demand and efficiency again can be broken. Enter the next part of Höglund’s proposal: paying money collected back into tax payer’s accounts as a tax rebate.
Höglunds ideas have been explored in a report by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The report focused on putting a price on pollution. It reasoned that a flexible fee, levied high upstream (in the case of oil, at the harbor) could be made progressively higher until the market behaved to introduce renewable – based alternatives.
This progressive increase of fee acts like a price discovery mechanism: the price of pollution is the cost to not pollute.
– “But would this not just encourage more effective uses which would encourage the same or more consumption ,“ argued detractors.
“It would”, replied the inventor, Anders Höglund, “if it were not for the return of the fee income back into the economy”.
The mechanism investigated includes a general return of collected fees, possibly as a tax rebate.
Says Höglund “the more fossil fuel that is introduced into a country, and the longer it is used, the higher the fees and the more money collected”.
This money goes into the economy for consumers to spend. But fossil-fuel based solutions will be more expensive. So there will be an incentive for consumers to choose the alternatives. In this way we beat the Jevons paradox.
Read the full report here.
Posted by steve on May 18, 2012
The price mechanism does not provide perfect information and does not necessarily lead to a perfectly efficient distribution of resources. Many argue that the low cost of externalizing pollution to the community is leading us to create a fossil-dependent infrastructure that will be obsolete before it has paid for itself.
This briefing from the Swedish Sustainable economy Foundation explores the arguments for and against the price mechanism and looks into the scientific underpinnings of sustainable development, ecological maturity and eco-system services.
Download it here breifiing-eco-system-services