Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thinking About a New Economy

There aren't too many people globally, well at least the 1 per cent, who are satisfied with the current economy. I had written in a blog last fall about differing approaches to what I was putting under the umbrella of the New Economy with links to at least 15 differing ideas of possible new economy. A current undertaking is to look more carefully at those and potentially other versions and catalog their fundamental principles, their examples and existing applications, policies that would support them, etc. I am interested in finding where these differing approaches converge and where they diverge. As I prepare to give a talk this week on 'Sustainability and a New Economy' I'm slowly reviewing the possibilities to share with my audience. In the process, as is my seeming trajectory in life, I stumbled into a few items that will assist me in that endeavor and are worth sharing with interested others who might not stumble onto them otherwise.


They are currently shifting websites from the earlier one  to the newest one I hope they don't lose the material on the original site which one of the linked items below is from. But first a recent and grand overview from the new site of one of the new economy models, The Sharing Economy. Adam Parsons has written a concise yet critical introduction to the concepts in The Sharing Economy: A Short Introduction to its Political Evolution.

Parsons' review provides useful links to other, deeper reports that look at various takes on a Sharing Economy. Yes, there are many actors from many regions of the world exploring what a Sharing Economy can look like. The creative and scholarly energy involved is palpable around many of the new economy ideas that are circulating, being modeled, measured, and adapted for use far and wide. I have yet to be able to explore some of them linked to in Parsons' article including a recent Friends of the Earth 'Big Ideas' briefing paper, Sharing Cities, by noted scholar Julian Agyeman and colleagues. (I briefly noted Agyeman's recent book Introducing Just Sustainabilities in a blog last summer.)


On the older website the last piece published was a piece in December based upon a series of talks given by Charles Eisenstein in Europe this past fall. The summary of Eisenstein's main points are evidently embedded in his new book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Tell us is Possible the first chapter of which is free to download.

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible

As summarized Eisenstein's insights have some resonance with Parsons' critical reflections in the piece referenced above. Here is one of the notes the author makes from listening to Eisenstein during this tour
       The true destiny of science is to humble us before the mysteries of the universe, but we are still hanging on to the ‘old story' that believes everything can be explained through modern science and reductive reasoning. It is our blind adherence to a rational, evidence-based analysis of all situations that often serves to cut us off from an animating spirit of reverence and love of our planet. This is the true motivation we need to be in touch with in order to feel more, care more and do more to save our planet. Appealing to fear and self-interest will not be enough, and may reinforce the belief that the planet has no value beyond its utility; hence love for the Earth as a sacred being is the most effective basis for collective action.

 Whether either of these pieces grabs your interest or not. I would heartily recommend bookmarking the web site for frequent visits as it is clear the amount of activity, holistic and systemic thinking, and deep reflection will be a refreshing fountain of possibility and hopefulness for 2014.I'll  be visiting other new economy sites over the next few months and passing along some possibilities that I think might be worth consideration.

Film at 11:00

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chances, Possibilities and Privilege: How Our World is Changed

Lots of people use the end of the year and the kickoff of the new one to look back or look forward. Calendar turning is a reminder that time passes on, seemingly otherwise unnoticed. Two of my favorite thinkers and writers have done some exceptional reflection and articulated some hopeful possibilities worth sharing with those who do not usually bump into their work.


Charles Eisenstein who wrote the book Sacred Economics that I have referred to numerous times in this blog wrote a couple of pieces that look at the world and our individual place in it with, as is his wont, fresh insights and a deep gut belief in possibilities. In an essay entitled 2013: A Year That Pierced Me, Eisenstein reflects on the 150 talks he gave, the responses to them and his new book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible and whether any of it matters.


     I gave over a hundred and fifty speeches and longer events in 2013, and sometimes, even if the speech ended with a standing ovation and tears glistening around the room, I would wonder at night, "Is this really doing any good? After all, everyone went home and look at the news." I would read that while I was speaking, a Yemeni wedding party was incinerated by a hellfire missile, or that torture had resumed at Abu Graib, or that indigenous tribes were to be removed in Ecuador so their pristine rain forests could be cleared for oil drilling, or that Fukushima radiation is causing fish to bleed from their eyeballs...

     Every day there is another incontrovertible sign that the military-industrial-pharmaceutical-prison-educational-financial-political complex is ascendant. Against that backdrop, I sometimes wonder, does the world really need another smart white guy speaking in a room?

Eisenstein goes on to wrestle with the flip side of his catharsis. A few excerpts below:

     It would be irresponsible to inspire hope where there is none...

... I say a more beautiful world is possible. I say it from a knowing, and it touches the same knowing in anyone who listens...

...I speak from a knowing, yet I just as much as anyone need help to believe.

Eisenstein followed up this piece with another short essay, 2013: Hope or Despair, a few excerpts follow

     Sometimes the positive development look like pinpricks of light under a blanket of darkness. The points of light are tiny in comparison to the injustice and ecocide.

He goes on to wonder aloud about some possibilities and continues:

     ...My point in illuminating them is that we treat these positive developments as harbingers of the future, and stand firmly in the energy of their possibility. They are not distractions from despair's reality; they are heralds of a more beautiful world. 


And then there is the forceful, moving, analysis from Rebecca Solnit, The Arc of Justice and the Long Run: Hope, History, and Unpredictability. I'll share the opening paragraph and perhaps another quote or two. But one will lose a great opportunity if they do not read the entire evocative seven page essay.

     North American cicada nymphs live underground for 17 years before they emerge as adults. Many seeds stay dormant far longer than that before some disturbance makes them germinate. Some trees bear fruit long after the people who planted them have died, and one Massachusetts pear tree, planted by a Puritan in 1630, is still bearing fruit far sweeter than most of those fundamentalists brought to this continent. Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart, sometimes Martin Luther King's arc of the moral universe that bends towards justice is so long few see its curve, sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.

     ...a decade ago I began writing about hope, an orientation that has nothing to do with optimism. Optimism says that everything will be fine no matter what, just as pessimism says that it will be dismal no matter what. Hope is a sense of the grand mystery of it all, the knowledge that we don't know how it will turn out, that anything is possible.

There is so much more here beautifully shared. Enjoy. Be hopeful, but be active....


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Big Time Sports the Circus of Our Time

Big time sports has become the ‘bread and circuses’ of our time. ‘Bread and Circuses’ was a phrase originating in Roman times by Juvenal who saw Roman citizens becoming concerned only with those two issues in life.

The circuses referred to were games held to entertain the public, including gladiators and chariot races. Wikipedia suggests, “Juvenal here makes reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to Roman citizens as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power.” 

There are several concerns I have with the growth of big time sports in our age:

1)      The outrageous incomes generated for a very few drawn from the pockets of the many plays a pivotal role in our distraction and diversion from issues of war, poverty, injustice and ecological destabilization. It also exacerbates the inequality that so harms our social fabric.

In the U.S. especially, the number of people entranced with professional sports is astounding. The NFL had 33 million attendees this year spending an average of $82 per ticket (not including parking, hot dogs or beer). The NBA had 21 million ticket purchasers at an average price of $51, the MLB 74 million at an average ticket price of $40, and the NHL 12 million with a $66 ticket average. Those totals add up to 140 million attendees and somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.4 billion of revenue.

But big time college sports is not far behind. The NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools had 32 million attendees, where low-demand game ticket prices averaged more than $37 while high-demand game tickets averaged $61. Twenty million fans attended regular season NCAA basketball games last year among the top ten conference teams.

A recent map (courtesy of WTHR-TV) of the highest paid public employees by state showed that in 41 out of 50 states the highest paid public employee was a college football, basketball, or hockey coach.

American Decline 
 Add the astronomical salaries of professional athletes, not to mention the franchise owners, and we see a huge transfer of wealth. One of the teams I rooted for as a child was the 
Detroit Tigers.

 In those years, the star and future Hall of Fame member was Al Kaline, who played his entire 22-year career with Detroit and made all of $100,000 in his final year (1972). 

 Al Kaline 1957.jpg
Fast forward to this past year when Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander signed a seven-year contract earning him $180 million. This averages out to more than $25 million a year or 250 times what Al Kaline ever made in a single year. Is it any wonder that low income citizens are unable to afford attending these events?

Advertisers paid more than $1,000,000 for a 30-second commercial slot for the major sports events last year ($3.5 million for the Super Bowl). 

2)      Time associated with watching big time sports.

The transfer of wealth is just one concern.  Another, and perhaps more damaging, is the circus effect: the distraction and diversion of attention away from our pressing challenges and a willingness to engage in finding solutions to them. More people watch NFL football than vote in our bi-annual Congressional elections, let alone write letters or otherwise communicate with governing officials regarding their concerns.

While actual game attendance has been healthy for years for both professional and major college sport teams, the attention paid through TV is perhaps at least as telling. A 2011 Harris poll showed that 60% of all adults watch NFL football with 27% watching six to ten hours per week. A Scarborough Research survey found 76 million college football viewers in 2012 and at least 58 million college basketball viewers.

The chasing of hot prospects for college rosters keeps targeting younger and younger athletes, with high school freshmen and sophomores tracked for years before they are allowed to “sign” a commitment letter. Actually, youth travel teams in all these sports now have primary school age children spending weekends traversing hundreds of miles to play other kids, with hopes that someday they will be one of those lucky few who star on the big stage. What this does to our society, let alone what it does for our carbon emissions, is tragic.

Our newspapers, with rare exception, have as much if not more staff covering sports than they do covering local government or the community and certainly give more ink to that arena than any other. Similarly, local TV news allots about as much time for sports coverage as it does all the other news they broadcast.
It should hardly surprise us that so many of the American people seem so uninformed on so many of the issues facing us as a human family on a finite planet. Likewise, even the college campuses where big time sports dominate the campus culture, seem largely inoculated against serious involvement with world beyond them outside of the classroom.  We spend relatively little time trying to understand, let alone act, to improve our communities and societies compared to the attention we give to sports.

3)        Winning is everything

But perhaps my greatest concern with this infatuation with big time sports is the pernicious effect of casting much of our social lives in terms of competition – making winners and losers and basking in the winning. This emphasis on “winning is everything” has become increasingly characteristic of our political, business, and educational cultures, casting others as opponents to be defeated. You see it in the growth of American Exceptionalism – a myth that by all measures we might be better than others and therefore worthy of emulation if not adoration. The Spirit Level ( by British epidemiologists Pickett and Wilkinson) alone debunks that myth on so many fronts.

 The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

I am a sports lover, despite the paragraphs you’ve read until now. I still remember the Pee Wee Reese mitt my parents bought me when I was five. And we played ball every day in the summer, football in the fall, and hockey in the winter. Mostly we did pick-up: from whomever showed up, we got two volunteer captains for the day and they would alternate choosing amongst us until all were selected. We even played with unequal numbers so that everyone could play. I lived and breathed sports, listening to the Tigers, Lions, Pistons, and Red Wings as I’d fall asleep at night. I played high school hockey and some organized fast-pitch softball and baseball when I was younger. As an adult I played softball (four nights a week some years before marriage) and even played nine years in an Over 50 league. I also coached my kids in softball and soccer when they were young. Sports are a good thing. They can teach us team work, skill development, a work ethic, and keep us physically active late into life.

But the capturing of sports and making it the circus it has become, distracting us from attending to social and environmental challenges, is dividing us into camps. When the main challenges we face are global in nature – climate and ecological destabilization, inequality, infectious disease, etc. - we need to act as one team, one family, working together, not trying to see who can beat the other and win some shallow victory.

Instead of waiting for yet more sanctioned and officially organized teams and leagues, it’s time for us to get out on the fields and get started with some good old pick-up games, where everybody plays and everybody wins. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.