Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The real world vs bubble land

We know that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but right now collectively we just can't seem to resist the allure of getting something for nothing. This is not just a character flaw, it is symptomatic of this moment in the cycle of our civilization.

When the options are either to try for a free lunch, or work hard to earn your lunch, many of us will roll up our sleeves and get to work. But at this point, the only options we seem to have are to try for the free lunch, or go hungry.

As a civilization, we are floating in a fragile bubble, over the abyss of an economic crisis. Far down below we can see the earth. It is too far to make anything out clearly, but we have convinced ourselves that it is cold, dirty, and primitive down there. Up here in our bubble things are much nicer. It is clean, warm, and safe, and as long as we don't do anything that might pop the bubble we'll be fine.

Except... obviously not. We know deep down that a real economy is built in the real world, from the real earth, with real sweat and effort, and with the real risk of failures along the way. But when the bubble pops and we stare below us and can't see the bottom, all we want is for someone to blow us a new bubble to catch our fall. And governments, central banks, and Wall Street are only too happy to oblige.

We are in the midst of a systemic economic crisis. Our bubble is now so far removed from the production and exchange of real things of value that we barely even know what that means or what it looks like in a simple economic way. The sea of debt that holds our bubble afloat has clouded our view of reality. But reality is what we need most. We desperately need a reality-based economics, focused on the ground level of value creation and consumption. Each moment, and each dollar we invest keeping our bubble afloat, segregated from the real world, is a moment lost.

To be more direct, our leaders (elected and otherwise) are trying to address our economic crisis by manipulating our financial/monetary system to keep the bubbles from popping. The allure of this "solution" is that it doesn't require us to change our patterns of living, our patterns of production and consumption, and perhaps most importantly, our patterns of thought. The authorities are on top of it. All we have to do is keep shopping!

The problem is, the chances of success of this strategy are basically zero.

It is well past time to recognize that tinkering with the financial system via central bank interventions is NOT GOING TO save our economies or preserve our status as history's wealthiest society. That kind of wealth didn't ever come from tinkering with interest rates and printing money, nor will it now. It came from a) the most abundant, concentrated, and cheap energy source ever exploited on earth in the form of fossil fuels and b) industrious and entrepreneurial application of that energy to create things of real value.

Non-renewable fossil fuels are, well, non-renewable. We've used a lot of them, and there is nothing we can do to re-create what has been consumed. Even if we could set the environmental impacts aside (which we can't), fossil fuels have a rapidly declining long term return on investment for our economies.

So that leaves our ability to innovate, our industriousness, and our entrepreneurship. Back in the real world, outside the bubble, there is a huge amount of work to do. Much of our industrial and commercial infrastructure is fast becoming obsolete. Huge and growing numbers of people are living in poverty or at high risk of it. We are far less wealthy than we thought we were, and the things people value here in the real world are far different than what they value back in bubble land.

So there is much work to do! Is there ever! Instead of wasting vast amounts of time and resources on keeping the bubble floating for another day, let's get real. Let's get our hands dirty. People everywhere are doing it. Sometimes out of desperation, but often because we see that the real world is actually not so bad, and we just don't really care for life in the bubble.

For those of us who are getting to work in this way, do we abstain from the financial system altogether? Well, if the only option was bubble land finance, we would probably be better off without anything. But that isn't the only option. We need a finance system that is focused far more directly on aiding the circulation of things of value, not the blowing of bubbles.

But most importantly, we need to find and create local supply chains to keep producing, exchanging, and consuming the things of value that we need and want. A finance system that stays close to the ground, serving this real community need, will prosper, especially as the cracks in bubble land finance get wider, and it becomes ever harder to keep the bubbles afloat.

What would such a grounded financial system look like? Honestly, I can't claim to know the answer. But that doesn't mean I'm not experimenting, and learning about it as I go!

Credex is an experiment to develop a financial system more closely connected to reality. The first phase proved that it can work, and the second phase is coming soon!

Monday, 7 April 2014

What is cred? Why are we doing this? And what is the plan to move this experiment forward?

Cred is an IOU tracking system that can be used as an alternative to money.

Cred are “IOUs” that represent an individual promise between two people, and as such cannot be transferred. Cred can only be redeemed by providing value back to the person who you issued the cred to.

However, value can be provided indirectly through a “loop” in which you provide value to someone else, who then provides value back to the person you issued the IOU to. In this way cred can enable complex multi-party transactions, just like money. Loops can include any number of people, and are found automatically in the background by the cred software as you carry out your transactions and issue your IOUs.

Community Gatherings and Cred Marketplaces

The cred community will be gathering every other Tuesday evening. The next event is Tuesday, April 8, at the Shambhala School (Gottingen and Russell) and will start at 6pm with dinner, which will be provided by a members of the cred community, and sold for cred. The event will include a presentation on cred, community conversations, and a cred marketplace.

Motivation

Our money system is not a level playing field. The game is rigged in a way that tilts the play towards specific outcomes. Exponential growth is hardwired in, and is a major force contributing to the overconsumption of natural resources and the commodification of our world. It doesn't have to be this way, and the cred system is an experiment into an alternative. We aspire to tilt the playing field back in the direction of sustainability and human values.

There are very good reasons for the economic system that we have inherited. On a comparatively empty planet, growth equals success. So the economic systems that have enabled the highest growth rate have had the greatest success. In fact, although there are national currencies and some minor differentiations between countries, we basically have a single global financial/money system. This system has out-competed all the others in it's ability to enable economic growth.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

the Occupy movement and public consultations

Two recent Open File articles by Hilary Beaumont discuss the public consultation process for a Halifax stadium, and make a comparison of the World Cafe method being used there with the consensus process being used by General Assemblies in the Occupy movement. Analysis of dialogue and decision making processes is hugely important, and Hilary's questions and observations get right to the point.

Hilary asks which process is best for making collective decisions and, "which one is winning at democracy?" However that kind of question seems similar to asking whether a hammer or a saw is the best tool for building a house. It is far too narrow a focus to be of any practical help. Clearly both hammers and saws are needed in different circumstances, for different purposes. And it is also comparing apples to oranges. World Cafe is not a group decision making process, it is a group conversation process that is massively scalable and by it's nature cannot be dominated by a few loud voices. General Assemblies use a consensus based decision making process that, as Hilary notes, works best in small groups.

So although comparing and contrasting methods is vital, setting up a competition between them doesn't seem particularly helpful. The most important thing is that we keep constantly learning about how to apply the best possible process in any given situation. It's an art, not a science. And there are many other powerful social technologies like these.

Hilary points out a weakness of World Cafe: it may be very resistant to domination by a few loud voices, but if there is a majority position or a position that has the backing of the power structures of society, minority voices can end up being be suppressed. While it offers great opportunities to co-create out of diverse perspective, it is not particularly well-suited to handling perspectives that are in direct conflict with each other. However, there is just no comparison between a World Cafe public consultation process and the more common "town hall" meeting style where a few people get to grandstand and the rest sit in silence. World Cafe is just hugely superior for inviting citizens' voices into the process in almost any situation.

But here we get to a far more important point. When a local governance system, lacking entirely in imagination, rather sclerotic and at least a little nepotistic, and intimately tied into the parasitic global financial system, moves towards putting our money towards a stadium and calls a public consultation process to explore the idea, the process used in the public consultation is not really the main issue here.

I fully support my colleagues and friends who are opening new spaces for civic engagement using World Cafe and other methods. But to expect the kind of revolutionary systemic transformation we need to come from a government led and funded consultation process is simply unrealistic. What these processes can do however is create connections, build networks, and open minds to the fact that there are other ways to have the important social conversations.

Another interesting question is, "How could Occupy use these Cafe consultation processes to advance the movement?" In a space like this, citizens are gathered to discuss one aspect of the future of our city. What if 10-20 Occupiers got together and decided to use it as an outreach event? Spread out at tables around the room, engaging with citizens and challenging the priorities that lead our government to put a stadium ahead of other pressing needs like a strong social safety net and building the resilience of our local economy. Not trying to sabotage or hijack the process, but using it to bring up the deeper issues that might otherwise remain unspoken. Use it as a way to plant seeds for future conversations in contexts where radical change is actually on the agenda.

Building a stadium is a colossal waste of money in a world of depleting resources and drastically increasing instability. But I have no desire to fight the powers that be on this issue. Stadium or no stadium has nothing to do with radical change, and therefore is just not worth it. However, engaging with the process under the right circumstances, with the right view, in cooperation with the right people, might be worth the effort. The government has invited a conversation with citizens. Kudos to them for this, for what it is. The question for those who want radical systemic change is, "Is there an opportunity here to advance that agenda, or are the conditions not ripe for that and our efforts are better spent elsewhere?"

Friday, 26 August 2011

well said

George Friedman on the crisis of political economy.
"You have to look at the more fundamental issue. People who were supposed to be experts in finance did inexcusably stupid things, and also in the process profited handsomely. People in the political system who were supposed to hold these people accountable, and prevent them from doing these things, failed to do it.

I think in most countries we expect our politicians to steal a little money here and there on expense accounts. We expect bickering in Congress. We expect these things. But when the fundamental thing that legitimizes an elite, the financial elites ability to manage money prudently, is violated in two ways, first that they clearly can't do it and secondly that they profit from it anyways, and the politicians obligation to stabilize the system and not let people get away with this doesn't happen, you have serious problems.

So I think the problem really starts with the systemic failure of two major elites, not on minor things, not on trivial corruption, but on the fundamental thing they were hired for, and the fact that they don't seem to regard themselves as particularly having failed. This is what creates the crisis.[...]

The heart of the matter is that the integrity, the intelligence, the morality of these elites have now been called into question. Empirically because of their failure to operate, but also the way that they operated. And no one at this point is certain that they can resurect themselves, or have new leadership enforced. And this is leading to a deep moral crisis.[...]

The issue is: who are these people who are running things, what gives them the right to do so, and if that right does not flow somehow from competence, what does it flow from?"

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Ireland has not been bailed out. The banks have been bailed out.

Heartbreaking. Outrageous. Max calls it a war. I don't know if that is the right label, but one thing is certain: it will take struggle and sacrifice to bring about the changes we need.



Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Once more refreshed...

My blog, that is. Moved to Blogger, but still hosted at ryanwatson.ca.
Who knows, maybe I'll even post once in a while...

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The power and threat of deep relationship

There is a stream of change work that puts a very high value on the power of relationship to affect change. This comes from an observation and a belief that impactful work arises out of meaningful conversations and relationships. If there aren't good conversations going on, how can we expect good decisions to be made or effective action to occur?

This emphasis on personal relationship leads to designing change processes that intentionally strengthen these relationships within the system. Circle practice is the primal example of a process that can strengthen relationships and deepen conversations. There are many other processes that achieve this as well, and they can be incredibly potent.

Yet the "power" cultures of business, government, etc have a certain resistance to processes like circle. "If I break out a talking piece at our next boardroom meeting I'll be crucified!"

There is a level of skillfulness that can be applied to work with this resistance. It is not necessary to use a talking piece at the boardroom table, but simply going around and each person saying what they hope to accomplish at the meeting might be perfectly workable, if a little unusual.

Altering the processes to fit the context we are working in while keeping true to the heart and power of the process is of course essential. And there is also a deeper dynamic going on that should be recognized. The fundamental belief that deep personal relationship is crucial for success is not necessarily shared. In fact, deepening personal relationships may actually be threatening in some contexts and cultures.

If you believe (as I do) that deep personal relationships and networks are essential (though not sufficient) for change work, then a primary goal will be to create the spaces and processes that nurture these relationships. Yet that very space that is so essential can actually be a stumbling block.

I expect the skillful way to work with this dichotomy involves an uncompromising commitment to the power of relationship, coupled with a complete openness and acceptance of where people are without trying to change or convince them of the rightness of another view. Maybe holding this dichotomy is part of the personal practice and journey of leadership for social innovation.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

inflation or deflation?

John Michael Greer hits on a crucial question that I've given some thought to in the past:
Plenty of countries in the past have tried to cover expenses that overshot income by spinning the presses at the local mint. The result is generally hyperinflation, of the sort made famous in the 1920s by Germany and more recently by Zimbabwe. That I know of, though, nobody has tried the experiment with a national economy in a steep deflationary depression, of the sort that has been taking shape in America and elsewhere since the real estate bubble crashed and burned in 2008. In theory, at least in the short term, it might just work; the inflationary pressures caused by printing money wholesale could conceivably cancel out the deflationary pressures of a collapsing bubble and a contracting economy – at least for a while.

What I see is a monetary system in a vicegrip. There are massively powerful forces of inflation and deflation at work in the system. For the moment these forces balance each other, perhaps mostly do to the sheer momentum of "normalcy." But as the forces grow more powerful and the managers of the economy run out of clever tools, the chances that these forces will remain in balance over the long term appears vanishingly small. The system is balanced on a knife edge, and when one of the forces of inflation or deflation takes the upper hand it will spell disaster for our monetary system.

Monday, 1 February 2010

some good things for NS

I've seen a few positive happenings on the NS political front in the last month or so, and I wanted to make sure to share them.

  • The Wheeler report recommends feed-in tariffs to drive renewable energy production. Feed laws were a primary plank of our Green Party platform in 2009. Often brushed off as unrealistic for NS, it is wonderful to see the idea gaining some momentum in this report. I do have to also say that I'm very concerned by the biomass recommendations in the report though. Biomass for electricity makes very little sense to me. Biomass for heat... yes. But a large scale burning of our forests would be a massive tragedy and a massive failure of public policy.

  • The NB government seems to want to actually keep ownership of its grid, rather than outsourcing their entire energy security to Quebec. Good move for them, and positive for the Maritimes in general. They are still selling basically all their generating capacity, and I question the wisdom of that, but keeping the grid is crucial.

  • The Green Party of Nova Scotia is back on the scene with a few media releases and position statements from leader John Percy on the party website. Good to see!

  • I also very much like this move by Mr. Dexter's government.  These Back to Balance consultations encourage Nova Scotians towards taking responsibility for our province and our public policy. And it seems a savvy political move to boot. Fingers crossed that the input actually has an effect on the decision making process.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The demand for growth

I just came across this piece I wrote back in October 2008 but never published. A little dated, but still relevant.

*******************

As the financial crisis deepens, it is becoming a political crisis, a leadership crisis, and a global crisis of trust. Our economy has become disconnected from the creation and exchange of real value, and suddenly the ground that appeared so solid is shifting beneath our feet.

I believe that the roots of this crisis are very deep, and also very simple: our economic system demands exponential growth, and yet we live on a finite planet. The necessity of growth is hardwired into our monetary system, and when that growth falters the system comes under incredible strain.

We base our monetary system on these two premises:

  1. Money is loaned into existence by banks

  2. Loans must be repaid with interest


These premises are simple, yet when thoroughly understood they are extremely unsettling, for they clearly describe a system out of touch with reality, a system that simply cannot continue indefinitely.

The process of paying interest on loans is common knowledge. What is less well understood is that the money that we have been loaned is created by the bank at the moment that we borrow it. The implications of this are profound. Because money is created through loans, and loans must be repaid with interest, there is always more debt than there is money. The only way that debts can be repaid is if the supply of money is continually growing. Yet that means total debt is also continuously growing.

Although it has been unjust from the beginning, for generations this basic system has worked to grow our collective wealth. But now it is now under severe strain, and may be on the verge of failure. For generations, the money loaned into existence was invested to create real wealth. Because it generated real wealth, the loans could be repaid. But in a world of depleting resources, it becomes much more difficult to create real wealth, and more lucrative to invest in speculative enterprises based on perceptions. Houses that are assumed to increase in price forever are one such speculative investment. And because real value creation is waning, this speculation has become a cornerstone of our economy.

And now, the reality is dawning that we have invested massively into schemes that have not provided us with things of real value. Our houses are basically the same structures they were 10 years ago. The idea that they have doubled or tripled (or more) in value is proving to be an illusion. And our financial systems are buckling as the reality of our situation sets in.

The housing bubble may be the unfortunate basis of the unfolding meltdown, but the roots of our problem go much deeper than that. We have a money system that demands perpetual growth, and we live on a finite planet. We are seeing the collision between these two irreconcilable realities, and as vast and powerful as our market economy is, we are about to learn that the limits of nature cannot be overcome, and we ignore them at our own peril.

If this analysis is correct, then our political and financial leaders will be unable to stave off this crisis indefinitely, no matter how many trillions are pumped into the economy. This financial breakdown will affect us all, and we will all be called on to discover the strength, courage, and generosity to help ourselves and our communities find a way through the challenges we face.