My recent article on how come capitalism is an extractive practice, and the later explainer of how it degrades real capital got, for me at least, a lot of interest. Very few, however, asked what could be done about it. Once you know the problem you are a long way to solving it. There are several ways to turn the extractive nature of capitalism around, and they are surprisingly simple. Read on!Continue reading “Simple quick fixes to capitalism you never knew could be done”
Some results from alpha testing of the Universal Basic Income simulation game
Together with the Swedish Sustainable Economy Foundation I am developing a Universal basic Income “Business Game“. The idea is to take a simplified, fictive country and play around with various aspects of UBI to learn by doing.
We are into the first alpha testing phase and have produced an overview dashboard to look into what sort of figure we are interested in following as the game progresses
The above run was a force run to see how raising taxes and lowering numbers in work looks in the system. As you see the state gets less to spend on services as income declines. Maybe not so interesting. The next run looks at raising UBI from under minimum standard and just raising VAT.
The second run added spending power of UBI takers to the dashboard. If you raise VAT you lower spending power. Interestingly – in the simplified model at least – you get MORE state income and the UBI takers do not get lowered VAT. This gives us a hint that it might be possible to raise UBI and Universal Basic Services, although the UBI eats away at the money available for social costs.
Modelling like this raises many detailed questions and it is a difficult task to make the game engine simple enough to handle in a game situation ( so that you learn basic principles) and complex enough to give a feeling of “real life” (so it feels authentic enough).
Let me know in the comments if there is any logic I am missing or any metric you want to see on the dashboard.
Click here for more articles on the UBI simulation
Our analysis of signals of change in the world tell us that there are major changes being called for.
Eliminate poverty – we already decided
The Sustainable Development goals set a new precedent for human development and it is still sinking in that the majority of countries in the world have signed up to eliminating poverty (SDG1) and hunger (SDG2) and eliminating threats to the environment.
Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services are being tried and debated as a route to achieving SDG 1.
Supporting links: Article in the Independent on University College of London Report.
A new Green Deal proposes massive investment in a new USA
From the Democratic party, the New Green Deal is the boldest proposal to come from the US for a long time – it will aim to eliminate poverty, create green jobs and transform the technical infrastructure of the US to a circular economy
The Circular Economy is central to achieving the SDGs and the New Green Deal
The idea has been with us for a while, and it is slowly becoming more and more apparent that nature works in a circular way and society needs to fit in. The possibilities are huge, from green, dignified jobs for all to eradication of pollution to a better life for future generations.
Supporting links: Learn more about the Circular economy at this online school.
Heavy fees on things that pollute like fossil fuel can be a blessing
We are noticing how more and more economists are realizing that a heavy, increasing fee on fossil carbon could stimulate the economy rather than slow it if the fees are paid back to taxpayers. Some estimates point to 70% of citizens being better off under the scheme as those who use fossil fuels are ofter the wealthiest.
- Economist’s statement on Carbon Dividend
- Swedish Sustainable Economy Foundation’s research into Carbon Dividend Mechanisms
From our sponsors
Could it be so that it is a badly-constructed monetary system that is holding humanity back? Money theoretician Marc Gauvin offers some interesting angles on money as a system. He suggests that the money system itself impacts peace negatively, but the system could be adapted to be a peace-promoting tool for humanity. We’ll lay out the ideas here and look forward to hearing your comments in the comments box below.
Could it be so that it is a badly-constructed monetary system that is holding humanity back in its shared project of peace on Earth? Or at least this miss-construction is not doing us any good? Marc Gauvin, money theoretician and author of two websites Money Transparency and Bibo Currency offers some interesting angles on money as a system. In recent correspondence, he suggested that the money system itself impacts peace negatively, but the system could be adapted to be a peace-promoting tool for humanity. We’ll lay out the ideas here and look forward to hearing your comments in the comments box below. Continue reading “Monetary theory and a safe house for humanity”
Technology died today. Not the machines, but the paradigm. The belief that delivering high-tech creates jobs, prosperity and shareholder value got killed. The news hit this morning in Sweden’s newspaper SVD among others, that Sweden’s flagship, Ericsson, is shedding thousands of jobs and shutting down manufacturing in Sweden. The decision is sending shock-waves through the municipalities where Ericsson units are one of the largest employers. The likely effect is that whole communities will suffer in a domino effect decimating local suppliers then local services then house prices. And it’s probably the best thing to happen to Sweden for a long while. More on that later. First to the situation. Continue reading “Opinion: Ericsson divorces Sweden and kills technology”
Sweden’s largest exporter, Ericsson, is about to shed all manufacturing in Sweden, sack half its employees and be broken up and sold. This is bad news for sustainable Sweden; with its internet of things and wide R&D capabilities Ericsson has the competence and potential to be a major contributor to the Swedish Government’s ambition to be fossil-emission free by 2045. It seems very few really care to do what is necessary. They would rather let small local initiatives pick up the pieces. That is possibly the best option.
According to recent newspaper reports, Sweden’s largest exporter, Ericsson, is about to – in the worst case – shed all manufacturing in Sweden, sack half its employees and be broken up and sold. This is bad news for sustainable Sweden; with its internet of things and wide R&D capabilities Ericsson has the competence and potential to be a major contributor to the Swedish Government’s ambition to be fossil-emission free by 2045. With this latest news it is looking more and more like Sweden will fail to “cross the chasm” keeping its high material standard. It seems, though, that very few really care to do what is necessary. They would rather let small local initiatives pick up the pieces.
Economic Fiscal Reform calls for the economic system to align with the twin purposes of preserving and indeed restoring the environment whilst providing a standard of living for citizens. Up to now, these purposes have not been central to the way economics has been practiced. We are, however, facing a pressing situation: soil degradation, atmospheric warming and mineral depletion are forcing us to rethink. The idea of the circular economy – where biological and mineral material circulate in the economy without being deposited – is gaining ground. Continue reading “The economics of the circular economy”
LONDON 14th September.Stephen joined Helena Norberg-Hodge at the Initiatives of Change conference on the Economics of Happiness.Read the summary here
Article updated June 6 after consideration of all the recent comments
We are stuck. On the one hand you have people who talk about economic growth as being the objective of policy – necessary to be able to pay back debts and achieve prosperity. On the other hand, you have the sustainable camp that claims infinite growth is impossible and therefore the whole economic system is bound to fail as it relies on it. You have people who claim we need GOOD growth as opposed to BAD growth. Bad growth would be the increased economic activity due to storms, break-ins and failures of products. Either way, the term capitalism comes up as if it were a system. Perhaps if we explored the idea of developing our thinking about capital we might find some ways forward.
My aim here is to clarify the idea of using capital as a central social planning approach, using the idea of settlement maturity. This is the idea that settlements, and the societies in them, like an eco-system, can mature. If society can mature, then maybe its capital profile will mature too.To be able to take this analytical line we need to understand first what ecological maturity is.
Let us look, then, at how nature grows and see if we can find some insights into how capital can grow, and what economic growth would look like through the eyes of sustainability.
Growth =net increase in mass
Growth (rapid increase in biomass)is a stage the ecosystems go through on their way to ecological maturity
There is still growth in mature eco-systems. Trees still grow, albeit slower. However, for the system as a whole there is little net increase in biomass.
Ecologists describe how all eco-systems strive to become mature. You probably have the idea somewhere in the back of your mind, how smaller animals give way to large predators, small plants become forests, rushing water becomes a swamp, etc.
One well-known description of maturity comes from the ecologist Odum,(ref 1) (table below)
Let’s take it bit by bit:
- Gross production. This means the total amount of biomass that accumulates in the system. Note that as a system matures, the slower biomass increases. For example, young trees grow very fast, older trees grow much slower.
- Biomass supported. As the system matures, more biomass is in the system – more trees grow, more animals and plants more in, and they are larger.
- Total organic matter. As above, the more mature the system, the more in the eco-system.
- Size of organism. In immature systems, the organisms are small. As the system matures, and there is more for predators to eat, for example, the more and larger the organisms become.
- Niche specialism. As the system matures so does diversity. More specialized organisms move in.Mineral cycles. Eco systems need minerals to cycle in them in order to function, so to have more biomass they must retain nutrients.
- Nutrient exchange rate organisms <> environment . Immature systems “leak” both heat and nutrients to other eco-systems.Role of detritus in nutrient cycling. As the system matures, detritus is more and more important as a source of minerals and energy for the organisms in it.Nutrient conservation. Mature systems conserve minerals and do not leak them to other systems.
We now need to explore the idea of capital.
Now let us apply the idea of maturity using the idea of the built environment; a settlement.
An immature settlement might be a few tents that settlers might bring with them. They have no agriculture, there is no infrastructure, but they are surrounded by the bounty of nature and can begin to convert, for example, trees to buildings.We can envision an immature settlement, but can we envision a mature one? Surely our cities act like immature settlements: nutrients are lost to surrounding environment, metals and minerals end up in tips, and even our building reflect heat rather than gather the energy from the sun. The list below is an attempt to bring together ideas of what a more eco-mimicking city or settlement might look like.
GROSS PRODUCTION. Here we would see the production of buildings and transport infrastructure as complete, only repair and upgrade would be needed. Most production activity would be turned to food and heating and lighting.
BIOMASS SUPPORTED. The mature settlement would have a high level of biomass supported in the form of tree, and food -producing facilities.
TOTAL ORGANIC MATTER Total organic matter would be higher, to provide eco-system services like shade, energy capturing, building and clothing materials etc. A field does not represent this vision, we would expect more organic matter intensive methods, like forest agriculture, food forestry, would be used.
SIZE OF ORGANISM. It can be imagined that in this case, for a society organism means body, like an organization. As society matures, more specialized and larger organizations can provide efficiency of scale and specialization.
NICHE SPECIALIZATION. People could have more specialized jobs as society matures. Early settlers might need to master a broad range of tasks without being able to go too deeply. In the specialized society everyone could master subjects deeper.
MINERAL CYCLES. It makes sense that an immature society digs up iron and other materials to get started. But after a while, the extraction of these substances can become polluting and maybe lead to scarcity. In this case, minerals already extracted should be recycled ad not released in to the biosphere. This approach is being pioneered by the natural step and Cradle to Cradle. The mature settlement is a mineral recycling society
NUTRIENT EXCHANGE RATE WITH ENVIRONMENT. The same here as for minerals. The mature society will retain nutrients for recycling, and do the surrounding environment a favour by not putting this burden onto it, as well as minimizing the work needed to obtain nutrients. These building blocks of life can stay within the settlement. More are only needed for growth.
ROLE OF DETRITUS Early settlers could make waste without it creating a problem or being seen as a loss of valuable resources as there probably were not much of them. Not so for the mature settlement, where the amount of biomass is high. Detritus is a resource and in the mature society there may be much of it. It can also accumulate and be a pollutant. So it needs recycling. This will mean a soil to soil perceptive for food systems – from soil to plate back to soil.
NUTRIENT CONSERVATION. Gathering nutrients requires a lot of work in an immature settlement. Mature settlements recognize the energy and effort needed in obtaining nutrients is far greater than the effort and work required to cycle them.
What we are describing, then, is that the concept of economic growth is not an end in itself but the process by which economic maturity is reached. At this point, capital is accumulated, analogous to the build up of bio-mass in the mature eco-system.
The effect on capital.The diagram below illustrates how capital is converted and increased in the maturing society, using money merely as a medium of exchange.
Natural capital to man-made capital (A) : For example, minerals and nutrients would be used to create housing and machines. At the same time, man-made capital should be in place to promote development of natural capital(B). Man-made capital cannot increase at the expense of natural capital, the two must grow together. Otherwise, the services that natural systems provide (like building materials, food, clean water, etc) will be unavailable.
Conversion of human capital to man-made and natural capital(C): human capital conversion works uniquely. Taking knowledge and applying it to solve the problem of creating man-made capital and natural capital can, if applied right, increase human capital through learning.This knowledge could be institutionalized in social capital in organizations and information systems.
Social capital, the development of organizations (D), would in turn be needed to run, organize, and develop the man-made capital (E) and natural capital(B).
The role of Financial Capital. In this diagram, money represents an accounting system that has significance in that the value of the whole increases over time. (If all forms of capital can be valued using the same system of measurements.) As the system matures it will accumulate biomass and minerals for recycling and organizations that accumulate knowledge. An accounting system could be developed that calculated in this way. Growth would slow down as the settlements matured- I leave it to later articles to explore how such an accounting system might work.
1) Odum, E. P. 1969. The strategy of ecosystem development. Science, 104:262-270.
In My Humble Opinion:
Put a price on phosphorus now to create a circular economy before it is too late
I’ve been thinking about some interesting feedback on food prices. At a recent meeting, I presented my case: dividend-bearing import surcharges on scarce substances can encourage reuse and recycling. The received opinion is that that anything that makes food more expensive cannot be done. And shouldn’t. Continue reading “Opinion: Put a price on phosphorus now and drive circularity”