I'm always attempting to come up with new ways to describe my vision for a sustainable world. While I believe that I have in the past compared my concept to that of Mountain Trek, it may well be that traction for the idea will be gained due to the coming recession/depression. While David Brooks thinks (see this article) that a more simple life is not something people want to live, the times they may be changing. When we make the shift away from a complicated life to a more simple one, Americans will do it in a big way. It's our "style."
On their website, Mountain Trek indicates that their concept of a "fit farm" is based on The Ashram. While I envision healthy food, exercise, and yoga, I am talking about the potential for longer stays -- and more calories per day. I'm talking about a lifestyle (and engagement), rather than a retreat.
In summary, the concept is a club that builds quality properties that combine 500 s.f. or so living quarters with a restaurant that serves healthy food. Activities such as yoga, hiking and biking are a part of daily life. To the extent that it is possible, food will be grown on site. Staff will live on site. Club members deposit capital into an account that is secured by the assets of the club. The account is drawn down as they access the property or properties.
It does not take a great deal of research to realize that
the solutions that we are currently pursuing do not even begin to make
our way of life sustainable. Those who think otherwise are living in
We have to live in a system that is completely different
from the one that we operate in at this time. We have to create a
system that does away with jobs, commuting, and maybe most importantly,
the manipulation that is the cornerstone of our current "economy." The
good news is that a system is available to us that does all of the
above -- and is far more livable than the current system.
Any new system must have permaculture as a base and must be
more efficient in the resources we use and how we process our waste.
The infrastructure, in my opinion, will look like that of a large
eco-spa that produces much of its own food and utilizes waste on-site.
In order to make the adjustments that are necessary, we have to turn
much of the world into a gigantic spa. Now that doesn't sound so bad,
Those who work at the spa will live on-site. The system
must provide copious amounts of leisure time in order to develop
residents and instill the compassion and wisdom that is necessary to
get us through the tough times that are ahead.
All that has been discussed at this blog points to this new
system. Implementing the new system will result in greater freedom,
greater personal health, and greater happiness -- once we see through
the culture that currently imprisons us.
Many variations of a system of this nature can occur. One example follows:
Creating A Dynamic System For Scholarship
Leisure time is necessary for development.
A liberal arts education and/or an extensive general knowledge
of the way in which all of our systems work is necessary for
The above combination is not provided anywhere within the existing system(s).
Development is necessary to advance our society to a whole new level.
A new club/system is necessary to provide the optimal conditions for development.
Club membership deposits are utilized for the design, construction,
and operation of Spa properties (First-class lodging quarters with an
emphasis on local food sources. On-site organic gardens to the extent
possible.) Membership deposits serve as an account that members can
draw down as they utilize the Spa properties at cost.
Properties are operated by a select group of independent,
in-residence scholars who spend 20 hours per week operating the
properties in exchange for room, board, health care, and incidentals.
Residents are 50% Members and 50% Scholars. In recognition that we
need to create a civil society, please note that club by-laws will
prohibit the use of electronic devices, including cell phones, outside
of private living quarters.
Unique reservation system that grants priority to members by date and time of membership and the amount and timing of membership deposits.
A Whole New System.
Contact me at the email link above if you have an interest in a concept that can meaningfully impact the way you live.
I'd like to recommend a reading of Richard Heinberg's edited introduction to his about-to-be published book: Peak Everything. The edited introduction can be found here. Richard has been thinking about this for as long as anyone and tends to be ahead of the curve on where the whole thing is headed.
After you read the introduction, please come back here for some of my thoughts on the content. I'll post excerpts from the article and respond to them. I think that I have some of the answers.
During the past few years the phrase Peak Oil has entered the global lexicon.
It should be noted that only a small percentage of the world population has any idea what Peak Oil is about. Maybe less than 1%. The Spokane Library does not even have any of Heinberg's books on its shelves.
Upon first encountering Peak Oil, most people tend to assume it is merely a single isolated problem to which there is a simple solution - whether of an eco-friendly nature (more renewable energy) or otherwise (more coal). But prolonged reflection and study tend to eat away at the viability of such "solutions"; meanwhile, as one contemplates how we humans have so quickly become so deeply dependent on the cheap, concentrated energy of oil and other fossil fuels, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we have caught ourselves on the horns of the Universal Ecological Dilemma, consisting of the interlinked elements of population pressure, resource depletion, and habitat destruction - and on a scale unprecedented in history.
It should be noted that those who understand that this is not a single isolated problem are only a fraction of the 1% noted above. If we are to attempt to change people's behavior, we have to create a system that can be "sold" to the public without them having knowledge of the consequences of peak oil -- the general public simply does not have the inclination to change unless collapse occurs.
Once we accept that energy, fresh water, and food will become less freely available over next few decades, it is hard to escape the conclusion that, while the 20th century saw the greatest and most rapid expansion of the scale, scope, and complexity of human societies in history, the 21st will see contraction and simplification. The only real question then is whether societies will contract and simplify intelligently or in an uncontrolled, chaotic fashion.
Contraction and simplification can lead to happiness under the right circumstances. Under the current system, societies will not contract or simplify in an intelligent fashion because the system itself is not intelligent.
None of this is easy to contemplate. Nor can this information easily be discussed in polite company: the suggestion that we are at or near the peak of population and consumption levels for the entirety of human history and that it's all downhill from here is not likely to win votes, lead to a better job, or even make for pleasant dinner banter. Most people turn off and tune out when the conversation moves in this direction; advertisers and news organizations take note and act accordingly. The result: a general, societal pattern of denial.
Ain't that the truth.
The most leisurely societies were without doubt those of hunter-gatherers, who worked about 1000 hours per year, though these societies seldom if ever thought of dividing "work time" from "leisure time," since all activities were considered pleasurable in their way.
This 1000 hours per year is comparable to the 20 hours of "labor" that is expected for the scholars/fellows that represent half of the occupancy of the club I describe in this blog. Capital comes from the other half of the residents of property -- the members. It should be noted that both members and fellows will be able to flow from one role to the other. Members can become fellows and fellows can become members. The important thing to remember is that there will be no vacant private living spaces and that the system protects against inflation and deflation through a lesser of cost or market policy. Although I may have not used the term before, these will be eco-villages -- high quality eco-villages. Quality is a key component of sustainability.
Addressing the economic, social, and political problems ensuing from the various looming peaks will require enormous collective effort. If it to be successful, that effort must be coordinated, presumably by government, and enlisting people in that effort will require educating and motivating them in numbers and at a speed that has not been seen since World War II.
Based on everything that I have witnessed in the last 25 years, I don't see government stepping up to play a leading role. Leadership has to be provided from another institution -- one that does not currently exist. A synthesis of university, religion, and corporations that surpasses each in the ability to comprehensively respond to crisis.
...The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year analysis of the world's ecosystems released in 2006, in which 1300 scientists participated, concluded of 24 ecosystems identified as essential to human life, 15 are "being pushed beyond their sustainable limits," toward a state of collapse that may be "abrupt and potentially irreversible."
Nevertheless, a decline in population, complexity, and consumption could, at least in theory, result in a stable society with characteristics that many people would find quite desirable. A reversion to the normal pattern of human existence, based on village life, extended families, and local production for local consumption - especially if it were augmented by a few of the frills of the late industrial period, such as global communications - could provide future generations will the kind of existence that many modern urbanites dream of wistfully.
Bold emphasis is mine. Essentially, this describes the spa/club concept that I have developed over the past few years. One difference is that the "family" that operates the system will be related through an insatiable quest for quality and wisdom, as opposed to the biological structure that has served to retard meaningful change.
ParadigmClub.org offers solutions to many of the problems that plague society today. Some examples are as follows: Carbon Offsets
Carbon offsets are typical of the existing paradigm whereby we use elaborate mechanisms -- complete with an office full of employees and bumper stickers -- to address problems. Carbon offsets effectively involve a transfer of funds from those who feel guilty about their carbon usage to an office full of employees who are professional carbonists. We need to switch from being professionals to being producers. As a refreshing alternative, we can make membership deposits into a club that actually constructs environmentally sound infrastructure and provides livelihoods -- operating and eventually building first class lodging properties around the world -- for a group whose quest for knowledge has no boundaries. As members utilize the property, they draw down their membership accounts.
Inflation and Deflation
Because members can access the properties at the lesser of cost or market, they are protected against hyper-inflation and deflation with respect to their membership deposits. This enables those who are morally opposed to usury to be protected from inflation and deflation.
One of the problems with the carbon economy of the past 100+ years is that we built an infrastructure that is of a scale that is not hospitable to pedestrians. It also created a tremendous amount of noise pollution. ParadigmClub.org properties will be built to human scale -- no buildings taller than 5 stories, for example -- and will banish automobiles to the periphery of any property. Asphalt and concrete -- major causes of environmental degradation -- will not be used or used in a minimal way.
An infrastructure built to human scale will lead to a more civil environment. We can actually acknowledge each other as we meet on tree-lined and perma-culture lined pathways. All electronic devices will be "banished" to private quarters in order to encourage members and scholars to live in the moment.
Access, Not Possess
Although private property rights are important, we place too much emphasis on ownership. Property ownership is a burden and makes it difficult to be nimble and expose ourselves to new ideas. If we deposit our capital in a "bank" that owns many properties, we gain access to all of those properties. We also create a system that encourages 100% occupancy. Empty rooms are the antithesis of environmental responsibility. The survival of the human species and all other species requires that we lower our footprint considerably.
A Taste of Freedom
The design of the reservation system permits one to essentially "bookmark" a place in the club system. We can make a small commitment and if we like what we see, we can make additional deposits for extended access to the system. It is hoped that members will eventually live all year round in this infrastructure that will permit members to live well with an ecological footprint that is far smaller than is the average today for those in developed countries.
This type of system is far more comprehensive than anything that exists today. It should attract start-up capital from any non-profit interested in sustainable development. Instead of providing grant money that is never seen again, non-profits will see their capital returned as members make deposits.
Several years ago, I read a book about Generational Cycles. The book was The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny. My wife just completed the book and points out that although the book was written in 1997, it forecasts the election of someone like Bush and an event like 9/11. I found the book depressing in that it tells the story of how our misery is pre-ordained. However, it helps explain why it is so difficult to gain traction with the idea of a different system. It is likely that a different system will be better received in the depths of the upcoming depression. While I believe that a different system has the potential to break us out of these destruction generational cycles, history tells us that it will be difficult.
If you insist on staying in the possession/trading system with all its inefficiencies, here is an article by Bill Bonner that has been posted at Carolyn Baker's website. Bill mentions the problems with Ethanol and provides a link to a "letter" on the topic by his associate Addison Wiggin. By the way, the ethanol discussion is right on and should be obvious to anyone who does not have a vested interest in riding the dead ethanol horse for a while longer. (Actually, it should be obvious to those with a vested interest, but our current possession/trading/manipulation system makes it difficult for them to behave in an ethical way.) It should be noted that the diesel manufacturer mentioned in the "letter" is Cummins.
For the most part, consumers judge prices for bread and shoes consciously and reasonably according to their needs and means. When human beings value financial assets, they must contend with a debilitating lack of knowledge and feelings of uncertainty. They contend with these obstacles to a great degree by forming judgments in sympathy with or in reaction to the opinions and behavior of others. This surrender of responsibility makes them participants in a collective, which is not a reasoning entity. [p.25]
So much for "free" markets.
Why does stock market participation narrow and why does the economy expand more slowly in fifth waves? The simple answer to this question is that stock market advances and economic cycles must get weaker before they reverse. The final rise is where that weakness must be evident. Advances come in five waves, so the fifth wave is where the relative weakness manifests.
The mechanism of that difference, I believe, is the immense optimism of major fifth waves, which encourages the populace to engage in financial speculation. Third waves are built upon muscle and brains. Fifth waves are built upon cleverness and dreams. During third waves, people focus on production to get rich. During fifth waves, they focus on finance to get rich. Manipulating money is not very productive. [p.48]
It is interesting to note that books like Atlas Shrugged were written during third waves, but those who defend the principles espoused by Ayn Rand are defending fifth wave manipulations -- because that is the source of their financial support.
As I write this chapter, the "watchdog" of earnings, Standard & Poor's, has just bowed to pressure to change the basis of its earnings reports to "operating earnings" rather than total company earnings so that the reported P/E ratio will henceforth be about half of what it really is. [p.61]
This would be consistent with the manipulation that is characteristic of this era. CPI calculations are another example.
A deflationary crash is characterized in part by a persistent, sustained, deep, general decline in people's desire and ability to lend and borrow. A depression is characterized in part by a persistent, sustained, deep, general decline in production. Since a decline is credit reduces new investment in economic activity, a depression supports deflation. Since a decline in credit reduces new investment in economic activity, deflation supports depression. Because both credit and production support prices for investment assets, their prices fall in a deflationary depression. As asset prices fall, people lose wealth, which reduces their ability to offer credit, service debt and support production. This mix of forces is self-reinforcing. [p.92]
It should be noted that almost all of the "gains" in asset value over the past couple of decades or so have been through manipulation. Currently, governments around the world are trying to delay the inevitable by pumping money into the markets. However, this will only serve to make the depression deeper.
When the volume of credit is large, investors can perceive vast sums of money and value where in fact there are only repayment contracts, which are financial assets dependent upon consensus valuation and the ability of debtors to pay. IOUs can be issued indefinitely, but they have value only as long as their debtors can live up to them and only to the extent that people believe that they will. [p.94]
Congress authorized the Fed not only for the purpose of creating money for the government but also to "smooth out" the economy by manipulating credit (which also happens to be a reelection tool for incumbents). Politics being what they are, this manipulation has been almost exclusively in the direction of making credit easy to obtain. The Fed used to make more credit available to the banking system by monetizing federal debt, that is, by creating money. Under the structure of our "fractional reserve" system, banks were authorized to employ that new money as "reserves" against which they could make new loans. Thus, new money meant new credit. [cont. in following para.]
It meant a lot of new credit because banks were allowed by regulation to lend out 90 percent of their deposits, which meant that banks had to keep 10 percent of deposits on hand ("in reserve") to cover withdrawals. When the Fed increased a bank's reserves, that bank could lend 90 percent of those new dollars. Those dollars, in turn, would make their way to other banks as new deposits. Those dollars, in turn, would make their way to other banks as new deposits. Those other banks could lend 90 percent of those deposits, and so on. The expansion of reserves and deposits throughout the banking system this way is called the "multiplier effect." This process expanded the supply of credit well beyond the supply of money. [p.100]
Following the Great Depression, the Fed and the U.S. government embarked on a program, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, both of increasing the creation of new money and credit and of fostering the confidence of lenders and borrowers so as to facilitate the expansion of credit. These policies both accommodated and encouraged the expansionary trend of the 'Teens and 1920's, which ended in bust, and the far larger expansionary trend that began in 1932 and which has has accelerated over the past half-century. [cont. in following para.]
Other governments and central banks have followed similar policies. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and similar institutions, funded mostly by the U.S. taxpayer, have extended immense credit around the globe. Their policies have supported nearly continuous worldwide inflation, particularly over the past thirty years. As a result, the global financial system is gorged with non-self-liquidating credit [a loan that is not tied to production and and tends to stay in the system...consumer purchases such as cars, boats or homes, or for speculations such as the purchase of stock certificates]. [cont. in following para.]
Conventional economists excuse and praise this system under the erroneous belief that expanding money and credit promotes economic growth, which is terribly false. It appears to do so for a while, but in the long run, the swollen mass of debt collapse of its own weight, which is deflation, and destroys the economy. Only the Austrian school understands this fact. A devastated economy, moreover, encourages radical politics, which is even worse. [p.105]
The author recommends investments such as precious metals, bear stock funds, and depositing money in banks that earn high ratings for survivability in a global depression. I recommend a transition to an equity economy where the infrastructure is comprised of quality living environments with small footprints.
Incidentally, as we write, Congress has just passed a drug benefit that is roughly twice as expensive as President Bush proposed. It raises the $45 trillion fiscal gap by $6 trillion to $51 trillion! [Note that this is roughly $171,000 per man, woman, and child in the U.S.] [p.67]
For over half a century, ardent discussions of budget balance have been used as a cover for what is really happening: a massive redistribution from young and future Americans to currently living adults. Our de facto generational policy has been to indulge the present at the expense of children living and unborn. This gives new meaning to "no taxation without representation." [p.83]
...conventional economic notions are turned upside down when considered from the perspective of generational accounting. Take structural tax reform, such as replacing the income tax with a consumption tax that generates the same revenue. Most observers would think that such a policy has no particular generational consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. Switching from income to consumption taxation is one of the most fiscally conservative policies the government could undertake because it places a much larger fiscal burden on current older generations and a much smaller burden on future generations....
The reason is easy to see. Under an income tax, the elderly, who are retired, pay taxes only on the income they earn on their assets, but they finance their consumption not just from the income on their assets but also by spending down principal. Hence, taxing consumption is like taxing the elderly on their wealth holdings; every time the elderly spend their wealth on consumption, they pay a tax. [p.85]
Economists view such behavior as evidence of intergenerational altruism -- the theoretical proposition that parents (kids) care not only about their own welfare but also about their kids' (parents') welfare. Intergenerational altruism has been tested in the United States not only in the context of living arrangement decisions, but also with respect to annual consumption expenditures. It's been tested using cohort data, data on extended families, data on nuclear families, and data on families in which some members are actively making transfers to other members. Regardless of what data set one uses and what empirical or statistical testing method one applies, intergenerational altruism is very strongly rejected. [p.104]
Since the early 1960's, consumption per retiree has almost doubled relative to consumption per worker. Indeed, when you include all the in-kind health care benefits they receive, the boomers' parents now appear to be consuming more, on average, than the boomers themselves! [p.105]
A final concern is whether firms will cut back on their contributions to DC plans. Ironically, one of the largest administrators of DC plans, Charles Schwab, recently stopped making contributions to its own DC plan on behalf of its own workers. If Charles Schwab can stop making such contributions, with all the embarrassment that entails, any other firm can stop as well. [p.110]
Facts are, however, of little consequence when it comes to religion. And unlike his dad, George the Second is a true convert to supply-side economics. Since taking office in 2001, he has, to repeat, presided over three tax cuts. To his and other supply siders' dismay, revenues as a share of GDP haven't grown. Instead, they've shrunk -- from 20.8 percent of GDP in 2000 to a projected 16.2 percent of GDP this year . [p.116]
Economic logic never restrained supply siders in the past, and it's not likely to restrain them in the future. The truth is that these people never met a tax they like and never met a spending program they really supported -- unless it was subsidizing their own business ventures. [p.117]
During Russia's recent hyperinflation, Russians stopped using the ruble altogether and developed elaborate barter arrangements, many of which continue to this day. [p.134]
Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves? Our answer is a firm yes. As detailed below, we can start saving like mad, invest in securities that are insulated against inflation, and hold assets whose return is not taxed. But the first and most important thing to do is to preserve what we've already got -- and that's harder than it sounds. There is an entire industry -- the financial services sector -- whose primary goal is to separate us from our money. Avoiding this industry's financial malpractice is step one in our self-help guide. [cont. in following para.]
What do we mean by "financial malpractice"? We mean the enormous burden placed on our savings by "the retirement-investment complex" -- the bankers, insurance agents, brokers, mutual fund managers, financial advisers, and employers sponsoring retirement plans -- all of whom purport to be our friends. [p.193]
This "complex" might be even more dangerous than the military industrial complex as the complexity and sexiness of it distracts us from our current predicament.
As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of problems such as peak oil, climate change, mass extinction, population overshoot, etc. Many books have been written and many blogs have been dedicated to the topics. To date, however, the solutions proposed -- if solutions are proposed at all -- seem to revolve around personal survival. Implicit in the nature of the solutions is an understanding that the existing system represents the pinnacle of civilization. My position is that if the system is wonderful, we could have avoided this current predicament.
Is there a system that could have been designed so that we all could be healthy, happy, and wise about our resource use? I think that we could have designed such a system and that we must design and implement one before we all end up in compounds guarding the belongings of a few wealthy people who gamed -- intentionally or unintentionally -- the existing system.
We need a system that encourages independent thought. We need a system that balances work and leisure. We need a system that balances labor and capital. We need a system where we are not all guarding our little stockpiles of gold, silver, and platinum. We need a system that is efficient and provides the opportunity for a quality lifestyle.
We need a system that shrinks government by about 99%.
I think that system would look similar to ParadigmClub.org. Please note that the system addresses each of the issues listed in the first paragraph in a meaningful way. Join today or join the discussion today -- at this post -- about how we need to find a solution that is not cut from the same old and tired paradigm.
Most people would rather live in their own little sheltered world than know what is going on in the world. My wife and I were told this by a new acquaintance this past weekend. Although this person is only 60 years old or so, she assumes that things will stay pretty much the same until the day she dies. As the statistics outlined at this informative website reveal, we can expect that our complacency will catch up with us shortly. As one example, please consider the following:
As detailed in this article, the actual annual shortfall in U.S. government operations for fiscal year 2003 (September 30) was $3.7 trillion. Put in perspective, that means if the U.S. Treasury had seized all wages and salaries in 2003 with a 100% income tax, there still would have been a deficit! The outlook for fiscal 2004 numbers is even worse. (Source: Federal Deficit Reality Section at the above linked website.)
Based on the news today, it appears that we will try to keep our economy going by manufacturing arms and giving them to Israel and Egypt. If only the public would get out of their sheltered little worlds and call the government to account.
Visit a sister site, Excerpts and Notes, for a few select excerpts from recently reviewed books that help us understand the nature of our current predicament.
While I agree that this is the obvious solution, I have some doubts about the Anarchist Free University (AFU) that he describes in the article. My doubts are centered on the "post-graduate" destination for those who attend. The working system that they enter does not support free-thinking. Maybe Paradigm Club or something similar is a more comprehensive solution?