Tuesday, September 19, 2017

See Change (with Brett)

I really enjoyed the conversation you had with Trevor, very nice format for debate! Seems to be a recurring theme in socio-political debates these days where the one side raises the very real problems of the world, and the other side attempts to defend the status quo, and so it goes. I would love for you and Trevor to consider an alternative to this where you, Brett, instead suggest the the specific political/economic/legislative changes that you would like to see carried out in South Africa in order to resolve the issues you raised, and then to open the floor up to Trevor for analysis and criticism. It is certainly not difficult to poke holes in the excesses of the capitalist economic model, however I would suggest that it is equally, if not more, difficult to suggest a realistic alternative that ticks all the boxes. Could be an interesting twist on your previous discussion. 
What a great question although probably much huger than ten comments but let's jump in at economic. For me creative community ideas such as Common Change which is a collaborative giving group are one exciting way to move forward. People growing their own food in smaller and bigger spaces - like the Ujamaa collective in Khayelitsha for examples [https://www.groundup.org.za/article/meet-khayelitshas-guerilla-gardeners/] feels like it might have a lot of potential both for reducing costs as well as creating some money from the sale of excess. Linked to education it would be great to see some of the wealthier schools partnered with a school in a poor or marginalised area but in significant ways of resource sharing [from staff to money to experiences to peer-learning activities] and mutual development. Instead of the embarrassment of the CEO sleepout which i think is a colossal waste of time and money and energy, to have those CEO's invited to partner in projects with smaller companies and perhaps some entrepreneurial endeavours that will assist the unemployed who are wanting to find meaningful work. We have so much creativity in South Africa [see our advertising industry for example] which i would love to see harnessed more towards coming up with truly transformational changes for the country.

Yes! Sometimes I think we misunderstand the ideological clash of the last century, and create false enemies of people who actually agree. Communism v Capitalism was not Poor v Rich, it was about centrally made decision v pushing decisions down to the front line. I think supporters of both groups wanted, in theory, to empower creativity. I also like what I have heard about Common Change (Valerie and I had a chat about it). It is similar to the project I am working on to build a Community Wealth Fund which funds a Universal Basic Income. Let's touch on Collaborative Giving Groups first, and park the Local Food, and the Business and School partnerships (which I also like) for a second. Derek asks for analysis & criticism. My primary concern is my allergy to hierarchy. Ironically, my challenge to big corporates is the internal decision making processes and lack of internal free markets. Too many committees. Why does Common Change not just collect and distribute the cash? My understanding is that a 'connected need' of someone close to the group is presented, discussed and potentially supported. I like the support, but wonder if there is an additional disempowering step that most privileged people don't have to overcome to meet their needs.

In terms of your 'allergy to hierarchy' [which i will hold alongside my 'people tend towards stupid' philosophy and so having some people considered better to lead to help out there not being the worst thing] that's where Common Change does well i think. Each group decides how they want to gather the money [whether it is a set donation or a percentage of salary or give what you can] and no-one actually knows who gives what beyond that. One of the mindshifts being challenged in a percentage giving group for example is that the person who gives R1000 per month and the person who gives R10 per month have the same vote and therefore the same power and say. So that is one way of dismantling the hierarchy. The group conversation is held from the perspective of 'How best can we meet this need?' which might be the money, but it might also be a skill within the group or a connection someone has and so encourages us to think beyond just rushing to the easy money option. So beyond simply giving in community, the deeper idea behind Common Change groups is wrestling with how we can give more creatively and thinking about the way we relate to money in general.

I like the adjustment of vote because of source of cash. I also have issue with 'Circle of Competence' - just because you are really good at acting, doesn't mean your political views count more; just because you are a world class X doesn't meant your view on Y counts more. Your 'people tend toward stupid' view holds most closely in my mind when we are dealing with other people's problems. As long as the discussion doesn't disempower people, or open them to scrutiny privileged people don't face, then it seems a good way of teaching us to be better at asking and offering help. The 'considered better to lead' worries me. The working together excites me. On the second point - local farming. There are bits I like - simply from a 'it's nice to grow what you eat' point of view. From an economic point of view, I have more concerns. I would rather come at it from a very individualised support of individuals strengths. Not all good ideas are good business ideas.

Maybe it's more a 'some people are considered less good to lead' thing with Donald Trump being a great example of not being a great example. My dad's church model operated on a congregational model which is the kind of everyone is equal, everyone gets to vote vibe, but the problem i found with that is that one person can slow down the whole decision-making process so much that nothing ever gets done. So for me, choose a group of people [i don't like the one person on top model - accountability needs to be huge] who the group recognises as good to lead and then entrust them with decisions while putting things in place to hold them accountable from the bottom as well. Anything less than that feels like anarchy and as much as i like the idea of me being able to do whatever i want to, i don't like that idea so much for anyone else, except maybe Chris Pratt. Chris Pratt should be able to do what he wants to do. In the absence of any kind of tiered leadership approach, what kind of system would you propose in its place?

The model I propose is... (Trev reaches for his drum)... Universal Basic Income. Having sufficient cash to make our own decisions about our basic needs isn't anarchy in my mind. It is the lowest bar for people being sufficiently able to participate in society. I have no issue with voluntary pools of money above that, with collective decision making. I imagine the groups need to be small enough, with full transparency, so that accountability doesn't become abstract. What I struggle with is the idea that a committee should discuss allocation of resources that strips someone of their own agency. Donald Trump is a fantastic example of the danger of creating positions of power. From now till our dying day, voters should assume when giving ANY person power - what if this same power was given to Trump. That feels far more scary to me than anarchy - which within the confines of Rule of Law, I actually support. Any positions of power should be consensual.

Give Directly - Universal Basic Income

i don't really know a lot about Universal Basic Income but even the name sells it for me. The idea of everyone having the basics and yes if that ever happened i imagine i would be a lot more okay with some having more than others. My issues with the rich generally lie through the lens of viewing them through the absolute nothing that so many of the poor have. If everyone had enough to eat and live and the basic necessities, then some people being able to work harder to make better experiences for themselves would not seem quite so disgusting. Going back to the allocation of resources, it is typically done in the face of a need [new tyres needed for car] and so i don't think agency is lost in terms of the group deciding collectively that money can be given but also realising that Joe's uncle owns a tyre business and can get great tyres for 15% cheaper than you will find elsewhere. The collective input is more to broaden the scope of ideas and opportunities available than to be overly specific on how the money is spent. Do you honestly see any future where Universal Basic Income is a thing and what do you think it would take as the next steps for us to get there. Or do you see it working maybe in smaller groups of people who combine resources and work a Small Group Basic Income in their community as a first baby step?

I love the question, 'Do you honestly see any future where.... is a thing and what do you think it would take as the next step to get it there'. I feel like I have hijacked the conversation, but vehicles like Common Change seem a perfect next step. I do think Policy level change is possible. The Finance Minister in India, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton etc. are all part of the conversation, but I think we are in a 'big change' rut. We are better at creating sides then working together. Bottom up excites me more. Micro-ambition. For me, that starts with paying myself, and one other person one, and setting up a structure for that to grow. I like the 'collective care' aspect of what you mention. Helping get people good deals. As businesses get too big, and too abstract, and lose those relationships - that can fail. Empowering people (UBI) and building relationships helps us to see each other - and opportunities. It is where attacks on 'Capital'ism confuse me, if we can build capital... that capital should *free* labour to do the things related to love. Like Community Farming (cause it is cool... even if it isn't profitable) and Business & School partnerships (because beyond a certain level of wealth - sharing becomes much more rewarding). As Einstein said, 'Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts'.

When people attack capitalism I think they are generally [I know I am] attacking the exploitational links that capitalism tends to have. You see it all over South Africa where a CEO is getting a million rand plus plus payout for being fired for doing a bad job and the employees on the ground are barely able to pay rent and eat with what they get. So if we could sort out those kinds of discrepancies or if there is a capitalism that can exist without those, then I'd be all ears but people tend towards being greedy little buggers and so I don't know that we ever will. I like the idea of 'beyond a certain level of wealth - sharing becomes much more rewarding' but i don't think that is the reality we live with. I think I would definitely go with the Both/And'ness of what you are saying. That for me it will be great if it starts with me plus one and then later let that snowball. While at the same time we are looking to hold the heads of companies and way business is generally done and rewards are handed out to account. Yeah i totally buy into the idea of 'empowering people (UBI) and building relationships helps us to see each other - and opportunities'. But again, greed.

I haven't heard of a system that doesn't have exploitational links. That is the privilege, prejudice, racism and other relational issues you also fight so hard to tear down. That's not the system. That's us! I believe we still have a hangover from the Cold War ideological battle, and the Rich v Poor distraction stops us from understanding which things work, and which don't. Some things work better with markets and monetisation. Some things work better freed from the constraints of scarcity and countability. As soon as we have 'enough' - we can deal with the new rules of abundance. A great starting point for change is where we are. One relationship at a time. We need to build capital - social capital, financial capital, Community Wealth Funds - to ensure everyone has the financial security they need for true freedom to seek fulfilment and meaning.

Small Changes Need Time

If forever is your time frame, you could solve a lot of problems with little changes. Most of our actions are discounted by time value. The further things are away, the less they matter. That is why we have to rush. Get rich quick. Get fit quick. Get slim quick. Small changes need time. Small changes also love time. I would love everyone on the planet to receive a Universal Basic Income, paid by Community Wealth Funds. One way to do this would be to (1) pay myself one from my engine, (2) build a engine for one other person, and  (3) build an engine building engine. If you invest a monthly amount for 15 years at 5%, then you will have built an engine that can continue paying that amount forever. I call this 'Multiplying Marshmallows'. After 15 years, I would have two engines, and could build a third. Small changes create movement. Add time, and you have a dance.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Actionless Action

Swimming with, rather than against the currents. It is not a fight. There is no trying. Letting go of ideological demands of where we want things to be. Accepting where things are. Not passively. Seeing and responding to the true demands of the situation. Taking the steps that are natural, easy, desired, and inevitable. Flow is the point of engagement where we are pushing ourselves, but not anxious. It comes with engagement, curiosity, focus and connection to things as they are. It comes with a release of awareness of our self-conscious separation from what is going on around us. 'Through gentle persistence and a compliance with the specific shape of a problem, an obstacle can be worked round and gradually eroded.' (Wu Wei - The Book of Life)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

5% Okay

Daniel Dennett's book 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' changed my understanding of evolution. I had heard the idea in 'The Red Queen', but it hadn't sunk in. Survival of the Fittest can suggest we know in advance who the fittest is. That isn't how it works. A lot of random stuff happens. With sufficient diversity, something can survive even if almost everything doesn't. If 5% survives *and can rebuild*, then we can cope with some pretty big knocks. The Red Queen in Wonderland says, 'it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place'. The important thing isn't the destination, or even knowing what is going to happen. Too much is uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We can't know. The important thing is the running. The being. The ability to cope. Always be at least 5% okay.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Support Group

I live in Burford. I am part of a group of five who meet twice a month in London, to support each other. We spend three hours chatting about different specific topics, and catching up on what has happened in between. I have sufficient common ground with the others to understand them, but they all challenge me in very different ways. It is not a group of like minded people. The idea is to make each other uncomfortable, but in a positive way. One guy likes process. One to sit with the emotion of things. One to destroy things. One to get things done. I tend to get philosophical, and dive into the why. Sometimes excessively seriously. I would like to be in more of these groups, and I would love this type of support to go viral.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hut Tax

People had lots of power in the Industrial Age because they were needed - as labourers and as soldiers. More people meant more power. In Scotland, Sierra Leone and South Africa - governments forced people out of rural lifestyles by introducing a Hut Tax. If you live in a world with no money, but have to pay taxes in money, you need to go out and earn money. The Bhambatha rebellion was fought because there weren't enough workers in South Africa. Ironically, now unemployment is at permanent and chronic depression era levels. As wars and work start requiring fewer people, one way to view a Universal Basic Income is as a reverse Hut Tax. The Inheritance from 200 years of specialising to create a richer world, but one in which we are less likely to be able to fend for ourselves (or be able to find a job).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Social Insurance

Are you a fan of the 'pay for yourself' or the 'split the bill' model of going out for dinner in a group? It probably makes a difference if you are a tee-totalling vegan (TTV) or a drunken meat lover (DML). Splitting the bill avoids the nightmarish accounting required, and policing of friends. It helps to know in advance for the person who has come for the company, but not the bill (salad and tap water please).

It is likely the TTV will be a fan of pay as you go, and the DML will mock them as a cheap spoil sport. This is called 'adverse selection'. Naturally we are going to fight our corner. Young, healthy people aren't going to fancy splitting the health bill. Older, sicker people are going to call them spoil sports.

Social Insurance is one way of agreeing in advance, behind the 'veil of ignorance'. If you didn't know which character you would be, what is the fairest way of splitting the bill for the biggest risks we face in life that aren't your fault?

Risks like be born in the wrong place, of the wrong gender, liking the wrong gender, to the wrong parents, with the wrong skills.

Part of a Universal Basic Income could be set aside to pay a 'veil of ignorance' social insurance premium - to cover some of the risks that are nobodies fault.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Two Humps Become One

Global income inequality increased for two centuries and is now decreasing. Unless you get on a plane, boat, or train... global is abstract. Within rich countries, and as companies have stopped being constrained by borders, the wealthy are much more likely to hop on those travel devices and see the massive poverty alleviation that is going on around the world. Within rich countries, the 'Poor Rich' have been stagnating. The Poor Rich still have a lot of political clout, and the countries in which they have the vote are still dominant. It is tough to celebrate people far, far away being much better off. 1800-1975 saw a golden period for Europe and the Americas. 1975-2015 has seen a huge catch up by Asia and the Pacific. The two humps are becoming one. Africa still needs its turn.