Living Within our Limits

I was asked recently to give a talk to a small but distinguished group on “how to survive the global financial and ecological crises”. Easy uh! Well you have to start somewhere and have a rough idea of where you’re headed. For me, the more difficult the situation gets, the simpler the solution becomes. Essentially, changes that once would have been rejected flat out as unworkable, implausible and idealistic, are suddenly deemed more acceptable.

We are all conditioned to think and live within a certain paradigm or system. For many of us (especially readers of this blog), it’s considered to be democratic, liberal capitalism. More realistically it’s a neo-liberal system where free markets dominate at the expense of any concept of the public good. Markets will solve any problem. Actually that’s a truism. It’s the outcome that is often of dubious merit.

When I look at the Occupy Movement, I see a protest against this system, a system where people are secondary to profit, and the public is considered to be a wasteful and unnecessary construct. As John Key noted of the Christchurch post-EQNZ insurance problem, eventually the markets will sort it out. Again they will but there may not be any insurance for anyone for a while. This mirrors the government’s approach to managing our prisons: simply contract it out to private operators, who will manage it more “efficiently”. The belief in the idea of the “public” is slowly being eaten away by this neo-liberal fantasy that for profit organisations will always achieve the best outcome.

It will be interesting to see how this protest develops but it feels like it has legs. The outrage is fair and justified: the corruption at the heart of the political-financial system; the gaping inequalities; the disenfranchisement and the feeling that the whole system is built on sand. Over time the picture will be clearer and the protests may coalesce around a series of concrete demand but the consultative and participatory process is a fascinating starting point. Participatory, as opposed to representative, democracy is messy, frustrating, turgid, slow, tedious and annoying but that’s the whole point. It is built on allowing all people a voice and on allowing a process to develop. It is a far cry from the many bills rammed through under “urgency” in the NZ Parliament, with little debate or scrutiny for even our partially elected representatives.

I wish them well in their endeavour. In the meantime, I have three simple proposals to offer, as a starting point:

1) Monetary Dialysis - No more public debt; new public money; raise limits on bank credit.

2) Trucost pricing - Start pricing ecosystem goods and services.

3) Participatory Universal Income - Basic Income for all those participating in society; rebalanced tax system; provision of key public goods.

I focused on the first 2 ideas in my presentation, the outline of which is below. By repricing our economic system, both in the cost of goods and services, as well as the creation and volume of money, we will immediately realign it towards a path of lower volume but higher quality consumption. We will reduce the burden of compound interest, this alleviating the constant pressure to produce and consume. The UPI will restore the public good in reflecting all contributions to society and laying the foundations for a more stable, harmonious and prosperous world. Far fetched? Not really, when you think about it for a bit. My turn is over for now. Who is next in the stack?