Friday, November 11, 2011

A money that aligns with beauty

Some of you may know Robin McKann and his Windfall Forest. They bought 20 acres of beautiful forest off in Port Townsend, WA. An FSC-certified operation, they expressed their love of the forest with their harvesting methods. This wood has gone in to some beautiful projects, from art pieces to houses. But they didn't make enough money to pay the bills, even with a very flexible lender. One option available to them was to clearcut the forest. That would have let them pay off the mortgage.

There's something a little strange here. Say you have a a forest that you could clearcut for $200M revenue, or you could log sustainably for $1M/yr. You're financially better off with the clearcut. That's because you will receive more than $1M/yr on the interest on $100M.

This isn't about "greed" as much as it is about "making a living". We are all faced with similar choices every day. Even if we want to do beautiful things, our money system puts a lot of pressure on us to choose money over beauty. Is poverty the only way to live beautifully?

Another way of describing this is the "discounting of future cash flows" - that money you make in the future is worth less than money you make today. Thus, it is in your best interest to sell the future for today, which is exactly what we've been doing. We destroy forests, poison the air and the water, overfish the oceans, privatize the commons of human ingenuity, corrupt the genetic code of life itself, to make a profit. Not just an elite, greedy few, but nearly everyone involved in the adult activity of making a living. I am in awe of this powerful magic.

What if we wanted the opposite - for the future to be more beautiful than the present. Could you imagine a kind of money that would support restoration of salmon habitat, organic local farming, and strong communities?

I want to live in that world.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Is it all about income inequality?

I just got this email:
Research seem to show that while the 99-1% split is there and is sadly unfair, a bigger problem exists among the less educated in vast portion of the population.

The most troubling problems that leave many Americans at a disadvantage have gotten lost in the debate over the top 1 percent of earners vs. the bottom 99 percent. 
One way to glibly summarize that article above is to say "while income and wealth inequality only oppressed people of color and white trash, we could ignore it; now that it affects white college graduates, it's getting attention." And that is itself a worthy concern.

However, I am wary of any attempt to summarize the "true purpose" of the Occupy movement. As a leaderless movement, it has as many purposes as it has participants.

Complaints about income inequality are also expressions of greed and jealousy. "You got rich, and I didn't; that's not fair; give me your money!" That's a difficult position to defend.

hile income inequality in the USA is certainly a factor, it is not the only one that brings people to Occupy. Certainly that would not be enough to motivate demonstrations in 1000 cities worldwide! Pollution, energy, war, food, politics-for-sale, and police brutality, are common concerns among Occupyiers today.

Personally, I am dissatisfied with any messages asking to return to the way things were, to reinstate Glass-Steagall or tax the rich at 1980 levels, etc. First, the way things were is exactly how we got here today. Second, I don't think things were that great then, either. Third, it's impossible - the coal is already mined, the CO2 already released in to the atmosphere, the fish already caught.

I believe that the true purpose of the Occupy movement is still not known, at least not broadly. I think that the issues raised by Occupiers share a deeper common cause that we are not fully ready to address. I think of this movement as part of humanity's "coming of age ordeal", and we still need to go through that ordeal before we are ready.

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