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MAHB seminar at Stanford today

by on March 16, 2010

    A very good discussion following up on the coal discussion last week ( the need to buy out the coal companies to prevent their co2 production). We ended last week with questions about money and finance. And today we added to it the problem of "unemployment", which was reframed as a "problem" that the label "unemployment" hides aspects of that may be part of the solution. Obviously the core problem of not working is not receiving an income, under the normal model of no job no pay. To call it "unemployment" however suggests that the answer must be "employment", but there are alternatives. Follow the argument:

    If we desperately need a major tech push because the currently anticipated pace of tech innovation and deployment is too slow and small scale to sum up to enough change to deal with warming issues (and others such as pollutions), then we must be able to do such an enlivened push on innovative technologies (think nano and bio).

    But what gets in the way of such a major escalation in tech innovation and new industrialization to meet the needs of a more open and sustainable society is that such an expansion would be highly automated, and lead to further loss of jobs, which people rightly fear, both in loss of jobs and loss of wealth.

    But if this resistance were to disappear, rapid tech progress could be made.

    How? It requires something like a negative income tax or guaranteed annual wage. More attractively this could be called a "social dividend" paid to everyone in society based on their being a part of a productive society which in part they "own" and deserve a dividend on the profits thereof. Alaska sends a check to each resident based on the amount of the state owned oil pumped each year. A good outline of this approach is in Capitalism 3.0 by Peter Barnes.

    This led us this afternoon to the political question of how it could be done. We are now talking about two proposals. (we are talking US at this point, but as a model to be extended to the rest of the world).

    1. Per person divided from society, say on the order of $20k for everyone whose income is under 100k, after the age 6. Normal social welfare costs could be eliminated through this alternate and easier to manage system. It also deals with student costs.
    2. Massively intense industrialization with zero emissions technologies that produce the needed items for society.

    There obviously would be massive shifts in social needs (for example long commutes for the poorest workers would dissapear).

    What would be necessary for this to work is a new compelling social narrative that conveys the major aspects in a convincing and attractive systems – holistic way.

    So to get to the narrative we expanded the picture:

    We must avoid

    • Radical climate change
    • Civil wars based on resources and migrations
    • Agricultural collapse through climate and overuse.
    • Coping with the brittleness of the necessary energy shift.
    • Failing world economies

    As one can see, sustaining, even enhancing feelings of economic security and well being are absolutely essential.

    So the positive moves are

    • New industrialization
    • Annual citizen dividend and
    • Legalize drugs (the cost savings would be large).

    Other issues necessary to face.

    1. The need to constrain the concentration of profits obtained through leveraged investments. Basically to take banking back to the original function of loans for productive activities, not derivatives nor selling loan portfolios.
    2. Higher taxes as proposed by Warren Buffet (whose taxes were lower than his staff’s.)
    3. The need to create a culture that gives meaning to non-job holding lives. Extended leisure (the promise of which after ww2 was confiscated by policies that paid workers less and the rich more), and local projects.

    If dividends are ok for the rich, they should be ok for the poor.

    But the key point here is to get on with the necessary elements for coping with the crisis of a successful expanding species (what a rocky road that has been!) that has reached the boundaries of a round and increasingly crowded world. In other words, the time has come to give up conquest and empire (our ten thousand year history) and embrace meeting our fellow humans in a humanizing project of enhancing the quality of life through appropriate technologies and management of the natural world.

    We also discussed the need to take everyone’s opinion seriously and try to meet all argument – mostly fears of economic loss and loss of social roles. Thomas Jefferson’s "Declaration" phrase.. "and the pursuit of happiness" meant for him the number of happenings in a life, the range of roles that brought one’s talents into the social process. Not hedonism but engagement.

    We expect in part this question of self worth would be met by increased local initiatives in agriculture, schooling, and recreation. There are plenty of needs and so plenty to do.

    So this is the first draft of our alternative narrative.



  1. Doug –

    The idea of buying out the coal companies should be applied to the entire death economy. The way to do this, as I see it, is to set up a massive democratic long/short market neutral equity strategy that shorts the war profiteers and polluters and invests in the green and socially responsible (ES) economy. Crowdsource and open the operation up to retail investors and mom and pop and watch people make money as the world turns green. The essential backup is massive ES media campaign ala Bloomberg/WSJ (think, et al) and quantitative short term trend analysis in order to be able to know when to go short and when to go long (macroeconomic and specific stock trends)

    Ideally, we could drive Halliburton’s share price low enough that the Stanford endowment could buy it and retool it as a sustainable infrastructure operation.

    I question whether we need to always think in terms of more tech. It is also important to think of less tech as being good. Holistic village design is more important than herding everyone into tech only solutions.

    Caught you at the collecta feed of sustainable finance. See the feed at my website:

    Keep it up, Leland

  2. Wonderful and very complex to imagine, more even than health care. I too have been thinking about market boycotts, but shorting them, hmm. I’ll dream about it tonight. But got my attention.

    On tech, in no way just tech. See my book draft garden World Politics at

    I have become reluctantly convinced that the future is going to be very intensively techno, just to ave a chance of

    1. getting the job done
    2. meeting needs and creating some jobs.

    Notice that the idea of a “dividend” included a strong statement about green jobs. If the dividend of say 20k could then be added to WPA like jobs in health, education, infrastructure, and restoring the green environment, we might have a solution that is a better balance of local and centralized efforts.

    With 7 billion, managing complexity is required.

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