Category Archives: money culture


The woman who solved economic tragedy

Elinor Ostrom’s on-the-ground research showed how actual people within real, living cultures overcome Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” (more accurately, “The Tragedy of Unmanaged, Laissez-Faire, Common-Pool Resources with Easy Access for Noncommunicating, Self-Interested Individuals”).  Remember that market economies as we know them have only been around for a few centuries (largely coincident with the Antrhopocene) – other socioeconomic systems represent the vast majority of the time that humans have been humans.

Many commons have flourished for hundreds of years, even in periods of drought or crisis. Their success can be traced to a community’s ability to develop its own flexible, evolving rules for stewardship, oversight of access and usage, and effective punishments for rule-breakers. …[T]he rules for appropriating a resource must take account of local conditions and must include limits on what can be taken and how… Commoners must be able to create or influence the rules that govern a commons. … [T]he authority to appropriate a resource, monitor and enforce its use, resolve conflicts and perform other governance activities must be shared across different levels— from local to regional to national to international.

The Political Scientist Who Debunked Mainstream Economics -David Bollier – Evonomics

Happy Holidays?

CGP Grey gives a brief recap of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, do take some time to get in touch with gratitude for all the good things in your world.  And do consider how many in the world have so much less.  Then remember that the following day is Black Friday Buy Nothing Day, now part of a complete Buy Nothing Xmas (courtesy of Adbusters) — a great way to start down the road to Degrowth.

At the very least, please avoid shopping at “the Dirty Dozen” this season:



Post-capitalism? Property and money

Charles Eisenstein has a thoughtful little post about the terms and meanings of capital, property and ownership – how we construct these in the current money culture, and how that might be transformed.

…if we define capitalism as the private ownership of the means of production, and post-capitalism as ending that private ownership, we are still reifying “ownership” or property as an absolute category. But in fact, ownership like money is nothing but a social agreement, a system by which society allocates certain exclusive rights to decide how capital is used.  [read more]


In these times of change…

A fascinating new piece,

Want to Change the World? Read This First

by Richard Heinberg was published on  He moves through important ideas from anthropologist Marvin Harris’s cultural materialism to Heinberg’s own important perspectives on the age of fossil foolishness.  Below are some highlights, but you should really read  the whole thing.

Oil has given us the ability to dramatically increase the rate at which we extract and transform Earth’s bounty (via mining machinery, tractors, and powered fishing boats), as well as the ability to transport people and materials at high speed and at little cost. It and the other fossil fuels have also served as feedstocks for greatly expanded chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries, and have enabled a dramatic intensification of agricultural production while reducing the need for field labor. The results of fossil-fueling our infrastructure have included rapid population growth, the ballooning of the middle class, unprecedented levels of urbanization, and the construction of a consumer economy. While elements of the Scientific Revolution were in place a couple of centuries prior to our adoption of fossil fuels, cheap fossil energy supplied a means of vastly expanding scientific research and applying it to the development of a broad range of technologies that are themselves directly or indirectly fossil-fueled. With heightened mobility, immigration increased greatly, and the democratic multi-ethnic nation state became the era’s emblematic political institution. As economies expanded almost continually due to the abundant availability of high-quality energy, neoliberal economic theory emerged as the world’s primary ideology of societal management. It soon evolved to incorporate several unchallenged though logically unsupportable notions, including the belief that economies can grow forever and the assumption that the entire natural world is merely a subset of the human economy.

He means the failure to comprehend:


…With less useful energy available, the global economy will fail to grow, and will likely enter a sustained period of contraction. Increased energy efficiency [and, as outlined earlier in the article, the lower energy-return-on-investment array of renewable alternatives – ed.] may cushion the impact but cannot avert it. With economies no longer growing, our current globally dominant neoliberal political-economic ideology may increasingly be called into question and eventually overthrown.

And don’t forget:

Choose your assumptions—optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in between. In any case, this is a big deal.
*          *          *
We are living at a historic moment when the structure of society (economic and political systems) and its superstructure (ideologies) are about to be challenged perhaps as never before. When infrastructure changes, what seemingly was solid melts into air, paradigms fall, and institutions crumble, until a new societal regime emerges. Think of a caterpillar pupating, its organ systems evidently being reduced to undifferentiated protoplasm before reorganizing themselves into the features of a butterfly. [Not entirely accurate for what happens in butterfly metamorphosis, but close enough. – ed.] What a perfect opportunity for an idealist intent on changing the world!
It’s time to take up the role of doula and assist in the birth of a positive future. Let’s help this come out right!

Quality quantification? Comparing Asian Countries

In her recent, brilliant (as usual) video, “The Story of Solutions,” Annie Leonard admonishes that we should stop relentlessly working toward MORE and start emphasizing BETTER.

Trouble is, how do we locate BETTER?  How do we know if we’re moving toward or away from that goal?  How do we get the feedback we need, in a way that will be convincing to people across the ideological spectrum?  In other words, how do we measure our progress in ways that allow for useful comparison?  Here’s what Donella Meadows had to say on the subject:

Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure. You can look around and make up your own mind about whether quantity or quality is the outstanding characteristic of the world in which you live.

If something is ugly, say so. If it is tacky, inappropriate, out of proportion, unsustainable, morally degrading, ecologically impoverishing, or humanly demeaning, don’t let it pass. Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can precisely define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can precisely define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist. [from D. Meadows, “Dancing with Systems” 2002]

And yet, I’m a science nerd.  I ♥ numbers.  Can we get numbers, even with fuzzy definitions, just to give us some way to compare over time or across cultures?  If natural selection works by amplifying positive deviance, and we seek to emulate this most successful biological process, then we need a way to recognize those bright spots on the fitness landscape, so that we can foster them and encourage their replication.  We need feedback to know if we’re moving toward our goal of BETTER.  And, to quote Meadows again:

If the goal is defined badly, if it doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to measure, if it doesn’t reflect the real welfare of the system, then the system cannot possibly produce a desired result.  Systems, like the three wishes in the traditional fairy tale, have a terrible tendency to produce exactly and only what you ask them to produce. (Thinking in Systems: A Primer, p. 138)

There are several indices out there that purport to measure something about our well-being and progress.  I’ve written before about the idea of Gross National Happiness. I’ve been investigating other available measures in relation to my current project to promote Education for Sustainability in the sixteen countries that represent half the world.

What is it that could be BETTER in this vast and complex system?  I’d venture almost everything in the nested sets of human economic, social and environmental interactions.


These interdependent and interpenetrating systems interact in complex ways (go ahead, say that three times fast).  As discussed previously, economic aspects of these systems tend to be the first ones measured, because money is by its very nature quite amenable to counting.  There have also been some interesting attempts to measure global environmental health, and even to express environmental health in economic terms.  And there are some widespread attempts to measure things like social well-being, especially in terms of freedom. No such index is without controversy; all have limitations in terms of data validity, not to mention the challenges associated with trying to quantify important qualitative values (basically attempting to scrute the inscrutable).  Nonetheless, they are a place to start, so I’ve started there with my attempts to compare the current status of my sixteen countries.  Below are my tabulated results, with color coding to help our primate optics detect patterns more readily.  Click the link or image for the Excel spreadsheet.

Asia Economic Data by Country

First up, the oh-so-quantifiable economic measures.  The classic and deeply problematic way of representing the economic status of a country is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  To even begin to be a useful basis of comparison, this must be expressed in some kind of per capita way (otherwise, the fact that China’s GDP is so much bigger than Brunei’s is almost entirely attributable to the fact that there are over 3000 Chinese citizens for every single Brunei citizen). But as we move into the relationship between economic and social factors, another glaring discrepancy becomes obvious: the distribution of the wealth represented in the GDP is far from equitable.  Just how far is indicated by another index: GINI, utilized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  A higher GINI coefficient indicates a more dramatic difference between the few rich and the many poor in each nation (Wikipedia is a good starting place for not only the definition and calculations, but also the limitations and controversies).  Also, GDP and GINI notoriously neglect certain aspects of what are usually considered important goals in economic development (e.g. health, education).  So UNDP factors those into another measure, the Human Development Index, which can then be further adjusted for inequality, to give some sense of progress (or lack thereof) toward the Millennium Development Goals.

Asia Economic Data by Country
Asia econ data table

Asia Political Ratings by Country

The above economic indices are also, of course, measures of social relationships in some sense. The following data and rankings move more explicitly into the social and political realm.  (One could argue that HDI more properly belongs in this set.) I’ve included a quick-and-dirty summary description of each country’s political system (thanks Google), and some indices related to freedom, as a shorthand for some of the crucial social systems at the national level.  Sadly, Gross National Happiness has not yet been measured for most countries.  There are lots of other things I could include here (dominant religions, years since independence from colonial powers, etc.); feel free to suggest other useful comparisons in the comments.

Asia political data by country Asia social data table

Asia Environmental Ratings by Country

These are ratings that are more specifically connected to the human impact on the rest of the biosphere.  As they are in the realm usually investigated by the natural sciences (e.g. population biology, forestry and ecology), they are again more quantitative.  One particularly interesting rating is the Happy Planet Index, an attempt to measure the environmental efficiency of human well-being.

Asia Environmental Ratings by Country

Asia enviro data table

Stand with First Nations – Oppose Tar Sands Mining and KXL

There are a few resonating news items regarding tar sands extraction, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and their impact on the indigenous people of this continent:

1. Alberta toxic waste spill could be biggest North American environmental disaster in recent history

The spill was first discovered on June 1st, about 100 kms south of the border with the Northwest Territories, near the small town of Zama City. Texas-based Apache Corporation, the oil company responsible for the spill, just released their estimate of its size on Wednesday [June 12th]…

“Every plant and tree died,” said James Ahnassay, chief of the Dene Tha First Nation, according toThe Globe and Mail, as he spoke of the effect the spill has had on the land. The Dene Tha apparently also believe that waterfowl may have been killed in the spill, which took place in a wetlands area, but according to The Globe and Mail, Apache representatives said they saw no impacts on wildlife.

2.  The Beaver Lake Cree Judgment: The Most Important Tar Sands Case You’ve Never Heard Of

“…the constitutional standing of the tar sands – one of the world’s largest and most carbon-intensive energy projects – is just what’s at stake in a treaty rights claim the Beaver Lake Cree Nation (BLCN) is bringing against the Governments of Alberta and Canada in a case that promises to be one of the most significant legal and constitutional challenges to the megaproject seen in Canada to date…

The Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the claim against the crown, grants the BLCN the opportunity to argue the cumulative negative impacts of tar sands expansion may constitute a legal breach of the band’s historic Treaty 6 with the Canadian government, signed back in 1876.

And the significance of this judgment cannot be overstated. The BLCN’s claim now stands as the first opportunity for legal consideration of the cumulative impacts of the tar sands on First Nation’s traditional territory and the implications of those impacts on the ability to uphold Treaty Rights.”

3. Keystone XL Pipeline Follows in Tracks of Conquest, Sexual Violence and Colonization

Faith Spotted EagleFaith Spotted Eagle wrote an important piece on the consequences of the pipeline going through South Dakota reservations.

“Native communities are viewed by the colonizers as inherently “dirty, dispensable” communities where waste and toxins can be deposited. These reservations communities are located on or near the fifty six waterways identified as being affected by the pipeline…

We climbed into a van that had the pictures on it of missing and murdered Native women. The two grandmothers driving the van explained that they were on a walk across Canada to bring attention to this outrage, which they urgently believe is related to industrial and mining development on or adjacent to Native lands. They were adamant about telling us to keep this in mind when stopping the KXL Pipeline, because it would protect the women, children and families of our nations. As we traveled to the hotel, I could feel the spirits of the murdered and missing women traveling with us in the van.”

She also talked with Caroline Casey on the Visionary Activist Show yesterday, and there’s video of her testifying to the US State Department in April.

Outraged yet?

 “Our Native prophecies state that there will be a time to stand up for what is important, and that time is now!!” ~ Faith Spotted Eagle

Ready to stand up and be Idle No More?

Idle No More


Happy Solstice 2012! While the Mayans have plans for coming years, this is prophesied to be a major time of transitions.  Others are calling this U-Day, a day of global unification and and peace.  Here’s hoping that a global mindshift is … Continue reading