People are More Important than Money
In 1992 my mom, then aged 53, started saving seriously for her retirement.
My mom is a registered nurse that does hemodialysis, helping patients with
blood problems stay alive. She's a hard-working citizen that follows the law
and wants little more than to live a happy and productive life, sentiments I
believe we can all identify with. My mom did some research about how to
invest her savings and followed the conservative advice of respectable
sources. She wasn't looking to "make a killing" in the stock market; she
just wanted to save her money so that she could retire in safety and security.
In 2002 the stock market crashed and my mother lost over half her retirement fund. Now, some of that was money that she had made off interest from her investments, but most of it was from the sweat off her brow, earned by helping other people. That is money that, quite honestly, I feel she didn't deserve to lose. And now that it is gone, the quality of the rest of her life has been seriously impacted. She can no longer retire even in modest comfort; the remainder of her days will be spent in frugal husbanding of what little she has left.
My mom stoically accepted this turn of events, but I am wroth over it. I am by any measure a pretty easy-going guy, but her misfortune has filled me with righteous anger. Why? Why the hell should someone who has worked honestly her entire life lose half her life savings in one fell swoop? My mom wasn't trying to exploit anyone; she wasn't playing the craps table at Vegas; she wasn't even making high-risk investments. She just did what she was told to do by trustworthy financial planners, and the result was that she lost years of her savings overnight. Why should my mom suffer for the next thirty years of her life because one day the made-up numbers on a stupid stock ticker went down?
I went through a pretty bad period after this. Who was to blame for this outrage? Did brokers rip off my mother? No, no, they're guys just like you and me who are only trying to make a living doing what they know. Were corporations responsible with their bloody stock market? No, no, it's not their fault either; no corporation wants their stock price to plummet. After considerable soul searching I concluded that no one, really, was to blame. My mom lost her retirement money because that's just the way things work in our world today.
So the only solution is to change the way the world works.
The American Family is being forced
A few years ago I turned thirty and my thoughts started turning to raising a
family. I want very few things in life, but the few that I want are very
important to me: to live happily among friends, to create a loving family,
and to go to sleep at night knowing that I've helped people. As long as I
can do that, then I'd feel content with my life.
In the last year I've been shocked to learn that raising a family peacefully is no longer possible in the United States. There is a great plague sweeping our nation right now, little talked about, but spreading like wildfire. It is the bankruptcy of the American Family. Having a child is now the number one indicator of impending bankruptcy. We are more likely to go bankrupt than we are to be touched by heart disease, cancer, or divorce. By the best estimate, one in seven (1 in 7) american families will have filed for bankruptcy by the year 2010. That's a virtual guarantee of financial devastation for anyone starting a family today.
Why are American Families at such risk? Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi explain how it happens in their book "The Two-Income Trap". The tale is simple and one we've all heard. A couple has a child and starts planning for its future. Their most important concern is education, because they are constantly told that public education is failing and that education is the most important factor to a child's later success in life. So, they investigate schools, find good ones, and try to move into the good school districts.
Unfortunately, everyone else with a family is doing the same thing. This causes a fierce competition in those select few areas, driving the prices of homes up dramatically. On average, the mortgage for a home in a good school district is about twice what it is elsewhere, the other factors being equal (crime rates, distance from city, etc.) The couple frets because there is no way they can meet such a huge mortgage on one salary, so they both start working. That entails a wide variety of new costs (like daycare), and the fixed expenses of the couple rise dangerously close to their income. But like most parents, they are willing to make any sacrifice for their children, so they scrape by.
Then, something happens. Every year, each one of us has about a 3% chance of losing a job, falling ill, or getting into an accident. Most of the time they are momentary setbacks, putting us out of work or on our back for a few months. The risk for two-income families is nearly double that... and marks the beginning of the downward spiral into backruptcy. With one of the wage earners out of commission, the family quickly gets behind on bills. Even once both of them are working again, they are behind with no way to get ahead. Most have put their expenses onto credit cards with high interest rates. That extra burden, plus their onerous fixed expenses drive them inexorably into financial ruin.
These families going bankrupt are not big spenders. They are not racking up huge credit card bills with extravagant over-spending on luxuries. Most of them are frugal two-income families just struggling to keep their head above water. They are people just like you and me.
The problems of the world have suddenly become very personal to me. It is affecting me and my family, not just the one I grew up with, but the one I hope to raise myself. I can no longer sit idly by. I feel the need to change this travesty. For my children. For all our our children.
Our Children are being Sold into
Now let's talk about the response of business and government to the
financial ruin of the American Family. In the last few decades, large banks
and credit agencies have had laws pushed through that make it easier to loan
people money. Whereas before mortgages could only be calculated on one
salary, now they can be calculated on two. Certain types of lending
previously considered usury are now allowed by law. This has led to a sharp
increase in predatory lending practices, where financial institutions
loan money to people they know will be unable to repay, in an effort to gain
access to their assets and incomes.
Moreover, the capstone response of the government to the bankruptcy of the American Family were some key amendments to the Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968, as well as passing new Acts. Sum total, they made it harder for people to declare bankruptcy and easier for creditors to get ahold of previously inviolate assets. I want to be perfectly clear on this. In response to the bankruptcy of the American Family, our government passed laws that made it easier for big corporations to kick the little guys while they are down.
This begins the well-known cycle of class-locking. Bankrupt families shift from the middle class to the lower class, and are given no opportunities to bootstrap themselves back up. Children then grow up disadvantaged: not in poverty per se, but without the education, experiences, and social groups they would have had prior to bankruptcy. This leads to a reduced choice among jobs, a lower income, and a higher risk of bankruptcy when they raise their own families.
Let us not mince words. This is financial slavery. It is exactly the same
process that free share-croppers became slave tenants back in the days of
farming landowners. It is the slow grinding of a free people against an
artificially constructed financial burden. We must change this now for the
sake of future generations.
Our Systems value Money over People
Why? Why are we being slowly but surely being maneuvered into financial
slavery? The root cause, above all others, is that our systems of
organization implicitly favor money over people. Large corporations act
to maximize their profit... irrespective of the effect on the environment,
the society, or even its own employees. Government elections are won by
money and media, with votes being almost incidental to the process. But
perhaps most importantly, by our allowing the system to be like this, we've
implicitly condoned it as being the "way of the world".
I am here to declare to you in no uncertain terms: People are More Important than Money. The quality of our lives is the first paramount concern and takes precendence over business, over economy, over government. Happiness is more important than profit. The lives your children lead is more important than the stock market. I want you to pause for a moment and listen to the silence of your soul. Is it right that we have to be slaves to endless bills just to survive in our society? Previous cultures got by just fine without so many bills. Is it right that rich corporations are allowed to prey on families during times of financial crisis? The rich have always taken from the poor... but oftentimes it was labeled the black crime that it is. Is it right to sit back and allow our children to be sold into financial slavery?
Let me tell you how I would feel if I heard these words. "Of course, I agree with you that people are more important than money, that happiness is more important than profit. But these things you talk about, they are just the way things are. What can we do about it? I've got trouble enough just trying to live my life and taking care of my family; I don't want to go borrowing trouble. And besides, how could it work any different?"
Consider, just for a moment, that the way things are is not the way
they have to be. We can improve our systems to make them more just and
fair. Let me share with you another story from my life.
Every social convention was Born, and
Grows, and Evolves, and can be Changed
Many years ago I went to college as an undergraduate and the institutions
there seemed to have the aura of permanence. The rules on campus, the
character of the dormitory houses, the core curriculum, each appeared to me
to be graven in stone, to have been there that way forever. Now, when I was
a junior, someone proposed changing the freshman pass-fail system back to
grades, and there was an uproar of resistance. It's always been that way!,
some students cried. You can't change something so fundamental! But then an
article was reprinted in the school newspaper about when, not too long in the
past, freshman year was graded and it was proposed to change it to pass-fail.
The article was written by the students of that earlier time, who bitterly
argued against moving to pass-fail. You can't change it!, they cried.
It's an integral part of the permanent character of the university! And what
became clear to everyone was that our first reaction is to resist change, no
matter how good it might be. We instinctually think that the way things are
now is the best way, making it difficult to consider the pros and cons of
something new, especially something really new.
As time went on it became increasingly clear that every aspect of the college was, in fact, changing. It was just changing so slowly that the typical student, only there for four years, barely saw it. During a great talk with one of the professors, who had been there for decades, he confirmed this viewpoint. "Everyone thinks the conventions they grow up with are the only ones, that the way things are done now are they way they have always been done. What appears to you students to be permanent, to us administrators and faculty is fluid. The university evolves, adapts, slowly every year, and it is completely different one decade to the next." I ended up attending that same school later as a graduate student, so I saw the university over the timeslice of a whole decade. And the professor's words were prophetic: when I left, it was completely different from when I arrived. What has once appeared to me to be fixed and unchangeable... now seemed just to be in slow motion. Undergoing slow but inexorable evolution.
I experienced a profound event during those times. When I was an undergrad, there were discussions about "C-House", a place intended to bring faculty, graduates, and undergraduates closer together. I participated in many of those discussions, and at the time, it seemed like no more than pacifying lip-service. In the couple years that I was away from the university, they went and actually built it. In fact, my first year as a graduate student I lived in that house (then called Avery House), and as I looked around I saw many of the suggestions hashed out in those discussions cast into the form of a real building. Some of my own participation built the world I was living in. Not only was the college changing, I had been an important part of change unbeknowst to myself. It was even more sobering realizing that, had I not gone back there as a graduate student, I might never have known about my own impact and contribution. How much of what we do in life, the effect that we have, do we never even see?
What if to citizens a society looks much the same as college does to students? We look around us and every social convention seemed to be permanent, fixed, graven in stone. More saliently, we doubt we can even affect the "way of the world", let alone intentionally change it. But what if those conventions were always evolving... they simply did slowly over the course of our lives? Suppose we stepped back and looked at the sweep of time... then we would realize, our every one of our social compacts had a beginning. Everything we take as a given, there was a time when people had to get together and agree that things would be done that way. Even our most cherished agreements, like freedom, equality, and justice, these were all created by people like you and me.
What I propose, quite simply, is that we can change our world for the better. We can all make a new agreements to play the game of life a little differently so that we all benefit thereby. And we can firmly place the quality of human life as the most important aim of our society.
Now, as people have read these pages, I've begun to notice a pattern of their reactions. The first one, of course, is that it's ludicrous to so boldly and plainly propose changing the world. But most people give me the benefit of the doubt, and then read on. And as they read the Reformation solutions, everything seems to make a great deal of sense. Wow! The proposed solutions are clearly much better than what we currently have. Then there is a phase of being overwhelmed; we are, after all, talking about some pretty important stuff. But after awhile the proposals don't seem so dauntingly big, and the actual actions involved seem quite doable. Moreover, once we're thinking about what to do we begin to see elements of these solutions implemented all around us, giving us confidence that they really work. And then finally people start asking the question: Why couldn't we do this? Eventually, they realize nothing can stop them from changing the world for the better. "Changing the world" no longer seems like a crazy idea or a nifty soundbite, it sounds like something eminently practical that we could do today. This is the essential thrust of the Human-Scale Reformation: finding ways to make the big problems of the world human-scale again, and therefore something that you and I can solve. So, as you approach these new ideas, keep an open mind and give them enough time to get a fair shake. Don't let the initial reactions (resistance, overload, doubt) mislead you; I am confident that you will find the Human-Scale Reformation to be ideal, not idealistic.
With that in mind, let's talk about what we need to do, and why.
Restore American Democracy
The first and most crucial step of the Human-Scale Reformation is to reclaim representation with participation in our own government. Our current political system is too large and unwieldy, making it impossible for citizens like you and I to affect; at the same time, its lumbering size makes it much easier for corporations and wealthy special interest groups to influence. Let's look at what's wrong with our political system, and then how we can fix it.
Mass election of distant politicians
unlike us is fraught with problems
The essential problem with our political system today arises from a hidden
assumption made in its design. Our Founding Fathers implicitly assumed that
our elections would always be of people that we knew like us, who
lived in the local community and shared the same concerns we did, because
they led similar lives. As long as we are represented by such elected
officials, then government responds according to the Public Good.
What do we have today? We now have the mass election of distant politicians that we don't even know. These politicians are drawn from the wealthiest segment of our society: they do not live where we do, like we do, or share our concerns. Our system has broken down because our representatives aren't like us anymore, we have no relationship with them, and moreover, we no longer trust them because of this growing distance. Remember, the problem is not the politicians, it's the flawed system of mass election.
Those problems alone would be enough for pause; to make matters worse, it has become clear that money is now running our government. To succeed in a mass election, politicians must raise campaign funds to advertise in the media. The only way a politician can remain viable is to cater to wealthy special interests groups. Our representatives are hostage to the rich, because of the inherent flaws in our electoral system.
The litany of other problems with our political system is long indeed. Because of practical barriers of time, money, and influence, citizens like you and I can't even participate in the process by which decisions are made that affect our lives. Laughably, that might not even make a difference because fewer and fewer real decisions are being made. Our government is mired in an inffective bureaucracy of procedural rules that are effectively hamstringing its own ability to act. And worst of all, our officials are now so removed from us that they have no accountability for their actions.
The situation must be changed, and we citizens are the only people who can change it. In summary:
|What We Have||What We Want||The Solution|
|Representation without Participation||Representation with Participation||Personal Selection of Representatives|
|Wealthy Special Interests Buying Our Government||Public Good over Special Interests||Citizen Funding|
|Distant Politicians We Don't Even Know||Ongoing Relationships with Leaders Like Us||Peer Promotion|
|Politics and Mass Media||Leaders We Know and Trust||Community Network of Friends|
|Ineffective Bureaucracy||To Get Things Done||Real Time Checks and Balances|
|No Accountability Nor Recourse||Direct Personal Accountability||Active Partnership with Leaders|
Phase 1: The Human Assembly
The Human Assembly is a return to American democracy as our Founding
Fathers intended. It replaces the money-driven bureaucracy of politicians
with a community network of friends. Specifically, it changes the
mass election of distant politicians that we don't even know to the peer
promotion of trusted leaders like us as our personal representatives.
This change from large-scale popular election to human-scale personal
selection restores the vital relationship between the represented and the
Representative. In the Human Assembly, we personally know and trust our
representatives, have regular face-to-face contact with them, and they are
directly accountable to us. The community network is designed
specifically to further the interests of private Citizens and the Public
Good, without being unduly influenced by wealthy special interest groups.
The Human Assembly is representation with participation, which our
forefathers assumed we'd always have but has been lost in modern government.
The basic idea is this: any ten peer Citizens can gather together and form an Assembly. This group can select any of their own members as a Representative of their interests. Ten Citizens empower their Rep to become a Level 1 Representative. Ten Level 1 Reps can assemble to empower a Level 2 Representative. And so on, and so forth. Thus, a Level 6 Rep represents the interests of a million people, and only got there if six Assemblies of peers thought they were the best person to do so.
This is less a system of govern-ment and more a system of gather-ment. The Human Assembly has many advantages over our current political system:
Create Sustainable Social Security
Turning our attention to the economy, we can see that most of our economic
problems are due to unsustainable practices that are fueled by
expansionist social customs. Perhaps the most visible and personally
relevant problem is the impending breakdown of the social security
system. We are expected to contribute our entire lives to a program that
won't give us anything back when we retire. That's not right, and we need to
"Social Security" in its current specific implementation is completely unsustainable, but "social security" in general is a much needed essential feature of any society. We are going to have to re-architect a new system from the ground up that fundamentally alters certain aspect of our economy in order to ensure that we receive fair compensation for our hard work. The first step is to evolve the meaning of money to be in synch with universal physical law. This EMIT Money Standard gets rid of the inflation of money and enables long term planning. The second step is to offer a financially superior alternative to ownership, namely renting. This Rental Ecology more fairly rewards producers for making durable quality products and is less money out of pocket for consumers. The third step is to create a comprehensive social safety net, that will support us from cradle to grave. The Support For All programs offer jobs to any who need them, and makes it possible for all people to have food, shelter, and clothing. In the end, we will have created a sustainable social security where everyone's future will be assured and no one need lose their hard-earned retirement money at all, let alone in one fell swoop.
Unsustainable practices are the root problem
Winston Churchill once said: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal
sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal
sharing of misery." Capitalist systems tend to concentrate wealth,
resulting in a few very wealthy entities and many not-so-wealthy people.
This wouldn't be such a bad thing, if the rich were created on the basis of
being wise, benevolent, and capable, say. However, the unfortunate reality
is that simply having money makes one money. We need to architect our
economy to reward active contribution, instead of accumulated
wealth. Wealth should flow naturally into the hands of those who are
actively making peoples' lives better, and naturally out of the hands of
In the last forty years we have seen the emergence of a finance economy that has propagated to every level of our society. More and more human events are requiring a huge outlay of capital. For the typical person, owning a home means assuming a mortgage. That means that just to live in your own house you need the aid of a bank, an organization with no other purpose than to make money off lending you money. Insurance against adversity requires a capital intensive organization like an insurance company; many forms of insurance are mandated by law. Starting a business often begins with seeking venture capital. We need to reduce our reliance on capital intensive organizations in living our day to day lives. As long as we need financial institutions to perform basic acts of living, then wealth will always have disproportionate representation. But the more we reduce our reliance on wealthy organizations, the less undue influence wealth will have.
[As an aside, I'd like to emphasize that our systems of organization alone will make things turn out this way, irrespective of the intents of the people involved. Every wealthy person on the planet could be a saint, and they would still be unduly favored by a capitalist finance economy. The wealthy do not need to "conspire to oppress the poor"; our systems of organization will do it for them. The problem is with the system, not with the people. My personal take on the situation is the wealthy are powerful... and are made that way whether they like it or not. Corporations are greedy... and they couldn't survive in our dog-eat-dog competitive economy were they otherwise. And people like you and me are politically apathetic bums... because we don't know what we can do that will make a difference. At the core, the problem is with the system. If we change our systems of organization then we'll see profoundly different behavior at all levels. Everyone acts in their own best interest and according to what they feel is right, and both of those change depending on the rules of the game we are collectively playing.]
These economic problems ultimately stem from unconsidered social customs. Perhaps the greatest influence is that we short-sightedly favor strategies of unregulated growth. In a way, the game we (as consumers) force the corporations to play is a rigged one: they constantly need to expand just to maintain the same levels of profitability. However, this problem goes far deeper than just economics. It is the root cause of world overpopulation, as well as warfare over scarce resources. We need to make long-term sustainable practices financially competitive with short-term expansionist practices. Humans have already saturated the planet, and the growth policies of our ancestors are now working against us. We need to find ways to live stably and reward organizations on the basis of their promotion of longevity.
Going hand in hand with our attitude of growth is a dangerous philosophy of unlimited consumerism. The exponential growth of human societies in the last couple centuries has entailed a necessary increase in our ability to extract resources from our environment. This has led to the rapid depletion of non-replaceable natural resources, for example oil, clean water, and oxygenating plants. We need to temper consumerism with a mindset of replaceability. Anything we consume we must act to replace; we must further limit our rate of consumption to our rate of replacement. In fact, this should be the guiding requirement for every primary producer. If you cut down a tree, you should plant two more. And if you despoil the water table, you must furnish clean water to everyone (and everything) impacted as well as clean the table up again. It will very quickly become more economically feasible for companies to find alternate solutions than it will to continue to make costly replacements.
An even more fundamental and more specific problem is that we treat energy resources as income instead of capital expenditures. Suppose I told you that a company had $30 Million in the bank two years ago, that it spent $20 million of it last year to make $10 million in profit, and that it will spend all of its $40 million this year to make $20 million. Would you say this is a well run company? On the face of things, it looks good: hey, they doubled their profits in one year! But a deeper look shows that they are going to bankrupt themselves because they are fueling their growth with capital expenditures. That's exactly the situation right now with our consumption of natural resources like gas and oil for energy usage. We look on the face of things and say: hey, we're doing great because our society keeps growing! But we are going to bankrupt ourselves with our consumptive policies. We need to make renewable energy financially competitive with consumable energy. Energy is the most basic need of all life. This is an inviolate law imposed by our universe and the longer we ignore it the harder it will hit us.
By the way, one might wonder what the consquences are of ignoring our energy crisis. It's not really an issue of survival, it is more a compromise of our integrity, an unnecessary burden of cost, and an increase of human suffering. As energy resources become scarcer, there will be increasing conflict over what remains; make no mistake, the United States is going to come out on top in any such conflict. But in the process it will have become little more than a consumptive brute and will have seriously undermined its position as a progressive leader of nations. [Author's aside: I wrote this three months before the war in Iraq... little did I know that the prediction would come true so soon and so starkly. Events are moving quickly, and so must we.] In fact, if we take a broad look at all the problems we've outlined, what we're really talking about needless human suffering that can be foresightfully prevented. All we need to do is just change the way we do certain things and we will dramatically improve the quality of human life. We are truly fortunate that the issues in the US aren't really about life and death anymore; they are about happiness and suffering, justice and inequity, and sharing and frustration. So let's take a look at the Reformation solutions to create a sustainable economy and how they will improve the human quality of our lives.
Phase 2: EMIT Money Standard
The EMIT Money Standard is very simply making money equivalent to universal
physical quantities. There are at least four fundamental things that money
should be equivalent to:
Phase 3: Rental Ecology
The Dynamic Duo of the Reformation (Human Assembly and EMIT Money Standard)
are both infrastructure improvements of our society. They fundamentally
alter the concentration of political power (away from large organization and
into the hands of typical Citizens) as well as the meaning of wealth (by
providing a stable long-term value to money). Each one is simple, powerful,
easily implemented, and clearly an improvement over our current systems of
organization. However, they are also designed to enable the following Home
Couplet (Rental Ecology, and Support For All).
The essential thrust of Rental Ecology is as follows: anyone who creates a product of more than a certain key value (say $1,000) owns their creation forevermore. Thus, if they want to make money off of it, their primary option is to rent it to others. However, they ultimately retain responsibility for its use and eventual disposal. In short, we would be changing our short-sighted expansionist "economy" into a long-term sustainable "ecology".
Let's take a look at the benefits of a Rental Ecology:
Phase 4: Support For All
Support For All is an idea that occurs naturally to any parent: let's give
everyone Housing, Work, Food, and Clothing who needs it.
Housing For All. The Housing For All program will have two distinct stages. The first is aimed at those with homes. It will offer all home-owners and renters a deal, namely, to lease out their home to the Housing For All program at the same cost as their current mortage / rent. In return, they will receive $50 of "food stamps", $50 of "clothing stamps", and $200 of "lease stamps" every month, which effectively puts an extra $300 a month into their pockets. The remaining monthly cash flow will be used to pay off debtors in a fair fashion, and then once that is done, to fund the rest of the Support For All programs. This includes the second stage of Housing For All, which is a creation / renovation of housing space for those currently homeless. They must also pay a lease, but leases will be designed such that if enough people (say 4) live in one unit their combined "lease stamps" will be enough to cover the monthly expense.
Work For All. Franklin D Roosevelt once said of the Square Deal: "Every man who is willing to work deserves an honest day's pay for an honest day's work". So, let's create an organization called Work For All that employs anyone who wants a job. The fear of not being able to support oneself or one's family factors heavily into many life decisions; let us once and for all remove this concern from the heart of every human. We have numerous organizations designed to discard money in charity welfare, yet very few designed to exchange that same money for productive work. Let's reorient our mindset away from giving away money to exchanging it, in particular, with those productive members of our society who are willing to earn it.
Food and Clothing For All. The Food For All and Clothing For All programs are incorporated into the above two. People in the Work For All program are also paid with food, clothing, and lease "stamps". (Stamps are perhaps a misnomer, since they will most likely be an electronic format. The idea would be to somehow guarantee that people are fed by giving them money that can only be spent on food.)
Support For All may seem like a pie-in-the-sky socialist ideal. In some ways, it is, being designed to free people from the concern for food, shelter, and occupation to concentrate on other, more important things. However, it is also firmly grounded in capitalist reality. At no point does the program spend more money than takes in. It is completely voluntary, and the benefits are offered only to those under the auspices of one of the Support For All programs. Morever, there are secondary cash flows that can be tapped into that will result in a better situation for people of all economic classes. For example,
Tax Reform. There should be an immediately levyable Flat Tax of 10% on any cash flow between two entities. For the average person, that means a 10% income tax and a 10% sales tax, which is a much better situation than we currently have. However, for large entities that make their money by moving money around quickly, it means a serious erosion of the payoff from finance economy tactics. As an upshot for everyone, it means we can dispose of the headache with filing taxes; and it also means that the tax breaks that large and wealthy organizations get disappear.
Dignify the Human Spirit
There is a lot more to life besides politics and the economy. Health and
happiness are two essential human desires... that often go unfulfilled.
We should dignify the human spirit by creating a society that we actually
want to live in, one that offers us a meaningful purpose to our lives
besides consumer consumption.
Our world has become dysfunctionally
impersonal and inhumane
I whimsically call this the too damn big problem, because our social
structures have become too damn big for individual people to understand or
affect. Take a look around: we have multi-national corporations, huge
governments, and world-spanning media networks. Our news is filled with
wars, natural catastrophes, and world-wide plight. Everything just seems too
damn big, the scale is too large to fully grasp, and we sometimes despair at
ever affecting these issues. In fact, one often wonders whether the people
"in charge" have any more understanding or effect than we do! We need
smaller organizations closer to human scale. We do affect our
world; every action we take affects those around us. Moreover, we can
affect positive change, if we coordinate our efforts toward a common goal.
The issues facing us today are too big to deal with only because we haven't
yet boiled them down into something an individual person can do to change the
situation. Once that way is employed, the problems become human-scale and
Another key component of the trend toward inhumanity is our never-ending quest for efficiency. As a nation America has whole-heartedly adopted mechanization. Our typical day consists of getting gas from a self-serve station (previously there were attendants), drawing money from an ATM (tellers were once real live people), and hours spent watching television or working on a computer (where we used to talk with people). Without question machines have made our society more efficient... but have they really improved our quality of life? People today (myself included) often express a feeling of isolation, being disconnected from the world and not knowing how to reconnect. We're unhappy and we don't even know why or what to do about it. We need systems that are personal and humane. These systems may be less efficient than others, but they are clearly more effective at achieving what we want. In the words of Steven Covey: "Efficiency is doing a thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing." Why strive for more efficiency if the cost is less humanity?
A strong side effect of the increase in our standard of living has been an erosion of stable, geographic, face-to-face community. Americans today are very mobile compared to their counterparts a hundred years ago. The younger generations move every few years, change jobs about as frequently, and have less contact with neighbors. They are also more financially independent and in general have less reliance on familial or local structures for success (and more reliance on large-scale economic structures). There are many subjective reasons why this may be a less preferable situation, but there is one compelling way in which it is objectively less efficient: the constant reduplication of the wheel. We need social networks that naturally propagate useful heritage. The greatest resource we have in our lives is the other people around us. Our elders have struggled with the same life problems that we have, and have wisdom that can save us years of dead-end pursuits. Our peers live under the same conditions as we do, and have useful insights to share. Our friends and loved ones know us personally, and have advice specific to our peculiarities. We should harness this community network instead of letting it slowly disappear.
Last but not least, another major factor in the increasing inhumanity in the world is because measurable quantities get preferential treatment over human qualities. The most obvious disparity is profit over happiness. We have eighteen-kabillion ways of measuring the fiscal productivity of the United States... and not a single one as to whether people are happy and fulfilled with their lives. As a result, large scale policy tends to get made on the measurable quantities and human qualities usually suffer. Corporations focus on their bottom line, and governments on their economies, because those are things that they can track the progress of. We must promote the quality of human life as a primary paramount goal and employ the utmost of our wisdom, judgment, and faculty to that end. Personally, I could live with a GNP that was half as much if everyone in the US was twice as happy. A healthy economy matters only insofar as it promotes human happiness. The quality of human living is more important than the arbitrary value of any measurable quantity.
Phase 5: Living Freedom Mission
This last Reformational movement is the largest in scope. The Dynamic Duo
paves the way, and the Home Couplet puts our own country in order. But what
about helping people in other countries? The Living Freedom Mission attempts
to address this global desire. It can be implemented in parallel with the
other movements, even with our current systems of organization.
There are over five billion people on this earth who have yet to breathe free. We in the first world have drawn the winning lottery tickets by being lucky enough to be born in free countries. I propose that we start practically creating One Free and Human World, with Freedom, Equality, Opportunity, Community, and Humanity for all People. It's time to start sharing the wealth, and the most precious thing we have is not our material resources but the working system of free people.
So, let's create the Living Freedom Mission, which is basically like a student exchange but for other adults besides just students. We would host a person in our home for a year, and in return we would get to live abroad for a year (hopefully in the same home as the person we hosted). We will showcase our societies of living freedom, and also get an inexpensive alternative to long term foreign travel. Everyone will learn about other cultures in the best way possible: by meeting real people face to face and interacting with them in their homes.
This simple premise has many far-reaching effects:
You can read more about the Living Freedom Mission here.
Some Parting Words
Well, thanks for listening to me. I really do believe that we have the
capability to improve our world, if we can focus our efforts on making
precise changes to our systems of organizations. And those precise changes
should be targetted to making things human scale once again, firmly placing
the concerns of people like us over the concerns of money. There is no
reason why our world has to be so big or unwieldy that people like you and
me can't affect it anymore. It is only because we've inadvertently allowed
behemoths to grow unchecked that they seem so daunting. In the words of the
Little Prince, we must always tend our boababs while they are small.
Moreover, if you think about it, every big thing in our world is really nothing more than an accumlated concentration of small things. Hollywood is a powerful world-spanning media force; do you know how they make their money? $10 at a time for tickets at movie theatres. Actually, rental is a bigger part of their business nowdays, at $3 per rental. Telecommunications companies like AT&T are some of the biggest in the world, and they make their money at 5 cents a minute. In fact, there are some economists who propound that the way to make a huge company is to find a small product that people will buy frequently: the smaller, the better. Don't underestimate the power of the contribution that you make in the world, just because it might seem small. The only way to make a big change is to make many small changes. Do the small things in life and do them frequently, and that's what really counts. Smile, be kind, help your fellow man, strive to do the right thing, to do the best job you can. And if you can find a way to combine your efforts with others', well, it starts to add up mighty quickly.
We are very fortunate to live in free countries like the United States. By virtue of being free we have been given the privilege of be able to improve our lot... so let's get out there and do it!
Kim E Lumbard
P.S. Well, I've been writing the Human-Scale Reformation for a couple years now and it is high time that I "got out there" and did something. In summer of 2004 I'm starting the This is Your Land! Tour. Check it out!
Remaining To Do: Refine changed introduction; add overview to phases and how they fit into overall plan of People over Money Rework summaries once the Support For All pages are written