Tag Archives: capitalism

On Capitalism and “Bullshit Jobs”

By David Graeber
Fall, 2016

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would have advanced sufficiently by century’s end that countries like Great Britain or the United States would achieve a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is exactly what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the very sort of problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.  Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

Copyright David Graeber 2016

David Graeber is a professor in the London School of Economics’ anthropology department. He is the author of several books, including Debt: The First 5,000 Years. A contributing editor of The Baffler and editor at large to HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, he has written for Harper’s, The Nation, and other magazines and journals. His most recent book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, is published by Random House/Spiegel & Grau. This essay was originally published on Strike! and is republished here with Prof. Graeber’s permission.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Inequality threatens democracy — investors

By Laurie Goering
April, 2016

A farmer waits to receive emergency food aid in the village of Estayish in Ethiopia's northern Amhara region, February 11, 2016. Picture taken February 11, 2016.  REUTERS/Katy Migiro

A farmer waits to receive emergency food aid in the village of Estayish in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region, February 11, 2016. Picture taken February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Katy Migiro

OXFORD, England — (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Growing global wealth inequality is becoming a fundamental risk to democracy and to economies around the world as more people feel government rules are “rigged” in favour of the rich leave them with few options, investors and governance experts said this month.

“It’s very dangerous,” said Ngaire Woods, dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. “If people can’t aspire to succeed within the system, they will aspire … outside the system, in ways that break the system.”

That frustration is feeding into everything from the contentious U.S. presidential race to growing dissatisfaction over the amount of aid money that lands in the hands of rich-nation consultants rather than reaching the poor, experts said at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford.

In the United States, for example, “trickle down” economic policies that support tax cuts for the rich with the aim of boosting economic growth and jobs have led to a $2 trillion annual redistribution of wealth from the bottom 99 percent of earners to the top 1 percent over the last 30 years, said Nick Hanauer, a former venture capitalist and now head of Civic Ventures, which aims to drive social change.

If the trend continues, by 2030, the top 1 percent of Americans will earn 37 to 40 percent of the country’s income, with the bottom 50 percent getting just 6 percent, he said.

“That’s not a capitalist market economy anymore,” he warned. “That’s a feudalist system and it scares … me.”

Globally, half of the world’s wealth is now held by just 1 percent of the world’s population, according to a 2015 report by Credit Suisse, a financial services company.

That trend toward greater inequality – driven in part by tax policies and shifts such as the growing power of corporate lobbyists in the United States – is leading to the increasing belief that political systems can no longer deliver results for many people, said Darren Walker, president of the U.S.-based Ford Foundation.

Many people feel that “the political apparatus of democracy is corrupted” and the result is “dissatisfaction by huge swathes of the population about the potential of democracy to deliver anything of value and meaning to their lives,” he said.

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SUITCASE OF MONEY

It is also putting the United States in an odd spot when it comes to enforcing anti-corruption rules overseas, including in the aid business, he said.

U.S. aid groups ask, “Can we really trust Africans to spend this money in the way Congress has appropriated?” Walker said. “People say, ‘Poor you, you have to bring a suitcase of money when doing things in Africa.'”

“But we have the same thing in the United States – but you don’t have to bring a suitcase. You bring a check. And you get the same effect. You give it to the officials’ fundraiser and say, ‘By the way, I need you to do this for me,'” he said.

“It’s no different (except) it’s legal,” he added. “We need to (see) our own culpability in this inequality.”

Aid agencies and social enterprises – businesses that strive for social good as well as profits – also are part of the problem when huge sums of money they spend on bringing people out of poverty in poor countries end up in the pockets of rich-world consultants, the experts said.

Donors “make a lot of fuss holding us to account on the money we get,” Woods recalled a frustrated representative of an Indonesian organisation saying. “But for every dollar we get, 80 cents stays in the beltway (around Washington DC),” she said.

Many organisations – including USAID – are now trying to improve that percentage, delegates at the Skoll Forum said. But progress in helping aid recipient countries build their own systems to take care of their own problems has been slow.

BUILDING CAPACITY

The goal of giving “capacity building grants”, Walker said, should be to make sure “you don’t need to go back to Africa. So there is a rich, robust civil society there. That’s the vision, and we’re a long way from it.”

Investing more in civil society groups in poor countries, rather than just U.N. organisations, is one way of bringing change, said Degan Ali, the executive director of Adeso, a local charity working in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

Reversing growing inequality will depend largely on revamping government policies and making rules fairer, changes that often need to be driven by public pressure, panelists said.

Those might include everything from ensuring that civil servants don’t change with each election to eliminating private schools to drive funding into improving state-run schools, the panelists and audience members said.

Woods noted that her own university education in New Zealand was funded by taxes. “That opportunity is one we’re all agreed is open to far too few people today. We have to think about why,” she said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Ros Russell:; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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A whole new world

iphone-472197_1920 copy

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA  
July, 2015 

I’ve always called them lightning bolts. Those moments in my life when suddenly the path forward or the situation around me became crystal clear.

For me the clearest lightning bolt came in the summer of 1993 when I downloaded my first copy of the Netscape Mosiac web browser. As I opened that browser, I clearly remember thinking that this was the future of newspapers. Within several months, with the help of my editors and friends, Doug McKay and Bill Turpin, we put our newspaper, the Halifax Daily News, on the web making it the first newspaper in Canada, and one of the first in the world, to be available online.

That lightning bolt in the summer of 1993 changed my whole life. Not to be too melodramatic about it, it illuminated the path that I was to follow, and continue to follow, for the next two plus decades.

I had another lightning bolt after reading Paul Mason’s brilliant piece in the Guardian on the post-capitalist world that we are now entering. It was if (to get biblical for a moment) a veil had been lifted from my eyes and I suddenly saw the world in a completely different fashion.

Because the truth is that sometimes when you live in the midst of change, when it is all around you, it can slip by largely unnoticed. Perhaps quietly remarked on, occasionally astounding, but quickly absorbed into the day-by-day ritual of life.

My lightning bolt was realizing, deeply and fully, just how much information technology has changed the way we live, from the large macro things like our economy, to the smaller things like checking sports scores and seeing what the weather will be in a couple of days.

The blunt point of Mason’s article (and I would highly encourage everyone reading this column to click on the link to actually read it) is that we have quietly entered a new era of post capitalism. You might say the old way didn’t go out with a bang but with a tweet. And that this new era is built on information, often freely shared, and increasingly difficult even for totalitarian governments to restrict.

As Mason writes, post capitalism is possible because of three major changes brought about by information technology in the last 25 years: first it reduces the need for work and blurs the lines between work and free time; second it has reduced markets’ abilities to form prices correctly because, as Mason says, markets are based on scarcity and information is abundant; and third the spontaneous rise of collaborative production, “goods, services and organizations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.” (The example that he gives is Wikipedia, the biggest information product in the world, almost completely compiled by volunteers, resulting in the disappearance of the encyclopedia business and the loss of billions of dollars in revenue for advertisers.)

This free flow of information brought about major changes in ways other than economic. I firmly believe that the increasing acceptance of gay marriage in the United States and the entire transgender movement would not be possible without the Internet. Trolls aside for the moment, the availability of information on these issues, particularly via technologies like YouTube and twitter, has made an enormous difference particularly with young people and their views on gender. Or think of how the cases of police brutality and overuse of force that have been so often in the news lately were made possible by the fact that the ubiquitous smart phone has a camera. Even a short 10 years ago, these things still happened, but could be quickly buried by the police.

Now, it’s not that I was totally unaware the consequences of his information technology transformation; I have been working in the field for over 20 years. But not even I really thought about how deeply it had reached into each my life in many small, seemingly quiet ways.

Let me give you two small examples.

I have for years struggled with my weight. Any time that I weigh too much, my back would howl in protest. So I was a faithful follower of Weight Watchers programs for many years.

About three years ago, I noticed my weight starting to go up. I made a comment to my wife about wanting to get back into shape. So she bought me a FitBit which provides me with information on the number of steps I take every day, how that translates into calories burned, number of stairs – an entire plethora of new information. But the real breakthrough happened as the result of a conversation with my sister-in-law, who had lost almost 50 pounds. When I asked her how she was able to do it and to maintain the weight loss, she told me it was a food diary app on her smart phone that made the difference. So I also downloaded and started to use it.

This new app allowed me to set a calorie goal, and gave me access to a vast treasure trove of food caloric measurements that absolutely amazed me. Between my Fitbit, my new food diary app and a better exercise regime, I’ve lost 20 pounds and kept it off for over three years

And here’s the kicker. The food diary app is free and all the information it provides is free. I have to view the occasional ad and I think some of the recipes it suggests are sponsored but I don’t care because the main information I want is, I repeat, free. Almost all this free information was something that I had paid for when I was at Weight Watchers.

Another quick example: sports. I no longer use newspapers for anything concerning sports. If I want to get the latest result in practically any sport, I open my free ESPN app, and there it is – immediate and free.

One of the nice features of the small community in which I live is the local FreeNet. Local residents post free items on the website, which anyone on the list can claim. While the items may not be in perfect condition they are often very usable and my family has acquired several items this way, which I calculate has saved us roughly in the neighborhood of $500.

The world you and I live in at this time is not the same world that we lived in even 20 or 30 years ago. We communicate differently, read books differently, watch TV differently, do politics differently, listen to music differently, shop differently, buy stocks differently, go to school differently, etc. etc. Since these things have entered our lives gradually we missed the overall effect. In the end what all this means is that it’s a whole new world. And personally, I like where it’s headed.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015 

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

References:  

The end of capitalism has begun, The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

 

 

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VERBATIM: My dad’s war and ‘the Great Work of our time’


The personal experiences that precede or, stronger, inform and influence innovation in thought and deed are always interesting and entertaining. Here’s a recent demonstration, its author a Wall Street exile who has passed the last 15 or so years investigating the riddle of, and solutions to, unfettered global capitalism. His name is John Fullerton. He wrote the “why I do what I do” statement that follows as the prologue to Regenerative Capitalism: How universal principles and patterns will shape our new economy. His Capital Institute organization published Regenerative on its web site. 

The report notes that global threats including climate change, inequality, and the 2008 financial crisis have led to questioning of capitalism, while experiments are ongoing that reimagine capitalism for all levels of society — and the planet. In essence, noted Fullerton, the aim is “to create a self-organizing, naturally self-maintaining, highly adaptive Regenerative form of capitalism that produces lasting social and economic vitality for global civilization as a whole.” 

Michael Sasges

John Fullterton. Photo: Capital Institute

John Fullterton. Photo: Capital Institute

An excerpt:

When I resigned from JPMorgan in the spring of 2001 after nearly [20 years’ service], I didn’t know what would come next. What I did know was that I no longer recognized the Morgan culture I had once cherished. Furthermore, I had become restless, feeling my career had lost any purpose beyond achieving “success” as defined by Wall Street and my Morgan bosses. 
The culture I so valued had been defined by J.P. Morgan, Jr. in his testimony to a Senate subcommittee following the Crash of 1929. Then, Morgan spoke of the banker’s “code of professional ethics and customs.” He concluded [by] saying that, while the Morgan Bank had made mistakes, those mistakes had been “errors of judgment, and not of principle.” 
In truth, this principled approach to banking had been in decline for years, a victim of the fierce pressure of competitive capital markets in a deregulated world, where economic brawn increasingly trumped civility. The recently completed takeover of Morgan by Chase Manhattan merely put the final nail in the coffin. At the time, Chase was focused on consolidating the banking industry through acquisition, a “rollup” strategy centred on increasing scale and cutting costs. This process was often brutal, but it worked well. Now, my future would require answering to new bosses with a new culture, and my initial impressions sent up red flags. 
Disillusioned about the direction Wall Street was headed and the loss of the culture I so admired, I decided to walk away without a clear plan for my future. Then, not long after resigning, I experienced 9/11 first-hand. My disillusionment merged with despair.

What followed was years of searching. I was searching for how to make sense of a world that I could no longer explain to my children. At some level, I was also searching for my own purpose in it all. 
This search first opened my eyes to the profound, interlocking crises we are now facing – ecological, economic, and social – including the shocking prospect that we are destroying the planet’s ability to support life as we know it. My most startling discovery, however, was that the modern scheme of economics and finance – what Wall Street “geniuses” (like me) practised so well – formed the root cause of these systemic crises. This realization occurred before the 2008 financial crisis and exists independent from it. However, that egregious display of irresponsibility, greed, and fraud further confirmed the reality that Wall Street had lost its way. 
My struggle to find a credible alternative-framework for economics and finance sharpened my interest in the intellectual and scientific underpinnings of “systemic” or “holistic” approaches. I began by studying how we might apply the lessons of living systems to economic systems. Here my re-education became practical as well as intellectual. Through my impact investment projects, ranging from values-based banking to holistic rangeland management, I experienced the economic benefits of systemic decision-making firsthand. I have since [demonstrated] the practical benefits of balanced social, economic, and ecological health in more than 25 stories in Capital Institute’s Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy. 
I then discovered that scientists were turning the rules by which living systems sustain 
and regenerate themselves into empirical principles of systemic health and development, which applied as much to nonliving systems, including economies, as to ecosystems and living organisms. The resulting synthesis produced an unexpected alignment of insights from fields ranging from physics and biology to sociology and even the core spiritual beliefs common to all the world’s great wisdom traditions. For me, the message became clear: 

We can — and must — bring our economic theory and practice into alignment with our latest understanding of how the universe and our humanity actually work!

My practical experience working with real-world regenerative projects and the solid science-based theory of regenerative economies presented here have made me confident in both the promise of Regenerative Capitalism, and the fact that it is already unfolding before our eyes. What remains is the immense challenge to spur a broad awakening to the profound social and economic transition it implies. Recognizing our shared purpose can help sustain the unwavering drive toward the great work that lies ahead.

This quest to understand the possibility of regenerative economics ended up answering the question of why I left JPMorgan over a decade ago with no knowledge of what my future might hold. It also gave new meaning to my 20-year experience witnessing high-finance’s 
spectacular rise and alarming descent. Yet my appreciation of how purpose enables us to transcend our differences and find true meaning in our lives came most directly from my father.

A few years before he passed away, my father and I took a three-day trip. The longest one-on-one experience I can recall with my dad, the trip was a unique opportunity for me to hear him reflect on his life. What struck me was that he kept coming back to the war. My dad had served in the U.S. Navy in the Second World War, took part in the Normandy invasion, and later commanded a sub-chaser in the Pacific. The look in his eye as he spoke revealed that, despite the fear, pain, loss, and horror the war had brought, it had also been a deeply meaningful experience for him personally. What became clear to me listening over those three precious days was that it was the shared, noble purpose of the war – not the sacrifices – that had come to define his life. He was, after all, part of the Greatest Generation.

Our generation’s challenges and threats are different. We too must overcome our fears. But we must also transcend our ideological divides and our false separation from one another and from our environment. Climate change, ever-rising inequality, and even the despair that fuels radical fundamentalism are all symptoms of a deeply flawed economic ideology that requires that we shift to a more effective, systemic way of thinking about our next economy. That systemic shift most certainly includes the transformation of the financial system to embrace a meaningful purpose in service of a regenerative world.
This is a monumental challenge that holds the promise of uniting our generation in a shared purpose. We now have a more rigorous understanding of what makes human networks healthy – this alone constitutes an amazing opportunity. It is time to act. Our actions, now, will most certainly define the nobility of our lives and our legacy. This is the Great Work of our time.

Further reading and viewing:

Click here for John Fullerton’s Regenerative Capitalism: capitalinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2015-Regenerative-Capitalism-4-20-15-final.pdf

John Fullerton discusses his concerns here:

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Verbatim: Ursula K. Le Guin’s call to action

Ursula K. Le Guin in 2012. Photo by OnceAndFutureLaura via Flickr, Creative Commons

Ursula K. Le Guin in 2012. Photo by OnceAndFutureLaura via Flickr, Creative Commons

November 20, 2014

American author Ursula K. Le Guin on Wednesday slammed the U.S. publishing industry’s “ignorance and greed,” and issued a cri de coeur on behalf of artists in a world where “hard times are coming” and writers will be needed who offer hope and freedom, and “see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being.”

Le Guin won this year’s prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, given by the U.S. National Book Foundation to recognize “individuals who have made an exceptional impact on this country’s literary heritage.”

The award was announced in September, but presented at a gala on Wednesday, and Le Guin’s frank acceptance speech is garnering global attention for its demand for action. “The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art,” she said. “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo by Marion Wood Kolisch/National Book Foundation

Ursula K. Le Guin. Photo by Marion Wood Kolisch/National Book Foundation

An excerpt, from a transcript from an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Thank you Neil (Gaiman, who presented the award), and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction — writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.

The award is not typically given to science fiction and fantasy writers. But the foundation said Le Guin deserved it because, for four decades, she “defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction.”

“Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.”

The announcement quoted Foundation’s Executive Director Harold Augenbraum: “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated — and never really valid — line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

Other award recipients have included John Ashbery, Joan Didion, E.L. Doctorow, Maxine Hong Kingston, Elmore Leonard, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and Tom Wolfe. 

— Deborah Jones

  

 

References and further reading:

Ursula K. Le Guin’s site: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/UKL_info.html 

 

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Review: Mike Berners-Lee on Naomi Klein’s latest

For Naomi Klein unrestrained capitalism is the root of our problems, writes Mike Berners-Lee. Photo by Caden Crawford, creative commons

For Naomi Klein, unrestrained capitalism is the root of our problems, writes Mike Berners-Lee. Photo by Caden Crawford, creative commons

By Mike Berners-Lee, Lancaster University
October 3, 2014

Naomi Klein’s third attack on capitalism, This Changes Everything, has put the urgency of climate change front and centre. As ever for Klein, unrestrained capitalism is the root problem and has to be dealt with, however difficult that might be – and however much money and power is propping it up.

Our response so far has been hopeless, but she is able to point to recent signs that we might yet achieve the radical change we need: push hard now is the message.

Naomi Klein. Official photo by Ed Kashi.

Naomi Klein. Official photo by Ed Kashi.

As in her previous works, Klein’s latest book shows off her mastery of the ruthless exposé. Corruption, underhand practices and deliberate bullshit are hauled into view from wherever she finds them. Although it leaves a depressing reminder of how pervasive this stuff is, we need more of this type of journalism to keep it at bay. We are given a rogues’ gallery of incongruous policies whose architects we should laugh out of politics, of businesses that have been getting away with greenwash and of environmental organisations seduced down the garden path of fossil fuel funding.

This book was five years in the making – and one place this shows up is in the quality of detail.

When she’s lambasting greenwash merchants for disingenuous messages, there is a sense, backed up by her track record, that she has got her facts straight. This book is peppered with scathing, chilling and depressing tales of those whose actions collude deliberately, or accidentally, with the ever-increasing extraction of fossil fuel – whether they be environmental movements or celebrity entrepreneurs.

Richard Branson gets some sharp treatment for the incongruity between his words and actions: the aggressive growth of his carbon-belching airline and a failure to deliver anything but the smallest fraction of his promised US$3 billion fund to fight global warming.

Environmental organisations are exposed for their reliance on fossil fuel funding and Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have their fossil fuel investments brought out into the cold light of day. The hijacking of the environmental agenda by big business is vividly exposed along with the wishful thinking that climate change can be addressed without significant rearrangement of the terms of engagement of oil companies, and airlines. All this is important stuff.

But much more than a series of vignettes, this is a book about a macro issue. Klein is not in the mood for sticking plasters to cure the climate change problem – she wants to get to the root cause. Climate change demands an urgent response at the global system level. And since unrestrained capitalism is incapable of delivering such an intervention, climate change gives Klein one more argument for taking a pop at her number one enemy. In fact she is unapologetic that what sparked her interest in climate change was the focus it brought to some of capitalism’s shortcomings.

There is good focus on the psychology of denial, which is probably the crux of the climate change puzzle. Klein argues powerfully that unrestrained capitalism has had a central role in keeping us from waking up.

But if we tamed capitalism, would a fix for emissions follow? I would have liked more on the fundamental dynamics of energy, efficiency and growth – and a clearer pathway to the low-carbon world once capitalism has been tamed. There is a lot more to cutting fossil fuel than developing renewables.

I hope this book has great capacity to influence. It’s a sad reality that most people who deny the problem or don’t already see the need for major market interventions probably won’t pick it up despite her effort to write for those who don’t buy books on climate change. At the very least, This Changes Everything should help arm the converted.

Many will love the writing style Klein uses, with the arguments unfolding slowly in powerful prose, laced with anecdotes. If you like each chapter to reveal itself in the first paragraph then you will need more patience. But in the end what I liked most was the hopeful conclusion. Not optimism that we will all be fine, but well-argued hope that despite our utter failure so far we might yet react in time if we pull our fingers out. Why? Because social tipping points can happen so fast and our species has shown that it can get a lot done quickly once its properly awake to a problem.

Slavery was as profitable as fossil fuel, but we still overcame it (or perhaps not quite, but we made good headway). Apartheid fell without the bloodbath everyone feared. Klein sees small signs of headway now that weren’t there a few years ago and (like me) believes in the possibility that from here things might just be able to change fast enough – if we all push hard now.

Creative Commons

Mike Berners-Lee is co-author of The Burning Question and How Bad Are Bananas? The carbon footprint of everythingA visiting professor at Lancaster University, he is the founding director of Small World Consulting which helps organizations understand and respond to the climate change agenda.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Further reading and viewing:
Naomi Klein’s web site
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein, by Jenny Turner,The Guardian
Naomi Klein smackdown roundup, The Economist
Free-Marketeering, by Stephen Holmes, London Review of Books

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On corporations and democratizing prosperity: McNiven

The word “corporation” has lately been vilified in polarized political discourse — but not so long ago, it was the political “left” that championed corporations, writes Thoughtlines columnist Jim McNiven. “Democratizing prosperity would have been virtually impossible without ‘freeing’ the corporation, he argues in his new column, The Logic of Incorporation. Excerpt:

McNiven for F&O bioThe great French historian, Fernand Braudel, saw capitalism in its basic form as the injection of capital between the actions of buyer and seller. This is both simple and profound. It explains the difference between a farmers’ market and a supermarket. In the former, the producer/seller and the buyer meet face-to-face for the exchange. In the latter, the producer sells to an intermediary, who then may process, transport and resell the good to a supermarket chain that, in turn distributes it and resells it once more to the final buyer. Capital is used to conduct the producer/buyer economic relationship at a distance …

Jim McNiven’s Thoughtlines column is available to subscribers, or with a $1 day pass to Facts and Opinions.

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Free Range: Thou Shalt Not Kill

The world might want to pay close attention to the new leader of the Catholic church, I suggest in my latest Free Range column.

With his first mission statement, Pope Francis is taking his flock to war – against capitalism as it’s constructed in the 21st Century.

My column, The Pope and capitalism: “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” is here.*

*Log in to read Facts and Opinions commentary, available to subscribers or with a $1 day pass to Facts and Opinions.

 

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