Tag Archives: money

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Ah, Joss… so brilliant. Enjoy! Paid for by the committee to learn parkour like, really soon, like maybe take a class or something.

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A thoughtful group of artists  decided to Occupy! billboards in Britain this summer, because: Advertising is part of a system which destroys our future to fulfil the demands of the present, a ceaseless expansion of production and consumption. It is … Continue reading

Uniting Against “Citizens United”

Money is not speech

corporations are not people

January 21st is the second anniversary of the ridiculous “Citizens United v. FEC” ruling by a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court.  I highly recommend Annie Leonard’s Story of Citizens United v. FEC video:

It is time – as it is always time – to help the people of this country wake up to the fact that money is not speech and corporations are not people.  Events, activists and organizations across the nation are attempting to do just that:

  • Occupy San Francisco is working to shut down the financial district today “to draw attention to the choices that many of these banks, corporations, institutions, and the courts have made (and continue to make) that created (and maintain) the economic inequality that is devastating the lives of so many families in our community, and in our world. It does not have to be this way.”
  • Satirist Stephen Colbert shines a spotlight on the insanity with his Jon Stewart’s “Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert SuperPAC“.
  • United for the People has listings of actions across the country to “…[focus] America’s attention on the dangerous influence of corporate power in our democracy and the urgency of taking all necessary measures to undo that influence, including amending the Constitution. “
  • Another listing of actions for Friday, January 20th: Occupy the Courts
  • Move to Amend is an organization specifically dedicated to creating a constitutional amendment that would undo the Citizens United decision and end the fiction of corporate personhood:

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

11 Holiday Gift Programs That Benefit Nonprofits and Make the World A Better Place :: 2011 Edition « Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blog :: A Social Media Guide for Nonprofits

While my favorite shopping option is Buy Nothing Day (followed closely, in at least two senses, by Buy Local Day - I succeeded with both this year), there are often a few people that we wish to get gifts, but we don’t want to burden with ever-more meaningless stuff.

This list has a nice mix of stuff-less-ness and stuff that at least helps someone and means something:

11 Holiday Gift Programs That Benefit Nonprofits and Make the World A Better Place :: 2011 Edition « Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blog :: A Social Media Guide for Nonprofits.

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13 Staggering Facts About The Global Super Rich. Gives a clear perspective on the differences between us 99% and the 1%.

Plan B Updates – 99: A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point? | EPI

A bright  bit of happy news burning through the sooty smokestack emissions:

At a press conference on July 21, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, called it a “game changer”. It is that, but it also could push the United States, and indeed the world, to a tipping point on the climate issue.

It is one thing for Michael Brune to say coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg says so.

via Plan B Updates – 99: A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point? | EPI.

Ripple effects from big action by such a major player could include vast reductions in GHG emissions, improved health and environmental conditions due to drops in other pollutants from burning and mining, preservation of wilderness with the reduction or elimination of mountain-top removal mining… the list of reasons to “Quit Coal” are long indeed.  Yay team!

Charging for Land

If you owned all the money in the world, and I owned all the land... How much do you think I'd charge you for the first night's rent?

The [Land Value Tax] strikes at the heart of the land monopoly. In a powerful speech, Winston Churchill said, “Land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.” It is the essence of feudalism and for all of our supposed social progress we’ve yet to be free from it. Unless and until the land monopoly is destroyed, the positive effects of virtually all economic reforms and even philanthropy is largely nullified.   (Edward Miller, “The Only Economic Reform Worth Talking About“)

The Only Economic Reform Worth Talking About is, according to Miller, a shift to a Land Value Tax (a kind-of straight tax on the land itself, regardless of “property improvements” – also known as natural rent).  Another way to think about this is not so much as a tax on land owners, but we the people charging rent for use of the commons.

It’s an interesting notion.  I’m trying to reconcile it with the notions I’ve expressed before about taxing the bad stuff rather than the good stuff.  So I’m wondering, is land ownership bad stuff to be taxed, or good stuff to be incentivized?

I’ve heard the proposition that the best way to protect land is to have it owned by someone in perpetuity and pass it to their descendants, so that they have an incentive to steward it in ways compatible with its long-term viability.  The Nature Conservancy does most of its work by purchasing land in order to protect it, and it does seem to work in this system.  But I’m far from convinced that it’s the only way to protect land, or even the best option.

[Sam: ]“That’s the kind of thinking that got Manhattan sold for a box of beads.”

[Coyote:] “So they still tell that story? It was one of my best tricks. They gave us many beads for that island. They didn’t know that you can’t own land.”

(Christopher Moore,  Coyote Blue )

I confess, I’m largely with Coyote on this issue.  The idea that anyone owns the land is ludicrous.  This generation is using it now, future generations will use it later, but my gut reaction is that the land, any land, should not be “owned”; as humans, we should take care of it, perhaps take responsibility for it, but in no way can we actually take it.

I’m a little more comfortable with rent than ownership, I suppose.  So, how would charging rent to any and all land tenants help the cause of sustainability?  Could this facilitate both greater equity among people and better stewardship of all the land and all its denizens (especially the non-human ones and the generations not yet born)?  Can we up the rent on those whose stewardship neglects these considerations?

In the money culture, will a Land Value Tax encourage care and protection of the living world while providing equitably for the people (present and future) who depend on it?

Could a carbon tax help solve our budget woes? | Grist

Could a carbon tax help solve our budget woes? | Grist.

Again, it’s time to start taking this seriously, as a potential solution for multiple problems.  See my previous post on Taxing Issues.

Two birds… one stone… and BOOM!  You have yummy dead birds.

Shopping our way out of it?

So, there’s a kind of thinking about sustainability that is very pro-business, that says “if we just bought better stuff, the world would be a better place.”  And, to an extent, they’re not wrong.  Certainly, in Bill McDonough‘s parlance, it would be “less bad,” but not necessarily “more good.”

A few weeks ago, I was faced with something I always dread – having to purchase a piece of junk… no, an undeniably useful, time- and energy-saving household appliance (a microwave oven).

So first of all, I’m feeling ooky because I’m potentially sending the old one to a less-than-ideal recycling (at least it’s not a landfill), because it would cost as much to have someone look at it and tell me what’s wrong as it costs to replace the dang thing, let alone take the time and get the parts to actually fix it.  I was at a point where someone was offering to purchase a new one for me (thanks Mom & Dad!), so I succumbed to the money-culture logic of the least-cost option.

There were plenty of microwaves in the same $120-ish price range around.  So I wanted to find out which would be the least evil option – seeking out the less bad.  How to choose?

The now-dead one was a hand-me-down, produced by the acutely evil GE. Why would I say GE is acutely evil?  After all, it had been a perfectly serviceable microwave for at least 7 or 8 years (until a short in the front panel meant that it had started to turn itself on in a way that was suggestive of demonic possession).  But I knew that GE, in addition to producing perfectly serviceable appliances and even some CFLs, produces sketchy nuclear power plants.  I have some real concerns about that, and about their former practice of nuclear weapons production, too.  So I knew I didn’t want to participate in their financial success in any way, shape or form.  But what about other brands?  Who was least bad?

I went to one of my favorite resources when it comes to figuring stuff like this out: the Ask Umbra column on Grist.  (She was the one who told me that using the dishwasher is more eco-friendly than handwashing – yay, laziness! Umbra, will you marry me?  Oh, wait, already have a spouse… never mind then, goes against minimalist principles I suppose.)  But aside from noting that they are very energy efficient for certain kitchen tasks, and reminding me to never nuke plastics (carcinogenic squick in your leftovers, anyone?), Umbra couldn’t help me decide which microwave was least offensive on short notice. :-(

Then I remembered, there are some websites that are meant to help.  Daniel Goleman has a book called Ecological Intelligence:How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything (which I loaned out to someone before I read all of it…).  Part of it talks about an online tool for comparing consumer choices: the GoodGuide.

And, for many things produced by big-ish brands, the Good Guide lets you compare the same product made by different brands (e.g. “How does Jif compare to Kettle peanut butter?”), in terms of their personal health, environmental and social impacts, using the work of a panel of reliable-sounding scientists.  I’d trust those folx to help me in my decision (unfortunately, they didn’t have anything to say on microwave ovens, either).  More recently, I found Better World Shopper, which uses similar rating criteria.

Of course, these don’t cover the (often much more ecologically sane) options of buying used, buying locally-made, choosing radically different alternatives (why buy diet soda, when you could get a carbonator, fizz your tap water, and put homegrown lemon slices in it?) or doing without things. But, as Shepherd Book always said, “if you can’t do something smart, do something right.” Or, do something a little smarter and a little less wrong.

Gift Economics (and Free Hugs)

I came across this intriguing essay on the gift economy.

Want to fix the economy?

Next time you buy coffee, purchase a cup for the person behind you. Or as you grind your way through the morning commute, pick up the tollbooth charge for the driver behind you, draped over his steering wheel and ranting at the long delay.

You’ve heard that famous Gandhian quote about being the change, well these are good measures to start with, packing more punch than you might imagine…

It makes some nice points, but (of course) a couple of things about it bother me:

1. It’s still so “bought into” the money culture.  Not just the “buy something for the person in line behind you” but what that something is and where the lines are:  toll booths and take-out coffee… arrrgh! It’s not just the money culture, it’s the car culture, the disposable culture, the drive-through convenience culture.

2.  I thought about what I might do that was a “gift” act while not being so beholden to the money culture and car culture.  What could I give someone that I know they would appreciate and use?  I envisioned making some muffins or somesuch, and taking them to the guys who hang out in front of the parking lot of the local big-box home repair place (and one for whoever took the prime panhandling spot today, at the island in the middle of the street at the nearby big intersection).  But I realized that this wouldn’t result in a pay-it-forward cycle.  Where there is genuine need, that ripple doesn’t actually spread.  The gift itself may be appreciated, but probably with that twinge of uncomfortableness that comes from being part of a culture that says begging is wrong, and getting charity is wrong.  But their means to pay-it-forward are limited.  Perhaps their friendlier or more helpful that day.  I suppose that should be enough, but I wonder.

And, along with that is the trust problem.  If I gave food that I made to some stranger less in need, it would probably be discarded, and not paid forward.  They would be too creeped-out to eat it, too suspicious that someone would just give them something of value. It’s like the inclination I have every Halloween, to bake something or give fresh fruit and thereby avoid pre-packaged crap.  Only, parents wouldn’t let their kids eat non-pre-packaged food… it’s not “safe” to take food that a stranger might have tampered with.  The toll-booth and the take-out coffee work because the gift is really just money,  just paying for something that they were about to pay for anyway.

How did we come to this level of craziness?  I suspect the Halloween issue is media-driven, and I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to imagine that packaged candy manufacturers put pressure on some media/advertising outlets to hype the razor-blade-in-the-apple or poisoned-cookies stories they might come across, just to ensure that only factory-processed, individually-wrapped treats will be considered acceptable.  Humans have offered food to other humans, even strangers, for millenia – probably since before we were recognizably Homo sapiens.  Only in the last few decades, inside the money culture, did this become a source of suspicion and mistrust.  Heck, even free hugs are met with skepticism, and were outright banned in some places.  And who wouldn’t want a FREE HUG!?!?!?!?!

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And then, of course, there’s the getting off my butt and going out and doing something part of this equation.  Free hugs, homemade treats, whatever… making the time, garnering the ambition and courage… it all sounds highly unlikely.  But maybe, later today, or someday soon, it will come to me.  How about you?