Archive for the ‘POLITICAL BASICS’ Category


April 13, 2010

Liberating Leadership Teams

Leadership is one of the most misunderstood terms in any language. So much so that some very well-known anti-globalisation campaigners espouse the theory that

  • A truly democratic government is not supposed to lead. It is supposed to respond to the leadership of “We the people.”
  • The most accurate answer to the question, “Who is the leader of global civil society?” is, “Every person.”

In other words, if everyone, in that amorphous fantasy, “global civil society”, regardless of their values, their capabilities, their aims, is ‘ the leader’ , then no-one really leads, and the word has no meaning any more.

If I say that everyone can be a composer or a novelist or an architect, you would want me to explain exactly what I meant by such a statement. Without such explanations, these ex-cathedra statements about leadership, are immensely dis-empowering and confusing.

Moreover they are made by people who themselves have undoubtedly claimed and performed leadership roles in many different arenas. How else can we interpret their campaigns, their access to funding from governments, corporations and major foundations, hence their institutes, and their constant presence on the platforms of international conferences, their books, their newspaper articles and interviews,?

Certainly, when we talk about the role of leaders and leadership in Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies, we do not mean a single leader or leadership group; a dictator, a messiah, a charismatic spell-binder and his/her disciples.

But, the reality is that we will never have the kinds of INNOVATIVE Democracies,  INNOVATIVE Enterprises,  INNOVATIVE Organisations, INNOVATIVE Communities and  INNOVATIVE Societies we need to become viable and Gaian, without thousands of teams of “Liberating Leaders”

Liberating leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They have many different job-titles: mayor, politician, governor, president, executive, director, professor, manager, consultant, editor, teacher, organiser, even, whisper it not, “leader”.

They will be liberating leaders because they transform their Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies by liberating the untapped potential for innovation and creativity in the people that they lead, individually and collectively. They will liberate that untapped potential through the routine use of “problem-posing dialogues” .

Problem-posing dialogues

Problem-posing dialogues can take many forms, depending on the numbers of people involved and the nature and scale of the problems being addressed.

Paulo Freire used them as a vehicle through which he could liberate groups of Brazilian peasants from the oppression and hopelessness caused by their illiteracy and powerlessness. Freire described the “monologues” in which teachers attempt to transfer the knowledge that is stored in their heads into the heads of their students as a form of oppression.

By using Problem-posing Dialogues we can think, act and learn together to initiate and sustain the processes by which our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies can become ever-more Viable Innovative and Gaian.

To be effective, Liberating Leaders have to work as part of a leadership team whose members have shared values, theories in use, vocabulary and purposes for their Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities or Societies.

Liberating Leaders Teams nurture other teams of Liberating Leaders in every sector and every level of the systems for which they are responsible.

In small-ish groups, meeting regularly with a shared understanding of their purposes and principles, the Liberating Leadership roles can be rotated or allocated by lot. When the Problem-posing dialogues involve groups of relative strangers,  small or large or enormous, without a shared understanding of their purposes and principles, the likelihood of successful outcomes will be small unless legitimated, resourced, designed and facilitated by teams of Liberating Leaders.

If we are to produce the vast range of innovations we will need to make our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies Viable and Gaian, we must learn how to use Problem-posing dialogues and nurture the multitude of Liberating Leaders that will be needed.

It is also important to understand that,through Problem-posing dialogues, Liberating Leadership Teams liberate their own creativity, energy, confidence, capabilities as well as those of  the people they lead.

Among many thousands of possibilities, specific examples of Problem-posing dialogues include:

The O.R.A.K.E.L. Project:

Designed by the Systems Research Study Group at Heidelberg University in collaboration with the Second West German TV channel (ZDF) in 1970. The ZDF cleared their TV schedules for two evenings and transmitted an ORAKEL programme that was designed to enable the viewers to co-create and agree upon a national policy on “Pollution” .

Holistic Management vs Desertification

Holistic Management to date is really the story of Alan Savory’s revolutionary proposal that desertification is being caused by the way that bad decisions being made about land-management. These decision stemmed from dividing the problem into “manageable parts” rather than dealing with the complexity of ‘the whole’. Savory also noted that this type of decision-making was characterised by a lack of listening, respect, and trust.

Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects. ( Wikipedia)

The Charrette Process

Many municipalities around the world develop long term city plans or visions through multiple charrettes – both communal and professional. Notable successes include the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. (from Wikipedia)

The British Columbia Citizens Assembly

The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform is a group created by the government of British Columbia, Canada to investigate and recommend changes to the provincial electoral system. It was composed 160 members, one man and one woman from each of BC’s 79 electoral districts, plus two Aboriginal members. Assembly members were selected by a civic lottery that ensured a gender balance and a fair representation of the population’s age and geographical distribution. (from Wikipedia)

Paulo Freire on Leadership

The “liberating” part of Liberating Leadership comes from Paulo Freire’s insistence that “Dialogue is Liberating and Monologue is Oppressing”.

In the 1950s, Freire was one of many young Brazilian professionals who were searching for ways to transform the desperate circumstances that had to be endured by the oppressed majority of Brazilians. As he saw it, the main purpose of leadership was

  • To free the oppressed from twin thraldom of silence and monologue.
  • To prepare the ground for democracy and radical social transformation.
  • To recover people’s stolen humanity.
  • To increase men’s (sic) ability to perceive the challenges of their time
  • To predispose men (sic) to re-evaluate constantly, to analyse “findings”, to adopt scientific methods and processes.
  • To help men (sic) to assume an increasingly critical attitude towards the world and so to transform it.
  • To enable men (sic) to discuss courageously the problems of their context – and to intervene in that context (by) offering them the confidence and strength to confront those dangers instead of surrendering to the decisions of others.

Freire specifically rejected, for instance;

  • Forcing men to behave as machines

  • Prefabricated, technocratic approaches. Narrowly-defined, prescriptive, formulaic, once-for-all solutions to complex problems that reinforce the oppressive status quo.
  • Ideology and Sectarianism of either the left or the right
  • Monologue in all its forms: slogans: communiqués, strongly emotional communications: polemics vs dialogue. Manoevering people via propaganda to win them over to “our side” and support our goals without question.
  • The idea that ‘the leaders are the thinkers, the people are the doers’.
  • The oversimplification of problems.
  • A naïve nostalgia for the past : a taste for fanciful – magical , illogical, irrational explanations:
  • Underestimating the people:
  • Despotism via huge imbalances of power
  • Educational practices that failed to offer opportunities for the analysis and debate of problems or for genuine participation.
  • Populist manifestations (demos, marches. riots etc.) that exemplify a naïve. illogical, irrational type of behaviour by the oppressed.

Let’s take another five minute break before we end the first half of the evening.


Gaian Democracies: Summary and Intro

March 13, 2010


Redefining globalisation and people-power

© Roy Madron & John Jopling 2003

In the midst of the prosperity and affluence of Western ‘democracies’ there is a pervasive sadness and sense of impotence about the future of our societies, of humanity and of the natural world. Many well-informed people have focused those negative feelings on the idea of ‘globalisation’. For them the very term carries with it a sense of global despoliation, greed, oppression, injustice and irreparable loss. But many of us are uncomfortably aware that the unprecedented material abundance we enjoy in ‘the West’ is being bought at the expense of the rest of the world’s peoples, natural resources and wildlife. Within the societies forced to pay the costs of today’s form of globalisation, tens of millions of citizens are seething with anger, envy and frustration.

Yet today’s globalisation is but the latest – and hopefully temporary – phase of a globalising process that has been going on for thousands of years. In effect, we humans are a global species: we have evolved the capacity to inhabit virtually every corner of the planet. Thus some form of ‘globalisation’ is part of our destiny. What is in question is the form that human globalisation will take in its next manifestation.

Like millions of people, many of whom could be seen as the lucky beneficiaries of the way it operates, we have come to the conclusion that today’s globalisation is fundamentally unjust and unsustainable. Like them we want to make a useful contribution to changing this unjust and unsustainable system of globalisation into a just and sustainable one. But we believe that to bring about such a fundamental change in an enormous and complex system we have to understand its main characteristics as a system. Thus in Chapter 1 we introduce some of the key concepts and insights from systems theory, in particular ‘soft-systems theory’, as the basic grammar of ‘a new language of change’. Soft-systems theory is the branch of systems science that deals with human systems.

In Chapter 2 we apply those concepts to a review of the environmental, social and economic impacts of today’s form of globalisation on the rest of the world’s peoples, natural resources and wildlife. We cite sources and material in Chapter 2 that will be familiar to millions of people throughout the world. However, by adopting the systems concepts and insights from Chapter 1, we are able to shed new light on what might otherwise be a rather familiar recital of the ills that globalisation has produced.

In Chapter 3, by again using a systems approach, we can see that the huge range of unjust and unsustainable impacts we describe in Chapter 2 is not haphazard. The unjust and unsustainable aspects of globalisation stem from the purposes, principles and ideologies of a purposeful human system we have called the ‘Global Monetocracy’. In systems terms, injustice and unsustainability are ‘emergent properties’ of the system a whole. As a purposeful human system, the Global Monetocracy is not designed to deliver justice and sustainability. For this reason, we do not attach blame to any specific group or class. Many people, not just the financial and business elites, have prospered immensely in the service of the Global Monetocracy. There are others who defend it ferociously against its many critics. Even so, they are just minor components of a complex system that has evolved over several centuries. To blame them as individuals, or specific groups or classes, is to make a fundamental strategic error. If we want a just and sustainable global system in the future, it is the Global Monetocracy as a whole that must be re-configured – the totality, not just parts of it.

Our description of today’s global system as the Global Monetocracy originates from our identification of its core purpose as a system. Every human system has a purpose that governs the way it works, and this is true of today’s form of globalisation. The systemic purpose of the Global Monetocracy is the continuation of money growth in order to maintain the current debt-based money-system. It is not widely known that almost all the money we use comes into existence, not by governments creating it, but as a result of a bank agreeing to make a loan to a customer at interest. Only about 3% – the notes and coins – is government-made. The other 97% comes into existence as a debt owed by a customer to a bank. We cite authorities such as James Robertson, Richard Douthwaite and Michael Rowbotham to show that the effect of this is that our economies have to grow in order to avoid financial collapse. The debt-money system is thus the driving force behind the Global Monetocracy. The risk of collapse forces governments to give priority to policies that serve the money growth imperative; and in turn, these policies produce the unjust and unsustainable form of globalisation that we have today.

The blatant injustice and unsustainability of the Global Monetocracy has already aroused a great deal of opposition. In Chapter 4 we briefly summarise the limitations of the strategies employed by its leading opponents.

In Chapter 5 we outline the components of ‘Gaian Democracy’, a model of government that we believe will ensure our societies can use systems concepts to become – and remain – just and sustainable.

Gaia’ is the name of the Greek goddess of Earth. James Lovelock adopted it for the scientific theory he first put forward in 1972, in the journal Atmospheric Environment. The Gaia theory sees the planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems as a single evolving, self-regulating ecosystem. It explores how these systems interact to maintain the overall temperature and the chemical composition of the land, the atmosphere and the sea, within limits that make the Earth habitable by countless billions of living creatures. This way of thinking about the planet – thinking within the framework of Gaia theory – has led to many important new perceptions in the sciences of the Earth, and has contributed to the foundation of a new, multi-disciplinary effort known as Earth System Science.i

Gaia’s systems are all self-organising and interactive. We have called the form of government we are proposing Gaian Democracy, because our proposal is shaped by principles similar to those of the Gaian system itself.

Our proposal is also, crucially, based on the insights from soft-systems thinking that are outlined in Chapter 1. Gaian systems have evolved naturally. If human societies are to purposefully and consciously evolve our democratic and economic systems, we need to make use of the most soundly based and well-tried strategies for bringing about change in human societies. These are to be found in soft-systems thinking.

In Chapter 6 we discuss some of the factors that encourage us to believe that a vision of a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies is not a pipe-dream, but is in fact highly practical and entirely feasible.

In short, this Briefing argues that, since today’s Global Monetocracy has been devised to serve an unjust and unsustainable set of purposes, we need to replace it with a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies.

Taking on the power of the Global Monetocracy

The elites of the Global Monetocracy use many varieties of power to influence the actions of hundreds of millions of people every minute of every day in every part of the planet. They have always been ready to use the most violent and brutal methods to enforce their aims and to defend their privileges. But these are just the tip of a vast apparatus of power. Power does not only flow from the barrel of a gun, a tear-gas canister or the use of the torture chamber by surrogates of the system. With great skill and determination, the Global Monetocracy’s elites use the power of property, personality, tradition, technology, myth, propaganda, the media, government, professional and technical expertise, the judiciary and the police, patronage and, crucially, the power of ideology.

If today’s unjust and unsustainable Global Monetocracy is to be replaced by a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies, the question of ‘power’ must be addressed. What alternative forms of power could be generated to bring about a fundamental global transformation in the face of the huge variety of power that the Global Monetocracy can command? To answer that question we have to understand the difference between change strategies and defence strategies.

Change strategies and defence strategies

To illustrate the vital difference between ‘social defence’ and ‘social change’,ii George Lakey, the veteran American community activist, cites the rapid disillusionment of young Russians in the aftermath of their defeat of the attempted Communist coup in 1991.

Thousands of idealistic young men and women had put their lives on the line to resist the attempted overthrow of Gorbachev’s reforming government by former Soviet apparatchiks. Yet even though they had stopped the communist old guard in its tracks and put Yeltsin into power, they soon saw him and his ministers helping the rich to get even richer and driving the poor ever deeper into poverty. By the time Lakey encountered them a few years later, the young Russians were psychologically devastated by the aftermath of their courageous resistance to a return to totalitarianism. They were finding it extremely painful to have to face the fact that they – or as they saw themselves, ‘the people of Russia’ – had “lost their big move for radical change”.

With his many years of experience in the black community’s protest and resistance movements, Lakey was able to point out that what they had been doing in the streets of Moscow was an hugely courageous example of social defence of their society, but that the kind of social change they ultimately wanted to achieve would take a lot more than idealism and raw courage. “A strategy for fundamental change is a quite different project from what the pro-democracy Russians did, which was to defend Gorbachev and what he represented (the status quo) against the attack by the reactionaries.”

Lakey’s social defence vs social change dialectic opened the eyes of the young Russians. They now realised that to achieve the kind of change they wanted for the Russian people called for a strategy for change. This would entail bringing together the popular movements – who were concerned with defending the things they valued – around a vision of what a genuinely democratic Russia would look like. Upon that shared vision they would then be able to build a viable political movement to campaign at elections for every office in the land.

As this Briefing explains, we need to replace today’s unjust and unsustainable Global Monetocracy with a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies. Consequently, as George Lakey makes clear, if such hugely ambitious changes are to happen we must set about building viable political movements to offer the vision of Gaian democracies to people in every country where elections are held.

The Gaian model of democracy is shaped by the conviction that, with the tools provided by soft-systems methodologies, the peoples of the world have the political capacities to co-create global networks of just and sustainable Gaian democracies. As we explain in Chapter 5, the fundamental political and governmental changes we need cannot be initiated and sustained without at first thousands, and ultimately millions of active citizens thinking, acting and learning together to co-create societies that are just and sustainable. We agree with Professor David Held, when he says, “Our established ideas about equality, justice and liberty [and, we would say, sustainability] have to be refashioned into a coherent political project robust enough for a world where power is exercised not just locally and nationally but also on a trans-national scale, and where the consequences of political and economic decisions in one community can ramify across the globe.”iii

By its very nature, the Gaian democracies project must be capable of handling and tackling effectively a tremendous variety of issues, while building and sustaining the trust and commitment of the citizens it seeks to serve. If future historians are to judge today’s Global Monetocracy to have been a painful but temporary cul-de-sac, the Gaian democracies project will have to cross all boundaries and include all disciplines. It will need to have many starting points in order to build the necessary power and range of competencies needed to fulfil its purpose. Those starting points will most likely arise at the margins of the Global Monetocracy’s empire. No matter how small and how tentative those initial steps may be, the Gaian democracies project will gain in strength and certainty through citizens sharing their experiences of thinking, acting and learning in participatory change processes to bring about fundamental social, economic and political change. When active citizens think, act and learn together they build the shared competencies and understanding through which effective forms of people-power can be generated.

With an accelerating accumulation of shared experiences, competencies and people-power at its peripheries, there will eventually be a tipping point at which ‘globalisation’ will come to mean the global network of Gaian democracies, rather than the Global Monetocracy. By that point the vast varieties of power that the elites of the Global Monetocracy have at their command will have evaporated. Instead, the global network of Gaian democracies will be exercising a very different but equally comprehensive variety of powers to serve a very different range of purposes.

The sooner that tipping point is reached, the better it will be for the future of the human family. As we explain in Chapter 2, if it is delayed much beyond thirty years the environmental and social consequences could be disastrous for the human family and many other species. But in order to reach the tipping point as soon as possible the Gaian democracies political project will need to learn from all the practical examples of people-power from which we have drawn much of the material for Chapter 5.

People-power in the real world

As the diagram at the beginning of Chapter 5 shows, the key components of Gaian democracies are:

The Gaian system

Shared purposes and principles

Soft-systems concepts

Paulo Freire’s learning principles

Participatory change processes

Liberating political leadership

Network government

Together these seven components provide the systemic basis of Gaian democracies, enabling them to generate the people-power that will re-define ‘globalisation’ in terms of a network of just and sustainable societies. To illustrate some of the concepts on which we have based our thinking we have chosen the following examples of organisations and governments, which have adopted and applied several of the components of Gaian Democracy. In so doing, the forms of people-power they have generated have led them to re-configure their enterprises and achieve outstanding success. In the space available, we can give only a brief sketch of each example, but fuller accounts are available at

The success of these examples, in highly competitive environments, can be attributed to their development of structures and processes whose complexity matches that of the environments they have to contend with. As Shann Turnbull says:

The challenge for developing a new way to govern is to determine the simple basic design rules to create organisations [or as we would say, Gaian democracies] that manage complexity along the same principles evolved in nature. The reason for following the rules of nature to construct ecological organisations is that these rules have proved to be the most efficient and robust way to create and manage complexity.”iv [Original emphasis]

Examples from business

El Mondragón Corporacion Cooperativa (MCC)

Mondragón is a city in the Basque region of Spain. By the early 1990s, the cooperatives that make up the MCC had annual sales of over £4 billion. Their 53,000 worker/owners were organised in a self-governing network of firms, kept mostly to a human scale of around 500 people. When a member-cooperative grew to about 500 worker/owners, part of it was spun off into a separate business. Thus for many years the MCC grew organically, by cell division, not by take-overs or by unlimited growth in its component parts. Eventually each self-governing cooperative was part of a complex system of self-governance comprising over 1000 ‘compound’ boards or control centres. Contrary to the received wisdom of the Global Monetocracy’s elites, it was this highly complex and devolved system of governance that enabled the MCC to achieve its high levels of productivity and profitability, its stability of employment and its capacity for innovation and flexibility.

Like most of the examples we give, the MCC had ‘hard-wired’ its capacity to generate extraordinary levels of people-power by making very conscious decisions about its financing, organisational structure and governance processes at a very early stage of its development. The guiding spirit behind these decisions was José Maria Arrizmendi-Arrieta, a Jesuit priest who encouraged his parishioners to set up their first cooperative enterprises back in the 1940s.

Visa International

The constitution of credit card company Visa International was designed through the ‘chaordic design process’ invented by Dee Hock, who became its first Chief Executive. We quote Hock’s insistence on the vital importance of purpose and principles in Chapter 1 and discuss them at length in Chapter 5. Once commonly understood statements of purpose and principles have been arrived at by all relevant and affected parties, it is comparatively easy to agree a constitution.

Chaordic design combines elements of competition (chaos) with elements of cooperation (order). The parties involved in setting up Visa had to decide in what respects they needed to cooperate, and in what areas they could compete. The outcome was an institution owned by its functioning parts. The 23,000 financial institutions which now create Visa’s products are at the same time its owners and customers. It has multiple boards of directors, none of which can be considered superior or inferior, as each has irrevocable authority and autonomy over geographic or functional areas.

The whole subject of stakeholder ownership of corporate bodies is closely linked to Gaian Democracy. The principle is the same: people-ownership instead of money-ownership. The record shows that – provided at least some of the components of Gaian democracies are in place – it works.v

Semco Corporation: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Like Visa’s Dee Hock, Ricardo Semler is a liberating leader who emerged from the corporate world. In his best-selling book Maverick!, Semler describes how he used his position as owner and chief executive to transform the decision-making processes and culture of his family company, Semco:vi

My role is that of a catalyst. I try to create an environment in which others make decisions. Success means not making them myself.”

We have absolute trust in our employees. We offer them the chance to be partners in our business, to be autonomous and responsible.”

We are thrilled that our workers are self governing and self managing. It means that they care about their jobs and that’s good for all of us.”

We get out of the way and let them do their jobs.”

Specific changes included the following:

  • All financial information was made freely available and open to discussion, and people were taught the skills they needed to make use of this information.

  • Structures were set up to enable as many decisions as possible to be taken by the people who would implement them – circles instead of a pyramid.

  • Menial jobs were shared; perks, privileges and unnecessary formality done away with.

  • People were encouraged to think for themselves and use common sense.

  • Fewer bosses, fewer bureaucrats. Semler himself, instead of being chief executive, became one of five ‘counselors’.

Semler sees this as merely a beginning: “We have been ripping apart Semco and putting it back together again for a dozen years and we’re just 30% finished.” He is a tireless learner, driven by a belief in unfettered democracy, but he does not underestimate the difficulties: “Participation is infinitely more complex to practise than conventional corporate unilateralism… Nothing is harder work than democracy.”

Examples from politics

The real life democratic innovations of the greatest significance for Gaian democracies are those introduced in Athens in the 5th century BC and in Brazil since 1989.

Athens – Kleisthenes, the inventor of ‘people-power’

Two and a half millennia before Semler, Kleisthenes also came from the ruling class. On becoming chief archon (magistrate) of Athens in 507/8 BC, he determined to break away from the tradition of government by a small ruling elite. He seems to have asked himself: “How can I enable the 40,000 citizens of Athens to govern themselves so that together we can successfully manage the conflicting interests and demands facing us?” It is the kind of question liberating leaders ask, and Kleisthenes’ answer was, “People-power!” By committing his government to people-power, Kleisthenes started the process through which Athens became the nearest thing to a genuine democracy the world has ever seen.1

Like almost all societies until well into the 20th century, the Athens of 2,500 years ago excluded women (and slaves) from government, so this form of people-power was restricted to males over the age of 18. Obviously a modern Kleisthenes would not have to work within those restrictions, but, in systems terms, these historical factors do not diminish the importance of Athenian democracy as the prime example of a system of government based on people-power.

Recognising that elections favoured the well-born, the prominent and the wealthy, Kleisthenes started by re-structuring the political geography of the city, creating ten phylai (brotherhoods) of 4,000 citizens, each representing a cross-section of Athenian (male) society, so that no one class could dominate. The business of the citizens’ Assembly was managed by the Boule (council). Each month fifty citizens were chosen by lot from one of the phylai to constitute the Boule, so that in any one year the Boule was rotated between all the phylai.

Government decisions, including the conduct of wars, were taken by the Assembly itself, meeting up to 40 times a year on the Pnyx, a large theatre-like meeting place on the hill west of the Acropolis. A quorum of 6000 was required. As John Dunn has written: “for the most part, ancient Greek citizens had far greater direct experience of politics than all but a handful of citizens in modern states. Every citizen of Athens was entitled to attend, vote and speak at meetings of the Assembly, which decided the great issues of state: the making of peace or war, the passing of laws and the political exile or death of individual leaders; and they did so by simple majorities.”vii

Professor Dunn argues that the benefits of people-power were enormous: “Kleisthenes turned a motley, insecure and essentially powerless aggregation of residents in a vaguely demarcated territory into a proud and self-confident sovereign people.” Seventy years after Kleisthenes’ death, the legendary soldier and statesman, Pericles, summarised Athenian Democracy thus: “… the city of Athens, taken all together, is a model for all Greece, and each Athenian, as far as I can see, is more self-reliant as an individual and behaves with exceptional versatility and grace in the more varied forms of activity.”

It is no coincidence that it was during this period, while it was engaged in the world’s first experiment in people-power, that the city of Athens saw the flowering of one of the most humane, adventurous, artistic and influential civilisations there has ever been.

‘Orçamento Participativo’ or Participatory Budget Process

The benefits of people-power are being experienced today in over 100 Brazilian cities, and especially by the 1.3 million residents of Porto Alegre, the capital of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. It was in Porto Alegre that the Participatory Budget (PB) process was first attempted. Since 1989, Porto Alegre has been governed by a leftwing coalition led by the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT). In a whole range of sectors – housing, public transport, highways, garbage collection, clinics, hospitals, sewerage, environment, literacy, schooling, culture, law and order – the city has made spectacular progress. The key to this success has been its PB, first introduced by the PT the year after Olívio Dutra’s victory in the 1988 Mayoral elections.viii

For the purposes of the PB, the city is divided into sixteen administrative areas or regions. To enable an integrated vision for the whole of the city to be defined, there are five citywide themes: public transport and traffic; education; culture and leisure; healthcare and social security; economic development and taxation; and city management and urban development.

The PB process takes nine months, starting in April. The first round assemblies – in all of which the Mayor participates – are held in each of the sixteen regions and on the five themes. These review the basic components of the budget and major investments of the previous year. Then neighbourhood and sub-thematic meetings are held to identify investment priorities. The second round assemblies take place in June, when investment proposals are presented to the city’s senior officials.

Each region has an elected Regional Budget Forum that coordinates neighbourhood priorities into a list of priorities for the region as a whole. The Forum then settles any disputes with the various city agencies, and negotiates and monitors the implementation by those agencies. The elected Municipal Budget Council coordinates the demands made in each of the regional and thematic forums in order to produce the city’s annual investment plan.

In addition to the improvement in municipal services, the PB has greatly reduced corruption while increasing the incidence of neighbourhood mobilisation and active citizenship. Poorer people in particular find it a more effective way to exercise their rights and responsibilities of citizenship than voting at elections. In 2002 over 45,000 citizens and 1000 local organisations and enterprises participated in Porto Alegre’s PB.

People-power and liberating leadership

Each of the above examples shows some of the components of Gaian Democracy at work in the real world. They are by no means templates for Gaian democracies: women and slaves were excluded from public life in Athens; Semco, Visa and Mondragón all operate within the Global Monetocracy. However, in every case they illustrate the need for liberating leadership, whether in the corporate world – as with Dee Hock, Ricardo Semler or José Maria Arrizmendi-Arrieta – or in the political world – as shown by Kleisthenes and Pericles in Athens and the Workers’ Party in Brazil. They show that people power is immensely rewarding for all the people concerned and for the system as a whole. They suggest the wide diversity of situations in which the model could be applied. And they all show that the kinds of changes involved in creating Gaian democracies can be peacefully initiated and sustained by liberating leaders who are prepared to ‘hard-wire’ people-power into the principles, purposes, structure, organisation and processes of their enterprise.

None of our examples illustrates a society that has succeeded in reforming its economy so as to become just and sustainable. There are of course thousands of projects and initiatives around the world which have these aims and which the Gaian democracies of the future can build on. But, as no society can insulate itself from the Global Monetocracy, there are no examples of modern societies co-existing in a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the Gaian systems. Hence the need to reconfigure the Global Monetocracy itself.

The transition phase

In every one of the examples we have cited above, the fundamental changes were initiated in the most unpromising circumstances. The people of Mondragón had been devastated by Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War and were suffering harsh repression. Dee Hock and a small team worked out the enormously radical organisational concepts that eventually became the trillion dollar Visa International at a time when conventional credit card businesses were losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in the USA. Semco was lurching from crisis to crisis and heading towards bankruptcy when Ricardo Semler converted himself from a command-and-control workaholic to a laid-back liberating leader, and started the process by which the people in the company were empowered to turn it into a huge success. In the decade before Kleisthenes became archon of Athens, the city had been ruined by a violently autocratic tyrant, and suffered the indignity of being policed by ‘advisers’ from Sparta and governed by puppets of the Spartan regime.

When Olívio Dutra was elected mayor of Porto Alegre he inherited a shambles that was getting worse by the day: the city had been bankrupted by the previous Mayor and his party; there were virtually no public services in the poorest parts of the city; and corruption was endemic at every level in the administration. Then, as now, the PT’s political opponents controlled the local newspapers, radio stations and TV channels. The growing electoral success of the Brazilian PT is therefore especially encouraging for political parties engaged in uphill struggles to build people-powered Gaian democracies elsewhere in the world. In each election in Porto Alegre since 1988, the PT has been rewarded for its liberating leadership by an increased percentage of the vote. In the 2000 mayoral elections the PT candidate was supported by more than 63% of the electorate. And, most encouraging of all, the PT’s Lula da Silva won 61% of the national vote in the 2002 presidential elections.

The leaders of these enterprises knew that the old ways had turned out to be a recipe for certain disaster. In each case their new ideas involved rethinking the purposes and principles, the structures, the processes and the governance of the enterprise, whether it was an organisation or government. And at the core of these examples was a fundamental commitment by liberating leaders to people-power as the means by which disaster could be surmounted and a new way of life developed.

Moreover, each of these liberating leaders was working in virtual isolation and faced fierce opposition. Athenian people-power had to overcome the implacable hostility of the Spartan war-machine and a permanent fifth column within the Athenian elite. Porto Alegre had no other city to call on for help and guidance as it painfully learnt how to turn its commitment to people-power into a successful PB process. Moreover, even though over 100 Brazilian cities now have PT administrations committed to people-power and participative budgets, their leaders still have to put their lives on the line. Its officials and their families routinely receive death threats, and within the last two years, two of the PT’s city mayors have been assassinated. No-one had ever devised ‘a chaordic organisation’ before Dee Hock and his small team of middle-ranking bank officers worked it out from first principles, and then implemented it while the rest of the banking world waited for them to fail. Similar stories can be told of Semco and Mondragón.

So, starting in the most unpromising and even dangerous circumstances is the norm for liberating leaders who commit themselves to people-powered, fundamental change. People-power is sometimes hard-wired into the enterprise from its very foundation, as with Visa and Mondragón. Alternatively, and more usually, people-power can be introduced as the key element in a radical strategy for fundamental change in a crisis situation, as with Semco, Porto Alegre and Athens. These conclusions imply an almost infinite range of opportunities to introduce the Gaian Democracy model and initiate fundamental long-term change. There must be a few potential José Maria Arrizmendi-Arrietas, Dee Hocks, Ricardo Semlers, Kleisthenes and Olivio Dutros in every community, city, company, public service and political party.

There is no space in this very condensed Briefing to describe all the examples of people-powered fundamental change that we know about. What they all have in common is the application of at least some of the components that we believe are essential if Gaian democracies are to be successful. By their very nature, these examples help to move the transition process towards the tipping point when a global network of just and sustainable Gaian democracies emerges out of the unjust and unsustainable shambles of the Global Monetocracy. The Gaian Democracy political project will have to identify, encourage, support and connect all people-power change initiatives so that we can reach the tipping point as soon as possible. The longer it takes, the greater the damage that the Global Monetocracy will do to the human family and to the natural world on which we all depend.

Real success can only come if there is a change in our societies, and in our economics, and in our politics. “

Sir David Attenborough in The Ecologist, Vol. 31, No 3, April 2001 p.35


iIntroduction And Summary: Redefining Globalisation and People-Power

For example, see the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research at; and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program at

ii For an excellent discussion of the difference between social change and social defence see George Lakey, ‘Human Shields in Palestine and Pushing Our Thinking About People Power: Part Two’ at

iii David Held (ed.), A Globalizing World?: Culture, Economics, Politics (Understanding Social Change), Routledge, London, 2000.

iv Shann Turnbull, A New Way to Govern, a paper presented to the Organisations and Institutions Network, 14th Annual Meeting on Socio-Economics, University of Minnesota, Minnesota, USA, June 27-30, 2002.

v For example, see Shann Turnbull, ‘Curing The Cancer In Capitalism With Employee Ownership’ at; The National Center for Employee Ownership at; and Employee Ownership Options at

vi Ricardo Semler, Maverick!, Century, London, 1993.

vii John Dunn in the preface to John Dunn (ed.), Democracy; The Unfinished Journey 508 BC to AD 1993, OUP, Oxford, 1992.

viii This is the best known of a number of innovations in participatory democracy being conducted by the PT in Brazil, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) in Uruguay, and elsewhere in South America. See the MOST Clearing House for further examples at

Chapter 1: A New Language Of Change

Failed Two-Party Systems

January 29, 2010

In 1997 when the neo-Thatcherite Blairites disenfranchised  millions of Labour voters, I concluded that ten years later those millions would be looking  for a new political home that reflected their values  AND the need for just and sustainable 21st Century societies.  The result was the Gaian Democracies book . The book is still some years ahead of its time, but as the pitiful  Brown-Cameron Punch and Judy show illustrates, it’s time is coming closer every day.

Now, thanks to Obama, that same penny about “the failed two-party system’ has dropped  with an increasingly angry clanging noise in the USA as shown by these quotes from an excellent article by Anthony Wade.

until we truly grasp that the cancer eating this country away is the failed two-party system itself, we will continue to watch the two sides of the same coin pretending that they care about us when all they really care about is the status quo

They are strictly in the business of polarizing you against your neighbor. They want us arguing over scraps while they continue to consolidate their power and wealth. We are on the Hindenburg and they have us fighting over the window seat.

But realize America that … you will still see wars for no reason and with no end. You will still see no movement on the reforming of elections or expansion beyond two parties. You will see little about media consolidation. You will see nothing done to hold to account those who may have broken the law in the previous administration. That is because they both answer to the same masters. They are both part of the same machine. That machine is fed by the blood of our children, the ignorance of our politics, and our refusal to accept the possibility that maybe we are being lied to by both sides. It is maintained by our basest emotions, the desire to blame someone else for our problems, and confusion between patriotism and narcissism. It will only be defeated by a recommitment to the truth even when it grates against how we feel, a better appreciation of all humanity, and the collective discovery that there can be more than two strains of coherent political thought.

As yet, Mr.Wade and the thousands of others who are thinking and writing along the same lines, have yet to move from anger and dismay to a serious attempt to tackle collectively the profound intellectual and systemic questions that underlie the deepening US tragedy.

For the questions facing progressives in the USA are as profound as they can get as  the British political scientist, Rob Ford, explains

if health care fails, or doesn’t deliver what Americans expect it to, disappointed Americans shouldn’t blame Obama, or the Republicans, or the health care lobby, or Fox News. They should blame Washington, Jefferson, Adams and the rest of the Founding Fathers who decided to privilege small states at the expense of large ones, and enabled the rural right wing electorates of 20 empty states to hold the other 5/6ths of their compatriots to ransom.

Not that an awareness of their Constitutional straitjacket leads necessarily to any significant urge to action as this woefully complacent snippet from the soooo- cool Hendrick Hertzberg in the New Yorker shows.

Thanks to my longstanding obsession with the obsolescence of our eighteenth-century political and electoral hydraulics (such as the separation of powers and the lack of a single government accountable to a national electorate) and this sclerotic system’s sadomasochistic twentieth-century refinements (such as the institutionalization of the filibuster), I am not astonished that Obama has had trouble “getting things done.” Absent only the filibuster—even while leaving untouched all the other monkey wrenches (committee chairs, corrupt campaign money, safe districts, Republicans, etc.)—Obama by now would have signed landmark bills addressing health care, global warming, and financial regulation, and a larger, better-designed stimulus package, too.

To which my response is “Oh Yeah!!! You do mean this President Obama, not some figment of  of your insider’s imaginings”.

I hope this blog is of some help to all those for whom the penny has dropped and rattles infuriatingly in their political consciousness.  The rest of us desperately need the people of the USA  to do the thinking needed to move beyond anger to purposeful 21st century action.

Dissolving the USA’s Utterly Broken Systems

January 18, 2010

No-one skewers the con-men and phonies as well as Naomi Klein. Introducing the new edition of her classic “No Logo” in Saturday’s Guardian, she goes after “Obama” as a global brand with panache and precision and righteous anger.

For 4500 words, Ms. Klein itemises the sickening truth of how the global popularity of this super-cool political brand has facilitated – at least for a time – the seamless continuation of the particularly brutal form of crony capitalism that led George W. Bush and his neo-con crew to be so universally despised and the USA itself to be justifiably reviled,

For Ms. Klein, as for me, Obama is a lost cause, But what of the millions of people worked so hard to get Obama elected?

[They] do not want markets opened at gunpoint, are repelled by torture, believe passionately in civil liberties, want corporations out of politics, see global warming as the fight of our time, and very much want to be part of a political project larger than themselves.

Will disappointment with Obama persuade many of them that there is no point in becoming politically active? As Obama plumbs the depths of betrayal (or smiling impotence) ever more deeply, will the most idealistic of them

succumb to a mood of bitter cynicism and do what young people used to do during elections: stay home, tune out

Perhaps not, because, as Bernard Weiner , points out, once the veils have been removed

One sees the system exposed, all the warts, jerry-rigged structures, thievery, manipulation, corruption, etc. We saw American capitalism naked, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Still, these financial players (“too big to allow to fail”) rule the roost, along with similar behemoths in the fields of energy, pharmaceuticals, insurance, the military-industrial complex, etc.

Congress takes no effective action even while smoldering rage and resentment and desire for political vengeance is building around the country,

Or as Ms. Klein puts it:

… the economic model that dominates around the world has revealed itself not as “free market” but “crony capitalist” – politicians handing over public wealth to private players in exchange for political support.

What used to be politely hidden is all out in the open now. Correspondingly, public rage at corporate greed is at its highest point not just in my lifetime but in my parents’ lifetime as well.


the system itself is utterly broken.

So, where is all that rage, that resentment, that desire for political vengeance, that new understanding that the whole system is ‘utterly broken’, to find a meaningful expression?

Here’s where the clarity and intelligence that Ms. Klein, Dr. Weiner [and others it has to be said] bring to their accounts of the veil-stripping consequences of the Obama-Cheney-Bush-Greenspan-Geithner- Bernebanke-effect loses traction.

Ms. Klein tells us that

… transformative goals (sic) are only ever achieved when independent social movements build the ­numbers and the organisational power to make muscular demands of their elites.

Say that again!!

“.. independent social movements build the ­numbers and the organisational power to make muscular demands of their elites.”

Hello??!! This makes no sense.

What is meant by “their elites”? Their country’s elites? Are these the same elites that Obama is fronting for? If those ‘elites’ are not somehow part of the movement then why should they listen even to the most ‘muscular demands’? Who are they? Why are they still – evidently – in power, still running the system that we all agree is ‘utterly broken’? If they are, why should they change the way they think and act? They’ve got much more ‘muscle’ than any independent social movement ever had.

If the best that progressive movements can do is make ‘muscular demands’ on the existing elites controlling the ‘utterly broken’  system, then the kind of energy, anger and awareness that she and Dr. Weiner describe will be betrayed again – and again and again and again.

Why shouldn’t the elites that are in power actually belong to those movements?  Why should they not have been elected to represent those movements? Why can’t they be committed to changing the system to one that is genuinely democratic and just and sustainable?

Dr. Weiner goes a little way down this path and says:

We have to organize the anger and show our fellow citizens (using what we’ve now learned) who the real villains are and how to send them packing.

That may (MAY???!!!) mean running for office, actively helping choose and support good candidates, organizing locally around local issues, contributing money, taking our money out of the half-dozen largest banks and investment houses and putting in into local community banks and credit unions… founding bartering societies and community gardens, launching affinity groups, writing letters and articles, organizing creative demonstrations, using the internet to communicate political ideas more widely, and …

evidently as an afterthought,

beginning to think seriously about the founding of a broad populist-democratic party, whatever.

Doncha love that final “whatever”?

It says, perhaps, that apart from the myriad of practical difficulties there would be very real physical dangers in trying to found a broad populist-democratic party. From the outset, its founders, supporters, workers and candidates would have to confront the malignant hostility of the jackals who serve the elites who run the USA’s current system. Remember the FBI’s murderous COINTELPRO programme against the Black Panthers in the 1960s? That was 40 years before the draconian provisions of the Homeland Security Act defined peaceful protesters as potential terrorists, and thus the prospects for those who take the path Dr. Weiner suggests are not a little terrifying,

That may also be one of the reasons why Ms. Klein fails to mention Dr. Weiner’s electoral politics option, even as an afterthought. But, from my reading of her work over the past decade, there is another, far more profound, reason. Engaging in electoral politics is incompatible with her basically anarchist value-system. As with the anarcho-syndicalism of Noam Chomsky, many leading progressives and environmentalists oppose forming political parties, oppose contesting elections, and above all, oppose taking political power.

In her Guardian piece, Ms. Klein refers fondly to

Tens and then hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were making their case outside trade summits and G8 meetings from Seattle to New Delhi, in several cases stopping new agreements in their tracks.

From all of those events, Ms.Klein argues elsewhere that the emergent activist model mirrored,

the organic, decentralized, interlinked pathways of the Internet .. a model of coordinated decentralization that is entirely lost on those looking for leaders and puppet masters. (My emphasis)

She describes a model of protest that is ‘a coalition of coalitions’ mostly made up of

NGOs, Labour unions, students and anarchists. (my emphasis)

Look again at that little list. Ms. Klein is suggesting that anarchist groups are qualitatively the same as NGOs, labour unions and students. She seems not to see that anarchists bring with them, and act within the framework of their very particular political ideology, whereas the other three types of organisations are invariably issues-led.

There is a strong whiff of musty  top-hats and elastic-sided boots when Ms. Klein says,

If neoliberalism is the common target there is also an emerging consensus …that participatory democracy at the local level — whether through unions, neighbourhoods, farms, villages, anarchist collectives or aboriginal self-government — is where to start building alternatives to it.’ (my emphasis)

Whatever the reason, in her thousands of articles, interviews and speeches, Ms. Klein has consistently rejected even the very limited electoral strategies that Dr. Weiner suggests. Dr. Weiner’s tentativeness is understandable because, as he says, it is only:

once every 10 or 20 years, at least in America, the veils part a bit and we can see the scarifying reality of how our government really work: the Army/McCarthy hearings in the 1950s, Watergate and the Pentagon Papers in the early-1970s, Iran-Contra in the early-1980s, and the Cheney-Bush era of the past eight years.


Now Obama’s the object of anger. There is major anti-Administration activism coming from both the Left and the Right, including even a budding Know-Nothing party or faction forming on the tea-bagging extreme — all signs that indicate the presence of major seismic activity under the tectonic plates of the American political process.

It is still early days for those who are trying to think what they should do about the horrific reality that the parting of the veils has revealed. Moreover, the revelations that flow from this parting of the veils are different from those of the past. Today’s revelations are not just about particular villains or policies or even institutions, they have to do with the basic properties of the US system of government.

There is no way to fix a system that is “utterly broken” by “making muscular demands” on its elites. Obama did not break this system. Nor did the Bushies, nor Clinton, nor, even, Reagan and the neo-liberal ideologies he brought back into power A new Roosevelt backed by a quasi Social-Democrat Congress to implement a New-New Deal could tinker with the system and try to make it less corrupt, less inhumane, less inefficient, less destructive, less unjust, less flat-out dumb. But they would not succeed because, to paraphrase Bucky Fuller,

you cannot fix a system that is utterly broken by fighting the existing reality. To change a broken system, you have to build a new model that makes the broken system obsolete.

These appalling realities that have emerged from behind the veil, arise from and are embedded in the hugely complex nature of the socio-political-technological- ecological systems that have co-evolved over the past 400 years. None of those complex, ill-defined, loose-boundaried  systemic problems are  ‘solveable ‘ in the traditional conventional sense.

As the great British cybernetician Stafford Beer put it, such complex, systemic problems can only be ‘dissolved‘ , not ‘solved’.

Thus the new political movements that will emerge in the USA, and the governments they form at every level,  will succeed where the 19th and 20th Century models will fail, because,  using the rules of systems and cybernetics in participative processes, they will fundamentally reconfigure the unjust and unsustainable systems that are giving rise to today’s appalling problems.

To paraphrase the 1992 Clinton campaign, “Its the system, stupid“.

Thus, though the spirit underlying what Dr. Weiner says is admirable, the fundamental flaws in the USA’s broken systems of politics, business, economics and governance can only be addressed by developing models that are attuned to 21st Century realities and knowledge rather than 20th Century models and myths. And indeed, the people of the USA and the human family in general, deserve nothing less

What those 21st Century models of politics, business, economics and governance could be is the topic of a future essay. At this stage, I will merely preview say that they would consist of a global network  of diverse and self-organising VIGDEOCs: Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies Enterprises Organisations and Communities.

Tony Judt’s Alternative to corporate capitalism

January 9, 2010

Tony Judt is someone I admire enormously and he is now, as this article  says, “‘A bunch of dead muscles, thinking’.

Once I had got a little way beyond  the shock and grief of knowing that he is dealing with the disease that devastated my brother Allen at about the same age, the topic of his next book began to explain something about people under, say, 50,  that has puzzled me  for years.

Judt  was reflecting on  the responses to a lecture he had given about the role of the state in our societies.

At the end of the lecture he was struck by how many young people came up to him expressing amazement at ideas they had never heard before. “This is the second generation of people who can’t imagine change except in their own lives, who have no sense of social collective public goods or services, who are just isolated individuals desperately striving to better themselves above everybody else.”

Judt now intends, in the time he has left, to devote himself to writing a book to help young people think collectively again. “It could really have an impact if I get it right. Something that will get the next generation to see there is a way to think about politics that is not just the way we’ve been habituated to do it. I care about that and I think I can do it.

Judt’s insight explains, i think, so much about my own experience since writing  Gaian Democracies. Scarcely  one member of the generation for whom John and I wrote the book has  attempted to engage with the ideas, or relate the scenarios we outlined to the rapid deterioration of all the major systems on which their future lives and those of their children depend.

Its as if outside of the  interests of a tight circle of friends and immediate family, thirty-to-fifty year olds who should be assuming some responsibility for  the direction of their societies – as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents  tried to do –  are stuck in the mind-sets that previous generations grew out of in their twenties.

You can read a version of his lecture here. Please do so.  Judt  is trying to help us to think and act positively in a disintegrating world. He deserves to be heard.

By one of those happy (? ) coincidences, his lecture provides me with an invaluable account of the importance of Social Democracy in the 20thCentury that will be a great help for my blog on  ” and the alternative to capitalism is…?”

Thank you, Tony.

Sane Economics After Obama

December 29, 2009

Between now and Obama’s departure, progressive economists, environmentalists and political radicals need to get their act together.

There are many books and papers that provide the basis for developing a shared understanding of why today’s dominant free-market paradigm is lethally inadequate in the face of the challenges we face in the coming decades.

Nature’s role in sustaining economic development by Partha Dasgupta is a useful summary of  the kind of economic thinking we will need to use if we – and Gaia – are to come through the 21st century in reasonable shape.

The full paper is available for free download from the Royal Society and I warmly recommend it. As the Guardian says, this lucid and authoritative work shows how

“In nearly all their earlier calculations and prescriptions, economists have taken the earth for granted.”

Professor Dasgupta ranges widely in his argument, covering the importance of natural capital in issues such as de-forestation, PES ( Payment for Ecologicial Services),  social well-being,, property rights, and comprehensive wealth.

Just a few quotes give the flavour:

… most economists would appear to be convinced that scientific and technological advances, the accumulation of reproducible capital (machinery, equipments, buildings and roads), growth in human capital (health, education and skills) and improvements in the economy’s institutions (which are also capital assets) can overcome diminutions in natural capital.

Otherwise, it is hard to explain why twentieth-century economics has been so detached from the environmental sciences. Judging by the profession’s writings, we economists see nature, when we see it at all, as a backdrop from which resources and services can be drawn in isolation.

A lack of property rights to natural capital

Why do not market prices reflect nature’s scarcity value? If natural capital really is becoming scarcer, would not their prices have risen, signalling that all is not well?

The problem is that if prices are to reveal social scarcities, markets must function well. For many types of natural capital, though, most especially ecological resources, markets not only do not function well, often they do not even exist. In some cases, they do not exist because relevant economic interactions take place over large distances, making the costs of negotiation too high (e.g. the effects of upland deforestation on downstream farming and fishing activities; §4); in other cases, they do not exist because the interactions are separated by large temporal distances (e.g. the effect of carbon emission on climate in the distant future, in a world where forward markets do not exist because future generations are not present today to negotiate with us). Then there are cases (the atmosphere, aquifers, the open seas) where the migratory nature of the resource keeps markets from existing—they are called ‘open-access resources’, and they experience the tragedy of the commons.

Whenever economists have probed the matter, they have found that all economies subsidize large numbers of economic transactions with nature. Some of those transactions are large  (construction of large dams that alter ecosystems), but mostly they are small. How do those subsidies affect overall economic performance? More fundamentally, how should economic  performance be measured?

Most methods that are currently deployed to estimate the shadow prices of  ecosystem services are crude, but deploying them is a lot better than doing nothing to value them.

Professor Dasgupta ends his paper by saying that the overarching moral that emerges from (the admittedly rough and ready data) is salutary:

Development policies that ignore our reliance on natural capital are seriously harmful—they do not pass the mildest test for equity among contemporaries, nor among people separated by time and uncertain contingencies.

Its not going to be easy to take all this into account in preparing for when Obama cashes in, but now’s the time to start to develop the profound multi-disciplinary understanding out of which comes the confidence to act in the way  that the hugely-complex challenges require.

David Harvey and the Big Questions

December 26, 2009

From Amy Goodman’s interview with David Harvey,  Democracy Now March 2009

Capitalism historically has grown at a 2.5 percent compound rate of growth since 1750. OK. And in good years, it’s growing at three percent.

Obama, the other day, said, “Well, in a couple of years, we’ll be back to three percent growth.” Gordon Brown says, “Well, actually, the economy will double in the next few years.”

Now, when capitalism was constituted by everything going on around Manchester and a few other hot spots in 1750, three percent compound growth rate was no problem. You’re now looking at a situation where you’re going to say three percent compound rate of growth on everything that’s going on in East and Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and everywhere in the world. We’re looking at a different kind of world.

The total economy back in, say, 1750 was about $135 billion. It was $4 trillion by the time you get to 1950. It’s $40 trillion by the time you get to 2000. It’s now $56 trillion. If it doubles (again) we’re talking about $100trillion. And by 2030, you’re going to have to find three trillion .. profitable opportunities for capital to operate at that point.

Now, there are limits .. and I think we’re hitting those limits environmentally, socially, politically. And I think it’s time we started really thinking about an alternative. In other words, we have to think about a zero-growth economy.

This is a very useful way of putting the current crisis in perspective and he goes on to say that these stark statistics and trends mean that …

DAVID HARVEY: … In effect, you’re going to have to have a nonprofit economy. And how you do that, of course, is a big, big question. I’m not—I don’t have the blueprint for it. But I think that this is one of the key questions we should be thinking about right now.

And what disturbs me is we’re going through this crisis right now, and we’re not asking those kinds of big questions that we should be asking.

Gaian Democracies was written to ask  those big questions – and many more – within the context of co-creating democracies that could live in symbiosis with the Gaian systems  on which all life depends.

Moreover, it tried to offer ways in which our societies could think, act and learn to be ever-more completely democratic by adopting a soft-systems approach to tackling  those big and complex questions.

Critics  of neo-liberalism and capitalism  like David Harvey, and many of the quasi-anarchists in the anti-globalisation movement,  ignored or rejected all the questions we asked, the new vocabulary we used and the new ideas we offered.

And, as far as I know, they  still do.  Yet, as Harvey says,

In effect, you’re going to have to have a nonprofit economy. And how you do that, of course, is a big, big question. I’m not—I don’t have the blueprint for it.

Note:  The wholly wrong-headed idea that somewhere there could be  “the Blueprint” for tackling ‘the big questions ‘.  This is a typically Command and Control way of thinking: “Here’s my plan. Now you go and implement it.”

It also  illustrates the distance that those who say they want our societies to tackle the big questions have to go before they can begin to work out how to think, act and learn systemically so as to re-configure today’s lethally obsolete  political, economic, governmental and security systems.

Note:  Tackling the big questions will require us to “RE-CONFIGURE today’s …  SYSTEMS’

Together those systems and their many components  form “The Global Monetocracy”.

We coined this term to enable readers of “Gaian Democracies’ to see  all those big  questions as ‘emergent properties’ of a profoundly anti-gaian and anti-human system.

Thinking in terms of blueprints, or policy proposals or grass-roots protests and projects will do nothing to change the fundamental purposes and values of  The Global Monetocracy. Still less will they take the reins of global government from its greedy grasp.

What kind of global system of democratic governance is needed for the human family to come through the next couple of centuries in good shape?  That is the really big question and one that all  the  progressive, anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation movements need to start to work on today rather than just talk about  in terms of their obsolete ways of thinking.

If they put their minds to it, they might just do the bulk of the work in time to make a real  impact ‘After Obama’.