Monday, December 13, 2010

Zombie Economics

" we have the return of these ideas in the form of austerity--[first] these ideas were going to make us better off, now we have the 'there is no alternative' type of narrative: that we have to cut because there is no alternative but to cut... this is backed up by a story of government profligacy that really doesn't stand up to even momentary scrutiny... [For Greece, true...] but the next coutries that have fallen over, for nearly all of them the crisis has risen from two factors: one was the need to spend a vast amount of money bailing out banks and other financial institutions; and the second was a belief prompted by the efficient markets hypothesis that the tax revenues these institutions were generating were reflecting real economic output that therefore would be a sustainable source of revenue into the future... nonetheless this is not being used to suggest that maybe we should be doing something about these financial institutions, but rather that it's the nurses and garbage workers that caused the crisis and therefore they should be made to pay for it."

From this LSE lecture by Professor John Quiggin.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Costas Markides on human beings and regulation

Professor Costas Markides' lively LSE lecture on the impotence of regulation in addressing financial disaster, emphasizing cultural change instead. Fantastic collection of anecdotes and studies illustrating human behavior.

Podcast here.

"soul-destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work..."

"How could we explain the almost universal refusal on the part of the rulers of the rich societies - whether organised along private enterprise or collectivist enterprise lines - to work towards the humanisation of work? It is only necessary to assert that something would reduce the 'standard of living', and every debate is instantly closed. That soul-destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work is an insult to human nature which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggression, and that no amount of 'bread and circuses' can compensate for the damage done - these are facts which are neither denied nor acknowledged but are met with an unbreakable conspiracy of silence - because to deny them would be too obviously absurd and to acknowledge them would condemn the central preoccupation of modern society as a crime against humanity.

The neglect, indeed the rejection, of wisdom has gone so far that most of our intellectuals have not even the faintest idea what the term could mean. As a result, they always tend to try and cure a disease by intensifying its causes. The disease having been caused by allowing cleverness to displace wisdom, no amount of clever research is likely to produce a cure. But what is wisdom? Where can it be found? Here we come to the crux of the matter: it can be read about in numerous publications but it can be found only inside oneself, To be able to find it, one has first to liberate oneself from such masters as greed and envy. The stillness following liberation - even if only momentary - produces the insights of wisdom which are obtainable in no other way."

Schumacher, "Small is Beautiful" p.21ish

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

LSE Lecture

Pielsen is referring below primarily to the demise of unions:

"What's striking to me in the US that these dramatic changes have taken place while the core programs of the American welfare state - such as social security and medicare - have remained extremely stable. So, the opponents of the basic goals behind the welfare state have advanced their goals not by dismantling the welfare state, but by going around it to dismantle other, more vulnerable parts of the post-war social picture."

Lecture here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Maximizing Public Choice

From an LSE talk by Lord Adair Turner:

"Over the course of the last 10 years there was a lot of focus on the UK's national productivity deficit vs. the US, and there was analysis that showed one of the key elements of this national productivity deficit was the problem of retail productivity, and this entered public policy in a real influential fashion in saying that we therefore have to deregulate out-of-town super markets because we will then achieve improvements in our national productivity, national productivity which would then slightly increase our long-term growth rate. But the point about such developments is that they have negative downsides - at least perceived negative downsides for some people - in terms of traffic creation, in terms of countryside destruction, in terms of village stores put out of business, in terms of the vibrancy of local town centers.

"The key point, once you shift the definition of objectives from growth as the overriding objective to growth as the byproduct of desirable things, is that you end up believing that those sorts of decisions ought to be made by local choice rather than just by entering in to that debate some supposed national imperative to squeeze out the last percentage points of productivity improvement and growth, particularly because...exercising choice is actually something that people value in and of itself, quite separate from the fact that they may be able to achieve, what to them, are superior culmination outcomes."

"Economists divert their eyes from the concept of fairness because it's a tricky concept."

De Soto's Indigenous Property Rights

Hernando de Soto on property rights for indigenous Peruvians.

(Video from ILD's web site).

I wonder, though, why property rights don't translate into capital for the poor in the developing world? Or do they? Could they?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Right to Say No. Or Yes.

The going socialist theory (as expressed by folks like Kim Moody here) sees the capitalist class abolished by a worldwide democratic uprising of workers, who seize power over the means of production and redistribute assets equally among people.

My own observations of the world suggest that, with rare cooperative exceptions, someone generally organizes productive capacity (material resources and other people), and some people have more vision, drive, and capability for doing so than others. These people, of course, are certainly not the ones that always end up in these positions. Inheritance, class entrenchment, etc. ensure that idiots or assholes or otherwise undeserving folks end up at the top all the time. But if workers did succeed in seizing and equally distributing the assets of the capitalist class, the need would arise again for someone to organize people and assets and shape it all somehow, to manage cooperative projects. People would offer their assets and their labor to "buy into" someone's suggested project, or people would come up democratically with a project they'd like to pursue, and put the best individual or team on the job. This again ends up with more power and more resources in the hands of some people than others.

I am not anti-capitalist, in that I am not against some people having more than others. Greed is disheartening and inequality is ugly, but to attempt to manage human beings to ensure consistent levels of equality in all regards among them sounds like a tedious and frankly oppressive project, and one that is stacked too tenuously against the organic motion that is living and being.

So I am not anti-capitalist, in this regard at least. What I am is for accountability and power-sharing. I am for people having a say, and having the power to really have a say. I think that workers have the right to surrender some of their autonomy to "buy into" collective endeavors, and that includes both unions and private business firms. In other words, they have the right to sell their labor. That said, it's obvious there are some preconditions to making that right practicable.

Where the arguments of the socialists gain traction is in pointing out that workers often have very little decision in how or by whom they are employed because they have to be employed. The industrial, urban, mercantile economy we have surrendered to over the last several hundred years has severely limited peoples' ability to provide for themselves, thereby limiting their ability to say no to bad employment when it's the only employment option to be had. Again, we can trace this back to the expropriation of the peasantry in 17th century England, one of the first clear motions by the burgeoning capitalist class to ensure a dependable supply of low-wage labor - a.k.a., those that don't have an option to say no.

So this is where I end up in my political and economic orientations: I believe in strengthening the capacity of people to say no to shitty employment. Sometimes this means changing employment conditions, and sometimes it means increasing options through developing external or internal resources. While ideally this would entail mostly attentive, dedicated local work, the reality of the globalized age is that it often demands coalition and coordination with actors far and near. I suppose it can take a lot of shapes.

All peoples that exist in the world once had their own land or equal access to collective land. They could grow food, fuel, and textiles on it. Few chose to leave these original holdings; most were forced off. This is the history of labor. In my ideal world, we would all be well-organized smallholders, providing for ourselves and our communities and living freely. The complexities and realities of the modern age preclude this from becoming a reality anytime soon, if ever. But it shapes my policy inclinations nonetheless.

(images from

Villages from the air

(photos courtesy of,, and

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dunbar's Number - 148

"a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships."

"Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group."

"a direct function of relative neocortex size."

"Dunbar's surveys of village and tribe sizes also appeared to approximate this predicted value, including 150 as the estimated size of a neolithic farming village; 150 as the splitting point of Hutterite settlements; 200 as the upper bound on the number of academics in a discipline's sub-specialization; 150 as the basic unit size of professional armies in Roman antiquity and in modern times since the sixteenth century; and notions of appropriate company size."

(photos courtesy of

Wiki here.

Capital-ish and Social-ish

Suggest reforming a shitty health care system and you're called a socialist. Suggest that a private business can create public value and you're called a capitalist.

This is bothersome.

To begin with, even if I espoused an unfettered free-market ideology - which those that call me a socialist know I do not - I still couldn't be a capitalist. A capitalist is someone who owns capital. Not me.

Beyond this, while it's easy to see the socialish aspect of an idea or policy, or the capitalish aspect - and I believe it's worthwhile to note these aspects and include them in any worthwhile discussion of an idea or policy - it seems truest to me that most of the time there's a bit of both. It's like anima and animus. Hemingway contains both masculine and feminine energy. The proportions change from individual to individual and for one individual over time, but there's a little of both in everyone.

In examining policies I would like to simultaenously (1) not jump to any foregone conclusions based on the ishness of a policy, but (2) DO consider the complexities over time that said ishness implies. In other words, if a policy has a socialish aspect, let's consider what that might do to the motivation of the policy beneficiaries (for example). Let's consider it IN CONTEXT. I'm a big fan of this in-context thing. And, contrary to the presumptions of a lot of people, I don't think it's impossible to think in context while also considering the long-term implications and theoretical complexities of the thing you're thinking about. As a matter of fact, I think it's necessary.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Notes from David Harvey's lecture on Marx's Capital

Class 02 Reading Marx's Capital from David Harvey on Vimeo.

"There's no way in which you can examine this whole process without actually looking at this metabolic relation to nature... The physical bodies of commodities are combinations of two elements - the material provided by nature and labor. If we subtract the total amount of useful labor of different kinds which is contained in the coat - linen, etc, - a material substratum is always left. This substratum is furnished by nature without human intervention. When man engages in production, he can only proceed as nature does herself... you can only only change the form of materials. Furthermore, even in this work of modification he is constantly helped by natural forces... Labor is therefore not the only source of material wealth. As William Petty says, 'Labor is the father of material wealth, the earth is its mother.'"

Friday, October 15, 2010

Labor as Factor of Production

Ad posted in the Journal of Commerce by the Port of Seattle in August 2009:

Course description at the University of Washington for GTTL 501 Global Logistics Management:

The gist of this scenario is that the Port of Seattle is subsidizing it's costs to reduce container fees to nothing to compete more strongly against Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland. Both of these ports chose to adopt or were about to adopt a plan requiring that port trucking companies hire their drivers on as employees, thus enabling their ability to unionize and thus inevitably driving up container fees.

To make themselves (ourselves?) more competitive, the Port of Seattle is choosing to sacrifice its short-haul drivers. We will offer a limited subsidy to encourage them to purchase newer, cleaner-burning trucks (ScRAPs), but the cost of the new truck will still mostly fall on the individual driver. I mentioned their salary and benefits scenario in past blog entries, so it's fair to assume that this plan is more for show than effect.

How do we choose where to make cost cuts along the supply chain? I think the simple answer is that elites do it where they can, where it will be least visible to the public (in the event that it might be controversial), and least piss off other people with power or influence. So where do they end up? In sectors populated by low-wage immigrant brown-skinned people, where possible. Where resistance is unlikely to be coordinated, where resources for resisting are slim, where individuals can be kept in competition with one another.

The only possible ethical response to this would be to assert that such jobs are only jobs that people pass through. That people will only spend limited time in them and them move on, upwardly mobile. Some may do this. The truth is that being a short-haul truck driver doesn't set a very good foundation for upward mobility - there's no place up to go in the industry itself, and it's unskilled labor, so no marketable skills are acquired. Many drivers take at least English classes, and some attend community college, so there is potential there. But for many it is their full-time job, the best or only one they have been able to get in America, and they have families to support.

Short-haul driving is a crucial part of the infrastructure, and short-haul drivers a crucial "factor of production." As such, I believe they should be treated that way - their jobs cared for, their infrastructure cared for. If we insist on labeling them a factor of production, then let's at least take care of the investment.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wendell Berry - notes

"There's a difference between thinking about problems and having problems. Where experts are thinking about problems, the people who have the problems are usually absent, are not even well represented. The only way out of this is for the teacher, the person of learning, the researcher, the intellectual, the artist, the scientist, to make common cause with a community. They must commit themselves to a community in such a way that they share the fate of that community--participate in its losses and trials and griefs and hardships and pleasures and joys and satisfactions, so that they don't have this ridiculous immunity that they now have in their specializations and careers. Then they'd begin to learn something."

"Luddism has been far too simply defined. It doesn't mean just the hatred of machinery. Luddism has to do with a choice between the human community and technological innovation, and a Luddite is somebody who would not permit his or her community to be damaged or destroyed by the use of new machinery. The Amish, for instance, have succeeded simply by asking one question of any proposed innovation, namely: "What will this do to our community?"

"However, a community has to understand that if it refuses the public proposal, then it has to come up with something better. And if the government or a corporation comes in and says, "We want you to have this obnoxious installation because it will employ your people; it will bring jobs," then the community has to have an answer to the question: "Where are we going to find jobs?" Sometimes it won't be an easy question. Sometimes it will be a devastating question, but the community nevertheless has to begin to look to itself. It has to look to itself for the answers, not to the government--and not to these corporations that come in posing as saviors of the local community, because they don't come in to save the local community. So the communities have to begin to ask what they need that can be produced locally, by local people and from the local landscape, and how it can be produced in a way that doesn't damage the local landscape or the local community. And by local community, obviously, you can't mean just the people. You mean the people and the natural communities that are supposed to exist there--the trees, the grasses, the animals, the birds, and so on. Everything has to be included and considered."

"I guess we should leave open the possibility that we'll be too stupid to change. Other civilizations have been. But at least it's more obvious now that this superstition is a superstition, because now there's no place else to go. The "other places" are gone. If we use up the possibility of life here, there's no other place to go, and so the old notion is bankrupt, though it still underlies most destructive practice."

"There is no time in history, since white occupation began in America, that any sane and thoughtful person would want to go back to, because that history so far has been unsatisfactory. It has been unsatisfactory for the simple reason that we haven't produced stable communities well adapted to their places."

"The first characteristic of a plan is that it won't work. The bigger the plan and the more far-reaching and "futuristic" it is, the less likely it is to work. There isn't a person who is alive and who has any appetite for living, who doesn't make plans. I make a plan for every day I live. I've got certain things I want to do that day, and if I didn't, I suppose I wouldn't do anything. But I can't help but notice, and I've been noticing for a good many years now, that my plans almost never work out. The day almost never exactly fits the plan. Some days depart wildly from the plan. So I conclude that even though you're going to make plans, if you're a live human being, one of the things you must learn to do is to take them lightly. A plan really is useful for signifying to yourself and other people that you like living, that you're looking forward to living some more, that you have a certain appetite to continue the enterprise. But one's real duty to the future is to do as you should do now. Make the best choices, do the best work, fulfill your obligations in the best way you can, and work on a scale that's appropriately small. Make plans that are appropriately small. If you do those things, then the future will take care of itself. But if you don't do those things, then you build up a debt against the future, which is what we're doing now."

From this interview by Jordan Fisher-Smith.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"On Forgetting the Obvious"

Article by Robert Kaplan about the Military-Civilian divide in the US.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Labor Standards and Corporate Responsibility

NYU Wagner podcast here, reporting research by Richard Locke, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Political Science at MIT, into Nike's monitoring mechanisms of its suppliers and the impacts (or lack thereof) on labor treatment.

Monitoring doesn't work well. Relationships between retailers and suppliers (frequent visits to factories) do work well. Cultures in corporations need to change - that's when things take off. Also, upstream effects of ordering habits of large retailers.

"...the discourse of amoral managers in exotic lands, you know, is just one piece of it; maybe we can clean up our house at home and have a pretty interesting impact."

Tea Party debate on NPR

"...if the tea party movement ever sends a signal that the gay agenda is okay with them, that same sex marriage is okay with them, that abortion is okay with them, the energy's gonna bleed out of the movement because that's not where the rank and file are that make up the tea party movement at the grassroots level."

A telling quote from a debate between a couple tea party leaders disagreeing on the basic tenets of the movement. Though fiscal conservativeness is at the core of their platform, it comes bound as a package with all this other sh*t.

Friday, August 6, 2010

People radicalize to resist.

In so many ways it's a shame.

As much for the failure of other means of resistance as the for the radicalization.

What is good, level, earnest, well-meaning gets lost in it all.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The bright side of impending doom

Humankind is converging upon its collective annihilation. This is, unlike so many other things, an objective reality. As we come closer to realizing this reality, the intensity of it's felt heat may yet serve as a catalyst for effective pushback against its arrival.

People are fond of saying we are more conscious and enlightened now than ever before. I'm not sure I agree. But if there is one thing that sets us apart from historical humankind it is that we are being forced to organize collectively in the face of pressures we've never faced before, a process that is being facilitated by technologies that are equally unprecedented. Population pressure has forced us into uncomfortably close proximity - culturally, socially, nationally - and into increasing competition for increasingly scarce resources. To contend with this we are organizing collectively on an unprecedented scale, a scale that includes the whole of humankind.

I am not saying we should do this, only that we are. Even people that would rather have nothing to do with each other are being forced to come to the table. Globalization is a reality. The market has made us interdependent, while transportation and communication technologies have made our societies increasingly interpenetrating. These technologies are also serving to facilitate our collective organization.

With this convergence of pressure and means, we may yet be able to avoid final catastrophe. What we are in the midst of is a massive reorganization of our social realms toward a body capable of working as one in the face of certain necessities. I do not think there is any avoiding this. Things will be lost, cultures will be partially absorbed, but dominance will also be forever compromised. In order to organize collectively, we will NEED to respect difference while identifying the real non-negotiables and achieving real solutions. This is a promising predicament. As promising as it is frightening.

At Burning Man I was once at the center of 30,000 people converging around a quarter-acre bonfire. We in the innermost circle were so close to the fire that each one of us could be exposed for only a couple seconds before needing to weave back into the whirling mass or be burned. Despite the inward pressure of 30,000 people, none of whom could know how close we at the center were to imminent doom, we weren't driven into the fire. I believe it was the seriousness of our predicament that resulted in pushback sufficient to keep the crowd from pushing us in. Between pressure and pushback, an equilibrium was established. This was not engineered. It happened spontaneously in response to real pressures.

But it didn't happen until it had to. It held right there at the cusp, at the very limit of feasability before the people at the center burned.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Are Biofuels a Social Work Issue?

"The stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the world's 2 billion poorest people. The risk is that millions of those on the lower rungs of the global economic ladder will start falling off as rising food prices drop their consumption below the survival level."

From Lester Brown's report to the U.S. Congress on ethanol, in which the agricultural economist and founder of the Earth Policy Institute as well as the Worldwatch Institute warns of an impending famine as competition stiffens for food and fuel.

Sustainability is complicated.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Why am I so caught up in thinking about both farming/gardening and social work/public administration; about they inform each other?

I think it is because both have been corrupted by the application of industrial ways of thinking and managing.

The education system is a case in point, as is petrochemical-reliant agriculture. We have turned the ecologies of people and plants into fragmented worlds managed by myopic specialistists. We have ceased paying attention to details, to effect, and lost our ability to respond creatively and locally in an empowered, informed, and effective way. Our vision for how the world should be has become uncoupled from how the world is. We think too small in some ways, and too big in others. We need to focus, be real, pay attention, do what works. We need to take responsibility for our lives, our livelihoods, the country and the world we live in. We have to depend on our land so we care for our land. We have to depend on each other so we care for each other. We need to work on a scale that works.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Resilience" according to Rob Hopkins

"I think in many ways the idea of resilience is a more useful concept than the idea of sustainability. The idea of resilience comes from the study of ecology, and it's really about how systems, settlements, withstand shock from the outside; when they encounter shock from the outside, that they don't just unravel and fall to pieces.

"[Resilience] is about building modularity into what we do; building surge breakers into how we organize the basic things that support us."

From this TED Talk.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fukuoka, Hayek, and the implications of "natural farming" for social work

To anyone who loves, appreciates, and values the natural world, Hayek's notion of a spontaneous order has a certain elegance, simplicity, and beauty to it, but it neglects the simple fact that such an order would undoubtedly replicate and extend current inequalities and injustices. I have been chewing this over, and found it wonderfully captured in this passage from Fukuoka's "One Straw Revolution":

"I settled myself on the mountain and everything went well up to the time that my father entrusted me with the richly-bearing trees in the orchard. He had already pruned the trees to 'the shape of sake cups' so that the fruit could easily be harvested. When I left them abandoned in this state, the result was that the branches became intertwined, insects attacked the trees and the entire orchard withered away in no time.

My conviction was that crops grow themselves and should not have to be grown. I had acted in the belief that everything should be left to take its natural course, but I found that if you apply this way of thinking all at once, before long things do not go so well. This is abandonment, not 'natural farming.'"

Similarly, to abandon people to the natural order of the free market is to allow the grotesque heirarchies and structures of privilege and oppression that humans have already created to flourish, to reach their "natural" conclusion - e.g., the primacy of certain groups of people over others.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Drayage blues

The cycle in which port truck drivers are stuck:

Costs are externalized from the shipping industry onto port truck drivers and the state. The drivers earn very little income, and, as independent contractors, have very little bargaining power and no health insurance. To compete for business, they reduce their costs by whatever means possible, generally running very old, dirty trucks. The surrounding communities bear the brunt of the pollution from these trucks. The surrounding communities are, of course, low-income communities. It goes without saying that the greater metropolitan area (and ultimately the atmosphere of our planet) suffer for the pollution, as well.

The port - charged with the responsibility of being an economic engine for Washington state - fears losing business to other, cheaper, west coast ports if the cost of shipping goes up as a result of increased driver wages and/or truck regulation. Their proposed solution is to use public money to subsidize a clean trucks program that will be only marginally effective, at best, rather than put the costs on the international shippers via fees at the port terminals. So, WalMart (for example) doesn't pay the real costs of shipping, and continues to use its profits to expand its own business, making it that more capable of out-competing its competitors as well as its own labor.

Moreover, the argument that WalMart is creating jobs is a fallacy. They are edging out smaller stores and replacing those jobs with their jobs. Their full-time employees earn on average under $20,000/year and must spend 20% of that income on health care before their insurance kicks in. It is clear that their incomes and their jobs are not doing much for the dynamism of our economy. The GDP grows, but so does inequality. The power and the resources accumulate at the top.

Thoughts on this?

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Further, an informed respondent is one who knows the benefits and negative externalities of a public good, and it therefore becomes easier for the respondent to accurately assess the maximum amount he/she is willing to pay for a good. Research has also demonstrated that informing respondents of the negative externalities of a good on society prior to surveying has a higher impact on the marginal WTP estimate than does informing respondents of the societal benefits of the good (Marette et al., 2004) That is, people respond more to the harm a good can cause than to the benefits that good may bring to society."

From here.

This makes me think about creating negative laws - can't do this, can't do that - rather than positive laws - must do this, must do that. This bears some resemblance to libertarian or Hayek-style laws for regulating the economy and other human affairs. There's some sense to it. Not being able to do something doesn't feel as controlling to people as having to do something.

With the exception, perhaps, of gun control. Hm, this needs further consideration....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Albert Einstein on the deal with American capitalism

"Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights."

From here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Interesting Ideas

"From both a liberal and a mildly libertarian perspective, it would be preferable to have big, decisive, well-defined programs that fully guarantee key public goods--such as Social Security, defense, national health insurance, or anti-trust regulation--on one side, and a fairly open field for human activity on the other, with the line between public and private, regulated and unregulated domains, fairly obvious and well-guarded."

Interestingly, this encapsulates my recent thoughts that certain services - health care, education, social security, etc. - should be universal and guaranteed, and innovation and entrepreneurship allowed free reign after this.

I would add that environmental protections have to be as rigorously maintained as anti-trust laws. And that money has to be kept entirely out of politics, and perhaps entirely out of media, as well.

From here

"We are fully convinced that every human being is endowed with enormous capacity to contribute to the economy and society. By one’s own effort one can pull himself/herself out of poverty.… The poor do not need charity or a handout. The only thing that the poor need is a supportive set of institutions and rules. Charity and handouts were invented to avoid the issue of poverty alleviation. Handouts carry the message that the society is ignoring you. It is not interested in your ability. (p. 8)"

- Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, from this article by David Stoaz, advocating asset-building institutions rather than income-subsidized welfare policies.

Friday, January 8, 2010


As I am a gardener (it's a job I've had on the side for a while), please indulge my use of the following metaphor: if an intact, healthy culture is the equivalent of good soil, economic opportunity is the equivalent of ample light, fair access to health and education is the equivalent of adequate water, then “welfare”-style policy is like fertilizer, most effective when selectively but consistently and appropriately applied.