This was a proposal for a book I sent to Chelsea Green Publishers.
Proposal Table of Contents:
A cover letter summarizing the book
A preliminary table of contents
An expanded table of contents with one- or two-paragraph summaries of each chapter
Marketing research such as:
a) Descriptions of other books on the same or similar topic and an explanation of why your book is different
b) Any special sales potential (organizations that might want to buy large numbers of your book; specialty catalogs or stores that don’t usually sell books but might be interested in yours; events where attendees will be interested in your book)
Your target audience (who they are, why they will be interested in your book. Be specific.)
Biographical material about you (expanded from that in the query letter)
Two sample chapters
Transition Economics is a roadmap of design strategies for community-based economies. I apply holistic patterns of nature and learning to my model for accelerating the development of local economies that I believe are an essential ingredient of global sustainability.
To whom it may concern:
Please consider this proposal to publish a book I have begun writing about economic localization, titled “Transition Economics: Economic Permaculture Principles of Design”.
Interest in building more resilient communities and economic localization has been increasing with today's global challenges. There are theoretical books on the global economic problems, and general guides for community transition. I provide a logical framework for the long-view perspective, and take a permaculture-based approach to community re-design. However, I've reframed the design principles of the co-founders of permaculture into simple story-based patterns of nature. These are universal principles that apply equally well for designing ecological landscapes and local living economies. Introducing an energy perspective to understand true economic wealth, transcends our modern obsession with monetary value, costs and profits. My strategies for community change are based on my practical experiences as a permaculture designer leading economic transition in my own community systems. I apply the same principles that have made our global economy so effective at conquering nature and transferring wealth to the few – akin to a Sun Tzu approach of “knowing thy enemy”. I believe many Transition Town frustrations can be surmounted by creating multiple positive feedback loops that are self-reinforcing toward the goal of economic localization. This simplistic strategy requires having a feeling for the patterns of healthy systems that I paint for the reader. I implicitly employ those patterns when I approach a client's piece of land as a permaculture designer. Similarly, I suggest ways to apply those principles in the context of a particular community in order to maximize its resources to reach the desired objectives.
I relate the classic economic factors of land, labor and capital into my model. One of my principles is the importance for a healthy system to have a focus or purpose - which is indeed a challenge for something as diverse as a community economy. In my model I propose a strategy that has the potential for bringing together a community around a common focus.
Specifically, I suggest that creating a community permaculture workforce development training school could become a common focus which a community would help to support. It could benefit the community by producing more local food and products, and could train young people to have the skills and knowledge to incubate new businesses for producing local products. Learning is a positive feedback process of nature, and I discuss other positive feedback-driven impacts a school might bring to a transitioning local economy.
My strategies for community change are based on my practical experiences as a permaculture designer leading economic transition in my own community. I apply the same principles that have made our global economy so effective at conquering nature and consolidating wealth to a few. I believe many of the challenges of the Transition Town movement might be surmounted by creating multiple positive feedback loops to reinforcing the goal of economic localization. This strategy requires having a feeling for the patterns of healthy systems that I paint for the reader. I implicitly employ those patterns when I approach a client's piece of land as a permaculture designer. Similarly, I suggest ways to apply those principles in the context of a particular community in order to maximize its resources to reach the desired objectives.
My multi-disciplinary background gives me a unique perspective for integrating the areas of biology, economics, education and permaculture to support my proposal for Transition Economics. I've had three successful careers as a published Ph.D. Bio-medical research scientist, a high school teacher and education consultant, and a permaculture designer/teacher. My permaculture business website (http://BiosDesign.us ) demonstrates my knowledge of whole-systems design and permaculture. The portfolio links show evidence of my competency and record of timely completion of projects.
I have been a prolific writer for much of my life. A recent example can be seen in my blog section on “Living by Design” (http://BiosDesign.us/blog/living-by-design-series ). I wrote that series for a local community online news site, intending to expand the series into the book I am proposing here. I submitted these on a schedule of deadlines, and I carry out my writing commitments in the same timely manner that I complete my permaculture designs and edible landscape installations. If I had a contract to write a book, I would put my focus into that project, and set aside my design work during that time.
My book is for participants in the Transition Town movement, others interested in pragmatic strategies for localizing community economies, and anyone who wants a simple explanation for how the “1% and 99%” situation came to be, and what we can do about it in our own communities.
Thank you for your consideration,
Preliminary Table of Contents
- Our Economy’s Broken Trust
- Interest – the root of the problem
- Our Evolving Human Story
- Principles for Designing a Healthy Economy
- Change, transformation, and learning.
- Storing life energy in diverse forms of capital
- Seeds of Life
- Living Wealth
- Backwards by Design
- Anatomy of an Economy
- Catalyst for Change
- Local Economy of Scale
- Sustainable Human Settlement
Preliminary Table of Contents - annotated
Our Economy’s Broken Trust
Where is our economy now, and how did we get here? The word economy comes from “oikos”, or household, and refers to how we manage the different roles needed for our communal household to function to meet our needs. We have what we call “money” to help manage the flow of goods and services through the global household. Money is a trust agreement. We say the economy is doing well when there is sufficient money available so that goods and services can flow easily. However we also use money as a store of wealth, which is at odds with money's role in facilitating exchange of goods and services. We hold onto money as a store of wealth, but we want people to spend their money to increase economic activity. Perhaps this conflict in money's purpose is one of the reasons for our economy's broken trust. Money becomes “stuck” in some parts of the economy (such as the banks), when the trust is lacking to let that store of wealth become invested in business activity.
Interest – the root of the problem
Interest is the underlying feature of our money system that influences the basic nature of our economy and our fundamental growth imperative worldview. Interest was banned in biblical times; using money to make more money, without doing work, was considered “usury”. Gradually this changed throughout history, with usury being re-defined as “exorbitant” interest rates. There are many effects of interest, although the simplest result can be seen by the Occupy Movement's description of the 1% and 99%: or “them that has, gets”. In addition to the increasing degree of social inequity, interest is an underlying cause of our society's growth imperative. The economy must continually expand in order to pay back both the principle and the interest for debt created money. That growth driver has resulted in exploitation of the environment and people in less developed countries. Visionaries believe that many of our planet's problems could be addressed with different money systems that aren't based on interest.
Our Evolving Human Story
The big picture of human development on the planet is helpful for understanding our path to our present situation. It is also useful for trying to understand the question of what is our true “human nature”. Did we humans leave the Garden of Eden and become destructive to the earth and to one another because of our unique humanness? Or is the human story really a part of the story that we can see continually played out in nature? There was a fundamental change as we moved from the Forager Story to the Farmer Story: surplus could be stored. From there into the Industrial Story we can see how those who control surplus, continue to gain even more. The notion of “sense of fairness” is useful for understanding the human story. In the Forager Story fairness was essential; the food and the work had to be shared fairly in order for the tribe to survive. When surplus was available, it was possible for opportunists to take more than their fair share without adversely affecting the tribe's survival, because of the abundance. Presently we may be in a situation in which the survival of our human species may be jeopardized by some taking an unfair advantage by externalizing costs to the environment. The Gaian Story could be our new story in which our sense of fairness includes what happens to the entire earth and its biosphere.
Principles for Designing a Healthy Economy
The systems of nature that we can observe are successful, or they wouldn't have survived. So we can look at patterns of nature to derive a simple set of principles for designing healthy economic systems for resiliency and sustainability. The term “local living economy” has been used to describe an ideal community-based economic system. One of the principles of natural systems is their structure, and how the pattern is smaller systems contained within larger systems, contained within even larger systems. So it makes sense to use the same principles to describe organ systems of a person, the human body, a family unit, and a community economy. Having a simple set of principles that are equally applicable to a living cell and a local living economy provides a logical approach for designing an ideal economy and also for how to use the principles of change in natural systems, to evolve from our current global economy to a nested set of healthy economies down to a local living economy.
Change, transformation, and learning.
Patterns of change and principles of learning systems in nature can help in developing strategies for social and economic change. The principles of living systems include some which are structural and some which maintain healthiness. The principles which describe change in living systems are of particularly useful for change agents who envision a more sustainable human future. Because of the universal nature of the principles of natural systems, it's particularly important for change agents to learn about change through their own self-change process. Self-transformation requires humility and letting go of ego – a challenging process which can help with the compassion needed when a change agent asks others to let go of the present and open up to a changing future. Having a deeper understanding of change makes it possible to see the parallels in other change processes such as human learning. The community change agent becomes a first grade teacher who faces the challenge of catalyzing the transformation of people to a more complex level of existence.
Storing life energy in diverse forms of capital
We can understand nature's equivalent of “economics” by following the flow of energy from the sun through biological systems. In a complex ecosystem, the sun's energy is used efficiently to support diversity and maximal amount of biomass. Similarly, we can observe how the energy flowing from the biosphere into human economic systems may be stored in different forms of capital. When people say “capital”, they generally refer to “financial capital”, but we can see what happens to civilizations that don't invest in their “living capital” and can't produce enough food on worn-out soils. One reason for our economic problems is our obsession with a “monoculture” of financial capital, without valuing and investing in other diverse forms of capital. Monoculture in both agriculture and economics causes unstable and unhealthy systems. Taking a whole-systems approach to maximizing the diverse forms of capital is a path toward true community wealth.
Seeds of Life
A fascinating eco-village community in Italy, Damanhur, exemplifies many of the principles of healthy systems. Damanhur's purpose is to learn about and spread the best ways for people to live in socially, ecologically and financially sustainable communities. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the principles we've been describing, we can describe how Damanhur functions by analyzing it through the lens of our principles. For example, Damanhur's structure evolved from a small group living in a large dwelling together, which they call a nucleo. As the population grew, more nuclei were formed. The nucleo is an optimal size for people living closely together, negotiating agreements and resolving conflicts. The larger Federation of Damanhur has several dozen nuclei, which add to the economic diversity that has created a vibrant local economy in the region. This structure of sub-systems contained within a larger system is one of the structural principles seen in nature. Each system level has benefits from its size, such as the focus on relationships at the nucleo level. Two dozen citizens in a nucleo can sit around a large table at dinner for conversations. At the Federation level, the communications revolve around whole-community meeting presentations and a representative governing system is used to negotiate the needs of each of the nuclei. Although there are many ways in which Damanhur seems to follow principles of nature, there are ways in which they could improve. Continual improvement is part of Damanhur's larger purpose, so they can learn and share with others in their global network.
We take another perspective of Damanhur to explore how a successful community diversifies its investment in human energy to create multiple forms of wealth capital, transcending society's obsession with financial capital to prioritize cultural, spiritual and other forms of capital. The most obvious way to observe this is to ask a Damanhurian what she does in a typical week. Working for financial capital is a main activity, as it is for many people. But there will be many hours in a week that are spent in spiritual practice and rituals and volunteering to work on the temples – contributions to the community's spiritual capital. The social capital investment in living as part of a nucleo is more than many outsiders would be willing to commit. The payback comes when Damanhurians become too old to work, and are taken care of by the community for life. Such care is more personal and efficient than the care that occurs by investing financial capital into social security.
Backwards by Design
Imagine what an ideal community might look like as a vibrant, healthy village of the future. Now let's go backwards by design, until we are in the here and now. Now we can begin a roadmap for how to starve the global economic beast by growing our own local living economies in each community. Many of the ways that communities and their citizens are lacking connection, are a consequence of the global economy. For example, a typical neighborhood has individual houses with fenced yards, individually owned cars, and the residents coming and going independently. Starting with our ideal village of the future, we could envision a phase closer to the current situation, and then work our way sequentially to the present. This is a similar process that a good teacher might use in designing an ideal learning outcome. She would work backwards in stepwise fashion to the beginning of the lesson, to figure out all the stages that would make logical sense for the students to reach the desired learning outcomes. This process can be useful in the case of designing a sequence of changes that a community might go through in transitioning from the present to a desired future community economic system. It may seem overwhelming to go from a state in which everything is dependent on the global economy, so this process can be useful for breaking it into a practical series of steps.
Anatomy of an Economy
A whole-systems view of a thriving community would consider the classic elements of economy: labor, land, and capital. We might also integrate businesses and currency to consider all elements that can create a thriving local living economy. When a community looks at what would be needed in order to be self-sustaining, these five elements are often the obstacles that must be overcome. Where is a community to get the labor force to grow the food that is needed? How could enough land be put into agricultural production, when it is typically owned privately by people who are not farming their acreage? Where is the financial capital needed to develop farms and related businesses? What businesses could be created at the local level that would be able to produce the goods and services that are currently purchased from outside the community? Many “buy local” campaigns encourage consumers to support their local businesses. These efforts are sometimes supported by loyalty programs, but the strongest form of encouragement would be a viable community currency which creates a flow of goods and services. The common failure of local currencies is related to the other elements in a local economy. A whole-systems strategy would be the best way of linking these components so that they can support one another in overcoming the obstacles that have been created by the success of the global economy. Principles of design, such as designing positive feedback loops is essential for creating a local economy that can outcompete the dominant global economy.
Catalyst for Change
First we eat, then we do everything else. Food production and distribution make sense as a primary focus in creating import substitution from the global economy to begin to build a local economy. As discussed previously, a common focus or purpose is necessary for any healthy system. If food production is to be a focus, then we need to have farmers. Young people seem to be increasingly passionate about wanting to learn how to grow food and live sustainably. Particularly in today's challenging job environment, youth are looking outside of conventional educational institutions, whose graduates are also seeing a dismal job situation. So let's begin with a Farm School as a catalyst for creating a whole-community learning system. The willing students are a given: each community will have unique possibilities for finding the farms and farmers to teach in the Farm School. A Farm School could provide a structured learning experience by retrofiring the existing learning resources in the community, without having to build a new learning institution. The strategy would be to involve the community, to make as many connections as possible between the community and the new Farm School, so that it catalyzes a whole-community change process.
Fairness is what makes systems survive in nature. Farmers typically use interns as cheap labor, but the exchange for learning is sometimes illegal and unfair. However it provides the basis for what could become a modern revision of the ancient village apprenticeship model, providing the training that could result in a new community labor source. If this strategy is going to be successful, it can't depend initially on raising financial capital to build a new school and teaching farm. The fewer obstacles there are to a start-up Farm School, the more likely it will actually begin. There are examples of a group of farmers who have been organized so that their apprentices spend a day per week away from their fieldwork, and go to one of the farms to learn a specialty from that farmer. The interns may also go to each farm to work as a group on a special project of the farmer's choice – a one-day “barn-raising”. Sometimes a local extension agent for the apprentices to receive college credit by documenting their learning experiences. Modification of this basic process might include extending it for two years, in order for the apprentices to learn enough to be able to start their own business. Many communities would value such a farm workforce development training center as a means for revitalizing their labor force with young farmers who will increase local food sustainability. That in turn would encourage the community to provide support in providing the Farm School with resources, capital, and land.
All land might be considered stolen property. When the first deed was attached to a piece of land, it came into ownership. Alternative economists have proposed innovative strategies for bringing private land into community ownership, but such plans face opposition from the same factors that underly other forms of social inequity. Abundance in a community comes from matching surplus capacity with economic need. Many communities have private land that is not being utilized that could be used for food production to serve the community. While it creates more complexity for private land owners to figure out appropriate leases and agreements, a community with a common focus on supporting local agriculture might create an environment that encourages such collaborations. The landowner can receive benefits such as a reduced agricultural tax rate and free garden produce. Even small urban lots can be combined by an urban farmer and used for commercial scale food production, with similar benefits to the landowners.
When a community begins to have a common goal for supporting local food production and a local economy, residents with financial capital to invest may become interested in opportunities to invest locally, rather than in conventional stocks and bonds outside the community. Several different models for local investment have been developed, which have to abide by legal guidelines for regulating investments. Investment clubs are one investment vehicle, although the amount allowed for investment is often limited, and the recipient businesses have to be stable and their loan requests have to be low-risk. A method for matching individual investors with businesses needing loan capital is the “Local Investment Opportunities Network”. The business and investor can negotiate creative arrangements such as paying food product “dividends” to compensate the investor. It's a challenge for local businesses to be able to make sufficient profit to repay loans and to make a return on investment that can compete with the return from conventional stocks and bonds. Fortunately there is a social capital return that has value in a community whose goal is a healthy local living economy.
How might a local community succeed in job creation in an economic climate which is failing to create jobs in the global economy? We can apply the same principles that have driven growth of the global economy, to create positive feedback loops for business incubation, job creation and stimulating the local economy. The Farm School concept could be expanded to be more of a Community School, providing training and apprenticeships for any business that can provide useful goods or services for the community. Permaculture is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary field that encompasses all aspects of skills and knowledge that humans need to live sustainably on the planet. A Permaculture Diploma School could be a suitable workforce development training program for creating businesses needed for a local living economy. In addition to learning all of the competencies of a complete Permaculture curriculum, graduates would create business plans that are ready to be supported by a community Business Incubator. Permaculture is a dynamic field which is adapting to new understandings in sustainability. The new area of Financial Permaculture is creating innovative business concepts for livelihoods connected to permaculture farm products, and encouraging “carbon farming”. Biochar, for example can be created from waste feedstocks to sequester carbon and enhance soil fertility. Perennial tree crops sequester carbon, build soil fertility and produce efficient food crops. Many suggest that “sustainable agriculture” is an oxymoron, and that sustainable food systems require a paradigm shift to become perennial, permacultural systems. The new businesses that can be developed in a community can gain even more acceptance if they are actually “sustainable agriculture” systems that build soil, conserve water and save energy. A business-incubator can revitalize a community by matching new entrepreneurs' livelihood passions with the community's needs for self-sustaining goods and services.
Economic activity is reflected by the flow of money. A local currency can keep that energy flow within the local region, blocking the leakage of community energy outside to feed the global economy. Because the value of money depends on what it can purchase, there must be sufficient local goods and services offered for local currency, in order for it to be accepted. The challenge for start-up local currencies is that stores don't want to accept local currency when there aren't enough other goods and services offered, for them to do benefit from accepting local currency. The most viable strategies would involve existing businesses that have low cash needs for their goods and services because they are so locally based. Then they can save cash by substituting local currency for part of their purchases with other local businesses, and sell their own goods to others for local currency. The more any currency (local or national) circulates in the community, the more active the economy is. There is a community-based stimulation of the economy anytime there is circulation of business among individuals or businesses. The “multiplier effect” is a term used by Buy Local campaigns, and indicates the positive feedback effect on economic localization. Once started, a healthy local currency might help to stimulate further growth of local businesses producing goods and services.
Local Economy of Scale
Competing with the global economy requires that we create and connect businesses in order to create the efficiencies of local economy of scale. Specialization, flexibility, capturing waste streams, and maximizing feedback loops help to create community systems. A prime example would be a community Food Web for maximizing the flow of food from production to processing to consumption. Instead of a farmer needing to be a producer, marketer and distributor of her own agricultural produce, she can focus on production, with the Food Web business becoming the marketer and distributor for all the farmers in the community. Fuel costs would be reduced by transportation vehicles being optimally filled. Trips would be planned by analyzing the production and consumption data. The produce from farmers that are too small to produce enough for their own consumer subscription agriculture (CSA) can be aggregated by a Food Web and distributed to the CSA clients. That way a single farm doesn't have to grow diverse products needed for a full-season, desirable CSA share. This would be an example of the principle of nature in which “centralization is optimally balanced with decentralization”. The local economy can find creative ways to maximize economy of scale – which are really just applying the principles of nature in their most effective way. These are the kinds of strategies that a Transition Economy can incorporate so as to make it possible for businesses to be viable in today's economic environment, where the global economy benefits from economies of scale because of its size.
Sustainable Human Settlement
How do thriving local living economies fit into a larger vision of humans living sustainably on the planet? Imagine the global economy as a human body with blood distributing energy in the form of sugar and fat to all cells. Now consider the cells of the body as local economies. The cells convert the sugar and fat inside them into the high energy molecules of ATP and ADP (“local currency” energy) for energizing molecular functions that keep the cell alive and contributing to the larger body's health (pumping the blood; moving the muscles to obtain food; etc). If there were only one “economy”, there would have to be ATP made centrally and distributed to the cells. But the ATP breaks down rapidly and would have to be continually re-synthesized before it ever made it through the bloodstream to the cells. Instead there are different energy molecules with different traveling properties for the body economy and the cell economies. Similarly it costs our global energy budget more to make food centrally and distribute it to each community. It is also difficult to detect how fair the system is. Are food growing costs externalized to the environment? It would cost less energy and destruction to the environment - for food to be predominantly locally grown, and for many goods to be made locally. If humans are going to live sustainably, all flows must be sustainable, including resources, energy and the flow of goods and services. Just as nature's exchanges are reciprocal, there must be a balance of trade among neighborhoods, villages, communities, regions, bioregions and nations. Some goods and services wouldn't be produced within a community economy that will be more sustainable to the species if they are regionally, nationally or globally produced. The inflows and outflows must be balanced across each boundary: community, region, and nation – just as they are in any natural system, or they won't be sustainable. That is a goal for human sustainable settlement. That is why we need local living economies to balance out the global economy.
Descriptions of other books on similar topics and why my book is different:
Transition and Economics: Politics, Markets, and Firms (Comparative Institutional Analysis) Gerard Roland. (August 2002). I mention this book only because it has the same main title as mine. It's really about the transition from socialism to capitalism in former socialist economies – unrelated to my topic.
Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition. Charles Eisenstein (July 2011). One of the most inspirational books that does a beautiful job of explaining the history of our money system and how it has resulted in our present world of disconnection from one another and from the earth. Charles gives a great analysis of what has to change at the macro, community and personal levels. Although I could understand it, his complex writing style makes it difficult for the reader to remember the ideas in their own words. The book is also more of a philosophical description than a practical roadmap for community strategies such as I lay out in my book.
The Localization Reader: Adapting to the Coming Downshift. Raymond De Young and Thomas Princen, editors. (February 2012) A collection of classic writings that are put together in a mosaic to create a sense of the meaning that localization and self-governance in a community can provide in terms of environmental and social sustainability. More of a philosophical rationale for meaningful communities than the practical strategies I describe in my book.
Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies Gwendolyn Hallsmith and Bernard Liataer (June 2011). The focus of this book is alternative currencies to the dominant money system, and how they could work better to meet the needs of people and community. There is also a nice exploration of the different forms of capital, which helps provide understanding for realigning what is important for human fulfillment and sustainability. The book doesn't provide practical approaches for the challenges of those who struggle to set up viable community currencies, as I do in my book.
Bringing the Food Economy Home: Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness Helena Norbert-Hodge (June 2002). This book describes benefits of community-based agriculture relative to the negatives of global agribusiness.
Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy Lyle Estill (May 2008). A personal story about how a local, sustainability-promoting biodiesel cooperative business was established, and the challenges it faced from global business corporations. It's not relevant to the whole-systems view of local economies that I address.
The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience Rob Hopkins (August 2008). The classic Transition Town description of where the world is heading, and how to address those challenges by changes at the community level. It lays out the different areas that communities can change their local businesses and how individuals can shift the way they live in order to support a lower energy lifestyle. The book does not address the strategies for transition that I do in my work.
The Transition Timeline: For a Local, Resilient Future Shaun Chamberlin (May 2009). Shaun's approach is to create future scenarios for providing guidance in visioning the goals of Transition Towns. It goes through the various key areas of living that will have to change, but doesn't give strategies other than believing in what must be done and bringing people together to make it happen. Those strategies don't address the powerful economic forces that maintain the present paradigm. I believe those forces must be overcome with unique strategies that shift the situation to utilize the same principles that support the status quo. My book addresses those principles and strategies directly, which hasn't been done by any of the Transition Town related publications out there already.
The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times Rob Hopkins (November 2011) In this recent Transition Town resource book, Rob updates with more information about the state of the planet with respect to energy, climate change the economy; the greater urgency for energy descent and community resiliency; and the consequences of failure. He uses inspirational stories from different Transition Towns to illustrate real-world successes based on creativity and passion. This is one of books most relevant to mine. However Rob's success stories are based on passion and volunteer energy among people who are attempting to convince others to choose a path that is not favored by current economic influences. My book will analyze the systems and factors that support the current system, and use the same principles to design transition systems that can be supported in today's economic world, to transform into a new system that will fit the future world as well. My approach is analytical and pragmatic, while Rob's uses success stories and the fear of the consequences of failure to inspire more passionate volunteerism.
Local Dollars, Local Sense :How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity Michael H. Shuman (February 2012) Focuses on strategies for shifting local financial capital to invest in local businesses and in personal investments that promote local sustainability. Locally focused financial capital investment is one important component of my whole-economy change strategies.
Future Money: Breakdown or Breakthrough? James Robertson (August 2012) Focus of this book is on the money system, why it is bringing us toward self-destruction, and what we should do about it. The solutions are more systemic and policy-related than in my book.
The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality Richard Heinberg (August 2011) Makes the case that we are at a different point in history than ever before – that we are at the end of growth. He provides evidence in areas of resource depletion, environmental impact and debt. His solutions are broad-stroke at the level of policy-makers, communities and families, but are not really strategies as I lay out in my book.
Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money Investing as if food, farms and fertility mattered Woody Tasch (January 2011) Woody makes the connection between local farms and how to re-direct investment and the economy toward regenerative activities that will sustain the environment rather than degrade. This is a book that supports what I say, without going into the detail of how to get there, that I write about in my book.
Local Money How to Make it Happen in Your Community Peter North (June 2010) Peter's book is about the various kinds of local currencies and how they can help build more resilient communities. Understanding local currencies requires an explanation of the true nature of our money system, which both Peter and I do in our writing. Local currencies are one avenue that I review and integrate as one element in a healthy local economy.
Transition in Action Totnes and District 2030, an Energy Descent Action Plan Jacqi Hodgson and Rob Hopkins (May 2010) Focuses on Totnes' Energy Descent Action Plan in 15 different areas of local sustainability ranging from food production to governance. It uses potential future scenarios comparing desired futures to status quo futures as a way to inspire change. Seems fairly unrelated to my book, although it's also about transition.
Transforming Economic Life A Millennial Change James Robertson (August 1998) Describes what's wrong with the economic system and how it might work better for the people and environment. It's a philosophical and policy approach to what needs to change, which differs from my book's pragmatic guidelines.
Ecology into Economics Won't Go Or Life is Not a Concept Stuart McBurney (April 1990) . Old but interesting in how it describes the disconnect between how economics work and how ecosystems work. It's not a surprise that we live in an unsustainable world. My book describes the basis for this difference, and how to make an economy that does work like ecosystems.
Local Food (Transition Guides) Tamzin Pinkerton and Rob Hopkins (September 2009) Deals with local food solutions and directly related economic issues, such as local currencies. Although the book goes into depth about local food production systems, it doesn't relate these to the larger community economy the way my book does.
Special sales potential
The Transition Town network would be a potential network for marketing this book. There are several regional and national permaculture networks that would also be a potential market. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies would be another target national network.
My book is for participants in the Transition Town movement, others interested in localizing community economies, and anyone who wants a simple explanation for how the “1% and 99%” situation came to be, and positive actions we can take in our own communities.
My training as a Ph.D. research scientist (pharmacology, molecular biology, immunology and cellular neurobiology) gave me an appreciation for disciplined approaches to view the world. In my “second career” as a science teacher at an alternative public high school, I found students could best understand science when I taught it in terms of systems stories. My most successful class was an inter-disciplinary science-social studies course I co-taught with a history teacher. We developed our curriculum around principles of natural systems which we applied to understand social systems – which made sense to us and our students. Afterwards I found the same approaches invaluable in my work as a school change consultant involved in transformation of large-scale, impersonalized schools into personalized, engaging ones. In the last ten years I have applied my whole-systems knowledge to my “third career” as a permaculture designer, initially in edible landscape and whole-farm design and more recently in my work as a community economic consultant – using “economic permaculture” (which is what I call this field, to distinguish it from “financial permaculture”). I think the simplest way of describing my aptitude for transition economics comes from my understanding of how people learn. Engaging learners necessitates a deep understanding of natural systems and principles of change. Transformational learning by a high school student requires a balance of negative and positive feedback. After struggling to try to convince people in my community of the need to prepare for the possibility of a paradigm shift future, I realized that the reason our global economy is so effective is because of its positive feedback loops. Two of the most powerful positive reinforcing systems I know are interest-based money (“them that has, gets”) and learning. So it made sense to find a way to introduce profit-driven learning into a community. That's the background for how I developed my whole-systems strategy for linking labor, land, capital, business and currency with the focus of a community Farm School and business-incubator. As president of my local Kitsap Tilth organization, I'm currently developing a Farm School and Food Web, so I have hands-on experience with the ideas I write about. The rest of the book is the philosophical systems theory underpinning this strategy. My goal is to engage my reader with the stories of nature to provide an understanding of what makes a healthy economy, and how to transform an existing community into a local living economy.
Two sample chapters
I included the following two essays below, because they illustrate my unique approach to principles of economic systems and diverse forms of community wealth that underly my Transition Economics strategies. They are from my blog last year (http://biosdesign.us/blog/living-by-design-series ), and are two of eight essays I wrote for a local online newspaper, Inside Bainbridge.They are part of a “Living by Design” series that I intended to expand into the book that I am proposing here. I was constrained by space when I wrote these, so I would modify and potentially expand on them for my proposed book. I would also change these pieces so they fit into as book chapters, rather than stand-alone essays as they were published previously. Specifically, the beginnings were appropriate to where they were published, but would be changed to fit in as chapters in my book.
First Sample Chapter:
Living by Design: Principles for Designing Earth Communities
It’s Bucky’s birthday, and he’s opening his presents. There is a large box in front of him. He unwraps, opens, and dumps it on the floor. Pieces are spread out all over. The picture on the box is of a spaceship, with the name “Spaceship Earth.” Bucky has no idea how to put the pieces together to make Spaceship Earth. The manual is missing. . . . As an adult Buckminster Fuller would write that manual: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, which is more a philosophical essay than an operating manual.
In outlining the principles for designing Earth Communities, I have drawn from the disciplines of Permaculture, Complexity Science, and biology, but primarily from my own observations.
Gaia has evolved over billions of years since the birth of planet Earth. Over the past 200,000 years, Homo sapiens have evolved to dominate Gaia. The last 50 years have been particularly hard on Gaia’s health, although technologies for a self-aware global brain are now part of the Gaia organism. Observing the natural world helps us understand patterns and principles of Gaia—principles to guide our design of Earth Communities to align with Gaian Consciousness.
10 Principles for Designing Earth Communities
Design begins with observation of what already exists. To learn from nature, observe nature. To create a community-based economy, observe how the economy functions (or malfunctions) currently. Where are the “leakages” of money outside the community? Which goods and services could be provided locally to keep the money circulating within the local economy? What local resources and talents are available assets for generating community wealth?
In nature we observe atoms, bonded into molecules, which form cells. Cells cluster in tissues, then organ systems, comprising whole organisms. Organisms make up populations of plant and animal communities, which co-exist as ecosystems and ultimately as the Gaia organism–and beyond. Each element is a complete whole yet also part of a larger whole. Arthur Koestler coined the term holon to describe this pattern of units that are simultaneously wholes and parts. Holon comes from the Greek holos, or whole, and the suffix on for particle or part (as in proton and neutron). The relationship pattern of holons in nature is a holarchy—holons that are part of larger holons. Adapted from Jonathan Swift, “big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so, ad infinitum.”
3. Negotiated Self-Interest
Elisabet Sahtouris describes the organizing principle for holarchy as negotiated self-interest. Cells in the body are each out for themselves, making sure they “harvest a yield” (oxygen and nutrients) to survive. But cells must negotiate with neighboring cells for nutrients or their host won’t survive. Mutation can cause cells to lose the ability to negotiate with their neighbors—cancer cells that pursue self-interest at the expense of the host. Using this metaphor, our current banking system resembles cancer—self-interest displacing negotiation with other agents in the economy, threatening the entire “organism.” Negotiating is an act of faith, dependent on trust. Trust relationships are important between businesses and their customers, as well as among citizens, organizations, and businesses in a functioning community.
Our society frequently views issues dualistically: Republican/Democrat; my way/your way; win/lose. Negotiation is a creative way to transcend conflicting interests, co-creating win- win relationships. The Taoist tradition views dualism as a spectrum of yin-yang balance. The yin-yang symbol has negative and positive space melding together to create a whole. Yin attributes are more cooperative, intuitive, subjective, feminine, nurturing. Yang is more independent, competitive, masculine, objective. Harmonious systems of nature balance elements of both yin and yang. Bernard Lietaer describes our mono-currency money system as being yang-like, and he suggests that we need complementary currencies to shift to a more yin balance to address social and environmental challenges. The next six principles are paired attributes of nature viewed from a dynamic yin-yang perspective.
In the body, blood pressure is regulated centrally and locally. Centralized control via the brain releases molecules from glands or nerve endings that regulate blood flow in accord with the whole organism’s needs. Decentralized control also regulates blood flow according to local tissue needs. Worker-owned businesses can benefit from sharing responsibility between leaders and workers. Farmers compete to maximize their profit, but marketing cooperatives can enhance their sales and increase local food for the community. A centrally issued money system takes power away from the community; whereas a mutual-credit currency balances that issuing power with community members.
Humans living in tribes shared survival chores to be more efficient than small bands with less diversification. Diversity of jobs—specialization—increases efficiency, driving corporations to expand for economy of scale. Too much specialization in our modern world has created disconnection in many areas: families, communities, and economies. Unless balanced by integration, specialization leads to disintegration. A business producing diverse products increases the likelihood that one or more products will be successful. However, integration with the business mission is needed or the enterprise is spread too thin. Balancing diversity with integration is a challenge as systems expand in size. Microsoft recognizes a limit to the number of people that can form relationships with one another, so it limits its unit working team size to 250. Larger teams could encompass greater diversity but are difficult to integrate. Holarchy is nature’s pattern for scaling up in size while balancing diversity with integration.
7. Positive/Negative Feedback
Information can be communicated through positive and negative feedback. Negative, or balancing, feedback tends to maintain homeostasis. The body detects environmental temperature changes and adjusts by sweating to cool or shivering to warm. Positive, or reinforcing, feedback, tends to amplify system movements in the same direction. When the body’s immune system is attacked, positive feedback stimulates rapid lymphocyte growth to fight foreign invaders. After successfully repelling pathogens, the positive feedback ceases, and negative feedback down-regulates the immune response. In disease states, the positive feedback continues too long, becoming an auto-immune response, detrimental to the host. Positive feedback is nature’s efficient way of accelerating development. Our economic system has been in unregulated positive feedback mode. Those with wealth invest to obtain more money and use it to influence government legislation to further their ability to obtain money, creating our current unequal wealth distribution: “Them that has, gits.”
Elements that support the function of one another create synergy: from syn (together) and ergon (work). Recycling wastes increases synergy, by combining waste removal with new-product creation. A coffeehouse serves breakfast, provides a meeting place, creates jobs, exhibits local art, and has a stage for local performers. Synergy generates abundance. On the other hand, if the coffeehouse goes bankrupt, it contributes to local economic instability. Admittedly, a coffeehouse is a small fraction of the community’s employment, so it’s not like having a business like Boeing shut down. Nevertheless, multiple elements providing the same function—redundancy—help generate stability.
Nature is in constant flux; systems that can adapt to change are the ones that survive. Complex adaptive systems are resilient because they balance chaos and order. A business with rigid rules for every situation helps workers know what to expect but has difficulty adapting to new situations that don’t align with its rules. On the other hand, a business that treats every situation as unique is more chaotic and wastes energy having to figure out what to do for every situation. An innovative educational philosophy for teaching critical thinking is, Simple rules create complex behaviors, while complex rules result in simple behaviors.
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." —Leo Tolstoy
In nature negative feedback mechanisms support homeostasis. However, when a major disequilibrium occurs, it pushes the system away from equilibrium, resulting in change. Disequilibria can come externally: For example, continental drift isolates species and alters the climate. Climatic disruption, presumably caused by a meteor, resulted in dinosaur extinction, which stimulated the rapid evolution of mammals. A teacher intentionally introduces the right amount of disequilibrium into the classroom to promote new learning. A child learns when her cognitive map of the world changes to incorporate new information. Disequilibrium also can come from within: For example, when oxygen was produced by ancient anaerobic bacteria, which poisoned the environment, evolution of aerobic life forms resulted. A rapidly growing small business may need to change in order to survive as it evolves into a larger corporation. Similarly, our modern society has sown the seeds of its own destruction for its current trajectory. Hopefully we’ll take advantage of this “teachable moment” in human history to transform Gaia and usher in a new paradigm of human sustainability.
If he were still alive, I would hope that Buckminster Fuller would consider these design principles for inclusion in a revised edition of Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. As we design our ideal community, we will consider components of the economic landscape: currency, land, capital, businesses, and labor. Design principles will guide us in designing these components and in integrating the components into a holistic design for a healthy community economy. Because these principles are related to the science of complex adaptive systems, we end with a quote from Heinz Pagels: “I am convinced that the nations and people who master the new sciences of complexity will become the economic, cultural, and political super powers of the next century.”
Second Sample Chapter:
Living By Design: Seven Forms of “Capital”
Joulie was smaller than an erg, but still a bundle of energy. She flew out of the sun when two hydrogens, forced together by the sun’s gravity, fused to form a helium atom. Jumping with joy, Joulie rode a ray out into space that scored a direct hit on planet Earth. Joulie was received with open arms by a blade of grass, where she met up with Chlorophyll Claude. Imagine Claude’s excitement from that meeting! His matchmaker friend, Eunice enzyme, introduced the energized Claude to a sweet little molecule. Shortly afterward, their offspring, Sammie Sugar, emerged. Sammie joined up with his sugar comrades in the Silly Cellulose Marines to serve in the wall of a grass cell. The tender grass tempted a frisky goat, and the Silly Cellulose was quickly chopped to pieces by bacterial enzymes in the goat’s stomach. The released energy soon had the little goat kicking its heels in joy, although it turned out to be his last supper, and the joy was short-lived. My goat-herder friend harvested his fattened billy and prepared it for my arrival.
A few days later, I picked up the aged goat meat, paying my friend in community currency Life Dollars. After driving home, I butchered and wrapped the meat into neat packages for my freezer. The flow of energy would continue after it entered our community economy; only until it went downhill to end in complete disorder would Joulie’s journey from energy to chaos be complete.
The frozen goat meat is stored wealth capital that contributes to my survival needs, although it’s not the more familiar form of wealth we call financial capital. The word “capital” derives from the Latin “caput,” which means “head” and refers to the number of head of cattle comprising a man’s wealth in ancient times. We commonly limit our conception of wealth to financial capital. Considering how its pursuit has disintegrated community and living systems, we should consider other forms of wealth in thriving communities. Permaculture designer Ethan Roland has written about multiple forms of capital that contribute to the energy stored as community wealth in the economic landscape. As humans evolving, we have learned to catch and store energy in different forms of capital to serve our needs.
Maslow viewed evolution of individuals to satisfy a hierarchy of human needs beginning with survival and progressing upward through “thrival.” Community needs could be described similarly as an evolutionary relationship of different forms of stored capital.
The sun’s electromagnetic energy is captured by life forms to transform low-energy chemical bonds into high-energy ones, like those in sugars, starch, and fats. Inside cells, these high-energy bonds catalyze the myriad of chemical reactions needed to sustain life energy.
After life forms die, their energy dissipates toward greater entropy, or chaos. Carbon from sugars, fats, and proteins combines with oxygen (combustion) to form carbon dioxide—a molecule with lower chemical energy. In animals and bacteria that consume dead life forms, combustion is harnessed by enzymes to create life energy. Associated life molecules such as nitrogen, phosphate, and trace minerals also are recycled into consuming organisms.
The book Your Money or Your Life by Dominguez and Robin suggests that realigning our life energy in accord with our values (rather than unconsciously pursuing financial income) can enable us to live more fulfilling and less stressful lives. Interestingly, the Fourth Corner Exchange complementary currency system named its credit units “Life Dollars.” I consider all my energy that is available to do work in the world as life energy. Life Dollars is a useful descriptor of units of a currency for facilitating the flow of life energy through a local economy.
All life is temporarily stored energy from the Sun—living capital. Photosynthetic plants convert sun energy and nutrients into building blocks of life. Herbivores convert plants into their own life molecules, which are in turn consumed by carnivores. It’s not a linear food chain but rather a networked web of life, with new niches being filled by opportunistic life forms that harvest their own yield as “middlemen.” The food web is diagrammed as a hierarchical pyramid because it represents an energy flow that loses biomass and concentrates living capital as it flows upward from producers to primary and secondary consumers. It is a pyramid instead of a tower because living capital is lost at each level to support daily activities—finding food, reproducing, and cavorting.
The eruption of Mount St. Helens is a case study in the development of a food web. The first pioneer plants had nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules that enriched the soil. Plants with aggressive roots penetrated soil and accumulated nutrients. Cycling of annuals built up soil fertility, enabling the establishment of perennials, which created habitat for insects and herbivore predator animals. Earth’s total biomass increased over time, along with its number of species. Before life colonized our planet, the sun’s energy was absorbed by the bare earth’s surface and lost to the atmosphere as heat. The regenerated web of life captures energy into self-sustaining living capital.
If stewarded appropriately (or left alone!), ecological succession would eventually occur at Mount St. Helens, leading to a mature old growth forest. Old growth forest ecosystems extract maximal energy from the sun’s rays, transforming them into thriving biomass. Healthy ecosystems recapture their waste streams, modeling what humans should be doing.
It is more difficult to measure total living capital than wealth in head of cattle because of the complex nature of life. A field with a few inches of worn topsoil over clay subsoil can be transformed to have fertile, compost-rich soil teeming with earthworms. Life energy can be invested into improving living acreage capital. Cultivated living capital can directly become a means of producing financial capital. Permaculture designers appreciate the direct effects of native living capital for enhancing the health of cultivated plants nearby. Native habitat hedgerows attract beneficial insects and animals. The indirect effects of natural living capital are even more profound, with impacts on groundwater, climate, and much more. Pursuit of financial capital has destroyed massive quantities of living capital by externalizing costs onto the environment.
When hunter-foragers harvested, cleaned, and butchered a deer, living capital was transformed into material capital. My neighbor and I share a feeling of wealth when we work together to refill our woodsheds with dry, aged firewood for the winter. Material capital includes raw materials and manufactured products—tools, shelters, and so on. Early humans harnessed the chemical energy from wood by mimicking lightning strikes.
Later it was discovered that burning wood while restricting oxygen drives off the oxygen to create a more pure carbon form—charcoal. Higher temperatures from charcoal enabled the alchemy of copper, bronze and iron. It also led to unsustainable harvesting of trees during the Bronze Age, causing permanently barren landscapes in many regions of Europe. Deforestation for energy and lumber has devastated lands like the once-fertile valleys of the Middle East and the agricultural paradise of ancient Greece.
Nature created its own version of charcoal when trees and plants were submerged in the absence of oxygen, changing first into peat and then, with more pressure and time, into coal, a purer form of high-energy hydrocarbons. Coal fueled the industrial revolution and increased human migration to cities. Nature also fossilized energy by preserving hydrocarbons from small animals submerged around coral reefs that gradually metamorphosed into oil beneath the earth’s surface, which humans have also harvested as material capital to the detriment of our environmental living capital.
Material capital is created from the life energy of fossilized life forms along with human life energy for extracting and processing. It has fueled human industrial and technological development to previously unimaginable levels, and it has replaced human life energy for growing and transporting food. It has enabled humans to live in cities, focus their life energy into technology and finance, and accelerate conversion of living capital into material capital. This positive feedback loop has contributed to human expansion but at a tremendous cost.
As we deplete easily obtainable supplies of oil, many believe we will have to change the way we live. David Holmgren predicts potential future scenarios that might occur as oil production peaks. Renewable energy technologies may help, but Holmgren believes it’s unlikely we will be able to continue living with current per capita energy use, so he advocates a preferred scenario of creative energy descent. Shifting from dominance of fossilized fuel material capital toward other forms of capital will be key for Living by Design.
Humans have invented ways to exchange material capital with one another. Direct trade can occur with barter, but the need for more complex trading led to the development of currencies to facilitate the flow of stored energies. Some currencies function as media of exchange, while others serve as a store of value for future trades—financial capital.
Financial capital is commonly thought of as the only form of community wealth, because it is so easily converted into other forms of wealth. Many forms of human endeavor are completely dependent on financial capital, but financial capital has limitations. The Beatles said “money can’t buy me love.” No amount of it can recover extinct species or destroyed natural resources. Financial capital is necessary for community survival but insufficient for community “thrival.”
Many animals, such as pack animals like wolves, invest in social capital. Successful wolf hunts depend on relationships of trust and communication. Biological mechanisms underlie social capital, as, for example, when wolves imprint permanently with their life mates or humans secrete the “love hormone” oxytocin. Human social capital may not be valued as a store of wealth by those with wealth in financial capital. However, people from lower socioeconomic levels invest heavily in social capital. They know that being able to borrow $5 from a neighbor until they get repaid from another friend is essential for survival.
Native Americans invested in social capital through their potlatch customs. According to some sources, early settlers from England assumed the aid and goods they received from local native tribes were gifts. Instead, the natives expected reciprocal gifting from the settlers, which purportedly led to the pejorative term “Indian giver.”
Our world of information-overload places monetary value on social networking, which is essential for businesses to compete for attention. Conferences and social events reap a good “return on investment” (ROI) in social capital.
Humans with surplus time after their survival chores could invest their life energy into cultural capital. Native tribes of the Pacific Northwest harvesting from productive estuaries of Puget Sound could invest their excess life energy into creating artwork and other forms of cultural capital. Northwest carved cedar art is still a valued form of the cultural capital that has persisted since those times. A culture that invests in art and other creative activities encourages innovation in more technical pursuits, as good educators well know.
Culture transcends individuals in a group, being passed down through generations in the form of stories, customs, ritual, and so on. While the unit of transmission of genetics is a “gene,” Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” for the unit of transmission of culture. Even before the Internet, memes went viral. Internet social networks and media have quickened the propagation of memes around the planet.
Many young people lack skills that my friends and I have acquired from years of doing home handiwork, plumbing, carpentry, gardening, food preservation, cooking, and so on. A community with members who have invested in acquiring skills through experience has a valuable asset in the form of knowledge capital. In traditional villages, youth apprenticed with experienced journeymen to learn their trades. The Foxfire Project in rural Georgia integrates traditional skill knowledge capital from elders into a high school curriculum and magazine publication. It makes sense to take advantage of underutilized knowledge capital to create abundance in communities.
The knowledge in a community also comes from study and intellectual pursuit. Writing this publication is my investment in personal knowledge capital, as is (I hope) investing your time in reading these articles. Realizing that there are many forms of wealth besides the dominant financial capital that we all recognize helps us prioritize our life energy investments in the areas that will truly enrich our lives. I’ve offered free Permaculture workshops when I’ve realized that I’m investing in social capital that often results in far more financial return than if I harvested a financial capital yield at the time of the workshop. I also benefit from increasing my experiential and intellectual forms of knowledge capital by teaching workshops. Introducing principles of Permaculture sustainability into my community is an investment in cultural capital to promote the Permaculture movement’s goal of promoting human sustainability.
When Mayan priests called for human sacrifices to appease their sky gods, they were spending spiritual capital. Even if the victims were not willing participants, the community supported sacrifice, believing it served a higher purpose. Religions invest in spiritual capital to support their institutional survival. Some people believe that organized religions focus too much on their survival at the expense of the original underlying spiritual beliefs upon which they were formed. Hopefully their karma won’t run over their dogma.
Spiritual capital has been invested to create material capital that persists centuries later, such as the Great Pyramids and Gothic churches. Mayans must have understood how investment into awe-inspiring structures captured even more spiritual capital, creating a repeating virtuous loop for inducing human life energy investment in the religious power structure. Our modern architectural structures are monuments of material capital that further our dominant belief system in the worship of modern science (possibly at the expense of religious worship). Another way of looking at spiritual capital is to see it as an “emergent property” of a social system. It is a story that is created by the system, and then it also becomes a source of influence back to the system (creating a positive reinforcing loop for more spiritual capital).
Spirituality exists outside of institutions, in personal versions of one’s relationship to the universe and other humans. The word is derived from “spiritus,” or breath (“inspire”), referring to the living essence that inhabits all living systems. We may not fully comprehend the nature of that spirit, but we can sense the feeling of being connected to other humans and life forms. That feeling of connectedness can give us a sense of purpose that transcends our own lives. Sharing a common sense of purpose through spirituality can help people negotiate in win-win ways, just as employees work together for the benefit of their business. If we were to believe we are all part of Gaia, we might cooperate with one another toward the common goal of supporting living systems. As the Buddhist said to the hotdog vendor, “make me one with everything.”
Investments in spiritual capital build trust that people won’t exploit one another, which encourages further development of spiritual capital in a positive feedback loop of “thrival.” Gift economies initiate trust through gift giving, which encourages further gifting. Time Bank exchange systems are complementary currencies where people exchange their time doing service for one another. Because everyone’s hours are valued equally, Time Banks create feelings of reciprocity that encourage receiving as well as giving. This creates patterns of mutual connection that spread throughout the community, building spiritual capital.
The spirit of gift giving is culturally linked with the seasonal holidays that occur around Winter Solstice. Ancient cultures had celebrations around the Solstice that honored the gods connected with taking the sun away. They created a gift-giving “birthday” to encourage the rebirth of the sun. There are actually six different identifiable traditional celebrations for this season, including Christmas (Christian), Hanukkah (Jewish) Saturnalia (Roman), Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Zorastrian), Brumalia (Greek), Sankranti (Hindu), and singing a Boar’s Head Carol (Norse). While the Scrooges among us say the spirit of Christmas has become subverted by commercialism, many who grew up with the Christian version of Winter Solstice still experience that special feeling of waking up on a snowy white Christmas morning, with the family members exchanging gifts to show mutual appreciation and even talking civilly in keeping with the spirit of this yearly celebration. Childhood memories of feeling magic in the air are evidence that some of that spiritual capital must still remain.
I’ve described seven different forms of capital that contribute to meeting the needs and making up the wealth of communities. Power is the ability to influence systems by shifting energy stores into forms that better serve needs. The hierarchy of types of capital starts with survival needs—material and financial capital. After survival is addressed, more complex forms of capital are created—cultural, social, and knowledge capital.
The highest form of capital—spiritual—flows from all the lower forms. The hierarchy of these forms of stored energy mimics the flow of living energy upward through the food web. The forms of capital also move from survival upward to thrival.
The book Your Money or Your Life is an approach to deciding how to prioritize personal needs and direct one’s life energy accordingly. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could be useful for an individual in prioritizing how to spend personal energy. Our discussion might be helpful for a community to prioritize how it manages its wealth, if a community were able to make decisions according to what’s best for both the individuals and the whole.
The socioeconomic and ethnic diversity in our country are a challenge to finding a higher common purpose that might encourage us to work together to create healthy communities. We may not survive as a human species unless we can find a way to live in Earth Communities. Feeling our spiritual connection to one another and to the living world seems to be our best chance for creating common purpose that could inspire us to cooperate with one another to survive and thrive as part of Gaia.