Local Currency Schemes – The Big Tractor

I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days and am about to say things that some people may find hard. And my rhetoric might seem unfair. But I think it needs to be said firmly. I’m unlikely to change the minds of the alternative currency adherents but for the rest of us who are prepared to put the time into understanding the issues, I hope the following is useful.

Unfortunately there are a few people, thankfully mostly on the fringes of the green movement, who don’t have a good grasp of economic issues (it’s been a struggle for me too). With the best of intentions, they believe alternative currencies will save the planet. Such rhetoric gets all greens labelled lunatics. See * below.

Their adherence is religious, by which I mean logic doesn’t enter into the debate. They keep saying I disagree. They keep saying that black is white (for example that petrol vouchers are a currency). If we use the language so loosely, we are not talking the same language.

There’s a logical flaw in local currencies -  the local currency remains a currency. It has essentially the same problems as any other currency: price instability, convertibility, inflation, a reserve system, a banking system (at least to recycle your tatty bits of paper), and liquidity. In addition local currencies have large transactional costs (keeping track, avoiding counterfeits) . There is no way that standard currencies have anywhere near such enormous transaction costs. And when you have a plethora of local currencies the problems multiply. So you are no further ahead. Indeed you are further behind.

Promoters of local currencies or alternative currencies don’t understand that they are substituting one flawed system for another. You’ve still got the problems of a banking system. Oh but our bank will be better because we will promote trust between humans. It reminds me of a similar lack of understanding of “the economy”.

Those who wrongly believe banks are the root of the problem are often against interest payments. They want someone to look after their money and have it on call, but they don’t want to pay for the service.

Kim Hill, in a Radio NZ National interview with a popular adherent, Tom Greco, got to the nub of the issue with her “Big Tractor” question. She showed the lack of logic in Greco, and let’s make no mistake, the same criticism can be made of Bernard Lietaer or those on the edges of the Transition Town movement who are also believers. Utopian dreams are good, but they don’t equate to rational green policy-making. 

Kim: (18 mins into the interview for those whose time is limited) “What if the local community wants a big tractor?”

Greco: If you buy it from someone outside your currency system you need “more conventional means of paying for it … you need a national currency as long as local exchanges remain localised. But you can envision the possibility of networking local systems together on a global basis and eventually I expect that’s what’s going to happen.”

Kim: “But then we get the banking system.”

Greco: We can reinvent the banking system and not repeat the mistakes of the past. We can share risks between debtors and lenders.

Kim: Where does this operate best?

Greco: The WIR Economic Circle Cooperative in Switzerland. But then Greco said it was a pity that it had turned into a bank!!!

My conclusion? The same as Kim’s. Greco is a Pollyanna. Promoting local currencies as a solution to the problems of the finance sector is an idealist dream of well-intentioned people.

* From the save the planet link the following question to the adherent on that website is worth close reading:

“If I put £1000 in the bank, then I think I have £1000. But then the bank lends my £1000 to someone else, who also thinks they have £1000. So now £1000 + £1000 = £2000 “exists” (at least on my bank statement, and in the wallet of the borrower). I think that is what you mean when you say banks “create money  …

Or are you basically saying that banks should become stock brokers? E.g., if the investment of my savings results in a loss, would the amount in my savings account decrease?”

“I think the essence of your proposal is (1) full-reserve banking for current accounts, and (2) abolish deposit protection for savings accounts. I think that would be enough [to] stop people thinking that “£1000″ written on a statement for a bank savings account is the same as £1000 of money.”

March 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm 2 comments

Boxing and NZ Health Authorities

In 2011 I wrote to the government-funded Southern District Health Board (SDHB) about their use of boxing to raise funds via their appalling Fight for Kidz. I asked them to stop this type of fundraising.

I told them that an autopsy had just been done as requested by the American footballer Dave Duerson who had killed himself. The autopsy found his brain riddled with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This is the brain injury athletes suffer in violent “sports” and in other sports such as soccer (heading the ball).

Dave killed himself carefully to preserve his brain. He texted his family that he wanted his brain examined for CTE.

The SDHB refused my request.

The medical literature is full of deaths from boxing, including  if wearing boxing helmets. The American Medical Association has called for a ban on boxing saying it is an “obscenity” that “should not be sanctioned by any civilized society.”

The British, Canadian and Australian Medical Associations have also called for bans on boxing.

But the Southern DHB equates this barbaric practice with “helping” disadvantaged kids. That is disgusting in the extreme.

My father was a boxer. He died of cancer. But who can say his cancer was totally unrelated to boxing? Before he died he made me promise I would never box.

February 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Open Letter to Colin James, cc Rod Oram

Hi Colin

Thanks for your interesting post.

Rod Oram promised me face to face he would never again use the phrase “the economy” (much like “global economy”).

Reasons?

1. The phrase is classic “Lakoff framing“.

2. Rod agrees that it’s lazy shorthand, too easy to slip into. “The economy” can mean exporters, or importers, or various sectors. It can mean interest rates going up or down. It’s not a single entity capable of being named in a single phrase. “The economy” going well or going rockstar may be good for some sectors or industries and bad for others.

In the Lakoff framing sense it’s usually shorthand for a belief in trickle down theory, neoclassical theory or any other theory which accepts there is such a measurable entity as “the economy”. The “frame” is usually that growing a bigger pie will benefit all.

The trick with “frames” is that because they are so easy to fall into, we unconsciously accept them as reality. Though with this frame there are large vested interests in academia, politics and business in pushing the frame into economics textbooks. Voodoo is wonderful isn’t it?

 
I hope you agree that in reality “the economy” is just one more contested site in the human sphere. It’s the site where various groups of people try to maximise their positions. Various interest groups, sectors, industries will always seek to argue that their position is good for “the economy”. In short, it’s simply the outcome of power struggles and resource struggles.

So your post, while interesting and valuable in tilting the debate towards natural resource accounting, slightly misses the point by accepting the framing concept of “the economy” or “the global economy” and moving on from there to make its argument.
 
It’s this problem in your conceptualisation which I think leads to a mistaken stereotyping of Greens as rejecting the “global economy”, by which I think you mean international trade. Sure there are some people who may call themselves greens who seek to withdraw from global trade (“global economy” is too much a frame), but to typecast all Greens this way, or believe that the NZ Greens reject global trade, is mistaken.

Running a “six capitals” line, even including natural capital, without acknowledging the frame of “the  economy” would also be a mistake.
 
Let me know what you think.
 
BTW Rod still slips into using the frame “the economy”. A lifetime of habit is hard to overcome even with the best wishes. Remind him for me. :-)


Kia ora
Kevin McCready

February 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm 2 comments

Lifejackets, lifejackets and sissies

Image

Slowly, ever so slowly, the boatie community is understanding. But I still meet people, some of them incredibly highly placed in the industry (one very close to Jessica Watson for example) who resist rules for compulsory wearing of lifejackets. The guy close to Jessica said ‘We don’t want a Nannie State’. We’re not sissies, say others. We don’t need crotch straps said the guy close to Jessica when I specifically asked him to join me on a campaign for new regs for lifejackets, aka Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), buoyancy vests, buoyancy aids. We saw the same opposition to seat belts in petrol driven cars and to random breathtesting for alcohol.

Now the push needs to be on decent lifejackets. We also need to get rid of the BS terms. A lifejacket should be a lifejacket should be a lifejacket. There are still too many styles allowed that don’t meet any sensible definition of a lifejacket – for example, this list at Maritime NZ. The community now understands lifejackets are essential, but given that there are lifejackets and lifejackets, there is a strong case for getting it right. I’m talking about mandatory crotch straps (or crutch staps), especially for kids. Slipping out of a lifejacket is easier than you think, especially in rough seas or if you’re unconscious. Lots of people have died needlessly because they didn’t have crotch straps. So for me a lifejacket without a crotch strap is not a lifejacket. The various standards allow heaps of lifejackets without crotch straps. Maritime NZ knows about the problem, it says:

Crotch straps are recommended for lifejackets when they may be used in situations other than very calm water. Even when tightly secured, lifejackets have a tendency to ride up on the wearer if there is any wave action. Crotch straps are mandatory for all children-sized lifejackets and in some yacht racing situations

This is silly. You bump your head, you go unconscious for any reason, even in calm water, and bingo, you slip out of the device and you’re drowned.

So, Rule 1: a lifejacket shouldn’t get the name unless it has a crotch strap.

But there’s more on lifejackets and lifejackets. We are still in the infancy stage of the technology and the authorities need to do much more. I discovered that one design could leave you face down in the water, if you are unconscious. When I tried to find out which design was better, I couldn’t find the info. I now find that “they are not designed to keep an unconscious person’s head and face above water.” Yeah, right. And you call that a lifejacket???

It happened like this. I had a Burke design with Benchmark Certification ID 2975,  Standard 1512. The gas cylinder had expired so we thought we’d get some experience by testing it. We put it on a crewmate who jumped into the water and pretended to be unconscious. Bingo. It inflated fine, then it left her face down in the water. Not good.

So, rule 2. If it can’t keep you upright when you’re unconscious it shouldn’t be called a lifejacket.

And people think I’m a safety nut? All I want is truth in advertising. If it says “lifejacket” it should be able to save your life. Oh yeah, that’s why the industry and the regulating authorities allow them to use the BS PFD.

January 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

Taking the Guesswork out of learning Te Reo

As a language teacher and linguist I’m shocked and disappointed with the general way Te Reo is taught to adults.

A favourite game of one teacher in a Te Reo learning program on Maori TV is to get the students to guess at answers. This is known in teaching circles as ‘guess what’s in the teacher’s mind?’ It’s also known in teaching circles that this is not a good way to teach. Another technique the same teacher uses is to present two or more items and ask the students to guess which one is correct. Again, it is a big no no to do this. You don’t present examples of wrong language to a student.

The reason these are bad techniques is that they try to get students to analyse and intellectualise. And quite often teachers who encourage this are asking students to analyse and intellectualise and memorise grammar. I’ve written before about why grammar-based learning is a bad idea.

Better by far is to help the student to the point where the correct answer simply ‘feels’ right. There is no need to analyse; the human brain does this by itself. We are hardwired to acquire languages – it’s just a matter of proper teaching/learning technique.

The best techniques give students substitution drills, minimal pairs where needed and plenty of parrot practice. It’s the parrot practice where the brain really absorbs grammar all by itself without the student even knowing. The student shouldn’t be wasting time pondering and guessing. It’s really painful for me to watch these shows on TV where the student is looking confused and defeated because they can’t produce the “correct” answer. Language learning can be joyful communication if it’s done right.

Unfortunately if you go into any New Zealand library and look at the shelf for teaching Te Reo, nine out of ten books are grammar-based rather than using communicative techniques. I have no idea why NZ lags behind the rest of the world in this respect.

The survival of Te Reo needs this whole culture of bad teaching to change. I urge the industry to adopt best practice. I urge the industry to do the studies. Find out for yourselves which methods work and which don’t. You may be surprised by the answers.

Good luck.

December 30, 2013 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

The Black and White truth – I’m a True-blue 4 Green

I’m a 4 Green on the Green/green spectrum, measured from 1 to 5 like this:

1. Feral greens – it’s a crime to vote.
2. Fringe Greens – coalitions with other parties are anathema to be considered only after an election.
3. Middling Greens – moving between categories 2 and 4.
4. Realist Greens – coalitions are needed to achieve green ends.
5. National Party greens who probably belong to Forest and Bird and wish the Nationals would be nice to the environment.

Years ago we lost a local government election by 16 votes. I blamed the feral greens of whom there were many in our networks. The National Party and their property developer mates gleefully rolled back our reforms and hacked away at the social structure and environment with dollars signs in their eyes and hatred in their hearts.

December 7, 2013 at 9:47 am Leave a comment

Elsevier shoots itself in the face – again

Don’t get me wrong. Elsevier isn’t the only publisher infamous for publishing fake research, fake journals and generally trying to extract super-profits from academics. But today it has shot itself in the face in spectacular fashion.

It has forced the removal of an academic paper on academica.edu who then said “Academia.edu is committed to enabling the transition to a world where there is open access to academic literature. Elsevier takes a different view, and is currently upping the ante in its opposition to academics sharing their own papers online.” (my italics)

I don’t think you need me to paraphrase, but why not, it’s so much fun? “We, Elsevier, are a bunch of stupid dinosaurs wearing King Canute clothing.” I wish I could draw a cartoon of that.

And let’s not forget, a huge bulk of this research has already been paid for by taxpayers.

Now for some history.

Elsevier and Merck Published Fake Journals – Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles–most of which presented data favorable to Merck products.

Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, and Sage all accepted bogus science papers – One paper was so bad that a science review said, “I thought it was a joke.”

Elsevier admits it publishes 6 fake journals – Journals sponsored by pharmaceutical companies pretending to look like medical journals: Australasian Journal of Neurology, Australasian Journal of Cardiology, Australasian Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, Australasian Journal of Bone & Joint [Medicine]

Now for some good news: Lots of scientists have pledged they will not publish with Elsevier, referee for Elsevier, or do editorial work for Elsevier.

Good. I now make my own pledge I will continue to do whatever I can to support Elsevier shooting itself in the face!

December 6, 2013 at 9:47 pm 2 comments

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