Timesizing® vs. DownsizingTM
© 1999-07  Philip Hyde, The Timesizing Wire, Box 622 Cambridge MA 02143 USA 617-623-8080 - HOMEPAGE

Order – of Priority in Addressing the Big Problems

The order (of addressing problems) is something that seldom comes up with idealists and reformers because they're usually addressing just one problem with one solution, or addressing a complicated diagnosis with a random grocery list of solutions that they have neither prioritized nor strategized. Most books by reformers are 90% diagnosis and 10% cure-all, and that cure-all is either much-ado about one solution, such as "more democratic institutions" (especially NGOs) at the end of Alvin Toffler's "Third Wave," or a grocery list. NGOs tend toward the grocery list - Green Parties, Unitarians, Quakers....

A typical grocery list of target problems might include fighting poverty, hunger, racism, joblessness, peak oil, pollution, frankenfoods, terminator seeds, and global warming. We might call this Level One Idealism, because its the most simplistic and naive. Most people stay at this level, or what might be called Level Zero because it's focused on only one problem, like a single disease (AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy...). The power elite are very comfortable with the vast majority of people stuck at this level. The power elite are comfortable with single-issue charities or if necessary, coalitions of single-issue charities like the United Appeal, as long as nobody gets too clear on exactly what individual targets are involved, how low-priority many of them are, affecting relatively few people, and how relatively wealthy many of them already are, such as the Vatican and Harvard University.

The prioritizing process usually starts by noticing that wealthy people aren't hungry, and that environmental problems tend to coincide with poverty or money problems; for example, desperate lumbermen clearcut forests, desperate fishermen dragnet oceans and clobber fisheries, such as the cod fishery off George's Bank, but there aren't too many environmental problems around wealthy Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, and even fewer around Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen's personal archipelago. So attacking poverty has priority over direct attacks on hunger and environmental problems, because solving poverty would completely solve hunger and partially solve environmental problems. A priority on poverty can still be comfortable for the power elite if most people never define it clearly ("too little money") and link it to its opposite ("too much money"). They are comfortable with the army of sayings that prevent any such opposite concept from arising, such as, "You can never have too much money" and "Everyone wants to be rich." They are comfortable with relatively ineffectual direct monetary aid, such as one-on-one charity to homeless individuals, and in fact they're comfortable with the whole approach of voluntary (capricious) charity altogether, because it tends to keep problems just below the boiling point, and it provides a nice ongoing living hell to feel superior to and convenient warning material vs. anyone who gets too close to really rocking the boat. The idea that money can get too concentrated and consolidated is almost completely missing from conventional economics, anglophone anyway. There is very little research and data on the issue, and so the status quo rolls on and on, with mounting rhetoric and zero effective resolution.

A Level Three reformer might notice that there are two kinds of money and two kinds of money problems: there's standing money (wealth) and flowing money (income), ergo too much and too little wealth and too much and too little income. The reformer might realize that flowing money has a natural priority over standing money, because any balancing you succeed in doing on standing money could be quickly undone by big enough continuing imbalances of money flows. (A really sophisticated Level Three might realize there's also potential money, credit, and potential potential money, credit-worthiness, slanting off into creditability and just credibility.)

A Level Four reformer is born when the realization strikes...that people will never allow you to touch their wallets first - you've got to start somewhere else. They'll never let you touch their wallets first because, if you take money away from A to give B, you're not compensating A with anything currently visible - and, you're just turning B into a dependent. The wealthy sometimes get nasty (or "scientific/biological") and call this "breeding parasitism" - and they, of course, are the all-deserving, all-suffering major victims of all this "parasitism" - which, "by the way," is unecologically Unsustainable.

So what can a Level Four reformer redistribute that will inherently compensate A and not turn B into a dependent? The answer, of course, is work. If you take work from A to give to B, you're helping B to be independent and self-supporting - and sustainable - and you're inherently compensating A with something that's of value in itself, namely leisure, or free time.

This has huge advantages. It's right in line with the old Protestant work ethic, it's in line with conservative rhetoric about freedom and liberty since free time is the most basic and fundamental freedom without which the other freedoms are meaningless (remarkable how few conservatives have any realization of this, though the whole anglophone world is generally time blind in this way), it's been tried with success for over 100 years (generally in all the advanced economies prior to 1950 when it generally stopped - 1940 in the U.S.), and it unites all trades, crafts and professions, however diverse, in fighting for a common goal. The only enemies are the pretentious, such as surgeons, who think they're above all other jobs and professions and Needed more by society (never mind their own carefully crafted scarcity born of the painstakingly created bottleneck of access to their own skills), and such as the insecure who are always trying to present an appearance of indispensability, not that it helps at layoff time if their salary has crept up too much over the years and a halfdozen 20-somethings can be hired at minimum wage to facsimilate their functions. CEOs are good at this and most business schools code this into their instruction so deeply that it never even comes up for discussion - in fact, like many of the issues Chomsky points out, discussion is taboo.

If you get to this rarified level of reformer philosophy, you are immediately hammered by two objections, one from the naive and one from the sophisticate. Naive: But if you take any work away from the poor, you'll starve them. Sophisticate: But if you create full employment, you'll have runaway inflation.

More anon, that eventually winds up with the big problems in the following order of priority: job poverty first (alias unemployment), income poverty second, wealth poverty third, credit poverty fourth....

And don't forget to include somewhere the great avalanche-of-solution metaphor.

For more information, see our handbook Timesizing, Not Downsizing (140 pages) available for US$12, plus $3 shipping, from:   Phil Hyde, Timesizing.com, PO Box 622, Cambridge-B, Mass. 02140, USA.

Questions, comments, feedback?  Phone 617-623-8080 (Boston) or 819-771-8546 (Québec), or email us.

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