Time for True Market Reform
April 2, 2007
The mantra of economists, central bankers, the World Bank, the IMF and others advising developing countries calls for , above all, market reform. Un-packing the jargon, they mean de-regulation, free trade, privatization, convertible currencies, export and debt-led growth and flexible labor markets ‚?? summarized as the "Washington Consensus." Today, the call for market reform is morphing into demands for reforming markets and capitalism itself.
Today, this one-size-fits-all conventional recipe for economic growth is being challenged not only on social and environmental grounds --- because it is widely seen as failing. Corporate CEOs at Davos worried about global climate chaos and their US-CAP group urged mandatory caps on their own carbon emissions. Soul-searching continues on the failure of WTO trade talks, the growing gap between rich and poor, the effects globalization and offshoring of blue and increasingly, white-collar jobs. There is little to reassure American that any serious policy re-think is afoot.
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Conversations: Simran Sethi
Interviewed by Eliza Thomas (unabridged)
The following was transcribed from an interview with Simran Sethi, conducted on 1/14/07. This is a rush transcript, which may include errors. This copy might not be in its final form, and may be updated.
E: Tell me a little bit about your background. I‚??ve heard you‚??re a yoga instructor.
SS: I did hatha training first‚?¶ At some point in my hatha training, I started to‚?¶ stratify. I started to practice vinyasa yoga, as well as kundalini and that really resonated with me. I wanted to go deeper into that discipline and I also started the doula training. Then 9/11 happened. I was on my way to a voice over session for a music special we were doing [at the Oxygen network], and in that moment I realized that while I was moving closer toward what I wanted to do, all the components weren‚??t coming together. I really wanted to start teaching yoga, so I did that and left TV again. I realized after teaching for a year that it was kind of‚?¶ I wanted to keep teaching but I didn‚??t want to make a living doing it. I needed to do something else. This is a constant pattern of me trying to get where I am today. I wanted to be able to tell different kinds of stories, basically. [And] in order to do that I had to have different kinds of information. So when people would see my CV, and see that I‚??ve been with MTV for so many years, I was pretty straitjacketed in terms of‚?¶‚?Ěyou can host the entertainment segment‚?¶‚?Ě That‚??s one part of what MTV does, and I was doing documentaries ‚?? but when the documentaries are wedged between spring break, it‚??s hard for people to remember that. At that point, MTV didn‚??t have [a pro-social division]‚?¶ Now they have a whole documentary campaign and a department and all this stuff which didn‚??t exist before. My sister was graduating from law school and I came back from India and I was in San Francisco and reading through the paper. I saw this informational ad for the Presidio MBA program. It was an MBA in sustainable management, which is looking at the integrated, or what we call the triple bottom line of business: not just the financial impacts of the business but the environmental impacts, as well. That really resonated with me because when I was in India working with my own [television] production company, I saw firsthand the impacts of multinational companies on people who didn‚??t have a lot of resources to fight back. Whether it was the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, or just seeing the accumulation of waste and child labor‚?¶ I just thought ‚??I want to get to the point where I can tell these kinds of stories, and I‚??m not there yet. What do I need to do to get there?‚?Ě For me, that meant going back to school to get an MBA. I went back to school in 2003. A week after I started school, one of my classmates had been doing consulting with a woman named Hazel Henderson. Hazel is a futurist, she‚??s in her mid 70s, she was on Ronald Reagan‚??s renewable energy task force, and she‚??s worked with various governments. She‚??s an amazing woman who wanted to get this kind of information on television. She‚??s been writing books for years and years. So my colleague Bret said I want you to meet Hazel, she‚??s trying to put together this TV show, I think you‚??d be perfect. We met, we shot a pilot, and that became the show Ethical Markets, a twelve-part PBS series covering everything from renewable energy to sustainable agriculture to socially responsible investing. We drilled down into these topics to help people make everyday decisions that would affect the kind of changes they wanted to see. The first time I spoke to your magazine, I was working on the Ethical Markets program as I was completing my MBA. And I thought, well, I‚??m going to finish school, and get to have one job instead of working and going to school full time. This is going to be great. Then with the war, Congress cut funding for PBS. So the show wasn‚??t renewed. I found myself needing to find a new job, and I knew I was so much closer to what I wanted to do. That‚??s it. These are the kinds of stories I want to tell, and I now have the information I need to tell these stories. What am I going to do? I had been reading the website Treehugger.com for quite a while and it definitely appealed to my sensibility. It‚??s a great site because it‚??s not preachy. We‚??re all just trying to figure it out as we go along. We applaud all our efforts towards environmentalism. At that point Treehugger (TH) was expanding into video, understanding broadcasters were trying to move to broadband. I was brought in about a year ago to oversee their video division, which we have now expanded to video and audio [‚?? what we call TreeHuggerTV and TreeHugger Radio]. It was a way for me to leverage all the skills I‚??ve garnered over the years and to tell the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. On TreeHugger we have news capsules and an audio podcast that airs as a weekly segment on Air America Radio‚??s environmental show Eco-Talk. We do that every week, which I host and write. Then there is The Green for Sundance‚?¶ a block of environmental programming on the Sundance Channel which I co-host and write.
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The Cuckoo's Egg In The Nobel Prize Nest
For InterPress Service
By Hazel Henderson
Peter Nobel, grandson of Alfred Nobel has been part of an academic movement critical of the economics prize as illegitimate. Nobel says ‚??The Bank of Sweden, which set up this prize, is like a cuckoo that laid its egg in the nest of another decent bird, the Nobel Prize.‚?Ě Many Nobel Laureates and scientists have protested that the Bank of Sweden Prize devalues the real Nobel Prizes and others believe that it should either be de-linked from the Nobels or abolished.
This year‚??s crop of Nobel prizes included another curious anomaly adding to the doubts about the prize in economics.
ners have misused mathematics to ‚??dress-up‚?Ě unproven notions or try to ‚??prove‚?Ě questionable hypotheses.
These mathematicians went public in December , 2004 in Sweden‚??s Dagens Nyheter, when they accused the winners, Edward C. Prescott and Finn E. Kydland of such practices in their 1977 article trying to ‚??prove‚?Ě why central banks should be free of political oversight ‚?? even by the most democratically-elected governments. I agree with Joseph Stiglitz, another Bank of Sweden Prize winner , who says ‚?? Independent central banks that are not politically accountable undermine democracy ‚?? in his Making Globalization Work.
Most Bank of Sweden prizes have gone to US ‚??free market‚?Ě economists and followers of the neo-liberal ( in US terminology, ‚?? neo-conservative‚?Ě ) Chicago School, beginning with the award to Milton Friedman in 1969. Some of these economists who use or misuse mathematics include those ‚??rocket scientists‚?Ě whose models of stock market behavior led to the collapse of the notorious hedge fund Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) in 1998. Their errors were so large and produced losses so great that LTCM almost caused a financial meltdown and required then US Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan, to organize a bailout.
So what is Edmund Phelps‚?? claim to fame? Phelps received the 2006 economics prize for his work on re-defining the so-called ‚??natural‚?Ě rate of unemployment beyond the so-called ‚??Phillips Curve,‚?Ě which erroneously postulated a trade-off between unemployment and inflation in a paper in 1958. Successive generations of uncritical economists adopted Phillips‚?? view; codified by central bankers for decades as the NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment).
The NAIRU became central bankers‚?? justification for raising interest rates across the board to contain inflation at the expense of increasing unemployment. Yet it is widely-known that there are many ways to reduce inflation without punishing workers, homeowners and car-buyers. These include raising banks‚?? capital reserve requirements (cash they must keep on hand for depositors‚?? withdrawals) as China does; raising margin requirements for speculators borrowing to buy stocks; fostering credit unions to compete with banks and others.
Phelps‚?? work since 1967 has instead reinforced the idea of the NAIRU and even contends that unemployment is necessary to keep workers in line and compliant with their company bosses. Phelps later becomes concerned to understand why unemployment levels fluctuated for other reasons. In his Structural Slumps,(1994), he acknowledges other forces at work in our globalized economy. Meanwhile, Columbia University is battling suits charging discrimination against female professors, including the Argentinian-American economist/mathematician Graciela Chichilnisky, who worked on the Kyoto Protocol and invented catastrophe bonds. She proposed an International Bank for Environmental Settlements to provide for equitable allocation of any rights to emit pollution to every man, woman and child on the planet. Happily, the Support Committee for Professor Graciela Chichilnisky, who also holds a UNESCO Chair, now reports that Columbia University is making some restitution and has elected Professor Chichilnisky to Columbia‚??s Academic Senate.
When I spoke with Peter Nobel, he was not surprised at the award to Columbia‚??s Edmund Phelps, or at the problems of gender discrimination against their female professors. Nobel added a comment on Muhammad Yunus ,‚??It‚??s the first time in history that an economist gets a real Nobel Prize! ‚?ĚPerhaps it is fitting that economist Muhammad Yunus who helped improve the lives of millions of poor people should get the real Nobel, the Peace Prize.
Making a Profit and a Difference
The New York Times
By Glenn Rifkin
October 5, 2006
When the architect and urban redeveloper Guy L. Bazzani moved from Northern California to Grand Rapids, Mich., more than a decade ago, he didn‚??t expect his ideas about socially responsible, environmentally healthy business to be embraced right away. Local companies had suffered enough economic hardship without the added burden of such ideologies.
Still, after Mr. Bazzani set up shop as Bazzani Associates in 1994, he gradually persuaded the community of the economic soundness of his green business practices. The firm, which specializes in restoring old buildings, uses techniques and tools including green roofs that are covered with plants, storm water management systems and environmentally friendly building materials.
‚??We found that we can build green buildings that utilize 40 percent to 50 percent less energy at the same price as traditional buildings,‚?Ě Mr. Bazzani, a Michigan native, said. ‚??When I came back here I thought I‚??d stay a couple of years and return to California. But my green business took off. When people come to me, I‚??m their first choice, a locally owned business that can produce at value.‚?Ě
If this Rust Belt city of 280,000 is any barometer, small, local businesses are inclined to embrace social responsibility and will promote environmental health. In three years since Mr. Bazzani, 51, founded an organization called Local First, more than 250 independent businesses in Grand Rapids have come on board.
‚??Lots of people have lived here all their lives,‚?Ě Mr. Bazzani said. ‚??When you have a generational community like this, there is a lot of natural social responsibility. You don‚??t have to call it that. But people just love the community and they‚??d rather buy a product from someone they know.‚?Ě
As it turns out, Grand Rapids is not alone. Local First is just one of 35 similar business networks around the United States and Canada that have sprung out of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, or Balle, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 by two successful small-business owners in Boston and Philadelphia. The networks, in major metropolitan areas and smaller cities, represent more than 11,000 local, independent businesses. The group promotes the notion of the ‚??triple bottom line,‚?Ě the concept that local businesses can simultaneously be profitable and foster social and environmental consciousness.
Laury Hammel, the owner of a group of health clubs in the Boston area, and a Balle co-founder, says the organization includes serious business people of all political persuasions who are seeking to fend off the effects of the big discount chains and globalization.
‚??We wanted to be a force to make businesses become positive role models,‚?Ě Mr. Hammel said.
Most important, Mr. Hammel says, is the face-to-face connection that customers experience by shopping locally. In an increasingly technological world, people yearn for this connection because they feel they are losing the cultural, spiritual and human element of their lives. ‚??Studies show that when you go to a farmers‚?? market, you have 100 times the number of conversations you have in a grocery store,‚?Ě Mr. Hammel said. ‚??We think local is one of the most important words in the English language.‚?Ě
When Judy Wicks, Balle‚??s other co-founder, opened the White Dog Cafe, a popular Philadelphia restaurant, 24 years ago, she realized that she had to spend so much time making her restaurant work that the only way to be socially active was through her business. The White Dog became known for buying its electricity from wind power and for purchasing its produce from local organic farmers and its meat, poultry and fish from producers that practiced humane treatment of animals.
‚??Profit is a tool,‚?Ě she said. ‚??The major purpose of business is to serve.‚?Ě She decided early on to open up the restaurant as an educational forum with guest speakers and to share ideas with her competitors. ‚??We do well by doing good because we‚??re known to do the right thing and people appreciate that,‚?Ě she says. ‚??Our customers and employees share our values and come here for a sense of community, for a chance to be aligned with something greater than themselves.‚?Ě
Though such practices tend to be more expensive, the movement is rapidly gaining believers.
‚??I‚??m surprised how much this has grown in the past year or so,‚?Ě said James Post, professor of management at Boston University. ‚??The question is whether you can serve an economic master and have these other values at the same time. The answer is yes; the triple-bottom-line notion is taking root.‚?Ě
In Bellingham, Wash., a city of 80,000 near the Canadian border, Sustainable Connections, the local Balle network, has grown to more than 500 members in just four years from 12 original local business owners. ‚??There‚??s a ‚??buy local‚?? culture here,‚?Ě said Michelle Long, the organization‚??s executive director.
One significant byproduct of the effort is that Bellingham retains its commercial uniqueness as a community of small businesses instead of chain stores, Ms. Long said. ‚??If you retain these one-of-a-kind businesses, it‚??s not like Anyplace, U.S.A.,‚?Ě she said.
Some urban entrepreneurs like Glynn Lloyd, chief executive of City Fresh Foods in the Dorchester section of Boston, have found the triple-bottom-line quest tougher going. In inner-city neighborhoods, he says, it is difficult for local businesses to get traction. Shoppers, long ignored by developers and big national chains, are pleased to see Home Depot and Starbucks come to the area.
Nonetheless, Balle contends that growing evidence supports the theory that buying local is better for the community. One study in Austin, Tex., by Civic Economics, a strategic planning consulting firm, compared the impact of a Borders bookstore and two local independent bookstores. They found that for $100 spent at Borders, just $13 stayed in the local economy, while $100 spent in a local bookstore put $45 back into the local economy.
Balle is intent on reshaping public policy, which it feels is biased against local small businesses. Michael H. Shuman, a Balle consultant and author of ‚??The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition,‚?Ě says that economic development efforts that stress ‚??attraction and retention" are all about offering tax incentives to big companies.
What‚??s more, he says, mounting evidence suggests that these incentives have questionable payback for a local economy, often failing to produce either jobs or sustained economic health. ‚??Attraction and retention is not focused on locally owned business or existing local entrepreneurs,‚?Ě Mr. Shuman said. ‚??It almost assumes that indigenous people do not have the capacity to create these businesses, so we must go outside of the community to bring them in. This kind of bias needs to be eliminated.‚?Ě
One way to promote change is to illuminate the sustainability issue for a new generation of consumers, something Don Shaffer, 37, is doing in Oakland, Calif. His company, Comet Skateboards, uses only ecologically safe materials like water-based coatings and sustainable woods like bamboo. And his target audience ‚?? teenage boys ‚?? is responding. Sales on a percentage basis have quadrupled in three years.
‚??The biggest driver is our commitment to sustainability,‚?Ě Mr. Shaffer said. ‚??Skaters get a bad rap for being extremely anti-authority but they are critical thinkers and they have a growing awareness of climate change, peak oil and what it means for them. They are voting with their dollars.‚?Ě