This changes everything?

There is this new book out by Naomi Klein and she seems to be asking us to change everything. Frankly that makes my mind boggle, and leaves me feeling scared and unsure of where I could start. So if I could change one thing this is what it would be:

I am staggered how few free and desirable public spaces we have. How many middle age men are sat in pubs alone drinking a pint in silence with only a newspaper they purchased for company?

I know this because my wife went out on Saturday to meet her sister without me. I headed out to find some company. After a while, I stopped on my own and had a pint. Not sure if drinking alone was ok, I looked up in the room to see three or four other men doing the same, none of us able to say a word to the other. In the past the pub would have had a pool table. These have been phased out probably because noisy men having fun playing pool is off putting for the more profitable diners.

The economyA lot of what this boils down to is the Love Economy.

Basically, you don’t want to pay for stuff, if you can get it for free.

Our economy is built up in layers like a tiered cake. At the base are the world and all its natural resources.

Above that is people and what we are willing to do for each other in kind.  Then there is the black market, where you pay close friends and family for services but don’t declare it to the state.

The layer above that is the public sector where we pool resources and are obliged to pay taxes in return for services and finally at the top of the pile, is the private sector. Each part of the cake has and inherent desire to get bigger.

So people like me in the private sector want to do more for you in exchange for cash. I would like to plan your next holiday in return for money. This is so you don’t have to worry about the logistics and know that all the painful or boring bits have just been done.

All the other sectors are also trying to expand. Your local counsel wants more tax revenue to lay on more services. Your Teen ager would like more pocket money. They may even be willing to walk the dog for it. But a big part of where you spend your time is in the Love economy. That bit is you.

My job means as a producer, I am in the private the sector. But for everything other than cycling holidays I am a consumer, right? Wrong. I am in the Love economy. You pop up in that part of the cake as well. Sometimes reluctantly, you would like to pay “The-Man” to just get the job done, but you don’t have the cash right now to do that, so for example, you paint that spare room yourself.

It could be that I am just a very odd bod but what I relish is the times when I drag things I want from the private sector all the way down into the Love Economy.

It is not always possible to take things out of the public sector and drag them into the Love Economy. I haven’t yet set up my own police force or army in my flat but don’t thing I don’t try. A friend and I got to know each other by helping our neighbors load free software onto their computers, so they can be recovered if they get stolen. If you want you can do a bit of crime fighting as well. (here)

The point is that it’s often easier than you might think to take a service that a private company supplies and work out how to deliver it for yourself. People will tell you it’s not worth the effort, but that’s wrong, very often it is. The times when I feel most empowered are when I have these little victories. Amazon would like me to buy a new kindle every time the fragile e-ink screen breaks. They have fleeced me for 2 kindles to date. They have also sold me so many books that the switching cost of abandoning kindle is too high. But you can take kindle away from amazon. I have found that Kindle 3 is easily repairable. If you have that model, next time the screen breaks go on e-bay, buy a new one and just replace it by following a free online video.

Fixing my kit or painting my own house is not a sign of failure. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t pay, it means I didn’t need to. In fact the only emphatic victories are when there was a choice.  “I could have paid to get that done, but I would rather do it myself”. Or “I could have done that myself, but I had the cash to just pay someone else to do it well”.

It is about whom is in charge: Me or Jeff Bezos? If we want to save the planet then we need to be empowered to stop over using resources. Every time the screen breaks I don’t need a new casing, mother board, 3G card etc., I just need a new screen. Send me that, tell me how to pop out the old one, put in the new one and I will only use what I need. In fact the margin on the screen could be the same as the profit from selling the whole devise. Amazon wins, I win and the planet wins.

This is why I am not worried about re-nationalizing the railways or the power companies, I am worried about bringing community spaces into local public ownership. My sister has the same kindle. If her kindle were to break, it would now be incidental, for me to fix it. I would enjoy doing it. However I hate moving furniture. I am a big guy and I have been asked to move furniture so many times, it is something that brings me no joy. Unfortunately furniture removal is the thing I am most often asked to do to help others. The trouble is no-one knows that. We don’t know each other well at all. So our Love Economy is ceasing to function. We don’t spend time together. We have outsourced the job of filling time to the private TV companies, and we consume their products alone. So we have no idea what human resources are around that we could access for free and tax free. There is no VAT on favors.

The one way the state could improve all our lives at a stroke, is to give us back our space. Yes there are parks and they are under constant attack from private interests. We also need warm dry, clean community spaces that have some free entertainment that enables people to get together at low cost and exchange skills and stories.

Until we get these spaces happiness will decline because we will all continue to feel control slipping from our grasp and into the hands of the state and Big Business. I really believe that there is nothing wrong with capitalism; it’s just how we are using it. It’s great that Amazon can send me a book in seconds, but that will never make me happy. Only other people can do that.

Until recently I had forgotten that we need other people in our lives, not just family, but friends and community.  At the moment the planet is in a death spiral of over consumption. That is because we are trying to consume ourselves happy. It sounds trite to say it, but what makes us happy is hanging out with other people. Until we get back to a point where you don’t have to buy something to inhabit a public space and be with other people. Nothing will change.

Reference: Social Brain

Reference: Social Brain

Reference: Money