Category Archives: Economy

Sequestration and Fear

There’s a lot of talk in the U.S. about sequestration lately. If you don’t know, basically Congress agreed in 2011 to find a way to reduce the national deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years, and that if they didn’t do this by the end of 2012, automatic spending cuts would take effect, including cuts to defense, education, human services, etc. The automatic spending cuts are the sequester. Congress agreed at the end 0f 2012 to put it off for a couple more months, but they still haven’t figured out what to do, so the sequester is once again looming.

People across the political spectrum are angry and/or fearful about this. I agree that it’s not a pleasant prospect, especially for those who get any part of their income through the federal government. I work in education myself, and although I’m not aware of any immediate threat from the sequester, it’s always possible that the cuts will trickle down in some way.

And regardless of my own status, the cuts will hurt people. I’m aware of that. But even so, my choice is to reject fear. Because we will get through this, and maybe it really will force Congress to act, which was the point of the thing in the first place.

You see, we’ve been through hard times. We’re a little better off now, but at various times, we’ve been poor, out-of-work, or on public assistance. We’ve gotten food from food banks. We’ve endured daily calls from bill collectors, and on occasion we still have to fend them off for a few days, or wait until the very last possible moment to pay the water bill.

We made it through. And we’ll make it through again if we have to. I know how to stretch our budget with scratch-made soup and home-grown veggies, and I’m going to keep on riding my bike. But I won’t fear what might happen.

Future Economy: Plenitude Instead of Growth

I haven’t written about Future Economy for a while, but as I follow the Occupy movement, I do keep thinking about it. I do still believe that our economy needs fundamental changes; that an economy based on growth and consumerism is not sustainable.

But what could take the place of our current economy? I saw this video (produced by the Center for a New American Dream) on the BikePortland website, which explains how we could adopt an economy of plenitude instead. In fact, some of the things mentioned are already taking place.

 

Future Economy: Coming Soon?

The New York Times editorial page admitted on Monday that The Numbers Are Grim. Supposedly, we’re in recovery from a recession now, but unemployment is still high (indeed, unemployment is slightly up as of Friday, June 3), and the Times blames slow growth in consumer spending.

More troubling in the latest figures, consumer spending — the largest component of the economy — was especially slow. Stagnant wages and higher prices for gas and food are squeezing family budgets, while falling home equity hurts consumer confidence … When consumers are constrained, so is hiring, because without customers, employers are hard pressed to retain workers or make new hires.

In other words, our existing economy is dependent on people spending money, and not just on necessities. It’s also dependent on growth in that spending from year to year.

Does that seem reasonable? It seems to me that constant growth in spending would eventually result in severe resource depletion. And encouraging consumerism seems like an unhealthy basis for an economy.

I’ve written some ideas and suggestions before around designing a different way to live, and a different economy. But according to Gar Alperovitz in Yes! magazine, there are companies and organizations who are already moving in new directions. That’s good news indeed! And we’re seeing it on the local level where I live — churches, schools, and organizations are opening community gardens and community dinners. New food c0-0ps, food buying clubs and farmers markets have formed. People are working together for healthy local economies.

I hope more people will see that the solutions are there, even if they don’t come in the form of consumer spending.

Yes, the Price of Gas is High

I’ve received two invitations to participate in a gas boycott day. I’ve declined both. Why? Because I don’t think a one-day boycott makes any difference, either to the price of gas or to an overall conservation effort.

If you don’t buy gas on Wednesday (I’m just picking an arbitrary day), but you buy gas on Thursday, how does that have any impact on anything? But if you actually make Wednesday a car-free day, it could make a difference. And if you make Wednesday a car-free day every week, that will make even more difference. You will actually be reducing your overall gasoline consumption. And if everybody — or at least all of the people who want to boycott gasoline for one day — did this, maybe the oil companies really would notice the change in demand. Plus, we’d be helping the planet to run out of oil a little less quickly, and we’d be reducing air and noise pollution.

I did sign up for a Facebook event called “Go Green! Reduce Gas/Energy Use!” The suggested activities for this ongoing event are:

  • Try to use less gas EVERY day. Putting off ‘filling up’ won’t necessarily do any good.When possible, take the bus or other public transit – walk, or car pool.
  • Reduce the use of unneeded electricity!
  • Contact your senators. Tell them the time to explore alternative energy sources and safe drilling options in the US is NOW!
  • Reuse simple things in your household, such as grocery bags as a substitute for trash bags!

We’re doing pretty well with #1. I ride my bike to work, and sometimes other places. I also use transit. We fill up the tank maybe twice a month, unless we’re traveling. I’m thinking about challenging ourselves to ONE tank for a month (if my husband agrees).

Today I’m trying #2, at least a little. We’re keeping the lights off during the day. It started because one of the kids has a cold and the light is bothering her eyes. But with the news of possible nuclear meltdowns in Japan, I’m feeling especially energy-conscious today, so I decided to keep the lights off. When I went upstairs to put away clean clothes, I started to turn on a light, but then I decided to open the blinds instead. I might add that it’s raining today, so it’s rather dim inside, but so far we’re handling it.

And after all, I’m pretty sure Laura Ingalls didn’t light a lamp to do household tasks during the day. Heck, they even went to bed early to save lamp oil sometimes. Whereas we often use electric lights because we can, not because we really need to.

Is the price of gas hurting you? What will you do to save money and/or gas?

Photo credit: “Gas pump total” by Dvortygirl on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Investing in Food

People often say that organic and natural farming just isn’t profitable. Some farmers insist that conventional methods developed in the 20th century are necessary in order to make a living.

But there are investors out there who see it differently. Yes, wealthy people who could be putting their money into Wall Street!

In this OPB news story, individuals and groups of angel investors have been putting money into “slow food” and getting a satisfactory rate of return during a time when they might be taking a beating on money invested in Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I’ve joined a local food buying club, and am sending some of our dollars directly to farmers in exchange for locally grown/raised potatoes, onions, eggs, and beef. I feel like this is money well invested, too, even though I don’t see a direct monetary return. And we’re saving money by banding together with neighbors to buy!

Bikes Help People

It all started with a piece on BikePortland about the Community Cycling Center’s findings on the lack of racial diversity in bicycling.

I heard about it because BikePortland mentioned on Twitter that Jack Bogdanski of Jack Bog’s Blog had made note of the piece. He called the report “sad, funny, or both,” chastising the CCC because they weren’t investigating why racial and ethnic minorities “don’t have job opportunities, or health care, or good schools.” And BikePortland rightly noted that the CCC is a cycling advocacy group; that’s what they DO.

It’s not like the Oregon Food Bank is spending donor money to research cycling among minorities. It’s an organization focused specifically on cycling.  And isn’t this better than spending money only on, say, recreational cycling, which benefits an even smaller group of people?

Also, strangely enough, riding bikes can help people with economic concerns as well.

To have a job, or to attend school, one has to have transportation. A bike is a great way to have transportation and to be independent of both the price of gasoline and the vagaries of Tri-Met budget cuts and fare increases.  That’s the biggest reason why I ride a bike to work. I’m not doing it to be cool. I’m doing it because we really can’t afford to have another car and the accompanying expense of gas and insurance. It helps that I also know it’s the right thing to do for our future. But I don’t know if I’d be that strong if it weren’t also economically necessary.

So, having a bike opens up one’s job opportunities, and can also help one save money in order to get ahead. What are the barriers, then? According to BikePortland, the CCC found that “three main themes emerged as barriers to biking: the cost of bikes and their upkeep, concerns about safety, and the logistics of riding (where to do it, what the rules are, and so on).”

Which brings us to geography. I’ve pointed out before that not so many people cycle out where I live.  Many people of racial and ethnic minorities have been pushed into outlying areas of Portland, where rents are cheaper, and that is exactly where bicycle infrastructure is lacking as well.  Check out the map – my neighborhood is one of the outlined areas.

So yes, we do have both geographical and racial/ethnic inequities in our bicycling system in Portland. And yes, that is important.  Hopefully the city will be able to scrape together money to build up the infrastructure in East Portland and other underserved areas; we are slated for at least one bicycle boulevard/traffic calming project at this time, and we have an East Portland Action Plan Bicycle Subcommittee that’s working with the city on infrastructure and bicycling activities (I’ve been loosely involved with this).

What do you think? If you’re not in Portland, is it like this where you live?

Growth – Good or Cancerous?

I tried to read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, but couldn’t get into it, and I don’t think I really agree with all of his philosophy anyway. However, the following passage caught my eye before I stopped reading. It’s about our growth-based economy:

The unchecked striving for more, for endless growth, is a dysfunction and a disease. It is the same dysfunction the cancerous cell manifests, whose only goal is to multiply itself, unaware that it is bringing about its own destruction by destroying the organism of which it is a part.

Capitalism and Breastfeeding

breastfeedingThe current capitalist approach to business says that growth is good. Corporations and other businesses are supposed to grow every year, sell more products, provide more services, and earn more money.

I say that’s not sustainable. How could it be? How can we possibly expect infinite growth?

But aside from growth being unsustainable in the long run, this mindset can have negative short-term effects.

For example, look at baby formula.  Formula is a good thing when it’s used as originally intended. Without modern baby formulas, babies who can’t breastfeed, for whatever reason, might die or grow up significantly less healthy.

However, baby formula companies haven’t been content to just provide the formula as a resource for those who need it.  From a business point of view, the companies think they need to get more and more people to buy formula, so that their businesses will grow.

As a result, formula is marketed to people who may not really need it.  In the U.S., we now have disclaimers on formula ads saying that “breastfeeding is best.” But in many less wealthy countries, women are still led to believe that formula will somehow be better for their babies, and so they don’t breastfeed, and the babies don’t get the benefits of breastfeeding. And sometimes they use contaminated water to mix formula, and babies die. Or they over-dilute the formula to save money, and babies end up malnourished.

Is there a better way? I wish corporations could be counted on to just do the right thing.  Perhaps shareholders could put some pressure on the formula companies and let them know that constant growth really isn’t necessary in those products.

But meanwhile, you can also donate to organizations that promote breastfeeding around the world:

MercyCorps originally drew my attention to this topic with an appearance on Live at 7, in which they talked about promoting breastfeeding in Indonesia. They’re not currently offering a breastfeeding Mercy Kit, but they’d be a great target for donations.

The International Baby Food Action Networkconsists of public interest groups working around the world to reduce infant and young child morbidity and mortality,” and breastfeeding is a big part of that. IBFAN is one of the core partners in the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.

UNICEF works through its Infant and Young Child Feeding programme area to promote breastfeeding at national, health system, and community levels.