Guy Dauncey and the economics of kindness

Guy Dauncey and the economics of kindness

Dr. Trevor Hancock

22 July 2020

700 words

I received both supportive and critical comments in response to my recent columns on the local economy, although nobody swore at me – which means I am not as good a columnist as Jack Knox! One writer even went so far as to say my writing gave him the shivers, although my brief pleasure at the thought that I was that good were quickly dispelled by his next sentence, in which he wondered what closet I had been hiding in for the past few centuries.

Two of the responses – of which the above mentioned was one – provided reasonably lengthy critiques outlining their objections. But what struck me about both of them was their shared view that the present system was pretty darned good, and that in any case there was no alternative, or at least no desirable alternative.

One writer supported neoliberalism, suggesting that I had not offered an alternative to capitalism and he assumed – correctly – that I was not proposing Soviet totalitarianism/communism. The rich, he said, should not be blamed for being successful and providing jobs that give people dignity, purpose and a place in society. Try telling that to workers whose jobs have been shifted off-shore, or who are working multiple non-unionised part-time jobs with few or no benefits, all to benefit owners and shareholders.

My other critic suggested I wanted to go back to medieval times, with moats, drawbridges and ox-drawn carts. He put his faith in the ability of technology to address the environmental and social issues we face. But often technologies contribute to the challenges we face, although it is the application of those technologies through the dominant social, political and cultural forces shaping our world that are the root of our problems.

So let me turn to Guy Dauncey for an alternative that is neither communism nor medieval. Guy has been an interesting, thoughtful and – in the best sense – provocative thinker, writer and activist on ecological and social issues in this region for years. I first came across him when he was involved in the proposal for an ecologically sustainable development at Bamberton in the early 1990s. While it was never built, the thinking that went into it was leading edge at that time.

Now he is working on a book on the economics of kindness, which focuses on a caring and cooperative economy. He recently shared some of his thinking in an online webinar for Creatively United for the Planet, a local community organisation led by Frances Litman that links the arts, creativity and environmental activism. His thinking also substantially shaped a recent brief on Rebuilding BC from the Green Technology Education Centre (GTEC).

Guy argues that there are four fundamental causes that underpin our current ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust economy and society: Faulty economic ideas on both the left and right of the political spectrum that suggest we are subject to the ‘laws’ of economics, the “ancient impulse to dominate” rather than cooperate, our ecological ignorance and what he calls the “loss of our civilisational story”.

He argues, as did I, that “selfishness is enshrined as an economic law” and that “kindness and cooperation are dismissed”. Domination, he states, brings us conquest, ownership, colonialism and slavery – and he might have added, the subjugation of women. I would also add William Leiss’ observation that domination of nature leads inevitably to the domination of human nature – and that applies both ways, I suspect.

Our ecological ignorance is profound, and shows itself best – or worst – in the exclusion of ‘natural capital’ (along with social and human capital) from our measurement of wealth and the treatment of these forms of capital by economics as ‘externalities’ that can be ignored.

So we need a new civilisational story, Guy suggests, in which ‘eco’ replaces ‘ego’ and – implicitly – in which ‘we’ replaces ‘I’. He calls this the economics of kindness, others call it the economics of wellbeing; both elevate wellbeing, social justice and ecological sustainability above the mere making of profit and accumulation of wealth, especially excessive wealth. The economy, in other words, is the means, not the end. Next week, I will delve more deeply into the alternative economics he and the GTEC propose for BC.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

Building a stronger, One Planet regional economy

Building a stronger, One Planet regional economy

Dr. Trevor Hancock

14 July 2020

701 words

Last week I stressed the importance of a stronger regional economy as a means of increasing local self-reliance, given that we live on an Island and that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerability that comes from being very reliant on others – be they food or energy producers or tourists.

Add to that the growing recognition that we live on one small planet and have to trim our expectations to live within its limits. But as the Centre for Local Prosperity noted in its 2018 report on import replacement, “a community’s willingness to be restrained in what it wants and resourceful in providing what it needs, opens up enormous long-term community benefits”.

The good news is that several important local initiatives are already underway, such as Think Local First, a non-profit society founded in 2013 and directed by small business owners in Greater Victoria. They promote the ‘10 percent shift movement’ because “for every 10 percent of dollars spent at locally-owned shops and services, 25 percent more money stays in the Victoria economy”. Their website cites a CUPE study that found “if all of BC made the 10% shift, we would actually create 31,000 more jobs and infuse $940 million in wages into the province’s economy”.

They point to a number of other benefits of spending locally, including helping to create more vibrant, compact and walkable town centres, which help to reduce traffic and pollution. And, they add, locally owned businesses “invest more in local labour, pay more local taxes, spend more time on community-based decisions, and participate in local events”.

A second example is social procurement, which is a fairly straightforward concept. Buy Social Canada (BSC) describes it as “a tool for building healthy communities”, by using the purchasing power of municipalities to enhance not only the economic and physical capital of the community, but its human, social, cultural and natural capital.

Based on the 2017 report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement, the City of Victoria has adopted a three-pronged strategy of social procurement, social enterprise development and social entrepreneurship. The main suggested focus for social procurement is on “efforts to ladder the unemployed, underemployed and marginalized into employment”. The City is also the only municipality in the CRD that is a member of the Coastal Community Social Procurement project, which Mayor Helps co-chairs.

Finally, there is the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP), which brings together business, municipal and First Nations leaders to “bolster our region’s economic and social prosperity . . . by catalyzing the creation of high-quality, household-sustaining jobs, so that more families can afford to live, work and build a life here”. It recently initiated a Civic Solutions Hub that would “introduce new approaches to Municipal procurement that (would) spark innovation in the local economy”

Responding to the economic impact of Coved-19, SIPP recently launched a Rising Economy Taskforce, not only to work on economic recovery but to “advance plans to create greater economic resiliency in the region to withstand future global shocks”. The broad-based Taskforce, which includes representatives from post-secondary institutions and nonprofits, will “explore business transitions and new emerging opportunities”.

One of the immediate fruits of their work is a study of the feasibility of a local abattoir because, noted SIPP, “the vast majority of meat is imported to the Island, and most locally raised livestock are transported out of the region to be processed.” The benefits of a local abattoir, SIPP noted, would be to “reduce environmental impacts due to transport . . . help create jobs and stimulate the economy”.

Perhaps this idea should be expanded to the fishing industry, where we find a similar situation. Jim McIsaac, Executive Director of the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, likes to make this astonishing point; in Canada we import 93 percent of the seafood we eat, while 85 – 90 percent of what we harvest is exported. Surely the same argument can be applied to this situation as to the meat industry; process and consume it locally.

In any case, it is good to see these efforts underway, they need to be expanded and strengthened if we are to create a more resilient local economy that works for us locally.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

We need to build our Island self-reliance

We need to build our Island self-reliance

Dr. Trevor Hancock

8 July 2020

699 words

Last week I discussed Professor Rick Kool’s point that we live on an island – but we don’t act as if we do. Almost all our food, all of our fossil fuels, much of our electricity and much else is imported. The implication is that we should think about how to be more self-reliant. This is only partly because we might have to manage on our own at some point if there is a major earthquake or a really serious pandemic (this is a mild one, in comparison with the Black Death or smallpox).

But there are other reasons for being more self-reliant. These include a stronger local economy, more control over the necessities of life, strengthened community collaboration across sectors and a more engaged citizenry. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance in the USA “champions an approach in which ownership is broadly distributed, institutions are humanly scaled, and decision-making is accountable to communities”. It believes “communities are healthiest when they possess the authority, capacity, and responsibility to chart their own course”.

Here in Canada, the Centre for Local Prosperity, based in Atlantic Canada, works with communities to help them begin a shift toward what it calls “an economy that is properly scaled for the place”. It proposes a new economic model based on ‘localization’ which has two cornerstones; ‘locally-owned’ and ‘import replacement’.

The idea of import replacement was proposed by the famed urbanist, Jane Jacobs, in her 1984 book Cities and the Wealth of Nations. Successful cities, she suggested, used their capacity for innovation to replace imports by manufacturing the product or providing the service locally. As a result, money does not leave the community, but circulates locally. Imagine if some of the money we spend on food or energy were spent locally, rather than being shipped off the Island to Canadian or foreign corporations and workers.

In 2018 the Centre for Local Prosperity released a study on the potential of import replacement for Atlantic Canada. They found that for the four Atlantic provinces “four out of every ten dollars spent leave the economy”, a concept known as economic leakage. The Centre undertook focus groups in many communities and in each one, they reported “participants told versions of the same absurd story: small communities send their products away, either for consumption or further processing, and then buy those or equivalent products back for their own consumption”.

This provides plenty of scope for import replacement, with considerable economic benefit. A 10 percent shift in demand towards local products and services, they estimated, would result in more than 43,000 new jobs, which would have re-employed more than a third of those who were unemployed at the time (2016). The GDP for the four provinces GDP would grow by $4.7 billion, with $2.6 billion in new wages and $219 million in new tax revenues.

The report looked at a number of positive examples in the Atlantic provinces, several of which were focused on local energy systems, and a couple on food system co-ops. They also stressed the importance of community conversations for creating “strong positive narratives” about the future direction for the community.

They identified barriers to local procurement, the main one being “the seemingly senseless regulatory nets that appear to bias government policy against locally-owned businesses and start-ups”, particularly in the form of institutional procurement policies (hospitals, schools etc.). Clearly these barriers need to be removed, and the Centre suggests that these institutions, as well as municipal governments, need to revise their “current goods and services procurement policies and switch to local purchasing in as many ways as possible”.

In addition, they proposed a range of approaches to creating more local self-reliance and a stronger local economy by focusing on and supporting locally owned, import-substituting businesses.

One way to begin, they suggested, is to establish a Community Import Replacement Working Group and undertake an inventory of economic leakage and import replacement opportunities. They also suggest putting ‘Buy Local’ campaigns ‘on steroids’ and identifying and supporting ‘import replacement champions’, including through crowd-funding and pre-selling and by using local credit unions.

The good news is that a number of initiatives like these are already underway in this region. I will discuss them next week.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

Let’s govern as if we live on an Island

Let’s govern as if we live on an Island

Dr. Trevor Hancock

30 June 2020

702 words

One of the many things the Covid pandemic has revealed is the extent to which we have become dependent on all sorts of products – from face masks to food – that come from away, as Newfoundlanders would put it. So as we contemplate the need to plan a transition to a One Planet Region, we should think about becoming more self-reliant, a theme I will explore in this and the next two columns.

In our Conversation for a One Planet Region in September 2019 Rick Kool, a professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University, gave a fascinating talk about the fact that we live on an island. If we were an island-state, he said – and there are forty one of them in the world – “we’d be the world’s tenth largest by area and eighteenth largest by population”.

But his key message was that we do not live or act as if we live on an island; we have seven regional districts, 37 municipal governments and around 50 First Nations communities, but there is “no Island government or system of governance, no Island Minister, no Island voice and no Island decision-making”.

Dr. Kool looked at some of the ways in which we are dependent on supplies and resources from away, starting with food. He estimated the 780,000 residents on Vancouver Island (VI) would need about 11,000 km2 of agricultural land for our food production, given our current high meat and dairy diet. This is more than ten times the amount of land on the Island in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

He cited a 2011 report found that found gross farm receipts for VI farmers in 2006 represented only 3 percent of the estimated $5.369 billion expenditures on food on VI. So in 2006, 97 percent of our food on VI came from away. (Interestingly, a 2006 government report found “BC farmers produce 48 percent of all foods consumed in BC”.) Clearly we are a long way from being food self-reliant on the Island, although we need to also add in the food we get from the ocean that surrounds us.

Turning to energy, Dr. Kool pointed out while we use about 6.5 million litres of liquid fuel every day there is no hydrocarbon production on Vancouver Island, which means all our fossil fuels are imported. And when it comes to electricity, he added, while we can produce about 2,000 Gwh via Island hydro-electric generation, residential use alone is about 4,200 Gwh, with an unknown additional amount used by industry.

As a result, he noted, “Today, approximately 80% of Vancouver Island’s electricity is delivered through underwater cables from the BC mainland”, adding that “if all the Island dams were working all the time, we might need only 60% from the mainland”.

Turning to the issue of governance, he noted that the fact we live on an Island goes almost entirely un-noted in municipal or regional plans. After examining available plans from the Island’s municipalities and regional districts, he reported, “there were only three examples of what I was looking for”: A reference to the fact we live on an island. Moreover, he added, “the term ‘electricity’ doesn’t show up in any of the CRD planning documents or strategies . . . neither does ‘gasoline’ or ‘natural gas’”.

And astonishingly, he noted, “no regional district addressed the impact of population growth”, other than to see it as “something that is as uncontrollable as the rain”, while few plans mentioned where waste would go and none mentioned our Ecological Footprint, the environmental impact of increased population or where food and energy will come from.

Dr. Kool concluded by stating we “have to be willing to confront ‘what is’: we live on an island with fragile and tentative tethers to the mainland and an ecological footprint that far exceeds our ability to provide”. While recognising that “not all problems are island-scale problems . . . in the absence of island-scale governance, no problems can be dealt with at an island-scale”.

And most profound of all, he suggested, “If we can’t recognize the ‘island’ reality of Vancouver Island, will we ever be able to recognize the reality that Earth too is an island?”

© Trevor Hancock, 2020