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Kick the Consumerist Habit

Transition Town Letchworth


9th June 2015

Kevin Jones
07779 995476
kevin@osneyconsulting.com

We have a plan... to get the jobs and growth that will make our
country a success in the Global Race. - David Cameron
I do fear that the path the government is pursuing is a gamble with
growth and jobs. - Ed Miliband
We believe that we can leapfrog France and Germany to become the
biggest economy in Europe within a generation... it means growing at
a faster rate than both France and Germany for years to come. Nick Clegg

Infinite growth within a finite system is an obvious impossibility. - E


F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (1973)

The Story of Stuff

Linear system on a finite planet

Corporation bigger than government

1/3 of natural resources gone in 30 years

Between 10 and 30 civilisations have disappeared through


resource depletion (Schumacher, Small is Beautiful)

Externalised costs ($4.99 radio)

Personal value measured in consumption

1% of material still in use after 6 months

Designed for the dump

More stuff, less time

Economic perpetual motion


Pollution
Labour, capital

Goods, dividends
Fuel

Correlating output with energy use

Is growth...

Good?

Work - You suck! - buy

Inevitable?

Managing output

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

Happens by default
Unhappy combination of technological,
economic and political factors

Fix 1: Efficiency

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

Socialism

Fix 2: Employment

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

Recession

Fix 3: Hours worked

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

Juliet Schor
All told, holiday leisure time in medieval England
took up probably about one-third of the year. And
the English were apparently working harder than
their neighbours. The ancien rgime in France is
reported to have guaranteed fifty-two Sundays,
ninety rest days, and thirty-eight holidays. In
Spain, travellers noted that holidays totalled five
months per year.
- The Overworked American (1991)

John Maynard Keynes


Mankind is solving its economic problem... for the
first time since his creation man will be faced with
his real, his permanent problem how to occupy
the leisure, which science... will have provided for
him, to live wisely and agreeably and well... Threehour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the
problem for a great while.
Economic Prospects for our Grandchildren (1930)

Bertrand Russell
From the beginning of civilisation to the Industrial
Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work
little more than was required for the subsistence of
himself and his family... Much that we take for granted
about the desirability of work is derived from this system
and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern
world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure,
within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged
classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the
community. The morality of work is the morality of
slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
In Praise of Idleness (1932)

Bertrand Russell II
The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific
organisation of production, it is possible to keep
modern populations in fair comfort on a small part
of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at
the end of the war, the scientific organisation,
which had been created in order to liberate men
for fighting and munition work, had been
preserved, and the hours of the [working day] had
been cut down to four, all would have been well.
In Praise of Idleness

New Economics Foundation


...much shorter hours in paid
employment... a forgotten, or
previously
unimagined,
variable for trying to solve
the triple crises of widening
inequalities, a failing global
economy, and threatened
environmental catastophe.
There is nothing fixed or
inevitable about the way we
regard work and time today.
It is a legacy of industrial
capitalism.

Changes in working hours

35-hour week in France (2000-2008)

Working4Utah (2008-2009)

4 x 10-hour days replaced 5 x 8-hour days

Various UK initiatives, 2008-2009

Work less, live more

e.g. KPMG staff allowed to work 4 days

Richard Bransons' personal staff can take


unlimited unpaid leave

Pioneered by Netflix

Old-fashioned terms?

Retirement

< 65 years old: 5 days per week


> 65 years old: 0 days per week

Job definitions

=> 35 hours per week = full time


< 35 hours per week = part time
13.1% of all employees working 48
hours per week (2007)

Control over personal finance

Control over expenditure: 0.0001%

Should I buy a newspaper?

Control over income: 10%

Should I take a new job?

Control over personal finance

Control over expenditure: 0.0001%

Should I buy a newspaper?

Control over income: 10%

Should I take a new job?

Two closing thoughts...


The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary
of the environment, not the converse. Herman Daly
Have nothing in your homes that you do
not know to be useful or believe to be
beautiful. - William Morris

Kick the Consumerist Habit


Transition Town Letchworth
9th June 2015

Kevin Jones
07779 995476
kevin@osneyconsulting.com

This talk was presented to Transition Town Letchworth on 9th June 2015.
The first couple of slides are really only a preamble, before showing The Story
of Stuff.
Apologies given for the somewhat autobiographical nature of the talk, before
moving on to...

I was brought up to believe that, if I studied hard and passed my exams, all would
be well. I went through school and university, and started my career at Cray
Research in Bracknell. I quickly found that all was not well; there seemed to be a
great deal wrong with the way real life was organised. A measure of my naivety
is that I thought Bracknell might be a fairly glamorous location.

The view from my kitchen window! Things that did not seem right included:
- there were innumerable recent, well-maintained cars parked outside homes that
seemed anything but. The priorities seemed all wrong: why not invest the money
and effort into making the home beautiful rather than the car?
- there seemed to be very little correlation between how much my colleagues
earned and how much money they had. Some of the best paid people in the
organisation... it slipped through their fingers. In this industry, the sales people
can earn very well indeed, and it has been said that sales people are the easiest
people to sell to.
- I was brought up not to get into debt. However, I was also told to get on the
property ladder and get a mortgage. This was a different kind of debt: good debt.
I could never completely understand this. I was encouraged by my parents as well
as the bank to buy the biggest house I could afford. My instinct was to buy the
smallest house I could live in until the mortgage was paid off.

We have a plan... to get the jobs and growth that will make our
country a success in the Global Race. - David Cameron
I do fear that the path the government is pursuing is a gamble with
growth and jobs. - Ed Miliband
We believe that we can leapfrog France and Germany to become the
biggest economy in Europe within a generation... it means growing at
a faster rate than both France and Germany for years to come. Nick Clegg

Infinite growth within a finite system is an obvious impossibility. - E


F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (1973)

It's very easy to find quotations from almost any mainstream politician,
maintaining the importance of growth. It is so deeply embedded in our culture
that no explanation seems necessary. To question the need for growth seems
foolish; it seems that we must have missed something obvious. E F Schumacher
pointed out the impossibility of endless growth in Small is Beautiful, not the
first time that this had been pointed out, but the first one that I read and certainly
one of the most articulate.
At this point, I show Annie Leonard's video, The Story of Stuff.

The Story of Stuff

Linear system on a finite planet

Corporation bigger than government

1/3 of natural resources gone in 30 years

Between 10 and 30 civilisations have disappeared through


resource depletion (Schumacher, Small is Beautiful)

Externalised costs ($4.99 radio)

Personal value measured in consumption

1% of material still in use after 6 months

Designed for the dump

More stuff, less time

Discussion of Story of Stuff. The main points that I drew from the video are as
shown. Plus a tank, which will be mentioned later.

Economic perpetual motion


Pollution
Labour, capital

Goods, dividends
Fuel

Most elementary economics textbooks include a diagram somewhat like this, with
individuals providing labour and capital and businesses providing manufactured
goods and dividends. The providers of the labour and capital are often different,
sometimes one and the same. The cycle continues as a sort of perpetual motion
machine.
This is precisely the type of environment in which I and millions of others grew
up. My father worked in a factory, and the expectation was that I would do the
same. This system appeared very stable, and it was assumed that it would
continue indefinitely.
Of course, the perpetual motion machine is nothing of the sort. Any movement in
this system requires power, which generally comes from fossil fuels. There is a
view that the power can come from renewables, the materials can be recycled,
and the system can continue indefinitely. I am wary of this for two reasons. First,
there is an increasing weight of evidence that existing renewable energy targets
are not sufficient to limit global warming to 2C. Second, the pace at which the
system moves increases constantly (the endless growth) and it is hard to see why
this is either necessary or desirable.

Correlating output with energy use

It is easy to see intuitively that more economic output will require more energy to
be used. Any search for production energy correlation or similar will produce
numerous graphs. Few of them are as persuasive as this 2002 study by Robert
Ayres and Benjamin Warr. Instead of just using figures for fossil fuel extraction,
they applied a factor to reflect the improving efficiency of engines through the
20th century. They then plotted expected GDP against measured GDP. The
correlation is close enough for us to be able to say that growing the economy
means using more energy. They are effectively one and the same.
Ask any wealthy man the secret of his success and he will refer to hard work and
diligence. He won't mention the contribution of fossil fuels... except perhaps
John Paul Getty, who said rise early, work late, strike oil.
J K Galbraith wrote that the sustained post-war boom is predicated on an
abundant supply of cheap oil (my paraphrase). As an economist, by cheap he
meant artificially cheap, which explains that tank mentioned by Annie Leonard in
The Story of Stuff.

Is growth...

Good?

Work - You suck! - buy

Inevitable?

Time to examine whether growth is either good (as politicians invariably


maintain) or inevitable.

Managing output

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

Happens by default
Unhappy combination of technological,
economic and political factors

Output is the product of efficiency (how many light bulbs per hour per worker),
employment (how many workers) and hours worked per worker. In a market
economy, efficiency increases all the time: if multiple companies are supplying
comparable goods to the same customers, it is in their interest to improve the
manufacturing process.
If efficiency increases but employment and hours worked stay the same, the
natural result is that output will increase. This is arguably the root cause of our
never-ending economic growth.

Fix 1: Efficiency

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

Socialism

One way to limit growth might be to force a halt to improvements in efficiency.


This is what the Luddites attempted in the early 19th century, and what trade
unions have attempted to achieve many times since. At best, they have achieved
some temporary success. Besides, why would you deliberately prevent people
from working as efficiently as possible, just to keep them at their place of work?
Unions didn't (and don't) fight for the pleasure of working. They fight for a
source of income, which goes alongside a full-time job.
Note that if the competitive market economy is removed, the imperative to
improve efficiency is also removed. The Trabant factory in Germany made
almost exactly the same Trabant for over 30 years, by almost exactly the same
process.

10

Fix 2: Employment

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

Recession

If we cannot (sensibly) limit efficiency improvements, how about reducing


employment? This is extremely effective: in every recession, output and energy
use fall in tandem. Of course, this cannot be presented as serious solution to
runaway growth...

11

Fix 3: Hours worked

Output = Efficiency x Employment x Hours worked

which leaves the last factor, a reduction in the number of hours worked. If
nothing else, work less seems a much easier political sell than either of the
other options!
Much better brains than mine have addressed this question seriously, and the next
few slides are dedicated to quotations from them. The first of these slides refers
to Juliet Schor's 1991 book, The Overworked American. Schor asserted that,
contrary to normal expectation, a typical medieval peasant was extremely lazy
by today's standards.

12

Juliet Schor
All told, holiday leisure time in medieval England
took up probably about one-third of the year. And
the English were apparently working harder than
their neighbours. The ancien rgime in France is
reported to have guaranteed fifty-two Sundays,
ninety rest days, and thirty-eight holidays. In
Spain, travellers noted that holidays totalled five
months per year.
- The Overworked American (1991)

13

John Maynard Keynes


Mankind is solving its economic problem... for the
first time since his creation man will be faced with
his real, his permanent problem how to occupy
the leisure, which science... will have provided for
him, to live wisely and agreeably and well... Threehour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the
problem for a great while.
Economic Prospects for our Grandchildren (1930)

The economic problem to which Keynes refers is the question of how to feed,
clothe and shelter ourselves adequately, which occupied nearly all of our time for
nearly the whole of human history. Keynes recognised that modern industrial
society can meet these basic needs without difficulty, and saw that this problem
was being replaced by a different one: how to fill the time left over.
Of course, we are the grandchildren to whom Keynes referred in 1930.

14

Bertrand Russell
From the beginning of civilisation to the Industrial
Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work
little more than was required for the subsistence of
himself and his family... Much that we take for granted
about the desirability of work is derived from this system
and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern
world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure,
within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged
classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the
community. The morality of work is the morality of
slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
In Praise of Idleness (1932)

15

Bertrand Russell II
The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific
organisation of production, it is possible to keep
modern populations in fair comfort on a small part
of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at
the end of the war, the scientific organisation,
which had been created in order to liberate men
for fighting and munition work, had been
preserved, and the hours of the [working day] had
been cut down to four, all would have been well.
In Praise of Idleness

16

New Economics Foundation


...much shorter hours in paid
employment... a forgotten, or
previously
unimagined,
variable for trying to solve
the triple crises of widening
inequalities, a failing global
economy, and threatened
environmental catastophe.
There is nothing fixed or
inevitable about the way we
regard work and time today.
It is a legacy of industrial
capitalism.

A report published in 2010 by the New Economics Foundation. They proposed a


gradual transition towards a general expectation that employees would work 21
hours per week, which happens to be close to the average weekly number of
hours worked by the population as a whole (both employed and unemployed).
They also note that the concept of a standardised working week was introduced in
the Industrial Revolution, and is arguably obsolete today.

17

Changes in working hours

35-hour week in France (2000-2008)

Working4Utah (2008-2009)

4 x 10-hour days replaced 5 x 8-hour days

Various UK initiatives, 2008-2009

Work less, live more

e.g. KPMG staff allowed to work 4 days

Richard Bransons' personal staff can take


unlimited unpaid leave

Pioneered by Netflix

There have been several cases of deliberately reduced working hours, some in
times of emergency, others not. They are described in the New Economics
Foundation's 21 hours report.
All of the initiatives listed above seemed to work successfully enough; no damage
seems to have been done; and the reaction of staff involved was generally
positive. Over 80% of the participants in the one-year experiment in Utah wanted
to continue with four ten-hour days per week.
During the 3-day week of January-February 1974, industrial production fell by
only 6%.
Silicon Valley companies such as Netflix and Google seem to be pioneering new
working patterns in a bid to attract the most talented staff.

18

Old-fashioned terms?

Retirement

< 65 years old: 5 days per week

> 65 years old: 0 days per week

Job definitions

=> 35 hours per week = full time

< 35 hours per week = part time

13.1% of all employees working 48


hours per week (2007)

Governments do not help by defining statutory retirement ages and full time
jobs. As so often, legislation follows reality after a delay of several years.

19

Control over personal finance

Control over expenditure: 0.0001%

Should I buy a newspaper?

Control over income: 10%

Should I take a new job?

This slide is nothing more than a little speculation: perhaps part of the problem is
that we can control our spending in the minutest detail; but although each of us
has some control over our income, we can control it only in coarse steps. If we
are employed, we can apply for promotion or move to another job. If we are selfemployed, we are very much at the mercy of our customers.
If our earning ability increases, and our personal needs stay essentially the same,
it can be difficult to find the personal discipline required not to spend the extra.
There is no shortage of widely advertised opportunities to spend, and
governments tend to promote spending over saving (as Annie Leonard makes
clear). We are back to a point made at the very start of the talk: well-paid people
who have no money.

20

Control over personal finance

Control over expenditure: 0.0001%

Should I buy a newspaper?

Control over income: 10%

Should I take a new job?

This slide is nothing more than a little speculation: perhaps part of the problem is
that we can control our spending in the minutest detail; but although each of us
has some control over our income, we can control it only in coarse steps. If we
are employed, we can apply for promotion or move to another job. If we are selfemployed, we are very much at the mercy of our customers.
If our earning ability increases, and our personal needs stay essentially the same,
it can be difficult to find the personal discipline required not to spend the extra.
There is no shortage of widely advertised opportunities to spend, and
governments tend to promote spending over saving (as Annie Leonard makes
clear). We are back to a point made at the very start of the talk: well-paid people
who have no money.

21

Two closing thoughts...


The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary
of the environment, not the converse. Herman Daly
Have nothing in your homes that you do
not know to be useful or believe to be
beautiful. - William Morris

22