Category Archives: Policy discussion

It’s the student that creates the education

Posts to the UN NGO Thematic Consultation on Education on how to measure and improve education for the Post2015 UN development goals.   My series of three comments focus on the tools a student needs to create their own educations… NOT on measuring the productive value of their educations for business.  We did that already, and overdid it.   It would do both students and society a great deal more good to look at the basic competencies offered, to see if students are getting the tools they need for exploring the world, like having competence in math, reading, and understanding ‘relationships’.

Productivity is often the assumed purpose of education, but has produced an unsustainable spoiling and depletion of the earth’s resources, now straining all its human and natural ecological systems.   So it’s our students who need the tools for guiding their own educations, to take us out of that dilemma created by the poor learning of their parents.

Schools and teachers should mainly be judged by their own peer and served communities, only measuring achievement in core competencies, and create a new core competency in “relationships“. Understanding relationships is a new essential competency for living in a world thrown into disarray by rapidly changing relationships of all kinds, caused by our prior vast misunderstanding the relationships between ourselves and the earth.


What he needs is the tools not the answers...

World We Want 2015 – Thematic Consultation – Education

Quality of Learning – Week 2 Questions

1.       1. How should learning outcomes be measured and how can measurement of learning improve education quality?

2. What would be your recommendations to address and improve the quality of education in the post MDG framework?


I. E-Discussion TWO: Week 2 – Quality of Learning
JLH Tue, January 15, 2013 at 06:11 pm

1. Based on my understanding of quality of learning, the indicators used to measure learning outcomes should be:

  1. … kept simple.  We should only use unambiguous measures giving confidence in what is being measured, like “numeracy”, “literacy”,  “understanding relationships”, “understanding design”, i.e. rudimentary life skills. Continue reading It’s the student that creates the education

Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

There are a great variety of reasons to organize people

Sometimes it’s to discover something or to accomplish something
Sometimes it’s to connect people who share their views
Sometimes for people who share a common world from different views…
(but have remarkably different talents and views)

If you know of good examples or methods not mentioned here,
please post comments

It’s Collaborative Work between groups of stakeholders that often “don’t speak the same language”.  It takes art, patience and a sound method to get them to immerse themselves in the environment of the problem or opportunity that they need each other to respond to as partners.

They find there’s more to the reality than they thought, and to each other. Continue reading Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

Computers taking over our jobs and our pay?

It’s making business choices by computer

that caused the rapid shift of earnings away from wages, toward profits,
in three big ways,  explaining the massive shift seen in the data.

———— • ————

See also:
Robert Reich Feb 4 2015 article
in Salon
How even the “sharing economy” profits computers and sends labor backwards
and my long comment It’s computers programmed to maximize growing investor profits that naturally causes those effects.

———— • ————

Preface: My last post on the dramatic declining share of wages in GDP since 1970 mostly discussed that remarkable change in behavior of the whole system in relation to how the numbing complexity of business would make computers better “wage earners”, shifting income from wage earners to investors. Complexity too great to follow what’s happening… ?? The graph here is a simpler version, showing the same dramatic shift in the disproportionate changes in wages and GDP since 1970.

This post is on how the same shift from wages to profits reduces demand for the products, “made for people” but for which neither business decision making tools nor investors have an appetite.  The economy visibly changed behavior.  It was coincident with computer decision making emerging as a leading tool of business, and the historic numbing complexity everyone has experienced (reflected in changing language use).

The third important way is a later realization.  Computers are overwhelmingly better at making deterministic predictions… but can’t be programmed to consider human values, so they’re omitted from the rules for what to optimize… Computers are even more likely to keep applying old values that no longer apply than humans too.   When resource prices go up, for example, the old standard investment models say “speed up”, while nature is signaling “slow down”.

It may seem there’s nothing more dispassionate and “neutral” than automated decision making, but that easily becomes purely ruthless too.  So it seems to create a “perfect storm” of misdirection to use computers to multiply their programs in a time of fundamental change in our world. If the model says “choice A = X profit” there’s no way to tell if a different story would be told had humans studied how ‘A’ applied in the current circumstance, so the model built without human values also omits any way to argue with it.

You can see one global effect of this naturally “inhuman” decision making of computer models in their universal penny shaving for profit.  That seems directly behind the ever stricter control of decisions, since computers were introduce, by the computer’s measure of value, “the bottom line”.  Before that, business people needed to think of the business as a whole, and not a single number, ruling almost every choice.  So it produces ever growing pressure to “make money” for the sake of money, whether making a bit less to invest in other values might be a better fiduciary choice.

– See also A decisive moment for Investing in Sustainability
– Below are recent comments on a 9/3 Business Insider article by Charles Smith The Future Of Work In Americasuggesting “Technology and the Web are destroying far more jobs than they create.”

Author’s Note: 2/16  – My work on this problem dates back to the 70’s really, and my developing methods for “whole system accounting”.  In simple terms “whole system” or “inclusive” accounting means you can’t keep “robbing Peter to pay Paul” without noticing. It comes from the customary methods of natural science, not used in economics.  Instead of using arbitrary accounting categories, one uses naturally defined partitions of the whole system to define your categories.  One is ultimately forced to get it right by there being lots of natural reasons you can’t keep “robbing Peter” (calling what’s unaccounted for ‘externalities’) without dire consequences.

Whole system accounting models force you to look at what you are leaving out of the model, by requiring the use of accounting categories that add up to the whole, partitions of the system.   That’s what natural science does to validate the data collection and produce “closed accounting” of the system in question.   Oddly so do business financial accounts, but just not economic accounts.   Using partitions of the whole for your accounting categories forces you to estimate how much is going uncounted.   The first discussions of complete economic economic models of that kind are my 1983 General Allocation Theory and 1985 Unconditional Positive feedback in the economic system in the SGSR proceedings for that year.


1970 marked the sudden end of steadily growing US wages, as a sharply accelerating trend of growing economic inequity and loss or resilience began.

“Information overload” was a rapidly growing topic of conversation and
computers emerged as the premiere tool for driving business profit.


Was that how humans began to be replaced by technology,
as things got too complex?

comment 1.

I think the question is quite relevant, and in line with Nobel laureate Wassily Leontief’s 1983 warning that humans will go the way of the horse in the business of providing goods and services. What most people don’t know is that started dramatically in ~1970,

Indexing UN GDP (1880 to 2010) and US median wage levels (from 1948) at 1970 shows how they grew at the same rates before 1970, and then have been growing apart.  It shows the divergence between levels of wage incomes and wealth, a societal shift from earned incomes and wages, toward unearned income and finance.

It’s remarkably clear in the data, quite indelible as a “coincidence” between introducing computers for business use in ~1970 and the “the great divergence” of breaking American society apart with lagging earnings from employment and multiplying earnings from wealth. Why did it occur.   Following from my  2010 Complexity too great to follow what’s happening… ? one could explain it as cause by the numbing increase in the complexity of everything we do, affecting people but not the computers or the calculation of profits.   Looked at from a social view of ever faster increasing economic inequity… it looks more like people using computers to make money, robbing Peter to pay Paul and not counting it.

For those interested, here’s the same data without indexing the wage curves to GDP:

History US GDP with Percentiles of Median Wages approximately scaled as partitions of the whole

Continue reading Computers taking over our jobs and our pay?

Principles for detecting and responding to system overload

On now to recognize the somewhat universal responses to system and relationship overload, as strains resulting in loss of resilience and a risk of sudden disruption; replying to Helene on Systems Thinking World on her “UN Call for Revolutionary Thinking” thread.

The most general pattern is resilient relationships becoming rigid, like the surface of a balloon does *before* it can be easily pricked by a pin, or as people become rigid before losing patience.  I think that comes directly from resilient systems generally being organized as networks of things that share their resources, and when all the parts run out of spare capacities to share at once the system can’t be flexible, and is then vulnerable to sudden failure.


@Helene – Thanks for the reminder. Here are some principles for detecting and responding to the inflection point. Mathematically it’s “passing it’s point of diminishing returns”, when increasing benefit of expansion starts to decrease. Long successful habits of expanding a system become a liability, and strain their internal parts and environments.

It means about the same thing for a whole economy as for a little girl outgrowing her only party dress. Ignoring strain on one’s limits brings an unexpected end to the parties. The problem for systems operated by abstract rules of thinking, is that responding to change isn’t in the rules. So there’s a need to revive common metaphors for responding to the unknown, like for “overdoing it” or “crossing the line”, as strategic signs of externalities needing close examination.

Overload is a surprisingly common feeling, with visible effects

The most common signs of “overdoing it”, and needing new strategy, are formerly stable and flexible sub-systems

becoming “unresponsive”,
developing “the shakes” or “become rigid”

Continue reading Principles for detecting and responding to system overload

“Wasteful Splendor” Astoundingly expensive arts and crafts

We keep leaving unaddressed that political will is just not enough
to overrule the power of money.

It’s in the interests of money to change course, to use profits to offer services to the commons rather than exploit it till it fails.

Even spending on astoundingly expensive arts an crafts, like “building pyramids” to ourselves, may not be an ideal service to the economy and the earth, but is a far better one than investing profits to multiply demands on it.   It would generate earned income, which would then relieve debt.   It would keep profits from being used to extract ever growing unearned income, for ever growing inequity and debt.

Political will won’t have a chance otherwise

Posted to Climate Code Red 7/20/12

Yes, there’s a very solid case to be made to “do something”.  We’ve also been fooling ourselves from the start about political will being able to overtake and control the behavior of money.  Because for the past 40 years even discussing that subject has been avoided…,  now if we don’t face the need for a more comprehensive approach our efforts are clearly doomed to fail.

There’s also a readily visible, but somehow counter-intuitive, strategy that works for lots of businesses large and small, and for self-organizing systems throughout nature.  It’s for “the bosses” to recognize the system needs them to change roles, and become “service provider in chief” rather than “exploiter  in chief” for the system to survive and thrive.   A CEO of a large corporation or the managing partner of most professional corporations,  needs to be the lead service provider to their network of resources, not an authoritarian ruler demanding ever growing profits.

How to apply that same principle to the economy as a whole is for the financial fund owners (retirees, NGO’s, governments & the super rich) to use their profits to heal the earth, managing their funds like endowments.   Some already do, and that just needs to become universal.  That reverses the traditional practice using profits to multiply your exploitation of the earth for more.

Rearming a rag tag gang with guns that shoot straight…

On the Systems Thinking World, Helene and others had been discussing the sustainability strategy now called “circular economy” aka “cradle to cradle”.  That is a name change I was unfamiliar with that threw me off guard at first.   In theory, the economy would be “decoupled” from depleting non-renewable resources if they were 100% recycled.   That vision and intent are great.  It needs to respond to the past great failures of the same purpose, though, how “sustainability” was turned back into “business as usual”(BAU), to become a strategy for maximizing growth.   Continue reading “Wasteful Splendor” Astoundingly expensive arts and crafts

What sustainability & degrowth plans tend to skip…!

I’ve been working for 30+ years actually, on the mysteriously omitted features of sustainability and “no-growth” economic models.  It’s remarkably easy to demonstrate that the way markets work, multiplying money involves about equally expanding all the economy’s physical impacts on the earth.

So one is the perennial great omissions from the discussion has been how to end the endless “making of money” and so make investment growth responsive to natural finite limits.   Another is to deal with the problem misbehaving free markets, which just record popular choices, is direct evidence of popular misconceptions…  These are two very serious cognitive gaps in nearly all the “advanced” plans being discussed in Rio, is the problem.

I propose corrections for these in my two proposals, doing necessities first as a strategy, to avoid omitting them as the expedient popular plans keep doing:

1) and []

2) and []

They propose new institutions for adopting “commons based economic models” to make creating an sustainable world commons rather than development to solve the of world economic crisis, as proposed by Helene Finidori

3) and


Continue reading What sustainability & degrowth plans tend to skip…!

News of the Commons

The BIG news is that the commons got a lot of fresh attention in the 2012 RioDialogues, from the UN Commons Action Group site and its Facebook page, supporting proposals that Helene Finidori (1) and I submitted (2,3) for:

“New institutions.. for commons-based economic models”

a common trust and place to enjoy being at home

Helene’s proposal (1) won the voting for the“Sustainable Development as an Answer to the Economic and Financial Crises” topic in the RioDialogues vote, and good recognition!

The idea is to NOT use development, as the solution to the world economic crisis, but to create new institutions allowing develoment efforts to work together, to serve the whole.  It would create a sustainable world using “commons-based economic models”. The idea originates from the examples advocated by the Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrum, as the collaborative framework that competitive interests need so the whole can thrive.

Helene’s proposal is found on the next page, or by following the links (1).  Her new (Aug 2012) collected thinking on it is in,


applying her insights gleaned from the further Systems Thinking World discussions on the UN Call for Action, she started, and her original proposal also came from.

– 1) Sustainable development requires new institutions … to adopt commons-based economic models, originally posted to the 2012 RioDialogues

– 2) Biomimicry for a self-regulating financial commons

– 3) Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “ecobalance” sheets

Helene currently lives in Barcelona. She devotes herself to “Connecting people & ideas across cultures, disciplines & sectors to shape a better future…”. Links to her other writing and visions for the commons are:  In my dreams… the Living WE… accelerating emergence… and  The Commons at the Core of our Next Economic Models?

Continue reading News of the Commons

Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “eco-balance” sheets


A comprehensive method guiding investors
to compete for profiting the commons

It would not just count profits but also liabilities, in financial terms, using monetized business ESG balance sheets (eco-balance sheets), in combination with normal financial balance sheets.

Then everyone will see the real societal financial costs of making money today, that present or even past investors might well be held responsible for.


The full application of this principle is “A World SDG“, to provide TRUE MEASURES of sustainability for business, consumer and policy choices, and applying the basic science research for ‘Scope 4’ accounting and the 2011 Systems Energy Assessment (SEA) paper It is still “new science” though, and so demands fresh questions too.  It takes investigating the actual organization of the working systems of our world, looking for regular patters of in the system as a whole, what causes them and how they are change, more than theory.  It’s surprising both how little we notice going on around us, and how much we see but don’t notice what is implies.   A workshop method for opening people’s eyes to what’s really happening all around them can be found in the 3Step Method of Learning to Work with Nature. 

The original version of this proposal was submitted to the Rio+20 Dialogues for comment and voting as: Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “ecobalance” sheets, to compare environmental liabilities and benefits”. See “News of the Commons” for introductions to the vision and the systems thinking needed for a commons based approach to sustainability.  It’s part of my “reality math” series.

It’s proposed as part of the foundation of collaborative free market institutions needed for the health of the competitive free markets, as an element of Helene Finidori’s “Commons-Sense” and the “commons based economic models” she proposed.  Their intent is to solve the global economic crisis by making the commons work for the whole, as a replacement for the paradigm of “prosperity” with ever expanding development.

The proposal would accelerate how the business community is responding to their environmental liabilities. They’re hiring teams of sustainabilty experts, using comprehensive sustainabilty reporting (CSR) to track Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) factors, following both private and public standards, such as for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The reason business has a new interest in environmental liabilities is that they are driving corporate assessed values, as economic liabilities.

To protect natural resources local stakeholders would still need a say in the use of local resources.   To protect global resources for the future an equitable way to restrain growing economic demand is needed.   World standards for Comprehensive Sustainability Reporting (CSR) wold accurately assess the impacts of business products.  Then Economic Liability Assessments (ELA) of their economic costs to our future, would allow the world to act as a resource commons.   It would provide equitable market constraints on high impacts would, to suppress demand, and fund investment in alternatives.   ELA reports would be the basis of the “Eco-balance sheets” called for below, to be reported in business annual reports and factored into Pigovian taxes/tariffs on their products and services.

The basic scientific methods of doing accurate CSR and ELA assessments are what are discussed below.    The current statistical methods of environmental and economic accounting contain a major systematic inaccuracy. Simply said the error is in relying on tracing individual records rather than assessing whole system requirements,

an inaccuracy caused by not asking who sliced up the pie, to check the accuracy of trying to trace all the crumbs.

a scientific method difference
between economic accounting and systems accounting

Slices of a business energy pie mostly go uncounted when relying on traceable records, leaving out all the energy demands of business services.


Our Economic Liabilities for Environmental Damage
are direct costs of prior profits for business
that went unaccounted for.

New systems physics (3) would now allow the development of model “eco-balance sheets” to be placed along side normal “financial balance sheets” in annual business reports.   That would provide a clear and quicker way than others for using market forces to correct our systemic problem of unaccountable impacts on our future.

Businesses have long accumulated unaccountable impacts by investing in growing irreversible exploitation, and now accelerating depletion, of what once seemed limitless capacities of people and the earth.   It’s enormously costly for our future.

Investors and business managers can make better investing decisions if ESG measures capture the whole impact.

Those investment strategies incurred very costly economic damage to our future economy, that the businesses that created them were not charged for.   For estimating environmental impact costs like that there are various methods, and some major recent innovations. Continue reading Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “eco-balance” sheets

“The next big challenge” a biomimicry for a self-regulating financial commons

Using a new paradigm of biomimicry
to create a global self-regulating financial commons.

This proposal was submitted to the Rio+20 Dialogues for comment and voting. See “News of the Commons” for introductions to the vision and the systems thinking needed. It’s part of the foundation of collaborative free markets needed for the health of the competitive free markets, as an element of Helene Finidori’s “Commons-Sense“.  In this case to recognize that the profitability of the whole is threatened by a continued common investment strategy for growth, and needs a way to change to a common investment strategy for well being.

It works for us

Nature systems initially develop using a “bootstrap” mechanism, growth, that continually expands their control of their environment.  For any system’s own internal as well as external needs that self-investment strategy needs to become responsive instead ever more controlling to survive.

See UN Proposal to guide the UN SDG’s by this principle for OWG 7 & 8
Early version: Jan 2014 –
A World SDG- and way to thoughtfully manage global systems
This and the earlier versions contain a lot of good thinking…
the Most polished final version is a Feb 2014 proposal to the UN:  
A World SDG



A new economic paradigm: The next big challenge

The proposal is followed by a discussion of some of the systems thinking
on “the commons” that developed with a group of contributors to a Systems Thinking World discussion group. It is intended as a sample of the kind of “commons based economic models”proposed in the 2012 RioDialogues, by Helene’s Finidori, to solve the global economic crisis by making the commons work for the whole, as a replacement for the paradigm of “prosperity” with ever expanding development. Below is the original article (with references) for the UNCSD Rio+20 Outreach Forum Continue reading “The next big challenge” a biomimicry for a self-regulating financial commons

Adopt natural system principles to keep economies profitable at their limits

The collection of “Hacks” for the Long Term Capitalism Challenge offered byHarvard Business Review, McKinsey and MIX, for the M-Prize for Management Innovation now has this proposal from me…

Please leave comments for reviewers on The official competition entry at the MIX site (here too is fine for conversation).  If you request information I’ll respond as I did for Bill Rees, and post it if it’s OK with you.

It’s a nice new version of the long series of proposals for using natural economies as models for better ways to organize ours, a kind of systems biomimicry.

General References: (added proposal references at the end)

  1. For closely related world system biomimicry see “News of the Commons
  2. To introduce systems ecology “Self-organization as “niche making
  3. I got very good detailed questions on the MIX proposal from Bill Rees, and posted my responses as Questions from Bill Rees.
  4. For an introduction to the physics and general systems theory of natural open systems, see Natural Systems Thinking


The Summary

A good goal for growth would be to end at a stable peak of vitality providing a sound capital endowment for life on earth.  That would be better than ending at a peak of exhaustion, like other “tower of Babel” societies of the past such as Rome and the Mayans.

It can also be thought of as a change of “ism’s”.

It would also represent a change in form for our economic system, while still being the very same economy with the same people and rights, and reliance on creative innovation funded by investors.   By giving profits an end purpose, of caring for things rather than just for multiplying profits, it woud give the whole economy a very different purpose.    So, it can also be thought of as a change of “ism’s”. Continue reading Adopt natural system principles to keep economies profitable at their limits