Category Archives: Transformation

on the transformation of our experience of nature as we recognize our part in it

Transition to New Blog Site

Posts on this site preceding this one were transferred from my oldest blog, I called “Alongshot“, from its site.   My main archive of blog posts is still at my original “Reading Nature’s Signals” blog, perhaps to be transferred at some point, and quite worth site searching for key words like this one for mentions of Keynes.

The move is really from one directory to another, on, needed to upgrad the format to WordPress 3.1.3.  The old blog site just got to be a problem.

My original systems physics research is still at The physics of happening, and scattered around, along with my collections of images, reference libraries, introductions and writing .

My subjects and writing style, of course, will remain just as “primitive” (whether you saw that as a liability or benefit I leave to you) so the software upgrade won’t really change anything but the look and feel.   ;-)

Defining netGDP for steering a planet

What’s the cost of increasing investment when you’re already over-invested…??

Many organic and environmental systems display talents for taking care of themselves we could use, using internal steering to avoid approaching hazards and be responsive to change. In studying how they do it one comes across some wonderful new lines f practical of environmental systems research.

fyi – originally posted to World Ecology Research, a related recent post here is Where I’ve gotten so far

Natural systems display remarkable feats of self-control, but studying them fail to connect with the current scientific paradigm for representing everything as controlled by external forces, described by equations. The internal steering mechanisms within natural systems, organisms and economies, etc, are continually reorganizing in much too fluid ways to be described by any kind of equation, or rules for collections of automatic agents either.

The continued interest of the sciences remains only entirely about control theory, unfortunately.The lack of interest within science hasn’t stopped people from productively exploring the territory, only prevented communicating with our wider intellectual culture.

If you look at recent scientific history there were a number of scientists who made great contributions to understanding natural systems, whose work on other questions was accepted while their insights into considering complex systems more like organisms was discarded. It’s not hidden from view at all, for example, that nature arranges environmental systems is as cells of organization.

Those cells of organization also clearly emerge from their own environments, by a self-animated complex process of growth. One needs only ask whether that organization is delivered from the outside or generated within, to observe that complex systems seem to grow by exploiting their environments not being controlled by them. Their organization develops internally.

So, my view that our intellectual culture now finds itself a simply huge stack of “overdue homework”. Just how extremely overdue that homework is may make it seem like nearly starting over, with the whole project of learning about the earth.

For the past several centuries we have been making ever greater strides by multiplying our control of everything on earth, only now to find the process itself going out of control … Considered as a whole system, our profits from controlling nature were constantly allocated by the capital markets to multiply our control of nature, taking it too far to now to gracefully recover from.

What we need are the secrets of nature, how her growth systems come to a climax of vitality rather than of exhaustion. Oddly the first person to notice the elementally simple investment allocation strategy for doing that was J.M. Keynes.

He actually wrote the whole concluding chapter of his theory of economic growth on the subject of its limits. It’s still the correct basic template for how our economic system could exhibit self-control in managing its own growth.

Tragically to the readers of The General Theory the idea appears to have seemed completely alien, and that is why it was entirely ignored as people used the rest of Keynes’ work to build a profoundly unsustainable growth system. As an ecosystem, the strategic use of your profits to multiply your process needs to stop sometime, just to preserve the profitability of the system, whether measured in net-energy terms or a proxy measure of value like money.

When the scale of a system is stabilized while it is still profitable, those profits then become available for the self-management task of steering the system that growth built.

In 2011, of course, there is no discussion of whether Keynes’s strategy for saving the growth system from itself would be needed now, or ever, and how much it would be worth to the world economy to survive as both a cultural institution and a physical system. In 2011, 80 years later, it clearly still seems to be such a “shocking new idea” that people perennially just turn their attention to other popular subjects to avoid it.

Of course, those more popular subjects are not relevant, in the case the system is not steered to survive physically as well.

Keynes discussion in Chapter 16 of The General Theory, was on the natural limits of money. He presented it as a choice for people accumulating savings in a profitable economy until either they a) choose to stop accumulating savings and use the profits for something else of value or b) have to stop accumulating savings in an economy that generates no profits.

Saving financial earnings for more investment as a rule would only stop when aggregate investment earning become zero. Keynes thought it would be fairly easy to have increasing investment become increasingly unprofitable, as of course, we now see with riveting clarity in our present conflict ridden environment, saying:

If I am right in supposing it to be comparatively easy to make capital-goods so abundant that the marginal efficiency of capital is zero, this may be the most sensible way of gradually getting rid of many of the objectionable features of capitalism. Ch 16, iv, pp3

The easy mistake is to confuse his “marginal efficiency of capital” (a measure of the system as a whole) with being a measure of market rates of return. The total of individual rates of return can be zero when the gains of some are canceled out by the losses of others, and measures only reflecting current rates and not enduring rates are misleading as well.

By not even looking for when increasing investment would become decreasingly beneficial, economists appear to have never seriously tried to devise a way to measure whether new investment was making the economy more or less profitable in the long run. There was no need, with perpetual growing profit assumed instead.

That then becomes the direct cause for economic policy ignoring the crossing point, where erupting financial liabilities went unmeasured and the net life-cycle return on increasing investment went below zero. Because we had not been asking we didn’t learn how to measure, the profitability of the system as a whole.

So Keynes’ strategy is simply and purely to keep the economic system profitable, to avoid effects of compound growth becoming unprofitable. I’ve done some of the key work on the physics of environmental systems that will enable that work, on how to make whole system measures.

That’s a study called Systems Energy Assessment (SEA)which shows from a whole environmental systems point of view how to combine “in-house” energy uses with “out-sourced” ones. The statistical finding is that (nominally) 80% of the total energy uses purchased as an operating cost of business are going uncounted. That will help to more accurately measure the real costs of business decisions both today and for the future.

The basic equation of whole system profitability, used to signal the approach of over-investment, can start as simply defining GDP as a “net” quantity, of positive and negative values. The negative GDP values would reflect the foreseeable emerging liabilities of unsustainable development in the past, for example.

That might also be thought of as a negative discount rate, as costs not only for mitigation, but for also having to prematurely rebuild the infrastructure of the economy if over expansion has made it unprofitable.

netGDP = GDP + negGDP

as an environmental measure depreciation due to over-investment in the earth.

One clearly needs to start by carefully choosing only firmly answerable parts of the question to ask, rather than just guessing at totals. You’d want to combine hard measures of clear financial costs with proxy measures to watch carefully, in attempting to make netGDP a true measure of the long term health of the system and the wisdom of its investment choices.

What happens in natural systems is that during initial growth netGDP > GDP as growth fosters growth. After the turning point (where “getting bigger” = “getting too big”) then netGDP< GDP.

One of the proxy measures that would seem most helpful, then, is to locate that turning point when the net benefit of expansion and the net liability of emerging conflicts could be seen clearly approaching. That’s the point when the natural role of finance is to switch from “growing the system” to “steering the system”, a whole new plan for the use of wealth.

The main cost everyone can understand is climate change. Our hidden financial liability for fossil fuel development is needing to basically redevelop the whole world economy.

As a round number we need to get rid of 80-90% of our carbon fuel use, in 30 years. All our development is still carbon intensive, though. There are greatly added liabilities, then, for still becoming further dependent on increasing fossil fuel use, as all the world’s growth strategies are relying on.

One need not have a theory to clearly see how difficult it is to reduce the carbon intensity of GDP. It’s had a remarkably slow and steady historical rate of decline, at about 1.3% per year.

So, the only apparent technically feasible way to do it is to lower GDP. Using Keynes’ template, that would done by creditors spending their savings to facilitate that without causing cascading failures in the interests of long term profitability, despite a current loss.

So yes, it’s a big problem, and people are emotionally inclined to do anything but just buckle down and ask the right questions. Somebody needs to, though, so that anyone can have a believable road map for making their decisions in the future.

We just don’t have any believable road map in public discussion now. We definitely don’t want to shrink carbon pollution by reducing living space and everything else, by 80%, for everyone to essentially share our homes and live with households with 5 times as many people.

That IS the math though. Could we find some sort of equivalent and make the transition profitably? Not in annual terms, but certainly, if we’re asking true netGDP with a view to the future.

As a culture we allowed the assumption that continued growth would always produce current multiplying profits, and we constantly discredited the people from Malthus to the present who pointed out the obvious grand error in that. To now “find yourself in the real world” we need to “study like hell” rather than keep playing games, and the way to make a profit today.



Why “going to the edge” makes you rich, and assures falling over

The problem with “going to the edge” in nature is she keeps moving the edge, back and forth.

It’s a trap. Having a practice of always maximizing your take and going to the limit leaves you vulnerable to natures perennial habit of leading you on when she moves it out, unaware that the natural next step is moving it back.

The things that are more of a problem are the ones your’e close enough to the edge of to make it impossible for you to respond to in time, when they move. The pattern of natural fluctuation is somewhat like an irregular pattern of breathing. Continue reading Why “going to the edge” makes you rich, and assures falling over

Wild Resiliency – thought is an ecological experiment too

A post to Wild Resiliency on The Seven Keystone Processes – adding that thought is an ecological experiment too.


I liked the statement at the top, that:

“we too easily believe ourselves to be the center of the universe and the measure of the world”.

How we somehow manage to conjure up the notion that the flickering images of our minds as the facts of nature, actually placing each human at the center of “their” universe, has long been a puzzle to me. I see its power often enough.

It’s a great deal of fun to have a quite believable universe to live in, much as a fantasy, where we each can have everything we see or experience mean anything we like to fit the other beliefs we happen to like. Continue reading Wild Resiliency – thought is an ecological experiment too

Competing Dashboard Options: Measures for saving the Earth & Economy

Designing a “dashboard” of “Outcomes and Metrics” for guiding worldwide efforts for our pulling back from the brink of of environmental catastrophe, to begin healing our relationship with the earth, is of some considerable importance, and a fascinating task. Below is one email exchange and links.

Applying the transformational vision of Four Years Go a work group developed a draft plan and resources for a comprehensive transformational approach you can find linked to our draft 4YG Dashboard (image below). We wanted to use a wiki to develop key indicators of essential changes in direction, of material, political and spiritual transformation, within 4 years.

Our starting points had been other models, like the Ursula Project’s metrics of sustainability and the European Commission’s MDG Goals Dashboard. We also looked at different PES (Payment for Environmental Services) approaches, and found them objectionable, and CSR (comprehensive sustainability reporting) models, but found them nebulous for our purpose, of defining concrete achievement goals. We ended up having difficulty deciding what to include, not understanding each other’s definitions, and with other 4YG work groups getting more attention.   We seem to have accomplished a lot in terms of the conceptual design, though.

The draft 4YG World Transformational Dashboard


You’re right, there still is a need for a more ethical ‘dashboard’ than the approach the financial community seems to be taking with “Payment for Environmental Services” (PES) instruments, and “Sustainable Performance Indicators” seemingly for monetizing all of nature for trading in new commodities markets, like repackaged mortgages are!

The Ursula Project model does show considerable effort in constructing a holistic measurement system.   Their metrics are interesting too.   They seem to rely on consensus value judgments, though, and not to identify physical boundaries or thresholds.

key indicators of essential changes in direction, of material, political and spiritual transformation, within 4 years.    Continue reading Competing Dashboard Options: Measures for saving the Earth & Economy

Economies that can become part of nature

from my Finance Lab blog posts

Nov 2013 note:  Since this popular post was written I’ve kept pushing my search for better explanations.  It’s basically a very simple universal principle for how growth leads to stability.   Every successful ‘project’ in nature, of any kind or scale, starts with using its resources to build more access to resources, expanding on itself, and then stabilizes by changing its strategy before it is overbuilt.    It’s easy to recognize that turning point in one’s own projects or new relationships.  It’s that point when you “have enough to manage” and can turn to bringing it to fruition, not taking on more for seeing good reason to secure what you already have.   Taking on more for no reason would threaten what you began.    

As a shift from taking territory to homemaking

Your self-investment strategy begins with searching for how to expand on a great beginning, using gains to expand your gains, and is uninhibited at first.  It’ll only succeed if sensitive to the approaching need to stabilize and switch to “homemaking”, and creating a secure “niche” in the environment for what was built.   What changes in the investment strategy is its “targeting radar” for the best use of its resources.  

As the organization is built up it first prospers by expanding its control of its environment, creating new internal organization and overhead costs.   The value of building by bigger and bigger steps (creating more overhead while depleting the availability of resources) naturally reverses.   Then like homemakers who “see success in sight”, the radar shifts to caring for what they built as a whole and that “near environment” it needs to be secure.  It’s a switch from taking territory and building bigger things, to caring for how things fit together and work smoothly throughout the whole, from aggression to caring.  


Mar 12 2010: Twenty-five years ago I learned that Keynes had come to the a similar conclusion I then had had, about how to achieve a stable steady state economy.  At the same time I found out Ken Boulding, the leading economic theorist and leader of the General Systems Theory community, had been talking about it for decades after Keynes too.   But their efforts had gotten culturally buried.

Because it was pure systems ecology, without any cultural roots in the business or finance community, his proposal seemed utterly radical.  He first called it “the widow’s cruse” after a biblical story about Elijah giving an old widow an inexhaustible cup of oil and bowl of flower (1, 2).

How natural systems can remain profitable at limits to growth.

Keynes’ had realized that capitalism would produce an over-investment crisis when the environment started producing diminishing returns.   At that time acting to stabilize growing investment, as his main work had been about, would destabilize the economy as a whole.

The real crisis would come from those with wealth continuing to increase their investment savings and so multiplying their investments and demands on the productive economy for growing returns.   The Increasing demands on the non-growing economy would then undermine the economy’s profitability to the breaking point.

It was called “the fallacy” by everyone around him, though, and so it broadly remains considered today, by the few who know of it.

Continue reading Economies that can become part of nature

The tragedy of Barak

from RunningOnEmpty post 1/18/08

Thinking 100 years into the future with assumptions from 100 years in the past… is a problem. It’s tragic to hear of Barak’s crystal clear statement about global warming.

We know that preventing global warming requires physically lowering our total resource footprint on the earth so we can live sustainably.   That directly conflicts with all his other policies for continually swelling our footprint by restoring continual economic growth.

Cost will rule and no one who remains competitive will be using clean energy. Continue reading The tragedy of Barak