The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Friday, 28 September 2012

How About a Maximum Wage

What’s the minimum wage?  I would guess that many who read this will be able to hazard a reasonable stab at the answer to that question.  Some of you may even be living on or just above the minimum wage.  Perhaps other readers are living where there is no such thing as a minimum wage.

Source: Glenn Caley Bachmann,
Creative Commons 2011
Now, ask the corollary to that question and there is likely to be no one who can answer it. What’s the maximum wage?  Well, er, um, you see…. there isn’t one.

There isn’t one?  Should there be one?  90% of respondents to a recent Sydney Herald poll said that they thought the amounts paid to some CEOs compared to their staff was obscene.  In the UK the “shareholder Spring” has seen 46% of the CEOs in the FTSE 100 companies having their basic salaries frozen.

So, without articulating the question itself it seems that Australians and Britons are considering answering that there should be a maximum wage.  With so much attention being given to the minimum wage there has been little given to a maximum wage.  It’s time to do so.

There is, of course, the moral case for putting a curb on salaries.  Fairness, equity and justice come to mind.  Some though, are unlikely to be swayed by moral arguments.  Increasingly pragmatic arguments for limiting maximum salaries are being raised.

Until the recent global financial crisis very few economists gave any attention whatsoever to income inequality.  James Galbraith (son of the highly regarded economist James Kenneth Galbraith) has likened those economists working in the field of inequality as working in a backwater.  However, a slowly growing body of economists are now undertaking research in the field.

One of the major findings that these economists are noting is that “the growing income divide help(ed) to drive the the global economy over the cliff in 1929 and 2008 (and) it is now helping to prolong the crisis.”1

I’m not an economist, hence I am in no position to offer a complete economic theory nor to suggest economic recovery packages.  One thing is blindingly obvious though: income inequality is not just unfair and immoral, it is also downright “bad for business".

A maximum income might just be worth throwing into any global economic recovery package.

“But that’s ridiculous” I hear those of orthodox economic theory cry.  “Where would be the incentive for innovation and investment?”

First, rather than fuelling productive investment over the past couple of decades, most of the growing surplus that has become available due to the growing income inequality has in fact been swallowed up in commodity speculation, financial engineering and corporate take-overs.2

A Basque Example

Second, income fairness can work, extremely well in fact.  Take the example of the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain.  Founded in 1956 this federation of cooperatives now employs 85,000 people across 256 companies.  Within each of these companies the wage ratio of the General Manager to the minimum wage in that company varies from 3:1 to 9:1, with an average ratio of 5:1.  This is a ratio far, far, lower than that of most traditional companies, with some CEOs on exorbitant ratios of 400:1 or more.

How are Mondragon companies faring in the current financial crisis, remembering that Spain is one of those countries hardest hit in the Euro-zone crisis?  Very well it seems.  The Basque region has an unemployment rate half that of Spain generally and the area in which Mondragon is concentrated has a rate even less again.

Arantza Laskurain (Mondragon Corporation Secretary-General) admits that Mondragon has been affected by the crisis.  But, she emphasises, the corporation is still growing and it is maintaining worker levels.

Yes, it’s time to bring in a maximum wage.  What is more, it can be done, has been done, it’s fair and it contributes to economic, business and social stability.

1. Stewart Lanskey, “Inequality, the crash and the crisis”, June 2012.  Lanskey is the British author of “The Cost of Inequality” published in early 2012
2. op cit.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Working The System (Part 3 of 3–Effectiveness?)

Source: Peter Pikous, Creative Commons
Where is the most effective place to create social justice?  Is it working inside or outside the system?

The answers to that question are no doubt well beyond the bounds of this blogsite.  The answers may even be beyond the purview of any of us.  However, we all have our thoughts and ideas about what should be incorporated into those answers.

I recently asked just such questions of a small group of colleagues and got back some fairly open-ended answers.

Part of the difficulty in attempting to answer these questions is the curly problem of defining “the system”.  One of the world’s foremost systems analysts, Donella Meadows, warns that
"there is no single, legitimate boundary to draw around a system.  We have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity; and boundaries can produce problems when we forget that we’ve artificially created them”.1
Where have I chosen to artificially create boundaries?  Working inside the system was loosely defined as including working in governmental bureaucracies (local and national), working for political parties represented in parliament and working for quasi-governmental agencies.

The problems that Meadows warns of arise in this case when we think of working for social justice which entails changing the system.  No longer is the system bounded by the definition of the previous paragraph.  The system that we are seeking justice within is much greater than the system that I defined loosely in the previous paragraph.

So, given this caveat, can we make any realistic attempt to suggest the effectiveness of working for social justice inside or outside the system?  Here are some thoughts, you’ll have to make up your own mind.

Almost all the respondents to my short survey suggested that working inside the system was at least “partially effective”.  The same suggestion was made of working outside the system: most said that it was “partially effective” or “highly effective”.  Both spheres of working were effective to some degree or other.

Comments from those working outside the system suggested that having allies inside the system was of great value.  Many of the respondents suggested that the roles of working inside and outside the system were complimentary.  The effectiveness of working for social change required both working inside and working outside the system.  Having said that, one respondent did say that they thought that working inside the system was “highly ineffective”.

What is the lesson from this?  First, I suggest, is that we must each find our own niche, role or sphere to work in.  There is no right or wrong.  Where we work is likely to be based on our feelings of what we are comfortable with and our expertise and experience rather than some notion of what is right and proper.  Second is that we must recognise the value of each of us and seek to build relationships of trust and respect, whether we work for a government bureaucracy, a voluntary community organisation or in some other capacity.

Finally, the following chart summarises the thoughts of the past three postings looking at the pros and cons of working inside and outside “the system” and the effectiveness of doing so.

Inside The System Outside The System
Pros Understanding the system
Like minded colleagues
Access to resources
Ability to make helpful decisions
Ability to mobilise quickly
Able to obtain support from others (e.g. pro bono work)
Fewer compromises to make
Answerable to yourself
Cons Inflexible
Can become identified as “the enemy”
Susceptible to corruption of power
Lack of resources
Lack of access to decision-makers
Lack of credibility
Demands of funding
Prey to factionalism
Effectiveness The effectiveness of working for social justice and change has less to do with working inside or outside the system.  The keys to effectiveness are the building of relationships based on trust, respect and mutual understandings of others roles, values and ways of working.

These three postings have not attempted to be any sort of comprehensive or definitive analysis of the pros and cons of working inside or outside the system. I do hope though, that the postings have given some leads on thoughts to pursue when it comes to the work that each of us does in our pursuit of social justice.

1. Meadows, Donella H. Thinking in Systems, 2008, p 97

Friday, 21 September 2012

Working The System (Part 2 of 3–Outside the system)

Source: Kliefi, Creative Commons
Is it better to work for social change from outside the system?  Part 2 of this 3 part posting suggests some of the pros and cons of doing so.

Most of the benefits of working outside the system suggested by respondents to a short survey were primarily of psychological, social and/or emotional benefit to the individual themselves.  Not surprisingly these benefits are often the very converse of the drawbacks of working inside the system.

Notions of freedom, independence and being answerable only to oneself were commonly suggested as the main benefits of working outside the system.  These benefits led to further plusses such as having less compromises to make and the ability to be flexible with workloads.

Perhaps because of the space that freedom and flexibility allow, a number of the respondents noted that it was easier to be creative by working outside the system rather than inside.  One respondent took this a step further and suggested that there is greater opportunity to be open to the Universe.  Yes!  It’s hard to imagine the complexity, fullness, openness and potency of the Universe having much room to move inside many of the bureaucracies, agencies and parliaments of the World.

Of significance to the potential to effect social change by working outside the system is that there is greater chance of obtaining support of others and greater openings for quick mobilisation.

However, working outside the system is not without it’s nuisances.  A sense of lack was often mentioned by respondents: lack of resources, lack of credibility, lack of funds and lack of access to decision-makers.  Even when relationships have been built with decision-makers the system often moved people on so that the opportunity to maintain those relationships is reduced.

A significant impediment to working for social change outside the system is that of being sabotaged by factionalism.  One only has to think back to the disputes of the 1970s and 80s as to which form of oppression was pre-eminent: race, class or sex.  Into that factionalised melee was also thrown environmentalism, gay rights, animal rights and even the peace movement.  Thankfully the recognition of inter-connection has allowed for a less flammable holistic social change movement.  The system still wishes to stir up embers and fan the flames of factionalism though.  Working for social change means having to be ever vigilant about ensuring to not get caught in forms of factionalism.

So, is it any better to work outside the system?  There certainly appears to be advantages for the individual in terms of their well being, but it is not without it’s frustrations, limitations and potential discord.

The final, third, part of this posting will explore the effectiveness of working inside or outside the system.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts related to the pros and cons of working for social change outside the system then please add your comments.

Part 1 of this series suggested some things to consider regarding the pros and cons of working inside the system.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Working The System (Part 1 of 3–Inside the system)

Source: oddsock (Ian Burt), Creative Commons
“They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom,
For trying to change the system from within.”
-Leonard Cohen, First We Take Manhattan

One of the perennial conundrums for people seeking social justice and working for social change: is it better to work inside or outside the system?  A few weeks ago I asked that question of some colleagues and others via a short, quick survey.

The number of people replying means that the findings cannot be interpreted as statistically significant.  However, they do give us thoughts to ponder.  Also, the complex question of what constitutes “the system” (and hence “inside” and “outside”) was defined very loosely.  Thus, when considering these thoughts “working inside the system” generally means working in governmental bureaucracies (local and national), working for political parties represented in parliament, a local or national politician and working for quasi-governmental agencies.

So, if you are working for social change inside the system is it, as Leonard Cohen bemoans, boring?  Furthermore, if it is boring, is the boredom worth it by being able to affect meaningful social change?

Humans work not just for financial gain but also for the sense of self-worth we gain, for human interaction and also for the feeling that we are contributing in some way to society.  Working for social justice is no different, although perhaps the desire to contribute to society plays a more significant role.

Amongst the thoughts suggested as to the benefits of working inside the system are that it is possible to gain a greater understanding of how the system works, being able to find colleagues of like mind and having access to resources and decision-making that can help people make changes.

Many of the comments about the down-side of working inside the system could be grouped under the heading of the impact upon individual psychology.  The system can be seen as an inflexible, unresponsive, inhuman juggernaut that brain washes the individual.  Working in the system means that one is constantly in danger of becoming tipsy with power, yet at the same time being conscious that this power is minimal and transient.

Bureaucracies and similar systems attempt to paint the world in rosy, bright colours.  If the individual is not careful then it becomes easy to slip into a self-serving attitude where it is comfortable and nice.  One respondent noted that this was the classic scenario of separation and divide, so that the individual becomes concerned only with themselves.

The scorecard then regarding working within the system is mixed:  some degree of ability to assist people, some comradeship.  Opposed to this a sense of being part of a non-human system from which it is difficult to escape without some loss of what it is to be a human (full of compassion and a sense of social justice).

Part 2 of this three part posting will look at the pros and cons of working outside the system.  Part 3 will then explore the effectiveness or otherwise of working inside and outside the system.  In the meantime, if you have any other thoughts regarding the pros and/or cons of working within the system then please add your comments.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Are Leaders Redundant?

Lao Tzu.  Source: Wikipedia
Some two and a half millennia ago Lao Tzu (author of the Tao Te Ching) remarked that the sign of the best leaders was that the people would not notice their existence and that when the task was completed and the "leader" had left the people would say that “we did it ourselves”.

Since Lao Tzu’s time, however, most of our leaders have been highly visible individuals espousing ideas, values and policies that most of those being led are willing to follow with determinism and loyalty.  That description may be rather lean on what distinguishes leaders and their followers but the general idea is, I think, fairly accurate with few exceptions.

Up until the last century the individual, charismatic, eloquent leader with vision, ideas and championing definite policies was possibly in the general interest of society.  But no more.

Our growth as social beings is bringing us to a break from that style of leadership to more collective, cooperative and co-existing ways of decision-making and taking action.  The complexity of the world demands it.  No individual can hope to access enough information or process enough ideas in order to make the decisions that society needs to make.  Indeed, an individual who attempts to tell us that they can is worthy of suspicion.

Danielle Annells makes exactly this point when pondering the choices she had in the recent Australian Local Government elections. “I’ve noticed that those who advocate for uncompromising positions on certain issues are the ones I’m least likely to vote for” she writes.

Annells seeks a change in the mindset of many of today's leaders.  We certainly do.  More so, we need a change of mindset at the very core of our understanding on how society makes decisions and takes action in the future.

The characteristics of such a new mindset include:
  • acknowledging that the issues facing society are complex.
  • recognising that we are all inter-connected and that we are intimately connected with the earth and her myriad of creatures.
  • understanding that data, facts and figures are only one piece of information available to us.
  • understanding that being rational is only one mechanism available to us for decision making.  We also have visceral, sensual and other mechanisms.
  • discovering our desires for greater say in the decisions that affect us and our descendants.
  • realising that we all have access to common sense and that no one of us have ideas that are of greater value than any other.
  • knowing that our current means of selecting our decision-makers is not designed to encourage the previous six characteristics.
Such a mindset may lead us to realise that leaders are redundant.

Since the beginning of the 21st Century there have been many books published alerting us to the dangers facing us (climate change, terrorism, inequality, water and food distribution etc.) and others that espouse new ways of decision-making to help deal with these issues.

However, there have been few attempts to critique the way in which we select our decision-makers and even less that suggest mechanisms that might enable us to tap into the rich tapestry of ideas and dreams of the vast majority of humanity.

The first step, I suggest, is that we must cast aside our notion that leadership resides in charismatic or eloquent individuals and that the only way of getting the “right” leaders into decision-making positions is to vote for them.

The second and further steps?  Well, that's up to all of us collectively, cooperatively and using common sense.  (This blogsite has hinted at some of those steps in previous posts.)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Water repossession (Part 2 of 2)

In my previous post I lamented the prioritising of military spending over that of access to safe, clean water for millions of refugees and others in the world.  Every week the world spends more than $33 billion dollars on its combined militaries.  That’s more than enough to reduce significantly the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.  It’s insane.

Meanwhile though, there is some sanity, at least at small local levels.  Here are two examples of individuals and small business attempting to repossess water on behalf of those without adequate access to one of the most precious resources on the planet.

Two women in Coffs Harbour, Australia, are cycling through Laos and Cambodia in an effort to bring water to some of the communities in those countries that lack access to safe, clean water.  In Laos the military connection raises its head in an extremely horrific way.  Laos was heavily bombed during the Vietnam/Laos war and today approximately 80 million tonnes of unexploded bombs remain there. The existence of these unexploded bombs make water collection a dangerous activity.

ChildFund Australia is undertaking the Laos Water Cycle in late November/early December to acquaint participating cyclists with the developmental issues facing communities in Laos. Each participating cyclist has a fundraising goal to reach and the women from Coffs Harbour have surpassed that.  Monies raised are being used to provide water tanks and toilets in three communities in a part of the country where 76% of households have little or no access to clean, safe water.

Across the world, in Nebraska USA, a relative of mine set out with a laudable mission: to invent and produce a single, revolutionary product that can permanently solve the water crisis for millions of people.  His non-profit organisation, Pure Water Revolution, had two goals.  The first was to “develop a simple and reliable water treatment system that provides a permanent source of high-purity, sterile water from any source of water, including ocean water, that can be easily deployed anywhere in the world.”  As Glenn proudly proclaims: “we succeeded”.

The second goal?  To raise sufficient funds to enable the system to be be fine tuned so that it can be used anywhere in the world.  By working with established non government organisations that have the infrastructure already in place Pure Water Revolution intends helping families gain access to clean and safe water.

How much is “sufficient funds”? Oh, about the amount that the World spends on its militaries every 18 seconds!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

How water gets stolen. (Part 1 of 2)

The issue of refugees and “Boat People” is a political hot potato in Australia.  The recent Australian television series Get Back To Where You Came From took six well-known Australians and placed them face-to-face with some of those boat people now living in Australia.  The six were then shipped (well, airlifted really) to parts of the world from where those refugees had fled.

It is not my intention to enter the debate on Australian refugee policy, but a comment by one of the six got me thinking.

The series producers had taken three of the participants to Kabul in Afghanistan.  The other three they took to Mogadishu in Somalia.  From Mogadishu these three were then transported to Dollo Ado, a group of 5 refugee camps in south-eastern Ethiopia.  Most of the 150,000 refugees in these camps had fled from neighbouring Somalia.

If you didn’t see the series then picture a hot, dry, wind-swept and barren landscape dotted with hundreds of ragged and torn tents.  Living in these tents are adults and children.  One of the most important daily activities is to obtain water.

Returning from an abortive attempt to help a Somali family family fill a container with water one of the Australians remarked something along the lines that “you’d think that the very least these people could have would be access to fresh water.”  Absolutely!  Without water we are dead within days.

So why didn’t they?  Why is there no water?  Is it that the United Nations (UN) has failed in it’s obligations as was charged in the same programme?

Blame?  Responsibility?  Fault?  Guilt?  We could pose and try to answer questions like that, but I think it’s more a case of mis-directed priorities.

Blame or Mis-directed Priorities?

Let’s think about it.  Currently, throughout the world, over one billion people lack access to safe, clean drinking water.  The UN estimates that 20 – 50 litres of water per person per day are required for drinking, cooking and cleaning.  How much water is that?  An average Australian or New Zealander uses that much water every two hours!  This is not written to make us feel guilty, rather, it is written so that we can understand just how little water is required.

So why don’t they?  Why is there no water?

Let’s look at some costs.  To supply water to those 150,000 in Dollo Ado is estimated at around $1 million per year.  About the same as it costs to maintain just one Australian or two New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan for a year.  Priorities!

That’s not the end of the water-military connection though.

The World spends US$1,735 billion per year on military purposes, with the US by far the biggest spender.1  In contrast, the United Nations budget for this year is $5.15 billion.  That’s right, the whole of the UN budget for one year is gobbled up by the World’s militaries in just one day – 365 days of the year!  Priorities!

The Water-Military Connection

Is this a fair connection to make?  Comparing the costs of water access to military spending is an arbitrary comparison isn’t it?  Perhaps not.  Consider these two connections.

There are over 10 million refugees in the world although the number of people displaced are many, many, more – 42 million. The vast majority of these are displaced because of wars and conflicts.  And the suppliers of arms for those wars?  The US, Russia, Germany, France, the UK and China supply over 80%.

Sometimes it is not just ongoing wars that create water problems.  For example, in Laos there are approximately 80 million tonnes of unexploded bombs littering the countryside, a legacy of a war that finished 40 years ago.  Gathering of water in such conditions is extremely hazardous and half the recorded deaths and injuries from these bombs involve children.

Yes, refugees in Dollo Ado deserve fresh water.  Yes, the UN could spend more.  The money required isn’t much but the machine gun, the tank and the missiles steal it from them.

1.  The US spends $711 billion per year on its military – the equivalent of the next 14 biggest spenders combined!