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25 Feb 2010

Frank Field Tells It How It Is: “This Mega Debt Crisis Which Threatens Our Very Existence”

frank_28497tAmazing times. Last week’s headline of one of the papers I saw at the station was that the UK’s national debt is now worse than that of Greece. On Tuesday I spent the morning with Chris ‘Crash Course’ Martenson, whose view is that last year’s ‘banking crisis’ was just the first of many, which will get steadily worse. The interview I did with him will be posted next week. Then yesterday morning, in the middle of a piece on Radio 4’s Today Programme about immigrant workers and why so few unemployed people here want any of those jobs in spite of rising unemployment, enter Frank Field, Labour MP, who delivered a verdict on the state of Britain’s economic health so withering that it made Martenson’s predictions look positively rosy. Rarely do I hear politicians on the radio and feel the need to transcribe every word, but here it is. After my meeting with him, Martenson went to give a talk for the All Party Parliamentary Working Group on Peak Oil and Gas at the Commons… I wonder if Frank Field happened to wander in on Chris’s session?

(You can hear the piece on the BBC’s Listen Again for the next few days here. It raises fascinating questions about The Great Reskilling, and the scale on which it needs to happen.  I found his rant very thought-provoking… Field is second guest in a conversation that has looked at a BBC programme where unemployed UK residents were invited to do jobs usually done by migrant workers, and lots of them didn’t turn up for work, and those that did struggled to do the work).

“Largely your conversation up until now has been backward looking. It assumes that we aren’t in this mega-debt crisis which threatens our very existence, that we can somehow have policy options that we might have discussed 10 years ago. I think we need to look at this at different levels.  On the one level, we have schools who are producing people who are unemployable. In my own constituency, something like half the young people can’t get minimum school-leaving requirements. We are educating them for a life of unemployment. Secondly, we have tried to rectify that by the New Deal, and many of the young people, some clearly want to work, but others, who have no intention of working, know how to run that system.

Late in the day, but thankfully late in the day, the Government is actually doing a Job Guarantee Scheme, where people who are desperate for work will jump at that opportunity, and it will test others that maybe they have to adjust their expectation of the labour market. Some young people I speak to In Birkenhead (his constituency) quite openly say they have no intention of working unless a job offers up something like three times their benefit level, and I am talking about people who can barely read or write after 13 years of state investment in their education.

(At this point the interviewer points out that Field is delivering a withering critique of his own party’s 10 years in office, and how it has failed in education. Field retorts that this is not a party political issue, it is too serious for that….).

The big issue the country now faces, we’re in the period of maximum danger for our economy, our lifestyle in this country. The Government has been forcing banks to buy Government debt, and has been printing money to buy Government debt. We are now in a period where the ‘funny money’ has run out, although the Bank of England Governor yesterday said maybe he would start printing money again.

We do not know whether the rest of the world will lend us the money to maintain our debt levels, and therefore hopefully readjust to a lower standard of living, which is what this crisis actually means. In that situation, though we keep cheering and saying we should force these policies on Greece, nobody in this country is talking about those similar adjustments, about how do we cut our public expenditure, which includes welfare, to ensure that the money markets lend us that money.
I would prefer that we did this rationally, that we said to people “you are going to have to take those jobs which up to now immigrants have taken” …. One small part of this major readjustment we have to make as a country that has a wall of debt sinking it, is that the welfare rules are changing, there will be a job guarantee, but if after 4 weeks you don’t take the job guarantee there is no benefit. We have to change attitudes on that level”.

Categories: Economics, Politics

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Brad K.
25 Feb 5:02pm

I wonder, if unemployment shouldn’t be redefined.

Classic, government unemployment means “employed in the formal economy, such as to put profits in an employer’s pocket”. There is an informal economy. Day work that doesn’t get reported as income. Unpaid services and produce, from gardens to hand made toys, to neighborly hair cuts and home clothes mending.

As housewives everywhere, and househusbands, too, know – there can be living in the informal economy.

Perhaps now would be a good time to look at “unemployment” – and whether localizing production, incrementing gardening and small farming with little mechanical assistance might be a worthwhile place for communities – not nations – to turn their attention. Perhaps charity farms, perhaps even feudalism organization could take in workers in exchange for work, and providing minimal clothes, food, and shelter, with little or no monetary remuneration.

Shaun Chamberlin
25 Feb 5:12pm

Sorry to report that there weren’t any MPs in attendance at Chris’ appearance at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil, although it did set a new record for attendance by non-MPs (you know, people, like). I recall being assured after my talk there that interested MPs tend to send researchers etc to report back to them though..?

Also, a really interesting time was had at a two and a half hour seminar Chris led yesterday at LSE, which attracted a fascinating cross-section of concerned individuals (though admittedly still no MPs!)

The head of Complexity studies at LSE is a big Transition fan

Gary Alexander
25 Feb 5:35pm

I keep thinking more and more that we will need a big economic crisis before there will be much change, at any level. Transition people are doing a little, but even we mostly keep on with our conventional lives.

We need to be doing just enough now, and thinking through carefully what we want, so that when a crisis hits we will have the prototypes that win the day.

And we have to hope that the crisis is just the right size: too small and it won’t make enough difference to be viable, too large and there will be chaos that will destroy most of our projects.

Sheila Kingdom
25 Feb 6:02pm

I agree with Brad: Once upon a time there was a need for an elite group to run the empire. I suspect that any subsequent review of education has not addressed the need to prepare young people to live in the real world:
I understand that there are citizenship and personal skills courses, but when my reasonably bright offspring left school for university, I was astonished that I needed to draft “how to manage a budget” on back of an envelope, and give them a brief run down on council tax,and how to manage the paperwork for a tenancy agreement…
Money management,household management, food preparation and responsibility to the community has always been important to me, and I thought I had conveyed this to my children.
I am currently unemployed in the conventional sense of the word, but I am enjoying a wonderful opportunity to spend time with those who need me, learning new stuff, practicing the domestic arts and other things that full time emplyment precludes. I like it! My “old fashioned” education has prepared me for this eventuality.
Let’s go back to barter and exchange of talents

Annie Leymarie
25 Feb 6:23pm

Re Gary’s comment that we need to “think through carefully what we want”, I was surprised to get the following appeal this week from the ’38 degrees’ team and frankly find it confusing:

Today, 58 leading economists have written to the Financial Times, to tell the Chancellor and the Shadow Chancellor it’s a bad time to cut public spending [1]. The experts say that it’s too soon to know that the UK economy is recovering and that cuts too early could send us into a disastrous ‘double-dip’ recession.

This recession has hit the UK hard. Millions of us have suffered unemployment or the stress of feeling our jobs and homes under threat. There are some signs the worst may be over, but there’s a danger that recovery may be threatened by politicians competing to look tough on cuts.

The economy will be a key issue at the general election. But if politicians and the media get obsessed with a race to cut spending, protecting jobs and homes could be neglected. We need to prove that the public want politicians who put jobs and stability first.

Please help add to the pressure by signing the petition – it takes less than a minute:

A massive petition against cuts will capture the media’s attention, and persuade journalists to challenge politicians to show us their plans to reduce unemployment and poverty, not just their plans to cut spending. Politicians and the media don’t always listen to experts – enough of us speaking up will help shift the debate.

Last November we showed that when enough of us work together, we can change the economic priorities. Thousands of us emailed the chancellor in support of a tax on bankers’ bonuses – thanks to our pressure, the tax was introduced. Now we can do the same again – to demand the experts are listened to and to shift the focus away from a race to make cuts and onto protecting the recovery.

Sign the petition to tell the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor to make jobs and financial stability the priority:

Thanks for getting involved,

David, Hannah, Johnny, Nina and the 38 Degrees team

PS The 58 economists include two Nobel prize winners and several professors. You can add your voice to those who say it’s too soon for cuts by clicking here:


26 Feb 11:21am

Dear Robert, You are familiar with the concept of peak oil. The concept of peak applies also to debt. I cannot elaborate here adequately on when a given level of debt is too high, but think of debt as a fuel: it allows you to spend more than you would do otherwise. You will agree that a certain moment you may discover that you are consuming too much fuel. What happens next is a further topic, but there is a need to readjust. To move from astonishment to action, or preferrably to ‘local action’.

Kenrick Chin
26 Feb 3:27pm

There is one area that Transition Towns cover only at the periphery which Chris Martenson’s “Crash Course” deals with in great detail. Everyone within the movement should make it their committed duty to sit through all twenty chapters of the video available free at the link provided in the above post. There are few others who bring this message to the public’s attention, but most notably, American David Korten in “Agenda for a New Economy – From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth” and Canadian Mike Nickerson in “Life, Money & Illusion – Living on Earth as if we want to stay”.

Here in a nutshell is my understanding of the situation. Interest bearing money is created by the money masters and the ruling class. Monetary expansion is an essential necessity in a growth economy which serves only to benefit the masters of the capitalist system. We labour for a wage, not just to bring food to the table, but to fulfill the greed of the ruling class to expand their wealth and power. We are labouring to honour past sins of the money masters just as how future generations will have to labour in order to repay present excesses.

Wherever you are employed, ask yourself the following. Does your job move currency around by promoting material consumption or does it produce genuine human wellbeing?

Local currency and interest free money has a vital role to play in the Transition movement if we are going to make the transition to a new economy. Thus, I eagerly await the release of Peter North’s book on “Local Money”.

Brad K.
26 Feb 5:00pm

Kenrick Chin,

Oh, please. “the money masters and the ruling class”, “to fulfill the greed of the ruling class”, “promoting material consumption or does it produce genuine human wellbeing”.

The only immobile class systems I am aware of, are the communists. For the most part, the rest of the world has some access to mobility between economic classes, perhaps more limitation for some individuals than others, but each society has an escape mechanism.

Capitalism, using some form of money – local currency, national “masters of capitalism” coinage, or sea shells – is about as brutal and malicious as the hand using it is allowed to be.

Where you decry greed and wealth, consider that the person bereft of affluence works hard to subsist. Accumulation of assets lets higher social functions happen – some few get a nicer place, more peons to lord it over (or is it, people not scraping to survive? Curious point, that.) – or enable improvement of services, of community development. Without wealth, an accumulation of assets, there can be no care for the sick, the injured – especially if the patient can not be expected to produce enough to maintain themselves.

I do not think that I will have a happier life it you were to lose your job. Or to lose your wealth, or family. In fact, enabling and encouraging you in your life might produce a beneficial effect in my life. Maybe.

I do not understand why it is so popular to decry the accumulation of assets. Thievery, fraud, malicious gossip, brutality, corruption, these are evil. Greed? It depends. Too often, in order to include every evil, greedy people, all wealth is deemed evil. It just isn’t so.

Whether the system of assets is food, coins, local currency, or international debt, merely accumulating assets provides opportunity that will never exists, without the accumulation of assets.

Taxing the rich, tearing down social structures to prevent “greed” – this is evil. Consider, that any wealth not actually buried under the mattress – is feeding and clothing someone, and gets passed around to more and more people.

So, please, let’s not build any piles of dead enemies to build a “sustainable” house upon.

Patricia Dodd Racher
27 Feb 1:22am

I agree with Frank Field. We are not prepared for the unpleasant repercussions of our massive debts. Perhaps we, the public, haven’t paid enough attention so far to the dangers of the financial equivalents of casinos, betting shops and lotteries: financial derivatives. The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) keeps a tally of these innocuous-sounding ‘products’. I could not believe the figures when I saw them. BIS’s Quarterly Review for December 2008 showed (Table 19) notional amounts outstanding in what are called ‘over the counter’ financial derivatives, and they were, in June 2008, US$683.725 trillion, or $683,725,000,000,000. That was $102,048 for every man, woman and child on earth. ‘Over-the-counter’ derivatives are negotiated and traded directly between two parties, without the intervention of an intermediary or an exchange. There are trillions of dollars more in outstanding derivative contracts that have been sold through intermediaries, some $548 trillion at the start of 2008, making a grand total of over $1.231 QUADRILLION, in round figures $1,231,000,000,000,000. And that’s now two years out of date.

While the entire amount should not be at risk (barring total collapse), no one has any clear idea of the proportions that are vulnerable: 10% of the total? 20%? Even defaults of 10% would be more than twice the total value of goods and services produced in the whole world in 2007, $54.62 trillion at official exchange rates, according to the CIA World Factbook.

One response to current and potential future debts is ‘quantitative easing’, which used to be called ‘printing money’ but is now a matter of staff in a central bank tapping out digits on a computer keyboard and transmitting them electronically, principally to banks and other financial institutions, to buy back government bonds. Theoretically this process puts a (temporary) floor under the price of bonds and enables the sellers pay off some of their creditors. ‘Quantitative easing’ as a financial practice assumes that increasing the money supply will generate economic growth that in turn will allow borrowers to repay debts. The assumption that economic growth is the answer to our woes, though, is wrong because continuous growth in a finite world is impossible.

When we consider the impacts of climate change and resource depletion, we see food supplies reduced by droughts, floods and storms. We see pressure to cut carbon emissions, and that means using less energy. We see declining availability of oil and gas, and of metals. We see that less ‘economic activity’ means tax shortfalls for governments, and thus fewer public services. Adjustment to the new realities will be painful, but if we do not adjust there is no viable future for us. To help us on the way, I think we need, as a start:
• Effective and co-ordinated regulation of all banks and investment houses.
• Stringent limits on financial derivatives.
• Tax havens to be phased out.

We should say goodbye to the World Trade Organisation, which is a benefit organisation for international business, and should restore nations’ capacities to manage their own economies. We still need supra-national organisations to provide aid and to help resolve disputes, but they should be under firmer democratic control.

For us to have any chance of coping with such seismic economic shifts, it will be necessary to forge stronger family units, with greater levels of economic self-sufficiency; to expand national and co-operative savings; and to invest in local agriculture, local manufacturing, energy saving and green technologies. It’s no use expecting the chief executives of global corporations, or indeed anyone else, to do this for us. We have to do it ourselves.

Tim Neumann
28 Feb 11:27am

I know this is going off the topic of unemployment slightly… but

I strongly agree with Brad K in the wealth in itself is not evil, and the accumulation of wealth is a good thing, but it must then be distributed with benevolence and a lot scrutiny.

I think here lays a large part of the problem, the way we spend our money. We are ignorant, and devoid of enough options. There is also not enough transparency to show us what it is we are buying, there is not enough effort made to understand the impact of how our money is being spent, and there are not enough positive options available.

Capitalism is not in its nature evil but at the moment it is sick. I think that ‘triple bottom-line consumerism’ is a large part of the answer. (That all decisions are based on a balancing out of Economic, Social, and Environmental concerns).

This in itself helps unemployment issues, as buying local services and products is almost always better. (Local currency could also be of benefit)

There is definitely value in what Kenrick Chin has to say in that there has been too much focus (too much money to be made) from speculating with other peoples money on the stock markets, and not enough focus on creating worthwhile products and services (for me worthwhile incorporates a triple bottom-line). And unfortunately due to the nature of most Multinationals being listed on stock markets, there first concern is always to make profit.

But for consumers, our first concern is generally value for money, so we are also to blame.

We can shape the future a little every time we spend money. Our whole system is driven to supply demand, and so if we increase demand for ethical and environmental products, the whole market will start to shift in this direction. And I mean honest products not some green-washed make you feel good rubbish.

I like to think that we get to vote every time we go to the shops. It is time for us to educate ourselves and understand exactly what it is we are funding.

28 Feb 4:03pm

Hi Folks,

What is actually needed is a new vision. The old systems with capitalism/communism at their extremes are old measuring sticks that need to be discarded. They all predicate unlimited growth on a finite planet, and an inequitable distribution of the means to live with corruption at all levels from expenses fiddling to outright fraud and theft as seen for example in the banking sector (Madof et al), and are found at both ends – capitalist and communist.

This level of ‘re-skilling’ or re-conditioning of multiple human psyches is probably impossible; the process started at such an early age (see: for example)

Arguments about who does what, when, where, and why are irrelevant in a system that is predicated on material growth and consumption, with a reductionist/deterministic/competitive philosophy at its heart, that is fundamentally at odds with a symbiotic planetary system. (see anything by Lynn Margulis or Mae Wan Ho for example)

What most people miss in the whole ‘British workers can’t do immigrants jobs’ is the third piece of the lassaiz-fair neo-liberal project: freedom of movement of goods and capital was achieved after WWII, but labour proved stubborn to get moving – the UK was one of the first to embrace this notion with the freedom for those in the ex-colonial states to move to the UK. However like all ideals this one was left wide open to exploitation. I recall a group of young friends working lettuce fields in the early 90’s earning about £40 per day for up to a 12 hr shift. Then one day a van arrived full of (illegal) migrant workers, with a gangmaster (who took a cut) who offered to do the job for less – a lot less. While £40 a day wasn’t much even back in the early 90’s, it was typical of the work available for young free and single traveling types, and often set them up for more secure employment later on. While anecdotal, this example shows how the whole idea of free movement of labor has been abused turning the migrants themselves into a form of slave labour (witness the poor Chinese cockle pickers). Also the very notion of an (such a reputable) agency as the BBC ‘inviting’ people to take the place of migrant workers (who no doubt were themselves hand picked – i.e. not under the auspices of a gangmaster) whose earnings relative to their home land might be greater than a factor of 5 (or even by a factor of 10 – the UK is one of the most expensive places on the planet to live!) beggars belief.

Anyway, this is turning into a rant. For those actually interested in finding out how systems work, check out John Gall’s “The Systems Bible” – it will make you both laugh and cry…

As for how Transitions pans out, well we shall have to wait and see…


Patricia Dodd Racher
1 Mar 11:27am

Thank you for the illuminating comments, Sid, and for the reference to John Gall’s ‘The Systems Bible’, which is new to me and which I will aim to read. How can we increase public awareness of natural and man-made systems, and the unpredictable outcomes of interactions between them?
I agree with Gary that, unfortunately, major change will not occur without a crisis to propel it, but that is a lesson of history.
Re. wealth creation as a kindly process enabling ‘trickle down’ benefits, when I look around the world I don’t see it in practice. And what about the $ billions invested in the arms and security industries, the only ones exempt from WTO rules on ‘free trade’?

Brad K.
1 Mar 4:29pm

Tim Neumann,

“We are ignorant, and devoid of enough options.”

I suspect the issue of mis-spent money is one of affluence. The desperately poor seem to make fewer purchases that damage the economy or ecology, that waste relatively less resources, especially relating to fossil fuels.

Most of the argument is about conspicuous consumption and other forms of un-needed spending. Affluence. Perhaps most especially, the worst atrocities of conspicuous consumption and waste of resources occurs as a result of public spending. The (now defunct) American “war on poverty”, social support spending, does an incredibly inefficient job of routing a portion of collected tax dollars to inadequately support a lot of people – in the fond expectation they will vote for one political figure or another.

One advocate for spending on space research and exploration pointed out in the late 1960s or early 1970s, I think, that a million dollars spend on any US NASA program employed more workers, feeding more families, than that same money (after costs and wastes of government programs reduce the available total) spent on direct payments to those in need. The illustration was focused on benefits received for the government spending, and didn’t include the results of research that have extended lives, improved nutrition, and understanding of human health that have resulted from space research dollars. (Umm, as I recall, government programs were measured in millions and *tens* of millions of dollars, back then.)

Rather than struggling to sustain today’s affluent “bad choices abounding” lifestyle, there is relatively little motion to transition to something sustainable at a lower level of energy and dependence on unlimited economic growth. Unemployment benefits are transparently geared to be temporary supports for the worst of the consumerist paradigm.

Individuals and Transition Towns working towards a more resilient and sustainable lifestyle and life’s work tend toward those with sufficient assets – to have the luxury of making choices with their lives. Any real change has to take into account the masses displaced as a consequence of the financial collapse, and the looming crises as world economies begin recovery – and demand for oil skyrockets.

I don’t see any significant motion, such as a homestead option, to occupy and nurture those already displaced from the flailing economic and political structures we have today.

Patricia Dodd Racher,

Many years ago, a middle school teacher told my class that the trickle down thing works, though seldom for everyone. When a company moves work to a “sweat shop” overseas, that is a temporary exploitation of starving people, at worst. The influx of money, at however abysmal the wage, creates demand, and competition, and wages increase. For the loss of 100 jobs in an industrial nation, 500 families might get better food, medical care, elsewhere. And in 20 years, they are no longer that cost-effective to compete for jobs – and have become markets for consumer goods themselves. This model has played out across the world, with varying degrees of success and benefit, for centuries. That is, nations and industries generally benefit. People, as always, get caught between the armies and merchants, between poverty and neglect and corruption – and peace and prosperity.

Jon Brooke
2 Mar 1:10pm


I’m not trying to be rude, but I’m struggling to see any point in either of your posts, except maybe “relax, everything is fine”

You seem to be having a bit of a go at those in the transition movement for being affluent enough to be able to afford to do so?

Patricia Dodd Racher
2 Mar 2:17pm

Brad K, Accepting that in short posts we can’t acknowledge the full range of economic complexities, surely people who lose jobs also lose income and thus are no longer a consumer ‘market’? Unless, of course, their purchasing power comes largely from public-sector employment and from welfare benefits. We know that the UK government will have to cut back on both, because they have become unaffordable. Therefore our consumer purchasing power will shrink.

Tim Neumann
2 Mar 2:48pm

Hi Brad,

I am not looking to get caught in a debate, I agree with you that the desperately poor contribute less to the damage of the environment. The is pretty much self evident.

But in a world with figures of around 5 billion middle class citizens (who are largely responsible for most of the carbon we create). I think that this is a worthwhile issue to address, especially as it is an achievable one.

I don’t think that this is the only solution or even necessarily the best one, but I think it is one that is going to be easier to sell to the mainstream (I live in Australia, but I assume there are significant similarities to anywhere in the western world), some of whom still deny anything ‘man-made’ is really taking place, and most of whom are so comfortable in their lives that they have worked hard for that they do not want to give much ground up.

The problem is as stated by others here, that nothing significant is going to change before a disaster happens. But there is a chance, just a small one, that if we can actually make massive inroads into the amount of greenhouse gases our consumption creates, and restructure the way we do business then we might decrease the size or avoid the disaster.

I actually agree with Sid ‘What is actually needed is a new vision’. But as he alluded to, the vast majority of the world, isn’t even close to being ready to accept a new vision.

Brad K.
2 Mar 3:32pm

Jon Brooke,

I think I am still looking for a better answer.

My comment about affluence and the poor is the artificial way welfare payments usually perpetuate an illusion of affluence – of continuing the pre-packaged, individual dwelling, individual transport lifestyle of the upper middle class. It doesn’t work for those receiving welfare, but it doesn’t help people achieve an independent, community-involved, secure way of life, either. What welfare does do for recipients and others pursuing the “looks like affluent” lifestyle is to perpetuate a demand for the high energy products and structure of living that keeps the world rooted in huge demands for oil.

I am trying to understand how there can be people in the past, such as pioneers and peasants, that could live lives from atrocious and fraught with insecurity – to comfortable – without oil and high energy products. Yet we aren’t trying to learn much, or involve today’s very poor, in breaking away from Government Minimum Standards.

Humankind survived and persisted to grow into out modern society – often with large families in single room dwellings. Yet today we are guilty of child abuse for putting three children in too small a bed room, and heaven forbid pubescent children should share a bed room with siblings or parents. Is this morality, or encapsulated conspicuous consumption?

Throughout history the elite have chosen attitudes and displays of wealth, often uncomfortable or requiring multiple assistants to dress or conduct their business of the day. How many of our attitudes must we challenge for sustainable energy suitability?

As for the comment about affluence and welfare assistance, that was a revelation on reading a previous comment, that welfare payments are an attempt to bestow middle class level consumption ability on the poor, and not a reasoned attempt, free of preconceptions, to sustain a comfortable and secure life.

It seems to me that pulling people into a comfortable and secure life, free of the cheap energy assumptions of conspicuous consumption, is the only sustainable way to reduce reliance on welfare assistance. I haven’t seen that happen.

I wonder if part of the transition mind set might be to reinvent affluent living, and not sufficiently challenge the attitudes and assumptions of today’s society – or who *needs* the Transition the most, and who needs it the most immediately.

Another example of attitudes I question is ambition. Today’s assumptions that real children need college to be real people overlooks the fact that not everyone has an ambition to succeed. In engineering disciplines the schools seem to universally inculcate a career definition that demands advancement within five years or else. What happened to the craftsmen, the horseshoer, the miller, the carpenter, that learns a trade and serves the community in the same capacity for a lifetime? How reconcile a parent’s role, enduring from the mating ritual until the grave of planning for, caring for, nurturing, and guiding one’s children, with an assumption of unlimited growth in status, in authority, in responsibility and power, throughout one’s career – or that one should stop working while still able?

When did “servant” become anathema to self respect? Why does having sufficient wage to live alone with all the appliances and living space and travel time, become the minimum acceptable? Can we afford to overlook the live-in help – providing a place for someone willing – for room and board, and the odd set of clothes and gift of actual coin?

How long will it take to learn to build communities with corner stores within walking distance, again, and multi-family or multi-generational homes, or for the affluent, a place for a helper or servant – or five – to provide a place for those interested and replace the need for high-energy devices?

I have seen arguments that seem reasonable for many changes. I myself wonder how to contact WalMart and Ikea, and suggest they begin working on creating neighborhood branches that draw customers from less that 1.5 miles – instead of today’s intention of drawing people from 30-50 miles, creating a vastly larger expenditure of fuel for a commute-mindset community. I see a bit of chicken and egg thing here. Until we build homes and stores on the assumption of limited personal travel, no one will build that way. And no one will build that way while the community continues to focus on residential zones and business zones and industrial zones without counting the fuel expended to move people over great distances to work and shop efficiently for the merchants involved.

I am not enough involved in Transition to prove or disprove anything. But there are some questions that arise for me, and some topics that seem pertinent, like artificially perpetuating an affluent market place through welfare assistance.

And perhaps I fell for a smart-sounding phrase, one time, that a well-asked question may be more important than any answer. I am still working on the “well asked” part.

Jon Brooke
3 Mar 4:41am


First, apologies for not seeing that you put up the first comment as well as the two I responded to.

I’m sure many people (here) wonder whether our current welfare system is sustainable, but probably doing anything about it is not very high on most people’s action plans. I suspect that with the transition movement we’ve still got an awful lot more “low-hanging fruit” to pick before we start putting too much time into persuading the less affluent and less educated (stop me if my generalisations are offending anyone) sectors of society to give up on wanting the things that they still see the vast majority of the population “enjoying”

On the other hand I’m sure there are ways to make transition appealing across social boundaries. For example, we have some people in our group (Transition Purbeck) who are very interested in community supported agriculture, and it would be great to see something like a market garden or community farm get started that would involve the local schools and thus extend the transition message across social boundaries in a way that is actually fun.

Personally I think that practical initiatives like that are going to be more effective in drawing people in than simple reasoning in the face of the barrage of marketing messages that most people face every day.

Brad K.
3 Mar 3:35pm

Jon Brooke,

It comes to me that if catastrophic economic decline hits, or even a gradual decline proceeds, that many of us will need the kind of transition that today’s poor needs. I believe part of my attention to this particular demographic is to prepare the tools and processes for what are likely to become the most needed.

3 Mar 9:48pm

I suspect that with the transition movement we’ve still got an awful lot more “low-hanging fruit” to pick before we start putting too much time into persuading the less affluent and less educated (stop me if my generalisations are offending anyone) sectors of society to give up on wanting the things that they still see the vast majority of the population “enjoying”
too much here to even begin to counter but if by well educated you mean prepared to do just about any made up, over paid soul less job as long as it pays too much then fair enough.

Jon Brooke
6 Mar 11:51am

Julian, I don’t think I need to define “well educated”. Actually I think that trying to draw some precise definition is rather a waste of time as we will all have our own concepts about what that means. Ditto “poor”. That’s why I apologised for my generalisation when I made it.

But being totally pragmatic, what I see at the moment in the transition movement is mainly relatively well educated, relatively well-off people. And as involvement in transition is purely voluntary and open to all, then clearly there are cultural / societal reasons that it has the membership that it has.

So, as the numbers involved in transition are currently tiny, then maybe the way to go to increase numbers is to concentrate on reaching out to the sort of people who seem already somewhat predisposed to having an interest?

I’m not trying to be controversial. That’s just my opinion.

Brad K.
6 Mar 5:09pm

Jon Brooke,

About “And as involvement in transition is purely voluntary and open to all, then clearly there are cultural / societal reasons that it has the membership that it has.”

The inability of the poor and uneducated to provide their own assets for making changes will bind them into their current choices and lifestyle. That is one reason I suggested that the people most needing support, those unable to provide their own assets for the disruption of changing to Transition, may be an overlooked and significant opportunity for Transition growth – and a significant opportunity to serve others.

If Transition is worthwhile for the individual, then the marginal might still be marginal within Transition, at least at first, but their environmental, social, and economic impact (for those able to Transition off public assistance) would be lessened.

Change is measured in pain. There is a little “death” of the life from before the change, we suffer grief for that old life. Witness the difficulty in quitting smoking, the depression expected when changing jobs, and buyers remorse. This reaction to change gives us an inherent interest in maintaining the status quo. For those with the assets to manage changes, options open up, and relatively minor changes can be taken in stride. Hence the fairly well educated, well read, literate and affluent (compared to devastatingly poor) current social strata of Transition. They are some of the population *able* to make big choices in their lives, that *did* choose Transition.

Should Transition provide ongoing support? No. But the process for joining, by those with limited asset and learning means, should be clear, inviting, and at moderate cost.

Look at it this way. Bringing the poor onboard today is practice for dealing with anticipated displaced masses, as economic decline proceeds.

Patricia Dodd Racher
6 Mar 10:31pm

In the UK, planning laws prevent people who are not well-off fincially from settling on small acreages in the countryside. We will need a dynamic population of smallholders, but planning law is based on ‘protecting’ the countryside from development (although in practice, large commercial developments that promise ‘jobs’ often receive permission). See for a case history of planning discrimination against low-impact living.

Patricia Dodd Racher
7 Mar 8:53pm

Typing error, sorry,should be ‘not well-off financially’…

13 Mar 11:24pm