Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time, Value, and the Answer - Part 3

Bob Fiske
May, 2009

I see a role for technology in this sweeping vision of assigning VALUE to human activities.  Many activities involve material goods.  In these transactions, there already exist capitalistic and accounting methods to equate these goods to monetary value.  In many cases "market factors" are largely responsible for the adjustment of value.

For instance, a company that wishes to increase market share for its product could attempt to manipulate the market by lowering price or creating other buying incentives.

Here are some examples:  the cell phone company that offers a "family deal" of getting 4 cell phones for the price of 1.  Or the innovative pizza store manager (Anita) who sold mugs of beer for 25 cents from 2 to 5pm on weekdays.  (This was so successful at drawing in customers that the purchase of food exceeded the peak lunch-hour times.)

In the service sector, however, the valuation of non-material (time based) activities can be difficult to establish.  There are groups of people that are attempting to pioneer an alternative to money-based valuation as a means of conducting business.  These are barter-based movements in which goods and services are exchanged directly without using the intermediate convention of money-based value.

Here are some links to explore:

Overview article about the method of exchanging goods or services directly without using currency.  Barter can be an alternative form of conducting commerce in extreme situations (hyperinflation, deflation, frozen currency flow).

Local exchange trading systems (LETS)
A non-currency-based credit system in which people swap skills or “favors”.  These systems are developed locally among people in a geographic situation who want to conduct trade among themselves.

The LETSystem Design Manual
This is of historical interest since it dates back to the mid- to late 1990s.  This online manual documents the fine points of users in Canada and the U.K. who were setting up and participating in local exchange trading systems.

Gift economies.
This is a fascinating overview of non-market-driven economic systems based up giving without an expectation of receiving in return.  Often, the non-monetary societies organized this way viewed “gifting” as an ongoing activity in which to stop the flow of giving resulted in social disapproval.  Article reviewers have faulted this exposition for its many un-referenced statement, unfortunately.

A commercial, online bartering database/network founded by Dr. Paul Bocheck and Michael Satz.

A widely used swapping web site where people can post “wants” and “haves” and form trades.

Craigslist bartering
A crude barter system where people can post ads about something they have and something they want in exchange for it.

Time banking
A system of commerce using time as the currency.  In this system services are exchanged, rather than goods.

Examples of time bank web sites
California Federation of Time Banks

Long Beach Time Exchange

Orange County Time Bank

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Time, Value, and the Answer - Part 2

Bob Fiske
May, 2009

(Continued from "Time, Value, and the Answer - Part 1")


One area in which current account methods are inadequate regards time.  There are two ways in which time is accounted for.

First, time can be converted into monetary units, such as when a person works for an hourly wage.  If you work 10 hours for a wage of $10/hr., then the value of your time will be converted into $100.  A corollary of this is "piecework" in which the accomplishment of a specified unit of work is exchanged for an agreed upon equivalent amount of money.  Thus, many salespeople work on commission in which each completed sale earns them a fee or percentage of the sale.  Somewhat related to this is the "bonus", in which an employer rewards a "dependent" for overall exemplary work practices.

The other method is the "deadline".  Accomplishing a set amount of work by an agreed-upon mark on a timeline is valued as good and can result in "reward".  Missing the deadline is negatively valued and is usually associated with some penalty.

Much of what the contemporary culture values is built around these two time valuation methods.  Yet, this conversion to money fails to account for many qualities of time that have value.

Here are some examples.  The amount of time that a person spends on restoration or spiritual reconnection.  The amount of time a person spends learning about his/her inner psyche.  The amount of time a person spends on setting personal goals and evaluating satisfaction about the direction of her/his life.  The amount of time spent in appreciation of moments of good fortune.  The amount of time a parent spends shaping the lives of his/her child(ren).

So, once again I imagine an alternative time accounting system that includes both the "tangible time" activities (convertible to money), as well as the "intangible time" activities.  The question revolves around this fact: clearly, intangible time has value.  However, in a capitalistic system that rewards tangible time, tangible objects and monetary value, the satisfaction derived from intangible time activities is placed into competition with tangible time activities.

For example, if a person values physical fitness, she/he must do these sorts of activities on her/his "own time".  Because intangible time is "devalued" in the money-driven capitalistic system people's behavior can be shaped in the direction of ignoring these activities.  Over time, this will lead many people into a psychologically (and perhaps also physically) unbalanced state.  Thus, it is possible that certain states of health and disease might be related to the skewed value system of money-oriented time.

Suppose there were, in this new system, a comparison of tangible time activities to intangible time activities.  Perhaps this would result in in "tradeoff tables".  These tables would show the equivalence of tangible time for a given activity to the amount of time devoted to an intangible activity.  This is perhaps similar to the foreign exchange market in which a "dense" currency, such as the Euro, is rated against a "light" currency, such as the Mexican peso.  In this relative valuation, a single unit of dense currency can "buy" many units of light currency, while a single unit of light currency will "buy" a small fraction of a single unit of the dense currency.

So, by way of example, the tradeoff table might show that an hour of physical therapy for a back injury would be dense compared to an hour of work time.  At the same time, an hour of taking one's children to a movie might be light in the tradeoff table compared with visiting one's parents.  In this new accounting system, different "time currencies" could be literally traded.  Thus, visiting one's ailing elderly parent could actually offset a portion of one's tangible work time.

This is clearly a departure from the existing capitalistic time accounting system.  It represents a MAJOR SHIFT IN VALUES.  The current system would regard as crazy the proposition that an employee should be paid a fraction of a work hour's value for visiting an ailing parent.  The closest the current system comes to this is that some employers give a certain number of flex hours per year that workers can use, at their option, for time-off activities.  This, however, is a far cry from the sweeping tradeoff table for ALL tangible and intangible time activities.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Time, Value, and the Answer - Part 1

Bob Fiske
May, 2009


Modern civilization has advanced the methods of accounting practically to a science.  The most developed accounting system we have concerns itself with money.  The simple view of financial accounting is based on the basic accounting formula

Assets = Equity + Liability

Each of these broad categories are typically broken down into finer and finer types.  (I call these "flavors of money".  Here is a little lecture I gave about financial accounting: accounting basics.)

Businesses are modeled on monetary accounting simply because this is a value that CAN be measured easily and accurately.  In this regard financial accounting is quite successful.

Financial accounting is formulated as a double-entry system in which monetary value is transferred between accounts.  When this happens, one account is debited while the second account is credited.  This system maintains balance and accuracy.  The monetary value of the debit equals that of the credit.  The sum total of the plus values equals that of the minus values.

An example from financial accounting is when I use an account representing one type of asset—“cash” ( in other words, liquid capital)—to buy items of another type of asset—goods to be re-sold.  The value of the asset account (e.g., a shoelace multi-pack crate) increases, while that of the first (cash) decreases a like amount.  Adding across the two sets of accounts produce a net change of zero, since the credit and debit values cancel each other out.

Given this, one might wonder how any company could produce a profit and stay in business?  Changes to the overall value of a business happen in primarily three ways.  First is the action called "markup".  In other words, I "buy cheap and sell dear"—what my customers buy must cost them more than it cost me to procure it.  Second, businesses pay out to cover their expenses.  When this loss is less than revenue from selling, the business posts a profit.  Third, there are payouts a business makes that are not balanced by receiving a reciprocal value in exchange.  Two examples are taxes and interest paid on loans.  Again, these losses must not dominate revenue if the business is to become profitable over the long term.

A broad rethinking of accounting systems would question the premises and ask, What's missing?  When we focus upon values for which there exist no common currency, then we must admit that we lack a method of accounting precisely because many value systems don't lend themselves to systematic numerical measurement.

What is the value of a hug?  How about a pet dog?  What is the value of the security of knowing you won't lose your job?  What is the value of dying without any regrets?  Can you measure the love between two people?  Can you put a number on the concern that all life on this planet might be threatened?

This opens the possibility that there are many types of value that color and flavor the "quality of life".  Imagine, then, how it would look to have an accounting system for these hard-to-quantify values that is of similar sophistication as the financial accounting system that is the mainstay of the capitalistic system.

So, imagine an accounting system (however crude) in which we could include and track the value of something as intangible as a hug?  We start by assuming that something is received as well as given.  For instance, what I give is a gesture of support and caring.  The value I receive is the pleasure that it gives me to hug and feel hugged back or the value of knowing that I helped somebody feel good.

Without, at this time, being able to specify how it is done, we will imagine that an intangible accounting system is possible.  In this system, it will be possible to evaluate items of value, assign a number to them, and balance the giving against the receiving.

In the case of money, the measurement system is “mathematically strong”.  It is what is called a ratio scale.  For example, it is always true that ten $1 items are worth ten times the value one $1 item.

The assigning of numeric value to intangible things such as hugs or security might require a weaker measurement scale than the ratio-capable scale that monetary value allows.

This is in the province of measurement theory.  In non-ratio scales it is not always true that ten 1-unit things have ten times the value of a single 1-unit thing.  After all, how many hugs can a person receive?  It becomes tiresome to receive hug after hug after hug.  The value of the tenth hug could be substantially less than the value of the first hug.

Nevertheless, this new currency would need to establish “value equivalencies” between one kind of intangible thing and another.  This could make it possible to conduct trades, even if the measurement scale is only approximate.  More on this, later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How I Consecrate Eating

(This continues from "Ignorant Food 1" and "Ignorant Food 2")

When I eat a meal I don’t consecrate the food.  It doesn’t need it; food is already sacred.  I consecrate my actions.  Doing this elevates me.  Here it is:

I eat
I eat
the earth
I eat
living beings
I eat
the system
I eat
I eat
I eat
I can eat because of
the labor of people
I can eat because of
the resources of the earth
I can eat because of
the energy/structure of living beings
I can eat because of
the ingenuity of the system
I can eat because of
the flow of money
I can eat because of
the generosity of friends
I can eat because of
the wonder of food
I can eat because of
the sharing

the caring

the culture

the creativity

the choice

the drive

the direction

and the life force
I'm graced by
the businesses

the factories

the growing equipment

the cooking equipment

the eating equipment

the water

the packaging

the bulk processing

the timing

and the families
As I know and partake of the wonder of food
I see it

I smell it

I touch it

I chew it

I taste it

I feel it

I swallow it

I am filled by it

I become it
And finally I endeavor to eat it






and lovingly

Saturday, September 3, 2011


In average fashion, I’m trying to find the meaning in my life.  Can a mind actually know this?  In my case, I believe the answer is No.  There is no one meaning when you have a mind where everything shifts, where the mind is fluid and can ever contemplate new possibilities.

Lord knows, I tried to seek out the meaning.  My life is a chain of consuming ideas—I consumed them, and they consumed me.

I decided to dash off a quick list, which you’ll see below.  I was startled to see myself do it.  After more than half a century of being here I find that these ideas are all present within me.  Nothing has been lost.  These are the markers of my life.  In fact, I find that I clearly remember where I was or what was happening in my life when each of these ideas and I had our first encounters.

I have my cherished collection, much like a rich person might collect pieces of art.  Perhaps you go through your life, and, towards the end of it, you survey your cherished collection of objects.  You take joy from them and feel as though you have accomplished something.  These markers have lasting value, and this reassures you.

There are those who keep their collections private.  Others see that the value they have amassed can be enriching to more than just themselves.  They become patrons who put their wealth into museums and galleries for public enjoyment.  I know of my wealth, I just don’t know what kind of collector I am…

And here is the list.  The ideas comprising my wealth are in no particular order except that in which they bubbled up from memory as I made my list.  I have added emphasis to show ideas that came from outside sources.  The others are either my own creation or those for which I am not aware of an external influence.  And two of them are very special to me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Over Population Passion

When they don’t speak straight to the point, I get inflamed.  The problem is ridiculously easy to see when you look straight at it.  Most people don’t, though.

Exhibit ATime magazine emblazons this cover story: “The Future of Fish.  Can farming save the last wild food?”  The article inside, by Bryan Walsh, is entitled “The End of the Line”.  The clever photograph that accompanies it is a picture of nine fishing lines and hooks, only one of which sports a fish. (Vol. 178, No. 3, July 18, 2011.  Also available at http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2081796,00.html)  Mr. Walsh writes about the promise of fish farming, or aquaculture.  He paints a pretty picture of the domestication of food from the seas to rival humanity’s domestication of grazing mammals thousands of years ago.

Comment.  I was forced to write to the Time editors:

Dear Editors:

Bryan Walsh's report on aquaculture fails to question an underlying assumption.  While acknowledging current human population as 7 billion, he writes that, "aquaculture can be one more step to saving ourselves."  Not likely.  Human population increases by 80 million each day (populationconnection.org).  Some models suggest this growth rate will diminish with time.  Nevertheless, even 7 billion humans is too great a population to sustain.  The actual problem is not technology for food production, it is policy for population reduction.

Exhibit B.  The Center for Biological Diversity’s Pop X newsletter tells how this admirable organization spent its money to display an overpopulation message on a giant monitor at New York’s Times Square.  The brief story (at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/overpopulation/pop_x/pop_x_issue_9.html#one) claims the public service message will
“starkly highlight the simple but unmistakable connection between our ever-growing human population (we'll hit 7 billion this fall) and the disappearance of birds, plants, fish, snails, bears, wolves, butterflies and whales…  We hope the ad will help jump-start a national conversation on the ramifications of booming population growth and inspire even more people to action.”

Comment.  While I respect their intentions, I am forced to critique.  Using a 20 second silent video to ask people to grasp the subtle relations connecting human population growth with species extinction simple does not work.  Why?  First, Times Square is choked with visual messages.  Can you really engage someone’s attention given this competition?  Second, the message should require only the smallest amount of thinking to get its point accross.  Third, it preaches to the choir.  Only those people already concerned about threats to other species will bother to rate the message as meaningful.  That leaves out a great many witnesses to the message.

So, what is very succinct and direct, and how can it stand apart from the other visual and conceptual noise?  While I am not a PR or advert maven, I do understand some basic ideas.
  • Most people are too busy keeping their lives going to pay attention to issues of global concern (not to mention national concern).
  • Most people generally notice a situation if it triggers an unmistakable emotional response.  The news media understand this well.
  • Something is regarded as significant if it affects your pocketbook, or impinges on your welfare, or that of your family or cultural subgroup.
  • Something is regarded as significant if it threatens your ability satisfy your desires or threatens your sense of freedom of choice.
  • Most people formulate their beliefs based on the recommendations of an authority figure or famous role model.
  • Most people formulate their behaviors based on convenience, pleasure, and following group norms in order to appear socially acceptable.
  • Most people change their behaviors in a manner that will restrict their freedom, convenience or pleasure only under threat of punishment by an authoritative system (such as the legal system).

Let’s focus on this last point.  In the 1970’s Chiffon margarine ran a popular television ad in which a woman representing Mother Nature can’t tell the difference between the Chiffon product and real butter.  When the duped woman is told of her error, she exacts revenge (signified as a clap of thunder), all the while smiling and saying, “Oh, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

There are two authoritative systems available to help humanity (in Bryan Walsh’s words) “save ourselves”.  The more radical—and uncompromising—of these is “Mother Nature”.  As we continue to push against the earth’s limits, something will eventually give, and the consequences will be disastrous.  The other is comprised of national governments that can pass laws, enforce regulations, and generally direct policies that can command new ways of living.

However, in a pay-for-policies system that favors wealth over the general welfare, what is the authoritative system that can bend the will of a government away from its laissez faire, business (and wealth) knows best philosophy?  This is the second-order problem that either enables or obstructs the solution of the first-order problem (namely, overpopulation).

The hope is that an upwelling of popular concern and action would  provide the authoritative agency to change the will of a government.  This can, indeed, work successfully.  For example, see the track record of the Avaaz grass-roots organization:
Nonetheless, hooking people into a national/global conversation about the danger of overpopulation is a tall order for a public service announcement.

Still, it’s a temptation to try.  Here’s mine.  How about crafting one of your own?

“Seven billion is too many.  So was five billion.  Stop speeding toward the cliff.  Stop having babies.  Love, Mother Nature.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Religion and Food

With Passover slipping behind me, I am prompted to ask a question.

Question: do all religions have food-denial rituals?  Let’s speculate Yes and speculate why.

Religions endeavor to define and enforce their own brands of a moral code.  Perhaps a common element shared by religions is the idea that pursuing pleasure for its own sake—not in the service of a deity or a higher principle—is “evil”.  Pleasure-seeking is selfish at best, and hedonistic or depraved at worst.  And the lure of pleasure is something to be feared and guarded against.

To prevent pleasure from exerting undue influence in our lives, it must be carefully meted out.

The most frequently accessed pleasure is food.  In a rich society one finds oneself constantly tempted by an endless variety of gustatory creations.  Consequently, the religious being has a natural anxiety associated with food.  If I have everything I desire, will I be forced into seeking ever more flamboyant “fixes”?  Will pleasure start to lose meaning?  Isn’t gratifying every food desire deleterious to my health?  Shouldn’t I feel guilty about enjoying myself so much?  Won’t food cost me my youthful figure (not to mention my actual youth)?  And, above all, does food have ultimate control, pulling me in many directions as some sort of puppet?

The answer to these dilemmas is to demonstrate our mastery over food.  This is a natural response, with or without religion.  However, religion has capitalized on this response and has incorporated it into its moral code.  Wherever you find a religious restriction on food, there you will also find devoted followers.  Religious practice—in general, and for food in particular—reassures us that we are doing the right thing.  Food traditions allow us to believe that we are not mindless grazers, but are spiritually driven, self-determined human beings.

This is serious business!  You may not laugh!  (Right, Rabbi?)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Are Biosolids Safe?

At a recent industry-sponsored biosolids conference Deborah Koons Garcia castigated the EPA-approved practice of turning sewage sludge into fertilizer.

The waste-treatment community would like us to accept this practice.  Critics charge that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has turned a blind eye to the industry’s desire to pass off toxic material as a safe fertilizer.  Could this be?  Let’s find out.

According to an EPA web page
  • ·         The risk assessment for the Federal Part 503 rule that governs the land application of biosolids took nearly ten years to complete and had extensive rigorous review and comment.
  • ·         Only biosolids that meet the most stringent standards spelled out in the Federal and state rules can be approved for use as a fertilizer. Now, through a Voluntary Environmental Management System, being developed for biosolids (EMS) by the National Biosolids Partnership (NBP), community-friendly practices will also be followed.
  • ·         Although cities decide how best to manage their biosolids, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is obligated and continues to provide the public with educational information, based on the best science, about the safe recycling and disposal of biosolids.
In other words, the EPA has chosen not to regulate the production of biosolids from sewage waste.  Rather, this agency has positioned itself only to provide information to the public.

But does this really confirm critics’ charges that the EPA is capitulating to businesses that might be more concerned with profit than with human health?  Why don’t we compare the science behind the policy to make up our minds.

In a 2003 press release
the EPA announced its decision not to regulate the dioxin content of land-applied sewage sludge.  In other words, the EPA claims that its analysis of the data on sewage-born dioxins allows it to conclude that the dioxins in the sludge pose a negligible risk of increasing human cancer rates.

This, however, is not the last word on the toxicity of sewage sludge.  A Wikipedia article on sludge
contains references to studies that suggest that at least some sludge is anything but benign.  According to the article, one study published in 2002
documents numerous instances of pathology among 48 people living near a site where sludge residues were applied.  For instance, about one quarter of this population suffered from Staphylococcus aureus infections, with two deaths noted.  (Curiously, the lead author of this published study was an employee of the EPA.  Did anyone say, “Suppressed results?)

Another study cited in the Wikipedia article
presents evidence for concern.  According to the authors of this study residents near another site where sewage biosolids were applied reported a variety symptoms or maladies at statistically significant levels.  These included abdominal bloating, jaundice, skins ulcers, bronchitis and giardiasis.

This is not to say that human excrement should not be converted into fertilizer.  A number of sources suggest that human wastes can successfully boost agricultural productivity.  For example, one article summarizes a grass roots pilot project for bacterial decomposition of human waste.
According to Nancy Klehm, the brainchild behind the project, feces can be converted into high quality fertilizer—if it is collected directly from the human beings producing it.  On the other hand, trying to convert sewage sludge into something safe has the inherent disadvantage that sewage collects and concentrates many additional toxic by-products.  These include toxic metals, pharmaceutical compounds, insecticides, industrial wastes and pollution runoff from urban roads.

Finally, I’d like to ponder this question.  You mean the EPA is not the impartial entity I believed it to be?  If I can’t trust the EPA, who can I trust?  WHO, indeed!

The World Health Organization recognized that human wasted could be an essential component of agricultural nutrients in many areas of the planet.  Therefore, this organization published the results of its studies as a guideline document for people to practice safe production of “humanure”.  Here is that document:
By the way, that is only the Executive Summary.  If you want the full document, use this link:

So there it is.  From bio-mess to biomass.