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Sender: millershed@EARTHLINK.NET
Subject: Re: A focus on empowerment vs. a focus on inequality
Date: Thu, May 22, 2014
Msg: 101016

Hi Lawry,

Thanks for your very thoughtful response. You are obviously much more educated in economic matters than I am, so I readily confess to a good deal of naivete. And yes, I did know that you were also influenced by Steiner. We may well be the only two in the conversation who are, so I'll say a little bit at the risk of boring or losing others. What strikes me most about Steiner's ideas about money--what seems utterly counter-intuitive to my progressive instincts--is that he considers it a highly spiritual process (not a thing)--at least when allowed to flow optimally.

Two conditions strike me as applicable to the optimal flow of money. One is that the whole danger of the flow of money (I believe, and I believe Steiner says) is that it can operate in a way that is "value-free" (in quotes, because I believe the value that this phrase assumes is materialism, which considers itself the only true value because it is empirical). Yet every monetary transaction is also a spiritual transaction. I find this in Steiner's meditation on, for example, a paper clip. A paper clip is not (just, or even mostly) a material object. It carries with it the natural and human processes that have accompanied every step in its extraction, production, and distribution. That is, it has a spiritual fingerprint and--so to speak--a spiritual value (which may have positive as well as negative aspects). Steiner asks us to do the impossible--because following the trail of even a simple paper clip is impossible, due to the world's complexity--yet it's a useful exercise (and one that is applicable when we consider the Congolese rare minerals in our smartphones, etc.). So I am encouraged when I see economists such as Eisenstein trying to view money and the economy in spiritual terms. I think Steiner's main thrust was that economic matters needed to be considered in spiritual terms as well as material ones and that economic transactions should be viewed as opportunities for highly positive spiritual deeds. So the context of my distinction between making and maximizing profits is something like this: Not too many decades ago, highly successful companies paid a lot of attention not only to profits but also to the wellbeing of their workers and that of the wider communities in which they were located. Thus, some profitability was sacrificed in order to improve conditions for their workers and to work positively within their local communities. I fear those days are long gone, because maximizing profits has become the only value that the market rewards.

The second condition of the optimal flow of money, to me, is that it needs to be somewhere between stagnant and chaotic--that is, dynamic and life-giving. Steiner spoke of the dangers of stagnation--accumulating capital rather than using it in productive manners. I don't recall him speaking much of the other extreme, which is chaos (though I may well be wrong on this). But Fritjof Capra speaks very presciently (2002) of the dangers of the "global casino," citing the work of Manuel Castells. While I think Capra gets it very laregely right, again I fear that we are much farther down that road then when Capra wrote The Hidden Connections. The rate of investment and exchange is so feverish that it has shifted from a powerfully flowing river to a tumultously pounding waterfall--very much skirting the edge of chaos and hence flirting with collapse. I think the issues behind the 2008 recession are pertinent--how the collapse of Bear Stearns (one investment firm, and far from the biggest) triggered events that were very hard to contain (similar to Greece and the Euro, etc.). And I would also note that the word "trust" was very widely used after that recession, as the factor that kept people from buying houses and spending in general, which would have improved the economy much more rapidly. To me, this confirms Steiner's description of money as a covenant, not an artifact, involving spiritual qualities such as trust, responsibility, and even altruism (as Steiner makes clear when he speaks of gifts vs. loans or purchases). Which brings us around again to the need for economic concepts and policies that will incorporate ethical and--dare I say it--spiritual values.

And again, I think a truly free market economy (one that is genuinely self-organizing) can function to bring this about--though it will take a maturing of our worldview from one of fragmented scientific reductionism and materialism to one of interconnectedness and wholeness, including the span from physical to psychic to noetic (body, soul, and spirit). So I would guess that there is a great deal more that we agree on than that we differ on. But I do take to heart your warning about language and your ideas on effective communication. And, again, I plead guilty to a considerable degree of hubris in daring to speak on topics about which my knowledge and understanding are severely limited (including, I'm sure, Steiner's ideas on economics!).

I hope that, in expalining to you--in terms of some of the concepts that we both treasure--where I was coming from, I haven't lost everybody else! With warmest regards,


John Miller
(952) 797-2302
Green Tea Party Movement 

-----Original Message-----
From: Lawrence Chickering
Sent: May 22, 2014 1:49 AM
Subject: Re: [TRANSPARTISAN] A focus on empowerment vs. a focus on inequality

Dear John, 

Your response has me spinning about, trying to think how to respond in a way 
that will be useful.  First, I think you know that Rudolf Steiner, for more than 
forty years, has been the great intellectual and spiritual influence on my 
thinking on almost every subject.  I had the good fortune to have an extraordinary 
disciple of Steiner's (a psychiatrist and also an Austrian) mentor me in his theories 
and especially his spiritual practices at the end of the 1960s, when I lived briefly 
in New York.  The path he set me on has guided me ever since.  

One area on which Steiner influenced me only implicitly was in communication -- in 
the uses of language especially to communicate thoughts 'for which we have no 
[universally accepted] language'.  Language is a challenge, of course, because 
people code their messages differently; and the challenge of communicating 
(as opposed to mere emoting) is to communicate not in one's own code, but 
in the listener's code -- thus to be understood in the spirit the communicator 
intends.  When I responded to your statements about scarcity and profits, I was 
assuming -- perhaps incorrectly -- that this community is committed to coding 
messages in accord with the mainstream economic and political idiom.  You 
wrote what you wrote based on very different assumptions.  

Part of me now wants to caution you to be careful in using words and phrases 
commonly used (and with widely agreed meanings) in the mainstream debate 
when you intend very different meanings.  But perhaps it is I who needs to be 
cautious because I realize it is possible that our unusual transpartisan community 
may be much more aligned linguistically with you than with me.  

Although I regard my worldview as epistemologically very different than the 
worldview that dominates meanstream thought, all of my formal professional 
work has been undertaken in terms of the mainstream idiom.  I want to influence 
that idiom, and I see more opportunity to accomplish that from inside the 
mainstream debate than from outside.  

To touch on your points about scarcity and profit, one reason I believe 'capitalism' 
has been as associated as it has with materialism is that economists have been 
unwilling to open their inquiry into economic issues to include powerful non-
material things that are valued in powerful ways by all human beings.  This is 
the idea underlying the extraordinary success of the program I founded and run, 
Educate Girls Globally, which is institutionalizing the spirit of private rights into 
public spaces such as schools, with results on all major stakeholders in schools -- 
including government bureaucrats -- that are considered impossible by the 
mainstream debate.  I will not repeat the 'lessons' learned from this work other 
than to say that the lessons are precisely the lessons that James Dierke and I 
are writing a book about public school reform, integrating my work in India with 
his in a middle school in the most dangerous neighborhood in San Francisco.  His 
results in Visitacion Valley Middle School, for which he was given an award as the 
outstanding principal of a middle school in the entire country, are so powerful 
that at a time when teachers are straining to leave schools like his, no one 
wanted to leave his school while he was principal (he retired a year or two ago).  

These are all things that he and I are writing about using a mainstream vocabulary, 
and Dierke's own success -- in winning his award -- has been achieved in the 
most mainstream institution of an inner-city public school.  

I feel I have written far more than will interest most people here on this subject.  
I wanted to be completely transparent about the assumptions that I bring to 
all of these subjects, which have preoccupied me for more than forty years.  

Lawry Chickering
Educate Girls Globally
Author Beyond Left and Right (1993) and co-author (with James S. Turner) 
     Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life, 2008.  

On May 21, 2014, at 18:41, <> <> wrote:

Hi Lawry and all,

Here is Charles Eisenstein on scarcity:

I don't pretend to capture what he said, but I am influenced by ideas on spiritual economics, including Rudolf Steiner and E. F. Schumacher. All the best!

-----Original Message----- 
From: Lawrence Chickering 
Sent: May 21, 2014 12:26 PM 
Subject: Re: [TRANSPARTISAN] A focus on empowerment vs. a focus on inequality 

I would like to hear Michael Strong's thoughts on this because he knows 
more about it than I do.  John, your discussion of scarcity and profits deviates 
so much from my understanding of economists' traditional view of both that 
you need to say a lot more than this to make a convincing case that the 
traditional economist's view needs a major overhaul.  

In the mainstream perspective, scarcity is not caused by anything; it is the 
defining characteristic of economic life.  The challenge is how to distribute 
the scarcity.  My natural instinct here is to start taking about capitalism and 
how it approaches these issues.  My own perspective on capitalism, however, 
is broader -- more expansive -- than the traditional view, and I can't avoid 
saying something about this here.  

My first thought here is that in an important respect all economic systems are 
'capitalist'.  My friend the late economist Milton Friedman captured an important 
part of the point when he said one reason he favored 'capitalism' (narrow sense) 
is that it is 'the only system that doesn't give all property rights to the ruling 
("capitalist") class.'  The essence of capitalism, that is, is a system of free 
exchange within whatever constraints are imposed on it.  The Soviet Union 
was not 'capitalist'; yet anyone who actually went there and watched people 
interact, they would see frenzies of entrepreneurial, capitalist activities.  In 
my own, personal experience, every taxi cab was a super market.  It was the 
purest form of capitalism I have ever seen.  

My second wish to broaden the meaning of 'capitalism' is beyond private 
spaces to public spaces.  This is too large a subject to treat here; I encourage 
anyone wanting to know more to read Anjula Tyagi's and my article on EGG 
from Policy Review, which I have sent more than once (won't send again 
except to people who can't unearth it).  EGG empowers people in a marketplace 
of social goods to do what they care about.  The program sets off an explosion 
of entrepreneurial activity, people working together to common purpose.  
Creating private rights in public space like schools creates strong incentives 
to cooperation that highlight the impulse toward public spirit that is 
powerful in everyone in our connected world.  

Now to your point emphasizing the distinction between 'making' and 'maximizing' 
profits.  This point implies that profit is something wrongfully extracted from 
people in exchanges.  (The alternative, conventional view is that people want to 
pay profits to get what they want [are willing to pay for].)  

Let me focus on people you might see as the most extreme (reprehensible) 
profit-maximizeers.  The common economist's generalization is that all profits, 
past the short-term, are the same, discounted for risk.  'Capitalism' (in the 
narrow view) is an allocative system -- not a distributive system -- that allocates 
resources to their highest valued uses.  Who determines 'highest valued 
use'?  Consumers, communicating through the price system.  All investors seek 
to 'maximize profits'; that is why they hire financial advisors -- to advise them 
on where above-market profits are creating market signals for more capital.  
Profits tend to be 'maximized' only in the short term because when capital 
is reallocated to maximize profits, the profits are bid down, back to what 
economist's call equilibrium levels (the level at which all profits are the same 
discounted for risk).

In its pure form capitalism is a value-free system, responding to market 
signals.  Many conservatives (Irving Kristol is an example) see this as a 
weakness.  I would say this weakness is especially obvious when government 
institutions and policies are arrange to disempower people from freely 
engaging others to cooperate from their 'higher selves' (as happens 
powerfully when people are empowered with property rights in public 
spaces such as schools).  The state has an obvious role to play in declaring 
certain activities criminal, outside this system; but there is of course much 
disagreement about which activities those should be.  

This system works very well except for certain caveats, on which there are 
large economic literatures.   One problem is distributive: the need to take care 
of people who can't take care of themselves.  When doing that, it is better, 
from an efficiency standpoint, to avoid using the price system: better to give 
people money.  An example is minimum wage laws, which discriminate 
against the unskilled by pricing them out of the market.  The real effect 
of minimum wage laws, which have been studied to death, is grotesque, 
especially since they are promoted by people claiming to be 'progressives': 
what is progressive about increasing black teenage unemployment, 
the greatest effect of increasing the MW?  Better to give people money 
rather (in effect) than telling them they cannot work.  

Another, obvious problem is externalities -- when private activity has unpriced 
effects, when it imposes social costs people do not pay for.  Here is where 
environmental issues arise, creating the need for governmental action to 
correct 'market imperfections'.  I would say the failure to create private 
rights in public spaces (schools, housing projects, etc.) is also causes market 
imperfections, defined by the (centralized, bureaucratic) structure of 
government institutions.  This bureaucratic structure disempowers the 
most disempowered people from important governance powers that, 
with empowerment, are shown to be transformative in all cultural settings.  

I hope these thoughts are useful.  

Lawry Chickering
Educate Girls Globally
Author: Beyond Left and Right (1993) and (with James S. Turner) Voice of the 
People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life (2008)

On May 20, 2014, at 20:15, <> <> wrote:

Inequality per se can't be the problem because economic equality is not the answer. If we all got X gallons of gas per week, that wouldn't be enough for those with a much longer commute, while it would be too much for those who walk to work. So we have to be talking about having basic needs met (which are different for different people) to achieve a good quality of life--that is, at the least, aim for overcoming scarcity.

In a world dominated by scarcity, it is only natural for the have nots to want some of the excess goods of the haves (that is, to desire distribution to be more equal). So what, in our economic system, generates scarcity? I would offer that it is the goal of maximizing profits. Note that this is different than MAKING profits. The goal of maximizing profits is a moral affront, since it is based on a "take more than you give" mentality. Yet we accept this as a natural and just law of the market.

But it's a non-systemic goal. In an ecosystem, wolves don't seek to maximize their deer kill. They satisfy their appetites. That is, they meet their needs. Yet our needs--this applies to most in the middle class as well as to the poor--are never met because we never pay off our debt. Instead, we spend our lives stressed while trying to pay off our debts. Certainly the loss of good jobs and their replacement by low-paying jobs in and after this recession only swells the pool of those who share this very common experience of economic life. Again, in such a situation, it's hard not to point at those who live in marked excess of their needs and to wish (or demand) that they spread the wealth around. 

But it makes more sense to look at what generates scarcity than at compensating for it by attempts at redistribution, which will always be flawed and resented. Is cap and prioritize the latter? If so, might it mostly be a short-term solution, most useful while we try to redesign the system--especially by reexamining and redefining its core values and paradigms?

John Miller
(952) 797-2302
Green Tea Party Movement 

-----Original Message----- 
From: Lawrence Chickering 
Sent: May 20, 2014 12:27 PM 
Subject: Re: [TRANSPARTISAN] A focus on empowerment vs. a focus on inequality 

Michael expresses a position aligned with John Rawls's work: that our central 
moral focus should be on improving the condition of the poor -- reducing 
poverty -- rather than on reducing inequality.  To believe otherwise (as 
a thought-experiment) -- if the two values conflict -- is to prefer reducing 
inequality to reducing poverty; or actually increasing poverty to reduce 
inequality.  An odd position, to say the least.  

Lawry Chickering
Educate Girls Globally
Author: Beyond Left and Right (1993) and (with James S. Turner) Voice of the 
People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life (2008)
On May 20, 2014, at 07:43, Michael Strong <michael@FLOWIDEALISM.ORG> wrote:

Steven Johnson provides the usual talking points on inequality in response to Lawry's focus on empowerment.  I would expect we have all heard variations on this data before.

First of all, I agree that it is morally outrageous that some people, many of them wicked people, are rich and that others, many of them innocent children, are poor.

Secondly, I have no a priori preference for an particular rate of taxation or redistribution.  If I were to be convinced that a tax rate of 99% on incomes over x would improve the condition of the poor on a global basis, then I'd be all for it.

But ultimately, no matter what the data is on inequality, if more spending doesn't improve the lives of the poor, then I'm against it.  The entire goal should be to improve the quality of life for human beings - not to make an arbitrary set of numbers meet an arbitrary set of criteria.

Two questions:

1. Can we agree that improving lives is more important than is "inequality"?

2.  And, if improving lives is indeed more important than inequality per se, can we agree that something like empowerment of the human spirit, as so eloquently articulated by Lawry, is an essential aspect of improving lives?

Michael Strong
CEO and Chief Visionary Officer
FLOW, Inc.

For the definitive Conscious Capitalism book, see Be the Solution:  How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems, by Michael Strong with John Mackey, CEO Whole Foods Market, Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Hernando de Soto, Co-Chair of the U.N. Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor, and others, and listen to John Mackey's audio CD Passion and Purpose:  The Power of Conscious Capitalism, both available at or

Liberating the Entrepreneurial Spirit for Good

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

Leonardo Da Vinci

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