GeoTagging with Google Earth – Put What Your Community Has on the Map!

Every community area has unused and underutilized assets such as vacant lots, empty buildings, blighted properties, discarded equipment, even unrecovered waste in the form of lost heat, materials, by-products, etc. Take your camera phone, snap pics of what you see, and map what’s there. It’s worth more than you may think.

Originally posted to Open for Consideration on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on September 4, 2010

At the Bottom of the Pyramid, It’s Looking Up

A simple application of the Pareto Principle suggests that 20% of the world population controls 80% of global assets, wealth, or resources. Certainly the report entitled “Wealth, Income, and Power” by sociologist G. William Domhoff supports this notion as does the United Nations 2005 Report on the World Social Situation: The Inequality Predicament. The following graphic conveys this notion:

The 80% that have access to only 20% of the resources make choices about their survival and sustainability within a different economic system than those in the top 20% of the socio-economic pyramid. The diagram below offers further definition of these two economic systems. The 80% participate in a “needs economy” that focuses on delivering the essentials of a life: food, water, air, energy, fuel, housing, clothing, safety, security, health, and education.

Because a needs economy strives to meet the basic requirements for quality of life among people in a given area, it is deemed a local economy in that the participants have extensive social relationships among family, friends, and community members. It is the strength and scope of this social fabric that provides the platform for self-sufficiency and sustainability of the body politic and keeps the door open for a wide range of choices.

In contrast, 80% of the world’s assets are marshaled into the design, production, and delivery of products and services that attempt to satisfy an insatiable demand for everything and anything. A “wants economy” is a most apropos label. And because no place on earth is exempt from the compelling effects of its all-consuming nature, it is truly a global economy.

Choices in a wants economy are limited by the means available to act on those alternatives. The lack of self-sufficiency and sustainability garnered from a global or wants economy requires a heavy political investment—a constant feeding of the bureaucracy—to exercise a level of diplomacy sufficient to assure an uninterrupted supply of essentials. At times, the burden imposed upon society to maintain such a complex and bloated political system becomes too much and a sorely-needed adjustment ensues. But such decline and renewal is inevitable in the cycle of life.

Despite these changes, the basic social units that give our humanity expression—family, friends, and community members—persist. They are the foundation upon which civilization is rebuilt and rejuvenated. In effect, these relationships constitute a vibrant local economy, which becomes the bedrock of survival, sustainability, and quality of life. So at the bottom of the pyramid, it’s looking up!

Originally posted to Open for Consideration on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on August 19, 2010

Economics Lesson at Walden Pond

On a recent trip to New England, I had the opportunity to make my first visit to Concord, Massachusetts and Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau got the inspiration and first hand experience to write his book, Walden. In his introduction to the 1992 edition of The Annotated Walden, Philip Van Doren Stern writes:

Thoreau understood clearly the essential nature of work. Observing, thinking and writing were what he wanted most to do. Hoeing his bean-field, carpentry, and surveying gave him enough money for his needs. To simplify things, he reduced his wants to the fewest possible. “I learned … that it would cost incredibly little to obtain one’s food,” he says in Walden.

As Stern’s analysis suggests, Thoreau invites the reader to learn a fundamental economics lesson in choice making: do what one needs to do efficiently to conserve as many resources as possible to do what one wants to do.

This lesson is borne out on an almost daily basis at the Walden Pond State Reservation. In Thoreau’s day, visitors frequented Walden Pond as a matter of personal choice and little cost other than the time and energy spent to walk there. Today, the number of visitors is limited by the number of spaces in the only parking area across the street. Once full, no more cars are allowed to enter.

Of course, the assumption is that visitors who want to go to Walden Pond need to take a car to get there. Through a twist of logic, the decision to visit Walden Pond is controlled by the availability of a parking place. This despite the fact that choosing to walk, instead, affords a more efficient means to get there and assures entrance upon arrival.

Thoreau knew all too well that people in his time and much later would struggle with these lessons in economic trade-offs. Do I walk and have more opportunities? Or, do I ride a horse; take a carriage; drive a car and compromise my range of choices as a consequence? Thoreau captures this dilemma quite eloquently in the opening commentary of his lecture, Walking, delivered in 1861 and posthumously published as an essay in 1862:

We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practised this noble art; though, to tell the truth, at least, if their own assertions are to be received, most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence, which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember, and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods, but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class. No doubt, they were elevated for a moment as by the reminiscence of a previous state of existence, when even they were foresters and outlaws.

Do I take to the path or stay on the highway? A good question to ask every day!

Originally posted to Open for Consideration on Tumblr by Steve Bosserman on August 18, 2010