Saturday, March 29, 2008

Trying to Figure Out What "Money" Is

Our Meeting is working through Seeds of Violence, Seeds of Hope, a very helpful document produced by the Friends Testimonies and Economics, a joint project of the Earthcare Working Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Quaker Earthcare Witness. It is a study-guide for those interested in environmental concerns to learn more about economic issues as they relate to issues of ecological sustainability (and to some extent social justice issues as well).

I was just reading the article, "Money, Banking, and Finance" (by Ed Dreby, assisted by Keith Helmuth and Gary Lapreziosa), and was astonished to learn what money is and how it is created.

What I didn't fully understand before is how the process of lending money at interest actually creates new money! If I am understanding correctly, here is how it works. Banks hold a lot of money that people have deposited that just sits there. So they lend it out at interest, so that it can go back out into the economy and do things. (This much I did know.) When people pay it back, with interest, then the interest is the creation of new money! What this system does is spur people to have to produce more than they might otherwise have produced. Ideally, what they have thereby produced in some sense now backs up the new money created through those interest payments.

If ideally new money is created at a healthy rate, that constitutes a healthy growing economy. There is this steady stream of new money being created and backed up by productivity.

This is thought to benefit everyone, because lenders make a profit (interest collected), and borrowers are able to do more and produce more than they otherwise would have been able to do.

Now, in the real world, it gets more complicated than this, mainly because there are lots of factors that play into the rate of growth, and if the economy either grows too fast or slows too much, then that has other effects that are problematic. Two such factors are (1) not everyone can repay their loans with interest, and (2) there are very likely ecological limits to production rates.

So, all of this gives rise to questions I have. If anyone knows enough about economics to be able to help me with these questions, I would appreciate it!

1. Is growth necessary for a healthy economy? It seems that this system ultimately depends upon a few having concentrations of more money than they really need, so that they can use the lending of this money as a spur to make large numbers of people have to work hard. It is very strange to me that our system is such that some people are making lots of money off of other people doing lots of work. (But maybe there is more justice to this than I realize, since bankers and investors are doing some work in keeping track of all of this, and do deserve to be paid for this work.)

2. Is the reason that growth (the creation of new money) is important ultimately because it is necessary to support an ever-growing population? If so, if population growth stabilized, would we no longer need a growing economy? Would there still be ways to continue to power the circulation of existing money in a steady-state economy?

3. Does ecological sustainability ultimately demand a steady-state economy instead of a growing one? Or is there some level of continuing economic growth that is consistent with ecological sustainability? That is, is there some natural pace of renewability of natural resources that correlates with a modest level of continued economic growth?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Recently, I accidentally stumbled across my Easter post from last year.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Five Supports of Well-Being

In trying to bolster support for myself, I've been taking stock of what I regard as my five supports of well-being: my spiritual life, my intellectual life, my musical life, my relationships, and my physical health/fitness. If all of these are going reasonably well in my life, I feel well-supported and meaningfully engaged with the world around me.

I've seen other lists of the basic aspects of life and well being. Sometimes there are four: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. More secular sources sometimes list just three: physical, mental, psychological. Occasionally even mental/intellectual is dropped off as a separate category, included as part of "psychological."

Admittedly, in my own listing of five there can be overlap. For example, in my way of conceptualizing these, "spiritual" really includes all the rest; "music" and "relationships" both relate to the emotional dimension of life; and my listing maybe ignores an overall assessment of psychological well-being (in part because I subsume that within the "spiritual"); etc.

But I would like to offer a generalized version of my five supports for others to consider. The generalized version would look like this: spiritual; mental/intellectual; creativity; relationships; physical health/fitness.

Here are some descriptions:

1. Spiritual: Sense of wholeness, integrity, integration. Sense of meaning or purpose to your life. A sense of what your life is all about in relation to ultimate reality.

2. Mental/intellectual: What you are learning. Inputs into your life and understanding. Letting more and more reality into your being and comprehension.

3. Creativity: What you have to give to the world. What you uniquely offer. Your expressive powers. What difference you make. What love, beauty, wisdom you give back to the world.

4. Relationships: Overall quality of your relationships. How well-supported you feel by family, friends, and colleagues. Whether you feel a good sense of belonging. Whether you experience meaningful connection with those around you. What people value about you. What you give in relationships.

5. Physical health/fitness: Assessment of your overall health. How well you manage any health limitations you may have. Assessment of your fitness level. How well you take care of your physical well-being.

I have been finding it helpful to take stock of the state of each of these in my own life right now.

Then I think about how I would like each of these to be (what my vision for myself is in each of these respects).

Then I consider what small step I can take to bring each of these to a stronger level (because for myself, I find all five supports still standing, but with serious cracks!). For those who find one or more strong enough, then you can ask which one(s) most need attention, and consider what you can do to strengthen the one(s) that need strengthening.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why It Has Been Hard to Blog Lately

Perceptive readers may be concerned that I've only been writing about snow lately. And even though I am genuinely excited about all of the snow we have been getting, those perceptive readers would be right to be concerned. While my spirits did pick up over winter break and carried through into the first few weeks of my semester, I've been having a hard time again lately.

On the surface, things have been going well. My classes have continued to go very well indeed, and I hope to write soon to share more details about some of the great things that have been happening in those classes. Also, I have kept reasonable momentum on my research.

What has thrown me off, though, was finding out that I do have to continue as Chair for another two years. This was raised as a possibility back in November, but then I thought I had successfully resolved the situation in my own favor.

It turns out I was wrong.

There are a lot of ways in my life that I have been doing my best to assert myself, and people seem in the moment to be taking me seriously, but then when it comes down to it, nothing changes. Such a sense of powerlessness does lead to depression, my counselor pointed out to me. He told me not to give up, and urged me to look hard for what I can control in my life.

Meanwhile, well-intentioned friends have pointed out to me that it is an honor to be Chair, and that lots of people want this kind of opportunity but are frustrated not to get it. Today's online version of the Chronicle of Higher Education had an article about a philosophy department Chair who lost his Chair position because he refused to commit to being in his office from 8:00 to 5:00 every weekday. I sent this to my counselor with the note, "if only it could be so easy for me to lose my position as Chair!"

But I do realize that that Chair might well have been very disappointed. And I do realize that there are people whose problems are much worse than my own. I realize that there are many ways that I am fortunate to have the life that I have. The forces of poverty, for example, are limiting and soul-crushing. But some of the forces of privilege can be limiting and soul-crushing too. Privilege presses hard against personal integrity and in favor of a certain kind of conformity, and so those who want to use positions of privilege to bring forth justice may meet considerable resistance.

Meeting sustained resistance over time leads to feeling overwhelmed, burnt-out, powerless, and depressed. You can feel pressured by almost everyone around you, with almost no one being actually supportive. You can feel as if great forces keep pushing you to take on roles that go against your very nature.

Sometimes my students say, "everything happens for a reason!" and I hear in their words an optimism about life that I once had myself. For a while in my life, I thought that God's hand was in everything that happened to us. I did not want to believe otherwise. I did not want to acknowledge that tragedy was a real possibility: that life's twists and turns could sometimes throw people off the path of fulfilling their true calling.

I still do not want to believe this, but I do believe that tragic things really can and do happen.

I do not think that my own life has quite taken a tragic turn, but things are serious right now. I'm at a crucial moment. Certain forces in my life have been unrelenting. For a long time I was holding strong and refusing to let these forces crush my hopes and my vision for my life and for what I could do for the world, but my spirits now are greatly strained.

I do not think that it is God challenging me so. I look to God for inspiration and support. And I look hard in my life for what love, wisdom, and support I can find.

I have not given up. I'm doing all I can to stay in touch with who I know myself most truly to be, and I'm looking hard for ways to keep that flame alive.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Most Recent Snowstorm

Our snowstorm over the weekend brought us another 15 inches of snow, bringing this season's total to 112 inches. Then we got another 2 inches, and so now we are at 114 inches. (The yearly average where I live is 60 inches).

Soon I'll write about something other than snow -- I promise!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Even More Snow

97 inches -- but it's snowing again. I think we are really over 100 inches now, but I'll wait and see what the official numbers are reported to be.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008