November 27, 2008

When is a question not a question?

There is a discussion on Simpol's discussion boards about 'provably false GDP figures'. See:

I raised some questions about the analysis. Why was it wrong for certain assumptions to be made in calculating the figures, given there was a certain logic to them? What difference would it make if the figures were calculated differently? That kind of thing. The sort of probing that is needed when examining proposals that could be introduced simultaneously around the world.

My post was forwarded to a discussion group where the issues was first raised and provoked a surprising response, which someone posted back to Simpol's board.

You can read the correspondence there. The point of this blog is not an "I said, then he said" justification.

It is to ask: When is a question not a question?

In the minds of some beholders it seems questions are not questions, but rhetorical point-scoring constructions.

The question: What difference will this make? Is understood to mean: This will make no difference.

Then follows the attack of cynicism. But I would like suggest the cynicism lies with those who see an honest question in this way.

Is it a sign of the times and the paucity of our policy debate that enquiry provokes such a defensive reaction? This is a question we should seriously consider because the whole purpose of the Simultaneous Policy democratic space is to investigate ideas. For that we need to be able to question them and receive considered answers.

Considered answers appreciated.

November 22, 2008

Can we be sensible?

There is a succint analysis of why the world is facing a financial crisis from Larry Elliott in The Guardian today. You can read it here:

I posted the response below:

What is the sensible response to an economic crisis caused by people being up to their eyes in debt?

One would think it would be for people to spend less and to sort out the finances. Get used to the idea of putting money aside for a rainy day, or, novel idea, actually saving for things before buying them.

And isn't that actually what the masses are doing? Seeing troubled times ahead, people are spending less, thinking of having a more frugal Christmas and putting money by in case they lose their jobs. Getting used to living within our means and valuing what is closer to us, taking local holidays instead of weekend breaks in Prague, etc. will also have positive repurcussions when it comes to the depletion of resources and the carbon-overloaded atmosphere.

Sensible steps, which could mark a shift in how people consume.

Except these are exactly the opposite of what is needed to preserve the global financial system. Our leaders are worried that people aren't taking on yet more debt, so trying to make it as attractive as possible. They are toying with the idea of tax cuts, but worried people may save the money instead of blowing it. Deflation is feared because people may wait before buying in the expectation that prices may fall further.

It is sensible behaviour that our leaders fear.

The question is, can the global financial system be re-engineered so it not only allows for sustainable living, but promotes it?

Or is it our duty to spend and consume more because the system cannot even stand us being satisfied? The economy has to grow year after year after year.

Again, maybe we should trust the masses to answer this question, by putting forward their proposals to the Simultaneous Policy campaign. The recent policy supplement was on the theme of avoiding financial and climate meltdown, which may be a good starting point if you want to get involved in telling our leaders what they need to do. See:

You can add to the sensible, planet-saving action from people, the switch from gas-guzzling SUVs. Ford's sales fell by 53.9% GM is rushing to get out an electric car. See:

November 10, 2008

Gordon Brown's global vision

This is from Gordon Brown, UK Prime Minister, speaking today:

"And I believe that in our international co-operation on finance, climate change, terrorism and ending conflict, there is evidence of this new multilateralism at work in the world – fairer, more stable and more prosperous because it is rooted in cooperation and justice.

"And if we learn from our experience of turning unity of purpose into unity of action, together we can seize this moment of profound change to create, for the first time, the age of the truly global society, one where progressive multilateralism, not narrow unilateralism, is the norm."

Well, governments acting simultaneously to address global problems is the aim of the Simultaneous Policy campaign, so if this multilateralism turns into reality that will be a significant step forward. Simultaneous action removes the fear of first-mover disadvantage and should enable more comprehensive responses to be introduced.

Prime Minister Brown also had this to say (see The Guardian report):

"We cannot afford to put climate change into the international pending tray because of the present economic difficulties," he said. "On the contrary, we must use the imperative to act for our future prosperity through the transition to a low carbon economy and reduced oil dependency as a route to creating jobs and economic opportunity for our peoples today."

Which is great. Though if you look at the Prime Ministers past action, then there is less cause for optimism. Critics point to his insitence on pushing ahead with high-carbon capital projects, such as a third runway at Heathrow Airport as a jump-start to the economy.

So the transparency and democratic involvement engendered by the Simultaneous Policy approach is still missing.

November 5, 2008

Congratulations President Obama

And so the 44th President of the United States will be President Barack Obama. A historic day indeed. But what are the lessons I draw for the Simultaneous Policy campaign.

Firstly, it was a tight result. Though the Electoral College result suggests a convincing Obama win, the actual vote, as currently declared is Obama 52.1%, McCain 44.5%. Less than 8 percentage points, which means only 4% of voters needed to switch sides for the opposite result. And less than 70% of electors voted. Hence the focus by both candidates on trying to persuade their supporters to vote.

So if the Simultaneous Policy campaign could mobilize sufficient numbers of those who have given up on conventional politics to support the candidate pledging to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments, it could swing elections, even in the US. People did send messages to the candidates to this effect, but not in sufficient numbers this time around to put the campaign on their radar amongst all the other issues.

How is it that the country should be so nearly split down the middle, election after election? Surely it is because both candidates now and historically, position themselves either side of the centre ground. Despite the rhetoric and some key policy differences (ostensibly on Iraq, for instance), there is a lot of common ground. Similarities became even more striking during the campaign. For example, in the last Presidential debate, speaking on energy policy, Obama said he would look at offshore drilling, which had been one of McCain's key points of difference. It was a clever construction, seemingly a concession to those sympathetic to the 'Drill, baby, drill' chanting at the Republican Convention, while being easily abandonded with the comment: "We looked and decided against it."

Or at least those who feared Obama was selling out his climate-change credential will hope.

Once in the White House with oil lobbyists on one side and a public concerned about fuel prices and reluctant to change lifestyles on the other, maybe that drilling will go ahead.

Because Obama finds himself in the same situation as every elected leader. He needs to satisfy his electorate, which has the primary concern of their own well-being. That boils down to their jobs and financial security above all else. So when US companies threaten disinvestment if their agenda is not followed, they have a powerful lever.

While we can be hopeful that President Obama will deliver the change the world needs, we would be wise to continue to build public pressure for it.

The AVAAZ campaign is already gathering signatures for key parts of its own 'global justice' agenda. You can sign on at:

This gives you the opportunity to add your own additional message and I added: "Please pledge to implement, alongside other governments, the Simultaneous Policy - the policies developed and approved by people around the world to address global problems."

What those policies will be will be clearer when the results of the latest annual voting round are released shortly. But the opportunity continues for entering the debate and shaping the policies. You can join the discussion at:

However hopeful we may be about President Obama and his leadership role, policy setting will still take place behind closed doors and international agreements will be reached on the basis of power rather than argument. The Simultaneous Policy makes the process democratic and transparent.

November 4, 2008

Votes being counted

The counting is taking place in the US Presidential election. Simultaneous Policy campaign supporters have been sending messages to the candidates asking them to pledge to implement alongside other governments the people's policies for dealing with global problems. Neither pledged to do so, but that does not stop whoever is elected doing so when in office. The prediction is, of course, that tomorrow we wake to President-elect Barack Obama and John McCain will still be a Senator.

At the same time, counting is taking place in the annual vote on policies for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy. Anyone can vote - and even put forward their own proposals - by signing up as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter, which is free to do at:

Voting also takes place on issues, which may be addressed by one or more policies. Top issues and policies are given more space in campaign materials and public meetings. In last year's voting, climate change was the top issue. You can find the results in the 'policy' pages of the website and on the discussion board, where more details of policies are given and you have the chance to question those backing them. See:

These pages will be updated once the 2008 votes have been processed. Unfortunately the processing is not as well resourced as the Presidential race.