Monday, June 13, 2011

Hoermann's Ideas for a Possible Way Forward

On to solutions then. Today I'm drawing from an interview Prof. Hoermann gave for WienTV late April this year, rather than pulling together the best parts of multiple sources. My domestic schedule has been absurdly hectic this past week or so, so anything more ambitious than a direct translation has to fall by the wayside. I don't think that's such a big deal, since the material in the almost 50 minute long interview is strong.

As background I'll just cover quickly the interview's opening 5 mins or so. Hoermann and other academics started in 2004-5 to attack the question of how to transition from the current, broken system to a very different one. Their first idea was to found a private university in which the students (the children of former east block oligarchs who had experienced systemic collapse) would have co-built and set it up. They would have been trained to become ambassadors and technicians of those ideas they themselves had co-developed. Their application was turned down twice. After much soul searching they decided to found an institute, for which the rules are not as stringent, but as they began the financial crisis began unraveling (it was summer 2007), and the rest, as they say, is history. Hoermann and his fellows are now following the tack of books, interviews and Internet presence generally in a spirit of 'We're all in this together.” He is at pains to point out, and does so again and again, even in his book, that what is put forward are suggestions to be experimented with in a spirit of open learning and not fixed instructions to be followed to the letter. And such has informed my translation. ;-)

WienTV: How will the information flow from the system to the citizens and back? How will the system be able to detect and react to dissatisfaction and unhappiness?

Franz Hoermann: The system must function on at least two levels. The first is a formal level which is already integrated. Because we're setting up at least two accounting circuits, we'll be able to react to both individuals and groups who have, e.g., too little purchasing power, too little purchasing power in one or more of these circuits. Then, to put it prosaically, a red light would go on, whereupon one would first look into which need is not adequately being met, then consider which measures might be most appropriate in response, initially temporary solutions like changes in elements of the design, or find new roles for people, or look at rewards for work done, or whether special bonuses are due, or we rearrange or reconstruct, or we hide something for a period … you know? We'd simply improvise for a while, until we hit the solid solution from which generally appropriate responses can be established. And, besides the formal feedback for which the red lights have been built into the system, there'll also be real communications platforms where people can communicate informally, say things like, “Yeah, I'm coping with my job, no problem there, and I'm happy with my standard of living, but I'm bored!” or, “I don't have enough social contacts in my life.” Whatever bothers people, they can report in these forums, and then we'll try improve things accordingly. In the final analysis though, we have to get to a situation in which the people themselves can co-create and co-design the system.

But, we must of course point out that today such is highly unusual, since we're not really accustomed to, probably most can't even imagine a situation in which we shape our own money or economic system. Today we still believe that to do so requires a special education or qualification, or the experience of a successful businessman, or perhaps as banker or politician. But it won't be that way in our new concept. Creative people—and the best outcome would be if all could fully develop their own creativity—[must be drawn more deeply into designing social and economic processes.]

WTV: How will education work, be financed? Is education free?

FH: Of course. This is one of the key themes. We suggest, and these really are suggestions, that people have a [“Lebensbegleiter” is a new word so has no translation] 'coach for life,' a 'guide for life,' and it would be nice if this person were a member of the family, with experience. For this role there would be a host of courses and skills to be learned; psychology, coaching, mediation, all the things we have to day, and each can choose from this broad palette whatever first appeals. Lebensbegleiter would have to accompany 10 to 20 people or so, their whole lives, but of course only when their 'chemistry' works—you can choose you Begleiter, there are no fixed rules here, no centralization. 'Guides for life' would have the challenge of helping their charges fully develop their potential, exclusively via positive motivation, by trying to find out what sort of a person their charge is. This is the exact opposite of today's education system! Today's education system attempts to pull students through a set of supposedly objective standards—which is actually impossible for human potential, so these standards are in fact synthetic, synthesized—which, it is hoped, guarantee some minimum level of education. In our design it's completely different. We always develop individual paths, tailored to each individual, for which there is no 'correct' and 'incorrect,' and are primarily concerned with those things which make the individual happy, which, additionally perhaps, also achieve some positive social utility ... that would be the path he or she [follows]. At some point perhaps a person comes to a juncture where he or she decides to change direction, and they will be given every chance to do so, since it's best when people are multi-talented. […snip…]

Today's school system isn't there to ensure that all children develop optimally, rather, primarily, to ensure that teachers earn an income, in this crazy money system. The emphasis in teacher training is on expertise or technical knowledge, not on psychology, and not at all on the psychology of each individual student. One tries to instill in teachers how, roughly, to guess at their students' abilities, via scales and quantitative grading, which is absolutely impossible. [For example,] hundreds of experiments have shown, that the same lesson, taught by the same teacher, early in the morning or later in the afternoon, results in a difference of up to two grades. […snip…] [And rote learning really isn't learning at all.]

In our system, people are responsible for their life's development, and are accompanied throughout their journey by their 'life guide.' They can change direction at any time, for example take a year out to further develop body and mind, [financed by the guaranteed income].

WTV: How will your system cope with the problems thrown up by pleasant and unpleasant jobs, such as people not wanting to do the unpleasant work?

FH: We assume that, during the transition, there will be unpleasant jobs to be done. That's the way it is.

WTV: For example?

FH: For example physically strenuous work; working on a building site, or rubbish collection … although, there are people, or a certain percentage of people, who have no problem with such work. And if such work makes them happy, then of course they should do it. But, perhaps it would be best if we could arrange things such that they don't only do physically strenuous work. Perhaps they would only do such work two days of the week, then on other days occupy themselves with other things, things that could develop their mind, build social contacts with people who don't work the same type of job. Today we live our lives in boxes. We talk to people mostly from our area of expertise, and hardly ever with those from different careers. An academic and a builder rarely meet, say to play cards, or go to a restaurant or concert. That just doesn't happen today, and in my opinion that is a very damaging situation. Because, people who, let's say come from what we today call a 'higher' level, simply don't understand the lives of those with 'simpler' work. And, because they cannot understand their fellow humans, have prejudices which they then, for example, blindly bring into the political sphere. This is exacerbated by the fact that we today clearly overvalue academic, theoretical and political work. Extremely overvalued. I mean, when you consider how an academic degree—and I'm not talking about plagiarized or ghost-written degrees, although they of course exist, and perhaps very often—degrees don't really tell us much about the abilities of people who hold them, and certainly say nothing about their social abilities, their willingness to communicate and engage with other social groups, to learn of their successes and wishes. And that is a serious problem today which is exacerbated by a materialistic money system, a zero-sum game in which I have to take from people if I have to win something for myself.

WTV: How should one understand what happens when suddenly everyone wants to do the nice jobs, or even the horrible ones? Is there going to be some kind of capping?

FH: No. There are as few regulations as possible. This is something that people often misunderstand, especially if they've only heard a little of what we're proposing, or have a shallow understanding of it, and believe we putting forwarding some centralized, inflexibly model. No, we're proposing the exact opposite. The exact opposite. We would, should a majority of the people—otherwise this all just remains an idea—should a majority want to set this thing in motion, we would start with one particular variant, we're going to have to start somewhere, and then the process would develop in the community as wished and shaped by that community. And then we would withdraw to function increasingly as mere advisors. The idea is that people will have, right from the beginning of their social lives, a very different education, they begin from the earliest age with active roles in the community, in particular cooperative ventures which they experience as fulfilling and joyous, because these activities allow them to use their best abilities and talents, cooperatively, working with others. Then we'll have people who learn that pulling the wool over others' eyes, exploiting others, fooling them, which all happens at school today in the competition for good grades … And we even have the situation in some schools that there should be such a thing as a normal grade distribution. That is totally insane! Then there's no development, you see. To work to a predetermined normal grade distribution means that we negate positive development, that we don't admit or allow it. That is the most stupid thing we can do! For this reason, then, no more numerical [grade] assessments, we will deal with each child individually, encourage and nurture their unique abilities in a happy environment focused on joint endeavours aimed at generating the most creative ideas and solutions for society. And this [learning/work] will be rewarded with our 'thin-air' money, or 'performance-points' [generated directly by] social contribution, from which they then have real purchasing power.

In this way children will learn very early on that they themselves contribute to the society they live in, that their actions shape the world they live in. Then, when they're engaged with a difficult manual job or unpleasant task, perhaps because they want the reward it brings, it won't be the work itself that is the focus of their attention, but rather finding the most creative way of accomplishing it, to automate themselves out of a job, so to speak. This is of course in high contrast to today's job world. Today a bricklayer can only lay bricks. He can't build a robot that lays bricks, even if somehow he knew how to, because then all other bricklayers would be after him for making them redundant.

WTV: How do you respond to the criticism that your plans require centralized planning, that there would be a small group of people in complete control?

FH: Well, yes, at the beginning there would indeed be a small group of people developing the software, perhaps another administering the server room, and so on. But really, when you think about it, we trust today small groups of people, like the fire brigade, or groups like the Red Cross, emergency doctors etc., and exactly in these areas we see people more concerned with the social consequences of their work than with personal gain. These are the types of people best qualified for such work. And of course the whole thing is democratically organized, no question about it. There won't be some small party or private business exerting control, extorting society with their advanced specialized knowledge. That would be totally counterproductive, it simply can't be set up that way. And then, when the system has developed a certain rhythm, has found its stride, maybe after a few years, then the community would decide who does what when. This requires us to develop collective intelligence, with which people can fulfill and assign these key tasks responsibly and purposefully, and not selfishly.

[…snip…]

WTV: What will people who have a lot, i.e. the very wealthy, do with their wealth? You said in your last interview they would be invited to give away their riches. What do you mean?

FH: Not that they should give away all their belongings, that's not what I meant. What I meant was when a person no longer has faith in today's currencies, that is money, not property as such, that he or she should try to spend that money into the real economy, and that which can't be spent, that should be given away somehow, at least while we have the time-buffer between now and total collapse of world currencies. But, this change [to the new] will create, for the very rich, considerable psychological stress. And here we have to point out that everything they bring into the new system, say money, will be credited, at some exchange rate, as 'points' to their accounts. Nothing disappears, but the 'money' will not earn interest. If they leave it alone, it would just sit there and not grow. Probably the 'value' of these 'points' will stay more constant than today's money, which suffers from inflation, since the new system would operate along very different lines than today's [market driven] supply and demand; namely, as steered by the intelligence of the network's participants. For example, those who manufacture some product, and those who represent demand for it, its consumers, would cooperate in the network, and out of this general cooperation a price would arise, with which this product would … today one says “brought to market” --- reach the end user. For each product then a unique delivery solution. For example, for some mass-produced item that everyone needs, there might be some fixed delivery process, with a new product we have no experience of, we'd begin with a distribution mechanism designed to allow a consensus to develop, and then alter the distribution accordingly.

This is really critical point. Today's economists apply [market-based] supply and demand 'laws' universally, regardless of whether we're distributing necessities like rice, or some luxury good like a gentleman's wrist watch. And just on this one point alone we can see how economists have no clue about reality. There must be different distribution procedures for necessities and luxuries.

WTV: Yeah, I guess so!

FH: Exactly. Logically speaking, and looking at it humanely, we would have it that way already. But, sadly, this humane perspective is not deeply embedded in our system.”


The rest is a discussion of the coming currency collapse, which Hoermann is predicting, according to his latest interview, beginning July-August of this year.

I will continue with more on the solution side of things next week, time permitting! I'll close though with a passage in which Hoermann details the alternative to 'money as wealth':

“And this is why the notion that money has value is so dangerous and counterproductive. If it is a measure, then it can only be the abstraction of the value of some economic process, that is, the creation of a good or a service. But then it can't be a thing that we pass around, that has some changing value we fight over because it can be kept scarce. And this is the absolute, central core of our non-materialistic money system, in which money only appears then, when some social contribution has been realized. Ours is a performance-backed money, one which would have enormous advantages, since it would only be about documenting genuine social contribution in the real economy. For such “bonus points” with purchasing power will be given.”

(I've been at this for over 5 hours now, and have much else to do here at home, so I'm posting it without editing. I'll do that tomorrow. Apologies for any mistakes that have crept through!)

3 comments:

Red said...

Hey Toby,

This is fantastic stuff! Thanks for the head's up.

Toby said...

You're very welcome Red (Gerrymander??).

I should be expanding on this at the weekend, but if you can't wait just search for Hoermann stuff on YouTube and you'll get it straight from the horse's mouth!

Red said...

yes, it's me... gmail shortened it for me. I'll definitely check out the youtube videos. Interesting stuff.