The Economics of Empowerment

Previously published at JohnBrianShannon.com by John Brian Shannon

The Economics of Empowerment: How We Could Add Unimaginable Wealth to Our Civilization by Adopting New Ways of Thinking

There’s a circle centred around a geographical point in Asia where 51% of the world’s people live. That’s 3.6 billion who live in an area only slightly larger than the United States (once you factor-in the land that humans can actually live on)

The 51 Percent Circle.
‘The 51% Circle’ in Asia – where 3.6 billion people live on chunks of arable land that in their totality, aren’t much larger than the U.S.A.

‘The Circle’ has perhaps the widest disparity levels in the world; While some of the people living within that circle have fabulous wealth, others live their entire lives at landfill sites sifting through the flotsam and jetsam in a desperate attempt to find items of value to sell on the street.

Of course, there are disparities all over the Earth but nowhere else are there 3.6 billion people living in relative proximity to each other, some of whom may drive a different Lamborghini each day of the week and fly their personal jets at the weekend to the many exotic resorts in that part of the world, while others live in squalid tents with no water supply nor electricity their entire lives.

If ever there was a region of the Earth where investors might find the most highly motivated workers and many natural resources available to create huge returns on investment, this has got to be it!

In the West, where I live, we are beset by ‘First World Problems’ — it’s a family emergency when little Jimmy doesn’t get EXACTLY the tablet computer he desired for Christmas, or when the pizza delivery driver is 20 minutes late with our pizza. Even more serious is getting stuck in a traffic jam when we’re on our way home from work.

Very. Serious. Problems.

In The Circle, a ‘serious problem’ is when a venomous cobra has killed five people in your tent-city neighbourhood overnight, or when the water supply that is required to sustain human life is suddenly cut off by the authorities or by farmers who divert much of the water for their own use farther upstream, or when the river disappears due to drought.

In some areas of The Circle, once a criminal gang begins operating in your region, your life begins to change on that very day and whatever they decide to do with you, that will be your fate for the rest of your life…

Like the lions of Africa, life is ‘day-to-day’ for alarmingly large numbers of humans caught inside this sometimes cruel circle. At any given moment, a lion in Africa may get killed by hunters/poachers, by competing lions, by a pack of hyenas, or by a stealthy underwater crocodile at the old watering-hole, or any number of other reasons. Shockingly few lions make it to middle age.

And so it is with people who live within most of The Circle. Life is cheap there. You live ‘day-to-day’. If you can’t find a way to make yourself useful or even better, indispensable to someone wealthy — you’re gone.

As I’ve said, it’s a region with highly motivated people and under-developed resources.

Even investors with the worst track record in history should be able to strike it rich almost anywhere within The Circle

If the 20th-Century was ‘all about The Baby Boomers’ and ‘enabling’ their generation to add huge wealth to the Western nation economies by virtue of their buying power (called ‘Disposable Income’ by economists) — we in the 21st-Century might do as well by empowering the people in The Circle to become all that they can and should be…

We’re looking at nothing less than the greatest opportunity to create wealth in the history of the planet — an order of magnitude larger than the baby boomer wealth-creation paradigm

And in so doing, we’ll lift billions of people out of poverty, creating trillions of dollars of new wealth for corporations and dramatically increasing revenue to government coffers, and provide opportunities for ‘Circler’s’ to earn life-changing disposable income.

Instead of the one success story that we hear endlessly trumpeted on headlines everywhere; Apple Computer now worth $1 Trillion Dollars (by virtue of Apple’s decision to choose low-cost manufacturing in China and sales to EVERYWHERE on Earth) we could have dozens or hundreds of similar success stories (and not only in regards to personal electronics, but in many segments of the economy)

As a civilization we can choose to drop this ball or we can choose to make it work for us

The people who live within The Circle are highly motivated to do their part.

All it will take to add trillions of dollars of wealth to the global economy is the empowerment of an already motivated people via the implementation of a more detailed version of this vision, along with courageous political leadership to see it through to its best destiny — a destiny that works for everyone on the planet.

(Or, we could allow mediocrity to rule the day allowing the region to deteriorate, becoming the largest breeding ground for terrorism that the world has ever seen with enough terrorist numbers to seriously impact life on planet Earth — as compared to the relatively minor bits of terrorism we’ve seen emanating from other impoverished regions, thus far)

The West became incredibly rich by empowering The Baby Boomers in the 1945-2000 timeframe and the ‘Boomers’ responded by creating unprecedented wealth and a better standard of life for billions of people.

It’s high time for us to empower The Circle so that they can add their wealth-creation and better-standard-of-life contribution to our shared civilization.

The best time to do that was 20-years ago. The second-best time is now.


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Large Scale Job Sharing Could Prevent a Host of Societal Ills

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Truism: Whenever and wherever the unemployment rate is low anywhere in the world, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness drops.

Jobs prevent the depression that leads to drug abuse, crime, and eventually, homelessness.

Because corporations in North America prefer a high-ish unemployment rate (to guarantee they get the choicest and hungriest applicants, and to ensure a large pool of seasonal labour, and as a device that works to continuously dampen calls for a higher minimum wage) we have the follow-on problems of depression, leading to drug abuse in some cases, which eventually leads to crime and later, homelessness for many of the working poor.

Which results in higher costs to society and it’s the taxpayers who must cover those costs, one way or another

To solve this utterly predictable set of problems, all levels of government should be working with corporations to ensure that corporate needs are met — but without destroying the lives of many people who would frankly, rather be working!

When everyone matters, society works better.

Nordic countries ask; What societal problems?

Sweden has mandatory job sharing in those industries that can’t employ all of their workers. Except for retired people, students, those with chronic illness, or the very wealthy, everyone in the country works for *at least* 6 months of the year. Which neatly prevents such societal ills.

If you’ve ever visited Sweden, you’ll notice nobody lives in dumpsters there

Nordiske-flag Image courtesy of Hansjorn
Nordic flags. Image courtesy of Hansjorn. From left; Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark.

Some industries in Sweden can’t use all of their available workers, so if you’re a worker in that particular industry it simply means that you’re ‘on work’ for 6 months and you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months of the year.

The ‘alternate person’ steps in and does ‘your job’ for 6 months while you’re on mandatory time off. Both people get Unemployment Insurance (UI) from Day 1 of their respective layoff dates.

It’s not like layoffs in North America. It’s more like, “Your scheduled time ‘off work’ is coming up, Anders. So, have you arranged the dates with your temporary replacement? You have? Thank you.”

In Sweden, you ‘own’ your job, you’re responsible for it, and you want to perform well for the company that has given you the responsibility for making sure that ‘your job’ is done properly

Also, even though you’re ‘off work’ for 6 months, you’re still expected to be available to fill that position whenever the alternate worker is ill, or can’t make it to work for any other reason. You like that a lot, because their UI system doesn’t penalize you for kindly making yourself available to the company AND you get to keep the wages you earned that day.

If you’re ‘on work’ for your 6 months and suddenly want a day ‘off work’ to go buy a house, propose to your partner or whatever, you just arrange it with your job sharing partner — and you’re covered. They come in and do your work for you. You inform the company merely out of courtesy that this will be happening. It’s ‘your job’ after all — not the company’s job.

So, let’s say that you’re off work for 6 months and ‘Sven’ (the person doing your job) has a skiing accident and needs 10 days off work to recover, you not only get your regular UI payment, you also get the normal wages for each day that you replaced Sven.

In this hypothetical job sharing scenario, the job of ‘Anders’ and ‘Sven’ is totally covered no matter what, 365 days of the year

Overtime wages? Unknown in Sweden. With one phone call the company simply adds another already trained worker to the project, and can keep them employed any number of days, or until project completion. Then, they send them back home until the company calls again to help with another project.

Everyone has a job, or is on UI for part of the year. Consequently, depression, drug abuse, crime, and homelessness are almost unknown in Sweden

Everyone has a job. Whether you are ‘off work’ for a time, or ‘on work’ for a time — you have a job, you have a place in society, you belong to a community. You may work 100 days per year, you may work 200 days per year, or any number of days between 100 to 365 days per year in Sweden. It depends how busy your particular industry is in that particular year.

The takeaway point is; If you live in Sweden — you’re a worker, you’re a valued person, you’re part of Sweden’s ongoing success, you belong.

When everyone matters — corporations work better, society works better, and the UN scores your country highly on the UN Happiness Index

Corporations like this employment policy, because more employees than they can afford to keep employed year ’round ‘own’ their particular position and over the course of a year, both workers communicate often, to make certain that every single working day of the year is ‘covered’ for the company.

The company doesn’t care which of the two workers are onsite on any given day, because both are eminently qualified and both feel that they ‘own the job’ and are responsible for it. Which is much better for the corporation when compared to only one person owning that job.

What happens in a Swedish company when an employee has time off due to illness, mandatory maternity leave, vacation times, or car trouble?

Nothing. The alternate worker is likely already on the premises doing the job. Utter, boring, Swedish efficiency! Also known as the Nordic Model — a fascinating mix of social and economic policies which has shown steady, predictable results, going on four decades.

The company knows that every work day of the year, each position in the company will be filled by the regular worker or the alternate worker — no matter what!

The inequality in North America is stunning. And there’s no good excuse for it. It’s merely a lack of leadership. Governments are kowtowing to uninspired, faceless, and unaccountable corporations that only care about the bottom line.

But hey, don’t blame the corporations! They’re in business to make a buck — not to solve social problems — that’s the government’s job.

But when the corporations are the ones causing the social problems via their policy of keeping workers hungry for work through a policy of high unemployment, union-busting, threats to export jobs to Asia, downsizing threats and more — that’s when we need to look at a better model.

And in the case of Sweden and the other Nordic countries, a much better model already exists — not just for society, but one that works better for corporations as well.

Seawater + Halophyte Crops to ‘Green’ World’s Deserts

byJohn Brian Shannon
Originally published at johnbrianshannon.com

What could be better than creating rich cropland out of the world’s desert regions?

It’s a tempting idea. Some 33% of the world’s landmass is covered with desert landscape and 40,000 miles of it is located near oceans, having both abundant sunshine and unlimited saltwater within reasonable distance. In fact, prototype halophyte farming projects have already shown early signs of success.

NASA - Earth with Global Deserts
NASA – Earth with Global Deserts

Halophytes are those crops which are salt-tolerant and can survive the blistering heat of the world’s deserts. Many of the crops we presently grow have salt-resistant cousins — all they need is trenches or pipelines to deliver the water inland from the sea in order to thrive. Halophyte crops negate the need to remove the high salt content of ocean water, which in itself, is a very costly proposition with the average desalination plant costing many millions of dollars. As halophyte farms become established they can also improve growing conditions for non-halophyte plants.

Unlike blasting with explosives in rocky areas to create water supply trenches or canals (which is expensive and time-consuming) most deserts are sand, which means all that is required to begin creating usable farmland is minor startup funding, an excavator, a field plan, seeds, and labourers familiar with farming techniques.

Creating Wealth out of Sand and Seawater

Some of the poorest places on the planet are also ‘rich’ in deserts and are located near plentiful salt water resources, making them suitable candidates for halophyte farming. Economic benefits for poor countries are stable growth, lower unemployment, better balance-of-trade and less reliance on foreign food aid programmes. If you can grow your own food at low cost, why buy it from other countries?

Some informative (YouTube) halophyte farming videos are available below:

Greening Eritrea Part I (Martin Sheen narrates the early days of Eritrea’s very successful halophyte farming and inland seafood production)

Greening Eritrea Part II

Seawater irrigation agriculture projects for deserts (completely rainless regions)

2012 Yuma, Arizona Salicornia planting

Sahara Forest Project: From vision to reality

University of Phoenix Seawater Farming Overview

Growing Potatoes using Saltwater Farming Techniques in the Netherlands

Other successful examples exist in other coastal regions around the world

Helping to mitigate global sea level rises due to climate change, creating powerful economic zones out of desert, seawater and labour, lowering unemployment in poverty-stricken nations, removing carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the soil where it belongs helping plants to thrive — while dramatically increasing crop and seafood production are all benefits of using halophyte farming techniques in coastal desert regions of the world.

The first 25,000 miles of coastal desert out of a grand total of 40,000 miles of coastal desert globally can be converted to this kind of farming simply by showing up and using existing and simple halophyte farming methods and seed varieties. The other 15,000 miles of coastal desert regions could be viewed as Stage II of this process after the best candidate areas become fully cultivated, as these secondary regions may require more capital investment for conversion due to their somewhat more inland locations.

Huge opportunity awaits early investors in this rediscovered agricultural market. Cheap land, free ocean water, low cost seeds and local labour, and a reputation as exemplary businesspeople who solve local problems, add value and employment to poverty-stricken regions and lead growing nations forward, are in store for seawater/halophyte farming owner/operators and investors.

Further Reading

China Opens A Window of Opportunity 2014-2020

by John Brian Shannon.

Three Decades of GDP Growth

After three full decades of impressive GDP numbers, China’s strong growth looks set to continue until the end of the decade.

Never in history has any country accomplished such staggering GDP growth numbers, modernized its infrastructure, oriented its political structures to accept a minimal degree of capitalism, and carry the demands of 1.35 billion people.

Let’s take a look at China’s 1979-2013 GDP numbers.

China GDP growth 1979-2013. Image courtesy of the IMF.

China is now enjoying stable growth rates. In short, as China’s economy has matured, it has successfully transitioned from a Frontier economy to an Emerging economy — and with plenty of momentum in hand, has settled-in to the long-term task of building a Developed economy.

For those willing to engage with China there is the potential for substantial reward, and as in any emerging economy, an element of risk is associated with investing there. In the case of investment or corporate relocation to China, responsible leaders and individual investors alike, are wise to seek the guidance from experienced professionals as they navigate several cultures and languages and the various levels and departments of a (still) communist government.

Focus on Planning

Fortunately, statist economies like China’s are centrally-planned in five year cycles, and for the most part these five year plans are released, translated, and then published by the media.

For one example of China’s long-range planning, in this case regarding China’s aggressive energy, renewable energy and conservation policies, please see: CHINA – Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan – State Council on the issuance of air pollution control action plan notification – Guo Fa 2013, No.37 [English Translation]

For a summary of that official document, please see: China’s new Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Action Plan

Addressing the Source

One of China’s most pressing problems is the quality of life for her citizens, the absence of which can affect overall citizen satisfaction and even worker productivity.

The poor air quality in China, which reportedly leads to 410,000 premature worker deaths per year, has been addressed with a huge push towards renewable energy. The Common Language Project (clpmag.org) provides a telling snapshot:

“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth.

Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel.

It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.

Deforestation and desertification are also issues and an estimated one-fifth of agricultural land since 1949 has been lost to soil erosion and economic development. The country is also host to the trade of endangered species. The country’s rivers constitute the largest potential source of hydropower in the world.

Since 2007, China has stepped up government efforts to work toward environmental sustainability by holding local officials to national standards, publishing national climate change policies and establishing groups on climate change.” — clpmag.org

Measurable Results

To say China’s leadership has posted an aggressive response to air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination and the follow-on effects on citizen health and the economic costs of widespread pollution is a verifiable understatement.

In only a few years, China has surpassed wind and solar PV leaders Germany and the U.S. in the production and installation of wind turbines and solar panels and increased energy efficiency.

Announced in July of 2013, China’s National Energy Administration told the media that they expected to install 10 GW of solar by year end of 2013, another 10 GW of solar to be installed in year 2014, and yet another 10 GW of solar to be installed in year 2015.

While many nations were installing mere MegaWatts (MW) of solar or wind power in an effort to ‘look green’ — China’s energy officials said that although they had planned to install 10 GW of solar power in 2013, China may have surpassed that target by a full 4 GigaWatts for a grand total of 14 GW of solar installed in year 2013!

It was later announced that 12 GW would be installed in year 2014, and it has been reset once more to 14 GW of solar PV power to be installed in year 2014.

The latest pollution reduction measures announced in China now point to increased spending on energy efficiency and a commitment to the installation of 14 GW of solar panels in 2013 (already done), another 14 GW in year 2014 (in progress) and yet another 14 GW for 2015.

Now that’s an active pollution management file.

Energy news is never boring in China — so stay tuned!