robertogreco + qualityoflife   28

Chile protests against President Pinera and deep inequality.
“But symbols get scrambled when they’re reused. If a spectacle resurfaces, its meaning rarely remains exactly the same. That’s happened with the Joker, and it’s happening with other old reference points too. Take the loud pot-beating protests that have been taking place all over Chile, called cacerolazos. People leaning out of windows or marching on the streets, loudly expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo and their support for the protests. (If you don’t know what that sounds like, here’s a video a relative sent me from Oct. 19, taken in the middle-class neighborhood of Ñuñoa.) If you were around and right-wing in 1971, the cacerolazos ringing out all across the country the past week—in rich neighborhoods and poor ones, in cities big and small—might remind you of the March of the Empty Pots, which many forget was actually undertaken by conservative Chilean women to register their opposition to Allende’s socialist government. Those protests were largely and functionally right-wing, but—like the cacerolazos against the government today, which have a very different politics—they also managed to transcend class differences.

Today, the cacerolazo seems to be transcending categories again. Because they seem to be coming from every sector, it’s not clear that Chile’s current situation is reducible to the usual right–left axes. On Friday night, the largest protest in the country’s history gathered, with approximately 1.2 million in Santiago and protests in solidarity all over the country. The sheer size also doesn’t lend itself easily to factionalist descriptions. That’s what sets this moment apart—and makes it seem just very faintly possible that a country that’s been rehashing the same triumphalist and traumatic stories about itself for decades might be able to pivot for a new chapter. While over 120 allegations of human rights violations are being investigated, including possible homicides by law enforcement and allegations of torture and sexual abuse—as well as hundreds of people injured by birdshot—the massive gatherings have not yet resulted in the kind of brutal military crackdown that happened in 1973.

I started here by referring, as for years one had to, to the country’s two protagonists: Pinochet and Allende. They were symbols of two very different Chiles. But when I said that these sights in Chile the past week would be traumatic if you were alive in 1973, I meant it. Many Chileans weren’t alive then. This contingent—young, buckling under increasing costs of living and enormous debt—seems tired of relitigating the past. They’re objecting, at least in part, to the long shadow Pinochet and Allende have cast: to the way Pinochet has been used endlessly as an excuse by the left while they preserved many or most aspects of his economic model; to the way Allende has remained a boogeyman for the right, used to scare children with stories of financial ruin and leftist terrorism. It even makes a certain horribly Freudian kind of sense that breaking the country out of these unproductive narrative recursions would require a strange and terribly dangerous semi-reenactment. With tanks on the streets. Lines in the stores. Fires. Fights.

I don’t want to downplay the intensity of what’s happened the past week. The chaos has many Chileans exhausted and on edge. What began with a student protest over a subway fare hike has exploded into nationwide marches against much more: an unsustainably high cost of living, poverty-level retirements, bad and expensive health care, poor education, and crushing debt, to name a few. President Sebastián Piñera called a state of emergency in the early hours of Oct. 19, deploying the military. Much of the country is now under curfew. As of this writing, 18 people have died. There is footage of soldiers beating civilians; one video captures Carabineros (militarized police) bludgeoning people as they walk by. A TV network aired live footage of soldiers shooting as they drove through a neighborhood in Recoleta. On Tuesday morning, an Argentine TV news team was broadcasting when a soldier lifted his rifle and shot at them with a rubber bullet. By Tuesday night, there was footage of soldiers shooting into a building in Las Condes. Chile’s infrastructure has been heavily damaged in the protests too: After Oct. 18, most of the subway system was severely damaged and temporarily shut down. Dozens of stations were burned. While some lines are partly operational, full function won’t be restored for months. Buses and police precincts and stores were set on fire. Hundreds of small and medium-size businesses throughout the country have had to close due to looting or other damage. Things are loud and frightening and wild.”



“On Friday, the Congress was evacuated due to protests outside, a peaceful (if loud) protest that by evening surpassed a million people in Plaza Baquedano alone. Though truckers have denied going on strike for fear of creating food shortages, they joined taxi drivers to bring the highways outside Santiago to gridlock, protesting against high road tolls. Efforts to create enough change are ongoing too: Evelyn Matthei, who served as Piñera’s former minister of labor during his first term, ran for president, and is currently mayor of Santiago’s Providencia district, said in an interview on Friday that the kind of profound change the country needed would require replacing “at least” eight of Piñera’s 24 ministers with people from the middle class with more diverse backgrounds that included (for example) public education experience. In the lower chamber of Congress, the House passed a proposed reduction in the work-week to 40 hours, and the opposition proposed a plebiscite for a new Constitution. To the extent that the demands are legible, the protests seem to be calling, first, for an end to the state of emergency and the military presence, and, more broadly, for a Constituent Assembly—for a new Constitution and a new social contract that sees people more as citizens than as a captive market for corporations seeking government concessions. Many are calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Chadwick, who spearheaded the initial escalation against the fare-dodgers. Others call for Piñera’s ouster. After the extraordinary, nation-wide outpouring Friday evening—Santiago’s protests were made up of almost 7 percent of the country’s population—Piñera tweeted, “The massive, joyous and peaceful protest today, where Chileans ask for a Chile with greater justice and solidarity, opens big roads to future and hope. We all have heard the message. We all have changed. With unity and help from God, we will travel this road to a better Chile for everyone.” Many of the chants had directly insulted him. On Saturday, he announced that he’d asked all his ministers to resign and said he would lift the state of emergency on Sunday if circumstances permitted. The curfew in Santiago is over. No one knows what will happen next.

***

I’ve noticed fewer Joker references over the last few days. And it feels like the potency of certain old spectacles—men in uniform confronting civilians, long grocery store lines—might be diminishing too. After a week of this state of emergency, things are not better in Chile. Things do not get easier when the “happy face” gets replaced by honest feeling. Tourism has plummeted, there are still fires, and people are anxious and angry and tired. But circumstances are not as bad as they could be. It could all go south at any time, but for now—for now—there is not desabastecimiento. The lines are not bread lines. (Yet.) Disturbing though the images of military attacking civilians are, things have not escalated to the familiar point of no return. I don’t know if that’s progress for a country both saturated by and sick of witnessed and inherited traumas. But it is something.

“Do you think Joker inspired any of this?” I asked my cousin Bernardita. “Of course,” she said, “or actually, the reverse: the social discontent inspired this interpretation of the Joker. Without a doubt.”

Whatever use the protesters have made of the Joker, there are obvious limits to his explanatory power. The protesters’ interpretation of the nihilistic clown has also taken some extratextual—and unifying—turns, such as the refusal of some politicians (and even a general) to adopt the rhetoric of war. The Joker snapped and turned on society. Chile is angry, and parts of it did snap. But by and large, the public still cares and has not devolved into nihilism. On Oct. 21, NO ESTAMOS EN GUERRA—WE ARE NOT AT WAR—was projected on the side of the Telefónica building near Plaza Italia, where huge crowds had gathered to reject the military’s enforcement of the curfew and test this version of Chile to see if it has changed. And if it can.”
lililoofbourow  chile  2019  protests  history  salvadorallende  pinochet  inequality  precarity  change  corruption  government  governance  democracy  neoliberlalism  chicagoboys  policy  politics  protest  sebastiánpiñera  michelebachelet  ricardolagos  dictatorship  symbols  symbolism  thejoker  batman  military  mobility  wellbeing  qualityoflife  labor  work  debt  violence  coup  trauma  injustice  justice  reform  constitution  eduardofrei  revolution  resistance  neoliberalism  capitalism  miltonfriedman  victorjara 
16 days ago by robertogreco
From Chile to Lebanon, Protests Flare Over Wallet Issues - The New York Times
"Pocketbook items have become the catalysts for popular fury across the globe in recent weeks."

"In Chile, the spark was an increase in subway fares. In Lebanon, it was a tax on WhatsApp calls. The government of Saudi Arabia moved against hookah pipes. In India, it was about onions.

Small pocketbook items became the focus of popular fury across the globe in recent weeks, as frustrated citizens filled the streets for unexpected protests that tapped into a wellspring of bubbling frustration at a class of political elites seen as irredeemably corrupt or hopelessly unjust or both. They followed mass demonstrations in Bolivia, Spain, Iraq and Russia and before that the Czech Republic, Algeria, Sudan and Kazakhstan in what has been a steady drumbeat of unrest over the past few months.

At first glance, many of the demonstrations were linked by little more than tactics. Weeks of unremitting civil disobedience in Hong Kong set the template for a confrontational approach driven by vastly different economic or political demands.

Yet in many of the restive countries, experts discern a pattern: a louder-than-usual howl against elites in countries where democracy is a source of disappointment, corruption is seen as brazen, and a tiny political class lives large while the younger generation struggles to get by.

“It’s young people who have had enough,” said Ali H. Soufan, chief executive of The Soufan Group, a security intelligence consultancy. “This new generation are not buying into what they see as the corrupt order of the political and economic elite in their own countries. They want a change.”

Few were as surprised as the leaders of those countries.

On Thursday, the President Sebastián Piñera of Chile boasted that his country was an oasis of stability in Latin America. “We are ready to do everything to not fall into populism, into demagoguery,” he said in an interview published in The Financial Times.

The next day, protesters attacked factories, torched subway stations and looted supermarkets in Chile’s worst upheaval in decades, eventually forcing Mr. Piñera to deploy troops to the streets. By Wednesday, at least 15 people were dead, and a clearly rattled Mr. Piñera had spoken of “war against a powerful and implacable enemy.”

In Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri survived recent embarrassing revelations about a $16 million gift to a bikini model whom he met at a luxury resort in the Seychelles in 2013, a move that, for some critics, epitomized Lebanon’s ruling class. Then last week he announced the tax on WhatsApp calls, setting off a revolt.

Decades of discontent over inequality, stagnation and corruption erupted into the open, drawing as much as a quarter of the country into euphoric antigovernment demonstrations driven by chants of “Revolution!”

With one of the highest levels of public debt and intractably low employment, Lebanon seems incapable of providing basic public services like electricity, clean drinking water or reliable internet service. Austerity measures have hollowed out the middle class, while the richest 0.1 percent of the population — which includes many politicians — earns a tenth of the country’s national income, much of it, critics say, from plundering the country’s resources.

On Monday Mr. Hariri scrapped the planned tax, announcing a hasty reform package to rescue the country’s sclerotic economy and pledging to recover public trust.

Although the recent scattering of mass protests appears dramatic, scholars say it is a continuation of a rising trend. For decades, societies across the world have become far likelier to pursue sweeping political change by taking to the streets.

The rate of protest has accelerated sharply of late, as various factors have converged: a slowing global economy, dizzying gaps between rich and poor and a youth bulge that in many countries has produced a restive new generation fizzing with frustrated ambition. In addition, the expansion of democracy has stalled globally, leaving citizens with unresponsive governments frustrated and activists sure that street action is the only way to force change.

But as protest movements grow, their success rates are plunging. Only 20 years ago, 70 percent of protests demanding systemic political change achieved it — a figure that had been growing steadily since the 1950s, according to a study by Erica Chenoweth, a Harvard University political scientist.

In the mid-2000s, that trend reversed. Success rates now stand at 30 percent, the study said, a decline that Professor Chenoweth called staggering.

These two trends are closely linked. As protests become more frequent but likelier to flounder, they stretch on and on, becoming more contentious, more visible — and more apt to return to the streets when their demands go unmet. The result may be a world where popular uprisings lose their prominence, becoming simply part of the landscape.

“Something has really shifted,” Professor Chenoweth said in an interview.

“You could say these protests mirror what’s going on in the United States,” said Vali Nasr, a Middle East scholar who recently stepped down as dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. In countries where elections are decisive, like the United States and Britain, skepticism about the old political order has produced populist, nationalist and anti-immigrant results at the polls.

“In other countries, where people don’t have a voice, you have massive protests erupting,” he said.

The disparate outbreaks of unrest have not gone unnoticed at the United Nations. Secretary General António Guterres raised them at a meeting of the International Monetary Fund this past weekend, his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said on Tuesday. Critics have accused the I.M.F. of exacerbating economic hardships in countries like Ecuador through austerity measures imposed to reduce debts.

“We are seeing demonstrations in different places, but there are some commonalities,” Mr. Dujarric said, citing “people feeling they are under extreme financial pressure, the issue of inequality, and a lot of other structural issues.”

Some experts say the rash of global protests is too diverse to neatly categorize or ascribe to a single theme. Michael Ignatieff, president of Central European University, was in Barcelona last week as more than 500,000 people thronged the streets after a court sentenced former separatist leaders to prison.

While the Barcelona protests bore some resemblance to mass demonstrations in other cities, Mr. Ignatieff said it would be a mistake to lump them together. “People are not being swept away by the madness of the crowds,” he said. “This is politics, with specific causes and specific issues. If you don’t acknowledge that, you make popular politics look like a series of crazy fashions, like the same trousers or headgear.”

Still, within some regions, the protests are often similar to each other.

In the Middle East, the tumult has drawn inevitable comparisons with the upheavals of the Arab Spring of 2011. But experts say these recent protests are driven by a new generation that cares less about the old sectarian or ideological divides.

Instead of calling for the head of a dictator as many Arabs did in 2011, the Lebanese have indicted an entire political class.

“They are stealing and pretending that they aren’t. Who’s responsible, if not them?” Dany Yacoub, 22, said on Monday, the fourth day she had spent protesting in central Beirut. She studied to be a music teacher, but said she cannot find a job because it takes political connections to get hired in a school. “We don’t believe them anymore,” she said.

Many Arabs have been wary of popular protest since the Arab Spring uprisings, heeding doom-tinged warnings from authoritarian leaders that any upheaval could tip their societies into the same violent chaos as Libya, Syria or Yemen.

But the recent wave of protests in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq — as well as revolts that toppled longstanding dictators in Algeria and Sudan this year — suggest that wall of fear is starting to crumble.

“Syria has been the boogeyman for a very long time,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “But Algeria and Sudan showed that chaos does not have to be the answer.”

Even in Saudi Arabia, where the threat of government repression makes public protests practically unthinkable, an unusual rebellion erupted on social media over a 100 percent tax on bills at restaurants with water pipes, or hookahs. The Arabic hashtag “tax on hookah restaurants” trended in the kingdom. Some Twitter commentators said the tax contradicted the ruling family’s desire to change Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative image.

If protests are quicker to stir and more widespread than in earlier decades, they are also more fragile. The painstaking mobilization that once was a feature of grass-roots movements was slow but durable. Protests that organize on social media can rise faster, but collapse just as quickly.

Authoritarian governments have also learned to co-opt social media, using it to disseminate propaganda, rally sympathizers or simply spread confusion, Professor Chenoweth said.

And even where there is a spasm of protest, it takes a lot more for it to snowball into a full opposition movement. The soaring price of onions in India caused farmers to block highways and mount short-lived protests. But frustration has yet to sharpen into mass demonstrations because there is nobody to channel it: India’s opposition is in disarray; divisions of caste and religion dominate politics; and the government of the Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, constantly raises the threat of neighboring Pakistan to distract the public."
protest  protests  2019  chile  saudiarabia  lebanon  india  algeria  sudan  kazakhstan  czechrepublic  bolivia  spain  españa  iraq  russia  demonstrations  corruption  policy  economics  neoliberalism  inequality  poverty  stagnation  elitism  governance  government  revolution  qualityoflife  youth  ericchenoweth  valinasr  barcelona  santiago  middleeast  authoritarianism  precarity 
20 days ago by robertogreco
You Don’t Want Hygge. You Want Social Democracy.
"It’s the holidays, and you long to be cozy.

You want to curl up in a plush armchair next to a crackling fire. You want the softest of blankets and wooliest of sweaters. You want to devour grandma’s pecan fudge, get tipsy on eggnog with your cousins, and watch Miracle on 34th Street — mom’s favorite — for the thirty-fourth time. Or maybe neither Christmas nor family gatherings are your thing, but you like the idea of sipping hot toddies and playing board games with a few close friends while outside the snow falls and the lights twinkle.

But you can’t have it, because you couldn’t spring for a plane ticket. Or relatives are in town, but times are tight, and it seemed irresponsible to pass up the Christmas overtime pay. Maybe everything circumstantially fell into place, but you can’t relax. You’re eyeing your inbox, anxious about the work that’s not getting done. You’re last-minute shopping, pinching pennies, thinking Scrooge had some fair points. Or you’re hiding in your childhood bedroom, binge-watching television and scrolling social media, because a rare break from the pressures of daily life feels more like an occasion to zone out than to celebrate and be merry.

Either way, you feel terrible, because you know that someone somewhere is literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire, and you’re missing out.

The Danes have a word for the thing you desperately want but can’t seem to manifest: hygge.

The word isn’t easy to translate. It comes from a Norwegian word that means “wellbeing,” but the contemporary Danish definition is more expansive than that.

In The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, author Meik Wiking writes, “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It’s about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allowed to let our guard down.”

You can have hygge any time, but Danes strongly associate it with Christmas, the most hyggelig time of the year. When asked what things they associate most with hygge, Danes answered, in order of importance: hot drinks, candles, fireplaces, Christmas, board games, music, holiday, sweets and cake, cooking, and books. Seven out of ten Danes say hygge is best experienced at home, and they even have a word for it — hjemmehygge, or home hygge.

But Wiking stresses that while hygge has strong aesthetic properties, it’s more than the sum of its parts. You don’t just see it, you feel it.

“Hygge is an indication that you trust the ones you are with and where you are,” he writes, “that you have expanded your comfort zone to include other people and you feel you can be completely yourself around other people.” The opposite of hygge is alienation.

It’s no coincidence that this concept is both native to and universally understood in the same country that consistently dominates the World Happiness Report and other annual surveys of general contentment. On rare occasions when Denmark is surpassed by another country, that country is always a Scandinavian neighbor.

What makes people in these countries happier than the rest of us is actually really simple. Danes and their neighbors have greater access to the building blocks of happiness: time, company, and security.

Scandinavians don’t have these things just because they value them more, or for cultural reasons that are congenital, irreplicable, and beyond our reach. People all over the world value time, company, and security. What Scandinavians do have is a political-economic arrangement that better facilitates the regular expression of those values. That arrangement is social democracy.

The Politics of Hygge

Denmark is not a socialist country, though like its neighbor Sweden, it did come close to collectivizing industry in the 1970s. That effort was driven by “unions, popular movements, and left parties,” write Andreas Møller Mulvad and Rune Møller Stahl in Jacobin. “It was these mass forces — not benevolent elites, carefully weighing the alternatives before deciding on an enlightened mix of capitalism and socialism — who were the architects and impetus behind the Nordic model. They are the ones responsible for making the Nordic countries among the happiest and most democratic in the world.”

A strong capitalist offensive stopped this Scandinavian coalition from realizing the transition to socialism, and the legacy of their efforts is a delicate compromise. The private sector persists, but taxes are both progressive and high across the board. The country spends 55 percent of its total GDP publicly, making it the third-highest government spender per capita in the world. Meanwhile, the power of employers is partially checked by strong unions, to which two-thirds of Danes belong.

This redistributive arrangement significantly reduces the class stratification that comes from capitalism. As a result, Denmark has one of the highest degrees of economic equality in the world.

All of that public spending goes to funding a strong welfare state. Everybody pays in, and everybody reaps the rewards. This egalitarian, humane, and solidaristic model allows the values associated with hygge to flourish. It also gives people more opportunities to act on them.

In Denmark, health care is free at the point of service. Same goes for education, all the way through college and even grad school. Twenty percent of the Danish housing stock is social housing, regulated and financially supported by the state but owned in common by tenants, and organized in the “tradition of tenants’ participation and self-governance.” Denmark offers year-long paid parental leave, and guarantees universal child care for all children beginning the moment that leave ends, when the child is one year old.

Similarly, due in large part to the past and and present strength of unions, Denmark has worker-friendly labor laws and standards which make for a more harmonious work-life balance. Danes get five weeks’ paid vacation, plus an additional nine public holidays. Unlike the United States, Denmark has a national paid sick-leave policy. Denmark also has generous unemployment benefits and a wage subsidy program for people who want to work but, for reasons outside their control, need more flexible arrangements.

The normal work week in Denmark is set at thirty-seven hours, and people tend to stick to it. Only 2 percent of Danes report working very long hours. In a survey of OECD countries Denmark ranked fourth for people spending the most time devoted to leisure and personal care. (The US ranked thirtieth.)

All of this has a profound effect on individuals’ ability to experience pleasure, trust, comfort, intimacy, peace of mind — and of course, the composite of these things, hygge.

For one thing, there are only so many hours in a day. And there are some activities that make us happy, and some that make us unhappy.

The Princeton Affect and Time Survey found that the activities that make us happiest include playing with children, listening to music, being outdoors, going to parties, exercising, hanging out with friends, and spending time with pets. (These are also the activities that Danes associate with hygge.) The ones that make us least happy include paid work, domestic work, home maintenance and repairs, running errands, personal medical care, and taking care of financial responsibilities.

Everyone has to do activities in the unhappy category in order to keep their affairs in order. But it makes sense that if you take some of those responsibilities off people’s plate and design the economy to give them more time to do activities in the happy category, they will be more content and lead more enriching lives.

Many working-class Americans don’t have much time for activities in the happy category, because they work multiple jobs or long hours and also have to keep a household in order without much assistance. Many more are afraid that if they take time away from their stressful responsibilities, they will overlook something important and fall behind, and there will be no social safety net to catch them — a pervasive anxiety that creeps up the class hierarchy. This breeds alienation, not intimacy.

Additionally, working people in highly capitalist countries, where economic life is characterized by cutthroat competition and the punishment for losing the competition is destitution, tend to develop hostile relationships to one another, which is not very hyggelig.

The social-democratic model is predicated instead on solidarity: my neighbor and I both pay taxes so that we can both have a high standard of living. We care for each other on the promise that we will each be cared for. By working together instead of against each other, we both get what we need. Universal social programs like those that make up the Scandinavian welfare states are thus engines of solidarity, impressing upon people that their neighbor is not an opponent or an obstacle, but a partner in building and maintaining society.

By pitting people against each other, neoliberal capitalism promotes suspicion and animosity. This frequently maps onto social divisions and manifests as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and so on. But it also just makes people guarded and antisocial in general. People who live in social democracies are far from invulnerable to prejudice or misanthropy, but the social compact remains more likely to promote kindness, trust, and goodwill among people than neoliberal capitalism — and indeed the Danes are some of the most trusting people in the world, of friends and strangers alike.

One of these political-economic arrangements strengthens people’s connection to the fundamentals of happiness, and of hygge — time, company, and security — while the other severs it. The abundance or scarcity of these fundamentals forms the material basis of collective social life.

The Ambiance Agenda

Hygge is not just a cultural … [more]
hygge  meaganday  2018  denmark  socialdemocracy  socialism  socialsafetynet  politics  policy  happiness  comfort  us  coreyrobin  scandinavia  solidarity  wellbeing  responsibility  uncertainty  anxiety  neoliberalism  capitalism  risk  civics  qualityoflife  pleasure  multispecies  family  trust  intimacy  peaceofmind  leisure  work  labor  health  healthcare  unions  time  slow  fragility  taxes  inequality  company  security 
december 2018 by robertogreco
Reasons To Be Cheerful
"I’m starting an online project here that is an continuation and extension of some writing and talks I’ve done recently.

The project will be cross-platform—some elements may appear on social media, some on a website and some might manifest as a recording or performance… much of the published material will be collected here.

What is Reasons To Be Cheerful?

I imagine, like a lot of you who look back over the past year, it seems like the world is going to Hell. I wake up in the morning, look at the paper, and go, "Oh no!" Often I’m depressed for half the day. It doesn’t matter how you voted on Brexit, the French elections or the U.S. election—many of us of all persuasions and party affiliations feel remarkably similar.

As a kind of remedy and possibly as a kind of therapy, I started collecting good news that reminded me, "Hey, there's actually some positive stuff going on!" Almost all of these initiatives are local, they come from cities or small regions who have taken it upon themselves to try something that might offer a better alternative than what exits. Hope is often local. Change begins in communities.

I will post thoughts, images and audio relating to this initiative on whichever platform seems suitable and I’ll welcome contributions from others, if they follow the guidelines I’ve set for myself.

These bits of good news tend to fall into a few categories:

Education
Health
Civic Engagement
Science/Tech
Urban/Transportation
Energy
Culture

Culture, music and the arts might include, optimistically, some of my own work and projects, but just as much I hope to promote the work of others that has a proven track record.

Why do I do this? Why take the time? Therapy, I guess, though once in awhile I meet someone who has the connections and skills but might not be aware of some of these initiatives and innovations, so I can pass the information on. I sense that not all of this is widely known.

Emulation of successful models- 4 guidelines

I laid out 4 guidelines as I collected these examples:

1. Most of the good stuff is local. It’s more bottom up, community and individually driven. There are exceptions.

2. Many examples come from all over the world, but despite the geographical and cultural distances in many cases others can adopt these ideas—these initiatives can be utilized by cultures other than where they originated.

3. Very important. All of these examples have been tried and proven to be successful. These are not merely good IDEAS; they’ve been put into practice and have produced results.

4. The examples are not one-off, isolated or human interest, feel-good stories. They’re not stories of one amazing teacher, doctor, musician or activist- they’re about initiatives that can be copied and scaled up.

If it works, copy it

For example, in an area I know something about, there was an innovative bike program in Bogota, and years later, I saw that program become a model for New York and for other places.

The Ciclovia program in Bogota"
davidbyrne  politics  urban  urbanism  bogotá  curitiba  addiction  portugal  colombia  brazil  brasil  jaimelerner  cities  society  policy  qualityoflife  economics  drugs  health  healthcare  crime  ciclovia  bikes  biking  bikesharing  activism  civics  citybike  nyc  medellín  afroreggae  vigariogeral  favelas  obesity  childabuse  education  casamantequilla  harlem  civicengagment  engagement  women'smarch  northcarolina  ingridlafleur  afrotopia  detroit  seattle  citizenuniversity  tishuanajones  sunra  afrofuturism  stlouis  vancouver  britishcolumbia  transportation  publictransit  transit  velib  paris  climatechange  bipartisanship  energy  science  technology  culture  music  art  arts  behavior  medellin 
january 2018 by robertogreco
The Muji Paradox - Racked
"Muji and I, we have a routine.

Whenever I’m feeling a little edgy or in need of some self-care — which, in 2016, has been unrelentingly often — I wander into the minimalist Japanese retailer’s warm and pleasingly-lit walls to browse the rows of desk supplies and sensible button-down shirts. Often, I’ll purchase something — some pens perhaps, or an elderflower-scented travel candle — but the total rarely exceeds the cost of a lunch.

Usually one to exhibit a reasonable amount of self-control when it comes to buying things I don’t need, I am woefully powerless when it comes to these micro purchases at Muji. Earlier this year, on the first day of a three-week trip to Japan, I squealed with delight when I found that they actually sold Muji products in one of the major convenience store chains (quaintly named “Family Mart”), just in case you needed a 20-pack of non-branded Q-tips along with your machine-dispensed iced coffee. As I wandered through the retailer’s five-floor outlet in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood, I felt a silent kinship with the kind of Japanese shopper who would intently examine the seam on a heather gray camisole before purchasing it. You wouldn’t be caught dead owning a novelty 5K race T-shirt, I thought. Neither would I.

Indeed, it wasn’t until this trip to Japan — a country that has a knack for turning even the most ascetic person into a rabid consumerist, hence the success of Marie Kondo — that I began to see the Muji paradox as clear as a stain on one of its organic linen tunics: that I can feel so strongly about a brand that goes out of its way to be dogmatically un-branded seems a kind of magic trick of capitalism that no other retailer pulls off so ably.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t need the things I buy at Muji, but they do make my life measurably better, if only infinitesimally. Things like the mini travel soaps with the accompanying plastic box, which eliminates an unnecessary liquid from my carry-on-only packing system. The mini lint roller, which folds up into its own case and fits in a handbag so my coat never has errant hair on it. The right angle socks, which I’m convinced are the only no-show socks on the planet that can comfortably be worn with Vans slip-on shoes. The transparent plastic zipper pouch for carry-on liquids, which I smugly pull out when attempting to bypass London Heathrow’s liquid-obsessive security line. In a cold, cruel world full of big problems, these tiny victories add up — which is perhaps why I come back for refills of my favorite items again and again.

The Muji effect extends beyond my own life, too. I would be lying if I said that, upon seeing the bedroom of a romantic interest for the first time, that person’s stock does not immediately rise if their bed is outfitted in muted-toned Muji sheets. Similarly, a person who has a cup full of Muji 0.5 mm pens on their desk not only broadcasts an affinity for fine writing implements, but also an attention to detail that I’m likely to appreciate. A stranger who strides through a throng of holiday shoppers with a single large carrier bag from Muji somehow seems exempt from perpetuating capitalism and all of its ills, even though they are.

Indeed, Muji espouses a kind of pious minimalist ethos that draws in a particular type of discerning shopper (me) who, instead of buying more hangers, gets rid of clothes to fit the amount of hangers they already own. The promise that, with each new visit, I may find an ingenious solution for one of modern life’s subtle but vexing inconveniences excites me. It makes me feel that perhaps I’m not being extravagant, but rather sensible, by paying Muji a visit every now and then.

Ryan Patel is a retail analyst and consultant who helps brands scale internationally. He says the cult of Muji is based on simplicity, consistency, and the idea that the stuff is not screaming at you to buy it, but rather patiently waiting for you to find it.

“The design of the stores has a warm appeal. It creates a feeling that’s non-intrusive, it doesn’t pressure you to spend money,” says Patel. “Plus, you’re shopping for an everyday item, you’re not shopping for a high-ticket item — there are a lot of consumers who are just looking for something that is what it looks like. Muji doesn’t need to have a brand name because the brand name is the store. They’ve parlayed this simplicity into credibility.”

The credibility has proved lucrative, of course. After all, Muji may want to reduce the clutter in my apartment, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want its highly functional stuff to be in as many apartments as possible. Though it only has 11 stores in North America (compared to 227 in East Asia and 61 in Europe), its plans for expansion are decidedly not low-key. In its 2016 annual report, it notes that it hopes to expand from 24 to 34 countries and regions worldwide, with a particular focus on China, where it hopes to have 200 stores by the end of this fiscal year.

And yet, Patel is right. Everything in Muji is how I want my life to be all the time: clean, orderly, soothingly-lit, warm, in a neutral color palette, and non-intrusive. Even the salespeople don’t bother you unless you ask them to. Add in the mission creep aspect of the operation — I walk in to buy pens and walk out having just bought essential oils, nail clippers, and a normcore gray sweatshirt — and you see why its self-stated mission of “creating a pleasant life” is an ingenious way to bolster its bottom line.

Alas, we all know a pleasant life can’t be found inside the walls of any retailer, even a Japanese one. And indeed, it was during my trip to Japan that I began to see Muji as emblematic of — rather than exempt from — the kind of consumerist fever that makes Tokyo a really fun yet financially dangerous city to go shopping in. However, even though Muji’s clever capitalistic jig is up, it’s still unlikely I’ll put an end to my self-soothing shopping routine any time soon. After all, Donald Trump is almost president, and I like the socks too much."
muji  design  rosiespinks  qualityoflife  via:jarrettfuller  minimalism  2016  ryanpatel  simplicity  consistency  credibility  retail 
january 2017 by robertogreco
The Great Affluence Fallacy - The New York Times
"In 18th-century America, colonial society and Native American society sat side by side. The former was buddingly commercial; the latter was communal and tribal. As time went by, the settlers from Europe noticed something: No Indians were defecting to join colonial society, but many whites were defecting to live in the Native American one.

This struck them as strange. Colonial society was richer and more advanced. And yet people were voting with their feet the other way.

The colonials occasionally tried to welcome Native American children into their midst, but they couldn’t persuade them to stay. Benjamin Franklin observed the phenomenon in 1753, writing, “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.”

During the wars with the Indians, many European settlers were taken prisoner and held within Indian tribes. After a while, they had plenty of chances to escape and return, and yet they did not. In fact, when they were “rescued,” they fled and hid from their rescuers.

Sometimes the Indians tried to forcibly return the colonials in a prisoner swap, and still the colonials refused to go. In one case, the Shawanese Indians were compelled to tie up some European women in order to ship them back. After they were returned, the women escaped the colonial towns and ran back to the Indians.

Even as late as 1782, the pattern was still going strong. Hector de Crèvecoeur wrote, “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those aborigines having from choice become European.”

I first read about this history several months ago in Sebastian Junger’s excellent book “Tribe.” It has haunted me since. It raises the possibility that our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled.

The native cultures were more communal. As Junger writes, “They would have practiced extremely close and involved child care. And they would have done almost everything in the company of others. They would have almost never been alone.”

If colonial culture was relatively atomized, imagine American culture of today. As we’ve gotten richer, we’ve used wealth to buy space: bigger homes, bigger yards, separate bedrooms, private cars, autonomous lifestyles. Each individual choice makes sense, but the overall atomizing trajectory sometimes seems to backfire. According to the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression by as much as eight times the rate as people in poor countries.

There might be a Great Affluence Fallacy going on — we want privacy in individual instances, but often this makes life generally worse.

Every generation faces the challenge of how to reconcile freedom and community — “On the Road” versus “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But I’m not sure any generation has faced it as acutely as millennials.

In the great American tradition, millennials would like to have their cake and eat it, too. A few years ago, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis came out with a song called “Can’t Hold Us,” which contained the couplet: “We came here to live life like nobody was watching/I got my city right behind me, if I fall, they got me.” In the first line they want complete autonomy; in the second, complete community.

But, of course, you can’t really have both in pure form. If millennials are heading anywhere, it seems to be in the direction of community. Politically, millennials have been drawn to the class solidarity of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Hillary Clinton — secretive and a wall-builder — is the quintessence of boomer autonomy. She has trouble with younger voters.

Professionally, millennials are famous for bringing their whole self to work: turning the office into a source of friendships, meaning and social occasions.

I’m meeting more millennials who embrace the mentality expressed in the book “The Abundant Community,” by John McKnight and Peter Block. The authors are notably hostile to consumerism.

They are anti-institutional and anti-systems. “Our institutions can offer only service — not care — for care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another,” they write.

Millennials are oriented around neighborhood hospitality, rather than national identity or the borderless digital world. “A neighborhood is the place where you live and sleep.” How many of your physical neighbors know your name?

Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big change in the coming decades were this: an end to the apotheosis of freedom; more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap."
society  capitalism  davidbrooks  2016  history  sebastianjunger  communalism  nativeamericans  abundance  depression  us  affluence  millenials  johnmcknight  peterblock  consumerism  care  hospitality  nationalism  local  community  privacy  isolation  competition  autonomy  berniesanders  solidarity  wealth  atomization  well-being  qualityoflife  hectordecrèvecoeur 
august 2016 by robertogreco
The American Dream Is Alive in Finland - The Atlantic
"If the U.S. presidential campaign has made one thing clear, it’s this: The United States is not Finland. Nor is it Norway. This might seem self-evident. But America’s Americanness has had to be reaffirmed ever since Bernie Sanders suggested that Americans could learn something from Nordic countries about reducing income inequality, providing people with universal health care, and guaranteeing them paid family and medical leave.

“I think Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president … of Sweden,” Marco Rubio scoffed. “We don’t want to be Sweden. We want to be the United States of America.”

“We are not Denmark,” Hillary Clinton clarified. “We are the United States of America. … [W]hen I think about capitalism, I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families.”

Opportunity. Freedom. Independence. These words are bound up with American identity and the American Dream. The problem is that they’re often repeated like an incantation, with little reflection on the extent to which they still ring true in America, and are still exceptionally American.

Anu Partanen’s new book, The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, argues that the freedom and opportunity Americans cherish are currently thriving more in Nordic countries than in the United States. (The Nordic countries comprise Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland.) But she also pushes back—albeit gently—against the trendy notion that Nordic countries are paradises.

Partanen is an unusual messenger. After all, her personal story is a testament to the Land of Opportunity’s enduring magnetism and vibrancy; she recently became a U.S. citizen, after moving from her native Finland to the United States in part because she felt she was more likely to find work as a journalist in New York City than her American husband was as a writer in Helsinki. But her time in America has also convinced her that Finland and its neighbors are doing a better job of promoting a 21st-century version of the American Dream than her adoptive country.

Partanen’s principal question is the following: What’s the best way for a modern society to advance freedom and opportunity? She explains that Nordic governments do so by providing social services that the U.S. government doesn’t—things like free college education and heavily subsidized child care. Within that big question, Partanen poses more pointed questions about contemporary life in the United States: Is “freedom” remaining in a job you hate because you don’t want to lose the health insurance that comes with it? Is “independence” putting your career on hold, and relying on your partner’s income, so you can take care of a young child when your employer doesn’t offer paid parental leave or day care is too expensive? Is “opportunity” depending on the resources of your parents, or a bundle of loans, to get a university degree? Is realizing the American Dream supposed to be so stressful?

“What Finland and its neighbors do is actually walk the walk of opportunity that America now only talks,” Partanen writes. “It’s a fact: A citizen of Finland, Norway, or Denmark is today much more likely to rise above his or her parents’ socioeconomic status than is a citizen of the United States.” The United States is not Finland. And, in one sense, that’s bad news for America. Numerous studies have shown that there is far greater upward social mobility in Nordic countries than in the United States, partly because of the high level of income inequality in the U.S.

In another sense, though, it’s perfectly fine to not be Finland. As Nathan Heller observed in The New Yorker, the modern Nordic welfare state is meant to “minimize the causes of inequality” and be “more climbing web than safety net.” Yet the system, especially in Sweden, is currently being tested by increased immigration and rising income inequality. And it’s ultimately predicated on a different—and not necessarily superior—definition of freedom than that which prevails in America. “In Sweden,” Heller argued, “control comes through protection against risk. Americans think the opposite: control means taking personal responsibility for risk and, in some cases, social status.”

Last week, I spoke with Partanen about what she feels Nordic countries have gotten right, where they’ve gone wrong, and why, if Finland is really so great, she’s now living in America. An edited and condensed transcript of our conversation follows.

Uri Friedman: You make an argument in the book that if you think about the American Dream in a certain way—if you define it in terms of opportunity, independence, and freedom—it is actually flourishing in the Nordic region more than in the United States. Why?

Anu Partanen: For a long time now, we’ve all, both in the United States and in Europe, thought that the United States is the land of freedom. For a long time, it was certainly true: American democracy was leading the way, the American middle class was the wealthiest. America was really the place where you could make your own life and you could decide who you wanted to be and pursue the dream.

When I moved to the United States in 2008, that was the idea I had. [But] when I came here, I was actually surprised [to learn that] people were very anxious. They were in many ways very dependent on their circumstances, the opposite of being a self-made woman or man. And a lot of this is related to family: if, [when] you were a child, your parents could provide opportunities, if they could offer you a life in a good neighborhood, offer you a life in a good school.

…"
culture  economics  europe  finland  us  policy  norway  denmark  sweden  iceland  freedom  independence  opportunity  denamrk  anupartanen  urifriedman  democracy  socialism  inequality  middleclass  income  incomeinequality  immigration  taxes  daycare  healthcare  health  qualityoflife  government  society  nathanheller  politics 
july 2016 by robertogreco
7 Things Nordic Countries Are Totally Doing Right, According To 'The Nordic Theory Of Everything' | Bustle
"1. Balancing Federal Budgets …

2. Curbing Income Inequality …

3. Bringing Equity To Education …

4. Closing The Gender Gap …

5. Supporting Families …

6. Aiming For True Work-Life Balance …

7. Insuring Everyone …"
nordiccountries  scandinavia  policy  socialism  equality  us  inequality  education  gender  women  families  paternityleave  work-lifebalance  well-being  health  healthcare  universalhealthcare  finland  sweden  norway  iceland  denmark  2016  government  qualityoflife  anupartanen  middleclass 
july 2016 by robertogreco
I have no idea what a smart city means: Rahul Mehrotra - Livemint
"There can’t be one solution for India like the Corbusian model was for Nehru. The trajectory of architects in the 1960s and 1970s was clearer than it is now, because they had state patronage. Now the only architecture that the state talks about is GDP (gross domestic product)—it’s a statistical architecture by which the state defines its identity. All state projects now are of infrastructure, telecommunications, highways, freeways, rapid trains, etc. Even smart cities are never talked about in terms of their architecture, but only in terms of their infrastructure. So, of course, there is a crisis for young architects.

For me, personally, I do believe that architecture is always of a place. My aspiration is to take global programmes like corporate offices and information technology centres, and root them in the place through material, climate and the way that people in that city use a building. We are now trying to reconcile fundamental values that make good architecture with a new form of patronage and that opens up its own sets of problems."



"I have no idea what a smart city means because this is a universal term that has no real value except for the people who are sloshing capital around. The problem with smart cities is that they are founded on capital and investment, but don’t consider the human being as part of this equation. I fear these will end up being gated communities for an elite, skilled, upper middle-class population. People say a smart city is one that uses technology to create connectivity and efficiencies. So I can stand at a bus stop and know that the bus is going to arrive in 10 minutes, and that’ll save me 10 minutes, but if it’s an inhuman city then I’m not interested in saving those 10 minutes."
smartcities  architecture  urban  urbanism  2015  rahulmehrotra  via:javierarbona  capitalism  qualityoflife  gdp  infrastructure  telecommunications 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture - Vox
"Here are seven ways living abroad made it hard to return to American life.

1) I had work-life balance…

2) I had time and money …

3) I had the support of an amazing unemployment system …

4) I witnessed what happens when countries impose wealth-based taxes …

5) I had lots of paid vacation time and was never made to feel guilty about taking it …

6) I never had to own a car …

7) I had excellent health care when I gave birth — and then enjoyed a fully paid 14-week maternity leave …"
us  economics  well-being  switzerland  work  culture  society  2015  chantalpanozzo  vacation  employment  unemployment  taxes  taxation  inequality  qualityoflife  work-lifebalance 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Los Angeles vs. New York City - The Atlantic
"For millions, New York is undeniably the best city.

And L.A. is the best city for millions, too. I'll happily share some of the comparative advantages that it offers for the sake of the would-be transplants who value such things. We've already remarked upon weather, though winters without frozen water falling from the sky by the metric ton are just the beginning. In L.A., no one yearns for a place "to summer," a subject that seems near and dear to the perennially-aspirational Style section set, because soaking humidity doesn't pervade the city in June, July, and August. Rich and poor happily "summer" at their regular house or apartment (though come autumn, transplants miss watching the leaves die).

And it isn't just the weather that's better here. So is the light. Long after Lawrence Weschler had moved to New York he found himself entranced by a shot of his former city on TV. "That's the light I keep telling you girls about!" he exclaimed to his wife and daughter. "That light: the late-afternoon light of Los Angeles–golden pink off the bay through the smog and onto the palm fronds. A light I've found myself pining for every day of the nearly two decades since I left Southern California."

Then there's what locals here call "the beach," stretching miles and miles down the western edge of our city. If you're the sort that best comprehends Los Angeles through questionable analogies to New York City you might think of this gorgeous seascape as a bigger, partly aquatic High Line. Of course, not everyone likes to surf or scuba dive or kayak or standup paddle or lounge on sand reading US Weekly. But we've also got mountains, canyons, and deserts. Hiking in nature here is more convenient by about the same factor as traveling by subway is less convenient.

Angelenos care very little where you went to college and not at all where you went to prep school. In fact, if an East Coaster tries to name-drop a prep school Angelenos will assume that they're talking about an obscure college; the notion of anyone name-dropping a high school is beyond our Southern California comprehension.

Octogenarian movie stars are our idea of "old money."

As for the food, if your favorite standby is pizza, Puerto Rican, or Italian, stay put. But if you cook at home, or salivate over Mexican, Thai, Korean, sushi, ramen, burgers, or anything that's better with avocado, come hither. You'll eat better than in NYC for far less.

For the flip-flop wearer, Los Angeles is a city where practically no restaurant or bar will turn you away, an approach that strikes most of us as a feature.

Then there's our perspective on the good life.

"When I describe my West Coast existence (sunshine! avocados! etc.) to some New Yorkers," Ann Friedman once wrote in New York, "they acknowledge that they really like California, too, but could never move there because they’d get too 'soft.' At first this confused me, but after hearing it a few times, I’ve come to believe that a lot of people equate comfort with complacency, calmness with laziness. If you’re happy, you’re not working hard enough. You’ve stopped striving."

Los Angeles is a place where one can strive while happy. One doesn't trade away ambition so much as a unit or two of invigoration: On that metric, the pace isn't frenetic enough to match New York; much seems less urgent in L.A., for better and worse. In Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, a biography of the artist Robert Irwin, the subject's youth in World War II-era Los Angeles is covered. One passage captures a particular relationship that many in this city have to events outside it. Irwin is showing his interviewer spots where he cruised around L.A. as a teen:

[quote]

In my experience there are two kinds of people who thrive in Los Angeles. The first tend to have the same disposition as did Bob Irwin: "Look. Look at it here. Look at how it is: calm, sunny, the palm trees. What is there to get all fucking upset about?" Then there are the people (as likely to be New Yorkers as anyone) who aren't themselves chill in that way but are happiest in proximity to people who are. If you're neither type Los Angeles isn't for you. If you come anyway, please bring bagels."

[See also this response to the NYTimes LA article:
“Leaving New York and Also Technology: Why I left New York and also technology”
http://www.theawl.com/2015/05/leaving-new-york-and-also-technology ]
losangeles  nyc  socal  colinfriedersdorf  california  lawrenceweschler  robertirwin  qualityoflife  annfriedman  2015 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Turning Japanese: coping with stagnation
"Coping with stasis: how the supposed 'sick man of Asia' might be a model for us all"



"As I ease into town, usually via the limousine bus service, the sidewalks outside are teeming with well-dressed urbanites heading home from work or out to restaurants, everyone in motion with purpose and meaning.

But that’s not what the papers say. Japan has seen over two decades of a stagnant-to-recessionary economy since its 1989-90 juggernaut bubble burst. It has become the world’s economic whipping boy, described repeatedly as ‘the sick man of Asia’, incapable of revival, doddering off into the sunset.

Reports of Japan’s societal stagnation are no prettier. Stories about the country’s ageing population and plummeting birth rate abound – with the latter hitting a record low last year amid dire predictions of a disappearing Japan. At current rates, demographers estimate that the overall population will drop 30 million by 2050."



""Do rich societies really need to get richer and richer indefinitely?" he asks. "A lot of improvements in standard of living come not through what we normally consider as growth, but through technological improvements."

In fact, Pilling sees Japan's globally stagnant years as a time of dramatic domestic growth, if not the kind associated with standard economic measurements like GDP. "Many would agree that the standard of living, particularly in big cities like Tokyo, has improved significantly in the so-called lost decades. The city's skyline has been transformed, the quality of restaurants and services improved greatly. Despite the real stresses and strains and some genuine hardship, society has held together reasonably well. If this is what stagnation looks like, humanity could do a lot worse."

What makes one society hold together 'reasonably well', while others fail? You only have to look to the language for insight. Common words like ganbaru (to slog on tenaciously through tough times), gaman (endure with patience, dignity and respect), and jishuku (restrain yourself according to others' needs) convey a culture rooted in pragmatism and perseverance.

After the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in northern Japan, the international media was awash with stories about the dignity and superhuman patience of survivors, many of whom peacefully waited hours in single-file lines for relief supplies, only to be turned away in the frigid weather, asked to try again the next day. No one rushed to the front; no one rioted. In shelters, meagre foodstuffs like rice balls were split in half or in quarters to make sure everyone had something to eat.

Nearly everyone was on the same proverbial page: Japan's population is 98.5 per cent Japanese, as defined by citizenry. While ethnic diversity has its strengths (and some academics point out that, when you analyse the population's regional roots, Japan is quite diverse), a set of common cultural values, instilled from birth, may strengthen resilience in the face of crisis and adversity.

Journalist Kaori Shoji tells me that having few resources and learning to make the most of them is essential to the Japanese character. "The Japanese temperament is suited to dealing with poverty, scarcity and extremely limited resources. If [American Commodore Matthew Perry's] black ships didn't show up [to open Japan to Western trade] in the 19th century, we'd still be scratching our heads over the workings of the washing machine or the dynamics of a cheeseburger. On the other hand, with four centuries of frugality behind us, we have learned to be creative. Frugality doesn't have to mean drab stoicism and surviving on fish heads.”

Japan's stagnancy, pilloried by economists and analysts in the west, may turn out to be the catalyst for its greatest strengths: resiliency, reinvention and quiet endurance.

Until a couple of years ago, I lectured Japan's best and brightest at the University of Tokyo. My Japanese students were polite to a fault. They handed their essays to me and my teaching assistant with two hands affixed to the paper, like sacred artefacts. They nodded affirmatively when I asked if they understood what I'd said, even when they didn't . They were never late to class, and they never left early.

But when I pressed them on their future plans, they expressed a kind of blissful ambivalence. "I'd like to help improve Japan's legal system," Kazuki, a smart and trilingual student from Kyushu told me. "But if that doesn't work out, I just want to be a good father."

Sayaka, a literature major from Hokkaido, asked me if I understood her generation's dilemma. "We grew up very comfortable," she said. "We learned not to take risks."

No risk-taking – anathema to today’s 'fail-fast', Silicon Valley culture – would seem to indicate stagnation writ large. But what if it's a more futuristic model for all of us, even superior to Japan's sleek, sci-fi bubble-era iconography: all hi-tech and flashy yen, but no soul?

Waseda University professor Norihiro Kato, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, sees a radical example in Japanese culture that he describes as a model of 'de-growth', of returning to other measures of growth that transcend stagnancy, focused instead on quality of life.

"The shape of wisdom as well as self-worth has drastically changed,” he tells me at his office in Takadanobaba, north west Tokyo. "We can point to periods of change, the late 80s with Chernobyl, or early 90s with the end of the USSR and communism [the end of history, according to Francis Fukuyama], or the early 00s with September 11. And finally the early the early 10s, with March 11 and Fukushima Daiichi."

Kato sees our world as one of fundamental transition, from dreams of the infinite to realities of the finite – a transformation Japan grasps better than most of us. "I consider younger Japanese floating, shifting into a new qualified power, which can do and undo as well: can enjoy doing and not doing equally."

I ask him if Japan's model – stagnancy as strength – can inform the rest of the world, educate us in the possibilities of impoverishment?

"Imagine creating a robot that has the strength and delicacy to handle an egg," he says. “That robot has to have the skills to understand and not destroy that egg. This is the key concept for growing our ideas about growth into our managing of de-growth."

Handling that egg is tricky. A spike in youth volunteerism in Japan post 3/11 suggests that young Japanese, despite the global hand-wringing over their futures, are bypassing the old pathways to corporate success in favour of more humble participation."



"Mariko Furukawa, researcher for Japanese giant advertising firm Hakuhodo, reckons the think-small mentality of young Japanese is turning stagnancy into sustainability. She cites the proliferation of agri-related startups – peopled by young Japanese who are leaving the cities for rural environs, despite the low returns, and who don’t seem to care about globalisation.

"These small techs should really add up to something, and we may be able to replace [stagnation] with new innovation, not necessarily new technology," Furakawa says. "I think (the) Japanese ability to innovate in such things is very strong. And so, because these city planners and urban designers are talking about downsizing the cities, wrapping up into smaller furoshikis (Japanese rucksacks), so to speak, the awareness is there, they know what needs to be done. In this sense, we may be at the forefront of developed economies."

Furukawa notes that many European nations facing similar dilemmas don't have the same tools to address them. "Europe has been suffering from low growth. But I don't know if they are that innovative at new ways of living."

Japan's Blade Runner image of yesteryear, a futuristic amalgamation of high-tech efficiency coursing through neon-lit, noirish alleyways in sexy, 24-hour cities, is really a blip in the nation's 4,000-year-old history. Today the country is more about quality of life than quantities of stuff. In its combination of restraint, frugality, and civility, Japan may serve as one of our best societal models of sustenance for the future."

[See also: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/business/international/japans-recovery-is-complicated-by-a-decline-in-household-savings.html ]
culture  economics  japan  stagnation  sustainability  growth  2015  rolandkelts  resilience  reinvention  endurance  risktaking  norihirokato  qualityoflife  wisdom  self-worth  marikofurukawa  frugality  kaorishoji  fertility  davidpilling 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Jeremy Rifkin: "The Zero Marginal Cost Society" | Authors at Google - YouTube
"In The Zero Marginal Cost Society, New York Times bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin describes how the emerging Internet of Things is speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services, precipitating the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons and the eclipse of capitalism.

Rifkin uncovers a paradox at the heart of capitalism that has propelled it to greatness but is now taking it to its death—the inherent entrepreneurial dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down, enabling businesses to reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing additional units of a good or service, if fixed costs are not counted.) While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring marginal costs to near zero, making goods and services priceless, nearly free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces.

Now, a formidable new technology infrastructure—the Internet of things (IoT)—is emerging with the potential of pushing large segments of economic life to near zero marginal cost in the years ahead. Rifkin describes how the Communication Internet is converging with a nascent Energy Internet and Logistics Internet to create a new technology platform that connects everything and everyone. Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, the electricity grid, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers can connect to the network and use Big Data, analytics, and algorithms to accelerate efficiency, dramatically increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just like they now do with information goods.

Rifkin concludes that capitalism will remain with us, albeit in an increasingly streamlined role, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to flourish as a powerful niche player in the coming era. We are, however, says Rifkin, entering a world beyond markets where we are learning how to live together in an increasingly interdependent global Collaborative Commons. --macmillan.com

About the Author: Jeremy Rifkin is the bestselling author of twenty books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment. He has been an advisor to the European Union for the past decade.

Mr. Rifkin also served as an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Jose Socrates of Portugal, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, and Prime Minister Janez Janša of Slovenia, during their respective European Council Presidencies, on issues related to the economy, climate change, and energy security.

Mr. Rifkin is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania where he instructs CEOs and senior management on transitioning their business operations into sustainable Third Industrial Revolution economies.

Mr. Rifkin holds a degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University."
socialcommons  cooperatives  2014  jeremyrifkin  internetofthings  zeromarginalcostsociety  society  economics  sharing  sharingeconomy  consumers  prosumers  marginalcosts  markets  collaborativecommons  collaboration  capitalism  bigdata  analytics  efficiency  technology  abundance  commons  exchange  networks  qualityoflife  climatechange  google  geopolitics  biosphereconsciousness  cyberterrorism  biosphere  iot 
april 2014 by robertogreco
America's Workers: Stressed Out, Overwhelmed, Totally Exhausted - Rebecca J. Rosen - The Atlantic
"What will change the overwork culture? There are several factors at play that I’m hoping will have an effect:

• Bright spots. I went looking for innovative "bright spots" at work, love, and play and found a host of really hopeful and cool things happening in companies large and small. For example, I have a profile of an innovative software company in Ann Arbor, Menlo Innovations, LLC, that was founded based on one principle: joy. Workers do intense, creative work, and are expected NOT to answer work phone and emails after hours or on weekends. If you come back refreshed—and maybe you’ve met someone, had a new experience, expanded your horizons—you’ll bring that freshness to work, perhaps make new connections, figure out how to solve an old problem in new ways.The more we shine a spotlight on how work can be done differently and well, the more companies and the middle managers who are the ones who implement policy changes, can follow new role models of success.

• Millennials. They may have been raised as precious and entitled, but many are coming into workplaces assuming that they can have it all—work and life—and are showing that they can do excellent work in their own way and in their own time. Creaky, rigid, old-fashioned cultures are beginning to adapt.

• Baby Boomers. They’re living longer and are healthier and aren’t ready or can’t afford to sail off into the sunset at 62. But neither do they want to work 90 hours a week anymore. There’s pressure from the top end to change as well.

• Technology. Technology is a double-edged sword right now. It’s freeing us up to work differently, but it’s also showing that it’s extending our work hours. I’m hoping that the more we use it, the smarter we’ll get about how to adapt to it. And all this recent extreme weather is showing managers how much good work can be done on snow days, etc. even when you’re not sitting at your desk under their nose.

• Human performance science and the creative class. In a knowledge economy, what do we value? Innovation, new ideas, creativity. How do we foster that? The brain is wired for the “A Ha” moment to come, not when our noses are pressed firmly into the grindstone, but in a break in the action. When we let our mind wander. In the shower. On a walk. When we are idle, neuroscience is showing that our brains are most active.

• Changes on the state level. While our national politics has been frozen for so long on issues of work and life, I was heartened to find states stepping in and looking for common sense policies and solutions to help people better manage the now conflicting demands and work and life. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have state paid parental leave policies—paid for by employees a few cents out of every paycheck that is pooled into a Temporary Disability Insurance fund. Cities are passing tax incentives to companies that promote telework and flexible work, as well as exploring their own “right to request” flexible work laws.

• Health. NIH is in the middle of a giant, multi-year study of how our high-stress, long hours work cultures are making us sick—and that costs employers a lot of money. And the Yale Stress Center is finding in their functional MRI studies that stress—the WHO has rated us the most anxious country on the planet—is actually shrinking our brains. Sick and stupid and overworked and overtired does not make for the most creative and productive workforce.

Other countries limit work hours by law (the European Union’s Working Time Directive, for instance) to both keep workers from being exploited, burned out or, in the case of Germany in particular, to keep unemployment low by spreading out work hours among more workers. Other countries also value refreshed workers and family and leisure time, and have paid leave policies when children are born, fostered, or adopted, in addition to sick time. They have paid vacation policies of as much as 30 days. In Denmark, every parent gets two “nurture days” per child until the child is eight, in order to make it to parent-teacher conferences, the school play, etc.—things that in this country, many white collar workers guiltily slink out under the radar to rush to, and working class people risk getting fired to do. In the UK, within the first year that they implemented a “Right to Request” flexible work hours (which give employees the right to put together a plan for how to get their work done in a flexible way and employers could only turn them down if they could show it would hurt the business bottom line) more than one million families requested such schedules and business kept humming right along.

In the United States, we have no such policies. We value work. We work among the most extreme hours, behind only Japan and South Korea.We value work. We work among the most extreme hours, behind only Japan and South Korea. Our divided political system has yet to figure out what the proper role of government should even be, and we hate taxes. Ironically, the OECD has done studies that have found that the U.S. spends about as much as Sweden on health and welfare—it’s just that they pool their money to pay for everyone, and in the U.S., it all comes out of private pockets.

One of the most astounding studies I came across was another OECD look at productivity. I heard so often, well, this overwork culture is just the price we have to pay for being such an enormously wealthy and productive economy. But then the OECD sliced GDP per hours worked to get an hourly productivity rate, and for several of the years studied, the U.S. falls several rungs below other countries with more rational work-life policies, such as France. So we’re putting in the most hours, but we’re not actually working intense, short, productive hours. We’re just putting in a lot of meaningless face time because that’s what our workplace cultures value—at the expense of our health, our families, and our souls."
rebeccarosen  2014  work  labor  productivity  generations  millennials  babyboomers  technology  well-being  law  legal  qualityoflife  health  facetime  economics  france  denmark  sweden  japan  korea  brigidschulte  stewartfriedman  balance  lifepetersenge  jessicadegroot  inequality  monikabauerlein  clarajeffrey  boomers 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Political essay by 93-year-old tops Christmas bestseller list in France | World news | The Guardian
"Proving that age is no boundary to publishing success, the French book world has been taken by storm by a surprise Christmas bestseller: a political call to arms by Stéphane Hessel, 93.<br />
<br />
The unlikely publishing sensation is a former resistance hero whose 30-page essay, Indignez-vous!, calls on readers to get angry about the state of modern society.<br />
<br />
Launched in October by Indigène…tiny first print-run, 6,000…sold for €3, unprecedentedly cheap in a country where book prices are regulated & kept high by the law.<br />
<br />
Hessel's success has stunned France. After two months on the bestseller lists, the book has spent five weeks at number one…has sold 600,000 copies & – publishers predict it will reach a million…<br />
<br />
 argues that French people should re-embrace the values of the French resistance, which have been lost, which was driven by indignation, and French people need to get outraged again…calls for peaceful and non-violent insurrection…"
stéphanehessel  books  publishing  longform  writing  culture  society  politics  2010  insurrection  resistance  life  qualityoflife  france  immigration  outrage  indignation  frencresistance  inequality  disparity  wealthdistribution  from delicious
august 2011 by robertogreco
Red de Ciudades Cómo Vamos
"En el 2016 la Red de Ciudades Como Vamos estará ejerciendo un liderazgo reconocido en torno a procesos de análisis, generación de conocimiento y planteamiento de recomendaciones y alternativas en políticas públicas orientadas al mejoramiento de la calidad de vida de las ciudades en Colombia."
colombia  activism  cities  well-being  politics  qualityoflife  from delicious
may 2011 by robertogreco
ClubOrlov: America—The Grim Truth [A bit over the top, but there are some major truths in here, especially about the worry that results from the financial precariousness we feel as part of our system, lack of social safety net]
"Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Consider this…"
politics  collapse  us  economics  health  healthcare  expats  2010  via:mathowie  finance  well-being  qualityoflife  food  pharmaceuticals  work  balance  australia  fragmentation  teaparty  immigration  emmigration  canada  newzealand  japan  europe  comparison  middleeast  guns  safety  society  fear  dystopia  unemployment  decline  oil  peakoil  grimfutures  change  policy  freedom  germany  finland  italy  france  scandinavia  singlepayerhealthsystem  government  socialsafetynet  bankruptcy  from delicious
december 2010 by robertogreco
Urban Omnibus » Code for America ["We need to get in there and change the culture and the modes of communication first, and remake City Hall so it acts more like the citizens of the city it serves."]
"Jennifer Pahlka is the founder and executive director of Code for America, a non-profit partially inspired by Teach for America that connects city governments and Web 2.0 talent. We caught up with Pahlka to get the backstory on the project, not just to hype the chance to become one of the fellows, but because the program offers profound lessons for how to reimagine how our city governments might work better. In architecture and urbanism, the words developer and designer refer to different professional roles than they do in technology. Nonetheless, perhaps designers of the physical world might benefit from a perspective in which certain networks, systems and spaces are virtual, but no less designed, and no less crucial to service delivery, citizenship and quality of life."
cities  government  citizenship  classideas  innovation  web  web2.0  urban  urbanism  technology  networks  networkedurbanism  systems  systemsthinking  qualityoflife  democracy  services  codeforamerica  collaboration  accessibility  demographics  boston  dc  seattle  boulder  philadelphia  needsassessment  municipalities  citizens  bureaucracy  government2.0  washingtondc  from delicious
august 2010 by robertogreco
Shareable: Can We Design Cities for Happiness?
"Happiness itself is a commons to which everyone should have equal access.

That’s the view of Enrique Peñalosa, who is not a starry-eyed idealist given to abstract theorizing. He’s actually a politician, who served as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, for three years, and now travels the world spreading a message about how to improve quality-of-life for everyone living in today’s cities.

Peñalosa’s ideas stand as a beacon of hope for cities of the developing world, which even with their poverty and immense problems will absorb much of the world’s population growth over the next half-century. Based on his experiences in Bogotá, Peñalosa believes it’s a mistake to give up on these cities as good places to live."
enriquepeñalosa  bogotá  colombia  cities  happiness  transportation  sustainability  urbanplanning  urban  economics  government  bikes  architecture  design  socialjustice  qualityoflife  cycling  commons  antanasmockus  jaimelerner  buses  biking  pedestrians  from delicious
august 2010 by robertogreco
Matthew Yglesias » Taxes, Taxes Everywhere
"there’s no way to have a progressive renaissance in the United States unless progressives find some politically feasible way of directly making the case that higher taxes for better services can be a good trade. And it’s worth trying to be honest about this. The other American journalists I’m traveling with, all lefty environmentalist types, can’t stop complaining about how expensive basic consumer goods are here. And it’s true, stuff’s expensive! But college and preschool and doctors and hospitals are all free, and the carbon emissions are low. This is, I think, a good trade but it really is a trade. Low taxes plus cheap dirty energy and large numbers of poor people will give you cheaper restaurants."
matthewyglesias  taxes  denmark  us  policy  politics  society  qualityoflife  well-being 
october 2009 by robertogreco
Half an Hour: Tax Credits: The Oregon Example
"Oregon, especially, has been the locus for numerous quality-of-life reforms over the years.

Look at the first paragraph of their business plan: “Oregon is a special place to live, and Oregon’s quality of life helps attract and retain talented people who drive our economy. Access to the outdoors and recreation, arts and culture and safe communities are among many Oregon assets that can support economic prosperity.”

http://www.oregonbusinessplan.org/sub_plan_place.html

No amount of tax breaks in the world can make up for a poor quality of life; that’s why nobody relocates to Somalia.

Oregon’s business plan incorporates ‘Four Ps’: people, place, productivity and pioneering. http://www.oregonbusinessplan.org/plan_fourp.html It is very important to focus on all four, rather than to write as though tax credits were the missing link or the magical tool that Oregon is using."
oregon  well-being  qualityoflife  people  policy  politics  economics  taxes  place  productivity  portland  reform  progressivism 
august 2009 by robertogreco
Productivity 2.0: How the New Rules of Work Are Changing the Game | Zen Habits
"1. Don’t Crank - Work With Deeper Focus. 2. Toss Out Meetings and Planning — Just Start. 3. Paperwork is out — automate with technology. 4. Don’t multi-task — multi-project and single-task. 5. Produce less, not more. 6. Forget about organization — use technology. 7. Out with hierarchies — in with freedom. 8. Work fewer hours, not more."
work  workplace  management  administration  leadership  focus  multitasking  singletasking  planning  meetings  efficiency  paperless  organization  productivity  qualityoflife  monotasking 
october 2008 by robertogreco
enRoute February 2008
"From Paris to Bogotá, urban spaces are undergoing a radical transformation with one thing in mind: your well-being...more time we spend on foot, on bikes or even on public transit, more we slow down, more we fuel this kind of social alchemy."
via:cityofsound  bikes  canada  cities  transportation  urban  urbanism  bogotá  colombia  paris  france  planning  well-being  creativity  design  psychology  lifestyle  mexico  mexicodf  qualityoflife  traffic  df  mexicocity 
march 2008 by robertogreco
Pankaj Mishra: As Sarkozy gropes for grand concepts the might of Asia looms over the west | Comment is free | The Guardian
"Morin: materialism & individualism have shattered older forms of community, replacing them with soulless anonymity...to reform itself, modern civilisation should seek quality of life rather than mere quantity, mindless accumulation of things."
civilization  materialism  france  politics  geopolitics  world  international  east  china  global  globalization  competition  consumerism  consumption  excess  qualityoflife  life 
february 2008 by robertogreco
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Feeling the pinch of compact cities
"High density "compact cities" are the favoured model for sustainable living in the 21st Century. But there are drawbacks because losing urban green spaces will reduce people's quality of life and drive out wildlife that have also made their homes in citi
architecture  environment  ecology  nature  psychology  urbanism  urban  density  poplulation  life  qualityoflife 
june 2007 by robertogreco

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