Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Check out the new program blog!

Hi Everyone,

You may have noticed a rather significant silence in this blog space in recent months...a result of a gradual transition over to our NEW online community space:

Visit us there to catch up on news from our alumni community, tap into alumni resources (still in development), and connect with members of the community from around the world.

See you on the PLC!

Monday, November 18, 2013

An excellent short video illustrating wealth inequality in the US

If you missed this when it was circulating on Facebook recently, please take a little time to watch this very well-done short video illustrating the reality of income inequality in the United States - compared to what US citizens think it is, and what they wish it was...

What is remarkable is that it is very non-partisan and actually shows that people across party lines have a lot of common ground in their vision of what a reasonable income distribution curve might look like.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A great time to be a billionaire

Thanks to Conversation Leader and Facilitator Maura Conlon-McIvor who sent in this well-written opinion piece on income inequality,
 Billionaire's Row and Welfare Lines.

The essay calls attention to the horrifying facts about Child poverty in the US and the efforts of our Congress to cut food assistance to poor families:

"The number of Americans now enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is near record highs, and yet both houses of Congress have passed bills to cut funding to the program. The Senate measure would cut about $4 billion, while the House measure would cut roughly ten times as much, dropping millions of Americans from the program."

Author Charles Blow concludes what we all must conclude:  "There is an inherent tension — and obscenity — in the wildly divergent fortunes of the rich and the poor in this country, especially among our children. The growing imbalance of both wealth and opportunity cannot be sustained. Something has to give."

Indeed.  Something has to give.  Let it not be the children on whom our future depends.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2012 Gender Gap Report Shows Lot's of Work to Be Done!

Many thanks to all of you who sent articles relating to the recent publication of the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. It is a disheartening report for us in the US, as it shows the US falling from #17 to #22 out of 135 nations in gender equality.

As the Huff Post piece says: "The one thing these rankings make clear is that there is still a whole lot of work to be done when it comes to creating policies that will give men and women equal opportunities for living economically successful, healthy and politically engaged lives."

And, from the Preface of the report comes this powerful, succinct statement of the relationship between gender equality and economic success:
"The key for the future of any country and any institution is the capability to develop, retain and attract the best talent. Women make up one half of the world’s human capital. Empowering and educating girls and women and leveraging their talent and leadership fully in the global economy, politics and society are thus fundamental elements of succeeding and prospering in an ever more competitive world. In particular, with talent shortages projected to become more severe in much of the developed and developing world, maximizing access to female talent is a strategic imperative for business."
Here are a couple articles covering the release of the report and it's key findings related to the US:

U.S. Ranks 23rd For Women's Equality, Falling Behind Nicaragua, Cuba, and Burundi | ThinkProgress

And here's a link to the report itself:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Economics Undergrads Demanding Alternative Theories

Thanks to Conversation Leader Marie Stock (currently in CELP Cohort T) for sending this great article about young people insisting on curriculum shifts to include alternatives to "orthodox" free-market teaching in their economics classes.

Economics students aim to tear up free-market syllabus

Undergraduates at Manchester University propose overhaul of orthodox teachings to embrace alternative theories

Few mainstream economists predicted the global financial crash of 2008 and academics have been accused of acting as cheerleaders for the often labyrinthine financial models behind the crisis. Now a growing band of university students are plotting a quiet revolution against orthodox free-market teaching, arguing that alternative ways of thinking have been pushed to the margins.

Economics undergraduates at the University of Manchester have formed the Post-Crash Economics Society, which they hope will be copied by universities across the country. The organisers criticise university courses for doing little to explain why economists failed to warn about the global financial crisis and for having too heavy a focus on training students for City jobs.

A growing number of top economists, such as Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches economics at Cambridge University, are backing the students.

Next month the society plans to publish a manifesto proposing sweeping reforms to the University of Manchester's curriculum, with the hope that other institutions will follow suit.

Joe Earle, a spokesman for the Post-Crash Economics Society and a final-year undergraduate, said academic departments were "ignoring the crisis" and that, by neglecting global developments and critics of the free market such as Keynes and Marx, the study of economics was "in danger of losing its broader relevance".

Chang, who is a reader in the political economy of development at Cambridge, said he agreed with the society's premise. The teaching of economics was increasingly confined to arcane mathematical models, he said. "Students are not even prepared for the commercial world. Few [students] know what is going on in China and how it influences the global economic situation. Even worse, I've met American students who have never heard of Keynes."

In June a network of young economics students, thinkers and writers set up Rethinking Economics, a campaign group to challenge what they say is the predominant narrative in the subject.
Earle said students across Britain were being taught neoclassical economics "as if it was the only theory".
He said: "It is given such a dominant position in our modules that many students aren't even aware that there are other distinct theories out there that question the assumptions, methodologies and conclusions of the economics we are taught."

Multiple-choice and maths questions dominate the first two years of economics degrees, which Earle said meant most students stayed away from modules that required reading and essay-writing, such as history of economic thought. "They think they just don't have the skills required for those sorts of modules and they don't want to jeopardise their degree," he said. "As a consequence, economics students never develop the faculties necessary to critically question, evaluate and compare economic theories, and enter the working world with a false belief about what economics is and a knowledge base limited to neoclassical theory."

In the decade before the 2008 crash, many economists dismissed warnings that property and stock markets were overvalued. They argued that markets were correctly pricing shares, property and exotic derivatives in line with economic models of behaviour. It was only when the US sub-prime mortgage market unravelled that banks realised a collective failure to spot the bubble had wrecked their finances.

In his 2010 documentary Inside Job, Charles Ferguson highlighted how US academics had produced hundreds of reports in support of the types of high-risk trading and debt-fuelled consumption that triggered the crash.

Some leading economists have criticised university economics teaching, among them Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize winner and professor at Princeton university who has attacked the complacency of economics education in the US.

In an article for the New York Times in 2009, Krugman wrote: "As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth."
Adam Posen, head of the Washington-based thinktank the Peterson Institute, said universities ignore empirical evidence that contradicts mainstream theories in favour of "overly technical nonsense".

City economists attacked Joseph Stiglitz, the former World Bank chief economist, and Olivier Blanchard, the current International Monetary Fund chief economist, when they criticised western governments for cutting investment in the wake of the crash.

A Manchester University spokeman said that, as at other university courses around the world, economics teaching at Manchester "focuses on mainstream approaches, reflecting the current state of the discipline". He added: "It is also important for students' career prospects that they have an effective grounding in the core elements of the subject.

"Many students at Manchester study economics in an interdisciplinary context alongside other social sciences, especially philosophy, politics and sociology. Such students gain knowledge of different kinds of approaches to examining social phenomena … many modules taught by the department centre on the use of quantitative techniques. These could just as easily be deployed in mainstream or non-mainstream contexts."

Friday, November 8, 2013

What is the happiest country on earth?

From our irrepressible Conversation Leader/Facilitator Allan Ament comes this article which powerfully re-affirms the core messages of Caring Economics.

(BTW... Congratulations to Allan for brecently finishing your memoir about caregiving! ...we all wish you well in the next phases of book design and publicity!)

Why is Denmark the happiest country on earth?  Gee, could it have something to do with:

1.  supports for parents
2.  healthcare as a civil right and source of social connection
3.  high levels of gender equality
4.  bicycles as a major mode of transport
5.  strong sense of connection and shared responsibility for social well-being

You guessed it!  Read on for more...

AlterNet (U.S.)

Last month, Denmark was crowned the happiest country in the world.

'The top countries generally rank higher in all six of the key factors identified in the World Happiness Report,” wrote University of British Columbia economics professor John Helliwell, one of the report's contributing authors. 'Together, these six factors explain three quarters of differences in life evaluations across hundreds of countries and over the years.”

The six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government- and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

"There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being," economist Jeffrey Sachs said in a statement at the time of the report's release.

But why Denmark over any of the other wealthy, democratic countries with small, educated populations? And can the qualities that make this Nordic country the happiest around apply to other cultures across the globe? Here are a few things Danes do well that any of us can lobby for:

Denmark supports parents

While American women scrape by with an average maternal leave of 10.3 weeks, Danish families receive a total of 52 weeks of parental leave. Mothers are able to take 18 weeks and fathers receive their own dedicated 2 weeks at up to 100 percent salary. The rest of the paid time off is up to the family to use as they see fit.

But the support doesn't stop at the end of this time. Danish children have access tofree or low-cost child care. And early childhood education is associated with health and well-being throughout life for its recipients -- as well as for mothers. What's more, this frees up young mothers to return to the work force if they'd like to. The result? In Denmark, 79 percent of mothers return to their previous level of employment, compared to 59 percent of American women. These resources mean that women contribute 34 to 38 percent of income in Danish households with children, compared to American women, who contribute 28 percent of income.

Health care is a civil right -- and a source of social support

Danish citizens expect and receive health care as a basic right. But what's more, they know how to effectively use their health systems. Danish people are in touch with their primary care physician an average of nearly seven times per year, according to a 2012 survey of family medicine in the country. And that means they have a single advocate who helps them navigate more complicated care.

"This gatekeeping system essentially is designed to support the principle that treatment ought to take place at the lowest effective care level along with the idea of continuity of care provided by a family doctor," wrote the authors of the family medicine survey.

By contrast, Americans seek medical care an average of fewer than four times per year and they don't just visit their general practitioner -- this figure includes emergency room visits, where many uninsured Americans must access doctors. This diversity of resources means that many Americans don't have continuity of care -- not a single medical professional advocating for them and putting together a comprehensive medical history.

Gender equality is prioritized

It isn't just parents who can expect balanced gender norms. Denmark regularly ranksamong the top 10 countries in a World Economic Forum's yearly report that measures gender equality. While no country in the world has yet achieved gender parity, Denmark and other Nordic countries are coming close. That is in no small part because of the strong presence of women in leadership positions. Reported the World Economic Forum:

The Nordic countries were also early starters in providing women with the right to vote (Sweden in 1919, Norway in 1913, Iceland and Denmark in 1915, Finland in 1906). In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, political parties introduced voluntary gender quotas in the 1970s, resulting in high numbers of female political representatives over the years. In Denmark, in fact, this quota has since been abandoned as no further stimulus is required.

Indeed, the country currently has its first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (although she has been leader of the Social Democrat party since 2005). Its blockbuster hit television show, Borgen, features a female prime minister (pictured above) as well -- a complicated, strong female character that stands in contrast to America's enduring obsession with male anti-heroes.

But government leadership merely exemplifies greater gender balance throughout the culture. As Katie J.M. Baker puts it in her exploration of gender politics in the Scandinavian country: "Unlike in America, where bestsellers goad already overworked and underpaid women to Lean In even further, the assumption in Denmark is that feminism is a collective goal, not an individual pursuit."

Biking is the norm

In Denmark's most populated and largest city, Copenhagen, bikes account for 50 percent of its residents' trips to school or work. Half. Half of commuting happens on a bike in Copenhagen and that doesn't just improve fitness levels and reduce carbon emissions, it also contributes to the wealth of the city, reported Forbes:

Researchers found that for every kilometer traveled by bike instead of by car, taxpayers saved 7.8 cents (DKK 0.45) in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure. Cyclists in Copenhagen cover an estimated 1.2 million kilometers each day –- saving the city a little over $34 million each year.

What's more, just 30 minutes of daily biking adds an average of one to two years to the life expectancy of Copenhagen's cyclists.

Danish culture puts a positive spin on its harsh environment.

Here's how Danish people turn lemons into spiced mulled wine: Ever heard of the concept of hygge? While some would define it as cultivated coziness, hygge is often considered the major weapon in combatting the dreary darkness that befalls the Nordic country over the winter. In a place where the sun shines fewer than seven hours during the height of the winter solstice -- a level of darkness that can (and does) stir depression and sad feelings -- the concept of a cozy scene, full of love and indulgence, can help to mitigate some of the season's worst psychological effects.

After all, both strong social connections and many of the indulgent foods associated with hygge -- such as chocolate, coffee and wine -- are mood boosters.

Danes feel a responsibility to one another

Danes don't prioritize social security and safety simply so they can receive benefits; there's a real sense of collective responsibility and belonging. And this civic duty -- combined with the economic security and work-life balance to support it -- results in a high rate of volunteerism. According to a government exploration of Danish "responsibility":

Denmark is a society where citizens participate and contribute to making society work. More than 40 percent of all Danes do voluntary work in cultural and sports associations, NGOs, social organisations, political organisations, etc. There is a wealth of associations: in 2006, there were 101,000 Danish organisations -- worth noting in a population of just 5.5 million.

The economic value of this unpaid work is DKK 35.3 billion. Combined with the value growth from the non-profit sector, public subsidies and membership fees, the total economic impact of the sector represents 9.6 percent of the Danish GDP.

But that sense of stewardship isn't just extra-governmental: Danes also take pride in their involvement with the democratic process. During the last election in September 2011, for example, 87.7 percent of the country voted. It's not surprising, given these statistics, that the University of Zurich and the Social Science Research Center Berlin have given Denmark the very highest rating for democracy among 30 established democracies.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A quote you'll love

Thanks to Conversation Leader Kia Scherr for sending in this wonderful quote:

"Perhaps I don't understand economics, but economics does not understand me, either."
- Lin Yutang

Kia is doing wonderful work for peace - check out her websites:  and

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rethinking Economic Assumptions with New Understandings of Human Nature

Many thanks to Conversation Leader Adam Chefitz for passing along this fascinating brand new article from Scientific American called "Human Nature and the Moral Economy"

Author Eric Michael Johnson is an Anthropologist and Great Ape Ecologist who brings together recent anthropological and primate research to show how far our economics has become from our shared morality based on our human capacities for fairness and cooperation, and to argue for a revisioining of economics based on a more accurate set of assumptions about human nature.

Here's a teaser from Johnson's conclusion:  

"Since we now know that many of the assumptions about human nature that classical economics was based upon were either wrong or woefully incomplete, it is high time that other ideas be accepted around the table. With an economic system teetering on the edge of unprecedented inequality it would be immoral not to consider other options."


The article has some other wonderful evidence and examples in it, too - so check it out!

- Sara

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Unpaid Caregivers Make Huge Economic Contribution, But We Can't Count on It In the Future

A new AARP report called “The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap,”offers some striking data about the impending shortage of caregivers for elders in the U.S. - and calls attention to the staggeringly large economic contributions made by unpaid caregivers.

This article, "Huge shortage of caregivers looms for baby boomers, report says" summarizes some of the key findings of the AARP report.  Here are a few data points from the report that will particularly interest you as a Caring Economy Conversation Leader:

  • There are 42.1 million adults in the United States caring for friends or family members. 
  • Nearly two-thirds of those caregivers are women, and more than 80 percent of the people they care for are over 50
  • the “average” family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends about 20 hours a week caring for her mother without pay.
And, wrap your head around this statistic:  The unpaid care work contributed by Baby Boomers caring for friends and family is estimated to have been worth the equivalent of $450 billion in 2009, more than the cost of Medicaid and approaching the cost of Medicare.


The central point of the article is that the number of available caregivers for elders is shrinking rapidly (due to the large number of baby boomers, the fact that boomers had relatively fewer children than earlier generations, and increased longevity), so we will not be able to count on this kind of massive economic contribution by unpaid caregivers going forward.  

This means we must be working now to develop policies that will both support those who do provide unpaid care and develop other ways to ensure that our elders are cared for.  Surely an important cause for anyone advocating for a Caring Economy!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Building Social Wealth by Building Better Hometowns

We talk a lot in our Caring Economy work about the relationship between a thriving "Household Sector" and fiscal prosperity...

Thanks to Conversation Leader Adam Chefitz from Miami, Florida for sharing this news item about a local contest that reminds us that a thriving "Community Sector" is also critical element of social wealth - and also a key element of economic prosperity.

This Miami contest calling for ideas for making better public spaces " based on a growing number of studies that show a close relationship between fiscal prosperity and cities whose residents feel a warm affinity for their hometowns. That’s in part because cities that people are proud to live in also tend to attract and retain the skilled, talented workers who drive economic growth."

Turns out that the key elements in creating better public spaces include keeping things beautiful, walkable, playable, encouraging relationship and connection, and staying human scale... Go figure.  Caring equates to prosperity at every level!

Adam has more than a passing interest in this contest - he's entering it!:  'I'm working with Catalyst Miami to propose a non-profit cafe that serves as a hub for local activists and artists modeled after "busboys and poets" cafe in DC." 

Way to take action Adam!