Saturday, December 31, 2011

The extremes of uncertainty

I was doing research on country-specific risks this past week and was met with what seems to be more and more commonplace. It used to be that we didn’t know if GDP would raise by 2% or 2.5% - now the question is if there is going to be inflation or deflation – that’s a lot more uncertainty being brought into the equation! I’m seeing this more and more in almost all facets of life. More uncertainty in global economics, global politics, food production (is there enough wheat this year?), entertainment (who is next years star? In the 80s, the answer was always Michael Jackson), etc.

Uncertainty itself isn’t really what stands out to me, as that’s been evident for a while. However, the (un?)conscious reactions of people to this increased uncertainty has been interesting. There’s one group that chooses to believe the world is getting worse, another that refuses to believe there is anything happening outside of business as usual, and a third group that is in ‘wait and see’ mode. Now of course there’s many more groups out there (including the folks who’ve seen this coming for many years and are working on long-term solutions based on inner clarity), but these seem to be major categories I see.

Between the first two groups, you’re getting bigger and bigger shifts in behavior over time. In the former group (the folks that think the world is degrading), you’re seeing increasing levels of choices made for the ‘greater good’ along with an increasing disdain for those who don’t see what they do. On the flip side, there’s people who are stepping up their business-as-usual habits as they look to show that nothing is amiss (think Palin’s reality show). At some point, this uneasy coexistence is going to break down. In the meantime, the question is which path are each one of us treading and how can we become more clear about our choices in an unbiased way?

Also, happy new year :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What is growth?

Money and Life

Earlier today, I had the chance to sit down with Katie Teague, who is making a movie on growth.  It is the fuel of finance, thus the economy, and thus the developed world.  A world of constant, infinite, compounded growth.  Without which the majority of our citizens would literally die, as jobs dried up and people couldn’t afford basic necessities… but is this really true?

What’s true in the macro is also true in the micro.  As we all grow in our lives and careers, it's normal to expect a raise every year.  Why?  Because it's a signal of growth.  Growing is good - not growing is downright unamerican.  You didn’t get a raise?  You’re not growing?  Well then you must be no good.

But why only 1 way to measure growth?  If I get a 5% raise next year but eat less healthy food, spend less time with close ones, and do more self-serving work, did I really grow?  Just because the number is easy to measure, is that all that matters?

Other ways to grow beyond financial-
- Grow in generosity (give more of yourself every year)
- Grow in compassion (connect more deeply with others every year)
- Grow in physical health (deeper care for 'lifestyle habits' every year)
- Grow in mental health (deeper understanding of the world every year)
- Grow in balance (continual movement towards deeper harmony within and without)
- Grow in fun

All of these ideas are tougher to measure, but you know it when you have it and when you don’t.  Conversely, financial growth is actually destructive in the long-run.  In the macro, we outstrip the biological capacity to match our insatiable needs, we increase inequity leading to crime/disease/uneducated society, we build a transactional (rather than trust) mindset into the culture.  In the micro, as our financial capabilities grow, so do our waistlines, our debt averages, and our brotherhood with fellow man.

So what to do?  Even if I’m right, that just means we’re doomed because we’re part of a system that demands infinite growth…right?  Well, no.  Anything can be changed, but some things are harder than others.  What we’re talking about is a long project, and a systemic deconstructing of many implicitly held beliefs.  There are people that are doing this now.  But it’s not easy to deny gratifying easily attainable sensual pleasures. 

Here we have another reason to practice turning the lens within.  Over time, it may become easier to not react to such desires and really begin to act in a way that brings balance within and without.  If that starts to happen in many people at once, you have the start of a movement away from constant, insatiable, cancerous financial growth.  And then!  Who know what will emerge?  They say the future is already here, just not evenly distributed yet :)