[ The Note for November 2014 ]

Quoting Albert Einstein, Azar Nafisi reminds us of the vital importance of imaginative vision for actually seeing and making sense of the universe we inhabit. Said the scientist: “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Stripping the arts out of education doesn’t make us more certain, it makes us less agile, less able to discern what is real in the shifting landscape of experience. The result is devaluation of the human and standardization of thought. Both are ethically unacceptable, and both are costly to society as a whole. Nafisi also quotes Nabokov, who like Einstein and herself was an immigrant citizen whose passion for democracy, basic rights, and human imagination, strengthened our republic. Nabokov would tell students to work “with the passion of a scientist and the precision of a poet.” We are now, as a society, in danger of losing both. We ask scientists to be simply readers of facts, not impassioned explorers, and we misunderstand poetry as a pleasant indulgence, not as the linguistic and expressive frontiersmanship that it is. To deaden both of these for a generation of talents is to deprive our own future economy of what is most valuable: free people dignified by a capacity for the sublime and an aversion to the grave costs of dispassionate imprecision.

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The people have a right to co-create policy with our representatives.

Political analysts around the world have been noting the extreme negative tone of the 2014 midterm election campaign in the U.S. Outside groups that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on smears and innuendo are degrading the political debate. The ugliness of the campaign has exacerbated the bitterness many Americans feel toward the political process itself.

That bitterness tends to be connected to a feeling of detachment or of access denied. People believe they do not have access to their elected officials and that the parties do not respond to their day-to-day needs. This detachment is driven partly by the apparent inability of leading national political figures to work together, which leaves a great deal of important work unfinished.

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This morning, the United States and China announced a bold bilateral emissions-reduction agreement. The US agreed to reduce total emissions by 26-28% by 2025, and China agreed to peak its emissions no later than 2030. While bold, and vital to achieving a global transition, the agreement is a beginning, and will need to be strengthened, if we are to see the most economically efficient process for relieving cost and harm coming at us through a disrupted climate.

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[ The Note for October 2014 ]

For most of the history of our species, we were hunter-gatherers. We could not store large stocks of resources. Social groups were small, defined by the range individuals within that small group were able to cover, in search of sustenance. We formed microcultures that left little in the way of permanent record. Knowledge expanded slowly. Scarcity remained the rule for human societies, even as agriculture took over, and cities grew, and urban civilization spread across the world. The few that were able to control the structures that establish and reinforce what we call society have been able to enjoy abundance, without allowing everyone else into that enjoyment. Perpetual scarcity, then, appeared to be an organizing principle, though it was more an illusion than a fact of life on Earth.

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Report from the World Bank / IMF Civil Society Forum

JR-question.jpgIn the years I have been attending and contributing to the World Bank / IMF Civil Society Policy Forum, I have witnessed a distinct and ongoing evolution. Multilateral institutions like the World Bank and IMF, which are funded by and directed by governments, and which do business with governments, have direct impacts on elements of society that are not in the room when decisions are made. So civil society organizations have an important role to play in highlighting and reducing major risk areas, and in shaping policies that lead to better outcomes.

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Last week’s World Bank / IMF Annual Meetings and Civil Society Forum were a breakthrough opportunity for ciitizen engagement and grassroots policy advocacy, on the inside of two of the world’s most powerful institutions. Citizens’ Climate Lobby was there, advocating for responsible climate policy, in line with the Pathway to Paris core principles. View my full Storify archive of tweets and links from the 2014 World Bank / IMF Annual Meetings and Civil Society Forum, by clicking here: storify.com/poeteconomist

[ The Note for September 2014 ]

The Cafe Cash Register Standard

There is a cafe I like to visit whenever I am near Villanova University, where I studied and taught for many years. A few years ago, someone staged an informal experiment, putting a stamp on a dollar bill to make it easily identifiable. Staff at this cafe reported receiving the bill in payment no less than 30 times in a 60-day period. That one dollar bill became $30 in gross domestic product (GDP). In this sense, the local economy of the cafe is a phenomenally efficient engine of economic productivity.

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We need all hands on deck.

On the day of the UN Climate Summit, Sept. 23, 2014, Citizens’ Climate Lobby released its fully annotated Global Strategy Whitepaper, and launching its effort to pull together a coalition of stakeholders, thought-leaders, businesses, nonprofits and governments, to achieve an economically efficient, value-building plan to price carbon and transition to climate-smart economic and investment policies.  Read More

The climate system is a complex of thermodynamic energy transfers, moving between the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Our local experience of weather—hot summers, breezy autumns, monsoon rains, tropical cyclones, droughts, floods, blizzards and mudslides—is an expression of the way climatic forces play out over time.

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[ The Note for August 2014 ]

Inaction to confront and reduce the risks of ongoing climate destabilization is bad fiscal policy. That is the message coming from the International Monetary Fund, the world’s leading fiscal rescue institution. The IMF deals with countries in default, or whose fiscal solvency is so delicate as to verge on catastrophe. In late 2013, one island nation saw 15% of annual GDP wiped out in 3 hours of unprecedented rain. Such sudden, unpredictable impacts make reliable fiscal policy planning impossible, because the value of any one dollar of spending or investment is so destabilized.

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