[permaculture] NAPC: Scarcity?

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Sun Aug 3 15:09:00 EDT 2014

On Aug 1, 2014, at 12:55 PM, Michael Pilarski via permaculture <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org> wrote:

> Can you imagine how much it would cost
> if we had to pay each one of them what they currently get paid for giving a
> workshop or keynote speech!?  . . .  We don’t want to set up a
> hierarchy. Come because you are excited about participating ... not because you
> are getting paid. 

Since you mention it publicly, I gather that a number of presenters have asked if they can be compensated for their work. (Warning: rant ahead, and Skeeter, this isn't personal--since I've gotten, like, 8 copies of this notice, it's repeatedly hit one of my hot buttons.)

What if a corporation or plantation boss had said, “Can you imagine how much our products would cost if we paid our workers fairly?” Permies don’t get a pass on that just because we’re doing good work; corporations think they are too. It’s also a guilt-tripping argument, which is kind of embarrassing. 

Here's the answer to the question: Given the expected 500 attendees, another $50 would generate $25,000. More than enough to pay everyone well, including the hard-working organizers. Since the fee structure of NAPC already has a set of $50 tiers, one more would have fit in fine. 

People aren't asking to be paid just to get money. It's hard work to put a talk together (takes me 40-80 hours for a 90-minute talk), and if our work yields no return, we've designed a bad system that burns us out. Remember "Get a yield?" Not to do so is unsustainable. We should be modeling abundance, not scarcity. "Here, come be a permaculturist, stay broke, live in scarcity, and get nothing for your hard work but good feelings!"

The price of NAPC is ludicrously low. $150 for 3 days of presentations, workshops, awesome conversation, meals, and camping? That’s just nuts! For $50 more, NAPC could have compensated everyone well for their work and had broader appeal. And at a regular conference rate, we could have funded the projects we'll conceive there. I know a lot of people who aren’t attending because it’s just the usual folks, camping in a field, like every convergence. 

It feels like the guiding principle for NAPC is “let’s spend as little as possible so we can charge as little as possible.” That’s a brutally limiting design ethic. Imagine how much richer the event would be if the ethic was, “How do we make this as awesome as we can, pay everyone fairly for their work, and still find ways for everyone to afford it?”

One of many ways is how Permaculture Voices did it: A block of very expensive, full-price tickets (which sold well because not every permaculturist is poor!), blocks at half and one-quarter price, and a large block of free tickets. They had 650 very diverse attendees, and a presenters budget of, I estimate, over $100,000 to pay 70 speakers very well. There are many ways to design it to be affordable for all, beyond “do it as cheap as we can.” 

When 500 people come together, they can generate a surplus that will provide enough for everyone. How did NAPC miss that resource? (I assume, since NAPC isn't paying others for working, that NAPC staff, too, are all doing this for free). 

It’s not that there is a “hierarchy,” as the letter puts it. There is true diversity in skills, experience, and income. To deny that reality, to not take advantage of it, is poor design. 

Please, let’s get over the idea that everyone in permaculture is poor, that there is no money out there, that this is a world of scarcity. What kind of a vision to hold is that? This is a huge limitation for permaculture that we have to break out of!

Maybe we need a session at NAPC on how to break the scarcity mentality of permaculture.


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