[permaculture] NAPC: Scarcity?

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Tue Aug 5 14:50:05 EDT 2014

I'm gaining a lot from this thread and appreciate everyone's conscientious, thoughtful comments. Thomas brings up many good points, and I also want to get to a few of Koreen's. I think we are getting to some solutions here. A few responses:

On Aug 4, 2014, at 11:27 PM, Thomas Allen <thallen at nwlink.com> wrote:

>  Do we put on an event with volunteer labor at a very low price so young entrants into permaculture can attend or do we put on the best event possible. 

Where I'm trying to go with this is: it is not either/or. It's possible to put on excellent events with options that low-income people can afford, in ways that also allow the more resource-abundant (in time, money, strength, or wisdom) to contribute proportionally.

> Other’s feel that they should be paid a percentage of the gross which is tantamount to socializing the costs and privatizing the benefits as the US did with too-big-to-fail banks. 

Funny; I see it just the opposite. If a small cadre is doing all the work to put on an event (and that can include the presenters), the costs are privatized to them, while the large group gets the socialized benefits of the small group's free labor. And that's no more sustainable than a system that privatizes the benefits. That's why I'd like to see a design in which those who do the work receive proportionate compensation. 

It's also odd to me that some people see a problem in the idea of a large gathering that generates money income for the part of the group that does the work, and that also benefits all attendees in learning, advancing the movement, and having a good time. Just how is that unfair? Everyone gains something, and those who work more gain in additional ways. We're creating a huge surplus that supports workers, says that they don't have to burn out and thus never want to put on an event again, and it grows the community.

I suppose some would identify two problems there: what if there are more people wanting to present (or do other work) than slots available (wow, an abundance of help being offered. What a problem.), and how do we know how big the presenters budget is before the event? So, are these utterly unsolvable? I bet we could design a selection process for presenters and workers, or agree that a committee will choose, or any of multiple solutions. And we could be transparent about budget: if we get 300 people, we can pay you this much, 500, this much. 

The other "problem" that's been mentioned a lot is: everyone has day jobs, so it's hard to find time to volunteer, so many tasks don't get done thoroughly. Okay, how do we solve that, rather than say, we're just stuck with that situation and there's no answer anywhere? Sounds like we need to raise money, or find someone who is unemployed who will do the work and get paid after tickets come in (there's incentive for you!) or any of a million other solutions.

Many of the problems that Thomas and Koreen describe--which are very real--occur because there is no income coming in for the organizers or for the event. Again, by generating seed money, or doing a crowdsource campaign before the real organizing gets underway (a donation gets a ticket, with a risk to the donor that the event might not happen, and that's why they call it a donation!). There are lots of ways to do it. 

> It’s a tough balancing act. Some presenters demand to be paid well and have been negotiated down to a fair price relative to what others receive. Some people donate their presentations and money besides. Some people have not participated because we couldn’t reach an equitable price.

Again, all this is due to low resource flow. Solve it. 

In all this, you are telling us you know exactly what the problems are. That's wonderful, because now they can stop being a problem. (If we can't do that, as Larry S says, "then let's just die.") You've identified the choke points in the resource flow.  Now we can solve them. (There are people out there who got paid $500 million last year. Clearly there is not a lack of money. There is a lack in our cleverness in getting access to resources. How do other disciplines manage to get organized, to hold events? Surely they have faced and solved exactly the same problems, and we can solve them ethically as well.)

>  The best we can do is a compromise and as with so many compromises someone isn’t happy.
When I hear the word "compromise," it tells me that we're perceiving the situation as zero sum: if one party gains, the other must lose, so to be fair, we all lose a little. Dreadful. Compromise is an indicator of design flaws, of choke points in resource flows that have not been solved. It's not like some god has said in advance "you can only have X dollars and Y people's labor to put on this event." It's not zero sum. Good design will enlarge X and Y to large numbers, so we all win. Very few situations in life are truly win/lose except when we choose to view them that way. My own policy in putting together events is, "How can we design it to maximize the benefits to everyone?" (Which may be why I get invited to events a lot.)

In this thread, we have identified choke points, key problems, and deficiencies in organizing these events. So designing some solutions is now just application of permaculture principles and methods, right? Or is permaculture really not up to that job? This seems to me to be a chance to walk our talk. Does permaculture work, or not?

It's. All. Solvable. If there's one thing I've learned from permaculture, that's it. 

It's wonderful to be given an opportunity to work this stuff out, so that the next conference (from "confer," or to engage in collaborative conversation toward a goal, as opposed to converge, to focus upon a single point (!)) can be even better.

Koreen, I'll get to your questions in a bit.


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