what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, November 26, 2010

wine and the Commons


I discovered a stunning red wine yesterday – a 2008 Feteasca Regal – available from the barrel at 2 euros a litre in the Tohani wine shop on Una Maia. I don’t normally go there - it looks too posh compared with the places in the Matache market area which I frequent. Tohani is a commune in my favourite wine area here - Dealul Mare - the area east of Ploiesti running to Buzau but I have been diverted from its wines by the great Riesling-Pinot Gris I found recently in the Recas wine shop round the corner from the Dealul Mare one at the Matache market. The Tohani shop was offering a Riesling from the barrel – but lukewarm! However their (Merlot) rose was tasty and will bring me back to the place. I worry at the moment about our future wine supplies – because the Chinese are just beginning to discover European wines. Their wines are actually more like liquors so it will hopefully take some time before their palates adjust. At the moment the wines they buy are top of the range French and are bought as status symbols rather than for enjoyment.
Another discovery was the cultural magazine available online from the Romanian Cultural Foundation – although nothing has appeared in 2010. A 2006 issue focussed on Bucharest – and had quite a few articles bemoaning the destruction of the archiectural legacy.

When you actually look, it’s amazing what is actually available on the theme of alternatives to the monstrous economic path we stumbled down some decades back. And during the night I actually discovered an example of what my previous post had been asking for – someone who has retired and is now using his experience, time and other resources to try to develop a more appropriate system.
I’m a businessman. I believe society should reward successful initiative with profit. At the same time, I know that profit-seeking activities have unhealthy side effects. They cause pollution, waste, inequality, anxiety, and no small amount of confusion about the purpose of life.
I’m also a liberal, in the sense that I’m not averse to a role for government in society. Yet history has convinced me that representative government can’t adequately protect the interests of ordinary citizens. Even less can it protect the interests of future generations, ecosystems, and nonhuman species. The reason is that most—though not all—of the time, government puts the interests of private corporations first. This is a systemic problem of a capitalist democracy, not just a matter of electing new leaders.
If you identify with the preceding sentiments, then you might be confused and demoralized, as I have been lately. If capitalism as we know it is deeply flawed, and government is no savior, where lies hope? This strikes me as one of the great dilemmas of our time. For years the Right has been saying—nay, shouting—that government is flawed and that only privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts can save us. For just as long, the Left has been insisting that markets are flawed and that only government can save us. The trouble is that both sides are half-right and half-wrong. They’re both right that markets and state are flawed, and both wrong that salvation lies in either sphere. But if that’s the case, what are we to do? Is there, perhaps, a missing set of institutions that can help us? I began pondering this dilemma about ten years ago after retiring from Working Assets, a business I cofounded in 1982. (Working Assets offers telephone and credit card services which automatically donate to nonprofit groups working for a better world.) My initial ruminations focused on climate change caused by human emissions of heat-trapping gases. Some analysts saw this as a “tragedy of the commons,” a concept popularized forty years ago by biologist Garrett Hardin. According to Hardin, people will always overuse a commons because it’s in their self-interest to do so. I saw the problem instead as a pair of tragedies: first a tragedy of the market, which has no way of curbing its own excesses, and second a tragedy of government, which fails to protect the atmosphere because polluting corporations are powerful and future generations don’t vote.

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