LUNA: the Economics of WANT

20 01 2016

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. ― Rudyard Kipling


unrepresentative Democracy – we CAN set forth its transformation

17 11 2015

The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near zero, statistically non-significant, impact upon public policy… We have a political system that betrays the fundamental idea of a representative democracy. – Lawrence Lessig

Our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition. The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is in the mind to let them all sink into the depths of the past and to set about its own transformation. – Hegel

Economics: Greek disburdenment

3 07 2015

Dear Solon,

Friend and poet, to where have you disappeared?

Please rise from wherever you are. We the Greeks, and the whole of Europe, are at a crossroads; we so desperately need you to listen and translate messages from the Oracle.

Is there no pupil of yours capable of immediate travel to Delphi? This is of utmost urgency.

We need you to write us a new poem.

Please can you help us to better understand what you meant when you asked us Athenians to “take the mid-seat, and be the vessel’s guide”?

Because things have come full cycle you see, once again the cycles of economic and political deadlock weigh heavily upon us all.

And it is for Greece as it is for the whole of Europe. Perhaps the whole of the West.

We are once again questioning our ideals around economic growth and prosperity. Questioning whether democracy may constrain and destabilise our national–our continental, our global–stability.

Is it true that the original meaning of the word demokratia was coined by aristocratic members of the Greek public – the rich elite who did not like being outvoted by the common people? Did demokratia originally mean ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’? I do remember that Plato warned us about the economic consequences of democracy–that “democratic leaders would rob the rich, keep as much of the proceeds for themselves and then distribute the rest to the people.”

Although we celebrate democracy today, and over half the world’s population live in a democracy, our modern governments continue to maintain complete control of our economy. The political elite, despite being elected by the masses, remains dominated by an aristocracy of birth. Even in America, we bear witness to political positions of the highest offices, kept within family blood lines, even shared among spouses.

Do you recon John Adams was right when he told us to remember that “democracy never lasts long”? “It soon wastes,” he said “exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation.”

You may be surprised, but Greece today is not so radically different from your time. There is a loss of confidence in all our institutions–the rich, the poor, the middle, have all lost confidence in the formal structures that are meant to sustain us. The eupatridae (some are simply disguised as others) continue to monopolize government and own the best land; poor farmers continue living in debt; the middle classes of middling farmers, merchants and artists remain excluded and resentful of government. The lack of trust in our political leaders has cast a terrible spell of doubt that leaves us unable to depend upon the institutions we once so desperately believed in. This lack of trust means that despite the passing of so much time, we never corrected our tax-collection system.

What is worse, and most pressing at this precise moment, is that our relations with neighbouring countries are growing sour. As it was in the past, the major neighbouring powers continued to have a strategic interest in ensuring Greece’s stability. Although we have continued to be capital-poor and import-dependent, although we have been unable to rid ourselves of a political culture of patronage, our neighbours have insisted in helping us build up our economy. Build up to what? you might wonder. I too wonder. You would be shocked to learn that we have long since forfeited our fiscal sovereignty to external creditors. Our monetary policy is in the hands of the Germans not the Greeks. At least at the moment.

debt. or to use your words: disburdenment.
i so often wonder how much ideas are worth.
the value of ideas and ideals
monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy democracy:
all borrowed from the Greeks.

Perhaps you would not be surprised, but creating and collecting debt remains good business the world over. Oh, I do remember dear Solon, your first public measure–the enactment for existing debts to be remitted. This act of humanity, and to the augmentation of measures and the purchasing power of money, relieved the poor not by a cancelling of debts, but by a reduction of the interest upon them.

Currency. Do you remember how you made the mina to consist of a hundred drachmas, which before had contained only seventy-three? I wonder if something like that is possible today. The Euro is our modern-day, shared currency, used as mechanism to maintain “stable” economic unity across Europe and grow (“together”). Member states (there are 19 of us) are allowed to issue euro coins, but the amount must be authorised by what we call the ECB beforehand.

Along with a number of other nation states, our most recent debt crisis began in 2009. We Greeks stopped hiding it and came clean about the extent of our indebtedness and openly communicated the imminent danger of a Greek sovereign default.

The future of Greece now rests in the hands in democracy–demokratia.

Dear poet, please shine your wisdom upon us, help us be the vessels guide.

εν αναμονή συμβουλή σας



ECONOMICS: what can you buy for 2p?

31 01 2015

– Look, I found a coin! look, look at it. I’m going to put it in my piggy bank. (Luna)

– Well, how much is it? (Mummy)

– 2p. (Luna)

– Oh, great! So what do you think you can buy for 2p? (Mummy)

– Nothing. Nothing at all. That’s why I’m putting it in the bank, silly. (Luna)



CREATIVITY: emerges from what you make with what little you have

22 01 2015

– Mummy, can i please play on the Ipad?

– NO!

“It is such a myth that poor children are deprived of stimulation and are in need toys and technology to enhance their education. It is often the poor child who is able to create a world of his own with broomsticks and other random household objects. Creativity emerges from what you make with what little you have.”

– Tanya Chapuisat



Economics: gente común

5 12 2014

FREEDOM in form

3 12 2014

“The presumption that a high rate of continuous economic growth is possible puts a premium on investment in the sorts of institutions and conditions that facilitate such growth, like political stability, property rights, technology, and scientific research. On the other hand, if we assume that there are only limited possibilities for productivity improvements, then societies are thrown into a zero-sum world in which predation, or the taking of resources from someone else, is often a far more plausible route to power and wealth.” – Francis Fukuyama



Consciousness: world giving (index)

2 12 2014
Since we live in this world, we have to do our best for this world.
Aung San Suu Kyi
What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind.
– Cleveland Amory 



ECONOMICS: We aren’t rich, mummy. We are medium.

10 10 2014

(Dialogue with Luna, age 5)

– We aren’t rich mummy.
– Oh no? how can you be so sure?
– Well first of all, we don’t have gold around everywhere in our house and I don’t have a million gowns or anything like that hanging in my closet. Also, we are very nice to people.
– And if we were rich we wouldn’t be nice to people?
– No, we wouldn’t. Rich people aren’t usually very nice. They are rude usually because they are spoiled.
– Huh. Where did you hear that? Or do you know some rude rich people?
– No, I know this because, you see, if you have everything you want already, you don’t have to be nice to people anymore to get things you want. Because you already have EVERYTHING.
– Are YOU only nice to people because you want to get something from them?
– No. But that’s because I’m not rich. I’m medium. We’re medium–we’re not rich or poor. If we were poor–are you listening mummy? If I were poor I would HAVE to be nice to everyone, all the time. Because I would need to be helped by people. Poor people have to be extra, REALLY extra nice to other people, especially rich people, otherwise they may be stuck forever being poor. Sleeping on the street. You see what I mean?

FREEDOM in Vienna

7 10 2014

photo 1 photo 2 Freedom in Vienna



Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger erschießen
mit Pulver und Blei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
doch alles in der Still’, und wie es sich schicket.
Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand verwehren,
es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker,
das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke.
Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken
und Mauern entzwei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Drum will ich auf immer den Sorgen entsagen
und will mich auch nimmer mit Grillen mehr plagen.
Man kann ja im Herzen stets lachen und scherzen
und denken dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich liebe den Wein, mein Mädchen vor allen,
sie tut mir allein am besten gefallen.
Ich sitz nicht alleine bei meinem Glas Weine,
mein Mädchen dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

The economic case for paternity leave

25 09 2014

“Society is a mirror of the family, the only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home.” – Bengt Westerberg

Economics: Addressing the Nutella Crisis

19 08 2014



26 06 2014

Mummy – Philomena how did the sticker trading day go at school, which new players do you have?
Philomena – I had no one to trade with because none of the girls in my class are trading football stickers.


Estimating the margins of sin

31 05 2014

“The critics of GDP give it too much credit. It is a painstaking attempt to measure the total production of the economy. It is not the guiding star for economic policy, public morality, or anything else.”
– Tim Harford

Question for Tim: once we include sex work and illegal drugs into the calculation of GDP do we not dis-incentivise politicians to shrink those industries?


Push the Bush

21 03 2014


MUMMY it’s more fun if I have TWO daddies ’cause if one daddy go to work and one daddy don’t go to work, when I’m sick one can stay with me!

1 05 2013

(6 yr old) Philomena – You know Mummy, today a friend at school said that it isn’t always a man and woman who get married, that sometimes two mummies can get married to each other and have babies as well. But I told her that would be impossible because if two mommies got married together they would have far too many children.

Me – Too many children? 

Philomena – YES! Because they BOTH would want to have babies and they BOTH would be having them at the SAME TIME!!! So they would make TOO many babies to take care of!!!  And then who would take care of the babies???!!! BECAUSE, well, they would both have to work ALL THE TIME to feed the babies! AND BECAUSE, you see, also, there wouldn’t be a daddy in the house to stop them from having all the babies! AND —  

(4 yr old) Luna (interrupting) – If there could be two mommies who are married, could there be two daddy’s who get married as well?

Me – Yes

(6yr old) friend sitting with us – I like having one mommy and one daddy.

Luna (interrupting) – MUMMY it’s more fun if I have TWO daddies ’cause if one daddy go to work and one daddy don’t go to work, when I’m sick one can stay with me!

Philomena – Then I’d like TWO mommies AND two daddies!

Visions of Africa

12 03 2013

It was the 26th of December and we were air-bound, on route to the Senegalese Sine Delta with our two daughters (age 4 and age 6) and a group of friends (a total of 9 adults and 9 children, the youngest in the group was just under 2). The plan was to spend a bit of time with friends living in Dakar before driving south along the coastline to a natural reserve.

In addition to soaking up some sun and adventure, our hope was that our girls would come away from this experience with a bit of perspective about the world they live in. That they would form an emotional attachment to new surroundings, new people, new culture and, fingers crossed, the trip would rid them of any pre-existing stereotypes about the African continent already wedged inside their tiny heads.

On the flight over, the girls could not stop giggling and squirming in their seats—their little bottoms swaying from one side to the other, heads flopping in every direction, annoying the passengers seated in front of them by repeatedly opening and closing the latch of their folding table.

What are they going to bring us to eat, Mummy? My 6-year old daughter asks, her face smeared in anxiety.
– You’ll like it, I think it’s a pasta of some sort.  I respond.
–  I want mine plain, please—ok? No sauce, mum, ok? Mummy did you hear me? Please NO sauce!
I imagine it will come with sauce and there is nothing I can do about that. Please remember that this is the only meal you will have for many hours so do your best to eat, otherwise you’ll be very hungry later. 
ANNNND!!! Interjects my just-turned-4 year old, there is NO food in Africa when we get there!  
Of course there will be food in Africa, girls. I say.
No mummy, I know about this. There is no food and there is no water in Africa. The children are hungry there. I learned about it in school. Reconfirms my youngest.

Yes my love, you are right that there are many hungry children in Africa. There many hungry children all over the world—even in London. The problem isn’t that there is no food available though, it’s that some people in the world can’t afford to buy or grow food. We are fortunate because we do have money to buy food in London and we will also be able to buy food in Senegal. Still, it will be a long time till we get to Sengeal, so both of you make sure you eat up your meal when it comes.

– No mummy, you just don’t understand. I REALLY know about Africa.

The food arrives, we open the cutlery and everything smells delicious. The friendly flight attendant offers me a glass of champagne and I decide that I will fly Air France whenever possible as it is the only airline I’ve come across that serves up Champagne to the masses in Economy.

When I look over at the girls, they are staring, eyes wide, at the food before them completely distraught at the sight of a sauce they’ve never seen before.

You will eat. I say sternly and turn back to my own meal.

A good 10 minutes later and 99% of the pasta is still in their dish. I glare at them, eyebrow raised, and the tears begin to well up in my eldest’s eyes. I tried it, Mummy (sniffle sniffle) but I really didn’t like it. I ate the bread and the fruit and I’m full now anyway. I promise I won’t be hungry later.

Few things annoy me (and most people I know) more than wasting food.

Hmmm. Maybe I should throw that starving children argument right back at them. Or better yet, maybe I’ll take them to some Senegalese orphanage when we arrive—then they’ll know what it’s like not to have food–even parents for that matter! Then they’ll know better than to cry over tomato sauce. Spoiled little brats.

As long as you at least try the pasta sauce, I say instead.

I remind them one more time that there is no other meal for the remainder of the trip. The trays are collected and the lovely hostess pours me a cup of coffee.

But no more than 30 minutes go by before the whining begins.

Mummy, I’m hungry.  My tummy hurts. Did you hear me, really Mummy, I’m starving. Mummy, mummy? Please, Mummy, can I have a snack? MUMMMY!!!!

I remind them of what I said earlier and do my best to ignore them. We had already eaten all the snacks I had brought and I really had nothing for them. After nearly an hour of listening to extremely high-pitched whining, the people in front of us, desperate for them to shut up, turn around and hand the girls each a bag of treats.

I admit I was quite relieved.

They stuffed their mouths as if they had never tasted sugar before and instantly began bargaining with one another.

– Can I have some of your Smarties?
No, you have your own treats.
Pleeeeease. I don’t have Smarties in my bag and I know they don’t have Smarties in Africa!

We arrive in Dakar at night. The girls stare out the window of our airport taxi but given the sparse street lighting along the road, there isn’t too much to see.

But then my youngest (her name is Luna) suddenly screams and points her finger upward out the window.

The moon, the moon, my moon—its here! It followed us all the way to Senegal!

The first similarity between Senegal and England is identified.

We share the same moon.

We spend the first day exploring a bit of the city (with the children) and that night we spend dancing till very late at a club (without the children) to an eclectic mix of hiphop-reggae-afrocuban-jazz, alongside stunning long-legged Senegalese women. I was told later that most (if not all) the women in this particular club were prostitutes. I was surprised to learn that prostitution is legal for any woman over 21 who registers with the police and the sex tourism industry apparently goes both ways, with middle-age white women from abroad also engaging with local men for hire.

The second morning we woke to the bluest of skies and the sound of gentle waves rocking the small fishing boats scattered around our beach cove. Our hotel faced the sea but the bustling energy of the city behind our hotel added steadfast rhythm to the beach life.



It is important to note that the grownups in our group were well aware of the situation unfolding in the Central African Republic and Mali when we arrived and our hosts spent a great deal of time bringing us up to speed on the largely uncovered news of the entire Region.  Surprisingly though, despite overhearing some of our adult conversations and despite the incredibly gruesome images shown on the television in the lounge of our hotel, the children seemed oblivious to the conflicts unfolding in the belt of fire that surrounds Senegal—Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south, and Senegal basically surrounds the Gambia.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how a conversation might unfold if by chance the children were to look up from their breakfast croissants piled high with Nutella to notice the bloodshed ravaging above their heads.

What’s happening on the television, Mummy? Is that real? Where is that—is it in Senegal?
Yes, unfortunately it is very real. But no, that isn’t Senegal. In Senegal things are quite peaceful.
­– What’s peaceful?
When people aren’t trying to hurt one another.
— Why are they hurting people in the television?

Perhaps the best entry point to a discussion could be to talk about what sets Senegal apart from the other countries—political stability, peaceful social interactions, no sort of extremist religious movements.

What does “extremist” mean?
It’s when you don’t accept that other people have a God that looks slightly different from your God.
— But I thought you said that we can’t see God with our eyes, only with our heart?
— Some people find it difficult to see God with their hearts and rely only on the eyes—eyes are not as wise as the heart.

The kids never asked any questions but I was curious.

I learned that in Senegal religious diversity is an integral part society. Most Senegalese Muslims are Sunni and follow the Sufi religious traditions, which focuses the individual on what the Prophet Mohammed called the greater Jihad—the personal struggle within each of us as human beings for inner peace and reflection. Catholics make up 5% of the population and there are other Christians living side-by-side Muslims in harmony. It doesn’t seem to matter what religious denomination you adhere to in Senegal but what is clear is that everyone must be a believer—atheism is not socially acceptable.

Another factor that may contribute to the peaceful nature of the country is racial equality. Even though Senegal has a diverse set of ethnic groups everyone here is sub-Saharan and dark-skinned. Racial tensions exist in places like Mauritania where the dominant moors, who have their ethnic roots in northern Africa, exclude dark-skinned members of their population and in Mali, where the Berber and north-Saharan populations of the northern Azawad region seek independence from the sub-Saharan government in Bamako.

This is not to say that Senegal has been completely immune to conflict. In the Casamance region of the country a low-level civil war has been going on since 1982 over the question of independence between the government and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC). However, this conflict has largely been calmed since the President Macky Sall was elected to office in April 2012. There was also the Mauritania-Sengalese border conflict over grazing rights in the fertile Senegal River valley that began in 1989 and left some 250,000 people displaced on both sides of the border. Between 2008 and 2012, with the help of the UNHCR, most of these refugees have since been repatriated but it is believed that the Mauritanian government took advantage of the repatriation to systematically rid their country of black Mauritanian citizens.

Modern Senegal has always been occupied by various ethnic groups. Some of its kingdoms date back to the 7th century. But unlike neighbouring countries, the empire was built up as a voluntary confederacy of various states rather than an empire built on military conquest and the country has a long tradition of political institutions comparable to that of European states. Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal’s first president, was a great intellectual—a poet nominated for a Nobel Prize—who establish a solid democratic foundation and sense of cultural pride. One of his most famous poems begins:

Naked woman, black woman
Clothed with your colour which is life,
With your form which is beauty!
In your shadow I have grown up; the
gentleness of your hands was laid over
my eyes… 

Although Sedar Senghor did rule for 20 odd years, he voluntarily stepped down from power and ever since Senegal has enjoyed free elections and peaceful transitions between presidents. There hasn’t been a single coup d-etat in the country’s history.

The following day, we take the children to explore the beautiful little Island of Goree.



Goree was one of the first places in Africa to be settled by Europeans and is most known as the location of the House of Slaves, which we visited (without the children).

While our little ones played on the beach carefree, we listened to the curator of the slave museum as he pointed to the “door of no return”—an open door at the far end of the slave quarters with a stunning view over the Atlantic. Apparently, after passing through this door, slaves carrying a weight of 17kilos chained around their neck, either boarded slave ships on route to America or threw themselves into the shark-infested waters below. There is some historical controversy around the exact on-goings of the slave trade in this particular house, but without a doubt the door-of-no-return remains an extraordinary symbol of the horrors of slavery.

As I walked around the claustrophobic quarters, the sound of the curator’s voice echoing inside the walls of torture, I couldn’t help but think of my girls. I wondered whether my 6-year old might already be familiar with the word “slave.” In the United States children begin to learn about slavery at a conceptual level as early as pre-kindergarten (age 4.5) but in the UK they start at around age 9. I also wondered at what age local children on the island understood their history and how this history was explained to them. My heart raced and stomach turned as I tried to consider how I might start to explain it all to mine.

Girls, you know all those children you’re playing with on the beach? Well a long time ago, white people like us, stole their mothers and fathers, locked them up in dungeons with chains around their necks. We packed them as tightly as possible into these small cave-like spaces. We measured their breasts and penises to determine the best price for them because back then we believed big breasts and penises would create better slave-babies. We then took these mothers and fathers and put them on ships to America, where they would continue to live as slaves to the American white people. I know it’s hard to understand, but for some crazy reason we were unable to see that the black people of Africa were just the same as us. I know it’s very sad, but we haven’t always been able to see with our hearts and minds. 

-Mummy, for how long were we unable to see with our hearts and minds?
– I’m sad to say, we were blind for nearly 300 years.

No way. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t have this conversation yet. I left the museum in a panic. I ran to the beach and comforted myself with a bottle of Coke. Then I watched as my children jumped waves with their friends, in awe of the local boys diving off the nearby dock. The only colour they registered in their mind was the hot pink bougainvillea growing everywhere.

They have bougainvillea in Senegal just like the bougainvillea growing on Omi’s house in Mexico! Second similarity between Senegal and Mexico is identified.

We share the same flowers.

On the third day, we pile into our beat-up Korean Pinto and embark on the five-hour drive along the coast to the Sine Naussean Delta. A caravan of four cars. The traffic chaos leaving Dakar was fabulous (although I was grateful that my husband was driving and happy to be in a car that had already looked as though it had been in a number of minor accidents.)

As we inched—jerked—along the slow-moving highway we grew thirsty but given the multitude of people weaving between the cars on foot, selling fresh fruit (nuts and phone cards) we were able to fill our bellies with juicy oranges. Not one person knocked on our car window to ask for money. People were only eager to sell.

– Mummy, I wish we had people selling fresh oranges in London when we’re stuck in traffic.
– Yes, that would be fun wouldn’t it? 

After 2.5 hours of driving we pull up to a pizza joint. Yes, pizza in Senegal—it does exist. Although, the pizza margarita is a bit spicier in Senegal than in London, our hungry daughters learn how to sip water with every bite. Note that this was the only pizza we ate over the two-week period. The rest of the time the kids ate fresh grilled fish and rice, which they loved.

After the pizza, we turned off the paved road; it had more potholes than the salt flats so we took the off road option. The expanding landscape of sand and salt along our coastal drive, dotted with enormous Baobab trees and white African cows, was something otherworldly. There were a few villages scattered along the way and occasional barefoot, happy children playing in the sand, waving at our girls as they hung out the window.

At one point–maybe a couple of times, our cars got a bit stuck in the sand but we managed to push them out without too much difficulty.

– ­Put some muscle in it, Daddy! Come on!
– Weeeeeeeeeeeee!
– Lets do that again! Let’s get stuck again, Daddy, pleeeease!

Many of the villages we passed along the way contained traditional thatched-roofed homes built in large circles, all facing each other.

– Look girls, what can you tell me about these houses that are different from the houses in England?
– Uhhhhhhhh. Hmmmmmm. I dont know.
– Oh come on, look at the roofs of the houses, what are they made of?
– Straw? We’ve seen that before—they have straw roofs in England.
– What about how the homes are placed all facing each other?
– Yes, just like when we go camping.
– I guess it is.

So no big deal obviously. For every difference I could identify between our two countries, our two continents, the children retorted only with what they found similar or familiar; and if something was ever different, it was only because it was better.

Like the tree house where we slept for the following five nights at our eco-hotel. It was built high up in a Baobab tree, nestled perfectly between three strong branches, each at least a metre in diameter. From the terrace of our magical house, which was literally covered in hot pink and yellow bougainvillea, we had a view of the endless stretch of the Sine Saloum National Park.

– Mummy, why can’t we live in a big tree house in London?
– Believe me, my love, I wish we could live in a tree house sometimes just as much as you do.
sine saloum delta

sine saloum delta

Our group of 9 grown ups and 9 children brought in the New Year dancing along side villagers who came to perform at our hotel. The children all loved dancing with us and unlike the grownups, the children had little difficulty getting the rhythm right.

Later that evening, after the little ones were tucked sweetly into bed, some of us ventured off under the moonlight on donkey-drawn carts that took us across the vast delta to a spot where virtually the entire village had gathered around a roaring fire in the middle of two enormous Baobabs. We were there to watch an international wrestling competition (known as Laamb) and one of the villagers was competing against a wrestler from Mali so we had someone to root for. The wrestlers, dressed only in a loincloth, took to battle in the sand with a fury of drumming and chanting all around them. There were occasional outbreaks of uncontrollable dancing among a crowd of around 80 people and even the wrestlers danced between their matches.

senegalese wrestling

senegalese wrestling

It was a magnificent experience and privilege. Did I mention the moon was also out in all its glory?

It was also particularly emotional for me because the 31st of December coincides with the night my husband and I were married. And to my extreme surprise, my husband (who by the end of all the wresting merriment was saturated in the adrenalin) decided to step into the middle of the dancing circle and announce to the entire village that it was our anniversary. This was extremely touching and romantic until the crowd forced us into the dancing ring–at that point my husband and I managed to scare even the wrestlers with our moves.

I am sure that if our daughters had seen the effect that Senegal had on their father that New Years night, they would never had allowed us to leave.

Funny enough, despite the fact that our children didn’t ask us if we could move to Senegal permanently, my husband and I still discussed the possibility.  Prior to moving to London, he and I both spent much of our lives living in the lesser-developed parts of the world, so we would not be unversed in making a life for our selves in such a place. And besides the overwhelming sense of freedom that comes with living in parts of the world where rules are less formal, there is always lots of inspiring work to do.

Speaking of work to do, there was one difference that the children noticed and pointed out to us on our journey across Senegal.  It was the litter in and around virtually all the small towns we visited.

– ­Mummy, why are there so many blue plastic bags everywhere? Why don’t the people just pick up the bags and put them in the bin?
–  Do you see any bins around?
– No. But you would need a LOT of bins for all these plastic bags.
– You are so right. There is a rubbish problem in many African countries, particularly because of the number of plastic bags. The problem is that lots of people here get their clean drinking water in plastic bags. People also use plastic bags to poo in sometimes when there is no bathroom nearby.
-To POO IN!??!!!??
– Well we have toilets in our home in London and when we use them, the pipes carry our waste to a proper place. Not everyone in the world has access to toilets like we do.

2 minutes go by…

– Yes, in London we get our water in plastic bottles but not in bags, right Mummy?
– Yes, you’re right, we do get some of our water in plastic bottles–far too often. We get most of our water from the tap, but we also use far too much plastic. We actually use much more plastic (whether its bags, bottles, wrapping) than they do here in Africa. I guess you could say that we are better at collecting and hiding our rubbish. That’s why you don’t see it as much.
– I’m not a litter-bug, Mummy.
– No, you’re not.

I didn’t tell them that only 10% of rubbish in Africa ever makes it to proper legal dumping areas–90% is left to rot in communities or burned in acrid bonfires. Plastic bags are just a fraction of the overall waste problem but they are nonetheless a serious eyesore against the otherwise serene landscape. Some countries have taken steps to ban and/or tax plastic bags but additional creative solutions to deal with problem are clearly needed.

5 minutes go by…

 – Mummy, how does our rubbish in London get hidden?
– Well actually, lots of our rubbish is sent to China and other parts of the world for recycling.
– Why?
(Shit. Shit.)
– You ask very good questions, my love. The truth is rubbish isn’t just a problem in Africa. It is a problem for everyone in the world.

Nearly 70% of plastics in the UK are shipped to the Far East. About a month prior to our holiday in Senegal I had read an article in the Telegraph explaining how China had actually refused to take in 17 containers of British rubbish (420 tons of plastic) because it was contaminated. Apparently, the Chinese are introducing tougher regulations and now refuse to accept unwashed plastic and unsorted recycling.  I wonder how successful waste management in Europe and the United States would be without China and other Asian countries available to absorb the extraordinary amount of both legal and illegal waste shipments.

Our car ride back to Dakar was bumpy but sunny and filled with great conversation, the kind of conversation that only comes from stepping away from the everydayness of life in London.

We could have stayed another week, or month, or even years, but only if we could carve out the right job. And while there is always a lot to do in places like Senegal there is actually a lot to do everywhere.

The mission of this trip was to broaden our children’s perspective of Africa. Did they build an attachment to a new place, new culture, new people? Absolutely. Are the concerned about poverty in Senegal? NOt in the slightest. As far as they were concerned, every child they played with on the beach was at least as happy as the ones back home.

Did they eat their airplane food on the way home? Of course not.  It still had sauce on it.

Economics–Calling All Mothers

14 10 2010

Author: girlwithoutawatch

For the better part of the last century we’ve been trapped by two economic ideological forces and much like the political factions that govern our society, these forces have often served to polarize, even radicalize our beliefs, rather than help to find any common ground. Until the late 1990’s you were either a capitalist or a communist, you either believed in the individual or the state, you either trusted in the market or you were naive.

It has only been in the last decade or so that the true multidisciplinary nature of economics has finally woken up the contributions made by anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists.  Oliver Williamson and Elinor Ostrom, the two Nobel prize winners for economics this year, were recognised largely because of this growing trend in more creative economic thinking.  Ostrom’s work focuses on the study of common pool resources–in particular, how humans interact with ecosystems to maintain long-term sustainable resource yields (common pool resources include many forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands, and irrigation systems). Both Williamson and Ostrom consider the effects of institutional arrangements—(while Williamson focuses on the transaction costs that arise from these institutional arrangements, Ostrom focuses on social-ecological impact of such arrangements).  Institutional arrangements include a combination of the formal rules (laws, regulations, contracts) and the informal rules (culture, values, traditions, social norms and pressures) that encapsulate our society. Incorporating greater understanding of the role of these institutional arrangements provides a more holistic and nuanced application of economic analysis on the role of incentives, institutions and behaviour, as well as a common link in understanding between traditional economists and other social scientists.

What does all this mean for us as mothers, especially those of us with no background in economics, political science or sociology? As mothers we have access to a great deal of critical information and material—cognitive data based on what we observe in the behaviour of our children (and perhaps our partners too), household consumption patterns, resource access and productivity, as well as a closer understanding of the ways formal and informal institutions operate and the community level (local neighbourhood, schools, health care facilities and our social networks). As mothers, we are at the forefront of understanding first hand that people’s choices and behaviours are conditioned not only by their own preferences and budget constraints, but also by social and cultural forces, moral influences, information asymmetry, media bias, manipulation by pressure groups and hierarchical perceptions of power.

You don’t have to be an economist to have something to say about economics. Running a household, especially households filled with children, makes you a practice the art of economics every day.  Data from your average everydayness, can provide additional information regarding those core elements that make us human, as well as those core elements that make us happy: what makes us tick, what motivates us, what influences us, what drives us, what are our true preferences and exactly how volatile do they seem to be?  We can learn through our children what our intrinsic human needs are—we can unravel the ways in which our raw (state of nature) interests and incentives develop—which are innate and which are learned—how we compete for affection—how we compete for survival? As mothers we are aware of the fact that our children can often act irrationally.  Well, behavioural economists for example, incorporate the ways in which we are often influenced by irrational tendencies. Irrational behaviours of individuals include taking offense or becoming angry about a situation that has not yet occurred, expressing emotions exaggeratedly (such as crying hysterically), maintaining unrealistic expectations, engaging in irresponsible conduct such as problem intoxication, disorganization, or extravagance, and falling victim to confidence tricks.

Try to explore the influences that informal institutions (values, customs, traditions, norms) and formal institutions (rules, regulations, laws) have on the choices you and your children make every day.  And if you haven’t done so already, begin to interpret the behaviour of your children in the context of improving upon the economic system that cradles the society in which we live.  Through this collective act and through our writing, questioning, debating, we will surely come up with the creative insights and out of the box thinking that our children are entitled to.

Calling all mothers

9 01 2010

Author: girlwithoutawatch

I think one of the most frustrating aspects of becoming a mother is that so much of what we really experience on a daily basis remains an untold story.

‘Happiness is only real when shared.’

This was the last sentence written in the journal of a young man who decided to explore the depths of solitude by way of excluding himself from society; the poor guy ended up dying alone in the wilderness of Alaska. During his time in the wild, he learned skills that he never thought were in his capacity; he gained an intimacy with his environment by observing and analyzing the behaviour of the rough country that surrounded him. During the two years he spent in isolation, there were moments of spectacular significance. Life expressed itself time and time again in completely unexpected ways—there were beautiful as well as brutal surprises and harsh lessons learned.

Unfortunately, however—without anyone there to experience these moments with him—such significant moments invariably lost much of their unique importance. Sadly for him, it was only at the end of his journey when he realized that happiness is only real when shared.

Of course motherhood does not equate to living on one’s own in the Alaskan wilderness. But there is often an extreme sense of isolation that comes from staying at home with one’s children. There are playgroups, meeting up with friends in the park or at the local café for cappuccinos and babyccinos, but most mums we know never manage to string more than a few sentences together before being distracted by a child falling or screaming or hitting or putting something dangerous or dirty in its mouth.

Then there are the husbands/partners, who are (for the most part) eager to hear about the trials and tribulations of the day, eager to hear about these so-called significant moments that we experience with the children.  What we often find is that recounting these moments isn’t easy at the end of a long day.

No, that’s not right. Recounting the moments themselves isn’t difficult but explaining their significance is a much harder task.

Our explanations require the time and the space to philosophise and to add context, in order to provide greater meaning to our seemingly routine activities and linkages to the goings-on of the world around us. Perhaps we begin to doubt our ability to do this when even reading an occasional newspaper seems to be a near-impossible achievement.

But I believe there are concepts that do not require linkages to current affairs or to contexts that are implicitly understood by our partners. Our daily rituals and adventures contain universal concepts that we all relate to and that we all question. If we can harness what we learn and what we think about on a day-to-day basis—all those thoughts we currently allow to be only fleeting—if we can use and link these ideas to more universal concepts, than perhaps our moments of happiness can more easily be shared with others inevitably making our own happiness feel more real.

This blog will be dedicated to the search for such a space–in my average every-day-ness. It will be my attempt of being-in-the-world.

I welcome anyone and everyone to be in this world with me and share anecdotes, thoughts, wishes, just about whatever they fancy.