Black Hole Economics, Transition Towns

and Sticky Money

A couple of things that really rang bells for me recently were podcasts on The Permaculture Podcast and a video, links below.

The Lean Logic episode, which then led me to the Transition Towns episode with Rob Hopkins. I have seen the book in our Library at Daruma – and I’m sure Neil has recommended it to me as a book I might enjoy. Alas, so much to learn in my first year delving into Permaculture and everything around it. So many books. I was also at least a little excited when I realized that Rob Hopkins & Transition are based in Totnes, a place I called home in my early teens and of which I have very fond memories.

The Transition Town episode is still going around my head days after listening to it. There seems to be a lot of merit to what they are doing, and the attempts to establish (or, re-establish) some form of local economy as an alternative to globalization, seems to be a solution to a problem that I had often thought of. And we like Solutions in Permaculture!

That problem, is large, national or multi-national companies, and what happens to money when we spend it with them. Whether it’s fuel such as gas, electricity, or fast food chains….it had always bothered me that apart from the (probably minimum) wage paid to local people staffing their outlets, the money just disappears from our local economy, as if into a black hole.

The video that I will also link here illustrates this with a bucket, and holes being drilled into it when we spend ‘outside the local economy’….which works for me, although I prefer the black hole analogy I had in mind for years when pondering on this. You could insert ‘magic hat’ or any other device that ‘disappears things’ here. The Mafia….a Vanishing Cabinet.

Among many things I have discussed with Neil during my time at Daruma in Thailand this year (which has been the majority of my time since my PDC in Feb/March), was learning about the School Currency that was implemented at Mosaic onsite at Daruma, for the 70/80 kids in full time education there.

A very interesting example of ‘local currency’ and local economy, one of the outcomes of which was that, the children on the whole became much, much more savvy financially.

It seems to me, that ‘stickiness’ is what we really want to create to keep wealth in a given area, and a local currency is one solution to this.

How many times does a given unit of currency, say a Dollar, or a Pound, change hands, staying in the local area, when we are buying & using local services, products etc. This to me, has parallels to the way we try to slow water down as one way of regenerating landscapes, or the way we try to match outputs of one element to the required inputs of another in Permaculture. No more of the substance is needed, necessarily. We just slow it down a little on it’s way through our system.

That ‘stickiness’ or ‘slowing down’,of those units of currency, makes them accumulate over time in the area, as far as I can think of it, and until some theoretical or real limit reached where you need to buy something outside the local economy…..But I don’t think it is a system that needs to run close to theoretical, or even real limits to be extremely beneficial to a local area and for wealth to accumulate locally.

I can easily imagine paying for some vegetables via SMS as in the video section on the Brixton Pound – and that money then going from the greengrocer, to be used by him to pay the butcher, who uses that Pound to pay for milk….around and around….that money could circulate within the economy for, well, days, weeks, maybe years.

Compare that with buying a car, or clothes made by a large high street chain in some far off land….essentially, any large company or wealthy individual, that can afford the right accountants….that money very quickly leaves the local economy. Almost immediately. Possibly en route to a Trust based in the Cayman Islands, or Guernsey, or wherever. Wherever it goes it is, for all intents & purposes of the local people, gone forever, as if into a black hole.

That’s why I loved these episodes on the Permaculture Podcast, and the video on Transition Towns so much. Solutions. Lots of solutions. Seemingly very much in-keeping with the ‘cooperation, not competition’ ideal.

And also – although I don’t recall this being mentioned in the podcasts or video – something that strikes me is the massive amount of ‘parallel processing’ that can be done with grass-roots initiatives such as these.

There are essentially what could be thought of as hundreds of experiments, being conceived, started, and run by local people at grass roots level, entirely or largely funded locally, for the benefit of the local community, all slightly different in their own way, and something that I see as really important – all being run, at the same time ‘in parallel’. It is an incredible way of changing things (any things) as opposed to top-down policy which in itself may take years, and simply not be ‘granular’ enough to really meet local, sometimes very specific requirements.

I love that way of doing things, it is an idea I have come across before, and brings to mind ‘small & slow solutions’ in Permaculture. I’m sure others, Michael Reynolds with regards to Earthships and sustainable housing solutions, if I remember rightly, have mentioned it as something that needs to happen, for us to find the solutions required for the future.

Podcast – Lean Logic: The Work of David Fleming –

Podcast – The Transition Town Movement with Rob Hopkins –

Youtube Video – In Transition 2.0: a story of resilience and hope in extraordinary times