Inside The Epic Fantasy That’s Driven Donald Trump For 33 Years – Randall Lane.

This story appeared in the October 19, 2015 issue of Forbes.

For a man who has driven the national news cycle pretty much every day for the past four months with his disruptive presidential campaign, Donald Trump works out of an office suite that is shockingly calm. No yelling, no running, no extraneous advisors or flunkies, it has the sleepy, orderly pace of an accounting firm in Boise, albeit one with a taste for mirrors, regal gold and lots and lots of framed articles about Donald Trump.

On this Monday in late September only the most important of the important requests seep into the corner office. “I have the Stephen Colbert pre-interview,” one of his assistants reports. Responds Trump: “Would you do me a favor? We’ll call them back.” His daughter Ivanka apparently wants to follow up about something. “Little Ivanka,” he smiles, before relaying that he’ll get back to her later. Someone from 60 Minutes, which will tape Trump the following day and broadcast its interview with him that Sunday, asks to talk. The iconic show will have to wait, too.

The most in demand person on the planet has gone into hold-all-my-calls mode for nearly two hours to sit down with FORBES and tackle, piece by piece, a subject that he cares about to the depths of his soul: how much FORBES says he’s worth. Since The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans debuted in 1982, the dynamism of the US. economy and the hand of the grim reaper have resulted in exactly 1,538 people making the cut at one time or another. Of those 1,538 tycoons, not one has been more fixated with his or her net worth estimate on a year-in, year-out basis than Donald J. Trump.

Trump’s valuation this year holds extra importance, of course, due to his audacious second act: his highly unlikely, but no longer inconceivable-path to the presidency. Trump has filed statements claiming he’s worth at least $10 billion or, as he put in a press release, TEN BILLION DOLLARS (capitalization his). After interviewing more than 80 sources and devoting unprecedented resources to valuing a single fortune, we’re going with a figure less than half that, $4.5 billion, albeit still the highest figure we’ve ever had for him.

“I’m running for President,” says Trump. “I’m worth much more than you have me down for. I don’t look good, to be honest. I mean, I look better if I’m worth $10 billion than if I’m worth $4 billion.”

To The Forbes 400 crowd, perhaps. But when pushed, even Trump concedes that, for voters, the difference between $4 billion and $10 billion is as abstractly irrelevant as a star that’s either 4 billion or 10 billion light years away. Ultimately, Trump’s beef with our numbers is driven by Trump: how his peers view him and, more acutely, how he views himself. It always has been. The paradoxical Trump that now transfixes American political culture is the same one that The Forbes 400 has been dancing with for 33 years. And the history of his net worth fixation opens windows into Trump the entrepreneur, the candidate and the person.

The Inaugural Edition of The Forbes 400 in 1982 introduced all sorts of names into the national discourse, and many of these previously under the radar tycoons fought back against their newfound recognition. Florida land baron William Graham asked FORBES to move his decimal one place to the left. The lawyer for an Oklahoma titan offered to dig up a replacement if his client was taken off the list. Then there was New York real estate developer Donald Trump, 36, whose very first entry, which estimated that he and his father, Fred, equally split a $200 million fortune, ends thusly: “Donald claims $500 million.”

Trump has measured himself by lining up assets against liabilities for his entire adult life. In his 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal, he recalled his net worth when he graduated from college (“perhaps $200,000,” probably the only time he ever low-balled his stash), publicly memorializing a benchmark for measuring his future success.

He added three and almost four zeroes to that figure during the 1980s as a tabloid caricature. As “The Donald” he honed the art of net worth lobbying. Financial summaries would arrive at the FORBES offices, often on gilded Trump embossed letterheads for extra pop. “We soon learned to take the number he threw out to us for his net worth, immediately divide it by three and refine it from there,” remembers Harold Seneker, who ran The Forbes 400 for the first 15 years of its existence. And, indeed, the “divide by three” rule seemed to hold throughout the 1980s, including 1988, when we pegged him at an even $1 billion. The Donald, not content with his new billionaire status, countered with $3.74 billion.

As the years went on, Trump adopted a more personal touch, via phone calls and lunches, enlisting his longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, in the process. Good with names and dishing out tidbits like candy, Trump can be quite charming. The first time I interviewed him for FORBES, more than 20 years ago, he called me from a hospital waiting room. His second wife, Marla Maples, had just given birth to a daughter Tiffany, he confided.

Trump’s motivations for inflating his net worth were partially driven by dollars and cents. “It was good for financing,” Trump now acknowledges, echoing what other developers have told us over the years: that slapping a high Forbes 400 estimate on a banker‘s desk can sometimes help secure bigger loans and better rates. When I was a $27,000-a-year cub reporter on The Forbes 400, the largest stripmall developer in Texas, the late Jerry J. Moore, offered me a six-figure p.r. job “with lots of golf” if l would only nudge his number closer to billionaire status.

Trump was also a pioneer at turning his eponymous developments into a luxury brand umbrella. His financial success defined what the brand “Trump” meant. When a reporter named Timothy O’Brien came out with a book, TrumpNation, in 2005, a huge excerpt appeared in the New York Times alleging that Trump was worth $250 million tops (versus the $2.7 billion FORBES estimated and the $7.8 billion Trump fancied). Trump sued for a fantastical $5 billion in damages. While O’Brien’s methodology was faulty, the case was dismissed. But Trump’s lengthy deposition, obtained by FORBES, underscores the connection he sees between his wealth and his brand. “I wasn’t doing poorly then, but I was perceived Trump testified. As a result, “I think that article hurt my brand, and it hurt me.”

As in personally. “For the record, he regards the 400 as something of a bible,” says a note in FORBES’ Trump file, following a 1990s power lunch with Forbes 400 staffers at New York’s Gotham Bar & Grill, “and is convinced others do, too.”

When fully engaged, the Donald Trump net worth experience is a full show-and-tell affair, complete with sketches of buildings, aerial photography and guided tours. The latter starts in the Trump Tower gym, which looks like a Sheraton workout room, save for the staggering view, and is somehow supposed to persuade us to juice the $530 million we ascribe to The Donald’s holdings within his signature building by a factor of five or six. The only exercising going on occurs when Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, hustles in and whispers urgently in his boss’ ear.

Trump turns to me. “Scott Walker just quit the race,” he says, referring to the Wisconsin governor, who, until Trump upended everything, had been considered a top-tier presidential hopeful. “I think that’s good.” Surely, every other candidate is convening a war room, figuring out how this changes the landscape. Not Trump. “Not much to divvy up,” he shouts at the retreating Lewandowski. “See if you can get his one vote, Corey.”

Trump would rather take me up to his three story penthouse and prove it’s surely worth twice the $100 million value we put on it. An offer to see the over-the-top Versailles-in-the-sky needs no arm twisting, but Trump sells it anyway: “I’ll show you the first floor of my apartment, which I’ve never done before, I don’t do that.”

Except he has. To Access Hollywood . And Newsweek. And Extra . And a FORBES photographer way back in 2000. Heck, his 60 Minutes interview would take place in the first floor of the penthouse the next day, to be shared with 15 million people on Sunday. Trump has never let small details get in the way of good pitch.

In 1990, however, Trump hyperbole blew back on him. The New York real estate market was crashing, his Atlantic City casinos began struggling, and he was underwater with his new toy, the Trump Shuttle airline. In 1989 FORBES had his net worth at $1.7 billion. By spring 1990 FORBES figured it was $500 million at best. By that fall the overleveraged Trump was “within hailing distance of zero” and dropped from The Forbes 400.

As with today, Trump sat in his corner office and provided a rebuttal. It wasn’t very convincing. “I’m going to show you cashflow numbers I’ve never shown anyone before,” he said back then, in familiar spin mode, but he folded the pages to obscure the final column. And while he insisted he was worth between $4 billion and $5 billion, FORBES obtained records that Trump had submitted to a governmental body, professing that as of May 1989 his net assets were only $1.5 billion, one-third of what he had told us and even a bit less than the number FORBES, which strives for conservative estimates, had arrived at the previous year.

The fibbing was more brazen when they delved into specifics. In 1988 Trump sent FORBES a document listing his personal residences, including Mar-aLago, his Palm Beach mansion, with a total net value of $50 million. At the same time sworn statements placed their total asset value at $30 million, along with a debt load of $40 million, a net liability. Trump also said he owned $159 million in stock and bonds, all unencumbered. But documents filed with the SEC showed that he borrowed big-time to buy the stock, which subsequently dipped.

Trump did not like this challenge to his reputation. He published an essay for the Los Angeles Times syndicate: “Forbes Carried Out Personal Vendetta in Print.” He argued that the “willfully wrong” piece was driven by the desire to sell magazines and damage his reputation. He told ABC’s Sam Donaldson that “Forbes has been after me for years, consistently after me.”

“Forbes is doing everything they can, possibly, to make me look as bad as possible.”

Fast-forward 25 years. Trump is famously loath to apologize. (Ask John McCain.) But he does now admit the obvious: that he stretched the facts in those dark days. Then, without irony, he criticizes FORBES because “you were actually high.” Adds Trump: “I deserved to be off the list.”

“By the way, I never complained.” When reminded that he did indeed complain. Trump shrugs.

“Yeah, whatever.”

Other than in some version of a joke about people who walk into a bar, the pope and Donald Trump have probably never appeared in the same sentence. But providence intervened at the end of September when Pope Francis, on his first visit to America, decided to hold evening prayers at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the papal planners decided that the formal procession down Fifth Avenue, led by the Popemobile, would commence below Trump Tower.

And so Trump asks if we can truncate a FORBES cover shoot in favor of an impromptu viewing party. As the Holy Father’s motorcade approaches, Trump leads a half-dozen people down to a fifth-floor corner balcony attached to his campaign headquarters, the “best-located political floor in history.” At $2,170-per-square-foot (or $10,580 if you take Trump’s number), no exaggeration there. Yet aside from posters and a forlorn table or two, it’s completely dead. The richest man ever to run for President oversees a skeletal operation, based on gut instincts and free media. “I literally have spent $543,000 on my campaign,” says Trump. “Other people have spent $20 million, $25 million already. Like Bush and all these people. They’re spending a fortune.”

The famous Popemobile idles perhaps 50 feet under us, waiting for its passenger. (Trump isn’t a fan of its open sides: “That’s a dangerous-looking sucker.” And he’s even less impressed by the very modest, un-Trump-like Fiat that Francis is arriving in. “I don’t like the little car. He’s trying to be ‘of the people,’ but I don’t know. It just doesn’t look right”)

Also 50 feet below: thousands of people who’ve lined Fifth Avenue for a papal glimpse. Given the pool of New York City Catholics and the visit of an Argentinian pope, they’re roughly half Latino. (“Francis-co, Fran-cis-co,” went the cheers as the pontiff approached.) Not exactly Trump’s base. For once, Trump wasn’t looking for attention: “I’ll look like an idiot. This is the pope’s day.” But lately, especially at 6-foot-3, with that mane, he doesn’t have a choice. So Trump waves from his perch, an orange haired Juan Peron.

Jeers and whistles ensue. Undaunted, Trump turns to me. “Ninety percent positive,” he says. “Ninety percent is pretty good. You’ll take that in an election right away.”

Did Trump hear what everyone else heard, yet immediately spin toward the absurd? (While there was a smattering of applause, the catcalls clearly carried the day.) Or did he just hear what he wanted to?

In some ways it doesn’t matter. Colleagues of Steve Jobs famously described his “reality-distortion field”, his ability to see what he wanted to see and then will the delusion into truth. Way before that another master capitalist, Andrew Carnegie, declared that “all riches, and all material things that anyone acquires through self-effort, begin in the form of a clear, concise mental picture of the thing one seeks.”

Trump has a healthy dose of this gene. In the O’Brien deposition, taken in 2007, Trump declared that his estimates of personal net worth were subject to day-to-day whims. “Even my own feelings affect my value to myself,” he said. When asked to specify, he described it as “my general attitude at the time that the question may be asked.” And if that general attitude is negative? “You wouldn’t tell a reporter you’re doing poorly.”

As the pope rolls below Trump’s perfect aerie, Trump’s general attitude is extra-positive. “You see what I mean about this real estate? This is really a great piece of real estate. Boy, do we have a good location.” During an earlier conversation Trump at different times said he could sell his stake in Trump Tower for $2 billion or $2.5 billion or $3 billion. When an extra $1 billion is created that easily (much less the difference compared with our appraisal for the building of $530 million), it’s easy to see how he conjures $10 billion.

This just-do-it business worldview provides a feasible explanation to what’s perhaps the greatest riddle surrounding candidate Trump: How can someone who’s quite clever and smart (as he’ll quickly remind you) also promote know-nothing, sometimes dangerous bunk, whether a disproven link between vaccinations and autism or the Obama-might-have-been-born-in-Kenya lie?

And by keeping his message simple and repeating it with conviction over and over, Trump has the ability to shape facts. When Trump appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert the following day, the liberal host states that Trump is worth $10 billion, with nary a caveat.

Since Trump’s return to the list in 1996 he has had a more nuanced relationship with The Forbes 400. From the FORBES side the policy channels Reagan: Trust but verify. Trump shares more information than almost anyone else on the list, and we accept the basics. But without proof of ownership or debt or specific assets, we err on the side of caution. Usually Trump’s team shows us their liquid investments. Last year we saw documentation for cash and cash equivalents of $307 million. Now they’re claiming $793 million but are unwilling to show it. So we play it safe with $327 million (grossed up to include proceeds from of the Miss Universe sale.)

Similarly, in real estate, FORBES values Trump’s using models of net operating income, or direct comps. Trump’s team assumes cash-rich buyers will emerge, zoning permits will be granted and that golf course homes will be built at no cost to him. Just like the old days, our estimates run roughly one-third of his.

And as for the worth of the Trump brand, which his camp often values in phantom billions, we now consistently give it a value of zero (see below). We say the value of it to these deals is already built into his net worth and don’t assign it a present-day theoretical value to future deals.

But Trump and his team also corrected us on things like Niketown’s square footage (too low) and debt loads at Trump Park Avenue and the Old D.C. Post Office ($170 million down to $8 million). We also, at his urging, reanalyzed Trump Tower and the Doral golf course. All told we added $700 million to our initial net worth estimate.

Meanwhile, Trump, as is his wont, talks tough. “He’s an alpha male-in spades,” says Phil Ruffln, a fellow Forbes 400 member whose Las Vegas partnership with Trump has yielded each man $96 million. “He’s strong. He’s competitive, extremely competitive.”

“I think you’re trying to make me as poor as possible,” says Trump, whose campaign filings claim that this year alone his worth has risen from $8.7 billion ($3.3 billion of that from brand goodwill) to more than $10 billion. Over the course of our interviews, he raises that to “much more than 10 billion” and says that another “respected magazine that’s coming out” is going with $11.5 billion.

“You’re gonna look bad,” he adds. “And look, all I can say is FORBES is a bankrupt magazine, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. That’s all I’m gonna say. ‘Cause it’s embarrassing to me.”

My overarching question for Trump is a simple one: Does he think FORBES uses a different methodology to value him than it uses for every other real estate titan on The Forbes 400? “Yes, I do,” he responds. “Yes, I do.”

Really? Why? “Because I’m famous, and they’re not. Because when Richard LeFrak had dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab, he calls me up and he says, ‘Could you help me get a reservation?’”

But make no mistake, Trump cares. Over the past few years he’s taken to sending handwritten notes to Forbes 400 reporters, atop articles favorable to him. (“Insurance cos. + other developers put this much money in-not me,” he scrawls in Magic Marker in the margins of his personal issue of Golf, Inc. , which he sends over.) On an evening when he should have been boning up for 60 Minutes and Colbert, he calls me to clarify the status of one mortgage on one building in his portfolio. And on the Monday he announces his tax plan, his assistant scans and e-mails a personal note from him suggesting ranges for his brand value.

And at the end of our last interview he asks if I have a headline in mind for the story. I tell him, truthfully, that I don’t. Then I ask him what he would suggest. The populist who wants to be President, with the billionaire’s bank account and the papal perch, barely pauses to think: “The King.”

How Our Brains Grow – Ruby Wax.

Evolution plays its part in creating an experience dependent brain in that you are born inside out (don’t panic it all works out) so when you’re only a one month old embryo, your outer layer of cells folds inward forming your brain stem and this is why our insides were once literally connected to the outside. The DNA instructs the neurons on which area they should migrate to. They then connect to each other, based on your experience and that ultimately will determine how your brain is shaped.

Only the strong and often used neurons survive and the rest die off, like sperm that don’t make it through the big swim.

Somehow every single cell has to know if it’s a cell for your nose or part of your toenail and find its way to that particular area. No satnav, no nothing. Can you imagine that kind of a challenge? Trillions of cells trying to put together the puzzle of all your parts; what makes you you. It would be like rush hour, squared.

What are the chances that you come out vaguely normal and not looking like a Picasso with three breasts coming out of your forehead? I wouldn’t bet on the odds. And let’s say you form the full complement of limbs and digits and a brain that works, now you depend on your parents, two descendants of a one-celled amoeba, to fill your tiny empty brain with the first spoonfuls of knowledge; teaching you to talk, walk, think, feel, flirt and freak out. This is why each of us, each generation, has to struggle with this universal quandary: what are we supposed to be doing here?

Reptiles lay some eggs or just stand and deliver and move on; without sentimentality they walk away to mate again somewhere with anyone who happens to be mounting them at the time while they’re munching on some lawn. Then the baby automatically knows how to swim, slither, trot or fly away. We are born knowing nothing and just lie there in our own mess till someone lifts us out of it and bothers to change our pants.

They, animals, need no manual, they just know things. Compared to other primates, humans are born far too early for their brain to be mature, if we could stay in our mother’s womb for the brain to fully develop we’d be in there 24 months. The only reason we come out at nine months is because our heads wouldn’t fit through the birth canal if we stayed in there and would end up doing some serious damage to Mommy; she would probably never walk again and sue us for personal injury. You know that scene in Ben Hur where they tie each of a man’s legs to an elephant and then scream, ‘Giddy up’? That’s how Mommy would feel.

The genes build the scaffolding of your head invitro but once outside Baby only has his basic amphibian brain, just enough to keep his heart and breathing going and that’s about all. But it’s not all bad news, evolution can be smart sometimes and because we come out so undercooked the development of our brain depends on external experience. We have so much to learn once we’re out so we need that external stimuli to develop, which is a blessing because it would be impossible to learn shorthand or ping pong while we’re inside the womb.

This is a very clever idea because no one knows where you’re going to be born and you need different skills depending on the area and culture you plop out into. If you’re born in the Sahara, it would be good to have a structure that would make you proficient in camel straddling or if you’re born in New York, it’s more helpful if you develop the motor skills to honk and scream at other drivers. We have so much learning to do. This is called neural Darwinism.

By age three, the baby’s brain has formed about 1000 trillion synaptic connections.

At that point, the baby has the equipment to speak any language in the world. Its ears, tongue and mouth are primed for any sound or accent that may be needed depending on where it’s born. The sounds around you shape your tongue and palate, so the first 16 months will determine your accent. If you are Chinese, you will probably leave out ‘r’s for the rest of your life. ‘I’m sowwy but it’s twoo’. If you’re German, you will probably make that sound in your throat that sounds like you’re about to bring up phlegm.

Before you learn to speak, your brain is like a wad of chewing gum so any language is possible to learn with the perfect accompanying accent and, unless you become an impressionist, you’ll be stuck with it.

You better learn fast at this point because after the first two months half your neurons drop dead.

The right hemisphere has a higher rate of growth during the first 18 months, which establish the basic structures of attachment and emotional regulation. During the second year of life, a growth spurt happens in the left hemisphere. We learn to crawl, then walk and then there’s an explosion of language skills such as saying ‘poo, poo’. The hands and eyes become more connected to visual stimuli and vocabulary develops, so now we can demand things like a rattle on ice with a splash of vermouth. The language areas are activated by about 18 months after birth and babies begin to develop selfconsciousness where they can recognize themselves in a mirror.

This is the birth of the concept of ‘I’ when you get that feeling that you are you, if you know what I mean.

As Baby matures, neural circuits guided by the environment, connect. As sensory systems develop, they provide increasingly precise input to shape neural network formation and more and more complex patterns of behaviour. Now Baby can draw like Rembrandt. Movements and emotional networks connect with motor systems so you can spit in someone’s face because they have pissed you off.

Now all the wires of behaviour, movement, sensory experience and emotions connect and feed each other information, like wires in a complex phone system. Right and left hemisphere integration allows us to put feelings into words. This linking up of right and left hemispheres is accomplished through Mommy and Baby eye contact, facial expressions and speaking ‘goo goo’ which is called ‘motherese’. (Some lesbians use it with their cats.) The baby imitates Mommy and so she/he learns how to put feelings into words. Then when Mommy rocks the baby, her hormones are released making baby feel safe. A game of peekaboo activates the baby’s nervous system by the fine art of surprise and leads to cascades of biological processes enhancing Baby’s excitement. Peek-a-boo is not just an aimless activity, it is a brain grower. So forget chess and suduko, just jump out at someone from behind a door, you’ll be doing them a big favour, upping their IQ by thousands.

The memory of how Mommy is with Baby influences the baby’s physiology, biology, neurology and psychology. How the brain grows is affected by how she put you down, held, smiled, ignored or forgot you; she is the uber-regulator, the big boss of brain development. The neural clusters for social and emotional learning are sculpted by Mommy’s attunement with Baby.

She grows these neurons in the baby by making direct eye contact with her left eye to Baby’s right eye. This is why Mommies usually hold babies in their left arm so this eye contact is made easier.

When they gaze into each others’ eyes, their hearts, brains and minds are linking up. These face-to-face interactions increase oxygen consumption and energy. Also holding the baby in this position means it can hear Mommy’s heartbeat. Seeing her loving face looking down on Baby triggers high levels of endogenous opiates so he experiences pleasure in later social interactions by the positive and exciting stimulation from Mommy.

If the mother is too connected, this affects Baby and later he might feel people are encroaching on his space. If, on the other hand, she is too disconnected, he might in later life feel abandoned and become a comedian looking for constant attention. If the mother soothes the terrified baby, he learns to regulate his own fear. The mother’s face shows him what is safe and what isn’t. If she shows fear or any negative state, the baby internalizes it. If she expresses depression or shows an expressionless face, the baby, not being able to think something is wrong with the mother, believes he is the cause and so has a greater chance of having depression or some other mental dysfunction himself, while keeping an idealized image of his caretaker; his survival depends on her.

Babies are built to engage and respond to the world. If they don’t get a response, they stop engaging with the world and can become emotionally frozen.

The holding and separating which are repeated by mother and child, help baby to self-regulate throughout his life while he learns how to care for himself. When the mother over-holds you can soon see the results; every Jewish boy’s first novel is about mothers who never let go.


It was thought about ten years ago that, genewise, you’re hard-wired from birth; imprisoned by your DNA. But now science has broken that shackle; change is possible well into old age. It was thanks to a scientist named Michael Meaney that the idea of genetic determinism was toppled like the Berlin Wall; here one day, gone the next. His experiments on rats showed that the way a mother treats her babies determines which genes in the offspring’s brains are turned on and which are turned off, demonstrating that the genes we’re born with are simply nature’s opening shot. The genes that make you shy, resilient, anxious, exuberant are shaped by maternal behaviour. If maternal behaviour changes, the genes change. Fearful baby rats were put with nurturing mother rats and were licked rather than ignored and their actual genetic expression changed, proving we’re not held captive by our genes.

I wouldn’t have wanted my mother to lick me but perhaps it would have made me more positive and loving. Who am I to say?

But the point is that the brain changes continuously by every sight, sound, taste, touch, thought, feeling etc. Experience and learning remodel new circuits, neurogenesis.

We do know some of our ingredients and what they do and maybe in years to come we’ll be able to carry around some kind of recipe where we can change who we are day by day. We might decide we want to take a tablespoon of oxytocin and dribble in some dopamine to make us feel good about finishing our homework.

But for right now, the practice of mindfulness gives you some of the utensils that help you turn something you burnt and destroyed into something that tastes good and feels soothing inside.

How misguided we are in insisting the external world is exactly as we see it. Much of what you see out there is manufactured by your brain, painted in like computer generated graphics in a movie; only a very small part of the inputs to your occipital lobe comes directly from the external world, the rest comes from internal memory stores and other processes.

Think of the area in your visual cortex, a projection room creating what’s out there from incoming information. In actuality we see the world in single snapshots and it is a part of your brain that makes it seem like it’s constantly moving. There are about 70 separate areas working to create a cohesive picture of the world; one part contributes colour, another movement, another edges, another picks up shapes and another shadows. There is no single part that gets the whole picture. And in completely different zones, the images get a name, or an association or an emotional tag.

We live in a virtual reality. Think of The Wizard of OZ, you’re being run by the guy behind the curtain. You get clips that randomly come into your consciousness, never the whole film. So while you’re getting these fleeting clips to make you feel that’s all that’s going on, a trillion things without you knowing it are going on right now inside of you.

When you wake up in the morning, you remember who you were the day before because of billions of neurons, electrically zapping around the brain, working around the clock to make you believe you have unity and keep you wanting to exist.

Another thing your remarkable brain is doing is keeping your heart beating more than 100,000 times per day, that’s 40 million heartbeats per year, pumping two gallons of blood per minute, through a system of vascular channels about 60,000 miles in length or twice the circumference of the Earth.

Just now 100,000 chemical reactions took place in every single one of your cells. Multiply 100,000 chemical reactions by the 70 to 100 trillion cells that make up you. (I couldn’t do that but maybe you can.) So while your bodies doing its ‘thing’ you could be using your mind to bring you calm and happiness. What a segue to introduce you to mindfulness.

GUNS & BOMBS. Donald Trump’s hair-raising level of debt could bring us all crashing down – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

If there is such a thing as a capital crime in economics, it is Donald Trump’s exorbitant fiscal stimulus at the top of the cycle.

The effects are entirely pernicious. Such deficit spending at this juncture can only provoke a ferocious monetary response, threatening to bring the global expansion to a shuddering and climactic end sooner rather than later, and with particular violence.

Twin reports by the International Monetary Fund sketch a chain reaction of dangerous consequences for world finance.

The policy if, you can call it that, puts the US on an untenable debt trajectory. It smacks of Latin American caudillo populism, a Peronist contagion that threatens to destroy the moral foundations of the Great Republic.

The IMF’s Fiscal Monitor estimates that the US budget deficit will spike to 5.3 per cent of GDP this year and 5.9 per cent in 2019. This is happening at a stage of the economic cycle when swelling tax revenues should be reducing net borrowing to zero.

The deficit will still be 5 per cent in 2023. By then the ratio of public debt will have ballooned to 117 per cent (it was 61 per cent in 2007). Franklin Roosevelt defeated fascism with a total war economy at lower ratios.

The IMF does not take into account the near certainty of a global downturn at some point over the next five years. A deep recession would push the deficit into double digits, and send the debt ratio spiralling towards 140 per cent in short order.

There is no justification for Trump’s stimulus. The output gap has already closed. The fiscal “multiplier” is less than one. The US unemployment rate is approaching a 48-year low. The New York Fed’s “underlying inflation gauge” surged to 3.14 per cent in March, the highest since 2005.

As an aside, the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor noted that the lion’s share of Trump’s tax cuts go to the rich. The poorest two quintiles enjoy crumbs at first, but are ultimately left worse off.

He has betrayed the very descamisados who elected him. It is worth thumbing through the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report for a glimpse of the gothic horror story that lies ahead of us.

”Term premiums could suddenly decompress, risk premiums could rise, and global financial conditions could tighten sharply. Although no major disruptions were reported during the episode of volatility in early February, market participants should not take too much comfort,” it said.

The report is a forensic study of hair-raising excess. The US stock market has broken with historic valuations and risen to 155 per cent of GDP, up from 95 per cent even in 2011. Margin debt on Wall Street the bellwether of speculation has rocketed to US$550 billion.

The Fund warned of “late-stage credit cycle dynamics” all too like 2007, and behaviour “reminiscent of past episodes of investor excesses? Leveraged loans in the US have doubled to USSl trillion since the pre-Lehman peak. There is a risk that defaults could spin out of control, leading to a complete “shutdown of the market”, with grave economic implications.

The shadiest “Cov-lite” loans made up 75 per cent of new loan issuance last year, with a deteriorating quality of covenant protection. This is a sure sign that debt markets are throwing caution to the wind. ”Embedded leverage” through derivatives has become endemic. US and European bond funds have raised their derivative leverage ratio from 215 per cent to 268 per cent of assets since 2014, with gross exposure reaching ”worrisome” levels. And so it goes on.

There are two elephants in the room. One is well-understood: the world is leveraged to the hilt.

“The combination of excessive public and private debt levels can be dangerous in the event of a downturn because it would prolong the ensuing recession,” said the Fund. It calculates that the global debt ratio has risen by 12 per cent of GDP since the last peak. The Bank for International Settlements thinks it is at least 40 per cent of GDP higher.

The point remains the same. Every region of the global economy has been drawn into the morass by the leakage effects of zero rates and quantitative easing, compounded by unrestricted capital flows.

The world is therefore ever more sensitive to rising borrowing costs. It lacks the fiscal buffers to cope with a shock. Countries may be forced into contractionary “pro-cyclical” policies, the fate of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy in the EMU austerity tragedy. It may soon happen on a global scale.

The IMF says the interest rate burden as a share of tax revenues has doubled over the last 10 years for poorer countries, leaving them acutely vulnerable to “rollover” risks if liquidity dries up.

Private debt ratios in emerging markets have jumped from 60 per cent to 120 per cent in a decade.

The second elephant is global dollar debt. This is less understood. Offshore dollar debt has risen fourfold to US$16t since the early 2000s, or USS30t when equivalent derivatives are included. “The international dollar banking system faces a structural liquidity mismatch,” said the Fund.

The world has a vast “short position” on the dollar. This is harmless in good times but prone to a sudden margin call akin to late 2008 as the Fed raises rates and drains dollar liquidity.

Much of this lending is carried out by European and Japanese banks using short term instruments such as commercial paper and interbank deposits, leaving them “structurally vulnerable to liquidity risks”. French banks have shockingly low dollar liquidity ratios.

The IMF says markets should not be beguiled by the current calm in the currency swap markets, used to hedge this edifice of dollar lending. The so-called “cross-currency basis” can move suddenly. “Swap markets may not be a reliable backstop in periods of stress,” it said.

The Fund warned that banks may find that they cannot roll over short term dollarfunding currently taken for granted. “Banks could then act as an amplifier of market strains. Funding pressure could induce banks to shrink dollar lending to non-US borrowers. Ultimately, there is a risk that banks could default on their dollar obligations,” it said.

So there you have it. While the IMF is coy, the awful truth is that the world is just as vulnerable to a financial crisis as it was in 2007. The scale is now larger. The authorities have fewer safety buffers, and far less ammunition to fight a depression.

This time China cannot come to the rescue. It is itself the epicentre of risk.

The detonator for the denouement is selfevidently Fed tightening and should it ever happen a surging dollar.

Trump may have thought he was being clever in thinking that fiscal prime pumping this year and next would greatly help his re-election chances.

He may instead have brought forward global forces that he does not begin to understand, and guaranteed a frightening crisis under his own watch.

SOCIAL ANXIETY. Diary of a SAD teen – Katy Gossett.

Most teenagers are ruled by their social lives. But if 19 year old Lucy*, who suffers from social anxiety, kept a diary, there wouldn’t be too much in it. Her mother, Sarah*, said Lucy turned down most invitations, not because she didn’t like her friends, but because social gatherings made her too anxious.

“If she’s invited to something she goes into total panic because she knows she’s going to have to deal with a crowd of people, so then I get tears and anxiety and panic attacks that are quite severe sometimes.” Sarah said.

Sometimes Lucy’s whole body shook as the anxiety took hold.

“She actually said to me she sometimes feels like she almost leaves her body and I guess that’s her coping mechanism to try and deal with what’s going on. Social anxiety holds my daughter back in many ways, preventing her from trying new activities. She will sit back, afraid of people watching her so it’s a self-esteem thing. She feels people might laugh at her.

However she said Lucy often watched other, younger children trying new things and felt frustrated that she couldn’t bring herself to join in.

“It’s quite a crippling thing and I don’t know if people know how crippling it is, the anxiety.”

Clinical psychologist Catherine Gallagher told the RNZ parenting podcast Are We There Yet? that social anxiety was often driven by perfectionism and a fear of criticism or rejection by others.

“Underlying it are often fears that something is wrong with us or we will do something wrong, such as make a mistake, go red in the face or perform poorly.” People with social anxiety then worry that these mistakes will be exposed to others and they will be judged negatively. Our worry brains can tell us we need to be perfect or flawless or, to the other extreme, we’re destined for an epic YouTube-worthy fail and there’s no in between. So anxious brains are often black and white brains we’re either on fire or it’s a complete disaster. Lucy’s experience of turning down invitations and then worrying that she won’t be invited to anything else is a lovely example of anxiety. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”

She said the anxiety stemmed from a primal alarm system that triggered a “fight”, “flight” or “freeze” reaction and normally occurred when someone was threatened. That heightened sense of danger meant anxious people often went into a social situation on edge

“So we’re thinking about things like: no one’s going to talk to me, or they’ll think I’m boring or what if I say the wrong thing, what if I trip up? Ultimately, these worry thoughts alter the way people act. So we can seem less engaged, look awkward or be over the top as we try to cover our anxiety or we can actually just avoid the whole thing in the first place and opt out of situations.”

This meant many young people didn‘t expose themselves to social situations where they would actually build up the skills and confidence to manage those experiences better.

Tips to help your socially anxious child

Build a solid understanding of what anxiety is and validate and normalise your child’s struggle with it.

”The feeling is real. It feels dangerous. The challenge is the situation is not dangerous and that’s the bit the child has to work through with support from Mum and Dad.” Gallagher said.

Don’t always leap in to ”rescue” them or answer questions on their behalf. Children needed to learn to negotiate their own way into a social situation and to cope with its ups and downs. ”If they pull out when they’re most anxious then those situations remain dangerous” she said.

Encourage your child to face their fears by exposing them to social activities while they are feeling anxious, rather than waiting for the anxiety to subside first.

“They need to do life, do these things while anxious.”

Find activities that have “scaffolding” such as a group that is led by an adult. This can allow the child to engage with others without having to take the lead or engage in free play.

In a school setting, socially anxious children might find it useful to have a ”job” such as a library assistant where they can talk to others without having to ask to join a game.

”Integrating yourself into someone else’s play or into a game, that can be quite tough”

Don’t allow your child to avoid anxiety inducing situations by staying home from school or other activities.

“You’re supporting them to be at school even if it’s through tears and distress.” Gallagher said. And, when they return, focus on the things that went well, rather than any perceived failures.

Limit the time spend talking about worries. “Only allow so many worry questions a day or set aside a short worry time so it doesn’t leak into every moment.” (And make sure the worry time is not just at bedtime as it can start the child on a train of thought that’s difficult to get out of.)

Help your child to distinguish between a worry and a genuine problem such as bullying. “Most children, when they learn this distinction themselves actually then start to be more robust about how they do deal with social situations and also they have the confidence that they don’t need to come to Mum and Dad to fix it.”

Plan for anxiety and have realistic expectations for your child.

“Because if Mum’s and Dad’s expectation is that I should be able to go into this situation and be awesomely comfortable, that might not be the case”, Gallagher said.

However if the parents expected the child to get anxious and validated those feelings by accepting that the situation would be hard, the child would be better equipped to handle it.

“So we actually expect anxiety to turn up. We come up with a plan for it so the child goes into that situation much more realistically prepared for it and, typically, is going to manage it a lot better.”

Social Anxiety Fact Sheet: What is Social Anxiety Disorder? Symptoms, Treatment, Prevalence, Medications, Insight, Prognosis

Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D

Social Anxiety Disorder (social phobia) is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today.

The latest government epidemiological data show social anxiety affects about 7% of the population at any given time. The lifetime prevalence rate (i.e., the chances of developing social anxiety disorder at any time during the lifespan) stands slightly above 13%. (See journal citation on the Social Anxiety Association home page.)


Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person’s life. It is chronic because it does not go away on its own. Only direct cognitive behavioral therapy can change the brain, and help people overcome social anxiety.


People with social anxiety are many times seen by others as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested.

Paradoxically, people with social anxiety want to make friends, be included in groups, and be involved and engaged in social interactions. But having social anxiety prevents people from being able to do the things they want to do. Although people with social anxiety want to be friendly, open, and sociable, it is fear (anxiety) that holds them back.

Triggering Symptoms

People with social anxiety usually experience significant distress in the following situations:

Being introduced to other people

Being teased or criticized

Being the center of attention

Being watched or observed while doing something

Having to say something in a formal, public situation

Meeting people in authority (“important people/authority figures”)

Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations (“I don’t know what to say.”)

Embarrassing easily (e.g., blushing, shaking)

Meeting other peoples’ eyes

Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public

This list is not a complete list of symptoms, other symptoms may be associated with social anxiety as well.

Emotional Symptoms

The feelings that accompany social anxiety include anxiety, high levels of fear, nervousness, automatic negative emotional cycles, racing heart, blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling, and muscle twitches. In severe situations, people can develop a dysmorphia concerning part of their body (usually the face) in which they perceive themselves irrationally and negatively.

Constant, intense anxiety (fear) is the most common symptom.


People with social anxiety typically know that their anxiety is irrational, is not based on fact, and does not make rational sense. Nevertheless, thoughts and feelings of anxiety persist and are chronic (i.e., show no signs of going away). Appropriate active, structured, cognitive behavioral therapy is the only solution to this problem. Decades of research have concluded that this type of therapy is the only way to change the neural pathways in the brain permanently. This means that a permanent change is possible for everyone.

Seeking Help

Social anxiety, as well as the other anxiety disorders, can be successfully treated today. In seeking help for this problem, we recommend searching for a specialist, someone who understands this problem well and knows how to treat it.

Social anxiety treatment must include an active behavioral therapy group, where members can work on their “anxiety” hierarchies in the group, and later, in real life situations with other group members.

Social anxiety is a fully treatable condition and can be overcome with effective therapy, work, and patience.

Therapy (Treatment)

Cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety has been markedly successful. Thousands of research studies now indicate that, after the completion of social anxiety specific CBT, people with social anxiety disorder are changed. They now live a life that is no longer controlled by fear and anxiety. Appropriate therapy is markedly successful in changing people’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behavior. The person with social anxiety disorder must be compliant and do what is necessary to overcome this disorder. National Institutes of Mental Health funded studies report a very high success rate using cognitive therapy with a behavioral therapy group. Both are essential to alleviating anxiety symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder.


Social anxiety medication is useful for many, but not all, people with social anxiety disorder. For social anxiety, research indicates use of the anti-anxiety agents, and (perhaps) certain antidepressants in conjunction with CBT have proven most beneficial. Medication without the use of active, structured cognitive behavioral therapy has no long term benefits. Only CBT can change the neural pathway associations in the brain permanently.

The therapy used must “fit” the way the human brain is structured. Current research indicates many antidepressant medications for social anxiety disorder to be useless, even in the short-term. About 15% of our in-person socially anxious people are helped by antidepressants. Some of the large scale medication studies for social anxiety have been questioned and found to be skewed in favor of the drugs marketed by the same pharmaceutical companies who paid for these studies to be done in the first place. These kind of studies are conflicts of interest, and their conclusions should be thoroughly questioned.

In addition, each person is different, and there is no general rule that works concerning social anxiety and medications. For a typical person with social anxiety, who has an “average” amount of anxiety, along the quantifiable continuum, we have found an antianxiety agent to be most effective, if the person has no history of substance abuse. Antidepressants do not work anywhere near as well, in general.

A typical superstititon, promoted by the drug companies, is that antidepressants have anti-anxiety properties. This is not true. If anything, many of the antidepressants make a person MORE anxious.

However, not all people want or need medication. One of the big changes in the last decade is the gradual non-use of medications by people coming into active therapy for social anxiety. The majority of people in our groups now choose not to use medications and to concentrate solely on CBT.

Nevertheless, it is the combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy that changes the brain and allows you to overcome social anxiety. Medications can only temporarily change brain chemistry and can be useful in some cases. This is very general advice, and you must consult with your psychiatrist when it comes to medications. Try to find someone who understands that anti-anxiety agents are not addictive to people with diagnosable anxiety disorders. In twenty years, we have never had even one patient who has moved up their dosage of an anti-anxiety agent once an adequate baseline is established as being effective. Social anxiety people can be helped by a low dose of an anti-anxiety agents (there is a reason why we prefer a low dose of either lorazepam or clonazepam for this purpose).

THIS ADVICE (above) only applies to people who have a diagnosable (DSM-5: 300.23) case of social anxiety disorder. You cannot generalize this out to other mental health care conditions.

Compliance with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral (rational) therapy is not difficult to do, and has not been seen this way by participants. The first factor in not complying with the therapy is that “I can’t remember to do it every day” and “I have a hard time committing to something in which I don’t see immediate results”. The psychologist or group leader should have time-tested solutions to these irrational arguments.


Prognosis is markedly good. People completing CBT training report a high success rate, compared to control groups. In the National Institute of Mental Health longitudinal studies, people continued to report progress after CBT behavioral group therapy was over. Studies repeatedly indicate that treatment compatibility (i.e., did the person carry out the prescribed therapy?) is the key element in success. Using different terminology, the social anxiety people who understand and follow the directions to be repetitive with the therapy report the most positive changes in lessening anxious feelings and thoughts. Repetition and reinforcement of rational concepts, strategies, and methods (and their implementation) is the key to alleviating social anxiety disorder on a long-term basis.

People can and do overcome social anxiety if they stick with the cognitive strategies and pratically apply them to their lives.

Differential Diagnosis and Comorbidity

Social anxiety disorder is one of the five major anxiety disorders as listed in the DSM-5.

Social anxiety is many times confused with panic disorder. People with social anxiety do not experience panic attacks (they may experience “anxiety attacks”), in which the principal fear is of having a medical problem (e.g., heart attack). People with social anxiety realize that it is anxiety and fear that they are experiencing. They may say things like “It was awful and I panicked!”, but, when questioned, they are talking about feeling highly anxious. They are not talking about the fear of having a medical problem. People with social anxiety do not go to hospital emergency rooms after an anxiety situation. People with panic disorder many times go to hospital emergency rooms, or doctor’s offices, at first because they feel there is something physically wrong with them.

High rates of alcoholism and other substance abuse, family difficulties and problems, lack of personal relationships, and difficulty in obtaining and continuing with employment are among the everyday problems experienced by many people with social anxiety disorder.

A Big Problem

Lack of professional and knowledgeable therapists is the biggest and most relevant problem to overcoming social anxiety. While it can be done, and a vast amount of clinical and research evidence supports this, overcoming social anxiety is difficult because of the scarcity of treatment facilities for people with this persistent anxiety disorder.

Often, we are led to the conclusion that effective therapy -whether from a psychologist or from a nonlicensed person -comes only from people who have experienced this disorder themselves. Twenty years of experience points to the fact that people who have lived with this disorder and overcome it, make the best group leaders.


Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D., Psychologist President, Social Anxiety Association

The Commonwealth can kickstart a global offensive on climate Change – Jacinda Ardern.

The task ahead is immense, but New Zealanders know it can be achieved. We have a proud history of this kind of leadership.

Leaders of Commonwealth nations are meeting in London this week instead of the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu because things did not go according to plan. In 2015, cyclone Pam roared across Vanuatu, knocking out power, crippling water systems and levelling homes, schools and churches.

In only 24 hours, the storm dashed the island nation’s hopes of hosting the Commonwealth summit. Three years later, many communities have yet to fully recover, in a place where the impact of a changing climate is on full display.

Vanuatu is one of New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours and friends and its experience is an increasingly common one. In February, Tonga was hit by its worst cyclone in decades, cyclone Gita. When I visited the country in March, I spent time with schoolchildren who were learning in tents, the roof of their school had been blown off and the classroom walls destroyed by the storm.

Such extreme weather events are tragedies. They are also provocations. They tell us that climate change is not a theory, or a projection, but something that is already happening. They tell us we must be more ambitious when it comes to tackling this urgent global challenge.

The Commonwealth heads of government meeting is a good place to start. Twenty eight years ago, the same meeting produced the Langkawi declaration on the environment, among the first collective statements to cite greenhouse gas emissions as one of the chief problems facing the world. I am confident that this year’s gathering can be just as decisive by fostering bold commitments to step up climate action.

And while the task ahead is immense, New Zealanders know it can be achieved because we have a proud history of leadership on challenges than can seem too hard to contemplate.

We were the first country in which women won the right to vote, we were at the forefront of the anti nuclear movement, and we were at the table when the United Nations was born. And we are ready to lead on climate change, the defining challenge of our generation.

That is why my government has committed to setting an ambitious new target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. In June, we are starting a consultation process on how to enshrine this commitment in law.

Our plan includes an expert Independent Climate Commission which will develop carbon budgets through to 2050 setting a path to carbon neutrality that maintains enough energy to run our economy and country. Along the way, we are committed to helping regions and industries directly affected by the transition move away from fossil fuels, with billions of dollars of investment in local infrastructure and clean energy projects on the horizon. We are also active in building international cooperation on climate action.

Nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions come from our world renowned farming sector. This is why we lead the 49 nation Global Research Alliance that is developing techniques to reduce agricultural emissions without compromising food security. And that is why we are committed to helping other countries achieve more climate friendly agricultural production, in ways that will increase farmers’ yields and build resilience while reducing emissions.

Alongside the UK, we belong to coalitions of forward thinking countries and cities pressing to phase out coal generation, eliminate harmful subsidies that encourage wasteful fossil fuel use, and help our economies transition to carbon neutrality.

The international consensus on climate change in Paris in 2015 was a historic achievement. Now we all need to do our part by delivering on what we signed up to.

This means setting ambitious and concrete goals, like New Zealand’s plan to achieve 10000 renewable electricity generation by 2035. And it means agreeing on the finer details around holding countries accountable for reaching their Paris targets.

Leadership on climate change cannot be left to the big economies. It demands broad and deep action. New Zealand contributes less than 1% of global emissions. Yet together the world’s small emitters account for about a quarter of global emissions. History calls on us to play our part.

At this week’s Commonwealth meeting, I’ll be thinking about Vanuatu’s experience and the summit that couldn’t happen. I’ll also be guided by a Maori saying from my country Mo tatou, a, mo ka uri, a muri ake neighbour, for us and for our children after us.

That is what’s at stake when we talk about climate Change, the world we’ll leave for the generations that follow us. They are why we need to act now, with purpose and courage.


Jacinda Ardern is the prime minister of New Zealand

EMDR The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma – Francine Shapiro, P.Hd and Margot Silk Forrest.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.

Clinical Description

Francine Shapiro’s Adaptive Information Processing model posits that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced.

During EMDR therapy the client attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus.

Therapist directed lateral eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used.

Shapiro hypothesizes that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights.

EMDR therapy uses a three pronged protocol:

1. the past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction are processed, forging new associative links with adaptive information;

2. the current circumstances that elicit distress are targeted, and internal and external triggers are desensitized;

3. imaginal templates of future events are incorporated, to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning.

In plain English

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.

It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.

When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes.

Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

More than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy. Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions. Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions.

There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.

Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, you can easily see how EMDR therapy would be effective in treating the ”everyday’ memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy. Over 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy. Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 25 years.

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings.

In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level.

For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, ”I survived it and I am strong.”

Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes. The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution, all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies.

Treatment Description:

EMDR therapy combines different elements to maximize treatment effects. A full description of the theory, sequence of treatment, and research on protocols and active mechanisms can be found in F. Shapiro (2001) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols and procedures (2nd edition) New York: Guilford Press.

EMDR therapy involves attention to three time periods: the past, present, and future. Focus is given to past disturbing memories and related events. Also, it is given to current situations that cause distress, and to developing the skills and attitudes needed for positive future actions.

With EMDR therapy, these items are addressed using an eight-phase treatment approach.

Phase 1: The first phase is a history-taking session(s). The therapist assesses the client’s readiness and develops a treatment plan. Client and therapist identify possible targets for EMDR processing. These include distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional distress. Other targets may include related incidents in the past. Emphasis is placed on the development of specific skills and behaviors that will be needed by the client in future situations.

Initial EMDR processing may be directed to childhood events rather than to adult onset stressors or the identified critical incident if the client had a problematic childhood. Clients generally gain insight on their situations, the emotional distress resolves and they start to change their behaviors. The length of treatment depends upon the number of traumas and the age of PTSD onset. Generally, those with single event adult onset trauma can be successfully treated in under 5 hours. Multiple trauma victims may require a longer treatment time.

Phase 2: During the second phase of treatment, the therapist ensures that the client has several different ways of handling emotional distress. The therapist may teach the client a variety of imagery and stress reduction techniques the client can use during and between sessions. A goal of EMDR therapy is to produce rapid and effective change while the client maintains equilibrium during and between sessions.

Phases 3-6: In phases three to six, a target is identified and processed using EMDR therapy procedures. These involve the client identifying three things:

1. The vivid visual image related to the memory

2. A negative belief about self

3. Related emotions and body sensations.

In addition, the client identifies a positive belief. The therapist helps the client rate the positive belief as well as the intensity of the negative emotions. After this, the client is instructed to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation. These sets may include eye movements, taps, or tones. The type and length of these sets is different for each client. At this point, the EMDR client is instructed to just notice whatever spontaneously happens.

After each set of stimulation, the clinician instructs the client to let his/her mind go blank and to notice whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation comes to mind. Depending upon the client’s report, the clinician will choose the next focus of attention. These repeated sets with directed focused attention occur numerous times throughout the session. If the client becomes distressed or has difficulty in progressing, the therapist follows established procedures to help the client get back on track.

When the client reports no distress related to the targeted memory, (s)he is asked to think of the preferred positive belief that was identified at the beginning of the session. At this time, the client may adjust the positive belief if necessary, and then focus on it during the next set of distressing events.

Phase 7: In phase seven, closure, the therapist asks the client to keep a log during the week. The log should document any related material that may arise. It serves to remind the client of the self-calming activities that were mastered in phase two.

Phase 8: The next session begins with phase eight. Phase eight consists of examining the progress made thus far. The EMDR treatment processes all related historical events, current incidents that elicit distress, and future events that will require different responses.

Psychology Today

What Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy?

EMDR is a unique, nontraditional form of psychotherapy designed to diminish the traumatic event itself and focus more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms that result from the event. Treatment includes a hand motion technique used by the therapist to guide the client’s eye movements from side to side, similar to watching a pendulum swing.

EMDR is a controversial intervention, because it is unclear exactly how it works, with some psychologists claiming it does not work. Some studies have shown, however, that EMDR is effective for treating certain mental-health conditions.

When it’s used

EMDR was originally developed to treat the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and phobias. Some therapists also use EMDR to treat depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia, sexual disfunction, and stress caused by chronic disease.

What to Expect

In the early stages of therapy, you will discuss your problems and symptoms with your therapist, but you won’t necessarily have to reveal all the details of your traumatic experience.

Instead, your therapist will help you focus on related negative thoughts and feelings that you are still experiencing, and decide which of these beliefs are still relevant and which ones you would like to replace with positive thoughts and beliefs. You will learn techniques to help you deal with disturbing feelings.

Your therapist will then guide you through a process known as desensitization. While keeping the memory of a painful or traumatic event in mind, you will follow the therapist’s back-and-forth finger movements with your eyes. The purpose of this technique is to help you fully process your negative feelings and begin to recognize that you no longer need to hold on to some of them.

Future sessions are devoted to reinforcing and strengthening positive feelings and beliefs until you get to a point where you can bring up memories of the traumatic event without experiencing the negativity that brought you to therapy in the first place.

How It Works

The goal of EMDR is to fully process past experiences and sort out the emotions attached to those experiences. Negative thoughts and feelings that are no longer useful are replaced with positive thoughts and feelings that will encourage healthier behavior and social interactions. Ultimately, clients learn to handle stressful situations themselves.

EMDR therapy occurs in eight phases:

1) History and treatment planning

2) Preparation, to establish trust and explain the treatment in-depth

3) Assessment, to establish negative feelings and identify positive replacements

4) Desensitization, which includes the eye movement technique

5) Installation, to strengthen positive replacements

6) Body scan, to see if the client is now able to bring up memories of trauma without experiencing negative feelings that are no longer relevant, or if reprocessing is necessary

7) Closure, which occurs at the end of every session

8) Re-evaluation, which occurs at the beginning of every session

What to Look for in an EMDR Therapist

Look for a licensed, experienced therapist, social worker, professional counselor or other mental-health professional with additional training and certification in EMDR. The EMDR International Association is one source of credentialing. In addition, it is important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.

Psychology Today

History of EMDR

In 1987, Francine Shapiro was walking in the park when she realized that eye movements appeared to decrease the negative emotion associated with her own distressing memories. She assumed that eye movements had a desensitizing effect, and when she experimented with this she found that others also had the same response to eye movements. It became apparent however that eye movements by themselves did not create comprehensive therapeutic effects and so Shapiro added other treatment elements, including a cognitive component, and developed a standard procedure that she called Eye Movement Desensitization (EMD).

Shapiro then conducted a case study and a controlled study to test the effectiveness of EMD. In the controlled study, she randomly assigned 22 individuals with traumatic memories to two conditions: half received EMD, and half received the same therapeutic procedure with imagery and detailed description replacing the eye movements.

She reported that EMD resulted in significant decreases in ratings of subjective distress and significant increases of confidence in a positive belief. Participants in the EMD condition reported significantly larger changes than those in the imagery condition.

Shapiro wrote ”a single session of the procedure was sufficient to desensitize subjects’ traumatic memories, as well as dramatically alter their cognitive assessments.”

Unfortunately, Shapiro has often been erroneously cited as claiming that “EMDR can cure [posttraumatic stress disorder] PTSD in one session (F. Shapiro, 1989). Shapiro never made this statement; what she actually wrote was that the EMD procedure ”serves to desensitize the anxiety not to eliminate all PTSD related symptomatology and complications, nor to provide coping strategies for the victims, and reported an average treatment time of five sessions to comprehensively treat PTSD.

1989 was the first year that controlled studies investigating the treatment of PTSD were published. Besides Shapiros article, three other studies were published.

The Brom et al. study compared the results of psychodynamic therapy, hypnotherapy, and desensitization and provided an average of 16 sessions. It found clinically significant treatment effects for 60% of the civilian participants, with no differences between the conditions.

The Cooper and Clum study compared flooding to standard care in a Veterans Administration Hospital. They reported moderate clinical effects after 6-14 sessions, with a 30% patient drop-out rate. The Keane et al.(1989) study compared flooding to a waitlist control for veteran participants and reported moderate clinical effects after 14-16 sessions.

Shapiro continued to develop this treatment approach, incorporating feedback from clients and other clinicians who were using EMD. In 1991 she changed the name to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to reflect the insights and cognitive changes that occurred during treatment, and to identify the information processing theory that she developed to explain the treatment effects.

Because EMDR therapy was an effective treatment, achieving results very quickly for many clients, Shapiro felt an ethical obligation to teach other clinicians so that individuals suffering from PTSD could find relief. However, EMDR was still experimental since it had not received independent confirmation through other controlled studies. She attempted to resolve this ethical dilemma by teaching EMDR only to licensed clinicians, and by ensuring that everyone who learned the approach was trained by the EMDR Institute in the same model. That way safeguards would be in place, clinicians would be taught to inform clients of its status, and a feedback system would allow everyone that was trained to get the most up to date information. In 1995, after other controlled studies had been published, the label “experimental and the training restrictions were removed and a textbook of procedures was published.

Shapiro has been severely criticized by some for her method of dissemination, because she initially restricted training and because she taught an experimental procedure. However, these critics ignore the APA ethics code mandated responsibilities of an innovator to determine training practices and the fact that even as late as 1998, there were no treatments for PTSD that were designated as well established and empirically validated. At that time, independent reviewers for the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association identified three treatments with ”probable efficacy.” These were EMDR, exposure therapy, and stress inoculation therapy.

Since the initial studies were published in 1989, hundreds of case studies have been published, and there have been numerous controlled outcome studies. These studies have demonstrated EMDR’s effectiveness in PTSD treatment and EMDR is now recognized as efficacious in the treatment of PTSD.

A professional association, independent from Shapiro and the EMDR Institute was founded in 1995 to establish standards for training and practice. The EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) declares that its primary objective is ”to establish, maintain and promote the highest standards of excellence and integrity in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) practice, research and education.”

Information about EMDRIA is available at

Despite its demonstrated effectiveness, similar to most new approaches in psychotherapy, EMDR has been surrounded by controversy. While some critics have labeled EMDR a ”pseudoscience” others have commented that these conclusions are based on misinterpretations of the literature [see “Confusion, Misinformation, and Charges of “Pseudoscience”]. Another area of debate is the role of eye movements in EMDR [See Eye Movements and Alternate Dual Attention Stimuli and What has research determined about EMDR’s eye movement component?


Shapiro developed an information processing theory to explain and predict the treatment effects seen with EMDR therapy. This theoretical model also describes the development of personality, psychological problems and mental disorders. The following is a simplified description of Shapiro’s theory.


All humans are understood to have a physiologically based information processing system. This can be compared to other body systems, such as digestion in which the body extracts nutrients for health and survival. The information processing system processes the multiple elements of our experiences and stores memories in an accessible and useful form. Memories are linked in networks that contain related thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations.

Learning occurs when new associations are forged with material already stored in memory.

When a traumatic or very negative event occurs, information processing may be incomplete, perhaps because strong negative feelings or dissociation interfere with information processing. This prevents the forging of connections with more adaptive information that is held in other memory networks.

For example, a rape survivor may ”know’ that rapists are responsible for their crimes, but this information does not connect with her feeling that she is to blame for the attack. The memory is then dysfunctionally stored without appropriate associative connections and with many elements still unprocessed. When the individual thinks about the trauma, or when the memory is triggered by similar situations, the person may feel like she is reliving it, or may experience strong emotions and physical sensations. A prime example is the intrusive thoughts, emotional disturbance, and negative self-referencing beliefs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is not only major traumatic events, or ”large-T Traumas” that can cause psychological disturbance. Sometimes a relatively minor event from childhood, such as being teased by one’s peers or disparaged by one’s parent, may not be adequately processed. Such ”small-t traumas” can result in personality problems and become the basis of current dysfunctional reactions.

Shapiro proposes that EMDR can assist to successfully alleviate clinical complaints by processing the components of the contributing distressing memories. These can be memories of either small-t or large-T traumas. Information processing is thought to occur when the targeted memory is linked with other more adaptive information. Learning then takes place, and the experience is stored with appropriate emotions, able to appropriately guide the person in the future. A variety of neurobiological contributors have been proposed.


The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma



IN THE EIGHTEEN YEARS since this book was written, many things have changed, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, therapy is now widely accepted as a research supported, effective treatment for trauma and other adverse life experiences. Yet the primary guiding principles of EMDR therapy have remained the same. It is worthwhile here to review those principles and to answer some questions.

Trauma Comes in Many Forms

Most of us are used to thinking of trauma only as those big events that appear in the newspapers. War veterans, survivors of natural catastrophes and terrorist attacks, these are the sufferers of trauma in the popular imagination. But, in fact, by dictionary definition, trauma is any event that has had a lasting negative effect.

We all know people who have lost jobs, loved ones, even possessions and who have truly suffered as a result. When you lose your peace of mind, or if you never had it, there can be serious physical and psychological consequences no matter what the cause. Regardless of the “triggers,” the causes are generally found in earlier life experiences. We call these experiences traumas.

Trauma Can Be Healed

Anxiety, stress, guilt, rage, and fear, regardless of the cause, are extremely unhealthy if they are long lasting. Fortunately, the body uses a process similar to digestion in order to resolve upsetting experiences. Just as the digestive system extracts nutrients from the food we eat, so the mind’s information processing system, when functioning properly, extracts useful information from our experiences. What we learn from this information allows us to move forward.

When the memories of upsetting experiences are processed, the related emotions, beliefs, body responses, and thoughts are transformed, becoming healthy and adaptive.

Sometimes, though, negative experiences remain in memory unresolved, leaving a residue of emotion to dominate our daily lives.

The system becomes “stuck”, as if it was choking on trauma, and often requires assistance in order to get moving smoothly again. This is where EMDR therapy comes in.

Therapy for the Body, Therapy for the Mind

Most people think that therapy involves only talking about problems. However, one aspect of EMDR therapy is that you do not have to talk in detail about a trauma for it to be digested by your own information processing system. Basically this involves what some have called bottom-up instead of top-down processing.

In other words, rather than trying to talk through the problem, the processing occurs on a physiological level and allows new associations, insights, and emotions to emerge spontaneously.

EMDR therapy involves a very specific set of procedures to help this “digestive” function in the brain, which neurobiologists refer to as information processing.

EMDR therapy is guided by the Adaptive Information Processing model, which identifies negative life experiences stored in the brain as central to mental health problems.

A number of neurobiologists and memory researchers point out that major traumas and other disturbing life experiences are stored in the wrong form of memory. Instead of being stored in memory where they can be remembered without pain, they are stored in memory where they hold the emotions and body sensations that were part of the initial event. Because these memories are not able to connect with other, more helpful information, they remain isolated from other life experiences in our memory networks.

For example, even though we can look at things rationally where other people are concerned, and know they aren’t to blame for certain things, we can’t view ourselves in the same way. We may recognize that a victim of rape should not be blamed for the actions of the rapist, yet, placed in the same circumstance ourselves, feel somehow at fault.

Basically, no matter how intelligent or spiritual or experienced or educated we are, the memories can simply be stored in the wrong form of memory. We didn’t cause it, we are suffering from it.

The memory system is in the brain, and the brain is part of the body. Most of us recognize that if our body is cut it will begin to heal unless there is a block, such as a splinter. We are willing to enter into surgery because we know our body will close and heal the wounds, just as it’s supposed to do. But for some reason, we don’t think of “mental problems” in the same way.

Traumatic memories are located in the brain, and since the brain is part of the body, it can and should heal in the same way. Although we expect the physical bruises of crime victims to heal in a matter of weeks, we believe that healing psychological wounds may take years. This is not necessarily so. In reality, the brain can heal at the same rate as the rest of the body.

In many ways EMDR therapy is like having your arm set by a doctor. Both conditions are physical and both need assistance to prepare, align, and stimulate the body’s own healing mechanism. EMDR therapists are trained to work with the information processing system in order to access the troubling experiences. Once accessed, these experiences need to be addressed to bring the client to full health.

Who Needs EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy has been used with combat veterans, firefighters, policemen, emergency service workers, and missionaries, all trained to help others and to “tough it out.” They came for help because they realized that they did not need to treat the mind differently from the body. We all need help sometimes, and sometimes it’s hard to find the right kind of help.

But there are many forms of therapy, so saying, “I tried therapy and it doesn’t work” is like saying, “I tasted a fruit and didn’t like it, so I’m not going to eat any fruit.” There are hundreds of thousands of licensed mental health clinicians in the United States alone. There are hundreds of techniques and many different types of therapies. Psychodynamic therapists alone may follow the principles and practices of many different, well respected therapists, such as Freud, Jung, Horney, Adler, or a dozen others.

Therapists who practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be more focused on behavior or cognition and may draw from a variety of techniques, depending on their own training and life experience.

EMDR is a distinct form of therapy and has principles and practices that are different from these and other approaches. While EMDR integrates aspects of other therapies, it also gives the client a different experience. The purpose of this book is to provide examples of those experiences so that you and your loved ones can be sure you are receiving EMDR therapy, and not someone’s distorted version of it.

Unfortunately, what has changed in the years since EMDR was first published is that more people are affected by trauma than ever before. These may be both what we can call large “T” and small “t” events. Large “T” traumas are those experiences that are necessary to diagnose posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Large “T” events are technically called Criterion A events and include natural disasters, combat, accidents, catastrophic illnesses, and the loss of a loved one. However, while these kinds of events are necessary to officially diagnose PTSD for many people, research now supports the Adaptive Information Processing model guiding EMDR therapy and indicates that general adverse life experiences can result in even more PTSD symptoms than major trauma can.

Small “t” events are those more prevalent experiences that make us feel unsafe, unloved, or without control or hope. These can be humiliations, failures, or losses of any kind. For children, the events can include being bullied or excluded or even falling off their bicycle. Events that can seem unimportant to an adult can be devastating to children and can have lasting effects. In fact, a Kaiser Permanente study that evaluated 9,508 participants reported that adverse childhood experiences were associated with a wide range of mental health disorders and several leading causes of death in adults. Given the current state of the world, pressures and uncertainties have compounded the daily problems that many adults face, and many more people are in need of help than ever before. Fortunately, help is available to a greater degree than ever before.

When this book was first published, there were 20,000 clinicians trained in EMDR and about one million people had been treated. EMDR was as well supported by research as any other treatment approach, but unknown in many circles, and suspect in others. Today, hundreds of thousands of clinicians have been trained worldwide, and millions of people have been successfully treated.

Does EMDR Work?

EMDR is recognized as an effective trauma therapy by numerous organizations worldwide. For instance, in 2009, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies‘ declared that EMDR therapy’s effectiveness was supported by research. In 2002, the Israeli National Council of Mental Health designated EMDR as one of three preferred trauma treatments for terrorist victims. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs issued new guidelines putting EMDR into the category of therapies with the highest level of evidence and recommending it for treatment of PTSD.

Most recently, in 2013, the World Health Organization reported that trauma focused CBT and EMDR are the only psychotherapies recommended for children, adolescents, and adults with PTSD. The report also noted the differences between the two forms of treatment: “Like CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive cognitions related to the traumatic event. Unlike CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR does not involve (a) detailed descriptions of the event, (b) direct challenging of beliefs, (c) extended exposure, or (d) homework.” These differences will be evident in the cases described throughout this book.

The many organizations recommending EMDR therapy based their decisions on the large number of research studies that support it as an effective and long-lasting treatment. Research has shown that about five hours of EMDR treatment eliminates PTSD in 84 to 100 percent of civilians with a single trauma experience, including rape, accident, or disaster. When civilians experience multiple traumas, more treatment is needed. Research indicates that about eight to twelve hours of treatment can result in 77 to 80 percent elimination of multiple-trauma PTSD in civilians. A study funded by Kaiser Permanente reported that 80 percent of multiple-trauma victims and 100 percent of single-trauma victims had PTSD eliminated in an average of six fifty-minute sessions. However, it should not be assumed that all symptoms can be handled for everyone in that amount of time. Everyone is different in their biological, psychological, and environmental makeup. Nevertheless, these research studies offer clinicians and clients a guide as to what to expect in clinical practice.

Given the uncertainties of our time, with many men and women facing combat, we are thankful that EMDR is a treatment that works well with soldiers. A randomized study that evaluated a full course of EMDR treatment with combat veterans reported that after twelve sessions, 78 percent of the Vietnam combat veterans in the study no longer had PTSD. The fact that there were zero dropouts, unlike studies of other treatments that generally have about a 30 percent dropout rate, can be attributed to several factors: (1) EMDR therapy results in a rapid decrease in emotional disturbance that occurs even in the first session, (2) there is no need to talk about the memory in detail, and (3) it eliminates fear, anger, guilt, and sleep problems. A 2007 study of sixty-three active duty personnel with PTSD reported that after trauma treatment, the emotional disturbance was basically “eliminated and a new more positive perspective had developed.” The average treatment time was four EMDR sessions, eight sessions if they had been wounded in action.

Positive research reports include a field study of a Veterans Administration (VA) program and several articles reporting positive treatment effects with veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and Desert Storm and current active military personnel. Overall, these results mean that no matter how long their symptoms have lasted, veterans and their families can be healed of the ravages of pain. Chapter 3 describes a case in detail.

These results also mean that those who serve in daily combat on our city streets such as the emergency service workers, firefighters, police, and others can also be healed. Regardless of how tough a person might be, the bottom line is that the memories of disturbing experiences can be stored in the wrong form of memory. The intrusive thoughts, dreams, disturbing emotions, and sensations are all products of a physical problem that can be helped without resorting to drugs or alcohol to mask the pain. In fact, a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study reported that EMDR was superior to Prozac in treating trauma. After people were taken off the medication, their symptoms returned, while those treated with EMDR therapy kept getting better. These findings emphasize why the World Health Organization did not recommend any drugs for the treatment of PTSD. They also underscore the Adaptive Information Processing model principle that targeting and reprocessing the trauma is preferable to merely treating the symptoms.

What Is the Difference Between EMDR Therapy and Exposure Therapy?

There are several cognitive behavioral therapies for PTSD that use exposure; however, the one most commonly recommended for PTSD is prolonged exposure (PE). The therapist asks the client to hold the disturbing experience in mind, identify and “feel the feelings” that arise, and describe it all to the clinician in detail for an hour to ninety minutes at a time, saying things like “I feel the pain; I see the blood.” The client is not allowed to let the mind move away from the experience, because that is considered “avoidance” and is thought to make people worse. The session is audio taped and the client is expected to listen to it each night until the next session. In addition, the client is also supposed to go to physical locations they find disturbing as a result of the trauma experience. This might be the area where the client was raped, or the location of the car accident. They are instructed to stay in the area for about one hour each day, until the disturbance goes away.

In contrast, EMDR therapists ask clients to concentrate on a disturbing part of the memory, and then let their minds move to “whatever comes up” during sets of eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. The client may spend only a short period of time on the disturbing memory itself. While there may be a certain amount of distress, there is generally a decline at the end of the first session, and new insights and understandings tend to emerge. A Harvard researcher has proposed that the same neurobiological processes that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep cause this tendency. REM state is known for processing experiences, learning skills, and reducing emotional disturbance.

It is easy to recognize the similarities between REM and EMDR, as EMDR therapy produces the same effects. In fact, one of the guiding principles of EMDR therapy involves stimulating the natural information processing tendencies of the brain, while also not restricting or dictating the client’s reactions. The EMDR clinician is trained to help guide the processing according to consistent procedures and protocols. All of these characteristics of EMDR therapy are explored in the chapters of this book.

How Important Are the Eye Movements?

EMDR is not simply “eye movement therapy.” It is a complex approach to psychotherapy that is listed in psychology encyclopedias along with psychodynamic therapy, cognitive therapy, family therapy, and so forth. It combines aspects and procedures that are found in the different therapies in order to address the whole person. That is, rather than concentrating on any one specific part of the clinical picture, EMDR therapy addresses the emotions, thoughts, physical sensations, attitudes, behaviors, and more. In doing so, people are then able to feel joy and love, to bond, connect, and feel good about themselves. All the procedures and protocols are combined to achieve comprehensive success as defined by a decrease in symptoms and an enhanced ability to function in life. Of course, I want to underscore that all forms of psychotherapy have their place. However, each form of therapy offers people a different experience, during which they may achieve different goals. Whether or not you have had previous therapy, reading this book will show you specifically what EMDR has to offer.

Unfortunately, in 1987 I included the words “eye movement” in the name of the therapy. However, in 1990, after EMDR had already achieved name recognition, I discovered that other forms of stimulation could also achieve success. When blind people came in for treatment and could not move their eyes, we found that hand taps and audio tones could work as well. Many neurobiologists have argued that the taps and tones work on the same principle as the eye movement, by causing an “orienting” or “interest” response in the brain that fosters the processing. Others say that the different stimuli affect the “visuospatial template of working memory.” Still others have supported the notion I discuss in Chapter 6 of this book, that EMDR links into the same processes that occur during REM or dream sleep.

Basically, there are several research-supported theories for why EMDR therapy works, and there is a strong likelihood that all are correct and come into play at different times in the therapy process. However, there is not enough known in the area of brain physiology and neurobiology to know for sure. That is the case for any form of therapy. We know something works because we can observe the outcomes, but we don’t know why it works. No one can explain on a neurobiological level why, for example, family therapy works. We don’t even know exactly why most medications work.

For many years, the eye movement component was considered controversial because of research that was considered flawed in the 2000 International Society for the Study of Traumatic Stress Practice Guidelines. At this point, however, more than thirty randomized controlled studies have supported the effects of the eye movements, and a meta-analysis published in 2013 has confirmed the effects, such as decreases in negative emotions and imagery. The eye movements also promote the connection with new associations necessary for information processing to occur. Moreover, numerous randomized studies have demonstrated effects such as increased memory retrieval and recognition of true information.

Again, though, EMDR is much more than eye movements. It is a combination of standardized procedures and protocols guided by certain principles. Anyone who uses only eye movements is not using EMDR.

When Should EMDR Be Used?

EMDR practice is guided by the Adaptive Information Processing model. Just like psychodynamic and behavior therapies, EMDR’s principles are separate from particular neurobiological mechanisms. The purpose of any psychotherapy model is to explain clinical effects, predict successful outcomes with certain types of problems, and guide clinical practice. In accordance with its information processing model, EMDR therapy addresses the experiences that have contributed to the problems. While some problems may have a biological foundation, such as certain forms of depression, most others are based on or influenced by experiences. For instance, in Chapter 4, the impact of an extremely insensitive statement by an authority figure appeared to have had a lasting and devastating effect on a woman until she received therapy.

While most of the EMDR research has concentrated on PTSD, many other uses have been described in clinical journals. One published article reported that five of seven people who came into therapy believing there was something horribly wrong with their appearance discovered that it was based upon the emotional impact of an inappropriate insult. They were successfully treated with EMDR within three sessions.

Our views of ourselves are based on our previous experiences. Anyone who feels unlovable, useless, a failure, or guilty can find out in a short time if they can be helped by EMDR therapy. Whether these kinds of problems involve you or a loved one, help may be just a few weeks away.

It is important to remember that good therapy is an interaction between client, therapist, and method. If you don’t find the right therapist, you will not receive good therapy. It is important for people to be informed, and for consumers to make sure that the therapist they choose has experience and special training in their particular complaint. For instance, if you are struggling with alcohol or drug problems, you should see an EMDR therapist specially trained in the field of substance abuse. Therapists will know when and how to use EMDR if they have appropriate experience and training. In other words, EMDR should always be integrated into the wisdom of field.

In addition to being qualified to address your particular problems, it is also important that you make sure that your therapist has been well trained in EMDR. Make sure that the therapist has finished a program certified by the EMDR International Association, the EMDR Europe Association, EMDR Iberoamérica, or EMDR Asian and, preferably, is a member so that he or she is keeping up with all the latest developments. Also investigate whether your therapist is using EMDR as a “technique” or as an “approach.” In other words, some clinicians may be using EMDR only if they feel that something is “stuck,” instead of using it systematically to address the entire clinical picture.

To receive the most thorough EMDR therapy, your clinician should teach you a selfcontrol technique, such as the “safe place” exercise, before beginning any direct processing with eye movements or other stimulation. This and other techniques will help you to deal with your feelings and emotions while therapy is taking place.

The clinician should also take a thorough history in order to identify the (1) earlier events that set the foundation for the problem, (2) the present situations that cause the disturbance, and (3) the skills and behaviors necessary for the future. You may not know what the earlier events are, but a skilled clinician will help you identify them by using a variety of techniques she or he would have learned in the EMDR training and from my professional textbook. If your clinician has not taken a certified training and read the text, this person would not be a good choice as an EMDR clinician.

EMDR therapy is not a good choice for everyone. If you are not willing to be in touch with your feelings and don’t want to learn the techniques to help you do so, or if you have a problem that is purely biological, EMDR is not for you. Those problems that are purely caused by imbalances that only medications can address will not be changed by EMDR. However, some forms of depression are caused by experiences that have left the person feeling helpless and hopeless. An example of this is described in Chapter 12. Given how long it takes for medications to take effect, trying a few sessions of EMDR may indicate that the medication is unnecessary.

The amount of EMDR therapy you will need depends upon many factors, including your readiness to deal with emotions and your personal history. Those people with long histories of childhood abuse will not be treated completely in only a few sessions. While the PTSD research indicates that three EMDR sessions will complete treatment on a single trauma, more traumas need more treatment. It may not be important to address each traumatic experience, especially since the positive treatment effects can generalize to similar events, but more therapy will be necessary.

We also need to be aware of the difference between reducing the obvious suffering of a particular disorder and coming into full health. Comprehensive EMDR treatment involves addressing those experiences that contributed to both problems and achievement. At the end of therapy, success would be defined by a person who can love, bond, feel secure, and find joy in living.

Why I Wrote the Book

The chapters in this book describe real people who wanted their stories told in order to help others find their way. In addition to chapters that cover the evolution and structure of EMDR therapy, each of the chapters describes a different type of problem and shows what caused it, and how it was treated. These are not the only types of problems that can be dealt with by EMDR treatment, but millions of people are struggling needlessly with these kinds of common symptoms. The goal is to give you a good understanding of who can be helped, where problems come from, and what EMDR treatment looks like. In addition, Chapter 12 of this book deals with the frontiers of EMDR therapy, and its “global reach.” This includes a description of the work done by the nonprofit Trauma Recovery/EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs (HAP) to help underserved populations in the U.S. and around the world.

The basic belief that many of us hold is that violence begets violence, and trauma begets more suffering. We believe that unhealed traumas cascade into the next generation, whether from one family member to the next, or through the anger that fuels much of the ethnopolitical warfare throughout the globe.

If, after receiving EMDR therapy, you believe it has helped you, please consider helping to make the treatment available to suffering people worldwide.

My hope in writing this book is that people will recognize themselves or a loved one in its pages, and see that help is available. I also want this book to illustrate what good EMDR therapy looks like so that clients can be informed consumers and make sure their own treatment stays on track. Most clients should be ready for processing within a few sessions. It doesn’t take months or years to see if EMDR therapy is appropriate for you or a loved one. Maybe things you think can’t change, actually can. It may not take that long to find out.


The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma

by Francine Shapiro , P.Hd and Margot Silk Forrest

get it at

Keith Park, Defender of London, the Kiwi who saved Britain from the Nazis.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park GCB, KBE, MC*, DFC, DCL, MA, RAF performed so many remarkable roles that it is difficult to do justice to his achievements. A New Zealander, he first served with the Anzac Brigade in Gallipoli. Not content with this, Park transferred to the British Army where he was wounded during the Battle of the Somme and declared “unfit for active service”. He transferred again, this time to the newly formed Royal Flying Corps in 1916. Flying Bristol fighters he was credited with downing 20 enemy aircraft. During this period he was awarded a Military Cross and Bar, as well as a Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the First World War, Park joined the newly formed Royal Air Force and by 1938 had been appointed as staff officer to Air Chief Marshal Dowding with whom he helped to devise the strategy for Fighter Command that was to win the “Battle of Britain”. Dowding trusted Park to implement this strategy and accordingly, in April 1940, placed him in command of 11 Group, which was to defend London and the South East and would therefore bear the brunt of the Battle.

While Sir Hugh Dowding controlled the Battle from day to day, it was Keith Park who controlled it hour by hour. Air Vice Marshal ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, one of the top Allied air aces of the war, said: “He was the only man who could have lost the war in a day or even an afternoon”.

Wave after wave of German bombing sorties met with stubborn resistance from the fighter squadrons under Park’s command and, by mid-September, it was clear that Britain’s defences had held and Hitler was forced to abandon the planned invasion of Britain. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said “never… was so much owed by so many to so few”. It was Keith Park who led ”the Few”.

In July 1942 Park assumed responsibility for the air defence of Malta, the most bombed place on earth, where the population was collectively awarded the George Cross. Here he turned the tide of the battle and again defeated the Luftwaffe.

Men of such calibre are not commonplace, and we can all count ourselves fortunate that he was at his post in such dark times, even more so because his journey began on the other side of the world in New Zealand. It was, perhaps, auspicious that his birth place was a town called “Thames”. Yet his achievements have been little celebrated and, until 2009, 69 years after the Battle of Britain, he had not been honoured by any public memorial in the country he did so much to defend.

Chairman Terry Smith, who launched the Sir Keith Park Memorial Campaign to “right the wrong of an unsung hero”, was overwhelmed by the support that the campaign received from so many quarters. It revealed both the extent of the respect engendered by Keith Park and the desire for public acknowledgement of the debt that we owe to him.

The Campaign’s aim was to erect a permanent memorial statue to Sir Keith Park in the heart of the capital city he did so much to defend. This was achieved with the erection of first, a temporary statue of Sir Keith Park on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square for a six-month period, and second, a permanent memorial in Waterloo Place, which was unveiled on 15 September 2010 the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Battle of Britain fIghter pilot Douglas Bader once said: “The awesome responsibility for this country’s survival rested squarely on Keith Park’s shoulders. British military history of this century has been enriched with the names of great fighting men from New Zealand, of all ranks and in every one of our services. Keith Park’s name is carved into history alongside those of his peers.”

The memorial statue has ensured that Sir Keith Park’s name is now “carved into history” and will serve to educate the young and those visiting London of the incredible sacrifices that were made in that epic struggle in the skies during that summer of 1940.

Terry Smith, chairman of the Sir Keith Park Memorial Campaign



Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park was a New Zealand soldier, First World War flying ace and Second World War Royal Air Force commander. He was in operational command during two of the most significant air battles in the European theatre in the Second World War, helping to win the Battle of Britain and the Battle of Malta. In Germany, he was supposedly known as “the Defender of London”.

Sir Keith Rodney Park, GCB, KBE, MC & Bar, DFC, 1892-1975

Park was born in Thames, New Zealand. He was the son of James Park from Scotland, geologist for a mining company and later a professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

An undistinguished young man, but keen on guns and riding, Keith Park was educated at King’s College, Auckland until 1906 and then at Otago Boys’ High School, Dunedin where he served in the cadets. Later he joined the Army as a Territorial soldier in the New Zealand Field Artillery. In 1911, at age 19, he went to sea as a purser aboard collier and passenger steamships, earning the family nickname “skipper”.

When the First World War broke out, Park left the ships and joined his artillery battalion. As a non-commissioned officer, he participated in the landings at Gallipoli in April 1915, going ashore at Anzac Cove. In the trench warfare that followed, Park’s achievements were recognised and in July 1915 he gained a commission as second lieutenant. He commanded an artillery battalion during the August 1915 attack on Suvla Bay and endured more months of squalor in the trenches. At this time Park took the unusual decision to transfer from the New Zealand Army to the British Army, joining the Royal Horse and Field Artillery.

Park was evacuated from Gallipoli in January 1916. The battle had left its mark on him both physically and mentally, though later on in life, he would remember it with nostalgia. He particularly admired the ANZAC commander, Sir William Birdwood, whose leadership style and attention to detail would be a model for Park in his later career.

After the hardship at Gallipoli, Park’s battalion was shipped to France to take part in the Battle of the Somme. Here he learned the value of aerial reconnaissance, noting the manner in which German aircraft were able to spot Allied artillery for counter-fire and getting an early taste of flight by being taken aloft to check his battalion’s camouflage. On 21 October 1916, Park was blown off his horse by a German shell. Wounded, he was evacuated to England and medically certified “unfit for active service,” which technically meant he was unfit to ride a horse. After a brief remission recovering from his wounds, recuperating and doing training duties at Woolwich Depot, he joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in December 1916.

Flying career

First World War

In the RFC, Park first learned to instruct and then learned to fly. After a spell as an instructor (March 1917 to the end of June), he was posted to France and managed a posting to join 48 Squadron, at La Bellevue (near Arras), on 7 July 1917. Within a week, the squadron moved to Frontier Aerodrome just east of Dunkirk. Park flew the new Bristol Fighter (a two-seat biplane fighter and reconnaissance aircraft) and soon achieved successes against German fighters, earning, on 17 August, the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”, after shooting down an enemy aircraft and causing the destruction of three others, with Arthur Noss as his gunner. He was promoted to temporary captain on 11 September.

After a break from flying, Park returned to France as a major to command 48 Squadron, where he showed his ability as a tough but fair commander by demonstrating discipline, leadership and an understanding of the technical aspects of air warfare.

By the end of the war, the strain of command had all but exhausted Park, but he had achieved much as a pilot and commander. He had earned a bar to his Military Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the French Croix de Guerre. His final tally of aircraft claims was five destroyed and 14 (and one shared) “out of control”. (His 13th “credit” of 5 September 1917 was Lieutenant Franz Pernet of Jasta Boelcke (a stepson of General Erich Ludendorff)). Park was also shot down twice during this period.

After the Armistice, he married the London socialite Dorothy “Dol” Parish.

Inter-war years

After the War, Park was awarded a permanent commission as a captain in the Royal Air Force and when the new RAF officer ranks were introduced in 1919, Park became a flight lieutenant. He served as a flight commander on No.25 Squadron from 1919 to 1920 before taking up duties as a squadron commander at the School of Technical Training. In 1922 he was selected to attend the newly formed RAF Staff College. Later on, Park commanded RAF stations and was an instructor before promotion to Air Commodore and an appointment as Senior Air Staff Officer at Fighter Command under Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding in 1938. In 1937 he attended the Imperial Defence College.

Second World War

Battle of Britain

Promoted to the rank of air vice marshal, Park took command of No. 11 Group RAF, responsible for the fighter defence of London and southeast England, in April 1940. He organised fighter patrols over France during the Dunkirk evacuation and in the Battle of Britain his command took the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s air attacks. Flying his personalised Hawker Hurricane around his fighter airfields during the battle, Park gained a reputation as a shrewd tactician with an astute grasp of strategic issues and as a popular “hands-on” commander. However, he became embroiled in an acrimonious dispute with ambitious Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, commander of 12 Group. Leigh-Mallory, already envious of Park for leading the key 11 Group while No. 12 Group was left to defend airfields, repeatedly failed to support No. 11 Group. Leigh-Mallory and his Big Wing (led by Douglas Bader) often ran amok through No. 11 Group airspace confusing the UK’s defences. Quintin Brand’s No. 10 Group in the South West successfully supported No. 11 Group when required despite having far more arduous defensive duties in its own area than No. 12 Group.

Park’s subsequent objection to Leigh-Mallory’s behaviour during the Big Wing controversy may have contributed to his and Dowding’s removal from command at the end of the battle, but neither Park nor Dowding had much time for internal politics and fell easy prey to their waiting critics. Richard Saul of 13 Group on the other hand, wrote to Park on learning of his pending departure from No. 11 Group, commenting on “the magnificent achievements of your group in the past six months; they have borne the brunt of the war, and undoubtedly saved England”. Park was to remain indignant however over his and Dowding’s treatment for the rest of his life. Park was posted immediately to Training Command before seeing later high ranking service in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, while Dowding was sent to America.

Park’s No. 11 Group RAF were coordinated by fighter controllers in the No. 11 Group Operations Room in the underground bunker, now known as the Battle of Britain Bunker at RAF Uxbridge. Park himself was not based in the bunker but did visit to impart his wisdom at numerous key points during the battle, along with visits from the Royal Family and Winston Churchill. Among the many air battles fought over Britain, Park personally commanded RAF forces on several important dates; 13 August (Adlertag), 18 August (The Hardest Day) and the 15 September (Battle of Britain Day).

While overseeing the operations at RAF Uxbridge, Air Vice-Marshal Park stayed in a house opposite the entrance to the bunker. He used a small door to get from the house each day to the bunker. In 1996, the house, named Park House after the war in his honour, was demolished. Only the door and garden wall were retained.“

Later war career

In January 1942 Park went to Egypt as Air Officer Commanding, where he built up the air defence of the Nile Delta. In July 1942, following growing concern over the German and Italian attacks on Malta, he returned to action, commanding the vital air defence of the island. From there his squadrons participated in the North African and Sicilian campaigns. In January 1944 he was made Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Middle East Command.

In June 1944, Park was considered by the Australian government to command the RAAF, because of rivalry between the nominal head, Chief of the Air Staff Air Vice Marshal George Jones and his deputy the Operational head, Air Vice Marshal William Bostock, but General Douglas MacArthur said it was too late in the war to change. In February 1945 Park was appointed Allied Air Commander, South-East Asia, where he served until the end of the war. Park was made a Commander of the American Legion of Merit in 1947. On leaving the Royal Air Force, Park personally selected a Supermarine Spitfire to be donated to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand. This aircraft is still on display today along with his service decorations and uniform.


Park retired and was promoted to Air Chief Marshal on 20 December 1946 and returned to New Zealand, where he took up a number of civic roles and was elected to the Auckland City Council in 1962. He lived in New Zealand until his death on 6 February 1975, aged 82 years.

“ If any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did. I do not believe it is realised how much that one man, with his leadership, his calm judgement and his skill, did to save, not only this country, but the world.” Lord Tedder, Chief of the Air Staff, February 1947.

While Sir Hugh Dowding controlled the Battle from day to day, it was Keith Park who controlled it hour by hour. Air Vice Marshal ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, one of the top Allied air aces of the war, said: “He was the only man who could have lost the war in a day or even an afternoon”.“ This was an echo of Winston Churchill’s description of Admiral Jellicoe in the First World War.

Another ace who fought in the Battle of Britain, the RAF pilot Douglas Bader, said that “the awesome responsibility for this country’s survival rested squarely on Keith Park’s shoulders. British military history of this century has been enriched with the names of great fighting men from New Zealand, of all ranks and in every one of our services. Keith Park’s name is carved into history alongside those of his peers.”

Although Park has not received widespread public recognition, either in Britain or his native New Zealand, he has a claim to be one of the greatest commanders in the history of aerial warfare.


People with creative personalities really do see the world differently – Luke Smillie and Anna Antinori * WIRED to CREATE – Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire.

What is it about a creative work such as a painting or piece of music that elicits our awe and admiration? Is it the thrill of being shown something new, something different, something the artist saw that we did not?

As Pablo Picasso put it:

Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.

The idea that some people see more possibilities than others is central to the concept of creativity.

Psychologists often measure creativity using divergent thinking tasks. These require you to generate as many uses as possible for mundane objects, such as a brick. People who can see numerous and diverse uses for a brick (say, a coffin for a Barbie doll funeral diorama) are rated as more creative than people who can only think of a few common uses (say, for building a wall).

The aspect of our personality that appears to drive our creativity is called openness to experience, or openness. Among the five major personality traits, it is openness that best predicts performance on divergent thinking. Openness also predicts real-world creative achievements, as well as engagement in everyday creative pursuits.

As Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire explain in their book Wired to Create, the creativity of open people stems from a “drive for cognitive exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds”.

This curiosity to examine things from all angles may lead people high in openness to see more than the average person, or as another research team put it, to discover “complex possibilities laying dormant in so-called ‘familiar’ environments”.

Creative vision

In our research, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, we found that open people don’t just bring a different perspective to things, they genuinely see things differently to the average individual.

We wanted to test whether openness is linked to a phenomenon in visual perception called binocular rivalry. This occurs when two different images are presented to each eye simultaneously, such as a red patch to the right eye and a green patch to the left eye.

For the observer, the images seem to flip intermittently from one to the other. At one moment only the green patch is perceived, and at the next moment only the red patch each stimulus appearing to rival the other.

Intriguingly, participants in binocular rivalry studies occasionally see a fused or scrambled combination of both images. These moments of “rivalry suppression”, when both images become consciously accessible at once, seem almost like a “creative” solution to the problem presented by the two incompatible stimuli.

Across three experiments, we found that open people saw the fused or scrambled images for longer periods than the average person. Furthermore, they reported seeing this for even longer when experiencing a positive mood state similar to those that are known to boost creativity.

Our findings suggest that the creative tendencies of open people extend all the way down to basic visual perception. Open people may have fundamentally different visual experiences to the average person.

Seeing things that others miss

Another well known perceptual phenomenon is called inattentional blindness. People experience this when they are so focused on one thing that they completely fail to see something else right before their eyes.

In a famous illustration of this perceptual glitch, participants were asked to watch a short video of people tossing a basketball to one another, and to track the total number of passes between the players wearing white.

During the Video, a person in a gorilla costume wanders into centre stage, indulges in a little chest-beating, and then schleps off again. Did you see it? If not, you are not alone. Roughly half of the 192 participants in the original study completely failed to see the costumed figure.

But why did some people experience inattentional blindness in this study when others didn’t? The answer to this question came in a recent follow-up study showing that your susceptibility to inattentional blindness depends on your personality: open people are more likely to see the gorilla in the video clip.

Once again, it seems that more visual information breaks through into conscious perception for people high in openness they see the things that others screen out.

Opening our minds: is more better?

It might seem as if open people have been dealt a better hand than the rest of us. But can people with uncreative personalities broaden their limited vistas, and would this be a good thing?

There is mounting evidence that personality is malleable, and increases in openness have been observed in cognitive training interventions and studies of the effects of psilocybin (the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms).

Openness also increases for students who choose to study overseas, confirming the idea that travel broadens the mind.

But there is also a dark side to the “permeability of consciousness” that characterises open people. Openness has been linked to aspects of mental illness, such as proneness to hallucination.

So despite its appeal, there may be a slippery slope between seeing more and seeing things that are not there.

So, from different personalities emerge different experiences, but we should always remember that one person’s view is not necessarily better than another’s.


Discover the 10 things great artists, writers and innovators do differently

Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

Is it possible to make sense of something as elusive as creativity?

Creativity works in mysterious ways, with inspiration often arising out of nowhere and then failing to show up when we need it most!

Combining the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology with original research, Dr Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire dig deeper than ever before into the creative mind. Taking us on a fascinating journey that unpacks the creative genius layer by layer, they reveal what creativity is, what creative people do differently and what we can all learn from this.

With insights from some of the greatest creative minds in history, including Pablo Picasso, Marcel Proust, David Foster Wallace and Frida Kahlo, Wired to Create shows that we all have access to creative achievement and that, in essence, we are all wired to create.

About the Authors

Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD, is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of intelligence, imagination, and creativity. He has written or edited six previous books, including Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. He is also cofounder of The Creativity Post, host of The Psychology Podcast, and he writes the blog Beautiful Minds for Scientific American. Kaufman lives in Philadelphia.

Carolyn Gregoire is a senior writer at the Huffington Post, where she reports on psychology, mental health, and neuroscience. She has spoken at TEDx and the Harvard Public Health Forum and has appeared on MSNBC, the Today show, the History Channel, and HuffPost Live. Gregoire lives in New York City.


“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressive creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and opens ways for better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it and shows there are still more pages possible.”



“The creative genius may be at once naive and knowledgeable, being at home equally to primitive symbolism and to rigorous logic. He is both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner, than the average person.”



SEVERAL YEARS AGO, Scott gave a popular science rapper an extensive battery of personality tests. At the time, this Canadian entertainer, known as Baba Brinkman, was starring in an Off-Broadway show called The Rap Guide to Evolution, a hip-hop tribute to Charles Darwin and the theory of natural selection.

In the show, an animated Brinkman jumps energetically onstage, drops rhymes such as “The weak and the strong, who got it goin’on? We lived in the dark for so long,” and “Getting pregnant before marriage; it’s such a tragedy. Apparently it’s also a reproductive strategy.” He was one of the most bold and magnetic performers Scott had ever witnessed on the stage.

Brinkman’s test results were perplexing, revealing a personality riddled with contradictions. On the one hand, Scott noticed that Brinkman scored high in “blirtatiousness”, a personality trait characterized by the tendency to say whatever is on one’s mind. But at the same time, Brinkman didn’t seem extraverted offstage.

He then found that while Brinkman scored high in assertiveness, one hallmark of extraverted personalities, he was only slightly above average in enthusiasm, another big marker of extraversion. How could this charismatic performer, who seemed so full of energy, be only slightly above average in expressiveness behind the curtain? Scott dug deeper into the data to try to make sense of Brinkman’s puzzling personality.

“I get that remark all the time with people who hang out with me after the show,” Brinkman told Scott. “They say, ‘You’re so quiet, what happened to the guy onstage?’ I get in front of a crowd, I get charged up, and it’s like ‘I’m gonna get everybody into this.’ There has become this huge split, where I’m quite a temperate personality most of the time until I get on a stage and have a job to do, and then it’s like bam.”

As Scott delved deeper into Brinkman’s psyche, further paradoxes emerged. For one, he noticed that Brinkman was low in Narcissism, a trait that can be rampant among performers (and often rappers in particular). However, Brinkman did possess some of the individual qualities that together make up narcissism. Brinkman scored high in exhibitionism and superiority, two aspects of narcissism that had likely proved helpful to his career as an entertainer, while scoring low in the exploitativeness and entitlement aspects of narcissism. Brinkman also scored high in several positive characteristics that were undoubtedly beneficial to his career in music: emotional intelligence, social awareness, and the ability to manage stress. Scott noticed too that Brinkman was simultaneously oriented toward short term romantic affairs while demonstrating a strong ability to sustain relationships.

Brinkman’s personality was a case study in one of the most well-known findings in the history of creativity research: Creative people have messy minds.

Creative people also tend to have messy processes.

Picasso went through a rather chaotic process in creating his most famous painting, Guernica.

After being asked to create a mural for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair, the painter found himself spinning his wheels for three months while he searched for creative inspiration. Then, inspiration struck alongside tragedy. In the wake of the Nazis’ bombing of a small Basque town at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, Picasso set out to illustrate the atrocities of Spain’s bloody civil war.

Just fifteen days after the bombing, Picasso went to work on a series of forty-five numbered sketches. He painstakingly drew numerous versions of each of the figures that would appear in the painting, the bull, the horse, the warrior, the woman crying, the mother with her dead child, before touching a single drop of oil to the eleven by twenty five foot canvas on which he would paint the mural.

For each figure, Picasso sketched a diverse set of variations. These sketches often did not exhibit a clear upward progression. In several cases, the figure he selected to appear in the finished painting ended up being one of the earliest he had sketched. The figure of the mother with her dead child featured in the final work, which depicted the mother holding the child in her arms and weeping, was very similar to the first two versions he sketched. But then, he went on to create two images that were wildly different, instead of the mother holding the child in her arms (as she appears in the painting) the discarded sketches show the mother carrying her child up a ladder. Picasso continued his experimentation with new figures even after moving on to the canvas, which often required him to paint over what was already there. He also explored a number of creative possibilities, such as a bull with a human head, that he ultimately didn’t pursue.

Guernica, Pablo Picasso

Although Picasso was a seasoned painter who had been creating masterpieces for decades by the time he took on the project, his process in painting Guernica appeared to be more chaotic than controlled, more spontaneous than linear. The surplus of ideas and sketches that Picasso produced did not show a clear progression toward the final painting. The process was characterized by a number of false starts, and as some art historians have noted, many of the sketches he drew appear to be superfluous to the final product.

Exploration and seemingly blind experimentation were key to Picasso’s creative process. Rather than creating a painting to reflect his own preexisting worldview, he seemed to actively build and reshape that worldview through the creative process. While he may have had a rough intuition, it’s likely that Picasso did not quite know where he was going, creatively, until he arrived there.

Picasso said of his own creative process, “A painting is not thought out and settled in advance. While it is being done, it changes as one’s thoughts change. And when it’s finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it.”

The progression of Picasso’s Guernica sketches offers a fascinating glimpse into his imagination, but it raises as many questions as it offers answers. To what extent did the painter have even the slightest idea what he was doing? And if he didn’t know what he was doing, then how are we to make sense of his creative process, or of the creative process more generally?

Attempting to analyze Picasso’s personality offers little in terms of answers. The painter was a protean shapeshifter as both artist and man; he has been described as a difficult personality? who was intensely passionate and deeply cynical; “a towering creative genius one moment a sadistic manipulator the next.” Picasso himself hinted at these paradoxes in his life and work when he said, “I am always doing that which I cannot do,” and described the act of creation as one of destruction.

So how are we to make sense of the complex creative process and personality? It starts with embracing a very messy set of contradictions.


Messy Minds

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman

THE DEBATE OVER the creation of Guernica reflects a much larger schism in our understanding of the creative mind. The history of scientific thinking about creativity has been defined by polarization, starting with a popular 1926 theory of the creative process that set the stage for decades’ worth of debate among psychologists.

In his book The Art of Thought, British social psychologist Graham Wallas outlined the popular “four-stage model” of creativity. After observing and studying accounts of eminent inventors and creators, Wallas proposed that the creative process involves the following stages:

preparation, during which the creator acquires as much information as possible about a problem;

incubation, during which the creator lets the knowledge stew as the unconscious mind takes over and engages in what Einstein referred to as “combinatory play”;

illumination, during which an insight arises in consciousness, the natural culmination of a “successful train of association”; and a

verification stage, during which the creator fleshes out the insights, and communicates their value to others.

If only the creative process was so tidy. While psychologists continue to vigorously debate its workings, most agree that the traditional four stage model is far too simplistic. In his presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1950, J. P. Guilford made a bold call for psychologists to take a closer look at creativity. He rejected the four stage model, calling it “very superficial from a psychological point of view,” because it tells us so little about the mental processes occurring during the act of creation.

As psychologists continued to put artists under the microscope to examine the creative process in action, they continued to find it to be far from a clear-cut, step by step process? Further research showed creative people to engage in rapid switching of thought processes and to exhibit nearly simultaneous coexistence between a number of these processes, from generating new ideas to expanding and working out the ideas, to critical reflection, to taking a distance from one’s work and considering the perspective of the audience.

These processes, of course, differ from one type of artist to another. When creating fiction, writers tend to exhibit a complex process of their own. Research conducted on a group of novelists painted a picture of the fiction writing process as a “voyage of discovery” that begins with a seed incident, an event or observation that inspires fascination and exploration and becomes the fertile ground on which creative growth occurs. Seed incidents tend to break the mind out of ordinary understanding and create new meanings for the writer, as evidenced by the writers’ descriptions of these events as “touching,” “intriguing,” “puzzling,’ “mysterious, “haunting,” and “overwhelming.” Commenting on a family incident that became the seed for a story, one writer said that the event seemed “full of meanings I couldn’t even begin to grasp.”

The seed incident is followed by a period of navigation between different creative worlds. At this stage, the writers oscillated between the “writing realm”, a place of retreat from the world where the writer can plan and reflect on what has been written, and the “fiction world” of their own making: an imaginative place in which the author engages with fiction characters and events as they unfold. For instance, after one writer began her story with the line “I am a poodle,” she imaginatively transformed herself into a dog, “allowing the sounds and sights and smells of a dog’s world to come to her.” She then switches mental gears, returning to the writing realm to reflectively evaluate and improve upon what she had written. This fiction world, which consists of imagination and fantasy, is a distinctly different realm of experience from the writing realm, where reflective thinking and rational deliberation occur. This constant toggling between imaginative and rational ways of thinking suggests a more complex, less linear account of fiction writing than the four stage model can accommodate.

Further analyses of creative writers continued to reject a step-by-step account of the creative process, suggesting that writing is likely to be considerably less controlled. Focusing on the contemporary novelist’s search for meaning and struggle to express a specific experience, another study emphasized that the writing process often moves forward even without the novelist’s full understanding of where the work is going. As the writer slowly gains a sense of the direction in which he is moving, he can begin to move forward deliberately and with greater clarity. The process reflects what Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson said of creativity and life, “The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”

Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, who has extensively studied the career trajectories of creative geniuses across the arts, sciences, humanities, and leadership, came to a strikingly similar conclusion. Based on a detailed case study of Thomas Edison’s creative career, Simonton suggested that even at the level of genius, creativity is a “messy business.”

Given the complex and ever changing nature of the creative process, it should come as little surprise that creative people tend to have messy minds. Highly creative work blends together different elements and influences in the most novel, or unusual, way, and these wide ranging states, traits, and behaviors frequently conflict with each other within the mind of the creative person, resulting in a great deal of internal and external tension throughout the creative process.

One of the most fascinating things about creative work is that it brings together and harmonizes these conflicting elements, which exist to some extent in everyone. Creative people are hubs of diverse interests, influences, behaviors, qualities, and ideas, and through their work, they find a way to bring these many disparate elements together. This is one of the reasons why creativity feels so ineffable, it is so many different things at the same time!

After interviewing creative people across various fields for over thirty years, the eminent psychologist of creativity Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observed:

“If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an ‘individual,’ each of them is a ‘multitude.’”

Case in point: The brilliant journalist David Carr, a creature of many contradictions and a protean shapeshifter if there ever was one, said that he often reflected upon the many “selves” that he had possessed over his lifetime, from drug addict to media celebrity. “I spent time looking into my past to decide which of my selves I made up, the thug or the nice family man, and the answer turned out to be neither,” he reflected. “Whitman was right. We contain multitudes.”

Another prototype of the messy creative mind is the iconic Jazz Age entertainer Josephine Baker. The famous American in Paris, who will forever be remembered for dancing in a banana skirt in La Revue Négre, was not only a singer, dancer, and actress but also a French spy during World War II, a civil rights activist, a mother of twelve adopted children from around the world (her “rainbow tribe”), a rumored lover of men and women numbering in the thousands, and an eccentric character described as both deeply loving and volatile by those who knew her well. Baker’s “adopted” son Jean-Claude Baker wrote in his biography of the star, “I loved her, I hated her, I wanted desperately to understand her.”

Efforts to peel back Baker’s many masks seem to have only brought further questions to light. Feminist studies scholar Alicja Sowinska shines a light on Baker’s complexities:

“If she embodied a savage on stage, she would behave like a lady on the street; if men were dying for her as seductress, she would put on a man’s suit and bend gender boundaries; if she was called a “black Venus,” she would treat her head with a blonde wig. When the perception of her became too refined, she walked her pet leopard down the Champs-Elysées.”

David Foster Wallace proved to be similarly perplexing to those who attempted to understand him. Commentators have described the virtuoso author of Infinite Jest as both deeply fragile and intensely strong willed, at different times politically conservative and fiercely liberal, a writer of prose that is as precise as it is unwieldy, a master of writing about both highbrow and lowbrow topics. Wallace’s biographer, D. T. Max, said that he found himself surprised by the “intensity of violence” in the writer’s personality. However, he said, “On the other end of the spectrum, he was also this open, emotional guy, who was able to cry, who intensely loved his dogs. He was all those things.

This delicate, and sometimes extreme, dance of contradictions may be precisely what gives rise to the intense inner drive to create. In the 1960s, the research of Frank X. Barron examined this fundamental motivation. In a history making study, Barron invited a group of high profile creators to live on the University of California, Berkeley campus for a few days. The group, which included Truman Capote, William Carlos Williams, and Frank O’Connor, along with leading architects, scientists, entrepreneurs, and mathematicians, arrived, suitcases in hand, to bunk at a former fraternity house for several days. They spent time talking to one another, being observed, and completing various evaluations of their lives, work, and personalities, including tests of mental illness and creative thinking, which required them to answer some very personal questions.

What did Barron find that these highly creative people did differently? One thing that became quite clear is that while IQ and academic aptitude were relevant (to a moderate degree), they did not explain the particular spark of the creative mind.

This led Barron to claim that creativity might be distinct from IQ, a fairly revolutionary idea at the time, as it ran counter to the longtime assumption that intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, was the special sauce of creative genius. IQ testing was seen as the best route to understanding creativity by many academics in the first half of the twentieth century, but even their own data sets suggested that additional personality traits were important, and Barron’s findings added more cause for skepticism.

The Berkeley study also showed that the ingredients of creativity were too complex and multifaceted to be reduced to a single factor. The findings demonstrated that creativity is not merely expertise or knowledge but is instead informed by a whole suite of intellectual, emotional, motivational, and ethical characteristics.

The common strands that seemed to transcend all creative fields was an openness to one’s inner life, a preference for complexity and ambiguity, an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray, the ability to extract order from chaos, independence, unconventionality, and a willingness to take risks.

This new way of thinking about creative genius gave rise to some fascinating, and perplexing contradictions. In a study of writers, Barron and Donald MacKinnon found that the average creative writer was in the top 15 percent of the general population on all measures of psychopathology covered by the test. But here’s the kicker: They also found that creative writers scored extremely high on all the measures of psychological health!

The writers scored high on some measures of mental illness, but they also tended to score very high on “ego-strength,” a trait that’s characterized by “physiological stability and good health, a strong sense of reality, feelings of personal adequacy and vitality, permissive morality, lack of ethnic prejudice, emotional outgoingness and spontaneity, and intelligence. Barron’s creators were just as strong in adaptability and resourcefulness as they seemed to be pathological by other measures. They appeared to be little more than a loosely assembled bundle of paradoxes and perplexities. In order to determine how these writers could be simultaneously mentally healthier and more mentally ill than the average person, Barron began to question the value of the tests themselves and the labels we put on individual personalities.

As Barron began to make sense of what he observed, he came to identify a key consistency among creative people. Namely, these people seemed to become more intimate with themselves, they dared to look deep inside, even at the dark and confusing parts of themselves. Being open to and curious about the full spectrum of life, both the good and the bad, the dark and the light, may be what leads writers to score high on some characteristics that our society tends to associate with mental illness, while it can also lead them to become more grounded and self-aware. In truly facing themselves and the world, creative minded people seemed to find an unusual synthesis between healthy and “pathological” behaviors.

Armed with mounting evidence of these deep paradoxes, scientists now generally agree that creativity is not a single characteristic but a system of characteristics, and many theories now emphasize the multifaceted nature of creativity? The characteristics highlighted by these theories include general intellectual functioning, knowledge, and skills relevant to the activity; creative skills and thinking styles; psychological resources such as confidence, perseverance, and a willingness to take risks; inner motivation and a love of one’s work; a complex suite of positive and negative emotions; and environmental factors such as access to gatekeepers in the field and key resources.

To be creative, you don’t need to score off the charts on every single one of these characteristics. Creativity is not so much a sum as it is a multiplication of factors. What does that mean? Well, it may be possible to compensate for lower values on one dimension (like IQ) by capitalizing on another set of strengths (like motivation and perseverance). Indeed, these factors often interact and feed off each other over time, which can amplify levels of creative output.

Creative people not only cultivate a wide array of attributes but are also able to adapt, even flourish by making the best of the wide range of traits and skills that they already possess.

This ability to adapt to changing circumstances with fluidity and flexibility is reflected in three main “super-factors” of personality that are highly correlated with creativity: plasticity, divergence, and convergence.

Plasticity is characterized by the tendency to explore and engage with novel ideas, objects, and scenarios? Characteristics like openness to experience, high energy, and inspiration are all related to each other, forming the core of this drive for exploration.

Divergence reflects a nonconformist mindset and independent thinking and is related to impulsivity and lower levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Convergence refers to the ability to conform, put in the hard effort necessary to exercise practicality, and make ideas tenable. Convergence consists of high conscientiousness, precision, persistence, critical sense, and sensitivity to the audience.

Individually and together, these diverse qualities encourage the development and expression of creativity.

These characteristics come into play during the two broad stages of the creative process: generation, in which ideas are produced and originality is sought out, and selection, which involves working out ideas and making them valuable to society. While characteristics associated with plasticity and divergence are most relevant when generating ideas, convergence is most important during the stage when ideas are being ironed out and made tenable. Considering that creativity involves both novelty and usefulness, this makes a lot of sense. While exploration and independent thinking can foster the generation of novel ideas, the more practical quality of convergence can help make them useful.

Divergence and convergence are just two of many seeming polarities associated with creativity. This is precisely the point. Creative people, being human, have at least some level of these varying characteristics within themselves, and they can choose to flexibly switch back and forth depending on what’s most helpful in the moment. Creative people seem to be particularly good at operating within a broad spectrum of personality traits and behaviors. They are both introverted and extraverted, depending on the situation and environment, and learn to harness both mindfulness and mind wandering in their creative process. As Csikszentmihalyi put it, “What dictates their behavior is not a rigid inner structure, but the demands of the interaction between them and the domain in which they are working.”

The Many Networks of Creativity

Today, we’re seeing evidence of this complexity at the neural level. It turns out that creativity does not involve only a single brain region or even a single side of the brain, as the “right brain” myth of creativity would have us believe. The creative process draws on the whole brain.

This complex process consists of many interacting cognitive systems (both conscious and unconscious) and emotions, with different brain regions recruited to handle each task and to work together as a team to get the job done.

One of the most important networks at play here is the “default network” of the brain, or as we’ll call it, the “imagination network.” Considered an exciting discovery by many cognitive neuroscientists, the identification of the default mode network has been described as a fortunate accident. For years, cognitive neuroscientists treated the subjective realm of inner experience as mere “noise,” useful only as a comparison to the more “productive” mental activity involved in sensory perception and engagement with the outside world. But when a few rogue cognitive neuroscientists began wondering what the brain actually does when it’s not engaged in an externally directed task, the importance of this network became abundantly clear?

Even that may be a huge understatement. Some scientists believe that the discovery of this brain network represents nothing less than a paradigm shift in cognitive neuroscience, from a focus on external, goal-directed task performance to the more nebulous yet omnipresent phenomenon of inner experience. As cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff puts it,

“Such a paradigm shift may help us accept our drifting mind as a normal, even necessary, part of our mental existence-and may even enable us to try to take advantage of it in some creative, enjoyable way.”

What does the imagination network do? Well, let’s start with what it does not do. For starters, this brain network is not highly active when we take on leadership roles that focus on getting tasks completed (as opposed to leadership roles that focus on developing relationships), when we reason about physical objects (“I wonder what would happen if the wheels of this skateboard could rotate 360 degrees”), or when we imagine what another person knows about something (as opposed to their mental and emotional state). See the similarities?

All of these activities have to do, in some way, with our engagement with the immediate, concrete world outside our minds, which makes up much of our lives.




by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

get it at

Five Challenges Only An Empath Can Understand – Sandy White.

Being an empath is a wonderful gift. Empaths are truly magnificent people with unique traits rarely found. However, being an empath also means being highly sensitive, isolated, alienated, prone to depression and anxiety, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

In other words, being an empath comes with a lot of challenges.

If you’re an empath, you feel my words in your bones deeply. You know your struggles, you know how it feels facing the following 5 challenges.


Being an empath hurts. It really hurts. Empaths sense everything that others feel. They are greatly affected by other people’s emotions. They feel their pain and loss. They feel their tears and soul that is torn apart in tiny pieces. And they get hurt. A lot.

People don’t understand them.


Empaths are like ozone holes. They let different emotions enter their mind and body. They absorb a lot of stress, pressure, negative energy, which has a great impact on their overall wellbeing. Empaths are hyper-sensitive magnets for attracting those energies, they simply can’t help it.

People don’t understand them.


They give up on caring about their needs. They don’t see them as a priority. It seems like people can read it on their forehead: “I’m here for you. You can count on me.”

They carry pains which are not theirs. They don’t protect themselves enough. Their emotional boundaries get weak because they have big hearts and want to help everyone.

People don’t understand them.


Empaths are like fallen angels who can’t adapt in a world that fails to understand them, judges them as “too sensitive” and “immature”. That’s why most of the time they crave to be alone with their deepest feelings, living in the shadows.

Wandering through their pains, they ask themselves: “What’s wrong with me?”, “What’s wrong with this world?” “Why do I exist?”

People don’t understand them.


Empaths like to be alone. Too much noise and people can drain them. Others see empaths as cold and unfriendly. In fact, empaths are very friendly. They just want to escape the emotional torturing other people do to them.

Empaths like to be alone sometimes, but they don’t want to feel lonely, isolated and alienated, and that’s exactly the way how they feel. Spending too much time alone can make them suffer from anxiety and depression.

Just because people don’t try to understand them.

I feel your pain, empaths! I care about you.

Feel free to share this message with any ultra-sensitive soul you know. Show them they’re not alone.

Pay it forward.

Curious Mind Magazine.

The way we punish crime adds to our prison bill – Julia Fyers.

Only the US has more of its population locked up per capita than New Zealand. Opting for more home detention would save a lot of money.

New Zealand has the second highest rate of imprisonment in the world. The only country with more of its population behind bars per capita is the USA and they’ve acknowledged it’s a problem. We are on par with third world countries with our population of prisoners.

This should be a source of great international shame for our country. Importantly though, the problem is not crime, it’s punishment.

Penal populism drives the social and financial disaster that is our prison problem. Criminal justice policies have escalated wildly in response to voters’ supposed desire for increased punishment of crime.

As tax payers, how our money is being spent should be of importance to us. The costs of running New Zealand’s 18 prisons are enormous. The public need to know the actual cost of prisons and imprisonment, and make an informed decision on whether a “tough on crime” stance is worth it.

Here’s some numbers: The operational cost of keeping one person in prison for one year is in excess of $120,000. Currently, we have 10,695 prisoners. This means the cost of our prisons is more than $1.28 billion a year.

Then there are the added capital costs of building and maintaining prisons. To give one recent example, the proposed expansion to Waikeria Prison is forecast to cost $1 billion.

Perhaps more importantly though, there are the inter-generational health and social costs of having a system that doesn’t work.

It is a common misconception that prison deters crime and that the best approach to offending is to “lock them up and throw away the key”. Lobby groups such as the highly unsensible Sensible Sentencing Trust appeal to that sentiment.

Thankfully, current sentencing laws don’t make this possible (much to the relief of the New Zealand taxpayer). Inevitably, prisoners are released back into the community.

However, in addition to the costs of incarceration, further avoidable social and health costs occur after release. Convicted criminals have the stigma of a criminal record, potential media attention around their offending and a gap in their employment history.

Although the Government spent $181 million on prisoner reintegration in 2017, it is unsurprising that, after 12 months of release, 31.2 per cent were back in prison.

We can’t stop crime, but we can change the way we punish it.

Two thirds of prisoners have addiction issues which remain untreated in prison. Rehabilitation programmes in prison don’t work because they are not transferable to a community setting.

Prisoners are released with $350 from Winz, no job, no home, no transferable life skills and nowhere safe to go. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what is likely to happen next.


If we want to make our communities safer, we need to give offenders the tools they need to stop the cycle of crime.

Compare the cost of all this to the cost of keeping one person on electronic monitoring for one year around $40,000.

Home detention is no walk in the park. You are confined to the perimeters of your property 24/7. As your sentence progresses, you may earn the right to attend drug and alcohol counselling for a couple of hours a week or to go to the gym for two hours a week.

Besides that, you are confined to the four walls of your home. Towards the end of your sentence, you may be allowed four hours of social leave a fortnight. Some electronic monitoring has the capability to alert probation if drugs (including alcohol) are being consumed. Your every move is monitored by a GPS tracker.

Another benefit of this type of sentencing is that the offender is able to work, if he or she is lucky enough to find a supervisor to vouch for him. This means actual reparation can be made to victims, as opposed to $2 per week from a prisoner. Community sentences have the benefit of allowing an offender to stay within society whilst ensuring the public are kept safe, at a fraction of the price.

To deter crime, people need tools that enable them to reconnect with society. Downsizing prisons will free up money to be redirected to where it will help reduce the continuing cost of people who have been damaged and marginalised by the prison system. Remember, one third are back in prison within 12 months of release.

Addiction causes crime, and the opposite of addiction is connection. Offenders need to be reconnected to society with jobs, social inclusion, positive relationships and help with the issues that caused them to offend in the first place.

Decreasing the prison population will not increase crime or risk to public safety. It is time to stop the nonsense, end the war on drugs and create evidence based policies. Rather than more prisons and prisoners, increased management of electronically monitored offenders could help reduce recidivism. An extension of clean slate legislation could remove the stigma which can prevent an offender’s economic reconnection.

You wouldn’t buy a billion dollar house if it was eventually going to fall off a cliff, so why are we willing to make an investment that we know is going to fail?

Julia Fyers has a masters degree in law and is a legal researcher, working on issues of human rights and drug and prison policy reform.

SANE NEW WORLD. Taming the Mind – Ruby Wax.

Depression is a whole other beast; it is not situation appropriate. Here’s something you get absolutely free with this illness: a real sense of shame; it comes with the package. And you feel such extreme shame because you think, ‘I’m not being carpet-bombed, I don’t live in a township.’

The Beginning

This book is dedicated to my mind, which at one point left town, and to the rest of humanity, who perhaps at one time or another might have misplaced theirs. Though I personally have gone on a rollercoaster ride of depression for most of my adult life, this book is not exclusively for the depressed. I am one of the one in four who has mentally unravelled; this book is for the four in four. It’s for everyone, because we all share the same equipment: we suffer, we laugh, we rage, we bitch, we’re all vulnerable, delicate creatures under our tough fronts.

In this book I am going to attempt to give a rough guide for where we (the human race) are at right now and offer some suggestions that might make our time on Earth a more joyful experience. I’m not talking ‘everyone in the jacuzzi’ joyful, I’m talking about the almost blissful state you sometimes have when time stops, your body feels like it’s home and the volume of those internal critics in your mind lowers. I know those voices well and so many people I meet recognize this dictator barking orders in their minds, keeping them up at night with that tormenting ‘I should have, I could have’ tape playing relentlessly.

Many of us suffer from the pressures in today’s world that drive us from burnout to depression. We are slaves to our busy-ness with an insatiable drive for money, fame, more tweets you name it, we want it. The problem is, it’s only in the last 50 to 100 years that humans have lived with such abundance. We’ve gone from scarcity (when we were probably somewhat normal and had appetites to match) to the limitless demands we have today.

You could say that multitasking has driven us mad; like leaving too many windows open on your computer, eventually it will crash.

We are simply not equipped for the 21st century. It’s too hard, too fast, it’s too full of fear; we just don’t have the bandwidth. Evolution did not prepare us for this. It’s hard enough to keep up with who’s bombing whom, so we have no room to understand our emotional landscapes; our hearts bleed because we hear of a beached whale while the next minute we’re baying for the blood of someone who stole the last shopping trolley.

The reason I decided to devote myself to this inward journey is because I wanted to find some shelter from the constant hurricanes of depression, which left me depleted and broken. Each episode got longer and deeper.

I don’t want to blame my parents but childrearing was not their specialty.

Friends would come over and there my mother would be, perched on the lampshade, a vulture with a Viennese accent, waiting for someone to drop a crumb. When they did, she would swoop across the room screaming, ‘Who brings cookies into a building?’ Everyone would run away terrified. It got much, much darker later but I am not going to talk about that here. My point is that this is the type of background that usually leads to a career as a comedian or a serial killer; I went for the comedy.

So, after some serious breakdowns, I decided to go back to school to study psychotherapy to figure out exactly what they were charging £80 an hour for. I used to leave my shrink knowing exactly who I was, until I got to the tube station and then I’d forget again. Also, as I knew nothing about psychology, therapists could tell me anything, so how could I tell if they were any good? Once, when I was on the couch, I caught the shrink behind me eating a pastrami sandwich, mustard all over his face.

So I went to study psychotherapy. I got a library card and never discussed my previous life again. I thought, ‘Let’s give something back to the world’ (I probably didn’t but it’s a good line). I’ve noticed that many women like myself choose to study therapy when they meet the wild surf of menopause; the hormones dry up and they realize the chances are low they’re ever going to be hit on again, so they find themselves wanting to care for other people or starting a rest home for stray cats.

A few years later, I decided to go further and learn about what I was really interested in: the brain. My thinking was, if I learnt how my own engine worked it might prevent me getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, shrieking for someone to come and fix me; I would provide my own AA service. I’d be able to lasso this wild beast of a brain, stop it from churning away over the same ground, keeping me up at nights; worrying, rehashing, regretting and resenting.

After much research, I thought mindfulness might help me best as I had heard it gives you the ability to regulate your own mind. (I would say it saved my life but I’ll get to that later in the book.) I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth, to one of the founders of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, Professor Mark Williams, who told me that unfortunately I would have to get into Oxford University in order to study it alongside neuroscience.

I scraped together some old school records and managed to excavate my one or two decent high school grades, but most of all I give great interview, so I got into that masters course. The other 14 students in my class were very brilliant and looked at me on day one as if they were having an encounter with a third kind; but God dammit, I was there.

So after many decades of agonizing investigation, a masters in mindfulness, a degree in psychotherapy and even a small taste of fame, here I am writing this manual on how to tame your mind.

I’ll go into detail later but I want to mention one fact right away; the gold at the end of the rainbow is that:


This is called neuroplasticity. Your genes, hormones, regions in the brain and early learning do not necessarily determine your fate.

Scientific evidence has shown that neurons (brain cells) can rewire and change patterns throughout your lifetime as a result of your experiences and how you think about them.

So your thoughts affect the physiology of your brain and the physiology affects your thoughts.

Think about sex for a minute. That’s Ok, I’ll wait. Once you get an inkling, a whole cascade of hormones is let loose in your body to get you ready to cha-cha. Sometimes it’s the other way around; you’re minding your own business, for no reason a hormone switches on in your brain and suddenly your thinking goes X-rated.

When your mind changes, your brain changes and because our brains are so malleable, the sky’s the limit. I remind you that I got into Oxford in my 50s even though I failed to get a diploma from Busy Beaver nursery school (look it up, that was the actual name) proving really anything is possible. But it takes time to alter your habits of thinking; it won’t happen with a weekend workshop on ‘How to Tickle Your Inner Angel’. It takes intentional concentration and repetition over time. You can change but only if you make the effort not to do the same old thing, the same old way, day in and day out. You, and the way you see the world, are the architect of how your brain is mapped. This is what scientists are giving us in the 21st century; way beyond what Psychic Madge can read in your palm.

You, and the way you see the world, are the architect of how your brain is mapped

The brain is like a pliable three-pound piece of play-dough; you can re-sculpt it by breaking old mental habits and creating new, more flexible ways of thinking. Gloria Gaynor was wrong when she sang, ‘I am what I am’. She will have to change those lyrics but it won’t be so easy to dance to. What rhymes with neuroplasticity?

The Inner You

If you can look inside your brain and roughly understand where everything is and how it operates, you might not be able to completely know yourself but with practice you may be able to fix yourself. Learning how to self-regulate means you can sense the early warnings before a full-on burnout or depression and do something about it. So much is known about this idea of selfregulation; it may (and I hope it does) shortly become the buzzword of this decade. We can, with certain practices such as mindfulness, actually have some control over the chemicals in our brains that drive us to stress, to anxiety and even to happiness. This remarkable organ in our heads holds infinite wisdom but so few of us know how to use it. It’s similar to having a Ferrari except no one gave you the keys.

The reality is that the demanding voice in our heads is not who we are, it plays a very small part in the big scheme of things.

What’s really running you is a million, trillion gigabyte-powered engine room in your brain, managed by your DNA, that instructs hormones, memories, muscles, blood, organs and really everything that happens inside you to ensure that you survive at all costs, and not that stupid inner monologue about why you’re too fat to wear tights.

My aim in this book is to show you how to become the master of your mind and not the slave. If you learn how to self-regulate your moods, emotions and thoughts, and focus your mind on what you want to pay attention to rather than be dragged into distraction, you might just reach that illusive thing called happiness. We all have it we just don’t know where the ‘on’ button is. The organ that allows you to realize the world understands so little about itself. (Yes Oprah, I’m available.)

Why We Need a Manual

What is our point on Earth? Everyone wants to know. So the question is not, ‘To be or not to be?’ The big questions are, ‘What are we meant to be doing while we’re being?’ and ‘How do I run and manage this thing called “me”?’

Our primary problem as a species (I leave out those with religious beliefs they have their own books) is we have no manual, no instructions that tell us how to live our lives. Domestic appliances have instruction manuals; not us. We’re born with absolutely no information, and are reliant on Mommy and Daddy who jam their USB sticks into our innocent hard drives and download their neuroses into us. As I think we’ve agreed, we’re all missing a manual, so I’ve tried to keep it simple.

Part 1: What’s Wrong With Us? For the Normal-Mad

In this part of the guidebook I will examine why we are all in the ‘flying by the seat of our pants’ school of thought when it comes to living our lives. We assume the next person knows what they’re doing; they don’t.

Part 2: What’s Wrong With Us? For the Mad-Mad

For the depressed, anxious, panic-attacked, OCD’d, over-eaters, drinkers, shoppers, compulsive list-makers, etc. The list is endless.

Part 3: What’s in Your Brain/What’s on Your Mind?

I will familiarize you with your ingredients: the hormones, neurons, hemispheres, regions etc. so that in Part 4 you’ll be able to understand what physically happens in your brain when you practise mindfulness; how it can enhance positive feelings, which ultimately bring happiness.

You are your own cookbook. How you work your brain determines if you’re going to become filet mignon or an old kebab.

Part 4: Mindfulness Taming Your Mind. Think of this part as Wisdom for Dummies. I’ll show you how to be able to self-regulate your thoughts and emotions to make you the master and not the slave of your mind.

Part 5: Alternative Suggestions for Peace of Mind

I would never want to be considered evangelical so if mindfulness isn’t for you, I’ll give you alternative practices that can change your brain.

I hope this book helps you let go of the image you have of yourself if it’s getting in your way; I hope I can encourage you to be brave and know that nothing is certain: life flows, changes and ends. Get over your fear. The only way to find any peace is to let it all go and jump into the unknown. Just jump.

About the Author

Arriving in Britain from the United States in 1977, Ruby Wax began her acting career with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She went on to write and perform in her own hugely popular television programmes for the BBC and Channel 4 and was Script Editor on all series of Absolutely Fabulous. Recently she has obtained a Masters degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy from Oxford University and spoke at TED Global. She has become the poster girl for mental illness in the UK.

Part One

What’s Wrong With Us? For the Normal-Mad

What Drives Us Crazy

There may be many observations in this part that do not resonate with you, but we only see the world through our own eyes. I know there are people out there who don’t see the world as I do but sadly they aren’t writing this book. So if anyone does not suffer from what follows, I apologize if it seems I’m painting the whole human race with the same pessimistic brush. I have reached these conclusions only because everyone I have ever met has complained that these are the areas of life that drive them crazy. I know from the bottom of my heart, they are what drive me crazy.

Critical Voices

Why are we so mean to ourselves? What did we do wrong? Why, if we are the best that evolution has tossed up so far, are we so abusive to ourselves? Each of us has a nagging parent implanted in our heads: ‘Don’t do that why didn’t you, you should have but you didn’t’, on an endless tape. (My mother would say she was only telling me what a failure I was because she loved me.) If most of us ever compared our inner leitmotif, we would sue each other for plagiarism, as our internal themes are so alike.

No other species is as cruel as we are to ourselves. We’d never dream of treating our pets the way we treat ourselves. We whip ourselves to keep moving like we would an old horse, until it falls over exhausted; the hooves made into glue. I have asked so many people if they have ever had a voice in their head that says, ‘Congratulations you’ve done a wonderful job and may I say how attractive you look today’. The answer is no one. I’m sure they’re out there, I just never met them.

Once you get an attack of this selfimmolation, you’re on the slippery slope to a very unhappy state. Your brain just churns away chewing over a problem like a piece of meat that won’t go down. There will never be a solution to ‘I should have’ so you attack, guess who? You. This is why one in four of us is mentally ill.

It’s not our fault that we’re slave drivers to ourselves because biologically we all have this inbuilt chip that compels us to achieve and move forward. Before we even had words, we had an innate drive in every cell of our body to press on. (Google ‘selfish gene’.) All organisms, even worms, have this. It is how one cell becomes two, and two becomes three (I could go on but I haven’t got time). Cells keep advancing to the trillion cells that finally make up us. We strive to achieve. The problem is that now we use words and when we don’t ‘cut the mustard’ in our own eyes (which would really hurt) the inner voices begin: ‘I should have’ and ‘I could have’. That old familiar tune.

All of us internalize the voices in our heads from our parents, who probably meant well, but these sentiments stay in there for a lifetime. It’s because most parents want to protect their children that you get an abundance of ‘you shouldn’t . . . you should have’, otherwise the child might put their finger in a light socket and blow up. These corrective voices helped you survive as a child; later in life they can either drive you mad with their constant corrections and instructions or they can help you successfully navigate obstacles throughout your life, giving you a smoother ride.

There are parents who encourage their children with positive reinforcement and calming encouragement: ‘That’s right sweetheart, you did so well, why don’t we try it again and you’ll be even better?’ These children, later in life, may see a close friend passing by who doesn’t acknowledge them and their inner voice says, ‘Oh, too bad, Fiona must be pre-occupied and she looks so lovely, I’ll call her later’.

Those of us with parents trained by the Gestapo-school-of-child-rearing would react to this incident with, ‘Fiona hates my guts, that’s why she’s ignoring me. She found out I’m a moron, which I am.’

My Story

In my case, I would say the voices were somewhat harsh for a baby; they were less like suggestions and more like commando orders. My mother had a fear of dust so she’d have a sponge in each hand and two stuck to her knees (my mother was completely absorbent) and she’d crawl around behind me on all fours screaming, ‘Who brings footprints into a building? Are they criminally insane?’ She probably wanted to protect me, from what I don’t know, but I was hermetically sealed in my house as a child; everything was wrapped in plastic including my father, grandmother and the dog. Both my parents had to escape Nazi Austria in a laundry basket, just before ‘last orders’ was shouted and the borders shut down so no one could leave the Fatherland. This probably is what made her so unconsciously fearful, which she projected onto dust balls. (They’re easier to blow away.) Whatever the case, I picked up the panic in her voice and that sound has never left my head. So even though I’m not in Nazi Austria, the voices in my head are. Not anyone’s fault.

The Search for Happiness

We are all looking for happiness (unless of course we’ve already got it and blessed are those few that have). This is why we have so many self-help books enough now to cover the equator 78 times. Have you read The Secret? I didn’t read it but I know 80 million copies were sold. I did read page one, which informs you that ‘the secret’ was handed down to us by the ancient Babylonians and clearly it worked for them; that’s why there’s so many running around, you can’t move for all the Babylonians living in London. Next, the author tells you that Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven and Einstein were inspired by this book. I’m going to use that idea and give myself reviews from dead people. Apparently the next 200 pages are filled with advice that boils down to, ‘Think happy thoughts and your dreams will come true, just like Tinker Bell promised’. (I’m sorry to all you The Secret fans, I’m just very bitter about the 80 million copies sold. You can understand.)

All of this self-help was stolen from Walt Disney; he was the father of the New Age. ‘Whistle a happy tune; if you believe in fairies, clap your hands.’ From this philosophy flowed The Little Mermaid, Snow White and some early Mickey Mouse. Walt knew the secret of happiness. Too bad he’s on ice; we’ve got to defrost this guy to squeeze out some more wisdom. Walt knew when to make an exit.

Staying Busy

This is a method we have devised in order to distract ourselves from the bigger, deeper questions; we have an obsession to keep busy. There is no time to rest and no time to think about what we really should be doing in our limited time on Earth. I’m not criticizing; I’m as driven as the next person. It almost got to the point where I went into labour while doing a TV show. The floor manager gave me ‘5-4-3-2’, someone cut the cord and yelled, ‘Action’.

Gandhi said, ‘There is more to life than speed’. Unfortunately he didn’t tell us what, he just left us hanging while he pranced around in his nappy.

To compensate for this undercurrent of uselessness, we pretend we’re all terribly important and that we have something to bring to the world. That’s why we have Twitter so we can check how many followers we’ve got. We can count them; 100, 1000 people you’ve never met, telling you what they had for lunch, now knowing you exist. That’s how we see if we matter. We’re like little birds, newly hatched from our eggs going, ‘Tweet, tweet, tweet’, looking for a little attention, a little love, maybe even a worm anything will do as long as they notice we’re here.

In reality we’re all as disposable as wax figures. Once you lose your job or beauty or status, which you will eventually, they melt you down and use you to make the next important person. I went to Madame Tussaud’s and there was Charlie Chaplin next to the loo while Nicole Kidman was melted down and made into 150 candles; an icon one minute, a candle the next. Jerry Hall must be on some birthday cake somewhere.

We run because we don’t want to look inside and see that there might not be anything there and that searching for meaning is a waste of airtime. We stay busy so we don’t have to think about how futile the running is; like dung beetles building a house made of manure, they don’t stop and think, ‘Hey, where’s this going?’

When I have a day off and wake up, I jolt up from the pillow, panicking that I may have nothing of any importance to do. Maybe this is why I, and people I know like me, have to keep busy compiling an endless ‘Things to Do’ list. For us, busyness is our God, we worship busyness. People ask me if I’m busy, I tell them, ‘I’m so busy I’ve had two heart attacks’. They congratulate me on this achievement.

We hold those who are on the tightest of schedules in reverence; the busier you are, the higher your status as a human being. For those of us who suffer from this phenomenon, we have sped up to such a frenzy of things ‘to do,’ we make ourselves ill just to avoid having to look inside and see that we might not have any point at all.

So who is ultimately the winner? The busy, running people? Or maybe it’s someone who sits on a rock and fishes all day or someone who has the time to feel the breeze on his face? Who is the real winner? Please, dear God, I hope it’s not the guy with the fish.

Here are some common answers to the question, ‘Are you busy?’

‘I am run off my feet.’ (Let’s picture it, someone somewhere was dashing at such a rate he/she literally cracked at the ankle and just kept going.)

‘I don’t know if I’m coming or going.’ (Someone once opened a door and just stayed there for the next five years trying to figure, ‘in or out?’)

If you have used either of these responses then you probably are an A-list person who is ‘living the life’ even though you are too busy to have one.

There are women in my neighbourhood in London who have nothing to do for a living and they are booked to the hilt. They do Pilates five times a week so they can make their pelvic floor strong enough to lift the carpet. Dyson could use them as hoovers. Then they’ll shop with their personal shopper (that takes up a few hours), have their hair blow-dried (that’s another hour), lunch (that’s a four hour filler). Then they have to pick up the kids, do their homework for them and then it’s time to get ready and go off to attend a charity event. You know what that entails? They go to a really fancy hotel and pay £2000 a plate to save a tuna.

Never Enough

These Pilates women complain that their husbands work until midnight and they’re left having to get their spawn into a nursery school that only takes kids whose IQs have six digits. I have (in vain) tried to tell them that marriage is a ‘negotiated deal’. I’ve even made them a little flowchart so they can get some perspective. I tell them, ‘if your husband is earning more than £150,000 a year, plus bonuses, as the wife you have no rights. You take care of the house and the kids. You must give him sex whenever and wherever he wants. And you have to stay thin and young till death do you part.

‘If your husband is making around 275,000 a year, you still take care of the house and kids but you may bitch about him up to 27 hours a week to your friends. If he does not help on the weekends, you can withhold the sex.

‘If he makes below £10,000, you can let the house and kids to go to hell.’ That’s all for when the husband is making all the money. If the wife is making all the money, say, she’s earning £150,000 a year, which is equivalent to £575,000 in ‘Man Money’, she will still have to do everything because evolution has not given men eyes to see details such as a hoof print on the carpet. But man does have a very important function and that is to stand there and gaze toward the horizon to make sure there are no wildebeests.

Shopping is Our Search for Love

This need to have more is not limited to the wives of footballers or head honchos of big organizations. We all, in our own way, never stop ‘wanting’, that’s why we need 20,000 feet of mall; big steaming mounds of galleria won’t be enough to satisfy. The shopping never stops; the label says it all. Our self-esteem drives us to buy a designer handbag that costs the GNP of Croatia which is why people with nothing will spend their last shekel on Dolce and Gabbana or a £300 pair of Nikes. If you have the tattoo of ‘CC’ on your handbag, you can get a nod of respect from everyone that passes, even though you’re homeless. I once saw a tramp in Miami pushing all his belongings in a shopping cart he stole from Bloomingdale’s. He was wearing newspaper and had a cap on his head that said, ‘Born to Shop’.

What we throw on our back is our new means of identity. People who wear Prada usually hang out with other Praderites and the same with all other brands; people seek their own level, their own tribe. Picture it, a whole gaggle of Guccis at the watering hole and some Primarks eating a carcass.

P.S. Proof of our insanity is that we actually buy Ugg boots. Where in the brain do we feel a need to look like an Eskimo, as if they ever had any fashion sense?

The ‘Fix’ of Happiness

Some people think to reach a state of joy, you need to dress in sheets for a lifetime with a dot on your head, on top of a mountain. Some wave crystals, eat turf, pray, chant and dance with the wolves. Contentment might even be possible, I’m sure it’s feasible to sit on a bench and feed a squirrel without getting antsy.

But the trouble is, we always want more. We’re the A-list of all species so we go for the Golden Chalice: happiness. It had to be a crazy American who said that we all have the right to pursue happiness. That’s why you hear them demanding a double latte caramel macchiato every morning with their smiling teeth just before they chirp, ‘Have a nice day’.

There are some lucky people who feel they experience happiness when they gaze at a cloud or walk on the beach but the rest of us only get that special tingly buzz when we’ve bought, won, achieved, hooked or booked something. Then our own brains give us a hit of dopamine, which makes us feel good. We don’t need substances; we are our own drug dealers.

The problem is, the hit of ‘happiness’ usually lasts as long as a cigarette so we have to continually search for the next fix. It’s as though as a species we have no brakes, only breakdowns. Mother Nature’s little joke on us is that the original object of desire isn’t so much fun when we get it, so unless we can up the stakes all the time, we can’t get that burst of internal fireworks we call happiness. Most animals just eat their fill and walk away but not us, we keep glutting ourselves even though the next bite never tastes as good as the first one.

The Hierarchy of Western Wants (According to Me)

– Food and/or water

– Mattress

– Roof

– House

– Normal car

– Second house

– Pool

– Porsche

– Flying economy class

– Business class

– First class

– Private jet

– Private jet with jacuzzi

– Meeting Oprah

This failure to get what we want leaves us in a state of permanent desire. Magazines understand that they make us salivate for the unobtainable; the chase is better than the kill.

People who collect art pay £15 million for some semen on a cracker and then never notice it once it’s on their wall.

They’ll be back licking the pages of Sotheby’s catalogue for what they crave next. If we’re not wanting, we’re waiting. Waiting for what, we don’t know, but something and it’s going to happen soon. Waiting for our screenplay to be commissioned about a clown who falls in love with a squirrel and then decides to become a car dealer. Waiting for the money to roll in for an idea about inventing soup in a solid form; it’s all about to happen next week, next year, we don’t mind how long, as long as we’re in a suspended state of waiting.

A new phenomenon that arises from our insatiable appetites is the sense of entitlement; now everyone thinks they deserve to be a winner. This is why so many deluded people with absolutely no sense of shame have the audacity to try out for X Factor when they have the voice of a toad. Self-help books will tell you that the only thing standing in your way is you. ‘You can be beautiful if you think you are’, they say. This is why you see the truly selfdeluded paint their nails with tiny diamantes embedded in bloodbath-red extensions, as if no one will notice that they are the size of Tibet.

Negative Thinking

Once we humans have the basics for survival, i.e. food, water and mascara, you would think we should be on our knees, kissing the ground in gratitude for our aliveness, for being able to see through our eyes, hear through our ears, and best of all, eat. Let us have a moment’s silence to thank the Big Bang for making it possible that eventually we could experience the taste of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey Ice Cream.

But even with all these miracles we still suffer and it’s all because of our negative thinking.

Animals don’t have negative thoughts; they’re out there having the time of their lives, swinging from branches, mating with nearly everyone who comes up behind them. And us? We ruminate on things, worry, regret, resent; who picked the short straw, do you think? Most awful of all is that we can project to the future and figure out that we will eventually lose our looks and dare I say it, die.

See how there’s always a grenade at the bottom of the cookie jar? It’s so like the story of my life whenever I achieve a little something and am complimented, shortly thereafter I am swiftly kicked in the ass by karma. The more you have (looks, money, fame) the more you suffer when you lose it. There is always a bill to pay. Luckily, they bless people like Liza Minnelli with a dollop of unawareness so when they begin to crinkle and melt into oblivion, they’re the last to know and they just keep on kickin’ those ‘hoofers’ on ol’ Broadway, even though you hear the sound of their arthritic hips cracking in the effort. (This probably sounds judgmental but I get evolved later in the book so just bear with me now.)

Those of us who aren’t on the brink of starvation or elimination or living in squalor are condemned to a life of worrying about trivia. It all went downhill when we crawled out of the jungle. We just don’t know what to think about next after fulfilling basic needs; so we makeover our kitchens. In my neighbourhood all the surfaces in this year’s kitchens are buffed silver metal resembling what you’d find in mortuaries. You’re scared to open a drawer in case a toe hangs out with a label dangling from it. Now they are digging down below the kitchens to make more floors until they’re hitting volcanic rock. Some have lap pools they will never lap in. I know someone who is building an underground vineyard.

Bathrooms of Grandeur

My theory is you can tell how mentally deranged someone is by viewing their bathroom. If they believe they need a chandelier, an Italian marble tub and a toilet that performs more than three functions (now some of them play Rachmaninoff when you lift the lid and squirt you with lilac perfume after you pee) they are not a well person and have strayed far, far away from sanity.

Freud should have come up with a therapy where you interrogate the clients about how they envision the decor of their bathrooms rather than asking about sex. Sex tells you nothing. How you want your lavatory to look is the gateway to the unconscious. A bathroom is a place where you should have no airs or graces because it’s just you and it. There is no room in there for narcissism, this is merely a toilet, where you really see yourself for what you are and get a whiff of reality. On the toilet no one is a star. Remember that and you will go far in life.

Our Need to Be Special

Our status used to be based on bloodlines, on whether you were a Princess or a Pea. (See Battle of the Sperm.) Now we determine each other’s worth by asking, ‘What do you do?’ If you say ‘nothing’, people move away from you as if you’re a corpse. Our identity is on our business cards, and new titles emerge every year to define increasingly abstract roles. Job descriptions like ‘consultancy’ are ambiguous. (If everyone’s a consultant, who is left needing one?) These days ‘motivational speakers’ are also considered big shots. We confuse bravery with bravura. I’ve seen motivational speakers who are brought in to companies to tell you about rowing across the Atlantic with one arm. How is this helping the company? That person isn’t brave, he’s nuts. And these speakers are starting to get competitive; apparently someone has claimed he climbed Mount Everest using only his nostrils.

Each of us thinks somewhere inside we have a purpose. Long ago we didn’t have this existentialist angst; we were hunters or gatherers. A hunter hunted, a gatherer gathered (Jewish people pointed rather than doing either). Back then there was no such thing as individuality so you couldn’t distinguish ‘you’ from anyone else unless you wore a hat or had more hair but basically we were all the same: grunting and foraging.

In those days you didn’t need a manual. You were born, drove an ox around a field, multiplied and died. No one complained; plagues came and went smallpox, influenza, you name them you had them and everyone had the same attitude, ‘Shit happens’. Now it’s an outrage: ‘How dare some virus wipe us out? Do they know who we are? We’re superior beings, the creme de la creme of all that live and breathe; top of the food chain’.

It all went wrong when some deluded optimist wrote the words, ‘All men are created equal’. This is clearly not the case; some people are losers. He never even lived to see the can of worms he released once he wrote that with his feather. He just signed his autograph and let the chaos begin. (I’m going to name names. It was Thomas Jefferson another American.)

The Big Team Happy Days

We were at our happiest when we used to drive our yoke necklaced oxen around a field because then we were all working together as a big tribe, a team. Ok, it was tough but we had some laughs out there in the blizzard conditions. We needed to form tribes in order to fight off neighbouring tribes who tried to steal our oxen. Without an ox you’re nothing. After that, the numbers of people in a tribe diminished because along came the gun and then you didn’t really need a lot of people, just one guy with a good trigger finger. That’s why now we don’t have this sense of teamwork; we’re all alone hunkering in our corners, clutching our weapons.

The only time we do get a sense of belonging to a tribe is when we’re facing a disaster like a hurricane, Godzilla or a war. In the UK the only time everyone unites is when they’re reminiscing about the Second World War; when they get fuelled up on the Blitzkrieg spirit, they all start blubbing away singing those ‘We’ll Meet Again’ songs they heard on the wireless. Every Christmas, my husband’s parents would dress up as Luftwaffe and RAF pilots and run around the living room going, ‘We shall fight them on the beaches!’ and screaming, ‘We shall never surrender’, as they smashed into the TV set.

In my opinion, our downfall began when we started to think of ourselves as ‘individuals’. I read somewhere, don’t ask me where, that hundreds and hundreds of years ago there was no word for ‘I’. There was only the word for ‘we’. No one was lonely back then. The trouble started when the individual came into the picture. Remember the wheel? Back millions of years ago when we made the wheel? We don’t know who made it. There was no wheel by Chanel. Remember when we all worked together to make fire? We don’t know who lit the first match he was just some guy and he didn’t need his name in lights. Now agents and managers have to get involved and skim 20 per cent off the top for just standing there.

Simple animals have all the luck. They’re delighted to still work as a team. They’re delighted to be part of a gaggle, or flock, or swarm. Goose in the back row of the flying formation? He’s proud to be there. He’s overjoyed. It’s his job in life. Not us anymore. Our earliest instinct is to bond together and socialize; our very DNA gives us instructions on how to mingle. Natural selection is like a beauty contest, no one remembers who came in second. Nature is so cruel: one tiny weakness, a blemish, a flipper instead of an arm and you’re out of the running, gone.

You know who I blame for all this? Freud. If he hadn’t mentioned an ego, we would never have had one. Because of him it’s all about me. Me, I need to be the next Kate Moss. Me, I need to run Virgin. Me, I need to be in Hello and I’ll do anything to get on television. ‘You want me to eat my mother-in-law? Toss her on the barbeque.’

So this is the human condition: we’re living longer, getting taller, and are a push of a finger away from every other person on the planet and yet we do not know how to run ourselves.

Maybe we’re not supposed to know and when we’re finished filling the world with parking lots, muffin shops and Starbucks, our point on Earth is finished and with one big cataclysmic boom we’ll be gone.

Millions of years of natural selection, and this is what we’ve come to. We want to be the most famous, the richest, the thinnest and the busiest. Darwin would shit himself in the pants.

The Problem with Change

I have given you a taster of the good news already: WE CAN CHANGE. But here I ought to point out, as we are focusing on the problems of living in modern times, that when you do change, those around you won’t like it. People will not let go of their image of you, even though you have thoroughly redecorated your inner self. They want you to stay as they remember you so that they feel they aren’t changing either, that they are still gloriously youthful. This is why we don’t want to see an old movie star because it makes us think of our own mortality. Sometimes they will cast an ‘older’ woman (in her 50s!) but they’ll make sure she dies of something terminal halfway through. No one wants to see an ageing face on the screen, especially in HD. (I once saw myself in HD, I looked like a close-up of an elephant.) We run to doctors to fight off Mr Gravity for another year but it’s hopeless. We should tell ourselves, ‘The Christmas tree is dead already, stop trying to decorate it with fancy tinsel, it won’t help.’

I’m not leaving myself out of this; I give thanks every day to surgeons who have helped me look this pert long after pertness should have died. I’m sure my insides are like the old Dorian Gray, while my face looks all shiny and new. I once said to Jennifer Saunders wasn’t it amazing that you couldn’t tell I’ve had any work done on my face? She said that I was delusional and that it was obvious. I will never tell anyone how old I am. The year I was born will never pass these lips without water-boarding. Actually, I don’t even remember the year I was born. I set my burglar alarm to remind me. I’ve had my house robbed many times, the police come over and I can’t remember what I set the alarm at: 1971? 1932? 1995? Could be anything.

So many people want to label you as funny or aggressive or a mess. We are condemned by other people to stagnate in the image they have of us; held ransom by their expectations like a butterfly pinned on cardboard. I’m still asked by taxi drivers, as if this wouldn’t hurt me, why I am no longer on television? In the past, I used to have to choke back the bile as I felt that stab in my heart. I used to answer with, ‘Because I have terminal cancer’. That usually shut them up pretty quickish. I stopped doing that because I’ve learnt that if you let out your anger on someone, it comes back to you like acid reflux and you’ve poisoned yourself and feel toxic and nauseated while the taxi driver probably just goes back to his home and wife and has a lovely life.

I had to change, I didn’t have a choice as my career in television was pulled out like a rug from under me and I was replaced by a younger (but not as funny) version of me. Anyway I let it go and yes, it’s painful at first when no one looks at you. Fame is very addictive and as our spotlight fades, most people are desperate to cling on and we’ll do anything. ‘Please do a documentary about my gall bladder operation. I’ll even play a corpse.’

Eventually it’s quite liberating to not be noticed and you rejoin the human race. When you go on the tube and no one recognizes you, it’s a wake-up call; you realize how up your own ass you have been and that now it’s time to come out and smell the Circle Line. There’s a downside to becoming a normal person; when you tell the ticket guy at the exit that you forgot to buy a ticket and you think he’ll go, ‘Ha ha you’re the one from TV’, and let you off, you discover that this time he doesn’t and he tells you to get a ticket or you’ll be arrested.

When I decided to re-invent myself (which we all have to do in life at least five times, because we were meant to be dead by 30) and I went back to school to learn how to be a therapist, my friends said that the clients would think it was a joke. They would expect TV cameras to be following me into the room and either freak out or start auditioning. I was under the impression that the woman (me) who had that job in television was effectively dead.

The point is, we’re all changing all the time. You once found it hard to tie a shoelace and now you don’t even have to look. The change is so subtle; you think that whatever you feel like right now is how you always felt. Our brain can trick us into thinking life stands still. In the end this causes the human race the most heartache.

Blinkered Vision

As you get older you don’t see many things as unique any more. Whatever we experience in the present, we automatically go back through the filofax in our minds to figure out what it reminds us of. We do this for the sake of survival so, say, we have had a bad experience with a man with a moustache, now we don’t trust anyone with a moustache. And, because we see everybody through the filter of who they remind us of, whoever we meet is therefore labelled with that image, frozen in ice for all time. We’re not aware of how biased our memories make us and how they affect our view of the world.

And as we get older, our lenses get more and more narrow and blurrier until we only see our own tiny pinpoint view; this limited vision eventually makes bigots of us all. This is why so many marriages fall apart. You meet someone, think that you know them, marry them and then ten years later you divorce them because they turned out not to be who you thought they were. They never were. I realized many years after I married that I chose my husband because he has the eyebrows of Jeff Bridges. Now, I have to live daily with the disappointment that it’s actually him I’m with and not Jeff. God knows who he thought I was.

It goes further. We then unconsciously create situations that back up our beliefs, just to prove our point of view is right. We all know those women who keep dating the same kind of guy just to keep up their image of themselves as ‘victim’ and to reinforce the fact that ‘all men are bastards’. They give you stories about how he seemed so perfect on the ‘Serial Killer’ website and yet, after leaving a grenade on the pillow, he never called again. Why?

It’s amazing how we will suffer pain and abuse to keep our lives predictable. We’ll let our inner voices brutalize us, rather than live with the possibility that we might be wrong about how we see things. We’ll think, ‘Well at least it’s a pain that’s familiar’.

Uncertainty is our biggest fear so we keep up the idea that our vision of the world is reality. We use our minds to construct a picture of the world, judging it, making sure it fits with our past image of things and then anticipating how our past behaviours might affect the future. We never see the world as it really is but only how we see it. And because we’re trapped in our own interpretation, we are prepared to go to war with other people caught in their view of reality and never the twain shall meet. All this is the sound of people embedded in their own lives, believing their reality is the only reality, thinking the things they think matter; it’s the sound of solipsism. This could be why the world is in such a bad shape. It is the nub of all our problems and until we realize how limited our views are, we’ll never agree on anything. We have to try to see what other people see, through their eyes, only then can we come up with some cohesive resolution. This is my statement on world peace: take it or leave it.

My Story

I don’t mind change. I come from a long line of unpredictability as my ancestors didn’t stick around for long in any one place. Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter of immigrants that I’m always ready to jump ship, to change my location fast in case we’re exterminated again. My fellow immigrants don’t get sentimental about things like furniture or heirlooms; this is because we’re constantly scuttling across borders, fleeing with pianos on our backs.

My fantasy is living in a simple hotel room, with no knick-knacks, only a phone for room service. I never get it when I see people waving their national flag, getting all weepy, singing some dirge about their homeland. Everyone sobbing for the old country (which is just a wet piece of peat moss) going on and on about how many generations back their people lived on this potato farm (said with an lrish accent) and how they loved it even though they’ve probably emigrated to another country. To me it’s dirt, to them it’s land: same thing. My people this, my people that. I have no real people except when I was in the mental institution and then it was full of them. They were my people, because they did not answer with ‘fine’ when you asked how they were. We didn’t need a flag.

My career ended with a bang in that I ended up in an asylum. We’re always surprised when something ends; everything ends, so why do we never think it’s our turn? One of my last interviews was with Ben Stiller who just answered my questions with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and I knew I had a car crash on my hands. Actually the very last interview show I did was with a star (who shall remain nameless) whose publicity agent only allowed me to go shopping with her in her friend’s shop where she wandered around saying things like, ‘This is nice’. Then we went to her Pilates class where I was allowed to film her doing a sit-up. She finally spoke at the end of the show in a coffee shop and I got a 45-minute speech about politics in Palestine or Panama or Bosnia; it was all my fault, the whole Bush administration was my fault. I knew the show needed some comedy so on the way out of the coffee shop I bought her (only in New York) a plastic donkey into whose behind you could put a lighted cigarette and watch the smoke come out of its mouth. She held it and looked at me as if to say, ’You are lower than a worm’. That was the last time I interviewed anyone. As I watched them try to edit in one useable sentence to save the show from the ‘Ben Stiller as a corpse’ and ‘Joan of Arc/nameless star’ interviews I knew it was over; I would be bidding a fond farewell to this profession.

On the way down the escalator of showbusiness, I finally hit the basement when I made a double suicide pact with Richard E. Grant by doing a show I hope you missed called Celebrity Shark Bait. Here’s a clue; the sharks weren’t the celebrities. We did it for the money and a chance to see Cape Town and we put the swimming with great white sharks in the back burner of our minds. Besides us on this show, there was also a girl (forgot name) from some soap (forgot name) who wore very low cut tops to show off her white, milky breasts. They filmed her most days and Richard and I were told they didn’t need us, so we told estate agents we were looking for a house to buy and snooped into people’s homes. Meanwhile, Milky Breasts was now being filmed (I’m not making this up) in a freezer where they hang dead pigs from hooks all around her while she stood freezing in her bikini. The point of this was to prepare her for the cold water. PS. We were going to wear dry suits for the dive so there was no point in the pig scene except to see her nipples.

The day came for the shark dive; an obese lesbian gave us instructions on the do’s and don’ts of how to behave in the shark cage. The woman, who had ‘Shark Lady’ printed on her red jacket, told us not to worry as she had been doing this for over 25 years and it was perfectly safe. As she tossed large chunks of tuna into the sea for chumming (getting some blood in the water to attract the great white sharks and drive them into a feeding frenzy) we noticed she only had two fingers. It turns out Milky Breasts wouldn’t get in the water she was too scared and so Richard and I were lowered down as bait. Suddenly something about 20 feet long glided at us, looked at us with dead eyes and swam away. The shark must have known our television careers were over and went off looking for an A-list celebrity. We became hysterical at the bottom of the cage, I laughed until urine came out of my rubber wet suit collar. Months later we saw the show. We were used as cutaways to the Breasts and when we were lowered in the cage they dubbed in screaming, thus not only humiliating us but making us look like wimps; two old has-beens sunk in the bottom of a tube. I decided to let go of showbusiness and begin again, slowly weaning myself off fame.

So I’m not nostalgic about leaving things. As far as my career or my university or my hometown went, I was on the bus out of town at the right time because I knew to walk away before I was pushed out. I never wanted to be the last one to leave the party. If you don’t move on, you get stuck and it becomes pathetic when you’re left clutching onto your past, remembering your school days, singing the old songs and boring everyone to death.

The ultimate freedom lies in knowing everything, including you, is in a state of flux; you’re never still, you’re always ‘nexting’; billions of your cells are born, billions die. In seven years you will be a whole new version of you and the old you, a pile of dandruff flakes.

Have We Overloaded? How Much Should We Know?

Our little brains are on a daily drip-feed of everything from fashion tips to traffic updates to terrorist attacks. Is there a limit? I’d like to know. I wish there was some kind of service that tells you how much your particular mind can take. What is your capacity? When is there too much information to hold in one head? Why can’t those of us filled to capacity hold up our hand and say, ‘I can take no more, please don’t tell me anything else’? I can only retain my Visa number. I cannot also remember my password for PayPal and Twitter, my brain floweth over. I had my brain tested a few months ago by a psychologist and he said that I had very little ram space so I can only hold about three numbers at once and I can’t build an argument because I forget where I started. I have other problems with numbers. I once called my husband from South Africa and told him I’d got a house for a steal, for 10,000 rand (£1000). I was three decimals off: it was 10 million (£100,000).

How much information are we supposed to be able to take in? I’m sure we’re only equipped to know what’s happening on our street and maybe the local deli, but if there’s a 3.6 earthquake in Kow Loo Toik, do I have to know? If the islands off Papua New Guinea flood, what am I supposed to do? Fly over there; get in a canoe with a hand pump and start draining? Ok, if you show me a photo of a maimed person, I will write you a cheque immediately, but most of the time what are we supposed to feel about these global disasters? I would probably like to know if my next-door neighbour gets shot but maybe I’m not so upset if it’s someone three blocks away. How close am I to the bullets? That’s what I want to know. I feel terrible saying this but it’s what I’m thinking.

When there was a hurricane in New York, there were huge headlines and 240 photos of every drop of rain, wet people being interviewed, for their first smell of fame (you can see a glint in the eye) aware they will be seen all over the world as they said something so original: ‘I was in my house and I heard wind and I ran out of my house’. New Yorkers were crying, screaming, kvetching (that’s what Jews do) that their cars stalled, their hair was blown off.

Yet, at the same time, Haiti was nearly devastated; 66 people died and hardly a flicker of coverage. You saw some black people wading in some water but no closeups.

I’m sceptical as to why people need to know about worldwide atrocities. I know people who watch CNN all day, particularly when working out on the StairMaster, buffing their butts while those headlines of disaster slap them in the face with an up-to-the-minute report on another high school shooting. You can see a lip-lubed anchor woman running over to an injured cheerleader, shoving the microphone in her face demanding, ‘How do you feel about the incident?’ giving her a little kick as she sinks into unconsciousness. ‘How do you feel?’ She has the look of a cat before it kills a mouse as she turns to the camera and says, ‘Well, Jerry, that’s all on the up-to-theminute report on the tragedy happening down here, back to you.’

In some deep, dark way we all become salacious around a disaster; our mouths water slightly when there’s a real emergency. Hurricanes, typhoons, wars, shootings, epidemics; we’re a little aroused because now we really have something to think about rather than our monotonous lives; something to take the focus away from our to-do list. We have a little break to think, ‘Well thank God it’s not me’. Then we forget again after a few days and get on with worrying about the pick-up at the dry cleaner and buying another light bulb. You can see the look of disappointment on people’s faces when the report comes that the hurricane has dipped from 3000 knots to a light breeze. We all love a disaster; nothing tastes as good. The savage still lurks underneath no matter what we’re wearing.

We the Emotionally Inept

We have created rockets to the moon, computers that can well, you name it, they can do it and Starbucks on every corner of the world, but the other part of us, the emotional bit, is still wearing nappies. Emotionally we are on all fours, grazing our knuckles on the ground, looking out naively from under our one big eyebrow. Many of us don’t even like to say the ‘E’ word (emotion) because some of us think it is a glitch in this otherwise perfect human machine. Emotions are to be eradicated as quickly as possible like a blemish or a laugh line.

But it is these lurking emotions that cause us the most trouble and we haven’t risen above them. We’re still slaves to them when they rear their ugly heads.

We used to hold in high esteem those who got the highest grades at school and they went on to be hugely successful. (Times have changed. There’s not some little guy at the top selling soap powder any more, now you need an MBA from Harvard just to put on your pants.) We’ve learnt that the brightest might be the very ones who screw us the hardest. They know the math; they feel they can rob the bank. We used to trust these guys, we thought they were like Superman. To relax on weekends they go helicopter skiing in Alaska, not just a double black run for them, they have to leap from a plane. To unwind, I chew a chicken bone in front of the television; they jump down a cliff.

Want my advice? If you’re checking out whom you want to do business with, ask what they do to relax on the weekends. If they say helicopter skiing, walk away, they are mentally not right. The most cognitively brilliant people usually have had to sacrifice their emotional selves. They live in a fog of facts rarely creating a new one, just regurgitating everything they’ve ever learnt and we’re supposed to think that’s smart. That’s a walking Wikipedia not a human being. This also might mean they’re not top of the class on the morals front. They feel nothing so they can squeeze you dry without a wisp of remorse.


This is my weak area. Even if in terms of success, I’m cooking on gas, if I suddenly see someone with more, I get that kick in the stomach, that stab in my heart that means I want him dead. I am the first to step forward and admit, I want what the next guy has. No matter what it is, I want it. Sometimes I get the lust for things I don’t even want. I’m so ashamed of this but in the throes of envy, if I accidentally pick up Tatler, Hello or Harpers and I see Lord and Lady Pomkelson Pompel Pomp sipping champers, with their smiling teeth yapping at some opening of something (I would shoot myself if I were actually there), I can’t help feeling that old gutter-rat sense of envy bubbling below the surface. If you ever hear me say, ‘I’m so happy you got that job I always wanted’, believe me, I not only want you dead but your whole family wiped out. I used to tear out pages of Hello magazine going, ‘Die, die, die’.

I’m always checking how many tweets other people have compared to me to make myself crazy. I look at Stephen Fry’s Twitter when I’m feeling particularly suicidal. He always inspires me when I need my envy stoking up. It’s like that spot on your gums that hurts when you stick a pin in it but you can’t stop doing it.

If only humans had a cookbook to see what our ingredients are. We could look up ‘envy’ and see that we all have it; it comes with the human package. It’s just one of those things that kept us alive when we roamed the ancient Savannah. It’s part of the survival-of-the-fittest kit, so that if one Homo erectus had an attractive pointed stone, we all wanted it and so we made our own pointed stone or even better smashed in his skull with a stick and stole his. It is in our biology, this reptilian feeling of wanting what the next guy has. We can see it in the ‘hubris’ of Greek drama. In every one of those Grecian plots, if someone got too big for their boots, divine justice would drop by and make them poke out their own eyes or accidentally screw their mother and then take poison. And now, we throw parties for people who have been promoted; though some of us afflicted ones hope they choke.


Your emotionally underdeveloped area may be anger, a very common ailment in the human psyche. It’s left over from when we were basic grunt, kill and mate apes. This is how it manifests itself now; you see yourself as a perfectly civilized person, law-abiding, popular with friends and a respected citizen. Then something in you flips and triggers some alien rage that turns you from Jekyll to Hyde in a second: could be a traffic warden, could be your secretary who forgot to give you a message, could be your husband/wife who got lost again because he/she can’t read a roadmap. Suddenly you’re unrecognizable: lips back, teeth bared, a terrifying vomiting bark emitting from your throat as you verbally bully your victim to dust. You want to hammer them but the fear of prison holds you back by a thread. Usually after the incident you get the backwash, the poison you shot out comes right back at you and you suffer the hangover of shame and guilt until they drain from your system or you ask God to forgive you.


Don’t be too hard on yourself; we are born with this one too. If we want something, we have the inbuilt skill to manipulate the situation in our favour. We can gazzump someone’s chances of getting the job, partner, money, you name it. We have the ability to outfox. We know how to smile but underneath we are plotting to overthrow them; talking behind their back, pretending to be happy for them and then hacking their phones. We are still animals under the skin; shifty and devious for survival’s sake. Evolution has even provided facial expressions to throw people off the trail so we can succeed with our deception.

Facial Expressions

Before we had words, we spread the news using our facial expressions and to this day no matter where you are on the planet, even if you’re born blind, by ten months you’ll know how to pull up both sides of your mouth and smile; a real one, not that thing airline stewardesses do when they give everyone ‘bye bye bye bye bye’ like they have a bad stutter. Nature in its brilliance made sure the first expression a baby learns is a smile because if it didn’t smile we would have tossed that screaming glob of fat (who can’t even go to the loo by itself) away. To this day people will tolerate and even love you if you smile. People in showbiz have this pummelled into them, singing to themselves, ‘Smile though your heart is breaking, smile even though you’re faking smile and the world smiles with you.’

Whether you live in Bora Bora or Detroit, the facial expression for anger remains the same. It can be recognized by a drawing back of the lips and showing teeth, which demonstrates to others that you could eat them if pushed. The exposed teeth were to show how sharp they were. How white they were was irrelevant. The growling was dropped once we learnt to swear. We show disgust by flaring our nostrils and putting our mouths in an ‘ick’ shape to show others around us that, let’s say, the fish is off. Fear is easy to spot: the open-mouthed screaming and bulging eyes gives a big clue for those nearby to run. Surprise is an intake of breath with an open mouth, warning others that something is not as it should be. It could be something bad or good; it’s sort of the human version of a yellow light.

Laughter begins as a half scream from the shocked response of seeing something unexpected, a man slipping on a banana. You’re about to express alarm but when you realize the danger has passed, that he’s still alive, your lips draw up and your eyes crinkle to show others that there is no emergency. Humour comes from shock followed by relief, expressed by a barking noise. It indicates that this is a joke, not an actual catastrophe and the bark is so ludicrous, so infectious, that others around you also bark and clap their hands, all joining in the celebration that the pie in the face was not serious. Everyone is so relieved they bark some more.

We’re born with the 47 facial muscles that create our expressions. All of our emotional states are viscerally connected to our facial muscles so we can read each other loud and clear, underneath language. Watch a silent movie and get back to me.

We developed facial expressions not just to read each other but also to deceive each other. For example, if you found food and you didn’t want anyone to get it, you could fake a look of disgust then everyone leaves and you get the meat. Those who were best at deception survived and the suckers fell by the wayside. This remains the same today. This schadenfreude face is one of the ugliest of all expressions. It means, I’m-so-happy-sorry-but-mostly-I’m-happy-you’ve-been-demoted-or-evenbetter-fired.

If you watch a face it will tell you everything. For instance you cannot fake a smile. There is a muscle under the eye called the periocular that will not become active if you aren’t genuinely smiling. The mouth is easy to upturn but if you don’t find something funny, that periocular muscle just doesn’t move; your eyes are dead as a trout’s.

Learning to read faces should be compulsory in schools so you can decipher what people are really thinking. Imagine if we could spot politicians right off the bat when they’re lying, they’d all be out of work in a week. Someone should have walked out of Bernard Madoff’s office and screamed, warning others (with his mouth wide open and fear in the eyes and then flared his nostrils to show disgust): ‘This man is a maniac!’ Then all those people wouldn’t have lost $50 bn. If we were taught in school how to read faces, we could have spotted those sociopathic mortgage lenders and noticed they had the eyes of lizards.


I wish we could express this emotion like kids do. If someone gets something you want, you just hit them over the head and snatch it back. That’s why children are so un-neurotic. They are doing what we only dream of.

The Road to Wisdom

First thing on the road to wisdom is to face ourselves honestly. People used to call it baring your soul, I call it looking in the mirror and cutting the bullshit.

Here’s how I read the situation. You may see it a totally different way but I’m the one writing this book so it’s pretty much going to be my opinion.

Because of this faulty plumbing, we’re anxious, angry, fearful, stressed and depressed and we try to put the blame on what’s going on in the world. We blame it on climate change, the Muslims, the Jews, the banks and whoever happens to be president or prime minister. The names change, they come and go; we hate them all. We love them in the beginning, then turn on them and say, ‘It’s all their fault we’re in a mess’. But I say to you, we put them in there, we voted for them.

The problem lies in us, we are always in conflict, and so that is how we see the world. Inside our heads there is always war. Bob Geldof says, ‘We are the world’. We are, he didn’t mean it in a nasty way but I do. It’s all our fault; no one else is in the driver’s seat, just us. Many people want to change the world; they don’t want to change themselves.

Wisdom isn’t something they ever write about in Vogue or can sell at Harvey Nichols. I wish it were, it would be so convenient while shopping for shoes. We used to have people we could ask these more existential questions. Where are they now? Out of work, like everyone else.

‘Life is meaningless, God is dead.’ Oh please, I’m depressed enough. Imagine if Sartre did stand up, the whole room would slash their wrists. Most of us don’t have old Shaman grandmothers sitting on their haunches, breasts pointing to the floor, handing down their knowledge. My grandmother couldn’t even tell me where she left her teeth, let alone any wisdom.

We spend a whole lifetime hunting for some wisdom. In childhood, it’s ‘happy days’, our biggest challenge is hitting the potty, after that the shit hits the fan. By the time you hit your 20s you’re fuelled with the stress that you have to end up as someone special. Clearly some give up and just take root on their sofas but most young folks feel they have to turn on the turbo and go for the gold. In your 30s you’re fighting to keep what you’ve got and by your 50s you know it’s going to get taken away. And this is where the road divides and you either turn into wine or into vinegar.

If you live long enough, a miracle might happen. If you make it to 83 and a 1/2, just when you look like a walking Lucian Freud painting, you might become wise. But it has to be that late in the day: you cannot be a babe and wise, it’s against the laws of nature. But if you make it to 83 1/2 and you don’t get overwhelmed by fear that makes you withdraw into your past, boring everyone senseless, and if your mind stays flexible and curious and you ask people questions and listen to their answer, and if you let all your narcissism, resentment, regret and envy drain out of you and you finally realize that the world will be fine without you, then you’re wise.

My Search for Normality

Perhaps I’ve come across as too negative in the book so far. I assume that what I’m writing about is our general malaise; what all people feel deep inside. I might be wrong, I’ve gotten things wrong before and I’ll admit I’m not an expert on what ‘normal’ people feel if they indeed exist. So I apologize if you’re sitting there going, ‘What the hell is she on about? We don’t think about any of these things. We live a happy and healthy life. Let’s give this book to Uncle Psycho.’

I didn’t mean to insult any of you. On the contrary, I am a great admirer of people who believe they are normal, I am fascinated by them. I’ve always thought, is it possible to feel the way Tony Robbins looks? Confident, positive, flowing with love for himself with his big wall-to-wall teeth and large genitalia. (I am guessing about this but he has a very large nose and I connect the two.) What makes him so sure he’s right? Does he really believe the script that is pouring out of his mouth? Is that normal?

I obsessively eavesdrop in public places (bars, trains, buses, restaurants) with my ear almost in the fruit salad in my search for who might be normal. I listen in to a conversation in a bar where a seemingly normal group of good old boys, teammates who work together, making valves for garbage disposals, are all out to celebrate the up-and-coming plumbing awards for which they have gathered. They seem so content with their lot; a happy pack at the watering hole, clinking glasses, toasting one another for the fact that they’re up to win ‘Plumbing Team of The Year’, fantasizing their names are being called out, hitting the air with their fists as they hear in their heads the music playing, ‘You’re the Best’, then each one of them makes a little slurry speech about how they couldn’t have done it without their team, posing for an imaginary photo, giving each other slaps on the back. Is that normal?

I’ve listened in to a girl at the next table in a restaurant, panting with excitement as she asks her friend to be her maid of honour at her wedding and the friend bursting into tears and blibbing on about how she’ll be the best maid of honour that ever lived and can’t wait to help choose the napkin colour. Is that normal?

I sit in a hotel lobby and listen in to two cigars with fat men on the ends yabbing about the price of housing, throwing out percentages of the increase or decrease of the market with complete confidence about how right they are. How does anyone accurately know how much a house price is going to rise or fall and who cares? Is that normal?

Everyone’s an Expert Except Me

At dinner parties, I hear people looked in debate about how to resolve the crisis in the Middle East like they’re experts. ‘Here’s what I would tell the Taliban.’ The president couldn’t figure it out with his advisors but these ‘if you ask me’ people presume to know. They base their extensive knowledge on the same newspaper everyone else reads; yet they have the answer. Where does that confidence come from? Around the world everyone is an ‘expert’. There must be at this very second 64 billion experts having coffee and giving their opinions on climate change, nuclear disarmament, obesity and the war on drugs.

I sat next to a man telling me what the Flemish were thinking during the Second World War. I was dripping in sweat thinking, ‘Should I know that information? Will he think I’m an idiot when he finds out I know nothing about the topic and is there going to be a quiz?’ I don’t even know where Flemmark is. I have to sit there, dying inside with self-loathing, while the Flem expert whips out more information like a swinging dick.

This exhibiting of ‘the one big dick’ memorized fact is how we unconsciously determine who the alpha is at the dinner table. Lecturing on Flemland to people who have no idea is the same as the chief gorilla beating his chest to show who is boss. This Flem guy somehow senses that I know nothing and I’m sinking in a mound of selfhatred, so he feels triumphant he’s won that round until he meets a bigger expert on Flem matters.

People find their scrap of knowledge and unquestioningly live their lives gathering their little pile of research then boring people senseless with the details.

To be honest, the main reason I listen in is to find someone, someday that might come out with some Earthshattering revelation and I will scream, ‘Aha! Bingo! That is the answer to why we exist.’ It hasn’t happened yet but I’m always on the look-out. My suspicion is that we’re all wondering what ‘normal’ feels like; all believing the next guy knows but not us. This may just be the way I think so forgive me if you don’t agree. I do know that we all want to be happy and we spend a great deal of our lives hunting for the key. No matter how powerful or successful we get, we still can’t figure out how to deal with a mind that keeps us up at night, driving us to exhaustion. This isn’t just for those who are considered mad, it’s for all of us. I wish we could just come out and say how we really feel;

I know I’d be so relieved.


SANE NEW WORLD. Taming the Mind

by Ruby Wax

get it at


It was Charles Dickens’ Mr Micawber who famously defined the principles of successful economic management, when he said “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Most people, with experience of running their own household accounts, will nod in agreement. But while Mr Micawber no doubt got it right for individuals and households, he may not have been so percipient when it comes to public finances. A government’s role in managing the country’s economy is very different from running your own affairs.

We have had until recently a government whose most important goal was, it seems, to run a “surplus”, and most people would no doubt again agree that a surplus has to be preferable to a deficit. But, as we are beginning to find out, a surplus is not all unalloyed benefit.

The surplus we are talking about, first of all, is not the country’s surplus (that is quite a different matter, the country has been in deficit from one year to the next over a long period) but the government’s, and whether there is a surplus or a deficit in the government’s finances will impact rather differently from what one may expect on the lives of most citizens.

If the government is in surplus, it is really just another way of saying that it takes more from us in taxation than it spends on public services it takes spending power away from us, in other words, but doesn’t make good the loss the economy as a whole by increasing its own spending to compensate.

The result from the viewpoint of the economy rather than the government is not necessarily benign, we are likely to have a smaller economy and a lower level of economic activity than would otherwise be the case.

There is also, of course, a potential downside if the government runs a deficit. It will then in all likelihood have to borrow in order to finance the shortfall, and that will come at a cost, assuming that someone can be found who is willing to lend though this will not normally be a problem since lenders like lending to governments (often at low rates) because their credit is good. Borrowing so often frowned upon is a perfectly sensible policy option if the outcome is a more vibrant economy and it is even more sensible if the borrowing is for capital rather than current expenditure, something many of us are familiar with when we borrow on mortgage to buy a house.

So, we might conclude that elevating the achievement of a government surplus so that it is the government’s primary goal may not have quite so much going for it as we might have thought, and we haven’t even begun to look at the other side of the equation, which is the price we pay when the government does not spend the money it takes in.

The government’s accounts, in other words, are laid out like any other accounts. There are two columns Mr Micawber’s income and expenditure. It follows that a surplus can be achieved either by taxing more than is needed or by spending less than is needed.

The problem for a government that seeks to achieve a surplus by cutting pubic spending is that there is a cost to such cuts, as we are beginning to find out. Right across the board from health care (rotting hospital buildings and all) through to underfunded schools and underpaid public servants such as nurses the country is worse off and less able to function efficiently.

A properly run economy will need both the public and private sectors working together in unison each accepting the responsibility that is properly theirs.

A surplus might please the ideologues and be seen as the badge of good government, but even Mr Micawber might see that we will all be better off if we use all our resources whether in public or private hands to the best effect.

A surplus is of little use as figures in a balance sheet if the price we pay is that essential services are run down.

Bryan Gould

Populism isn’t a dirty word it’s time for the left to reclaim it * Populism Now! – David McKnight.

When the political class adopted Neoliberalism, it effectively transferred significant amounts of political power, the democratic power of governments, to private corporations.

We need to take it back! (Hans)

David McKnight makes the case for a people power that doesn’t scapegoat immigrants or minorities.


Here’s a quick quiz. What do the following political figures have in common: Pauline Hanson, Bill Shorten, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders?

Answer: all have been accused of populism. Whether they’ve bashed banks, billionaires or boat people, they’ve been damned as populists. Yet these political figures come from wildly different parts of the Left and Right. Can they all be populists?

Mostly, when I hear people damning someone as a populist, they are talking about a right-wing version. But it’s not that simple. In this book, I argue that a progressive version of populism exists too.

A progressive populism takes up the genuine economic grievances of everyday Australians without scapegoating migrants or minorities in the way Donald Trump and the proBrexit forces have done. In fact, a progressive form of populism is the best way of defeating the racist backlash of right-wing populism because it addresses the social and economic problems which partly drive the rise of right-wing populism. As well, it asserts our common humanity, whatever diversity we also express.

I first discovered populism when I began teaching investigative journalism in the late 1990s at university. I had some understanding of the subject already, having worked on the ABC’s investigative TV program Four Corners. Like other journalists, I knew about the role of investigative journalism in the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. However, to teach it as an academic course I needed to know about its historical origins. I found that investigative journalism (originally called muckraking) began in the United States around 1900 during what Americans call ‘the Progressive Era’. It was called this because it was a period of radical ideas and activism about social reform. One expression of this was the emergence of a new political party, the People’s Party, in 1890-91. It stood for the interests of ordinary people farmers and workers against the ‘robber barons’ in the privately owned banking, oil and railway industries. Friends and enemies alike described the approach of the People’s Party as Populism and its supporters as Populists.

The muckraking journalists were crusaders on issues which they shared with the Populists. For example, in his book The Jungle, writer Upton Sinclair exposed the dangerous and filthy conditions endured by the Chicago meatworkers. Years later his book was recognised as one of the forces behind the introduction of food safety laws. One of the first female muckrakers, Ida Tarbell, exposed the ruthless practices of Standard Oil in crushing rival companies in a series of articles published in McClure’s Magazine, and eventually a book, The History of the Standard Oil Company. Today, Standard Oil is better known as Exxon and remains a ruthless corporation. Lincoln Steffens’ book The Shame of the Cities exposed the corruption of political machines linked to gambling, prostitution and bribery. Other muckrakers attacked the role of big money in government and the power of Wall Street. Their journalism, I realised, was a key contribution to the progressive causes shared with the Populists.

The key idea of the Populists was that the interests of ordinary people were in conflict with those of the elite. Some of the Populists had conspiratorial ideas about money and power but their movement was a powerful challenge to aggressive, unregulated big business. Having been on the Left of politics since my teens, I found this history of a forgotten reform movement fascinating. its goals of economic and social justice for ordinary people are still relevant today.

Years later I rediscovered American populism when I read a book by journalist Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Published in the wake of the election of George W Bush, his book pointed out that Kansas, now a conservative Republican state, was once a centre of radical activity. One Kansas town produced a socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In the 1890s its farmers, driven to the brink of ruin by years of bad prices and debt, held huge meetings where Kansas radicals like Mary Elizabeth Lease urged the farmers to ‘raise less corn and more hell’. From this situation, the People’s Party emerged as the enemy of the ‘money power’ and as an alternative to both Democrats and Republicans. It advocated publicly owned railways and banks along with a progressive income tax on the rich. For this, Frank tells us, they were reviled ‘for their bumpkin assault on free market orthodoxy’.

In 2015 and 2016 I found myself hearing commentators talk about the rise of modern forms of populism during the looming US presidential election. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were referred to as populists. Sanders had opened his campaign with the statement: ‘This country and our government belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires’. It was a modern echo of the progressive side of the American populist tradition. Although he didn’t win the Democrats’ presidential nomination, Sanders shifted the political agenda and challenged the untrammelled power of the wealthy in the name of ordinary people.

Trump, a right-wing populist, represented the worst aspects of popular prejudice. Yet he won. Like many others, I was stunned as I read the first online news reports announcing this. How could it have happened? One of the most illuminating insights came from Thomas Frank, who argued that Trump’s populist campaign on economic issues was far more important than most people realised at the time and had been the key to him winning crucial states. The abandoned factories and crumbling buildings in cities devastated by free trade deals had created a ‘heartland rage’ that swamped the Democrats.

All of this was ‘the utterly predictable fruit of the Democrats’ neoliberal turn’, he said. ‘Every time our liberal leaders signed off on some lousy trade deal, figuring that working-class people had “nowhere else to go”, they were making what happened last November, Trump’s win, a little more likely.’

Such sentiments inspired this book. And all of this is relevant to Australia because both our Labor and Liberal politicians have, in recent decades, largely accepted the principles of deregulation, privatisation and small government, together known as neoliberalism. In part, this book is an investigation into the failures of these principles in Australia.

The final reason for writing this book is more personal. I grew up in a single-income, bluecollar family with my mother suffering from a severe mental illness. Yet we survived and thrived thanks in part to a strong public sector, especially in health and education. This public sector was grounded in the major parties’ consensus that it was both morally obligatory and economically sound that important public services should be equally available to all and provided collectively. Now this consensus is being broken apart and discarded. This is not some misty-eyed memory about a non-existent golden age, an error often made by right-wing populists when they equate the White Australia Policy years with better conditions overall. Australia is a better and more open society today, not least because it is more culturally diverse. But in terms of simple practical things such as expecting a secure wellpaid job, social services and a home to live in, we are going backwards.

When I started researching this book in the wake of the shock Trump victory and the vote for Brexit I was already a critic of neoliberalism. But as I probed more deeply I grew angrier and angrier. My research revealed that the orthodoxies of deregulation and privatisation, regarded as supreme common sense by the political and economic elite, are radically transforming Australia. The gulf between billionaires and the poor is widening as old egalitarian Australia crumbles; deregulated banks have become parasitic to the rest of the economy; corporate tax avoidance is out of control; and our pay and conditions are being eroded. As it had with me, this has angered many ordinary Australians. Some falsely blame migrants and refugees while others rightly blame a corporate and political elite. To change things, we need to rebuild a new progressive agenda which unites ordinary Australians against these elitedriven policies.

Of prime importance in such a renewed progressive agenda is genuine action on the biggest danger of all, irreversible climate change, which will hit ordinary Australians first. A progressive populist approach aims to unite Australians in the broadest possible new movement one that will provide the necessary people power to avert the worst kinds of changes in the future. Nothing less than the survival of humanity is at stake.



We forced discussions on issues the establishment had swept under the rug for too long. We brought attention to the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in this country and the importance of breaking up the large banks, we are stronger when we stand together and do not allow demagogues to divide us by race, gender, sexual orientation or where we were born.

US presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders


The establishment complains I don’t play by the rules. By which they mean their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game. We don’t fit in their cosy club. We don’t accept that it is natural for Britain to be governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax-dodgers, and we don’t accept that the British people just have to take what they’re given.

British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn


With Donald Trump’s successful campaign to win the US presidency and Britain’s decision to ‘Brexit’ from Europe, we suddenly began to hear a lot of the word ‘populism’ in the political discourse. At first it was used to describe the attack Donald Trump made on illegal Mexican immigration when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in mid 2015. With his trademark bombast, he declaimed, ‘When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best They’re sending people who have lots of problems They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists’. He then added, ‘and some, I assume, are good people’. His call to build a wall on the US-Mexico border (‘which Mexico will pay for’) became a recurrent theme of his campaign and later, his presidency.

Nor was his abuse limited to Mexicans. After a Muslim US citizen committed a terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California, Trump called for a ban preventing Muslims from entering the United States, at one point including those who were American citizens currently abroad. Trump’s campaign received what seemed to be a certain death blow in October 2016, when the Washington Post revealed an audio tape of his boast that, because he was ‘a star’, he could grab women ‘by the pussy’ and get away with it.

By the normal rules of elections in the United States and elsewhere, his popular support should have shrunk. Trump’s coded appeals to racism, crude misogyny and calculated abuse should have fatally wounded his bid for the White House. But his popular support grew and Trump eventually attained the most powerful position in the world. In office, he has confirmed the worst expectations, responding to North Korea’s threat to the United States with a warning that North Korea ‘will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen before’, a thinly disguised threat to unleash a nuclear war.

How did we get into this situation? Trump’s election victory owed a lot to two factors. One was his economic populism, which criticised free trade and globalisation. This received a warm response from many working Americans. He threatened to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement. He promised to impose high tariffs on runaway US companies which moved production overseas. He threatened restrictions on imported Chinese goods. Globalisation, he said, helped ‘the financial elite’ while leaving ‘millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache’. All the while he targeted the states hardest hit by economic globalisation. Much of this was downplayed or never reported by both social media and the traditional news media, which preferred to concentrate on his more colourful outbursts and tweets.

The second key to his victory was his skilful use of social media, which he credited with being a way to counteract what he called the ‘fake news’ propagated by mainstream news media. On Facebook and Twitter his popularity eclipsed that of Hillary Clinton and it was there that he circulated his own ‘alternative facts’. The algorithms of social media, which suggest news based on past activity, transformed this popularity into self-reinforcing echo chambers of Trump supporters. And all of this was fed by the crisis in traditional journalism, whose capacity to report news had been eroded by the power of that selfsame social media.

The election of Donald Trump has taken us all into a new and dangerous place. If it had been an isolated incident it would not matter so much. But it was far from that. A few months before Trump’s election, Britain went to the polls to decide whether or not to leave the European Union (EU). The vote was voluntary but the turnout was high. More than 30 million people voted, with a majority in favour of Britain’s exit, styled Brexit. Another victory for populism, said the commentators.

The British vote to leave the EU spanned traditional Right and Left and drew support from unexpected places. While the ‘Leave’ vote was highest in traditionally Conservative areas, it was also high in some working-class Labour strongholds. For some, voting to leave the EU was a protest against the economic effects of the globalised economy, with its problems of unemployment and low wages. For others, their main concern was the immigration which had ensued from open borders. ‘We want our country back!’ was a common cry. Donald Trump, then campaigning for president, hailed the Brexit vote as a ‘great victory’ and drew parallels to his own opposition to ‘rule by the global elite’. A new populist Right was on the move globally.

Soon populism seemed to be everywhere. In Europe the established parties saw their dominance challenged by right-wing populism. In France in 2017 the antiimmigrant and anti-Muslim National Front achieved 34 per cent of the presidential vote, its highest yet. That same year the far right Alternative for Germany won an unprecedented 13 per cent of the vote and 90 seats in the Bundestag. In the Netherlands Geert Wilders’ xenophobic Party for Freedom advanced in the 2017 general elections.

In Australia too Trump-style political disaffection is taking hold. A reputable study by academics at the Australian National University (ANU) shows that key indicators, including satisfaction with democracy, trust in government and loyalty to major parties are at record lows among Australians. The study was conducted following the July 2016 election and found that only 26 per cent of Australians think the government can be trusted (the lowest level since it was first measured in 1969). Forty per cent of Australians were not satisfied with democracy (the lowest level since the period after Gough Whitlam was dismissed in 1975); and there was a record low level of interest (30 per cent) in the 2016 election.

The study’s lead researcher, Professor Ian McAllister, said that we are seeing ‘the stirrings among the public of what has happened in the United States of the likes of Trump, Brexit in Britain, in Italy and a variety of other European countries, it’s coming here and I would have thought this a wake-up call for the political class’. Australian conservatives, hoping to take advantage of this disillusion, welcomed Trump’s victory, with Tony Abbott tweeting: ‘Congrats to the new president who appreciates that Middle America is sick of being taken for granted’. Mining magnate Gina Rinehart urged Australia to follow Trump’s lead and Andrew Bolt told his audience: ‘The revolution is on!’ Very much part of this phenomenon, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party achieved an unprecedented four seats in the Senate in the 2016 election.

But what is populism?

To many, ‘populism’ is a shorthand term for pandering to people’s baser instincts, exemplified in Trump’s campaign and his presidency. It inflames a desire to blame ethnic and religious minorities; it is a lust for cheap popularity and it is a phony hostility to the Establishment and to ‘the elite’, such is the common understanding. Populist leaders are seen to be posing as outsiders and as representatives of the underdog. Above all, populism is regarded as a right-wing phenomenon.

But it’s not that simple. This book argues that a progressive version of populism exists too. A progressive populism fights for the genuine economic grievances of everyday people without blaming minorities or migrants. In fact, a progressive populism is a very good way to neutralise this sort of scapegoating because it addresses the social and economic problems which partly drive the rise of right-wing populism.

Populism is a notoriously loose description of a political stance. In many ways it is a style of doing politics rather than a series of particular policies. Some people think populism means trying to be popular, but this is misleading. The words populist and populism come from the Latin word for ‘the people’ (populus) what today we’d call the public. The meaning survives in the expression vox populi, the voice of the people. Generally speaking, populism is a style of politics which frames politics as a conflict between the people and an elite. But the identity of the people and the nature of the elite can vary widely. On this basis populism can be either a right-wing or a left-wing phenomenon. In some countries today, the traditional battle between right and left is being channelled through a populist filter.

Academic Margaret Canovan conducted one of the early studies of populism. She argues that there are two broad strands to populist movements. The first is rural, based on organisations of peasants or farmers, a kind which typically emerges when these people are confronting modernisation. The second is characterised by highlighted tensions between the elite and the grassroots. This can take the form of ‘idealisations of the man in the street or of politicians’ attempts to hold together shaky coalitions in the name of “the people”’. Canovan concludes that populism can take right-wing or left-wing forms but that ‘all forms of populism without exception involve some kind of exaltation of and appeal to “the people” and all are in one sense or another anti-elitist’.

The American writer John Judis, author of the recent book The Populist Explosion, also argues that populism is ‘not an ideology but a way of thinking about politics’. He too supports the view that populism can exist in both left and right forms. Left-wing populists champion the people against an elite or establishment (as in Occupy Wall Street’s slogan about the One Per Cent versus the 99 per cent). Right-wing populists are against an elite ‘that they accuse of coddling a third group, which can consist, for instance, of immigrants, lslamists or African American militants’.

Judis notes that the original US People’s Party was formed in the 1890s when Kansas farmers united with an early workers’ organisation and challenged the existing establishment of Republicans and Democrats. The People’s Party developed policies against monopolistic railroads and greedy banks and in favour of progressive income tax and expanding public controls. As one populist writer said, they aimed to get rid of ‘the plutocrats, the aristocrats, and all the other rats’. To the Australian Labor Party, emerging in the same tumultuous decade of the 1890s, the US People’s Party was something of a model and there were early proposals to call the new Australian party the People’s Party, rather than the Labour Party.

This progressive strand within American populism re-emerged in 2015-16 when Bernie Sanders competed with Hillary Clinton to become the Democrats’ presidential candidate. At the start of that campaign he was seen as little more than an eccentric, rumpled, 70-plus year old running an unusual campaign. One newspaper described him as a ‘grumpy grandfather type’ who ‘embraces his reputation for being gruff, abrupt and honest and promises to be bold’. As time went on, observers began to note the cheering, youthful crowds that he drew, his calls for a ‘political revolution’ and his strong social media campaign on Facebook.

Although he did not win the Democratic nomination, Sanders surprised everyone by doing well enough in the battle for the presidential nomination to win 23 primary and caucus races to Clinton’s 34. With no big corporate donors, he raised millions of dollars in small donations from a growing support base, especially from the young. Most surprising of all were his campaign’s public statements and appeals. Sanders attacked ‘the One Per Cent’ of super-rich people who had benefitted enormously from the globalised economy while others struggled to survive. In one speech at Liberty University, he said: ‘In my view there is no economic justice when the 15 wealthiest people in this country in the last two years saw their wealth increase by $170 billion’. It was a fact he repeated all through his energetic campaign.

Another Sanders target was the deregulated banking system that had caused the global financial crisis. Sanders charged: ‘Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when Wall Street collapsed, they used their wealth and power to get bailed out’.‘ The contrast he pointed out in several speeches was with the 41 per cent of American workers who didn’t take a single day of paid vacation in 2015 and with the third of workers in the private sector who cannot even claim paid sick leave.

Like Trump, Bernie Sanders was also widely regarded as a populist, reviving a long American tradition in which the central conflict is seen to be between the people and the elite.

Sanders happily described himself as a democratic socialist and pointed to the socialdemocratic states of Scandinavia as models. In his platform, Sanders said he supported: a national public healthcare system; an end to corporate welfare; abolishing fees for college degrees; a full employment policy; raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and preventing ‘greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry’. The money to achieve these aims was to be raised by compelling wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share of tax.

All of these policies, advocating a stronger role for government, effectively rejected the decades-long dominance of the ideology known as neoliberalism the ideology of small government, of globalising in the form of deregulated markets and of faith in market forces to guide and manage the economy.

Progressive populism in the Sanders mould attributes today’s social and economic problems not to migrants or minorities nor to the ‘politically correct’ mainstream media, but to the failure of neoliberal policies. And because progressive populism addresses the forces driving the rise of right-wing populism, it is the most effective antidote.

The political theorist Chantal Mouffe is not surprised by the rise of right-wing populism:

In a context where the dominant discourse proclaims that there is no alternative to the current neoliberal form of globalisation and that we have to submit to its diktats, it is small wonder that more and more workers are keen to listen to those who claim that alternatives do exist, and that they will give back to the people the power to decide.

And this is just what Trump promised. Unlike the campaign of Hillary Clinton, issues of economic injustice featured heavily in his winning campaign. Just a few days before the November election, Trump told a huge crowd in an aircraft hangar in Pittsburgh: ‘When we win, we are bringing steel back, we are going to bring steel back to Pennsylvania, like it used to be. We are putting our steel workers and miners back to work’. Trump touched a raw nerve. No steel mills now exist in Pittsburgh and hundreds of thousands of steelworkers had lost their jobs since the 1980s, in part due to freer global trade. Whether Trump was sincere in (or even capable of delivering) his promise to bring steel jobs back to Pittsburgh is not the point. Identifying economic grievances and blaming them on free trade and globalisation is almost unprecedented by a Republican candidate. More importantly, it was a challenge which Hillary Clinton, as a long time supporter of neoliberal free trade, could not rebut. As it turned out, Trump did win in Pennsylvania. It was one of the three ‘rust belt’ states that made the difference to victory or defeat in the presidential election.

Both Trump and Sanders were outsiders in US politics. Both denounced the domination of big business and the banks and blamed them for much of US economic woes. Both based their campaign on appeals to ordinary Americans and both were described as populists. Unlike Trump, Sanders was a progressive populist. When he talked about the elite and the establishment, he meant the economic elite and the corporate establishment. Unlike Trump, Sanders did not scapegoat immigrants or ethnic minorities.

The groundswell grows

The groundswell of populism soon saw Sanders joined by the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. When he began his election campaign in April 2017, Corbyn faced deep opposition from many of his fellow Labour members of parliament. Like most media commentators, they also believed that because of his leftwing history and left-wing policies he could not possibly win. And certainly he was in trouble at the beginning of the campaign, when polls were placing Labour up to 24 points behind the Conservatives.

From the start of the 2017 election campaign Corbyn framed the contest in the language of progressive populism. He described the election as a battle of ‘the establishment versus the people’ and promised to overturn ‘a rigged system’ that favoured the rich and powerful. Under him, Labour would not be part of the ‘cosy club’ whose members think it is natural for Britain to be ‘governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax dodgers’, he said. His opponents believed such deeply controversial rhetoric was guaranteed to result in a huge loss.

But his message was straightforward and cut through the spin and PR fog of traditional political rhetoric. And these policies proved popular among the British people. Early opinion polling showed that up to 71 per cent of people supported his proposal to raise the minimum wage to ten pounds an hour. A similar proportion of the British public (62 per cent) supported his plan to raise taxes on the rich and high income earners.

Corbyn’s manifesto broke other unspoken rules of the economic consensus of neoliberalism. He argued that the railways and water supply should return to public ownership. He promised to extend free school meals by a tax on private school fees. He also urged increased funding for social housing, and his pledge to abolish university fees helped build a powerful momentum among young people, who registered to vote at unprecedented levels and voted Labour on election day.

The Conservatives had called the election, confident they would increase their majority in parliament, and Corbyn’s campaign of progressive populism destroyed their majority and almost beat them.

There were close parallels between the movements around Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Officials from Sanders’ campaign helped Corbyn with ideas on strategy and fundraising. Sanders himself visited Britain just days before the election campaign and drew comparisons between his own policies and Corbyn’s:

Too many people run away from the grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality that exist in the United States, the UK and all over the world Globalisation has left far too many people behind. Workers all over the world are seeing a decline in their standard of living. Unfettered free trade has allowed multinational companies to enjoy huge profits and make the very rich even richer while workers are sucked into a race for the bottom.

The spread of progressive populist ideas has not been confined to the United States and Britain. In Spain the progressive populist party Podemos emerged in 2014 and grew so rapidly that it secured 20 per cent in the 2015 elections, campaigning on an anti-austerity platform, supporting increased public spending and strong anti-corruption measures. In the 2016 election it retained its electoral support. In Greece, another new progressive party, Syriza, formed out of a coalition of left-wing and environment groups and received 35 per cent of the vote in the 2015 elections, later forming government. While the majority trend within European populism is rightwing, the significance of a new left populism should not be underestimated.

Neoliberal globalisation

Driving the emergence of right and left-wing populism is the set of policies known as neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism became the mindset of the political class in the 1980s and was a very deliberate project to wind back the welfare state, reducing the public sphere with its public goods of health, education, transport and culture, along with the tax system which paid for it.

The neoliberal project is based on the idea that the market is the most efficient distributor of goods because it combines the profit motive and competition. It takes no account of justice, inequality or social cohesion. Ultimately this promotes the transformation of all human relationships (not just economic ones) into commercial transactions.

It was neoliberalism with its floating currencies and deregulated markets which drove the present form of globalisation. But neoliberal globalisation means much more than a loosening of trade. It means the unplanned transfer of blue and white-collar jobs from erstwhile industrial countries to less developed nations. It also means national governments are less able to control what happens in their own society and economy.

When the political class adopted neoliberalism, it effectively transferred significant amounts of political power, the democratic power of governments, to private corporations. While benefitting a corporate elite, the neoliberal experiment demonstrably failed in the global financial crisis and the effects of that failure are still with us.

What had been a crisis of private debt was transformed by government bail-outs into an alleged crisis of public debt. This sleight of hand reinforced the neoliberal dogma that the problem was always governments. The ideology of ‘small government’ meant that governments imposed even more stringent cost-cutting measures.

The failure of neoliberalism in Australia

The populist groundswell in the United States, Britain and Europe and elsewhere is reflected by similar movements in Australia, prompted by similar causes. In the following chapters I examine the ways in which Neo-liberalism has failed to produce a good society, as well as its role in fostering a populist backlash.

First and most significantly, 30 years of neoliberal globalisation and deregulation have produced a polarisation of wealth which has undermined Australia’s egalitarian ethos. The gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us is widening. We are becoming a more divided society with a tiny wealthy elite at one extreme and a significant group of poor at the other.

Nor is it solely a matter of fuelling material inequality. As important as inequality (and more important in the long term) is climate change. The ideology of small government and deregulation is impeding our response to accelerating climate change despite the clear warning signs in record high temperatures and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Whatever combination of market and state arrangements is best at fostering renewable energy, it will need tough government action to implement this and to defeat the power of the coal and oil industries. To support such action we need a broad populist coalition of all the diverse forces demanding real action on climate.

And just as it has in the United States and Britain, privatisation is spreading throughout Australian society, changing services that used to be provided to all citizens into profitmaking enterprises. The sale of public assets like seaports, airports and electricity poles and wires has simply created expensive monopolies. Billions have also been wasted in attempting to privatise technical and vocational education. Despite these failures, private companies are now being encouraged to move deeper into education, aged care and disability services.

Likewise, Australia has its own rust belt of closed factories and, for those in employment, jobs are increasingly casual, part time and less secure. The deregulation of Australian workplaces means that for younger workers, jobs with paid holidays and fair wages are becoming less common. And thanks to a variety of temporary overseas visa schemes a casualised, cashinhand underclass is spreading in the agriculture, retail and hospitality sectors. Such workers are exploited and their labour conditions undermine those of local workers. This is not occurring accidentally but because economic orthodoxy (backed by employers) demands this labour deregulation. The resulting job insecurity combined with low wages is one factor stoking a right-wing populist backlash based on xenophobia and hostility to overseas workers.

While low-paid workers are made increasingly vulnerable, at the other end of the scale big corporations do everything they can to avoid paying tax, a practice made easier in the globalised world of neoliberalism. In 2014, the Australian branch of the tech giant Apple paid $80 million in tax just 1 per cent of its total Australian income of $6 billion. Its rival, Microsoft, paid just 5 per cent of its income. Over several years big mining companies like BHP and Rio Tinto shifted billions through Singapore, where tax rates can be a mere 2.5 per cent. Nor is it just corporations. Some of Australia’s richest families and individuals pay little or no tax. When the Panama Papers were leaked, up to 800 wealthy Australians were associated with shell companies in tax havens like Panama. Meanwhile, ordinary Australians are left to pick up the tab for hospitals, roads and schools, effectively subsidising those who refuse to pay their share.

Finally, compounding the problem of wealth inequality, the banking and finance sector has swollen enormously since it was deregulated. In Australia we have some of the biggest and most profitable banks in the world. Together they form a rapacious oligopoly which extracts more than $30 billion in profits each year from the rest of Australia.

In their zeal to lend money, deregulated banks have fuelled a housing price boom, the result of which is that fewer Australians now own their own home than 40 years ago.

It’s now time to look again at regulating banks and the finance industry to ensure that they act in the public interest.

Overall, the spread of neoliberal orthodoxy through society has corroded many of the institutions and relationships on which citizens rely and which offer protection from the vagaries of the market. This orthodoxy has shrunk the democratic space by removing all sorts of functions from the public to the private sphere. The real meaning of ‘small government’ is that we have ended up with a small democracy, because governments are still the only institutions we have for exercising our democratic, collective voice. The zealous advocacy of theories of selfinterest, competition and small government has led to a dead end.

All of this spawns populisms of both the Right and Left. The crucial point of difference between them concerns the meaning of and response to globalisation. Are the problems of globalisation primarily issues of economics and economic justice or are they mainly an issue of immigrants and of changing the ethnic mix? Progressive populists are alarmed by the damage that open economic borders, which import cheap products and export jobs, do to local jobs and the national economy. Right-wing populism dredges the deepest and most dangerous emotions to reject the changing ethnic mix which results after years of relatively open immigration.

When right-wing populists define what they mean by the ‘elite’ they take aim at the progressive middle class, the so-called politically correct, who abhor racism and gender inequality. Progressive populists, by contrast, define the ‘elite’ in economic terms as the super-rich and corporate moguls. When talking about ‘the people’, progressives seek to unify the middle class and working class in an alliance for reform. Progressive populists emphasise the common ground which the majority of people share on issues of economic justice.

By focussing attention on genuine economic grievances, a progressive populist agenda can undercut the way ethnic and religious minorities are demonised.

Some see progressive populism as the natural continuation and revival of social-democratic and labour politics which have been compromised by their turn to ‘third way’ politics. One critic is political theorist Chantal Mouffe. She argues that the neoliberal consensus between conservative and once-radical workers’ parties has created a favourable ground for the rise of populism because many people feel their voices are unheard and ignored in the representative system. The problem is that this often takes the form of a right-wing populism which sees ‘the people’ defined to exclude immigrants and minorities.

On this basis many people criticise ‘populism’ negatively. She responds:

This is a mistake, because populism represents an important dimension of democracy. Democracy understood as ‘the power of the people’ requires the existence of a ‘demos’ a people. Instead of rejecting the term populist, we should reclaim it.

In this book my intention is to reclaim populism by fostering a progressive version of it which puts the interests of the common man and woman first, ahead of the priorities of a wealthy global elite whose interests and priorities have dominated for far too long.



There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war and we ’re winning.

Warren Buffett, billionaire investor


With their collective wealth estimated at $US7.7 trillion, the global elite of the super-rich are the natural opponents of progressive populism. Some of that global elite are household names in Australia. In July 2016 over 200 of them gathered for a huge celebration in the dazzling blue waters of the Mediterranean. Trucking billionaire Lindsay Fox was throwing an all expenses paid birthday party and had invited his closest friends to enjoy a cruise from Athens to Venice via Corfu. Fox’s ship of choice was Seabourn Odyssey, renting for over a million dollars a week and containing 225 luxury suites.

Lindsay Fox’s own wealth totals $2.9 billion. His fellow passengers included the mining billionaires Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest.

According to the Australian Financial Review’s 2017 Rich List they are worth (in Australian dollars) $10.4 billion and $6.8 billion respectively. Shopping centre king John Gandel ($6.1 billion) and retail giant Solomon Lew ($2.3 billion) also took part in the exclusive celebration on the high seas. Further down the guest list for the stylish cruise were former Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey, former Liberal Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, media businessman Harold Mitchell and golfer Greg Norman.‘

This public airing of the details of a party for Australian billionaires is rare. It’s not always easy to get information on the super-rich. A key source is the Financial Review’s annual Rich List. The 2017 edition identified 60 Australian billionaires, headed by the paper manufacturing magnate Anthony Pratt ($12.6 billion). The most modest billionaire (scraping in at just $1 billion) is Melbourne-based Peter Gunn, who owns PGA Group, a private investment business that holds a property empire in office and industrial blocks and is also involved in cattle production. Others among the ten wealthiest are James Packer ($4.75 billion), whose money is in casinos; Harry Triguboff ($11.45 billion), who made a fortune from building tower blocks; and Frank Lowy ($8.26 billion), the Westfield shopping centre magnate. The eighth wealthiest Australian is Hui Wang Mau ($6 billion), who made much of his money in Hong Kong property and took out Australian citizenship after studying in South Australia in the early 1990s.


Populism Now!

by David McKnight

get it at

The Calm Button, a Sober look at Mindfulness. Mrs D Is Going Within – Lotta Dann.

Mindfulness is paying attention to the moment without being lost in your head.

These mindfulness techniques might sound ridiculously simple. Seriously, just feeling the vibrations of the steering wheel makes a difference? Yes, it really does.

Lotta Dann explains how she uses mindfulness techniques.

It’s not so much about the steering wheel or my breath or the sensations in my toes, these are just readily available grounding tools.

It’s about recognising the actions of my thinking mind and not being sucked in by them. It’s about awareness, and most importantly it’s about kindness.

Practising mindfulness is the ultimate act of self-care. I care that I don’t get wound up. I care that I don’t have butterflies in my tummy. I care that I don’t make a busy day worse by thinking negatively about it. And in return all the people around me benefit, and I feel like I’m connecting with them more intensely.

Also, since I’ve begun thinking so often about my breath, I’ve become very connected to the whole of myself in a wonderful, subtle way. There’s something about focusing on this vital bodily action that is incredibly enriching, and noticing it regularly has fostered in me a deeper level of self-love.

This is not the same as me looking in the mirror and thinking: ‘Boy, do I look shit hot today!‘. Or seeing myself being mentioned online and thinking, I am so clever! Actually, it’s not about thinking about myself at all. It’s about feeling myself and, as someone who has never really been connected to their physical self at all (how could I be when I was all noise and booze?), slowing down and focusing on my breath regularly has led to me settling and becoming very connected with the whole of myself.

A lot of it comes down to me realising this: I am not my thoughts. I am way more than my thoughts. I am my heart and my soul and the blood pumping in my veins and a miraculous collection of atoms and molecules that takes up space on this earth.

My thoughts, on the other hand, are little energy puffs created out of the restless frontal cortex of my mind. They are influenced by the current state I am in, and are often not factual.

If I’m tired, I think more negatively. If I’m sick, I think more negatively. If something tricky is going on, I think more negatively.

For the first time in my life, I am able to separate out my thinking mind from the rest of me, to recognise when it is dominating, and to get it to just stop.

This is my simple little mindfulness mantra, and it repeats itself often in my mind. It comes to me in a voice that is kind and wise it’s my foxy Internal Observer! and she says,

Just stop!

Just stop with all the mental habits that are winding you up.

Just stop with all the worrying about your life, other people’s lives, life in general.

Just stop with all the ruminating over how things should or shouldn’t be.

Just stop with all the thinking about yourself that you do.

Just stop with all the planning about how things should be in the future.

Just stop with all the judgement about what’s going on.

Just stop with all the comparing yourself to others.

Just stop with all the speculating about what other people are thinking.

Just stop with all the endless mindchatter.

Just stop.

Of course, I still do all of the above who doesn’t? but if I catch myself letting it go on for too long I think, ‘Just stop’, and some sort of switch gets flicked in my mind. I relax my thinking into focusing on what is actually happening right in front of me in the exact moment I’m in.

This is mindfulness! Paying attention to the moment without being lost in my head.

The freedom, the freedom, when I practise this regularly is so great. It’s like being able to push a CALM button in my brain so that everything turns lovely. And there are no downsides.

Practising mindfulness hasn’t led to me forgetting things or mismanaging things or underperforming at things. On the contrary, it’s loosened me up overall so that I can perform better when I do need to focus on tasks.

Mindfulness has turned out to be the magic ticket I was looking for.

Mrs D Is Going Within

Lotta Dann


I am an alcoholic. An A-grade, first-class boozer. I could couch myself in more delicate terms maybe, and call myself a wine-lover or an enthusiastic drinker, but I prefer the more blunt and honest approach. Alcoholic, that’s what I am.

The truth is that for almost all of my adult life alcohol has been my constant companion. I drank determinedly and heavily, religiously, almost from the age of fifteen to the age of thirty-nine. When I first tried alcohol as a fresh faced teenager, I overdid it and ended up vomiting the entire contents of my stomach into the bath (sickly-sweet bubbly wine and marshmallows, to be precise, an image that has never left me), but that didn’t put me off. No way! I was hooked from the get-go, completely drawn to the fun, danger and allure of this magical drug.

I loved the way it felt in my body, trickling up my spine and entering my brain. I loved the way it loosened my limbs and loosened my mood. I loved that it shifted reality, made everything more gnarly and more fun. Teenage me, a heady mix of nerves and rebellion, thought that this wonderful, powerful liquid was the golden ticket to life. And, since I lived in a society where drinking regularly was not only the norm but a celebrated and even encouraged thing to do, it was easy for my teenage crush to steadily morph into an adult love affair. Regularly drinking was how I rolled, and as far as I was concerned imbibing alcohol almost every single day was a very ordinary, grown-up and acceptable thing to do. Five o’clock is wine o’clock right? It certainly was in my world.

I drank through my student years and my early jobs in journalism. I drank as I travelled the country and the world. I drank when l was achieving great things; I drank when I was idle and miserable. I drank in stressful jobs; I drank when unemployed. I drank alone and in groups. I drank when l was single, throughout happy romances, and during dysfunctional relationships.

I used booze to bond with friends, to fit in to groups, to prove that I was a good hostess, and to make myself comfortable in social situations. I drank it to mark achievements, drown sorrows, cure boredom and dull sadness. I drank when celebrating, congratulating, relaxing and memorialising, and when grieving, stressing, being let down or heartbroken. I drank in bars, at work, on aeroplanes, in parks, at the beach, up mountains and sitting on the sofa. I even drank in bed. The only time I didn’t drink was when I was pregnant or laid up with a tummy bug (sad but true).

Alcohol was just there for me all the time, impacting every experience I had, sometimes elevating my experiences, sometimes smoothing them out, sometimes ruining them. (I have a bunch of best, forgotten memories from events where I got completely blotto and lost the plot, not pretty.)

I can’t even begin to imagine how many litres of alcohol I have consumed in my life. I shudder to think about how much booze my internal organs have been forced to process. Beer, wine, gin, whiskey, peach schnapps You name it, I have drunk plenty of it. Mostly though, and certainly towards the end, it was pretty much only wine. Glass after glass after glass of wine. Wine was my constant companion, my trusted friend, my go-to solution, my crutch.

Until it wasn’t.

Towards the end of my drinking days I completely lost the ability to moderate my intake. I struggled to have any alcohol-free nights. Once I started drinking I wouldn’t stop until all the alcohol in the house was gone. I needed more and more to feel ‘full’. Where one bottle of wine in a sitting used to be enough, soon I needed one bottle plus another glass (or four). Time and time again I made promises to myself that I failed to keep, promises like, ‘I’m only having one tonight.’ I was frequently sloppy, slurry and messy. I’d stumble and fall. There was vomiting.

I was permanently exhausted, hungover and wracked with guilt. Every day was an endless cycle of regretting drinking, recovering from drinking, convincing myself I didn’t have a drinking problem, planning on drinking, acquiring alcohol and drinking again. Once it hit my system, I was a goner and I just wanted more, more, more. I was a slave to the drug of alcohol, locked in a miserable binge-and-regret cycle. What had started out as a fun, edgy habit ended up in a dark and dysfunctional place where I had very little pride, strength or self-respect left.

I quit drinking on 6 September 2011 after a particularly miserable Monday-night binge at home, during which I hid an empty bottle of wine from my husband to conceal how much I’d had while he’d been out. This was something I’d never done before. it wasn’t so much the events of that evening which forced my point of change, although the dysfunctional behaviour of hiding the bottle was a horrifying new development. Rather, it was the accumulated knowledge gained over the preceding months, during which I’d been trying desperately to gain control of my habit. I couldn’t gain control, and it all finally came to a head on the night that I hid that empty bottle.

I woke at 3 am that morning full of despair and guilt and frustration and desperation. This was my personal rock bottom, me at my lowest ebb, a miserable, teary mess. Finally, l accepted that the only way I was going to gain any control was by removing alcohol from my life completely. So I quit, thinking that if I just broke my nasty little drinking habit and learned how to live alcohol-free then life would carry on the same as before.

Boy, was I wrong. First of all, breaking my ‘nasty little habit’ was bloody hard work. My brain freaked out when it realised I’d taken away its beloved fix. ‘I WANT MY WINE!’ it would scream as 5 pm approached. Every. Single. Day.

And every single day I’d have to grit my teeth and resist the urge to drink. It was hell. I’d snap and be grumpy with my family. I’d guzzle sugary drinks. I’d clean the house like a mad woman to distract myself. (Never has my house been as clean as it was when I first quit drinking.) I’d force my thoughts forward through the evening, visualising myself getting into bed sober then waking up in the morning without a hangover. I knew that if I could get through the dreaded ‘witching hours’ of 4 pm to 7 pm without drinking I’d be so happy and proud of myself. Sometimes I’d go to bed at six-thirty just to get the day over with.

Slowly, as the days and weeks passed, the intense physical cravings lessened, and l was able to relax a little.

But beating the cravings was just the beginning.

Next, I had to work on entirely reshaping my identity. No longer was I ‘fun Lotta’, the upbeat party girl who was always game for a laugh. No longer was I ‘cruisy Lotta’, the awesome hostess who always had wine on ice to offer her guests. No longer was I ‘naughty Lotta’, with the twinkle in her eye, getting amongst it into the wee small hours. So who was I instead? My biggest fear was that I would become ‘Lotta the boring, sober loser’.

In my early days of sobriety, I struggled through social events, feeling terribly awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin, but-as with everything in sobriety, slowly things took a turn for the better. I discovered that not only did no one care whether I drank or not, but not everyone else was getting hammered all the time. Who knew?! I’d been so locked in to my own boozy mindset that I hadn’t noticed how many people take it extremely easy. Furthermore, as I started hanging out without a glass in my hand, I began to realise that, surprise, surprise, alcohol is not the magical, golden ticket to fun I once thought it was.

My entire life, I had given alcohol the power to make events successful, but when I removed it I began to learn that a fun party is a fun party not because my glass contains a brain-bending liquid, but because it’s full of elements that make it fun for me, things like a crowd of people I love, a great location, a good atmosphere, music I dig, and me in a good mood and happy in my outfit. I also realised that no amount of booze can improve a boring or nerve-wracking party, all booze does is make you drunk at a boring or nerve-wracking party.

In fact, the longer I went without drinking, the more I started to understand that all of my hardwired beliefs and romantic notions about alcohol were complete and utter bullshit. This revelation was HUGE for me and, quite honestly, fascinating.

Here I was at the age of 39, having spent over twenty years worshipping at the altar of my idol, alcohol, and only now was I discovering that it wasn’t actually the glorified substance I thought it was. My false god fell off its pedestal, and I started to see it for what it really was: expensive, destructive, foul-tasting shit that did nothing to enhance my life and everything to dull it. I discovered that alcohol wasn’t essential for good times; good times are good because they contain naturally enjoyable elements. I discovered that it wasn’t the best thing to help me relax at the end of a busy day; relaxing is about being finished with work, putting on comfy pants, lighting a scented candle, connecting with family or unwinding with enjoyable activities.

And the biggest mindshift of all? That alcohol wasn’t a ‘treat’ to ‘reward’ myself with, but a costly drug that stifled my inner spark and messed me up.

As I slowly clocked up the sober days, and as each of these revelations emerged, I started to feel so great about being free of the stuff. I also started sleeping better, looking better, listening better, concentrating better, parenting better, writing better, singing better, dressing better. Just being a much better version of myself than I had been before. Fantastic!

Initially, I thought that I’d escaped my drinking days largely unscathed and was on the path to a settled and happy second half of my life, particularly because my story lacks the usual litany of dramatic incidents and monumental cock-ups that can follow in the wake of an alcoholic.

But I soon realised this was not the case. I may not have had a criminal record or any failing organs to my name, but did I have widespread emotional deficiencies as a result of my long-term alcohol abuse? Yes indeed.

From the moment I put down the bottle, I was all over the show with my moods. Without a daily liquid suppressant, every tricky emotion burst out of me with ovewhelming intensity. I felt raw, drained, teary, super sensitive, uncomfortable, alarmed and confused, sometimes all within the same hour! It was like I’d crawled out of a dark cave, one in which I drank alcohol all the time and never matured properly, and into the bright sunlight.

I started to see that alcohol had been a great leveller for me, one that I had used to keep myself on an even keel so that no big highs or lows ever came my way. My regular alcohol habit had dulled all of my feelings and emotions into a fuzzy, boozy mess. I wasn’t expecting it, but boy was the shift to living sober a dramatic one. Without my beloved smooth-all, I started living on high alert, feeling every emotion very acutely.

My anger was rage. (Ask my sister about the time I punched the wall in the midst of an argument.) My sadness was despair. (Ask my friend about the time I sobbed all over her about something that had happened twenty years prior.) These extreme emotional outbursts were deeply uncomfortable. I hated being angry, and I thought that sadness was the worst thing in the world, a feeling to be avoided at all costs. Now that I was sober, these emotions were not only unavoidable, but it also quickly became apparent that I was woefully illequipped to deal with them. I couldn’t be like, ‘l’m having a bad day so I need to do X, Y, Z to look after myself,’ or, ‘l’m fuming, Ineed to X, Y, Z to manage this.’ I didn’t have an X, Y, Z! I had no emotional coping mechanisms, no tried-and-tested methods of dealing with stuff. The only tried-and-tested method I had was to be found in a bottle.

Time has helped somewhat. As I’ve pushed on through over three years of being sober, I’ve naturally calmed down and the dramatic lurching from one emotional state to another has quietened. I’m still way more heightened than I was when boozing, but I’m no longer all over the show like when I first quit. I’m much more accepting of my emotions nowadays and am a little more in tune with them coming and going. I’m simply more used to feeling. I still don’t like tricky emotions, but have grown to tolerate them, much as you would an annoying neighbour or insect bites.

But I still need to do some serious work. The truth is, I’ve never sat with myself ‘in the raw’ for long enough to gain any real insight into how I function as a human being. Emotionally, I am very unformed and unresolved. Sure, I’ve lived a full life and have built up a decent amount of experience and wisdom just from having been on the planet for many years, but having booze as my constant companion in life has prevented me from properly developing any robust coping strategies. I thought I was quite a well-adjusted, mature and wise woman, but putting down the bottle has proved otherwise. I now know that using alcohol for most of my adult life to enhance, distract, avoid, numb and blur reality has messed with my brain chemistry and left me an emotional fledgling.

In many ways, I am writing this book as a typical woman in her forties. My body is that of a typical middle-aged woman (saggy but also soft and strong). My life is full of the typical trappings of middle age (family, mortgage, reading glasses, teacup collection). I’ve experienced many things and have a bunch of memories to show for it. But I lack something important. I lack a solid perspective on myself, how I work, how I process and deal with things. I lack any fundamental knowledge or good tools to help me navigate the remaining years of my life. I’m sober and that is fantastic, but putting down the drink was just the first step. Now I need some next-level help to get me through.

As it stands, I have only two tools in my toolbox that have helped me get to this point in my sobriety. The first tool is massively powerful and the most important, and that is my awesome online recovery community. Thanks to my blog, Mrs D Is Going Without, which I started when I first quit drinking, and now Living Sober, the government-funded recovery website I run, I’m constantly surrounded by a wonderful tribe of like-minded people who know exactly what I’m going through.

Through my blog, Living Sober and my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, I’m in daily contact with thousands of equally brave and amazing people who are also working hard to reshape their lives and get sober. We all share openly and honestly about what we’re going through, our trials and triumphs, and how we are navigating our sober lives in a world awash with booze. The connections I have made online are incredibly strong and heartfelt. Knowing I can always find a wise and sympathetic ear online when the going gets rough is gold.

The second tool that I have whole-heartedly embraced is the concept of ‘sober treats’. All the money that I used to spend on wine, I now spend on special things to treat myself with when I’m feeling low, fresh flowers, scented candles, fancy soaps, delicious chocolates and glossy magazines. These items may sound trite or superficial, but with every purchase I send myself a little self-care message that I am worth being treated well and that I am brave and amazing for quitting booze. It’s an important message.

So my toolbox isn’t empty. It’s just a bit light. At the moment, I don’t even have any regular exercise in there, and everyone knows that is super important.


Recovery community, Sober treats

I need more tools, a better range of tools, deeper tools, more robust tools, because the problem is, life keeps coming at me. Tricky stuff keeps happening, big stuff, hurtful stuff, complicated stuff, painful stuff, confusing stuff, and my tools aren’t proving tough enough. I need more techniques for when I’m struggling. My online community is fabulous, but I don’t share everything with them (some things are just too private), and a scented candle only goes so far. I’m lucky to have an extremely supportive husband in Corin, a great family and some wonderful friends, but I still desperately feel the need to develop some better coping strategies.

Because, honestly, things aren’t going great. Lately I’ve been experiencing low-grade anxiety, and the sober treats that fall into the ‘sweet’ category are getting way out of hand, so much so that I’m often caught in a cravings-binge-self-loathing cycle with sugar that is scarily reminiscent of my drinking days.

Sober me needs some serious work. And I’ve got to do it now, or maybe I will end up back in a bottle, once again using wine as my main emotional coping mechanism.

And that would be extremely dumb.

Chapter 1

What the bloody hell is the problem?

It’s 5 pm on a Tuesday. In an hour I need to take my middle son to his Cubs meeting, but before that we’ll have dinner. I’ve got sausages in the frying pan, potatoes roasting in the oven, broccoli and carrots chopped and ready to cook. My three boys are happily playing video games (or watching YouTube videos of other people playing video games, which is apparently a fun thing to do). While it’s quiet, I’m tidying up the house, repositioning things so that they are in their rightful place, something I seem to do endlessly. Corin will be arriving home from his job as TVNZ’s political correspondent later. It’s an ordinary Tuesday evening. So why do I feel nervy and on edge, like something is wrong?

I can feel it in my belly, there are butterflies there. I mentally run through a list of things that might explain why I am feeling this way. (‘There always has to be a clear reason for any emotion,’ is how I think.) Butterflies usually equal nerves. Am I nervous about something? Have I got a scary work meeting coming up or a talk to do? Did I just receive a snippy email or nasty text message that I’ve forgotten about? I stop my tidying and lean over to place both hands on the corner of the kitchen table. I try to reach back into my mind. Nope, can’t remember anything specific. So what is going on? Is my health worrying me? Is there a social event looming that I’m dreading? Nothing. Well, what the bloody hell is the problem, then? Why the butterflies? I can feel them dancing around in my belly and hate that I can’t pinpoint why they’re there. What on earth are they trying to tell me?

I despise this sense of impending doom, this feeling like I’ve got something to worry about.

It’s not an unfamiliar sensation and often, like right now, I can’t put my finger on what that something is. I take a deep breath and push myself off the table then carry on tidying things away. As I head back over to the kitchen bench, picking up some shoes on the way and chucking them in the basket, I’m still edgy and worrying about what’s wrong. Surely there must be a simple and clear answer to why I’m feeling wound up. Did I sleep badly last night? Am I due for my period? Have my food choices been crap lately and that’s what’s bringing my mood down? No silver bullet springs to mind to explain why I have this nervous tummy. lt’s annoying.

I keep ruminating on what’s wrong as l chuck a couple of glasses into the dishwasher then turn on the elements under various pots and pans. The edginess stays with me as I move about the kitchen, getting dinner plates out of the pantry and putting them on the bench. I need a solution.

It’s a pretty fraught conversation, this one I’m having in my head.

The only solution I have is to distract myself. I’m very good at this. I reach into the ‘secret’ cupboard (the one that everyone knows about), where treats for lunchboxes are stashed, to grab two mini bags of salty chips and tear them open. I’ve been sober for so long that wine isn’t on my radar any more and, thankfully, I’m not having a fierce internal debate about whether to have a glass (or five) of merlot to smooth out the edginess but the chips are a nice, salty distraction for sure.

My phone rings (more distractions-yay!) so I grab it to check out what has arrived. (Must check notifications on my phone immediately or the device will explode.) It’s an email from a North American rehab wanting me to publish their infographic about addiction on my blog. Do I want to do that? It apparently details the struggles a child faces when their parent is an addict. Still holding my phone, I grab a tea towel and open the oven door then give the roasting spuds a good shake. They look ready so I turn the oven off and leave the door ajar, then quickly reach into the cupboard for another mini bag of chips. I gobble them down while thinking about emails and infographics and addicted parents and my work in general.

I decide to quickly check lnstagram (a couple of new followers, someone’s salad, a dog on a beach), then Twitter (two likes on my last tweet, endless boring tips on how to live well, local politicos bickering), then my Facebook page (a couple of new comments, someone has shared a mocktail recipe), and finally my blog to see if there are any new comments (a reader has shared a quote attributed to Helen Keller about the world being full of suffering but also the overcoming of it). I then head to the Living Sober website and navigate to the community section to make sure all the members are playing nice (they are-they’re all rallying kindly around someone who relapsed last night, and yet again I’m heartened by how kind and non-judgemental the community is).

When I finally tear myself away from my online world I look over and realise l’ve overcooked the broccoli. Shit! I drop my phone on the bench and grab the pot off the stove, yelling ‘Dinner!’ at the boys. The butterflies in my tummy come back into focus and I’m aware my shoulders are tense. I’m definitely on edge. I think about the member who relapsed, it’s a bummer, as she’d been doing so well, and mull over the Helen Keller quote, before mentally starting to write an email response to the American rehab. I’m going to have to turn down their request because info graphics aren’t my thing. I’m busy trying to word my response so that I don’t sound uncaring or flippant. I wonder what other bloggers say when they turn down such offers.

There’s no sign of my boys.

‘Get off your screens now!’ I yell, and start worrying once more about this edgy feeling I have. As I drain the hot water off the veggies, I decide it must be my work that has me worried. Not the Living Sober job, that is running very smoothly. It’s the media advisory work I’m doing on the side. I’m having trouble managing one relationship in particular, and I’m feeling stressed about the whole situation. I don’t know what to do to improve things, and I feel that I’m being totally misunderstood. It’s very unsatisfactory. This must be what’s got me on edge.

I’m still alone in the kitchen. ‘Dinner, now! GET! OFF! YOUR! SCREENS!’

As I begin to plate up, I start a conversation in my mind with the colleague I’m having trouble working with. It’s a pretty fraught conversation, this one I’m having in my head, but at least when I’m having it I’m not thinking about the butterflies in my tummy.

Sausages on the plate.

I imagine the colleague being rude and dismissive towards me and I’m being defensive and emotional back.

Broccoli on the plate.

The imaginary conversation is not going well; it’s heating up. I’m getting more and more upset.

Carrots on the plate.

‘We think your work is shit!’

Potatoes on the plate.

‘You don’t value what I’m doing!’

‘Mum Mum Mum MUM!’ I’ve hardly noticed that the boys have finally arrived in the kitchen.

‘What?’ I snap at my ten year old, then instantly feel bad. The poor guy doesn’t realise he’s interrupted a tense imaginary work meeting.

‘Did you sign the form for the class photo?’

Did I?

‘ls there any tomato sauce?’ Mr Twelve queries.

Is there?

‘Knock-knock!’ says Mr Seven.

‘Who’s there?’ I say, handing over the tomato sauce while wondering about class photos and still feeling like I’m locked in an imaginary fight with my colleague. My phone rings again. I grab it. It’s a text from Mum, who lives in the South lsland: Call me.

It’s always a sure sign I’m in a gritty phase when I’m eating bagels covered with butter and jam.

Mum tells me my step-father has terminal lung cancer. Holy shit. The news hits like a bomb and I simply don’t know what to do with this awful, gut-wrenching sadness. It hurts, this emotional pain. It hurts down deep. Grief is not something I’ve had a lot of experience with. I’m struggling big time to know what to do with this. Forget about work woes and nervy tummies, this is the really big stuff of life. I feel utterly wretched that this kind and gentle man who has been an unwavering presence in my life for over twenty years is going. I feel deeply for my mother, who is heartbroken at the prospect of losing her best friend and dear mate. I just feel so deeply sad. I’ve had people close to me die before but back then my coping mechanism was booze (and lots of it). Obviously, that particular remedy is gone now. So what to do with this pain? I desperately read up about grief, searching for material on the internet that will give me tips on how to deal with it, watching YouTube clips and TED Talks. Mostly, though, I just keep wishing it away. Wishing he wasn’t sick. Wishing this wasn’t happening to our family, that we weren’t preparing for him going. Why does it have to be this way? I really do wish this wasn’t happening.

I feel deeply, heartbreakingly, devastatingly sad. I use the tools I do have, talking to my online community (they are very kind) and diving head first into my sober treats. Well, one type of sober treat, in particular: food. Basically I eat as much as is humanly possible. It’s like I can’t possibly be full enough. I binge on foods full of sugar and fat. It’s always a sure sign I’m in a gritty phase when I’m eating bagels covered with butter and jam. Quite why I consider these foods to be treats is beyond me, they might be yummy immediately, but the after-effects are grim. I feel fat and unhealthy and weak.

I have other ways to distract myself from the sadness: cooking, cleaning, working and worrying about tricky colleagues also keep me occupied. My mind has kicked into overdrive, fretting about the less-than-satisfactory relationship I feel I have with that colleague, and the tenuous position I feel I’m in with regards to the work.

In real life, nothing new about this situation has developed, but it sure has escalated inside my head. By now, I’ve spent so many hours carrying out a crazy imaginary feud with my colleague that the argument has dug out well-worn pathways in my mind and I’ve lost sight of what’s real and what’s not. It almost feels comforting to keep returning to this fierce dialogue in which I’m battling for my point of view to be heard, and so I do go back to it, again and again and again.

And, more than ever, I busy myself online. Every new lnstagram follower, Twitter notification, Facebook like or blog comment is a welcome distraction. So, too, is parenting my three boisterous sons. They’re extremely busy, and even more so than normal as we’re heading into the end of the school year. There are endless forms to fill in, gifts to be bought, plates of food to be prepared and activities to get to.

But, during the moments in the day when I’m not able to distract myself with sugar, technology or the kids, my mind wanders like buggery and my thoughts are busy and noisy. In the shower, driving the car, washing the dishes, any time when I’m alone and doing something menial, I’m actually miles away, lost in thought, feeling annoyed that my work relationships aren’t easier or feeling sad and wishing my stepfather wasn’t dying. It’s exhausting and depressing. It’s no bloody fun at all.

Chapter 2

I’m far from a ‘happy, joyous, free’ housewife, that’s for sure

Eight days before Christmas, just a few short weeks after his diagnosis, my step-father dies. We travel to the South Island for the funeral, which is a small gathering in my mother’s garden. I wear sunglasses during the service and try to distract myself by thinking about other things (I literally try to get lost in thought, remembering happy times), but it’s hard to tune out the poems being read and speeches being made. I cry a lot.

Once the formalities are dealt with, I slip into social mode. There are a few tricky dynamics with some people, which is a little stressful. There is booze flowing, of course, because booze always flows at social events in this country of mine, but I’m not bothered by that. No one is getting sloppy and I have relaxed an awful lot since I first stopped drinking. (Back when I first quit, I used to take every alcoholic drink consumed by another person as a huge slap in the face, but nowadays I feel much more chilled out about having it around. Other people can have it; I’m not interested in the stuff. Booze really has lost its allure for me.) However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t dearly love to escape the deeply uncomfortable sadness that is overcoming me right now, and thankfully there is cake!

After the funeral there’s no time to pause and gently recover from the shock and emotional outpourings, as we’re straight into Christmas. We launch into the silly season head first, racing around visiting friends and relatives, socialising up a storm. All this interacting and negotiating with other people is tiring, and there are complicated relationships simmering away that I feel hyper-aware of. Why do relatives always have such brilliant button-pushing abilities?

After a couple of weeks of hardout socialising, Corin, the boys and I go camping for a week. I’m hoping the deckchair lifestyle will give me a chance to finally de-stress, regroup and unwind, but it doesn’t. Pausing all the busyness only serves to highlight how unrelaxed i am. There’s still so much noise whirring around in my mind. I’m far from a ‘happy, joyous, free’ housewife, that’s for sure.

I’m also still busy working online. My social media spaces require constant updating and checking for feedback (at least, I choose to constantly check them for feedback), and I’m permanently on duty as moderator at Living Sober. The website is super busy of course, because this time of year is particularly hard for people who are trying to give up booze. (They don’t call it the ‘silly season’ for nothing.) Members are turning to the site in their thousands and leaning on each other for help navigating social events and family tensions. Things hum along smoothly, the community vibe is unfailingly kind and supportive, but then a bunch of bastard spammers set their spam bots on us and we get hit with hundreds of bogus sign-ups and comments. It’s a spam attack like I’ve never experienced before, intense and nasty. It gets so bad, the techies have to take the entire site down for a few days while they fix the problem. I’m having to liaise with them and ease the concerns of worried community members from my ‘office’ at the campsite (my deck-chair outside the tent). This is not the completely stress-free holiday I might have hoped for.

Distracting myself with bad foods and the internet isn’t cutting it any more.

I’m tight. Mentally, I’m tight. Emotionally, I’m tight. My shoulders are tight. My breath is tight. There are butterflies in my belly regularly and I’m pretty sure it’s a symptom of low-grade anxiety. I constantly try to reassure myself by thinking that all of this is normal, spammers attack, people die, families are complicated, everything is OK. I’m generally in good health. My husband is good. My kids are good. Everything is as it should be. It’s OK. Really, it’s OK. Yet I remain tight and on edge. Why do I feel so unsettled? Why is my brain whirring along nineteen to the dozen all the time? Why have butterflies clustered in my belly? Why do l have endless heated discussions with people in my head? Why am I not moving through my days in a blissful state of Zen-like calm? Why am I so goddam tight inside and out?

On top of all this worrying, I also feel slightly fraudulent because of the nature of my work. I’m a recovery advocate; I spend all my time talking online about how great it feels to be sober (and really it does, believe me, I am a million miles from the boozy hell I was living three years earlier), yet I’m hardly the model of a super-calm, fully resolved, perfectly Zen housewife.

In fact, in some ways, the longer I go in sobriety, the harder things seem to get. Not the not drinking part, that’s easy. Like We said, I no longer crave booze or have the knee-jerk reaction to reach for a substance to blur the edges of my brain. But, while time has removed my urge to drink, it has also made me more aware of my inability to calmly process and deal with all the stuff that keeps going on in my life. It’s almost as if the novelty of sobriety has worn off, which is a real bummer. I used to experience lovely waves of happiness and pride every time I ground through tough times without drinking, and those proud feelings would act as a fantastic buffer to the tricky emotions. Just thinking, Yay, me! I got through that without drinking! used to be a wonderful antidote to any shitty times, but the longer I’m sober, the more ordinary it becomes and subsequently the less proud of it I remember to feel. Not drinking is a given now; it’s the normal way that I live. In many ways, this is fantastic, how great that I have got to this place in my sobriety, but it’s also a bit of a downer because that pride really did help to counterbalance the sharp edges of life.

Much like when I reached the point where I realised I had to stop drinking, I slowly come to the conclusion that something has to change. Distracting myself with bad food and the internet isn’t cutting it anymore. I need some new tools in my toolbox, some new techniques. I need a new plan.

But what?

Everybody and their dog (if their dog has a Twitter account) is banging the drum about mindfulness.

The internet leads me to the answer. No surprises there, given how much time I spend online and how constantly bombarded I am with other people’s ideas and messages. On my various social media accounts I follow hundreds of addiction experts, fitness boffins, health gurus, researchers, authors, rehabs and other organisations devoted to wellness and recovery. They all keep going on about tools and practices that are necessary if you want to maintain a happy lifestyle. Twitter in particular keeps giving me snappy one-liners that until now I’ve been ignoring. But, given I’m so wound up and struggling with things, I’m finding it hard to ignore the endless wellness chatter.

Take yoga, for example. Yoga is touted everywhere online as the answer to everything, and I mean everything.

#yoga is powerful for helping people with #depression

#yoga is helpful for improving arthritis pain

Need to improve your balance? #yoga is the key

#yoga lowers stress and anxiety

#yoga can teach us about happiness and contentment

How #yoga can help clean your house

OK, I made that last one up, but there is a theme here. Yoga is the miracle cure, according to the internet. I’m not convinced. In fact, I heartily disagree. I’d like to never have to think about yoga again, except it keeps bloody well being tweeted about. Can it really be that good?

Another thing that keeps being mentioned in Twitter’s 140-character bursts is ‘gratitude’. There’s a lot of talk in recovery circles about gratitude and how beneficial it is if practised daily. Sober bloggers often write gratitude posts listing all the good things in their lives. Lots of people in my personal Facebook feed have been doing ‘seven days of gratitude’ lists, and all the wellness boffins on Twitter are obviously in favour of it.

The daily practice of gratitude is one of the conduits by which your wealth will come to you #gratitude

A moment of #gratitude makes a difference in your attitude

Begin with #gratitude and watch the #miracles flow your way

Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have #gratitude

Listing what I am grateful for is a practice that contributes to a sense of joy and peace #gratitude

All right, Twitter. I hear you. Clearly gratitude is a helpful thing, but how do I incorporate it into my life so that it actually makes a difference? I’d love it if I could just write out one list of all the things I am grateful for and then be miraculously filled with joy and peace for evermore. Maybe I’ll start now.

I’m grateful that I no longer drink alcohol. I’m grateful that l have a lovely family. I’m grateful that l have a nice house to live in.

I’m grateful that l have the internet to connect me to a world of stimulating people who want to help me live better even though I don’t always get what they’re on about.

I do get that gratitude is something that needs to be practised in an ongoing way for it to have any real benefit, but how on earth do you bring it into your life on a regular basis? I have no idea how to do that.

The big kahuna, though, seems to be mindfulness. This is the thing I find is most often talked about by all sorts of people in all of my internet spaces. I think mindfulness might be like meditation but slightly different, but I’m not entirely sure about that. In fact, I really don’t know much about mindfulness at all, other than that it gets a lot of air time. Like, a lot. It is the hot trend among wellness experts. Everybody and their dog (if their dog has a Twitter account) is banging the drum about mindfulness. They’ve been going on about it for so long it’s virtually impossible to ignore. Problem is, I think it sounds freakish and wishy-washy and not like something I’d be keen on at all.

Thoughts may be treated like sounds: you hear them, you recognise them, you let them go #mindfulness

Thoughts may be treated like sounds? What the hell does that mean?

Real but not true: freeing ourselves from harmful beliefs #mindfulness #meditation

Say whaaaaat? How can something be real but not true?

When practising #mindfulness there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no to-do list

Huh? So it’s nothing at all? What is it then, if it’s nothing? How can something be nothing?

#mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that

Awareness of the present experience? How can life be anything but awareness of the present experience? I’m aware of everything I’m doing all the time. At least I think I am. Aren’t I overly aware, in fact, isn’t that my problem? Is mindfulness just going to make me even more hyperaware of everything and therefore even more wound up and unsettled? What’s the point then?

In meditation, do not seek anything at all. Simply become comfortable in the void. Become the formless consciousness beyond the mind #mindfulness

What the? This is bonkers talk. Formless consciousness beyond the mind? And this stuff about meditation, is that what mindfulness is? is mindfulness actually meditation? Sitting crosslegged with your eyes closed and chanting? That’s just for hippies, isn’t it? Monks on mountaintops?

Honestly, the thought of meditation terrifies me. I think it sounds boring, introspective, boring, scary, boring, indulgent, hard work, and did I mention boring? And well, frankly, a challenge. How on earth am I going to fit it into my life?

I am busy. I run a website that has me online seven days a week. I am also a recovery advocate, blogger, full-time housewife and mother to three boisterous boys. I like watching Dr. Phil (he’s so wise!), listening to pop music and catching up with girlfriends over coffee or dinner or a movie. I’ve got no time for mountaintops or chanting.

Part of me just wants to keep ignoring all this waffle about mindfulness, but the other part of me, the part desperately seeking a solution to my fraught state of mind, won’t let me. I need something to help soothe my uncomfortable emotions and quieten the butterflies in my tummy.

Maybe this trendy new mindfulness thing is the way to go. Lately even the mainstream media appears to be jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon. Headlines like ‘Mindfulness Therapy as Good as Medication for Chronic Depression’ and ‘Meditation Really Works’ stare at me every day from local news websites. And the tweets keep showing up in my feed.

Mindfulness offers support for working with intense and difficult emotions

Well, that sounds good. So, this thing that is mindfulness is nothing, but something, and could help me deal with emotions? That can’t be a bad thing. I need help here, because I’m not coping brilliantly. I really do think my coping mechanisms are weak, to say the least (not that surprising, given I spent most of my adult life using alcohol as my main emotional management tool). Fingers crossed I’ll live to be a ripe old lady, which means I’ve got decades of sober living ahead of me, and big life stuff is going to keep happening, and my moods are going to keep happening, and I’m always going to be busy because life is bloody busy. I need new tools, and maybe mindfulness is the answer.

The secret to feeling total relief and inner peace? Embrace everything just as it is. #mindfulness and #meditation for beginners

Well, that sounds like just the ticket. Total relief and inner peace is exactly what I’m after. But again, precisely how do I ‘embrace everything just as it is’? What does that even mean? I’m doing that already, aren’t I? isn’t that just called living? I’m dealing with everything that comes at me, I’ve no choice but to embrace it. It happens; I deal with it. isn’t that embracing everything just as it is ? Then again, I’m far from inner peace, so maybe I’m not.

All right, Twitterati. You’ve got me. My interest has been piqued. I’m going to explore these practices that you’re all banging on about. This is a firm decision. I’m going to make this my next project. My first big project was getting sober; the next is going to be developing some new wellness strategies and coping mechanisms for dealing better with life. I’m going to learn how to navigate tough situations, people and emotions in robust ways. I’m going to make a concerted effort. I’ll sign up for courses, read books, listen to podcasts, make lists. You name it, I’ll do it.

I’ll learn all these new wellness strategies and they’ll solve all my problems. Then, like magic, once I’ve learned them all I’ll be a flexible, grateful, mindful guru and the most Zen housewife you have ever seen. All will be peaceful in my world and in my brain. l’ll be a perfect human! Easy, right?

Chapter 3

‘To be honest, I’ve been worried lately that you’re getting depressed’

I inform Corin of my decision over dinner the next evening. The boys have gobbled down their food in record time and left the table, so it’s just the two of us now, chewing slowly like cows (or that’s how we always feel compared to our sons). Corin’s just finished telling me about his stressful day at work, which was filled with pressing deadlines, demanding bulletin editors and grumpy politicians, when I say, ‘Well, anyway, I’ve got news. I’m embarking on a new project. I need to get some more tools together to help me deal with stuff. So I’m going to start exploring uh mindfulness and maybe yoga and stuff.’ I’m feeling energised and determined, but also a bit embarrassed. I still think mindfulness sounds a little kooky, and Corin knows I have a strong dislike for yoga.

‘OK,’ he replies, slowly chewing his cudsorry, lasagne. He sounds interested even though I’m pretty sure he’d never explore such things himself. ‘I think it’ll be good for you to have something new to put your energies into.’ He reaches for his water and then drops a bombshell. ‘To be honest, I’ve been worried lately that you’re getting depressed.’

Holy heck! This comes like a bolt from the blue. I’m so taken aback I don’t even know how to react. I’ve thought of myself as many things lately, but I hadn’t gone so far as to consider myself depressed. But Corin is right. I am more prone to low states of mind now that I’m sober, and things have been particularly bad lately with my step-dad’s death and my work pressures.

‘I’m not depressed, I don’t think,’ I tell him, ‘but I’m not great. I’m wound up. Sort of anxious, I suppose. I feel in a bit of a rut in general.’ I feel like a failure admitting this because shouldn’t everything be great all the time now that I’m not necking wine like it’s going out of fashion? Sadly, this isn’t the case. Aside from the obvious sadness and grief I’ve been dealing with lately, I am struggling a bit more overall with my general emotional state. My anger still comes out pretty strongly at times, I often have anxious butterflies in my tummy, and my shoulders are regularly tight from stress. Sometimes

I experience a strange restlessness where I feel ‘itchy’ and a bit directionless. I used to think it was boredom (and I’d often say that I drank because I was bored), but I don’t think this ‘boredom’ I’m experiencing is actually boredom. I think it’s a symptom of something else but who knows what. A ‘hole’ inside me that I need to fill?

But how? I tend to fill it nowadays with salty chips or sugary treats, checking my online spaces over and over (and over and over), playing Scrabble online, writing blogs, watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians or The Walking Dead (so in love with Daryl), or having fierce imaginary discussions with tricky people in my life.

I’m sick of all of it. I’m sick of going around and around the internet in a directionless manner.

I’m sick of working myself up by getting into fights with people inside my head, when no actual resolution is occurring in real life.

I’m sick of mindlessly pigging out on ‘treat’ foods that are not actually treating my body well at all.

I’m sick of feeling distracted all the time.

I’m sick of flaring up and bickering with the kids when they are trying to bicker with me.

I’m sick of feeling sad about things that are out of my control, and worried because I know there are many more sad things to come.

I’m sick of arriving places in my car and realising that I don’t remember any of the journey because I’ve been so lost in thought along the way.

I’m sick of it all, and I want something to change.

I do, of course, feel incredibly proud of myself for kicking booze to the curb, but that feeling has lost some of its shine. I’m starting to understand what the famous saying ‘Putting down the drink is just the beginning’ means. Taking alcohol out of your life is monumental and wonderful, a hugely enriching and positive thing to do, but then the real work begins. Now it’s time for me to do some concerted ‘next stage’ work on myself.

I desperately want to become more peaceful inside of myself, deep down in my core.

The only thing is that, since l’ve never done this before, I don’t know the first place to start. In the absence of any better ideas, mindfulness (and related ‘wellness’ strategies) seem my best (and maybe my only) starting point.

Oh, gawd. Just thinking about a life filled with gratitude lists, downward dogs, quiet contemplation and focusing inwards sounds stupid and uncomfortable and boring. I’m deeply sceptical. How can these things possibly improve my day to day experience? They’re not going to stop loved ones from dying, make Facebook any less alluring, turn my kids into perfect angels, or remove all the tricky people from the world. But, goddammit, something has to change.

It’s true. I’m really not in a great space right now, something Corin has just confirmed with his statement about me being depressed. I haven’t got any other bright ideas, so these wellness strategies are it. Anyway, I like to have a forward looking plan. Plans are good. Just having this plan has lifted my mood somewhat.

Corin is right. I need something new to put my energies into. A new project!

It’s a bit too McMindfulness

The next day, I’m in town having coffee with a new friend at a hipster cafe. I don’t know him that well but he’s pretty cool, and it’s always nice to meet face-to-face with other people in recovery, as most of my sober friends are online. Sipping my decaf flat white I decide it’s safe to share with this like-minded soul a little about how I need to sort my mental shit out. I mention the m-word.

‘Oh, mindfulness!’ He’s instantly down with the vibe, like, what took you so long?!, and starts raving about a meditation app he uses called Headspace.

‘Are you actually meditating?’ I ask, struggling to picture this young bearded dude taking time out to go inwards, but he nods easily. I’m desperate to pry further and ask, ‘What do you do? When do you do it? How does it work? What is it like?’ But I don’t want to be too pushy, so instead I get my phone out to try to find this app. Sure enough, there it is-in all its orange and blue cartoony glory. Headspace: Meditation made simple. I download it and sign up for the free ten-day trial. I don’t feel like laying out any dosh just yet.

At home after my coffee date, I log in to Headspace. It’s incredibly slick and modern looking, all pale pastel colours and blobby, colourful cartoon figures juggling and waving and saying, ‘Welcome!’ I figure the juggling must be a metaphor for busy modern lives, all those figurative balls in the air, rather than because the app is aimed at circus performers.

I click on a link to an animated video called ‘How It Works’. It’s short, under two minutes long, and very cutesy and slick. Cute cartoons do cute things with cute sound effects while a cute-sounding English man speaks to me about what the app will do for me. He tells me to think of it like a ‘gym membership for the mind’ and that I can learn the basics of meditation by listening to him for just ten minutes a day for ten days in a row. And I can do that for free! Well, that sounds doable. I like free.

I watch some of the other animated videos, and they’re all just as cutesy and slick and voiced by the same super-laid-back English guy. I’m not sure the pastel figures and their cute noises are really doing it for me. it’s a bit too McMindfulness. I feel babied. And who is this Zensounding dude doing all the talking anyway?

I go back to the main menu and see a link called ‘Who’s Andy?’, who indeed?! When I click on it, up pops a photo of a trendy dude with a youthful, tanned face and smooth bald head, smiling broadly. This is Andy, the voice of all things Headspace. Apparently he’s a meditation and mindfulness expert, presenter, writer of three bestselling books, and has been featured in numerous magazines and on TV. He’s also an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk and a trained circus performer, yes, a circus performer! Is there no end to this man’s talents? This could explain the juggling balls.

I decide to listen to Day One of the trial right now. Go, me! This is great. I’m already mentally adding it to my toolbox.


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Mindfulness (Headspace)

Andy tells me to sit comfortably in a chair with my eyes open, then instructs me to shut them gently and start focusing on my breath. I lower my eyelids and immediately feel worried that my posture isn’t correct because the sofa I’m sitting on is too low. My bum is lower than my knees. That’s bad posture, isn’t it? Maybe this isn’t the right spot for me to sit and chill.

While I’m shuffling around worrying about my posture and trying to sit more upright, Andy is saying, ‘Notice the gentle rising and falling of your chest as you breathe.’ I do that for a nanosecond then I start wondering how much this bald ex-monk is going to charge me for a subscription after the free ten-day trial is over. I start thinking about our household budget and whether I can justify spending money on meditation apps, then I start thinking about how much money I used to spend on wine and wonder where the hell all that money is now, and then I start thinking about buying lottery tickets again, and then I start fantasising about what I would do if I won millions of dollars (always a fun fantasy).

I manage to drag my thoughts away from new carpet to catch Andy telling me to listen to the sounds in the room. I hear the drier going in the laundry, and I don’t even know what he says after that because I go off on a huge mental tangent about all the housework I need to do (the toilet is disgusting, my boys keep peeing all over the seat and the floor, what if someone popped in unannounced right now and needed to use the loo?), then I segue into thinking about the door-knockers who come by to try to get me to sign up to their power company or whatever, and what a terrible job that must be, and how I ducked into the pantry one time to avoid being spotted by one of them and stayed there for ages worried that they hadn’t left so I ate some chippies while I was in there, and then I wonder why I keep buying mini bags of chippies when I can’t resist eating them and I should buy kale chips instead but there’s no way my kids are going to eat kale chips in their school lunchboxes, and suddenly I realise the audio is nearly over and Mr Ex-Circus Performer is telling me he looks forward to me coming back tomorrow for the Day Two audio.

I never do.

I don’t know why. It is just a bit cutesy or boring or something. Just not for me. I don’t feel drawn back to it. I get into the flow of life once more, super busy with all my usual jobs in the real world and online. A couple of times I contemplate sitting back down on the sofa in the study to listen to Andy’s free Day Two audio but I never do.


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Mindfulness (Headspace)

‘If you queef, we quit!’

I’m not sure yoga will ever make it into my toolbox, either. There’s a good reason I’m anti-yoga right now. I had a bad experience with it. Like, super bad.

Back when we were living in Auckland, my sister and I attended some yoga classes together for quite a few weeks. It was her suggestion, and I thought it sounded like a good healthy, sisterly and potentially enjoyable thing to do. Boy, was I wrong! It was lovely to be attending evening classes with my sister, that much is true, but everything else about the experience was sheer hell.

I hated it. The instructor was a heavy-accented, humourless woman who ran her classes like a military operation. She had a fancy studio built in the garden at the front of her suburban home. We had very strict instructions about where we could park outside her house, very strict instructions about how to store our belongings, and very strict instructions about how to use her gear. She disliked noise of any kind and would silence us with a sharp ‘Shhhhl’ She was really into upside-down poses (not just downward dogs, but handstands and stuff) and balancing poses and tricky poses that were just bloody hard work, and she was militant about how perfectly we had to achieve each pose. Of course, I was far from perfect, so in order to get me perfectly positioned she used to approach me constantly, touching me to shift me around. Maybe she was approaching others as well; I can’t remember. I just felt excessively manhandled. I felt like I could never get it right, because she’d forever be moving my hands a little to the left, my feet a little to the right, my shoulders around or my hips up. I felt singled-out, unfit, inflexible, out of place and usually annoyed that, at seven in the evening, I was there feeling uncomfortable in a silent and sterile garden studio instead of sitting on my sofa guzzling wine.

That was the other major problem with attending evening classes of any sort back then, a problem I can’t blame on a perfectionist yoga instructor. At that time, I was deep in my alcohol addiction and not inclined to work any part of my body other than my arm as it lifted a wine glass to my mouth. Evenings were for enthusiastic wine consumption, not leaving my house to suffer physical discomfort and humiliation.

Actually, to be honest, I’ve never really been inclined to work my body much. I’ve got short legs, flat feet, big boobs and no natural inclination towards exercise at all. My mum still tells stories about how she used to wait at the finish line of my primary school running races to cheer me on as I crossed last and usually in tears. I’ve never experienced an intoxicating endorphin rush from working out. There have been phases in my life when I’ve managed to go to the gym regularly and get a little bit fit, but it’s always felt like a chore. It’s just never been something I’m that into. Some people get sober and transfer their addiction to marathon running, how great would that be for the thighs? That has not been the case for me, though.

So yeah, downward dogs aren’t my thing, and although I’m far more inclined to go out in the evenings now that I’m sober (night-time driving is one of the many joys of sobrietyl), an absence of wine does not automatically lead to a sportier mindset or more flexible limbs. Despite what the Twitterati say, I’m not feeling inclined to sun salute. Not, that is, until a real life person starts bugging me to do it as well.

I’m visiting a neighbourhood friend for lunch one week day and as we’re scoffing bacon and egg pies from the local bakery we watch her six month old baby, who is lying on the rug playing with her toes. Trying to eat her toes, to be precise.

‘I love this age,’ my friend says. ‘She’s sleeping through the night finally, but not running around creating havoc yet.’

‘And so flexible!’ I say. ‘Imagine being able to lick your own toes like that. Actually, don’t. Gross.’

‘Oh, I couldn’t even if I wanted to,’ my friend says. ‘All the sitting and breastfeeding I do has made me so stiff and inflexible. I’m feeling awful. Oh, that reminds me! I keep meaning to ask, do you want to try a yoga class at the Rec Centre with me?’

‘No.’ I shudder. ‘I hate yoga. It’s too scary and uptight for me.’

‘It is not!’ My friend laughs. She has finished her pie and is now down on the floor changing her baby’s nappy. ‘It’s all local mums there so it can’t be that fancy. Why don’t we just try it once and see if we like it?’ she says. ‘We can stop if we don’t.’

‘I hate yoga!’ I repeat firmly, still eating my pie. ‘I did it in Auckland and the teacher was so strict, it was awful. And I could never do a downward dog without fanny-farting,’ I admit.

She laughs. ‘You mean queefing?’

‘Queefing?’ I splutter so hard pastry flies out of my mouth. ‘What the hell is that?’

‘That’s the proper name for fanny-farting.’

We both crack up. The baby thinks we’re hilarious and starts giggling along with us. Little does she know what joys await her

‘Seriously, though,’ I say, trying to get my composure back, ‘I’m not a major queefer.’ I snort. ‘I just did it once or twice and had recently had babies. I just hated every minute of the whole yoga thing.’

‘Try it with me. It might be totally different and really good.’

‘Or it might be hell.’ I’m all set to keep resisting her suggestion but suddenly remember my new project and my promise to myself to work on changing things for the better. ‘Well, I suppose a lot of people in addiction and recovery rave about yoga,’ I admit. ‘They’re always tweeting about it and sharing photos of ridiculous poses under waterfalls.’

‘There you go!’ My friend is making for the rubbish bin with the dirty nappy.

‘OK.’ I cave. ‘I’ll try it. Once. But if it’s awful and I fanny-fart my way through it I’m not going back!

‘Deal. If you queef, we quit!’

I can’t believe I’m actually going back. But yay, me, for adding yoga to my toolbox. The Twitterati would be proud.


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Chapter 4

Minecraft and mindfulness do not mix well

Heading home from my friend’s I decide I’m not going to give up on my quest to try mindfulness. Just because McMindfulness from bald Andy the ex-monk didn’t work for me doesn’t mean there aren’t other programmes around that will. I’ve got an hour or so before school pick-up, so I jump on Facebook and, in among the usual cat videos and recipes forjelly swirls, I see someone recommending a meditation programme run by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. Maybe this is for me? I read a book of Deepak Chopra’s once (I think it was on weight-loss), and of course Oprah is the guru of all things. Maybe together these guys can sort my head out? I find their website and register via email for something, I’m-not-quite-sure-what. Nothing is free, but then sometimes they offer stuff for free. It’s all rather confusing. Maybe I’ll get another email when whatever-it-is is ready?

I see on the website that there’s a free app, so I download it to my iPad. It’s not as slick, modem and cartoony as Headspace, Oprah and Deepak favour a more mellow approach. (Their logo is a lotus flower. Enough said.) The app tells me I have access to a free audio as a welcome gift. (After that do I have to pay? Still not entirely sure how this all works.) Three o’clock is fast approaching, so I plan to listen to it later.

I race down to school to get the boys, then the next hour or so is taken up with attempting to stop them bickering, listening to their stories, feeding them snacks, doing spelling practice and getting their dinner underway. At four-thirty they’re allowed some screen time, and I fight them for the iPad so I can listen to Oprah. Here’s me being mindful again!


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Mindfulness (Oprah and Deepak)

I take the iPad into the sunroom and sit myself down on an old cane chair to listen. Turns out the free audio doesn’t feature Oprah, but rather a man with an Indian accent who must be Deepak. He is saying ‘I will embrace all the beauty around’ over and over and over, and in the background there is some music playing.

I sit on the too low cane chair, worrying once again that this seat is not giving me the right posture, the floral cushion sinks awfully low on the old springs so that, once again, my knees are higher than my butt. I decide to ignore this and instead shut my eyes and try to relax and focus on the audio.

The music on Deepak’s app reminds me of the sort of underwater music you’d hear at the beauty therapist, all whales and chimes and floaty sounds. Talk about clichéd! But that’s not the biggest problem I have. The biggest problem is the sound of a gamer playing Minecraft on YouTube that is coming from the computer in the next room, where my ten-year-old is sitting. Minecraft and mindfulness do not mix well, and despite Deepak’s best efforts I am finding it hard to embrace anything other than my annoyance. Deepak’s calm voice and whale music are constantly interrupted by the excited gamer next door.

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ What I need is a crap-ton of wood…

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ Oh, yeah. This is awesome!

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ I need to break this down into dust

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’ Man, I need to get some crafting tables

‘I will embrace all the beauty around …’

It’s impossible to focus, and I’m frustrated as all hell. I yell at my son to turn his computer down (not a very Zen yell). He does, but I can still hear it. The beauty therapist music grates, the gamer grates, and I decide I’m hungry, so I give up on listening to Deepak telling me to embrace the beauty all around and instead go butter some crackers.

That was over almost as soon as it began.


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Mindfulness (Oprah and Deepak)


I spend the rest of the evening feeling dissatisfied and pissed off. I do battle with the kids.

I do battle inside my own head, telling myself to get over myself, that my problems are very First World and that I should just cheer the hell up.

But I can’t. Two things I’ve tried now haven’t helped, Headspace nor Deepak and the whales. These failed attempts at something, I’m not-sure-what are only serving to exacerbate my feelings of dissatisfaction and put me in an even grumpier mood. Why can’t these things work, goddammit? I want a quick fix!

I don’t get a quick fix.

I get my period instead.

It arrives right before bedtime, along with a nice crampy tummy. Blah. I eat some biscuits, pop some painkillers and get into bed with my iPad to spend a mindless hour or so surfing the internet, in the same Facebook-lnstagram-Twitter-blog-website loop as always. Eventually, I fall asleep, but when I wake in the night to use the loo I pull a muscle in my hip, making my entire right lower back sore. It keeps me awake, as does my crampy tummy, and I lie there worrying about getting old and worrying that I’m tense and wound up and just worrying, worrying, worrying. I’m so sick of all this worrying.

I get up to fetch some more painkillers, which help with my cramps and muscle pain, and I fall back to sleep for a couple of hours.

When I wake again, I’m super grumpy, still wound up and hassled about the world and my life. Before I even get out of bed, I reach for the iPad to check all my online spaces. We received an email overnight from a friend who lives out of town asking me how I am, so from my prone position I reply to her, moaning about how much parenting I do and how intense it is and how I’m still sad about my step-dad being gone and life is just a bit hard and gritty right now. Woe is me.

Eventually I drag myself out of bed. While I’m grunting my way through making the school lunches, Corin employs his psychic abilities and senses that I’m not in tip-top shape. He offers to take the boys to school on his way to work. Yes! I get them packed up and out of the door while I’m still in my PJs, and once they’ve gone and the house is quiet I stand in the kitchen for a while before deciding to get back into bed. I never do this. I feel like a total slacker, but to hell with it.

As I lie there with the electric blanket on, thinking about my failed plan to learn mindfulness (or something), I suddenly remember someone on my blog mentioning Tara Brach’s guided meditation podcasts, and I think Of course! because I love Tara Brach.

She is a psychologist and author who posts loads of free hour-long talks online that l have listened to and find really good, talks about forgiveness and kindness and so on. Some of her talks have been hugely helpful to me in times of extreme angst, but I’ve never listened to her twenty-minute guided meditations before because, well, meditation isn’t something I do (the talks are active listening and that’s why I like them). But maybe now is a good time to start. So, still lying in bed (and trying not to feel guilty because it’s nine-thirty on a Friday morning and I really should be at the gym or fermenting veggies or something), I pull a Tara guided meditation up on my iPad and start listening.

Must achieve an intense, vibrating, awed silence! Must!

Tara starts talking and I think about how I love her voice and what a lovely person she would be to have over for dinner, then I wonder what sort of food she eats, then I think about how good it is that I’m lying down and not sitting on a toolow chair, but then I worry that lying down isn’t the right thing to do either. So much bloody worrying all the bloody time!

I catch Tara telling me how to breathe, so I follow her instructions. I don’t chant ‘Ommm’ like she tells me to, but I hear all the people in the room with her on the recording chanting and that is lovely, but then I start wondering about all those people and what their lives are like over in the United States, and then I hear the rubbish truck down the road tipping bottles out of neighbours’ bins and I realise we forgot to put our recycling out last night-dammit, I hate it when that happens! Then I start mentally planning a trip to the dump this weekend, there’s a huge pile of crap in the garage that needs to go out. Then I remember I should be listening Tara, and I try to quiet my mind, but soon I start planning some work stuff and it goes like this until I say out loud ‘Sorry, Tara’ and turn the meditation off with four minutes and fifty-eight seconds still to go. Fail.

I’m still feeling like being in bed is a good thing, though, and the electric blanket is incredibly toasty and warm, so rather than get up I look over to the pile of books sitting beside my bed. Right at the bottom of the pile, underneath a Chelsea Winter cookbook and some random parenting book my sister lent me, is a dusty copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I bought it at a school gala and started reading it ages ago, but for some reason never finished it. I grab it and resume reading where I left off. Oh, look at that! She is writing about trying to learn how to meditate while at an ashram in India, and about her monkey brain and how she has to fight against her thoughts and ego, and her busy, busy mind and the battles that go on in her head. (Hello?! Yes, Liz, that’s me too! Maybe we could be besties! ) And then suddenly she writes about an intense moment that occurs for her while she is trying to meditate when all the chattering, negative thoughts in her mind scatter and a regal silence follows. She calls it an ‘intense, vibrating, awed silence’. I put the book down and stare at the ceiling.

Oh. My. God. I want this so bad. I want an intense, vibrating, awed silence. I want it desperately!

Liz’s vivid description combined with my desperation give me a little surge of energy and renewed determination, enough to get me out of bed, into the shower and dressed. I must keep going with my plan. Must achieve an intense, vibrating, awed silence! Must!

I go down to the study, sit at the computer, open up Google and type ‘learn mindfulness’ in the search bar. I land upon a site called Mindful ( They have a free regular newsletter, so I fill in the required fields to register for it. I know this sounds like nothing much, but it actually does feel quite significant, like l’m doing something positive to alter my state of mind. Even just this teeny-tiny step has me feeling encouraged.

Instantly I receive an email confirmation with a friendly ‘Welcome!’, and attached to it is a document called ‘5 Techniques for a Mindful Day’. At the top it says: ‘Mindfulness is a natural human ability. It’s also something you can improve with practice. When you create ways in your day to slow down and be fully present, you can reconnect with this basic but transformative quality.’

OK, bring it on! I want to create ways in my day to slow down and be present. I do! The techniques read as pretty uncomplicated.

Technique One is about sitting and getting your posture right and relaxing.

Technique Two is about settling into a comfortable position and scanning your entire body, slowly lingering on the different sensations in each area as you go.

Technique Three is a ten-minute tea-making ritual-slowly making a good cup of tea and being aware of every step, being a part of it all, even when the water is boiling. Just ‘be with the water boiling’, and then sip and really notice the taste and sensation of the tea. (Not sure how to ‘be with the water boiling’ but anyway …)

Technique Four is a stress-busting technique that has you stopping, breathing, observing your thoughts and emotions. Stop, breathe, observe, proceed.

Technique Five is about mindfully listening, about being fully present with another person.

I read through this list, then before leaving the computer I navigate to the public library website and its online catalogue to search for some books. First I go for three on mindfulness that have been recommended to me by blog readers (they know all my woes). The first is an anthology of essays on mindfulness, the second a sort of memoir-journalism crossover by an American TV reporter (apparently he had a panic attack live on air before he discovered the joys of meditation, sounds juicy) and the third is some sort of eight-week plan to turn me into a chilled-out, happy camper. I find them all, place reserves and organise for them to be sent to my local library branch (the eight-week guide is popular, I’ll have to wait a while for that one). Then, on a whim, I reserve some books on sugar because I know that’s a big area of concern for me as well.

Next, I go to YouTube and find a clip of Dan Harris’s live-on-air panic attack. It is pretty uncomfortable to watch. Poor dude! No wonder he turned to meditation after that embarrassment.

After all this effort, well, OK, not that much effort, but some, I decide to go and lie on the sofa and start watching the Real Housewives of Somewhere fight about who-said-what-to whom. At 3 pm I get the kids from school, then work like a demon until 8 pm when, lo and behold, I’m back on the sofa binging on chocolate. Is this a happy sober life?

I do manage some nice thinking-about-nothing-but-mybelly-button moments.

I wake at six-thirty the next morning feeling sick and guilty about all the chocolate I ate the night before. The idea pops into my head that I could try the ‘body-scan’ technique from the mindfulness newsletter I got yesterday. I could lie still on my back and go around my body thinking about all the different areas, bringing awareness to each. (Is that what you do?) That would be something proactive, wouldn’t it? But then Corin rolls over and flicks on the radio, and our youngest son arrives to snuggle in with us, all full of chatter about his dreams, then our middle son arrives, and he gets into bed as well even though he’s quite big now, and suddenly we’re all squirming bodies and noise and my mindful moment is lost.

But after getting everyone off to school and work and doing some jobs around the house I realise I’m at a point in my day where I could choose to sit at the computer and do some work or I could (gulp) actually sit down and do a body-scan. Holy shit. This is it. I’m actually going to do it!

First, I print off the mindfulness newsletter from yesterday and head into the TV room to sit on the edge of the sofa. Is this a good spot to sit in? No, I don’t think so, too squishy. Maybe cross-legged on the floor would be better? I grab one cushion to plonk my burn on, and two more to put under each knee, then hold my newsletter up and read about what to do.

I’ll start with Technique One, I tell myself, because it’s only three minutes long and if I can’t sit for three minutes then I have a serious problem. The newsletter tells me that meditation begins and ends in the body, and that I need to take the time to pay attention to where I am and what’s going on, and that starts with being aware of my body. ‘That very act can be calming, since our body has internal rhythms that help it relax if we give it a chance.’ Oooh, internal rhythms. That sounds groovy.

I read on. They tell me to take a seat (have done that already and the cushions are nice and soft, although maybe I should have bigger ones under each knee?), straighten my upper body, not stiff, just straight, I straighten but try not to stiffen, flexing my back up and down, and wonder, Is this straight or stiff ?, position my hands and arms comfortably, then drop my gaze, close my eyelids and relax. I drop the newsletter and let my hands rest on my knees, then I lower my eyelids and relax.

For about a nanosecond. Or maybe a bit longer. Five nanoseconds.

After my five nanoseconds, I grab the newsletter again to read what it says to do next. Nothing! That was it! Just take time to settle myself into a comfortable seated position and relax, that was Technique One. It definitely didn’t take me three minutes, but what the hell. The newsletter says I could stop now or move into some mindfulness practice. Well, hell, let’s go for broke, eh!

Technique Two is the body-scan one. This is just an extension of what I’m already doing: sitting comfortably, so I feel supported and relaxed, then bringing awareness to my whole body, piece by piece. They give me a helpful order to do this in: toes, feet, legs, pelvis, abdomen, lower back, upper back, et cetera, et cetera, right through my whole body. They tell me to linger on each body part and notice the different sensations. If I find my mind has wandered, I have to bring it back to the last body part I was on.

So I launch into it and I try really hard to focus on each body part. Really, I do. But my mind is wandering like buggery. I try to pull it back each time, and I do manage some nice thinking about-nothing-but-my-belly-button moments, but by the time I arrive at my back the only sensation I am aware of is a dull ache, so I call it quits.

I’m a little bit proud of myself for actually doing something concrete, but overall my main feeling is that I was doing it all wrong and it was a big failed attempt. It just didn’t really feel like anything much, I certainly didn’t achieve an intense, vibrating, awed silence a la Liz Gilbert. I must be doing it all wrong, I decide as I get up off the floor and get on with some jobs around the house.

But something interesting happens a short while later. It’s a tiny little moment, but it feels rather significant.

It’s just a small thing, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I’m outside later in the day, hanging out the washing and thinking about an email I just received from a writer in the UK. She’s setting up an alcohol-free reviewer group to help authors get feedback on their manuscripts, and wants me to join it. Should I? The sun is shining and I’m distracted by the annoying hot stones under my feet. They’re hot, like, super hot. Too hot-to-stand-on-in-bare-feet hot. But I’ve got bare feet, so I’m jiggling around, trying to keep my feet moving so they don’t get too sore while also thinking about my emails.

Suddenly I remember the body-awareness thing from my time on the cushion earlier, so I stop thinking about the UK author’s request and think about my feet instead. I let myself become super aware of my hot feet, and my mind kind of goes quiet. I focus on my hot feet, like, really focus. I think about my hot feet and concentrate on feeling the heat, and my mind is quiet.

It’s a tiny little moment, but it feels rather significant and, to be honest, nice. It’s nice to not be thinking about work stuff and just feeling my feet.

I decide the hot stones aren’t that bad and play a little game to see how long I can stand still without needing to move. I discover I can bear the heat for longer than I thought, and the hot stones are actually rather lovely.

I finish hanging out the washing and head inside, aware of the fact I did something a little different and it feels kinda nice. Subtle but freeing somehow to not just be thinking about work stuff.

A little later, I’m standing at the kitchen sink washing some dishes and I’m worrying about a friend’s relationship with her husband, which seems a little strained. Suddenly I catch myself worrying and again remember about the body awareness thing. I look down and, instead of continuing to worry about the state of my friend’s marriage, I look hard at what my hands are doing. They’re busy with the pots and pans in the full, soapy sink. Look at my busy hands efficiently washing pots! I probably wash dishes with my bright, green rubber gloves three or four times a day, yet I’ve never really noticed how they look moving away in the suds.

I slow my hands down and notice the fingers covered in green rubber moving in and out of the water, holding a red dish brush. They look rather nice! Add the yellow dish-cloth into the mix and I’ve got a wonderland of colour. Sounds weird, but it’s quite cool and also satisfying.

I slow down and observe my hands closely. I start to kind of enjoy washing the dishes. It’s far more enjoyable than worrying about the state of someone else’s marriage.

Is this mindfulness? I think it might be.

It feels nice. These are only small steps that I’m taking, but there’s definitely something there. Certainly enough that I feel confident to mentally put mindfulness back in my toolbox. I might only be scratching the surface, but it’s happening. It is.


Recovery community, Sober treats



Nobody wants to see a lumpy, knicker wearing housewife trying to go all Zen in her living room

The next day I do nothing. Well, nothing mindful anyway. Nothing towards my goal of pure, blissful nirvana. I run around like a blue-arsed fly, busy with the kids, busy with the house, busy online, busy thinking, busy snacking, busy, busy, busy. Who knows where my mind is at, but it’s not focusing on hot stones or rubber gloves, that’s for sure.

I have an empty 40 minute window in the middle of the day when I could choose to do something mindful, meditation, whatever it is I’m trying to do, but I don’t. I fill those 40 minutes with some fiddling around trying to resize a photo for my blog, replying to a couple of emails (there’s one from the colleague who I am finding it tricky to work with, which activates my stress a bit), and interacting with members on Living Sober.

Then Friday rolls around. It’s yet another busy day, as per usual, but after I post a mocktail recipe on my Facebook page I again find myself with a 45 minute window of free time before school pick-up. This time I resist getting sucked into an online vortex of celebrity gossip and local news. Instead, I grab my printed mindfulness newsletter and put my cushions back down on the floor and try to sit on them with my legs crossed. It’s hard, because my jeans are tight like, super tight! So I get up and wrestle them off before sitting back down with just my knickers on. Then I realise I need to wee so I pop to the loo quickly, then return and sit back down crosslegged again. I start by repeating the three minute posture practice from a couple of days ago, which just involves taking the time to sit properly, back straight but not stiff, arms by my sides and hands resting where they fall on my legs, gaze lowered, relaxing.

It’s sort of nice being back in that position. Actually, that’s a lie. It’s not really. Cross-legged sitting is hell, and it’s quite hard to focus on my posture because I’m hyper aware that if anyone came to the window right now they’d get a full view of me in my smalls. And nobody wants to see a lumpy, knicker-wearing housewife trying to go all Zen in her living room. Although, on second thought, maybe that’d get rid of the door-knockers once and for all!

I try hard to push self-conscious thoughts out of my mind and instead get my posture sorted, then start to do the body-scan, going around each area of my body, bringing consciousness to each body part. I do OK going around each part (still a bit of an ache in my back when I get there, so I straighten myself a little and it feels better). By the time I’ve made my way around my entire body (with a lot of mind wandering in between), I’ve forgotten the possibility of being caught out in my knickers, am warm from the sun coming through the windows, and feel rather relaxed. I decide to give my stiff knees a break by stretching my legs out in front of me and lying back on the rug. One of my library books has arrived and l have it next to me, so pick it up to read a bit. It’s an anthology of essays called The Mindfulness Revolution, edited by Barry Boyce. (I later find out he is also editorin-chief of the site whose newsletter I subscribed to.)

In the introduction Barry says, ‘By taking time away from the pressures and needs of daily life to work only on mindfulness, with no other project at hand, we refresh our ability to be mindful when we return to our everyday activities.’

Ah, OK So this is like the other day when I sat to do a formal meditation type thing for a bit, then later found myself really noticing the hot stones under my feet and the look of my hands in the soapy sink. It’s good that Barry is reassuring me that my goal doesn’t necessarily have to be an intense, vibrating, awed silence or some other kind of far-fetched meditation achievement. My goal can just be bringing attention to my body when I’m taking time to sit and breathe, then remembering to do it later when I’m feeling busy. But is he telling me that I have to do the formal sit down every day in order to remember to notice the little things when I’m back at work?

I feel stressed about this, which kind of defeats the purpose of it all. I don’t want to feel pressured to have to find time every day to sit and focus on my breath or body (or whatever). Honestly, I don’t really want to do this. It’s boring! It feels like a hassle to have to find the time to do it every day on top of all the other demands on my time. Can’t I just skip the formal sit-downs and try to remember to focus on my body parts while I’m busy doing things (rather than being lost in thought)?

I’m not sure I can. I’m not sure about any of this. I’ve still got this notion that I need to be striving hard to do something formal every day, and it’s making me feel pressured, like if I don’t do it I’m failing in my mission to really nail this mindfulness stuff.

There’s no way I’m going to sit on the floor cross-legged when I could be judging movie stars’ outfits.

Whatever is required, I do nothing much of it at all over the weekend. Saturday, I do zero of a sit down-and-be-quiet-and-mindful nature. There’s a moment in the afternoon when everyone else in the family is watching TV and it occurs to me that I could take myself into the study, shut the door, sit cross-legged and focus on my breath and do a body-scan but I dismiss that thought and instead find myself at the laundry sink scrubbing stains out of white rugby shorts.

Sunday, I manage to sit myself down crosslegged on the bedroom rug and listen to my breath and start with a bit of a body-scan, but I only last for about 90 seconds because it just feels dumb. But I’ve committed myself, and the stubborn part of me is telling me to keep going until something happens. I know other people can get something out of this and I’m determined to see what it is they’re on about.

Monday rolls around and it’s Oscars day. I love the Academy Awards! There’s no way I’m going to sit on the floor cross-legged when I could be judging movie stars’ outfits.

I watch E! channel’s red-carpet coverage while clipping in and out of my library book, and a passage grabs my attention for long enough that I stop wondering why Gwyneth Paltrow has planted a giant pink flower on her shoulder. This passage is from a chapter written by a Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, and he’s saying, ‘Have you ever stopped to consider what a thought is, not the content but the very nature of thought itself?’

No, Joseph. Now that you ask, I haven’t.

‘Few people really explore the question,

“What is a thought?” What is this phenomenon that occurs so many times a day and to which we pay so little attention?’

Right now, on glancing up at the TV, I’m thinking, Why has J-Lo dressed herself up like a Disney princess? But her ginormous, poofy dress doesn’t hold my attention for long. This talk of the nature of thought has piqued my interest. I tear my eyes from the screen to read on.

Not being aware of the thoughts that arise in our minds or of the very nature of thought itself allows thoughts to dominate our lives. Telling us to do this, say that, go here, go there, thoughts often drive us like we’re their servants. Unnoticed, they have great power. But when we pay attention, when we observe thoughts as they arise and pass away, we begin to see their essentially empty nature. They arise as little energy bubbles in the mind rather than reified expressions of a self.

How utterly fascinating. He’s right. I have never explored the nature of thought itself. I have had people say to me ‘thoughts aren’t facts’ but I’ve never really known what they meant. I once asked a very wise woman with over twenty years of sobriety under her belt what her best tool was for dealing with life in the raw and she replied, ‘Not believing everything I think.’ I remember nodding sagely at her as though I knew exactly what she meant, but in truth she might as well have been speaking Chinese for all I understood. Maybe she was already attuned to this concept that thoughts are nothing more than empty little energy bubbles? Well, this is all new to me! I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of some sort of radical concept here, but in no way have I got my head around it yet.

Are thoughts truly empty? I feel like my thoughts are rich and full and interesting. They’re me. I am my thoughts. My thoughts lead me and guide me and make sense of the world for me. My thoughts help me to process stuff, to explain things to my kids, to communicate with people and to write. It’s my thinking that helped me realise I had a problem with alcohol and got me sober, for goodness’ sake! And I wouldn’t be exploring all this mindfulness stuff if I hadn’t thought to do it.

What else am I if I’m not my thoughts?

Mrs D is Going Within: How a frantic, sugar-binging, internet-addicted, recovering-alcoholic housewife found her Zen

by Lotta Dann

get it at

THE FUTURE OF WORK. The Future of Not Working – Annie Lowrey.

As automation reduces the need for human labor some Silicon Valley executives think a universal income will be the answer and the beta test is happening in Kenya.

The village is poor, even by the standards of rural Kenya. To get there, you follow a power line along a series of unmarked roads. Eventually, that power line connects to the school at the center of town, the sole building with electricity. Homesteads fan out into the hilly bramble, connected by rugged paths. There is just one working water tap, requiring many local women to gather water from a pit in jerrycans. There is no plumbing, and some families still practice open defecation, lacking the resources to dig a latrine. There aren’t even oxen strong enough to pull a plow, meaning that most farming is still done by hand. The Village is poor enough that it is considered rude to eat in public, which is seen as boasting that you have food.

In October, I visited Kennedy Aswan Abagi, the village chief, at his small red-earth home, decorated with posters celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden and the lives of African heroes, including JaKogelo, or “the man from Kogelo,” as locals refer to former President Barack Obama. Kogelo, where Obama’s father was born, is just 20 miles from the Village, which lies close to the banks of Lake Victoria.

Abagi told me about the day his town’s fate changed. It happened during the summer, when field officers from an American nonprofit called GiveDirectly paid a visit, making an unbelievable promise: They wanted to give everyone money, no strings attached. “I asked, ‘Why this village?’ ” Abagi recalled, but he never got a clear answer, or one that made much sense to him.

The Villagers had seen Western aid groups come through before, sure, but nearly all of them brought stuff, not money. And because many of these organizations were religious, their gifts came with moral impositions; I was told that one declined to help a young mother whose child was born out of wedlock, for example. With little sense of who would get what and how and from whom and why, rumors blossomed. One Villager heard that GiveDirectly would kidnap children. Some thought that the organization was aligned with the Illuminati, or that it would blight the Village with giant snakes, or that it performed blood magic. Others heard that the money was coming from Obama himself.

But the confusion faded that unseasonably cool morning in October, when a GiveDirectly team returned to explain themselves during a town meeting. Nearly all of the village’s 220 people crowded into a blue-and-white tent placed near the school building, watching nervously as 13 strangers, a few of them white, sat on plastic chairs opposite them. Lydia Tala, a Kenyan GiveDirectly staff member, got up to address the group in Dholuo. She spoke at a deliberate pace, awaiting a hum and a nod from the crowd before she moved on:

“These visitors are from GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a nongovernmental organization that is not affiliated with any political party. GiveDirectly is based in the United States. GiveDirectly works with mobile phones. Each person must have his or her own mobile phone, and they must keep their PIN secret. Nobody must involve themselves in criminal activity or terrorism.”

This went on for nearly two hours. The children were growing restless.

Finally, Tala passed the microphone to her colleague, Brian Ouma. “People of the Village,” he said, “are you happy?”

“We are!” they cried in unison.

Then he laid out the particulars. “Every registered person will receive 2,280 shillings” about $22 “each and every month. You hear me?” The audience gasped and burst into wild applause. “Every person we register here will receive the money, I said 2,280 shillings! Every month. This money, you will get for the next 12 years.

How many years?”

“Twelve years!”

Just like that, with peals of ululation and children breaking into dance in front of the strangers, the whole village was lifted out of extreme poverty. (I have agreed to withhold its name out of concern for the Villagers’ safety.) The nonprofit is in the process of registering roughly 40 more villages with a total of 6,000 adult residents, giving those people a guaranteed, 12-year-long, poverty ending income. An additional 80 villages, with 11,500 residents all together, will receive a two-year basic income.

With this initiative, GiveDirectly with an office in New York and funded in no small part by Silicon Valley is starting the world’s first true test of a universal basic income. The idea is perhaps most in vogue in chilly, leftleaning places, among them Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and Scotland. But many economists think it might have the most promise in places with poorer populations, like India and sub-Saharan Africa.

GiveDirectly wants to show the world that a basic income is a cheap, scalable way to aid the poorest people on the planet. “We have the resources to eliminate extreme poverty this year,” Michael Faye, a founder of GiveDirectly, told me. But these resources are often misallocated or wasted. His nonprofit wants to upend incumbent charities, offering major donors a platform to push money to the world’s neediest immediately and practically without cost.

What happens in this Village has the potential to transform foreign-aid institutions, but its effects might also be felt closer to home. A growing crowd, including many of GiveDirectly’s backers in Silicon Valley, are looking at this pilot project not just as a means of charity but also as the groundwork for an argument that a universal basic income might be right for you, me and everyone else around the world too.

The basic or guaranteed income is a curious piece of intellectual flotsam that has washed ashore several times in the past half millennium, often during periods of great economic upheaval. In “Utopia,” published in 1516, Thomas More suggests it as a way to help feudal farmers hurt by the conversion of common land for public use into private land for commercial use. In “Agrarian Justice,” published in 1797, Thomas Paine supports it for similar reasons, as compensation for the “loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property.” It reappears in the writings of French radicals, of Bertrand Russell, of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Silicon Valley has recently become obsessed with basic income for reasons simultaneously generous and self-interested, as a palliative for the societal turbulence its inventions might unleash. Many technologists believe we are living at the precipice of an artificial-intelligence revolution that could vault humanity into a postwork future. In the past few years, artificially intelligent systems have become proficient at a startling number of tasks, from reading cancer scans to piloting a car to summarizing a sports game to translating prose. Any job that can be broken down into discrete, repeatable tasks; financial analytics, marketing, legal work could be automated out of existence.

In this vision of the future, our economy could turn into a funhouse-mirror version of itself: extreme income and wealth inequality, rising poverty, mass unemployment, a shrinking prime-age labor force. It would be more George Saunders than George Jetson. But what does this all have to do with a small village in Kenya?

A universal basic income has thus far lacked what tech folks might call a proof of concept. There have been a handful of experiments, including ones in Canada, India and Namibia. Finland is sending money to unemployed people, and the Dutch city Utrecht is doing a trial run, too. But no experiment has been truly complete, studying what happens when you give a whole community money for an extended period of time when nobody has to worry where his or her next meal is coming from or fear the loss of a job or the birth of a child.

And so, the tech industry is getting behind GiveDirectly and other organizations testing the idea out. Chris Hughes, a Facebook founder and briefly the owner of The New Republic, has started a $10 million, two-year initiative to explore the viability of a basic income. (He has also been a major donor to GiveDirectly.) The research wing of Sam Altman’s start-up incubator, Y Combinator, is planning to pass out money to 1,000 families in California and another yet-to-be determined state. Then there is GiveDirectly itself, which has attracted $24 million in donations for its basic-income effort, including money from founders of Facebook, Instagram, eBay and a number of other Silicon Valley companies. Many donors I spoke with cited their interest in the project as purely philanthropic. But others saw it as a chance to learn more about a universal basic income, a way to prove that it could work and a chance to show people the human face of a hypothetical policy fix.

In December, Altman, the 31-year-old president of Y Combinator, spoke at an antipoverty event hosted by Stanford, the White House and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the charitable institution the Facebook billionaire founded with his wife, Priscilla. Altman discussed the potential for basic income to alleviate poverty, but his speech veered back to the dark questions that hang over all this philanthropy: Is Silicon Valley about to put the world out of work? And if so, do technologists owe the world a solution?

“There have been these moments where we have had these major technology revolutions, the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, for example that have really changed the world in a big way,” Altman said. “I think we’re in the middle or at least on the cusp of another one.”

GiveDirectly may be a charity, but it speaks in the argot of Silicon Valley. It is a platform, connecting donors and recipients, that prides itself on low overhead and superior analytics. It disdains what it sees as the bloated, expensive, stuck-in-their-ways incumbents that dominate the nonprofit space. And it even has a privileged bootstrapping creation story, beginning with its 20-something founders batting the idea around in Harvard Square academic buildings and scraping together money from friends.

The idea for the nonprofit came to Michael Faye and Paul Niehaus, who is now a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, when they were graduate students at Harvard. Both were studying development and doing fieldwork overseas, an experience that underlined an Economics 101 lesson: Cash was more valuable to its recipients than the in-kind gifts commonly distributed by aid groups, like food or bed nets or sports equipment. If you’re hungry, you cannot eat a bed net. If your village is suffering from endemic diarrhea, soccer balls won’t be worth much to you. “Once you’ve been there, it’s hard to imagine doing anything but cash,” Faye told me. “It’s so deeply uncomfortable to ask someone if they want cash or something else. They look at you like it’s a trick question.”

But at the time, distributing cash aid in a country with little to no banking infrastructure outside major cities would have required an extraordinary amount of manpower, not to mention introducing the risk of robbery and graft. But dirt-cheap mobile phones with pay-as-you-go minutes began flooding into sub-Saharan African markets in the 2000s. Enterprising Ghanaians, Kenyans and Nigerians started to use their minutes as a kind of currency. In 2007, Vodafone and the British Department for International Development together built a system, called M-Pesa, for Kenyans to transfer actual shillings from cellphone to cellphone. An estimated 96 percent of Kenyan households use the system today.

Faye and Niehaus along with their friends Rohit Wanchoo and Jeremy Shapiro, also graduate students, thought about setting up a website to raise cash in the United States and send it directly to poor Kenyans. But they never found a nonprofit that would distribute that cash abroad. They decided to do it themselves in 2008. “Because it was a start-up, and we started in grad school,” Faye said, “we were open to the idea of it being wrong or failing.”

We have the resources to eliminate extreme poverty this year

The following year, Faye traveled to small Kenyan villages during the summer break, offering cash to whoever seemed poor and would take it. (The money, about $5,000, came out of the foursome’s own pockets.) That, surprisingly, worked well enough to give them the confidence to start a threadbare randomized control trial the year they graduated. It found that the recipients, who received an average of $500, saw excellent outcomes: Their children were 42 percent less likely to go a whole day without eating. Domestic-violence rates dropped, and mental health improved.

In time, the non rofit attracted the attention of Silicon Valley and its deep-pocketed young philanthropists. Two Facebook founders gave six-figure donations. Then, in the spring of 2012, Faye went to a friend’s brunch in Brooklyn and met someone working for, the tech giant’s giving arm. She liked the sound of GiveDirectly and arranged for Faye and Niehaus to give a presentation at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The company ended up contributing $2.4 million.

At first, GiveDirectly handed out large lump sums, generally $1,000 spread into three payments over the course of the year. The nonprofit’s field officers would locate low income villages in Kenya, then find the poorest families in each individual Village using a simple asset test (whether a family had a thatched roof or not). The field officers would introduce themselves to the town elders, explain their purpose and return to provide mobile phones and training to recipient families. Then GiveDirecty would push a button and send the money out.

On a steaming October morning, I went with two GiveDirectly executives, Joanna Macrae and Ian Bassin, to visit one of the villages that had received GiveDirectly’s lump-sum payments. We took off at dawn from Kisumu, a bustling industrial city on the banks of Lake Victoria, and followed a twolane highway to Bondo, a small trading city filled with cattle, bicycles and roadside food stands. From there, we turned inland from the lake and drove into a lush agricultural region.

The residents of this village had received money in 2013, and it was visibly better off than the basic-income pilot village. Its clearings were filled with mango plantings, its cows sturdy. A small lake on the outskirts had been lined with nets for catching fish. “Could you imagine sitting in an office in London or New York trying to figure out what this Village needs?” Bassin said as he admired a well-fed cow tied up by the lakeside. “It would just be impossible.”

Perhaps, but delivering money by M-Pesa has some downsides, too. We visited an older woman named Anjelina Akoth Ngalo, her joints painful and swollen with advanced malaria. Sitting in her thatched-roof hut, she told us that she had received only one payment, not the three that she was promised. She had given her phone to a woman in a nearby Village who transferred the money out of it. Ngalo Visited the village elder to try to get her money back, but nothing had come of it. She was now destitute, living on about $5 a week. She had not eaten since the day before, and she had run out of malaria medication. (Bassin said that less than 1 percent of recipients experience theft, crime or conflict.)

By giving money to some but not all, the organization had unwittingly strained the social fabric of some of these tight-knit tribal communities. One man we visited in a separate village nearby, Nicolus Owuor Otin, had acted as a liaison between the community and the GiveDirectly staff, showing them where different families’ houses were, for instance. For that reason, he said, the other villagers thought he was determining who would get what and threatened to burn his house down.

Still, nearly all the recipients described the money as transformative. Fredrick Omondi Akuma, a Burning Spear devotee wearing a Rasta-style hat and bell bottoms when we visited, had been impoverished, drinking too much, abandoned by his wife and living in a mud hut when GiveDirectly knocked on his door. He used his money to buy a motorbike to give taxi rides. He also started a small business, selling soap, salt and paraffin in a local town center; he bought two cows, one of which had given birth; and he opened a barbershop in the coastal city Mombasa. His income had gone from 600 shillings a week to 2,500 shillings roughly $25, a princely sum for the area. His wife had returned. He had even stopped drinking as much. “I used to go out drinking with 1,000 shillings, and I’d wake up in the bar with 100 shillings,” he said. “Now I go out drinking with 1,000 shillings, and I wake up at home with 900.”

“I didn’t imagine I would be living in an ironsheet house,” he said, referring to his roof. “I didn’t imagine I’d be wearing nice shoes. I didn’t imagine I would have a business, and earnings from it. I didn’t imagine I would be a man who owns cattle.”

Many popular forms of aid have been shown to work abysmally. PlayPumps merry-go-round type contraptions that let children pump water from underground wells as they play did little to improve access to clean water. Buy-a-cow programs have saddled families with animals inappropriate to their environment. Skills training and microfinance, one 2015 World Bank study found, “have shown little impact on poverty or stability, especially relative to program cost.”

All across the villages of western Kenya, it was clear to me just how much aid money was wasted on unnecessary stuff. The villagers had too many jerrycans and water tanks, because a nongovernmental organization kept bringing them. There was a thriving trade in Toms canvas slip-ons: People received them free from NGO workers and then turned around and sold them in the market centers. And none of the aid groups that had visited the villages managed to help the very poorest families.

In the pilot-project village, for example, Faye and I paid a visit to a woman named Caroline Akinyi Odhiambo, who lives in a mud hut on the edge of town with her husband, Jack, a laborer, and her two small children. The most expensive thing she ever bought, she told me, was a chicken for 500 shillings, or about $5. Her family was persistently hungry. She knew of three nonprofit groups that had helped the village before GiveDirectly. One aided families with school fees, but it chose not to help her children. “I do not want to talk about it,” she said.

What is worse, Faye told me, walking away from Odhiambo’s hut, was that most nonprofit projects in the region were never subject to anything like an impact assessment, either. There is no way to know how well they are working, or whether that money would be better spent on something else. “The question should always be: Would we be better off just giving this money away as cash?” Faye said. “There usually is not a way to answer that question.”

A vast majority of aid, 94 percent, is noncash. Donor resistance is one reason for this; it is not easy to persuade American oligarchs, British inheritors and Japanese industrialists to fork over their money to the extremely poor to use as they see fit. “There’s the usual worries about welfare dependency, the whole ‘Give a man a fish’ thing,” said Amanda Glassman, a public health and development expert at the Center for Global Development. “It’s so powerful. It’s really a basic psychological feature of the landscape. You’ll start drinking. You’ll start lying around at home because you’re getting paid.”

Cash also seems harder to market. American taxpayers might be perfectly happy to fund education for young women in poor countries or vaccinations for schoolchildren. But they might balk at the idea of showering money on poor, unstable countries. “The Visual of putting a pill in a kid’s mouth is so much more attractive to people,” Glassman said.

Institutional inertia is another factor. “There are a lot of good people working in the system,” Niehaus said. “And there are a lot of organizations pushing to do cash transfers. But the way they are structured and incentivized from the top down they aren’t structured to do it. They have a specific mandate, like health. Cash transfers give choice of what goal to pursue to the recipients.”

Moreover, cash might force aid workers and nongovernmental organizations to confront the fact that they could be doing better by doing things differently often by doing less. “It’s easy to muster evidence that you should be giving cash instead of fertilizer,” said Justin Sandefur of the Center for Global Development. “The harder argument is: You should shut down your U.S.A.I.D. program, which is bigger than the education budget of Liberia, and give the money to Liberians. That’s the radical critique.” Faye put it more bluntly, if half-jokingly:

If cash transfers flourished, “the whole aid industry would have to fire itself.”

There is something to that. One estimate, generated by Laurence Chandy and Brina Seidel of the Brookings Institution, recently calculated that the global poverty gap, meaning how much it would take to get everyone above the poverty line, was just $66 billion. That is roughly what Americans spend on lottery tickets every year, and it is about half of what the world spends on foreign aid.

In the pilot-project village, the residents had just started to work through how transformative the program would be, what they could do with the money and how different their lives could feel in 12 years. Detractors often say that no one would work in a world with a basic income, that the safety net could grow a bit too comfortable. Ultimately, what a universal income would do to workers in the rich world will remain a mystery until someone tries it out.

But here, many Villagers were concerned primarily with procuring the sustenance and basic comforts that their penury had denied them. Odhiambo, the woman who had not been offered aid by the school group, planned to buy corrugated iron sheets for her roof; she considered possibly paying off her dowry. Another Villager, Pamela Aooko Odero, ran a household that had been suffering from hunger, with all eight of them living on just 500 to 1,000 shillings a week. She took her money as soon as she got it and went to buy food.

Many more made plans that were entrepreneurial. Two widowed sister-wives, Margaret Aloma Abagi and Mary Abonyo Abagi, told me they planned to pool their funds together to start a small bank with some friends. Charles Omari Ager, a houseboy for the sister-wives, had his phone turned off and wrapped in a plastic bag in his pocket when the first text came in. He was driving the widows’ goats and cattle from one dried-out, bramble-filled meadow to another when he happened upon an aid worker, who prompted him to pull out his phone, turn it on and wait. The text was there. The money was there. “I’m happy! I’m happy! I’m happy!” he said. He bought himself a goat that day.

When he got his money, Erick Odhiambo Madoho walked to the cow-dotted local highway nearest the village and took a matatu, a shared minibus, overloaded with 20 passengers, down to Lake Victoria. There he found an M-Pesa stand and converted his mobile money into shillings. He used the cash to buy the first of three rounds of filament-thin fishing line that he would need to hand-knot into nets to catch tilapia in the lake.

When the nets were done, he told me, he would rent a boat and hire a day laborer to work with him. He anticipated that his income, after costs, might reach as much as 2,000 shillings on a good day. I asked him why he hadn’t saved money for nets beforehand.

He shrugged, smiled and said, “I could not.”

Annie Lowrey is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a former economic-policy reporter for The Times. She is writing a book about universal basic income for Crown.

Universal Basic Income and cryptocurrency Manna – Scott Santens * Manna Whitepaper – People’s Currency Foundation.

We, the people of the world, recognize and declare that money is a social invention which can be changed by the people according to our values.

As we witness the growing scourge of inequality and its consequences, we see that the existing system is unjust and unsustainable. Recognizmg and accepting the moral obligation that arises from such knowledge, we stand united in the decision to create a better alternative, a currency of conscience designed to facilitate the emergence of a more just and sustainable global economic system.

Manna Mission Statement, People’s Currency Foundation

Scott Santens

Manna is the first publicly traded, block chain based currency to be distributed as a Universal Basic Income subsidy to anyone in the world who applies and is verified as a unique human being.

On January 29, 2018, The People’s Currency Foundation (a U. S. based 501(c)(3) nonprofit) published their white paper for Manna, a relaunching of the basic income cryptocurrency formerly known as Grantcoin, which was the first publicly traded blockchain currency to be distributed universally to all those verified as unique applicants.

Its first distribution occurred on June 30, 2016. Four more disbursements occurred on October 1, 2016, January 31, 2017, June 17, 2017, and August 9 2017.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I was a recipient of each of these disbursements.

Since the last disbursement in August of 2017, disbursements have been paused as Grantcoin began the transition to Manna. Disbursements are expected to begin again this month as Manna, and on a new weekly basis to all verified accounts, of which there now number over 6,000 from over 100 countries around the world.

Since May of 2017, Grantcoin (now Manna) has seen a significant increase in value, and as of this writing can be ‘ exchanged on the SouthXchange for $0.011 USD. As shown in the chart below, the market price approximately doubled in 2015, more than doubled, again in 2016, and increased more than 16-fold in 2017, for a total gain of over 8,000% through January 1, 2018.

(Note: The price has continued to increase, with another doubling already in 2018, not shown on this chart.)

Considering each disbursement was around 7,000 coins per recipient, that’ s an unconditional grant of about $75 per person per disbursement in today’s USD cash equivalent market value, and more for those receiving referral bonuses.

That may not sound like much to those in countries like the US, UK, and Canada, but for those in countries like Kenya, that’s a full basic income, sufficient to cover basic needs. In fact, to give some further context, the largest basic income experiment ever devised is going on in Kenya right now, where the NGO GiveDirect is providing monthly basic incomes of around 22 USD for the next 12 years.

With the above in mind, Manna appears therefore an entirely realistic way of immediately providing basic incomes anywhere in the world, given sufficient access to currently available technology. And over time, as the value of Manna increases, it could potentially reach sufficient value to be considered enough for securing of basic needs in countries like the United States, especially in more rural areas, and in turn be considered far, far more than basic in places like East Africa where hundreds of dollars a month would be sufficient to provide median-level incomes as a monthly starting point.

Manna is planned to be distributed on a weekly basis, and divided equally among all recipients. A desktop wallet is now available in beta form (for Windows and Linux with Mac coming soon), with a web-based wallet also expected to be released soon. A block explorer for Manna is also now available for use.

The Manna money supply is planned to increase at an annual rate of 3.5%, chosen because it’s close to the historical average inflation rate of the US. For comparison, the inflation rate on Steemit is around 3% right now.

The value of Manna is determined not only by the market exchange rate, but unlike most other cryptocurrencies, it is also backed by tax deductible donations to the 501(c)(3) People’s Currency Foundation. One future goal is to go even further with this model by pursuing something similar to Alaska’s‘ Permanent Fund, where a diverse portfolio of investments would further back the cryptocurrency.

A referral process is in place for Manna where those who sign up through a referral link (such as this one), will receive a 50% bonus for one year, and those who refer others with their own referral links will receive their own bonus as well. The referral system is however temporary as a means of accelerating adoption, like how PayPal started, with plans to phaseout in time.

Because recipients of Manna are all over the world, this provides a very interesting way to help others all over the world. Through the Mannabase platform, users will be able to send a chosen percentage of their own Manna to others by region, for example, a place like Puerto Rico because of a hurricane, or a handful of countries based on their lower GDPs, or even a percentage of their weekly UBI to all other Manna UBI accounts.

Furthermore, with the addition of profiles on Mannabase, it will be possible to send Manna to specific people based on specific criteria for those who choose to provide that information. For example, someone may wish to provide 10% of their weekly Manna UBI to those who are over 65, to help boost their incomes further.

Another interesting element is the ability to send Manna to those under the age of 18. Parents will be able to sign up their kids with sufficient proof of identity, but those under 18 will not be able to Withdraw their Manna until 18. This opens the potential for those turning 18 to receive potentially quite large unconditional capital grants along the lines of what Thomas Paine advocated in Agrarian Justice.

Last but not least, here’s the roadmap for Manna to see what the plan is over the next year. Notice the intention to provide entire communities with Manna to test full universality.

Learn more at Scott Santens .com

Universal Basic Income Cryptocurrencies Like Manna are Pioneering the Way Towards Decentralized Targeting

People’s Currency Foundation


Manna is the first publicly traded, block chain based currency to be distributed as a Universal Basic Income subsidy to anyone in the world who applies and is verified as a unique human being. Manna, originally called Grantcoin, is also the first cryptocurrency to be managed and distributed by a US. based tax-exempt nonprofit organization, and to be value backed not only by investors, but also by tax deductible donations which are used to buy back the token on markets where it trades.

If sufficiently capitalized in the future, Manna will also be backed by profits from a capital reserve fund, similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund which pays an annual dividend to all citizens of the US. state of Alaska and is the longest lasting and most successful UBI subsidy program in the world.

Since launching as Grantcoin in 2015, Manna has seen an 80 fold increase in price and has attained a circulating market cap of over $4 million USD as of January 1, 2018. (Note: This has continued to increase, more than doubling already in 2018.) There are more than 3,500 known stakeholders of Manna in at least 100 countries around the world. Through the end of 2017 over $250,000 USD had been given away as basic income in the former Grantcoin or Manna currency.

The Manna project aims to achieve three main goals:

1. Implement an economically impactful basic income on the blockchain, especially to help some of the world’s poorest people, children, and developing nations.

2. Enable targeted direct giving for highly efficient, effective altruism, utilizing the technological benefits of cryptocurrency and smart contracts.

3. Build a global network of socially conscious businesses, nonprofit organizations, and their customers and supporters, using the Manna currency as a tool to create a more equitable economy for a better future.

To achieve these goals, our diverse team of talented professionals and volunteers will raise capital; develop an online platform and associated apps and plugins for websites and smartphones; form partnerships with charities; reach out to businesses, financial institutions, governments, NGOs, and quasi governmental organizations; and spread the word about Manna through a book tour, speaking engagements, social media, videos and artistic creations, and personal and professional networks to continue to grow the user base exponentially.

Ultimately, we envision Manna becoming an alternative global reserve currency backed by a portfolio of assets held by a global NCO. This currency will be distributed into circulation as a UBI subsidy and children’s savings account program, to ensure food security for the world’s neediest people and increased economic opportunity for young people.

We believe this fiscally sound, socially responsible design will lead to Manna’s adoption by millions of users around the world.


Why Manna?

Manna is a globally distributed currency based on egalitarian principles.

As expressed in the Manna mission statement:

We, the people of the world, recognize and declare that money is a social invention which can be changed by the people according to our values.

As we Witness the growing scourge of inequality and its consequences, we see that the existing system is unjust and unsustainable. Recognizmg and accepting the moral obligation that arises from such knowledge, we stand united in the decision to create a better alternative, a currency of conscience designed to facilitate the emergence of a more just and sustainable global economic system.

Throughout history, human beings have dreamed of a world in which even the poorest and most unfortunate people among us will have their basic needs guaranteed. The principle of inherent human dignity and the hope of universal abundance have inspired some of humanity’s most beautiful legends, artistic creations, and moral philosophies.

Today, in a world filled with refugees, desperate poverty and extreme inequality, we have both the resources and technological means to ensure everyone’s survival and expand economic opportunity for the next generation, through the power of block chain technology and skillful design of a new monetary system based on the universal human right to a basic income.

The Problem

Only 62 people own more than half the wealth in the world today, while almost half the human population over three billion people are living on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of the world’s people live on less than $10 per day.

This extreme wealth inequality is a moral outrage. On a practical level, it is an utter failure of civilization to include most of the world’s people as full fledged participants in the global consumer economy. As such, it is a poor allocation of resources that could be more profitably distributed for the benefit of rich and poor alike.

There are many undesirable, even dangerous consequences for society resulting from widespread lack of access to money, among them:

Insufficient consumer demand to prevent economic stagnation and recession, as not enough people can afford to buy the products and services being produced by the economy.

Instability of the global financial system and danger of catastrophic collapse, resulting from too much money being held in too few hands and used for reckless financial speculation instead of investment into productive businesses in local communities.

Geopolitical conflict and terrorism arising from anger and apocalyptic fanaticism that are predictable results of extreme poverty, inequality, and lack of economic opportunity, especially among young people.

The global monetary system as it exists today exacerbates these problems by causing economic inequality to worsen. This is a direct result of a design flaw in the methodology of how major world currencies are issued into circulation. As noted in the Manna mission statement:

Currencies created as issuance of debt by banks, whose mission is to gain profit by charging interest on loans, favor the accumulation of wealth by already wealthy individuals, businesses, and nations, which are preferred for access to credit over those without as much capital.

Automation will make the problem worse as we approach the “technological singularity” generally predicted to arrive in the middle of the 21st century when robotics and artificial intelligence will surpass the abilities of human beings and thus eliminate the need for most human labor, rendering most people unnecessary for economic production and therefore unable to earn a living.

According to an Oxford University study, nearly half of all jobs in the United States are at risk of being lost to automation in the next 20 years, and up to 85% of jobs in the developing world, where poverty is already more severe.

Technological capital ownership, far from being widely distributed among the population, is highly concentrated into a small number of wealthy nations and leading businesses and their shareholders, who will reap most of the profits of the future fully automated economy.

The Solution

The People’s Currency Foundation offers a solution to the growing problem of wealth inequality and its consequences. We have developed an alternative currency called Manna which is issued into circulation as a universal human right, with equal access for all whenever new units of the currency are created and distributed. Inflation of the Manna money supply functions as a built in mechanism to counterbalance factors in the economy and society that tend to increase economic inequality, thus helping to reduce the dangers posed by this problem.

Unlike the currencies generally in use in the world today, which are issued primarily through the for profit banking system as discretionary loans, Manna uses a non discretionary system of monetary issuance, to prevent corruption and favoritism for access to the money supply.

Manna is distributed as a Universal Basic income subsidy that every person in the world is eligible to receive, for free, just because they are human and have the right to resources to help them survive according to the same principle that grants us the universal, inalienable right to freely breathe the air.

Money is an intangible representation of value that is necessary to live in a civilized world; and although the amount of inherent value of a human being, when measured in economic terms, is less than the amount of economic value they might acquire through productive work or investment of capital, a person’s inherent value is not nothing. The monetary system we use should reflect this principle.

Another part of the solution is to enable well off people who do not need a basic income to automatically transfer the currency they receive as UBl to people in need or to charitable organizations that are assisting such people. This can be done using a technology called smart contracts which will be implemented on Mannabase, a user friendly online platform for Manna recipients, givers, and users.

Furthermore, the Mannabase platform will function as a full scale solution for targeted direct giving of any amounts of money at any time to any number or complexity of user selected demographics, enabling effective altruism.

Freely distributing Manna UBI to authenticated recipients will enable the currency and platform to acquire a large user base, which can be sorted by various characteristics (geography, age, economic status, etc), so that givers will be able to micro target their charitable gifts directly to groups of people they believe are most in need or worthy of their support. Children will also be eligible for basic income distributions and charitable gifts into Mannabase wallets that they can unlock when they reach adulthood, thus providing increased economic opportunity for the next generation.

The success of Manna in helping give rise to a less severely unequal distribution of wealth among people and nations is not dependent on the success of any political movement, legislation, or international treaty or institution, The people of the world themselves, by supporting and using Manna as their preferred currency and the Mannabase platform for targeted direct giving, may bring about the desired effect and a positive effect will not be prevented if less than a majority of people decide to support it, as would be the case using political methods in democratic countries. Even if only a small minority of the world’s population decides to use Manna, it will still be able to exert a positive influence on the global economy in the direction of equality.

Having said this, the People‘s Currency Foundation, as a socially conscious global NGO, will attempt to reach out to governments throughout the world, especially in small developing nations, and encourage them to sign up their population either en masse or in carefully selected pilot programs for Manna basic incomes. We will also attempt to persuade governments to acquire and hold Manna in their asset portfolios.

The Manna currency network uses decentralized, open source, peer to peer technology, is legal in most countries, and cannot be easily shut down or blocked by authoritarian governments that may wish to prevent their citizens from using it. Manna empowers the people of the world, both in its technological and socioeconomic structure and effects. This new alternative currency can be an important piece in the puzzle for solving the problem of wealth inequality in the 21st century.


Legal Structure and Governance

The Manna project is managed by The People’s Currency Foundation, a United States based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, classified as a public charity by the US. Internal Revenue Service. Donations to the Foundation are therefore tax deductible in the United States.

The People’s Currency Foundation is investigating the possibility of establishing an international umbrella organization based in a country with a more favorable regulatory climate towards cryptocurrency, to over see national affiliates in countries around the world, including the organization already existing in the US.

The People’s Currency Foundation is governed democratically by a board of directors. Currently, board members are chosen by the board itself, but the governance process may be changed in the future so that people can become members of the Foundation and vote for its leaders. This would likely be a process of multitier elections at local, national and international levels, after the Manna economic network has grown into the millions of participants. Voting may be conducted on the blockchain using decentralized, secure solutions for community governance.


The People’s Currency Foundation was legally incorporated in March 2015, under the name The Grantcoin Foundation. The name was changed in January 2018 as part of a rebranding process. The Manna currency, originally called Grantcoin, was launched to the public in May 2015. The project was founded by three socially conscious executives with diverse experience in nonprofit management, project management, entrepreneurship and startups, charities and religious ministry, and the emerging field of alternative digital currencies.

From the beginning Crantcoin (now Manna) was envisioned as a currency that would be designed to help create a more egalitarian, democratic, and sustainable global economy. The specific economic model of the currency gradually came into focus through deliberation of the founders, consultation with other people of conscience, and experimentation with several types of grant programs for social good. Starting in May 2016, the Grantcoin Foundation implemented the current model of the currency being distributed through a simple, universally available program of basic income, which thus far has been popular and sustainable.

Mannabase, Inc.

In January 2018, the founders of Manna incorporated a company called Mannabase Inc. to oversee technological development of the Mannabase platform. The founders funded this company with a large portion of their own personal holdings of Manna.

The People’s Currency Foundation has an operating agreement with Mannabase Inc., and technical personnel overlap considerably between the two entities. The founders intend to donate the company to become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Foundation, likely within the next three years.


In 2015, the founders of Manna created a cryptocurrency called Grantcoin, which would be primarily distributed as charitable grants by a nonprofit organization and backed in part by tax deductible donations to that nonprofit. The founders capitalized the project with donations of over $10,000 from their own savings, and ran it as a voluntear-based pilot study to determine:

Whether there was sufficient interest among the cryptocurrency investor community and the general public in a block chain based currency with a philanthropic mission to create a more equitable and sustainable world economy.

The most viable strategies for growth and development of such a currency and to prove implementation and formulate a road map for a globally scalable project.

After two years of bootstrapped development and experimentation, the evidence showed several things:

1. That there was indeed enough interest and support for such a project to make it worth pursuing in a highly professional way.

2. That focusing on gaining a large base of holders of the currency was necessary before any other goals could realistically be achieved, such as adoption by businesses and charities for payments and donations.

3. That giving the currency away according to the principle of Universal Basic Income was the most effective way to acquire a large base of holders, and ultimately users, of the currency.

4. That a referral bonus program was highly effective in generating rapid growth of the number of recipients of Grantcoin basic income. We conducted five distributions of basic income and referral bonuses during a period of just over one year, as follows:

a. June 30, 2016, 255 people

b. October 1, 2016, 757 people

c. January 31, 2017, 1,132 people

d. June 17, 2017, 2,511 people

e. August 9, 2017, 2,922 people

Most participants in the program have been referred by other participants, who earned a reward for the referrals, which is a formula for ongoing exponential growth. By September 1, 2017, more than 400 additional people had signed up and been approved for the next distribution, which will be of the rebranded Manna currency in early 2018.

5. That the currency can hold its value and gain value, despite large amounts of it being given away with no strings attached. This has proved to be true both during periods when the Grantcoin Foundation actively supported the price and also during periods when the Foundation did not do so. The “network effect” that the value of a tool for communications or transactions increases as the number of participants in its network increases has easily overcome price inflation due to expansion of the Grantcoin money supply. The value added by backing the currency with charitable donations has also proved to be significant, but perhaps actually more important for its psychological effect on stakeholders than strictly the Foundation’s financial input into the market.

6. That a large degree of automation was necessary to scale up the project into the thousands of users and beyond.

7. That sophisticated fraud detection mechanisms are necessary to prevent cheating by bad actors attempting to sign up multiple times under pseudonyms.

8. That a user friendly web based platform for receiving and transacting the currency is important to convert passive recipients into active users even for minimal levels of activity by ordinary, non technically inclined holders of the currency.

We discovered that user friendliness and intuitiveness of the front end design of the platform is an essential prerequisite for positive engagement with the currency among all but the most technologically gifted and highly motivated supporters, and that poor design (by a third party platform we experimented in partnering with) created a negative user experience and an inefficient use of time by Foundation personnel in communication with confused users.

In the summer of 2017, we took these lessons and applied them to our plans for relaunch of the project under the Manna brand. In late January 2018 we completed the rebranding process by updating the Grantcoin codebase and releasing Manna branded wallets that are fully compatible with the existing blockchain. Holders of Grantcoin have an equal number of tokens, now called Manna, in the new wallet. At block 1,100,000 (expected to be reached in May 2018), the blockchain is scheduled to fork and the old Grantcoin wallets will become deprecated and incompatible with the new Manna network.

Price and Market Cap

As of January 1, 2018, approximately 493 million Crantcoin was in circulation, At the currency’s price on that date (1,000 CRT = $8.47), the market cap of all Grantcoin in circulation was approximately $4.2 million.

During its history, Grantcoin has traded on two different public cryptocurrency exchanges. The market price of Crantcoin approximately doubled in 2015, more than doubled again in 2016, and increased more than 16-fold in 2017 for a total gain of over 8,000% through January 1, 2018, (Note: The price has continued to increase, with another doubling already in 2018, not shown on this chart.)


As of January 1, 2018, there were approximately 3,500 known stakeholders, i.e. owners of Grantcoin (Manna) currency, in more than 100 countries around the world, There were likely at least a couple hundred more people who own some of the currency which they have mined or bought on exchanges, whose identities are unknown.

The three founders owned a combined 19% of the Manna in circulation, most of which they intend to use for charitable purposes. Each of the founders have donated thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of volunteer work to the Manna project.

The founders previously owned a much larger percentage of the currency, but decided to reduce their holdings by providing 36% of the float to Mannabase Inc., a technology development company. This Manna will be used to compensate developers, either directly in Manna or through sales of the currency, and to pay for other necessary expenses associated with maintaining and improving the Mannabase platform.

Contributing stakeholders, such as private investors, donors, and independent contractors who were paid in Grantcoin for their work for the project, accounted for another approximately 17% of the currency in circulation at the beginning of 2018. There are several dozen such stakeholders in countries including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, England, South Korea, Egypt, ltaly, Austria, and various others.

About 13% of the float has been donated to charities and nonprofit organizations which have agreed to hold it for the long term and use it for purposes compatible with the mission and values of the People’s Currency Foundation. Some of these Charities were established by the founders and others are outside organizations with a long track record of success in their charitable missions.

About 6% has been given away as basic income and referral bonuses to roughly 3,000 people. This percentage will grow much larger over time, and will ultimately surpass all other categories.

The remaining 9% of the float was mined into circulation and is held by various unknown stakeholders, which may include the miners themselves and others they may have sold it to on public exchanges or sent it to in other transactions. This percentage of the currency in circulation will decrease over time, as the mining reward rate is being reduced as part of the transition from Grantcoin to Manna. Ultimately, we expect that less than 0.25% of circulating Manna will be created through mining.

For the most part, the People’s Currency Foundation does not keep track of what people and institutions do with their Manna. and it is likely that some of the currency that has been distributed into circulation to known stakeholders has already passed to other stakeholders who are unknown, as a result of private transactions or anonymous public sales on exchanges. However, the Foundation does have a policy that any founder, director or staff member must publicly disclose any sales of over one million Manna in a period of one month.

Economic Model

Manna is distributed into circulation primarily as a Universal Basic Income subsidy for anyone in the world who signs up and successfully completes a verification process to prove that they are a unique human being, Corporate entities are not eligible to receive the UBl. Manna basic income is distributed weekly into web based wallets on the Mannabase platform. Each verified individual receives an equal share of the amount being distributed each week.

Distribution of Grantcoin in Circulation (though January 1, 2018)

The People’s Currency Foundation also gives referral bonuses of the currency to people and organizations that refer others to sign up and verify their account for Manna basic income distribution. Our referral program does not use multi level marketing; it is only a bonus for direct referrals. The purpose of this program is to encourage exponential growth of the Manna user base, as awareness of Manna spreads through people’s personal connections, nonprofit organizations, charitable networks, and businesses’ customers who might later be able to spend the currency at participating businesses.

The People’s Currency Foundation has set the annual rate of increase of the Manna money supply through basic income distributions at 3.5% of the current supply of Manna in circulation. This is close to the historical average annual inflation rate of the US. dollar, one of the world’s most successful currencies, and results in an approximate doubling of the money supply every 20 years. Distributed equally as Universal Basic income, the increase in money supply would cut in half the general level of economic inequality every generation within the Manna economic network, all other factors held constant.

Another 2 to 3% per year is currently being added through referral bonuses. The referral bonus program will be phased out after ten years.

The annual rate of issuance of Manna may be changed by the Foundation as deemed necessary to balance the goals of egalitarian monetary distribution and preserving the currency’s value. So far, during the Grantcoin pilot program, this rate of growth of the money supply has proved to be very sustainable without any threat to the ability of the currency to hold or even gain value relative to other currencies.

Under our current economic model, the value of the currency is primarily determined by the free market. Manna trades on SouthXchange, an online cryptocurrency exchange based in Argentina, where people can buy and sell Manna for either Bitcoin or US, dollars. The People’s Currency Foundation will pursue listing for the Manna token on larger exchanges as well.

One unique feature of our economic model is that the value of the currency is backed not only by investors in the market, but also by donations to the People’s Currency Foundation. Our organization sets aside a minimal administrative budget, only what is necessary to keep the organization in existence and the project functional, and we use all donations beyond that to support the price of Manna on markets where it trades, through gradual buybacks of the token.

In the future, after our project is sufficiently capitalized, we plan to establish a Capital Reserve Fund with a diverse portfolio of investments. The profits from this fund will be used as an additional value backing mechanism for the Manna token. The fund’s portfolio will consist of a balance of securities (stocks and bonds), commodities (precious metals, energy, agricultural, etc), and currencies (including criptocurrencies), and will be professionally managed according to policies and algorithms developed by the People’s Currency Foundation based on historical data and expert advice.

Grantcoin began with a premined reserve of 10 billion coins, most of which was intended to be gradually distributed into circulation as charitable grants, such as the basic income program, over a period of decades. In the transition to Manna, we have decided to destroy approximately 75% of those coins, and we will implement a software update within the next few years to enable the gradual creation of new units of Manna needed for UBI distributions. The Foundation is retaining enough Manna in reserve to fund the UBI for up to ten years, but some of this may also be destroyed if we transition to gradual creation of the tokens at an earlier date, as we expect is likely,

The total supply of Manna, including all tokens that are currently in circulation or are held in reserve by the People’s Currency Foundation for release during the next ten years, is broken down into categories as follows:


Grantcoin was created as a modification of Peercoin, a well vetted and popular offshoot of Bitcoin. Grantcoin was rebranded to Manna but retains the same blockchain, which is powered by SHA 256 proof of work mining. The proof of stake aspect of the Peercoin codebase is turned off in Manna, but has been retained in our codebase for possible future implementation, pending study of its impact on our economic model and ways that staking rewards could be used for charitable purposes.

In 2018, we intend to transition to a more advanced, feature rich codebase, perhaps by incorporating some of the functionalities of Ethereum into our own blockchain. Also under consideration is to build an API for using Ethereum’s technology in association with the Manna blockchain. Ethereum is the second largest cryptocurrency by market cap (about $72 billion to Bitcoin’s $230 billion USD as of January 1, 2018). Ethereum’s smart contracts technology allows tokens to be governed by algorithmic rules for issuance, distribution, and execution of complex transactions. These features are well suited for the needs of the Manna project.

Manna is distributed to UBI recipients on Mannabase, an online platform where users may store and spend their Manna or transfer it to other users or to external wallets. Manna can also be transacted on Twitter, through simple tweets to deposit, withdraw. and send the currency to other Twitter users.


User-Friendly and Accessible

Mannabase is a website based on a simple core concept:

That everyone, everywhere in the world, should be able to participate in the cryptocurrency movement by receiving a Universal Basic Income in the form of the Manna currency, distributed on a regular basis into easy to use web based wallets on our platform.

To make cryptocurrency accessible to the general public, Mannabase will not only provide the currency as a basic right to all people who choose to participate, but will provide an intuitive, user friendly interface for transacting the currency.

Simplicity and user friendliness are key to the Mannabase philosophy. Most people have not yet adopted cryptocurrency, in large part because it has not yet become easily understandable and usable for the average person with little or no technical knowledge. Mannabase will correct this problem and empower millions of people to become new users of cryptocurrency specifically, the Manna currency that they will receive as basic income to help them get started and to improve their economic condition.

By providing people with currency and a simple and attractive platform to spend it, Mannabase will serve as a gateway to the exciting world of cryptocurrency for vast numbers of new users. By making it instantly accessible and easy to use, Mannabase will ensure that Manna will attain a large and growing market share among blockchain based tokens.

Signup and Referral System

The Mannabase user experience begins with an extremely simple signup form: entering your email address. If the email entered is unique, the new user will be asked to confirm their ownership of the address via email and prompted to select a username and password.

Once confirmed, the user will be taken to a “dashboard” page where they will see that the balance in their Manna wallet is zero, and they will be invited to sign up for distributions of Manna basic income. They will also be given a referral link which they can share with friends, on social media or elsewhere. The dashboard will show a count of how many new users they have referred to Mannabase, how many have been approved for Manna basic income, and how much Manna the referrer is eligible to receive in referral bonuses if they, likewise, are approved for UBI distribution.

The new user will be prompted to go through a verification process to confirm that they are a unique human being and after being approved, they will begin receiving weekly deposits of Manna basic income into their Mannabase wallet, plus however much they have earned in referral bonuses.

Each user receives the same amount of Manna in referral bonuses as the amount they receive in basic income, for each approved UBI recipient they have referred to the program during the past year. For example, a user who has 5 approved referrals will receive 6 times the amount of Manna per week that a user would receive who has no referrals.

Furthermore, if a new user signs up with a valid referral link or referral code, they will receive a 50% bonus in addition to their basic income distribution. Bonuses are given only for one year after each referral or signup occurs, to limit the financial advantage of participating in the referral system.

In the Grantcoin pilot program, we found that this specific referral system succeeded in generating exponential growth of our user base, because people are strongly incentivized to make referrals, and people are also incentivized to use the referral system when they sign up, so that referrals will actually be counted.

Anti-Fraud Strategies and Methods

The primary technical concern of any Universal Basic Income program must be to develop a viable “Proof of Humanity” system to ensure that people who sign up for the UBI are real, unique human beings, rather than fraudulent signups by the same users repeatedly with multiple pseudonyms. Combatting this type of fraud, known as Sybil attacks, is essential to the success of Manna or any other non governmental basic income program, which cannot rely on forcing people to submit identification documents to prove that they are who they say they are.

During the Grantcoin pilot study, we offered people the option of verifying their signup for the program using either a mobile phone or a government issued photo ID. Very few people chose the ID option, and some expressed worries about potential identity theft by our organization.

Furthermore, manually verifying signups by having a human staff member look at a submitted photo ID to determine its likelihood of authenticity is much more labor intensive than technological methods of verifying new users. Therefore, it became a high priority for us to develop an automated system of verification by phone with a relatively low rate of fraud.

Our anti fraud strategy at this stage is based on two aspects:

1. Requiring a real mobile phone, rather than a VOIP or landline. Multiple VOIP numbers can be generated easily for free, and many people have more than one landline, such as at home and at work, but most people have only one mobile phone. Therefore, for the average person, verifying that they have submitted a real, unique mobile phone number is sufficient to prevent multiple signups.

2. Some people who wish to try to beat the system may purchase multiple SIM cards or disposable mobile phones, thus faking the existence of multiple people. This is unlikely to be a problem now, because of the relatively small amount of economic value being distributed to each person receiving Manna basic income. However, this is likely to become more of a problem in the future, as the value of Manna increases by orders of magnitude. Therefore, we have implemented secondary algorithmic methods to detect whether a mobile phone number submitted is likely to be associated with a phone that is actually used by the same person who bought it, rather than a mobile phone number used only to sign up for Manna.

Using these methodologies, our study of the data from the Grantcoin pilot program indicates that we may have had a fraudulent signup rate of no more than 5%. In the future, however, we plan to implement a third method to detect and reduce fraud:

3. An algorithmic web of trust system, in which Mannabase users will be scored on their likelihood of being a real, unique human being, based on how they interact with the platform and other users. Users whose scores are too low may be required to submit documentary or biometric proof of identification and go through a manual approval process to continue receiving Manna basic income. We will also explore using blockchain based identity verification tokens such as Civic. The details of our system will remain proprietary, to prevent people from trying to game the system.

Automated Basic Income Distribution

Every Mannabase user who has passed the verification process and been approved for Manna UBI distributions will receive Manna in their wallet on the platform once per week. Each distribution occurs at a random time, to prevent users from all logging into Mannabase at the same time to check their balance and thus overloading the server.

Distributions of Manna basic income are fully automated. Once a user is approved for the program, they will be added to the recipient count, and the appropriate amount of Manna an equal amount per person will be calculated and sent into their wallet every week thereafter.

The amount each individual user receives per week will decrease as the total amount being distributed is divided among a growing user base. Referral bonuses will also be calculated and sent automatically to each user on a weekly basis.

Users may choose to automatically reallocate some or all of their Manna basic income and referral bonuses to other verified participants, either to all of them generally, or to specific users or groups of users selected according to user determined criteria. This option is intended for economically secure people who do not need a basic income subsidy, and prefer instead that it be distributed to others who may need it more. For example, a well off user in the United States might decide to allocate 40% of their basic income to their fellow citizens in Puerto Rico after a disastrous hurricane, 30% to children in the 10 countries with the lowest GDP in the world, 20% to a basket of their favorite charities on the platform, and 10% to all UBI recipients except themselves.

Searchable and Sortable User Profiles

Each Mannabase user whether an individual, nonprofit organization, or business, will be able to enter information about themselves, which will be displayed on their profile page and will be searchable and sortable by other users. Mannabase will provide a robust toolset for searching and sorting data from the user database, to find individual users, groups of users, and types of users that meet desired criteria.

For example, a Mannabase user wishing to spend some Manna to buy food or clothing from a socially responsible business could search for companies that are registered on the site which sell those categories of products. Or, a user who would like to donate to an environmental charity, a human rights organization, etc. could search and find organizations that fit those descriptions on the site and click a button on their profile page to make a donation in Manna.

Similarly, users will be able to search for individual basic income recipients who meet specific criteria or sets of criteria, and a Manna wallet address will be automatically generated and displayed, representing all of those people collectively. Such wallet addresses can be used for automatic reallocation of one’s basic income or other forms of targeted direct giving,

Targeted Direct Giving

Mannabase will store both user provided profile data as well as demographic data about the economic status of nations, regions, and the average person living in specific localities. Users wishing to verify their age, gender, geographical location, occupation, etc, on their profile must have other users confirm the accuracy of the information they submit. to prevent fraud (e.g. we don’t want wealthy American adults pretending to be impoverished African children).

The People’s Currency Foundation will also partner with well established charities that are working on the ground with specific people whom they have verified as being legitimately in need. Those people will be added to Mannabase as users with a special “verified needy” seal of approval.

All of this data will enable Mannabase users wishing to give Manna to the less fortunate, or to worthy charities and nonprofit organizations, to create a “giving portfolio” and automatically make donations quickly and easily, either by reallocating their basic income on a recurring basis or by giving extra Manna that they have purchased or received as income from selling goods and services. Wallet addresses will be generated by the platform, as needed, to represent specific groups of recipients, or even in specific proportions, to empower givers to transfer funds to their intended charitable beneficiaries in a simple and highly efficient manner. Complex transfers of funds will occur on the back end, using smart contract technology, without users needing to construct the transactions themselves.

Mannabase will thus be a powerful platform for blockchain based charitable giving, incorporating both Universal Basic Income as well as user friendly tools for effective altruism to targeted recipients.


Target Audience and Sectors

From the time of its inception as Grantcoin, the Manna project has always been about more than just giving away money. Although our team strongly believes in Universal Basic Income as the foundation of a new, more humane and equitable monetary system, we also believe that Manna can become the premier alternative currency of socially responsible business and the nonprofit sector.

This is a vast and growing segment of the economy. According to a 2017 study, 66% of consumers overall, and 73% of millennials, are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. Another study showed that 81% of global consumers say they seek out socially responsible products whenever possible. Furthermore, philanthropic giving for sustainable development accounts for nearly $8 billion USD per year on average, a large pool of resources from which capital could flow into Manna as an innovative way to provide economic opportunity for impoverished people and communities.

There is a wide opening in the cryptocurrency space for a project that pursues this socially conscious, humanitarian image and audience. Indeed, a token that can come to be seen and used as the “cryptocurrency of conscience” could realistically become one of the leading blockchain based currencies alongside Bitcoin and Ethereum.

One of the biggest challenges that crypto currencies have faced, which has impeded their adoption by the general public, is their largely negative image in the minds of most people, who view them as being driven primarily by a get rich quick mentality and as playthings of geeks and speculators rather than as tools for long term, universally beneficial social change, Manna, with its charitable values and mission, is uniquely positioned as a counterpoint to this negative public perception -which means it has both a specific market niche and arguably a greater potential for mass adoption than Bitcoin itself.

A large and growing percentage of society is looking for alternatives to what they perceive as corrupt socioeconomic institutions. Some look to Bitcoin, but many others do not, because they see Bitcoin as insufficiently designed to remedy the imbalances in the economy and society that have been produced by existing mainstream systems. Such people tend to be aligned with the movement for socially responsible business, eco friendly products, natural and locally produced foods, alternative health and personal development, the progressive arts and music scene, and nonprofit organizations such as charities and spiritual communities. These interests and values would tend to make them more receptive to Manna than to most other cryptocurrencies.

Tools and Incentives

The Mannabase platform will link holders of Manna currency with businesses where they can spend it and nonprofit organizations to which they can donate it. Thus, Mannabase will function as a much needed clearing house of information for “conscious consumers” and “people of conscience” in general, about businesses and organizations that may be especially worthy of their support. The People’s Currency Foundation will promote acceptance of payments and donations in Manna as a mark of distinction, signifying that the accepting institution is especially humane, sustainable. socially responsible, or progressive in its values.

Being listed on Mannabase may in and of itself prove to be a significant incentive for adoption of the currency by corporate entities whose customer or donorbase fits with the target audience of the Manna network. Beyond that, other incentives may also be needed, such as partnership grants or coupon programs. Manna to be used to encourage adoption by businesses and charities will come from the People’s Currency Foundation’s reserve (tokens reserved for partners and miscellaneous).

Technological tools will be utilized or developed to encourage merchant adoption, such as ecommerce plugins and donation buttons that can be deployed on websites, including full compatibility with popular web development platforms such as WordPress and Drupal. We will also study the possibilities for development of point of sale solutions for spending Manna at brick and mortar stores and establishments, or partnerships with providers of such tools that are in existence or under development for other cryptocurrencies. Whenever possible, we will seek to integrate Manna into the most promising and widely used multi-currency transaction tools already available, rather than duplicating the efforts of such projects.

Children’s Savings Program

One of the most compelling aspects of the development of the Manna economic network is our children’s savings account program. People of all ages, starting at birth, are eligible for Manna basic income distributions. Parents or legal guardians may sign up their children to receive basic income, if they provide a government is sued ID such as a birth certificate of the child.

The People’s Currency Foundation will also partner with charities that help orphans, which may sign them up for this program and provide demographic and economic data about these children in need. For example, we are already in discussions with two well established charities, in Cuatemala and Malawi, to establish pilot programs for this purpose.

Until a child reaches the age of 18, they will not be allowed to send funds out of their Mannabase wallet, but anyone may send Manna into it. Upon reaching 18, the wallet may be unlocked by the formerly minor child who has reached the age of majority, after providing sufficient proof of identity.

Children who accumulate Manna basic income for many years in this way will thus be provided with a large “basic capital’ grant upon reaching maturity, money which they can use to get a good start in their adult life, such as for college education, starting a business, or any other personal needs. This program will therefore create a loyal user base for Manna in the next generation, and will add to the incentives for socially conscious businesses to accept the currency, especially businesses whose customers are likely to be young people.


Current Known Impact

As of January 1, 2018, over $250,000 in Grantcoin (Manna) currency had been distributed so far as basic income and referral bonuses, to nearly 3,000 people in more than 100 countries around the world. The average recipient received approxi mately $85 in value, and some people have received hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. A large percentage of this value has been distributed to people in developing countries many of whom benefit greatly from relatively small amounts of money.

Grantcoin (Manna) has already given hope to numerous people in need. The majority of recipients are saving it for the future rather than cashing it out for Bitcoin, dollars, or their local currency. They understand that if they save it, and its value increases by orders of magnitude over time, it could become a significant nest egg to increase their standard of living or that of their children.

Although this project is still in its infancy, it is already having a noticeable impact on people’s lives. Numerous people from around the world write to the People’s Currency Foundation, expressing their gratitude for our work to create a new monetary system promoting economic justice and sustainability. For example:

“My entire household has received the Universal Basic Income. When I showed it (on my wallet) to them, the rush of hope among everyone was palpable. ” Rafael DI Liacco lndonesia

” I am working, going around colleges and universities, schools, etc, teaching people how to sign up for Grantcoin basic income. Young people in Sierra Leone are happy for this program. ” Osman Mansaray, Sierra Leone

“Grantcoin has come a long way [already] and its humanitarian spirit will continue to sustain and drive its successes. Love always. ” Simon D Bognet, Nigeria

The Grantcoin pilot project attracted significant interest and support from the Basic Income movement and activist community. For example, Eric Stetson, the founder of the project, spoke at the North American Basic Income Guarantee conference in New York in 2017. Grantcoin received positive coverage by Basic Income News ( and other blogs and journalists in the field.

The People’s Currency Foundation has an email list of over 10,000 people with an average open rate of over 25% for our mass emails and a Twitter account (@MannaCurrency) with over 5,000 followers. These numbers have been gained with almost no systematic marketing efforts by our organization or any other organizations on our behalf, and thus represent purely organic interest in the Manna project that has emerged mainly through word of mouth.

Manna has established itself as the clear leader in blockchain based Universal Basic Income. This momentum and first mover advantage, especially considering that the project has been mostly self funded by its core team and has done no paid advertising so far, makes a compelling case for the continued success and potential for explosive growth of the project.

Future Potential Impacts

Manna will demonstrate a proof of concept that Universal Basic Income can be implemented to meaningfully reduce poverty without increasing the burden of taxation by government. Our project will prove that though a grassroots, bottom up quantitative easing approach to monetary policy “helicopter money”, as distributed by a people powered alternative currency with populist and progressive values it is not necessary for governments to take from the rich and give to the poor. Instead, the people themselves can create alternative economic institutions with a built in, systemic design that gradually reduces the inequality of wealth and lifts people out of poverty through equitable distribution of newly created currency.

Manna will give rise to a new generation that prefers people powered, people empowering cryptocurrencies over traditional, debt based currencies issued by the for profit banking system. This new generation of “monetary consumers” will use the power of their freedom of choice to make monetary monopolies (i.e. government imposed fiat currencies) obsolete.

Manna could eventually become one of the leading cryptocurrencies in the world. because it is distributed as a Universal human right, and thus has the potential to acquire a much larger user base than most other alternative currencies including the vast number of people who comprise the “global poor,” who could never afford to acquire a meaningful amount of other forms of money.

If enough people use it, and if it gains the endorsement of major international charitable NGOs, Manna may come to be seen as a viable “people’s reserve currency,” in an era when the global hegemony of the US. dollar is increasingly being questioned. Manna can distribute economic power more widely and equitably among the nations of the world and their people. Thus, national governments, especially of developing countries, might consider diversifying their currency reserves into alternative currencies such as Manna that are designed to be compatible with the spirit of a global, forward looking civilization and the rights and needs of human beings in a high tech future.


Tax-Deductible Donations

As a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit organization, the People’s Currency Foundation may receive tax deductible donations from contributors in the United States. Contributors outside the United States may also donate to our organization, but must follow the applicable tax laws of their own country,

In 2017, the Grantcoin Foundation (now the People’s Currency Foundation) raised approximately $11,000 in donations from more than 80 donors around the world. This does not count additional funds raised through sales of Grantcoin.

The People’s Currency Foundation will continue to seek funding from our user base through donations, and will attempt to convert first time donors into recurring donors. As our user base grows, we expect that the amount of money we raise from donations will continue to grow along with it.

According to our current policy to allocate only a minimal administrative budget and use all donations beyond that to help back the price of Manna on the market (excluding donations as part of specific crowdfunding campaigns or fundraising drives), we are pursuing other sources of funding as well, to meet our organization’s growing needs for personnel, technology, marketing, etc.

Grants and Endowments

The People’s Currency Foundation seeks grants by charitable organizations to fund program development and increase our working capital to run the Manna project in general.

We also welcome endowments from philanthropists and estates. Large amounts of capital can be provided with instructions to be held by the Foundation in a Capital Reserve Fund that we intend to establish. Income from these investments will be used to fund the Foundation’s operations and, if enough is available, to provide further backing of the value of Manna.

Grassroots Crowdfunding Campaign

In the first quarter of 2018, the People’s Currency Foundation will launch a crowd funding campaign. This campaign will be designed to reach large numbers of people with an inspirational message about the world transforming potential of the Manna project, and is intended to grow our donor base with a large number of new, mostly small donors.

Requested donation amounts will range from $10 to $250, with specific rewards for each level of financial support. Rewards will include Manna branded apparel, instructional videos and technical support packages for learning to use cryptocurrency, sample wallets with small amounts of Manna currency, and an introductory book by founder Eric Stetson.

Eric has an agreement with an award winning publishing company that specializes in books about personal development and progressive social change” His book about Manna, to be published in summer 2018, will weave a powerful story of the history of money and how this new currency can change people’s lives and empower us to create a better future. Eric will take the book on a speaking tour to fundraise, raise awareness of the Manna project, and stimulate rapid growth and support among influencers in the fields of progressive spirituality, health and wellness, education, technology, sustainable business and socially responsible investing.

This campaign will aim to raise at least $50,000, to be used to fund basic operating expenses in 2018.

Sales of Manna

Mannabase. Inc. may sell Manna from its holdings on an ongoing basis to fund technology development of the Mannabase platform and other administrative expenses. This is not an ICC, and all sales will be conducted in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Capital Reserve Fund

When the People’s Currency Foundation is sufficiently capitalized, we will establish a Capital Reserve Fund consisting of a well balanced investment portfolio. Profits from this fund will provide an ongoing revenue stream for our organization, enabling us to become less reliant on donations or other methods of fundraising.

Ultimately, our goal is to use 100% of donations to back the market value of Manna, and to have a large enough capital reserve so that all of the Foundation’s financial needs can be covered by profits generated by our investment fund, without needing to use any of the principal. If our capital reserve grows large enough and generates more profits than needed each year, we will use the remainder as additional backing for Manna on the market.

Growing our capital reserve fund is therefore a key goal. which will ensure the long term financial sustainability of our organization, and can help Manna become a robustly asset backed currency capable of sustaining a multi billion dollar market cap with continued growth of its money supply for basic income distributions.

Jesse Jackson on Martin Luther King’s assassination: ‘It redefined America’ – David Smith * “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” 1963.

The civil rights veteran, one of only two surviving witnesses to King’s murder 50 years ago, says his mentor’s response to Trump would have been: ‘We must not surrender our spirits’

Jesse Jackson still remembers the sound of the gunshot and the sight of blood. They have been with him for half a century. “Every time I think about it, it’s like pulling a scab off a sore,” he says. “It’s a hurtful, painful thought: that a man of love is killed by hate; that a man of peace should be killed by violence; a man who cared is killed by the careless.”

Jackson and fellow civil rights veteran Andrew Young are the last surviving disciples of Martin Luther King who witnessed his assassination on 4 April 1968. Others who were at the Lorraine motel in Memphis, Tennessee, that day have been claimed by the passing decades. And each milestone anniversary has offered a snapshot of Jackson’s, and the nation’s, jagged and jarringly uneven narratives.

Twenty years after the deadly shooting, in 1988, Baptist preacher Jackson was mounting his second bid to become America’s first black president. He invoked King and his death repeatedly as he took on Michael Dukakis in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. He won 11 contests but failed to gain the nomination.

At the 40 year mark after King’s death, the torch had been passed to Barack Obama, locked in a Democratic primary of his own against Hillary Clinton and under pressure over his relationship with the outspoken pastor Jeremiah Wright. The senator praised Jackson, a fellow Chicagoan, for making his run possible. On the night Obama won the presidency, Jackson wept.

Now it is 50 years and the wheel has turned again. Jackson announced last November that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Donald Trump, endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, is in the White House.

Just as many saw King’s assassination by the escaped convict James Earl Ray a white man partly inspired by the segregationist governor George Wallace as a reactionary strike against revolution, so Trump’s election has been interpreted as (in King’s phrase) a “white backlash” against Obama.

Amid the tumult of the 1960s, King, outspoken against the Vietnam war, was one of the most hated men in America and his life was in constant danger. His house was bombed, his followers were killed, his name was trashed by newspaper editorials and his phones were tapped by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. His two thirds disapproval rating in a 1966 Gallup poll sits at odds with today’s “I have a dream” sanctification.

“They loved him as a martyr after he was killed but rejected him as a marcher when he was alive,” recalls Jackson, 76, still a dedicated activist, speaking by phone from an African development conference in Morocco. “We tend to embrace martyrs. In many ways he has a moral authority now you wouldn’t see if he was still alive. He is a universal frame of reference for moral authority, the global frame of reference for nonviolent justice and social change. If he had not died, that probably would not be the case.”

King and a group of close aides, including Jackson, headed to Memphis to support predominantly African American garbage workers who had gone on strike for better safety conditions and pay after two colleagues were crushed to death in the back of a truck. On the night of 3 April, members of the civil rights leader’s inner circle went to a public gathering at the Mason Temple. “He was reluctant to come to the meeting that night,” Jackson says. “He had a migraine headache, he didn’t feel like talking. Ralph Abernathy [a close friend of King] and I went to the church. The people saw us coming in: they were cheering.

“Then Ralph Abernathy said to me, ‘Jesse, they’re not cheering for us. They think Martin’s behind us.’ He laughed. He went to the back of the church and called Dr King on the phone. He said, ‘Martin, come to the church and let them see you.’ Dr King said, ‘I’ll be there in a few minutes,’ and he came. Then Ralph Abernathy gave him a rather long introduction to give him time to think.”

King went on to deliver a speech unbearable in its prescience. He described the “threats out there” and what fate might befall him at the hands of “some of our sick white brothers”. He said: “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land.”

Jackson says: “There are those who think he was anticipating the next day. He had just come from a plane which had been emptied because of the threat of the plane being hit by a terrorist attack. He was aware but he felt that ‘a coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once’. He refused to be afraid because of the risk of ambush and sabotage; he refused to stop what he was doing out of fear because he did it out of courage.”

The next day, King was staying at his regular Memphis haunt, the Lorraine motel. It was 6pm and the group were preparing to head out for dinner. King was standing on the balcony outside room 306. As Jackson tells it: “He said, ‘You’re late for dinner You don’t even have on a shirt and tie.’ I said, ‘Doc, the prerequisite for eating is appetite, not a tie.’ He laughed and said, ‘You’re crazy.’ We joked around that way.”

King turned to Ben Branch, a saxophonist standing next to Jackson, and asked him to perform his favourite song, Take My Hand, Precious Lord, at a rally later that night: “Play it real pretty.” Then came the shot. King was hurled back violently, blood gushed from his jaw and neck as his spinal cord was severed. His tie was ripped off by the force of the bullet.

Jackson heard police shout, “Get low! Get low!”, and pour into the scene with guns drawn. He adds: “We were traumatised to see him lying there soaked in blood, 39 years old. He’d done so much to make America better, built bridges, sacrificed his livelihood, sacrificed his life. I remember Ralph Abernathy coming out and saying, ‘Get back my friend, my friend, don’t leave us now,’ but Dr King was dead on impact.”

Jackson walked to his room and called King’s wife, Coretta. “I said to her I think he’s been shot in the shoulder. I couldn’t say what I saw. She had a certain resolve, a certain understanding of the danger of the mission. She’d seen him stabbed, she’d heard the threats. She knew the price you paid for trying to make America better. She had made peace with the fact he could be killed, they both of them could be killed, the house could be bombed. She’d made peace with it over a 13-year period.”

King was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead about an hour after being shot. It was a seismic shock. “In many ways it redefined America: before and after Martin Luther King,” Jackson says, claiming: “When he was killed, the FBI in Atlanta jumped on the tables in jubilation.” But the news also unleashed fury across the country. Riots broke out in more than a hundred cities, leaving 39 people dead, more than 2,600 injured and 21,000 arrested, with damage estimated at $65m.

The civil rights movement was at a crossroads. Some African American leaders called for greater militancy; others vowed to adhere to King’s nonviolent confrontation and disruptive resistance. Jackson reflects: “We had to make a big decision: allow one bullet to kill a whole movement for which we worked and forfeit the game, or light even harder, and we did that. In his name we kept fighting. We’ve never stopped, as a matter of fact. He laid the groundwork. The coalition started rebuilding on the ground laid by his philosophy.”

There were many strides forward, school integration, affirmative action and bitter reversals, school resegregation, voter suppression, a shift from spending on poverty to mass incarceration along the way. He draws a biblical comparison: “Barack won the election in 2008. That’s 40 years after ’68, which means that it was 40 years in the wilderness. We never stopped working, never stopped raising issues, never stopped fighting poverty, never stopped fighting the war. And then, with the momentum of 40 years, we take the White House, win it twice in a row. That an African American man can win in this hostile nation toward black aspiration is significant all by itself, it seems to me.”

And yet then, as if in malign mockery of King’s now overly quoted phrase, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, came Trump, who rose to political prominence by questioning whether Obama was born in America and has used the presidency to stoke racial divisions. The author and journalist Ta Nehisi Coates has called the 45th president a white supremacist.

Would Jackson use the same description? “Self declared. It’s not exactly a secret. Trump’s cabinet makeup, the decision makers: there is white male supremacy ideology. The dangerous part of the white supremacy is in a global world we need the desire and the vision to compete and communicate with the world. We’re surrendering world leadership. There’s no leadership on climate change, on African development. We share 2,000 miles of border with Mexico and they’re a trading partner; to offend Mexico is irrational; to offend Canada likewise.

“Dr King believed in multiracial, multicultural coalitions of conscience, not ethnic nationalism. He felt nationalism whether black, white or brown was narrowly conceived, given our global challenges. So having a multiracial setting said much about his vision of America and the world, what America should stand for as well as the world.”

It is this intemationalist, outward looking perspective that nourishes Jackson as he looks back on achievements of the past half century that his mentor would surely have applauded. He points to the restoration of Haiti’s exiled president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, the release of Nelson Mandela and end of apartheid in South Africa, the liberation of Africa from colonialism and occupation and, back home, the rising number of African Americans in Congress and other political offices.

“The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice but you have to pull it to bend; it doesn’t bend automatically,” Jackson muses. “Dr King used to remind us that every time the movement has a tailwind and goes forward, there are headwinds. Those who oppose change in some sense were re-energised by the Trump demagoguery. Dr King would have been disappointed by his victory but he would have been prepared for it psychologically. He would have said, ‘We must not surrender our spirits. We must use this not to surrender but fortify our faith and fight back?”

Martin Luther King, ]r.

I Have a Dream

Delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table ofbrotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Left Should Stop Equating Labour with Work – Guy Standing.

It is intellectually excusable for those on the political right to want to restrict the meaning of work to labour, or income earning activity. It is inexcusable for those on the political left to do so.

Social democrats are paying a heavy political price for having done so throughout the 20th century. They fell into their own political trap, putting the notion of Full Employment on a pedestal, when that meant little more than maximising the number of people in labour, in positions of subordination to bosses.

Unless the left can escape from the folly of equating labour with work, they will continue to haemorrhage support and drift into the political margins. Why should putting as many people as possible in ‘jobs’ be construed as defining progressive politics?

Social democrats, who have based their politics on labour, should be reminded that the objective of employment stability, or security, was originally advocated by employers in the mid-19th century, not workers’ representatives. For many decades, the term ’in employment’ was a matter of regret, a recognition of low social status, typically applied to single women obliged to take low-paid positions serving in households headed by the bourgeoisie or aristocracy.

Through the 20th century, a peculiar alliance of political ideologies made labour obligatory, except by the landed gentry and the ‘idle rich’. What should at most have been regarded as an onerous necessity in a capitalist system became a pathological necessity in the Soviet Constitution in the Leninist phrase, ’He that doth not labour should not eat’, and took an equally antiemancipatory form in all forms of social democracy.

Very deliberately, entitlement to decent social security was limited to those who performed labour for bosses, or who demonstrated in demeaning ways a willingness to perform labour, or who, in a derivative subordinated way, were married to someone who was performing labour, or who had spent a long period in service doing so.

Forced Labour

Heroes and heroines of social democracy took all that to logical conclusions. Thus Beatrice Webb, mother of Fabian socialism, openly advocated labour camps, using force if necessary, giving Blairite Ministers a justification for advocating workfare several generations later. Meanwhile, William Beveridge, patron saint of the British welfare state, an avowed liberal currently being feted in a celebratory year in the LSE, believed in ’the whip of starvation’ to force workers to labour. At best, this perspective is paternalistic; at worst, anti-emancipatory.

These prejudices were taken forward into ILO Conventions, the embodiment of the social democratic model. They crystallised in Convention 102 of 1952, the Social Security Convention, which speaks of ‘breadwinners’, dependent wives and year of ‘service’ in labour, earning entitlementt protection. This quaint piece of legislation may seem like a throwback to the 1930s that led social democrats to work for it after 1945. However, in 2001 the trades unions of Europe and social democratic governments led the way in demanding that it be kept as one of the ‘up-to-date’ international conventions.

These inconvenient truths must be confronted, not brushed out of the left’s history. Social democrats have been remarkably silent on the systematic distortion of work as labour. They have, for a start, done nothing to alter the rhetoric or to question the statistical representation of work that has been used in national accounts and labour statistics since the 1930s. Unless they change, they cannot hope to recapture the political heights, and they will not deserve to do so.

If you spend six hours a day caring for an elderly relative, that in social democratic and neoliberal parlance is not work. If you spend three hours a day looking after somebody else’s elderly relative for a wage, that is called work, you are elevated to decency as an ’employee’, and you are likely to be protected in some way by labour and social security laws. This discrimination is absurd.

At this point, one should mention the common social democratic impertinence, the assertion that being in a job gives someone ’dignity’, ’status’ and the means of social integration, a sense of belonging in society. I should declare an interest here, perhaps shared by a few readers. I have never felt more dignity or more integrated in society than since I ceased to have a job.

Rather more germanely, tell a man going down a sewer to fix pipes that he is gaining dignity and a sense of belonging to society, and you may receive an unwelcome retort. Indeed, if you did not, one might be inclined to think of false consciousness. Tell a woman who reluctantly goes out in the morning to clean bed pans that she is being integrated and should be grateful for having a job, and you may receive an earful, as they say.

For most people, jobs are instrumental, not to be vilified or romanticised. There is no justifiable reason for elevating them above other forms of work. It is this that social democrats have done. That is not a progressive position. Marx was right in calling labour ’alienated activity’.

Populist Fallacy

However, today there are two other reasons for saying that all progressives should be more radical and intellectually honest about work.

First, the dualisms of labourism that made a rough-and-ready basis for social democracy in an era of industrial capitalism are breaking down. It is increasingly distortionary to persist with the pretence that they still apply as norms. The growing precariat know this all too well. That is one reason why they are tending to turn to new progressive movements that old social democrats are all too keen to dismiss as ‘populist’.

The two dualisms that were the base of social democratic social and labour policy were the ’workplace’ vs other places and ‘labour time’ vs other time uses. More and more work is being done away from formal workplaces and outside labour time, as l have argued at length elsewhere. Those in the precariat often spend more time doing work-for-labour and work-for-the-state than actual labour. Social democrats implicitly tell them that this is not real work.

If one accepts this reality, then one should recognise that existing national labour statistics increasingly distort the images of work and the way people are living. Making social policy dependent on observed labour is correspondingly indefensible for anybody claiming to be on the left. For somebody on the right, the distortion is fantastic. Protection should only be given to those in visible labour.

It was Third Way social democracy that went furthest down that road, claiming there should be no rights without responsibility, and that the poor should demonstrate that in labour, by being in jobs.

One should leave it to the conscience of social democrats to explain why they have been silent on the nature of national labour statistics. The end game of the acceptance of the labourist model is workfare, which is inevitable if one accepts means-testing and labour market flexibility. Matteo Renzi in Italy was the latest to go in that direction, and his social democratic party (PD) is the latest to pay the price of implosion, to become ‘dead men walking’.

Wim Kok, who forged the Third Way, set the way for the Dutch Labour Party entering the abyss, the Hartz IV reforms condemned Germany’s social democrats to its long decline, and New Labour with its lurch to means-testing and workfare lost the British precariat, and allowed the spectre of Universal Credit to emerge as the most illiberal social policy for many decades.

Ageing social democrats spend much more time vehemently attacking basic income, which besides offering prospective income security, encourages work rather than labour, than to critiquing workfare, forcing the unemployed into menial labour.

Unless social democrats can reverse their commitment to labourism, they are surely finished as a political force.

It is that fundamental. However, it is the other reason for wanting to refashion progressive thinking about work that is even more important in the context of the ecological crisis rushing towards us.

Sadly, the left in general and social democrats in particular have a bad record in ecological terms. Whenever there has been a conflict between job creation and the environment, they have given precedence to jobs, so-called ’working class’ jobs. At best, social democrats have been left with a residual policy of dealing with ’externalities’ and pollution control, rather than advocating a sustainable development strategy.

Green Left Growth

That aside, the left must restart. Consider the following dilemma. If only labour is captured by national statistics, and if only labour is accepted by the bureaucrats operating social policy, then ‘economic growth’ is underestimated and we give too much emphasis to activities that result in resource depletion. If instead, a nonlabourist approach were taken, the value of work that is not labour commonly called ’use value’ would be given at least equal weight to the value of labour exchange value.

For anybody on the ‘Green-Left’, this should have wonderful appeal. It would enable them to overcome the awkwardness of the term ’de-growth’.

If activities designed to conserve resources and reproduce ourselves and our communities, our commons, are given equal value to resource depleting activities, then shifting from the latter to the former would not lower ’growth’ or be ‘de-growth’.

It is hard to sustain a political campaign of de-growth if that means lowering economic growth, since with conventional statistics that implies lowering the standard of living on average. To a sophisticated Green, that might make one feel virtuous and principled, but it is unlikely to appeal on the doorstep of the typical voter.

If work that is not labour were given equal (or ideally more) weight and attention in statistics, in progressive rhetoric, and in articles and books written by progressives, that would enable everybody to measure ’growth’ in a more ecologically sensible way. I am sure many of us on the left feel uncomfortable with calls by quasi Keynesians and others on the left for more growth when that might just mean more rapid resource depletion, global warming and loss of work in favour of labour.

There is no escape from the social democratic trap, in conventional thinking, if you shift from doing a boring job going to an office each day to spending the same time looking after elderly relatives or your local community, economic growth goes down, which is regarded as ’bad’. If that care work were valued at no more but no less than that office job, the shift would not lower growth. Some of us would wish to be more radical still. But that would be a great start

Guy Standing is Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London and author of The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay (Biteback, 2016) and Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen (Penguin, 2017). He also wrote The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (Bloomsbury, 2011), and A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (Bloomsbury, 2014).

He is honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), an international NGO that promotes basic income.

Humanistic psychology. What is self-actualization? – Scotty Hendricks * What Is Humanistic Therapy? * How positive thinking affects your health – Erik Strand * Humanistic And Positive Psychology – Stephen Joseph P.Hd.

What is the science behind self-actualization?

Scotty Hendricks

The concept of self-actualization, that notion that we can develop over time into the best, most authentic version of ourselves, is an intriguing one. Perhaps because of its very nature, it has inspired countless self-help books, motivational seminars, and half-baked journeys of self-discovery. The concept can be used equally for selling new-age nonsense and helping people develop. In the latter case, the idea inspired an entire branch of psychology.

The psychology of becoming your best self

Humanistic psychology is a school of thought that was developed in the middle of the 20th century in response to the Freudian and behaviorist trends that dominated the field. Based on investigations into psychological growth and taking up many of the problems also considered by the existentialists, humanistic psychology continues the tradition of viewing the individual as an autonomous, whole, and ever progressing being.

With such names as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Virginia Satir, humanistic psychology has as strong of an intellectual foundation as any other school of psychological thought. While it might be best to consider it a perspective on humanity rather than a distinct school, it still has much to teach us in its approach, theory, and applications.

What stances does humanistic psychology take?

While Freud argued that our minds are chasing pleasure and dominated by past events:

Humanistic psychology postulates that our actions are primarily motivated by a need for self actualization and that we are utterly in control of them.

This need is seen in all life, so the humanist psychologists argue, but only in humanity does the need go beyond mere physical growth and into personal development.

The often seen hierarchy of needs. The idea that we all have a drive for personal completion, and that this drive is fundamental, motivates the rest of humanistic psychology.

This need is “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming,” as Abraham Maslow explained it.

The drive is considered to be good, and a person who can carry out their actualizing tendency to the end is considered to be the acme of mental health.

Humanistic psychology is therefore concerned with how to make that happen for as many individuals as possible and has many things to say about self-esteem, creativity, the modern world, and interpersonal relationships.

How else is it different from other schools of thought?

Perhaps its most substantial break from previous schools of psychology is its stance on humanity itself. Carl Rogers saw humanity as striving towards growth rather than homeostasis. While Freud started working by looking at people with neurosis and disorders and then determining how we all might function, Abraham Maslow began by trying to determine what the healthiest people had in common. There is also a tendency to view the human being holistically, rather than as a collection of psychological pieces as in other schools of thought.

These differences are seen very clearly when considering how therapy works for a humanistic psychologist. In Rogers’ person-centered therapy, the therapist creates an environment where the patient can explore their emotions and where growth is promoted. This differs significantly from the Freudian notion of a therapist, distant and judgmental.

What use does selfactualization have?

Carl Rogers used these concepts to develop the previously mentioned person-centered therapy, which has been shown to be an effective treatment. The ideas are also used in group therapy and the family therapy of Virginia Satir. The research these psychologists undertook has influenced and inspired other forms of therapy and treatment as well.

Social workers use some of the major concepts to help in their work by incorporating the ideas of selfactualization, a focus on agency, and the conditions for growth into their practice. There is an entire methodology and system of thought for this, referred to as humanistic social work.

How can I use it?

Even if you aren’t a therapist or social worker, the approach this school takes is one that we can all learn from. As Carl Rogers explained, everybody is trying to reach a higher level of being. Often due to circumstances beyond their control, they flounder at lower levels. This stunted growth is often viewed with scorn and rejection, but Rogers suggests we should instead consider such people with sympathy and help to encourage their growth.

Similarly, it teaches us that mental health is not the absence of neurosis but is instead continuous positive growth. Rogers himself said that:

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”

It can help many of us to know that just because we aren’t fully actualized right now doesn’t mean that we can’t hope to be later. The knowledge that we aren’t just bags of neuroses waiting to be triggered can also be a great comfort.

Is this scientific?

There are problems with finding hard scientific proof with some of the ideas. Maslow was criticized for his methods of determining what a self-actualized person would be like and what his hierarchy consisted of, though later studies have suggested he was on the right track. Other, similar problems have cropped up from time to time. It is worth noting that the leading figures in the field have always been open to experiments to prove or disprove their conceptions.

While much of early psychology was based on the idea of the person as a walking pile of neuroses waiting to happen, humanistic psychology offers us a view of the human mind that allows for growth, a chance at real health, and becoming who we are. Even if we never need therapy, the insights of humanistic psychology can help us better understand, and perhaps even become, ourselves.

What Is Humanistic Therapy?

Psychology Today

Also known as humanism, humanistic groups of people with similar characteristics, as having the same problems. Humanistic therapy looks at the whole person, not only from the therapist’s view but from the viewpoint of individuals observing their own behavior. The emphasis is on a person’s positive traits and behaviors, and the ability to use their personal instincts to find wisdom, growth, healing, and fulfillment within themselves.

When It’s Used

Humanistic therapy is used to treat people with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, purpose or reaching their true potential, who lack feelings of “wholeness,” who are searching for personal meaning, or who are not comfortable with themselves as they are, may also benefit from humanistic therapy.

What to Expect

Humanistic therapy is talk therapy that focuses on how a person feels in the here and now, rather than trying to identify past events that led to these feelings. Additionally, the humanistic therapist provides an atmosphere of support, empathy, and trust that allows the individual to share their feelings without fear of judgment. The therapist does not act as an authority figure; rather, the relationship between client and the therapist is one of equals.

How It Works

In the late 1950s, humanism grew out of a need to address what some psychologists saw as the limitations and negative theories of behavioral and psychoanalytic schools of therapy. This was a new, more holistic approach that focused less on pathology, past experiences, and environmental influences on a person’s behavior, and more on the positive side of human nature.

Around this time, psychotherapist Abraham Maslow developed a human hierarchy of needs and motivations, and fellow therapist Carl Rogers developed his person-centered approach. Humanistic therapy evolved from these theories. Humanistic therapists believe people are inherently motivated to fulfill their internal needs and their individual potential to become self-actualized.

Self actualization can take many forms, including creative endeavors, spiritual enlightenment, and persuit of wisdom, or altruism.

What to Look for in a Humanistic Therapist

A humanistic approach may be incorporated into various therapies. A humanistic therapist must be a warm, empathetic, understanding, and non-judgmental person.

Look for a licensed, experienced mental professional with humanistic values and a humanistic approach to their practice. In addition to finding someone with the appropriate educational background and approach, as well as relevant experience, look for a humanistic therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.

Think Positive, How positive thinking affects your health

Erik Strand.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin have shown that people with high activity in a particular brain area may muster weak immune responses in the face of negative emotions.

Many studies have shown that a person’s emotional state may affect his or her physical health, depression can worsen, heart disease, and stress can contribute to colds.

Melissa Rosenkranz and colleagues monitored the brain activity of 52 men and women and asked them to write about emotionally negative moments in their lives. Researchers then injected each subject with a flu shot and tracked the level of antibodies in their blood to discover how well their bodies were fighting the virus in the vaccine. They found that subjects with high electrical activity in the right prefrontal cortex during the emotional writing task produced lower levels of antibodies, indicative of impaired immunity.

Rosenkranz says the study is the first step towards discovering a neural mechanism explaining the mind’s effect on the body.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Humanistic And Positive Psychology

Stephen Joseph P.Hd

Is it time to build bridges between humanistic and positive psychology?

Positive psychology has been successful in drawing attention to the fact that psychologists had overlooked what makes life worth living.

At first the relationship between positive psychology and humanistic psychology was difficult. But as positive psychology has developed and matured it is clear that the idea we should be concerned with what makes for a good life was an idea also at the core of humanistic psychology in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Humanistic psychology developed around the middle of the twentieth century in part to address the fact that the previous ways of thinking in psychoanalysis and behaviourism had not been concerned with the full range of functioning. As Sutich and Vich (1969), editors of the influential, Readings in Humanistic Psychology, wrote:

“Two main branches of psychology, behaviourism and psychoanalysis appear to have made great contributions to human knowledge, but neither singly nor together have they covered the almost limitless scope of human behaviour, relationships, and possibilities. Perhaps their greatest limitation has been the inadequacy of their approach to positive human potentialities and the maximal realization of those potentialities” (Sutich & Vich, 1969, p. 1).

Likewise, John Shlien, a Harvard psychologist and one of the early pioneers of person-centered psychology, originally writing in 1956, said:

In the past, mental health has been a ‘residual’ concept – the absence of disease. We need to do more than describe improvement in terms of say anxiety reduction’. We need to say what the person can do as health is achieved. As the emphasis on pathology lessons, there have been a few recent efforts toward positive conceptualizations of mental health. Notable among these are Carl Rogers’ ‘fully Functioning Person’, A. Maslow’s ‘Self Realizing Persons’…”(Schlien, 2003, p. 17)

Indeed, even the term positive psychology had been used. The final chapter of Maslow’s 1954 book, Motivation and Psychology”, where he called for greater attention to both the positive and negative aspects of human experience: As Maslow (1954) wrote:

“The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side. It has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illness, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his full psychological height. It is as if psychology has voluntarily restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, and that, the darker, meaner half” (Maslow, 1954, p. 354).

Maslow seems to be the first to use the term positive psychology. Maslow wanted to create a psychology that was based not only on those who were dysfunctional, but also upon those who were fully living the extent of their human potential.

Now that positive psychology has become established, it is time for humanistic and positive psychology to come together to share ideas, methods and to learn from each other.

48 hours with Jacinda: warm, earnest, accessible. Is our PM too good to be true? – Amanda Hooton * Jacinda Ardern on life as a leader, Trump and selfies in the lingerie department – Eleanor Ainge Roy.

On a cool grey morning in Wellington, in the doorway of her office on the ninth floor of parliament, the 25th prime minister of New Zealand is looking about as worried as anyone with her famously enormous smile is capable of. “I‘m so sorry, I’ve given you nectarine hand,” says Jacinda Ardern, a moment after shaking hands. “I was just eating one, and you know how the juice goes everywhere. But anyhow, welcome!”

Wiggling her fingers, she leads the way into her office, a big room with a curving wall of windows.

She takes a seat at a large wooden desk and begins detangling a pair of headphones while examining a pink Tshirt with the words “Rt Hon Spore” written on it. Adern has attended annual music festival Splore several times. “I better not strip and put this on,” she says reluctantly. Did her partner, fishing show presenter Clarke Gayford, get a Tshirt, too, asks her social media editor, setting up camera gear. ”Yes,” says Ardern. ”Something to do with fishing I can’t remember. But mine is better.”

I’m not supposed to be bothering Ardern, I have permission to shadow her for two days, with an interview only at the end and at this point, my assigned media person begins to usher me out of the room.

Ardern turns. “You can stay longer while I do my boring rattle-off thing, if you like,” she smiles.

She spends the next 10 minutes doing a series of unscripted, perfect-first-time clips for social media. Then, obviously changing her mind, she pulls her dark floral shift dress off.

She’s wearing a modest black slip underneath, but still, I’m glad I’m not Charles Wooley. She puts on the pink Tshirt, then records a welcome to Splore. Smiling into the camera, she apologises that she can’t be present in person, and says she’s looking forward to seeing someone dressing up “in a brown wig, Labour rosette and pregnancy gut”.

So, fruitjuice, partial strip, self-parody. We’ve seen and heard a great deal about Ardern since she became prime minister last October, but clearly, there’s more to the world’s youngest elected head of government (until she was pipped by the new 31-year-old Austrian chancellor in December) than meets the eye.

Let’s not forget that Ardern performed a political miracle last October. Amid an international climate of disastrous defeats for social democratic politics, the US, UK, France, and Italy have all rejected their centre-left parties in the past 18 months alone, this 37-year-old woman led the Labour party to victory after almost a decade in the political wilderness, having taken over the leadership less than eight weeks earlier.

Ardern had been an MP for nine years but had no ministerial experience. Yet after a 54-day campaign ”Let’s Do This” she did it. She got Labour to within 10 seats of the National party, which had been in power for three three year terms (almost all of them under John Key). Then she conducted weeks of coalition negotiations that against all expectations snatched electoral victory.

“She was meeting with the Greens in one room, and New Zealand First in the other, and she kept both partners in the tent, talking,” recalls Annette King, former Labour deputy leader and 30-year political veteran, who was on the negotiating team. “And don‘t forget, they were talking to the National Party as well. She was moving from room to room, morning and afternoon, day after day. She had to hold in her mind exactly what she was negotiating, you can’t make a promise to one party and then renege on it with the other. It was a massive feat, and she led it all.”

Along with negotiating skill, Ardern had charisma on her side: she’s one of those intensely likeable people that almost everybody, well, likes. As David Farrar, a right-wing pollster, blogger and ex National Party staffer (so theoretically not a Jacinda fan) puts it: “Jacinda herself is very warm, very genuine, very comfortable in her own skin.”

Certainly, every time I go somewhere with Ardern, whom the entire country seems to call by her first name, there’s a feeling that can only be described as giddy. Grown men and women smile and laugh when they see her; they rush up for selfies; they clutch their hearts with excitement; they hug her often and hold her hand. At the first event I attend, the opening of a building at Victoria University in Wellington, someone gifts her a grey onesie for the baby she’s having in June. Someone else helps her hold a tuatara. “He may bite,” I can see the worried handler mouthing. Predictably, the lizard relaxes in Ardern’s hands, legs dangling.

Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern was born on July 26, 1980. She has one older sister, Louise, and just before she started school, her family moved to the Bay of Plenty town of Murupara, infamous during the 1980s for gang violence. Her father Ross was the local police sergeant, her mother Laurell worked in the school canteen.

It sounds like a dramatic place to be a little kid: their house was pelted with bottles, the man who lived next door committed suicide , and the family babysitter turned yellow from hepatitis C. Ardern once recalled sneaking barefoot out through the back fence and coming upon her dad being confronted by several scary-looking men. ”Keep walking, Jacinda. Keep walking,” he told her.

Reading between the lines, one suspects she was one of those super-bright, super-nice kids you sometimes come across: a star debater, a school defender of the vulnerable (aged 5, she stood up to kids bullying her older sister), and the underprivileged those who had “no lunch and no shoes”.

At home: ”I was always trying to fix everything,” she explains. “I was the peacemaker. I remember hearing my sister packing her bags once to run away, and slipping a note under her door begging her not to go. I would have been so irritating.”

She studied politics and communications at Waikato University, and was employed as a staffer in Helen Clark’s government in the mid-2000s after a stint in London, where she headed the International Union of Socialist Youth and worked for Tony Blair’s Labour machine. When she returned, she entered politics in 2008 as a list MP.

She was 27, the youngest sitting member of parliament. One of her former teachers, Gregor Fountain whom she invited to her swearing-in as PM recalled her “amazing ability and curiosity. I remember her staying behind in class to talk about issues, because she really wanted to grapple with them.” At the end of high school, her year book contained various “Who’s most likely…‘I descriptions. Ardern’s category? “Most likely to be prime minister.”

Her mother and father were major influences and the family are close, though her scientist sister lives in London and her parents live in Niue, where Ross Ardern has been High Commissioner since 2014.

Ardern was raised a mormon: her nanna was converted via the classic Mormon doorknock and the rest of the family followed. And even though she left the church many years ago (mostly over its rejection of homosexuality), there’s no breach with her family.

“I can’t separate out who I am from the things that I was raised with,” says Ardern. “I took a departure from the theology, but otherwise I have only positive things to say about it.” She’s retained certain Mormon characteristics: the positivity, the surprising openness, the at times almost painful sincerity.

“I’m really earnest,” she agrees. “I think it annoys people! I asked a reporter about it once. ‘I She laughs. “And she said, ‘Um, look, yes, maybe.”‘

But if she’s earnest, she’s also ballsy: and perhaps that’s a Mormon legacy, too. “I’ve never had any hesitancy in talking to people,” she says. “If I’ve got a purpose and I need to go and speak to people, or knock on doors, I will. I don’t mind doorknocking for politics.” She grins. “Because nothing is as hard as doorknocking for God!”

The morning after we meet, I travel to Christchurch with Ardern’s entourage. Or rather, in front of it. Ardern, who uses commercial domestic flights, boards last, at the very back of the plane, and I’m not even sure she’s present until I see her after we land: a tall, black-clad figure striding across the tarmac pulling her wheelie bag, nodding (earnestly) as an elated-looking air steward talks beside her.

Her first meeting is to commit $10 million to the restoration of earthquake damaged Christ Church Cathedral. Various officials stand around awkwardly until she arrives and gathers them up with a big embracing motion. “This isn’t staged at all, is it?” she jokes cheerfully, as everyone shuffles towards the cameras. She gives a little speech, explaining that “the people behind me here have actually done all of the work”.

She performs this praise deflecting manoeuvre repeatedly.

At Canterbury University later in the day, when an official recalls that she was “mobbed” by students during her last visit, she immediately corrects him. “I don’t think I was mobbed,” she says with a smile. “It was raining, and I had an umbrella.” The next day, when US Vogue publishes a profile piece including a photograph of her looking like a supermodel, she responds by posting a picture on social media of her as a little kid with a “full ’80s mullet”.

It’s as if it’s impossible for her to take a compliment, I say. ”That’s actually true,” admits Ardern, sounding surprised. “No one’s ever said that to me before.”

After the cathedral, Ardern’s entourage heads 500 metres down the road for the launch of an electric car share company.

Off to one side, a small knot of protesters have gathered holding placards about their seven-year fight over earthquake insurance claims. Megan Woods, the local MP, wades in.

After a minute, I realise that Ardern, last seen being ushered towards the red carpet, is standing beside her. The protesters seem surprised. Someone called Gary begins to ask a very long question about obstruction and incompetence and the loss of his life savings. “OK, Gary, that’s enough,” says someone else, and Gary subsides. Ardern, who has been listening and nodding, says: “What’s the best way for us to communicate with you?” Several big trucks roar past, and she pauses. “Because there’s a long list of stuff we’re doing, and we want to make sure you hear about it every step of the way.” She shakes hands with several protesters, who look thrilled, then sets off back to the launch, holding a bag containing another onesie white, this time.

Ardern’s next function is with families of the 115 people who died when the Christchurch Television (CTV) building collapsed during the earthquake. Late last year, after six years, four investigations and millions of dollars, New Zealand Police announced it would not prosecute the building’s engineers for negligent manslaughter due to inconclusive and contradictory evidence.

The meeting takes place in a church and is closed to journalists, so a big group of us wait in a stiflingly hot anteroom. Someone is playing an organ at high volume close by, a long dirge which seems appropriate to Ardern’s words when she emerges.

“I felt not only a duty of care to come and speak to the families today,” she says, “but also just from a human perspective I felt it was important, being in the position I’m in, that we do everything in our power to prevent such a tragedy from happening in the future.”

She goes on to explain that many of the families are taking comfort from the idea of future legislation to allow for prosecution in similar scenarios. But the families’ representative Professor Maans Alkaisi, who lost his wife, GP Dr Maysoon Abbas, in the collapse looks entirely uncomforted when he appears. He wants a judicial review into the police decision and money from the government to support the families in a civil case.

“Ardern is a wonderful person,” he says, “very sincere. But she is considered to be one of the most influential female politicians in the world. We feel that if she asks for something, she can get it.”

The CTV case, which one commentator describes to me as ”a deep, painful open wound”, has the potential to become a problem for Ardern, as does the complex rebuilding of Christchurch as a whole. She campaigned on empathy and fairness, but empathy, however sincere, does not heal all wounds. If it leads to false hope, in fact, it can actually make things worse.

During parliamentary sitting weeks, Ardern typically spends Monday to Wednesday in Wellington, and Thursday visiting a regional area. On Fridays, she heads home to Auckland. The day following her return from Christchurch, I arrive at her home for our interview.

Ardern currently lives in Point Chevalier in Auckland (though a few days after we meet it is announced she and Gayford have bought a four-bedroom home 10 minutes down the road in Sandringham).

This is a startlingly normal-looking suburb, and her house is a modest, single-storey brick and tile building. It’s indistinguishable from others on the street; except, that is, for the two security guards, one old and one young, who travel everywhere with her.

They are standing against a dark fence that looks mostly like a fence you’d buy at Bunnings, and slightly like a fence that could repel a tank attack.

Ardern is inside, wearing another shift dress and tights, but no shoes. She pours me a lemonade (“homemade, but not by me”) and sits on her low grey couch in her bright living room, opposite a TV and a large heap of shoes notionally piled into a basket. Outside, there’s a little patch of grass, some hopeful jasmine and lots of small weeds beside the window the garden of someone who’s rarely home.

You must be exhausted, I say: all those events, all that hand-holding and hugging. “I like it!” she exclaims. “Partly it’s probably me: I always put my arm around them.

During the election campaign, people would say every day, ‘Can I hug you?’ and I’d say, ‘Of course you can!’ I think it’s wonderful if people think I’m accessible enough that I can do that’ I take it only as a compliment.”

She pauses for a moment. “Of course, I do get angry, and upset,” she says. “Not with the hugging but I am a normal human.”

This is slightly surprising: one of Ardern’s favourite words is “robust”, and she often seems to brush off political criticism not to mention obsessive interest in her personal life with phrases like “it was a robust debate” or “I’m pretty robust”. So what’s her technique for managing stress? “Well, if something’s bothering me, in order to really work it through, I talk it out a lot. That’s my way of processing stuff.” She smiles. “Sometimes that means people around me have to put up with a lot of chat”

These things, she goes on, are part and parcel of political life: a life she chose a long time ago. She was handing out Labour leaflets at 17; three years earlier she interviewed Marilyn Waring former National Party MP, now a noted feminist and academic, for a school project.

“I thought her courage was phenomenal,” Ardern recalls. “So I went down to the school canteen where my mum worked, and found her phone number. And of course she didn’t pick up, and I left this long garbled message, as only a 14-year-old could do.”

A few weeks later, Waring called her back. “What I really remember about Jacinda was that she had specific issues she wanted me to address,” recalls Waring, now a professor of public policy at the Auckland University of Technology. “‘What do you think are the key issues facing my generation? What do you think about a nuclear-free New Zealand?”‘

Today, Waring feels hopeful about Ardern’s election, and also very relieved. “I can’t tell you: my generation [Waring was born in 1952] has cruelly stuffed it up, whether it’s the free market bullshit, the environmental devastation, or the incredible gap between rich and poor.

”Political transitions have to be dynamic like this, maybe like Canada, too because if you’ve just got the old boys hanging on, they make sure you never get to prove that they did anything wrong, and so you can never get anywhere.”

Now that this country has chosen Ardern, ”let’s just hope she can keep being herself, and having this lovely candour, and enabling us to trust. Politics is a terrible trap: you can’t transform it all on your own because the structures all work in such patriarchal Victorian ways.”

Even for those such as Waring, who have faith in Ardern personally, this is a worrying issue. As pollster David Farrar says: “Labour has so few really good ministers, they’ve had to load all the really important stuff on to just a few people, and they’re struggling.”

The composition of Ardern’s government won’t help. Any coalition is inherently unstable, points out Farrar: the more actors, the greater the potential for disunity. “The history of small parties in government in New Zealand is that they’ve all lost votes in the next election,” he explains.

”The problem is that if you, as a voter, think the government is doing a good job, why wouldn’t you choose Labour next time?”

This is, theoretically, good for Ardern, but small parties can become disruptive and hostile in a bid to avoid destruction, which can make government difficult. In this case, head of New Zealand First and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has fallen out with just about everyone, in every party, during his long political career. And though the Greens co-leader James Shaw is a personal friend of Ardern’s, his party’s vote has already dropped to 5 per cent the cut-off for presence in parliament. “In 18 months,” says Farrar, “the pressure could really be on.”

Speaking of pressure, by June, Ardern will not only be PM, but also a mother. She discovered she was pregnant soon after coalition negotiations; and as is her way, she’s already announced lots of plans about what’s going to happen and when. She’ll take six weeks of maternity leave, during which Winston Peters will be acting PM, then she’ll return full-time, and Gayford will become the primary carer.

Gayford and Ardern met four years ago, when he (belying his knockabout radio DJ-cum-TV fisherman image) contacted her with his concerns about privacy legislation.

In his retelling, they met for a coffee and he discovered, to his amazement, that she liked Concord Dawn “a fantastically awesome heavy drum’n’ bass outfit”. He took her fishing, she caught a 51/2 kilogram snapper, dolphins and whales frolicked on cue. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gayford has previously described his main role as the PM’s partner as, “Just to make sure that she’s OK and be in the background going, ‘Have you eaten your lunch? Have you slept properly? You’ve got lipstick on your teeth.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he seems unfazed about fatherhood. “It’s not like we haven’t been through a few changes in the past year,” he points out genially, speaking on the phone from Wellington. “Although I’m lucky, because I get to clip in and out of her world. I still get to bugger off and go fishing, where everything’s exactly the same. But then I come home and put on a suit and go to an awards dinner where they announce your name as you come into the room.”

What has her being PM done to their home life? “Well, I have been making jokes recently that there’s three of us in the relationship now,” he laughs. “Me, her and the cabinet papers. And the cabinet papers appear just in time to ruin every weekend. They come in this big, security-coded briefcase, and it’s my job to go out and get it from the gate on Friday. And I gauge the severity of my weekend based on the weight of that bag.

So I walk in, and I stand there, and she looks at me and goes, ‘OK, so what do you think? I And then I go, ‘Not a good weekend, darling.’”

Early parenthood doesn’t lend itself to good weekends either, of course, but one of the unexpected details about Ardern’s impending motherhood is that, in fact, her work scenario is surprisingly baby friendly at least on parliamentary sitting days.

“We’ve got several newly elected members of parliament who have babies” explains Annette King. “And the Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard, is called the Baby Whisperer: whenever there’s a baby around, Trevor’s got it.”

It is not unusual to see Mallard, in the Speaker’s chair, holding a baby while overseeing debates (he also apparently has a cot in his office), or members breastfeeding in chamber.

Ardern explains that Gayford will bring the baby and travel with her if need be, and that they’re open to ”friends and family” helping out: basically, her plan seems to be to keep doing the job as she does it now. “I don’t have many choices work-wise,” she explains. ”No one’s saying, ‘How would you like your work and home arrangements to be?‘ It just is what it is. So there’s no guilt, because if I want to do this job, there’s no choice.”

For all the initial reluctance, and the less than ideal preparation and timing, there’s no doubt Ardern does want to do this job. “I do enioy it enormously.” she says, almost sheepishly, tucking her legs underneath her. “It’s a job about spending time with people, advocating on their behalf, and making decisions for New Zealand. That’s what drove me into politics in the first place.”

A few days after our interview, Ardern makes a lightning trip to Australia, where I see her at a business lunch with PM Malcolm Turnbull. An unusually ebullient Turnbull starts his speech by telling everyone that Ardern came to his house the previous night for dinner, like a schoolkid boasting that the popular girl went to his party.

Ardern, in turn, is enthusiastic and charming.

She avoids (on this occasion) mention of tensions over university fees and criminal deportations, and makes much of Australia’s position as New Zealand’s valued trading partner (second only to China). while saying the historic trans-Tasman bond is as strong as ever. She also mentions a new domestic policy: a standard-of-living framework she plans to build in to the 2019 budget, measuring not only economic but social success.

“Yes, balancing the books matters,” is how she puts it to me. “But so does making sure that your people aren’t sleeping in cars, and your children aren’t living in poverty.”

She wants environmental and social measures, as well as economic ones, put in place so that we “can understand where our investment and spend is going and the impact of what we’re doing”.

If she pulls it off, Ardern‘s will be the first government in the OECD to implement “wellbeing economics” in a meaningful way.

Who knows if she’ll achieve this scheme or any other, for that matter. Her story, so far, reads like a political fairytale, but other wildly popular leaders Tony Blair, Barack Obama all lost support as the realities of power set in.

However beloved you are, once you are faced with tough decisions, which have winners and losers, you will inevitably disappoint people. Canada’s Justin Trudeau, another charismatic, liberal leader, saw his disapproval rating jump above 50 per cent this month for the first time since his 2015 election. If things don’t work out in this bold political experiment, it won’t be Labour or the government that takes the blame, it will be Jacinda Ardern.

Time will tell whether she has the political intelligence, endurance and luck to navigate this; if she has the ability to lead the nation safely through the shoal waters of 21st century politics.

Still, in a world in which we’re increasingly expected to accept alternative facts, and indefinite strongman rule, and threatening, isolationist policies from world leaders, it’s nice to be offered something and someone different to believe in. As Ardern puts it, barefoot in her modest house: “I don’t think too much about the magnitude of the job. I just immediately skip to, ‘Let’s get the plan going.”

Jacinda Ardern on life as a leader, Trump and selfies in the lingerie department

Eleanor Ainge Roy

In a Guardian interview New Zealand’s prime minister reveals how her life has changed and her ambition for a can do country.

It’s just gone lunchtime in New Zealand’s largest city and Jacinda Ardern arrives at her two bedroom suburban home after a primary school meet and greet.

The 37 year old prime minister of New Zealand and poster woman of progressive politics is sitting in the passenger seat of a blue Subaru, craving a muesli bar and wearing woollen shoes that look like slippers.

She has the movers in and will shortly relocate to a bigger, family-friendly home a few suburbs away, but apologises that the old house is mid packing and “a bit of a mess” (it’s not).

This time last year Ardern was known as a young opposition MP with a passion for eradicating child poverty, in fact she could rather bang on about it. She had a well stocked whisky cabinet, frequently popped up at music gigs, and would return journalists’ phone calls within minutes, at pretty much any hour of the day or night.

Fast forward and Ardern is now the leader of the country, six months pregnant and seeking advice on how to juggle milk bottles and briefings for Barack Obama.

Obama had two young daughters when he entered the White House in 2009, and instigated a domestic regime that allowed him to spend regular time with his family including nightly dinners.

“I did ask him [Barack Obama] how he dealt with guilt,” says Ardern, who first met the former US president last week.

She is in the throes of figuring out how she will balance parenting and the prime rninistership. Her baby is due on 15 June and she plans to be back at work six weeks later.

“He just talked about the things you can do. Just to do your best, and that there will always be elements of that [guilt] in the roles that we do, and probably to a certain degree just accepting that; but we are still doing our best.”

The challenges of buying milk

Ardern has a good natured disposition and genuine, megawatt smile but she is also a prime minister who rebels somewhat against her police minders by popping down to the corner shop. She believes New Zealand’s “unique perspective” has been undersold on the world stage. She never questions if she can juggle her many hats but simply sets her mind to the logistics of how.

“It [pregnancy] certainly can feel like an illness for a really long period of time,” says Ardern. “And I had 16 weeks of morning sickness. And no one knew about it. I think a lot of people struggle with things in their day to day lives that their workmates will never know about and I just happen to be one of them.”

The last year has been a rollercoaster for Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford, but retaining some degree of normality despite their very changed circumstances is a priority as they embark on becoming parents. They hope to bring up their child with some of the freedoms they experienced as country kids living amid orchards.

“Certainly life has changed. It is just incredibly busy. But I really value being able to do normal things,” says Ardern, sitting in a retro armchair in her small, simple living room.

“So yes, I do still drive from time to time. The wonderful police officers who spend time with me I don’t think appreciate that, but I do still drive. I do still cook, not often, but just last week, I really felt like making one of my mum’s old recipes so I did. I do still go to our local department store to buy things like maternity jeans that no one else can really do for me.

“Getting stopped in the middle of the lingerie section when you’re trying to stock up on a few things by an older man who wants a selfie is a little bit awkward but I don’t let that get in the way of me trying to do normal things, because that is when I get to interact with people as well. Preferably not amongst the underwear though.

“Even going out to get milk becomes a little bit challenging. Just because there is a whole entourage that then travels with me for this simple thing. So I tend to try and find ways not to inconvenience a whole raft of other people, so it changes my mindset a little bit.

“The challenging thing from a work perspective is just the range of things on any given day that you’re dealing with, and making sure you have the head space to really be giving them the thought and consideration you’d like to.”

On Trump and women

A lot has been made of Ardern’s “niceness” and she is reliably warm, inclusive and fun. But underlying the down to earth charm is a determined feminist and canny career politician, who now uses eye rolls and smiles to express what her position as head of a “five eyes” nation no longer allows her to say.

For instance, on Trump’s treatment of women she says: “It is often easy to forget that people draw from the way that you behave. But all I know is that is something I can control and feel responsible for. And I know what I feel comfortable with, so when that comes to the way we portray women for me it’s just how I like to be treated, how would I like to be talked about, how would I like my mother to be treated and talked about, and that is the lens that I apply

“Can’t change the way that anyone else behaves though,” she says with a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.

During the 2017 election campaign, Ardern was portrayed as the saviour of the beleaguered left; a panacea after Trump and Brexit; a do gooder who wanted to decriminalise abortion, increase paid parental leave, save the penguins and plant 10m trees.

“Do it for all of us,” said the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in a video of support.

When asked what keeps her up at night now, Ardern, in her characteristically earnest way, nominates child poverty, climate change and a prison population that is increasing despite a static crime rate.

But is anything really changing under her leadership?

In her first six months Ardern has faced criticism that she lacks control of some of her forceful coalition cabinet ministers, that she is having afternoon tea with pop stars rather than the poor, and that she is prone to undiplomatic disclosures (after the Apec summit, Ardern told a friend Trump had mistaken her for Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s wife within days the world had heard the remarks).

But despite a few small stumbles Ardern remains forcefully sanguine and has no trouble sleeping.

“It [being PM] is actually just an amplification of the thing I experienced as an MP and that’s the diversity of the people that you get to meet,” she says.

“And as much as you do get a whole host of sometimes really awful communication, you get some amazing things as well. The number of schoolchildren who write to me and say ‘I want to be prime minister too, PS can you do something about plastic bags?’ I love that.”

Why growing up Mormon matters

Ardern grew up in small, rural New Zealand towns, went to state schools and worked in the local fish and chip shop as a teenager. She and partner Gayford want their child to have similar upbringings, similar community minded values.

Ardern’s parents brought her up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, a background that sowed strong seeds, and despite renouncing the Mormon church in her early 20s, she says its teachings continue to have an impact on her today.

“I am very service minded, I often think about what I can do for others, did that come from my mother, or did it come from the church I was raised in? I can’t really say, but I know it is something that I feel quite strongly about. So I have no doubt it had an impact on me.”

The day after a glamorous Vogue image of her posing in designer clothes on a windswept beach went viral, Ardern posted a grainy shot of her as a child with a mullet haircut, standing in the back of a truck with her schoolmates in the deprived town of Murupara; an infamous gang stronghold where her dad worked as the local police officer.

I’m just like you, the picture said. And you’re just like me.

“Since being pregnant it becomes, quite a welcome distraction, is not quite the word but reminder of life beyond the thing that you’re in. Because as with any job, that moment that you’re really tackling a big issue, or something is really causing you stress, that becomes the big focus and it is easy to think that is the most important thing in the world that you’re dealing with and of course everyone else should be concerned with too,” says Ardern, laughing.

“But I think the beauty of children, at least I know this to be true of my family, is that they draw you away from that thing, and just make you have that wider perspective. There have been a couple of meetings where I have been working away, very focused on an issue, and I’ll get a sharp kick in the ribcage and it is this little reminder that there is something else going on in my life, too.”

Ardern has worked under some of the most politically successful leaders of the past decades, including the former New Zealand leader Helen Clark and Tony Blair, the former British PM.

“I was one small cog in a very large machine,” she says of working for Blair in the Cabinet Office. “I was there at the time the leadership was transitioning from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown.

“I had this view, perhaps overly simplistically, that when a government creates [policy] overall, then that is what is then rolled out and applied across the board.

“What I saw was actually those rules can be misinterpreted. They can be capitalised on by consultants, they can lead to fear unless they are well understood.”

Ardern still follows news from Britain with interest and says she can’t deny “holding opinions” on Brexit, but says her government will continue to engage with a post EU Britain that democratically chose to leave, and has “our hand up and are ready and waiting” as a starting point for the UK to determine future bilateral free trade agreements.

Speaking up on a global stage

With the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm) just two weeks away in London, Ardern is preparing to make New Zealand’s voice heard on the global stage and not let the country’s tiny size and remote location get in the way. She would also like to advocate on behalf of smaller Pacific nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu.

“Our other unique perspective is we are isolated, but we are isolated in a particular part of the world. Within the Pacific obviously there are challenges we are facing, we are not immune to the challenges of climate change, and even though our emissions profile might be small, we see ourselves as having a responsibility to amplify those places that will ultimately be as affected as we will be,” says Ardern.

Ardern has prepared a playlist of eclectic songs for the 24 hour flight to London, where she hopes to have breakfast with Corbyn, and meet her fellow Commonwealth leaders at a time when the Queen’s succession is becoming an increasingly open question.

Ardern says “no one really wants to discuss” succession plans, and it is ultimately “something that sits as a question for the royal family”.

The royals have longstanding ties and connections to New Zealand, Ardern says. She can’t remember the last time a voter asked her about the country becoming a republic it “is not top of mind for New Zealanders”.

However, she says: “When I have been asked for an opinion, I think within my lifetime I think it is a likelihood we will transition. It is not something this government is prioritising at all though.”

Ardern appears to envision an increasingly independent country contemplating a possible break from the motherland, seeking a louder voice on the world stage, and embracing New Zealand’s unique Pacific history and identity.

“On major issues, on things like climate change, or even nuclear issues, our view has been, and should be important,” she says. “I’ve never felt that diminished New Zealand’s view just because we are small and geographically isolated.

“I think our approach to life is the same approach in politics. We’re a very pragmatic people, perhaps because of our isolation, we tend to be pretty inventive as well. We’re not ones to say something is too hard, so when we’re confronted with challenges, be they big or small, we tend to tackle them head on, and without much question we just get on with it.”

Powerless: How Lax Antitrust and Concentrated Market Power Rig the Economy Against Workers, Consumers, and Communities.

Marshall Steinbaum, Eric Harris Bernstein and John Sturm.

As workers, as consumers, and as citizens, Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s economy. A 40 year assault on antitrust and competition policy, the laws and regulations meant to guard against the concentration of power in private hands has tipped the economy in favor of powerful corporations and their shareholders. Under the false assumption that the unencumbered ambitions of private business will align with the public good, the pro-monopoly policies of the “Chicago School” of antitrust lurk behind today’s troubling trends: high profits, low corporate investment, rising markups, low wages, declining entrepreneurship, and lack of access to unbiased information. Market power and lax competition policy ensure our economy serves the few over the many.

In a new report, Marshall Steinbaum, Eric Harris Bernstein and John Sturm build on the growing progressive consensus that the economic threat of market power goes far beyond prices. The paper demonstrates the disastrous consequences that unrestrained market power has had on workers, communities, and democracy.

The authors begin by explaining the dangers of market power and the role of competition policy in maintaining a level playing field. They then outline how lax competition policy has handed incumbent corporations and their shareholders an unfair advantage and a more generous slice of the economic pie. They document the consolidation and exploitation of market power that has occurred in this environment and highlight key pieces of evidence that illustrate how weak competition is harming the economy, holding back new businesses, investment, wages, and growth.

The subsequent section reviews recent research that shows how concentrated corporate power impacts the everyday lives of Americans, surveying these effects through three lenses: the effects on consumers, on workers, and on society at large. In the final section, the authors propose policy remedies that could help rebuild inclusive growth, foster economic innovation, and restore an equitable economy that serves all of its stakeholders.

Executive Summary

As workers, as consumers, and as citizens, Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s society. Rhetoric extolling the virtues and power of free markets belie this fact, but instinctively, Americans understand that something is wrong:

The vast majority of Americans believe the economy is “rigged” in favor of corporations. And they are correct: A 40 year assault on antitrust and competition policy, the laws and regulations meant to guard against the concentration of power in private hands has helped tip the economy in favor of powerful corporations under the false pretense that the unencumbered ambitions of private business will align with the public good.

The single biggest problem with this simplistic view of “free” markets is that it ignores power dynamics and implies the existence of some natural state in which markets flourish without oversight.

In reality, no state of natural market equilibrium exists. Healthy markets depend on rules to create an equitable balance of market power between workers, consumers, and businesses. And when those rules skew the balance of power, markets favor the most powerful to the detriment of others.

In reality, firms use market power to extract from other participants rather than compete to create the best products. This not only hurts those targeted, but also results in less growth and innovation overall. Accordingly, while corporate profits have risen, wages and investment have stagnated; rather than investing in research and development (R&D) to generate innovative products, corporations have relied on lax merger regulation to buy out competitors, or they have employed a litany of anti competitive practices to prevent them from entering markets in the first place.

Knowing that consumers and workers have few alternatives, powerful corporations have jacked up prices and lowered wages. Additionally, in many instances, technological developments, free of regulatory oversight, have exacerbated these problems, allowing companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to achieve market dominance by collecting reams of data and acting as an all knowing middleman between customers and upstream suppliers.

The pro monopoly ideology of the so called “Chicago School” lurks behind all of these trends, ceding already dominant incumbent firms and their shareholders more and more power that they can wield to their sole benefit and at the expense of society at large.

Although the evidence of rising market power and its impact on the economy are often found in broad economic data, the consequences of market power are anything but theoretical. From rising prices, to low wages, to the way we access information, market power and lax competition policy are entrenching the intrinsic advantages of wealth and power in society. Private interests increasingly determine access to critical goods and services, prioritizing privileged groups and thus exacerbating existing inequities of race, gender, and class.

In this paper, we provide evidence supporting our thesis, as well as illustrative examples of how this behavior has manifested itself in the lived experiences of regular Americans.

Finally, we discuss the antitrust reforms that can begin to rebalance the economy in favor of equity, inclusion, and democratic rule.


In Massachusetts, a 19 year old is forced to forego her summer job as a camp counselor because of a non compete clause she unknowingly signed with a different summer camp the year before.‘

In Chicago, a 69 year old United Airlines passenger is beaten and forced off a plane for refusing to give up his seat to a United Airlines employee.

In Hedgesville, West Virginia, two parents overdose on heroin at their daughter’s softball practice. Like millions of Americans, they became addicted to opioids after being prescribed OxyContin, a painkiller manufactured and marketed under false pretenses by Purdue Pharmaceuticals. OxyContin part of a class of drugs responsible for 33,000 US. deaths in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (2016) has churned out $35 billion in revenue for Purdue. The company has yet to face legal repercussions.‘

Despite calls for disaster relief and gun control in the fall of 2017, as citizens in Puerto Rico were without water and electricity following the devastation of Hurricane Maria and the city of Las Vegas was reeling after yet another mass shooting, Congress’s attention was elsewhere: Heeding Wall Street lobbyists, the Senate voted to strip Americans of their right to hold banks and credit providers accountable for malfeasance.

As workers, as consumers, and as citizens, Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s society. Rhetoric extolling the virtues and power of free markets belie this fact, but instinctively, Americans understand that something is wrong: The vast majority of Americans believe the economy is “rigged” in favor of corporations, according to a poll by Edison Research (2016). And they are correct: A 40 year assault on antitrust and competition policy, the laws and regulations meant to guard against the concentration of power in private hands, has helped tip the economy in favor of powerful corporations and wealthy shareholders over regular Americans

Beginning in the 1970s, a concerted movement referred to as the “Chicago School” of antitrust beat back anti monopoly policy through like minded executive and judicial appointments, court rulings, and agency actions. The Chicago School argued that large corporations were large because they were efficient and because the free market incentivized them to operate in the best interest of consumers, If they didn’t, so the story went, then new entrants were always at hand to ensure the economy “naturally” served the broad public interest. Government action to break up or regulate corporations, the Chicago School argued, would only impede their efficiency or protect incumbents at the expense of entrants.

Under this regime, corporations and corporate conduct were presumed pro competitive, or economically efficient. Even for potentially anti competitive behavior, the burden of proof was raised high enough to forestall regulatory relief.

This created a dramatic departure from vigorous antitrust protections that helped make the United States the world’s most robust economy, and among the most equitable, during the postwar era. Prior to the 1970s, dating back to the age of Teddy Roosevelt and railroad robber barons, but especially after the late 1930s, regulators took an active role in ensuring equal footing for workers, consumers, and small businesses. Authorities blocked mergers that would result in dominant businesses, broke up monopolies, and closely regulated networked industries like telecommunications, banning restrictive contractual arrangements likely to benefit incumbents at the expense of consumers and new entrants. In combination with a comprehensive social safety net and powerful labor unions, antitrust protections fostered healthy competition in which firms could succeed only by offering valuable products at reasonable prices and by attracting good workers with fair wages; firms that failed to innovate or satisfy customers were out competed by new entrants. In this environment, wages and investment boomed and small businesses fueled strong employment.

In stark contrast, the results of the 40 year experiment in Chicago School antitrust have spelled disaster for the American workforce, middle class, and economy overall. While corporate profits have risen, wages and investment have stagnated.

A recent study by De Loecker and Eeckhout (2017) shows that average firm level markups, the amount charged over the cost of production, have more than tripled since 1980. And while waves of mergers have led to larger and more powerful corporations, small businesses form less often and struggle to survive. Recovery from the 2008 financial crisis hastened by government bailouts for those at the top has yet to benefit those at the middle and the bottom of income distribution.

The pro monopoly policies of the Chicago School lurk behind all of these trends, ceding already dominant incumbent firms and their shareholders more and more power that they can wield to their sole benefit and at the expense of society at large. Rather than investing in research and development (R&D) to generate innovative products, corporations have relied on lax merger regulation to buy out competitors, or they have employed a litany of anti competitive practices to prevent them from entering the market in the first place. Knowing that consumers and workers have few alternatives, powerful corporations have jacked up prices and lowered wages. In many instances, technological developments, free of regulatory oversight, have exacerbated these problems, allowing companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to achieve market dominance by collecting reams of data and acting as an all knowing middleman between customers and upstream suppliers. When firms achieve such power, their incentive to produce better products and services disappears, and they act instead to maintain their market stranglehold by any means necessary.

We define “market power” as the ability to skew market outcomes in one’s own interest, without creating value or serving the public good.

We argue that market power, and the anti competitive behavior that it enables, is a negative sum game: Anti competitive economies, like the one we have today, produce fewer jobs at lower wages, with more expensive goods and less innovation. We aim to both document the rise of market power and illustrate how it has affected the day to day lives and general well being of American workers, consumers, and the productivity of the economy overall. In short, we show that Chicago School inspired deregulation has enabled the rich and powerful to profit by taking a larger share of the economic pie, rather than making the pie bigger by offering valuable products and services at better prices.

Increased market power of consolidated firms is especially threatening to marginalized communities, which tend to have the fewest alternatives to exploitative goods and services providers. ACA exchanges in large swathes of rural America have only one health insurance provider, and that provider is free to charge exorbitant rates. For many urban neighborhoods, gentrification is the only hope of attracting a decent broadband connection, in which case the threat of rising rent sours the payoff. In markets for labor, consumer goods, or financial services, the first victims of predatory practices are the most vulnerable, be they young people, women, or people of color.

The Chicago School has championed the benefits of “free markets” but has in fact worked to thwart them. Conflating power with freedom, the Reagan era ideology has used the free market as a rallying cry to justify policy changes that in reality benefit wealthy incumbent businesses at the expense of all others. This is the antithesis of the diffusion of economic power that is required to ensure that the economy rewards honest work, erodes privileged rent extraction in all of its forms, and ultimately operates in the public interest.

While professing to champion competition, the Chicago School has acted only to protect the unearned profits of monopolists while stifling entrepreneurship.

A recommitment to active antitrust policy is key not only to overturning the accumulations of wealth and power we see today, but also to reaping all of the societal benefits that come from undoing market power.

This report begins by explaining the dangers of market power and the role of competition policy in maintaining a level playing field. We then outline how lax competition policy has handed incumbent corporations and their shareholders an unfair advantage and a more generous slice of the economic pie. We document the consolidation and exploitation of market power that has occurred in this environment and highlight key pieces of evidence that illustrate how weak competition is harming the economy holding back new businesses, investment, wages, and growth. In the subsequent section, we review recent research that shows how concentrated corporate power impacts the everyday lives of Americans. We survey these effects through three lenses: the effects on consumers, on workers, and on society at large. In the final section, we discuss policy remedies that could help rebuild inclusive growth, foster economic innovation, and restore an equitable economy that serves all of its stakeholders.


The Theoretical and Institutional Background for Antitrust and Competition Policy


Market economies rest on the theory that private self interest can be aligned with the public good. In its simplest form, this theory holds that, because market interactions require the willing participation of workers, consumers, and businesses, each party will only participate in an interaction if it makes that party better off. If a worker is paid a satisfactory wage, a business owner receives a return on his or her investment, and a consumer is able to purchase a product they value at an acceptable price, then each individual benefits. In this context, firms that develop better products or reduce prices are rewarded with a larger share of the market and are thus incentivized to innovate; similarly, firms that offer a higher quality of life for employees through better pay and working conditions will attract the most productive workers and are therefore encouraged to raise wages. Competition among firms thus drives productive innovation and higher standards of living. Conversely, firms that overcharge for their products, fail to innovate, or pay low wages will lose out.

It is an elegant and important theory, but it is also just that: theory.


The single biggest problem with this simplistic view of markets is that it ignores power dynamics and implies the existence of some natural state in which markets flourish without oversight. In reality, no state of natural market equilibrium exists, and the entrenched power of wealth poses an omnipresent threat to the equity of outcomes;

healthy markets depend on rules to create an equitable balance of market power between workers, consumers, and businesses,

and when those rules skew the balance of power, markets favor the most powerful to the detriment of others. Thus, an economy with no labor protections will favor employers over workers, while a society with confiscatory tax rates on investment returns will make it difficult for shareholders to exercise power over the businesses they own.

As this analysis implies, setting the rules to achieve an equitable balance of power between market participants is crucial. Furthermore, beyond laws and regulations, the rules include all manner of social, cultural, and political factors, from the things we invest in and the things we neglect, to which groups are discriminated against and which are privileged. When rules preference one group over another, that group may skew transactions in their own favor, driving up profits at others’ expense. For example, redlining policies of the New Deal’s federal housing finance agencies made it impossible for black communities to accumulate wealth through homeownership.

Historically, marginalized communities have been underserved by public goods, including transportation and communications infrastructure. Physically and economically isolated, these populations became prey for firms that could get away with offering poor service and high prices due to a lack of alternatives, leading to today’s discriminatory, segmented markets. Examples like this illustrate how the rules bear a deep and complex relationship to market outcomes.

We define market power as the ability to skew market outcomes in one’s own interest, without creating value or serving the public good.

This definition acknowledges that harm to workers, consumers, or other businesses can be wrought in a number of ways not connected directly to price. For example, if a firm eliminates the threat of competition by raising barriers to entry, consumers can feel the negative impact through the reduction in service, even if quoted prices remain the same. This definition allows us to consider the broader impact that market power has on innovation, wages, and other considerations beyond consumer price.


When firms possess market power and use it to extract from other participants rather than compete to create the best products, it not only hurts those targeted, but also results in less growth and innovation overall. In the 1990s, for example, Microsoft sought to dominate the software market by leveraging its ubiquitous operating system, Windows.

At the time, Microsoft made its Office software compatible only with its Windows operating system, and Microsoft also ensured that Windows was the exclusive option for newly purchased desktop hardware. Crucially, it tied licensing contracts for Windows to its proprietary web browser, Internet Explorer. Thus, the company attempted to systemically eliminate competition in every market where it competed. This drove up Microsoft’s share of the market for both operating systems and software-at the direct expense of its competitors. Since it sought to exclude rather than out perform competitors, at every level of the supply chain, and because it interfered with healthy competition, this sort of behavior is referred to as “predatory” or “anti competitive”, behavior that the federal government sought to address in its eventual antitrust suit against Microsoft in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Anti competitive behavior redistributes the surplus from market transactions away from less advantaged firms, customers, and workers and toward the wealthy and powerful. Taking the analogy of a basketball game, we can liken anti competitive behavior to repeatedly elbowing an opponent in the face, bribing referees, or rigging the scoreboard. Such strategies can lead to victory in a narrow sense, but to anyone with an understanding of basketball, it is anathema to the sport and defeats the purpose of the game. If a basketball game turns into a brawl, it’s not “bad basketball” or “tough basketball”, it’s not basketball at all.

It bears repeating that market power and the exercise of anti competitive strategies shrink the economic pie overall. When firms like Microsoft erect barriers to entry, they prevent new competitors from entering the market, strangling new businesses and depriving the economy of the benefits of those businesses namely, jobs and innovation. Thus, “anti-competitive” strategies do not simply result in higher prices for consumers, but in a slower pace of innovation and growth for the economy as a whole, notwithstanding empirically questionable research that ostensibly shows monopoly power promotes innovation. In short, when firms exercise market power, everyone else loses. Markets are only valuable when the rules provide for an even playing field between market participants.


Recognizing the threat that disproportionate corporate power posed to the economy and our society, policymakers sought tools to combat market domination by large firms as early as the late 19th century. When the monopoly power of trusts like Standard Oil and the Pennsylvania Railroad sparked public outrage over high prices and poor service, Congress passed the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust acts, providing the legal means by which to regulate firms so that their size and power, and their use of predatory behavior, would not upend markets.

This new body of laws and regulations dubbed antitrust in the United States and, more generally and in an international context, “competition policy” was intended to guarantee that firms competed with one another on a level playing field, and that they did not become so powerful as to dominate workers, consumers, or smaller firms. In concert with labor and consumer protections, antitrust laws are one of three policy prongs intended to create an equitable balance of power between market actors. So, while competition policy cannot wholly eliminate market power from the economy, it is an important tool in limiting the ways in which market power can be deployed. Antitrust laws seek do this through three primary objectives:

1. Limiting the consolidation of power by regulating market structure.

Market structure generally refers to the number of firms in a given market, as well as their relationship to consumers and suppliers. The structure of a market plays a large part in determining how much influence certain firms have over a market and how they are able to use it. So, in some ways, regulating market structure is the most foundational component of competition policy.

In the era of active antitrust regulation, this was accomplished by policing a range of factors that included:

Merger enforcement: Regulating concentration was primarily accomplished by reviewing the impact of mergers. If authorities deemed that a merger resulted in a detrimental reduction in competition, they would seek to block or undo it.

Monopoly regulation: When a firm becomes the sole seller of a given good or service, it is a monopoly. When a firm achieved a monopoly, authorities would either attempt to break up the firm or begin to closely regulate its practices to ensure it did not abuse its powerful position.

Vertical integration: Firms active in more than one market, especially when they compete with their own suppliers or customers, were once considered anti competitive due to the ability to favor themselves and exclude entrants, leveraging market power in one market to dominate others. But under the influence of the Chicago School, scrutiny of vertical integration was reduced almost to nonexistence; consequently, vertically integrated firms and even whole industries are far more prevalent today.

2. Curtailing anti-competitive behaviors.

Firms are often able to engage in anti competitive practices when structural regulation fails to eliminate market power or when firms simply break the rules. Collusion, for example through which would be competitors collaborate to set prices artificially high, is always possible, even in a theoretically competitive market. In Microsoft’s case, its attempt to limit competition in software markets was based, in part, on the fact that it held a large share of the market for operating systems, but it was also based on the technological advantage that competing software companies depended on the same operating systems to run, an example in which market structure creates the scope for anti competitive conduct.

So, while anti competitive practices are often enabled by some market power advantage, which structural regulation failed to address, they must sometimes be dealt with on a sectoral or case by case basis. Antitrust laws, therefore, made anti competitive practices expressly illegal, and agencies tasked with identifying and prosecuting violations were created. Some key concerns included:

Collusion or “price fixing”: As described above, collusion is when multiple ostensibly competing firms conspire to create a defacto monopoly and set prices artificially high.

Predatory pricing: In order to drive out would be competitors, powerful firms sometimes sold goods and services under the cost of production. Seeing how such behavior threatened entrepreneurship and robust competition, authorities prohibited this practice.

Vertical restraints: This involves imposing restrictive contractual arrangements on counterparties (e.g., Microsoft requiring any hardware equipped with its Windows operating system to also carry Internet Explorer).

Barriers to entry: Once they are established, firms may seek to prevent competition by erecting barriers to entry. Such strategies can vary enormously, but some popular methods include: aggressive patent protections, leveraging relationships with federal regulators responsible for approving products, or collaborating with outside businesses to squeeze out new entrants.

3. Establishing public utility regulation of essential industries and “natural monopolies.”

Certain goods, such as water or electricity, are necessities of modern life. Consumers cannot simply choose to eschew these goods or find substitutes like they can with other products. This places firms that sell these goods and services at an enormous advantage. In many instances, the need for universal provision, combined with the cost of the infrastructure necessary to supply them, naturally lends these industries to monopoly, especially within a given region. Recognizing this, and also recognizing that limited private sector competition for the provision of utilities could be positive, authorities established laws to more strictly regulate these markets. This guaranteed access and prevented firms from exploiting the widespread need for their products or services essentially holding consumers hostage, in order to extract undue profits. Some key industries included: Telephone networks, Railroads and Electricity.

Beyond these economic concerns, 20th century antitrust was founded on the notion that the concentration of private power threatens not just economic equality, but democratic legitimacy as well. This view was perhaps best articulated and championed by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who argued that, if left unchecked, wealthy firms and individuals would leverage their power to exert disproportionate influence over government decision making. The danger of lax protections was not just the potential for runaway economic inequality, but also for the deterioration of democratic governance.


Though antitrust protections of the mid 20th century were crucially important, recent history has proven that they were not enough. The success of these laws hinged on how they were interpreted and enforced by regulators and the judiciary. As interpretations have grown more lax, unanticipated threats have multiplied. Data aggregation and the proliferation of digital platforms like Google and Amazon, for example, pose new, unforeseen threats to workers, consumers, and society as a whole that remain completely unaddressed by existing competition policy. These challenges will require new laws, as well as new applications of existing ones.

Although antitrust reform is essential to limiting the consolidation of power by the wealthiest corporations and individuals, it will by no means ensure a just and equitable society on its own. Reining in dominance of those at the top will be impossible without also building power to oppose it through worker organizing. Political reform, to curtail or outlaw the sort of big money lobbying and advocacy that currently dominates our political system is also essential, as is a stronger social safety net, to ensure that the price of economic competition is not widespread poverty. So, although this report is focused on the evolution and challenges presented by market power, stronger antitrust is by no means a panacea to all economic challenges. Reform in these and many other areas, including on issues of gender and race inequality, is essential to the health of the economy and American society.


As early as the 1940s despite the clear success of revolutions in antitrust and pro labor policies wealthy firms and conservative political interests began a concerted effort to roll back strong competition policies in the hopes of taking a larger share of the economic pie for themselves. Ultimately, these interests hit on a novel argument: Private firms were naturally inclined to innovate, so any regulation only impeded growth and efficiency; rules that favored large firms would benefit consumers through lower prices; and any price markups in the event of reduced competition would be more than offset by cost savings in production.

But what this theory offered in novelty and an appealing sort of counter intuitive logic, it lacked in empirical support and rigor. The pro business camp placed enormous faith in optimistic predictions of firm behavior based on theoretical assumptions that were never tested. In doing so, it wholly ignored the importance of an equitable balance of power between market participants.

Despite the lack of evidence for the theories they articulated, the Chicago School’s intellectual proponents, academics like George Stigler, Harold Demsetz, and Robert Bork benefitted from an air of scholarly and technocratic authority. Emanating from reputable institutions and influential think tanks in Washington, proponents of this new laissez faire competition policy claimed superior insight on the basis of their original work in economic theory. They downplayed the risks of consolidated private power and labeled Brandeis’s approach to antitrust as dated and simplistic. (in reality, Brandeis himself had been noted for his introduction of empirical research into his jurisprudence?)

Bork and others from the Chicago School hoped to cast out all but the most minimal of antitrust enforcements. As Baker (2015) summarizes, they held that “law should be reformed and refocused to strike at only three classes of behavior: ‘naked’ horizontal agreements to fix prices or divide markets, horizontal mergers to duopoly or monopoly, and a limited class of exclusionary conduct.” This view reflected the Chicago School’s founding assumption that other than in the most extreme cases, firms would only ever work to increase market share through price reduction, and that, thus, regulation of all but the most blatant forms of anti competitive conduct could be eliminated.

Starting in the 1980s, this formed the dominant view of competition policy in the United States, and with the election of the enthusiastically supportive Ronald Reagan, the Chicago School’s vision began a swift conversion to reality.

Soon, a wave of executive and judicial appointees beholden to its core beliefs set to work, regulating markets in the mold of the philosophy’s pro corporation, anti statist beliefs, benefiting large incumbent firms over consumers, workers, and small businesses.

The success and prevalence of this ideology has been so profound that today, even Democratic Party appointed senior antitrust regulators assert “we are all Chicago School now” in their public appearances. The economic impact of that elite consensus is clear.


Relaxed merger guldelines: Under this new regime, mergers that may once have been deemed anti competitive were increasingly permissible. leading to higher levels of consoiidation along with the proliferation of market power.

An end to the scrutiny of vertical Integration: Mergers, in which the parties did not compete directly, were presumed to be motivated by efficiences in production rather than the ability to exclude rivals from the market and siphon their market share.

Elevated burdens of proof: Very broadly, the Chicago School raised the burdens of proof for a range of predatory behavior. Thus, while the behaviors remained potentially illegal, it became increasingly difficult to prevent or punish harmful practices because spurious defenses were given undue credence, eg, that through some convoluted and empirically unproven mechanism, exclusionary conduct benefited consumers.


The Market Power Economy

In this lax regulatory environment, we have seen precisely the sort of economic outcomes that we would expect from a lopsided economy. A growing body of evidence indicates that whatever mechanism once translated economic surplus into shared growth is now broken. As seen in Figure 1, corporate profits when measured as a share of the economy-are at a historic peak. And even though the cost of borrowing is low, incumbents are not investing or expanding operations to out compete one another (Furman and Orszag, 2015; Barkai 2016; Gutierrez and Phillippon, 2017).

This suggests that powerful firms, operating with little competition, have been able to profit by raising prices and cutting wages, rather than by investing in new, valuable products. Recent work by De Loecker and Eeckhout (2017) finds that firm level markups have increased from 18 percent to 67 percent since 1980 a pattern that holds across all industries.

In keeping with the market power hypothesis, we also see that profits have increased most in the industries that have become more concentrated, and that wage growth has been most stagnant in these same concentrated industries (Barkai 2016; Gutierrez and Philippon, 2017; Grullon, 2016).

Of course, concentration is not synonymous with market power, but when combined with substantial policy changes at the federal level and a host of qualitative observations, the case that rising market power and anti competitive behavior have caused our current growth and wage stagnation looks compelling. Below we present six pieces of evidence that, when taken together, strongly support this view:

Fact 1: Fewer firms, less competition

Since the rise of the Chicago School antitrust policy, US. markets have consolidated dramatically. The number of mergers and acquisitions has skyrocketed, increasing from less than 2,000 in 1980 to roughly 14,000 per year since 2000. As a result, Grullon et al. (2016) found that between 1997 and 2012. more than 75 percent of U.S. industries became more concentrated, meaning a smaller number of larger firms account for most of the revenues. The number of publicly traded corporations and their share of the total market are also lower than at any time in the last 100 years.

Furthermore, conventional measures of concentration do not even capture concerns over common ownership: As institutional investors have come to dominate stock markets, they have bought shares of multiple firms in the same industry. Azar et al. (2016) document that individual institutional investors, firms like Vanguard and Blackrock, own large fractions of all main “competitors” in the technoloy, drug store, banking, and airlines industries.

It is increasingly apparent that this consolidation has had detrimental effects on the overall economy. Recent research highlights several key indicators.

Fact 2: Higher prices

A spate of recent studies shows consumer prices rising in conjunction with consolidation. Gutierrez and Philippon (2017) document that markups of prices over the cost of production have increased in line with aggregate trends in consolidation, and that these shifts are driven by large firms and concentrating industries.

Kwoka (2013) conducts a meta analysis of merger retrospectives studies comparing prices that companies charged before and after they merged. Combining the data from retrospectives on 46 mergers since 1970, Kwoka finds an average price increase of 729 percent. This study doesn’t include enough mergers to conclusively settle the debate, but it’s enough to cast serious doubt on the theory that underlies the past 40 years of competition policy.

Most recently, De Loecker and Eeckhout (2017) use a database of publicly traded firms to find that markups, the amount a firm charges above its costs, have risen to an astounding average of 67 percent, compared to just 18 percent in 1980. Although De Loecker and Eeckhout do not offer a causal analysis, other studies of markups and consolidation lend credence to the link between consolidation, market power, and rising prices.

But consolidation is not the only way that market power can impact prices in today’s economy. The increasing role of institutional investors in capital markets has exacerbated the lack of competition and the rise of prices in consumer markets. As previously noted, investors like Vanguard and BlackRock own large shares of multiple businesses within an industry. In terms of competition and price, this “common ownership” can have similar, or even more severe, ramifications as a merger.

In a recent paper, Azar, Schmalz, and Tecu (2016) measure the effects of common ownership in the airline industry. Comparing routes of independent airlines to those owned by similar shareholders, the economists find that prices would be 3 to 7 percent lower if all airlines were owned independently Importantly, these studies did not count the much documented rise of ancillary fees, which, in addition to being a thorn in the side of cash strapped flyers, have grown appreciably in recent years.“ In other work, Azar, Raina, and Schmalz (2016) show that common ownership of banks decreases interest rates and increases fees for depositors.

Fact 3: New and small businesses are struggling while large incumbents thrive

Furman (2016) documents that for 40 years, the rate of firm entry has decreased, as has the share of sales and employment corresponding to young businesses. This suggests that it has become harder for new companies, facing larger, often predatory incumbents, to overcome barriers to entry. This is especially problematic, given that new businesses, as disproportionate creators of jobs, are essential to a healthy economy.

At the same time, the largest firms are thriving: Gutierrez and Phillipon (2017) document that since 1980, measures of profitability have increased for the largest firms while remaining constant for small ones. Other data shows that the gap between the profitability of median and high performing firms has increased dramatically with time, and that the most profitable firms tend to maintain their high returns year after year.

Fact 4: Corporate investment is low, especially in concentrated industries

If barriers to entry and other predatory practices are indeed isolating incumbents from competition, then we would expect them to exercise their monopoly power by producing less and charging more, rather than by making new investments to scale up operations or develop cost cutting technologies. And indeed, evidence shows this is precisely what is occurring. Gutierrez and Philippon (2016) document that corporate investment is low compared to what firms’ market values would predict, and that this lowered investment corresponds to more consolidated industries.

In a 2017 paper, the same authors go a step further, using two methods to show that this relationship is causal. First, they demonstrate that leading manufacturing firms invested and innovated more in response to increases in Chinese competition. Second, they document higher levels of investment in industries that, likely due to bubbles or optimistic venture capitalists in the 1990s were less concentrated during the 2000s.

Fact 5: Workers are more productive, but their pay has stagnated

For 40 years, median wages have stagnated, even as workers become more productive, and the share of GDP paid as income to workers has declined since 2000. While economists have tested many explanations for these shifts technological change and automation, global competition between workers, the rising cost of benefits, none of the factors considered explains why corporate profits have grown over the same period. Indeed, Barkai (2016) documents that while corporations have paid out less of their revenue as wages, they have also spent less on capital assets like machines, offices, and software, further increasing their profits. Barkai’s work points to a different theory: The labor share of income has decreased most in consolidating industries, suggesting that corporations are paying low wages simply because their power and the lack of competition with other firms allow them to.

Even as the total share of private sector revenue paid as wages has declined, the rise of market power has increased wage inequality, by contributing to median wage stagnation and enabling runaway gains at the top. For example, the ratio of a top CEO’S compensation to that of an average worker has increased roughly ten fold, from 30 to 1 in 1978, to 271 to 1 in 2016. This relates to market power because, rather than simply paying employees less, large firms have sought to lower labor costs by pushing workers out of direct employment altogether, outsourcing them instead. Powerful “lead firms” are thereby able to avoid liability under substantial components of US. labor law, while leveraging their market power to drive down wages through a litany of extractive tactics aimed at the outside firms employing their former workers. This is related both to the “tissured workplace,” described by David Wei] (2014), and to interfirm inequality, described by Song et al. (2016) and Furman and Orszag (2015).

Fact 6: Workers have a harder time changing and accessing jobs

Trends of consolidation and declining wage growth coincide with decreases in geographic, job, and occupational mobility. Konczal and Steinbaum (2016) argue that with fewer alternative employers, workers are receiving fewer offers to work at other firms, thus forcing them to stay at the same job and tolerate lower wage growth.

Song et al. (2016) compare wages across firms and reveal that workers with similar levels of education and experience receive starkly different pay depending on their employers, and that the degree of wage segregation by firm has increased starkly over the same period in which inequality has risen (since 1980) In a competitive labor market, firm pay differentials for similar work done by similar workers should be driven to zero. Therefore, inequality in interfirm earnings suggests that pay may have less to do with an individual’s productivity and more to do with their ability to bargain or to gain access to particular firms and individuals and benefit from those personal connections. The idea that worker side variables cannot explain observed wage inequality is a fundamental challenge to the notion that the labor market is competitive.

On their own, these aggregate trends cannot establish individual instances of anti competitive behavior, but they do imply that there is a significant and growing problem of consolidated market power.

In the following sections, we delve deeper into this body of research, considering evidence of market power and exploring how it affects the everyday lives of American consumers and workers, as well as society at large.


Market Power in Everyday Life

Economic data on rising prices and stagnating wages helps to drive home the point that the ill effects of market power and Chicago School policies are anything but theoretical. Corporations increasingly exert unopposed influence over the lived experience of American consumers, workers, and citizens.

From rising prices, to low wages, to the way we access information, market power and lax competition policy are entrenching the intrinsic advantages of wealth and power in society.

Private interests increasingly determine access to critical goods and services, prioritizing privileged groups and thus exacerbating existing inequities of race, gender, and class.

In this section, we aim to illustrate how the broad policy changes discussed above result in poor outcomes for American consumers, workers, and society. We show how consolidation and predatory behavior lead not only to higher prices, worse service, and less choice for consumers, but also threaten the pace of innovation. We show how consolidation results in fewer jobs and lower pay for workers, and how firms are using anti competitive and predatory practices in order to further entrench their labor market dominance. Finally, we provide a broader view on the impacts of market power and Chicago School antitrust, showing how the consolidation of power affects geographic inequality, the flow of information, and the long term health of our democratic system.


Although it has hinged on alleged benefits to consumers, the Chicago School’s lax approach to competition policy has allowed corporations to pursue promarket making strategies through which consumers lose twice: first, because powerful firms facing little competition are able to raise prices at will; second, because these firms choose to reinvest profits in attaining more market power, which not only reduces consumer choice, but also detracts from investment and competition aimed at developing better products and lowering prices.

In this predatory environment, the most significant innovations have been new methods of obtaining unfair gains, by misleading customers, entrapping them, or discriminating to extract consumer surplus. Even when the resulting conglomerates do invest in new technology and gain an innovative edge, weak competition means they face no pressure to pass the value created along to consumers. Across the board, market power enables corporations to profit by taking advantage of consumers, rather than by serving them.

Fewer choices, worse service, less innovation

Massive consolidation has left consumers with fewer choices and firms with less incentive to compete for customers. Walk into a retailer to buy a new pair of eyeglasses and you will likely find yourself overwhelmed with options. Upon closer inspection, however, you may notice striking similarities between models. You may also notice prices that are similarly high. That is because, whether buying from Prada, Oakley, or Target brand, you actually have a 4 in 5 chance of buying Luxottica, the Italian monopoly that owns 80 percent of major eyewear brands. Likewise, think of every food brand you have ever seen on the shelves of any major grocery store. Chances are these products are owned by one, often international conglomerates like Unilever, Kellogg’s, and General Mills.

Until the Chicago School successfully beat back regulatory standards, competition authorities closely monitored such market dominance.

Today, we are left to ask: With such large shares in their respective markets, how hard will companies work to develop new, appealing products and win over new consumers? The ramifications of such broad consolidation and the erosion of competition are severe.

Fewer firms holding more and more power not only means fewer choices for consumers, but also creates less of an incentive for firms to focus on providing the best products and service. Tim Wu (2012) points out that a firm can invest in stifling competitors directly by erecting barriers to entry or acquiring other firms, rather than investing in capital or R&D that would help it outcompete them in the marketplace. Indeed as mentioned in the previous section recent research shows that corporations are investing at record low levels, especially in the most consolidated markets. The outcome for consumers can range from irksome to deadly.

Instead of investing in R&D, many pharmaceutical companies plan their business models around their ability to purchase smaller firms that have shouldered the burden of developing new products. Strategies like these are predicated on the notion that lax competition policy will green light mergers with minimal scrutiny, even though this environment holds innovation back: Ornaglu’ (2009) finds that after merging, pharmaceutical companies have lower R&D spending, fewer new patents, and fewer patents per R&D spending, compared to non consolidated competitors. Among pharmaceutical firms in Europe, Haucup and Stiebale (2016) find that even competitors of merged companies innovate less, Nowhere else could the costs of market power and anti competitive behavior be more clear or more severe:

Even when the discovery of a new product could save thousands of lives, powerful pharmaceutical companies have based their business strategies on acquiring and maintaining market power.

Even in more benign examples, we can observe that less competition has translated into worsening consumer experience. A regular survey conducted by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business (2017) found that customer dissatisfaction in the US. has climbed 20 percentage points over the past 40 years, while customer satisfaction has fallen. Comporting with the thesis that much of this is driven by consolidation and lacking competition, we observe that the decline in service has been led by TV, phone, and Internet service providers, some of the most concentrated industries in the country, with customer satisfaction ratings routinely below that of the IRS. As firms become more powerful, their incentive to please customers will almost always decrease.

Amazon’s activity in shoe retail serves as another good illustration of the connection between competition policy, market power, and threats to consumer well being. When Zapposcom executives refused to sell the company to Amazon in 2007, Amazon began lowering its prices on Zappos shoes and offering additional services like free express shipping in an effort to out compete the popular online shoe retailer. Normally, this sort of competition would be a good thingfor consumers, since it results in lower prices. Amazon’s strategy, however, was based on power not innovation:

Over the course of a two year battle with Zappos, Amazon drew on its vast wealth, pre existing distribution network, and large customer base, running up losses of $150 million in an effort to eliminate its competitors. Lacking Amazon‘s vast wealth and power, Zappos capitulated and sold to Amazon in 2009. The tactic of lowering prices below cost in order to starve competitors known as predatory pricing is technically illegal, but Chicago School policymakers have raised the burden of proof so high that companies can employ this strategy without fear of triggering regulatory scrutiny. Amazon alone has used this precise tactic in several high profile cases, including with, which Amazon purchased and shut down in 2017.

Given Amazon’s professed commitment to service in the Zappos example, some may assume that consumers, despite having lost a popular vendor, are not much worse off; this, however, is shortsighted. In the long run, anti competitive behavior not only reduces the incentive to improve products and services, but also may deter entrepreneurs from entering consolidated industries to begin with. With the disappearance of customer first firms like Zappos, Amazon lacks the competitive pressure to maintain the high level of service and low prices it offered in the effort to drive them out of business. And while Amazon’s customer satisfaction ratings remain high, there is no guarantee that this behavior won’t fade as competition dries up. The decision to offer good service, in other words, has been left entirely to the good graces of Amazon’s management. This dynamic is true wherever competition is appreciably reduced and should weigh heavily on the minds of consumers and regulators alike.

Examples of the slowed pace of innovation and evaporating consumer choice suggest that lax antitrust may be far from optimal, even if consolidation does drive lower prices, as Chicago School dogma suggests it should. Even in the narrow category of consumer prices, however, we find ample evidence that our anti competitive economy has actually led to higher prices.

Higher prices

If Chicago School antitrust deregulation purported one thing for Americans, it was a dramatic reduction in the costs of the goods and services they rely on to survive. And yet, as described in Fact 2, numerous studies across many industries suggest that consolidation and other anti competitive practices have actually caused prices to rise for American consumers.

Although undetected by most Americans, the issues of market power and anti competitive behavior have dramatic consequences in daily life. If less competition results in an additional 5 percent markup on grocery prices, that increase can be enough to break the bank for a working class family. Lower prices can give consumers flexibility, relieve financial burdens, and make it possible to save for investments like college tuition, but the alleged cost benefits of consolidation, if they do arise, must also be considered. Meanwhile, higher prices seen today mean higher profits for shareholders and CEOs.

The realization that markups might actually be rising elevates the false promise of Chicago School policies: The implicit trade off offered by the Chicago School antitrust authorities was one of lower prices for less competition. But if less competition actually results in higher prices, as the data suggests it does, then American consumers are being subjected to a lose lose agreement.


Firms also exercise their market power by charging different prices to different customers a practice called price discrimination. This can be benign, as in the case of discounted movie tickets for children and the elderly, but price discrimination can also serve as a tool for corporations to exploit the most desperate and least informed consumers With the fewest alternatives.

Price discrimination often targets neighborhoods of color, whose populations are disproportionately low income and where firms make use of the structural absence of market access. Bayer, Ferreira. and Ross (2016) show that after controlling for credit scores and other risk factors, African American and Hispanic borrowers are roughly twice as likely to have high cost home mortgages because they are served by higher cost mortgage providers, so called “market segmentation.”

A recent analysis by Angwin et al. (2016) of ProPublica finds similar trends In auto insurance. Across several states, auto insurers charge higher premiums in minority neighborhoods, relative to the actual cost of paying out liability claims. ProPublica also discovered a similar trend within the test prep industry. Princeton Review clients of Asian descent are almost twice as likely to be offered a higher price as their non Asian counterparts (Angwin and Larson 2015).

Price discrimination is an especially pertinent risk online, where sellers can use IP addresses and browsmg data to differentiate between consumers, and where dominant platforms like Amazon may be able to corner whole markets, thus allowing them to target prices individually, without fear of being undercut by competition. Hannak et al (2014) find instances where major retailers and travel websites show different results and prices depending on a customer’s digital activity. Due to their private and algorithmic nature these practices are difficult to regulate and are likely to proliferate as companies develop new ways to gather and analyze data.

Crucially, the theoretical possibility of online alternatives has not proven sufticient to discipline behavior and prevent these explotative practices.


Contemporary antitrust policy mostly ignores the plight of American workers and, as a result, has spelled fewer jobs, lower pay, and worse conditions. For much of the 20th century, American wages grew in accordance with the productivity of American workers. But around the start of the Reagan era, the growth of workers’ wages and worker productivity began to diverge. Despite productivity having climbed nearly 75 percent from 1973 to 2016, wages only climbed by 12 percent. As consolidation, corporate profits, and top incomes skyrocketed, workers were left behind; the typical male worker made more in 1973 than he did in 2014. And while declining worker protections and union density explain a substantial portion of this stagnation, the runaway power of employers can be seen as the other side of the same coin.

Modern antitrust policy does little to protect and in fact actively hurts the standing of the American workforce. Ignoring the impact that market power and anti competitive behavior has on workers is a feature, not a defect, of Chicago School antitrust policies. Today, in addition to merger related job loss, we see ample evidence of just how effective these policies have been at weakening worker standing. Firms engage in predatory wage suppressing collusion across industries with “no poaching” agreements, and they have standardized anti competitive contracts designed to strip workers of their mobility and bargaining power. These tactics, endorsed by permissive antitrust policy when it comes to non price vertical restraints, are remaking the American labor market to resemble indentured servitude. Part of the solution must come from antitrust, specifically, a ban on such exploitative contract provisions.

Structurally, powerful firms have abused poor antitrust enforcement in order to restructure labor markets to their own liking. Since the consumer welfare paradigm ignores upstream “monopsony”, the power a firm can wield over its suppliers, including suppliers of labor, firms outsource workers into upstream contractors, which they could more easily dominate thanks to the weakening of antitrust scrutiny for vertical contractual provisions, both price and non price. Outsourcing labor into subservient contractors not only enabled so called “lead firms” to avoid meaningful negotiation, but has also turned wage setting into competitive bidding.

In this sub section, we document how corporate consolidation and the rise of market power hurt the labor market. We discuss three primary mechanisms: First, we analyze the reduction of wages, employment, and worker power that has occurred as a result of general consolidation and decreased economic activity. Second, we outline a number of discrete anti competitive strategies used by employers to stifle worker mobility and power. And finally, building on our description of predatory labor market practices, we outline the antitrust implications of corporate disaggregation and the so called “fissured workplace,” showing how this trend places workers at a systematic disadvantage.

Fewer jobs, lower wages

As firms accrue market power and consolidate, employment and wages decrease through two mechanisms. First, firms in concentrated industries tend to lower production and raise prices, reducing the demand for labor. Second, less competition between firms means fewer options and less mobility for workers.

Just like reducing consumers’ options allows businesses to charge more, reducing workers’ options allows businesses to payless.

Such power is referred to as monopsony, the labor market equivalent of monopoly power in product markets. As Jason Furman and Peter Orszag explain in a 2015 paper, “firms are wage setters rather than wage takers in a less than perfectly competitive marketplace.” The same is true for working conditions: In a concentrated economy, workers are forced to take what they are given. Monopsonistic firms, then, are no less a threat to America’s economic well being than monopolistic ones.

These theories are easy to square with the experiences of working Americans: In 2009, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer acquired Wyeth and announced it would cut 20,000 jobs worldwide; after combining in 2015, Kraft Heinz announced plans to cut 5 percent of its workforce; most recently, rumors swirled about cuts to Whole Foods’s workforce following its sale to Amazon. And while Chicago School advocates claim that consolidation brings cost savings for consumers, something we called into question in the previous section, the concurrent claim that such savings stimulate enough demand to create more jobs than they destroy is an even greater stretch.

While the impact of consolidation and competition policy on labor markets is a relatively new question for economists, evidence that consolidation is leading to fewer jobs is already mounting. Barkai (2016) shows that the largest decreases in the labor share of income, that is, the total fraction of private sector revenue paid to workers, have come in industries with the largest increases in concentration. This suggests that weak competition causes firms to cut jobs and reduce wages. Konczal and Steinbaum (2016) relate low wage growth to patterns of low job to job mobility, scarce outside job offers, and low geographic mobility. They argue that these trends are all indicative of weak labor demand and monopsony power.

The impact of such monopsony power can be every bit as economically damaging as monopoly power, and it is only due to the Chicago School’s myopic focus on consumer welfare that policymakers and the public more broadly eschewed such considerations. In our current environment, the anti competitive threats to labor markets have multiplied and intensified.

Again, addressing the loss of worker standing will largely rely on rebuilding worker power, but allowing large firms to accrue and wield unlimited market power is a substantial contributor to existing labor market power disparities, which require a multi faceted solution.


Similar monopsonistic wage setting effects also help to explain pay gaps between demographic groups. Several studies document that wage gaps between employees of the same business can be explained by assuming that employers systematically pay workers less who they know are less likely to quit as a result, a practice called wage discrimination. If systemically disadvantaged workers tend to be less sensitive to wages, then they may sort into industries that underpay all of their workers, possibly contributing to the concentration of women of color in the low paying care industry, as discussed In Folbre and Smlth (2017) Looking at data from the Portuguese workforce, Card et al. (2016) show that the combined effects of within firm wage discrimination and between firm sorting, account for about one fifth of the gender pay gap.

In perfectly competitive labor markets where workers are pald according to the value they create, such effects would not exist.

Antitrust policies that examine the effects of monopsony would not only be good for all workers but would be best for society’s most vulnerable workers.

Strategic attacks on worker standing

In addition to increased leverage over workers gained from consolidation, employers use other anti competitive tactics to increase their labor market power. The tactics we describe here are expressly anti competitive, intended to prevent positive competition among employers in order to reduce labor costs and suppress workers. Despite the seeming conflict with the core principles of antitrust policy, the brazen use of anti competitive practices in labor markets has become increasingly widespread in the Chicago School era.

Non compete contracts, for instance, prevent workers from joining competing firms until after they have left their employer and waited, presumably unemployed, for extended periods of time. While non competes have some merit in protecting trade secrets and incentivizing investment in workers, the Treasury Department (2015) points out that they are used with startling frequency among low income workers and those without a college degree, less than half of whom profess to possess trade secrets.

Far from promoting innovation and investment, these agreements simply discourage workers from searching for new jobs, allowing their employers to pay less and demand more. Crucially, they are best understood as both a symptom and a cause of declining labor market mobility and worker power: A symptom because in an earlier era, employers would never have been able to get away with inserting such terms in employment agreements; and a cause because any worker who signs one has effectively voided their ability to attract a higher wage or better job in the industry of their choice

The tactics we describe here are expressly anti-competitive, intended to prevent positive competition among employers in order to reduce labor costs and suppress workers.

Mandatory arbitration is another combination symptom and cause of low worker standing. Gupta and Khan (2017) discuss the severe impact of contractual clauses which force workers to surrender their right to sue their employer, insisting instead that employees enter into confidential arbitration in the event of a dispute. Depriving workers of this core democratic right is a win for powerful corporations, who are able to keep misdeeds out of the media and away from the eyes and ears of other employees. Like non compete clauses, mandatory arbitration is both a cause and an effect of labor market monopsony. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a tactic more indicative of massive monopsony power than a firm forcing workers to surrender their legal rights as a condition of employment; as with non compete agreements, such a clause would never have proliferated in a more pro worker environment. Meanwhile, mandatory arbitration diminishes worker power by curtailing a worker’s ability to push back against unfair labor practices in cases of abuse.

Labor market power and the fissured workplace

These more granular examples of anti competitive labor market practices are only part of a broader pattern of firms leveraging their market power to circumvent labor protections and obtain a structural advantage over workers. In his landmark book, The Fissured Workplace, David Weil shows how powerful corporations shifted workers out of formal employment and into alternate arrangements, such as subcontracting and franchising, in order to lessen their obligations to workers. By pushing low pay workers into separate subcontracting firms, lead firms are able to wield their market power over other firms, rather than having to do so directly over workers, which could raise issues of liability under labor law.

Once pushed outside of the firm ’s organizational structure, workers receive a smaller share of the company’s revenue and face steep barriers to bargain for more.

Whereas direct employees simply receive a regular salary, outsourced workers are forced to competitively bid against one another for every contract, driving costs down for the lead firm and wages for subcontracted workers. Once pushed outside of the firm’s organizational structure, workers receive a smaller share of the company’s revenue and face steep barriers to bargain for more.

With less power and wealth than the firms that ultimately pay them, and with competing contractors threatening to under cut them, outsourced workers are driven to the lowest common denominator for workplace standards. Indeed, Dube and Kaplan (2008) find that subcontracted security guards and janitors suffer a wage penalty of up to 8 and 24 percent, respectively, while a 2013 study by ProPublica found that temp workers, another large category of outsourced Labor, were between 36 and 72 percent more likely to be injured on the job than their full time counterparts.

Weil’s analysis shows how powerful lead firms place the onus of maintaining brand standards on franchisees and their employees even as they squeeze them to reduce costs otten resulting in the low wages, dangerous work conditions, and labor law violations that are widely observed today. Outsourcing strategies are utilized up and down the supply chains of large companies from Walmart, which outsources its shipping and logistics operations, to Verizon, which outsources the sale and installation of broadband services. This system allows corporations to have their cake and eat it too; they can secure favorable contracts with suppliers while maintaining a high degree of control over an outsourced workforce.

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) recent ruling in Browning Ferris supports this view, by asserting that firms contracting out workers from external partners may be considered joint employers. But until this view is more widely embodied in the economy, standards will continue to sink as powerful firms subjugate the workers of less powerful firms.

All of these practices are predicated on the immense power of lead firms, from internationally recognized franchises like McDonald’s, to retail powerhouses like Walmart, that are only able to get away with such broad wage and condition setting power because they each represent such large shares of their industries. Although the topic is still nascent among economists, it is not a stretch to say that lax antitrust protection is largely to blame for the fissuring practices of powerful firms.

In fact, hard evidence linking anti competitive behavior and poor labor market outcomes continues to emerge. In addition to non compete and mandatory arbitration clauses, Krueger and Ashenfelter (2017) call attention to the negative wage and employment effects of “no poaching” agreements through which franchises have agreed not to hire workers from rival businesses, in order to suppress wages and worker power. These agreements are plainly anti competitive, created expressly to disrupt healthy competition in the labor market.

The ill effects of weak antitrust and disaggregation are echoed in the gig economy: Workers who would once have operated either as employees or as truly independent businesses are now finding work in a quasi independent role for centralized tech firms like Uber and TaskRabbit. Legally, they remain independent contractors without employee benefits; however, they lack the degree of control over their own operations that independent contractors are typically afforded. In fact, research shows these platforms exercise substantial control over participant behavior, disciplining workers for undesirable behavior and controlling the prices they set, despite their lack of employer status.

Like the franchising and subcontracting firms in Weil’s fissured workplace, these firms are leveraging market power, as well as proprietary technology, to have it both ways, controlling their labor supply without shouldering responsibility for it. Much has been said about misclassification of Uber drivers, but few have made the opposite point: If Uber drivers are not employees, then they are businesses, and thus Uber’s price setting amounts to a cartel, an organizational structure that is illegal under existing antitrust policy.

Addressing deficiencies in competition policy will be essential in combatting the structural abuse of workers. As we have stated, pro big business deregulatory competition policies were sold on the explicit grounds that consumer effects were the only effects that should be considered with regard to competition policy. As long as the consumer came out ahead, in other words, any negative ramifications for small business, and especially for workers, could be tolerated. To anyone concerned with the overall health of the American economy, this begs a simple question, which the Chicago School is unprepared to answer: What good are consumer savings if consumers have no income to save?


Founded In 1994 as an onllne book retailer, Amazon has grown into the world’s fourth most valuable company, commanding a sprawling supply chain that offers everythmg from cloud computing services to audlo books. Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods for $14.3 billion reignited concerns about the company‘s immense size, and yet policymakers and journalists find It dlflicult to grasp the precise threat that the tech giant poses to competition.

Through Amazon’s example, we aim to illustrate how such powerful tech firms imperil healthy competition in ways that do not align with the Chlcago School’s conception of the role of competition policy.

In some respects Amazon’s devotion to growth and investment is laudable. Rather than passing what would be enormous profits from existing business lines back to its shareholders, the company largely reinvests the proceeds into new product lines and technologIes.

The fact that Amazon employs over 1,000 people working on far off AI technology, for example, is potentially good for the economy. This is to say nothing of the fact that Amazon is wildly popular with a large, devoted user base, compelled by its low prices, streamlined service and delivery system, and wide product offerings. Indeed, it has been evident on many occasions that not only do consumers value the company, but so do the competition authorities, for they have used their regulatory and enforcement powers to put would be competitors out of business. Despite investments in innovation and consumer favorability, the fact remains many aspects of Amazon’s conduct are deeply problematic.

To see the threat posed by Amazon, it’s important to understand how the company has risen to its current status. With nearly half of all ecommerce passing through the platform, Amazon’s success is predicated by what economists call “network effects”: The more vendors sell through Amazon, the more customers will want to use it; and the more customers use Amazon, the more vendors will be forced to sell through It.

Even if a new platform were to offer a superIor service, say, by taking a smaller cut of sales no one would use it, simply because no one else was. And to compete with Amazon’s unparalleled logistics network at this point would require an unimaginable upfront investment, one that Amazon could quickly make into a debacle by further cutting its prices and denying placement to suppliers who did business with the competitor.

This special barrier to entry affords Amazon the ability to set the terms for consumers and vendors. Amazon is able, for instance, to keep 15 percent of every sale on its platform and to attract even reluctant vendors like Nike, who after resisting to sell directly on Amazon due to copyright infringement that occurs through the sale of unlicensed products on their website, eventually caved in 2017. In another prominent example of Amazon flexing its power, the retailer suspended pre-orders of all books published by Hatchett, including House Speaker Paul Ryan’s The Way Forward in order to gain leverage and secure better terms in its ebook agreements.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (2016), among others, has underscored Amazon’s use of predatory pricing, as is commonly understood, though impossmle to prove under existing antitrust, precedent to eliminate competitors such as and

If established firms are powerless to resist Amazon’s platform, the implications for small businesses selling on Amazon‘s Marketplace are enormous. Satirically attributed to Amazon CEO Jeff Benzos, a recent article from The Onion captured the problem well. “My advice to anyone starting a business is to remember that someday I Will crush you.”

Amazon compounds its platform advantage with a technological one. Since Amazon both runs a retail platform and sells goods. It not only competes With its own partners. but also unilaterally sets the terms of that competition. Amazon preferences its own goods in search results, and, by collecting data on all of its transactions and customers, knows both buyers and sellers, including the stategic use of its dominant cloud computing bussiess, Amazon Web Services, to monitor profitable third party vendors and consumer behavior that lets Amazon plan future acquisitions. It’s well established that Amazon uses this data to make personalized recommendations to induce customers to make purchases.

More alarming is that the company reorders options so as to extract more from customers whose past purchases and other characteristics indicate a wlllingness to pay more. This is not the kind of price discrimination that can be found in a grocery store, where quantities are priced differently in order to entlce different buyers (e g . moms and dads opting for a gallon of milk for an additional $1 instead of a quart), but a secretive and personalized form that ensures each consumer pays their maximum and that Amazon captures the difference.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, 1998


Although market power’s impact on workers, consumers, and businesses is severe, the narrow economic analyses can overlook the dangers it poses for society as a whole. Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized these threats in 1938 when he said:

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism, ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

As relevant now as they were then, FDR‘s comments suggest that beyond lost jobs, innovation, and businesses, concentrated market power poses a threat to our democracy and national sovereignty. Today, this threat manifests in a number of ways, ranging from the obvious, such as the consequences of corporate lobbying on democracy, to the more subtle, such as the massive power a small number of tech platforms now hold over the distribution of information. In this section, we discuss three broad societal threats posed by market power.

Geography and economic segregation

Increasingly, the wealthy and powerful have isolated themselves geographically and used their market power to prey on vulnerable areas and populations. The stark divide between urban and rural voting patterns in the 2016 election is just one recent example of how economic, social, and political divisions manifest geographically. Market power reinforces this new geography, threatening to calcify a class stratification that is anathema to American values.

Market power redistributes wealth and opportunity away from disadvantaged communities, be they poor, minority, or physically isolated. Wealthy Americans, clustered in wealthy suburbs and a few large cities, do not patronize local businesses, pay taxes, or otherwise engage with the economies of poor rural or urban communities.“ Nonetheless, they are able to extract profits from them. A merger may result in windfall profits, but Wall Street and Silicon Valley will absorb that money as distant plants close and local economies across the country are decimated from the deal.

In Hanover, Illinois, for example, the purchase of machine pan manufacturer Invensys spelled the end of a 50 year old factory, despite its 18 percent profit margin. The jobs were sent to Mexico, and the profits were shifted to Sun Capital in New York City.

Today, many hollowed out cities and towns remain trapped in a cycle of dependence on the very same corporate giants that eroded their communities.

Unbridled market power threatens locally owned businesses, which play an essential role in their communities, and which cannot be replaced by externally owned and managed corporations. Writing for Washington Monthly, Brian S. Feldman (2017) presents numerous examples of black owned businesses that were consumed by larger competitors as a result of the relaxed antitrust regime. Not only had these businesses provided jobs and wealth to black workers, but they also served as pillars of the community in a time when many larger, white-owned businesses were either indifferent or actively hostile to the priorities of the black community. Black business owners in Selma, Alabama, for example, provided a physical foothold for civil rights activities in the 1960s. But without antitrust protections, these small businesses could not withstand the power of consolidating giants like Walmart, which used anti competitive practices, including predatory pricing, to drive small competitors out.

Meanwhile, Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart’s Walton family flourishes, with a plethora of privately funded parks and schools.

To make matters worse, weak local economies are self reinforcing: Less economic activity means less tax revenue for schools, public transportation, and other basic needs, which, as shown by Chetty and Hendren (2017), results in less economic mobility for future generations. As geographic segregation becomes more entrenched, it has become easier and easier for firms to identify and prey on vulnerable populations. As Hwang et al. (2015) demonstrate, this predatory behavior has been prevalent in both home mortgages and car insurance, where providers charge high prices and provide restricted service in areas with large minority populations. If areas continue to segregate racially and economically, this behavior will only intensify.

Nowhere is the self reinforcing mechanism of geographic segregation more evident than in the contemporary struggle to expand broadband coverage to underserved communities, both rural and urban. Many Internet service providers (ISPs) have avoided expanding service to such areas because doing so is less profitable. Through economic, political, and legal means, they have blocked efforts to provide multiple options directly. As Internet access becomes an effective (even necessary) prerequisite to entering the job market, underserved populations remain economically isolated and exploitable by powerful local monopolists. Market power compounds these issues: ISPs spend millions of dollars lobbying against the creation or expansion of proven municipal broadband networks (see introduction). In protecting their market share, entrenched incumbents not only reinforce social inequities but also actively prevent some of the least privileged Americans from accessing the modem economy.

Market power and the flow of information

Recognizing that access to unbiased information was no less essential to a democracy than water is to survival, and seeing the threat that industry consolidation and market power posed to that freedom of information, antitrust regulators once closely monitored the structure and content of newspapers and other media. Ownership of multiple competing news outlets was capped, and the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Fairness Doctrine required media outlets to fairly cover issues of national importance. In the wake of the Chicago School revolution, many of these regulations fell by the wayside with severe consequences for society and our democracy.

Just as the decline of antitrust protections altered the flow of firm revenue, it has also altered the flow of information with grave ramifications for society. The weakening, and in some cases the repeal, of key protections have greatly contributed to the obstruction of quality information that was so evident during the 2016 election. In print, radio, TV, and online, our sources of information have consolidated under openly biased ownership; media conglomerates have purchased local newsrooms en masse and geared them for profit over quality; online news is increasingly filtered by social media giants, with no eye for credibility or fairness, but with ultimate discretion as gatekeepers between readers and journalists; and television and radio stations held by politically biased media companies spew false information with little oversight.

After decades of consolidation, local news, a key source of information for nearly half of all Americans, according to Pew Research (2017) can scarcely be described as such. In 2016, the five largest local TV companies owned 37 percent of all stations. This pattern will likely worsen under Trump’s FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, who hinted that he would further relax merger scrutiny shortly after his appointment.

As consumers of media, the information we receive is increasingly controlled by a small select group of very powerful corporations. The decline of quality local reporting is problematic alone, but, as the Knight Commission (2009) points out, will be even more harmful if the loss contributes to the further erosion of community engagement, helping to worsen already substantial distrust of local institutions.

The erosion of decades old antitrust protections has had serious ramifications for the freedom and quality of journalistic institutions, but online, there is doubt as to whether antitrust authorities will address emerging threats at all. Gatekeepers like Google and Facebook threaten to end the era of democratized information that the Internet was supposed to create. Every day, millions log on to Facebook to see which stories their friends are sharing, creating advertising revenue for Facebook but not for the organizations that created the content. Likewise, Google’s “Incognito Window” feature enables users to avoid pay walls put in place by publishers to protect copyrighted material. This is to say nothing of outright discrimination within search results, which recently drew the ire of European authorities.

Platforms not only capture profits of journalism, they also control who sees what. Emily Bell, Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, discussed this concern in a 2016 piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.

“In truth, we have little or no insight into how each company is sorting its news. If Facebook decides, for instance, that video stories will do better than text stories, we cannot know that unless they tell us or unless we observe it. This is an unregulated field. There is no transparency into the internal working of these systems… We are handing the controls of important parts of our public and private lives to a very small number of people, who are unelected and unaccountable.”

Examples of the problems created by this centralized, unaccountable control of information are everywhere: During the 2016 election, the proliferation of fake news articles on Facebook and automated “bots” on Twitter interfered with the honest and free exchange of information. Unregulated “news” sharing on Facebook and Twitter popularized numerous conspiracy theories. And since Facehook has no obligation to provide a neutral platform, electoral campaigns, interest groups, and repositories of outside “dark money” are free to spend whatever it takes to not only get their content in front of targeted users but also prevent the opposition’s content from reaching its intended audience. Meanwhile, Woolley and Guilbeault (2017) show how Twitter bots sought to obstruct social media messaging of supporters on both sides.

When it comes to something as essential for democracy as the free flow of accurate information, the power is simply too great to be left unregulated, in the hands of a few powerful corporations.

By keeping revenue from content creators, by lending a voice to biased and false news outlets, and by artificially amplifying chosen content, powerful platforms will reduce the amount of legitimate news produced (and shared) and will instead encourage the production of whatever content their opaque algorithms favor. Rather than democratizing the spread of information, many online platforms have consolidated this process for private gain. This is a new question for antitrust authorities, and one that must be addressed soon.

Compromising the political system

The influence of large campaign donors and highly paid corporate lobbyists on American politics is no secret, but bears repeating: Individual corporations and industry trade associations, not to mention a host of more secretive “dark money” pools, leverage their wealth to exert enormous influence on legislators, executives, and other government officials at all levels. This influence amplifies the voice of the powerful and, as Jacob Hacker (2011) discusses in Winner Take All Politics, was key in bringing about the Chicago School revolution in antitrust policy in the first place.

Less discussed than the influence of money in politics is how economic policy reinforces the phenomenon. By creating larger firms and enabling them to generate excess profits, consolidation increases the number of businesses with the means necessary to invest in serious lobbying efforts, including the number of firms whose business models depend on doing so. Rather than attempting to satisfy broad constituencies of disparate interests, politicians are tempted to cater to a select few: those who can afford to both amplify their voices and offer campaign funds in exchange for political favors.

Close ties to large corporations not only help politicians fundraise, but also let them access the lucrative “revolving door” to high paying jobs in the private sector throughout or after a political career. Politicians, then, have a considerable incentive to demonstrate their usefulness to the large corporations that hold power over their political and professional wellbeing. The same goes for appointed public officials and bureaucrats.

By enhancing the ability of large corporations to win, not by innovating or improving, but by buying government favoritism, a compromised political system entrenches the concentration of corporate market power. That is why, at the dawn of an earlier revolution in antitrust, Louis Brandeis noted that we may have concentrations of wealth, or we may have democracy, but not both.

Indeed, today’s mega corporations are so large and so powerful that individual politicians may feel powerless to oppose them. Even those with enough integrity or personal wealth to avoid direct dependence on corporate funders still face pressure to conform to the views of their caucuses. And voters are watching, it’s hardly surprising that, according to Gallup polls, the percentage of Americans reporting a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the federal government has hit record lows in recent years.

Ultimately, the problem of money in politics, and its interplay with market power threatens to erode the possibility of effective government, both directly and through the trust of its citizens.


Restoring Competition Policy to Build Healthy Markets and Inclusive Growth

This report has explained the theoretical threat of concentrated market power and demonstrated its real world consequences: Instead of creating shared value, powerful businesses, specifically their owners and executives, extract wealth from workers, consumers, disadvantaged competitors, and entire communities. This section describes the role that competition policy can play in realigning incentives and reshaping markets to create a level playing field and an equitable, inclusive economy.

Competition policy is the set of laws and institutions that aim to realign private and public interests by changing the structure of markets and governing the actions taken within them. It can be understood as serving three distinct roles:

(1) To regulate market structure and prevent the aggregation of private power, primarily by blocking mergers that concentrate too much power and breaking up pre existing, overly powerful firms

(2) To curtail anti competitive behavior by banning firms from and punishing firms for engaging in extractive practices like colluding to raise prices or deceiving consumers, including practices that may persist even without full monopolization

(3) To regulate “natural monopolies” as utilities and intervene when competition fails, either through more comprehensive regulation or the provision of public options, especially in key natural monopolies like telecommunications and energy with high fixed costs of doing business, where fierce private competition tends to give rise to boom and bust cycles that impair the steady provision of necessary services.

To limit the consolidation of power by regulating market structure, authorities should:

– Revise merger guidelines to scrutinize the potential for anti competitive behavior throughout supply chains, not merely targeting consumers

– Closely examine negative effects of vertical integration and vertical restraints that are likely to arise from proposed and consummated mergers

– Use Section 2 of the Sherman Act to break up existing monopolies and firms whose structure and business models threaten other market participants and the economy more broadly

– Scrutinize the many ways in which ownership and management have consolidated, including the common ownership of multiple firms in an industry by the same major shareholders

– Implement intellectual property (IP) reform to encourage entrepreneurship and weaken protections for incumbents, including by compelling free licensing of patent portfolios

In many instances, market power arises from the structure of a given market, that is, the number and size of firms and the ties between them. Consolidated markets lack competition, often allowing firms to charge high prices, offer bad service, and pay low wages. Such market power can therefore be addressed by preventing consolidation, either by limiting mergers between competitors or by breaking up excessively large firms. Merger review has always been a key facet of competition policy, but it is much less stringent today than it was prior to the 1980.

Under existing merger guidelines, antitrust agencies assess mergers primarily on their expected short run effect on price and output. But as we have discussed this narrow approach overlooks important effects on innovation, wages, jobs, and supply chains; even its track record on price effects is mixed at best. Congress should enact antitrust legislation that would require agencies to revise existing merger guidelines to consider the merging parties’ ability to engage in anti competitive behavior throughout the supply chain, to look for ways it may harm any and all market participants, not just consumers. That would enable the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to scrutinize vertical consolidation as well as a merger’s effects on innovation, labor markets, data privacy, and discrimination by race, gender, and geography.

The agencies should also consider exercising their authority under Section 2 of the Sherman Act to break up existing firms whose structure and business models render them impossible to regulate in accord with the new standard. Finally, an increase in the antitrust resources of regulatory agencies would complement this agenda.

In some cases, market power arises not through consolidation but through intellectual property rights (IPRs) exclusive, government enforced rights to profit from an innovation. While IPRs are intended to incentivize investment in R&D, current laws may actually be hindering innovation by slowing the spread of existing knowledge and hindering knock on discoveries, new ideas built on previous innovations. Policymakers should consider weakening such protections; doing so can promote growth and simultaneously lower prices and expand access to goods, especially medicines.

While policies to prevent and reverse consolidation and restrict anti competitive behavior at the firm level are necessary to maintain competition, another aspect of our market power crisis is the combination of management with shareholders into one corporate interest, a relationship that is then used to profit at the expense of other stakeholders.

Examples of this broad phenomenon can be seen in the rise of private equity, the lifting of regulations on corporate stock buybacks, the use of dual classes of shareholders, the decline in initial public offerings (IP0s) and the reduction in the share of the economy accounted for by traditional publicly traded corporations, and the so called “common ownership” of multiple firms in an industry by the same small set of large institutional investors.

This issue is of sufficient concern to warrant an investigation by a temporary panel with representatives from a number of government agencies with access to the data that are necessary to understand the potential threat of shareholder management consolidation. These agencies include the IRS, the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as the competition authorities at the FTC and DOJ. The core issue to investigate is whether the various mechanisms that shareholders have for influencing firm behavior and benefiting from firm profits are used for their private benefit (and at other stakeholders’ expense) versus for the public good. Such a panel should examine corporate structures, such as private equity, tiered shareholding, private partnerships, and common ownership, as well as behavior like labor outsourcing, stock buybacks, and dividend recapitalization, that arguably serve to benefit shareholders at the expense of everyone else.

To curtail anti-competitive behaviors, policy must:

– Increase enforcement at the state and federal level

– Increase funding of federal and state competition authorities

– Increase punishments for anti competitive behavior

– Expand the scope of antitrust action at the state level

– Use antitrust law against the fissured workplace

– Challenge the ability of tech platforms to extract rents from their supply chain

_ Scrutinize price discrimination enabled by “Big Data”

– Protect low skill workers from non compete and anti poaching clauses

– Reform the Federal Arbitration Act

While preventing the accumulation of market power through large scale consolidation is important, this tactic does not guarantee that firms will always compete fairly. Even in less concentrated markets, firms may seek an advantage through anti competitive tactics, especially where vertical integration enables them to exploit a strategic position in one market for advantage in another.

Businesses can collude to charge more, take advantage of workers with contracts they don’t understand and cannot litigate, and maneuver consumers into disadvantageous terms of service or discriminate among them using data consumers do not realize has been harvested from them. And although many of these tactics are illegal, weak enforcement and judicial precedents establishing impossibly high burdens of proof and excessively narrow theories about how conduct can be anti competitive encourage abuse among firms who see no threat of repercussion.

To deter anti competitive practices and realign market incentives with the public interest, we advocate strengthening the enforcement of existing antitrust law and broadening the application of that law in key areas, especially as it relates to the emergence of new and unregulated technology.

Ultimately, anti competitive practices will only be curbed when firms operate on the assumption that nefarious behavior will be discovered and duly punished. Therefore, more prosecutorial action against anti competitive behavior and harsher penalties are necessary to discourage firms from abusing power.

Larger regulatory budgets for the DOJ Antitrust Division and for enforcement at the FTC will help achieve this goal by providing regulators with more staff and resources to carry out investigations. Most importantly, the burden on plaintiffs for winning an anti competitive conduct case is far too high.

At the federal level, of course, neither more aggressive prosecution of private firms nor a significant increase in regulatory funding seems likely in the current political climate, so we also propose expanded activity and funding of these activities at the state level. Generally, state attorneys have a well established tradition of antitrust action, and in many cases, are unburdened by the ideological baggage that plagues federal agencies and judicial precedent. These activities should be expanded wherever possible.

While poor enforcement has permitted some anti competitive behaviors, narrow court interpretations have pushed others out from under regulation entirely. For example, predatory pricing has long been a violation of antitrust statutes, but under current jurisprudence, it can only be recognized when the defendant is found to have both intent to remove competition and the ability to recoup losses incurred by selling below cost. This extremely high legal hurdle has prevented the prosecution of predatory pricing, despite evident instances of it, such as Amazon‘s behavior towards

The crucial issue for prosecuting conduct cases under Section 2 of the Sherman Act is the requirement to prove monopoly power, generally by a preponderant share of the relevant market. This means that conduct in which powerful companies use their domination of one market to extract concessions in another is very hard to prove. For example, Google has used its dominance in the search market to redirect advertising revenues from content companies back to itself, Those companies have to make their content available to Google for fear of losing all Internet traffic, which then means that Google is the market participant earning the ad revenue. Google claims that it is not a monopolist in Search, “competition is just a click away,” as the saying goes and yet the observed behavior of users of its mobile platform and the restrictions that Google places on third party applications all but guarantee the tech giant will control the flow of information. (And hence reaps the reward therefrom.)

Finally, the rise of digital platforms has revived concerns about the abuse of vertical consolidation and price discrimination, issues the Chicago School had rendered largely dormant. Because they not only host sellers but also compete with them directly, platforms like Google and Amazon have ample opportunity to profit by placing other firms at a disadvantage.

The European Commission recently fined Google 2.4 billion euros for prioritizing its own Comparison shopping service over that of competitors. Regulators must either bar firms from competing on their own platforms, in effect, enact a ban on vertical integration for platform companies, or at the very least closely regulate such behavior by imposing neutrality on crucial internet era utilities.

A similar principle applies to platforms like Uber who have used their power to extract gains from workers. Since Uber drivers are technically independent businesses, the competition authorities should regard Uber’s price setting as price fixing.

Finally, access to data has enabled a new wave of advanced price discrimination through which platforms are able to charge different customers different amounts based on past behavior and other factors. Antitrust authorities must pursue vigorous enforcement of existing price discrimination laws.

To establish public utility regulation of essential industries and “natural monopolies,” policymakers should:

– Explore public utility regulation to rein in Google, Facebook, Amazon

– Promote expansion of municipal broadband networks

– Consider creation of public options for financial services

Private markets are not always able to sustain competition. This can happen when there are high fixed costs to production, as with utilities or airlines or when firms experience “network effects” that make it more useful to have one large platform than several small competitors, as with Facebonk or Amazon. In these instances, it maybe impossible to generate competition by breaking up large corporations horizontally; at the same time, outright bans on abusive practices may be too blunt an instrument to properly regulate firms’ behavior. Such situations call for further intervention, either through more fine tuned “public utility” regulation or through the introduction of public market players.

Historically, public utility regulation has been used to ensure that essential goods and services are provided accessibly and at fair prices. In domains such as telecommunications, where network effects prevented robust competition, the imposition of a “common carrier” status required providers to serve all comers at reasonable rates and without unjust discrimination. More recently, the FCC harkened back to these principles in the context of net neutrality, preventing internet service providers from exercising bias based on the content (such as a competitor’s service) they are transmitting.

Looking forward, policymakers should consider a public utility approach to regulating prominent technology firms. As gatekeepers to essential economic and social goods, Google and Facebook to news and information, and Amazon to avast logistics and shipping architecture these businesses threaten to limit or influence participation in markets and civil society. Regulatory firewalls could prevent such platforms from privileging their own content (say, in search results), thus maintaining a level playing field for smaller competitors. Further oversight could require firms to respect the interests of the users whose data they collect and sell and could guard against discriminatory treatment, including as an “unintended” consequence of revenue optimizing algorithms.

In some instances, barriers to entry prevent competition in a market, even though there is no inherent advantage to consolidation. Here, the government can intervene by simply becoming a competitor, by offering a so called public option. This approach is not a new one: The Tennessee Valley Authority’s provision of rural electrification dates back to the New Deal.

Public options have three main advantages:

First, they offer an additional, straightforward option to consumers at reasonable rates and without discrimination.

Second, they increase market competition, encouraging pre existing businesses to lower prices and offer better service.

Third, they can expand subsidized access to consumers unable to afford essential goods at market prices.

Policymakers should promote this approach in key areas, such as municipal broadband and banking.


For roughly 40 years, the American economy has been remade to serve the powerful and the wealthy, with no regard for everyday consumers, workers, or the health of our society.

Today, we see just how effectively policymakers and regulators have championed the needs of the few over those of the many. Ironically, the policies that helped get us here were sold on the notion that they would deliver the most good to the most people, the precise opposite of what ultimately occurred.

Furthermore, Chicago School policies were predicated on the idea that providing for the public good is simple. This was a convenient view for policymakers and other parties whose key interest amounted to diminishing the role that government plays in administering society.

But Chicago School ideology was also, as ample evidence shows, precisely incorrect.

Robust competition is every bit as important for economic well being as scions of the Chicago School suggested, but this school of thought presented false and misleading ideas about how to best achieve it. Here, we have combined emerging research with historical narrative aimed at explaining how antitrust policy has been a key contributor to an increasingly top heavy economy.

In the simplest way possible, we aim to show that competition is as essential as it is delicate, and that economies work best when power is evenly distributed among market actors. In this regard, competition policy is an essential tool.

Ring-fencing Rental Losses. An officials’ issues paper – NZ Inland Revenue Department.

Prepared by Policy and Strategy, Inland Revenue, and the Treasury.

March 2018


The Government has committed to a number of policy measures aimed at making the tax system fairer and improving housing affordability for owner occupiers by reducing demand from speculators and investors.

One of these measures is to introduce loss ring fencing on residential properties held by speculators and investors. This means that speculators and investors will no longer be able to offset tax losses from their residential properties against their other income (for example. salary or wages, or business income), to reduce their income tax liability.

Current settings

Under current New Zealand tax settings tax is applied on a person‘s net income. We do not generally ring fence income and losses from particular activities or investments. This means that there is generally no restriction on losses from one source reducing income from other sources though there are some exceptions to this general treatment.

Investment housing is currently taxed under the same rules that generally apply to other investments. This means that rents are income. and interest and other expenses (other than capital improvements) are deductible. Capital gains on sale of the property are not taxed unless the property is on revenue account. This could be, for example, because you are in a land related business (for example, a land dealer or developer), bought the land for resale, or sell the property within the bright line period of either two or five years (depending on when you first had an interest in the land). Most rental property investors hold their property on capital account and are not subject to tax on the capital gain.

While rental housing is not formally tax favoured. there is an argument that it may be under taxed given that tax free capital gains are often realised when rental properties are sold. The fact that rental property investors often make persistent tax losses indicates that expected capital gains are an important motivation for many investors purchasing rental property. While interest and other expenses are fully deductible, in the absence of a comprehensive capital gains tax not all of the economic income generated from rental housing is subject to tax. There is therefore an argument that. to the extent deductible expenses in the long term exceed income from rents, those expenses in fact relate to the capital gain, so should not be deductible unless the capital gain is taxed.

Aim of the proposed changes

The introduction of loss ring fencing rules is aimed at levelling the playing field between property speculators/investors and home buyers. Currently investors (particularly highly geared investors) have part of the cost of servicing their mortgages subsidised by the reduced tax on their other income sources, helping them to outbid owner occupiers for properties. Rules that ring fence residential property losses. so they cannot be used to reduce tax on other income, is intended to help reduce this advantage and perceived unfairness.

Officials are interested in feedback on the suggested changes outlined in this paper.

How to make a submission

Officials invite submissions on the suggested changes and points raised in this issues paper. Send your submission to who.webmaster@ird. with “Ring fencing rental losses” in the subject line.

Alternatively, submissions can be sent to:

Ring fencing rental losses

Deputy Commissioner, Policy and Strategy Inland Revenue Department

PO Box 2l98

Wellington 6l40

The closing date for submissions is 11 May 2018.

Submissions should include a brief summary of major points and recommendations. They should also indicate whether it would be acceptable for Inland Revenue and Treasury officials to contact those making the submission to discuss the points raised, if required.

Submissions may be the subject of a request under the Official Information Act l982, which may result in their release. The withholding of particular submissions, or parts thereof. on the grounds of privacy, or commercial sensitivity, or for any other reason, will be determined in accordance with that Act. Those making a submission who consider that there is any part of it that should properly be withheld under the Act should clearly indicate this.

Summary of the suggested changes

The proposed loss ring fencing rules will mean that speculators and investors with residential properties will no longer be able to offset tax losses from those properties against their other income (for example, salary or wages. or business income), to reduce their tax liability. The losses can be used in future years. when the properties are making profits. or if the person is taxed on the sale of land.

A summary of officials’ suggestions for the design of the loss ring fencing rules is set out below. These design issues are discussed in more detail in the chapters that follow.

Property the rules will apply to

It is proposed that the loss ring fencing rules will apply to “residential land”. We suggest that the rules use the definition of “residential land‘” that already exists for the bright line test which taxes sales of residential land bought and sold within either two or five years.‘

The rules would not apply to:

A person’s main home

A property that is subject to the mixed use assets rules (for example, a bach that is sometimes used privately and sometimes rented out)

Land that is on revenue account because it is held in a land related business (that is, a business of land dealing, development of land, division of land or building).

Portfolio basis

It is suggested that the loss ring fencing rules should apply on a portfolio basis. That would mean that investors would be able to offset losses from one rental property against rental income from other properties calculating their overall profit or loss across their portfolio.

Using ring-fenced losses

Under the suggested changes. a person’s ring fenced residential rental or other losses from one year could be offset against their:

Residential rental income from future years (from any property); and

Taxable income on the sale of any residential land.

Interposed entities

Under the suggested changes, there would be special rules to ensure that trust, company, partnership, or look through company cannot be used to get around the ring fencing rules. It is proposed that such an entity will be regarded as “residential property land rich” if over 50 percent of its assets are residential properties within the scope of the ring fencing rules and/or shares or interests in other residential property land rich entities.

Where that is the case. it is suggested that any interest a person incurs on money they borrow to acquire an interest in the entity (for example, shares. securities, a partnership interest. or an interest in the trust estate) would be treated as rental property loan interest. The rules could then ensure that the interest deduction is only allocated to the income year in question to the extent it did not exceed the distributions from the entity (deemed rental property income). any other residential rental income, and residential land sale income. Any excess of interest over distributions, rental income, and land sale income would be carried forward and treated as “rental property loan interest” for the next income year.

Timing of the introduction of the rules

It is proposed that the loss ring fencing rules will apply from the start of the 2019/20 income year. The rules could either apply in full from the outset, or they could be phased in over two or three years. We are interested in feedback on which of those approaches should be taken.


Property the rules will apply to

Under the proposed changes, the loss ring fencing rules would apply to “residential land”. The rules would use the definition of “residential land” that already exists for the bright line test.

Definition of “residential land

There is already a definition of “residential land” in the Income Tax Act, which is used for the bright line test which taxes sales of residential land bought and sold within two years. It is proposed that the loss ring fencing rules apply to land within that definition with the exceptions discussed below. Using the definition already in the legislation would avoid the additional complexity of having different definitions for different rules.

“Residential land” means:

Land that has a dwelling on it

Land for which there is an arrangement to build a dwelling on it

Bare land that may have a dwelling built on it under the relevant operative district plan rules.

However, “residential land” does not include:


Land used predominantly as business premises.

“Residential land” is not limited to land in New Zealand it would extend to overseas land. This means that losses from overseas residential rental investments could not be offset against other income in New Zealand.

Apart from the exceptions below, the rules would apply to all residential land, whether or not it is currently rented out. including bare land. This is because the proposed rules are aimed at levelling the playing field between residential property speculators/investors and people looking to buy their own home or land to build a home on.

Main home

The proposed loss ring fencing rules will not apply to a person’s main home. This is to ensure that a person who has a boarder in their main home, or who rents out a spare room occasionally, would not have to apply these rules, which are primarily targeted at residential investment properties. The meaning of “main home” would be the same as for the bright line test, which has a main home exclusion.

A person can only have one main home at a time. If someone has more than one residence, their “main home” would be the one they have the greatest connection with. That would be determined by looking at factors such as:

The amount of time the person occupies the dwelling;

Where their immediate family live;

Where their social ties are strongest;

Their use of the dwelling;

Their employment, business interests and economic ties to the area where the dwelling is located; and

Where their personal property is kept.


A significant number of family homes in New Zealand are owned by family trusts. The definition of “main home” would therefore ensure that a home owned by a trust can be regarded as a main home.

Like with the bright line rules, we suggest that a dwelling owned by a trust only be considered a main home (so not subject to the loss ring fencing rules) if it is the main home for a beneficiary of the trust. provided that a principal settlor of the trust does not have a different main home.

This restriction would ensure that trust ownership cannot be used to claim multiple properties as main homes. and so not subject to the loss ring fencing rules.

Mixed-use assets

The existing definition of “residential land” in the Income Tax Act would also include holiday houses that are sometimes used privately and sometimes rented out. However, many such properties would be subject to the mixed use asset rules, which already provide for the quarantining (or ring fencing) of losses where there is low income earning use of the asset.

We suggest that property subject to the mixed use asset rules should be scoped out of the rental loss ring fencing rules, because the mixed use asset quarantine rules will cover most if not all mixed use asset losses. We are interested in feedback on whether property subject to the mixed use asset rules should be outside the scope of the loss ring fencing rules.

Revenue account land in dealing, development, subdivision and building businesses

Land that is held in certain land related business is on revenue account. so the profits on sale are taxed. This applies to land held in dealing, development, subdivision, and building businesses.

At balance date, taxpayers in these businesses are likely to have a number of properties on hand, though they may not be currently rented out.

It is proposed that residential rental or other losses could be used against taxable land sales to reduce the taxable gain to nil, with any further unused losses remaining ring fenced to future rental income or taxable income on land sales. While taxpayers in the business of land dealing, development of land, division of land, or building may have losses in respect of properties on hand at balance date, those losses being able to be used against income from other sales or rental activity in the year would mean that their businesses would be unlikely to be disadvantaged by the ring fencing rules. In most cases the income from their sale or rental activity would be expected to exceed their losses.

However, in any overall loss making year, we do not consider it necessary to ring fence losses for land held in these businesses. There is not the same concern about any of the deductible expenses in relation to land in these businesses relating to untaxed gains, as all of the businesses’ land is on revenue account. Therefore, we propose that the ring fencing rules not apply to land that is on revenue account because it is held in a land related business. This would enable taxpayers in these businesses to use losses arising in any year against other income for example within their corporate group (as they are likely to be companies).

Property owned by companies and trusts

There is an argument that the loss ring fencing rules should apply only to individuals (that is, natural persons), and not to companies or trusts. This argument could be made because company losses are effectively ring fenced inside the company, as are losses in a trust.

However, such an approach would leave open the possibility of individual speculators or investors operating through a company or trading trust, holding their residential properties in that vehicle, and offsetting the losses against their labour income. It would also mean that a family trust holding residential rental property and also some other investments could offset rental property losses against income from the other investments. For example, it would not be fair for a professional operating through a company or trust to not be subject to the ring fencing rules where another person operating as a sole trader would be.

It is acknowledged that there may be some compliance costs for some corporates that own some residential property incidentally to their business. However. it is considered that limiting the ring fencing rules to individuals would significantly undermine the fairness of the rules. For this reason. we suggest that the ring fencing rules should apply to all taxpayers, not only to individual taxpayers.

Portfolio basis

It is suggested that the loss ring fencing rules should apply on a portfolio basis. That would mean that investors would be able to offset losses from one rental property against rental income from other properties calculating their overall profit or loss across their portfolio.

The alternative, a property by property basis, would mean that each property would need to be looked at separately, with losses on one not able to be offset against income from another.

A property by property approach would be stricter than a portfolio approach, achieving the highest level of ring fencing. However, it would add complexity, as losses would need to be tracked separately for each property. Moreover, a property by property approach may just result in taxpayers with portfolios re balancing their debt funding to avoid having loss making properties (or at least minimising the extent to which any particular property is loss making). That response to the rules applying on a property by property basis would be inefficient. and may mean that this approach may have no real advantage over a portfolio approach adding considerable complexity and increasing compliance costs for no real gain.

Also, a property by property approach may be seen as unfair in that if a taxpayer has two properties and breaks even on the ponfolio overall, the taxpayer’s tax position would depend on whether they break even on both properties or make a gain on one and a loss on the other.

We therefore suggest that the ring fencing rules apply on a portfolio basis. so a person with multiple properties would calculate their overall profit or loss across their whole residential portfolio.

Using ring-fenced losses

Under the suggested changes, ring fenced residential rental or other losses from one year would could be offset against:

Residential rental income from future years (from any property); and

Taxable income on the sale of any residential land.

Most residential rental investors are not subject to tax on the sale of their investment properties under current tax rules. However, in some circumstances. the sale of a residential rental property may be taxed under one of the land sale rules in the Income Tax Act or the taxpayer may have taxable income on the sale of other residential property (not rented out). This could be the case, for example, because the taxpayer is in a land related business (for example, a land dealer or developer), bought the land for resale, or sells the property within the bright line period of either two or live years (depending on when they first had an interest in the land).

Under the suggested changes. where a taxpayer sells a property that is subject to the ring fencing rules (that is a residential property) and the sale is taxed, any ring fenced losses the taxpayer has could be used to reduce the taxable gain on sale to nil. Any remaining unused losses would stay ring fenced, and could be used against any future residential rental income or taxable income on other residential land sales.

There is an argument that in the case of a property with ring fenced losses that is taxed under one of the land sale rules on disposal, the losses should be able to fully utilised (that is unfenced) at that point. and be used to offset any other income of the taxpayer. This would reflect that all of the economic income from the investment has been taxed (the rental stream and the capital gain), and that the investor should not be penalised for making an overall loss on the investment.

However. if the rules are to apply on a portfolio basis, as suggested, allowing accumulated losses to give rise to a tax loss on a disposal subject to one of the land sale rules would create risks. For example, it would enable a portfolio investor to sell a property that has made a small capital gain within the bright line period. offset that gain with ring fenced losses from across their portfolio, and apply any remaining losses from the portfolio against other income. While there are ring fencing rules in relation to the bright line test, they only apply to deductions for the cost of the land, not other costs.

Enabling taxpayers to sell their lowest capital gain makers within the bright line period and access what might be substantial portfolio wide accumulated ring fenced losses would significantly undermine the credibility of the rules.

For this reason, we propose that where a disposal is caught by one of the land sale rules, ring fenced losses should be allowed to be used only to the extent they reduce the taxable gain to nil, with any further unused losses remaining ring fenced.

Structuring around the rules

There are two main structuring opportunities that we have considered, creating specific rules to deal with. These concern interest allocation and the interposing of entities.

Interest allocation

We have considered whether specific interest allocation rules are required, as without them investors may be able to structure around the loss ring fencing rules. For example, this could be done by reorganising funding so that business assets other than rental properties are debt funded, and rental properties are equity funded to the greatest extent possible.

However, interest allocation rules would add substantial complexity and compliance costs. Because money is fungible, it is very difficult to attempt to match borrowings to particular investments (tracing). Stacking rules (for example, allocating debt firstly to ring fenced investments) may be seen as unfair. And pro rata interest allocation between assets that are subject to the ring fencing rules and those that are not would require regular valuation of assets.

If interest on any loan that was secured by a residential property was included in the rules, this would create issues for many people who use their rental properties to secure loans for their businesses. This would impact on small and medium business’ access to capital. In addition. many arrangements could be even more difficult to apply interest allocation rules to, as revolving credit facilities are often used to fund both a rental property and a business.

We do not propose specific interest allocation rules because of the considerable complexity and compliance costs they would add, which would be particularly onerous on smaller taxpayers.

Interposed entities

Under the suggested changes, there would be special rules to ensure that a trust, company, partnership, or look through company cannot be used to get around the ring fencing rules. These ownership structures are referred to here as entities for simplicity.

Otherwise a simple way to get around the ring fencing rules would be for a taxpayer to interpose an entity to hold a residential rental property, and borrow money to invest in or acquire an interest in the entity. For example, a taxpayer could borrow money to buy shares in a company, which uses those funds to buy a residential investment property. Because the money is borrowed to buy shares, the individual taxpayer would be able to claim deductions for the interest on the borrowings. and offset those amounts against other income sources.

However, if the taxpayer had used the borrowed money to purchase the property directly themselves, the interest expense would be attributable to the residential rental investment, not shares, so would be taken into account in determining whether the person‘s residential rental activity was profit or loss making. And if the rental activity was loss making. losses would be ring fenced under the proposal rules.

This simple mechanism is illustrated in figure 1.

A suggested approach to dealing with interposed entities is to specifically define when such entities would be “residential property land rich”. It is proposed that this would be the case where over 50 percent of the entity‘s assets are residential properties within the scope of the ring fencing rules, and/or shares or interests in other residential property land rich entities.

The rules could then treat dividends, interest, or distributions from the entity as being “rental property income”, and treat interest on borrowings to acquire an interest in the entity (for example, shares. securities, a partnership interest, or an interest in the trust estate). as “rental property loan interest”. The rules could then ensure that the interest deduction is only allocated to the income year in question to the extent it did not exceed the distributions from the entity (deemed rental property income), any other residential rental income, and residential land sale income. Any excess of interest over distributions, rental income, and land sale income would be carried forward and treated as “rental property loan interest” for the next income year. This would mean that losses from rental properties would not reduce the tax on other sources of income.

This suggested approach is illustrated in figure 2.

We are interested in feedback on this suggested approach to preventing the simple interposition of an entity to get around the ring fencing rules.

Timing of introduction of the rules

It is proposed that the loss ring fencing rules will apply from the start of the 2019/20 income year.

The rules could either apply in full from the outset, or alternatively they could be phased in over two or three years. If the rules are phased in, this would be done by reducing the proportion of losses that could be used to offset other income over a two or three year period, until no losses could be used to offset other income sources.

For example, if phased in over two years, 50 percent of residential investment losses could be used to offset other income in 2019/20, and no offsetting would be allowed in 2020/21.

Tax law changes are not usually phased in. But this possible approach has been suggested to allow affected investors more time to adjust to the new rules, or to rearrange their affairs before the rules apply in full. However, we note that phased introduction of the rules would result in some additional complexity.

We are interested in feedback on whether the loss ring fencing rules should apply in full from the 2019/20 income year the simpler approach or be phased in over two or three years.

First published in March 20l8 by Policy and Strategy. Inland Revenue, PO Box 2198. Wellington, 6140.

Ring-fencing rental losses an officials” issues paper. ISBN 0-978-0-478-424454

Up to 90% of first-home buyers relying on parents – Tamsyn Parker * Bank of Mum and Dad can take a Hit – Diana Clement.

When the Bear inevitably comes, New Zealand’s economy will take a massive hit, and real estate values, based on blind and irrational exuberance, will crash down to long term average values, or worse. A large percentage of kiwis will be ‘under water’. Parents will be losing their homes as well as the kids. Our record levels of household debt will be our undoing, and the catalyst for a serious and prolonged economic depression. Hans Hilhorst

Up to 90% of first-home buyers relying on parents

Tamsyn Parker

The gap between the property haves and have-nots looks set to widen as a growing number of first-home buyers turn to their parents to get help jumping on the property ladder.

Figures from Australia show over 55 per cent of first home buyers received some help from their parents last year up from just 3.3 per cent in 2010.

There is no across industry data on what percentage of first home buyers need parental help but figures from Mike Pero Mortgages show it is likely to be higher in New Zealand.

Mark Collins, chief executive at Mike Pero Mortgages, said 60 to 70 per cent of first home buyers had parental help and for those under 30, the proportion jumped to 80 to 90 per cent. The difference for those under 30 is probably linked to having less in their KiwiSaver accounts to draw out. “If you are in your mid 30s to 40s you have probably been earning at higher rate.”

Collins said he had been surprised by the figures although he pointed out that it was mainly Auckland where parental support was so high in the regions it was more like 20 per cent of first home buyers. “Getting a 20 per cent deposit together in Timaru is not as hard.” Most parental loans are on a “pay it back when you can” basis which could cause complications if the parent’s situation changed and they need the money back quickly. “It means there is almost four people in the deal.” Collins urged people to get advice and put a legal agreement in place for the loan.

John Bolton, chief executive at mortgage broker Squirrel, said the number of first-home buyers who were helped by their parents to get on the property ladder was “pretty significant”.

“The majority would have some sort of parental support. Parents typically help out either through a cash contribution or through providing a limited guarantee over their home, which is more common. Often it is not really a gift, it is a loan which is interest free, which they pay back when they can. The situation has changed dramatically from 10 years ago. Back to 2008 first-home buyers were able to borrow 100 per cent. You didn’t even need a deposit. Then the global financial crisis hit and lending was tightened up and most buyers now need a 20 per cent deposit.”

Karen Tatterson, an Auckland mortgage broker with Loan Market, said the number of first-home buyers using parental help had doubled in the last 10 years and rising property prices was the driving factor. Tatterson who has already planned to help her own son get on the property ladder, said it is a common thread of discussion among her and her friends how they were going to be able to help their children out.

But it is a challenge made tougher for those with more than one child. Typically parents who helped out used the equity in their property to boost the deposit over the 80 per cent threshold so the children did not have to pay a low equity fee.

In Australia, the average value of the help provider by parents was A$80k, and Tatterson said here it was around $50k to $80k in New Zealand.

But the situation has fueled concerns that only property owning families will be able to help their offspring locking renters and their children out.

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub said the divide between the property haves and have-not had been happening for a while. He pointed to the last census in 2013 which showed just over half of adults were renting and home ownership levels were falling across all age-groups.

“This divide is going to multiply. Only those people with parents with property are able to access it because they are trading in the same pool.”

Eaqub said 30 to 40 years ago people didn’t need help from their parents because they could save a deposit from their own income. But that is no longer so easy.

Last week, the Real Estate Institute revealed it takes Aucklanders on an average weekly income 16 years of hard slog to save for a house.

Eaqub said homeownership rates had peaked in the early 90s and the children of those who had struggled to get on the property ladder were now coming through.

“The consequence of that is going to be more apparent.” But he said there was no quick fix for this kind of generational shift. “I’m not confident we can turn around homeownership rates anytime soon. It has taken around 30 years of pro homeownership policy to build up rates in New Zealand and he was not convinced the political environment was open to the kind of policies needed to change it significantly.

Diane Maxwell, Retirement Commissioner, said it was seeing more and more older New Zealanders trying to help their adult children into a home. “It can be a good thing but it does depend on the finances of parents and how much strain it puts on their own situation. “We’ve seen situations where people have sold their family home and moved out of the city to free up money for kids. That may lead to greater isolation as they move away from their community and friends. Maxwell said there was also a risk that parents would loan or give money to their children that they would need later in life.

“We have worked on a case where a retiree lost his entire life savings sending money to an inheritance scam his key motivation was that with the inheritance windfall he would be able to buy houses for his children. It is not a good thing if the financial situation and home ownership status of the parents had a greater impact on the child than their own prospects in life.

Bank of Mum and Dad can take a Hit

Diana Clement

Helping your children buy their first home can come back to bite.

Lending money for a deposit or guaranteeing their loan can break families apart and lead to parental bankruptcy unless everyone goes in with their eyes open.

The risks of gifts

Gifting the deposit is one of the ways parents help. Lending the money, however, may be safer. Parents often don’t think of the consequences of their action. What happens, for example:

If your child splits from his or her partner? Half of your gift might go to the now less than favourable former partner.

If your child develops an expectation you’ll shell out money whenever they want it?

If the other children become bitter and twisted that their sibling got more than they did?

With your Will? Do you take this money into account when divvying up your wealth?

Some parents borrow themselves in order to fund a deposit for the children. Banks are wary of this and may not lend if they see the child didn’t save the deposit money themselves.

If the child subsequently loses the home, the parents are still stuck paying the loan they took out.

More than a piece of paper

If you don’t have cash to lend to the children, but still want to help, another option is to go guarantor. That means you guarantee that if the child can’t repay the loan, you will.

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden says parents don’t always understand the implications of this. it’s much more than a piece of paper that you’ve signed.

“Parents are frequently unaware of how a guarantee works in practice. The amount of a guarantee is often unlimited. Even if it is limited to the amount of the loan, it is often a guarantee of all the customer’s borrowing up to that limit, not simply of the original home loan.”

This means parents are accepting legal liability for other debts incurred in their name, irrespective of whether those debts were incurred before or after they provided the guarantee.

That’s a very good reason to get legal advice and use a mortgage broker who may be able to negotiate a more limited guarantee.

Many a parent has been caught by their kids behaving badly.

“It is natural for parents to assume that they know their child’s credit history, their likelihood of making repayments and whether they will be clear and transparent about the borrowing. But this is not always the case. It can lead to severe relationship breakdowns if a guarantor is actually called upon to pay the loan. The fact a bank requires a guarantor means that the borrower did not meet the bank’s lending criteria or that the borrower may default on the loan.”

Impossible to cancel

When parents realise the extent of what they’ve signed up for, they sometimes try to cancel the guarantee. It’s not so easy and does not absolve the guarantor of all responsibility.” says Sladden. “They will still be liable for debt incurred right up to that point in time. If a parent does cancel a guarantee, the child may then struggle to continue borrowing finance from the bank.”

Another fish-hook in the three-way guarantor relationship between parent, child and the bank is that, when things go wrong, there is no obligation for the bank to pursue the child for the debt first. The bank can just go straight to the guarantor for money.

If the parents can’t come up with cash to pay, the bank can force the sale of their home if it’s easier to sell than the child’s.

If a guarantor has an account at the same bank as the borrower,” says Sladden, “the bank may take funds from the guarantor’s account to cover the debt.”

‘Thriftiness is sexy’: exhibition examines Germans’ mania for saving – Kate Connolly * Rich vs. poor: How fair and equal is Germany? * Vorsprung durch Angst.

The desire to conserve cash is seen not just as a question of personal morality but a way to support the country’s interests.

Kate Connolly

The German habit of saving money is so entrenched it has come to define the national character, according to the curators of an exhibition who say they hope to spark a much needed debate about whether the obsession is healthy.

Saving History of a German Virtue at the German Historical Museum in Berlin seeks to uncover why saving money is central to most Germans’ lives even in times of historically low interest rates.

“In Germany everyone takes it for granted that they should save, both privately and on a state level,” said Robert Muschalla, an economic historian and the main curator. “The idea of making sure you stay in the black, is seen as a goal that is worth striving for at all costs, and is fetishistically stuck to.”

Saving boxes, money socks and piggy banks from every era since the foundation of the German nation in 1871 are on display in the exhibition. They illustrate the everyday acceptance of saving in Germany, as well as the extent to which it has been linked not just with personal morality but with serving a national purpose.

“The fate of the nation rests solely in our own strength,” reads the epithet on one box from the Nazi era. Another from 1900 reads: “Without saving your chest will be empty. If you have nothing, you’ll be a burden.”

Muschalla, together with the director of the museum, Raphael Gross, say the exhibition believed to be the first ever on the subject anywhere was largely a response to the international exasperation felt towards Germany during the the eurozone crisis. Germany was accused of traumatising southern Europeans, particularly the Greeks, with its insistence that they bring their unmanageable deficits into line by imposing German style austerity measures.

“The question is, why are Germans often so proud to be the world’s champion savers?” Gross said before the exhibition’s opening at the weekend.

It includes media coverage that reflects the anger towards the unyielding German obsession with fiscal discipline. The cover of one Greek magazine shows Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, depicted as a terrorist in an orange jumpsuit.

Most Germans are appalled at such insinuations. But many will readily admit that belt tightening and putting off enjoying the fruits of their labour are German specific traits. Some put it down to the Protestant work ethic that has a great influence on German life to this day. The state where saving is most prevalent, however, is Baden Wiirttemberg, which is mainly Catholic.

The exhibition also explores certain advertising slogans including the highly successful “Geiz ist Geil”, or “Thriftiness is Sexy”. which was used by a major electronics retailer for several years.

“This is the worst phrase to have been invented in this country since ‘Heil Hitler’,” says Henryk M Broder, a controversial commentator for the daily Die Welt and a speaking head on a Video loop in the exhibition.

“While I would myself baulk at paying €24 for a salade nicoise, I think saving can sometimes be pathological.” He calls the “national sport” of collecting coupons and driving considerable distances between supermarkets to pick up the money off deals “a waste of a life”.