Concept Exchange Society

An Unintended Meeting

Thursday May 24, 2007

At Cazsonoma Inn

Presentation: Douglas Carmichael


On May 24, 2007 Richard convened a gathering of ten people to lunch at one of the Edens in this world - his redwood forest sanctuary called Cazsonoma Inn. It was a convocation of locals to hear Doug Carmichael speak about his incipient book, "GardenWorld Politics".

The format of the meeting was very much in the spirit of the Concept Exchange Society. For that reason I report on it here. But, of course, it wasn't officially convened as such a meeting. The format was the same. Someone who has devoted time to exploring a subject gives an exposition on his findings. The gathering hears his presentation and then discusses it. The presenter was Douglas Carmichael. The subject was his book.

By way of making each others' acquaintance the guests introduced themselves and their passions. Most were concerned with nurturing nature: preserving the purity of its water, the succulence of its fruits, the abundance of its flora, the richness of its diversity, and the plenty of its useful offerings. One might say that the phrase - garden world - names the unifying vision characterizing these commendable activities.

Doug is surely right that the metaphor, garden world, provides a unifying vision. It characterizes the work of many activists among us - and certainly our aspirations. He wished to weave a political agenda around this metaphor. As long as garden world is loose metaphor we can all espouse it. But defining it precisely, giving the phrase body, an origin and a morality can turn sweet metaphor sour.

"The promise of a better life after WW2 has not been realized", writes Doug.

Need we believe that statement to work on our garden world? I hope not. Worse, it is not true. The world is an inconceivably better place since 1945!

Doug says, " There exists a political agenda that 80% would agree to."

Need we secure 80% agreement to work on our garden world? No garden world would emerge from that activity. Perhaps, instead of insisting upon agreement, it is better to learn to live with disagreement, to celebrate peaceful diversity. Is it reasonable to expect 80% agreement on a political agenda among coercion-free people? The acceptance of peaceful dissent on issues of contention is at least as noble a goal as 80% agreement and more attainable.

H. L. Mencken said, "The whole aim of practical politics, is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Says Doug, "The economy is making the rich richer and the poor poorer in almost every country ... creating the conditions for chaos" and "What's not working - basically increasing concentration of power and wealth, and the poverty and wars that go with it."

These are bald statements of unfounded righteous indignation. Where is the evidence for these assertions? Is it true that the more egalitarian the society the more peaceful it is? In history civilizations that had extreme inequalities had no wars for hundreds of years. e.g. ancient Egypt, Rome. Some concentration of power and wealth is necessary for stability! Is it true that more eqalitarian societies have less poverty?

Remarkably enough there is empirical data available to explore these matters. It comes largely from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency - the CIA. This organization publishes each year something called the World Factbook. You can explore it on the internet at
Similar information is offered by the United Nations Development Program

In these reports an accepted measure of income inequality is the Gini Index. This is zero (full equality) when everyone in the society earns exactly the same as everyone else. Needless to say no country exists with Gini Index zero. Such a country would not be stable. In a thoroughly totalitarian society, where all earn nothing except for the leader who earns everything, the Gini Index is 1 (or 100%). In the real world the Index ranges between about .25 (25% or just 25 in the published tables) to .70 (70 in tables). Provided in this link as an addendum is a discussion of how this Index is computed and what it measures.

What is evident from the data, though, is this: the well being or peacefulness of a country is not correlated to egalitarian wealth distribution! i.e. Doug's general assertions are not supported by the evidence.

It is true that the well off countries of Western Europe have Gini Indices generally lower than the worst run countries of Africa - like Namibia, Botswana and Sierra Leone. But Kyrgyzstan, Slovakia and even Rwanda have much lower Gini Indices than Western Europe and the United States. In those countries everybody is poor together!

Molière, Le Misanthrope 1666     Of all human follies there's none greater than trying to render our fellow-men better.

I found the convocation to be a great success. We all learned things from each other.

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June 2007
Marvin Chester