Thursday, June 27, 2013

Freedom of Association - Important Element of Canadian Life

A critical component part of the Canadian social contract is the fundamental right to associate with those you choose and conversely avoid those who you find offensive.  Freedom of Association is the keystone to the aggregation of influence in the political sphere, in civil society, and as such should be defended vigorously.  Societal subgroups, such as perhaps political parties, have as a requirement the imperative to adhere to this tenet. This tenet is supported by the Charter of Rights and Freedom, as well as the entire breath of Canadian jurisprudence in law related to this subject.  

The application of coercive measures by any group toward an individual, absent explicit consent of said individual, is completely unsupported by any social protocol, moral or ethical tenet or by any legislation. Should a group wish to recruit to their ranks people, and if they are interested in finding accord with Canadian Society, it is incumbent upon them to define clearly the terms of association and declare said terms to parties concerned.

If, in the process of actuating themselves, groups, utilize the tools of governance outside the expressed intent of any given mandate provisioned by government to discipline, coerce, in any other manner apply condign power, they are exercising an abuse of power.  Government is not a tinker toy for political parties or any other societal entity, government needs to be exercised in concert with the boundaries set out by its own process and the resulting commonly held understanding of the social contract. To do otherwise makes government the tool of marauders rather than the substrate for harmonious co-existence.

A single citizen has the right to function as an autonomous agent – free from any coercive element in society.  As an autonomous agent, one has the right to define the boundaries of association with others in society, when those boundaries are breached, the individual should have the force of the state to support them. When collective association breaches said boundaries, and this event is a common occurrence, and the collective association involves actors from government, government is corrupted and devalued. If this occurs broadly enough, there is no peace order and good governance – there  only remains might – street gangs, perhaps cloaked in the attire of officialdom.

Associations function under the umbrella of the social contract and as such are subject to all the explicitly stated elements of that contract. At no point should any collective take the liberty to circumvent or subvert governance against a single citizen. Groups are an aggregation of individuals, if as a group you act against an individual – when you as an individual are trespassed upon where will you turn. If you find yourself there one day, call me, I’ll advocate for you and I, in the most expressive and direct fashion.    

Medical Records – Government miss-care and paternalism gone a rye.

These comments are in response to recent events related to medical records in British Columbia.

Letter to Government to this effect sent several years ago.

The advantages associated with the development of centralized medical records are immense and as such I am a reluctant supporter of their introduction. As an individual greatly concerned with the encroachment of government into peoples personal lives and having witnessed the miss-utilization of other legislation, the introduction of electronic medical records is being considered with extreme trepidation. When one considers abuses of such data, the recent loss of British medical data by loss of a hard drive or like Safeway's selling of pharmaceutical records to insurance companies in the United States, the examples are endless; this trepidation is most certainly justified. In Canada, we have enjoyed a relatively pristine history with respect to medical discrimination, yet present are a few skeletons in our national closet, such as state sterilization of person's afflicted with non - genetic handicaps. When we dare to cast an eye to Europe's recent history and imagine the implications of this information in the hands of people gripped by the most sinister ideology, one begins to wonder whether the exercise is prudent at all. It is only the presence of a massive volume of information that is presently remaining un-captured and the promise that information offers for our population's benefit that compels this action; paradoxically, in BC we have all the exposure to centralised medical records and none of the benefits. The people responsible for the design of the systems associated with the capture and storage of this most sensitive data must be cognisant of the fact that in the contemporary context, this exercise seems benign enough, but history is full of examples of the errant use of such information.

It is a most fundamental right to refuse medical treatment and by extension one should be able to refuse to have medical treatment recorded. A citizen should be allowed to retain control of their medical data. At present databases administered by medical professionals provides some insight to how causally the stewardship of such sensitive data can be. Presently any prescription you purchase in British Columbia is captured in the Pharmacy database and any pharmacist in the province with your name can search your records. You can write a letter to the government for a copy of your medical billing records and they are sent to you via the mail, absent any verification of who gets them at the point of pick up. We need to extend at least the same level of security to medical data as we do our financial data. If people want access to my bank information they need my bank card and a P.I.N. The technology is in place to extend an individual control over their personal data and this technology must be accessed, especially in the case of sensitive medical information.  
At the risk of being cynical, I have little confidence that people are taking seriously enough the implications of such data systems in the context of the full backdrop of human history. There is complacency, a casual sense it will be ok by governments. This is most alarming. There is a generalised acceptance of paternalism on the part of the populous that prevents people from arousing from apathy to challenge these kinds of developments.  

Drug Policy – Change Required - Violence is the enemy



Drug policy is a space where moral stubbornness is costing government money, financing criminals and contributing to one of the world’s biggest blood baths, where daily police risk life and limb – the 100 year war on drugs has failed. Let me clarify my perspective on drug use; a good many of them are the scourge of the earth, others are less harmful and alcohol is something I consume on a regular basis. My suggestions here are in the interest of protecting society from ill and are in no way condoning the use of drugs, especially the more damaging substances. We need however, here more than any other issue, to speak truth to power. There is deep seated entrenchment resulting in the repetitious use of policy and tactics that are failing their objectives and worse, bank rolling the very criminals we seek to curtail. The advocacy for the present course of action borders on fanaticism, a doctrine has emerged that is, driven by a misprioritisation of morals, placing aversion in front of the hedonistic pursuit of an altered state and the absence of the rational assessment of the outcomes. To date, the war on drugs has resulted in the grossly immoral circumstance of death to many and the enrichment of criminals. The most obscene reality of all, after 100 years of war on drugs, billions of dollars spent, billions of police hours miss-directed, millions of lives ended, good and bad – and there are more and greater varieties of drugs now than when the war started. We need to accept the error in our present course of action and choose another path. 

Presently it is estimated that some 30% of Canadians choose to use Cannabis, this is a large segment of the population who are marginalized for a choice that is really the business of the people using Cannabis. The government has absolutely no rational basis for imposing itself on these people. The law as it stands now criminalises the actions of millions of sound and contributing people, people of considerable knowledge and sound judgment. While Cannabis is something foreign to my life, I am acquainted with people who enjoy its use, people who range from medical doctors to construction workers – all productive and aware people. Surely, we can trust the judgment of the individual as to whether to use a substance or to avoid it. This is a classic circumstance of morally driven state paternalism and a gross abuse of state power through the use of coercion. On the basis of freedom of choice, people’s right to manage their own lives should motivate the state restraint on Cannabis to be lifted.




By criminalising drugs when a large and creditable portion of the population want to use them, bad outcomes emerge. When a substance is illegal its distribution falls into the hands of people who are willing to risk the legal consequences and these are often people the mass of society would consider unsavoury. The first outcome is that the unsavoury gain a ready source of income. The more damaging outcome however, is that creditable people are forced into association with people they would otherwise avoid; this takes corruption more deeply into the main body of society. In this way the criminalisation of Cannabis acts as a gateway for the unsavoury to gain channels to influence. 

Prohibition of a broadly popular substance was tried with prohibition of Alcohol. The result was, as it is now, the trade in Alcohol bankrolled criminals to engage in other damaging activities and there was violence in the streets. The prohibition of Alcohol was an unmitigated failure as has been the prohibition of drugs. Whenever we employ the heavy hand of prohibition to squelch the use a substance, something really ugly seeps out the side, most often it is violence.

Violence in fighting the drug trade finds is source in economic fundamentals – supply and demand. When laws enforced exerts pressure to stem the distribution of drugs they are partially successful by capturing some drugs, but in their success is failure because they have constrained supply. In constraining supply the value of drugs in the market increases which provides more incentive to sell drugs and the willingness on the part of drug marketers to take bigger risks – to engage in greater violence to distribute drugs. The police respond with greater force, now you see the pattern of escalating violence. The harder society seeks to extinguish the use of drugs in society, the more prevalent they are becoming and the more violence comes to our society. People can stomp their moral feet, government can get tough on crime and donate massive resources to stop drug use and it only severs to worsen the situation.

In martial arts the fundamental premise is to use your opponent’s weight against them, it is a process of intelligent engagement. As a society we need to use the weight of the drug trade to battle the use of drugs. In order to do this we have to hold our noses and have courage – we have to turn the game inside out. In the 1970s, 70% of adult Canadians smoked cigarettes, today that number is about 15%. This was a product of effecting a cultural shift through education, the revenues generated from tobacco tax was directed toward educating the public to the fact that smoking was dangerous, and most people quit. We need to create a similar circumstance with drugs, rather than legislate, we need to educate.      

Why, even in the face of complete failure, is the drug war still being executed in a draconian and ineffectual manner? Because people believe it is a way to protect society at large from some terrible substances. This is analogous to ordering by government degree the levelling of all cliffs in the country so people are unable to fall off them, a labourious task that is impossible to execute. The best way to protect our children from drugs or any other harm is to teach them about the dangers and imbue society at large with a culture of awareness of appropriate action. The way we have with smoking.

There is a common axiom around the creation of legislation referring to the Baptist and the bootlegger. The Baptists successfully lobby to curtail the sale of liquor on Sunday and the bootlegger is grateful for the market. This is an almost perfect parable for our present circumstance with drugs in the western world. It also highlights the point that in spite of massive efforts to curtail drugs, anybody can go get some now. Drugs are, whether we like it or not, a permanent part of the fabric of society. Each individual needs to make choices as to avail themselves of their use or not. When the whole game is in the open, we’ll still have a drug problem, but the criminals will be gone or reconfigured, and the intense violence we have now will be mostly absent. And all the resources of law enforcement can be directed toward making our society free of violence from other sources.   

  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Spinning Mountains out of Molehills - Public Risk Distortion - Party Politics & The Media

Party politics and the media – distortions and spinning mountains out of molehills

In the words of Winston Churchill, democracy is the worst possible system except for all the rest, in another quote he suggested, if you ever want to shake your faith in democracy just spend five minutes talking to your average voter. The contrast to the voter of his day and the contemporary voter is that, the voter of his day had five minutes. It is very difficult for the average voter today to gain the knowledge required to be really informed, as people are running at an extremely fast pace; so even if the press were providing information unaffected by political distortion by which to form opinion, voters of today hardly have time to think. In this context there is instability in the voting public, resulting from people susceptible to a 30 second news clip asserting a scandal that would be contrasted to earlier times when opinion was formed slowly and changed slowly. In view of this battle for the “swing vote” or “vital middle” parties seek to differentiate by exaggerating differences that are really minute, spinning mountains out of molehills.

What emerges from this process is a polarised public by party but really possessing nearly identical beliefs or political outcomes. There then exists the absence of substantive difference in policy direction. This dynamic diminishes real choice, but what is worse is the distorted view of government policy that emerges out of the process.

The media feeds the political rhetoric by attaching undue saliency to occurrences in society at large and in response to political prompting. The events of September 11, 2001 where ghastly and warranted acute national attention, yet only 3000 people were killed. In that same year 100,000 people were killed by preventable medical accidents. The medical accidents received no attention at all. Both were horrible occurrences, yet only one, 9/1,1 received coverage. 

There are issues were political saliency becomes detached from mathematical reality and this distorts public perception and the political process. In Canada 171 people per year are killed in gun related incidents (one would be too many) yet we spent $2 billion on a gun registry and nothing on a medical records system, when in Canada 25,000 people die each year from preventable medical accidents. In the context of rational thought medical accidents should be our priority. It seems that journalists should give more consideration to saliency and the way it affects public opinion, as public concern is often misdirected with the most serious of consequences.

A useful concept to consider this phenomena by is called the Availability Heuristic Salient. In these instances, the ease of imagining an example or the vividness and emotional impact of that example, becomes more credible than actual statistical probability. Because an example is easily brought to mind or mentally "available", the single example is considered as representative of the whole, rather than as just a single example in a range of data. Salient events tend to distort the judgement of risk.

 It is difficult to imagine a means by which this can be addressed, but the distortion in the public’s view of issues as a result is worrying. Even the application of ideology would give some stable means by which to anchor support. For the most part, political party’s position is so nebulous its hard to see what is being supported and so fungible that today’s policy is something else tomorrow, depending on which direction the windsock of public opinion is pointing. Young people see this, particularly the informed ones, and turn away from the system. One understands the nebulous stance holds political advantage at its core. In the effort to promote brand over substance in defining political parties, the overall brand of democracy is waning.  

BEVERAGE WORKS – BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY - FUNCTIONAL FOODS & BEVERAGES

Introduction

The writer has been an observer of the “health” “functional” food space for some years. As an individual interested in nutrition and exercise, the observation has been made that there is retardation in the absorption of technology in the “function beverage” space. When one attempts to purchase beverages at large, one finds the absence of attention to functionality in general, and more specifically to functionality peculiar to specific human action.  There is consumer vigilance for, and knowledge of, nutrition in the context of human action, yet the market is void of a practical solution. This reality presents an opportunity to enter the beverage market.

The functional beverage space is projected to grow at 6 to 10% annually into the medium term, by contrast, the fluid milk and softdrink markets are going to contract. This is a vibrant space with new technology coming available at an accelerated pace, an enterprise that possesses as it paramount functionality “adaptability” supported by consumer insight, is promised a dominant place in the market.  

Product Definition


1)    Business Mission


a.    The business mission is to capture fully all relevant technologies in the function food space, to capture all relevant consumption information, to accurately assess the needs and desires of various market segments and to deliver the resulting cutting edge functional beverage to the market.

2)    Product Description / Concept


 
a.    The design criteria starts with desired nutritional outcomes related to a given human endeavour and then incorporates other contributing factors of success, like for example, palatability.



b.    The product concept consists of a line of health oriented functional food beverages that are nutritionally tailored to given human actions, utilising both the full spectrum of technology and ingestion data to create a beverage line, by way of example for a single athletic beverage line: pre, during and post work out beverages, beverages developed for workout type – whey protean intensive beverage for weight lifting, carbohydrate rich beverage for endurance activities, energy drinks, high protean evening beverage etc.. There are new “technology driven” imperatives for the timing of nutrient consumption related to exercise, and nutrient configuration related to exercise depending on what point one is at in the exercise cycle.

 
c.    The various human requirements for nutrition relative to activity can be largely addressed by managing the macro nutrient mix, Protean, Fat and Carbohydrates, as such, it is the intention of the writer in the beverage design process to alter the macro nutrient mix by accessing multiple ingredients to optimise the beverage to where people are in the exercise cycle, and / or to what type of exercise activity they intend to engage in.


d.    There are other functional foods required by the population that the products will either be designed to address directly or offered as an adjunctive benefit to the exercise related products. The products will take the form of functional beverages, like for example, an energy drink offering with comparable or better palatability than other energy drinks in the market, with a vastly more beneficial macro nutrient profile; this product will contain all the requisite ingredients peculiar to other energy drinks with the addition of a macro nutrient configuration most suiting a specific human action.

 
e.    Ingredients will be varied and come to light as the product of the development process, as they are sought to satisfy identified consumer demands, they may include items like Melatonin, caffeine, fibre, vitamins etc …


f.     The key differentiating factor in the design process’, is the attention to “functionality” in the context of “human action”.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Brazil – New Agro Industry Opportunity – Changing Economic Scene

 Perhaps it is time to reconsider the Brazilian farming opportunity.
There are some cracks forming in the BRICK economies. While business cycles are a common occurrence and one should avoid viewing this as an impending doom, it can be viewed as an indicator of a potential entry point in to the Brazilian Agro scene. At some point undulations in the economy at large will effect change in pricing of agricultural land. One needs to remain vigilant, so as to optimise entry into the agricultural land market.   
  Excerpts from 2006 business concept.
          Discussion Scope:           
In 1993, Brazil came to the view of the writer via an article in a magazine. The article chronicled an agricultural land arbitrage at work in the world market place. The North America farming and agro business communities had become widely aware of the presence of Brazil as a place of relative advantage for agriculture. The article spoke of Canadian and US farmers buying large tracts of land in Brazil. Events have transpired since 1993 that cast a very positive light on Brazil. One might regret missing entry at a more nascent state, however, the present circumstance, now more mature, provides a stable and tested environment. There is now a substantial breadth of experience to draw on when choosing to access the Brazilian agro business stratum that replaces adventurous risk with greater certainty.    
The writer’s present thought modality has formed in the context of the present Brazilian circumstance, as agricultural production emanates from a 300,000 acre block of Cerrado land. While this provides expansive subject matter, the land base is virtually limitless as it would relate to an agro enterprise. The vast, virtually limitless quantity of contiguous land provides an expansive pallet from which to scale at will.
To bring this expansive pallet into full view consider this quote; “It took some 10,000 years to expand food production to the current level of about 5 billion tons per year. By 2050, we will likely need to nearly double current crop production again.”  Norman E. Borlaug Nobel Prize winner. The United Nations is reporting the likelihood of food shortages over the next 10 years. Other literature exposes the reality of industrial competition with agriculture for water in China, advocating China will choose to spend it’s “1,000 tons of water required to produce 1 ton of grain” on the more lucrative industrial use and import food products. “When wheat prices within China started climbing in the fall of 2003, the government dispatched wheat-buying delegations to Australia, Canada, and the United States. They purchased 8 million tons, and overnight China became the world’s largest wheat importer.” Wheat is only one commodity and China is only one country. This bodes well for agro enterprise in the coming decade and beyond. As these and other factors all merge, agricultural production in a comparatively competitive setting like Brazil is an exceptional opportunity for the well supported creation of an agro enterprise. While one recognizes the cyclicality of agricultural commodities, contemporary world events have certainly lent support to the aggressive pursuit of the opportunities agro enterprise is going to offer.
As all events the world over conspire to bring food production to the fore and as Brazil offers nearly limitless acreage in a competitive environment to unitize land and as every acre offers profitability; what limits scope?   
               
Brazilian Farming Opportunity.
Brazil contrasts positively with all areas of the world for agribusiness opportunities: still abundant supplies of well valued agricultural land trading at prices related to productive capacity as opposed to other values. Government policy has been conducive to development of the agricultural potential the vast landscape offers. There has been an emergence of a substantive and booming agricultural industry that seems to have captured all levels of government’s support, based largely on the industry’s sheer magnitude as a contributor to GDP. The positive business climate is further substantiated by an impressive array of new entrants over the past decade, Nestle, John Deer … the list is extensive, and these are all organizations that understand the world agriculture market and have deep insight into the long term political picture, which bodes well for the Brazilian operating climate. The government, recognizing a deficiency of capital in Brazil to develop the vast tracts of arable land, has permitted substantive foreign investment, as well as direct foreign development. There have been many “hands on” farmers from every corner of the globe start operations in Brazil and even the most brash and culturally miss-attuned have found success. While the nature of the Brazilian opportunity has certainly matured over the past decade (land values have increased substantially) the general environment has gained greater predictability and healthy returns on capital are in the offing. In the spirit of doing good while doing well, there are plenty of opportunities in the course of lucrative business, to accentuate the social surplus with conscientious action.
There are vast quantities of land available in expansive acreages, contiguous lands in the magnitude of 300,000 acres well situated by running water, and flat – every acre counts. These lands, known as the Cerrado, while in their native state are unproductive, respond well to remedial treatment, a proven set of practices are now employed with consistent success. The past decades of agricultural activity have provided a high degree in predictability in economic outcomes in farming developed Cerrado lands and opening new Cerrado lands.
Brazil’s primary asset, its excellent work force, offers relative advantage to other jurisdictions. There is availability of human resources to permit strong operational support in the form of labour cost advantage, even while extending remuneration in the context of world parity – or rather Canadian life style parity.    
In an atmosphere of just beyond nascence and with a proven track record, there exists a substantive opportunity for profitable farming in Brazil, unleveraged return on assets of 10% to 20% on production, and land assets are appreciating by substantial measure every year.
          General Operational Vision
Brazil, in the present world circumstance of open trade and with a domestic burgeoning middle class offers opportunity to pursue expansive agricultural operations. In a world commodity driven business, where cost advantage and scale are rewarded, Brazil gives the means to respond with vigour. Every facet of operations can be scaled to optimum performance due to the availability of land with values rationalized to production. Couple the market, the land’s nature and availability, plus the labour advantage, with all other inputs more or less equal in world terms, and grand scale means grand returns. Grand scale, in and of itself is exciting, comes in this circumstance with sound economic imperative. The first element of operational vision is the pursuit of grand scale.
Resting on a foundation of grand scale, the next element of operational vision is diversity. The “mixed farm” takes on special value in the Brazilian context, given the geo climatic reality and access to scale, the full farming spectrum can be pursued. The full breadth of livestock and cropping are available, and given the provisions of scale, they achieve a fungibility in a magnitude that permits access to fully exploited synergies and market response.
As with all mature industries in a commoditised environment, the aggressive pursuit of marginal gain is imperative, and agribusiness is no exception, even in a favourable environment. As is regularly the case, the pursuit of margin in mature commoditised industry leads to the occupation of as much of the supply gain as possible. To ensure the full benefit the Brazilian opportunity offers, the next element of the operational vision is to pursue, wherever and extensively as possible, a product’s full supply gain opportunity. From seed to market, penetrating any given channel as far as practically feasible.
Human capital is the key ingredient to operational success in any environment; the evolving Brazilian human resource atmosphere comes with special opportunity and the need for conscious effort to build goodwill with the indigenous participants. A key operational element will be to invest a substantial share of the labour arbitrage in the development and retention of Brazilian people willing to commit to the venture. The region comes with a recent and socially salient history of reduced human state and displacement in the wake of aggressive business strategies; naturally fostering some ill will. This operational element seeks to address good business sense, by the aggressive branding of the company as an entity that recognizes the business imperative of good human relations and, more importantly, has at it’s core the desire to extend companionate human consideration. This element promises immediate operational benefit, and benefit for broader acceptance by all facets of the Brazilian society.       
The large tracts of Cerrado lands in many cases come with challenges accessing markets. Presently, the region this document advocates accessing, has poorer infrastructure relative to competing regions in the rest of the world. Depending on the final selected location, this reality has varying degrees of affect.  An important operational element will be to pursue the highest value goods for transport possible. Integration and mixed farming practices will be deployed to meet this challenge. A tonne of whole powdered milk at a value of $2200 mt offers a better transportation return than a tonne of Soya Beans at a value of $290 mt.
The Brazilian Cerrado lands in their natural state support a broad range of flora and fauna. There are policies by local governments that require retention up to 25% of any given land base in it’s natural state. Far from a detriment, this provides opportunity for bringing tourism to the mix of enterprises. The subject property has some 138,000 acres of non–arable land, while suited to some degree for grazing this land is largely unproductive for agriculture. This land base, properly integrated with other lands to provide wildlife corridors and protected area will provide a perfect setting for people to observe the breadth of wildlife the Cerrado region has to offer. In the interest of deriving maximum benefit from the land base, this use of land is worthy of consideration as an operational element.    
While the primary focus of this document is to create a profitable agro enterprise, utilization of the land in a manner consistent with best practices relating to environmentally congruent stewardship warrants regard as an operational element. Fortuitously, many environmentally sound practices contribute to operational efficiency, by example, zero tillage practices both contribute to environmentally beneficial stewardship as well as profitability. Through operational rightsizing, companion enterprising, tailoring various enterprises resource harmonisations, the environment operational element can be satisfied. This is exemplified by the advent of closed loop ethanol plants that utilise animal waste, digestive processes for by-products to generate ethanol, methane generated electricity, and the production of agricultural products in a manner that reduces the overall negative effect of human activity; the synergistically combined effect is smaller than the sum effect of the separate operations. The Brazilian bioclimatic circumstance in conjunction with the acceptance of grass finished beef by the Brazilian market offers an environmental surplus relative to North America beef by the reduction of carbon intensive inputs. This same advantage extends to the pasture based dairy operation discussed below, cattle live full time on pasture with small amounts of non forage supplemental feed, the only energy input being used to irrigate the pasture. In this way livestock operations are contributing to environmentally sound agro practices by reducing carbon intensive cropping, and providing for fertilizer and pesticide reducing crop rotations.      
            Business Entrance to Brazil
The review of several accounts of startups of agro-enterprises in Brazil, exposed a cultural imperative to construct relations of substance with established organisations in the country. Agro-Plane will seek to ascertain via an ethnographic assessment what expectations are, beyond superficial or just top level interaction, but the deep routed ethno political requirements as determined by cultural imperatives and contemporary concerns. Then, with good information and local direction, Agro-Plane will immerse itself in the Brazilian business ecosystem as harmoniously as it is able.
All literature, and hence conduct, will be imbued with the clear purpose of the company’s desire to “do well while doing good”. In the context of a grand scale strategy, the aggressive effort to amplify the social surplus generated by the very act of doing business, will serve to secure the long term security of the business as well as satisfy the western ethic of fair exchange. It is the writer’s belief, that the active cultivation of social equity, ergo brand equity, has the promise to find residence in business equity in the form of goodwill. This principle applies in all realms of action, it gains prominence in environments where extended deprivation is gaining saliency through the full spectrum of society. A very small investment as a gesture of legitimate extension of recognition of an underserved population, serves to communicate good intent.
While pursuing all the avails of modern agriculture, including all recognized seed types, crop varieties and modern husbandry practices, Agro-Plane will seek to conduct itself in a manner that satisfies the perceived imperatives of progressive elements in Brazilian society. Popular literature offers some insight into to societal risks to operations such as the one Agro-Plane is proposing, large scale acquisition of land is finding conflict with elements of Brazilian society who see foreign development as an obstruction to their rightful access to the land. This element is presently subdued as the government is eager to have enthusiastic foreign involvement; however, people ultimately determine outcomes in any given endeavour. These elements require keen attention and to be embraced as a part of the operating environment, and then brought into the ambit of Agro-Plane’s fair minded conduct, if successfully executed, what appears as a liability may quickly become an asset.          
Agro-Planes entrance to Brazil will begin with study. Instituted as a cultural and integrally constituted facet to the company, will be a constant responsiveness to societal dynamics conducive to Agro-Plane’s ongoing acceptance within the country’s establishment.
           Operations Exemplified
Brazil offers one of the most competitive locations for a dairy operation. Initial investigation indicates that Brazil compares favourably to New Zealand in terms of production attributes. New Zealand has established itself as the most dominate player in world of export milk products, with very nearly the lowest production cost in the world it competes aggressively. Brazil, having now established ties with China and other countries is positioning itself well to challenge New Zealand’s present position.
In Brazil, Agro-Plane can take comfort in knowing exports are growing, but they hold only partial significance as the domestic market is burgeoning. The Brazilian dairy market grew by 8.7% in 2007 to reach a value of $19.2 billion. In 2012, the Brazilian dairy market is forecast to have a value of $26.8 billion, an increase of 39.5% since 2007. The Brazilian dairy market generated a compound annual growth rate of 8.1% since 2003 and is predicted to generate a compound annual growth rate of 6.1% from now through 2012. While the growth is trending down, growth is still substantive. The strength of the Brazilian domestic market provides strong support for the inclusion of an integrated dairy operation.
In satisfying the Grand Scale operational element, and to address scale that maximises efficiency, and in recognition of the abundant land resource with the resulting feed supply, the dairy milking operation can seek to scale to the maximum end of reported efficiency band. The best economies of scale, as indicated by the evolution of the United States dairy industry and recent scale analysis, are found at 2000 head and remain intact until 10,000 head. The writer’s present level of awareness of documentation related to dairy milking operations and the Brazilian circumstance provides a rational basis for pursuing the upper end of the efficiency band of 10,000 head. If dairy offers the most beneficial production regime and the rational suggests development of dairy operations beyond 10,000 head, observations of the industry suggest developing additional 10,000 head production pods as opposed to developing a single operation larger that 10,000 head.

To satisfy the “expanded presence in the supply chain” operational element, integrating the dairy milking operation with processing offers opportunity to extract greater margin from the milk product. The nature of processing and the extent to which Agro-Plane chooses to penetrate the milk supply channels will be determined by the situation of the farming enterprise in relation to population and the access or barriers to the final market. The larger tracts of land are located in more remote areas which often face product transportation challenges. In these cases a product with high value per tonne offers considerable advantages, and milk powder maybe the product of choice. If however, site location finds Agro-Plane closer to a substantive retail market that seems readily penetrable, a UHT / Tetra packaging process may offer greater opportunity.

To bring the breadth of opportunity for dairy in to the Brazilian context, milk sales had total revenues of $10.1 billion, equivalent to 52.8% of the market's overall value. A 10,000 head operation integrated with a UHT / Tetra packing plant producing 80 MLitres annually represents between .2 - .5% of the domestic market or 4-7% of the annual growth in the domestic market. In any circumstance the market’s ability to absorb Agro-Planes production is evident. The domestic market value alone and the production dynamics of an integrated dairy operation could easily provide sound rationale to add an other 10,000 head production pods, add to that the overall world market and export opportunity, dairy operations require thorough contemplation in Agro-Planes design process. 
This brief review of the dairy opportunity in the Brazilian context sheds light on the operational spirit the writer wants to bring to Agro-Plane’s organizational culture, the pursuit of the full opportunity, maximum rationalised scale and occupy as much of the supply chain as any given circumstance practically permits; in the context of responsible environmental and human concern.         
          People In Action
One of the most prominent advantages that Agro-Plane has in the context of a 300,000 acre operation is the ability to bring elevated expertise to a concentrated geophysical, bioclimatic, economic circumstance. Inherent in this enterprise format are resources capable of attracting maximally beneficial intellectual capital in the context of operational continuity. Traditionally, even in the large scale Brazilian context, agro enterprise environments have management in a largely “hand’s on” capacity, garnering management information and direction from professionals outside the working operation. The operational environment Agro-Plane creates, will generate resources plenty enough to offer remuneration that is sufficiently attractive to bring in house, through the critical development period and beyond, highly developed personnel who will maximise the application of science in concert with the best management judgment.
Agro-Plane as an enterprise accesses the most challenging of management demands, a commoditised market, complex biological systems, complexity in the geo political realm, cultural adjustment and others. This environment, although complex, offers great opportunity if properly managed and with that opportunity comes the resources to facilitate the collection of skilled and adventurous people to address the challenge. 
Ethnographer
Ethnographers will be deployed to frame the operational and market environment that Agro-Plane is intended to function in. Ethnographic study can examine the macro picture first to gain a thorough understanding of the various affecting narratives and artefacts, their context and methods to address them. Once prospective sites for Agro-Plane’s enterprise are identified a finer filter can be placed on ethnographic assessment. Assessment can then take place under a well informed set of criteria that provides insight to the best culturally dispositioned local, seeking an optimum atmosphere of pliant acceptance and support.     
Assessment Team
Raw land conversion efficiency is a key component to Agro-Plane’s success. Regardless of the ratio of land in production to land needing development at the start of operations, accessing large quantities of contiguous land will require converting land from its native state to a productive state. The net benefit under present practices, of purchasing a piece of developed land over non-developed, is approximately $825.00 over five years, that is to say, developed land will generate $825.00 more than undeveloped land over the first five years. Raw land conversation efficiency needs to be thoroughly explored.   
The land can support a multitude of different crop productions which it can send; direct produce to market, or through some process, or to livestock production. All production options need to be inventoried under the consideration of: return per acre, value or requirement to facilitate production, marketability, opportunity for companion enterprise, overall opportunity to facilitate synergies and all other matters of pertinence. Out of this process will flow operational opportunities that offer profitability in other settings but are unproven in the Brazilian operating environment, these can be listed as potential research projects, and benefit can be quantified as current awareness permits.           
The data collected to inform action in the Cerrado context will then be directed to the task of determining the optimum location for operations, land quality, location in the context of transportation, availability of inputs, geo physical, bio climatic specifics, geo political influences and risk, and other influencing factors will be quantified by effect on profitability.
The assessment process can then inform the design and creation of an enterprise specifically targeted to all the influencing factors, in this specific circumstance on a specific location in response to the most advantageous market. Please review below for an initial listing of people and events related to the creation of Agro-Plane.
            The Concept of Agro Plane’s Genesis
Agro-Plane finds its genesis in the advantages a given landscape provides in response to the world market. Contemplation of the breadth of an agro endeavour as it relates to the opportunity of millions of acres of Brazilian Cerrado land, provides the scope of thought from which to launch the design process. In the absence of size constraint, the organizational design process as it occurs in the Brazilian context is a much broader forum than any other comparable exercise in any other jurisdiction in the world. The ability to appropriately apply scale, by virtue of the land dynamic, offers the prospect of developing a powerful business model to aggressively and precisely address the contemporary market circumstance. Of significance is the ability to create an operation absent of the traditional siloed modes of action presently entrenched in agriculture in conjunction with the volume of land to bring it to a single management regime, provides the environment where land scale constraints of other environments are lifted. In this environment the design process can seek to fracture traditional enterprise boundaries, as defined by evolutionary forces constraining existing single entity land based agro enterprise, and meld as many agricultural pursuits as informed choice indicates offer maximal synergistic benefit.
This unique circumstance permits integration in type and scale unfound in the predominate practice of agriculture. Presently the opportunity is being pursued from the traditional perspective of crop growers as opposed to the perspective of food creators. A crop grower’s thinking stops at the farm gate; a food creator’s view extends along the complete food chain. The volume of land in a single block enables production volumes of scope and variability, which contributes to tailoring product supply to facilitate the pursuit of the full food supply chain; oft times, agricultural operations have inadequate product volume to address the market effectively.
To clarify, examine the evolution of agriculture to date. Land boundaries have been determined by a single entity utilizing the land in a point in time. In Europe land parcel size evolved constrained by medieval agricultural practices and they are very small. In North America 160 Acre parcels reflected the dominant operational regime of the time of land allotment. Over time consolidation of land ownership reflected the contemporary organisational body and it’s ability to respond to a given production capacity. Then, as agricultural processes evolved to greater capacity, capital requirements of acquiring land which were driven by dynamics exterior to agricultural enterprise, created barriers to optimal scaling. The present situation with Brazil’s Cerrado lands is free of these evolutionary constraints.
This non-traditional land magnitude allows the congregation of a plethora of agro enterprises to find existence in intimate proximity and by virtue of unorthodox intimacy new modes of interaction will present themselves. The design process needs to be cognisant of this special circumstance. Consider how many places in the world where a million proximal acres of land have the potential full under the management of a single entity: this is a rear occurrence and offers unparalleled potential for an eminently apportioned and profitable enterprise to be created. The key point of contemplation in the design process is the unique circumstance the Cerrado lands provide to deploy a panoply of agricultural knowledge and technology in a manner hitherto unexplored. The access to the base ingredient of food production, land, in a proximity and volume sufficient to supply superior productive capacity relative to the norm, gives rise to special enterprise design considerations, and access to what the writer believes is exponential comparative advantage.
The reality of optimal scaling absent other jurisdictions evolved operation constraints is apparent in contemporary Brazil. The state governments are in fact encouraging scaling and integration as part of their development platform. There are many examples of large scale farming operations that reflect the unique opportunity large scale agriculture offers. What is missing in many operations as described in related literature is adequate capital to address these opportunities optimally. In a capital rarefied environment, equipment is often smaller than competing jurisdictions would use and important investment in irrigation is omitted, thereby failing to optimally utilize the land’s potential. 
To bring into context the Brazilian opportunity for scale consider the primary implement of agriculture, the tractor. In the Canadian farming environment a $350,000 tractor is utilized weeks of the year due primarily to seasonality and remains idle the rest of the year. In Brazil one is able to manage the cropping cycles and garner large volumes of contiguous land sufficient to see that tractor working 24 hours a day 365 days of the year, or at least utilized to a far greater extent. In designing an enterprise, this opportunity for scaling in accordance with full asset unitization is able to be optimally addressed in the Brazilian Cerrado region.          

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Letter - Peter Fassbender - Minister of Education


Neil E. Thomson
nthomson2@yahoo.ca

Hon. Peter Fassbender
Minster of Education
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4



Dear Sir,

This letter is in response to the Globe and Mail Article “Pushing for a 10 year teachers’ deal” published June 21, 2013.

It is stated in the article that it is an intention of your government, as stated by Ms. Clarke, to seek 10 years of stability in the education system.  The article also states that your focus is to secure said stability by garnering an employment deal with the BC Teachers Federation. This “mission” seems to hold as a presumption that the only challenge facing the education system is teacher’s wages and benefits; I am concerned your tenure as education minister may have already been defined by the box handed you, rather than a vision of reinvigoration for our schools, our children and our province.

Our system is grossly underperforming, perhaps not by benchmarking, wherever the rankings put us – whether it is 10th or 20th, it is still under performing, because most of the world's education systems are hampered by the same conventions as ours. We are seeking to excel, to use the education of our youth to foster regional advantage, to move us up the intellectual capital food chain – most importantly to close the productivity gap that exists between us and the US and the rest of OECD.  A decade of status quo will never help us achieve the above.

There are fundamental and structural challenges with the education system as it now exists; unless they are addressed, we will be looking back in ten years saying we’ve fallen further behind. The very last thing we want in the education system is “stability”, what we need is disruption. The present flow of funds and system access for new participants is stifling our ability to bring the exchange of information up to speed with the world economy and knowledge growth in general. There is decadence in the system as it now exists; the monolithic nature of the BC Education System is grossly retarding the overall absorptive capacity of the system to utilize new techniques and technologies.  

I would, if I may, encourage you to; firstly, read my suggestions for reform at http://nthomson2.blogspot.ca/2013/06/education-system-reform.html, and secondly, go to the premier and cabinet, and chart a more adventures course than “stability”. Chart a course of modernization, of progress, of an increased tempo of information exchange – to do otherwise robs British Columbia of our best opportunity for a productive and prosperous future.  While I supported Mr. Campbell and support Ms. Clarke, the education system has been stagnate, as opposed to stable, under their leadership.  I understand the political realities associated with change in the system of this sort, I suggest, however, reform is wanting; political capital and leadership must be invested.  

Sincerely,

Neil E. Thomson

HOW FREE & FREER EDUCATION CAN WORK & WHY IT IS IMPORTANT


HOW FREE & FREER EDUCATION CAN WORK & WHY IT IS IMPORTANT 



Presently, university student funding, for example, is only partially provided by government and often leaves students burdened by substantive debt. The benefits to society of education are readily quantifiable. We know that the average wage earner generates about $10,000 net to the government each year, where a doctor generates perhaps $100,000 net to the government each year; the relative value of the doctor is clear in terms of government revenue. If the government gives a student $500,000 to educate them self as a doctor, the government will enjoy a net benefit of $1.75 million, assuming a 25 year average working life. This concept is extremely simple, yet it is rarely posited effectively. It is rare that a quantifiable benefit can be expressed in the context of government expenditure. Free education is beneficial and plausible providing that the entities delivering it have their actions rationalised by real demand for knowledge and that demand comes from the "market", as opposed to institutional perception, which is often dulled by institutional interest. 

Please read below for another perspective on our education system, we can and must do better. For British Columbia to prosper, education must prosper, for education to prosper it needs resources and an unencumbered operating regime.  

This is an excerpt from a discussion paper sent to the BC Government at the beginning of their last term. One questions, has the system improved the quality and tempo of the transfer of information? As a supporter of this government, I hope with a new mandate that it can find the courage to make the reforms so badly required; to step "outside the box" and help, British Columbia and Canada at large, to close the productivity gap and secure a better future for our children.

Preamble

Canada is waning in competitiveness. One of the primary influences on competitiveness is education – we simply need to outperform our competitors in this regard to garner a prosperous place in the new world.  With the rapid expansion of human knowledge and other counties like China, which produces 300,000 engineers per year; to compete we need to increase the tempo, volume and scope of learning. The present modality of transferring knowledge is the key limiting factor in the transition to a knowledge economy. The present funding perspective, both its generosity and flow of funds is the key limiting factor to the accelerated positive societal effect of better, varied and more education. We tout ascendancy on the value chain as our salvation on road to prosperity in a globalised world, yet our approach to transferring knowledge is stagnate and is impairing our societies over all ability, to utilize fully its human capital or to simulate adequate absorptive capacity to deploy new technology. A monolith has evolved called the British Columbia education system, where the transfer of knowledge has become abstracted from outcome and abducted by the system away from its recipients.

The reform required for our school system will take political courage. The net result would be better remunerated and more engaged teachers, and a liberated circumstance in which parents and students can choose the learning they desire.  Through the development of a more liberated state, the system as whole, will better address the demands brought forth by British Columbia’s pursuit of regional advantage and prosperity. There is political opportunity for the present government at this early stage of its mandate to effect meaningful change on our school system by a single simple strategy, fund the recipients of knowledge as opposed to the providers. A very cursory examination of society at large reveals that, whenever a service’s furtherance is dependent on those being severed, services are more rapidly improved.     

The following shares some thoughts on the rationale for fragmenting the present monolithic that is our education system. Join me in the contemplation of another way of doing education that promises to humanise and accelerate British Columbia’s education processes. 

Situation Analysis 

Our schools are conditioning houses, rather than drawing out individual strengths, they condition children, in the words of Voltaire regarding religion “they put the bit in their teeth and the bridle on their heads”.  The worst aspect of our school system is that it conditions children to find solution by what an institution offers, rather than a solution that they can dream of; this stifles creative solution from the individual and propagates the expansion of institutionalisation in society at large – a trend that in part spawns from our education systems, a trend that needs to be challenged. This institutional inertia tends to lock us in modes of action precluding even the contemplation of a different course.

Education is the passing of knowledge from those with knowledge to those who can use it. Enlightenment is the development of self in a bath of ideas. For individuals and society, a diversity of ideas is critical, for from the fountain of diverse thought comes diverse solution. In the same way that mass media has generalized societal narrative, condensing sum of human endeavour into the actions of a half dozen stereotypes, monolithic government institutions reduce the breath of a child's exposure. There was a time when "school of thought" was a common phrase in the Canadian lexicon, how often do you hear it now? In the homogenization of society, vital diversity is sacrificed. Monolithic institutions are by their very nature antithetical to diversity and inherent in that reality is the suppression of the individuality. 

The implementers of education policy are immersed in a systemic circumstance that is archaic in design - entrenched by tradition and propagated by the established. This reality generates institutions that are cumbersome, somewhat stodgy and are absent the ability or willingness to respond to the dynamic generated by the rapidly changing occupational landscape and the resulting educational demands. It seems to the outside observer that the established elements in the education system are impairing absorptive capacity of education organizations. The educational order precludes the emergence of the free flow of information validated by credentials, as there is a culture that places as high a value on "time in learning" as it does knowledge gained - education appears to be a process of "paying dues" rather than a process of gaining knowledge to generate results.

Teachers, governments and educational administrators are, in the main, well intended people committed and eager to effectively execute their respective responsibilities, the challenge is that they are faced with a centrally planned monolithic organization and in a centrally planned monolithic organisations, institutional momentum precludes the ability of people within them to be flexible in response to the individual, new technology, and new requirements that arise from the advancement of society. 

There is a an iron curtain around our present way of delivering education, an iron curtain made of good intent and certainly some good result. One could engage in a statistical substantiation or deriding of the present system, somebody always has a number, when a better course of thought is simply to ask “can it be better?”. The primary paradigm behind the present system is the assurance that, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance, a child receives an education requisite and commensurate to their perceived abilities as determined by a system made by academics for academics. This sentiment is an important element to providing all with an equitable start in life. The challenges are that, the present proponents of the system are confusing equitable with equal and equal is often synonymous the same, and the world is a space where people other than academics generate some of the best results. So rather than systems that morph to the preferences and needs of individual people, providing responsiveness and excellence, we have a system (to be fair) that works ok for most – BUT is most unexceptional. 

We have the opportunity for a thousand flowers to bloom, to segment the delivery of education in a way that more methods of delivery of knowledge can find expression and different knowledge exchanged. Our present system is instating a single school of thought and what is emerging out the other end is a nation of group think, rather than a nation of individuals who have had access to a diversity of education opportunity, or a nation of groups of individuals with different modalities of thought. In the same way a monoculture in a forest risks the forest as a whole, so to is a society at risk, absent diversity of thought and approach.

The present system does possess one strong element, which is that the monolithic system provides a base of commonality throughout all socioeconomic and ethnic sectors of society. There is some merit to this occurrence as children gain insight into the lives of others experiencing different aspect of society. This commonalty can provide a bonding for society as a whole, as well as contributing to a more cohesive societal narrative. While this one element is put at risk by allowing the segmentation of the system, the potential for improvement by allowing the full breath of human creativity to come to bear on the challenge of education, absent the constraints of the monolithic institution, has much promise. The risk of a change in narrative is out weighted by the benefit of a more diversified system. In the presence of mass media and the presence of such tremendous influence toward a common human narrative, a segmented education system may well provide a valuable counter influence.         

Our present system has as a distressing element, the complete absence of spirituality. What then fills the void for spirituality is Secular Humanism. Granted, Secular Humanism is a worthy world perspective and encourages acceptance of all faiths or non faith; often acceptance of all faiths is the absence of faith or some exploration of ideas pertaining to the meta physical aspects of human experience. For thousands of years, people have been creating religions to deal with what lies beyond the parameters of the absolutes that human knowledge can provide – nary a single society has been without something and the ones without spiritual pursuit tend to have been ugly. Yet our education system seems content to avoid the subject. My assertion here is absent any theological bias, only to make the point, to attempt to enlighten youth absent exposure to some spiritual element is a shame. Spirituality lets us marvel at the majesty of the unknown and gives a valid theory on which to think about the unknown. There is a technocratic culture emerging, and in the absence of spiritual influence, we could end up going where technology takes us. The present reliance in our system on the Secular Humanist is deficient and yet the present configuration of the system is unable to address this issue effectively; no cross-cultural, cross-religion state operated and centrally planned education system ever will, as it is bound by a secular imperative. Secularism is a mechanism to permit all roads to enlightenment as opposed to substitute for spiritual pursuits. Yes, you can just separate education from spiritual considerations as we have done to some extent, but somehow there seems to be important context lost. How can you consider the last 2000 years of history without contemplating all the effects, good and bad, of Christianity. To see the past and to explore the future, some means of considering the metaphysical / spiritual planes, in my experience at any rate, is most enlightening, liberating and useful.

It is amazing to me that a child can finish grade seven having been taught about gravity and yet is absent an understanding of supply and demand, it is an outrage that this condition still exists in grade 12. The public school system seems to possess a bias or perhaps a distain for the market place and the marvels it provides. Inherent in people with a life time exposure to institutional thought is an unwillingness to recognise or to extend validity to individual action, such as entrepreneurship. Business and economics are the most relevant lens through which we can view the world, and yet they are almost completely unrepresented in our school system. There is a culture in Canadian society at large, that I think finds its origins to some extent in our education system, that the exchange of money or it’s inclusion in actions somehow sullies those actions. Money is only an abstract representation of human action, if you dislike what you see remember you’re looking at us. The lack of recognition in the education system for economics, markets and business shines a glaring light both on a bias by the education establishment and a detachment from what really makes the world work, human enterprise. This detachment from the real economy finds expression in a number of ways in the system as it now functions, but perhaps the most disturbing is the lack of examination of the real economy in the curriculum. I wanted my children to learn this important element of life, yet it was unrepresented in our system.    

The Way Forward

One of our greatest wellsprings of advancement has been the mingling disparate family memes as facilitated by the formation of family, resulting in a random phenotype that has generated a cultural / knowledge response ideally suited to human advancement. This ongoing dynamic is vital to ensure the continued existence of varied human response to life challenges. In recognition of this wonderful dynamic, government needs to direct resources toward better supporting parents to raise and educate their own children and move away from the premature institutionalization of children. Young parents are being forced into the most distressful circumstance of having to relinquish their treasured children's upbringing to others. I appreciate that some young families are absent the knowledge to properly address needs of early childhood development, however, these cases are few compared to the vast majority of families who find excellence in child rearing. There exists a "professional arrogance" that has some believing professional's knowledge can somehow replace a loving parents interest. Government actions in cases of underprivileged families’ needs to be the provision of intelligence related to early childhood development and in doing so the children and the parents derive benefit by growing together.

It seems clear to me that segmenting the school system, allowing hundreds or thousands of different models to emerge holds such wonderful opportunity. There is a long established tradition of delivering education presently which provides methods and expertise. This body of knowledge would provide an effective floor on quality, even in the sudden complete absence of government influence over schooling, in the presence of an orderly restructuring; the present level of education would be maintained in the short term and most certainly enriched in the medium and long term.  

One needs only consider the forms schools might take, under certain performance criteria with respect to the basics, parents may choose schools that best suit their value structure, or what they deem important in education. They may choose school bases on religion, they may choose school targeted to arts, industrial arts or business. They may choose schools such as Waldorf Schools or other schools based on one philosophy or another. The full panoply of educational possibilities would become available. Presently we have plain vanilla with a grey institutional cloud hanging over it, functional and somewhat effective, yet so much more could be created absent the constraints the present system imposes.

When you examine any service provided by the private sector, from food to hotels, the most contrasting feature to our present education system is the richness and variety of the service offering. Public finance of the education system is essential to ensure access to education for all and to draw resources from the body general to allow strong funding of the system. What is unnecessary and perhaps stifling and hence undesirable, is the total public management of schools. So much of the resources we put into the public system gets taken in administration and the construction of schools. If you give the funds to individuals to direct, most assuredly, resources would find a more efficient use. Perhaps instead of building a new school, a “school” might rent a spot for the children to learn, or some other circumstance may provide housing for a school.

The concept of a building to house a school, particularly in more senior educational pursuits is quickly being rendered obsolete, and ability for the education system to effectively adapt new technologies is retarded by the entire establishment around the education system. The practice of a teacher standing at the front of a room full of students lecturing is antiquated, there was a time in human history when one person talking to a room full of people was the most efficient way to transfer information; this was before a single person could post their lecture on the internet and broadcast to a million people at once, or better, when the million people can take the information at their leisure. The knowledge of this capability is ubiquitous yet it is only marginally applied. This blatant disregard for such opportunity seems beyond explanation. What is more beyond explanation is, why when cyberspace is so underutilized are we still building more classroom space?

Much of the reluctance to embrace more ephemeral information delivery stems from the bias our society holds for capital projects that result in a concrete outcome like a building, relative to funds invested in intellectual capital – people and electronic materials. This reluctance and lack of measures to account for intellectual capital is broad based, in business we are only now learning how to quantify the value of many forms of intellectual capital as well as human capital. In business new and innovative technologies are being absorbed more rapidly under the riggers of the market place and the resulting pursuit of profit. This motive is unexpressed in our public education systems and as a result public education institutions absorption of technologies is impaired, paradoxically, even when it was public educations systems that created much of the technology in the first place.

Daily government liquidates assets, say oil and unitizes those funds to finance the operation of government. This is an error, as capital should be invested in capital. We have the opportunity to perform the ultimate alchemy, oil to human capital. The absence of effective human capital evaluation techniques and the innate bias possessed by modern government and business toward bricks and mortar, conspire to shift attention away from prudent and profitable investment in education. Canada’s productivity is slipping badly relative to its peers; major contributing factors are both the funding and structure of our education system. Even the process of deciding how much to spend on education needs examination. Now, especially with respect to secondary education we tend to spend as much as the political process willing to allot. What is missing in the direction of government funding toward secondary education is a focus on the value of an education. Presently government treats the value of education as an abstraction, this attitude stems from both business and governments discomfort or lack of practice assigning value to human capital. Only once you have valued a given set of skills or the potential value of certain types of education, can you rationally assign funds to their development in the population.

Presently, university student funding, for example, is only partially provided by government and often leaves students burdened by substantive debt. The benefits to society of education are readily quantifiable. We know that the average wage earner generates about $10,000 net to the government each year, where a doctor generates perhaps $100,000 net to the government each year; the relative value of the doctor is clear in terms of government revenue. If the government gives a student $500,000 to educate them self as a doctor, the government will enjoy a net benefit of $1.75 million, assuming a 25 year average working life. This concept is extremely simple, yet it is rarely posited effectively. It is rare that a quantifiable benefit can be expressed in the context of government expenditure. Free education is beneficial and plausible providing that the entities delivering it have their actions rationalised by real demand for knowledge and that demand comes from the "market", as opposed to institutional perception, which is often dulled by institutional interest. 

The key is to provide funding directly to the STUDENT or parents of STUDENTS and let perceptions of market opportunity direct enrolment a then let institutions respond to student demand. The funds for education are now directed via a bureaucratic process.  The result of the present system is often an imbalance between supply of skills relative to demand, or the persistent development of skill sets of waning requirement. Presently, funds for education are directed via the perceptions of institutional establishments, rather than by individuals responding to their environment. Education institutions should derive funding from students (or their keepers), the students can receive funding from government, but funds need to channel through the student. This modality shifts educational institutional focus to the people they are seeking to serve and those people’s perception of their environments.

In British Columbia the government collects and spends roughly $8000 / year / student for primary and secondary education. One might contemplate; could one teacher and two assistants run a school of 50 children for $400,000. The lead teacher might rent a facility for $40,000 / year spend 60,000 on incidentals, pay them self $150,000 and two assistants each $75,000.  That seems a better circumstance than one teacher to 30 children, when the teacher is only making between $65,000 to $80,000 / year and the other $175,000 or so is being consumed by administration and buildings. You can pick the numbers, but given a chance, open access by the public to funding will facilitate creative innovation in service delivery that is completely absent now.

The strongest resistance to reform which extends choice to the parents as to who teaches their children and where their children are taught is from the teaching profession itself. This is an understandable circumstance, as this represents a change in the delivery of service, but surely a confident professionals would rather function with the freedom to create curriculum that both parents and children see as relevant. It seems very likely also that absent the extensive overhead of the present system, that professionals could direct a greater portion of the funding to human resources; this reality would attract high quality and independent minded people to the task of teaching our children and spawn hole new ways of addressing education. More lucrative and more autonomy, this sounds like a more attractive circumstance compared to what teachers are experiencing now.   

Our society has been possessed by an over exuberant exaltation of credentials. This credentialization of society has people giving exorbitant attention to credentials and less attention to result. Credentials only offer value when the knowledge they represent produce a measured improvement, relative to outcomes generated in their absence. There is a culture at play in our society that places the focus of educational processes on credentials rather than the outcomes generated by knowledge gained through education. This misdirected focus contorts education itself and it contorts the functioning of society at large. Emblematic of the point are the circumstances in the education system where individuals gain a raise in income by garnering a masters degree, the raise in pay comes absent any measurable improvement to the function they are providing – often times, given institutional constraints, the knowledge they process through lower level education and experience is un-accessed and further education only makes the spectre more glaring. 

This distortion of the valuing of credentials by education systems and society at large, bestows an inordinate influence by individual educational intuitions over the qualifying of people. Observation indicates that this reality emerges from the tradition of the granting of credentials by individual institutions. The criteria for completion of a school segment or degree should be universal; an independent body needs to assess the viability of education through testing and other submissions. This removes from any given institution the ability to grant credentials and places them in a position to educate their students to satisfy a broadly accepted set of criteria. This structural innovation would allow any entity to transmit knowledge by any means at any rate, as long as the required objective is met (granted this is most applicable to more generalized forms of education). This type of action has a liberating effect and facilitates a multitude of creative knowledge delivery methods. In this atmosphere, much education could be done by students at little cost by accessing creative delivery systems, like government generated course materials via a central website. This would free institutions, from the task of conveying rudimentary materials and facilitate the redirection of resources to areas requiring more intensive study.       

What then maybe the course of action that would allow for a safe and orderly transition from a single dominate public education system to a segmented government funded system. Clearly, the first step is providing the funding to parents and or students who are then able to direct the funds to the educational facility that best represents the values and priorities of the parents and students. The present circumstance effectively precludes the free choice of parents and as such is an intrusion on their most fundamental right, which is to direct the upbringing of their children.

Present legislation throws up a large barrier to the creation of schools other than the present government offering. This dynamic generates a circumstance where, the wealthy can have choice but the middle class and poor have none. In an effort to enforce equality, the present policies have only exacerbated the barriers to potentially better opportunities for the population as whole.  This discussion often descends into a jurisdictional comparison where defenders of the present status quo are pointing out our system does better than another regions. While relative institutional performance is germane, this point is muted by the imperative to extend real choice to parents and students by empowering them through their immediate control of the direction of funding. 

Conclusion

It is my sincere hope that this discussion will spur contemplation around the subject of education reform and help to garner the attention it merits. Extending liberty of choice is a most critical element of effective governance. I find the merger of free choice and a varied well financed public education system most exciting. The culmination of new technology and the will and means for people to use it, promises a tempo of educational development and enlightenment unparalleled in history. We need only remove arcane and archaic impediments to liberate the intellectual capacity that now lays latent.   


“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Lenin


Personal Experience – Refection on Natural Education Systems

My life began on a farm in the Frazer Valley of British Columbia. The farm was a natural education system. My father died when I was almost five, and until that time I remember following him around watching what he did all day. A special treat would managing to get up while he was milking the cows in the morning, walking it the dairy’s moist warm environment with the milking machines rhythmically doing their business. Pleased for the company, he would pour tea in a cup, plop in sugar cubes and reach for a co-operative cow’s udder and milk in a generous amount of “whitener” – sweet tea and your father’s company, what more could a child ask for. The morning would progress and the milking would be done, equipment cleaned, cattle turned out to pasture at the dog’s behest. With very few words said and a gesture to indicate it was time to head for the house and breakfast, absent an institution or official curriculum, there were many lessons learned. The gentle and painless transfer of knowledge from one generation to another, knowledge transferred through action and example. The amount and breadth of knowledge shared in that couple hours could hardly find expression on a thousand pages, the most memorable and important though, was a nurturing father’s affection and the genuine sense of his gladness for my company. There were only a few more mornings like that one before he was taken from us,  had he stayed, I am sure his wisdom would have directed me through the environment I would encounter a couple years later, when I walked through the doors of my first institution, a stark white elementary school.

After my father died, my mother naturally had her hands full, with five children and a farm to run. As you might imagine I was free to pursue life, out the door in the morning busying myself around the farm and being exposed to real actions of purpose. My mother would effect some direction over me, but for the most part I was effectively unsupervised, expect for cursory direction from an older sibling or busy hired hand. Exploring the bottom 40, driving the tractor up and down the drive and generally playing in the most independent and serious way. Without a teacher present many lessons were learned, the most important of which was how to create, entertain and be productive for myself, absent adults.

It was from this environment that my mother sent me to school. I remember my first day, my mother dropped me off, I walked up the stairs into the cloak room and the smell of a school remains to this day. The teacher greeted me there, showed me were to put my lunch, made me take my coat off (which I wanted wear) and stuck me in a row of desks with other children. I hadn’t been there five minutes and she had bruised my sense of self determination. She had applied a number of unnecessary constraints and had failed to consult me on a single one.  I got through the first day of school and it was about a two mile walk home to the farm; through the course of the walk, the events of the day began to anger me and when I arrived home I expressed in the clearest terms possible that I was never going back, and so began many tortuous years of trying to find reason, kindness, understanding and learning in the coolest of human creations, the institution.

There is an absence of personalized care in institutions that leaves wanting the real meaning in life’s daily experience; institutions are a poor substitute, if they are at all, for natural education systems. It was my intent through inclusion of these early experiences to demonstrate the robustness of family and non-institutional learning, even in the face of adversity, and the inherent frailty in the institutionalized setting. Small nimble organizations are able to adjust to varying demands, large monoliths are unable to.     

This is the basis of much of my life’s experience and the basis of my thinking around the monolith that has evolved called our public education system. It’s a critical eye to say the least because the institution designed for the ordinary fails the extraordinary. The institution I was exposed to, stole my voice, marginalised me even though I am an eager learner, because that is what large monolithic institutions do, they are inherently antagonistic to the individual and pro conformist – they have to be to function. Yet in our world it’s the Winston Churchills, Albert Einsteins, and Benjamin Franklins that make the difference – all great people who had a contrarian inclination spurred by overbearing institutional establishments.