Monday, 31 March 2008

Do the elections spell hope for Zimbabwe?

Twenty-eight years of rule by Robert Mugabe has proven to be something of a disaster for Zimbabwe. As the years have passed, repression accompanied by economic ruin have increased in intensity. Over three million Zimbabweans have relocated to South Africa - most of them illegally - so as to be able to earn a living.

The weekend saw the latest round of elections in Zimbabwe. The results of each polling station were counted and posted outside. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change or MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai have tallied up these votes to indicate a land-slide victory for the opposition. But the official and far from independent electoral commission is releasing the results at a snails pace.

Perhaps the trickle technique is a way to test the patience of the population eager for change. If violence breaks out it could be a pretext for military rule with Robert Mugabe still at the helm. Maybe the ruling party just needs more time to rig the results to achieve a win. Or could it simply be that the electoral commission are totally incompetent and very slow at doing their jobs.

This morning a caller to a radio station said that it felt like New Year's Eve in Zimbabwe as jubilant crowds of people celebrated the (expected) opposition victory. As the day drew slowly on the festive mood has been subdued and replaced with the realisation that even with the majority of votes going the MDC, Zanu PF could still try to claim victory.

48 hours after voting closed only 52 seats have been announced. By now, the government should have conceded defeat. The new government should be preparing to start with the huge task of reconstruction of this devastated land.

If Mugabe does steal this election - something that is beginning to look like a reality - what will the world do? What will the United Nations do? What will Zimbabwe's neighbours do? What will the South African government do? Continue with its policy of 'quiet diplomacy'?

The answer, of course, is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Monday, 24 March 2008

A solution to currency crisis and financial instability

The US dollar has plummeted against all major world currencies. The South African rand has fallen against the weak dollar. These are cause of concern to the financial stability of the world.

A single global currency could be the answer. The success of the Euro in the EU has proven that a common currency can and does work within member states, and it helps to promote financial stability.

Imagine being able to use the same currency in every corner of the globe! Imagine current account or balance of payment problems becoming a thing of the past. It is possible. In a recent article, Global Finance magazine examined the possibility and benefits of a single currency. Worth a look.

Below is a fact sheet from the Single Global Currency Association.

A Single Global Currency - Common Cents for the World
P.O. Box 390, Newcastle, ME 04553, USA 207-586-6078
"A global economy requires a global currency."
(Paul Volcker, former U.S. Federal Reserve Chair.)


PROBLEM: The world's complex multicurrency foreign exchange system is a costly and destabilizing burden to the world's economy. The exchanging of $3.2 trillion daily among 141 currencies costs the world approximately $400 billion dollars in transaction costs and $trillions in the undervaluation of assets. The multicurrency monetary system is an “absurd system,” according to Nobel Prize winning economist, Robert Mundell, and should be replaced.

SOLUTION: A Single Global Currency managed by a Global Central Bank, within a Global Monetary Union as early as 2024, the 80th anniversary of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference.

BENEFITS (from the back cover of the book, The Single Global Currency - Common Cents for the World)
- Annual transaction costs of $400 billion will be eliminated.
- Global currency imbalances, including all balance of payment issues, will be eliminated.
- Currency crises will be prevented.
- Currency fluctuations will be eliminated, as will be the opportunity for speculation.
- International trade will increase.
- Worldwide interest rates will be reduced due to the elimination of currency risk.
- Worldwide asset values will increase by about $36 trillion.
- Worldwide GDP will increase by about $9 trillion.
- The need for foreign exchange reserves (currently about $6 trillion) will be eliminated.

Such gains are realistic and attainable if the world decides to pursue them. The monetary unions of Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and Brunei/Singapore have shown the way.

- Continue to expand the scope of existing monetary unions, especially the euro.
- Create new monetary unions, e.g. Gulf Cooperation Council, West Africa Monetary Zone.
- "Ize" national currencies to any major currency, as in "dollarize","euroize" or "yenize".
- Create a prototype Global Central Bank as an affiliate of an existing international financial
organization, such as the IMF, World Bank or Bank for International Settlements and invite
countries to "ize" their currencies to the currency issued by that Central Bank. Participating
countries would then form the prototype Global Monetary Union, which would then expand
and merge with other monetary unions.
- Convene international monetary conferences for nations, people and organizations to plan for the
implementation of the Single Global Currency and the structure of the Global Central Bank.
- Encourage economic research and writing about the Single Global Currency.
- Increase worldwide public awareness of the Single Global Currency as the only
long-term solution to the problems of the obsolete multi-currency monetary system(s).
- Establish sound, stable money as a fundamental human right as is the right to own property.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Can a single global currency work?

A single global currency has a few advantages over the current system of 190 separate currencies in circulation in the world. The first of these is that it would eliminate huge volumes of global currency trading and the considerable costs associated with this. Currency speculation which has at times resulted in quite spectacular currency fluctuations would become a thing of the past. Of course it follows that currency fluctuations would end. It can also be expected to bring about greater stability to world trading conditions.

The European Union - or EU - has taken the lead towards a single currency. Amidst much controversy, the Euro was adopted as the currency of many EU countries. It has proven that a single global currency can work - at least at a regional level.

All is well as long as the countries are able to live and trade with each other. What would happen if one of these countries experienced a rogue government intent on world domination?

The concept of a single global currency is not really that new. The gold standard until World War One meant that all currencies were linked to gold. Gold was therefore the real global currency. Until 1971, currency rates were fixed. The pound sterling had a fixed relationship to the dollar, the yen, the fanc and so on. These fixed exchange rates may have been artificial, but they certainly help to maintain stability and predictability when it comes to international trade. In 2001, the South African rand suddenly lost almost 60% of its value against the dollar. Exporters had a field day, but the cost of imported goods soared. By early 2002 the rand had recovered all of its losses. A very unsatisfactory situation for business that are tied into agreements with foreign suppliers and customers.

A single currency is working in Europe where over 500 million people either use it directly or have currencies that are pegged to the Euro. Over 400 million Americans use the US dollar, and millions more around the globe rely on the dollar as a benchmark to price goods and services.

Of course there are problems associated with the concept of a single world currency. The first is the lack of stability in the world. How can you find agreement between countries that are at war? Weaker economies may feel that they are being dominated by the rich and powerful.

Europe has managed to implement its own central bank. But a World Central Bank is much more complex. The result could be one of US hegemony, where other countries all play second fiddle.
One of the major drawbacks of a world currency is that it limits the ability of individual countries to control interest rates. Pressure to reduce rates in the US or EU would override an individual country's need to increase interest rates.

Implementing a single global currency may in fact be similar to bringing back the gold standard. Gold then becomes the standard unit, but each country has its own linked currency. The gold standard could be the better way to achieve a global currency as it allows each country to determine its own monetary policies.

The Euro has provided an indication that a global currency can work. The Euro has been a major success for the EU. Many forecasters of doom have been silenced on this issue - or perhaps the problems are still to come?

An organisation that is actively promoting a Single Global Currency is the Single Global Currency Association. Have a look at the site and read the book. The arguments for a single currency are compelling.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

How to stay positive ...

How can you stay positive in a world where everything seems to be going wrong? The war in Iraq, the Sub-Prime lending crisis, looming recession, famine and war ravaging parts of Africa, the plague of terrorism and an oil price of over $100 a barrel and global climate change have all contributed to an increased sense of gloom and doom. We are confronted with these daily through our television screens, the Internet and newspapers. But for every bad event, for every negative news story there are a multitude of positive things taking place around the world! These are just not reported. Whether we remain positive or negative in our approach to life depends on two main things. Where we choose to focus our attention, and how we deal with the negative events that gain our attention.

An ancient Talmudic teaching asks “Who is rich?” The answer is “one that is content with his lot”. Quite simply, someone that is satisfied with what they have is rich. Someone that feels that they are lacking is not.

We tend to focus on what we don't have. I drive a small old Toyota while my neighbour drives a Jeep. Every month we struggle to meet our expenses. The neighbour’s kitchen has been improved and modernised while mine is rather primitive. It can become quite easy to feel sorry for yourself when this is your focus. Is there any reason for me not to be negative?

On the other hand, if I focus on what I do have, things look very different. I own my own house, and there is ample accommodation for everyone here. So far, we have three cars in the family. We eat very well. We have a maid and a gardener that tends to our garden once a week. The family is well educated and the children have grown into principled and responsible young men, set to achieve much in life. Millions around the world would see us as being rich. Why shouldn’t I be positive about it?

My rabbi advises that when it comes to evaluating what we have we should always look down. There are many that have less, and we should be grateful that we have been blessed with more. When it comes to spiritual matters we should look up. Look at those that study regularly, that give charity and that are more observant. These can provide inspiration to us.

The other main reason for negativity is the state of the world. Events over which we have no control. Crime, war, political strife and recession all contribute to us gaining a more negative view. There are stories of those that danced while Paris burned. I am not advocating that. It is necessary to recognise the bad. But actively engaging in whatever we can to make the world a better place should be enough to keep us positive.

Thursday, 06 March 2008

A different perspective on life in the New South Africa

Many people in South Africa have become very negative about life and the prospects for the young democracy - crime, corruption, Jacob Zuma, etc.

Positive things are all but forgotten. But click here for a local article that provides a rather different view! There has been real change - change that has altered the lives of the majority of South Africans in a very positive way. Many don't see it. Well worth a read!

In his latest initiative, Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein has been hosting a series of public forums in Sandton. These are aimed at improving our society through a series of dialogues.

The first was with his Moslem counterpart. Much common ground was found.

The most recent was with the new ANC president Jacob Zuma. Both Jacob Zuma and the chief rabbi spoke, followed by questions. Unfortunately I wasn't there. The positive side is that Zuma made himself available. He was prepared to face questions. He is at least accessible. He acknowledged the crime problem. Rabbi Goldstein described him as 'Real'. Perhaps that is the reason for his great popularity.

Wednesday, 05 March 2008

Cats that share our lives

Mini and Melon. Melon (the reddish Burmese cat) arrived at our house and made a home for himself in the garage. He had no identification, and would sneak into the kitchen to eat our established cat's food.
An old rolled-up rug was his bed.

Discovering that he was a classy cat, we adopted him. He and Mini - the grey cat - became very close. Melon is the only domestic cat that I've known to catch mice, rats and birds and eat them! Testimony to his time without a home.

We never did manage to establish Melon's age, but he died shortly after this picture was taken.

Zena is our Siamese. She is young and full of life. A great hunter, she is able to catch mice and birds and brings them into the house. Sometimes these are almost as big as her!

She got herself run over a while ago and lost her tail. It doesn't seem to worry her, but she does chase Mini's tail given half a chance.

Everyone says that Siamese cats talk. This is true. Apart from a variety or meows she has a whole range of sounds.

One of her tricks is to make bird sounds when she is hunting.

Mini. He has been with us for over thirteen years. He and Zena keep their own space. Mini is a music lover - he gets very excited when I sing or whistle to him!

Where else should I sit?
Mini and Melon again - posing for the picture!

Melon. A beautiful, warm Burmese.

Sunday, 02 March 2008

New ideas for solar power at home

Supplying electricity using fossil fuels continues to emit pollution and CO2 into the atmosphere in large quantities. Nuclear power is cleaner but poses other problems. Huge resources are available free of charge to provide renewable energy. Solar power is a major source, and much attention has been focused on harnessing this resource in recent years. Some of this has been on providing alternative power sources for national electricity grids, while there has also been some attention on developing domestic solar power systems.

Imagine being self sufficient at home for your electricity needs? This could become a reality more easily than many people think!

Solar energy can be harnessed in two main ways. Using the heat provided by the sun for heating water using solar panels. These have been in use in some countries for many years. This is known as thermal energy. Solar panels using copper piping (or other technology) are installed on the roof and provide a major part of the hot water requirements for the average home.

The second main method is to use the light energy to the sun. This is captured using photo voltaic (PV) panels that transform this energy into electricity.

The thermal panels are very efficient if used in a country where there is a large amount of sunshine. The PV system at present is still very expensive. The cost of transforming a home to rely on PV power is very high and it will take many years of electricity savings to recover this cost.

A slightly different approach is to use concentrated solar thermal energy to power steam-driven turbines. The system uses a series of mirrors focused on a very small area to produce a large amount of heat. The heat is used to produce steam to power a steam turbine.

While this technology is being developed for large scale power generation, there has so far been no initiative to develop this type of technology for simple domestic use.

However, a South African based entrepreneur believes that this is a viable solution to providing most of the needs of an average household. The turbine is simple to build, and will not require much space. Research into the amount of mirrors that are required to generate enough heat to drive the turbine is at present unknown, and is the subject of some research that is being undertaken. A large battery can be built to store additional electricity to provide for night time electricity requirements. The main obstacle to the development of this system is the availability funds, and investors are currently being sought out.

The cost of the system is expected to be a fraction of the cost of PV panels. The benefits include not only years of savings on electricity, but a major contribution to the improvement of the environment.