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This blog contribution provides a great example how our idea of the Conference of the Birds is deeply related to an only seemingly quite different challenge: sustainability and the circular economy. Thank you, Rafael Ziegler, for connecting the dots.


Music for people and planet – three ways how Simurgh Economy boosts circular economy

In a famous Persian poem, the search of the ‘Conference of Birds’ for an ideal king, the Simurgh bird, culminates in a powerful insight: they together are what they have been looking for, the Simurgh. Much later, modern economics emerges with the insight that the free interplay of many, as if by an invisible hand, creates prosperity for all. In both stories the shared realization of collective power and beauty emerging from diversity and interrelation is central, and provides a key for current challenges.

While the story of the Simurgh is not widely known (and easily forgotten), the economic insight has been widely promoted with the growth of modern economy. However, this growth has been so big that it undermines prosperity: overuse of resources and waste production result in unsustainability. Birds disappear along with other species, and even the oceans are polluted. New models and images of prosperity are called for.

At a global level, the sustainable development goals set important yet relatively abstract goals. For example, ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG 12). A model of how to achieve this goal is suggested by the idea of a circular economy: less materials input, longer product use and repair, recovery of waste as resource. . . in the ideal: a creative cycle of reuse, repair and recycling. This image is important, and recently the subject of increased interest, workshops and conferences. In this discussion we should not forget about another conference, the conference of the birds, and thus culture (which is not explicitly named in any of the SDGs). Here are three reasons why - along with opportunities provided by the conference of the birds.

1.Music and culture complement circular economy. Efficiency gains, even in the circular economy, are insufficient if accompanied by a culture of more of the same. Products become more efficient, you save money, and buy more products. This is called the rebound effect. A cultural source of the rebound effect is the lack of alternatives, intrinsically worthwhile things you can do with all the time freed by increased productivity. For example, playing an instrument, making music with others, listening to it. Musical ideas are very durable: Bach still resonates with us, you can replay it forever, you can recycle the old tunes in new next contexts and places. Strawberries fields for ever. Culture is an unlimited resource to complement the circular economy: it provides intrinsically valuable activities, and thus equips everyone with opportunities beyond the endless cycle of production and consumption.

2. Circular economy supports culture and extends its circle. Instruments costs money, teachers need a wage, and so do musicians who often struggle to get by. Even a circular economy needs resource flows to communities and civil society: via taxes and state funding of education and music as public goods, via business models that allow companies to invest their profit in not-for-profit ideas. * This cultural deepening of circular economy beyond efficiency only, calls for responsible innovators from government, civil society and business. For example, the Silke Road Symphony Orchestra is supported by a music company that others companies can invest into, and that in turn uses this money to support the not for profit work of a music foundation. Resources flows from the small for profit cycle into a larger social-purpose cycle. The most basic return for public and private investors: meaning and cultural resources and inspiration for circular economy and sustainable development.

3. A basic question complements circular economy with a further cycle: What is your silk? Circular economy emphasizes the importance of local economies, reducing global resource flows as well as reducing waste. What good, for example is nuclear power, if a country like Germany cannot find a place on its own territory to store its nuclear waste. However, while this emphasis on the local, community, democracy and responsibility is important, there must be a balance. The SDG are global and cannot be achieved via a joint effort as climate change dramatically illustrates. Hence it is important to observe that: Birds migrate and songs travel; Laotse is read in Germany for what he says, and not because he wrote in China; Beethoven is liked in China full stop, and not because he was “Made in Germany”. This point is important for circular economy in global context. When music travels a soil for dialogue is cultivated. Music travels without words – it can be repeated, varied, shared – and thereby creates a place for words and dialogue. Such places are much needed when mainly commodities flow along the Silk Road, along One Belt, one Road, and ultimately around the planet. Such cultural places point to basic questions: What is your Silk? What is your Silk in music? What songs and symphonies would you like to share? What is your contribution for travels along the Silk Road?

In the light of such questions, the Silk Road Culture Belt Initiative, creates cultural cycles, a complementary Simurgh economy if you like. Everyone is invited to share their silk, the music they would like to share and see travel along the silk road. An internet platform makes this music gifts available to a global audience. The co-creation process is deepened by a further reinforcing cycle. The Silk Road Symphony Orchestra chooses silk from the platform, and turns these gifts into concerts for local audiences as well as recordings returned to a global audience. Finally, the latest development in block-chain technology makes it even possible to thank and pay participants and music donors with notes, a token-based crypto-currency for the music community.

To be sure, such cultural cycles are in development, with many open questions. But this point holds just as well for the circular economy. The challenge is to explore the synergies, musicians, culture organizers and platforms learning from the de-materialization and democracy insights of circular economy*, and circular economy profiting from meaning and intrinsically valuable activities as a necessary complement to productivity and efficiency gains.

*Here a question to block-chain music platform pioneer Choon suggests itself: Fantastic initiative - but why do you intend to issue token via company from the Cayman Islands, and not from a country where people pay taxes?

Dr. Rafael Ziegler, Montreal

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