Sujato's Questions (2): can money be defined solely in units relative to the value of human life?

Thanks everyone for responding to my previous question. I think I understand it a little better now. I have a number of questions to ask, so don’t think you’re off the hook already!

My previous question asked whether wealth was really just a measure of inequality. And one of the relevant issues is that there are two factors; the size of the pie, and how it is divided up. Alright, let’s keep it simple for dummies like me and ask a follow-up question.

We measure money with dollars. In economic terms, dollars are purely a relative and conventional reality. In people’s lives, though, the concept of a dollar takes on a quasi-absolute sense. \$1000 is an actual amount. We understand that it is relative to purchasing power. But that calculation comes secondary.

For example, see this list of the most expensive paintings.

One column gives the “adjusted” price, one the “original” price. Apparently there are people in the world with half a billion dollars to spend on a painting. But I digress! These two prices measure the same thing over time, taking into account the effects of inflation. In a healthy economy, inflation is at a reasonable and fairly steady rate, so such figures remain fairly reasonable.

Thus we treat dollars as primarily an absolute in practice, and calculate a set of variations on that.

Another example of a similar phenomenon is in designing for the web. We have absolute units (mm, cm, in, px) and relative units (%, vw, vh, em, rem). In fact, all these units are actually relative—a mm is different on different screens. Yet there is somehow a conceptual divide between the two kinds of measures.

So what if we were to introduce a completely new way of measuring wealth, one that had nothing to do with the old “dollar”, but which was relative from the start? Let’s do a thought experiment and see where it takes us!

First thing to determine: relative to what? And the answer is: relative to a decent human life.

How much is required to give a human being the basics. Let’s take a leaf from the Vinaya and summarize it thusly:

• Food
• Clothes
• Shelter
• Medicine

Obviously it’s going to be more complicated than that, but it’s a start.

This is related to the concept of a Universal Basic Income. One unit is essentially what should be guaranteed as a minimum for every human being to have a decent, healthy, and meaningful life. Let us, then define the basic income unit as the “huwi”: the Human Worth Index.

Cool, so we, as a society that decides in a conscious and rational way how to live and organize itself, decide that every human being earns at least 1 huwi/year. Other incomes are calculated relative to that. I might earn 5 huwi: five times what is required for a decent human life.

The advantage of this system is that it relates wealth, not to some abstract and ultimately meaningless status identifier, but to the reality of human life. If someone earns 1,000,000,000 huwis, that tells us something about our values.

Okay, but this is not a very convenient measure for daily use. Let’s divide the huwi by, say, 100,000 to create a usable currency. Let’s call it the Basic Unit of Currency, or “buc”. Someone earning 1 nubi/year has in the ballpark of 300 bucs/day, which seems reasonable.

We’ve defined income and expenditure in relative units based on the fundamentals of human life. What else can we do with this?

Let’s look at taxes! Currently taxes are pegged to the old quasi-absolute system. Instead, they would be pegged to the huwi. But we can go further, and stop thinking in archaic terms of “tax brackets” and the like. Instead, we can define the total inequality of an economy. How many huwis are acceptable? To put it another way: how much more can we value one life than another?

Currently the richest men have over \$100,000,000,000, which the poorest have nothing, or negative value really. But keep the math simple, let’s say the current inequality ration is 100,000,000,000:1. That seems too much.

If I think of my life, I am here in western Sydney, a traditionally working-class neighborhood. I’m staying in a simple flat, 2 bedrooms, one of those very basic blocks built in the 50s or 60s. We have electricity, running hot and cold water, garbage collection, internet. It’s pretty comfortable, and in fact far more luxurious than most of my monastic siblings! But by Australian standards, it’s pretty much entry-level. To get much cheaper, you’d have to start bunking up in rooms (which plenty of people in our block are doing.)

So this is a good, basic life. To be sure, we could get by with much less, but let’s assume something like this is what a huwi will get you.

What, then, can I get with ten huwis? Ten times as much space, I guess! I can understand people wanting to stretch out more, have more rooms or privacy. Fine.

What about a hundred? Is there any reasonable sense in which a hundred times this much? It’s probably just my failure of imagination, but I honestly can’t figure out any genuine reason why anyone would need a hundred times this much.

Fine, so let’s set the inequality ratio at 10:1. That is to say, the richest person has ten times as much as the poorest, or in other words, the maximum income is ten huwis. This would probably be in the ballpark of the level of inequality in a basic village-level culture, and a lot more than the inequality in a hunter-gatherer society. By our standards it may seem ridiculously impractical, but it is our standards that are the exception.

We can do away with tax brackets by taxing this on a logarithmic scale, taking a cure from the special theory of relativity. As a spaceship accelerates, the closer it comes to the speed of light, the more its mass increases and the harder it is to accelerate further. Ultimately the mass becomes infinite and the speed of light cannot be breached. So under this tax system, as income approaches 10 huwis, the tax increases, so that no-one has more than 10 huwis.

What about competition, you say? How are we to motivate excellence?

Well, the thing is, human nature doesn’t change by this. We’re only changing the way we handle payments. People find plenty of ways to compete, to innovate, to develop and showcase excellence. What this does is to recognize that too much of our human life has been subsumed by the market, including our motivation to do better. By moderating the rewards that the market can give us, we promote other means of motivation. That might be status, safety, recognition by peers, the joy of helping people, or the simple satisfaction of doing a good job.

All these are real, and are just as much, if not more, a part of human nature as are economic rewards. After all, plenty of societies get along just fine without any system of economic rewards at all: it is purely a convention that we have conditioned ourselves into. We can uncondition ourselves if we want. I don’t do things for economic rewards, and I never have.

Another problem is that of scale. Currently, wealthy individuals make large-scale investments in things like space travel or medical research. If no-one has that much money, how does that happen? Well, I guess it would happen via networks. People would still have disposable income, maybe a huwi or two, or even just a few bucs to invest. They could get together with other people, each investing a small amount, and create huge projects. What this would mean is that big things, whether it is a food distribution system, or the future of human colonization of space, is not decided by the egos of the rich.

So, to repeat my question: is it possible to redefine wealth relative to the basic requirements of a decent human life? Are there any economic proposals along these lines? Are there any fatal objections to such a system?

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Hi bhante @sujato, in theory you can seek as many ways to redistribute the flows as politically possible.
What you describe is similar to many economists have come up with through the years.

The key issue is that translating ideas like these into reality get stuck at a hard wealth “inventory / stock” problem.

This is because the four requisites you mention currently come about via a production system in which a very few own, directly or indirectly, the actual machinery and infrastructure required to produce the materials and items needed to have the four requisites met.

And this concentrated ownership status is crucial for the current measure and logic of accumulation of relative wealth among individuals, it does not matter how the flows take place.

So this is a fatal objection of the system you propose: it may rearrange the flows (I am skeptical about the democracitc political appetite for that) but it does not address the issue of legacy concentrated and unequal ownership status of the means of production.

• One is in line with people like George Soros proposes in his book ’ Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism

• Another is anything formulated under Utopian socialism in which equality and fairness as proposed under the ideals of socialism could achieved by the moral persuasion of capitalists to surrender the means of production peacefully to the people (thus addressing the wealth inventory / stock problem).

It is also noteworthy that the Thai bhikkhu Ajahn Buddhadasa formulated himself an idea of Dhammic Socialism in response to the growing political polarization in Southeast Asia. To read more about that check these links:

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and His Practice of Dhammic Socialism, by Santikaro

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Okay, but that’s just capital, right? regardless of the means of redistribution, that has to be addressed. That’s a more practical matter, perhaps for another post. Here I’m concerned more with the theory: is this way of measuring wealth something that has been tried? Is it feasible in principle?

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It is not “just” capital. Capital is the very core of the whole thing, without it we would still be hunters and gatherers.

Since we left the jungle and the savannas as a specie, humans have been enslaved by a blind pursuit for its accumulation (consciously and unconsciously!).

And in this historical process of accumulation for the sake of accumulation we got to where we are in terms of principles, systems and processes to enable its perpetuation.

That is why it is important to define what is done with capital in the first place.

Socialist solutions will seek to make it owned instantly by everyone equally via abrupt ownership takeover by the State (i.e. statization) .

Liberal solutions will propose a gradual transition to shared ownership would occur via things like individual savings being gradually converted in participation in earnings and surpluses (e.g. via superannuation or pension fund schemes).

The Chinese socialist solution, for example, is a mixed one. While it allows private ownership of capital within the economy it maintains state monopoly of the financial system enabling its ownership and accumulation by individuals and entities such as companies.

Yes, relative wealth measurements are the basis of many economic policies and ways of measuring and comparing side by side different countries with different cultures and economies.

Communist economies are in theory very reflective of an active policy towards low wealth inequality similar to what I read in your thoughts and considerations.

The soviet union socialist economic system worked on that basis for quite while but eventually collapsed. To me, it did not because it was flawed in principle, but because of the geopolitical circumstances. Circumstances which resulted in so much of the society’s labor and efforts being directed towards building an army for a third world war that never took place, instead than towards more basic things like the four requisites you mention (they had food shortages and were in great disadvantage when they had to import stuff they eventually needed from the capitalist world).

The Chinese socialist economic system has been working and successfully improving the overall quality and levels of access to the four requisites by average and median Chinese in very short time. While in the process it may have created a few hundreds or thousands of abnormally wealthy entrepreneurs or corrupt bureaucrats, it moved hundreds of millions from nothing to a very reasonable something.

Note however that the success of Chinese experiment so far is highly reliant on a clear target to use the cheap labour that resulted from the emancipation of these hundred of millions to create the positive terms of trade conditions which has been resulted, via international trade, in a massive importation of idle savings from the capitalist world in the form of trade surplus. Much of this trade surplus has been accumulated by the Chinese state as international reserves, estimate to be at more than US\$ 3 trillion currently. These reserves constitute a form capital accumulated by the Chinese state on the behalf of its population. It serves not only as a meaningful ballast to their economy but as well as a source of geopolitical bargaining power (as they are mostly invested in sovereign debt certificates issued by US treasury).

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I suggest checking what Keynes had in mind back in the mid 1940s when he conceived an integrated global economy enabled by an International Clearing Union.

Under this ICU the exchange of goods and services inherently required for the sort of material progress and prosperity that results in reduced inequality to be pursued by countries would be traded in the form of a supranational currenty called bancor, instead of in amounts of a specific country`s currency (US dollars) or a specific precious metal (gold).

This approach would in theory help avoiding issues related with Triffin dilemma and the somewhat related pheonomena of the global savings glut which is very closely tied to the problem of inequality you seem to be trying to solve in your thinking.

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Last but not least, let me suggest you check the book below! There is even a chapter entitled “Buddhist Economics”, from which I quote:

(…)
While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is
mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is ‘The Middle Way’ and
therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth
that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not
the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The
keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence.
From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life
is the utter rationality of its pattern - amazingly small means leading to
extraordinarily satisfactory results.
For the modern economist this is very difficult to understand. He is used
to measuring the ‘standard of living’ by the amount of annual
consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is
‘better off’ than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would
consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is
merely a means to human well-being the aim should be to obtain the
maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption. Thus, if the
purpose of clothing is a certain amount of temperature comfort and an
attractive appearance, the task is to attain this purpose with the
smallest possible effort, that is, with the smallest annual destruction of
cloth and with the help of designs that involve the smallest possible
input of toil. The less toil there is, the more time and
strength is left for artistic creativity. It would be highly uneconomic, for
instance, to go in for complicated tailoring, like the modern west, when a
much more beautiful effect can be achieved by the skilful draping of
uncut material. It would be the height of folly to make material so that it
should wear out quickly and the height of barbarity to make anything
ugly, shabby or mean. What has just been said about clothing applies
equally to all other human requirements. The ownership and the
consumption of goods is a means to an end, and Buddhist economics is
the systematic study of how to attain given ends with the minimum
means.
Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the
sole end and purpose of all economic activity, taking the factors of
production - land, labour, and capital - as the means, The former, in
short, tries to maximise human satisfactions by the optimal pattern of
consumption, while the latter tries to maximise consumption by the
optimal pattern of productive effort. It is easy to see that the effort
needed to sustain a way of life which seeks to attain the optimal pattern
of consumption is likely to be much smaller than the effort needed to
sustain a drive for maximum consumption. 'We need not be surprised,
therefore, that the pressure and strain of living is very much less in say,
Burma than it is in the United States in spite of the fact that the amount
of labour- saving machinery used in the former country is only a minute
fraction of the amount used in the latter.
Simplicity and non-violence are obviously closely related. The optimal
pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction
by means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live
without great pressure and strain and to fulfil the primary injunction of
Buddhist teaching: ‘Cease to do evil; try to do good.’ As physical
resources are everywhere limited, people satisfying their needs by means
of a modest use of resources are obviously less likely to be at each other’s
throats than people depending upon a high rate of use. Equally, people
who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get
involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on
From the point of view of Buddhist economics, therefore, production from
local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life,
while dependence on imports from afar and the consequent need to
produce for export to unknown and distant peoples is highly uneconomic
and justifiable only in exceptional cases and on a small scale. Just as the
modern
economist would admit that a high rate of consumption of transport
services between a man’s home and his place of work signifies a
misfortune and not a high standard of life, so the Buddhist economist
would hold that to satisfy human wants from faraway sources rather
than from sources nearby signifies failure rather than success. The
former tends to take statistics showing an increase in the number of
ton/miles per head of the population carried by a country’s transport
system as proof of economic progress, while to the latter - the Buddhist
economist - the same statistics would indicate a highly undesirable
deterioration in the pattern of consumption.
(…)

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At this point, I’m not so much concerned with “how can we get from here to there”, but very simply with imagining what “there” might look like. Obviously there are all kinds of power dynamics that get in the way of transition. And equally obvious, ideas that seem glorious in the pristine simplicity of imagination turn out to be something quite different in the murk of reality.

So I’m really trying to grapple with this idea of whether we can imagine world where the bedrock assumptions about economic reality are just … different. I believe that one of the failings of the progressive movement is that we have continually compromised what we really believe in, in favor of what learned men in big institutions have told us are the hard facts of reality. But I don’t think those facts are hard at all; I think it is a construction based on ego and desire.

Can you give some examples of this? Has it ever been tried economy-wide as I propose? And what about the idea of using a basic human life as the bedrock of value, is that something that has been proposed?

I mean, I would question the assumptions behind that. It seems to me that ordinary people living simple lives on the land don’t have nothing; it’s just that the things they have are not measured by the economy. Sure, in some regards, like food security or health care, there is an objective improvement. But in other ways, the “value” of a flat in the city may be rated higher than a hut on a mountain, but it doesn’t mean it’s a better living.

Interesting, I didn’t know that.

I wonder where Schumacher got his ideas of “Buddhist Economics” from?

Thanks!

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Most social development policies have among its key targets or performance indicators the measurements of Gini coefficient or index.

The Gini index is a [measure intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation’s residents, and is the most commonly used measurement of inequality.

I will need you to explain further what you mean as using basic human life as bedrock of value.

Money does that already, as labour, usually contracted in terms of hours or months of life foregone and in set amounts of currency.

You can surely come up with alternative measures, some groups have come with very creative local community currencies etc.

The truth is that as long as a capitalist market-based approach to the social calculation problem is unanimously taken across the planet everything will need to be eventually priced in terms of the prevailing choice for currency and from the perspective of capitalist values.

The scary thing is that with the advent of unlimited corporations the blind pursuit for accumulation in the capitalism system managed to basicallt transcend the individuals driving it.

And a key driver of that transcending was the advent of modern finance and expansion of financial capital well beyond the immediate transactionsl needs of individuals within economies.

In an economy with excess financial capital unlimited the process of accumulation enslaves more than one generation across time under the dynamics needed to perpetuate things exactly as they have been. This happens via a combination of massive creation of idle savings in the hands of a few and its entrapment under debt and stocks under the promise of furher appropriation of future surplus.

Sure you can imagine it. And to inspire you, I strongly encourage checking this wiki on the topic of the socialist calculating debate.

“(…) Socialists generally held one of three major positions regarding the unit of calculation, including the view that money would continue to be the unit of calculation under socialism; that labor-time would be a unit of calculation; or that socialism would be based on calculation in natura or calculation performed in-kind. (…)”

If I understood well your thinking up to this point, you are biased towards some sort of labor-time as a unit of calculation and value for services and goods to be transacted.

I am optimistic that with current smartphone technology we could definitely handle different and more egalitarian approaches to the social calculation problem.

The problem is that there is a lot of privately owned capital already hooked in the industries which now result in human beings having gone through 11 iterations of iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones!

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This is brilliant. I think these four possible futures sum up pretty well the state of things.

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Right? Hard to beat a good two by two matrix!

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I asked the same question when I first read it in the early 00’s!

On the topic of “Buddhist Economics”, have you every read Bhante Payutto’s homonimous book?

Interesting that the person who looks after his/her own good but not the good of others is superior to the person who looks after others but neglects his/her own good.

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According to Robert Leonard (see attached article) for most of his adult life Schumacher was primarily a Gurdjieff & Ouspensky guy, until his old age when he converted to Catholicism. He learned about Buddhism through attendance at Edward Conze’s lectures at the London Buddhist Society, reading Nyanaponika and Nyanatiloka, spending three months in Burma at the time of the Sixth Council and meditating with U Ba Khin.

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In the US, we had something that approximated this until the early 80s. The top tax bracket was essentially taxed away at rates from 70-92% from 1936-1981, creating a practical limit on a person’s annual income. It started out as a way to rescue the government from the smoking crater the Great Depression created in the federal budget. It remained high until Reagan. Today it’s down to 37%.

The real reason for these absurdly super-rich people, though, is the equity investment system. If you start a company and win, you become a human version of the dragon Smaug sitting on a giant pile of stock shares. Bezos owns over 50 million shares of Amazon, which today sell at \$2,485 each.

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I don’t have the intellectual chops to get deep in the weeds on economic theories of wealth distribution, taxation, and so forth. But this subject is too interesting to not be a part of.

The appeal of a system of a minimum basic wage that would allow every member of a society to have all basic needs met is very appealing, as is the idea that the most talented and entrepreneurial would have their incomes capped at a rate, say, of 10 times the basic income is also appealing. I suppose if there were a society that was truly Buddhist,and governed by a Dhammic government, such a society might be achievable, and be a happy and safe society in which to live.

I suppose the problem has been that many societies that have tested forms of equalization of income and a progressive form of a mutually supportive social economy have failed to some degree. Communist systems have been riddled with corruption, and violence. Even in some European countries that practice a positive form of socialism seem to have the usual problems with corruption, with those at the top being slaves to greed and a need for power.

I feel there is also a psychological need for intelligent, or talented, people to be able to flex these muscles and be rewarded for being motivated, talented and diligent. This kind of psychology seems basic to all people, and is arguably what has driven some western economies to grow and prosper. The United States, by way of example, at one time in the post-WWII era, was a dynamic society with good access to education, and levels of prosperity and opportunity not seen previously in the modern world. Yet, what was once a model for the regulated capitalist model is now a perverse cartoon of its former self. It is now a rogue unregulated state where the wealthy control most all of the capital, and the truly poor are trapped in cycles of poverty with no access to education or healthcare. It is shameful to be a part of such a perverse society.

It seems to me that the “Trump card” for any of these possibly positive socialist models is the psychology card. Some people are just psychologically wired to cheat, to steal, and to abuse others in order to satisfy their own greed for power, money, and control. It is these toxic psychological characteristics that has seemed to bring down most every modern attempt at creating and running a more egalitarian society.

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I guess the key difference in what I am proposing as opposed to a Marxist approach is that the value is human life, not human labor.

Labor still emphasizes productivity. And you then still have to hack on support for non-productive individuals.

I think we should, at our bedrock, care for people because they are alive, not because of what they do.

I’m not sure I can do it much more than I have already. I simply mean, the basic ethical requirement for an economic system should be to provide the material prerequisites for a decent human life. The economic system should derive from that, and not treat it as an afterthought.

But that’s why I’m asking questions, I’m trying to clarify my thinking.

Right, it has taken on a life of its own. Cory Doctorow wrote years ago about how corporations will develop sentience, breed and evolve, and treat us as interchangeable cells whose function is to sustain the corporation.

Well, that’s very specific and helpful, thanks. Always good to be reminded that when people say “Buddhism” they actually mean a very specific subset of the things that they have actually been exposed to. But doing a retreat in Myanmar in those days shows a lot of seriousness that I would not have guessed.

Right. The difference is that I’m suggesting the limitation on inequality be a fundamental axiom of the system, not an optional extra.

And the process of dispersal—say when billions have died due to climate change, and the idea of a nation-state is rendered irrelevant because everyone who remains is a refugee—might free a generation to imagine a better way.

It’s true, and I really don’t have an answer to this. The argument of the capitalists is that their system works with the reality of human greed. I think that’s a lie, as greed is only a part of humanity. And to sustain capitalism, human greed is not merely accepted, but aggressively amplified. Nevertheless, any system is going to have to reckon with the reality of greed, hate, and delusion.

While we’re on it, I believe one of the great failings of the progressives is that we cannot imagine the extent to which people are motivated by hate. We want to change the world so that everyone is better off, including those we disagree with. But that’s not how they think. They want to hurt us. Like really, they want us to suffer. They’ll even do things that harm themselves, as long as it harms us more.

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This is a keen observation. In the US, hate is a cultivated dog whistle theme. Each interest group has become quite good at “othering” those that it disagrees with, or that opposes its position. In the US, so many of us have become blinded by hate, on both sides. I see the hatred the left has for Trump and his base. His base hates the left just as much, if not more. And in the end, most of the country is just embroiled in hate and suspicion of “others.” What people forget is that the “others” are us. We are in a circle pointing guns at each other, while the financial oligarchs and politicians like Trump and his cronies stand off to the side and chuckle.

We need Buddhist (or at least, ethical and compassionate ) leaders. That’s my solution. The Dhamma is the prescription for the sickness of greed and delusion that is spreading around the globe like a pandemic. But, in the US, we have become a nation of dummies, and of polarized toxic interest groups that would make the election of of a balanced, ethical leader impossible. Our best and brightest train to become CEOs, doctors, and tech giants, or monastics, and avoid government as it is a cesspool these days, where the honest and well intended are marginalized and voted out by the extremes in each party.

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Labor-time is not necessarily about having everyone working in a manufacturing production line. It can be anything, including arts, teaching meditation, watching videos on the internet and providing feedback to help social media meets social needs, or just being still and simply adhering to the 5 precepts!

It is very aligned with what you are thinking of. That’s why I recommended you learn more about utopian socialism and the socialist calculation debate and more broadly the economic calculation problem.

The reason you assumed labor-time excludes things considered non-productive from a capitalist perspective is exactly because you (and I) only have capitalist parameters to judge labor from.

Plus, the only large scale socialist experiments we have to date were conceived in wartimes, and because of that inherited highly militaristic aspects. Every single socialist / communist project to date happened well before things like computers, internet.

And the truth is that these things expanded people`s understanding of how differently we can spend our time and pursue more efficient transformation of the material world around us towards fulfilling our needs for four requisites and beyond.

And note, as well, that Marx and Engels did not provide much of answers to the socialist calculation problem themselves. Hence, they cannot be directly linked for blamed for the shortcomings of the choices made by those who sought to implement an alternative system inspired by his analytical framework for the inherent problems of capitalism.

I also think it is worth making use of Buddha’s understanding of what constitutes ‘food’ as found in SN12.11 to us as a good way to shape labor-time value.

In the utopian socialist system implied in your thinking, services and products could be transacted via allocation and use of any labor-time which works towards meeting needs in terms of solid food, contact (lodging, clothing, medicine), mental intention (education, inspiration), and consciousness (meditation and sources of entertainment in the form of sights, sounds, tastes, etc).

I bet Jan Appel would approve that! And it surely does meet your understanding that any system needs to accomodate greed, hate and delusion - these four nutriments keeps samsara spinning and Mara wining!

This link will be helpful to understand where Jan Appel got to and maybe you could leverage from chapter 4:

Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution (1930)

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Given that the fetter of conceit is only abandoned once extinction is achieved by an arahant, I dont even think Buddhist leaders will do the trick sorting things out!

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