The 2nd Law (part 3) – The Missing Linkage Between Economy and Ecosystem. Mankiw’s Ten Principles and Thermoeconomics


Recalling the previous post about ecological sustainability [1],

The 2nd Law (part 2) – My Issue with Ecological Sustainability and World Economy (Mankiw’s Ten Principles)

what is missing is strong linkage between the world economy and the limited biocapacity of the planet Earth.

The missing link between economy and ecosystem has been already pointed out by many researchers [2].

World Economy and Ecosystem: Mankiw’s 10 Principles and Thermoeconomics

Both, natural ecosystem and world economy are complex system and theirs outcomes are not easy to define analytically, to predict and to manage.

Briefly, world economy have been described by Mankiw’s Ten Principles and outcomes are mainly due to [1]:

  • Decision Making and Supply-Demand’s law (invisible hand)
  • Regulation by Government and Policy Makers

Regarding the ecosystems, the Global Footprint Network is attempting to provide a measure about the biocapacity of each country as well as for all over the world. This year (2014), human activities have consumed all the biocapacity available on 19th of August [3].

A possible link between the world economy and the ecosystem might be established thanks to Thermoeconomics [4]: that is Thermodynamics applied to Economy.

Without touching topics such as, thermodynamics, information theory and cybernetic, briefly, both ecosystem and economy are two environments that are accessing to the same resources (biocapacity, energy,…) available in the “system” Earth as shown in the Figure below [5]:

Economy and Ecosystem

Ecosystem

The ecosystem, thanks to photosynthesis and Krebs cycles, is efficiently using the resources in the Earth (mass and energy) without producing any waste.

The variables of an ecosystem are its biocapacity (mass: forests, animals, soil, water,…), energy, temperature, etc. and they are regulated by physics’ laws.

Economy

On the contrary, human activity is evolving and economy is growing because of energy dispersal without re-integrating biocapacity consumptions (deforestation, species’ extinctions, water, natural resources, etc) [6].

Values (money), regulations, prices, interest rates, etc. are the variables of the economy. Human behaviors and outcomes of the economy are governed by Mankiw’s ten principles [7].

What economy produce as an exchange for growth is mainly waste and pollution: something that neither the economic nor ecosystem environments are able to use as a resource.

How to Link World Economy & Ecosystem?

Since the beginning of the 19th century, many scientists, biologists, physics and economists, have conducted several studies and developed theories as well in order to address the missing link between economy and the entire ecosystems [2][8].

The same researches, inferred that (thermoeconomic):

Assumption 1: to each money transaction correspond a flow of energy or biocapacity.

Meanwhile, in the economic environment (from Mankiw’s ten principles):

Assumption 2: to each economic interaction among economic actors corresponds a transfer of value that is represented by a monetary flow.

Common economic interactions are:

  • selling\buying: a transfer of money from the consumer to the retailer
  • issuing a loan: a transfer of money from banks to households\firms.
  • transfers of money from central bank to national banks;
  • taxes and subsidies: transfers of money between households\firms and governments.
  • the act of printing money by the central bank incentivize the volume of the economic transactions since more money is putted into the system.

While:

  • producing goods\services means adding a value in the economic environment that is equal to the (price – cost of production).
  • consuming goods\services means decreasing the value in the economic system that is equal to the price paid for the goods\services.

The missing link… at least in theory, in two new principles

How Economy and Ecosystem Interact: Principle N.11

Putting assumption 1 from thermoeconomic and assumption 2 together, here below one missing principle to add at the previous Mankiw’s ten principle that might link World Economy with the Ecosystem:

Principle N.11

To Each Interaction among Economic Actors Corresponds both a Monetary Flow and an Energy Flow.

 

How Economy and Ecosystem Interact: Principle N.12

The new Principle N.12 is about how to deal with complex systems as both economy and ecosystem they are.

In a complex system mostly of the times something strange, new and unexpected happen that is called as “emergent phenomena“.

An example, is the human body. A body is actually a mass o billions of one-celled organism like bacteria.

Well, would a unicellular organism exist without human bodies? Of course, Yes. There are even bacteria that infect our organism.

On the contrary, would human bodies exist without unicellular organisms? No!

Therefore, the questions above suggest us that a human body is an emergent phenomena of unicellular organisms as well as there is also clear hierarchy of existence among complex systems.

What about Economy and Ecosystem?

By answering to the same questions:

  • Would Ecosystem exists without Economy? Yes, as it happened before humankind.
  • On the contrary, would Economy exists without Ecosystem? No way. Economy is an emergent phenomena created by humankind, and humankind is an emergent phenomena of Ecosystem as well. As a matter of fact, human beings can not exist without the support of the Ecosystem: mainly food, water and energy.

Such a reasoning leads to Principle N.12:

Principle N.12

The Economic Environment is an Emergent Phenomena of the Ecosystem.

So, once acknowledged the new Principles  N.11 and N.12 that link Economy and Ecosystem:

what does they mean in practice, both for economic activities and enviroment sustainability?

To be continued…

Feelink – Feel & Think approach for doing life!

Resources

[1]: I. Gruer, “The 2nd Law (part 2) – My Issue with Ecological Sustainability and World Economy (Mankiw’s Ten Principles)”. Posted Sept. 10, 2014, http://www.ivangruer.com.

[2]: Peter A. Corning. “Control Information Theory: The Missing Link in the Science of Cybernetics”. System Research and Behavioral Science. n.24, pp 297-311, 2007.

[3]: Earth Overshoot Day. “Global Footprint Network“. http://www.footprintnetwork.org

[4]: Peter A. Corning. “Thermoeconomics: Beyond the Second Law”. Journal of Bioeconomics. Vol. 4 – Issue 1, pp 57-88, 2002.

[5]: M. Gong, G. Wall. “On Exergetics, Economics, and Optimization of Technical Process to Meet Enviromental Conditions”. International Conference on Thermodynamic Analysis and Improvements on Energy Systems. 10-13 June 1997. Beijing, China.

[6]: A. Annilla, S. Salthe. “Economy Evolves by Energy Dispersal”. Entropy. 11-2009. http://www.mdpi.com/journal/entropy/

[7]: N.Gregory Mankiw. Principles of Economics 6e. South-Western, Cenage Learning.

[8] Peter A. Corning. Holistic Darwinism: Synergy, Cybernetics, and the Bioeconomics of Evolution. University Of Chicago Press. 2005.

[9]: N.Gregory Mankiw. “A Carbon Tax that America could Love with”. New York Times. 01. Sept. 2014.

[10]: Buttonwood’s Notebook. “Energy use and Growth: an Optimistic View”. The Economist. 26 June 2013.

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The 2nd Law (part 2) – My Issue with Ecological Sustainability and World Economy (Mankiw’s Ten Principles)


ABC_Towards_Ecological_Sustainability

Global Footprint and Ecological Sustainability

19th August 2014, planet Earth: humanity has exhausted all the biological resources provided by nature in one year [1].

According to Global Footprint Network, last 19th August was the Earth Overshoot Day 2014. That means, from 20th of August till the end of the year 2014, in order to support world consumptions and human activities, the world economy has to exploit natural resources, such as water, soil and gas, that nature is not able to recover back as usable as well as all the carbon dioxide emissions will not be assimilated by the ecosystem anymore.

Till 70s, human activities where below Earth’s biocapacity. From 80s, the world economy has always overshoot the biocapacity and it’s getting higher and higher every year. Financially speaking, is like withdrawing from a bank account more money than incomes: It’s not sustainable in the long run.

Way towards ecological sustainability (Mankiw’s Ten Principles)

According to Mankiw’s ten Principles [2], there are manly two ways\approaches that might promote ecological sustainability:

  1. Regulations
  2. Decision Making and Consumer Awareness

1. Regulations

Recalling the so called “invisible hand” of principle n.6, markets are a good way to organize economic activities:

Households and firms that interact in market economies act as if they are guided by an “invisible hand” that leads the market to allocate resources efficiently. The opposite of this is economic activity that is organized by a central planner within the government.

Meanwhile, Governments and policy makers can fix market inefficiencies, as stated in principle n.7:

When a market fails to allocate resources efficiently, the government can change the outcome through public policy. Examples are regulations against monopolies and pollution

Therefore, according to principle N.7, Governments and policy makers can regulate market ecological inefficiencies towards sustainability as well. For example, through incentives in renewable energies (see also principle n.2), taxes or regulations.

As an example, with regards to climate changes, Mankiw himself suggest (see A Carbon Tax that America could love with, New York Times [3]) to put a price (tax) on carbon emissions. In such a way, Governments, by charging a fee for each carbon emission, will “internalize the external costs” due to climate changes (hurricanes, global warm,…).

Prices of Product\Services with higher carbons emissions will have higher prices and thus people will be inactivated to buy other products with less carbon emissions (see also Principle N.2), look for alternatives, or even not to buy it (see also principle N.1).

2. Decision Making and Consumer Awareness

Since people have a limited amount resources in terms of time and money, behind each consumptions there is always a tradeoff.

That means, People Face Tradeoffs (principle n.1):

To get one thing, you have to give up something else. Making decisions requires trading off one goal against another.

As an example, in the same post concerning climate changes [3], Mankiw’s pointed out that people might decide to:

  • buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient car;
  • use public transportation;
  • eat more locally produced foods, which need less fuel to transport;
  • ….

as a trade-off for introducing in the ecosystem less carbon emissions and waste.

Therefore, people decision-making and how much people is sensitive toward sustainability issues when consuming, have an impact on the ecological footprint.

My issue about economic activities and (bio) sustainability

In order to achieve ecological sustainability, there are two approaches argued among economists, activists, biologists and mathematicians. One is through regulations (tax, incentives, agreements,…) and the second one through more responsable decision-making by consumers and firms.

Regulation approach concerns “How Economic Work as a Whole” Mankiw’s principles:

  • n.5: Trade Can Make every one better off;
  • n.6: Market are a good way to organize economic activity;
  • n.7: Governments can improve economic outcomes;

While, Decision Making is about awareness on biological impacts of consumptions. “How People Make Decisions”  are explained by the following Mankiw’s principles:

  • n.1: People Face Trade Offs
  • n.2: The Cost of Something is what you give up on get it
  • n.3: Rational People think at the Margin
  • n.4: People Respond to Incentives

Regarding regulations, Mankinw’s himself complained how difficult is to convince politicians to put a fee on a carbon tax. Elections debates are about reducing rather than increasing taxes [3] and usually people is not willing to vote a candidate who promotes new taxes.

Concerning Decision Making, some researches applied thermodynamics principles (2nd Law) to Economics (Thermoeconomics) and theirs conclusion was that each money transaction as well as consumptions is essentially a flow of energy [4][5].

Thus, no matter if the decision is to buy a smaller and more, fuel-efficient car or use public transportation: an amount of energy will be dispersed anyway.

But, what happen in everyday life when a new car is bought? Actually, there is a money flow from the consumer to the retailer.

Thus, since for each consumption there are either  a money flow and an energy flow, my issue regarding ecological sustainability of economy is:

Why not considering money as a measure of energy and biocapacity flows?

People use money as a tool for exchanges, and such interactions are described by the remaining three Mankiw’s principles (How People Interact):

  • n.8: A Country’s Standard of Living Depends on Its Ability to Produce Goods and Services;
  • n.9: Prices Rise When the Government Prints Too Much Money;
  • n.10: Society Faces a Short-Run Tradeoff Between Inflation and Unemployment;

Some scientists already pointed out the missing link between Information Theory (Cybernetics) and social sciences (e.g. economy) as well as biologists have some concerns about sustainability of an economy based on endless growth.

Thus, how to create a link between human economy and the Earth biocapacity thanks to the achievements and researches in Economy, Physics, Biology and Cybernetic?

Decision Making and Policies have a key role for pursuing economy towards ecological sustainability, as described by Mankiw’s principles from number 1 to 7.

Nevertheless, till economy is not linked with natural environment and its limited biocapacity neither policies and more conscious behaviors towards sustainability will be effective since what is missing is how people interact: money flows and monetary policies.

With regardless to Mankiw’s principle n.2:

The Cost of Something is What You Give Up to Get It.

So, how much does it cost to give up to link economy with natural environment?.

There is an Optimistic View about a self-regulation of the world economy that, thanks to the supply-demand’s law, will guarantee an endless growth and energy efficiency as well [6].

However, relying mainly on the supply-demand’s law it is a reactive, rather than proactive, attitude towards sustainability.

Since economy is also a social science, having such an optimistic view it means forgetting what happened in the 18th century to the population of Easter Island: they dropped from 15.000 to 2.000-3.000 inhabitants because of an ecology disaster created by themself.

People of Easter Island realized supply-demand’s effect when it was too late for recovering their ecosystem and its biocapcity.

Economy, ecosystems and complex systems in general, have outcomes that are not predictable and controllable in the long-run.

Avoiding to consider the constraint of a limited Earth’s biocapacity, it means avoiding the risk of definitely compromise the entire ecosystem without any chance for recovering.

So the question is: would all humankind be reactive or proactive towards the ecological sustainability issue?

Feelink – Feel & Think approach for doing life!

Resources

[1]: Earth Overshoot Day. “Global Footprint Network“. http://www.footprintnetwork.org

[2]: N.Gregory Mankiw. Principles of Economics 6e. South-Western, Cenage Learning.

[3]: N.Gregory Mankiw. “A Carbon Tax that America could Love with”. New York Times. 01. Sept. 2014.

[4]: A. Annilla, S. Salthe. “Economy Evolves by Energy Dispersal”. Entropy. 11-2009. http://www.mdpi.com/journal/entropy/

[5]: M. Gong, G. Wall. “On Exergetics, Economics, and Optimization of Technical Process to Meet Enviromental Conditions”. International Conference on Thermodynamic Analysis and Improvements on Energy Systems. 10-13 June 1997. Beijing, China.

[6]: Buttonwood’s Notebook. “Energy use and Growth: an Optimistic View”. The Economist. 26 June 2013.

Barriers to change… Should I stay or should I go? A ripped up speech


Ferdinandeo (Triest), Saturday 21st September 2013 around 12:00 a.m.: what to say as a final speech after attending an MBA program in behalf of all the class?

Here below an idea, a story about barriers to change… delivered here, in a comfortable “context”, with 10 day of delay: should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go? A story about barriers to change

Should I stay or Should I go? That was the question that each MBA participant has faced when applying for the master program in business administration here at MIB School of Management.

Should I get an MBA in my country or abroad?

The MBA class of the 23rd edition was almost equally distributed: 60% foreigners and 40% Italians. Who made the right decision?

Nobody knows… now!

Anyhow, what all the participants of the 23rd edition have in common, both foreigners and Italians, is that they have started a changing process in a way:

someone changed country, some other quit a job and somebody did both.

Was that easy? Of course it was not!

Why? Because each change requires a transformation process, and each transformation process requires resources:

physically, mentally and emotionally.

So… which are the barriers to change? I would say mainly three:

unawareness, laziness and conservation of the status quo.

The first one, unawareness, means that since I don’t know there is a problem, why to invest resources for a change? How to start a changing process in such a situation? Simply by creating awareness: “Houston, we have a problem!”

The second one, laziness, I know there is a problem but it requires too much resources: physically, mentally and emotionally. In this case the therapy is defining an objective that is attractive enough in order to justify the effort.

The third one, conservation of the status quo, is the toughest: I do know there is a problem and I do not want to change since I feel myself comfortable in the current situation. I am not sure… in this case uncertainties about the current situation and status quo will establish a changing process.

Why uncertainties? According to a passage taken from a speech held here in this hall few months ago: “Since the economy is not growing in Europe and in the Western counties, the only alternative for getting good jobs is to go abroad where the economy is booming”

So… should I stay or should I go? According to this story, I would say: it depends!

It depends on how much uncertain and uncomfortable you are with your current situation and status quo… unless new innovative opportunities and unconventional alternatives will be created from scratch.

All the best for the MBA23 and MBA24 classes!

Thank you!

The story was slightly different and this speech has not been delivered because the “context”, the final ceremony for the MBA23 class, was not comfortable for the speaker.

How to break such a uncomfortable situation? …well, you already know the moral of the story: by creating uncertainties through innovative and unconventional alternatives!

Feelink – Feel & Think approach for doing life!

20130930-101901.jpg

The 2nd Law: a MUSE for a Sustainable Economy


What does it mean sustainable? After the last financial crisis in 2007 as well as the issues of global warming, pollution and deforestation the word “sustainable” has become very popular.

That is the question that many people have. That’s why there are many best sellers about economic crisis. That’s why nowadays economists are so popular… that’s why I’ve just bought the last book by @TimHarford “The Undercover Economist Strikes Back”.

In their latest album, “The 2nd Law“, the rock band @muse spreads out to the all the fans the concept of entropy and the second principle of thermodynamics. Paraphrasing Rockonomics by Tim Harford (see Undercover Economist: the law of rockonomics), that’s an example of Rockphysic…cool, check it out!

MUSE – The 2nd Law: Unsustainable

All natural and technological processes proceed in such a way that the availability of the remaining energy decreases. In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases. Energy continuously flows from being concentrated, to becoming dispersed, spread out, wasted and useless. New energy cannot be created and high grade energy is being destroyed. An economy based on endless growth is Unsustainable

The fundamental laws of thermodynamics will place fixed limits on technological innovation and human advancement. In an isolated system the entropy can only increase. A species set on endless growth is Unsustainable

So, according to the second law of thermodynamics each transformation requires energy (see also Does the price for inequalities exist because of the second law of thermodynamics?). If the system is isolated there is no way to recover such energy in a state that can be used. An example, think about a car as a system that transforms the chemical energy of the gasoline in mechanical energy and heat (…mainly heat actually). If the car is an isolated system, once the tank is empty the car can not work anymore. Fortunately the car is not isolated, since it’s sill possible to go to the patrol station and fill again the tank with additional energy: gasoline.

What about the planet earth: is it an isolated system? Is the world economy as is defined nowadays sustainable accordingly to the second law of thermodynamics? For @MattBellamy, @CaptMorganized, @CTWolstenholme and their friend Charles no way: it’s unsustainable.

Anyhow, since the planet is not isolated there is a chance to create a sustainable economy and thus to avoid extinction. How? Every second, every minute every day for billions of years the planet Earth has received energy from the Sun. It’s thanks to the solar energy that there is life in our planet and all the human activities are possible (even blogging!). Both, life and world economy need energy. In order to be sustainable, the sum of the energy needed for life and human activities must be lower that the solar energy received from the Sun (see Life on Earth). In this way the stock of energy available in the biosphere (number of species, forests, oil,…) will increase or, if the energy consumed equals the energy received, at least remains constant (see Figure below).

charles

On the contrary, if the energy consumed by life and human activities is higher than the energy coming from the Sun, the energy balance is negative and the stock of energy in the biosphere will decrease (extinctions of species, deforestation, oil, gas,…). That condition can not be sustained for a long period since the stock of energy available in the planet is finite. It’s like a bank account: expenditures higher than the incomes can be sustained till the bank account is positive!

That’s way Entropy likes the song “Time is on my side” by Rolling Stone. Soon or later the 2nd Law will impose its energy dictatorship to all the humankind.

Rolling Stones – Time is on my Side

According to Tim Harford  there is an Optimistic View about a self-regulation of the world economy that, thanks to the supply-demand’s law, will guarantee an endless growth and energy efficiency as well (see Energy Use and Growth: an Optimistic View).  In particular, for Tim Harford the key fact is that:

Economic growth and energy growth are not the same thing, and there are good reasons to believe they’re already in the process of decoupling from each other

Believe!?! Despite there are good reasons, why the sustainability of an endless economic growth is not certain and still a Belief? Is really knowledge what is missing?

What about replacing “believe” with more certain words such as “assert”, “confirm” or “state”? Few simple questions should be answered:

  1. How much energy the planet Earth receives from the Sun [S]?
  2. How much energy is needed for supporting life (carbon cycle,  photosynthesis, climate,…) in the Earth [L]?
  3. How much energy is consumed by the world economy [E]?

Are the life and the human activities together in the planet Earth sustainable?

If

Energy from the Sun [S] < Energy for sustaining Life [L] + Energy consumed by the economy [E]

Mr. Charles, after few calculations, will give the answer: UN-UN-UNSUSTAINABLE!

So, conscious about the uncertain sustainability of the world economy as it is defined nowadays, let’s move our bodies following the irresistible funky rif of “Panic Station” from “The 2nd Law” album by Muse while since entropy is inattentive (it’s still singing “Time is on my side”).

MUSE – Panic Station

You won’t get much closer
Until you sacrifice it all (all the energy available)
You won’t get to taste it
With your face against the wall (the truth of The 2nd Law)

…actually, the humankind has already “tasted” the unavoidable rule of the 2nd law. In the 18th century, the population of Easter Island has dropped from 15.000 to 2.000-3.000 because an ecology disaster due to an unsustainable use of the natural resources (see Easter Island, they harvest all the woods in the island). If the inhabitants of Easter Island had had the chance to see a concert of “The 2nd Law” tour in Rapa Nui probably they would have decided not to hack up so many trees. Is the humankind smart enough to learn from his mistakes and make the optimistic view of growth really sustainable? Who knows!

Feelink – Feel & Think approach for doing life!

Does the price for inequalities exist because of the second law of thermodynamics? (Entropy)


Inequalities, information theory and economy

Few days ago in The Economist’s blog was posted a comment regarding the issue of the wealth inequalities in the world.

In the comment was mentioned the last book written by the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001 Joseph E. Stiglitz: “The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future“. Inequality is an actual topic especially considering the differences between the level of development of the economies and wealth in the world and the unbalance in terms of net exports and public debt between the emerging markets and the developed economies (see also The importance of balance and the idea of a sustainable growth).

Joseph E. Stiglitz, together with George A. Akerlof and A. Michael Spence, won the most famous and prestigious award price in Economic Science thanks to their analyses of markets with asymmetric information. Knowing that, suddenly came into my mind the relationship between differences (inequalities) and the concept of entropy. Why? Because entropy is a measure of the level of disorder of a system and the information within the system is fully distributed when the level of entropy (disorder) is highest.

An example of the second law of thermodynamics

photo credit: Josh Kenzer via photopin cc

photo credit: Josh Kenzer via photopin cc

Think at a glass of pure water taken from a fresh mountain spring and a drop of a good red wine. Since the water and the red wine are separated the level of disorder is low and the entropy as well. Furthermore, since it possible from an external observer to clearly distinguish between them, it is also provided an information: there is a clear water and there is  drop of red wine, nice and easy. Then, imagine to let the drop of red wine fall into the water: what will you see? There will be a transition phase in which the drop of wine expand itself and the water become less and less clear. At the end of the process the water it’s not so pure as a mointain spring and the drop of red wine is widespread and uniformly distributed so that the maximum level of disorder (entropy) has been reached and the information (red wine and clear water) is not available anymore from an external observer.

Time for a recap – entropy and information are related together: a high entropy means that the information is widespread and fully available within the system while a low entropy means that the information is ordered and organized and thus not fully available within the system.

Now, how entropy and cost of inequalities are correlated one to another? Well, let’s consider again the glass of water polluted with a drop of red wine. How should be the drop of wine separated again from the water? By looking at the tools available in the Chemistry Set, there are many techniques: centrifuge, stills and so on. However, these techniques, despite they are different, have common pattern: they need energy and where some energy is required there is always a cost and resources used! For the same reason, thinking about the transition phase of the process, in order to avoid that the drop of wine spreads over, a counteraction is required: barriers, centrifuge as well and whatever any chemist’s tool can provide.

Time for recap part 2 – information and entropy are related. If it is wanted to preserve the same level of entropy\disorder (information spread) some energy to spend is required unless the level of entropy has reached its maximum level (information fully widespread inside the system)

Conclusion

As far as I understand from the reasoning of Joseph E. Stiglitz,  to a polarized information correspond a polarized distribution of wealth as well. A polarized distribution of wealth means having inequalities that have a cost in terms of: inefficient use of resources (environment, labour,…), political insabilities and even unbalanced prices and rate of return in the stock market because an enclosed information let more space for speculation rather than for investments. Just think what’s going on with the public debt crisis in the Euro zone.

Considering the example of the water and the drop of wine described above, Is it possible to infer that behind the cost of inequalities mentioned by Joseph E. Stiglitz there is the second law of thermodynamics? (Entropy).

Since is sill more probable and easier to pollute the water rather than clean it or is not still possible to remember the future and forget the past (see also A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking) the second law of thermodynamics hasn’t been contradicted yet. Acknowledged that equality doesn’t mean fairness, how can be possible to measure the inequalities that can be tollerated by applying entropy to economic and society sciences in general?

Let’s think about it sitting in front a good red wine!

Feelink – Feel & Think approach for doing life!