A Conversation about the Popsicle Index

[CAF Note: I first published this in 1999. I thought I would update it and republish.]

By Catherine Austin Fitts

When I was a child, the way our neighborhood would figure things out was by sitting on the stoops in front of our homes and having a conversation. Some conversations lasted an evening, some conversations went on all summer and some—like who was a better hitter, Ted Williams, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron—were still going on when I left town.

Conversations were our way of finding out what gave us meaning. Conversations helped us understand problems and find solutions.  Conversations were how we got smart because no one was as smart as all of us.

I want to have a conversation about the Popsicle Index.

What is the Popsicle Index?  The Popsicle Index is the % of people in a community who believe that a child can leave their home, go to the nearest place to buy a Popsicle and come home alone safely. When I was a child growing up in West Philadelphia in the 1950’s, the Popsicle Index was 100%. We were a modest neighborhood, even poor by some standards. But each one of us felt welcome and safe.

Today, after years of drugs, crime, government programs and mortgage and loan fraud, the moms in my old neighborhood probably feel the Popsicle Index is a whole lot lower.

Experts sometimes say to me, “But the crime rate is dropping steadily!” My response is that national averages have their place but they don’t apply in specific cases. There are approximately 3,100 counties and 63,000 neighborhoods in America and what counts is each one, one-by-one. Moreover, the Popsicle Index is not about statistics and it’s about a lot more than crime.

The Popsicle Index is about how people feel. Our feelings are real. Our feelings and our thoughts invent our world. Our feelings determine how we use our time, develop habits, associate with others, transact in the marketplace and vote at the ballot box.

Crime may be down, but any mother or father knows it takes twenty years to raise a child and all it takes is one incident for a child to lose their life, their peace of mind or their soul.

Even when reported crime is absent, the Popsicle Index can still be very low. A lot of kids can die from cars driving through a community too fast because the roads are poorly designed and people don’t care much about each other. The absence of evil does not ensure the presence of love. Conscious love is what must be present continuously to raise healthy children. In America if you ask parents how far away their kids are free to roam, you will find that indeed the Popsicle Index is very low.

Every evening, the nightly news touts the performance of the Dow Jones index as a unifying indicator for we are doing? Our corporate wealth is only part of our wealth. When I was a little girl, the Dow Jones was $150 while the Popsicle Index was 100%. The Dow Jones has increased many, many times. Is the wealth of corporations growing at the expenses of people and living things? Is centralizing control of the economy and political authority reducing the quality of life? These are important questions in our conversation.

I first thought of the Popsicle Index when I served as Assistant Secretary of Housing in the first Bush Administration. I experienced a daily flow of homebuilders, relators, mortgage brokers, municipal officials, not for profit developers and a variety of other constituents lobby me for what made them money. It turned most everyone wanted me to make decisions regarding government rules, spending and mortgage credit that would cause publically traded stocks and private equity, including the value of real estate, to go up. Capital gains was the largest source of political contributions. Alas, very few peole made money on a rising Popsicle Index because communities don’t have their own stock markets and investment vehicles.

That got me thinking about what would happen if we had venture funds, mutual funds, REITS and stock markets for places. Then developers, investors, pension funds and global financial institutions could make money on education improving in a place, on a place becoming more beautiful, on reducing consumption and healing the environment and on the Popsicle Index going up in a community.

I realized that America needed a way to understand that the Dow Jones Index and the Popsicle Index had a win-lose relationship, a lot of it had to do with how government budgets and equity vehicles were organized and that it was possible to create a win-win relationship. So I invented the Popsicle Index.

Since then I have been having a conversation with anyone who is interested about what is causing the Popsicle Index to go up and what is causing it to go down and how that relates to where we make, spend and invest our money.

I invite you to imagine a world where the Popsicle Index and Dow Jones Index rise and fall together and enjoy a conversation with others about where the opportunity is to make that so.