A Special from the Progress Report
The Green Future of Politics
You won't find it anywhere else -- special post-election commentary from the president of the Geonomy Society.
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BUILDING ON NADER 2000
by Jeffery J. Smith
Countering corporations locallyAnti-corporate power, the signature issue of the Green Party's Nader 2000 campaign, will continue to galvanize popular support for the 2001 local elections, the 2002 Congressional elections, and the 2004 presidential election. By elbowing his way into major media coverage, Nader may even help Green Parties in other countries. The issue of corporate abuse is a lightning rod. All it needs is a solution.
Nader called for cutting off the public spigot to corporations. This justifiable position leads to two others. One, if public funds are not spent on advertising MacDonalds in Paris and other corporate party favors, what should the tax dollars pay for? How about a social salary or 'citizens dividend', an extra income for everyone? Two, at the local level, the usual tool to help local businesses survive against huge chains and "big box " retail outlets is zoning, a tool becoming unwieldy, counterproductive and cost-prohibitive. How about having government collect "rents" from sites and resources to drive better land use automatically?
Resolving real politik
To ride the anti-corporate bandwagon into next year's local elections, Greens will have to come up with a proposal not circumscribed by trade treaties and court rulings. Even without a Bush Supreme Court, zoning is in trouble, thanks to High Court rulings. One landmark case originated here in the Northwest just outside Portland. The US jurists ruled that government land-use decisions can be a "taking" and that the public must compensate private landowners whose property thereby loses value.
The issue of compensation is perfect for a little political jujitsu. Rather than fight opponents head on, turn their momentum in the direction that defenders need it to go. That is, turn the demand for compensation on its head. Here's how.
Not only does society take value (via eminent domain), it also gives value. Indeed, the mere presence of people pumps up land value. The more and faster population grows, the more and faster land value rises. The better the location, the steeper the rise. That socially-generated value is there for society to collect and share.
Our agent, government, could collect Earth's worth via a tax, fee, dues, lease, or some combination of the above. To share the collected "rents," government could pay each of us a Citizens Dividend at the federal level, a Resource Share at the state level (as Alaska and Alberta already do with oil revenue), and a Housing Voucher at the local "level." The Citizens Dividend (CD) is like the Citizens Income or Basic Income advocated in Europe. But it's even better, because it specifies the source of this social salary -- rent, the money we spend on the nature we use.
Better than welfare
Sharing natural rents makes it possible to reduce, even eliminate, many social programs that impose high costs, both financial and psychological. Not only is bureaucratic overhead high, but to receive any public assistance, one must first "fail" in order to qualify. A social salary, such as a rent dividend or CD, eliminates the stigma.
Everyone getting a social salary erases whatever flimsy rationalization there may be for corporate welfare. Let the corporations risk their own money if they want so badly to fund nuclear power, chemical pesticides, oil from shale, etc. None of those enterprises could survive the rigors of a freed market, one cured of special privilege. Soon public budgets would shrivel so much, balancing them would not be a problem. Spending the surplus would be the new challenge.
With corporate welfare eradicated, and with the annual value of oil, the broadcast spectrum, downtown commercial sites, and other natural resources collected and shared, we could begin to slough off taxes that impede efficiency -- regressive taxes on sales, wages, and homes. Talk about political jujitsu. Imagine the alliances Greens could forge with ordinary Americans around repealing such taxes and paying out a CD.
The policy of replacing taxes and subsidies with the collecting and sharing of rent goes by the name of geonomics. Geonomics fits neatly with the Greens' original Four Pillars, four key ideas dating back to when Greens were "neither left nor right but out in front."
1. Collecting rents drives efficient use of land and resources, adhering to Ecological Wisdom.
2. Minimizing taxation de-claws the state, reducing the role of force and coercion in our lives, a key to tolerant Nonviolence.
3. Sharing rents empowers people, since political power follows economic, to participate more fully in Grassroots Democracy. And
4. Minimizing bureaucratic services means the state won't be making basic choices; people will be empowered to practice Social Responsibility.
Redefining the Property Tax
While campaigning, Nader cited the local part of the green tax shift, from buildings to locations. Around the world, several Green Parties have this Property Tax Shift in their platform. In the US, major environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth promote this "sprawl tax," so dubbed by another proponent, Northwest Environment Watch. Wasteful use of land, such as huge asphalt aprons for parking lots, woul d be priced naturally out of the market -- and the big box chains with them.
In some states, those whose constitutions artificially combine collecting rent (smart economics) with taxes against housing (foolish economics), it may be necessary to amend the constitution. Although constitutional battles are visible, they're long and hard, too. While awaiting ultimate victory, a locality could try to collect rent via an Assessment District. Since the collected revenue would not be spent by the state but be rebated equitably to residents as a Housing Voucher, proponents could argue in court that the collection mechanism is not a tax at all but a compensation by landowners for their taking of socially generated value.
Not left nor right but fair and efficient
Greens need a signature issue for something, too, an original position beyond the usual left laundry list, even beyond left and right altogether, letting a critical mass rally around, a position that will fly well in the cities and counties, since all politics is local, as are next year's elections. The rent-share could be that. Recognizing and flowing with the worth of Mother Earth, it's green. Dealing with money (people vote their pocketbook), it gets to the root of our problems. By invest ing their current political capital in the call for sharing natural rents and not taxing useful effort, the Green movement in America could grow to replace the mainstream and within a few election cycles build the world we all want.
Jeffery J. Smith nurtured the Greens of San Diego into existence. When he moved out of San Diego, of the 12 Greens elected to local office in California, six were from San Diego. His booklet, "One Way to Start a Green Group", was sent out to people organizing new chapters around the country. Now in the Northwest, he edits The Geonomist and organizes and presents to events in places considering green revenue reform.
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