Read Progress and Poverty as a teenager, did some further reading on the topic, and became a convinced Georgist. He went on to be graduated from high school at the age of fifteen, to earn a B.S. in Physics and a Ph.D. in Materials, and to end up working for the U.S. Patent Office, which is not responsible for his extracurricular opinions and activities. He is a Georgist tutor for the Henry George Institute, on whose board he now serves; he is also a long-time director of the Center for the Study of Economics, and a relatively new addition to the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation’s board.
There’s an article in The Wall Street Journal (Monday, September 30, 2013, p. A18) about Japan’s attempt to regulate its economy, titled, “Japan to Pair Tax Rise and Stimulus.” In a saner world, it wouldn’t be an article in the WSJ; it would be an article in The Onion.
Japan has a high and increasing national debt, thanks largely to its attempts to “stimulate” its way out of the lost decade following the bursting of its real estate bubble. The Japanese, whatever their faults, seem at least to see a little further ahead than some of our politicians, so they’re trying to raise taxes to stop going further into debt, which may be a defensible policy. But they’re doing it by raising the sales tax from 5% to 8%, which is an indefensible idea (note page 4 of Professor Gaffney’s essay for a paragraph about Japan).
Apparently someone is bright enough to grasp that raising the sales tax is the next worst thing to running the economy through with a naginata, so they’re trying to counteract the damage by stimulating — or I should say, “stimulating” — the economy. And according to Keynesian doctrine, the way to do this is by government spending. The government will hire people to repair the infrastructure or something, these people will spend their money to create jobs for more people, and the entire economy will flourish.
If it could work, it would have done so by now; the Keynesian view of stimulus neglects the problem that the money which the government spends to stimulate has to come out of someone’s pocket, one way or another, so there is an anti-stimulus to match the stimulus.
You might think that anyone outside an Onion story would be able to see this. You might think that people would react to this proposal for stimulus the way they would react to a proposal to make a blanket longer by cutting strips off the top and sewing them to the bottom to keep a sleeper’s toes warm.
Failing that, you might think that Japan’s economy were under the management of dull-witted children or certifiable lunatics. Or if you are more humble, you might think that Japan’s best economists — the learned men running the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Japan — must possess a superior understanding of economic questions that you and I lack.
But no. These are intelligent, educated men, who are presumably capable of good management in their private affairs. And yet, they do not possess a genuinely superior knowledge of economics, as witness the fact that for year after year, their attempts to restore prosperity have not worked.
They are acting like imbeciles because they have been miseducated into believing grossly mistaken ideas about how economies work, what causes unemployment and depressions, and how to cure them. The extensive educations which they may well possess in some respects are rendered largely worthless by their basic ignorance of land rent and the real causes of speculative bubbles and subsequent crashes. Being an expert in Keynesian economics is like being an authority on phlogiston chemistry or the Ptolemaic system of epicycles.
To avoid seeing more Onion like article in the serious financial press, we have a simple but immense and difficult task before us: We need to educate the world about Georgist economics.
a study of a phenomenon David Ricardo noted going on two centuries ago. When wine grapes rise to $10,000 a ton from the very best land (last year, cabernet sauvignon commanded an average of $4,021 a ton in the Napa Valley), then vineyard prices soar from $18,000 an acre in the 1980′s to $100,000 an acre five years ago and now for a top pedigree up to $300,000 an acre (The New York Times, April 9, via Wyn Achenbaum). Pricey land does not make wine pricey; spendy wine makes land spendy. While vintners make their wine tasty, nature and society in general – not any lone owner – make land desireable. Steve Kerch of CBS’s MarketWatch (April 5) notes that much of what a home sells for on the open market is a reflection of intangible factors such as what school district the house sits in. The price the builder has to pay for the land also tends to be driven by the same intangibles. Because the value of land comes from society, and because one’s use excludes the rest of society, each user owes all others compensation, and is owed compensation by everyone else. Sharing land’s value, instead of taxing one’s efforts, is the policy of geonomics.
an economic policy based on the earth’s natural patterns. Eco-systems self-regulate by using feedback loops to keep balance. Can economies do likewise? Why don’t they now produce efficiently and distribute fairly? The answers lie in the money we spend on the earth we use. To attain people/planet harmony, that financial flow from sites and resources must visit each of us. Our agent, government, must collect this natural rent via fees and disburse the collected revenue via dividends. And, it must forgo taxes on homes and earnings, and quit subsidies of either the needy or the greedy. As our steward, government must also collect Ecology Security Deposits, require Restoration Insurance, and auction off the occasional Emissions Permit. And that’s about it – were nature our model.
an alternative to conventional land trusts. Just as it seems some functions should not be left to the market – private courts and cops invite corruption (while private mediation is fine) – just so some land should not be left in the market. That said, sacred sites do not make much of a model for treating the vast acreage of land that we need to use. So the usual trust model, which is anti-use and counter-market, can not apply where it’s needed most. Trust proponents worry about ownership and control – two very human ambitions – but they’re not central. Supposedly, we the people own millions acres – acres that private corporations treat as private fiefdoms – and conversely, the Nature Conservancy owns wilderness the public can some places use as parks. So, the issue is not who owns but who gets the rent – ideally, all of us.
shaped by reality. In the 1980′s, the Swedish government doubled its stock transfer tax. Tax receipts, however, rose only 15%, since traders simply fled to London exchanges. Fearing a further exodus, the Swedish government quickly rescinded the tax altogether. (The New York Times, April 20) That willingness to tax anything leads us astray. Pushing us astray is that unwillingness to pay what we owe: rent for land, our common heritage. Assuming land value is up for grabs, we speculate. We cap the property tax on both land and buildings and the rate at which assessments can go up; while real market values rise quicker, assessments can never catch up. Our stewards, the Bureau of Land Management, routinely sell and lease sites below market value, often to insiders, says the Government Accounting Office. Once we grasp that rent is ours to share, we’ll collect it all, rather than let it enrich a few, and quit taxing earnings, which do belong to the individual earner. That shift is geonomic policy.
a new field of study offered in place of economics, as astronomy replaced astrology and chemistry replaced alchemy. Conventional economics, in which GNP can do well while people suffer, is a bit too superstitious for my renaissance upbringing. If I’m to propitiate unseen forces, it won’t be inflation or “the market”; let it be theEgyptian cat goddess. At least then we’d have fewer rats. Meanwhile, believing in reason leads to a new policy, also christened geonomics. That’s the proposal to share (a kind of management, the “nomics” part) the worth of Mother Earth (the “geo” part). If our economies are to work right, people need to see prices that tell the truth. Now taxes and subsidies distort prices, tricking people into squandering the planet. Using land dues and rent dividends instead lets prices be precise, guiding people to get more from less and thereby shrink their workweek. More free time ought to make us happy enough to evolve beyond economics, except when nostalgic for superstition.
what you do when you see economies as part of the ecosystem, following feedback loops and storing up energy. Surplus energy – fat or profit – enables us to produce and reproduce. To recycle society’s surplus, the commonwealth, geonomics would replace taxes with land dues (charged to users of sites and resources, in-cluding the EM spectrum, and extra to polluters), and replace subsidies with rent dividends to citizens (a la Alaska’s oil dividend). Without taxes and subsidies to distort them, prices become precise, reflect accurately our costs and values; then, motivated by no more than the bottom line, both producers and consumers make sustainable choices. While no place uses geonomics in its entirety, some places use parts of it, most notably a shift of the property tax off buildings, onto locations. Shifting the property tax drives efficient use of land, in-fills cities, improves the housing stock, makes homes affordable, engenders jobs and investment opportunities, lowers crime, raises civic participation, etc – overall it makes cities more livable. Geonomics – a way to share the bounty of nature and society – is something we can work for locally, globally, and in between.
in part the Great Green Tax Shift maxed out. Economically, taxing pollution and depletion does reduce pollutants and extracts – and thus the tax base; plus such taxes are regressive, requiring a safety net. On the other hand, collecting site rent is progressive and generates a revenue surplus payable as a dividend to residents, which can serve as the safety net. Environmentally, taxes on waste and extraction do not drive efficient use of land, as does getting site rent.
the annoying habit of seeing the hand of land in almost all transactions. In geonomics we maintain the distinction between the items bearing exchange value that come into being via human effort — wealth — and those that don’t — land. Keeping this distinction in the forefront makes it obvious that speculating in land drives sprawl, that hoarding land retards Third World development, that borrowing to buy land plus buildings engorges banks, that much so-called “interest” is quasi-rent, that the cost of land inflates faster than the price of produced goods and services, that over half of corporate profit is from real estate (Urban Land Institute, 1999). Summing up these analyses, geonomists offer a Grand Unifying Theory, that the flow of rent pulls all other indicators in its wake. Geonomics differs from economics as chemistry from alchemy, as astronomy from astrology.
a neologism for sharing “rent” or “social surplus” – the money we spend on the nature we use. When we buy land, such as the land beneath a home, we typically pay the wrong person – the homeowner. Instead, since land cost us nothing to make and is the common heri-tage of us all, rather than pay the owner, we should pay ourselves, our neighbors, our community. That is, we should all pay land dues to the public treasury, then our government would pay us land dividends from this collected revenue. It’s similar to the Alaska oil dividend, almost $2,000 last year. Indeed, the annual rental value of land, oil, all other natural resources, including the broadcast spectrum and other government-granted permits such as corporate charters, totals several trillion dollars each year. It’s so much that some could be spent on basic social services, the rest parceled out as a divi-dend, as Tom Paine suggested, and taxes (except any on natural rents) could be abolished, as Thomas Jeffer-son suggested. Were we sharing Earth by sharing her worth, territorial disputes would be fewer, less intense, and more resolvable.
one of many words I coined over 20 years ago: geoism, geonomics, geonomy, geocracy, etc – neologisms that later others came up with, too. CNBC once had a Geonomics Show, and Middlebury College has a Geonomics Institute. If “economy” is literally “management of the household”, then geonomy is “management of the planet”. The kind of management I had in mind is not what CNBC was thinking – top-down. My geonomics is not hands-on, interfering, but hands-off, organic. It’d strive to align policy with natural processes, similar to what holistic healing does in medicine, what organic farming does in agriculture. Geonomics attends to two key components: One, the crucial stuff to track is fat – or profit, especially profits without production, such as rent, or all the money we spend on the nature we use. Society’s surplus is the sine qua non for growth, needed to counter death – not merely more, but sustainable development, more from less. Two, the basic process to respect is the feedback loop. These let nature maintain balance automatically and could do the same for markets, if we let them. Letting them would turn our economies, now our masters, into a geonomy, our servant, providing us with prosperity, eco-librium (to coin a term) and leisure, time off – a hostile environment for economan but a cradle for a loving and creative humanity.