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We should be challenging the privileges and entitlement culture, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Labour Leader Johann Lamont signals her support for a new tax plan. The worsening impact on public services highlights the long-running council tax freeze.
These three 2013 excerpts endorsing the public recovery of land value are of: (1) The Scotsman, Spt 14, by Gerry Hassan; (2) The Scotswman, Spt 22, by Eddie Barnes; and (3) Hearald Scotland, Nov 2, by Magnus Gardham, Political Editor.
Bedroom tax hides more serious issues
Scotland is a land where many people are struggling to buy the most basic essentials of life, while others at the top have never had it so good. Oxfam Scotland’s recent Our Economy report found that the gap between the richest and poorest 10 per cent of households was 1:273. The Scottish Government’s council tax freeze, according to research by Unison, has given those in the most expensive Band H properties a discount of £441 per year, while only aiding those in the lowest band properties by £147 per year: effectively a distribution to those who already have the most.
The idea of power has to be addressed –- who has it, why and what the consequences of this are. Related to this is the limited nature of democracy which has seen the centralisation of public bodies and decision making. There is a direct link between this and the increasing concentration of wealth and income in fewer hands; the narrow realm of what it is possible to talk and act on in Scotland’s truncated democracy aids the rule of the rich and powerful.
Public finances need to be sorted – national taxes, local taxes and a land value tax introduced. As an interim measure, the council tax top bands could be raised to bring in additional resources from the richest group of householders: we could even call it a Scottish solidarity tax.
Labour leader Johann Lamont signals support for land tax
This tax is paid on the value of the land that people own, rather than the property on it. Backers, such as the Scottish Greens, say the reform would cut bills on council-tax while also bringing an end to damaging speculation such as that seen before the 2008 crash.
Johann Lamont said it was “almost impossible” to begin a debate about tax reform when the levels of trust in politicians was so low.
Business Secretary Vince Cable told the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last week that a land tax in England was also being considered by the UK coalition government.
Three years ago, a paper for the Scottish Greens written by land-reform campaigner Andy Wightman concluded that a tax of 3.16p in the pound would be enough to replace the council tax and the uniform business rate in Scotland.
Wightman said such a tax would reduce “urban blight” and “land banking”, and would benefit business.
The Scottish Government’s enthusiasm for the council tax freeze, now in its seventh year, has rather obscured the fact it began life as a stop-gap measure until the planned local income tax could be introduced.
Successive Labour/LibDem administrations had taken the view that while the council tax wasn’t too broke (people weren’t rioting, at least) then it didn’t really need fixing.
Despite its faults the council tax has become extremely useful. It’s become a pillar of the Scottish Government’s “social wage”. No wonder the council tax freeze looms over every election fought in Scotland.
By and large the better off continue to benefit disproportionately from freezing bills while councils face a growing problem providing services which, by and large, the less well off rely upon.
Labour have voiced tentative support for a land value tax, a levy on the value of the land you occupy rather than the house standing on it.
Ed. Notes: Scotland’s, England’s, and the rest of the British Isles’ leaders lead the world in discussing the public recovery of socially-generated locational values for the benefit of all members of society; may the rest of the world catch up!
This 2013 excerpt of “What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming”, January, is by Theda Skocpol of Harvard University; prepared for the Symposium on THE POLITICS OF AMERICA’S FIGHT AGAINST GLOBAL WARMING, co-sponsored by the Columbia School of Journalism and the Scholars Strategy Network, Feb 14. Skocpol has been called one of the top political scientists in the US.
Cap and dividend has the clear potential to launch reinforcing feedback loops as well, attracting voter support and enhancing the leverage of the businesses and reform organizations that have an interest in completing America’s transition to a green economy.
But for strategists who suspect that more of the same kind of politics will not work, cap and dividend approaches hold the possibility of constructing a new political movement in the next few years. A carefully organized drive for cap and dividend might well bring together environmental advocates, green businesses, and many unions and citizen associations to support the enactment of carbon-emissions caps and the subsequent ratcheting-up of the tax levels to ensure that the United States completes a transition to a green economy, with ordinary citizens reaping economic benefits along the way.
Values and moral vision would inspire action, of course, but so would pocketbook payoffs for most families and future-oriented businesses.
Ed. Notes: Having the people get the revenue rather than the politicians get it might avoid creating any constituency for the carbon tax or fee. While a majority of politicians might want more carbon emissions in order to swell the funds they get to spend, would a majority of the public likewise want more alteration of the atmospheres and the calamities that go with it?
Practical politics aside, when people get paid a dividend then they get compensated, at least monetarily, for having to endure a degraded world. People do have a right to a planet in a healthy condition. Earth’s health — plus her worth — are our common heritage.
Back to practical politics … Since the dividend can get a carbon charge passed — as it did in British Columbia — shouldn’t advocates for land taxes or Land Dues or land-use fees also advocate for a dividend in order to get a majority of voters to accept their favorite levy? You’d think so but in the world of politics — which attracts true-believers of every stripe — you never know.
Ed. Notes: Actually, low-skilled work does merit low amounts of pay. Should people really make a career of low-skilled work? Or should they realize their dreams? Of course, poor workers and poor everyone should get more money — but from working? It’s not challenging one’s talents, and it’s work that others willingly do at the cheap. And higher minimum wages tend to lag behind inflation.
A better solution is an income apart from one’s work — an income from the value of the land in one’s region. Everybody makes land valuable, and nobody makes land. All the money paid to own or use land makes an ideal common wealth.
We could redirect it from the vaults of speculators and lenders into the pockets of all members of society via government. Government could levy dues or taxes or fees to recover the socially-generated value of land and use a monthly dividend check to disburse the recovered revenue from the public treasury, out to the citizens in the region — sort of like what Alaska and Singpaore do.
At the same time, government could quit taxing wages, starting from the bottom up. Why tax poor people then offer them handouts like food stamps? Why not just quit taxing them in the first place? Not only could poor workers take home more pay but the cost to hire somebody would drop so employers will hire more people.
Losing taxes, while recovering rents — called geonomics — not only makes sense but has worked wherever tried, to the degree tried.
This 2013 excerpt of the Renegade Economist, Spt 3, is by Dan Gay.
Most economists failed to understand or predict the global economic crisis, and should therefore be deposed. Just as the despots of north Africa and the middle East crumbled in the face of a critical mass of popular opposition, so too mainstream economics is looking shaky in the fresh-faced glare of laymen.
Establishment economists have been so bad at understanding the crisis that a lot of knowledgeable outsiders look far more convincing — and their remedies better.
Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist, said that the previous two decades of macroeconomics had been a “waste of time”. Later he called macroeconomics a “sorry spectacle of unnecessary ignorance”.
Power, rather than the marketplace of ideas, dictates which theories become prominent.
What is the first function of economic knowledge? It’s prejudice. It teaches you to think about the world in a certain way so that your bottom line response is: no you can’t do that.
A 2003 Harvard petition and the earlier French post-Autistic student movement criticised the neoliberal stance of the mainstream.
Often revolutions occur when radicals subvert the status quo and simply start doing new things in new ways. Trying to fight power structures only tends to reinforce them.
Ed. Notes: So some economists criticize their discipline — that’s good news. It’s hard for economists to do real science, since they must look the other way when it comes to controversial inputs such as property and privilege — it’d be like doctors overlooking a patient’s smoking. So a little internal reflection can be healthy. However, can economics be fixed or must it be replaced? The discipline is so embedded into the power structure of banks and big government, it’s too useful to the establishment to ever become a proper science. What’s needed instead is geonomics, an objective study of how we turn raw materials into wealth, answering who does the work and who gets the wealth, and what patterns are followed, just as a human body follows its natural laws. That’s the sort of study that’d be worthy of a Nobel, bearing in mind Alfred Nobel left no money for economists — they get theirs from a consortium of global bankers.
Will Fed policies continue on the path of inflation?
This 2013 excerpt of Monex, Nov 18, is by ex US Presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Janet Yellen, nominated to become Federal Reserve Board Chairman, indicated that she would continue the Fed’s ‘quantitative easing’ (QE) polices, despite QE’s failure to improve the economy. Coincidentally, two days before the Yellen hearings, Andrew Huszar, an ex-Fed official, publicly apologized to the American people for his role in QE. Mr. Huszar called QE ‘the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time.’
It is increasingly obvious that the Fed’s post-2008 policies of bailouts, money printing, and bond buying benefited the big banks and the politically-connected investment firms.
It would be a mistake to think that QE is the first time the Fed’s policies have benefited the well-to-do at the expense of the average American. The Fed’s polices have always benefited crony capitalists and big spending politicians at the expense of the average American.
By manipulating the money supply and the interest rate, Federal Reserve polices create inflation and thereby erode the value of the currency. Since the Federal Reserve opened its doors one hundred years ago, the dollar has lost over 95 percent of its purchasing power — that’s right, today you need $23.70 to buy what one dollar bought in 1913!
The creation of new money does not impact everyone equally. The well-connected benefit from inflation, as they receive the newly-created money first, before general price increases have spread through the economy. It is obvious, then, that middle- and working-class Americans are hardest hit by the rising level of prices.
Ed. Notes: Businessmen who make their money in oil or whatever then go on to start a bank — the Rockefellers started what is now Chase — and the banks go on to collude, creating a central bank that controls currency and credit, such as the Federal Reserve, which actually is a corporation. The cycle gets its start from one man getting to keep the “rent” for a natural source. The cycle gets its fuel to keep running from banks getting to keep the “rent” for land that’s bundled up in mortgages. Bankers know this even if the rest of the population — those paying out the nose — don’t see how it’s done to them. Maybe geonomics should be a required course!
Microsoft to buy Nokia phones, patents for $7.2B
A 2013 excerpt of the AP, Spt 3.
Microsoft says it is buying Nokia’s devices and services business, and getting access to the company’s patents, for a total of 5.44 billion euros ($7.2 billion) in an effort to expand its share of the smartphone market. Nokia confirmed the deal in a joint news release.
This is a major step in Microsoft’s push to transform itself from a software maker focused on making operating systems and applications for desktop and laptop computers into a more versatile and nimble company that delivers services on any kind of Internet-connected gadget.
The purchase in an attempt to mount a more formidable challenge to Apple Inc. and Google Inc. as more technological tasks get done on mobile devices instead of personal computers.
The shift is weakening Microsoft, which has dominated the PC software market for the past 30 years, and empowering Apple, the maker of the trend-setting iPhone and iPad, and Google, which gives away the world’s most popular mobile operating system, Android.
Nokia, based in Espoo, Finland, and Microsoft have been trying to make inroads in the smartphone market as part of a partnership forged in 2011. But their devices haven’t emerged as a popular alternative to the iPhone or an array of Android-powered devices spearheaded by Samsung Electronics’ smartphones and tablets.
Microsoft is betting it will have a better chance of narrowing the gap if it seizes complete control over how the mobile devices work with its Windows software.
Microsoft hopes to complete the deal early next year. If that timetable pans out, about 32,000 Nokia employees will transfer to Microsoft, which currently has about 99,000 workers.
It will represent the second most expensive acquisition in Microsoft’s 38-year history, ranking behind an $8.5 billion purchase of Internet calling and video conferencing service Skype.
The money to buy Nokia’s smartphones and patents will be drawn from the nearly $70 billion that Microsoft held in overseas accounts as of June 30.
Ed. Notes: So Microsoft seeks total control, rather than cooperation. That means they are a top-down company. Could that be why they lost touch with the market?
All those billions they keep offshore — how is that legal? Not that it’s offshore, out of the grasp of the taxman, but that they don’t have to use the huge profit to pay stockholders huge dividends. Why is cheating shareholders not considered theft?
Further, the value of the patents, not the value of buildings or machines, is the most valuable thing in Nokia. Patents, little pieces of paper that grant monopoly control over some turf in the field of knowledge, and that cost a pittance. Some analysts estimate that patents and copyrights account for 80% of the value of companies listed on Wall Street’s NYSE. But if the value is not in the product but in the monopoly over part of the market, then shouldn’t we raise what we charge for patents and copyrights up to full market value?
This 2013 excerpt of Independent Science News, Oct 30, is by Colin Tudge.
Golden Rice is a flagship for GMOs. Golden Rice is not the answer to the world’s vitamin A problem, rather it is part of the cause. Syngenta’s promotion of it is an exercise in top-down control.
Vitamin A deficiency is now a huge and horrible issue primarily because horticulture has been squeezed out by monocultural big-scale agriculture —- the kind that produces nothing but rice or wheat or maize as far as the eye can see. The best way by far to supply carotene (and thus vitamin A) is by horticulture which traditionally was at the core of all agriculture.
We have been told that GMOs increase yields with lower inputs and have been proven beyond reasonable doubt to be safe. In reality, GMOs do not consistently or even usually yield well under field conditions; they do not necessarily lead to reduction in chemical inputs, and have often led to increases; and there is no worldwide consensus of scientists vouching for their safety.
No GMO food crop has ever solved a problem that really needs solving that could not have been solved by conventional means in the same time and at less cost.
We have been assured that without high tech, industrialized agriculture, we will all starve. Yet the world already produces enough staple food to support 14 billion -– twice the present number. A billion starve because the wrong food is produced in the wrong places by the wrong means by the wrong people -– and once the food is produced, half of it is wasted.
The task is not to increase output, but to produce what we do produce (or even less) by means that are kinder to people, livestock, and wildlife.
The industrial farming that is supposed to be feeding the world in practice provides only 30% of the world’s food. Another 20% comes from fishing, hunting, and people’s back gardens – and the remaining 50% comes from the mostly small, mostly mixed traditional farms that the industrialists and their political assistants tell us are an anachronism; and small mixed farms can be the most productive of all, per unit area. Furthermore, to produce their 30%, the industrial farms gobble up enormous quantities of oil for their industrial chemistry with immense collateral damage, not least to the climate. In contrast traditional farms are low input, and at least when properly managed, need not be damaging at all.
Small, mixed, traditional-style farms are said to be far too expensive because they are labour-intensive. But in fact, about 80% of what people spend on food in supermarkets goes to the middle-men and the banks (who lend the money to set up the system in the first place). So the farmers get only 20%. If those farmers are up to their ears in debt, then a fair slice of that 20% goes to the banks. At most, the farm labour costs account for less than 10% of the total food bill. It’s the 80% we need to get down.
When farmers sell directly to customers they get 100% of the retail price; through farmers’ markets they typically get around 70%; and through local shops at least 30%.
The Monsanto Protection Act allows big agricultural and biotech corporations to ignore food safety regulations and sell genetically engineered foods even after a court order to stop. The Monsanto Protection Act was written anonymously and in secret — and prevents courts from doing their jobs.
US Sens. Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Earl Blumenauer, Kyrsten Sinema, Yes on 522, and the Daily Kos community sponsored a petition to tell Congress to stop the Monsanto Protection Act.
Ed. Notes: You know why corporations are called limiteds in the UK? Because their salient feature is they limit the liability of those responsible for harming others in order to turn a fatter profit. If you repealed such limits or at least made businesses pay a fair and ongoing fee for their corporate charter, then they’d become much better corporate citizens.
At the bottom of the business hierarchy, most farmers toil on land that’s not theirs but owned by absentee investors. The actual farmer has little say over how to farm. To empower farmers you have to spread farmland ownership. A very effective way to do that is to have government recover ground rents. Having to pay land rents makes it pointless to own land you don’t use — the profit goes to the rent. So absentee owners sell out, actual farmers get some farmland, and everybody’s happy (almost).
Happily, this geonomic solution has worked wherever tried.
The US Congress seem to be the only people in America getting as much down time as the medieval peasant. They get 239 days off this year.
This 2013 excerpt of Reuter’s Great Debate, Aug 29, is by Lynn Parramore.
Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off. The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too. During periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year.
When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren’t trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric lightbulb came on the scene. Go back 200, 300 or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze. Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.
As for the modern American worker? After a year on the job, she gets an average of eight vacation days annually.
Some blame the American worker for not taking what is her due. But in a period of consistently high unemployment, job insecurity, and weak labor unions, employees may feel no choice but to accept the conditions set by the culture and the individual employer. In a world of “at will” employment, where the work contract can be terminated at any time, it’s not easy to raise objections.
Ironically, this cult of endless toil doesn’t really help the bottom line. Study after study shows that overworking reduces productivity. On the other hand, performance increases after a vacation, and workers come back with restored energy and focus. The longer the vacation, the more relaxed and energized people feel upon returning to the office.
Economic crises give austerity-minded politicians excuses to talk of decreasing time off, increasing the retirement age, and cutting into social insurance programs, and safety nets that were supposed to allow us a fate better than working until we drop. But the Greeks, who face a horrible economy, already work more hours than any other Europeans. In Germany, an economic powerhouse, workers rank second to last in number of hours worked. Despite more time off, German workers are the eighth most productive in Europe, while the long-toiling Greeks rank 24 out of 25 in productivity.
Beyond burnout, vanishing vacations [and expanding workweeks] make our relationships with families and friends suffer. Our health is deteriorating: depression and higher risk of death are among the outcomes for our no-vacation nation.
Ed. Notes: You want a solution to too much (useless) work? You need to get some income that comes from some other source than your work. You need to get paid not for your labor or your capital (your savings / investments). You need an income from your land, or, more precisely, from all the land in your region — sort of like Singapore’s dividend to citizens from its high land values, sort of like Aspen’s assistance to residents for housing from a tiny partial land tax, and sort of like Alaska’s oil dividend to residents. With that extra income, then you could negotiate not just more time off but also higher wages, better conditions, and more say in management. And you’d become more productive too, so then you could take even more time off!
IRS Cracks Down on Breaks Tied to Rich Americans’ Land
This 2013 excerpt of Bloomberg, Nov 5, is by Richard Rubin.
The IRS is challenging a complex and obscure tax break that benefits some of the nation’s wealthiest property owners. Without giving up land, they donate the hard-to-calculate value of a perpetual promise to leave the property undisturbed. For that, they claim a big tax deduction.
The conservation easement break is one of hundreds scattered throughout the tax code that members of Congress are reviewing.
Between 2003 and 2006, taxpayers saved an estimated $4 billion through easement donations, about 6 percent of the revenue that the U.S. government will forgo because of the mortgage interest deduction next year alone. The U.S. tax system raised $2.8 trillion last year.
Congress first specifically allowed tax deductions for conservation easements in 1976 and made the rule permanent in 1980.
The Obama administration has made little headway in its effort to push lawmakers to prevent golf courses and air rights above historic buildings from qualifying for the break.
Ed. Notes: The problem with giving someone a little unearned income is then they feel like they deserve a lot more. Then they go too far, even for the usually docile IRS. It must mean that the government debt is worrying even some in the government — if the federal debt gets too big, the even the IRS could lose its source of funding!
A world without an IRS does sound like a better place to live. However, they IRS could become useful if it were to calculate the income that’s not earned by individuals but earned by society, which is all our spending for goods and services never produced by labor or capital, things such as land, oil, the airwaves, ecosystem services, etc.
If people saw how manny trillions they spent as a society for using some land, payments made to a tiny group of absentee owners, speculators, and lenders, then they might finally see such spending as our common wealth, as society’s surplus, as a font to share.
The poor get handouts and the rich get tax loopholes, worth many billions more.
This 2013 excerpt of Pacific Standard, Aug 29, is by Jay Livingston.
About half of all tax “expenditures” [tax breaks or loopholes] go to the top quintile (top 20 percent of income earners). The bottom 80 percent of earners divide the other half. And within that richest quintile, the top one percent receive 15 percent of all tax expenditures (this distribution of tax breaks roughly parallels the distribution of income).
The Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits mostly the poor, “costs” [exempts from the income tax] less than $40 billion. The tab for the low tax on investment income (capital gains and dividends) is more than twice that, and nearly all of that goes to the top quintile. More than two-thirds goes to the richest one percent.
The point? People complain about government payments to the poor, but tax breaks are also payments, though less obviously so, to the rich. And those tax breaks cost the government a lot more money.
Ed. Notes: Some say, to eliminate all this funny business, get rid of all loopholes for everyone and just have a flat income tax rate. That could be a step in the right direction — if all the revenue were to go to war and war debt. Then, when people complain about the tax money taken from them they’d have to, logically, at the same time complain about all the wars their government wages, not necessarily making the country safer but definitely making military contractors and other insiders incredibly rich.
If your income tax payments were to fund only wars (past, present, and future), how would government fund other programs? What programs? Most are not needed. You mean medicare and social security and food stamps? Forget them. Forget them all. Instead, fund a Citizen’s Dividend — a check in the mail paid monthly to the citizenry in general.
Where would government get the money for paying citizens a dividend? For all of our spending for nature, from our mortgages for the land under our homes and from the leases for the oil under our territory, including from the licenses for the airwaves and other mini-monopolies. Government would shift its taxes, fees, and dues to redirect our spending for nature into the public treasury, then back out again as equal dividends.
Government would charge full market value for its deeds and utility franchises and corporate charters and every other privilege it grants, without granting anyone any special rates or loopholes.
Under this policy, people would pay for what they take, not what they make, earn their keep, keep what they earn, and enjoy a share of what already belongs to us all, our common heritage, the worth of Earth in our territory.
Indians don’t get enough credit for their role in making the fall harvest holiday possible — rename it Thankindians — while the poor get too much blame for imposing on others.
This excerpt of European Politics and Policy within the London School of Economics, Nov 15, is by Christian Albrekt Larsen.
Negative portrayals of welfare recipients in the UK press are in contrast to the positive stories which dominate Swedish and Danish mass media.
Stories and pictures presented in the mass media help shape our opinions towards the poor and welfare recipients. Media content influences our perception of who the poor and welfare recipients really are, how they behave, and what should be done to either help or punish them.
The US and the UK are caught in a vicious circle: the combination of higher levels of poverty and a targeted welfare system produces a large amount of negative stories about the poor and welfare recipients. In contrast, Sweden and Denmark seem to be caught in a virtuous circle. There, the combination of lower poverty levels and a universal welfare system reduces the amount of newsworthy negative stories and creates room for positive narratives about the ‘deserving poor’.
Ed. Notes: When the poor get something for nothing, the right is enraged while the left is OK with it. When the rich get something for nothing, the left is enraged while the right is indifferent. If only both would rally together to get rid of welfare for both the needy and the greedy.
What could replace government handouts to insiders on one (heavily laden) hand and to the underclass on the other (tight-fisted) hand? A Citizen’s Dividend. Pay the citizenry in general an equal amount, no matter their station in life. That would eliminate both the stigma hurting the downtrodden and the favoritism uplifting the well-connected.
What would fund the Dividend? A dividend, by definition, is a share of a surplus. What is our social surplus, our common wealth? It’s all of our spending for all the nature we use. It’s part of mortgages, part of resource leases, indeed it’s part of the price of every good consisting of raw material and every service delivered on some location — all goods and services. We could redirect this spending into the public treasury by levying taxes, dues, fees, and the like, and then back out again to everyone as periodic dividend check in everyone’s (e)mail. We’d all probably feel thankful eventho’ a fair share of society’s organic surplus is our basic right.
This 2013 of Common Dreams, Aug 28, is by Norman Solomon.
Every president who wants to launch another war can’t abide whistleblowers. They might interfere with the careful omissions, distortions, and outright lies of war propaganda, which requires that truth be held in a kind of preventative detention.
Obama has overseen more prosecutions of whistleblowers than all other presidents combined—- while also subjecting journalists to ramped-up surveillance and threats, whether grabbing the call records of 20 telephone lines of the Associated Press or pushing to imprison New York Times reporter James Risen for not revealing a source.
The vengeful treatment of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, the all-out effort to grab Edward Snowden, and less-publicized prosecutions such as the vendetta against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake are all part of a government strategy that aims to shut down unauthorized pipelines of information to journalists —- thence to the public. When secret information is blocked, all that’s left is the official story.
From the false Tonkin Gulf narrative in 1964 that boosted the Vietnam War to the fabricated baby-incubators-in-Kuwait tale in 1990 that helped launch the Gulf War to the reports of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction early in this century, countless deaths and unfathomable suffering have resulted from the failure of potential whistleblowers to step forward in a timely and forthright way —- and the failure of journalists to challenge falsehoods in high government places.
The key problems, as usual, revolve around undue deference to authority —- obedience in the interests of expediency —- resulting in a huge loss of lives and a tremendous waste of resources that should be going to sustain human life instead of destroying it.
As a practical matter, real journalism can’t function without whistleblowers. Democracy can’t function without real journalism. And we can’t stop the warfare state without democracy. In the long run, the struggles for peace and democracy are one and the same.
Ed. Notes: Yet we can’t have either peace or democracy unless we win economic justice. The elite have no reason to respect you, not as long as they can syphon off our common wealth and everyone keeps silent about it. That surplus, it’s something society in general generates and can’t help but do so. That flow of funds belongs to all of us, not just those who loom over everyone else. It’s all of society’s spending for land and natural resources, all the things that didn’t require anyone’s labor or capital to come into existence. None of us made harbors or oil, all of us need them, and population in general create their value. Once we wake up to that, and share what already belongs to us all, then we will have closed the income and wealth gaps, have toppled the elite, and their drives to various wars will be no more.
Verizon’s $725 million loan shows Farm Credit reform is needed.
This 2013 excerpt of USA Today, Nov 14, is by Jeff Plagge, president of Northwest Financial Corp, chairman of the American Bankers Association. This article first appeared in The Des Moines Register.
The federal Farm Credit System was created nearly 100 years ago at a time when affordable bank loans for farmers were hard to find. Today is a $250 billion financial institution; if it were a bank, it would be the ninth-largest in the country. Not only is its funding subsidized by government sponsorship, it also receives very generous tax breaks — all while competing directly with banks and other lenders that do not share these advantages.
It also makes loans to whomever it wants -— such as those buying land for recreational purposes: developers of golf courses and luxury residential neighborhoods.
Recently it loaned $725 million to Verizon Communications. The Farm Credit System joined with 45 banks from around the world to help Verizon purchase the 45% of Verizon Wireless it does not already own from British telecom giant Vodafone.
Why should taxpayers be subsidizing loans to a Dow 30 company with $116 billion in 2012 revenues? It will not fund construction of any rural wireless infrastructure; it merely funds a corporate buyout. Verizon is not a rural telephone cooperative; it is a stockholder-owned corporation.
Should the government continue to sponsor an enterprise as large and unfocused as today’s Farm Credit System?
Ed. Notes: The author, being a banker, has an axe to grind, since public lenders take business away from private lenders. That aside, the bigger issue is: these deals are the main business of government and always have been: to serve business. The out-of-pocket expense to the taxpayer (as a direct subsidy to the FCS) might not be so huge, but that’s not the point. The point is, the loans are to the biggies, not the littles. Government involvement in a business does not lower its prices to the public; that’s not even touched. And competition — which should lower prices and raise service — is not increased. No, it’s just another example of the role government plays in the real world as handmaiden to big business.
If you want it to stop, you have to stop letting politicians spend all your public revenue and must start spending it yourselves. That is, limit the government’s discretionary power of the purse to defending our rights; use the bulk of public revenue to fund a dividend to the citizenry in general.
Where would government get the money? From taxes, fees, dues, and leases on lands, resources, airwaves, and monopoly privileges like Verizon’s utility franchise. Charge the Verizons of the world full value for loans and guarantees; don’t give them such favors at little or no cost. Run government like a business in the most basic sense of the phrase.
This 2013 excerpt of the Huffington Post, Aug 28, is by Shahien Nasiripour.
Regulators overseeing the nation’s largest financial institutions are distrustful of their bosses, afraid to speak out, and feeling isolated, according to a confidential survey this year of Federal Reserve employees.
The shaky morale is a legacy of Alan Greenspan’s 19-year term as Fed chairman. From 1987 to 2006, the Greenspan Fed pushed for a hands-off approach by regulators, who then found themselves blamed for the financial crisis that led to the most punishing economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Most say that top leaders are failing the organization, in part by not communicating honestly, and that employees are in the wrong jobs, or are poorly managed.
Even in a bureaucracy traditionally rife with turf wars and secrecy, the Fed stands out among banking regulators for its low marks on key issues such as trust and collaboration, according to comparable survey results from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Nearly a dozen current and former Washington-based Fed employees corroborated the Fed survey results, some by offering personal examples of Fed regulators who had been marginalized after challenging senior leaders or pushed out over apparent personality conflicts. They all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.
Ed. Notes: Bigger picture: Should a society’s currency be run by a bureaucracy, never mind how well meaning (or not)? Could currency be handled by community trading groups operating on consensus? Could the role of government (which the Fed is not actually a part of) be simply to set standards that currencies would have to meet to become legal tender? We decentralize credit cards; why not decentralize the creation of credit?
This 2013 excerpt of The Guardian, Nov 11, is by Richard Orange.
Prison numbers in Sweden, which have been falling by around 1% a year since 2004, dropped by 6% between 2011 and 2012 and are expected to do the same again both this year and next year.
Sweden has experienced such a sharp fall in the number of prison admissions in the past two years that it has decided to close down four prisons and a remand centre.
Partial explanation for the sudden drop in admissions may be:
Sweden’s focus on rehabilitating prisoners may have played a part.
Swedish courts have given more lenient sentences for drug offences following a ruling of the country’s supreme court in 2011.
A recent shift in policy towards probationary sanctions instead of short prison sentences for minor thefts, drugs offences, and violent crimes.
In 2012, there were 4,852 people in prison in Sweden, out of a population of 9.5 million. Sweden ranked 112th for its prison population.
The US has a prison population of 2,239,751, equivalent to 716 people per 100,000. China ranks second with 1,640,000 people behind bars, or 121 people per 100,000, while Russia’s inmates are 681,600, amounting to 475 individuals per 100,000.
about the money we spend on the nature we use. It flows torrentially yet invisibly, often submerged in the price of housing, food, fuel, and everything else. Flowing from the many to the few, natural rent distorts prices and rewards unjust and unsustainable choices. Redirected via dues and dividends to flow from each to all, “rent” payments would level the playing field and empower neighbors to shrink their workweek and expand their horizons. Modeled on nature’s feedback loops, earlier proposals to redirect rent found favor with Paine, Tolstoy, and Einstein. Wherever tried, to the degree tried, redirecting rent worked. One of today’s versions, the green tax shift, spreads out of Europe. Another, the Property Tax Shift, activists can win at the local level, building a world that works right for everyone.
a POV that Spain’s president might try. A few blocks from my room in Madrid at a book fair to promote literacy, Sr Zapatero, while giving autographs and high fives to kids, said books are very expensive and he’d see about getting the value added tax on them cut down to zero. (El Pais, June 4; see, politicians can grasp geo-logic.) But why do we raise the cost of any useful product? Why not tax useless products? Even more basic: is being better than a costly tax good enough? Our favorite replacement for any tax is no tax: instead, run government like a business and charge full market value for the permits it issues, such as everything from corporate charters to emission allowances to resource leases. These pieces of paper are immensely valuable, yet now our steward, the state, gives them away for nearly free, absolutely free in some cases. Government is sitting on its own assets and needs merely to cash in by doing what any rational entity in the economy does – negotiate the best deal. Then with this profit, rather than fund more waste, pay the stakeholders, we citizenry, a dividend. Thereby geonomics gets rid of two huge problems. It replaces taxes with full-value fees and replaces subsidies for special interests with a Citizens Dividend for people in general. Neither left nor right, this reform is what both nature lovers and liberty lovers need to promote, right now.
suitable for framing by Green Parties. When Greens began in Germany two decades ago, they defined themselves as neither left nor right but in front. Geonomics fits that description. The Green Parties have their Four Pillars; geonomists have four ways to apply them:
Ecological Wisdom. Want people to use the eco-system wisely? Charge them Rent and, to end corporate license, add surcharges. To minimize these costs, people will use less Earth.
Nonviolence. Want people to settle disputes nonviolently? Set a good example; don’t levy taxes, which rely on the threat of incarceration, to take people’s money. Try quid pro quo fees and dues.
Social Responsibility. Want people to be responsible for their actions? Don’t make basic choices for them by subsidizing services, addicting them to a caretaker state. Let people spend shares of social surplus.
Grassroots Democracy. Better have grassroots prosperity. Remember, political power follows economic. Pay people a Citizens Dividend; to keep it, they’ll show up at the polls, public hearings, and conventions.
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.
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. Better settlement patterns do reduce extraction upstream and pollution downstream.
Politically, green fees have less impact if applied locally; local is where grassroots movements have more impact. Yet getting rent usually entails shifting the property tax (or charging user fees), the province of local jurisdictions; both mayors and city voters have been known to adopt a site-value tax.
Ethically, putting into practice “tax bads, not goods” skirts the issue of sharing Mother Earth which collecting rent confronts head on. Since nothing is fixed until it’s fixed right, ultimately, greens must lead humanity into geotopia where we all share the worth of Mother Earth.
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, including 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.
not a panacea, but like John Muir said, “pull on any one thing, and find it connected to everything else.” Recall last month’s earthquake in El Salvador. We felt it and its formidable after-shocks in Nicaragua. Immediately afterwards, my host nation, one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, sent aid to its Central American neighbor. The Nica newspapers carried photos of the devastation. They showed that the cliff sides that crumbled had had homes built on them while the cliffs left pristine withstood the shock. Could monopoly of good, safe, flat land be pushing people to build on risky, unstable cliffs? If so, that’s just one more good reason to break up land monopoly. What works to break up land monopoly, history shows, is for society to collect the annual rental value of the underlying sites and resources. That’d spur owners to use level land efficiently, so no one would be excluded, forced to resort to cliffs. To prevent another man-induced landslide is yet another reason to spread geonomics.
as unfamiliar as geo-economics. The latter is a course some universities offer that combines geography and economics. A UN newsletter, Go Between (57, Apr/May ’96; thanks, Pat Aller), cited an Asian conference on geopolitics and “geoeconomics”. The abbreviated term ‘geonomics” is the name of an institute on Middlebury College campus and of a show on CNBC. Both entities use the neologism to mean “global economics”, in particular world trade. We use geonomics entirely differently, to refer to the money people spend on the nature they use, how letting this flow collect in a few pockets creates class and poverty and assaults upon the environment, and how, on the other hand, sharing this rental flow creates equality, prosperity, and a people/planet harmony. This flow of natural rent, several trillions dollars in the US each year, shapes society and belongs to society.
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.
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.