We are Hanno Beck, Lindy Davies, Fred Foldvary, Mike O'Mara, Jeff Smith, and assorted volunteers, all dedicated to bringing you the news and views that make a difference in our species struggle to win justice, prosperity, and eco-librium.
The concept of “nature” is logically distinct from that which is not nature. The definition of “nature” that makes the most meaningful distinction is that nature is everything that is apart from human action. Human action and anything altered by human action are no longer in pure nature.
“Natural” means “of nature,” so it has the same meaning. The physical universe – space, galaxies, atoms – and the laws of physics and chemistry are of nature. Biology is also natural, as are the natural laws of life such as of genetics and natural selection. The behavior of non-human animals which have not been affected by human action is also of nature. The unaltered human body is also natural.
Only human action is non-natural. Human action consists of purposeful choices. A person has various ends or goals, and chooses which ends to pursue at some moment, and chooses the means towards the goals. Everything people choose to do is non-natural.
Resources are natural prior to being altered by human action. Oil and minerals in the ground are natural resources. After they are extracted, they are no longer natural, and become capital goods. Space, however, always remains natural, so spatial land is always a natural resource, regardless of the materials in that space.
People use the term “unnatural” for acts which they deem to be repugnant. But this is only an opinion, since what is pleasing to one person can be displeasing to another. This usage treats one’s personal viewpoint as though it were universal. Hence, to call any human action “unnatural” is nothing more than a reflection of one’s personal beliefs and values, and therefore it is really a somewhat arrogant misuse of the concept of nature.
Some philosophers have pondered the question of whether human beings are naturally good or bad. But the moral concepts of good and evil are properly applied to acts rather than persons, since people can do good and bad things, even in the same action. Therefore it is not meaningful to label a person as morally good or bad, other than to imply that most of his actions are morally good and that few of his acts are morally evil or only trivially so.
“Natural moral law” is a universal ethic derived from human nature. The natural-law philosopher John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government, identified the premises of the ethical “law of nature” as the proposition that human beings are “all equal and independent.” These premises are based on the biology of human nature, prior to any human action. The derived natural moral law is, as Locke put it, that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”
The morality that applies to human action is natural, but the actions themselves are non-natural. The universal ethic, as the expression of natural moral law, designates human action as good, evil, or neutral. This moral designation could not be made if human action were natural, because natural behavior such as reflexes cannot be morally judged.
One could ask whether natural moral law applies also to the actions of highly sentient animals such as dolphins and apes. If we are certain that these animals make conscious reasoned choices on the same level as done by human beings, then morality would apply to them as well. But we are not certain, so although human action should give these animals the benefit of the doubt, for purposes of defining nature, it is clearest to draw a bright line around human action.
When people have pets, breed and train animals, and confine them so that their behavior is changed, then these animals have been altered by human action, and their behavior is not purely natural.
Applying this concept of nature to the law, legislation should never be based on designating any human action as “unnatural.” If people seek to base legislation on what is natural, they should base governmental law on natural moral law, by which only acts that coercively harm others are evil and penalized.
The term “natural” has been used in economics in contexts different from the distinction between nature and non-nature. There is, for example, the badly termed concept of the “natural rate of unemployment.” This rate is simply the long-run average rate caused by institutions such as minimum-wage laws, taxation, and employment laws, in contrast to the higher temporary unemployment during recessions, and this so-called “natural rate” changes with time.
Another concept in economics is the “natural rate of interest,” which is the interest rate that would prevail in a pure free market, unhampered by taxation, arbitrary government borrowing, and central-bank manipulations. In this context, “natural” refers to a pure free market, free from the governmental interference into peaceful and honest human action.
The “natural rate of interest” is a useful concept, but it should be kept in mind that this is a different meaning than the distinction between nature and non-nature. The spontaneous order of a pure free market is not designed by human action but is nevertheless a non-natural outcome of human interaction.
This 2014 excerpt of ZMEscience, Mar 19, is by Mihai Andrei.
If you look at the global annual earnings of all time for all companies, the top 5 spots are all occupied by Exxon Mobil – the world’s largest private company. In 2008, they made $45.22 billion. More recently, in 2011 they made $41 billion. In the same year, Shell made over $31 billion. Chevron made almost $27 billion. So why in the world are these companies being subsidized?
Ed. Notes: For the above to ever happen, you have to get everyone you know to demand such a sensible policy. Of course, it might be more sensible to not let politicians invest in alternative energy and simply to de-tax it. But one must compromise in politics.
The German government has told European Union officials that it will try to block the inclusion of an investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
An ISDS clause is an arbitration mechanism which would allow private investors to sue governments if they believed that local laws were threatening their investments.
The proposal has won backing from businesses but has faced opposition from consumer and environmental groups who claim it could allow investors to challenge broader government policies – such as the ban on fracking currently in place in France.
From the perspective of the [German] federal government, US investors in the EU have sufficient legal protection in the national courts.
ISDS provisions have been common in trade agreements since the 1960s.
Ed. Notes: If German businesses don’t push for overruling local laws, it must mean that a big part of the German public has the power to defend their right to protect nature and consumer. The fact that businesses elsewhere can attack laws that prohibit pollution, etc — if that truly is the intent of global business — then that means the public in America and the rest of Europe lack the power to confront Big Business. Germany is a truer democracy; the other places are not.
To give business credit, at least they take the initiative to push their agenda, however selfish or not it may be, while their opponents waste time merely in opposition.
It’d be nicely ironic if business were to set a precedent that could come back and bite them. That is, it should not be too hard for an investor to show that some corporate welfare favors “hers” competitors, not “hermself”; and to show that taxes on wages, sales, and buildings hurts business while not taxing land and resources favors mere idle ownership. Indeed, rather than protest such clauses in trade treaties, wanna-be defenders of nature and justice could try to use the legal language to bring a “jujitsu” suit to court.
According to common wisdom, catch-up sleep repays one’s “sleep debt”. But chronic sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought and may even lead to irreversible physical damage to and loss of brain cells. The research is published today in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Ed. Notes: Can sleep-deprived people effectively agitate for economic justice? Whatever … once won, no one will ever have to lose sleep again due to their financial situation. So put all your surplus energy into winning geonomics!
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” said Richard Feynman in the 1960s.
The 500 major discoveries, almost all initiated before about 1970, challenged mainstream science and would probably be vetoed today.
Agencies claiming to support blue-skies research use peer review, of course, discouraging open-ended inquiries and serious challenges to prevailing orthodoxies.
Mavericks once played an essential role in research. Indeed, their work defined the 20th century.
We must relearn how to support them, and provide new options for an unforeseeable future, both social and economic. We need influential allies. Perhaps Guardian readers could help?
Donald W Braben University College London
John F Allen Queen Mary, University of London
William Amos University of Cambridge
Richard Ball University of Edinburgh
Tim Birkhead FRS University of Sheffield
Peter Cameron Queen Mary, University of London
Richard Cogdell FRS University of Glasgow
David Colquhoun FRS University College London
Rod Dowler Industry Forum, London
Irene Engle United States Naval Academy, Annapolis
Felipe Fernández-Armesto University of Notre Dame
Desmond Fitzgerald Materia Medica
Pat Heslop-Harrison University of Leicester
Dudley Herschbach Harvard University, Nobel Laureate
H Jeff Kimble Caltech, US National Academy of Sciences
Sir Harry Kroto FRS Florida State University, Tallahassee, Nobel Laureate
James Ladyman University of Bristol
Nick Lane University College London
Peter Lawrence FRS University of Cambridge
Angus MacIntyre FRS Queen Mary, University of London
John Mattick Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney
Beatrice Pelloni University of Reading
Martyn Poliakoff FRS University of Nottingham
Douglas Randall University of Missouri
David Ray Bio Astral Limited
Sir Richard J Roberts FRS New England Biolabs, Nobel Laureate
Ken Seddon Queen’s University of Belfast
Colin Self University of Newcastle
Harry Swinney University of Texas, US National Academy of Sciences
Claudio Vita-Finzi FBA Natural History Museum
Ed. Notes: It’s funny that even forward-looking thinkers want to go backward to their good old days. Not knowing any other existence than living off the taxpayer, I suppose they can not envision one. But would their income depend on coercion in a just economy? Just like younger people crowd-source to fund a movie, couldn’t those academics cloistered in the ivory tower do the same thing? And in a geonomy — minus taxes and with a Citizen’s Dividend — how much would the researchers need?
This 2014 excerpt of Policymic, Mar 18, is by Tom McKay.
A study by researchers utilizing research tools developed for a separate NASA activity concludes we only have a few decades left before civilization collapses.
The report was written by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center along with a team of natural and social scientists.
Analyzing five risk factors for societal collapse (population, climate, water, agriculture, and energy), the report says that the sudden downfall of complicated societal structures can follow when these factors converge to form two important criteria. All societal collapses over the past 5,000 years have involved both “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity” and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor].”
The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth.
“Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies — by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance — have warned that the convergence of food, water, and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years.
Ed. Notes: Can we keep our civilization and our planet, too? I bet that economic justice would let us enjoy both. If we put geonomics into practice, we would waste much less. We’d also enable many more people to prosper, who then lower the birth rate. Whether it works or not, getting out from under taxes while sharing the worth of Earth sure would make life a lot more pleasant meanwhile.
This 2014 excerpt of Macrobusiness, Mar 11, is by Catherine Cashmore.
Rising property prices – the product of the plot of land that sits underneath the structure – are unashamedly promoted in most modern economies as the key driver to boost the privatised wealth of its nation, with the hope the payoff effect will feed other areas of consumption. They are no longer just ‘national’ affairs, but open to international speculation and investment, of which Australia is by no means immune.
None of this has assisted the home buying sector in America’s property market. Ownership rates continue to fall, and local buyers remain priced out. Yet Obama had no hesitation in boasting: ”Today, our housing market is healing!” (Healing!) “Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in 7 years…” (Faster even than incomes it seems, with first homebuyers at their lowest level since the crisis began.)
Premium localities in the cities of New York and London are openly marketed as ‘safe havens’ for the internationally wealthy. Isolated from the local economy, as local workers are forced out, and rumors of homes laying vacant for much of year provoke neighbourhood outrage. It’s now reported, for every minute you spend on the three Underground stops between Earls Court and Sloane Square, property prices rise by £96,647.
It’s not just the 1% of billionaires seeking out safe haven’s abroad, in what’s been termed the “largest and most rapid wealth migrations of our time.” But the rise of China’s ‘Consumer Class’ – ‘middle income’ individuals, discretionary spenders, whose wealth goes largely under-reported in a “grey economy” of illegal and quasi-legal activities. If trend continues, in a few years, China will become the world’s richest country, and India won’t be far in its wake.
The geographical location of land is fixed and limited in supply. Therefore we can’t all benefit from economic advantage gained from ownership of the best seats in town, without effective taxation of the resource that is.
A correctly administered broad-based land value tax (as explained here – reducing taxes on productivity) would not only encourage the ‘good’ utilisation of land, but if handled efficiently, gains could be fed back into the community to assist increased investment into infrastructure and social services.
This alone, would go a long way to reducing the wealth inequality currently experienced in our big cities.
This 2014 excerpt of Psych Central, Mar 14, is by Traci Pedersen.
When it comes to trusting others, intelligent people are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt, while those who score lower on IQ tests are more likely to have trust issues, according to a new study by Oxford University.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, are based on an analysis of the General Social Survey — a nationally representative public opinion survey given every one to two years.
The research supports the previous findings of studies on trust and intelligence from European countries. Social trust is vital to the success of social institutions — such as welfare systems and financial markets. Furthermore, research shows that individuals who trust others tend to enjoy better health and greater happiness.
School is not just for learning any more. Schools now provide breakfast and lunch for students. In the past, students and their parents had the option to either eat lunch at the school cafeteria or else bring their home-made lunch to school. But now, some schools are banning home-made meals. For example, Chicago’s Little Village Academy ruled that children had to eat only a school-provided lunch.
As reported by AOL News on 11 April 2011, Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the Better School Food program, stated that the lunches offered by the schools’ food providers are not necessarily more nutritious than those made at home.
“It’s rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that’s good,” she told AOL News. “It makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap.”
A Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter spoke to students and parents who opposed the ban. They told the reporter that some children don’t like the cafeteria food, and much of it gets thrown away.
According to Medical Daily (16 Nov. 2013), a preschool in Richmond, Virginia also banned homemade lunches. The school blamed the Federal Programs Preschool rules on lunches from home, which state that students may bring lunches from home only if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a note from a physician.
Such bans have been reported at other schools. The “Healthy Home Economist” reported that a preschooler at the West Hoke Elementary School in North Carolina had to eat a cafeteria lunch containing pink slime chicken nuggets when the school decided that the turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice her mother packed was not nutritious enough.
About 32 million American children eat breakfast and lunch at school under the National School Lunch Program. Of these, 21 million students participate in free or reduced-price meals. Children in poor families that cannot afford to feed their children adequately may well need to be helped, but that does not provide any reason to ban nutritious homemade meals.
Food tyranny is not confined to the USA. Canada has a national Food Guide, and if a student’s homemade lunch does not follow it, the parent is fined. For example, the Manitoba Government’s Early Learning and Child Care lunch regulations require a child’s lunch to be “balanced.” A mother who packed a lunch was slapped with a $10 fine. Her meal was unbalanced because she did not include crackers.
Nutrition is a controversial subject. Some people think cow milk is healthy, while others disagree. Some think that moderate amounts of sugar do not harm, while others think that any artificial sugar is bad. Some believe that meat provides good nutrition, while others believe it is healthier to be vegetarians or vegans. The experts disagree among themselves. Also, of course, children have individual tastes and dietary needs. Government policy forces most of the children to consume the same meal or a narrow range of choices. Much of the food then gets thrown out.
Any decision about school lunches in government-run schools is inevitably political. The federal government is now in charge of what children eat, and policy is influenced by the special interests which finance political campaigns and lobby for legislation.
Thus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes poultry production, and then provides schools with free chicken. Many schools do not cook the chicken themselves; they send the chicken to food processors that turn the meat into chicken nuggets and sell them back to the schools. Rather than cook pizza themselves, many schools buy pizzas from food sellers. Schools get potatoes from the government and send them to food makers that sell them back to the school as French Fries.
The cafeteria management companies save money by not having to hire cooks, and they often receive rebates from the food processors. The schools pay the full price for the processed food, which includes rebates that are not disclosed. Since homemade food competes with cafeteria food, it is in the financial interest of the big food producers and cafeteria management firms to stop competition from home production.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has declared that such sending of food out to be processed results in food high in saturated fat and salt. A 2008 study, “Impact of Federal Commodity Programs on School Meal Nutrition,” by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded that what starts as healthy food gets processed into products whose nutritional value is the same as junk food. The study found that California school districts used more than 82 percent of their food commodity funds to buy meat and cheese, spending only 13 percent on fruits and vegetables.
One problem with homemade lunches is that some parents give their children junk food. In that case, the school lunch would be better. But some parents provide a superior lunch, so a ban prevents both better and worse lunches. A sensible approach is to hire a nutritionist who would inform and council parents about better food choices. Few parents seek to deliberately harm their child with unhealthy food. For better nutrition, persuasion is a better policy than force.
Billionaires in crony sectors have had a great century so far. In the emerging world their wealth doubled relative to the size of the economy — equivalent to over 4% of GDP, compared with 2% in 2000. Urbanisation and a long economic boom have boosted land and property values. A China-driven commodity boom enriched natural-resource owners from Brazil to Indonesia. Some privatisations took place on dubious terms.
Of the world’s big economies, Russia scores worst. The transition from communism saw political insiders grab natural resources in the 1990s, and its oligarchs became richer still as commodity prices soared. Unstable Ukraine looks similar. Mexico scores badly mainly because of Carlos Slim, who controls its biggest firms in both fixed-line and mobile telephony. French and German billionaires, by contrast, rely rather little on the state, making their money largely from retail and luxury brands.
The total wealth of America’s billionaires is high relative to GDP, but Silicon Valley’s wizards [new money] are far richer than America’s energy billionaires [old money]. And few of its billionaires made money in banking [used mainly for sheltering old money]. Even including private equity, compared with Larry Ellison of Oracle, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone is a pauper.
Countries that do well on the crony index generally have better bureaucracies and institutions.
Efficient government is no guarantee of a good score: Hong Kong and Singapore are packed with billionaires in crony industries. This reflects scarce land, which boosts property values, and their role as entrepots for shiftier neighbours. Hong Kong has also long been lax on antitrust: it only passed an economy-wide competition law two years ago.
Mainland China scores quite well. One reason is that the state owns most natural resources and banks; these are a big source of crony wealth in other emerging economies. Another is that China’s open industries have fostered a new generation of fabulously rich entrepreneurs, including Jack Ma of Alibaba, an e-commerce firm, and Liang Wengen of Sany, which makes diggers and cranes.
Most countries in South-East Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, saw their scores get worse between 2007 and 2014, as tycoons active in real estate and natural resources got richer.
Our crony index has three big shortcomings.
One is that not all cronies make their wealth public. This may be a particular problem in China, where recent exposés suggest that many powerful politicians have disguised their fortunes by persuading friends and family to hold wealth on their behalf. Unreliable property records also help to disguise who owns what.
Second, our categorisation of sectors is crude. Rent-seeking may take place in those we have labelled open, and some countries have competitive markets we label crony. America’s big internet firms are de-facto monopolies that abuse their positions. South Korea’s chaebol, which sell cars and electronics to the world, are mainly in industries we classify as open. But they have a history of bribing politicians at home. China’s billionaires, in whatever industry, are often chummy with politicians and get subsidised credit from state banks. A third are members of the Communist Party. Sectors that are cronyish in developing countries may be competitive in rich ones: building skyscrapers in Mumbai is hard without paying bribes, and easy in Berlin. Our index does not differentiate.
The third limitation is that we only count the wealth of billionaires. Plenty of rent-seeking may enrich the very wealthy who fall short of that cut-off. America’s subprime boom saw hordes of bankers earn cumulative bonuses in the millions of dollars, not billions. Crooked Chinese officials may have Range Rovers and secret boltholes in Singapore—but not enough wealth to join a list of billionaires. So our index is only a rough guide to the concentration of wealth in opaque industries compared with more competitive ones.
Ed. Notes: The authors above give the limitations of their work, which shows a lot of work still needs to be done. Recall the saying in economics: to get really rich you capture values from society and impose your costs upon society. You flip real estate, where the value of locations is generated by the presence of the populace (society). You sell oil which is hugely polluting. Even the new fortunes in tech come in part from society, from the cheap, way under-market fees for copyrights and patents.
The problem is not a matter of envy. The problem is a matter of taking (however legal) vs. making, of taking a bigger share of the pie vs. creating a bigger pie. When some get more than they deserve, others must get less. Those getting more then lobby for ever newer and better privileges. For example, when Y2K was a real scare, tech won extra limited liability from a compliant Congress. And those getting less must then work extra or choose work that shouldn’t be done, such as an IRS enforcer.
The solution is elegant, both moral and practical. Eliminate most privileges, such as subsidies (corporate welfare), sweetheart contracts (military procurers), lenient enforcement of safety standards (agri-biz and other polluters), liability limited by a state (chemical or drug makers), money monopoly (bankers), license-based cartels (doctors, taxi-owners), etc. And, charge full market (annual rental) value as fees for granting little pieces of paper such as patent/copyright, utility franchises, EM spectrum licenses, resource leases, and land titles. Do all that and you’ll still have big fortunes in big economies but not as big as now and it won’t matter because every fortune will be earned.
This 2014 excerpt of World News Trust, Mar 13, is by Joel S. Hirschhorn.
If you ever find yourself in a hospital for an overnight stay that could last from one or two days, or perhaps much more, ask if you are being classified as “under observation.” This means that legally you are not an inpatient. Then you are likely to find yourself owing the hospital a large amount of money, because your Medicare or other health insurance will not provide the benefits associated with inpatient status.
If told that you will be in the observation category, then you might seriously consider whether you should stay in that hospital, or perhaps seek another one if you are not in immediate need of medical attention.
Realistically, you may not be in a clear enough mental state when you enter a hospital to ask questions and demand good answers about how the hospital is classifying your stay.
From 2007 through 2009, the ratio of Medicare observation patients to those admitted as inpatients rose by 34 percent. More than 10 percent of patients in observation were kept there for more than 48 hours, and more than 44,800 were kept in observation for 72 hours or longer in 2009 — an increase of 88 percent since 2007. Note that Medicare guidelines recommend that observation stays be no longer than 24 hours and only “in rare and exceptional cases” extend past 48 hours.
This observation status was a tactic by government to reduce Medicare spending. It puts hospitals in the difficult position of putting their patients in a hard financial situation.
Ed. Notes: Complexity is the enemy of equity. If you want fairness, you really can’t let politicians and bureaucrats issue so many and biased rules. Instead, you must create a system that operates automatically without constant tinkering by managers. For medical costs, allow more entrants into the field to increase supply and clean the environment and shorten the workweek to reduce stress and illness and thus decrease demand. That’ll cut costs of affordable levels. It’s geonomics, rather than letting the government handle it (the latter is not a very adult attitude, is it?)
This 2014 excerpt of Boing Boing, Mar 14, is by Cory Doctorow.
Hampton, Florida is a town so corrupt that it offends the Florida Legislature, a body with a notoriously high tolerance for sleaze. With fewer than 500 inhabitants, Hampton’s major source of revenue is a 0.2 mile stretch of Highway 301 — a stretch where the speed limit dips from 65 to 55. Hampton’s traffic cops write an average of 17 tickets a day against out-of-towners, clearing $419,624 in 2011 and 2012. However, the town also operated at a deficit during this time.
Where’s the town’s money? Ask now incarcerated ex-mayor Barry Moore, his three staffers who resigned in February, the police chief who also resigned, along with 17 “employees”, or the town’s water manager, whose business records were all “lost in a swamp.” According to the sheriff, some residents said they were threatened with having their water turned off if they made trouble.
Then the state legislators heard from the local representative, who was ticketed by a Hampton cop. They’ve given the town 30 days to clean up its sleaze or they’re going to dissolve it, which would make it part of surrounding Bradford County.
Ed. Notes: If somebody robs the entire public, and happens to hold public office, they stand a good chance of getting away with it. So why pay taxes, just to enrich your corrupt rulers? To remove temptation from politicians, remove power from politicians. Don’t let them decide how to raise and spend public money. Put those functions in the constitution, strictly defined.
Government should be limited as to how much it may charge, and for what activity. It should be limited as to how much it may spend, and for what activity. And, most fundamentally, it would act as our steward and institute land dues to recover our common wealth — our spending for sites and resources — and then disperse this socially-generated value of land and nature to citizens as a dividend.
It’s geonomics and it’d make government a lot less tempting to crooks.
This 2014 excerpt of Dollars & Sense, Mar 14, is by Polly Cleveland & Mason Gaffney.
Agriculture consumes some eighty percent of California water. California is basically a dry state, subject to periodic severe droughts. So, how come the largest water user is cow pasture, watered with giant sprinklers sending great sprays into the atmosphere? How come farmers irrigate those long brown furrows by flooding them, losing great quantities of water to evaporation, and bringing harmful salts to the surface? And how come some farmers even grow rice in flooded paddies, seeding them from airplanes?
Why do we see so few elementary efforts to conserve water, such as drip irrigation or mulching fields to protect the soil? Why are irrigation canals not lined and covered to prevent water loss?
Why? Because California farmers get their water free, or close to free.
The California Constitution says that the water belongs to the people. However, farmers may take water provided they put it to “beneficial use,” first come, first served. This is the basis of California “water licenses”. A “senior” water license downstream, used for low-value irrigated pasture, takes precedence over a “junior” water license upstream, used for high-value orange groves.
The California State Water Project (SWP) brings water from the Feather River in the Sacramento Valley south through the Sacramento delta, then pumps it up to a canal running south along the west side of the Central Valley, pumps it up again 2000 feet over the Tehachapi mountains into Los Angeles, and conducts it even further south to San Diego. The SWP was financed by California taxpayers.
Half that water has gone to irrigate the holdings of land barons, including the J. G. Boswell dynasty (200,000 acres) and their in-laws the Chandlers (145,000 acres), at that time owners of the LA Times.
The state could charge for water, thus recognizing that we the people own the water. The state could put a meter on every ground-water pump, and charge accordingly. Overnight, California’s fiscal deficit would become a surplus.
Yes, some water-hogging crops like rice and hay and alfalfa might move away, as they should. That would release water for the more valuable, intensive fruit and vegetable crops for which California is famous.
The farmers might threaten to “pass on” higher water prices to consumers. But that’s an idle threat, because shifting land and water into higher-valued and more intensive crops will raise the total supply of food marketed.
This 2014 excerpt of the Washington Monthly, March/ April/ May, is by Ryan Cooper.
How would you like to get $2,000 in free money, fresh off the government printing presses? And we’d do it for all Americans on an ongoing basis? And that doing so would solve our problem?
As a percentage of total output, wages have fallen from a high of almost 52 percent around 1970 to less than 43 percent today. Meanwhile, inequality within wages also increased. The rich began capturing nearly all the results of economic growth —- the top 1 percent’s share of national income increased from about 8 percent in the mid-’70s to about 23 percent today.
The wealthy disproportionately save their money rather than spend it. They don’t save by piling up huge pyramids of cash like Scrooge McDuck, they “save” by buying financial assets —- which means that most of the fruits of economic growth have been channeled into asset price increases. Since the crisis, while both output and employment growth has been weak, the stock market has regained all the ground lost since 2009 and then some.
Such mass money creation is hardly new: the quantitative easing program has already been carried out in a similar way —- with trillions of dollars in new money.
There is no reason to think that our problem will be cured without some kind of aggressive change. If we change nothing, we could be stuck in our current situation for decades.
Ed. Notes: Some people can justify doing the right thing only if it’s good for “the economy”, not if it’s good for real living human beings. But whatever their reason for getting some of the abundant surplus into the pockets of everyone, every voice added to the call for such an extra income is another step toward eventual victory.
A more accurate analysis — one less distorted by paying obeisance to the ruling class and our coercive customs — would note that our spending for land and other aspects of nature (such as oil) does not reward anybody’s labor or capital (nature was not created by any of us) and that how much we spend for sites and resources is set by our demand for them. Hence, owners of the earth — something all life needs and all humans deserve — owe those whom they displace (just as they are owed by others who displace them). Thus, getting an extra income from our aggregate spending for parts of the planet is not a favor from anyone, not an act of charity or generosity, but our rightful share of the natural bounty, which is an automatic surplus, and should be treated as our common wealth.
It’s a moral position but it leads to the most practical of policies — geonomics.
a way to have everybody pulling on the same end of the rope. Last summer’s expansive forest fires shed light on growing class resentment in the West. Old loggers and ranchers rankled at the new urgency to stamp out the blazes that threatened the recent Aspenesque settlers. The newcomers expected working class firemen to make protecting their expensive homes top priority. (Chr Sci Mntr, Spt 7) The tinder for this envy? Rich people moving in bid up the price of land, making it hard to afford by people on the margin. The fault really lies with our system of privatizing land value. If this rising value were collected by land dues and shared by rent dividends – the essence of geonomic policy – who’d complain? The more people move in, the higher the land value, and the fatter the dividend paid to residents. Then people on the margin might go out of their way to invite rich outsiders in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the study of the money we spend on the nature we use. When we pay that money to private owners, we reward both speculation and over-extraction. Robert Kiyosaki’s bestseller, Rich Dad’s Prophecy, says, “One of the reasons McDonald’s is such a rich company is not because it sells a lot of burgers but because it owns the land at some of the best intersections in the world. The main reason Kim and I invest in such properties is to own the land at the corner of the intersection. (p 200) My real estate advisor states that the rich either made their money in real estate or hold their money in real estate.” (p 141, via Greg Young) When government recovers the rents for natural advantages for everyone, it can save citizens millions. Ben Sevack, Montreal steel manufacturer, tells us (August 12) that Alberta, by leasing oil & gas fields, recovers enough revenue to be the only province in Canada to get by without a sales tax and to levy a flat provincial income tax. While running for re-election, provincial Premier Ralph Klein proposes to abolish their income tax and promises to eliminate medical insurance premiums and use resource revenue to pay for all medical expense for seniors. After all this planned tax-cutting and greater expense, they still expect a large budget surplus. Even places without oil and gas have high site values in their downtowns, and high values in their utility franchises. Recover the values of locations and privileges, displace the harmful taxes on sales, salaries, and structures, then use the revenue to fund basic government and pay residents a dividend, and you have geonomics in action.
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 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.
a manual. The world did not come without a way for people to prosper, and the planet to heal and stay well; that way is geonomics. Economies are part of the ecosystem. Both generate surpluses and follow self-regulating feedback loops. A cycle like the Law of Supply and Demand is one of the economy’s on/off loops. Our spending for land and resources – things that nobody made and everybody needs – constitutes our society’s surplus. Those profits without production (remember, nobody produced Earth) can become our commonwealth. To share it, we could pay land dues in to the public treasury (wouldn’t oil companies love that?) and get rent dividends back, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. Doing so let’s us axe taxes and jettison subsidies. Taxes and subsidies distort price (the DNA of exchange), violate quid pro quo by benefiting the well-connected more than anyone else, reinforce hierarchy of state over citizen, and are costly to administer (you don’t really need so much bureaucracy, do you?). Conversely, land dues motivate people to not waste sites, resources, and the ecosystem while rent dividends motivate people to not waste themselves. Receiving this income supplement – a Citizens Dividend – people can invest in their favorite technology or outgrow being “economan” and shrink their overbearing workweek in order to enjoy more time with family, friends, community, and nature. Then in all that free time, maybe we could figure out just what we are here for.
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.