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This 2014 excerpt of Dollars & Sense magazine, the January/February issue, is from an article by Polly Cleveland of Columbia University.
Scandinavian nations already come much closer than the United States to providing a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, with far lower per capita natural resource consumption.
We already have — or can easily develop — the necessary technology.
An Iowa State University study compared the Midwestern standard alternation of corn and soy, with a corn-soy-oat cycle and a corn-soy-oat-alfalfa cycle with livestock. Without lowering profits, the longer cycles increased yields while dramatically reducing the need for fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. However, the experimental strategies did require more labor.
In Ohio, corn and soy farmer David Brandt, instead of plowing, plants with a seed drill. He keeps down weeds with a diverse mixture of cover crops, which he then mows to mulch the soil for the winter. The approach takes more labor, especially intelligent supervision, as it requires Brandt to carefully monitor conditions on every part of his fields. His fields, however, yield harvests as good as or better than conventional fields, require far less fertilizer and herbicide, absorb rain better, resist droughts, and—best of all—build up carbon-rich humus.
What about farms in impoverished developing countries? Farms in densely-populated Bangladesh produced three times as much per acre as farms in the United States! In general, small farms produce more per acre than large farms, even though they usually occupy inferior land. According to a new UN report, small peasant farmers could easily feed the entire populations of developing countries with existing labor-intensive, environmentally friendly agricultural technologies — were it not for corruption, extreme inequality, and misguided attempts to impose inappropriate “modern” crops and techniques.
From country to city … Some of the richest parts of New York, like my Upper West Side neighborhood, rise to densities of over 200,000 people per square mile, with a mixture of high-rises and five-story, three-to-ten-unit townhouses. (I can zip, through a hole in the ground, the two miles to work, walk four blocks to concerts or shopping, and step into Central Park next door — who needs a car!) Yes, members of the One Percent like high density!
A study in Atlanta found that average households in multifamily units used only 60% as much energy as in single family detached houses. Average residents of New York City produce less than a third as much greenhouse gases as average Americans. And while New York apartments seem cramped by United States standards, a 500 square foot New York one-bedroom would seem palatial to a Japanese family! (How do the Japanese manage? Simple. Every morning they roll up their futons and stuff them in a closet!)
Successful innovators are disappearing, due both to growing patent monopolization and the unavailability of finance. Back in the days of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), and in fact until Congress repealed restrictions on interstate banking in 1994, small businesses could rely on small banks. Bank officers served the community (at least the white community), making loans based on personal histories and an intimate knowledge of the local economy. No more. Today’s giant banks lend — if they lend at all — according to formulas dictated by headquarters, formulas that do not favor a Turkish immigrant with a new recipe for yogurt, let alone Madge’s storefront bakery. Retail banking jobs have become mindless paper-pushing.
We already have the technology to produce and live and work in ways that vastly reduce stress on natural resources. The obstacles are political.
Ed. Notes: The author extols jobs (not that she or any economist would ever have to do any of them), not leisure. It seems that as long as people have jobs (and the bosses that come with them), then life need not have meaning. Which is such a common point of view that the political obstacles should be overcomeable.
Or, perhaps humanity will wake up to their need for meaning and joy and leisure and replace the demand for jobs with a demand for justice. Since the whole point of economies is to do more with less, it’s true that the technology for this version of a better world is already here, too. Likewise, the obstacle is purely political.
Part of the political solution is for society to recover the socially-generated value of land, resources, and ecosystem services. One way for society to do that is to have its government tax the annual rental value of locations. That can be achieved by shifting the property tax off buildings, onto parcels. In the US, it’s a policy already in place in some Pennsylvania towns, since Pennsylvania’s constitution, unlike those of other states, allows cities great leeway in tax policy. Two political websites in Pennsylvania frequently blog in favor of the Land Value Tax: one is Keystone Politics, the other is Next City, which just had another article in favor. Check it out to understand the policy side of sustainable economics better.
Ed. Notes: Eventho’ reality is offering a plot for a work of mystery fiction, probably one big banker dying after another is just coincidence. Banking is one of the professions with a high rate of depression and shorter lifespans. And stories like this come to everyone’s attention in this modern era of instant and ubiquitous news coverage. One wonders if conscience plays a role.
This 2014 excerpt of Huffington Post, Jan 30, is by Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.
What makes a job meaningless? People struggle to find meaning when they lack autonomy, variety, challenge, performance feedback, and the chance to work on a whole product or service from start to finish. As important as these factors are, though, there’s another that matters more: making an important difference in the lives of others one on one or making society a better place for all.
There are steps we can take to make jobs more meaningful — for ourselves and others.
In many cases, our jobs do have an impact, but we’re too distant from the end users of our products and services. So when we see the beneficiaries of our jobs, we find greater meaning. The greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others.
Of course, some jobs are simply not designed to have a major impact on others. In these situations, people can take initiative to alter their own roles. This is job crafting — adding, emphasizing, revising, delegating, or minimizing tasks and interactions in pursuit of greater meaning. For example, hospital cleaners who lack patient contact stepped up to provide emotional support to patients and their families, and technology associates began volunteering for mentoring, teaching, and training roles. When people craft their jobs, they become happier and more effective.
Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself — be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is.
Ed. Notes: Is this a bandaid to a deeper problem with jobs? And whatever may be wrong with jobs, would all those issues go away if people were in a position to do what they love, with whomever they want, for as long as they like? And if people got an extra income apart from their labor — a Citizen’s Dividend from the socially-generated value of land and resources and government-granted privileges — would that give everyone the leverage they need to negotiate the ideal job for them? Probably. Don’t you think?
If you don’t have money you end up spending more to survive.
This 2014 excerpt of Alternet, Jan 29, by Dave Johnson.
It takes money to make money, they say, but if you don’t have money you lose money. Half of us Americans are poor or almost poor now. It’s actually more expensive not having enough money to get by.
Here are nine examples of why it is expensive to be poor.
1. Getting around. When you don’t have the money to get a reliable car you are stuck with time-consuming and not-inexpensive public transportation or an old beater. Old cars break down and this costs money. It costs time. It can cost you a job. Lower-priced older cars will often be the ones that use a lot of gas, sometimes getting less than 20mpg. At today’s gas prices and today’s wages you’re eating up an hour or more’s pay every day just to get back and forth.
2. A place to live. You might be in a week-to-week situation in a budget motel, requiring you to pay with a money order. Money orders cost money so you’re even paying a fee to pay for your place to sleep.
3. Eating. If you don’t have fridge or a stove you might depend on cheap fast food. You depend on what is nearby and local stores in bad neighborhoods are expensive.
4. Banking. 28.3% of Americans conduct at least some of their financial transactions “outside of the mainstream banking system,” meaning they have to rely on expensive alternatives like money orders, check-cashing services, prepaid debit cards, and payday loans. Payday loans cost an average of more than 138 percent in interest and fees.
If you have a bank account that means high fees. You don’t have enough to meet the minimum balance requirements so you pay a monthly fee that eats away at any money you have. You will pay a fee averaging $6 to cash your paycheck. You will be hit by terrible fees if the money runs out before the month does. Overdraft fees are incredible. A Pew graphic illustrates how the median overdraft for a $36 transaction racks up a median $35 in fees. “If an overdraft was treated like a short-term loan with a repayment period of seven days, then the annual percentage rate for a typical incidence would be over 5,000 percent.”
5. Getting scammed. The poor are vulnerable to, and frequent targets of financial scams: high-interest credit cards, mortgage-fraud, insurance scams, supposed-savings scams, etc.
More Illegality: Not getting paid. Wage theft is restaurants stealing tips, employers demanding free time or not even paying the minimum wage, refusing to pay overtime pay when it is due, calling an employee a contractor or a temp, making various deductions from wages, and other ways that workers end up not getting paid for their work. Poor people are vulnerable, and have to take what they can get.
More than 60 percent of low-wage workers have some pay illegally withheld by their employer each week. Low-paid workers lose $2,634 per year, on average, in unpaid wages, or 15 percent of their income.
Meanwhile, the average McDonald’s employee takes seven months to earn what McDonald’s CEO makes in an hour. Ninety percent of Americans are continuing to go further into debt.
Being poor is a trap. It becomes one thing after another that keeps you poor. Plus you pay a high price of guilt and blame.
Ed. Notes: Money is prestige. People with money feel good about themselves, no matter how the money came about. People without money feel bad about themselves, no matter if they struggle against their poverty or not. True, money from work can make one feel proud. But the work part is not essential. Most rich don’t work for the money they get (“thank you very much.”) CEO salaries tell only a small part of the story. There’s still passive income from merely owning stocks, bonds, and real estate.
The money that corporations get is not from selling their goods and services so much as it is from lobbying government: sweetheart deals, lenient enforcement, and tax loopholes. The money that landlords and flippers and lenders get is not for their building — something they might have created — so much as it is for the location, and the value of a location is due to the advantages around it. Good views, nearness to downtown, low crime rates, etc give a site its price (or rent), and such features are created by nature and society, not by owners.
The author wants to raise the minimum wage, but what if you can’t work? Worse, that call reinforces the false view that all income must come from jobs (never mind starting one’s own business) and that the poor are incapable, must stay stuck in lousy work their entire lives, so at least pay them more. A far greater justice than paying one enough to stay stuck in dumb jobs is to pay everyone an income apart from their labor (or capital), an income from the value of land and resources and privileges such as corporate charters in one’s region. Call it a Citizen’s Dividend. It’s a more honest way to enable people to feel good about themselves.
Why The Land of Opportunity is in Danger and What We Can Do About It
This 2014 excerpt of the Libertarian Party of Orange County (California), Jan 29, is by Ryan Hinds.
The only tax that does not have negative economic consequences is the land value tax, as land cannot disappear when taxed. This free lunch of sorts will also lower real estate prices, reducing the money required to start a business. In order to truly have equal opportunity, we must all have equal access to land and natural resources; land value taxes push us towards that goal.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) has estimated that small businesses face a regulatory burden 36% higher than larger firms. State and local governments make it even worse. For example, it took a businessman in Ventura County, CA seven permits just to remove a wooden deck at his campsite, as requested by a county official! Needless to say, he closed up shop. In Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Washington DC, interior designers must be licensed.
Economic inequality is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Though my libertarian views are pretty apparent in this article, I have spoken to self-described socialists who support many of the same reforms that I do. Opening the lines of communication is only the first step, but will go a long way towards bringing economic opportunity back to America.
Ed. Notes: A libertarian could go even further and note that taxes are not needed to recover the socially-generated value of land and resources and ecosystem. Instead, government could use fees, dues, leases, and even fines for violators of standards. The big difference between taxes and dues is that taxes come from above and not paying them is a crime while dues come from community consensus and not paying them means no longer being a member of the community with all the benefits that entails, such as voting, proving title, getting a share of surplus site value (as in Singapore), etc. Most people would choose to pay their fair dues, altho’ it may take a while for society to evolve to that point; meanwhile, taxes would have to be relied upon.
This 2014 excerpt of the AP, Jan 30, is by Mark Stevenson.
The stunning and little-understood annual migration of millions of Monarch butterflies over thousands of miles to spend the winter in Mexico is in danger of disappearing, after numbers dropped to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1993.
The annual trek to Mexico is the world’s biggest migration of Monarch butterflies and the second-largest insect migration, after a species of dragonfly in Africa.
Experts blamed the displacement of the milkweed that the species feeds on by genetically modified crops and urban sprawl in America, extreme weather trends, and the dramatic reduction of the butterflies’ habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging of the trees they depend on for shelter.
Twenty years ago in the North American Free Trade Agreement, the United States, Mexico, and Canada signed environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch.
There has been a movement in the United States among gardeners and home owners to plant milkweed to replace some of the lost habitat. But activists say large stands of milkweed are needed along the migratory route, comparable to what once grew there. They also want local authorities in the U.S. and Canada to alter mowing schedules in parks and public spaces, to avoid cutting down milkweed during breeding seasons.
Ed. Notes: It’s sad that our species has such a hard time living on Earth with other species, like a rowdy child in kindergarten. Hopefully the sadness will prod enough of us to take the necessary steps to harmonize our use of Earth with that of other peaceful species. The responsibility is all of ours, eventho’ one guy wreaked more havoc on butterflies than have most of us; he ate them to survive being stranded in the Outback!
These two 2014 excerpts on US GDP are from Jan 30 by the BEA and by Shadow Stats.
Gross Domestic Product, 4th quarter and annual 2013 (advance estimate)
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) says real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 (that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter). In the third quarter, real GDP increased 4.1 percent.
The SGS-Alternate GDP reflects the inflation-adjusted, or real, year-to-year GDP change, adjusted for distortions in government inflation usage and methodological changes that have resulted in a built-in upside bias to official reporting.
The official GDP headline number refers to the most-recent quarter’s annualized quarter-to-quarter rate of change (what that quarter’s percent quarter-to-quarter change would translate into if compounded for four consecutive quarters).
This can mean that the latest quarter can be reported with a positive annualized growth rate, while the actual annual rate of change is negative.
Ed. Notes: Their accompanying chart is an eye-opener. It seems official stats do not reflect reality so much as they do reflect the interests of officials. Which makes it hard to do the accounting that is a central part of economics. It’s another reason why economics is not a science. But no other discipline deals with controversies such as property and confronts the ruling elite directly, so it’s easy to see why economists wilt under the pressure. Oscar Wilde said number crunchers know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Maybe so, but they also know which side of the bread is buttered. It’s why they turn a blind eye to researchers such as Shadow Stats.
This 2014 excerpt of the AP, Jan 29, is by Mark Lewis.
Two Norwegian politicians have jointly nominated former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, saying his disclosures of secret U.S. documents have contributed to making the world more peaceful.
Anyone can be nominated for the prestigious award, so the submission Wednesday by Socialist lawmakers Baard Vegard Solhjell, a former environment minister, and Snorre Valen just means Snowden will be one of scores of names that the Nobel committee will consider.
“We do not necessarily condone or support all of his disclosures,” the two lawmakers said in their nomination letter. “We are, however, convinced that the public debate and changes in policy that have followed in the wake of Snowden’s whistleblowing has contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order.”
“But to have the debate, you have to be aware of what is going on,” he told The Associated Press.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Ed. Notes: Ironically, the prize was also given to US President Obama (2009) who, if he could, would have Snowden’s head. Obama is commander-in-chief of the world’s biggest war machine now waging at least two wars. Another hyphenated American war-monger who received the prize is Henry Kissinger (1973). While the image of the prize is tarnished, it was once given to Nicholas Murray Butler (1931). He, at least, was an advocate of Georgism, an economic system that has brought about land reform without one drop of bloodshed. If more widely used, who knows? perhaps the modern version of geonomics could deliver world peace.
This 2014 excerpt of EUROPP (European Politics and Policy of the London School of Economics), Jan 29, is by Jonathan Hopkin, Victor Lapuente, and Lovisa Moller.
The less unequal a country is, the more likely it is to be innovative. While the US combines high levels of inequality and innovation, other countries with much lower inequality levels are also high performers in innovation.
The United States – the most unequal of the advanced economies – has outperformed the Scandinavian countries in patent filings in the last two decades. However, if we expand the period of study with a few more decades, Sweden has had more patent filings per resident than the US for most of the last half-century. Further, the other Anglo-Saxon countries are nowhere near the United States’ patent filings levels.
‘Patent trolling’ – whereby patents are used as a means of generating returns by threatening legal actions, rather than a source of productive innovation – suggests patents filed may be measuring rent-seeking strategies as well as genuine inventions.
High regulatory quality and R&D expenditure are common denominators for countries that are ranked as highly innovative – inequality is not one of these uniting factors. Innovation is not just about a narrow view of incentives based on spectacular rewards for a small number of high achievers; it also rests on high levels of investment in research, not just by the private sector but also, and often decisively, by the state.
The US combines high inequality with excellent universities financed by both public and private funds, and a regulatory environment that encourages innovation. ‘Cuddly capitalist’ countries that invest in research, have good universities and quality regulation can also innovate, without having to offer successful entrepreneurs outsized rewards. There seems little evidence for the thesis that egalitarian societies need to freeload off the innovations of the American super-rich in order to prosper.
Ed. Notes: Sure, inventors and innovators need support but that support need not come from concentrations of wealth. Indeed, the phenomenon of concentrating wealth into government or university or venture capitalist could be skipped altogether. How?
Just pay citizens a dividend from society’s spending for things not created by labor or capital, things like land, natural resources, corporate charters, and patents and copyrights. Those government-granted privileges and natural assets capture a torrential flow within the GDP. You could redirect that flow, using fees, dues, taxes, etc, into public treasuries then back out again as dividends, a la Alaska’s oil share.
Further, you could shift taxes off labor and capital, onto pollution and depletion. That way, you’d redirect investment from industries like oil and into cutting-edge technology. Thus you could enjoy progress, economic parity, and do so without any paternalism from the state.
This 2014 excerpt of Cityscope, Jan 27, is by Sulev Vedler.
Last January, Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia of 430,000 people, made all public transit in the city free for residents.
One year later, Mayor Savisaar says traffic on the biggest crossroads had decreased by 14 percent compared to a week shortly before the policy started.
But researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden found that traffic speeds in Tallinn had not changed and if any modal shift is happening, it’s that some people are walking less and riding transit more.
Free transit is less effective than increasing the price of parking, gasoline, or using the roads.
Tallinn isn’t the first city to experiment with free transit. Across Europe, a number of smaller towns have done it, dating back to the late 1990s. Templin, Germany was one. In France, there was the city of Châteauroux and Aubagne and some surrounding municipalities. Ridership in all of those places increased substantially when fares went away.
What sets Tallinn’s experiment apart is its size and Tallinn’s status as a European capital. As the birthplace of Skype and online voting, Tallinn also has a reputation for innovation. So there’s a feeling, at least among advocates of the idea, that if free transit can work here, maybe it can work in other large cities.
In Tallinn the system was highly subsidized to begin with. That’s not the case in London, for example, where fares account for 85 percent of public transport revenues. Free fares there would leave a gaping budget hole. It is easier to waiver the ticket revenue if there’s already a large subsidy. The subsidy part used to be 70 percent in Tallinn. Now it’s 96 percent.
Ed. Notes: Free rides and free anything sound good but is there no free lunch? Possibly. One of the best and biggest transit systems in the world has no trouble funding itself without any subsidy: Hong Kong’s. That system funds itself from the steep land values around its transit stops. It’s a method any city could use, argued big-name economists William Vickrey and Joe Stiglitz, who dubbed his proof the “Henry George Theorem”. Any public works project could pay for itself from the resultant rise in nearby site values as long as it’s not a white elephant and truly desired by the public.
This 2014 excerpt of the Los Angeles Times, Jan 27, is by Claudia Luther.
Pete Seeger, folksinger, who was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994, died at 94 yesterday. He was born in 1919 on May 3 in New York state (at Patterson) into a musical family that was rich in dissenters.
Almost exactly six years ago, with Bruce Springsteen, Seeger performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the Lincoln Memorial concert marking President Obama’s 2008 inauguration.
In 1965, The Byrds had a hit with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” that Seeger co-wrote. He used a passage from the Bible for the lyrics (To Everything, There is a season, And a time to every purpose, under Heaven, A time to be born, a time to die …)
During World War II, Seeger served in the Army Special Services, entertaining troops in the U.S. and the South Pacific. After the war, Seeger formed the Weavers with Lee Hays and others.
Seeger joined Guthrie and Millard Lampell in New York City, playing the “subway circuit” — left-wing fund-raising parties. They soon formed the Almanac Singers, which also included Hays.
As a member of the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, Seeger wrote or co-wrote “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the civil rights movement based on an early 20th century gospel song: and Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which became an anti-Vietnam War protest song; and “The Hammer Song” (If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, All over this land …) In the 1960s his songs were popularized by Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Famed actress Marlene Dietrich covered his “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine“.
A musical historian, Seeger tried to share the credit and profits on songs he recorded. He was the first to acknowledge his source material.
Seeger was not a geoist but a leftist. While a college student at Harvard, Seeger joined the Communist Party, but spurned it in disgust by 1949. Yet he never apologized for his earlier belief.
“I’d like to see a world without millionaires,” Seeger said in 1993.
Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, Seeger invoked the 1st Amendment and was held in contempt of Congress. Sentenced to a year in jail, he served a few hours before being released. The case was dismissed years later.
The controversy shattered Seeger’s career. He was barred from network TV for 17 years. Then in 1968 his antiwar song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” was broadcast. It was credited with helping to cement public opinion against the war.
Ed. Notes: How ironic that those concerned with justice can not follow their concern to geonomics, to an economy that works right for everyone, without invoking the heavy hand of the state. If only famous reformers could see the wisdom of sharing Earth’s worth while keeping the fruits of one’s labor inviolable (non-taxed) … Then their well-heard voices would not tend to divide society but could help transform the economy, so that no longer would the people have to serve it but at last the economy would serve us.
What If We Just Got Rid of All the Money in Political Campaigns?
This 2014 excerpt of Pacific Standard, Jan 21, is by Seth Masket of the University of Denver.
Most places, money in politics plays a major role. Even if the winner of an election isn’t the biggest spender, how much you can raise determines if you can even run. Party donors play gatekeeper to the electoral ballot.
Concerned about a corrosive effect of money on lawmaking, several states —- Connecticut, Maine, and Arizona —- have created publicly financed systems for state legislative elections. The U.S. Supreme Court says you can’t just ban private spending in elections, but you can offer incentives. These states give candidates the equivalent of a typical election’s worth of money in exchange for them forgoing any private fundraising or spending.
Public funding changes business as usual, letting less able fundraisers run, major donors be damned. Who are these new candidates? The more ideologically extreme.
Ed. Notes: Making it impossible to legally buy an electoral victory may be necessary but it’s not sufficient to create rigorous political fairness. What’s also needed is a new way of voting. That is, instead of voting for just one candidate, you should be able to vote for your top three, ranking them from most favorite to least. That way, you can vote for whom you really want to win first, vote for your compromise candidate second, and for the one whom you’d accept to defeat all those you don’t like third. This method — ranking — ensures that the winner is always the most representative of the will of the people.
Plus, it saves money. The system no longer needs a primary; voting your first choice handles that. Nor does it need a runoff; voting your third choice takes care of that. And actually, this method is already in use. It’s the method that US sports writers use to choose the number one team in various college sports. If ranking can work for sports fans, it can work for the entire populace.
And if you want people to vote in their best interest instead of in the interest of their “betters”, you better amplify the call for equal rights, especially the right to a fair share of Earth’s worth, to make people feel better about themselves and worthy of a world working right for everyone.
This 2014 excerpt of India’s The Hindu is by Navin Singh.
While the traditional feudal class has largely faded out, post-Independence, especially in the last decade, real estate prices have soared to vertiginous heights, bringing realty back to the centre stage of the Indian economy.
The fall in property prices in 11 out of 15 major Indian cities in 2013 as compared to 2012, has created a feeling that the overheated real estate sector is showing signs of correction.
However, the Indian realty sector differs from that of developed world. Up to 50 per cent of the value of a property is paid by the buyer in “black”. Money is parked in this sector usually to evade taxes, and this flow of unaccounted funds is not likely to slow down anytime soon.
Black money, whether earned legitimately or siphoned off from government-spending, funds shady land deals. It jacks up land prices for end-users. Moreover, the builder-politician nexus delays projects without political patronage, leading to a mushrooming of irregular colonies lacking water lines and sewerage.
The logical solution would be to tax land at its annual rental value. The value tax was an idea considered by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, but most famously and fervently advocated by Henry George. It has been used in the U.S., Australia, and Hong Kong. It has been dubbed ‘the least bad tax’ by Milton Friedman as it does not lead to allocative inefficiency. From Paul Samuelson to Joseph Stiglitz, it has many supporters in the economists’ fraternity. Michael Hudson is a vocal proponent and he has suggested it for China as a way to avoid the fate of debt-ridden Western economies.
Land value tax will end speculative land hoarding and bring down prices for the end-user. The money saved thus will be spent on other commodities, increasing consumption and give the economy a boost.
Mining companies, which find it more profitable to squat on natural reserves sensing a rise in mineral prices, will not do that once they have to pay annual tax on the value of the mines. They will have to mine it to earn revenue to pay tax, or choose to return it to the government. Unused prime urban land, of closed mills for example, will be promptly returned to the government for the same reason.
Ed. Notes: Indian governments are already recovering some ground rent, not by taxing private land but by letting public land. The value of public land for mining, in particular, is lucrative enough to spark a dispute between the federal and regional governments over who’ll get those immense rents. One solution might be: neither. Use the socially-generated revenue to pay the members of society a dividend from the recovered rents, a la Alaska’s oil share. That should end some of the competition and corruption. To end more, outlaw taxation, institute dues, forcing government to offer useful services that citizens would willingly pay for.
A bank is a firm that accepts funds as deposits. The generic term “bank” includes various institutional types, such as credit unions. The bank is an intermediary between savers and borrowers. The interest paid by borrowers pays the expenses of the bank, and what remains is paid to the depositors.
There are two ways to organize a banking system. The first is with central banks, such as the Federal Reserve (the “Fed”) in the USA. The central bank issues the currency and regulates the private banks. In the USA, the Fed includes regional Federal Reserve Banks, which are the bankers’ banks. The private banks hold accounts with a Federal Reserve Bank; the funds are called “reserves.” The Fed creates money by buying bonds: it pays the seller a check, the seller deposits the check into a bank, the bank presents the check to the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Federal Reserve Bank covers the check by increasing the reserves of that bank, thus creating money out of nothing. The interest income from bonds pays the expenses of the Fed, and the remaining interest is paid back to the US Treasury.
The other method of banking is with free-market banking, or “free banking,” whereby there is no central bank; the private banks issue their own currencies and are not restricted other than by laws that prohibit fraud. The banks would usually use the same unit of account, such as the dollar or euro.
There are two ways to do banking. The first is called “one hundred percent reserves” or “full reserve” banking. In that method, the bank may not loan out the funds that are deposited. One of the challenges of banking is that with checking accounts, also called “demand deposits,” the account holders may withdraw their money at any time. In contrast, loans are typically long term, such as for mortgages or business loans or car loans. So if depositors suddenly want to withdraw much of their funds, the money will not be there. With full-reserve banking, the money is always there, but the bank gets no interest payments. The depositors pay a fee to have their money stored at the bank.
The workings of a banking system also depend on the money system. The three basic types of money are 1) commodity money, where a commodity such as gold or silver is used as a general medium of exchange, 2) a fiat money system, in which the currency has no fixed convertibility to any natural commodity, and 3) an artificial-commodity system, where the unit of account is constructed in a way that limits the supply.
With commodity money, banks create money substitutes convertible to the real money at a fixed rate. For example, if gold is the real money, banks issue paper currency convertible into gold, so that, for example, a $20 paper note can be exchanged for a $20 gold coin with $20 worth of gold. All government-created money today is fiat. With fiat money, the real money is paper currency and coins, and bank deposits are money substitutes. The prime example of artificial-commodity money today is the bitcoin, an electronic currency created by computer programs.
The other method of banking is called “fractional reserve banking.” With that method, a bank holds only a small fraction of deposit funds in its reserves. Governments typically impose some minimum of required reserves. The remainder are “excess reserves,” which may be loaned out.
For example, suppose Samantha deposits $100 of currency into her account, and the required reserves are ten percent. The bank keeps $10 in reserve, and loans out the other $90 to Ralph. The loan consists of an account created by the bank. The loan therefore creates $90 in new money, since Samantha still has her $100 in the bank. With the $90 account, the bank again keeps 10%, or $9, and loans out $81. This money creation can continue until all the excess reserves are fully loaned out, in which case the original $100 deposit is multiplied into the creation of $1000.
With all reserves loaned out, if the depositors seek to withdraw their money, the bank will not have sufficient currency. A bank can deal with this liquidity problem in several ways. One is to have most of the funds in time deposits, funds that are held for a fixed period of time, unless the account holder pays a large penalty. Another method is for a bank to be able to borrow funds from other banks or from a central bank. A third way is for the bank to have contracts that state that the bank may not be able to provide withdrawals at times when it has insufficient funds.
Critics of fractional reserve banking claim that the private banks are a private monopoly cartel that inflates the money supply by making loans and obtains interest that robs the economy of money and goes to privileged bank owners.
With fiat money and central banking, there is indeed a potential for inflation, as there is no limit to money creation. The main problem with central banking is that there is no scientific way to know in advance the optimal money supply, and historically, the Fed created destructive deflation in the 1930s, high inflation in the 1970s, and the cheap credit that generated the real estate bubble and the Crash of 2008.
Some critics of central banks want the government to directly issue money. But if the Treasury or Finance department can issue money at will, political influences can induce inflation, and even hyperinflation as happened in Zimbabwe.
However, with free banking and commodity money, these problems do not arise. Banking would not be a monopoly cartel, since new banks, including credit unions can be created. The convertibility of money substitutes into real money prevents inflation, as the quantity of money substitutes is limited by the demand by the public to hold them. Competition among banks limits their profit to normal returns, as the rest of the debt service paid by borrowers goes to interest payments to depositors. Fractional-reserve free banking generates a flexible yet stable money supply. Free banking does not generate inflation, because new deposits into the banking system come from additional real money, such as from gold mining, which is costly to produce.
The failures of central planning in the economy include the failure of central banks to successfully manage the money supply and optimally manipulate interest rates. Free banking worked well where tried, such as in Scotland until 1844, when the Bank of England took over its money system. A pure free market would let the market determine both the money supply and the natural rate of interest. In Scotland, the banks formed an association to lend funds to banks that needed more liquidity. With free banking, the market’s natural rate would avoid the distortions that arise from either cheap credit or a shortage of credit.
The boom-bust cycle will only be eliminated by the prevention of the fiscal and monetary subsidies to real estate. Sustainable economic progress requires both the public collection of land rent and a free market in money and banking.
a new field of study offered in place of economics, as astronomy replaced astrology and chemistry replaced alchemy. Conventional economics, in which GNP can do well while people suffer, is a bit too superstitious for my renaissance upbringing. If I’m to propitiate unseen forces, it won’t be inflation or “the market”; let it be theEgyptian cat goddess. At least then we’d have fewer rats. Meanwhile, believing in reason leads to a new policy, also christened geonomics. That’s the proposal to share (a kind of management, the “nomics” part) the worth of Mother Earth (the “geo” part). If our economies are to work right, people need to see prices that tell the truth. Now taxes and subsidies distort prices, tricking people into squandering the planet. Using land dues and rent dividends instead lets prices be precise, guiding people to get more from less and thereby shrink their workweek. More free time ought to make us happy enough to evolve beyond economics, except when nostalgic for superstition.
an answer to a rarely asked question. If price is a reward for production, why do we pay for land, never produced by any of us? What is land price a reward for? Good behavior? How much money do we spend on the nature we use? Who gets it? What do they do with it? (If you answer all these correctly, you’re not a genius but a geoist.) The worth of Earth is enough that were we to collect and share it, we could abolish taxes on the goods we do produce. For example, San Francisco’s Redefining Progress has calculated that Cali-fornia could abolish all state and local taxes were it to collect the values of resources and of using na-ture as a dump. By exorcising the profit motive from depletion and pollution, rent collection could replace bossy regulation. Economies could self-regulate, as the rest of the eco-system does. See how big problems yield to big answers when we ask the right questions?
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.
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.
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 scientific look at how we divvy up the work and the wealth, how some of us end up with too much or too little effort or reward. That’s partly due to Ricardo’s Law of Rent, showing how wasteful use of Earth cuts wages. And it’s partly due to how a society’s elite runs government around like water boys, dishing out subsidies and tax breaks. While geonomists look political reality right in the eye, without blinking, conventional economists flinch. When Paul Volcker, ex-chief of the Federal Reserve, moved on to a cushy professorship at Princeton cum book contract, the crush of deadlines bore down. So Volcker asked a junior associate to help with the book. The guy refused, explaining that giving serious consideration to policy would ruin his academic career. The ex-Fed chief couldn’t believe it and asked the department chair if truly that were the case. That head honcho pondered the question then replied no, not if he only does it once. And economics was AKA political economy!
close to the policy of the Garden Cities in England. Founded by Ebenezer Howard over a century ago, residents own the land in common and run the town as a business. Letchworth, the oldest of the model towns, serves residents grandly from bucketfuls of collected land rent (as does the Canadian Province of Alberta from oil royalty). A geonomic town would pay the rent to residents, letting them freely choose personalized services, and also ax taxes. Both geonomics and Howard were inspired by American proto-geonomist Henry George. The movement launched by Howard today in the UK advances the shift of taxes from buildings to locations. A recent report from the Town and Country Planning Association proposes this Property Tax Shift and their journal published research in the potential of land value taxation by Tony Vickers (Vol. 69, Part 5, 2000). (Thanks to James Robertson)
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.
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.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Most ball games are lost, not won.
If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these State of the Union speeches, there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
To prevent government from becoming corrupt and tyrannous, its organization and methods should be as simple as possible, its functions be restricted to those necessary to the common welfare, and in all its parts it should be kept as close to the people and as directly within their control as may be.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have gotten hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before passing it to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw
If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
George Bernard Shaw
So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.
I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary.