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.
This 2014 excerpt of Oxfam, Mar 13, is by Ian Gary.
Rachel Boynton’s documentary “Big Men” goes inside board rooms and presidential living rooms, onto oil rigs and the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, after the discovery of a huge oil find in Ghana in 2007.
Who gets a license to explore oil and how? Who’s behind these companies (the “beneficial owners”) and what are their connections to political elites? Who bears the risk and who gets the rewards?
Jim Musselman is the CEO of Kosmos Energy at the start of the film – an affable (and quotable) Texan who had previous success in the oil-rich dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea.
George Owusu founded an obscure company called the E.O. Group and gained a license to explore in Ghana and who, by his telling, “cold-called” Musselman in the Dallas phone book and lured Kosmos to Ghana.
When Erik Solheim, Norway’s environment minister at the time, tells the audience that Ghana should tax oil companies to the hilt, Musselman is stone faced. When Musselman tells the chairman of the Ghana’s state oil company that he didn’t taxes, the chairman assures him, “Oh, we won’t do it.”
The American Petroleum Institute argued against implementation of a US law requiring oil company transparency.
Will Ghana’s citizens benefit from the more than $20 billion the government is expected to receive from oil in the next decade?
Ed. Notes: Oil should benefit everyone. The value of oil in the ground should be paid into a nearby regional treasury. Companies should profit from extracting, processing, and transporting, but should pay over the value of oil in situ to the surrounding populace.
Government could disburse the “royalties” as dividends to citizens, a la Alaska.
At least, that’s what should happen until the oil runs out or people quit burning it to save their world and to save money by switching to solar energy.
Oil is not so different from other resources or lands or locations in general. The rental value of all nature — the money one is willing to pay to own or use them — is what should be our common wealth to share. Meanwhile, taxes on wages, sales, and buildings should be forgotten.
It’s the geonomic recipe and people who care about Africans would do well to help raise awareness of our right to a fair share of Earth’s worth.
This 2014 excerpt of In These Times, Feb 20, is by Julia Wong.
More than 400 San Francisco city workers, many dressed as Cupid, marched in protest of Twitter’s ‘sweetheart’ tax break to Twitter headquarters.
The protesters were members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which is currently negotiating with the city over contracts covering more than 13,000 workers.
The Twitter tax break — a six-year payroll tax exclusion area around Twitter’s offices in the Central Market/Tenderloin neighborhood — has drawn numerous tech companies to the area.
Add to that the $6 million tax break the nearby Zynga received in 2011 and the $500 million in fines San Francisco chose not to levy against Silicon Valley companies whose private shuttles illegally use public bus stops.
City workers, in recent contracts, accepted furloughs, increased contributions to pensions, wage freezes, and layoffs. Hundreds of workers were also temporarily reassigned to classifications with lower rates of pay.
SEIU 1021 plans to support an anti-speculation tax aimed at those buying real estate for reselling soon thereafter at a higher price.
Another idea local officials are discussing with SEIU International leaders is investing the 1021′s reserves in community land trusts to create affordable housing in San Francisco or Oakland.
Ed. Notes: All the ingredients are there to make San Franciso a geotopia. People are savvy about tax breaks, land speculation, rent inflation, and land trusts. All they need to do is to quit opposing tax breaks for wages, demand a tax hike on locations, and thereby use the sky-high site values of the City on the Bay for resident’s dividends, a la Singapore.
I say, “All they need to do” as if it’s a simple political matter. It’s not. But they do have a movement already started with the unions. They might be able to expand it to include students, homeowners, small businesses, and environmentalists.
Greens tend to like the shift of taxes off buildings and other goods, onto sites, since the higher “land dues” (land tax, land use fee, deed fee, whatever) spurs owners to use their land efficiently. As metro land gets used more intensely, suburban and rural land need not be used at all.
This geonomic policy has worked before, wherever tried, to the degree tried.
What’s needed is something that’d captivate the imagination and inspire a critical mass, and that could be the call to transform high land values into dividends for all San Franciscans. The dividend could actually make a furlough fun!
Ed. Notes: Why should anyone fund Ukraine? Its government is deep in debt because it’s corrupt. Why does the US always choose corrupt rulers to give Americans’ money to? Better than all this macho posturing would be to shut down US bases in Europe and admit Russia into NATO — then shut down NATO, too.
The main reason that power-grabbing individuals want their own country is so that they can rip off their own people. The reason that vast numbers want their own country is so they can be ruled by individuals who belong to the same ethnic group that the people identify with. Both are shallow reasons and make the notion of country appear shallow, too.
If the world went geonomic, these disagreements would become non issue. Who cares who’s in power if they have no power to tax your labor or capital or subsidize their cronies? Who cares where the border is drawn if there’s free trade, free travel, and global Earthling dividends? It’s hard for most people to see beyond the imposed framing on current conflicts but once you do, you see the solutions that work right for everybody.
These two 2014 excerpts are from (1) Future Cities, Mar 3, by Walter Fieuw, and (2) Policy Scotland, Mar 4, by Ken Gibb of University of Glasgow.
How to Fund City Growth? Value Capture
Land value tax dates back to the early roots of modern cities, and it could end up financing our future.
Land value tax is leveraged against unimproved land value. “Land” is the unimproved site, not counting infrastructure or buildings; “Value” refers to the increased market value after public investment; and “Tax” is the payment due for exclusive occupation of the site.
The idea to capture value was first popularized by economist and social reformer Henry George (1839–1897) who was convinced that revenue generated from nature and land belonged to society. In his seminal work, Progress and Poverty, George argued that taxing land value deters speculative land holding.
Paul Romer, director of NYU Stern Urbanization Project, shares the view that strong, principled city charters based on value capture will change power relations in cities:
Building great cities requires brave leadership. Value capture can be a cornerstone of a new system for land taxation and progressive development financing. For, as Henry George taught us, the economic return of land should be shared equally, and not held in the grips of private owners.
Going back to Tom Payne’s use of John Locke’s property rights arguments to justify taxing land, through Ricardo’s attack on unproductive economic rent from monopoly land owners and on to Henry George and the ‘crank’ idea to have a single tax through taxing land. Lloyd George, supported by Churchill, twice proposed an LVT for the UK prior to the First World War. After the Second World War, legislation was supposed to combine the granting of planning permission with some form of land development or betterment tax – four successive attempts subsequently to introduce and make work such taxation abjectly failed.
The core idea is taxing unproductive economic rent derived from land ownership. Taxing the economic rent in land values but leaving the structures untaxed should allow ‘society’ to capture a proportion of the gains landowners receive in uplift in values as a result of planning permission and the benefits of public infrastructure support. Thus, landowners with planning permission have an incentive to build and there is no tax disincentive to make the land productive.
It would be good to get a discussion going about how to make progress on rational tax reform.
Ed. Notes: If you’re going to tax people, it’s makes good sense to put location values into your tax base and boot other values out. Ethically, nobody made land and everybody (the presence of the populace) makes land valuable. Economically, the levy drives efficient land use and raises wages. What’s not to like? Plenty. People just are not interested. How to interest them? Probably downplay the tax. Instead, convert the recovered ground rent revenue into a resident’s dividend and up-play that — money in the pocket!
Ed. Notes: The author calls for the usual higher minimum wage, stronger unions, restricting international exchange, etc. Yet in the past when we had those policies and more, we still had widespread poverty. Shouldn’t we be trying something else?
How about if we try what works? Any place that has used any aspect of geonomimcs has benefitted: de-tax wages, de-fund corporate welfare, enforce environmental standards, recover the socially-generated value of sites and resources, and pay people a dividend from the resultant surplus public revenue, a la the dividend of Alaska or Singapore, for example.
Of those, the most potent and maybe the hardest to implement is the public recovery of publicly-generated land values. It works because it spurs owners to use prime locations most efficiently, which creates jobs and attracts investments. It’s fair because we didn’t create land, we all need land, and paying land dues is a way of compensating our neighbors, those whom we exclude (as long as the government pays a dividend or provides universally desired social services). Land dues run up against land speculation but they are what make geonomics tick.
This 2014 excerpt of The Guardian, Mar 3 is by George Monbiot.
The biggest 174 landowners in England take £120m between them. A €300,000 cap would have saved about £70m. If farmers were subject to the benefits cap that applies to everyone else (£26,000), the saving would amount to about £1bn.
First we give rich landowners our money – vast amounts of it, uncapped and almost unconditional. Then we pay for the costs they kindly dump on us: the floods, the extra water purification necessitated by the pollution they cause, the loss of so many precious and beautiful places, the decline of wildlife that enchants and enraptures. Expensive, irrational, destructive, counter-productive: this scarcely begins to describe our farming policies.
But it need not be this way. Change the rules, change the incentives, support impoverished farmers to do the right thing, stop support for the rich farmers altogether, and everything else can follow.
Turn the rivers flowing into the lowlands into “blue belts” or “wild ways”. For 50 metres on either side, the land would be left unfarmed, allowing trees and bogs to return and creating continuous wildlife corridors. Bogs and forests trap the floodwaters, helping to protect the towns downstream. They catch the soil washing off the fields and filter out some of the chemicals which would otherwise find their way into the rivers. A few of us are now in the process of setting up a rewilding group in Britain, which would seek to catalyse some of these changes.
We must insert a political crowbar to prise the government away from the industry it is supposed to regulate.
Ed. Notes: We humans could do a much better job of extracting our livelihood from the earth sustainably. We humans might feel a stronger motive to do a better job if we practiced geonomics. If we all paid land dues and got back rent dividends, we would be connected to Mother Earth financially. She’d become our commons. If she lost value, making our dividend shrink, we’d sit up and take notice and if for no other reason than the bottom line, we’d make the necessary corrections so that none of us could get away with doing environmental harm, since that also lowers land value. After doing the right thing for maybe not the right reason for a while, probably we’d internalize the values of stewardship and treat the natural world sustainably because we’d see ourselves as part of it.
NBC News, Feb. 17, 2014: ‘Bizarre’ Cluster of Severe Birth Defects Haunts Health Experts
A mysterious cluster of severe birth defects in rural Washington state [and] reports of new cases continue to climb. Federal and state officials won’t say how many women in a three-county area near Yakima, Wash., have had babies with anencephaly — born missing parts of the brain or skull. And they admit they haven’t interviewed any of the women in question, or told the mothers there’s a potentially widespread problem.
[...] nearly two dozen cases in three years, a rate four times the national average
[...] CDC and state officials refused to tell NBC News how many new cases they’d received in 2013
[...] Allison Ashley-Koch, professor at the Duke University Medical Center for Human Genetics: “Any time you see a geographic cluster of a pretty severe birth defect, it does make you wonder if there is a common exposure
[...] If you could find a way to stop this from happening, why wouldn’t you want to do that? Why would you not want to tell people?”
NBC’s report failed to mention the cluster’s proximity to Hanford, the most contaminated area in Western Hemisphere.
Ed. Notes: Polluters are both businesses and governments. Presently, we can hold business people accountable, especially if we quit letting them hide behind limited liability. But how can we hold elected officials and bureaucrats accountable?
Maybe we can’t and so we should not let government wield so much power in the first place. How? Rather than let politicians spend public money to fund their grandiose ideas such as dump sites, force them to raise the money by selling bonds. Bond buyers are more cautious, since they don’t want to lose their investment or become liable for hazardous projects. Governments would not be able to sell enough bonds to fund something as hazardous as a nuclear dump.
This is an economic solution, not a political solution such as trying to persuade government to clean up this one site while leaving the power of spending in the hands of government. Since money matters, this economic solution should work.
These three 2014 excerpts are of: (1) The View from Cullingworth, Mar 2, by Simon Cooke (the village’s Conservative Councillor); (2) The Age, Mar 3, by Ross Gittins (Sydney Morning Herald’s Economics Editor; and (3) Macrobusiness, Mar 3, by Houses and Holes in Australian Economy.
Rent-seeking at Work
New York held an auction for individual yellow-cab medallions that give drivers the right to operate a taxi and pick up street hails. Winning bidders paid as much as $965,000 for the latest batch of medallions. You pay nearly a million dollars for the right to drive a cab in New York. This suggests that not only are there not enough taxis but that, as a result, the price of a taxi fare is higher.
What gets me is how blatantly self-seeking our lobby groups have become.
These days far more people make their living lobbying for interest groups than did so in the 1980s.
Too many politicians, private office advisers and bureaucrats retire as gamekeepers to become poachers. The fact that ex-Coalition lobbyists do better under Coalition governments, while ex-Labor people do better under Labor governments is a sign that this is not an innocent, arms-length, information-gathering exercise.
The big miners, the financial services sector, the hotels and the registered clubs have the most money to invest (and I do mean invest) in rent-seeking.
Giving in to rent-seekers doesn’t make you any friends, it just makes things worse. Yielding to my pressure for a concession never satisfies me, it just shows me you’re an easy touch and prompts me to think of something else I want. Meanwhile, giving me a lolly just makes my rivals envious and prompts them to demand theirs. Bad inevitably leads to worse.
I very much agree with Mr Gittins about the problem he describes. Trouble is, I see him as one of the worst rent-seekers of all.
If rent-seeking prevents the most efficient flow of capital for productive purposes, and thus the rise of national wealth and with it the common good, then why does Mr Gittins spend so much of his time defending an economic model in which [financial] “services” and mining are seen as the natural evolution of the economy?
As more and more capital is sucked into the unproductive venture of mortgages, productivity starts to fall. That is where the Australian economy is today, with our banks pouring far larger proportions of the nation’s capital into mortgages than at time since records were kept. A considerable slice of Australia’s declining multi-factor productivity has resulted directly from escalating land prices.
“Holding gains and losses accrue to the owners of assets and liabilities purely as a result of holding the assets or liabilities over time, without transforming them in any way”. In economic terms, they are pure rents.
As Fairfax Media [Gittins employer] dies its slow death, it is being eaten by its own real estate businesses, which now constitute almost half the firm’s value.
Ed. Notes: The third critic makes a good point. Rent-seeking is not only the newer versions performed by taxicab owners and big businesses. Those extractions pale beside the classic seeking — and winning — of rents spent for land.
To halt the classic rent-winners, it’s not a matter of government quitting subsidizing insiders and leniently enforcing rights. It’s a matter of government being proactive and using its power of charging fees or levying taxes, or even of instituting dues, to redirect our spending for land from sellers and lenders into the public treasury then out again as dividends to everyone. That’d stymy the classic rent-seekers, whittle them down to size, making it much easier to halt the neo-rent-seekers and repeal corporate welfare and regulatory favoritism.
It’d also help greatly if people could see government as steward rather than as Santa Claus.
This 2014 excerpt of The Guardian, Mar 2 is by Dave Hill.
Some insist that the land banking problem is overstated but the GLA/Molior report argued that if work on every site for which planning permission had been obtained at that time began immediately “somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000″ homes would be completed for each of the ensuing three years.
If “use it or lose it” could help bring about even the lower of those two figures in London it would be a big boost.
Meanwhile calls from across the political spectrum and elsewhere continue for the introduction of another measure to lessen landbanking – a land value tax, something both Darren Johnson and Stephen Knight strongly endorse. Conservatives might reflect that Winston Churchill was pretty keen on the idea too.
Ed. Notes: Land banking is polite for land speculation. It results in wasteful use of metro land, making it a selfish, anti-social practice. The cure that’s always worked before is to charge owners a rent for their land, no matter how they’re using it. To pay the rent (or tax), they use their land well. To make the charge fair, it’d be good to at the same time lower or remove other taxes, especially on buildings. Going one step further, it’d be great to return the recovered rents as a dividend to residents, sort of like what Singapore does. You get better land use, you get more affordable housing, and you get economic justice, all in one (the one of geonomics).
This 2014 excerpt of Nature, Feb 24, is by Richard Van Noorden.
The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.
Labbé developed a way to automatically detect manuscripts composed by a piece of software called SCIgen, which randomly combines strings of words to produce fake computer-science papers. SCIgen was invented in 2005 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge to prove that conferences would accept meaningless papers.
SCIgen is free to download and use, and it is unclear how many people have done so. SCIgen’s output has occasionally popped up at conferences, when researchers have submitted nonsense papers and then revealed the trick.
Labbé showed how easy it was to add these fake papers to the Google Scholar database, boosting a fake scholar’s h-index, a measure of published output, to 94 — at the time, making him the world’s 21st most highly cited scientist.
There is a long history of journalists and researchers getting spoof papers accepted in conferences or by journals to reveal weaknesses in academic quality controls — from a fake paper published by physicist Alan Sokal of New York University in the journal Social Text in 1996, to a sting operation by US reporter John Bohannon published in Science in 2013, in which he got more than 150 open-access journals to accept a deliberately flawed study for publication.
This 2014 excerpt of Guardian LV, Feb 28, is by Grace Stephen.
Food wastage globally is at an all-time high. Americans are perhaps the most wasteful people in the planet’s history and also one of the most gluttonous. Over 35 percent of Americans can be classified as officially obese.
Within the United States one third of the 430 billion pounds of food produced annually is thrown away. The wastage was caused by spoilage, inadequate or incorrect cooking, or suffered natural shrinkage because of the loss of moisture. A large chunk of the wastage was also caused by people who did not like the food they bought and therefore simply threw it away.
Meanwhile, laws have been put into place that ban the feeding of homeless people in every city of the country.
After the drought in California, the region is unable to produce the usual amount of food; prices are set to skyrocket.
Ed. Notes: Food waste with widespread hunger must be the height of irony. It shows once again that our economic problem is not a matter of production but a matter of distribution. Get rid of subsidies and taxes and individual capture of natural values. Then everyone will have enough opportunity to prosper and avoid hunger. As for the already prosperous, maybe they need to pay more to have their wastes picked up from their curbside.
This 2014 excerpt of Global Research, Feb 28, is by Ezili Dantò.
Last May 10, Martelly-Lamothe, the US-picked Haiti president decreed the island of Ilavach to be property of the state. Konbit peyizan Ilavach (KOPI), the organization put together by the people of Ilavach to secure their interests say the taking of their lands is illegal and any development is not intended to benefit the island residents but foreigners. Residents would rather continue to eat yams, fresh fish, fruits, vegetables off his own ancestral land than have to get a wage job on the Island to service Northern tourists.
The Ilavach folks have no local representation. There has been no local elections, no parliamentary elections in Haiti since Michel Martelly took office with only 17% of the population voting. The Martelly-Lamothe government, instead of organizing required elections, has constantly postponed local and national elections.
Martelly created the local position – Ajan Egzekitif Enterimè or Interim Executive agent — and appointed the person to this position. This man points out people for intimidation, imprisonment, and even death.
Ed. Notes: Such displacement happens in many places, even close to the US. All for the profit from land. Yet land is our common heritage, and the rents it can command are our common wealth; they should not be low hanging fruits for the greedy and grasping. Never miss an opportunity to help resurrect the understanding Mother Earth is to benefit everyone equally.
This 2014 excerpt of MacroBusiness, Feb 27, is by Catherine Cashmore
The correct way to fund local schools would be via broad based and effectively administered land value taxation, which in its purest form – as advocated by the Classical Economist, Henry George – would result in a single tax on the unimproved value of land to replace all other taxes, which hamper productivity – significantly income tax.
The Henry Tax Review commissioned by the Government under Kevin Rudd in 2008 concluded that “economic growth would be higher if governments raised more revenue from land and less revenue from other tax bases” proposing that stamp duty (which is an inconsistent and inequitable source of revenue) be replaced by a broad based land tax, levied on a per-square-metre and per land holding basis, rather than retaining present land tax arrangements.
Therefore – when times comes that the ‘chatter’ around affordability, finally evolves into ‘real’ action – a broad based LVT should form an important part of both the debate, and solution.
This 2014 excerpt of USA Today, Feb 26, is by Hannah Hetzer.
It is a mistake to believe that the capture of drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, will lead to a decrease in violence. Guzmán’s arrest will not dismantle the criminal networks involved in drug trafficking.
40 years of the war on drugs has not led to a decrease in drug consumption or supply on a global scale, yet it has led to the proliferation of drug cartels and crime associated with the underground market.
As long as there is an illicit market for drugs, there will be violent cartels to supply it. Ultimately, we need to depart from the repressive, militarized, and punitive methods of the past and get to the heart of tackling organized crime, with initiatives such as legal regulation, being spearheaded by Uruguay, Washington, and Colorado.
This 2014 excerpt of The Independent, Feb 25, is by Ben Chu.
Best of all would be a land value tax, requiring property owners to pay an annual levy based on the market value of the plot of earth beneath their home. This could potentially replace stamp duty, council tax, and even business rates. It would encourage more housebuilding by discouraging land hoarding, penalize those who leave properties empty, and ensure people paid for windfalls to their home values from new transport links etc. Sensible politicians should be all over it.
Ed. Notes: If you have to pay a tax, it’d be hard to pay a better one than the one on locations. It’s fair, because the value of locations is created by the surrounding society, and because we each owe compensation to our neighbors for excluding them from a part of Earth — to which we all have an equal right — just as our neighbors owe compensation to us. We should all pay land dues in and get rent dividends back.
Happily, paying land dues makes it possible to get rid of the counterproductive taxes on labor land capital, and getting rent dividends makes it possible to get rid of the wasteful and addictive subsidies to special interests.
So it’s great that the British press promotes this vital part of geonomics. May the press of other nations catch up!
an alternative to conventional land trusts. Just as it seems some functions should not be left to the market – private courts and cops invite corruption (while private mediation is fine) – just so some land should not be left in the market. That said, sacred sites do not make much of a model for treating the vast acreage of land that we need to use. So the usual trust model, which is anti-use and counter-market, can not apply where it’s needed most. Trust proponents worry about ownership and control – two very human ambitions – but they’re not central. Supposedly, we the people own millions acres – acres that private corporations treat as private fiefdoms – and conversely, the Nature Conservancy owns wilderness the public can some places use as parks. So, the issue is not who owns but who gets the rent – ideally, all of us.
one of many words I coined over 20 years ago: geoism, geonomics, geonomy, geocracy, etc – neologisms that later others came up with, too. CNBC once had a Geonomics Show, and Middlebury College has a Geonomics Institute. If “economy” is literally “management of the household”, then geonomy is “management of the planet”. The kind of management I had in mind is not what CNBC was thinking – top-down. My geonomics is not hands-on, interfering, but hands-off, organic. It’d strive to align policy with natural processes, similar to what holistic healing does in medicine, what organic farming does in agriculture. Geonomics attends to two key components: One, the crucial stuff to track is fat – or profit, especially profits without production, such as rent, or all the money we spend on the nature we use. Society’s surplus is the sine qua non for growth, needed to counter death – not merely more, but sustainable development, more from less. Two, the basic process to respect is the feedback loop. These let nature maintain balance automatically and could do the same for markets, if we let them. Letting them would turn our economies, now our masters, into a geonomy, our servant, providing us with prosperity, eco-librium (to coin a term) and leisure, time off – a hostile environment for economan but a cradle for a loving and creative humanity.
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.
an economic policy based on the earth’s natural patterns. Eco-systems self-regulate by using feedback loops to keep balance. Can economies do likewise? Why don’t they now produce efficiently and distribute fairly? The answers lie in the money we spend on the earth we use. To attain people/planet harmony, that financial flow from sites and resources must visit each of us. Our agent, government, must collect this natural rent via fees and disburse the collected revenue via dividends. And, it must forgo taxes on homes and earnings, and quit subsidies of either the needy or the greedy. As our steward, government must also collect Ecology Security Deposits, require Restoration Insurance, and auction off the occasional Emissions Permit. And that’s about it – were nature our model.
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.
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)
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 for Jonathan of the Green Party (Nov 7): “What does ‘share our surplus’ mean?”
Our surplus is the values that society generates synergistically. It’s the money we spend on the nature we use: on land sites, natural resources, EM spectrum, ecosystem services (assimilating pollutants). It’s also the money we pay to holders of government-granted privileges like corporate charters. We could share it by paying for the nature we use and privileges we hold to the public treasury then getting back a fair share of the recovered revenue. Used to be, owners did owe rent (“own” and “owe” used to be one word). And presently, some lucky residents do get back periodic dividends: Alaska’s oil dividend and Aspen Colorado’s housing assistance. Doing that, instead of subsidizing bads while taxing goods, is the essence of geonomics.
Jonathan: “Is local currency what you mean?”
Editor: It’s not. Community currency is a good reform, but every good reform pushes up site values. That makes land an even more tempting object of speculation. Now, any good will eventually do bad by widening the income gap – until you share land values.
a discipline that, compared to economics, is as obscure as Warren Buffett’s investment strategy, compared to conventional investment theory, about which Buffett said, “You couldn’t advance in a finance department in this country unless you taught that the world was flat.” (The New York Times, Oct 29). The writer wondered, “But why? If it works, why don’t more investors use it?”
Good question. Geonomics works, too. Every place that has used it has prospered while conserving resources. Yet it remains off the radar of many wanna-be reformers. Gradually, tho’, that’s changing. More are becoming aware of what geonomics studies – all the money we spend on the nature we use. Geonomics (1) as an alternative worldview to the anthropocentric, sees human economies as part of the embracing ecosystem with natural feedback loops seeking balance in both systems. (2) As an alternative to worker vs. investor, it sees our need for sites and resources making those who own land into landlords. (3)As an alternative to economics, it tracks the trillions of “rent” as it drives the “housing” bubble and all other indicators. And (4) as an alternative to left or right, it suggests we not tax ourselves then subsidize our favorites but recover and share society’s surplus, paying in land dues and getting back “rent” dividends, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. Letting rent go to the wrong pockets wreaks havoc, while redirecting it to everyone would solve our economic ills and the ills downstream from them.
People must learn to stop whining so much and feel enough self-esteem to demand a fair share of rent, society’s surplus, the commonwealth.
a way to connect the dots. Making the cyber rounds is “The Cavernous Divide” by Scott Klinger, from AlterNet (posted March 21): “As the number of billionaires in the world expands, so does the number of those in poverty.” Duh. The yawning income gap is not news. Nearly every issue of our quarterly digest carries a similar quote. Yet the connection was worked out long ago by one of America’s greatest thinkers, Henry George, who labeled his masterpiece, Progress and Poverty. Techno- and socio-advances always enrich few and impoverish many. Yet progress also pushes up location values – the geonomic insight (is Silicon Valley cheaper now or more expensive?). Instead of taxing income, sales, or buildings, society could collect those values of sites, resources, EM spectrum, and ecosystem services via fees and dues, which would lower the income ceiling, and instead of lavishing corporate welfare, pay out the recovered revenue via dividends, which would jack up the income floor. Dots connected.