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 2013 excerpt of Occupy, Spt 26, is by Steve Rushton. Truthout reran it Oct 3.
Along with the financial crash that hit the island hard in 2008, Icelanders’ trust in politicians also crashed. So two eDemocracy pioneers created the online platform, Your Priorities. During the 2009 elections for mayor of Iceland’s capital, each candidate was given an equal space to use the site. The Best Party used it most widely, and went on to win an election in which 10% of voters took part and created some 1,000 policy initiatives. Since then, the new mayor has continued to implement citizen-led legislation.
Better Reykjavik was started by Gunnar Grímsson and Róbert Bjarnason of the Citizens Foundation. They identified themselves as both entrepreneurs and activists. “It just felt right using our extensive IT knowledge and experience to be proactive for a better world instead of being reactive in protests.”
The Your Priorities platform has also been used elsewhere in Europe, such as Estonia, as part of a people’s assembly project to create new legislation following numerous political scandals in the small Baltic nation in 2012. Grímsson and Bjarnason explained: “Close to 60,000 people participated, over 1,500 ideas were submitted and the best ideas were prioritized.”
Within representative democracies, “generally politicians won’t listen to the people unless there’s a lot of participation. But the people won’t participate unless they believe they will be listened to.”
“Changing your world takes time and persistence,” they added. “Crowd-source the highest priorities, organize through ideas and speak with one voice. Get media attention and work with it instead of being frustrated about it. Also, use social media to promote eDemocracy and organize open meetings offline.”
“You need to animate the general public to participate, whichever way you can,” they continued. “Many fragmented voices achieve little, but united we can change the world. We need to find the most important ideas for every community and mobilize to support those ideas.”
“Some people are good at expressing themselves in writing, others in person. Some look good in photos or TV, many get really nervous during any kind of broadcast,” they said. “This obviously does not excuse leaving older people behind, but to be brutally honest, that problem will solve itself in time. As for leveling the playing field for people that lack internet knowledge and confidence, we definitely need to make eDemocracy as simple as possible.”
Ed. Notes: Once we win economic justice we won’t need to debate and argue so much, so our good ol’ democracy could become a fondly remember anachronism; but until we do win a fair share for everyone we do need an aroused and demanding public and electorate, something tools such as crowd sourced democracy could deliver.
This 2013 excerpt of OpEdNews, Nov 27, is by Ellen Brown.
In at least 26 countries — including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico, and Russia — GMOs are totally or partially banned; and significant restrictions on GMOs exist in about sixty other countries. In US supermarkets, sixty to seventy percent of the foods are genetically modified.
Often known as Roundup after the best-selling Monsanto product of that name, glyphosate poisons everything in its path except plants genetically modified to resist it. Glyphosate is an essential partner to the GMOs that are the principal business of the burgeoning biotech industry. Glyphosate-based herbicides are now the most commonly used herbicides in the world.
Roundup-resistant crops escape being killed by glyphosate, but they do not avoid absorbing it into their tissues. Herbicide-tolerant crops have substantially higher levels of herbicide residues than other crops. In fact, many countries have had to increase their legally allowable levels–by up to 50 times–in order to accommodate the introduction of GM crops. In the European Union, residues in food are set to rise 100-150 times if a new proposal by Monsanto is approved. Meanwhile, herbicide-tolerant “super-weeds” have adapted to the chemical, requiring even more toxic doses and new toxic chemicals to kill the plant.
Human enzymes are affected by glyphosate just as plant enzymes are: the chemical blocks the uptake of manganese and other essential minerals. Without those minerals, we cannot properly metabolize our food. That helps explain the rampant epidemic of obesity in the United States. People eat and eat in an attempt to acquire the nutrients that are simply not available in their food.
Glyphosate enhances the growth of fungi that produce aflatoxin B1, one of the most carcinogenic of substances. Fungi growths have increased significantly in US corn crops. We’ve gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before.
The endocrine-disrupting properties of glyphosate have been linked to infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, and arrested sexual development. Animals fed GM soy were sterile by the third generation. Vast amounts of farmland soil are also being systematically ruined by the killing of beneficial microorganisms that allow plant roots to uptake soil nutrients.
The US Food and Drug Administration allows biotech companies to determine if their own foods are safe.
The Obama administration is trying to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations have been kept secret from Congress but not from corporate advisors, 600 of whom have been consulted and know the details. The TPP would give multinational corporations unprecedented right to demand taxpayer compensation for policies that corporations deem a barrier to their profits.
In 2011, 40% of Russia’s food was grown on dachas (cottage gardens or allotments). Russia only has 110 days of growing season per year. In the US, only about 0.6 percent of the total agricultural area is devoted to organic farming. The area taken up by lawns is two times greater than that of Russia’s gardens — and it produces nothing but a multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry.
Ed. Notes: If people are to win against corporations, then they’re going to have to have a fair fight. Right now it’s Big Money vs. little money, and that’s not fair. For the battle to be fair, the many little people need more economic power, at the expense of Big Business. That means, shifting government spending out of corporate welfare, into a dividend paid to the citizenry in general. Where would the money come from? From all of society’s spending for the nature it uses — mortgages for land, utility bills for oil, etc. Using taxes and fees and rebates and dividends, redirect all that spending for things of great value that nobody made away from the coffers of corporations and into the pockets to citizens and then people can win these struggles.
This 2013 excerpt of BBC News, Oct 3, is by James Morgan.
Five physics discoveries with the potential to transform the world have been selected by Physics World for its 25th birthday issue:
Hadron therapy – targeting tumours with miniature, table-top particle accelerators.
Quantum computers – potentially able to simulate new drug molecules.
Nanoscopic “superlenses” using evanescent light.
Power on the go – kinetic energy harvesting using triboelectrics that could enable shoes to charge a mobile phone.
Graphene – for electronics and super-strong materials.
Graphene’s strength, flexibility, and conductivity make it a potentially ideal material for bendable smartphones and superior prosthetic limbs. Despite being just one atom thick, it is impervious to almost all liquids and gases. Generating holes in sheets of graphene could therefore create a selective membrane – “the ultimate water purifier” – which might someday create drinking water from the sea.
The magazine also picked its top five breakthroughs of the last 25 years:
Quantum teleportation (1992)
The creation of the first Bose-Einstein condensate (1995)
The accelerating expansion of the universe (1997)
Experimental proof that neutrinos have mass (1998)
The sighting of the Higgs boson at Cern (2012)
The magazine’s 25th anniversary issue also highlights five images that have allowed us to “see” a physical phenomenon or effect. In all, the publication compiled five lists of five to examine different aspects of physics.
Physics World is the monthly magazine of the Institute of Physics and was first published in October 1988.
Ed. Notes: Physics gets real results while most economic conclusions can’t even reach the standard of accuracy. No wonder economists suffer from “physics envy”. And when physicists make mistakes, after a while of competing physicists arguing and providing counter evidence, then the truth usually wins out.
None of this is true for economics, mainly because economics must confront profit and property in order to become a science, and those topics are way too controversial for most people, economists included.
Because economics is not a science, mainstream economists can not predict accurately, while geonomists can. Yet these scientific geonomists are ignored by the conventional economists. What will it take for the paradigm to shift?
This 2013 excerpt of MoneyWeek, Dec 11, is by Merryn Somerset Webb, and continues earlier British press coverage of the proposal.
We’ve written here several times before about how useful a land/location value tax (LVT) might be.
If you build a bypass around a village, the price of houses in the village goes up. And if the taxpayer has put up the cash for the bypass, why should the owners of this tiny group of houses reap a windfall of tax-free cash? Makes no sense really.
But what of the people who can now see and hear the bypass where before they lived in peace? Some of them will have ended up with a little compensation. Most will have had none. Yet they will have suffered one way and another, so why shouldn’t they be compensated via the tax system – paying less tax on their now devalued land than those inside the village in their newly desirable homes?
Imagine if a new wind farm were going up in clear sight of your hill-top cottage, or perhaps that fracking was about to ruin your sense of rural idyll. Would you complain so hard if your compensation came in the form of zero council tax for ever?
The current compensation system for those living around new infrastructure projects is geared to paying out as little as possible. That pretty much guarantees that people will oppose it, and do so for as long as possible.
In the Autumn Statement was a decision to “run a pilot project that will share some of the benefits of the development directly with the individual households adversely affected by it.”
There have been a good many hints since the last election that the coalition is unusually interested in the LVT. This is another one.
Ed. Notes: Bigger picture, all of us should be compensated for being excluded from everyone else’s private property on Earth, our common heritage, just as each of us should compensate everyone else for our excluding them. That means, we’d all pay Land Dues into the common kitty and get Rent Dividends back. Those who claim more desirable locations would pay more while all citizens would get back an equal amount. Compensation could go a long way to taking the sting out of nuisances such as above, plus people might not mind so much when they must move to make way for progress. And extra money in the pocket would undoubtedly help pass the land tax or land dues into law.
These three 2013 excerpts on banking and money are from the New York Times, Oct 2, by (1) Ellen Brown on public banks and (2) James K. Galbraith, U. of Texas, author of Inequality and Instability on public currency; and (3) Consent Chronicle, Dec 18, on currency competition by James Wilson.
Public Banks Are Key to Capitalism
To ask whether public banks would interfere with free markets assumes that we have free markets, which we don’t. Banking is heavily subsidized and is monopolized by Wall Street, which has effectively “bought” Congress. Banks have been bailed out by the government, when in a free market they would have gone bankrupt. The Federal Reserve blatantly manipulates interest rates in a way that serves Wall Street, lending trillions at near-zero interest and pushing rates so artificially low that local governments have lost billions in interest-rate swaps.
Public banks lend countercyclically, providing credit when and where other banks won’t. This does not crowd out private banks. Germany and Taiwan, which have strong public banking sectors, are among the most competitive banking markets in the world.
In North Dakota, the only state with its own “mini-Fed,” the state-owned Bank of North Dakota routes its public lending programs through community banks. The Bank of North Dakota cooperates rather than competes with local banks, aiding with capital and liquidity requirements. Its deposit base is almost entirely composed of the revenue of the state and state agencies. North Dakota has more banks per capita than any other state, because they have not been forced to sell to their Wall Street competitors. The North Dakota Bankers’ Association endorses the Bank of North Dakota, which has a mandate to support the local economy.
The Bank of North Dakota takes almost no individual deposits, but a national postal bank would, just as postal banks have done routinely in other countries without destabilizing markets. One-fourth of American families are unbanked or underbanked. With $3 trillion in excess deposits, Wall Street doesn’t want these small depositors.
By providing inexpensive, accessible financing to the free enterprise sector of the economy, public banks make commerce more vital and stable.
Could the Treasury pay its bills without bonds? Well, the Fed does have regulations governing “overdrafts”.
Yet under present law, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew could pay off public debt held by the Federal Reserve by issuing a high-value, legal-tender coin – so long as the coin happened to be platinum. A coin is not debt, so that simple exchange would retire the Fed’s debt holdings and lower the total public debt below any given ceiling.
Legally, the president’s officers have the power to use one gimmick to deflate the other.
The Zero Aggression Project and DownsizeDC urge Congress to pass the Free Competition in Currency Act (HR 77).
For 100 years, the Fed notes have robbed the dollar of over 95% of its value. This money inflation led to and perpetually higher prices and devalued savings and overheated stock markets.
HR 77 ends the Fed’s monopoly on issuing new currency; it allows we the people to choose better, non-inflationary forms of money, such as gold or silver. If it becomes law the Fed will either have to stop inflating or lose customers.
Free market money would mean my savings would be protected and prices would stabilize and Congress couldn’t borrow so much.
Send Congress a letter using DownsizeDC.org’s Educate the Powerful System. Please share your letter with friends. Ask them to take the same action.
Ed. Notes: Like most people, these writers can see money but can’t see land. Money we touch every day but land, eventho’ we can’t go anywhere without stepping on it, has faded away into the background.
Yet why do banks lend most of their money? So people can buy land and the building upon it. Why are governments continually in debt? Because they refuse to recover the socially-generated value of land and resources, a value that’d make an ideal tax base.
Society’s spending for land is plenty of money, and unlike other tax targets — income, sales, buildings — the value of locations actually grows when recovered by the community. That’s because the land tax or land dues prompt landowners to quit speculating in land and instead put their sites to good use, which raises the value of all parcels in a region.
If government were to tap this growing flow of funds and keep itself out of debt, it’d have no reason to over-issue new money. Instead of inflation, as technology advances then the cost of living would fall. And if government paid surplus public revenue to citizens as a dividend, then people would not have to borrow so much.
Even without reforming the creation of new money — and the process sure deserves to be corrected — you could turn money, banking, and debt into non-issues by recovering and sharing the value of land and natural resources.
This 2013 excerpt of Business Standard, Dec 10, is by Hrusikesh Mohanty.
Salt manufacturers in the state of Odisha suffered major blow to their business couple of months back because of cyclone Phailin and subsequent floods.
Now the central government has increased the ground rent on salt fields from Rs 5 to Rs 120 per acre per annum. It has also increased the assignment charge on the manufacturers from Rs 4 to Rs 100 per tonne of salt per annum, retroactive to last January.
The salt manufacturers’ association will ask the government to reconsider its decision.
Ganjam is the major salt producing district in the state having around 5,000 acres of lands. There are 43 manufactures, including private ones and two cooperative societies engaged in making salt from the sea water. They produce 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes of salt every year. The salt farming land is leased to cooperative and private sector firms by the central and state governments.
While the infrastructure facilities like the sheds, pump sets, iodization godowns, and electric transformers were damaged in the cyclone, there was heavy siltation in the fields due to heavy rains and floods following the storm. At least Rs 10,000 per acre is needed to de-silt the salt fields to revive the production.
Ed. Notes: While it is fair for those who use land to pay their community for excluding everyone else from the land, and fair for government to collect such rent for community use, it is not fair for government to collect more than the annual market value of the land. After a devastating storm, wouldn’t the land be worth less? Wouldn’t lowering the rent make more sense? However, perhaps in this case, where the rent had been so low, the increase is still not much, only raising the amount to a fair amount. It’s not possible for us to judge without knowing how much profit the salt farmers make on public land each year. If only the reporter would complete the story!
This 2013 excerpt of Pacific Standard, Oct 2, is by Michael Todd.
Last year, research suggested that the idea of people not being able to look in the eyes when they were lying was fundamentally wrong. Your eyes don’t indicate your honesty, although your hands are a different story.
Not only does looking someone in the eye not convince them, it may actually harm your case. Eye contact, especially if someone is predisposed to disagree with you and you’re pushing them to look you back, is not persuasive at all.
If this sounds at odds with past research that’s found speakers who looks at their audience more are rated as more persuasive, understand that their outward gaze isn’t the same as making eye contact. That’s a two-person activity.
Spontaneous gaze at a speaker’s eyes is associated with greater prior agreement and (sometimes) greater receptiveness, but also with less attitude change.
Not all eye contact is created equal — when you’re with friends or loved ones, looking into their eyes generates trust. But when there’s conflict, it may suggest an effort to intimidate and or dominate, and so hurt your argument.
Ed. Notes: Don’t lock your gaze onto another’s may be sound advice but isn’t it also common sense? Along with how much you gaze at the person you’re talking to, your listener will probably also take into account how you appear to them — your smile, your words, your voice, your gestures, your dress, your subconscious aroma that humans can’t pick up consciously, etc. If there’s a shortcut to changing the minds of others, probably nothing works better than appearing as a posse of powerful individuals.
This 2013 excerpt of USA Today, Oct 2, is by Cal Thomas, a conservative columnist, and Bob Beckel, a Democratic strategist — longtime friends.
CAL: The $80 billion federal auto bailout was such a big mistake. Now to make matters worse, the Obama administration is bailing out the Motor City with $300 million. That’s $400 for every resident of the city. The federal government subsidizes failure.
BOB: But the federal assistance to General Motors and Chrysler saved the companies, many GM and Chrysler workers’ jobs, and hundreds of thousands of jobs at companies that make auto parts far beyond Detroit.
CAL: That’s what people who support bailouts say, but Ford didn’t take the money and it is doing much better. A company focused on giving drivers what they want instead of courting help from Washington is going to thrive in a free market. When businesses that fail get government handouts, more companies will come asking in the future.
BOB: I didn’t notice outrage among many conservatives when the federal government bailed out Wall Street and the big banks. That was over a trillion dollars and hardly a whimper from Republicans about their fat-cat banker buddies.
CAL: I was outraged! People and companies (and cities) that make bad decisions should be allowed to fail as a lesson to others. Without fixing the underlying cause of urban blight — people and businesses fleeing the city’s high taxes, poor services and corruption — the blight will just return. Politicians there don’t seem as interested in fixing problems as much as lining their own pockets. Many have gone to prison.
BOB: Most major cities have suffered from corruption and urban blight at some point. In the 1990s, New York went into high-crime neighborhoods and replaced broken windows and streetlights and tore down vacant buildings used by criminals. The results were staggering. Crime dropped, and law abiding citizens reclaimed control of their streets. It’s a model being widely followed.
CAL: Detroit defaulted on $600 million in bonds, twice as much as their bailout. What is needed is a shakeup in the one-party rule that has gripped Detroit for more than 50 years. The last Republican mayor, Louis Miriani, was elected when Eisenhower was president.
BOB: He was convicted of federal tax evasion and sentenced to prison in 1969, keeping up a less-than-proud and bipartisan Detroit “tradition.”
CAL: The city needs to pay 100,000 creditors. That breaks down to $28,000 per resident. In 1950, Detroit had 296,000 manufacturing jobs and, 10 years later, the nation’s highest per capita income. Today, manufacturing employment is down 90%. You can buy a house in Detroit for $500 or less.
BOB: The city became too dependent on one industry.
CAL: Times change, and people must change with them.
BOB: Detroit needs to attract technology and manufacturing jobs. The days of overly generous contracts in the manufacturing and civil service sectors are over.
CAL: Spending as if there is no tomorrow guarantees there won’t be a tomorrow for Detroit.
Ed. Notes: Now do you know what we should do: bailout Detroit or any city or company? These guys above who get millions of readers do make a degree of sense (for thinking within the box) but woefully lack the understanding of analysts who get far fewer readers (such as our contributors). Why won’t mainstream media give equal time to the structural reforms that have proven themselves to work? Would fixing the economy so that it works right for everyone, would that dethrone the powers that be?
The Mason Gaffney Reader: Essays on Solving the Unsolvable (so-called)
Most economists neither really understand their subject nor love its history. Mason Gaffney’s love of truth and the history of economics pervades what he has written. One of my few regrets in life is not having been closer than 7,650 miles away from Mason Gaffney to discuss in detail crucial derailments in economic thought and tax policy, such as John Bates Clark’s (absurdly successful) fraudulent attempt to pretend that land is merely man-made capital.
— Dr. Terry Dwyer, Economist, lawyer, Former Tax advisor to the Australian Prime Minister
If you have ever wondered why big cities have empty lots while development sprawls far into what was once farmland, Mason Gaffney’s essays will explain it all in clear and upbeat terms. For decades Gaffney has led the Georgist movement that seeks to tax land, but not buildings, to foster the best use of land while ending the subtle, and corrosive, redistribution of wealth to owners of real estate. Even if you disagree with Mase his insights will bring new clarity to economics.
— David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning tax journalist
Mason Gaffney is a national treasure. He boldly treads where few other economists even dare to peek: at the extraction of rent from the many by the few. Such rent extraction is now massive and threatens to destroy our democracy. To those who wonder how to stop it, my advice is simple: read Gaffney.
— Peter Barnes, author of Capitalism 3.0 and The Sky Trust
The scope, scale and quality of Prof. Mason Gaffney’s anthology are truly breathtaking. This little gem will be on my students’ required reading list with a note: “They don’t make economists this way anymore.” Yes, unfortunately, when they made Mase, they broke the mold.
— Steve H. Hanke, The Johns Hopkins University
Mason Gaffney is an ideal “liberal arts” economist: Question everything, especially your own views; use common sense; be open about your judgments, and encourage debate by stating your conclusions boldly. I don’t always agree with him, but I always learn from him.
— David Colander, Middlebury College
Mason Gaffney has taught generations of urban planners and economists to appreciate how taxing land can improve cities, the economy, and the environment. His rare combination of theoretical rigor, political passion, and clear writing impressed me early in my own academic career. This wonderful collection of his incisive essays will educate and entertain everyone who wants to know more about land and taxes.
— Donald Shoup, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning, UCLA
In 1970, I was an uppity Nader’s Raider, on the trail of giant California land barons. I stumbled on a hilarious account of California’s preposterous irrigation system with its crisscrossing canals. I just had to meet the author, so I tracked Mason down in Washington, DC, where he then worked for Resources for the Future. He invited me and my ex to dinner, fried us up hamburgers with soy sauce, sang Gilbert and Sullivan tunes with his own words, and sent us on our way with reprints and the dictum, “Tax capital and labor and you drive them away; tax land and you drive it into use!” That meeting led me to study economics in Mason’s old department at UC Berkeley, and into a lifetime of learning from him.
— Mary M. Cleveland, Columbia University
Mason Gaffney is the rare economist who looks for practical solutions. Gaffney explains how taxing land rather than buildings can generate local government revenue and promote urban infill development, greater employment, and overall urban revitalization — results urban planners have long advocated. Gaffney also lays out ways to counteract leapfrogging sprawl, the nation’s leading land use problem, through removing public subsidies. He shows why cities should also adopt land value taxation as an incentive to create more compact and economically robust communities.
— Thomas Daniels, University of Pennsylvania
While too much his own man to be a disciple, Mason Gaffney is widely known as the leading active Georgist economist. This selection of his extensive writings provides an excellent introduction to his body of thought. All apply economics to the design of a more productive economy and a fairer society, and most discuss how expanding land taxation can go far in achieving these goals. These stimulating and thought-provoking articles are written with flair, elegance, and erudition.
— Richard Arnott, University of California, Riverside
Mason Gaffney is the greatest economist the world has never heard of. Professor Gaffney supplies a theory of public finance that shows why Western economies overexploit natural resources, underemploy labor, lurch from crisis to crisis and are prone to ever-widening disparities of wealth. He explains why neither “liberal” demand-side stimulus nor “conservative” supply-side fiscal policies have suceeded. Mason Gaffney’s analysis has never been refuted; it has simply been ignored. Somehow, remarkably, he has maintained his cheery optimism and side-splitting humor, so evident in these essays.
— Kris Feder, Bard College
Mason Gaffney’s insightful writings on public finance, the structure of capital goods, and the business cycle are a bolt of enlightenment, in contrast to the dreary and almost useless mainstream thought that treats symptoms rather than causes. You cannot find better economic writing than that of Professor Mason Gaffney.
— Fred Foldvary, San Jose State University
Prof. Gaffney writes about important questions, with elegance, clarity and wit. I always enjoy reading his papers. When I refer to one of them to check on a point, I often find myself re-reading the whole paper, because I find it so engaging. When I read other economists I find errors in their thinking. That doesn’t seem to happen when I read Mason Gaffney’s work.
— Nicolaus Tideman, Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Here is an economist that the vast majority of our tribe is too defectively educated to understand. Economics is not the dismal science; it is we economists who are dismal, because we have lost our imagination. One need not agree with everything that Mason says to marvel at the depth of his mind and the reach of his wit. We have here marvelous observations and comments upon the timeless necessity of “getting and spending.”
— Daniel Bromley, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Editor, Land Economics
Gaffney’s instructive case histories brilliantly probe beneath the surface of economic phenomena to expose what modern economic analysis has lost by downplaying land values as the primary source of unearned riches. He reveals how current fiscal regimes increasingly privilege unearned income and wealth while penalizing production and harming the poor with regressive sales taxes.
— Roger Sandilands, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Gaffney is the preeminent scholar of what’s ailing our economy and how to revitalize it with job opportunities and decent living standards for all Americans.
— Walt Rybeck, Director, Center for Public Dialogue; author of Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle
If the Nobel Prize Committee ever returns to its original mission of awarding prizes for research that benefits society, they should give serious consideration to the life’s work of Mason Gaffney. He has shown how to create a peaceful, prosperous economy that does not depend on imperialism or exploitation.
— Clifford Cobb, author, historian
Mason Gaffney recently retired from active teaching at the University of California, Riverside, at age 90 — with his wits fully intact: three of the essays in this collection were written this year. Prior to Riverside, he was a Professor of Economics at several Universities, a journalist with TIME, Inc., a researcher with Resources for the Future, Inc., the head of the British Columbia Institute for Economic Policy Analysis, which he founded, and an economic consultant to several businesses and government agencies.
Given the radical insights that Gaffney has propounded throughout his career, it’s amazing that he rose as high in the profession as he did. Over the years he found that the subjects that most interested him were precisely the ones best left unexplored by young economists seeking advancement. In a recent essay he recalled being invited to join an Air Conservation Commission in the late 1950s. Hardly any economists at that time had any interest in air pollution; they dismissed it and like matters as “externalities,” outside their narrow realm of markets for “commodities.”
Mason Gaffney doesn’t accept error without complaint, but his (mostly) judicious corrections are offered without condescension. It’s a sort of unassailable, humble authority that comes from really, really knowing what one is talking about.
His essay “Europe’s Fatal Affair with the Value-Added Tax” is far more than an explanation of the economics of sales taxes. It becomes a meditation on the age-old question of what belongs to individuals, and what belongs to communities. He shows how the views of the Physiocrats, the French economistes of the 18th century, had far-reaching influence on the US’s founding fathers, and on the American economy to this day. Public, societal choices with regard to this question have consequences, and Gaffney’s long historical view shows that these consequences are more predictable than many (particularly modern economists) would have you believe.
His “Reverberations” is the best — bar none — brief exposition of the mechanics of macroeconomic cycles, and should be required reading for every econ major.
Mason Gaffney’s work as an economist is deeply important, but he gives you more: his work as a wordsmith, and as a whimsical, eclectic historian, is delightful. There’s deep wisdom here, snazzily expressed.
This 2013 excerpt of Fortune Magazine, Nov 21, is by Vivienne Walt.
Early last year a Brazilian music producer named James Cesari hopped onto the back of a motorbike taxi and roared up to the top of one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. There on a hillcrest in Vidigal, an area that had suffered years of gang violence, he found his dream home. Set amid a tangle of electrical wires, potholed roads, and small eateries, Cesari’s one-bedroom cost 15,000 reais (about $7,500), plus about 50,000 reais (about $25,000) to renovate. Now the living room has a view of Ipanema’s beaches and the tropical islands beyond. Cesari, who is 36, gazes out at the view from his couch and says, “This place is priceless.”
The Vidigal shantytown in Rio is gentrifying, and prices of housing are soaring.
Ed. Notes: As always, what matters most in real estate? Hint: it’s not the buildings, in this case favelas or hovels. It’s the land, or, the location, over and over and over.
Brazil being the host of the next World Cup of Futbol is causing lots of investment in the country which is driving up the value of locations, so the poor must move again.
What might make it fair would be compensating the poor for their move. That is, paying them and everyone a share of the region’s or nation’s land value. People on the most desirable sites would pay the most, and the people with the least income would benefit the most.
Plus, collecting the ground rents would spur owners to develop their under-utilized sites (in order to afford the land tax or land dues). As they build up, they must hire people, so the formerly poor could get jobs and afford to live in higher quality dwellings.
And if government also removed the counterproductive taxes on earnings, purchases, and structures, then people would be more productive and that’d drive up location values, fattening everyone’s dividend. Everyone would be better off — both the people moving up and the people moving out.
These two 2013 excerpts on agri-biz subsidies are from (1) the BBC, Spt 26, by Chris Morris, and (2) Weekly Wastebasket (Volume XVIII No. 48) Nov 27, by Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Members of European Parliament Slam Funding Sofa Farmers
The direct payments to farmers – known as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – make up most of the EU’s agriculture budget. Nearly 40% of total EU spending is allocated to agriculture.
The current payments system is largely based on land area and past subsidy levels, meaning that landowners like airports and sports clubs, which do not farm, have been getting subsidies on the basis of their grasslands or other eligible land areas.
Protection of wildlife and other environmental measures generally come under the rural development budget – called “pillar two”. Direct payments to farmers – “pillar one” – dwarf such spending and Europe’s big agricultural firms and landowners are major beneficiaries.
MEPs’ calls to set an upper limit on farm subsidies were rejected. Under the new deal, EU member states can transfer 15% of rural development funding to pillar one. But that can reach 25% in countries where direct farm payments are below the EU average.
The plan is to spend about 50bn euros (£42bn; $65bn) annually on agriculture in 2014-2020.
As the USDA reported, net farm income for 2013 is set to be a record $131 billion. That’s 15% more than last year and, after adjusting for inflation, the best year since 1973.
Covering everything from loan guarantees for biofuels facilities and grants for drinking water wells to food assistance and crop insurance, the farm bill is a nearly $1 trillion buffet of special interest dishes. And it’s a spread that routinely costs more than expected – the last two farm bills are on pace to cost $400 billion more than was estimated when they were adopted. With our nation now $17 trillion in debt, the agriculture committees are being forced to change their ways.
One of the richest parts of the farm bill is the federally subsidized crop insurance entitlement program. Producers of everything from almonds to oysters receive taxpayer subsidies to buy insurance, not just on their crops, but also on the revenue they expect from those crops. It’s extremely (overly) generous, on average more than 60% of the premium is covered by taxpayers, and the program cost $14 billion last year – in a year with the best profits in more than a generation!
Ed. Notes: Why do governments subsidize farm owners? People need food, much more than other products which don’t get subsidies. How can farming be a losing business? How can real farmers and farmworkers make so little money while sofa farmers, lenders, seed sellers, tractor manufacturers, fertilizer & insecticide makers, harvest brokers, and shippers make so much money? If government stayed out of agriculture — no subsidies, no tax breaks — and just recovered the socially-generated ground rents then distributed them to citizens — would growing crops finally become a normal enterprise? Probably. And the organic, no-till farmers would probably profit the most.
Ed. Notes: Just a reminder that what you’re paying for is not land as dirt (the island) but land as location (where sits a London flat). And until we geonomize, who you’re paying is the wrong person. Owners don’t create land or its value; nobody by themselves does that. It’s the presence of society who creates the value of sites. Hence it is they — your neighbors — whom you should pay, just as they’d pay you. That’s how we could share the socially-generated value of locations: pay Land Dues into the public treasury and get rent dividends back from your local government. And that’s how we could get over imposing all those taxes on workers and bestowing all those subsidies for insiders … soon!
This 2013 excerpt of The Star, Dec 14, is by Frank de Jong, president, Earthsharing Canada, Toronto.
Relying primarily on gas taxes to fund mass transit, as suggested by the Anne Golden transit panel, is a socially divisive idea, pitting suburban and rural residents who rarely use transit against urban dwellers who generally drive shorter distances if at all. The war on the car will only get worse.
Transit and other infrastructure should be financed by those who benefit financially from it, not by those who live far away. Land value capture, which collects the rise in local land values that the new transit generates, could finance the infrastructure.
People bid up the price of land around new transit, hospitals, and schools because of the advantages of living and working near them. A rise in land values that was created by the government-funded infrastructure should therefore go back to government to pay for the project and not be a windfall profit to those who happen to own nearby land.
Ed. Notes: The best transit system in the world — Hong Kong’s — uses leases to recover the value of the land that arose around its stops and stations. All truly desired projects could be self-financing, concluded big-name economists William Vickrey and Joseph Stiglitz. What are we waiting for?
Informal social customs often work better than laws in Influencing good behavior.
This 2013 excerpt of On the Commons, Spt 25, by Jay Walljasper.
The vast majority of us voluntarily add 10-20 percent of the cost of a restaurant bill as a tip. There’s no law requiring this. But people tip anyway because it’s a custom. You feel guilty, like some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge, when you don’t.
Informal sanctions such as these are a neglected social resource. They often are more effective than formal ones and central to the functioning of many commons. They are one reason that the supposed “tragedy of the commons” is largely a canard, at the local level at least.
Why not make more use of this non-government and non-market force?
Ed. Notes: Somebody’s thinking creatively about how to improve our group behavior; that’s great. However, it seems like customs, sanctions, and opprobrium depend on people having already reached widespread agreement on certain actions being right or wrong. So we still need to find a creative way to win widespread agreement on the morality of sharing Earth’s worth.
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.
what you do when you see economies as part of the ecosystem, following feedback loops and storing up energy. Surplus energy – fat or profit – enables us to produce and reproduce. To recycle society’s surplus, the commonwealth, geonomics would replace taxes with land dues (charged to users of sites and resources, including the EM spectrum, and extra to polluters), and replace subsidies with rent dividends to citizens (a la Alaska’s oil dividend). Without taxes and subsidies to distort them, prices become precise, reflect accurately our costs and values; then, motivated by no more than the bottom line, both producers and consumers make sustainable choices. While no place uses geonomics in its entirety, some places use parts of it, most notably a shift of the property tax off buildings, onto locations. Shifting the property tax drives efficient use of land, in-fills cities, improves the housing stock, makes homes affordable, engenders jobs and investment opportunities, lowers crime, raises civic participation, etc – overall it makes cities more livable. Geonomics – a way to share the bounty of nature and society – is something we can work for locally, globally, and in between.
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.
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.
the annoying habit of seeing the hand of land in almost all transactions. In geonomics we maintain the distinction between the items bearing exchange value that come into being via human effort — wealth — and those that don’t — land. Keeping this distinction in the forefront makes it obvious that speculating in land drives sprawl, that hoarding land retards Third World development, that borrowing to buy land plus buildings engorges banks, that much so-called “interest” is quasi-rent, that the cost of land inflates faster than the price of produced goods and services, that over half of corporate profit is from real estate (Urban Land Institute, 1999). Summing up these analyses, geonomists offer a Grand Unifying Theory, that the flow of rent pulls all other indicators in its wake. Geonomics differs from economics as chemistry from alchemy, as astronomy from astrology.
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?
of interest to Dave Lakhani, President Bold Approach (Mar 8) and Matt Ozga (Jan 29): “I write for the Washington Square News, the student run newspaper out of New York University. Geonomics seems like it has great significance, especially in this area. When was geonomics developed, and by whom?”
About 1982 I began. Two years later, Chilean Dr Manfred Max-Neef offered the term geonomics for Earth-friendly economics. In the mid-80s, a millionaire founded a Geonomics Institute on Middlebury College campus in Vermont re global trade. In the 1990s, CNBC cablecast a show, Geonomics, on world trade as it benefits world traders. My version of geonomics draws heavily from the American Henry George who wrote Progress & Poverty (1879) and won the mayoralty of New York but was denied his victory by Tammany Hall (1886). He in turn got lots from Brits David Ricardo, Adam Smith, and the French physiocrats of the 1700s. My version differs by focusing not on taxation but on the flow of rents for sites, resources, sinks, and government-granted privileges. Forgoing these trillions, we instead tax and subsidize, making waste cheap and sustainability expensive. To quit distorting price, replace taxes with “land dues” and replace subsidies with a Citizens Dividend.
Matt: “This idea of sharing rents sounds, if not explicitly socialist, at least at odds with some capitalist values (only the strong survive & prosper, etc). Is it fair to say that geonomics has some basis in socialist theory?”
A closer descriptor would be Christian. Beyond ethics into praxis, Alaska shares oil rent with residents, and they’re more libertarian than socialist. While individuals provide labor and capital, no one provides land while society generates its value. Rent is not private property but public property. Sharing Rent is predistribution, sharing it before an elite or state has a chance to get and misspend it, like a public REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) paying dividends to its stakeholders – a perfectly capitalist model. What we should leave untaxed are our sales, salaries, and structures, things we do produce.
the Great Green Tax Shift maxed out”
Economically, taxing pollution and depletion does reduce pollutants and extracts – and thus the tax base; plus such taxes are regressive, requiring a safety net. On the other hand, collecting site rent is progressive and generates a revenue surplus payable as a dividend to residents, which can serve as the safety net.
Environmentally, taxes on waste and extraction do not drive efficient use of land, as does getting site rent. Better settlement patterns do reduce extraction upstream and pollution downstream.
Politically, green fees have less impact if applied locally; local is where grassroots movements have more impact. Yet getting rent usually entails shifting the property tax (or charging user fees), the province of local jurisdictions; both mayors and city voters have been known to adopt a site-value tax.
Ethically, putting into practice “tax bads, not goods” skirts the issue of sharing Mother Earth which collecting rent confronts head on. Since nothing is fixed until it’s fixed right, ultimately, greens must lead humanity into geotopia where we all share the worth of Mother Earth.
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 heritage 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 dividend, as Tom Paine suggested, and taxes (except any on natural rents) could be abolished, as Thomas Jefferson suggested. Were we sharing Earth by sharing her worth, territorial disputes would be fewer, less intense, and more resolvable.
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.