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.
Air board will start monitoring pollution next to SoCal freeways. Similar steps will occur in more than 100 big cities across the country.
This 2013 excerpt of the Los Angeles Times, Aug 25, is by Tony Barboza.
Air quality regulators will begin monitoring pollution levels near major Southern California traffic corridors next year, for the first time providing data important to nearly 1 million Southern Californians who are at greater risk of respiratory illness because they live within 300 feet of a freeway.
Scientists have linked air pollution from traffic to a long list of health problems, including asthma, heart disease, bronchitis, and lung cancer. Children living near busy freeways have higher asthma rates and reduced lung function.
Scott Fruin, a professor of preventive medicine at USC, believes the EPA’s action is long overdue.
The new monitoring is likely to have broad implications. If, as expected, the new data show higher pollution levels, local officials should reduce emissions and curtail residential development near freeways.
Ed. Notes: Defending rights, such as our right to a healthy environment, that’s what government should do, even if belatedly. Government probably would’ve been doing its duty all along if not so beholden to moneyed developers and other corporations. If people want government on their side, they must have money on their side. We must stop letting society’s surplus collect in just a few pockets and share it among us all instead.
This 2013 excerpt of Inequality, Nov 8, is by Salvatore Babones.
According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real US gross domestic product (GDP) rose at an annualized rate of 2.8% in the third quarter of 2013, which covered July through September. For comparison, the long-term trend rate in US GDP growth is about 2% per year. If the overall structure of the economy remains the same, then higher GDP means more income for everyone.
Corporate revenues may be increasing slowly, but corporate profits are exploding. So are executive salaries and bonuses.
After-tax disposable income has been rising at a rate of around 4.5% this year, or about 3.5% after adjusting for inflation. Yet the income of the typical person has not increased at all for several years. In fact, real median income is still more than 7% below 2007 levels.
The economy is bigger than it was in 2007, but it’s a different economy. All of America’s economic growth for forty years has gone to an elite minority.
The economy isn’t to generate profit. The purpose of the economy is to serve the people. It’s time to consider a different kind of economy. One that works for everyone.
Ed. Notes: Reformers tend to make their goal of reform harder for themselves. Instead of slamming profit, they should demand that everyone get some.
Economies can’t help but churn out a surplus. It’s all of a society’s spending for the land and resources it uses. Such spending is a surplus because nobody has to be rewarded for producing nature since none of us did. People only need to be paid for providing their labor and capital, inputs they did provide.
The value of land, generated by society’s demand for the land, is ideal for sharing, for making into our common wealth. We could all pay Land Dues into the public treasury and get rent shares — a Citizen’s Dividend — back. Sort of like what Alaska does with some oil revenue and Singapore with some location value. Since site value rises with economic growth, then a rising GDP would , at last, lift all boats.
Want to Win a Political Debate? Try Making a Weaker Argument — the new social science behind why you’re never able to convince friends or foes to even consider things from your side.
This 2013 excerpt of Pacific Standard, Aug 23, is by Eric Horowitz.
There could be an entire book of syndicated newspaper columns that discuss “motivated reasoning” —- the tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms your existing beliefs. But research on human motivation also hints at a simpler and somewhat startling reason for the lack of flip-flopping: Nobody makes the type of arguments that are likely to change minds.
The arguments people make are those that appear the strongest to themselves and the people who already agree with them. But such arguments tend to be meaningless to people who disagree.
It starts with the universal desire to protect against threats to your self-image or self-worth. People are driven to view themselves in a positive light, and they will interpret information and take action in ways that preserve that view. The need to maintain self-worth is one reason we attribute our failures to external factors (bad luck), but our success to internal factors (skill.)
The arguments that are most threatening to opponents are viewed as the strongest and cited most often — yet rejected.
Because political beliefs are connected to deeply held values, information about politics can be very threatening to your self-image. If you’re wrong about an important policy, what else might you be wrong about? And if you’re wrong about a bunch of things, you’re obviously not as smart or as good or as worthwhile a person as you previously believed. These are painful thoughts, and so we evaluate information in ways that will help us to avoid them.
Self-affirmation —- a mental exercise that increases feelings of self-worth —- makes people more willing to accept threatening information. The idea is that by raising or “affirming” your self-worth, you can then encounter things that lower your self-worth without a net decrease. The affirmation and the threat effectively cancel each other out, and a positive image is maintained.
An argument that is objectively weaker is more likely to be below the threat threshold that leads to automatic rejection. It might actually be considered.
Why is pro sports constantly jamming military fervor down our throats? Their claims are wrong in more ways than one. Stop Thanking the Troops for Me: No, They Don’t Protect Our Freedoms!
This 2013 excerpt of Alternet, Nov 11, by Justin Doolittle of Salon.
What is problematic is that this nonexistent connection between “freedom” and the military continues to be perpetuated as an uncontroversial truism, and is met with no resistance within the confines of the mainstream.
The corollary to the claim that our freedom exists only at the pleasure of the military, of course, is that the same military can revoke said freedom if it so desires.
One implication of this myth is that people feel they owe boundless gratitude to the military as an institution and all the men and women who serve in it.
This approach blurs the lines between patriotism and support for the military.
It reduces sincere dissent on these matters of such tremendous consequence to our culture and our politics to nothingness. It makes us, free citizens of a constitutional society, meek and excessively obeisant.
The troops allowing us to “live free” is hardly a fringe belief. It reflects many decades of highly effective propaganda that has convinced generations of people that there is virtually nothing for which we should not thank the troops. The ability to “get away from our world, and whatever’s going on in our world” and talk about football — whom are we to thank for this? The troops! There is seemingly no limit to the scope of human activity that many of us sincerely believe would not be possible were it not for the military’s selflessness.
We need not thank the troops for every breath we take. When we do, we reduce our entire existence as free people to something that only exists at the whim of the U.S. military, and suffocate critical thought about the military and what it’s actually doing in the world.
Ed. Notes: Americans are not citizens so much as they are taxpayers, a mass market, and a pro-war mob. We Americans need to feel more self-esteem. We need to see how illogical it is to, one hand, praise the military going around killing poor foreigners all over the planet while, on the other hand, slamming politicians who send soldiers into these wars, who enrich military contractors and other corporate welfare cheats, and who keep cancerously expanding taxes and government.
One main reason to demand a Citizen’s Dividend is not that it will be won soon or easily but that even making the demand shows Americans what self-esteem looks like.
The biggest ongoing disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of.
This 2013 excerpt of Daily Kos, Aug 22, is by Jen Hayden.
What happened in Bayou Corne, as near as anyone can tell, is that one of the salt caverns Texas Brine hollowed out —- a mine dubbed Oxy3 —- collapsed. The sinkhole initially spanned about an acre. Today it covers more than 24 acres and is an estimated 750 feet deep.
It subsists on a diet of swamp life and cypress trees, which it occasionally swallows whole. It celebrated its first birthday recently, and like most one-year-olds, it is both growing and prone to uncontrollable burps, in which a noxious brew of crude oil and rotten debris bubbles to the surface.
But the biggest danger is invisible; the collapse unlocked tens of millions of cubic feet of explosive gases, which have seeped into the aquifer and wafted up to the community. The town blames the regulators. The regulators blame Texas Brine. Texas Brine blames someone else.
Appreciation Deprecation: Can property tax assessments be appealed?
This 2013 excerpt of Willamette Week, Oct 30, is by Marty Smith (Dr. Know).
I sympathize with the fact that the recovery of the housing market is eating into your beer-and-stripper money. But you touch on a damning problem with property taxation: Improvements to one’s property are punished with higher taxes, while neglect is rewarded with a lower bill.
Luckily, there’s a way around this. It’s called Land Value Taxation (LVT).
Like single-payer health care, LVT is a wonky good-governance idea that experts love and traditionalists fear. Thus, I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more traction in Portlandia.
The idea is that you tax the value of the land itself, independent of improvements. Wanna spend your own money developing your property? Your tax bill won’t change. Wanna sit on a vacant lot in a desirable area while you wait for the price to rise so you can make a killing? Fine, but you’ll pay for the privilege.
LVT seems to have something for everyone, with the notable exception of real-estate speculators. Unfortunately, those speculators are often exactly the sort to be thick as thieves with mayor types. I just thank God that sort of chumminess could never happen here.
Auckland Homeowners benefit at the expense of other New Zealanders.
This 2013 excerpt of New Zealand’s Scoop, Aug 20, is by NZ’s New Economics Party.
Auckland homeowners profiting from booming house prices are really benefitting at the expense of the rest of New Zealand.
Spokesperson Deirdre Kent said “If all the private landowners and private banks had reimbursed the public for their windfall gains from rising Auckland land values over the last few years, the Auckland rail loop would have been paid for.
She said rising house prices are always due to rising land values. Land values rise because of the action of the community in providing hospitals, transport, roads, schools, sewage, water, businesses, shops and parks. So landowners should pay the public back regularly for this privilege.
“While we allow the private capture of rising land values, we can’t help but get a widening gap between those who own good real estate and the rest of us.”
A regular land fee should be paid to hold land while taxes on labour and sales should go.
Nature is not random. The laws of nature create structural designs like the roots of a tree. This phenomenon is explained by a theory called “constructal law”. This explanation applies to all flows in physics, biology, and human society. The term “constructal” was created by Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering, in 1996. Constructal law proposes that a system evolves towards maximizing the work done by flows of currents, relative to the inputs of matter and energy. The tendency towards better flows creates a hierarchical design.
In physics, work equals force times displacement. A force such as gravity or sunlight or a human action pushes and pulls things into a different speed or direction. A river does work by moving or displacing water. In the physical world (apart from biology), the natural tendency of flows such as rivers is to evolve structures that increase the flow of the inputs such as rain. This physical law then applies to living beings such as trees, which ingest water and other materials and move these through the organism.
The structure that maximizes the work of flows is similar to the roots and branches of a tree. Why is a tree not simply one long trunk, without branches, with leaves growing directly on the trunk? Because branching maximizes the work done by the flowing of the ingested water.
Much of what happens in nature is flows of materials and energy. Rivers are flows of rain water that start as creeks, creating a structure like tree roots, with small rivers flowing into larger rivers and ultimately a giant river such as the Mississippi. The water ultimately flows into an ocean, and evaporation sends it back into the atmosphere. This structure maximizes the flow of the water. The bodies of plants and animals too are flows of air, water, and foods taken in, which energize the body, become transformed, and then flow out. Your body is a dynamic input-output flow machine.
The constructal law is a law of evolution as well as structure. Systems like rivers and living beings evolve over time towards the maximization of the work done by flows. Human-built structures such as traffic follow the constructal tree-design concept; cities have local streets, larger avenues, and freeways.
Human society is constructal, but people in power can change the governing structures to conform to a greater or lesser degree with the concept of facilitating flows. If in a large country, power is centralized, so that the state attempts to plan the whole economy, this is in contradiction to constructal design. It is like a tree that has only a trunk. The economy will generate waste and function far below its potential.
Human economic action follows the constructal law by maximizing benefits and minimizing costs. In their book Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization, Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane cite the American economist Henry George, who in his book Progress and Poverty stated as an axiom of economics that people seek to satisfy their desires with minimum exertion.
Constructal law can be applied to governance with the concept of federalism, having several layers of governance. The lower or more local levels need to have some independence of decision making in order to enhance economic flows, as inputs get processed into products. A free market maximizes the work done by flows for a set of inputs, as the knowledge needed to process the flows of goods is decentralized. Knowledge itself has a tree structure, with some knowledge centralized into recorded forms, but much of the knowledge being decentralized ultimately in the minds of producers and consumers. Only you know what products are best for you, and the best use of your time and skills cannot be totally directed by others.
Optimal public finance can operate constructally with two principles. First, maximize the flow of revenues for collective goods by avoiding taxes on the inputs and on the outputs. That implies that there be no tax on the flow of labor, no tax on the value added by production, and no tax on the products. Instead, public revenue should be based on the potential flow of the surplus from production, and that surplus is land rent, which flows from the resources of nature.
Constructal law implies that the flow of rent not be collected by the central government of a large economy, nor by small neighborhoods. Like a tree that has both branches and roots attached to the trunk, optimal public finance proposes that the land rent flow from the roots, the residential and commercial title holders, up to the trunk, the county-level governance. From the county the funds would flow up to the state or provincial level, and from there to the federal or national government.
In an interview with The Freeman magazine, Bejan said that freedom promotes better designs, because constraints limit evolution towards better flows. Acts which are coercively harmful hamper the voluntary flow of human action. Therefore, governance can promote the flows of social and economic action by not restricting or taxing peaceful and honest human action.
Government should also avoid subsidies that alter the market prices of goods and profits of firms, since these also interfere with freely-chosen flows. The public goods provided by government become a subsidy to land rent, when that rent is not paid back to the providers. Constructal public finance implies that the flow of rent generated by governmental goods be returned to its source, creating a circular flow like the rain that falls on water and is then evaporated back into the air.
The prescription for a prosperous economy discovered by the French Economists of the 1700s and explained by Henry George in the 1800s is that which best implements constructal public finance: free trade and public revenue from land rent.
Why, despite our technological capacities, are we not all working three- to four-hour days?
This 2013 excerpt of the Sydney Morning Herald, Spt 3, is by David Graeber is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. This article first appeared in Strike! Magazine, a radical British quarterly that covers politics, philosophy and art.
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour working week. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen.
In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people in the Western world spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound.
Why did utopia never materialise? The standard line is the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. However, few jobs have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.
So what are these new jobs, precisely? Productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be). What’s been ballooning are jobs in the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries such as financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors such as corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza-delivery drivers) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.
These are what I propose to call ”bullshit jobs”.
What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1 per cent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call ”the market” reflects what those people think is useful or important, not anyone else.)
There is a whole class of salaried professionals who, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their jobs really are.
How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?
The more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. What would happen were this entire class of people to disappear? Nurses, rubbish collectors, or mechanics: were they to vanish, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or stevedores would soon be in trouble, and even one without science-fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity chief executives, lobbyists, public relations researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.)
Ed. Notes: The solution is simple: an income apart from one’s labor or one’s capital but from the value of the land and resources in one’s region. Technology pushes up the value of locations and natural resources. Recover and share those values and we can work as much or as little as we choose, at tasks we choose, and play as much as or as little as we choose, too.
This 2013 excerpt of Total Investor, Now , is Mark Hollingsworth.
The UK population is expected to grow by 17.5% in the next twenty years. Already, the 2011 Census results show the greatest increase in the UK population since records began 200 years ago. Existing housing needs to increase by 29% by 2031 in order to meet the demand.
For investors, there is clearly an opportunity to capitalize on this housing and land shortage.
The key to its success is that land is acquired prior to actual planning permission being granted [when its price will be higher.
The share prices of the five biggest house builders rose by an average 71% last year.
Our preferred ‘land fund’ returned over 14% last year and returns are on track to be equally as strong this year on the back of further aggressive acquisitions.
Ed. Notes: Just as geonomists predicted, now’s the time to jump back into land. Even the “experts” say the time is right, but if they were really experts they would have told you to not invest in land seven years ago. The comforting thing is that we get to see actual principles in economies in operation.
We have now overshot the Earth’s resources for the year, meaning all consumption from here borrows from future generations.
This 2013 excerpt of Common Dreams, Aug 20, is by Sarah Lazare.
Tuesday, August 20 marks an unnerving annual milestone: “Earth Overshoot Day”—- when humanity has used up all of the natural resources and waste absorption that the Earth can provide in a year, meaning that human consumption for the remaining 4.5 months of 2013 is borrowed from future generations.
The concept, originally developed by the New Economics Foundation and carried forward by the Global Footprint Network, reveals a disturbing trend. “Earth Overshoot Day,” also called “Ecological Debt Day,” is arriving each year since it was first calculated in 1987, roughly three days earlier each year since 2011. Global Footprints says this trend is unequivocal since “Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce” in the mid-1970s.
The interest we are paying on that mounting debt are food shortages, soil erosion, and the build-up of CO₂ in our atmosphere.
Not all countries borrow equally, with Europe, North America, and Qatar consuming at notably destructive paces. If everyone in the world consumed on par with the United States, it would take four Earths to sustain the international population.
This 2013 excerpt of The American, Aug 21, is by Arnold Kling.
When firms compete for government subsidies and regulatory advantages, economists call it “rent-seeking.” That is how it has been for generations. Wall Street’s rent-seeking is classic.
Once it was difficult for Wall Street firms to sell mortgage securities that lacked the Freddie or Fannie label, which investors treated as tantamount to a government guarantee. So during the subprime mortgage boom, Wall Street came up with the collateralized debt obligation, or CDO, which allowed them to market mortgage securities without a government guarantee. The trick was to create “tranches” that were so well protected against default that they could earn AA and AAA ratings from credit rating agencies. It was these tranches, backed by extremely low-quality subprime loans, that were at the heart of the financial crisis. Ironically, by 2006 and 2007, Freddie and Fannie had decided to buy their way into this market, and so they suffered some of the worst losses from low-quality mortgages.
As usual, Wall Street needed favorable regulatory rulings in order to get its subprime machine rolling. As a result, the capital requirements for a bank holding a very safe mortgage where the borrower had made a down payment of 30 percent were more onerous than those for a bank holding a CDO tranche backed by the most dodgy subprime loans with low down payments.
For Wall Street, the ideal situation is one in which taxpayers provide a guarantee that makes mortgage securities viable, banks remain hamstrung by capital requirements that penalize them for holding loans that they originate, and the government enterprise that supplies the guarantee is not permitted to have a portfolio of securities, the way Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have operated.
Today, the housing finance reforms that have the most bipartisan support appear to do exactly what Wall Street wants. Whenever this system suffers its next crisis, taxpayers will be delivering the bailout. The mortgage bankers and Wall Street firms win. You lose.
Ed. Notes: Wall Street doesn’t only get the kind of rent economists talk about — excess profit due to favors from politicians. Wall Street also gets classical rent — people’s payments for land and resources. Most people buy buildings that aren’t floating in the air but are erected firmly on the ground, and so pay for both the structure and the location. While most people might not realize it, bankers do; they know that most of their profit comes from people paying for sites, not for houses, especially in the pricier neighborhoods.
Just as bankers don’t earn modern, jargonistic “rent”, neither do they earn rent for land. They neither made land nor made locations valuable — society in general does that. Hence our payments for land and resources should return to society. Owners should pay in land taxes or Land Dues; residents should get back rent shares or a Citizen’s Dividend.
If government did recover socially-generated rents, it could quit taxing our useful efforts, those counterproductive taxes on our labor and capital. If government did pay citizens a dividend, it could quit subsidizing wasteful and addictive programs. Plus, if government stuck to this geonomic program, it would not open loopholes for Wall St nor bail them out. Then it be: “your mortgage and all of ours rents.”
This 2013 excerpt of OpEdNews, Oct 24, is by Rob Kall.
It’s usually right wingers– Republicans and Libertarians who take stances opposing government. This anti-government stance has become a meme that many moderates are embracing.
Maybe it’s time for people on the left to take their own stance criticizing government and own the meme.
Most on the left oppose too-big-to-fail corporations. Perhaps we need to look at ways to de-centralize government and shrink aspects of it that become so big they are not longer manageable or accountable. If we take on government, it may be easier to take on too-big corporations as well.
There are a number of issues that progressives may find common cause with those in the middle and on the right– which may give us the leverage to make major change happen.
The Patriot Act — a huge danger to democracy and the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution and its amendments.
a bloated, uncontrollable, unaccountable military
a bloated uncontrollable, unaccountable security/intelligence
a congress that a massive majority of Americans are disgusted with, which has surrendered its power to the White House and the Supreme Court [and Federal Reserve]
laws that people who don’t harm any person or property criminals, like marijuana possession laws.
a prison system that is bloated and unaccountable
militarization of the police, moving towards a police state, where police and prison guards can literally kill without any worry of having to be accountable
government regulatory agencies thoroughly corrupted through the appointment of agency directors and staffers with deep, long-term, conflict-of-interest ties to the industries they are supposed to regulate
an executive branch that has grabbed and amassed a record level of power
lifetime appointments for Supreme Court Justices
It could give progressive candidates a way to tap the power of the anti-government meme in a way that is synergistic with progressive values and goals. So much of how we make change happen is based on the framing, the narrative and stories we tell.
Ed. Notes: Left and Right might also agree on repealing counterproductive taxes and wasteful spending. Some even appreciate the notion of commons and replacing welfare for rich and poor with a dividend to citizens from the worth of Earth, society’s surplus, making it our common wealth. Geonomics for everyone!
This 2013 excerpt of WPRI, Aug 19, is by Ted Nesi.
Downtown Providence is dotted with surface parking lots and empty parcels.
Maybe Providence should take a page from the playbook of Altoona, Pa., and start taxing land.
Land tax has a distinguished pedigree in economics if not actual policy implementation. The idea is to shift toward taxing the value of something whose supply won’t change due to tax rates – land – instead of the buildings and other improvements made there. Doing so would spur development, pushing those who own vacant land to do something with it.
Ed. Notes: You must be pretty powerful to win subsidies even when you can’t possibly need them, as do oil companies, raking in billions every quarter. And the money they rake in is ours, its common wealth, it’s the worth of Earth, it’s our joint heritage in the gifts of nature, it’s all our spending for all the fossil fuels we use while still in the ground. It’s not the return on exploring or extracting or shipping or refining; returns to those efforts are totally legit. It’s the value of oil and gas while still untouched that belongs to us all.
a way to have everybody pulling on the same end of the rope. Last summer’s expansive forest fires shed light on growing class resentment in the West. Old loggers and ranchers rankled at the new urgency to stamp out the blazes that threatened the recent Aspenesque settlers. The newcomers expected working class firemen to make protecting their expensive homes top priority. (Chr Sci Mntr, Spt 7) The tinder for this envy? Rich people moving in bid up the price of land, making it hard to afford by people on the margin. The fault really lies with our system of privatizing land value. If this rising value were collected by land dues and shared by rent dividends – the essence of geonomic policy – who’d complain? The more people move in, the higher the land value, and the fatter the dividend paid to residents. Then people on the margin might go out of their way to invite rich outsiders in.
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.
a new policy from a new perspective. Once your worldview shifts — so that vacant city lots are no longer invisible — then epiphany. “Of course! Why didn’t I see it before?” Once you do see the emptiness and what damage it does, how can you ever go back to the old paradigm?
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
suitable for framing by Green Parties. When Greens began in Germany two decades ago, they defined themselves as neither left nor right but in front. Geonomics fits that description. The Green Parties have their Four Pillars; geonomists have four ways to apply them:
Ecological Wisdom. Want people to use the eco-system wisely? Charge them Rent and, to end corporate license, add surcharges. To minimize these costs, people will use less Earth.
Nonviolence. Want people to settle disputes nonviolently? Set a good example; don’t levy taxes, which rely on the threat of incarceration, to take people’s money. Try quid pro quo fees and dues.
Social Responsibility. Want people to be responsible for their actions? Don’t make basic choices for them by subsidizing services, addicting them to a caretaker state. Let people spend shares of social surplus.
Grassroots Democracy. Better have grassroots prosperity. Remember, political power follows economic. Pay people a Citizens Dividend; to keep it, they’ll show up at the polls, public hearings, and conventions.