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This 2013 excerpt of The Ecologist, Jly 24, is by Kevin Grandia.
Enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Of the more than 4,000 infractions reported, less than 1 percent (.09 to be exact) received an enforcement action (that would be less than 40 of 4,000). Compare this the EPA, who has an enforcement rate of 16 percent for similar infractions by companies under the Clean Water Act.
The median fine for environmental infractions in the oil sands over the past 16 years was $4,500. If you were an oil-sands player like ExxonMobil, who reported a profit last year of $44.9 billion, would you change your ways over a $4,500 fine?
Royal Dutch Shell Oil’s CEO, another big player in the oil sands, probably spent $4,500 on golf and dinner yesterday.
TransCanada, the company trying to convince President Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, asks whether the U.S. wants to source its heavy oil from Canada, a friendly and stable ally with strict environmental standards, or from other suppliers whose interests are not aligned with those of the United States and have limited or no environmental standards.
Ed. Notes: Exploit Earth, you’re in the suites. Love Earth, you’re in the streets. If only protestors could see what matters to oil executives the most, and that’s limited liability, which protects those in management making decisions to impose damage on others, instead of having fines for infractions coming out of their own pockets. Hit’em where it hurts; that’s the kind of reform that’ll make a difference.
This 2013 excerpt of Dissident Voice, Aug 12, is by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall.
Why do American children study Karl Marx, the villain we love to hate, in school? Yet Henry George, whose views on land and tax reform gave rise to the Progressive and Populist movements of the 1900s, is totally absent from US history books. During the 1890s George, author of the 1879 bestseller Progress and Poverty, was the third most famous American, after Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. In 1896 he outpolled Teddy Roosevelt and was nearly elected mayor of New York.
In Neo-classical Economics as a Stratagem Against Henry George (2007), University of California economist Mason Gaffney argues that George and his Land Value Tax pose a far greater threat than Marx to America’s corporate elite. America’s enormous concentration of wealth has always depended on the inherent right of the wealthy elite to seize and monopolize vast quantities of land and natural resources (oil, gas, forests, water, minerals, etc) for personal profit. Adopting a Land Value Tax (LVT), which is far easier than launching a violent revolution, would essentially negate that right. What’s more, every jurisdiction that has ever implemented an LVT finds it works exactly the way George predicted it would. Productivity, prosperity, and social wellbeing flourish, while inflation, wealth inequality, and boom and bust recessions and depressions virtually vanish.
Gaffney believes neoclassical economic theory undermines George’s arguments for a single Land Value Tax in two basic ways: 1) by claiming that land is no different from other capital (ironically Marx made the identical argument) and 2) by portraying the science of economics as a series of hard choices and sacrifices that low and middle income people must make.
Gaffney also identifies the robber barons whose fortunes financed the economics departments of the major universities who went on to substitute neooclassical economics for classical economic theory. At the top of this list were:
Ezra Cornell (owner of both Western Union and Associated Press) – founder of Cornell University
John D Rockefeller – helped fund the University of Chicago and installed his cronies in its economics department.
J. P Morgan – investment banker and early funder of Columbia University
B&O Railroad – John Hopkins University
Southern Pacific Railroad – Stanford University
The final section of Gaffney’s book lays out the tragic economic, political, and social consequences of allowing the Red Scare and neoclassical economics to stifle America’s movement for a single Land Value Tax.
Exhaustive Survey of Nearly 2,000 Markets and 52,000 Listings Shows More Than $2 Million Difference in Price Between Malibu and Cleveland.
This 2013 excerpt of Coldwell Banker, Nov 6, is by Heather Roberts and Katy Hendricks.
The glitz, glamour and white sandy beaches of Malibu, Calif., have attracted the rich and famous to this premier destination for years. Malibu is the most expensive place to live in the United States. An apples-to-apples comparison of four-bedroom, two-bathroom homes in more than 1,900 real estate markets across the United States, a sample-sized home in the affluent beach community of Malibu lists for $2.15 million, compared to $63,729 in Cleveland, Ohio.
What are the three most important things in real estate? Location, location, location. Part of Los Angeles, it is situated on the Southern California coast with beautiful homes and even more stunning views. Cleveland, Ohio, has mansions, too, but views only of Lake Erie and harsh weather.
This year’s report identified 20 markets where a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home costs more than $1 million, whereas in eight markets a similar home lists for less than $100,000.
The average listing price of a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the survey of more than 1,900 markets and 52,000 listings was $301,414.
Ironically, some people earning incomes elsewhere must relinquish US citizenship as others hoping to earn a living in America strive to attain it.
A 2013 excerpt of RT, Aug 10.
The United States is the only country out of 34 in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that continues to tax citizens regardless of where they live around the world.
Now, facing a high national debt and drastic cuts in government spending, US tax enforcers are employing stricter asset-disclosure laws under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA). For that reason, more Americans living abroad are weighing whether it is worth holding on to their US passport.
In the three months through June, 1,131 American expatriates turned over their passports at US embassies around the world. It was a drastic surge from the same time span in 2012, when just 189 people renounced their citizenship, according to the Federal Registry. The first six months of 2013 alone has seen 1,810 such instances, compared to 235 in all of 2008.
In 2012 there were between 5 and 6 million Americans who resided overseas.
The US tries to undercut tax havens. Countries like Switzerland earn that designation by protecting an individual’s finance information, requiring only nominal taxes, or a general lack of transparency. “The United States wishes to ensure that all income earned worldwide by US taxpayers on accounts held abroad can be taxed by the United States,” the Swiss government stated earlier this year.
This 2013 excerpt of the Huffington Post, Aug 12, is by Mary Manning Cleveland and Mason Gaffney.
From 1890-1930, Detroit’s population boomed from 205,000 to 1,569,000, the fastest growth of any US city. The auto industry did it, but why Detroit? Detroit had produced horse-drawn carriages from hardwood lumber, but so had other places. It was not low wages; Detroit paid better than most — that’s why so many people rushed in. It was not business-dominated politics; Michigan was a Progressive, Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt state. It was not low taxes on wealthy “job-creators”; Michigan relied on high state and local property taxes.
Detroit Mayor Hazen Pingree, 1889-1897, was an early Georgist Progressive. He supported the idea of American economist and reformer Henry George (1839-1897) that all taxes should be shifted onto land and other natural resources. Today, “Nobel” (Riksbank)-Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz advocates this as the “Henry George principle.” Poor renters own no land, heavily-mortgaged middle classes own very little. So shifting taxes to land turns property taxes into wealth taxes on steroids. Better yet, taxing land discourages rich speculators from holding valuable property out of use. Mayor Pingree was a mentor to and model for the Georgist soon-to-be Mayors Tom Johnson and Newton Baker of Cleveland, and Samuel Jones and Brand Whitlock of Toledo.
The crash of 1893 hit Detroit soon after Pingree’s election. The city was riddled with vacant lots held by land speculators; Pingree arranged for the unemployed to plant vegetables. “Pingree’s Potato Patches” inspired other cities to follow. Meanwhile, he had campaigned for “higher taxes on the vast landed estates of the city”; when big industries threatened to leave town, he responded by raising just the land assessments. This won the support of small business.
The Georgist Progressive movement supported cheap mass transit on trolley cars. With fixed costs funded by property taxes, fares stayed low. Property taxes also paid for public education, public health, public parks, water, sanitation, welfare, etc. Property tax rates of 2.5 percent of market value were normal; there were no sales taxes, business taxes, or income taxes. Detroit’s private sector was a big collection of small machine shops, little businesses and services. That’s what attracted Henry Ford, the Dodge brothers, and other young tinkerers to Detroit. In one of history’s ironies, trolley cars nursed the auto industry that later rose up to slay them.
In 1897 Pingree became governor. He centralized the assessment of property taxes, and had the State Board of Tax Commissioners revalue all property. They found so much untaxed land, especially railroad holdings, that they actually lowered tax rates even as they raised more taxes.
During the “Dirty Thirties,” Detroit grew while many cities shrank. Walter Reuther’s UAW pioneered the sit-down strike at the GM plant in Flint. Former Detroit Mayor and now Governor Frank Murphy negotiated a settlement that legitimized the UAW, using the new national Wagner Act. It was “The strike heard round the world.” UAW membership exploded from 30,000 to 500,000.
After Pearl Harbor, FDR naturally turned to Detroit to convert its assembly lines to war production. This was the age of Rosie the Riveter, and Rosie loved Detroit. From 1930 to 1950, Detroit’s population grew 18 percent, to 1,850,000.
Yet after 1950, Detroit began to shrink, the first break in its sensational upward trajectory. What happened? Some blamed the end of the war, but America was pouring billions into the Interstate Highway System. The world wanted American cars and trucks. The causes of decline must have been internal.
Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, 1949-1960, introduced the Business Activities Tax (BAT), a kind of sales tax. The BAT was replaced by a corporate income tax in 1967 and by the Single Business Tax (SBT) in 1975. The SBT allowed the deduction of inputs — including real estate purchases! — but not labor. Easy for big corporations to evade, the SBT fitted concrete boots on small unincorporated businesses.
Governor George Romney, 1962-68, introduced a personal income tax to provide “property tax relief,” a new catchword. Meantime in Michigan and nationwide, the property tax itself was degenerating; effective rates were falling, especially on land. Its Georgist heritage forgotten, Detroit was valuing land at next to nil, using assessments dating from the Great Depression.
While Detroit hollowed out, its suburb Southfield boomed. From 1950-70 it grew from 19,000 to 69,000 people. It had a Georgist Mayor, James Clarkson, who aggressively raised land assessments and lowered building assessments. Southfield’s tax base actually rose by 20 percent per year under Clarkson, funding good utilities and public services.
Now Detroit’s current population of some 700,000 is the lowest since 1914. In another of history’s ironies, Detroiters today grow food in vacant lots — “Pingree’s Potato Patches” again, 105 years later.
Claiming sovereignty over an unoccupied territory, on behalf of an unknown nation, is a modern farce. It’s also a centuries-old tradition.
This 2013 excerpt of The Atlantic, Oct 23, is by Adam Clulow.
Lamont M. Butler-El didn’t attempt to seize a $6 million 12-bedroom, 17-bathroom estate by slipping through a hole in the fence. Instead, he presented himself before the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to demand that the records be altered to reflect the fact that he was assuming ownership as a representative of the Moorish Nation of Northwest Amexem, North America, a community he asserts that predated both the modern United States and European colonization of the Americas. When questioned by his new neighbors, his response was a detailed history lesson — that was repeated to police officers arriving on the scene.
To make a claim is to appeal to some standard of justice, some sort of right, but it is also to assert a willingness to back up this appeal with some sort of action.
Identical qualities stand at the heart of the European sovereignty playbook as it was deployed in diverse spots across the world during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Again and again, tiny contingents of Europeans, always outnumbered and often in terrible shape after long voyages in cramped vessels or disastrous treks across harsh interiors, proceeded to lay claim to huge tracts of land or even vaster expanses of maritime space. Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish adventurer, waded into the warm waters of the Pacific up his knees and proceeded to claim the ocean itself “now and for all time so long as the world shall last, until the final universal judgment of all mortals.”
European claims always commenced by invoking a standard of justice, although it was invariably a standard that could not be accessed or indeed understood by precisely the people to whom it was being applied.
An imposed sweeping set of rules without allowing any possibility for local comprehension prompted one historical observer to note that he did not know “whether to laugh or cry” when he heard of the practice. A modern juror in Butler-El’s case who, commenting on the actions of the defendant, noted that it “seemed like they were making up their own laws” and then applying them without regard for existing norms or systems.
This 2013 excerpt of EcoWatch, Aug 9, is by Laura Beans.
Hundreds of participants have banded together in Nez Perce ancestral land and a Wild and Scenic River Corridor to the Montana border for nightly tar sands protests, including members of the Nez Perce Nation and Idle No More. Idaho Rivers United (IRU) and the Nez Perce Tribe filed a joint lawsuit in federal court in Boise, ID, to stop the megaload delivery truck carrying tar sands equipment.
The water evaporator of the Oregon-based shipper Omega Morgan had received one permit, but bypassed approval by the U.S. Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration. The Forest Service even raised objections. Still, the firm tried to slip its megaload through unnoticed.
The U.S. Forest Service’s failure to stop a megaload from entering the river corridor was “arbitrary, capricious, (and) an abuse of discretion.”
Police muscle is escalating as each evening blockade presses on, using their cars and phalanx tactics and broke the blockade for the megaload truck.
WIRT is calling on the Forest Service to “step up to the plate with fed marshals, arrest the driver and impound the rig,” which is traveling without a permit.
Gas injections used to enhance oil production linked to quakes in the Permian Basin.
This 2013 excerpt of Nature, Nov 4, is by Jeff Tollefson.
First came reports of earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing and the reinjection of water during oil and gas operations. Now US scientists are reporting tremors may have been caused by the injection of carbon dioxide during oil production. Since 2006, a series of tremors has rattled Snyder, Texas, which lies in the oil-rich Permian Basin.
The evidence centres on a sudden burst of seismic activity around an old oil field in the Permian Basin in northwest Texas. From 2006 to 2011, after more than two decades without any earthquakes, seismometers in the region registered 38 tremors, including 18 larger quakes ranging from magnitude 3 to 4.4. The tremors began just two years after injections of significant volumes of CO2 began at the site, in an effort to boost oil production.
The earthquakes have rattled residents in the nearby town of Snyder and spurred questions about the link to oil and gas activity in the region.
Any time you are putting material into the ground, particularly under pressure, you are going to have the potential to break rock.
The data suggest that there is a previously unidentified fault running through the area, and that the CO2 injections effectively lubricate that fault, enabling slippage. (Scientists documented a series of earthquakes in the area from 1975 through 1982, but those tremors were linked to water injections, also intended to boost oil production.)
This 2013 excerpt of Huffington Post, Aug 7, is by Richard (RJ) Eskow.
Here are seven things about Wall Street crime and Washington “justice” you might have wanted to know. It’s true that there’s a shortage of justice where bankers are concerned; the prosecuting has been tepid. But don’t get depressed. Get serious about demanding change.
1. Attorney General Holder said the Justice Department can’t indict too-big-to-fail banks because it would endanger the nation’s, and possible the world’s, economy. Criminal indictments against bankers are necessary both for the cause of justice, and the safety of our economy. Why did Holder make these comments? It’s called misdirection. It gets everybody thinking about one question — Why aren’t they indicting banks? — so they won’t think about a more important question: Why aren’t they indicting bankers?
2. If hurting ‘too big to fail’ banks is such a concern, why did the Justice Department and the SEC just sue Bank of America? Shareholders bear the costs and the consequences of these suits, which are directed against the banks as institutions — even when the suit in question involves fraud against the shareholders themselves. That means the executives who profit from criminal behavior have absolutely no reason not to commit those crimes again and again and again — which, as the record shows, is exactly what they have been doing.
Suits like these do not endanger the institution being sued. The amounts of money involved — $850 million, in this case — sound large. But they’re negligible when compared to the revenue at America’s bloated mega-banks.
3. Why sue Bank of America at all, if they’re in the banks’ pockets? Washington officials have multiple constituencies, presumably including wronged investors who want restitution of some kind. They presumably want to make sure the banks’ exposure is kept manageable — from the bank’s perspective — but don’t want to anger the investors any more than necessary.
4. The Justice Department has said it’s too hard to get convictions in financial fraud cases. More than 1,000 people were convicted after the much smaller savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. It wasn’t “too hard” to get a conviction then. But then, in those days they were trying.
A rare courtroom victory against Goldman Sachs was achieved just last week. Needless to say, it was not against a Goldman executive, but against a relatively junior employee, trader “Fab” Tourre. It was not a criminal prosecution, but a civil case. And the verdict was won by the SEC, not the Justice Department.
5. Why don’t they want to indict bank executives? Both Attorney General Holder and his recently departed No. 2, Lanny Breuer, had high-priced jobs defending Wall Street bank executives. Breuer has already cashed out and gone back to Covington & Burling, Holder’s once (and future?) firm, with a special title and position created especially for him.
As for elected officials, bank executives write very big campaign checks. They also hobnob with powerful politicians. When JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon testified before the Senate Banking Committee earlier this year, only two of the senators facing him had not received campaign contributions from his bank. Dimon was also called “Obama’s Favorite Banker” for a while.
Another executive with a large financial operation, GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, was named head of the President’s ‘Jobs Council.’ Immelt was responsible for GE Capital while municipalities were being criminally defrauded in the case which became United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm.
6. Why are they saying that the SEC’s “winding down” its fraud investigations? Impending statute of limitations makes it more difficult to keep pursuing pre-2008 misdeeds. The Justice Department and SEC chose to “run out the clock” on Wall Street’s crimes.
7. What can we do about it?
A full investigation of Wall Street crimes.
Expanded powers for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
No more deals where banks “neither admit nor deny wrongdoing.”
Ed. Note: All well and good but we can’t turn back the clock and can’t keep faith in regulations that come and go. We need to shrink banks and expand ourselves. Stop sending fat mortgages to Wall Street. Instead, keep our payments for land and resources recirculating in our community. Levy land taxes in lieu of others or institute Land Dues to fund a rent dividend paid to residents and citizens. People will be better off, have more power that comes from greater income, and banks will have less, devolving into human-scale.
This 2013 excerpt of Care2, Oct 30, is by se smith.
Companies started manufacturing products with notes about their charitable giving, and also set about boldly linking charitable causes with their products. Breast cancer is one of the most obvious examples: consumers are encouraged to buy given products with promises that some proceeds go to breast cancer research and treatment, although they rarely stop to audit where that money is really going and how it’s being used.
Companies tend to prefer charities with a strong existing infrastructure (thus products co-branded with the American Heart Association, for example) or a simple charity appeal (offering to donate coats to homeless shelters for coats purchased in the winter months).
Breast Cancer Action’s “Think Before You Pink” campaign targets cause marketing, exposing abuses while at the same time promoting real-world action people can take on breast cancer issues. As the campaign’s tagline suggests, sometimes it’s a good idea to put down the pink ribbon and call the local cancer resource center to see if they need in-kind donations, people who can keep patients company or help them with errands, or other assistance.
This 2013 excerpt of Mint Press News, Aug 8 is by Laura Beans.
The multinational Chevron Corp. has been fined $2 million after accepting a plea bargain following an August 2012 fire at a Richmond, CA, refinery that sent 15,000 people to the hospital with complaints of breathing problems.
Investigators found “willful violations” in Chevron Corp.’s response before, during and after the Aug. 6 fire in Richmond caused by an old, leaky pipe in one of the facility’s crude units.
Chevron attorneys pleaded not guilty to six charges, accepting the terms, which includes 3 1/2 years of probation, $1.28 million in fines and more than $720,000 in restitution payments to three different agencies.
The fine and settlement come on the heels of a protest earlier this week on the anniversary of the fire. Roughly 1,000 people gathered August 6, to commemorate the incident and demand accountability.
Those gathered chanted, “Arrest Chevron,” in front of the refinery gates before police in riot gear moved in, arresting 208 protesters.
This fine is a slap on the wrist for Chevron, a multinational oil corporation with $241 billion in revenue last year. Like most oil companies, Chevron has a dubious safety record and has been responsible for several serious accidents in recent years.
An explosion at a Chevron refinery in Wales killed four workers and seriously injured one other during a June 2011 accident.
More recently, a January 2012 blowout and fire at a Chevron offshore natural-gas platform killed two men near Nigeria. The fire continued burning for 46 days, stopping only after the flow of natural gas dried up.
This claim pales in comparison to an unresolved $19 billion lawsuit filed by members of Ecuador’s indigenous Amazonian community after years of pollution in areas around Chevron drilling sites. Years after the 2011 legal victory in an Ecuadorian court, Chevron has not paid the fine, nor has it offered compensation to the victims. Local residents claim that cancer rates have increased as a result of contaminated drinking water.
Popularity of “policing for profits” grows as law enforcement budgets dwindle.
This 2013 excerpt of USA Today, Oct 30, is by Jonathan Turley, of George Washington University and a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors.
Officers stop cars on a pretext such as not using a turn signal and then ask a series of questions about drugs or contraband in the car. If the driver does not consent to a search, officers will sometimes declare that the driver is acting suspiciously and call in a drug dog or search the passenger for their own personal safety. Any drugs found can then be used to seize the car and any money inside of it. The result is that police are mining our highways for jackpot stops.
Churning has become the self-help solution for some federal agencies. The most recent example of this trend was highlighted by an investigation into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Justice Department’s inspector general found that the ATF conducted dozens of unauthorized undercover investigations into illicit cigarette sales and lost track of 420 million cigarettes worth $127 million. The investigation concluded that the ATF was engaging in churning operations designed to fund its operations and misused $162 million in profits.
Consider the case of George Reby, an insurance adjuster from New Jersey. Last year, he was stopped in Tennessee by officer Larry Bates for speeding and asked whether he had a large quantity of money. Reby said he had about $20,000 and explained that he planned to buy a car. Bates seized the money. He did not arrest Reby, mind you. Reby committed no crime. The officer stated that police would keep the money until Reby could prove to their satisfaction that it was legitimate.
Then there is Tara Mishra, who had given her life savings to friends as her share in a new business. Last year, a Nebraska state trooper stopped her friends for speeding and asked to search for drugs. The couple agreed, and the troopers found more than $1 million. Though the couple explained why Mishra had given them the money and though no drugs were found, police kept the cash after a K-9 analysis found drug residue on it.
It was another pretext. Studies show a high percentage of money has such residue on it. Mishra was forced to litigate until a federal judge ordered the money returned to her in July.
At such stops, citizens invoke their rights at their own peril. One recent video shows an irate officer ordering a driver to pull to the side after he questioned the basis for the stop. He was forced to wait for a drug dog, which signaled the presence of drugs after the officer notably pointed at the door. The police then unleashed a full drug search. After finding no drugs, the officer is heard warning his partner, “He’s perfectly innocent, and he knows his rights; he knows what the Constitution says.”
Of course, his rights really are not much of a barrier when the Supreme Court has expressly stated that it will not question motives of officers.
Nobody home: Almost 12,700 residential properties in Melbourne appear unoccupied. Those residents either don’t take showers or many apartments are empty most of the year.
This 2013 excerpt of Australia’s The Age, Oct 30, is by Jason Dowling, City Editor.
A study has found more than 64,000 residential properties in Melbourne are rarely used and almost 12,700 appear unoccupied.
The findings are based on an analysis of water use commissioned by Prosper Australia [AKA EarthSharing, one of our affiliates], a group seeking tax changes to improve the efficiency of land use.
Average household water consumption in Melbourne is estimated at 419 litres a day.
The analysis of 1.4 million residential properties found 4.4 per cent were potentially unused or seldom used.
“The annual increase in the capital value of the land under a property can outrun the net rental income,” it said. “An investor may calculate it is profitable to purchase a property exclusively for the potential capital gains.
“A substantial land value tax would blunt capital appreciation and serve as a withholding cost, shifting the incentive to profit from rental income rather than capital gain.”
Karl Fitzgerald, of Prosper Australia, said the results showed there were many properties not being used efficiently for housing.
He said there was a housing “distribution issue”, not a supply issue.
“We are strong believers that stamp duty must be replaced with a land tax,” he said.
There are more bicycles than residents in The Netherlands and in cities like Amsterdam and The Hague up to 70% of all journeys are made by bike.
This 2013 excerpt of the BBC, Aug 7, is by Anna Holligan.
In response a social movement demanding safer cycling conditions for children was formed. Called Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder), it took its name from the headline of an article written by journalist Vic Langenhoff whose own child had been killed in a road accident.
The Dutch faith in the reliability and sustainability of the motor vehicle was also shaken by the Middle East oil crisis of 1973, when oil-producing countries stopped exports to the US and Western Europe.
These twin pressures helped to persuade the Dutch government to invest in improved cycling infrastructure and Dutch urban planners started to diverge from the car-centric road-building policies being pursued throughout the urbanising West.
In many cities the paths are completely segregated from motorised traffic. Sometimes, where space is scant and both must share, you can see signs showing an image of a cyclist with a car behind accompanied by the words ‘Bike Street: Cars are guests’.
You can cycle around a roundabout while cars (almost always) wait patiently for you to pass. The idea that “the bike is right” is such an alien concept for tourists on bikes that many often find it difficult to navigate roads and junctions at first.
Even before they can walk, Dutch children are immersed in a world of cycling. As babies and toddlers they travel in special seats on “bakfiets”, or cargo bikes. These seats are often equipped with canopies to protect the children from the elements, and some parents have been known to spend a small fortune doing up their machines.
As the children grow up they take to their own bikes, something made easier and safer by the discrete cycle lanes being wide enough for children to ride alongside an accompanying adult. And, as young people aren’t allowed to drive unsupervised until they are 18, cycling offers Dutch teenagers an alternative form of freedom.
The state also plays a part in teaching too, with cycling proficiency lessons a compulsory part of the Dutch school curriculum. All schools have places to park bikes and at some schools 90% of pupils cycle to class.
In the 16th Century, houses in Amsterdam were taxed according to their width, a measure residents countered by building tall, narrow houses. So hallways get filled with bikes – but so many people cycle, no-one really minds, and just clambers past.
The bike is an integral part of everyday life rather than a specialist’s accessory or a symbol of a minority lifestyle, so Dutch people don’t concern themselves with having the very latest model of bike or hi-tech gadgets.
They regard their bikes as trusty companions in life’s adventures. In that kind of relationship it is longevity that counts – so the older, the better. It’s not uncommon to hear a bike coming up behind you with the mudguard rattling against the wheel. If anything, having a tatty, battered old bike affords more status as it attests to a long and lasting love.
The famously flat Dutch terrain, combined with densely-populated areas, mean that most journeys are of short duration and not too difficult to complete.
Dutch people also tend to go helmet-free because they are protected by the cycle-centric rules of the roads and the way infrastructure is designed. If you see someone wearing a cycling helmet in The Netherlands, the chances are they’re a tourist or a professional.
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Geonomics is …
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, in-cluding 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 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?
shaped by reality. In the 1980′s, the Swedish government doubled its stock transfer tax. Tax receipts, however, rose only 15%, since traders simply fled to London exchanges. Fearing a further exodus, the Swedish government quickly rescinded the tax altogether. (The New York Times, April 20) That willingness to tax anything leads us astray. Pushing us astray is that unwillingness to pay what we owe: rent for land, our common heritage. Assuming land value is up for grabs, we speculate. We cap the property tax on both land and buildings and the rate at which assessments can go up; while real market values rise quicker, assessments can never catch up. Our stewards, the Bureau of Land Management, routinely sell and lease sites below market value, often to insiders, says the Government Accounting Office. Once we grasp that rent is ours to share, we’ll collect it all, rather than let it enrich a few, and quit taxing earnings, which do belong to the individual earner. That shift is geonomic policy.
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.
an answer to a rarely asked question. If price is a reward for production, why do we pay for land, never produced by any of us? What is land price a reward for? Good behavior? How much money do we spend on the nature we use? Who gets it? What do they do with it? (If you answer all these correctly, you’re not a genius but a geoist.) The worth of Earth is enough that were we to collect and share it, we could abolish taxes on the goods we do produce. For example, San Francisco’s Redefining Progress has calculated that Cali-fornia could abolish all state and local taxes were it to collect the values of resources and of using na-ture as a dump. By exorcising the profit motive from depletion and pollution, rent collection could replace bossy regulation. Economies could self-regulate, as the rest of the eco-system does. See how big problems yield to big answers when we ask the right questions?
a 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.
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.
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!
a way to redirect all the money we spend on the nature we use – trillions of dollars annually. We can’t pay the Creator of sites and resources and are mistaken to pay their owners this biggest stream in our economy. Instead, as owners we should pay our neighbors for respecting our claims to land. Owners could pay in land dues to the public treasury, a la Sydney Australia’s land tax, and residents could get back a “rent” dividend, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. We’d pay for owning sites, resources, EM spectrum, or emitting pollutants into the ecosphere, then get a fair share of the recovered revenue. The economy would finally have a thermostat, the dividend. When it’s small, people would work more; when it’s big, they’d work less. Sharing Earth’s worth, we could jettison counterproductive taxes and addictive subsidies. Prices would become precise; things like sprawl, sprayed food, gasoline engines, coal-burning plants would no longer seem cheap; things like compact towns, organic foods, fuel cells, and solar powers would become affordable. Getting shares, people could spend their expanded leisure socializing, making art, enjoying nature, or just chilling. Economies let us produce wealth efficiently; geonomics lets us share it fairly.
more transformation than reform; it’s a step ahead. Harvard economics students this year did petition to change the curriculum, in the wake of the English who caught the dissension from across The Channel. French reformers, who fault conventional economics for conjuring mathematical models of little empirical relevance and being closed to critical and reflective thought, reject this “autism” – or detachment from reality – and dub their offering “post-autistic economics”. Not a bad name, but again, academics define themselves by what they’re not, not by what they are, unlike geonomists. We track rent – the money we spend on the nature we use – and watch it pull all the other economic indicators in its wake. We see economies as part of the ecosystem, similarly following natural patterns and able to self-regulate more so than allowed, once we quit distorting prices. To align people and planet, we’d replace taxes and subsidies with recovering and sharing rents.
Commerce with all nations, alliance with none, should be our motto.
Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.
In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have gotten hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before passing it to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw
I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.
So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.
Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.
It is organized violence on the top which creates individual violence at the bottom.