Proposed new local spending currency can only work with a full land rent

Council owned land Manukau. The other property owners get unearned capital gains from rise in land value.

Two of my previous posts have advocated local authorities get authority from Government to issue a new currency which decays like ordinary goods decay. It would exist alongside the national currency. Because it decays, it will circulate much faster than the national currency, the rate being dependant on the rate of decay.

The previous idea was to do what the Mayor of Wōrgl, Austria did during the Great Depression in 1932, to spend it into existence by paying part of the wages of council employees in that currency. In the case of Wōrgl that was a Work Certificate that had to be stamped every month. Owners of the certificates would have to buy a stamp every month worth 1% of the note’s face value. That means over 12% a year of decay, or a -12% interest rate. Well that turned out to be big because the certificates circulated so fast that the town had to withdraw a large percentage of the notes from circulation.

Unemployment dropped and a great deal of infrastructure was built all within the space of the 15 months that they currency existed. Wōrgl was the centre of attention and many local towns wanted to do the same.

The locking down of countries including of borders during the pandemic has left us facing a worldwide depression worse than the Great Depression. In New Zealand we will always be partly dependent on the rest of the world, no matter how successfully we manage our borders to keep out the virus. Interdependence is a fact of life.

But there has always been another elephant in the room. If you could buy property with this new local money that circulates so much faster than the national currency it would fuel a property boom. You would just blow up land prices. And, as anyone familiar with leasehold properties knows,  you can only keep land prices down by extracting the proper land rent from them.

It is possible, even probable, that Wōrgl in 1932 will have had their rates struck on unimproved land values and their rates might have been relatively high compared with 21st century New Zealand. I don’t really know.

To stop speculation land rent is needed

The elephant in the room is about the need to have a full land rental on land. What is that, you say? It should be about 5 or 6% of the unimproved land value, according to valuers I know. And this should go to the public purse because it is the public that has built the infrastructure to give the landowners the windfall and it is the public that has set up businesses and organisations and clubs and facilities in the district. And we know the main cause of wealth disparity is the privilege given to property owners.

Well, think of Auckland which has had leasehold land for years and the land owners reap that windfall which rightly belongs to the public (read Central Government or Local Government).

In 2108 Core Logic estimated there to be roughly 17,000 leasehold properties currently in New Zealand. A lot are in Auckland and 15% of central city apartments are on leasehold land. Land is usually owned by churches, councils. Christs College in Christchurch once owned land under 2000 homes there. Most online references to leasehold land mention the banks are  averse to lending on leasehold land. Many tell you that investors  won’t get any capital gain and some talk about the sudden jumps in yearly ground rent, especially when the land rent rises if the land is sold. Most ridiculous of all you still have to pay rates. What a mess!

The banks are loath to lend on them. Guess why? Because when land increases in value due to community activity around it, and the land is sold, the banks will be able to lend out more money. Or I should say they will be able to create more brand new money and get the interest on it. As a group banks want their share of the eventual capital gain. But with leasehold properties, they would be lending only on the value of the house and that doesn’t have any capital gain. In fact it usually declines.

Obviously the owners of  land are the ones to gain from a tax system that turns a blind eye to their unearned gains.  Groups that lease out land with houses on them include St Johns Trust in Auckland that used to own more, but still owns properties in Tamaki Drive. The rent they enjoy should be reaped by society.

If you buy a house on leasehold land you pay a ground rent. This can be enormous and it means that the price of leasehold properties is extraordinarily low. Add in the sudden jumps of the seven year lease reviews and you get more problems.

Let’s look on Trademe Property. One house advertised now called On the Park is in Campbell Road, One Tree Hill costing $170k with a rental of $27,500 a year, fixed to 2017. The agent says the big house would cost $2 million if it were on freehold land. At a 5.5% rent ratio I work out that the land value would be around $500,000.

Ngati Whatua owns some properties on leasehold land and Napier Port used to. There will be many more owners in Raglan, New Plymouth and Lake Rotoma who are reaping the full land rental.

Land owners, industrialists and bankers still hold power

So let’s get back to  the process of colonisation because this may shed some light. When colonists arrived they  were steeped in Western economic belief that land could be owned, whereas this was a completely foreign concept to Māori. Moreover our colonist ancestors had commercial banks and within decades had a national currency. Tax had to be paid in that currency. It’s all tied up. Britain had of course previously discovered that land ownership led to a huge growth of banking and industry. But they had to subvert the economics departments of universities to prevent them from telling it how it was. As Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison wrote, the land barons, industrialists and bankers were the ones originally to corrupt the economics departments of American universities by conflating land with capital and omitting mention of banks and money.

Today that power is ever present. Efforts to bring in a full land tax or land rent at central Government level will prove fruitless. The 2010 Tax Working Group report concluded a land tax was needed but it was completely ignored by the then government. Our Prime Minister stated in 2019 that while she leads the Labour Party there will be no capital gains tax. And both of these reports recommended that only a small proportion of the unearned gains be recouped by Government not the full land rent. They belong to Government.

So how do we find a solution?

Somehow, somewhere, someone is going to finally understand that working for reform at central level is not going to have results. We don’t need to waste all that time fruitless badgering central government when their hands are actually tied. The banks, the land owners and the industrialists, even of New Zealand Aotearoa, are between them far too powerful to allow a full land rent nationally and what’s more they will resist any monetary reform at central level.

It’s how the world works.

Could the other way of issuing new money be by buying up land using partly the new local money that decays? And if so, what land should be bought? Can the Council like the NZTA force the sale of property? At local level land at least some land is Council owned now.

It’s usually parks, cemeteries, and golf courses that are owned by council now. Auckland

And could local government collect the full land rent? Councils are bound by the laws governing them. They can only strike their rates as Central Government dictates and rates have never captured the full land rent. Landowners still reap some unearned capital gain.

There is one thing that is currently hard to get our heads around. Councils at some time are going to have to defy or disobey the Central Government. The political challenges of combining a full land rent with monetary reform are considerable, but not insuperable if we put our collective minds to it.

If we don’t, the wealth gap will continue to widen and when we have so many ultrarich we won’t be able to control climate change. Oxfam in a 2015 study found that it is this group of ultrarich (10%) that emits half of our total emissions. And with an unliveable climate billions will die. That is not being too melodramatic.

 

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A dual currency system would help New Zealand recover

Covid-19 in New Zealand has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs, including from Air New Zealand, Auckland Council, Fletchers, Millennium hotels, Sky City, Ngai Tahu and Bunnings. With the first round of wage subsidies ending in June and the second round ending in September there will be thousands more jobs to be lost. Despite the fact that on Monday 8 June we moved to Level One and we can all move around normally within our country, there is no sign of overseas tourism starting up again or Air NZ getting back to 2019 levels within the foreseeable future.

The economy is a gigantic machine in which one person’s consumption spending generates someone else’s income. We buy the things we want and need, and in exchange give money to the people who produced those things, who in turn use that money to buy the things they want and need, and so on, forever.

But right now it is not looking good. Spending money at your local cafe won’t cut it. The OECD said in its Economic Outlook 2020, “The global economy is now experiencing the deepest recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s, with GDP decline of more than 20% and a surge of unemployment in many countries.” New Zealand can’t escape.

The Government has already responded with a wide range of schemes to help keep jobs and businesses. The Reserve Bank has lowered interest rates and gone on a spending spree in the secondary market buying up NZ Government bonds which they believe will lower interest rates further. They also lifted Loan to Value Ratio restrictions for commercial banks lending. In other words they want banks to lend money. In a recession businesses and individuals are loath to invest or borrow, so the Reserve Bank wants to make it easier for them.

Naturally all these actions from RBNZ have kept the property market from falling in most regions. Pity about the fate of some young couple with a small deposit a year out from now when their house value declines! The Reserve Bank has sent them out to buy a house now, because of course property owners have total privilege in our tax system. They are exempt from land value tax, capital gains tax, wealth tax and inheritance tax. The only way they pay for the privilege of monopolising a site is when they pay their rates and that is certainly nothing near the capital gain they will enjoy later for doing nothing to their land but enjoying the development all around.

Tax issues aside, let’s get on to the circulation of money round an economy. The Dominion Post two days after we started in Level One had the following front page headline, “Wellington, let’s get spending”. Yes we are urged to spend, and yet the Retirement Commissioner urges us to save for our retirement, and those wanting to buy a house naturally want to save a deposit. So we get two opposing messages from society. Apparently we paid off $1 billion during lockdown on our credit cards and this is bad for the economy because every time a debt is paid off there is less money in circulation.

Two Conflicting Functions of Money

Most people are not aware that our NZ dollar has to act in two conflicting ways, as a both medium of exchange and also as a store of value. It simply can’t do both at the same time. That is a problem. It should be one or the other.

Every time a sale is made both the seller and buyer benefit. So the argument goes the more transactions we have the bigger the benefit for the whole economy. The total sales expenditure is the country’s GDP which was around $203 billion in 2019.

In deflationary times it is well known that consumers hold back on their spending and the velocity of circulation declines. People also pay off credit card debts and mortgages, taking money out of circulation. When they do this the money supply declines if banks aren’t making new  loans or the Reserve Bank doesn’t print more digital money. And with all the Covid-19 unknowns and with the possibility of cheaper prices tomorrow or less income tomorrow, consumers hold back even more.

A Dual Currency System is needed

What is needed therefore is a dual currency. One, the national dollar is useful for buying imported goods and for paying taxes. It can be a saving currency as well as a spending currency. However, because these functions conflict, we need a currency that is a spending currency only. Like ordinary goods, the currency will rot or decay or go out of date.

There are two ways of starting up such a currency:

  1. Give local authorities the power to pay their employees partly in rates vouchers redeemable only by that local authority and make those vouchers decay at something like 8% a year.
  2. Do it nationally. That would involve chartering a new bank and having it issue a new currency. The bank would be essentially a second Reserve Bank with a different name. Spend the new currency into existence through paying for part of the budget on health, education or transport or anything else the government does.

The advantage of the local option is that it is in line with what happens in Nature, a system within a system. But the disadvantage is that when it comes to the practical matters of having a new digital only currency with two currencies on  an EFTPOS card, there are too many local authority currencies (78 of them) and too much complication. However the Government itself will not accept these new currencies for taxes and nor should they. The issuer of the rates voucher is the local authority itself and when the voucher is paid to Council in rates and is redeemed, it simply disappears.

The advantages of having a second national currency is that the EFTPOS dual currency card system is simple. There would be only two currencies in the country. The disadvantage is that the new consumers could favour buying from one region over another leading to unplanned centralisation. Then there would be too much internal transport required in New Zealand which would not be efficient. Duplication occurs in Nature and is perfectly logical. For instance you can grow pumpkins or potatoes or apples all around the country so it makes no sense to centralise this activity.

Investment

Right now businesses aren’t investing. They are reluctant to upgrade their software, buy new plant, add new employees, educate their employees, or recruit a top executive. Like individual consumers, businesses are sitting on their capital and waiting to be more certain of the future.

What about those with money? Are they investing in business? We know we have to build back better because of the constraints on energy use. A successful energy transition will entail moving away from a growth based consumer economy to an entirely different way of organising our investments. The rising stockmarket since just after lockdown shows investors had unrealistic optimism for weeks. But US stocks tanked on Thursday 11 June, as cautious commentary from the Federal Reserve and rising coronavirus infection rates prompted investor concern. All three major indexes posted their biggest single-day declines since March 16.

But imagine we had a second currency operating and it had a circulation incentive built into its design. Its value declines as time passes. What would you do with it? You can’t save it. We wouldn’t fill our houses with cheap imported Chinese goods because we need national dollars to buy imported goods. And we wouldn’t buy more imported cars.

I think, as in previous civilisations where a spending currency existed alongside the national currency, we would save in the form of tangible investments. When we had spent on personally useful things for the future, we would work communally to industrialise in a 21st century style production. We might form a cooperative buying up 3D printers and appropriate materials. Another group might grow bamboo or hemp. Another group might start an orchard and pay workers. Another cooperative would set up a clothing factory. We could invest in art, spend up large on local entertainment. The arts would thrive.

Oh, and as I wrote this I needed to do something with the dispensing box my baking paper came in. What a waste to put it in landfill! People with local spending money itching to be spent might even find it profitable to buy up waste and do some imaginative upcycling. Maybe.

Previous civilisations give us clues

What happened in the Central Middle Ages from 1150-1300 approximately in Europe? They had a dual currency system with the spending currency being used in communal efforts to build cathedrals that would bring pilgrims who would be a source of future wealth. So it was a community that did the investing. See here for more details.

What happened in Wōrgl, Austria in 1932-33 with a dual currency? In 15 months the council paved roads, built a ski jump,  built a bridge and renewed their reservoir. Once again it was a communal effort in infrastructure that benefitted everyone. Also unemployment levels declined.

And in PreDynastic Egypt they invested in education and produced new knowledge in astronomy, mathematics. They maintained their waterwheels and their wine presses. Dressmakers and laundrymaids could read. They fed their population well.

The logistics of the implementation are not underestimated here. Granted there are major barriers to adopting a second currency, not the least of which is persuading businesses to keep two sets of accounts and all the technical issues of EFTPOS machines with more than one currency. There is also a challenge to ensure that the local currency remains on par with the national currency. The biggest one of all of course is that the tax system needs to be changed first so excess spending money doesn’t result in unearned profits from land speculation. All these are not addressed in this paper, but it is not being too hopeful  to believe that enterprising and clever New Zealanders can solve them all.

 

 

 

 

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It’s our Superpower to create money says Reserve Bank chief economist

On Tuesday 19th May John Campbell, host of TVOne Breakfast, interviewed  Yuong Hu, Chief Economist of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and asked him about printing money. If the Reserve Bank is going to buy billions of dollars in Government bonds where does the money come from?

Q. Is Quantitative Easing the same as printing money?

A. Well the process is very similar. But rather than being bedazzled by the term Quantitative Easing (and us economists love throwing around these fancy terms), it might help if I can set the scene. I think the name of the game is still the same. We want to lower interest rates. The economy is taking a big hit right now. It needs all the support it can get. And the central bank can provide that support by pushing interest rates low and keeping them low. So we have got to find different ways of getting interest rates down. Quantitative Easing is a fancy name. You probably would have heard of the OCR. That is a more traditional way of doing monetary policy but we are now using Quantitative Easing. A good analogy would be the OCR is like 10 man rugby – very traditional but Quantitative Easing is (inaudible) backline.

Q. Are you printing money? Are you somewhere out the back with the printer?

A. Metaphorically we are. That’s one of our special powers. Central banks can print money or create money. These days it’s done electronically. We’re in a digital world. It’s not analogue. We are not physically up there turning the crank and the handles and money coming out. If I can I can use a simple analogy. There are retail interest rates like mortgage rates and these set at a margin  above the wholesale interest rates. We pay the retail price. We are  trying to do with Quantitative Easing is to lower the wholesale interest rates in the economy, in this case Government Bond rates. Then banks can pass on the lower rates and this will lead to lower mortgage rates and lower business rates.

Q. Yes but can I come back to my obsession? But you are creating money. Who gives you the right to do that? Who says you can?

A. Well the Government does. I mean it’s written. It’s our superpower if you like. Legislation says that. All central banks have that power, just like Government has the power to levy taxes and change taxes. Central banks have the power to create money.

Q. When the Government eventually repays you what happens to the money?

A. It gets unprinted. When that money gets repaid, it sits on the Reserve Bank’s balance sheet and we just metaphysically destroy it by undoing it with a few keystrokes.

Q.  It just ceases to exist. Boy. You can see how people get confused by this, can’t you?

A. I think people get confused by the Quantitative Easing. To the uninitiated it feels astounding, but central banks actually do this on a daily basis. We have been in the business of creating money for years. There is nothing untoward about it. We have done this for many decades. It’s just that it has grabbed all the headlines. It’s like finding out you can lift the line-out jumper.

End of interview

My take on this is that he didn’t spell out the mechanism by which interest rates are lowered. I understand from a letter that Grant Robertson wrote to Amanda Vickers that buying bonds on the secondary market, that is from banks in NZ and overseas, pension funds and other institutions is the method they prefer because it lowers interest rates, or is supposed to.

However my belief is they should buy bonds directly from Treasury because it then Treasury has a debt to another branch of Government and the debt can just lie on the books. There is no need for repayment. This is the big difference between what they are doing now and what would be best for taxpayers. I read that Grant Robertson and those in RBNZ have not ruled out this possibility. It is just that they had better get on with it because one bank economist estimated the other day that RBNZ is buying at a rate of $1.1 billion a week.

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Interview on the Big Shift

Half hour interview with Karl Fitzgerald of Prosper Australia on the Big Shift. https://www.mixcloud.com/RenegadeEconomists/

I was surprised when I played it today how animated I sounded. Now I need to finish promoting this book and get on with writing the next one, probably entitled Emergency with a subtitle about the need to have a climate currency and how it could be applied.

The notes are on Karl’s site

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Which do you fancy – Economic Growth or Financial Collapse?

I have now watched a TED talk on this topic twice and can’t help but respond. Ecological economist Marjan Van Den Belt is right when she says “we are mindlessly addicted to economic growth, we are growth junkies.” She advocates reciprocity in economies and says that is the key to a circular, sharing, regenerative economy. So far so good.

She urges listeners to take “a small step in the right direction”.  She points out that goal 8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is “meaningful jobs and economic growth”. What a shame they the UN doesn’t appear to understand that growth measures both good and the bad and doesn’t distinguish between them. So every time someone gets lung cancer that is good for growth, and when there is an accident the same. But when a mother cares for her preschoolers well or a family member cares for a frail older relative, the GDP doesn’t budge. Family work, voluntary work are not counted.

She also says neoclassical economic theory describes people as homo economicus – rational, self-centred and suggests trying to put that on your profile for a singles site. Yes.

So why do I want to respond? Because we are trapped. We have designed the money system and the land tenure system and together they are leading us by the nose to the growth imperative. And what happens if the economy doesn’t grow? Why it collapses of course. So is this economics professor really suggesting we crash the money system by allowing economic growth to grind to a halt? Does she really want us to have no money in the system, to have ATM machines that don’t work, to have plummeting house prices with negative equity and all the ensuing misery of foreclosures and bankruptcies? I doubt it.

Yes she wants a new paradigm and quotes Buckminster Fuller’s exhortation to build a new model. Good.

That is exactly what I have done in my new book The Big Shift. Although there may be other possible ways to get there, together in our little new economics think tank we designed this new model and believe once it is built and once it flourishes it will provide not only appropriate jobs, but where jobs are not possible, it will give a basic income so that parenting, inventing, producing needed sustainable energy and products will also flourish.

You see we need to get back to community owned land and community created and designed money systems. I know it is a huge leap for our thinking to get to community owned land and we can only do this fairly by adequately compensating landowners for their land. We can only do this by creating new money because there isn’t enough in the system of the conventional debt-based money created by banks.

Today I had a lovely email from a Green Party activist who said, “I have spent the weekend reading your book, couldn’t put it down. All amazing and well outlined ways to change our world small sections at a time. However, are there enough of us who are willing to take that last step?” And she wanted to buy a second copy to lend out to friends. Nice.

And she wanted to buy a second copy to lend out to friends. Nice.

For those wanting to read more about how neoclassical economics started and why, I suggest reading The Corruption of Economics by Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison. It outlines how neoclassical economics started as a reaction to the influence of Henry George. Land barons, industrialists and bankers paid scholars to corrupt the discipline. After two decades they had succeeded in getting any mention of land, banks, money or credit in the mainstream texts. They had subsumed land under capital so successfully that even forward thinking economists like Gareth Morgan fail to mention land as a separate factor of production. Moreoever he also fails to mention money creation.

This emphasis on pointing out the fallacies of measuring the economy as the growth in GDP has gone on since the 1970s so it is great that more know about it But they don’t know what causes the growth imperative, which, as Steve Keen has pointed out, is the combination of the tax system that fails to address rises in land value (and other assets) and the faulty money system.

 

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Designing a new economy without addressing money system or tax system is futile

If you want to design a political economy that works, you actually have to go to the roots. That means the money system the tax system, the welfare system and the governance system. So I was shocked to read the six winning essays in The Next System’s essay competition to discover that so few of them had addressed the money system or the tax system.

It is like an engineering professor setting out to teach students without having a course on materials. “OK just let’s assume everything is built out of this one material. I have no idea what it is but it is just a given. I have no idea of its properties, but honestly I don’t want to waste my time thinking about them. They are just here and it is what we have to work with. In fact if I have a mental block when talking about materials. I have an excuse.”

 

Full lecture in Theatre L, Newman Building, UCD

Yes that is how stupid it is trying to design a new political economy without thinking about money, the very exchange we use for trading between us.

 

Or it is like a dressmaker always having the same material available and not being in control over whether it stretches, breathes or shrinks. Dumb dressmaker always assumes that the same material in the same colour is the only one we have available.

Federal regulators are setting new rules for banks that offer deposit advances.

Yet the design of money can determine our attitudes to scarcity or abundance and our attitudes to spending or hoarding. And when you realise that the money designer is also the one who decides how much will be created it is doubly worrying. What if the creator of credit pushes out a whole lot of credit at one time and then just slows up for a while? Yet this is exactly what the private banks do because then they make the most profit.

What if the creator of money also designs new instruments for gambling in that money? And they can also steer your investments in certain directions because they are investment advisers and stand to gain if you use certain funds?  Yet this is what happens.

And how few of them have addressed the tax system. That is like saying to us, “Well we have got a tax system and honestly I can’t do anything about that. It just is. Well I do know you have to tax the rich more and I assume that means you will put up their income tax.”

Yes it is about as stupid as that. Thomas Piketty warned us to look at the tax system and said how critical it was. I have a quote from him in my book.

The winning essay in the open section mentions money once and tax once.

 

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Summary of The Big Shift: Rethinking Money, Tax, Welfare and Governance for the Next Economic System

The Big Shift: Rethinking Money, Tax, Welfare and Governance for the Next Economic System by Deirdre Kent

This important little book is a very dense read. The current growth-dependent economic system is not only broken must be completely replaced with a new paradigm.

This is now critical. Conventional oil peaked in 2005 and unconventional oil peaked in 2015. It takes energy to extract energy so the global net energy is inexorable decline. Therefore the economy can’t grow with less energy from fossil fuels to drive it. Therefore the economy can’t grow without more and more debt.

Based on the discussions of the New Economics Party of 2011-2015 to develop policy, the author argues that neither monetary reform nor tax reform are possible at central government level as the banks are too powerful these days. A change from an intrusive welfare system to a basic income should come from sharing the rents from land, natural resources and natural monopolies.

To design an economic system to serve the planet in a post fossil fuel age requires new thinking on money design, land tenure and governance. Examples from history are used as evidence of stable and prosperous societies using these principles.

This leads to the conclusion that very local government should assume powers of money creation, land purchase and rule-making about taxes for trades in that new currency.

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