Democracy is not enough

For a society to move forward and to be fair, improving democracy is not enough.

Yesterday I attended a talk by Max Rashbrooke in Wellington. He had put out a new book – Government for the Public Good published by Bridget Williams books and costing above average. The talk was good and the matters he raised in it were important and oh so well articulated. I loved hearing the stories of Citizen Assemblies in Ireland on abortion, Iceland on their constitution, and in Taiwan on Uber and how they worked so well that they solved potential clashes and resulted in legislation that stuck. All good. (Especially as in one case people started to respect politicians more after the long process).

He talked about general dissatisfaction with government, the research on the privatisation of prisons, on charter schools and the importance of teaching people to argue for government ownership (not “intervention” as this language implies the market has the right). He talked about the ‘level of taxes’, assuming of course that the main taxes are taxes on income.

Better methods of decision making are always interesting and important.

But where was the deep thinking on taxing land and other natural monopolies? Absent. This is a man who has written so well on inequality so I understand he believes that to have a functioning society we need only a narrow gap in wealth between the groups in society.

So on the train home I turned my attention to what he had missed.

To obtain social justice we need a concept of the commons and a mechanism to ensure the commons is shared. The big one is land. Not all people can have the exclusive rights to the same site at the same time. So we need to charge regular rent for monopolising the use of land sites and other parts of the commons or natural monopolies.

Charging a rent for monopolising any part of the commons, including natural monopolies like ports and airports is the way to share our commons.

What we already do towards this goal, sometimes totally inadequately
Charge rates on land or property value which includes land. So minimal at the moment it should be in the second category. Each site is unique and a natural monopoly.

Commercial land in downtown Auckland is most valuable land and owners need to pay full land rent. Currently this is minimal. Rates are not a burden for them.

Charge taxi licences.
Charge yearly for registering our cars This is effectively a small road user charge.
Charge road user charges. Drivers of light diesel vehicles and heavy vehicles pay levies through road user charges. No doubt far too small as it by no means pays for road damage they cause.
Fishing licences for freshwater fishing, none needed for sea fishing.
Fisheries are a public resource and so sea fishing is regulated through selling fishing quotas. But not annual payments
Railways in New Zealand had mostly been owned and operated by the Government. Never meant to be profit making business. Privatisation in 1993 failed.
Broadcast licences for monopolising a certain bandwidth.
Royalties for gas and oil are charged.

What we are not charging for
Power retailers
Water use for irrigation no rent charged. Water rights are on a first come, first served basis and cost nothing.
Water use for water bottling. No charges yet.
Airports. Most big airports have shares held privately as well as some held by the local council. So rent should be charged proportionately. Private airports pay a tiny nominal rent to local government in the form of rates.

Paraparaumu airport is privately owned. It should be paying a rent for monopolising special land

Wellington Airport is two thirds owned by Infratil and one third by Wellington City Council. So Infratil should pay a substantial rent for the monopoly privilege.

Ports.
Health services
Prisons
Schools
Forestry
Banking. Since private banks have the monopoly of creating 98.5% of New Zealand’s money supply and money is part of the commons, they should pay a high rent for the privilege. (Their method of creating money as interest bearing debt should be regulated by government too)

Underground pipes and fibres. Chorus should be charged rent for the privilege of having a monopoly over using land for this purpose.
Subsoil minerals.
Patents
Satellite Orbit Rights

And then there are the rents not paid yet for the monopolising of soil, rivers, lakes, sea, biosphere for dumping waste. This includes all climate change issues and all pollution of waterways and soils.

There are two people I know who have done studies on these resource rents and how much they can raise. Karl Fitzgerald for Prosper Australia in The Total Resource Rents of Australia report finds monopoly rents are capable of replacing taxation at all levels of government.

Earlier Gary Flomenhoft while a lecturer at the Gund Institute in Vermont, got his students to work on a study to estimate the potential of resource rents on common assets for public revenue and put it together in a report.

In both these studies the potential revenue from land rent dwarfs all others.

Yes Max democracy is fine but you also need to democratise wealth. Democratising resource use, understanding that rent must be paid for use of the commons is a concept we all need to grasp. There is very little argument for taxing what is good, like work!

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Time to halt privatisation of high country

Although about a fifth of the South Island high country is owned by Government and leased out to runholders, this is changing. Since 1992 the Government has allowed the privatisation of leasehold land. Called “tenure review” it involves an unusual deal and the government loses. The runholders because of their input into the farm claim the improvements belong to them. They end up getting part of the farm for a song. No I am wrong – they sometimes make money on the deal by a strange mechanism. And then they flip it on, making millions in the process. The less valuable land is kept for conservation. There is something strange about the land valuation process.

So why on earth does the public purse lose? To retire the pastoral rights, the Crown paid runholders $36 million (or $656/hectare). That is ridiculous. It is all explained by Dr Brower in April 2107 here and the Environment Court at that stage made a case for stopping freeholding of land in the McKenzie Basin.

The picture above from Stuff shows this week’s protest by Greenpeace about a farm near Twizel where the farmer wants to run 15,000 cows. Many local farmers and even Fonterra joined Greenpeace in opposing this dairy conversion.

All the figures and stories are given in her post and she ends by saying “The best, easiest, and cheapest thing New Zealand could do for the land and water of the South Island is to stop high country tenure review. Better late than never.”

As Charlie Mitchell from Stuff points out, the best land stays in pastoral use and the deal is skewed towards the wrong side. “You might assume that ownership rights to valuable land would be worth more than occupation rights to less valuable land. But the Crown believes the opposite, so it has purposely lost money through these deals.”

More recently we saw the headline “Flipped. From zero to $17.5 million.” This involved a lakeside property on Lake Hawea. Previously under tenure review the farmer had been paid $2.2 million by the crown and had paid nothing in return. Then he onsold it for $17.5million. Flipped from zero to $17.5 million by Charlie Mitchell. An earlier article is one on McKenzie country

Of course after privatisation the owner can subdivide so by April 2017 what used to be about 120 leaseholds is nearly 4000 parcels of freehold land.

The Minister of Lands Hon Eugenie Sage has her work cut out to change this situation.

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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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