Sharing the rents brings social justice – solution to the Auckland housing crisis

imagesDuring Parliament’s question time there are always a lot of questions about house affordability, especially in Auckland. The National government’s solution to rising house prices is just “release more land”. And the Prime Minister usually replies that home affordability was worse when Labour was in government because that included the period leading up to the Global Financial Crisis. Stalemate. Election year biffo. They then go on to questions about poverty, especially child poverty. In New Zealand, ever since Helen Clark introduced an income support scheme called Working for Families anti-poverty groups have rightly pointed out that as it only goes to families in work, children of beneficiaries are the ones that miss out and that is unfair.

Sadly nobody in Parliament ever raises the issue that when “land owners” monopolise land without paying a full rent to the public for the privilege, the rental they should have paid just capitalises into the market value of their homes. Rent is thus privately captured not publicly captured. That capital gain doesn’t belong to them. The very meaning of “freehold” land is land without rent. When settlers came to New Zealand from England in the late 1800s what they wanted was to stand on a piece of land and know that a landlord couldn’t push them off. But the English colonists brought with them their very entrenched legal system of land ownership and imposed on the Maori a strange concept they called “ownership of land”. It was the land tenure system together with the English banking system which was at the very heart of the colonisation process.

Leaving aside the banking system for the moment, let’s concentrate on the land tenure system. When land is held in common, land tenure is about rights to use land. What the settlers really wanted was security of tenure and they wrongly equated this with a freehold land ownership arrangement. Indigenous people share the rights to use the land with others in their iwi or tribe or in their hapu or subtribe through a complicated system different in each iwi or hapu. Colonisation changed the land tenure system and introduced commercial banks.

We are coming up to a general election and the Labour Party, Mana and the Internet Party are all showing concern to engage and enrol the one million non-voters from last election. The Internet Party rightly makes it easy to join a party and participate, through their clever use of smartphone apps and discussion websites.

But what better way to engage young disaffected voters than to share the land rents? Wouldn’t they be delighted it a political party said it was going to charge a full land rental and share it with them by giving them a Citizens Dividend from time to time?

Let’s have a look at the home values in central Auckland suburbs for a start. Parnell, Mission Bay, Mt Eden, Epsom, Herne Bay, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn houses have risen in value by probably an annual rate of exceeding 10% over the last year. In some cases it is 14%, but let’s take the lower value. An article the other day in the Weekend Herald showed a three bedroom home in Grey Lynn for sale at $895,000 and the subsequent text showed it had probably risen at least $103,000 in the last year. What land tax did that owner pay? Rates contain land tax but actually everyone pays on their capital value these days. (by legislation when the supercity was formed, no choice these days like we used to have). So if every home in the inner suburbs has a capital value rise of say an average of $100,000, just think of that accumulated rental which has been privately captured in the inner Auckland suburbs. This rental rightly belongs to the public because it is government both central and local that has paid for the infrastructure, the hospitals, schools and parks and it is the public which has provided the inner city shops and businesses and activities. Suppose there are 100,000 homes in those inner suburbs each rising by $100,000 in a year. That is a capital gain of $10,000,000,000. Yes it is $10 billion which rightly belongs to the public and we haven’t even tried to calculate the rising value of the CBD and Parnell and Newmarket and Ponsonby shops and offices. This total will be far higher.

Dividing this three-way between central and local government and the 4.4m citizens of New Zealand is the next challenge. But for electoral purposes it would make very good sense to give out a citizens dividend straight away. Let’s, for instance, use $4.4 billion of the $10 billion. That is $1000 per citizen. When dependents get it, the money is taken by the designated carer, usually a woman. So a woman with three children would get $4000 a year from this dividend. Nice one. A young solo mother in Northland or Hastings or Greymouth. Since she is on a benefit she doesn’t get Working for Families. She spends it on the basics of food. The next dividend would bring more. When land rents are shared everyone gains. Labour spokesperson on Welfare Jacinda Ardern would not have to think up anything more complicated than this to right the wrong of children in poverty. It would answer the “Feed the Children” plea of The Mana Party.

I have discovered Fred Harrison's site where his videos tell a great many stories about the value of sharing the land rent. Fred Harrison is a long time campaigner for sharing land rents.

Labour and the Greens both go into the election advocating a Capital Gains Tax on property that isn’t the family home. Unfortunately the Greens have chosen a 15% Capital Gains Tax. That means when a house is sold (and only then) the Government gets a small fraction of the total rent. The property “owner” gets to keep the 85% that rightly belongs to the public. Well I guess it is a start, but honestly it is an extremely timid policy when you see the whole logic of sharing the rents.

Nobody in this whole debate has raised the issue of how many vacant sections there are in Auckland. If speculators are sitting on sections and not paying much (the council even slashes their rates) then naturally they will continue to speculate. A Capital Gains Tax will only delay the sale even further. You must make people pay for the privilege of "owning" land, or monopolising it. If speculators had to pay a full land rental rather than reduced rates, that would spur them into action. Either they would build or they would sell.

A Christchurch currency would help solve the budget problems and avoid asset sales or rates rises

chch-cbd-plan-620How can Christchurch City Council solve its financial woes with a $534 million shortfall in its budget. I sit watching the television and think, “I wonder if the people of Christchurch know that money is a human invention?” and “I wonder if they know how money is created and by whom?”

I suppose I am one of a handful of people who, through my life circumstances and choices, have studied money creation and especially local currencies. I spent seven years researching and writing a book on the topic, studying community currencies and national currencies throughout human history. Money is an agreement to accept something for payment. It is a social contract. We accept money because we know that other people trust it. Its value rests on a belief about a belief.

But what gives money its value? We need to choose something that we all have to pay so that we know the next person will trust it. That means taxes, or it could mean rates, insurance or food. The national currency we all use is trusted because everyone knows that in the end the Treasury will accept it for payment of taxes.

So how is Christchurch’s problem solved? None of the options given by the official report sound good to me – reduce the rebuild costs, increase rates, cut spending, borrow more, ask Government to pay more, or sell public assets.

But we can create our own money. It’s just that currently the banks have that privilege and government allows them to create money as interest bearing debt. I won’t go into the many and dire consequences of this destructive practice, but I will say this: Banks create money when they lend it into existence mostly to get the security on some land. They like it that way.

Everyone knows how much they owe their bank on their mortgage and when they see our big four Australian owned banks making huge profits, they know their mortgage payments go off to Australia and beyond.

It doesn’t take long to discover the staff from the restructuring firm who wrote the official KordaMentha report come from traditional university training in finance, accounting, law or business. And you can bet your bottom dollar that not one of them has had more than minimal teaching on how money is created and by whom. They don’t get taught the history of economics. Few (if any) will have studied the existence of complementary currencies or even know they exist. So they aren’t likely, any more than are Auckland City Council’s consultants, to offer a solution which includes any of this knowledge.

My proposal is for a land backed currency created by the Christchurch City Council, spent into existence without interest, dated and acceptable for rates by that date. The currency is created to gradually buy bare land in the inner city. Iwi and hapu should be involved to exclude sensitive land, and where relevant the titles checked by the Maori Land Court. The Government must also legislate to allow trades in this currency to be free of income tax and GST, for Christchurch City Council to be able to accept the local currency for rates, and for the Council to share its land rental revenue with Government. The Government must also legislate to allow the Christchurch Land Dollar to be acceptable for the payment of rates. City Council staff and contractors must be persuaded to accept part of their payment in Christchurch Dollars. This is the first way of many ways the Council will save precious national dollars. Gradual buy up is needed to avoid inflation.

Another thing I noticed was that central Christchurch isn’t thriving and a developer on television was almost begging for tenants to move in. The reason is the land in the centre of the city is only given value by the community. When infrastructure is built, businesses move in, and community facilities buzz with action, people will want to buy there and the price of land rises. This windfall is publicly created and should not be privately captured. Hence the need for full land rentals. Probably the best method is Council ownership of land with fair lease arrangements for both parties. The rental should preferably set by auction, with rents adjusted annually according to a new rental index for the area. Rents rise as the city rises and that solves the rating problem. The more facilities are built the higher the rental revenue. To ensure future Governments do not subvert the process by reducing the rents for electoral purposes as the 1970 Gorton government did in Canberra, the legislation should be enshrined. This suite of safeguards avoids the worst pitfalls of leasehold purchases. Speculators can then not benefit from Christchurch’s pain and loss.

Although this proposed solution will allow Christchurch city to thrive, it is unlikely to be taken seriously. But I can tell you this: In previous economic crises people have solved grave problems by novel methods. We can look at how Germany solved its hyperinflation problem in late November 1923 and learn a valuable lesson. They started a new bank and it issued a new currency and the hyperinflation stopped dead in its tracks. Or we can look to a small Austrian town called Wōrgl in 1932 and see how a local currency solved its unemployment problem and a situation where people weren’t paying their local rates. In a very short time they turned this around. The city built infrastructure, unemployment declined dramatically and people paid their taxes early.

Conventional economic thinking has been the cause of ever deeper holes that we find ourselves trying to dig out of. The only economists to see the GFC coming were largely the ones who recognise the privilege of private banks to create our money supply and the structural problems this system creates. By freeing our monetary system from this broken design, we can start to get the upper hand in dealing with a whole range of pressing matters – not the least of which is getting the city and citizens of Christchurch back on their feet without making them poorer in the bargain.

The New Economics Party – What’s in it for me?

markets-headerWhat is in it for me? What ordinary people want to know about a party’s policies are “What is in it for me?” And that’s a very valid question.

What are the outcomes for you the voter when we fundamentally alter the structure of the tax system and the money system as we are proposing?

OK here is what is going to happen. The whole prices structure will be altered. Because GST and income tax are a component of the price of everything you buy, prices will drop. Because interest is included in the price of everything you buy, prices will drop.

And that will make everything more affordable. But wait? What about other taxes? You said you were going to tax the use of land and other natural resources including the use of the biosphere for waste. Yes for those items that will put the price up again.

For example, for imported petrol the price won’t drop, it will actually rise if we want to do something about climate change. The price of any fossil fuel based goods will rise including artificial fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides. So the farmer will have to learn how to use EM (effective microorganisms), together with other good farming methods, to keep the soil full of nutrients.

What about imported whiteware and vehicles? The lack of GST will keep the price down and since they are manufactured in other countries, but that is about all. It is only when it is manufactured in New Zealand that it drops because of the lack of income tax. And it will include some natural resources taxes, depending on the metal.

The land, because it is fully taxed, will be more efficiently used. The sheer waste of city people living on valuable “lifestyle blocks” just outside a city or township will vanish as Crown Leasehold land gradually replaces freehold land. This land will once again be used by genuine farmers growing food for the city. The need for transport will decline. So we will see fewer huge trucks on our roads transporting chilled goods from Auckland.

And a Citizens Dividend distributed in Land Dollars – how will that change things? Once again, a marvellous result. Even if every man, woman and child gets, say, a L$50 dividend, for a family of two adults and two children that is $200 in land dollars. Spend it at the Farmers Market. The local producers then pay their suppliers with it and can employ labour tax free, thus boosting production. So Farmers Markets could soon occur more often and pretty soon you have the revival of the small fruit and vege store and butcher. Welcome back! Mainstreet is invigorated and the supermarkets that rip off the suppliers of produce take the hit. Meanwhile the local farmers and horticulturists have an incentive to go more and more spray free and organic and employ more labour.

The distribution of the land rental to the citizens through a Citizens Dividend will have a huge impact on poverty. Poor people will spend it on essentials, thus invigorating the local food growing industry. These dividends will eventually be quite big. In the end they will free citizens from boring jobs they dislike so they can take up something they really want to contribute – be it entertaining, art, creating inventions, volunteering or caring for an elderly parent. Mothers with factory jobs two bus rides away will be able to leave the job if they prefer to devote themselves to their family life.

Jobs will return to the provinces. Because when you build in an incentive to use local building materials and locally manufactured fertilisers there is no impediment to building a sawmill or a factory. Factories in Levin lie empty. The clothing manufacturing jobs went to the Pacific islands and to Asia long ago.

We know the changes we advocate in designing and creating a second national currency backed by land are massive. After all 79% of our government revenue is from either income tax, GST or company tax. We believe that you should pay for what you hold or take and not for what you do or make. We need to share the rents of land and the harness the power of monopoly. We need to design and issue our own currency and not let the private banks keep control.

Health and Education When essential food items become more affordable the health of the population improves. The Asian takeaways that line the streets of the small poorer centres will gradually disappear as young mothers are empowered through their Citizens Dividend. Remember the plan is to give the children’s dividend to the primary carer, which is most often the mother. Once the Citizens Dividend rises to the stage where it frees the mother financially, she can choose further education, once again benefitting the children too. Our population will end up healthier and better educated.