Letter to a budding politician concerned about inequality and climate change

Letter to Miriam Pierard, Miriam I listened to your radio interview with Wallace Chapman and I was very impressed.

Yes, the top issues of our time are climate change and inequality. You say you are concerned to find answers. Great news.

Gosh Miriam I have been looking to solutions to the environmental crisis for decades. I was a candidate for the Values Party in 1975. And we were saying in those days that the GDP wasn’t necessarily an indicator of progress, because we had noticed inequality then – and unemployment and deprivation. And it is still worshipped forty years later.

Late in 2012 we had a 40 year reunion of New Zealand Values Party activists. We reflected on progress and it was quite sobering. Inequality had got worse and the environment had deteriorated to the situation where our very habitat is threatened with climate change and all the storms, flood, drought and food insecurity it brings.

A year before that reunion I had helped co-found the New Economics Party. Whereas most of the Values Party seniors said they were frustrated within the Green Party, I said I wasn’t at all because I was actively engaged in finding solutions and believed I had come to understand two of the big solutions.

I know I have. The very money system we have is structured so that the money supply has to grow, debt has to grow and the economy has to grow. So when it comes to climate change talks, after all the dire warnings from increasingly alarmed scientists, we usually watch helplessly while official delegates back away, claiming that the economy mustn’t be harmed and economic growth cannot be jeopardised. “Balance” is the cry… and they come up with some puny version of what is needed.

The structural problem we have here is this. We have a monetary system where if the economy doesn’t grow, it collapses. That is how it is designed. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario. So it’s not a great choice – runaway climate change if we do nothing or economic collapse if we do something that will halt it.

So I had finally found the cause of the growth imperative. It was the money system whereby we allow banks to create money as interest bearing debt. The negative consequences would all follow. It had taken me till 2004 to realise this.

But finding the cause(s) of inequality? It has come to me in various forms over the last few years. But now it is crystal clear. The earth has a finite supply of land and natural resources – land, water, fish, electromagnetic spectrum and so on. We all can’t occupy the same piece of land. Some land is more valuable than other land. Land is given its value by the desirability of its surroundings. So those who claim monopoly use of the best land must compensate the others for the privilege. In other words pay a full rental on the land to the public purse and then let this revenue be shared with all, perhaps as a Citizens Dividend or for health and education and other government services. Add to this the rental on the monopoly use of fish stock, water, coal, oil, minerals and you get government revenue.

If we don’t charge a rent on the monopoly use of natural resources, the consequence is asset inequality and this leads to income inequality. You are always going to derive income from monopolising resources like land.

I had also realised this land issue must be solved at the same time as the money issue. When I was starting to understand the money system and advocating for money spent into existence without interest (the Reserve Bank issues its coins this way) it became clear that interest-free money would cause a rise in the price of property. That really meant a rise in the price of land. We would have a land bubble. (that is why economists wouldn’t ever agree to zero interest money; they knew the bubble consequences).

But the land bubbles only happen because freehold land originally meant land “free of rent”. Apart from a small amount as the land proportion of our rates, there is no price on the holding of land. We can see that in Auckland as speculators buy valuable sections or old houses, and sit on them while the area develops and the price rises. Without doing anything at all the land speculators get an unearned windfall gain. (And a Capital Gains Tax won’t solve it, but I won’t go into that now).

Those who have freehold land should pay the public a full rental. Any valuer will tell you they can work out the rental value of any piece of land, it’s easy. And it should be reviewed annually, otherwise there are unpleasant hikes upwards.

But is this another tax? No, it is a replacement tax. Since there is no logic in income tax because there is plenty of labour we should get rid of that. Labour and entrepreneurship are valuable and we should encourage them. GST is regressive and income tax illogical.

Now I won’t go on any more, except to say if you are seriously concerned about inequality and climate change I encourage you and your party to focus your energies on economics. Other wonderful results follow from understanding these two issues. It’s the money system. It’s the tax system.

Few economists can tell you much about how money is created and, as two economists from the IMF and three from the Bank of England have recently embarked on a campaign to teach the economics profession about bank created credit. They say the textbooks are wrong.

However politicians worth their salt will also be aware that it is political suicide to favour a third tax on land. People will protest they pay their rates and they pay their mortgage so why should they pay another? Quite right. Actually the bank is getting the money that rightfully belongs to government. It’s a challenge.

Look I don’t know how this could all be implemented without shocking the economy. I have worked out one solution. I am not sure it is right. But I do know that somehow, someone must be politically creative, politically determined and wise enough to win the public over and finally address climate change and inequality at the root. Nothing else will suffice. Artificial bandaid solutions can’t work because they don’t get to the root of the problem.

As a woman in her seventies addressing a clever young budding politician I wish you the very best and hope that you can help make a better world for my grandchildren. Meanwhile I will keep doing what I do.