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.”

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

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.

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.

Three Distinct Crises now Point to the Urgent Need for a New Economic System

Link

The current economic system, where money is created as interest bearing debt by banks, is coming to the end of its useful life. Three distinct movements all tell us this – those concerned about climate change, those concerned about global declining economic growth (the ones who understand its connection with peak oil), and those who know that rising private debt is dangerous and sure to end in tears.

1. The Demand for Economic Growth means Climate Change is not tackled properly.

In 1972 the world’s first whole-country environmental party, the New Zealand Values Party, questioned whether economic growth was making us better and happier. Economist Richard Douthwaite in his book The Growth Illusion wrote about the need for economic growth to be at least as high as the interest rate banks charged on money. Charles Eisenstein eloquently outlined the way the growth imperative financialises and thus depletes both our natural and our social capital. “The financial crisis we are facing today arises from the fact that there is almost no more social, cultural, natural, and spiritual capital left to convert into money.” 

The politics of climate change has highlighted the unfortunate situation where, given the choice between doing something meaningful about climate change and championing economic growth, governments will always opt for the latter and claim it is a matter of “balance”. The need for economic growth always trumps the need for climate action. As a result, according to the former United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres we now only have three more years to turn around emissions or we will not reach the targets of the Paris Climate Accord. Carbon dioxide levels are flat at the moment, but an unprecedented effort is needed from all parties in the next three years.

Naomi Klein in her ground breaking book This Changes Everything says:

“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.” 

2. We have reached peak efficiency in getting energy from using energy

We seem to have forgotten peak oil issues. Globally conventional oil production peaked in 2005 and unconventional oil peaked in 2015. But peak oil didn’t play out as we expected. We had omitted to factor in debt; because they had to spend more energy to get energy, fossil fuel firms had to go into debt and this kept growing. Two authors worth reading on this topic are Nafeez Ahmed and actuary Gail Tverberg. The former writes articles like this. It says we need a new economic system because we can no longer get the required economic growth. This is because the energy return on energy invested (EROI) has been on the decline since the 1940s. We used to get 50 times the amount of energy out of using 1 barrel full of oil to extract it. We now get only about 15 times that amount. This number will continue to decline. And it’s the same for gas and for coal. The decline is irreversible. The consequences for the global economy are profound and widespread.

Because we need more and more energy to keep the system going, less is left for the real economy. Tverberg carefully concludes that declining productivity growth is a result and also stagnant wages. Ahmed says James D Ward of South Australia argues that, although it was widely believed we could, GDP growth cannot really be decoupled from environmental impacts. Ward says what has happened is that we have financialised the GDP through the creation of new debt without increasing material or energy throughput. (That was done by Quantitative Easing. CNBC said it was a total of $12 trillion, and you can expect that to have a huge effect on the global economy. It did.) He also notes growing inequality of income and wealth. He demonstrates that GDP cannot be sustained indefinitely.

As far as growing inequality of wealth is concerned, Ward hasn’t yet spelt out that this is caused when we have a huge blowout of credit from QE at the same time as we fail to collect the land rent on rising land prices. The huge asset bubble created by QE has blown up house prices and the sharemarket. With a tax system that fails to tax assets (or at least land and natural resources) the wealth gap continues to rise.

Those without access to land and natural resources and natural monopolies fall into poverty and homelessness. Add the fact that wages remain low, jobs precarious and a punitive benefit system, many are in abject poverty.

All these factors combine for political instability resulting in the election of Trump and in Brexit. The growing section of population with casual work or precarious work are called the Precariat. Those with low wages with house buying beyond their wildest dreams are desperate. During elections they will now be clutching at straws, as there seems no hope for progress.

So we are now getting scholars who understand the fossil fuel energy issue and its effect on global growth saying we need a new economic model. This is new.

3. The third movement is those who know about the consequences of creating money as interest bearing debt. It produces instability as outlined by economists who follow the late Hyman Minsky.  The Minsky moment is the point at which excess private debt sparks a financial crisis. Minsky said that such moments arise naturally when a long period of stability and complacency eventually leads to the build up of excess private debt and overleveraging. At some point the system collapses and it can happen quickly.

Followers of the new economics movement are generally aware that there has to be a big system change and have been saying this for decades now. However with the demand coming from three different directions, it is  just a guess as to which will prevail. Maybe with the rise of the basic income movement something may change. Those who recognise the irony of politicians who turn a blind eye to $12 trillion dollars appearing from nowhere to rescue banks yet say we can't afford a basic income will push this thing forward. Maybe environmentalists will stick to their environmentalism and monetary reformers will continue on recommending the same thing decade after decade while the planet burns and fascism threatens. . 

Summary

The New Economics Movement people who met between 2011 and 2015 to discuss a new economic system have produced ideas. These are crystallised to the best of my ability in my book The Big Shift: Rethinking Money, Tax, Welfare and Governance for the Next Economic System whose website is deirdrekent.com It can be bought here

Trying is the only way…

After many months of feeling in equal parts a) guilty for not writing a blog and b) terrified of writing a crap blog, I am taking the plunge and assuaging one emotion at the extreme risk of solidifying the other!

My terror stems from following in the wake of Deirdre Kent who knows her stuff New Economics-wise and I suspect readers of Deirdre's blogs will also know far more than I on economic matters. My guilt, however, stems also from having promised Deirdre I would do my best to keep the blogging happening, and having so far done less than my best in the face of my fear.

Although I think about changing the economic system almost constantly I feel I have a dearth of conceptual knowledge that allows me to draw on a newsworthy item, for example, and argue the new economic points in a way that might enlighten readers. Or any way at all.

What I am trying to do in my life however, is to find and realise new economic ideas and practices, and practise them.

Tonight I took part in one of my Savings Pool meetings by phone (I belong to two since I moved recently; one in Christchurch that I started with and now, as well, one in Ashburton which is nearer to where I am currently living.) During an extended conversation about a proposed change to the current way of calculating 'reciprocity points', it hit me just how much we are building this new system. We don't know how it works perfectly or even if it works perfectly, but how we figure it out is in the trying.

My Pool in Christchurch is about to knock off its first mortgage and my Pool in Ashburton is going to put up some dosh and I am going to be the conduit between Pools. Effectively some money will be lent to me and I will lend it on. It's real small fry in the financial markets, let's face it, but boy does it feel good to be doing community lending. To get that family out of paying interest to the bank and to be supporting each other. To be using money collectively to benefit each other.

And learning by doing is how a lot of this new economic stuff is going to have to happen. Abstract concepts are great until they hit the pavement - ole Einstein knew what he was on about when he told us that in theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice, they are not!

My theory is that if I practise writing blogs more, my New Economic theory will become more practised and I might end up writing something y'all wanna read! Here's hoping...