Henry George influenced a movement, now reviving

IMG_1720I have just returned from California where I attended a conference of the Council of Georgist Organisations and delivered a presentation on the Land Dollar.

I was one of four presenters in a session on Land and Money. I was invited by author Alanna Hartzok, an amazingly vital and wise woman who seemed very well respected in the movement. My presentation offered a wholistic solution to the three issues and was generally well received, though some dismissed the money issue as secondary. We have a money system that leads to rising debt and a growth imperative on a finite planet which threatens to leave it uninhabitable for our grandchildren. Second we have a tax system that treats labour as scarce and land as infinite and this needs to be turned right side up. Otherwise the inequality will continue to get worse as those who seek to “own” land and resources will accumulate more wealth. Third we all need sufficient income for all but we have a welfare system that encourages lying about relationships, even to the point where couples live in different houses to get more benefit money. What sort of society are we aiming for when we disincentive intimacy and love? The slideshow I delivered is now online at http://tinyurl.com/ou9stc6.

First let me tell you about the elevator pitches on Georgism I tried. When asked in the hotel lift what the conference was about I sometimes blundered and sometimes succeeded. “What is Georgism?” was usually the question. “Well it’s a old movement you probably won’t have heard of. It’s based on the writings of a man called Henry George. He was a San Francisco journalist during the Depression of the 1870s and saw a lot of poverty. He believed the value of land rose because of the activities of the public and so the increase really belonged to the public. Basically the idea is for the public to recoup this rise in land value. And he effectively said you should pay for what you hold or take not for what you do or make. No income tax but a land tax. At this stage the person said “Oh he must have been a good thinker. Sounds fair enough” or something like that.

And that is where the elevator usually stopped. That one worked. I was also asked the same question by a woman I befriended on a Los Angeles bus tour but I botched my answer completely. I started off saying we believed the land belonged to everyone and all the minerals, fish, water, trees etc. After that I blundered on and naturally she didn’t light up.

Sometimes people would ask why hasn’t the movement made much progress? And it is sad. So many Georgists have lived and died without seeing change. But, like the monetary reformers who followed Major Douglas, they have continued staunchly on till their eighties, loyal to the end. Their numbers dwindle and they speak more and more to themselves. At this session as will the Social Credit movement during its 60th anniversary in Christchurch next month, we had a time remembering those who had passed on the previous year. (I must say I think I heard one older woman report she had been president of her little society for 50 years, hope I was hearing wrong)

I met many who had taught courses at Henry George Schools for decades. They know that wealth is accumulated by monopolising the land and all its bounties. They weep to see the cheating society we have all become, pocketing the unearned gains from rising land prices. Their knowledge of the money issue varies. Dan Sullivan, the president of the council, attends the Modern Monetary Institute gatherings and was a fellow presenter. Many understand that if we create money as interest bearing debt we add another parasite. As Dan said “If you kill one parasite the other grows larger. You have to tackle them both together”.

One blog post can’t do justice to the variety of competent speakers. We had Peter Barnes, the author of “Who owns the Sky” tackling the twin issues of inequality and climate change. He said “Recycle the rent is a better term than tax the land”, as did other speakers. A giant Rent Recycling Fund should be redistributed as a dividend. He thinks it could be $5000 a year, enough to revive the middle class.

A young women PhD graduate had studied the man who influenced Henry George and gave an excellent talk on the geneology of the ideas.

The older Georgists were all greatly heartened by the infusion and energy of the new young men who have come into the movement. Two came, I believe, from working on reintroducing an inheritance tax, and the others arrived simply through trying to find a solution to inequality and environmental issues. They were self taught from the web and found their own way there. They were obviously struggling financially. I hear five of them shared a room. Karl Fitzgerald, of Prosper Australia and one of only five people worldwide working full time for the movement helped me greatly and seems to be a mentor for the new blood, all of whom are on the Facebook group called LVT.

Of course the group should be called something else but that is for another day… The session on campaigning was speakers from another movement. Hopefully next time there will be better teaching on soundbites, controlling the language, controlling the images, writing media statements, working with bureaucrats and journalists.

Next year the conference will be held in Detroit and for it the Council of Georgist Organisations will combine with the International Union for Land Value Taxation. So let’s make sure we get someone there from New Zealand. (Photo: Peter Barnes with a Canadian Green Party man, Erich Jacoby-Hawkins)

An open letter to Helen Clark UNDP re climate and the economy

searching-blindfolded-man

Late last night I engaged with you in 140 character tweets on the topic of climate and the economy. You were expressing the strong desire that we can have economic growth at the same time as halting climate change. And I pointed out that unless and until you reform the money system you are going to get a growth imperative built into the economy.

Helen, I believe the future of life on the earth depends on people like me pointing this out to people like you. There are a great many people wanting the same thing – a thriving economy AND a liveable climate. We need it desperately.

I see that your current meeting is another high powered one. Called The Global Commission on Climate and the Economy it has on it the Chairman of the Bank of America and the former chairman of the China Development Bank, the Vice Chairman of Deutsche Bank Group, as well as someone from the International Energy Agency with the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. Nicholas Stern is there and so is a trade union representative as well as many ex Prime Ministers.

I see the purpose of this Commission is to “analyse and communicate the economic benefits and costs of acting on climate change.”

It looks as though the plan is to go down the path of green growth, to change towards sustainable energy sources. That is what economist Nicholas Stern and many others want. It is a good goal but not enough. It is just too limited.

But that is like mopping up a leaky pipe without stopping it leaking. It doesn’t get to the core of the problem.

What the bankers on your committee won’t tell you is that the function of banks is to create money and create it as interest bearing debt. You must know that having been Prime Minister of New Zealand for nine years. The country’s money supply comes into existence every time a bank makes a loan and disappears every time a loan is paid back. But it must keep on increasing. That’s the design of it.

What you have probably never had time to find out in your busy life is that when a bank creates the principle but not the interest, there is not enough total money in the system to pay off the debt and the interest. So someone has to get another loan. This increases the money supply and the money supply can’t be bigger than the number of trades in an economy. So the economy has to grow. See the Parable of the Eleventh Round for a story to illustrate this.

That is the growth imperative. It is built in to the current dysfunctional money system. You can’t have a thriving economy without growth in this system. All the time there is pressure to grow the total number of exchanges in the economy. And it can’t be done on a finite planet. Christchurch is helping our GDP grow because it had an earthquake. The economy grows when tobacco consumption or gambling rise. The economy grows when dairy farmers pollute the rivers with their runoff. Stupid.

This is not just debt money but it is interest bearing debt money. There is a world of difference. The latter has many other damaging and negative consequences like rising debt, instability and wealth concentration.

But let’s concentrate on the growth imperative.

Over the last couple of years there have been two excellent articles written by economists from the IMF and by economists from the Bank of England. Michael Kumhof of the IMF subsequently talks at a January 2013 seminar on Financial Reform for a Sustainable Economy here. Economist and former money trader Bernard Lietaer co-author of a Club of Rome book called Money the Missing Link in Sustainability speaks at the same seminar.

Gosh it is sad. Here you are at this high powered meeting of bankers, ex and current politicians, energy experts, CEOs of multinationals seeing if you can stop climate change without damaging economies. You are trying to find a way to get a thriving post fossil fuel economy and yet you are still working blindly. The paradigm of creating money is just not within your vision. The idea of radically reforming the tax system is probably far from member’s minds. Sad.

Look around the room and think “Who among you know that if we go on blindly allowing banks to create money as interest bearing debt we are never, never going to get sustainability?” Tragic.

And whatever decisions you make at this Commission, I hope you get on to the issue of tax policies. Can we in fact have a sustainable economy while we fail to tax the monopoly use of the commons – land, natural resources and the cultural commons.

So it won’t be any use having a series of indicators on green growth (as does the OECD). They want to monitor the natural asset base. Well if there aren’t tax policies that protect that asset base that base will just deteriorate. Measuring is good, but you might as well implement tax policies that are going to protect that natural asset base in the first place.

Government Superannuation, Basic Income, Duplication and the Housing stock

1280px-Eureka,_California_two_yellow_housesUp till today I always thought the Government Superannuation was the nearest thing we have to a Basic Income for over 65s. It was unconditional and was given to all in that age group.

But I was wrong. Today I heard from a friend on Government Superannuation who has just had to pay for a second toilet (she chose a compost toilet), a new letterbox, a second electricity meter and a new shower. She had to do this because otherwise Work and Income would have cut her Government Superannuation.

Why? Because she is retired, drawing Government Superannuation and owns a biggish house near a shopping centre. A few months ago a recently retired friend came to live in her back building and is doing it up. They have known each other for zonks and being sociable creatures, just wanted company. They both enjoy the same movies and books, both cook well and their conversation is stimulating.

My friend’s superannuation is $366.94 a week living alone but the single, sharing payment is $338.71 a week. Both of them would be deemed sharing if they shared a toilet, letterbox, electricity bill and shower. So the house will now have two of each.

Furthermore, there is a third category from Work and Income and that is married, civil union or de facto and that is $282.26 a week.

What message does this send our society? That the government will not encourage friendship and sharing of facilities, and certainly not sexual intimacy, or even, dare I write it love.Old Couple

And if you think it doesn’t have housing implications, think again. The said male friend could well have taken up a whole house and section by himself and had a full single superannuation. Two houses, two sections, two letterboxes, two electricity meters is better than one? Of course not.

I think of the retired single people living in Christchurch where the rentals are horrendous and people live in garages. I think of the Auckland housing bubble, exacerbated by this illogical Work and Income policy. So not only do we have more houses than we otherwise would have had, but this puts up the demand for houses and so house prices rise.

This has been happening of course with younger beneficiaries for decades. Two single parents get together. Both are on the Domestic Purposes Benefit and there is a major financial disincentive to share a single house, a single washing machine, car etc etc.

So not only does the lack of a Basic Income (unconditional, whatever your living arrangements are) discourage intimacy and thrift, but it expands our cities towards ever more green fields, costs us in infrastructure of sewerage, water and stormwater, but it leaves the poor to fend for themselves in caravans and garages or to share with other families.