Obvious solution to housing bubble – put a price on the holding of land

Dilapidated, no power, no water. But still worth $1million

Dilapidated, no power, no water. But still worth $1million

The debate on Auckland's out of control housing crisis is missing one critical factor. While some commentators actually realise it is the rising price of land that is the issue, most ignore it. If only there was a price on the holding of land, values wouldn’t rise so fast.

The key is understanding that the Auckland Council was enshrined in legislation mandating that rates are struck on capital value. That financially disincentives building. For most of NZ history council rates were struck on land value only. This may be the reason that Wellington, Napier and Dunedin are relatively compact.

If you strike rates on only land value it
1. Encourages development and building because there is no financial disincentive to improving land.
2. Prevents urban sprawl
3. Prevents leapfrogging where there are holes in the development.
4. Is progressive, favouring the poor. Property ownership is more concentrated than income so rich people end up paying more.
5. Stops land value from rising too fast.
6. Stops rents from rising as rents rise more if the landlord needs to pay extra rates if the house is upgraded.
7. Forces slum landlords to sell or develop.(especially if the price on holding land is high enough)

Section 13 of the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010 requires the general rate to be set on capital values.

In 1998 Pennsylvania changed its laws to allow urban authorities to split their property taxes into land tax rates and building tax rates. The cities that put more tax on land than on building all avoided property bubbles and prevented urban sprawl. Pittsburg survived and thrived after steel.

Unless something is done to reverse the part of the legislation mandating for capital value rating, we will continue to have rising house prices, urban sprawl and inequality.

We also have to get rid of Universal Fixed Annual Charges. The Shand Report of 2007 recommended this as it found them to be regressive. They also recommended getting rid of rating differentials and recommended everyone go on capital value rating. What a shame. Their recommendation to go on capital value rating was wrong, but the other two right recommendations seem to have been completely ignored.

However rating systems, even when imposed on land values do not capture all the capital gain from holding land. It is important that a full rental is placed on land value and the revenue is shared by local and central government. A land based rating system can only go so far to capture the rental and stop it being privately captured.

Public loses $37 billion to private landowners every year

Sang Architects, Auckland multi residential Remuera101We are being robbed. Constantly robbed. And it is the expense of the earners who catch two buses to work early in the morning for a low paid job. We can work out that the public is losing at least $37 billion a year to private landowners. This should more than replace income tax.

There are 1,771,200 private dwellings in New Zealand (Stats NZ) The mean house price rose from $395,530 in April 2014 to $466,665 in 1 July 2011 (Quotable Values)

That is in just under three years the mean house price rose $71,135. Almost all of this was privately captured as capital gain.

So let’s multiply these two figures to get the total of privately captured capital gains on those private residences and we get $126 billion.

This is for a period of just under three years, two months short of three years. So yearly the amount of capital gain is now one third of 34/36 of $126b, or one third of $119 billion = $40 billion. A very tiny fraction of it will have been captured by local authorities in rates. Almost none will have been captured by central government.

The rates revenue of all local authorities in 2013 was $4.5 billion. Suppose two thirds of this was land value (a high figure – more like the Auckland ratio), then local authorities revenue due to taxing of land value would be $3 billion. But if the ratio is lower, then it would be as low as $2billion a year.

So $40 billion figure gets reduced by somewhere between $2 and $3 billion and we have lost in public revenue at least $37 billion a year through failing to capture capital gains, or failing to impose full land rentals, which is essentially the same.

To put this in perspective, the GDP of the country is $227billion in the year to March 2014.

The revenue from income tax is $29.8 billion and the total revenue from taxes $72.5 b. Expenses were $73.1 billion in the last budget.

So $37 billion is being pocketed by private property owners every year when the value has been created by the wider public. This money rightfully belongs to the public. (Compare this: Labour's Capital Gains Tax would yield only $1b a year "in time" and the Greens Capital Gains Tax would yield $4.5 b/ year "in time")

On the other hand, the government has confiscated $30b of our earnings through income tax and taken nearly $18 billion from our expenditure in GST, making everything less affordable. No wonder there is poverty in New Zealand. No wonder there is inequality.

dairy-farm-for-saleBut revenue from land rental would not be the government’s only income. We should be charging rent for the monopoly use of all natural resources, not just land. The principle that we should pay for what we hold or take but not for what we do or make means that we should pay taxes on our monopoly use of the rest of the commons. What is the commons? Everything that occurs naturally or is part of the social or cultural capital – water, fish, forests, electromagnetic spectrum, minerals, oil, gas, as well as the monopoly use of the infrastructure. The latter includes taxes on use of airports, hydroelectric power stations, ports, and so on. It also includes use of the commons for emission of pollutions. The biosphere is used for emissions of greenhouse gases and the rivers, lakes, and seas cleanse the pollutants from farms. We already tax tobacco, alcohol and gambling and would continue to do this.

address_withheld_negotiation_100189170163421799Lifting the tax burden from the productive sector by taking off income taxes, GST, corporate tax and interest revenue taxes would allow productivity but, given the burden of resource taxes, the pattern of productivity would be very different. It would look more like a post fossil fuel economy.

Would the revenue be sufficient to run a country? We currently spend $73.1 billion. (Budget 2014-5). So we would need a further $36 billion. Karl Fitzgerald in his Australian study worked out the other resource tax revenue and managed to match the current revenue. There is no doubt we could too.
I am reminded of a quote from Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty, who said "For this robbery is not like the robbery of a horse or a sum of money, that ceases with the act. It is a fresh and continuous robbery, that goes on every day and every hour. It is not from the produce of the past that rent is drawn; it is from the produce of the present. It is a toll levied upon labor constantly and continuously. Every blow of the hammer, every stroke of the pick, every thrust of the shuttle, every throb of the steam engine pay it tribute. It levies upon the earnings of the men who, deep underground, risk their lives, and of those who over white surges hang to reeling masts; it claims the just reward of the capitalist and the fruits of the inventor's patient effort; it takes little children from play and from school, and compels them to work before their bones are hard or their muscles are firm; it robs the shivering of warmth; the hungry, of food; the sick, of medicine; the anxious, of peace. It debases, and embrutes, and embitters."

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 http://www.sharetherents.org/ 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.

Zero Interest Rates aren’t the root cause of housing bubbles – wake up it’s the tax system

imagesJesse Colombo is a great person to follow on twitter (@thebubblebubble). He posts information on bubbles – housing bubbles, commodity bubbles, any sort of bubble. He is a young man who was one of a handful of people to forecast the Global Financial Crisis. He has a superb website.

So when he drew attention to an article by him in Forbes Magazine I was an eager reader. Entitled Why Singapore’s Economy is Heading for an Iceland Style Meltdown. Page after page of interesting facts, graphs, and the usual good analysis of what is happening…

But then I came to a sentence which said “Ultra-low interest rates are the primary reason why credit bubbles inflate” and I realised that my much admired Jesse Colombo hadn’t gone the step further in his understanding. He was so focussed on his bubbles he didn’t allow himself time to think of the illogical tax system we all use (and which of course suits the banks very nicely thanks).

Of course zero interest rates will cause bubbles of all sorts but only when there are no land taxes or resource taxes to stop them. So the zero interest rate isn’t the root cause, it is the illogical tax system.

Unfortunately most of the world is completely unaware of this and my hero is no exception. They assume unthinkingly that there is only one tax system regime, and that is income tax, corporate and sales taxes! England existed completely on land tax from 1066 to 1216 and progressively declined since then. Income tax wasn’t introduced in England till 1799. It is half a lifetime since a New Zealand government legislated against having a land tax and people have forgotten. A thirty year old in this country can’t even remember that we once had no sales tax.

If there is no charge on the holding of land, of course the price of land will escalate. A land rent, ground rent, land fee paid regularly to society will stop housing bubbles in their tracks. If there is no charge on the holding of a commodity, the price of that commodity will rise. But with a tax system that taxes what you hold or take not for what you do or make will set this right. Finally the liquidity in the system will flow into productive enterprises not speculation.

Bernard Lietaer says our relationship to money is like a fish’s relationship to the water in which they swim. They don’t notice it. Well the human species has two large issues yet to notice in the environment we live in – the design of our national currency and the tax system. If awareness is half way to solving it, we had better become conscious of our tax environment and currency design environment and we had better raise that consciousness mighty quickly.

Cornwall Park Trust leasehold land model flawed

This letter was published but they left out any reference to the New Economics Party unfortunately

Letter to the editor
Sunday Star Times
August 19, 2013

Your article (Aug 18) about owners of leasehold properties in Epsom walking out or selling for a song showed that the leasehold model of the Cornwall Park Trust Board is fundamentally flawed.

These valuable properties in Maungakiekie Avene, Wheturangi Road and Campbell Road are serviced by more than just a park. Each site is valuable, being near local shops, Newmarket and the CBD. It is in the elite grammar zone for schools and has access to council and government provided hospitals, roads, schools, transport, street lighting, sewerage and so on. So instead of paying rates we should have a system where all property owners pays society a land fee or a land rate and the revenue is then shared by central and local government.

Unfortunately those who set up the Cornwall Park Trust Board hadn’t thought about this. They hadn’t worked out it was unfair for a few landowners to provide a park for all of Auckland. Nor could they forecast the current housing bubble where land prices are inflated to the point where the 5% of unimproved land value becomes unaffordable.

The New Economics Party will promote this new model of financing local authorities. This fee would replace rates and would stop the private capture of rising land values when those gains truly belong to the public that provided the services.

Yours sincerely

Deirdre Kent
Spokesperson New Economics Party


Banks culpable in Auckland housing crisis

The following letter was sent to the editor of the Listener but not published, so we publish it here.

Absent from the vigorous discussion of the Auckland housing crisis on The Vote (Sept 11, TV3) was mention of the role of banks in creating this crisis. They stand to gain billions not just from the rising price of houses but from the eventual crash.

In a January 2013 seminar IMF economist and former Barclays Bank manager Michael Kumhof makes it clear that the role of banks is not intermediation but to create credit and control its supply.

“The key function of banks is money creation not intermediation. What that means is that it becomes very easy for banks to start or lead a lending boom even though policy makers might not, because if they feel that the time is right, they simply expand the money supply. There is no third party involved, just the bank and the customer and I make the loan.”

Yes the banks have started a lending boom in Auckland, rewarding staff who issue more loans. Banks find it more profitable to row the economy between easy money and tight money then “laugh all the way to the bank when it finally collapses”. Loan to value restrictions will not help.

Alan Dudson, an Auckland accountant, says “In Auckland it is not uncommon for residential real estate investors to own five, 10, 20, 50, or even 100 houses.”

And all the while Government collaborates by making the interest, insurance, rates and maintenance tax deductible. So Dudson says there is hardly any tax to pay.

When we have a government and opposition both blind to the true role of banks, banks are almost in complete charge. A tax policy favouring property investment and making it easy to hold land without financial penalty will see to that.

The opposition solutions are little better. A capital gains tax doesn’t hold down prices when too weak and just keeps land off the market when it is strong.

It can only end in tears.

1. Michael Kumhof
2. Alan Dudson. NZ Herald Let’s stop subsidising property investors. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10865946

Deirdre Kent
Spokesperson New Economics Party

New Paradigm economics for jobs in a post fossil fuel economy

I have uploaded a revised version of the slideshow on new paradigm economics. This is similar to the first one, yet addresses the question of how you get a financial incentive built in to an opt in scheme. It also comes after realisation that an opt in scheme will need to operate under current law. Homeowners will negotiate a land fee payable to government and agree under contract law. We no longer talk of leasehold land, though it is rather similar. This one suggests we burden the title with a covenant while the title remains with the property owner. The other change is that we are not referring to Zeals but are talking about a tradeable tax credit. We don't use the term land rental or land rent much, but talk about a land fee or land rates. These terms indicate more accurately that the fee is payable in exchange for the value provided by society in the services to the site. We have also returned to the idea we had in the first place, that of mortgage relief. If the government pays for the land and effectively takes land out of the market, then the homeowner's interest payments to the bank reduce while they have some precious new currency to spend. It naturally flows towards productive enterprise or the relief of more private debt e.g. student loans. So it is an ideal policy for first home buyers. Since posting it, I have realised only one more thing. The land fee will rise or fall depending on the zoning of the land.