The other morning on the radio I distinctly heard a senior politician say that the economy wasn’t going well ‘because the inflation rate was too low at below 1%’.
I thought I was hearing things. Indeed someone coming to Earth from Mars might ask a few questions. Presuming inflation is a bad thing and it is now near zero, why then is the economy not going swimmingly?
Then I remembered what I had recently learnt – that economists had designed a 1-3% inflation target as an ideal because you had to have some incentive to spend today or the economy would seize up. You didn’t want inflation too high, but a low rate of inflation is acceptable and even necessary simply because otherwise people hold on to their money and nobody spends. They realise that goods will be dearer tomorrow – if only by a little – so they decide to spend now rather than wait.
Goodness, how few people know this. And how it is becoming exposed now that the inflation is below 1% in more than one of the developed nations.
Yes the graph makes good sense. With land safely out of the CPI, economists can brag that their target has been achieved for a consistently long period. And you had the huge land bubble of 2002-2008 never recorded in the CPI and then again the land bubble of 2011 onwards completely out of the graph.
So putting aside this statistical sleight of hand, we also know now that the national currency must have a circulation incentive. (That is under the current currency design of money created as interest bearing debt)
As we collectively head blindly into a period of deflation of unknown length and pain, we must pay attention to the writings of Silvio Gesell, a far thinking German businessman who also lived during a Depression in the 1880s in Argentina. His book The Natural Economic Order has been translated and put online for all to read. Of him Keynes said "The world will owe more to Gesell than it does to Marx".
Gesell realised that a businessman with goods is at a disadvantage from those holding money. While the goods decayed, rotted and generally went out of date as they waited for someone to buy them, the money retained its value. Those in possession of money were better off than those who had goods. He famously wrote: "Only money that goes out of date like a newspaper, rots like potatoes, rusts like iron, evaporates like ether, is capable of standing the test as an instrument for the exchange of potatoes, newspapers, iron and ether."
After decades of having loyal followers, during the 1930's depression, Gesell's theory was put into practice, but only briefly because the banks managed to persuade the government to stop it. It was in the small town of Wōrgl, Austria 1932 that the Mayor put aside 20,000 schillings and used them as backing for notes called Work Certificates. They paid their employees partly in Work Certificates. Each note had 12 spaces on the back and a stamp had to be stuck on every month to validate the note. To avoid paying for the stamp people spent the Work Certificates quickly. The currency was successful at reducing unemployment, so much so that people came from miles around to witness the Miracle of Wōrgl. It was in place 15 months before the government made it illegal and they went back to unemployment.
The combination of allowing banks to create money interest bearing debt, together with a land tenure system that allows people to profit from rising land values have led to growing debt, a built-in growth imperative, inequality and a never ending series of boom-busts. Both the issues of land and money need to be addressed, especially in the light of the climate emergency and the growing inequality we live with.
In our search to design an economy that isn't at war with the planet – one that doesn't write in forced economic growth or widen the gap between rich and poor – we have opted to combine basic income, monetary reform, governance reform and tax reform (the latter closely related to land tenure reform). We want a world where everyone has a fair share of our common wealth. We want to replace the extractive model that is killing our habitat with one that is life-friendly.
While addressing these reforms together is a huge challenge, we know for our climate's sake we must succeed. In reforming the system we know we can't afford to shock the economy. So we need incremental change of some sort and must look to nature for guidance about design.
We realised early on that imposing a land tax alone was politically well nigh impossible, even at half a percent. Raising it to the a full land rental level would be just as hard. That sort of incremental change would not be possible.
Objections for instance to charging a full rent for monopoly use of land include:-
a. The banks would block it. They hold the power because they issue mortgages backed by land.
b. The public wouldn’t like it because the market value of their property would decline. This is unacceptable especially to those with big mortgages.
c. Property owners would argue they already pay rates and a mortgage so why should they have to pay a third time?
We realised early on that reforming the money system by spending money into existence to build infrastructure would result in rising land values for those with properties served by that infrastructure – be it rail, schools or ports. It would be difficult to control land inflation and therefore to halt the march to further inequality. The rich would also buy up patents and any natural monopoly they could get their hands on.
Funding a full Basic Income is also a considerable challenge. An extremely large sum is needed, even when the net public expenditure is calculated.
During the summer of 2001-12 Deirdre had had a series of Skype calls with a Cambridge academic, the late Dr Adrian Wrigley. His solution was for the Treasury to pay off the mortgage and for a full land rental to be paid. The property would then have a covenant on it requiring owners to pay a full land rental to Treasury. No rates would then be payable. If the property was sold, the next owner would still have to pay that rental.
We only wanted the land to be bought/paid for, not the whole mortgage, so we changed it to that.
We soon learnt that using the preferred "covenant" idea was hard to explain to the public so we reluctantly dropped it in favour of publicly owned leasehold land. However we started with a centralised model of public ownership and remained with that for almost 2 years. All the time we were a uneasy about land being owned by any agency of central government.
Adrian never talked of a parallel currency. It was our idea to have one. We thought the current system is so badly messed up we had to start again, and believe that this was also the way not to shock the economy.
We knew a lot of land is overvalued and although we recommended buying land at market value, we know this isn't the total solution.
So we recommended designing a second parallel (and competing) national currency, and link it from the start to completely new tax laws. After all no public budget would ever stretch to paying for such a large quantity of land, no matter how slowly it was acquired. Treasury, not the Reserve Bank, would issue Treasury Notes to buy up land. We happily adopted Adrian’s excellent idea of having a Land Rental Index for each area and adjusting the rental each year accordingly. Only the land value needs assessing not the improvements, so that is easy. And you only need a sample of properties in each general area. Land rentals are valued each year and the index suitably adjusted.
Parity with the land dollar with NZ dollar became a hot topic of debate. After discussion we eventually said “issue it at par, redeem it at par and let it float in between.” The new currency would be valued by those who wanted to employ labour without tax or buy goods without sales tax.
The name of new currency changed many times – Tradeable Tax Credit, Treasury Note, Zeal and finally the Land Dollar. (We also went through a short stage of recommending Rates Vouchers for both Auckland and Christchurch.)
Then, in mid year 2014 we suddenly realised it didn’t have to be issued by Treasury at all. Eureka! It could be issued by Community Boards and the revenue could be shared by other levels of government and eventually flow to central Government. We said ‘turn the funding model upside down, replace centralisation with a model where decisions are made across the whole economy. Restore local democracy'. We gave a great deal of power to the local level of government – currency creation power, land buying power (compulsory where applicable), and revenue gathering power.
In this model the Community Board or its elected equivalent “owned” more and more land – a more politically acceptable solution. The local committee must have on it, by right, one or two representative from the local iwi or hapu grouping, who would have veto power over any decision to buy land, thus avoiding potentially sensitive land. Land would effectively go into a Community Land Trust. In this way land could be gradually taken out of the market place and the people who decide which land to choose would be answerable to the locals. (Adrian had hoped the land buying could all be done voluntarily to avoid legislation. Some will no doubt come in voluntarily)
A whole raft of tax laws applying to transactions using the new currency (the Land Dollar) would have to be passed right at the beginning. These would include all taxes on the rights to the use of natural monopolies. Natural monopolies are the rights to land, water, airwaves, minerals, fisheries, patents, domain names, hydro-electric power generation and supply, any public utility such as a port, airport or the monopolistic rights to reticulate wires, pipes, rails, roads and the like: the right to use water, air, land or the biosphere to absorb waste.
So what does the policy say now?
Our party wants to restore the concept of sharing the values of the commons, have a money system that doesn't build in increasing debt and the need for competitive behaviour. We want to distribute the rent from use of the commons to all NZ citizens over one year old as a regular Citizens Dividend.
A new national currency the Land Dollar is to be slowly spent into existence at Community Board level to buy up land. No rates would be payable for those whose land is community owned. A local land committee would give local hapu/iwi veto power over decisions as some land may be sensitive even after Treaty settlements. The rent from the land would be shared with other levels of Government and as a Citizens Dividend – using participatory budgeting as there would be many simultaneous claims. Inflation would be controlled by a network of committees at different levels working with Treasury and Reserve Bank.
Transactions using the land dollar would attract no income tax, GST or corporate tax. But a whole set of different taxes is needed. This is because it must not be spent to plunder the earth, deplete resources, subtract from the social or cultural capital or pollute the water, air or biosphere. That means a full carbon tax for example.
For any currency to be effective as a means of exchange there has to be a circulation incentive built in. Adrian Wrigley suggested that rather than having a financial penalty built in for hoarding as recommended by Silvio Gesell, to make it easier each note should be issued with an expiry date.
The electronic version when received by Treasury would be refreshed and redated before issuing it as a Citizens Dividend. All citizens would receive it. Where there were dependents, the designated carer would receive it, thus changing the economic status of carers. In time this dividend would rise to a basic income, allowing a huge range of inventions and options for people who have been in unsatisfying jobs but have a passion or a hobby they want to pursue. Entrpreneurism would flourish – much needed in a post carbon age.
There are many unresolved issues. The property owner that has land bought with the new currency will have $100,000 plus to spend. Trades with the land dollar will not attract GST, income tax or company tax. We need actual examples, but believe a lot of it will be spent on labour to upgrade their homes or on the development of their small business.
We invite alternative solutions
This policy has been derived by discussing with a range of people at and between meetings and it has been largely driven by Deirdre, who has received feedback from meetings in Christchurch, Otaki, Wellington, Motueka, and two at huis held by the Living Economies Educational Trust hui. We are also aware there are some big issues we have not yet tackled, like the issue of Maori land. Our solution, we emphasise, is one solution. If you have another, please let us know!!
The architects who own the two Titirangi sections with the precious kauri and rimu trees on them should have their land bought by the Local Board and the rent should be reduced because of the restrictions they suffer in building, according to the New Economics Party.
Spokesperson Deirdre Kent said the tree issue in Titirangi is a graphic example of why land ownership should progressively move into public ownership. Local Boards should have power to create a second national currency to buy up community land. And if the use of the land is restricted because of historic building, conservation of trees or building height limits, the rent should be reduced as the part of the land already serves a public purpose.
The land rent should be in lieu of rates and the revenue shared by other levels of government.
She said if the Auckland Council (preferably the Local Board if it had the power) buys this land destined for low cost housing there will be four beneficial outcomes:
1. The trees can be saved
2. the housing produced will be genuinely low cost because the cost of the land will not be included into the cost of the housing
3. the citizens Auckland will enjoy a dividend from the land rental in perpetuity
4. The citizens of New Zealand will enjoy a more bouyant economy as lower cost of housing results in lower mortgage payments therefore less interest payments and less bank profits streaming across the Tasman to Australia.
“The financing of land purchase on a large scale is eminently possible. It is only political will that is needed to create a second national currency that can be spent into existence through land purchase by councils,” said Ms Kent
For further comment phone Deirdre Kent 06 364 7779 or 021 728 852
My name is Deirdre Kent and I am the co-founder and co-leader of the New Economics Party New Zealand.
We have been working for three years to try and design a new economic system which is going to work for all life on our planet and in our country. We have decided we need to bring together three different movements – the monetary reform movement, (including reforming the national currency and having a whole range of complementary currencies), the tax reform movement to move towards land and other resource taxes and away from income tax and sales tax, and thirdly the movement for a basic income, giving an unconditional, basic income to all people where paid work may not be available for all people.
So – how do we do this? Well you can’t actually do one thing then do another and then do another because everything is interconnected. So we have to think about it as a whole system. A whole system hyperconnected globally. And we are saying that you have to look at the two things which change the system most, where you get the greatest “bang for your buck” by tweaking it just a little bit. We are saying you have to change the money system and the tax system. Those are the two paradigms we have to change. Secondly we have to change the goal of an economy. The goal of an economy is not just ‘to grow’, which is impossible on a finite planet and we all know that. And now we have got climate change because we have been so foolish.
So pulling those three things together we decided we would end up leaving the current system alone. We have got a very bad tax system. Over 80% of our taxes are on labour, enterprise or sales. Nonsense! Those are things we want to encourage as long as the goods are the right sort for a post fossil fuel age. So that is a major change in our tax system.
Secondly we want to change the money system. How on earth do you do that when we are so dependent on banks and banks are so powerful? So we are saying leave the current system alone. It is going to fall over, it is going to decay. It’s unstable, we have got deflation coming, huge debt. Goodness knows what is going to fall over next and what is going to trigger the next Global Financial Crisis.
We are saying you have to start a second national currency in parallel. But this one is designed differently. It is spent into existence at local level to buy land, and then the revenue stream from the land rental (which is quite significant) will be passed to higher levels of government and occasionally it is shared with the all citizens over a year old through a Citizens Dividend.
Right at the very start of this new currency we would pass a raft of new tax laws governing it. A full land tax, a full carbon tax and full mining tax. So it would be ruled by a different set of tax laws.
And this new economy would grow in an entirely different way. It would be a thriving dynamic economy for a post fossil fuel age.
Now we realise this is almost a preposterous proposal. And yet in Germany when they had a crisis in 1923 they set up a new national currency and it was backed by land. Ours is an improvement on theirs because we are putting it into existence without interest. It you allow the banks to create the money as interest bearing debt, then you are always going to have a growth imperative built in. It’s a mathematical certainty that you have to keep growing the money supply, and growing the economy and that causes a growth imperative leading to climate change.
And we have to stop it. We have to design an economy not dependent on a growth imperative and that is for the sake of our children.
So Germany successfully stalled their huge crisis in about a week. The farmers released their food for the towns and social unrest stopped.
Now we went through several stages and you can see that on our site. We went through the stages of covenants on land, we went through various names for the new currency. But on this site you will see plenty to read.
We ask you to join us in thinking and working to design a sustainable economic system.
We are going to have a conference on the last two days in May and the first day of June in New Zealand and we invite you to come. More information on the website soon.
So thank you very much and good luck!
Those who still think the plummeting price of oil is a good thing for the economy are taken in by PR spin or the simple lack of coverage in the mainstream media. It is not about consumers having lower petrol prices and more in their pocket. It’s not even about the energy. It’s about the money, the financial structure of the oil industry, particularly for the wildly speculative ventures like shale oil extraction. Environmentalists will see low oil prices as bad news for climate change but they need also to look at the way these energy shale firms are financed and learn about things they don’t want to know about, like junk bonds, leveraged loans and derivatives. It causes more immediate pain and must be survived first.
Unfortunately in New Zealand we are being shielded from all this bad news. Bubble finance is not a sexy topic for a front page. During the last week the Dominion Post, national radio, Sunday Star Times had nothing, and a business programme on Radio Live on Sunday touched on everything but the junk energy bond issue or the derivative issue. The programme gave the impression the only place to invest was in shares, bonds or fixed interest. When the derivatives market is so enormous, this is a major omission. It’s not as though the media believe the public won’t be able to understand junk energy bonds or derivatives. The corporate owned media only gives us bad news when it is about crime.
OK let’s try and explain it.
There are four major risks of plummeting oil prices. The first is the risk to junk energy bonds held by pension funds, mutual funds and governments. Second is the secondary oil market, including the risk associated with a variety of oil derivatives contracts held by big banks. The third is the social unrest in oil exporting countries like Venezuela, Russia. And a fourth is the ongoing and contagious decline in prices of a range of other commodities – iron ore, copper, milk powder. Let’s just deal with the first two, though the fourth one is dealt with in passing.
1. Junk energy bonds. What on earth are these, you might ask. They are the risky bonds that energy companies sell to help finance their operations. The bonds give you high returns but they are also high risk as they are unsecured loans. That risk-taking now comes home to roost. For a new venture now the bank will lend you less because the oil in the ground as their security is now worth less. In December 2014 the oil is worth only about half what it was six months ago. So you have to get more of your funding from junk bonds. You end up shelling out more in interest and what’s more you get less in revenue from the sale of your oil.
Michael Snyder says “The impact of lower oil prices has been felt directly by high yield energy bonds and since September they have posted a return of -11.2%. J P Morgan has warned that if oil prices stay at $60 a barrel for three years 40% of the junk bonds could be facing a default.”
Of course other companies finance themselves using junk bonds (as well as bank loans at a low interest rate and their own revenue stream). The energy sector accounts for over 17% of the high yield bond market (junk bonds) and when these are hammered apparently a stock market decline always follows. It’s not a small sector either. Analyst Wolf Richter says there are $210 billion of them.
So they have to sell more bonds. Unfortunately now fewer investors want to buy the risky bonds so that means the yields go up to make it more tempting for investors. As the debt markets dry up and profits fall due to cheaper oil, the funding gap widens.
It was all beautifully explained in October 2014 when oil prices were $85/barrel here
Who loses from this? The investors. And those employed in the oil industry as smaller or more indebted firms are less viable than others. And that is just the start.
But it isn’t only junk energy bonds being affected now. As the Financial Times told us on December 12,
“Investors are fleeing the US junk debt market as a selloff that started in low-rated energy bonds last month has now spread to the broad corporate debt market amid fears of a spike in default rates.” Woops, that wasn’t meant to happen.
2 Oil derivatives. Like other industries over the last few decades of financial wizardry, the oil industry has been financialised.
Remember when housing debt was bundled up by the banks, securitised, divided into tranches according to risk, and sold off? It was to increase the profits of the banks. You just pass the risk on. The bonds are sold to unwary buyers who don’t realise the risk for massive losses. The whole process was enabled by rating agencies who rated junk bonds (the risky ones have high returns) as A++. A great movie explaining all this was The Inside Job.
Now we have version 2 of the same script. Instead of CDOs (Consolidated Debt Obligations) we have got CLOs (Consolidated Loan Obligations) – just a different name this time. It’s what is called ‘leveraged loans.’
The 6 largest ‘too big to fail’ banks control $3.9 trillion in commodity derivatives contracts. A large portion of this is in energy. And the big banks of the world are on the other end of derivative contracts.
One of the headlines of a tweet going round is “Plummeting Oil Prices Could Destroy The Banks That Are Holding Trillions In Commodity Derivatives”
There is nowhere to hide. As the entire global economy is dependent on the six biggest banks, we will all be affected, even in New Zealand.
The Oil Industry is not just any old industry
Writing on Zero Hedge in October when oil was $75/barrel, Michael Snyder explains the huge investment of the energy industry in both capital expenditure and R&D.
He quotes the Perryman group on the economic effects of the oil industry in US alone:
If you think about the role of oil in your life, it is not only the primary source of many of our fuels, but is also critical to our lubricants, chemicals, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and many other items we come into contact with every day. The industry supports almost 1.3 million jobs in manufacturing alone and is responsible for almost $1.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product. If you think about the law, accounting, and engineering firms that serve the industry, the pipe, drilling equipment, and other manufactured goods that it requires, and the large payrolls and their effects on consumer spending, you will begin to get a picture of the enormity of the industry.
The combination of junk bonds and financialisation
Putting these two first effects together, former Reagan budget chief David Stockman, in an analysis on his "ContraCorner" website Dec. 9, wrote: “The now-shaking high-yield debt bubble in energy is $500 billion — $300 billion in leveraged loans and $200 billion in junk bonds. This is the same estimate EIR has made in recent briefings, of one-quarter of the $2 trillion high-yield market being junk energy debt. In that junk energy debt market, interest rates have suddenly leaped, in the past 45 days, from about 4% higher than "investment grade" bonds, to 10% higher; that is, credit in that sector has disappeared, triggering the start of defaults of the highly leveraged shale companies and their big-oil sponsors.”
“In the larger, $2 trillion high-yield debt market as a whole, interest rates have also risen sharply, so far by 2-2.5%: i.e., contagion. Whether the debt collapse will be "mini", or maximum, may be determined in the markets for $20 trillion in commodity derivatives exposure.
“So now we come to the current screaming evidence of bubble finance—–the fact that upwards of $500 billion of junk bonds ($200B) and leveraged loans ($300 B) have surged into the US energy sector over the past decades—–and much of it into the shale oil and gas patch.
“An honest free market would have never delivered up even $50 billion wildly speculative ventures like shale oil extraction million of leveraged capital—let alone $500 billion— at less than 400bps over risk-free treasuries to.”
The simple fact is low oil prices kill millions of jobs. Falling oil prices are dangerous. While readers of mainstream media, listeners to radio and watchers of television remain in blissful ignorance of the nightmares that fund managers are living through, they will celebrate Christmas as though nothing had happened – and then ask later why nobody warned them.
The first Global Financial Crisis came on us with little apparent warning. The Queen was famously known to ask “ Why did nobody see this coming?”
For the last five years since QE, energy companies have received super cheap financing. Quantitative easing, where the Fed created trillions of dollars for banks, was a gift to the capital-intensive energy industry. Moreover job creation has been huge. Bloomberg reports Employment in support services for oil and gas operations has surged 70 percent since the U.S. expansion began in June 2009, while oil and gas extraction payrolls have climbed 34 percent.
It doesn’t matter whether the trigger for this fall was OPEC punishing the shale industry, falling demand in China, the end of QE or what it was. It was going to happen anyway and the trigger might have been anything. The whole pack of cards simply has to tumble. It’s a cauldron of death brought to the boil.
But many have seen it coming – Nicole Foss and Raul Ilargi Meijer of The Automatic Earth, Michael Snyder, Gail Tverberg, Jesse Colombo, Wolf Richter, Yves Smith are a few names that spring to mind. It’s just that haven’t been listened to yet. Whether is it the Tulip Bubble, the South Sea Bubble or the housing bubble of 2007, bubbles have a nasty habit of bursting.
Here is our 8 Nov 2014 letter to the Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand on money creation and their reply. It is encouraging to think that they are contemplating producing a video explaining how money is created in New Zealand and we await it with interest. Hopefully it will start to make an effect on the media and will start to change their erroneous and misleading reports that the banks are only intermediaries. The public owns the Reserve Bank of NZ and we deserve to have the truth. Moreover they have an obligation to train the media on the topic of money creation and to correct any wrong impressions that are given by any media. The public is not stupid. More and more people are starting to understand that the bulk of the money in the country is created by private banks as credit and are starting to ask whey private banks should have this unique privilege.
We also note in their reply they didn't challenge our statement about over 98% of the money supply being created by private banks.
Reserve Bank of New Zealand
PO Box 2498
Re What is Money video
You posted your animated video What is Money? at http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/research_and_publications/videos/whatismoney.aspx
We have some questions to ask you:
1. Why don’t you tell the truth about money creation to the public of New Zealand? You give the impression that the Reserve Bank issues all of it – not just coins, notes. It makes no mention of the fact that over 98% of our money is created by banks as credit. It tells us that notes and coins are backed by the government, but fails to mention that bank credit is backed by government too. It omits any mention of bank credit, a major flaw in the whole video.
2. Are you aware that economists from the IMF have recently published papers on money creation, (see Michael Kumhof and Jaromir Benes https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2012/wp12202.pdf)? The Bank of England’s Michael McLeay, Amar Radia and Ryland Thomas have also published papers and released videos (see http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/quarterlybulletin/2014/qb14q1.aspx) Both of them tell the truth to the public that the bulk of money comes from interest bearing debt created by banks.
3. Will you now do a video as a real contribution to Money Week, telling the public the truth?
4. Are you aware that the UK Parliament will have a three hour debate on money creation on November 20th? See http://www.positivemoney.org/2014/11/uk-parliament-debate-money-creation-first-time-170-years/
Deirdre Kent and Phil Stevens
New Economics Party
And here is the reply on email 9 December 2014:
Dear Ms Kent and Mr Stevens
Re What is Money video
Thank you for your interest in the animated video What is Money? that we published recently on our website, and thank you again for following up on the lack of response to your letter.
In response to your specific questions:
1. As implied by the title, the video explains what money is and as you’ve clearly identified it does not attempt to explain money creation. I note that the video is not titled “Where does money come from?”
2. Yes, the Reserve Bank is aware of papers from the IMF and the Bank of England and the associated video. Indeed, we’ve published similar material ourselves here:www.rbnz.govt.nz/research_and_publications/reserve_bank_bulletin/2008/2008mar71_1lawrence.pdf
3. We are currently planning our multimedia and web content for the next year and we may indeed create a video that covers money creation. As you’re not doubt aware, it is a popular topic and the paper referred to above is unlikely to be as accessible as a video presentation.
4. Yes, the Reserve Bank is aware of the UK Parliamentary debate. The Hansard record is here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141120/debtext/141120-0001.htm#14112048000001
We urge you to write to the Reserve Bank to ask them to create and publicise this video on money creation and to take responsibility for educating the media on the topic of money creation. Either a hard copy letter to the Governor, RBNZ, PO Box 2498, Wellington 6140 or send an email email@example.com to them.