At last a good explanation for the rise of ISIS

Thank you, thank you Jim Tankersley of the Washington Post. You have finally answered the question about why people from the Middle East feel so bad about the west that they need to commit dastardly acts of terrorism.

I don't have friends who are experts on the Middle East's inequality and Piketty has spelt it out for us so well. Finally!

Your article should be read by everyone. You say the inequality is due to the concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population. You draw attention to the oil monarchies controlling 60-70% of the wealth. It seems he is talking about Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. They had 16% of the region's population in 2012 and almost 60% of its Gross Domestic Product.

Within those monarchies, Piketty says, a small slice or people controls most of the wealth while a large proportion, including women and refugees, are kept in a state of 'semi-slavery'.  Piketty's list starts with the first Gulf War, which resulted in allied forces returning oil 'to the emirs.' The wars that benefited only a select few have become what Piketty calls a 'powder keg for terrorism across the region'.

Tankersley writes 'Terrorism that is rooted in inequality is best fought economically.' Piketty says the region is the most unequal on the planet.

And Piketty says the Western nations largely have themselves to blame for terrorism as the west perpetuated the wars that worsened inequality. 'The countries in question are the regimes that are militarily and politically supported by the Western powers, all too happy to get some crumbs to fund their (soccer) clubs or sell them some weapons.'

It looks like this is what Piketty will be remembered for. The discussion is only just beginning.

Of course this brings us to searching for the real political solution, otherwise terrorism will persist for ever.

I am reminded of the first part of Silvio Gesell's wonderful 1906 book The Natural Economic Order. The part is called Free Land and he writes,' Free Land means that the earth is to be conceived as a globe on which there is no import or export of goods. Hence Free land also implies universal free trade and complete elimination of all tariff boundaries. National boundaries must become simply administrative boundaries, such as, for instance, the boundaries between separate cantons of Switzerland. From this description of Free Land it follows that such expressions as 'English coal, 'German potash', 'American oil and so forth can be understood only in a geographic sense. For everyone, no matter to what race he may belong, has the same right to English coal, German potash and American oil.'

Work this out, using the principle of sharing the rents from the earth's resources. Quite a challenge.

 

Social bonds an experiment that can’t work because…

This morning during a Q and A current affairs programme I tweeted the following tweet. "#nzqanda Social bonds experiment risky. Can't solve social problems separate from wages, jobs, tax, governance issues @NZQandA" Six people retweeted it and many marked it as favourite, showing it resonated with others watching the programme. Quite frankly the Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley, is bound to fail with this experiment. And it is not just that you can't privatise social welfare and expect good results. It is because the whole political system is one system so you can't put welfare in a silo, treat it separately and expect good outcomes. Yesterday I heard Kim Hill in a Radio NZ interview with UK Renegade Economist Ross Ashcroft utter this telling remark: "It seems nothing you can do in an economy isn't going to cause some bad effects somewhere else." Well Kim you hit the nail on the head there! Everything is connected. And it is not just within the economic system. It is the tax system, the welfare system, jobs, governance, the credit system and wages structures that are all tied up together. Change the paradigms of a few of these and the whole system gets tweaked for the better. So how do we get a healthy economic system that results in good social outcomes? Looking at the range of social problems from truancy, mental health problems, crime, family dysfunction, stress, educational issues, loneliness, health where does it all stop and where is the best place to intervene? Try education of young mothers? Oh no, they are victims of domestic violence and poverty. Try wages alone? Oh dear the businesses shed jobs. Try crime alone? Nothing changes. Poverty persists, the wealth gap keeps widening. Try housing without changing the tax and rating systems? Oh dear, you get urban sprawl and an inability of councils to build essential infrastructure so you get more social problems. Fix the money system by itself with zero interest rates but fail to address the tax system? You just exaceberate the housing bubble and widen the wealth gap further. Whanau Ora , a cross-government system, an approach that places families/whānau at the centre of service delivery, requiring the integration of health, education and social services, gets it right as far as it goes. This system treats the family as a whole system and refuses to accept that ten state agencies must enter the home that has a social problem. Everything affects everything else. The presenting problem of the misbehaving adolescent may reveal a range of other issues – domestic violence, poverty, educational failure and health problems, housing problems, job insecurity and so on. But even the integrated Whanau Ora programme can't solve the fundamental issues of a structurally faulty currency system, tax system, welfare system and governance system. A currency must circulate at an optimal pace, businesses must create well paid and satisfying jobs and be constrained by a tax system that protects exploitation of the habitat. One of the more interesting admissions from the Minister of Social Welfare was that a lot of problems can be solved locally rather than centrally. Panel member Josie Pagani agreed. Yet devolving functions in the way we have previously understood it isn't going to work either. Why not? Because the state can still intervene, give councils less money, legislate to put further financial burden on councils and so on. The only way to restructure an economy is to change four major paradigms. Instead of central devolving functions and finance try the other way round. Instead of banks creating the country's credit as interest bearing debt, let the people create their means of exchange interest free. Instead of taxing work and spending and enterprise, let's put a rental on the exclusive use of the commons like land, minerals and so on. Instead of a welfare system that is asset and income tested, let's give a basic income derived from the land rents that were previously privately captured. There is a great deal of thinking to do. When the global financial system's huge credit bubble finally bursts let's make sure we start again, but start properly. The New Economics movement is a vehicle for this new thinking. We can and we must develop a new economic system that works for nearly all life. Otherwise we are going to repeat the same failed experiment. And it is not just the social bonds experiment.

What has Precinct Properties buying public land to do with hungry children in our schools?

Anyone notice that 20-22% of schoolchildren in New Zealand are hungry every day? What has this to do with the recent sale by Auckland Council of the most valuable property in the country to a private company, Precinct Properties?

Well, plenty. Let me explain. If Mayor Len Brown had played Monopoly enough as a kid he would know that the way to get rich is to buy properties. Well, read "buy land" actually. When a representative of Precinct Properties spoke on National radio tonight he was open when he said, “Our emphasis is on owning land freehold” Of course. “Freehold” means “free of rent”. How nice.

So instead of leasing the land to a developer, the Auckland Council has sold 2 acres of the most valuable land in the country and thinks it has done a deal. But the "deal" is really Precinct Properties 100: Council 0. Precinct Properties knows it because they know the City Rail Link is about to start and the uplift in land value is theirs to capture – and other land owners near the hubs.

It is not news that land near rapid transit hubs will rise in value. When the Jubilee Line Extension was built in London in the late 1990s, it was discovered that the uplift in land values of properties within 1000 m of a hub was £13 billion. The cost of the extension was a mere £3.5 billion. Yes, that means private landowners get windfall gains from public expenditure. The public loses all round and windfall gains are all privately collected by “freehold” land “owners”. Nice. Thanks!

7215470It's not a coincidence the sale happened right now. Auckland Council was busting to start the link but delays were frustrating them. Imagine the Precinct Properties smooth talk to gullible Mayor Len Brown: “If you let us buy the QE11 Square we will build a wonderful new building and attract huge expansion in Auckland. It will also enable you to start the City Rail Link.” "Wonderful," says Len. And he thinks: "Just what I want. People will remember me as the one who got the City Rail Link and did so much for the development of Auckland."

Of course there will be development. The start of the rail link is just what landowners near the City Rail Link hubs are hanging out for.

Our party says we need more land in public ownership, not less. In fact there should be a law against selling public land. If the government or council want to have land utilised it should lease the land never sell it.

OK, that is at the moment dreaming, as all the momentum is exactly in the other direction.

But there is a partial and realistic solution – get land owners in the area to share part of their windfall gain with the council so the council can gradually pay off the loan to build the link. It can be done through targetted rates under the law. Targetted rates are used extensively by Wellington Regional Council and by almost every council. It is only a fraction of the windfall gains in land value that is targetted. And this is politically acceptable. People understand that they should share their gain with the public purse. If a landowner benefits from public spending they should pay higher rates. Spread over 20 years, it will pay a significant proportion of the cost of the City Rail Link. The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Melbourne Rail Link were partially funded this way. The process is called Land Value Capture and it exists in various forms all over the world.

So what has this got to do with hungry children? Remember the Campbell Live recently showed that of one class of 28 Year 11 students at Decile 2 Kelson Girls College, 18 of them didn’t have lunch and ten came to school with no breakfast. 8 had no breakfast and no lunch. “Many students are needy. Their parents are really struggling to make ends meet,” said the school principal.

When people and businesses with the most valuable land (think central Auckland) have a windfall rise in land value, money that rightly belongs to the whole public flows into the coffers of the land “owners”. Businesses like Precinct Properties. The propaganda is that it is owned by mums and dads, yes very wealthy mums and dads, but mostly big investors like insurance companies and pension funds. Calculations earlier show that every year the public is deprived of something like $37 billion through the uplift in land values that occurs with development. A real estate agent last week told a friend in Howick that values there were rising by $15,000 a month and he could see no end to it.

Yet the "mums and dads" of the Year 11 students at Kelston Girls College are paying rates or rents and often catching buses to work two jobs. Mostly they will be renting. They won’t be getting any unearned windfall from the uplift in land values. That is how people get rich, not by working. Wherever you find a really rich person or company you will know they are landowners who have received unearned gains from rising land values.

Henry George influenced a movement, now reviving

Alanna and Deirdre at pool - Version 3I 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, (photo above with me) 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.

IMG_1720And 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. (Second Photo: Peter Barnes with a Canadian Green Party man, Erich Jacoby-Hawkins)

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.

A thriving, vibrant economy is possible after fossil fuels – tax reform, currency reform and welfare reform

http://www.slideshare.net/deirdrekent/sustainable-economics-without-fossil-fuels-21 This slideshare show is now updated and made clearer. It is the first time it has been published on this site and represents a lot of feedback from our members. If others have a method of reforming the tax and money system in a way that is politically possible and in a way that doesn't shock the economy, we would love to know. Meanwhile this is a serious proposal. Feedback is welcomed.

Purchasing power, poverty and tax systems

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Who would have thought New Zealand children go hungry?

With child poverty a major political embarrassment it is time to examine causes and propose solutions. Not only are there 146,000 people out of work in New Zealand but the working poor are really feeling the pinch. Many part-time workers want full time work.

So it isn’t any surprise that even the National Government has realised that it is important to make some effort to feed hungry school children. Schools are the perfect indicator of the state of household wellbeing in this country. No measure proposed so far will get at the root cause.  Nurses in schools won't give families sufficient purchasing power to feed and clothe their children. Raising tax rates of those on high incomes won’t do it either. Nor will legislating for a minimum income.
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The problem is there is not enough money to buy essentials

So let's look at the family budget spelt out in the Dominion Post Sat 1 June. The family was a real Porirua family with three school aged children. The income was two benefits plus accommodation supplement plus family tax credit, which brought in a total of $685.29. The itemised expenditure tallied $752.69, leaving a weekly shortfall of $67.40.  There was no tobacco, alcohol or gambling listed in their expenses. Expenditure was $180 for food, $300 for rent. There was also a weekly payment of $80 for a car loan, and presumably this was for both capital and interest repayment.
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GST, income tax are reducing purchasing power.

Now let's analyse the family’s expenditure in terms of taxes and interest.  For decades we have lived with income tax and assumed it is fair and normal to tax income. Since Roger Douglas introduced it we have also taxed spending in the form of GST, now at 15%. I don’t know how long we have taxed enterprise but our company tax is projected to bring in $10 billion in the 2014 year. So income tax, GST and company tax now comprise over 79% of our Government revenue. Yet we completely fail to tax the use of the commons for private purposes – “the commons” being defined as that which is given to us by Nature.  Such resource rentals should include all private land and all commercial operations requiring the use of part of a natural resource e.g. aquifers, forests, fisheries. It includes minerals, oil, coal, gas, waveband spectrums and of course the 49% of Mighty River Power which is now in private hands and the proportion of any port or airport which has been sold off. The potential for gathering resource rent is significant. images-3This means taxing us for the use of residential land, valued by various reports at approximately $300 billion. Numerous tax reviews have recommended taxing land, but no government has adopted their recommendations, largely because the banks have sewn up all possible security on land. Since land will always be there (give or take an earthquake and a subsidence or two), banks want it as their security on their loans. And so government has to have the second best security – the labour of the people. Banks oppose any proposal to tax land. 98% of our money supply is created when banks issue loans. With most of the population blithely unaware, we allow private banks to create our money as interest bearing debt. When a farmer or a manufacturer has to borrow from a bank at interest, that interest is inevitably built into the cost of every item they sell. Secondly when a bank creates a loan, it creates the principal but not the interest. So everyone has to compete to earn enough interest to pay the bank. Because there is never enough money in the system to pay back all the loans with interest at the same time, someone has to go back for further loans. The Porirua family is a case in point. If their budget remains the same, they will have to borrow $67 every week to keep afloat, and pay interest on that. Unless WINZ issues them with another loan, the loans sharks with their exhorbitant interest rates will be circling. So where is this all coming through in prices? Well the landlord is paying interest on his or her mortgage and paying tax on income derived from rent, as well as GST on all landlord related expenses. If he or she buys a heat pump, carpet or curtains, GST is in the price. When the landlord employs a painter the wages have to be large enough to allow for income tax. imagesThe Porirua family’s meagre food bill includes 15% GST. The electricity, petrol, vehicle maintenance, vehicle registration and clothing bills all contain GST. Each of these items also contain a labour input. The mechanic had to pay income tax so calculates the charge-out rate to allow for this. Each of the items listed also contains an interest input. For example, the clothing factory may have borrowed from a bank for capital and the selling price of clothes allows for the interest the firm has to pay the bank. We are talking here about purchasing power. My granddaughter says she can easily live on $90 a week in Mexico because prices are low. It is wages relative to prices that is important for purchasing power. According to Matt McCarten (on Q&A 2 June), real wages in the last 20 years have gone down 30%.  It doesn’t matter how cheap an item is if you have only a few cents to use as payment. Purchasing power is a better indicator of wellbeing than inflation What this means is that until we change our tax system and return the money-creating privilege back to the people where it belongs we will continue to scratch our heads about hungry children and the growing number of people who can’t make ends meet no matter how hard they try. As you can see, both reforms will have to go together, because no government is going to tax land while the banks have this monopoly on land. While we live with the private creation of money, we won’t be able to tax land rather than labour, sales and enterprise. I am not suggesting the sum of resource rentals should raise all government revenue required. We would still need excise taxes and a Financial Transaction Tax. It’s just that once we face the money issue we can then face the tax issue and liberate purchasing power of the nation so that all may have enough to feed their children while labour is encouraged and enterprise is unleashed.