Green Capitalism The God that Failed

Richard Smith, an economic historian, has written an amazing article which I have only just discovered, (thanks to the wonderful people on our Facebook group).

He comprehensively dismisses green capitalism, as recommended by people like Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins. He says green growth is a completely blind alley, a God that failed. You can't shop your way to sustainability.

He describes scary scenarios for a four degrees global warming, notes the lack of progress on reducing emissions over two decades and concludes that there is something wrong with capitalism itself. "From Kyoto to Cancun, governments have all made it abundantly clear that they will not sacrifice growth today to save the planet tomorrow."

Cap and trade usually gets watered down. This is because there is such a huge range of occupations that negatively affected by it that the lobby opposing it is too broad and too powerful. The theory was nice. The cap was supposed to come down over time, but industry lobbyists in Germany badgered the government for higher caps and special exemptions of all sorts. "They warned of unemployment, threatened to pack up and leave Germany and so on.  In the end governments caved." So in the market solution – cap and trade – profits ended up with the polluters and traders.  He says even carbon taxes when implemented can never be set at high enough levels to make a difference. And it makes no difference if it is revenue neutral or not.

Smith writes,"But the problem is not just special interests, lobbyists and corruption. And courageous political leaders could not turn the situation around. Because that's not the problem. The problem is capitalism.....There is no way to cut CO2 emissions by anything like 90 percent without imposing drastic cuts across the board in industrial production. Because we live under capitalism, not socialism, no one is promising new jobs to all those coal miners, oil drillers, gas frackers, power plant operators, farmers and fertilizer manufacturers, loggers and builders, auto builders, truck drivers, airplane builders, airline pilots and crews and countless other occupations whose jobs would be at risk if fossil fuel use were really seriously curtailed."

This book reminded me of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything in that it clearly states the problem is capitalism.

The article was written two years ago. During the last eighteen months the price of oil has declined 70% and now hundreds of thousands of oil workers have lost their jobs. Soup kitchens in Aberdeen are feeding former oil workers and tens of thousands of jobs continue to be lost in Alberta and North Dakota and Texas alone. In Nigeria 120,000 jobs have been lost. This month the New York Times put the global figure at 250,000 jobs lost. Meanwhile, and connected with this, the global economy is under severe threat of a complete meltdown, and central banks clamber to find yet another way to calm the markets, always by injecting more debt into the system.

So what answers does Smith come up with? He offers eco-socialism. A quick look at their website indicates they would nationalise the fossil fuel industry and the industries that are heavily based on them which means the auto industry, aircraft and airlines, petrochemicals, and so on.

So while it is wonderful to see Richard Smith facing the political realities of climate change, overconsumption, waste and pollution, there is another step or two he could take. He could ask, "And is there something structurally in the system that has demanded this incessant growth? Is growth written into the system? Which system? And if so can that be reformed?" Now Richard Smith may know this. I wonder if he also knows you have to transform the land tenure system if you change the money system, since the first reform demands the second. When you know about the money system you often wish you didn't – that you could put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak. The corporates, as TPP has shown us, are more powerful than ever before in history and that changes the political landscape and our strategies. Few centralised solutions are now politically possible.

In our movement we have been struggling for over four years to work out some politically viable solution to our massive global problems. Maybe nationalising all these industries doesn't get to the bottom of the problem. We need elegant, more lasting solutions.

Anyway his article is superb as far as it goes. He also has a book of that name.
http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/downloads/green-capitalism-the-god-that-failed/ is the e-book

And here’s a review of the book: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31959-book-review-green-capitalism-the-god-that-failed

Capital Gains Tax on shares fails to differentiate between land, capital and labour

Most of us spent some time as children playing Monopoly. The more properties you buy the more rents you collect. “I’ll buy Mayfair, its rents are high. Rent please!” Sooner or later you opponents are out of the game and you win.

I was intrigued to learn on TV3’s The Nation (Sat 6 Sept 2014) that Capital Gains Tax as proposed by Labour includes the gains you make on shares. I thought the whole idea of CGT was to discourage investment in property and encourage investment in the productivity sector. When replying to Lisa Owen on that point, Labour’s David Parker said it was quite fair. “The ordinary worker pays tax on every cent they earn so why not shareholders,” he said.

Well the gains on shares – which are earned and which are merely windfall profits? So I did some looking at the property investment companies listed with NZX and compared them with Xero, a software accounting company which makes its money from its leadership and its labour, and with A2 milk an innovative science based health oriented group.

PwC Tower-266x4001-3-the-terrace-4So thinking about investment and looking at the various types of companies, let’s look at New Zealand’s big property companies – Kiwi Income Property Trust, Goodman Property Trust, Argosy and DNZ. The National Business Review in 2012 said “listed property companies outperformed the NZX50 last year” The listed property companies reported 11.8% growth compared to the NZX50's 0.4% growth. There are 10 listed property companies in New Zealand and seven of them are listed on the NZX50 and account for 9.7% of the index weight.

If you want to know who owns the most valuable land in the country look no further than the listed property companies owning property in central Auckland and Wellington. Their skyscrapers house tenants as secure as Government departments and all the big names in retail and office. DNZ has warehouses at Wiri and Penrose that dominate the landscape.

Take Precinct Property for example. Their Wellington buildings included HP Tower, 125 The Terrace, State Insurance, Vodafone on the Quay, Pastoral House, No 1 The Terrace, Mayfair, AXA, Deloitte, 3 The Terrace and 29 Willis Street. In Auckland they have the PwC Tower, ANZ Centre, 151 Queen St, 21 Queen Street, and AMP Centre. Tenants include big law firms, big retailers, finance companies, Fonterra, Air NZ. Hewlett Packard and so on.

Argosy has properties in Woolston, Christchurch and the Albany Megacentre. Its tenants include The Warehouse, Briscoes, Mitre Ten, Bunnings, Farmers.

Every major shopping mall in the country seems to be owned by one of these property companies and they report occupancy rates between 96-99%. Tenants in shopping malls are NZ chains, international chains and supermarkets, with only about 10% being independent stores.

What is most intriguing is that they tend to borrow to invest, and Precinct has 37% leverage. (I recall just before the 1987 crash people borrowed to invest in shares and where did that end?) And they all keep acquiring new properties. Every year, their equity rises as properties are revalued higher each year, due to the activity around them.

When I looked at the shareholders of Precinct, (called a PIE or Portfolio Investment Entity for tax purposes) I found something new. Whereas in the 2010 annual report the shareholders didn’t raise an eyebrow, by 2013 report the major shareholder at 20% was National Nominees. Curious, I looked up the directors and found them to be four women, all with Sydney or Melbourne addresses. They each worked in a top managerial role in National Australia Bank.

This means that New Zealand’s most valuable land, our inner city land in Auckland and Wellington, is 20% owned by a Precinct, which is owned by an Australian bank, which in turn is largely owned by a variety of international banks. As someone tweeted back, “Nothing surprises me any more”.

Now what has this got to do with Capital Gains Tax? Well, firstly that property investment firms like Precinct will have most to lose from a even a very mild Capital Gains Tax and will be fighting it tooth and claw behind the scenes.

The point of Capital Gains Tax was, I believe, to get investment money directed to the productive sector not into land speculation.

8964030And why we pray can’t we invest in firms like Xero or A2 milk, both of which are based on entrepreneurship and labour, without being taxed? David Parker says it’s because workers are taxed on every dollar they earn so why shouldn’t investors be taxed. I thought that was what you wanted David? So why tax it? Your logic fails me.

A complete inability to differentiate between land, capital and labour is at the root of the poor thinking on Capital Gains Tax on shares. When men as bright as David Parker and David Cunliffe blunder into this, they should have time off to think. We in the New Economics Party say Government should tax what we hold or take but not what we do or make. Taxing labour is illogical. Taxing the monopoly use of the commons like land and minerals is logical.

From interest to reciprocity, savings pools are a great innovation.

Among all our discussion of currency and tax changes at national level we must never lose sight of the good things happening at local level. For it is at the level of neighbourhood that we all exist. It is at community level where our comfort comes from. It is from the ground up that initiatives and innovations happen. New Zealand has a unique innovation here.

It is at local level where we can take action to restore local economic resilience and maximise our chances of survival after a major bank failure and economic crisis. Nicole Foss has reminded us yet again that the system must crash. “When the music stops there is only one chair for every 100 dancers”.

Money-tabooIn August 2014 I had the privilege of attending the annual hui of the Living Economies Educational Trust. Among the local resilience initiatives being taken are green dollars, timebanks and now savings pools. It is the savings pools that I want to talk about here.

A savings pool is a family sized group of people (4 to 30 people) who get together regularly for the mutual financial purposes. It is a cross between a purchasing cooperative, a support group and a pawn shop. There is not a scrap of interest paid to anyone.

So how does it work? Members meet at someone’s home monthly. They discuss what they will contribute to the group’s shared pool. It might range from $10 to $200 a month, but where the membership is say 10, the group’s monthly savings can quickly range from $100 upwards. Before long you have a sum of, say, $3000.

But you don’t want this money languishing in the bank. You want it out amongst your members doing good. The members volunteer in turn what their financial needs are. Perhaps three in the group have financial needs. Susan draws attention to her credit card debt, Jim is desperate for a new car so he can get to work and a Rosy needs to pay a dental bill. The group then pays attention to those three needs. They figure they can work out how someone can take Jim to work for a while and decide to pay off Susan’s credit card. Without having to pay interest, Susan can put more into the pool each month.

Susan’s promise is to pay $50 a month to pay the pool back, plus another $50 as reciprocation (equal give and take) towards her future pool account. She pays a total of $100 a month now. Or else she could pay $50 a month for double the period. Her choice.

In savings pools trust is important but there is a saying "Trust in God but tie up your camel". Tying up your camel entails prudent purchasing agreements. Collateral is usually necessary. e.g. if I want $1000 from the group to pay off my credit card debt and I have a $5000 car, the group can own my car and I enter into a purchasing agreement with the pool to buy back my car for $1000. That way the pool is more like a special kind of pawn shop. The car should be insured. The whole group reviews their next month’s contribution, and the result is a bigger fund. Since they don’t know Rosy well they meet in her house next time. As trust builds and the social capital of the group grows, they realise Rosy should be next in line for a contribution from the pool as her teeth really are causing her trouble. Maybe there is enough in the pool to meet her needs now.

Rosy offers some appropriate property for sale and purchase, plus an equivalent savings/contribution to the pool. Money, Colorful words hang on rope by wooden peg The accounting spreadsheet is available for them all to see. They add up what they will have at each month in the future, aware of some of the future demands on the use of the funds.

When Jim’s turn comes around for a car the pool has $5000 with which to buy a car. The car belongs to the pool. Jim uses it and pays off $100 a month. But as before he also has to put in another $100 a month so that others can have access to his money during the period he pays it off. If $100 a month is all he can afford then the term could be extended for two years. That is reciprocity in action. So instead of paying it off in one year Jim takes two years. At the end of the two years ownership transfers to Jim. He has paid off $5000 plus he has put another $5000 in the pool. When he has paid off his $500 and contributed another $5000, he can withdraw the second $5000 if he wants as it is his money. Meanwhile for all that time it has been at work for the pool’s benefit.

So you see not only has the group lent without interest but nobody gains from being a borrower without paying an equal amount back to the pool. Reciprocity replaces interest.

There are now at least 22 savings pools in New Zealand and membership is growing fast. Several people are now available to help new groups form. They do this by running a game (it's more fun than monopoly) where they are each given an identity (e.g. a retired couple with no mortgage or a solo mother with part time work) Each person is then handed a crisis/opportunity card saying what happened that month for them (unexpected expense they can’t meet or an inheritance or ‘no change’). Then they role play what might happen within the group. At the end of the game people are itching to start their own savings pools.

These groups work particularly well if they start with a group who already know each other. It is also good if you have a cross section – those with extra money they want to protect in case of an economic crisis and those whose finances are more precarious. If a person dies or moves away their money can be withdrawn, together with their savings points (amount of money multiplied by the number of months they have had it in there) and passed to their heirs.

You need a person who will be a good recorder.

I have been to several of these events. Enthusiastic members of existing pools tell us of the celebration and joy when a credit card is paid off. One group had a party where they ceremoniously cut up the card.

The first financial threat is a global downturn causing major economic contraction and loss of ability to service mortgages. The second is bank insolvency where depositors (unsecured creditors of the bank) find their accounts have been frozen overnight and wake up with a "haircut". In crises the solvency of banks depends on the elimination of debt and calling in non performing loans (mortgage foreclosures and asset seizures).

Savings pools already own all assets not yet paid for. Contributions will tend to dry but but the pool community remains. Loss of liquidity results in temporary paralysis of the system, but no loss of its real underpinnings

The assets of savings pools or more strictly Buyers Clubs in New Zealand are now growing at between 75-100% a year. In other words they are nearly doubling every year. If you would like to find out how it all started have a look at the 15 min video done by its founder Bryan Innes here.

For more information go to the Living Economies website where you can read more and see a typical agreement.

To start one in your area contact either Peter Luiten, Bryan Innes, Phil Stevens or Helen Dew. Or leave your information here

Why we need a parliamentary enquiry into the best methods of making banks stable

Submission of Deirdre Kent in support of petition 2011_78 to Parliament This submission is substantial. It outlines why banks are unstable, includes charts on banks assets compared with their exposure to derivatives and on housing bubbles. In a hyperconnected world New Zealand's four Australian owned banks are not going to be immune to shocks. Now instead of taxpayer bailouts, it seems depositors will bailout the banks. The Reserve Bank has in place a system called Open Bank Resolution. We would rather the banks were stable in the first place.

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.

References
1. Michael Kumhof
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnAtHbDptj8
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

Derivatives for Dummies

This I found on the web. Sorry I can't acknowedge the writer. Others seem to have put it on their websites too. I asked a meeting of 35 people in New Plymouth the other day how many people know what a derivative is and only one person put up her hand. It is worrying that the shadow economy of at least $700 trillion is at least ten times as big as the real economy yet so few understand the shadow economy. A financial reporter in Australia said in 2009 all banks are exposed to toxic derivatives. If 1% of these contracts default because third parties get into trouble, the whole shareholder wealth would be wiped out and the banks could be broke. So here is the derivatives for dummies piece. Nice and easy. Derivatives for Dummies An Easily Understandable Explanation of Derivative Markets Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit . She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans). Word gets around about Heidi's "drink now pay later" marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Detroit . By providing her customers' freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for whiskey and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Heidi's gross sales volume increases massively. A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral. At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALCOBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then bundled and traded on international security markets. Naive investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses. One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. He so informs Heidi. Heidi then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and the eleven employees lose their jobs. Overnight, DRINKBONDS, ALCOBONDS and PUKEBONDS drop in price by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the banks' liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community. The suppliers of Heidi's bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms' pension funds in the various BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her whiskey supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations. Her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers. Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the Government. The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-alcoholics.

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.