How land barons, industrialists and bankers corrupted economics

henry-george

The so-called discipline of economics has been systematically corrupted in two major ways: first to get rid of the word ‘land’ from the very language of economics and second to downplay, omit or misrepresent any discussion of the words ‘credit’, ‘banking’ and ‘money’. They shamelessly describe banks as intermediaries when they know this is a minor function and that bank’s major function is money creation.  Fortunately the story behind the flagrant omission of land as a factor of production has now emerged, while the money story remains for some enterprising researcher in the future, (though various DVDs and stories hint in that direction).

The Corruption of Economics by Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison, while free online, is hardly known; as of December 2015 only three New Zealand university libraries and the Auckland Public Library held copies. Yet in it is a very important story.

Fred Harrison describes the phenomenon of Henry George, the San Francisco journalist who took the world by storm with his book Progress and Poverty in 1879, in which he argues that the benefits of land ownership must be shared by all and that a single tax is needed to fund government –  a land tax. The factors of production are land, capital and labour. Untax labour and tax land was the cry. Poverty could be beaten. Social justice was possible!

Of Henry George influential economic historian John Kenneth Galbraith writes,

In his time and even into the 1920s and 1930s Henry George was the most widely read of American economic writers both at home and in Europe. He was, indeed, one of the most widely read of Americans. Progress and Poverty… in various editions and reprintings… had a circulation in the millions.

Unlike many writers, Henry George didn’t stop there. He took his message of hope everywhere he could travel – across America and to England, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and Ireland.  He turned political. Seven years after his book came out in remote California, in 1886 he narrowly missed out on being elected Mayor of New York, outpolling Teddy Roosevelt.  During the 1890s George, Henry George was the third most famous American, after Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. Ten years after Progress and Poverty he was influencing a radical wing of the British Liberal Party. He was read by semi-literate workers from Birmingham, Alabama to Liverpool, England. His Single Tax was understood by peasants in the remotest crofts of Scotland and Ireland.

Gaffney’s section of the book outlines how certain rich land barons, industrialists and bankers funded influential universities in America and proceeded to change the direction of their economics departments. He names names at every turn, wading through presidents and funders of many prestigious universities. In particular, Gaffney, an economist himself, names the economists bought  to discredit Henry George's theories, their debates with George and their papers written over many decades.

‘George’s ideas were carried worldwide by such towering figures as Lloyd George in England, Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Kerensky in Russia, Sun Yat-sen in China, hundreds of local and state and a few power national politicians in both Canada and the USA, Billy Hughes in Australia, Rolland O’Regan in New Zealand, Chaim Weizmann in Palestine, Francisco Madero in Mexico, and many others in Denmark, South Africa and around the world. In England Lloyd George’s budget speech of 1909 reads in part as though written by Henry George himself. Some of Winston Churchill’s speeches were written by Georgist ghosts.’

When he died there were 100,000 at his funeral.

The wealthy and influential just couldn’t let the dangerous ideas spread. Their privileged position was gravely threatened. Henry George must be stopped. But the strategy had to be subtle. What better route than by using their money to influence the supposed fount of all knowledge, the universities? That would then indoctrinate journalists and the general public. Nice one!

The story explains how, for their wealthy paymasters, academics corrupted the language to subsume land under capital as a factor of production. They redefined rent, and created a jargon to confuse public debate. Harrison says, ‘For a century they have taken people down blind alleys with abstract models and algebraic equations. Economics became detached from the real world in the course of the twentieth century.’

Yes, the wealthy paid money to buy scholars to pervert the science.

Gaffney’s rich, whimsical language is a joy to read. He writes to Harrison,

‘Systematic, universal brainwashing is the crime, tendentious mental conditioning calculated to mislead students, to impoverish their mental ability, to bend their minds to the service of a system that funnels power and wealth to a parasitic minority.’

He painstakingly describes the funding of various American universities by such figures as JP Morgan and John D Rockefeller who choose the President who obligingly appoints suitable head economists to key academic positions. Gaffney trawls through the writings of key figures in neoclassical economics over many decades, quoting numerous pieces attacking Henry George and his Single Tax proposal. Several neoclassical economists actually debated George in person. These early neoclassical economists were J B Clark, Philip Wicksteed, Alfred Marshall, ERA Seligman and Francis A Walker, who each contributed something to ‘addle, baffle, boggle and dazzle the laity’.  J B Clark, for instance, has a bibliography that quotes at least 24 works directed against George over a span of 28 years.

Banker JP Morgan funnelled his wealth through Seth Low to Columbia University in New York, and John D Rockefeller did the same in Chicago. Ezra Cornell, who Gaffney says once held one million acres of land, creator of the Western Union Monopoly, founded Cornell University in Ithaca, New York State. Leland Stanford of Southern Pacific Railroad (really a land company), funded Stanford University. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland was endowed by Johns Hopkins, millionaire merchant and investor.

Each of these benefactors appointed their own president. Hopkins appointed Daniel Gilman as President. Out of that university came eleven Presidents of the American Economics Association. Gilman had a natural hatred of Henry George as he had been hounded out of Berkeley by the crusading young journalist when he uncovered ‘Gilman’s improper diversion of the Morrill Act funds.’

In his chapter entitled The Chicago School Poison, Gaffney writes:

John D Rockefeller funded Chicago spectacularly in 1892, and started raiding other campuses by raising salaries. Rockefeller picked the first President, William Rainey Harper. Harper picked the first economist, J Laurence Laughlin, from Andrew Dickson White’s Cornell (he liked Laughlin’s rigid conservative and anti-populist views. Harper drove out Veblen in 1906, then died, leaving Laughlin in charge of economics until he retired in 1916. He passed the torch to J. M. Clark, the son and collaborator of J.B.Clark. Frank Knight came to Chicago in 1917 from Laughlin’s Cornell. The apostolic succession is very clear from Rockefeller to Harper to Laughlin to Clark to Knight. …Chicago to this day is still the lengthened shadow of John D Rockefeller.

In terms of numbers, and intensity of feeling generated, Knight probably produced more neoclassical economists than anyone in history. He made no secret of his firm opposition to Henry George and ideas that might comfort Georgists. His enduring interest and his viewpoint are clear from the title “Fallacies in the Single Tax” (1953)

Who would have thought nowadays that Henry George had to be neutralised? After all, he wrote his books and did his public speaking and touring from 1870 to 1897.

It was in these five Universities that neoclassical economics developed to the stage where it has almost completely taken over from classical economics, and it was out of these universities that the American Association of Economists was founded in 1885 by Ely, Walker, Edwin Seligman and others. He notes they did not welcome ‘reformers’.

In addition, Richard Ely retired after a long career a John Hopkins University, to establish what he called The Institute for Research in Land and Public Utilities whose purpose was ‘to investigate all problems connected with land taxation’. Contributors included utilities, railways, building and loan associations, land companies, lumbermen, farmers, bankers, lawyers and insurance men.

At least two of these academics were wealthy – E R A Seligman of Columbia came from a wealthy banking family. Richard Ely, who was known as the ‘Dean of American economists,’ was a well-connected land speculator, making a small fortune in Wisconsin real estate. He spent his life rationalising land speculation.

To give you another taste of Gaffney (take a big breath): ‘To most modern readers, probably George seems too minor a figure to have warranted such an extreme reaction. This impression is a measure of the neo-classicals’ success; it is what they sought to make of him. It took a generation, but by 1930 they had succeeded in reducing him in the public mind. In the process of succeeding, however, they emasculated the discipline, impoverished economic thought, muddled the minds of countless students, rationalised free-riding by landowners, took dignity from labour, rationalised chronic unemployment, hobbled us with today’s counterproductive tax tangle, marginalised the obvious alternative system of public finance, shattered our sense of community, subverted a rising economic democracy for the benefit of rent-takers and led us into becoming an increasingly nasty and dangerously divided plutocracy.’

Let’s turn a blind eye to money too

The omission of the words credit, banking and money or the downright distortion of facts in university teaching was also no accident. The publishing in 1906 of Silvio Gesell’s book The Natural Economic Order sparked a decades-long movement. Gesell has been described by Irving Fisher as a ‘strangely neglected prophet’. John Maynard Keynes wrote, ‘I believe that the future will learn more from the spirit of Gesell than from that of Marx.’

For centuries American politicians and British politicians had been treating money creation as a political issue.Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are two who knew that banks create money. But after the arrival of neoclassical economics in the late nineteenth century, things started to change. To please the banks who profit from land ownership, mention of the words ‘money’, ‘credit’ and ‘banking’ was also omitted, especially after the widespread influence of both Major CH Douglas from the 1920s and Silvio Gesell’s advocacy of a decaying currency. It was a bit worrying for banks that the Social Credit Party in New Zealand won 12% of the vote in 1953. So a Royal Commission on Banking and Credit was set up. In 1956 it found that banks were ‘banks of issue as well as banks of deposit’. However, thanks to their spin doctors, politicians their  managed to misrepresent the findings well enough for the public to believe the Commission had ruled the opposite. Who knows what mischief went on behind the scenes? Universities fell into line. Academic teaching on money creation was reduced to a brazenly inaccurate paragraph or two, misleading generations of students. But money is really created by private banks as interest-bearing debt. This writes in a growth imperative, ensuring we depend on exponentially growing debt and continue to monetise and privatise the commons.

If universities are a vehicle for spreading misinformation about how money is created we can more easily understand the simple and chilling statement of Mayer Amschel Rothschild , “Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws.”

Predicting the Global Financial Crisis

The corruption of economics in universities is no trivial matter. Economic crises are serious matter involving loss of homes, savings and jobs and economists need the right tools to predict them so they can deal with them. Tragically only a handful of economists predicted the Global Financial Crisis  of 2007-8 and the Queen of England was known to ask, ‘Why didn’t anyone see this coming?’ Professor Steve Keen in his book Debunking Economics spends a chapter summarising the work of a Dutch economist, Dr Dirk Bezemer. After laying down certain criteria for selection, he concludes there were only 12 (two published together). He named Dean Baker, Wynne Godley, Fred Harrison (UK), Michael Hudson, Eric Janszen, Steve Keen (Australia), Jakob Madsen & Jens Kjaer Sørensen (Denmark), Kurt Richebächer, Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff and Robert Shiller. Subsequently Bezemer had the list at three dozen, but out of a total profession of at least 20,000 it is a very dismal record. If any other profession (e.g medicine) was so wrong in something that affected millions they would be sued. The universities who train economists should hang their heads in shame.

Hyman Minsky claimed that in prosperous times, when corporate cash flow rises beyond what is needed to pay off debt, a speculative euphoria develops, and soon thereafter debts exceed what borrowers can pay off from their incoming revenues, which in turn produces a financial crisis. He said we moved from a hedging stage where risk is low to a speculative stage and finally to a Ponzi stage. A key indicator was the growth of private debt as a fraction of GDP. The “Bezemer 12” quoted above had in common that they were concerned with the distinction between the financial economy (making money from money) and the real economy. Keen wrote in 2009, “Unfortunately after the crisis everything being done by policy makers around the world is instead trying to restart private borrowing.” Sadly Wikipedia notes that while Minsky's theories have enjoyed some popularity, they have had little influence in mainstream economics or in central bank policy.

These same people are among those now warning of a very much larger international financial collapse, as debt deflation takes hold and ongoing globalisation locks the global economy ever more tightly together. Economics is too important to be left to mistaught economists. The absence of good, reality-based economic theory in education leaves millions of environmental and social activists – along with the compassionate right – to flounder about helplessly trying to solve growing inequality and the climate crisis.

Challenging the universities Tackling the veracity of university teaching in economics is no job for a quitter. In 2013 a retired engineer started on a mission when he read the Bank of England paper on money creation. Peter Morgan wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University, Professor Ananish Chaudhuri:

‘The textbook used by the University of Auckland for its macroeconomics courses is Principles of Macroeconomics in New Zealand, by N. Gregory Mankiw, Debasis Bandyopadhyay and Paul Wooding. It contains several statements that are unequivocally fallacious. By way of example – by no means the only one in the textbook – the following is an example:

“Financial intermediaries are financial institutions through which savers can indirectly provide funds to borrowers.”’

He went on to quote from both the Royal Commission on Banking and Credit in New Zealand in 1956, but mostly from the Bank of England papers e.g. Banks are not intermediaries of loanable funds – and why this matters by Zoltan Jakab and Michael Kumhof

Back came his answer:-

“Dear Mr Morgan:

Thank you for your recent letter to the Vice Chancellor which has now been sent on to me via the Dean of the Business School.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to write.

I begin by noting that the questions you have raised go to the heart of the debate raging around the world. There is no question that in the aftermath of the GFC, the state of macroeconomics globally is in a flux with possibly more questions than answers. As you must be well aware leading scholars as well as policy makers are currently engaged in a robust debate world-wide particularly as Greece and Germany enter into a stare-down which may result in the break-up of the European currency union.

Having said that let me make a few points:

First, the textbook at issue is the most popular textbook world-wide including most leading institutions of higher learning. Greg Mankiw is a leading scholar, a professor at Harvard (which I believe also teaches from this text) and was Chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. I expect that he is well aware of the state of the art in terms of both the theory and policy-making. There are local editions of this book written by leading scholars in those countries. The Australian edition was done by Joshua Gans of Melbourne and Stephen King (till recently Dean at Monash Business School). Their role is to provide a local perspective and local data but the major intellectual force is provided by Mankiw. It is important to understand that the scholarship in this area is still very much evolving and therefore a plausible counter-argument is that no matter which text-book we choose to use, it will suffer from some flaws and deficiencies.

Second, while authors do their best to keep up with evolving knowledge nevertheless it takes time to update textbook content, at least partly because it takes time to understand and absorb the lessons of history. As I noted above the state of macroeconomics is in a flux and new research needs to be integrated into future editions.

Third, I would disagree that the book contains fundamental errors. I think this may have more to do with differences in assumptions and philosophies rather than violations of some universally held truths. We and indeed all scholars welcome robust debate on such differences. They are part and parcel of the academic discourse. As the VC has already pointed out, at the end of the day, this is also an issue of academic freedom. I have absolutely no reservations about the use of this textbook in our degree program.”

So having acknowledged that economists have spent a fruitless seven years scratching their heads about what caused the GFC, or the crisis in Greece, the Head of Department, Professor Chaudhuri puts this major issue aside and declares the book valuable. He justifies using a textbook with fundamental inaccuracies by saying other universities are doing it too! In a subsequent letter he confesses that he is not an expert in monetary policy. They often do that –claim they are not a macroeconomist. This is rather like the head of a medical school saying he is not an expert in medicine or the head of an architecture school saying he is not an expert in building design. The sheer nerve of senior economists to think that they don’t need to come to grips with monetary policy when the world is awash with debt would be incomprehensible if one didn’t know their very jobs depend on their pulling the party line. Money is at the heart of economic life.

Perhaps we can get some clarity from Steve Keen here. In a 2014 blog, he explains the three options open to universities after the 2014 Bank of England paper that refuted the loanable funds model. ‘Now if I believed in the tooth fairy, I would hope this emphatic denunciation of the textbook model would cause macroeconomics lecturers to drastically revise their lectures for next week. But I’m too long in the tooth to have such a delusion. They’ll ignore it instead. Their dominant “tactic” – if I can call it that – will be ignorance itself: most economics lecturers won’t even know that the bank’s paper exists, and they will continue to teach from whatever textbook bible they’ve chosen to inflict upon their students. A secondary one will be to know of it, but ignore it, as they’ve ignored countless critiques of mainstream economics before. The third arrow in the quill, if they are challenged by students about it (hint hint!), will be to argue that the textbook story is a “useful parable” for beginning students, and a more realistic version is introduced in more advanced courses.’

He seriously doubts if the paper will cause senior economists to change their current position and explains that until you know that banks can create and cancel money, you will never be able to understand how demand rises and falls. ‘All the parables of conventional economics fly out the window once you know this. The level of economic activity now depends on the lending decisions of banks (and the repayment decisions of borrowers). If banks lend more rapidly, or if borrowers repay more slowly, there will be a boom; if the reverse, there will be a slump. If new loans simply make up for old ones being repaid, then there is no effect, but if new loans exceed repayment then aggregate demand will increase.’

The urgency of getting this right

If universities are failing us by misleading our young people, journalists and politicians, think how critical it is to reverse this. Naomi Klein says that the climate crisis came along at the just the wrong time – when neoclassical economics was at its zenith. No wonder there was a reluctance to do anything meaningful as it simply clashed with the dominant economic paradigm. She says, ‘Economics is at war with the planet’. According to many experts there is only a small window to reverse climate change, until 2017.

There is a long way to go to reverse public thinking. Neoclassical (or neoliberal) economics has a death like grip on us. In over a century the doctrine has succeeded in further privatising the commons, dismantling the state,  deregulating everything that moves and fooling the public over land and money. The economic theory that ignores the role of money and debt can’t possibly make sense of the economy in which we live. It should be jettisoned.

While the collapse of the global economy will be terribly painful and chaotic, it will certainly reduce carbon emissions dramatically. But as long as the economy holds up we need to get on our bikes and work. Whatever happens, no future economy should have the flaws we have now. It is time to get cracking, or as the sheep farmers of the South Island of New Zealand say – rattle our dags.  We can do it.

Do universities lead advances in economics?

During depressions great thinking is done, sometimes in universities, but more often not. Henry George, a journalist, wrote Progress and Poverty in response to abject poverty in San Francisco (1879 book), Silvio Gesell, a German businessman, wrote after an Argentinian depression of the 1880 and 1890s and John Maynard Keynes wrote after the Great Depression of the 1930s. As we descend into worldwide debt deflation today’s searchers now must urgently find and implement a new economic model. And that will involve a huge shift in thinking.

Keynes suggestions were widely adopted after the Great Depression. In 1933-4 Gesell’s currency was put into practice in a small town in Austria with spectacular results. People came from all over Europe to witness the ‘miracle of Wørgl’.  But it lasted a mere fifteen months, cut short by the influence of big banks over the Austrian government at the time, who made the ‘work certificates’ illegal. So despite considerable influence for three decades for his important thinking on currency design (a currency must only act as a medium of exchange and must rot like potatoes and rust like iron), Gesell is now all but forgotten. As central bankers grope helplessly for tools to stimulate the economy at the same time as controlling inflation, Gesell presents answers.

Gaffney’s description of how land barons, industrialists and bankers perverted university’s teaching, which in turn leads to  wrong government policy, is reminiscent of the story of the history of banking. Banks have been a powerful influence on governments ever since governments allowed banks to create credit that could be used to pay taxes. This may have happened in Europe centuries ago after the goldsmiths.

To add to our troubles universities, under the influence of neoclassical economists, have all but stopped teaching economic history so no one can study Gesell or George.

The tie-up between universities and neoclassical economists also influences the relationship of politicians to bankers. Nomi Prins in her landmark book All the Presidents Bankers sheds light on the symbiotic relationship of a century of American presidents with the top bankers of the country, and how elite bankers can even dictate foreign policy. The dust cover of her book says she ‘ushers us into the intimate world of exclusive clubs, vacation spots, and Ivy League universities that binds presidents and financiers. She unravels the multi-generational blood, intermarriage, and protege relationships that have confined national influence to a privileged cluster of people. These families and individuals recycle their power through elected office and private channels in Washington, DC.’

Bankers admit they create money

Of course the bankers themselves know better than the universities who prefer to be complicit in keeping the secret. Graham Towers, Governor of the Bank of Canada and Lord Josiah Stamp of the Bank of England have been quoted regularly in the monetary reform literature. Even in New Zealand in 1955 we had H W White, Chairman of the Associated Banks telling the Royal Commission on Banking and Credit:

“The banks do create money. They have been doing it for a long time, but they didn't realise it, and they did not admit it.”

Tax reform or monetary reform? Which is most important?

The meshing together of Georgism with monetary reform remains a challenge, especially for ardent individuals who claim their cause to be the most critical. I have heard monetary reformers say Georgism is irrelevant and I have even heard a Georgist describe monetary reform as "heresy" and declare it must be "exorcised" at all costs. Then there are the moderates who say Georgism is more important than monetary reform but willingly acknowledge monetary reform is needed. Critics come in many varieties. Regrettably there is a tendency for advocates from both sides tend to promise a growing list of wonderful results from their reform. Maybe Henry George School people only see landlords as “the enemy,” and to mention money, credit and bankers confuses them. Do we see people on both sides arguing that the others should just get off their territory?

Recently I heard a Georgist argue that if you transfer land into community ownership then the money issue disappears.

So let's tease this one out. To some extent he is right, but he misses several vital factors. For instance he doesn't appear to understand the growth imperative will still be present, so he needs to work out where the excess money will go, and follow the results to their logical conclusion.

Take the important book Money and Sustainability, The Missing Link, a Club of Rome Report by Bernard Lietaer, Christian Arnsperger, Sally Goerner and Stefan Brunnhuber. The authors say there are five results of creating money as interest-bearing debt – amplification of boom and bust cycles, short-term thinking, compulsory growth, and devaluation of social capital where selfish behaviour replaces co-operative behaviour.

Or take another example of monetary reformers overpromising. While we can't tell if she actually believes it herself or not, monetary reformer Amanda Vickers lists their extravagant promises. She writes in the Otaki Mail, "Sovereign money advocates extrapolate further that the outcome would also be far-reaching throughout our economy and our lives. They say it could also improve: the inequality gap, child poverty, housing bubble control, student debt, state asset sales, job security, local businesses performance (due to the 10% higher output gains), budgets for local community projects and facilities, health care and education."

Positive Money in their little video says money is created every time someone takes out a mortgage. The money doesn't come from someone else's saving but is new money just created. The bank enters your debt as an asset on their accounts then enters the same amount in the liabilities column of their books, your deposit. The entire money supply is on loan from the banking system. When they charge interest on this money creation £200 billion a year is transferred from the public to the financial sector every year in UK. Since money is created as interest-bearing debt, if we all pay off our debts the current economic system would collapse. There would be no money in the system.The debt can never be repaid. The money creating power needs to be transferred to some democratically accountable body and spent into existence instead. He mentioned it has been pumped into property bubbles and financial markets.

They claim it would reduce inflation and that you would also be able to move towards a low carbon society this way.

dscn1459So what I take out of this is that Positive Money people, by not addressing tax reform, may think that if you create money by spending it into existence you will avoid rising land prices. By creating a monetary authority to control inflation they give their new monetary authority magic power to stop money going into a land bubble. It simpley wouldn't happen this way.

So let's go back to the Georgist's claim that when you have land in community ownership the money issue disappears. Not so. If you continue to create money as interest bearing debt, then money still moves from the public to the financial sector. Though there is always the personal desire to pay off your debt the money supply would disappear if everyone did this. Moreover, there is always the mathematical imperative for the money supply to grow in order to pay off the debt with interest. That is what we don't want on a finite planet.

It is true that when there is either no cost or little cost on the holding of land AND money is created without interest or with low interest, you get money pouring into land inflation. Anyone who has paid a mortgage knows that when interest rates decline, there is what they call a housing bubble (it is really a land price bubble). This is undesirable. And if you take land out of the market entirely money won't go into a land bubble, but it will go into some other form of monopoly.

When Karl Fitzgerald of Prosper Australia did his 2013 study Total Resource Rents of Australia, he subtitled it "Harnessing the Power of Monopoly." The list includes Land Residential, Land Commercial, Land rural, Land other, Subsoil Minerals, Oil and Gas, Water Rights, Taxi Licences, Airports, Utilities, Fishing, Forestry, Gambling, EMS, Satellite Orbit Rights, Internet Infrastructure, Domain Name Registration licence, Banking Licences, Corporate Commons Fee, Patents, Parking fees, Public Transport, Liquor Licences, Vehicle Rego Licences, Sin Taxes on Tobacco and Alcohol, Carbon Taxes, Non Tax Revenue (sale of goods). That's quite a list of the things you can claim a monopoly right on. "Land" in its widest sense is actually a list this long and longer.

So if we just deal to land by taking it out of the marketplace, you just put your money into monopolising another part of the commons. You could buy a much desired personalised number plate. The plate "F1" fetched £14 m and the number plate with the number 1 was bought by an Emirati businessman for £7.25m in 2008. Perhaps you could buy a domain name? Sex.com sold in Nov 2014 for $10m and insurance.com in 2010 for $35.6m.

Or the extra money could go into the financial sector including securities, commodities, venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, trusts, and other investment activities like investment banking). Nothing productive here. Yale economics professor Robert Schiller says, "The classic example of rent-seeking is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee (or rent of the section of the river for a few minutes) to lower the chain. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is helping nobody in any way, directly or indirectly, except himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free. If enough lords along the river follow suit, its use may be severely curtailed." Yet that is where a lot of money and activity is going.

In June 2015 the Guardian reported that "Adair Turner, the former chair of the Financial Services Authority, gave a memorable critique of the UK financial services industry in the wake of the credit crisis when he said that some of the activities carried out by the City’s finance firms were “socially useless”."

There are many places where the excess money can go if there is tax reform but no monetary reform. We haven't even touched on fishing quotas, art investments, oil and gas, utilities, or forestry. Leaving the growth imperative firmly in place by leaving money created as interest bearing debt will invite trouble and plenty of it.

However there is no doubt that land price inflation would disappear if all land was owned communally and leased from a public entity instead. While the boom-bust cycles would exist for other parts of the commons that remain in the market place, these cycles would no longer be present for land prices.

As Professor Michael Hudson explains "In a nutshell,land rent today is paid out as mortgage interest. Ditto for oil and gas, and monopolies.In terms of reform, financial and tax reform must go together. What is not taxed will be capitalized into bank loans. That’s the basic message."

In one of Michael Hudson's papers he quotes from Tolstoy when discussing the issue with Henry George. "The land cultivator in a bad year, not being able to pay the rent exacted from him by force, would have to enslave himself to the man with money in order to keep his land and not lose everything."
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Modernising the Georgist ‘doctrine’ without using the words “land value tax”

41bQo1jRHqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_In Land a New Paradigm for a Thriving World, Martin Adams has spelled out his philosophy that no one should make a profit from owning land. He has carefully and thoughtfully reframed the Georgist ‘doctrine’ for a modern era and developed a clear new language. For example here is a classic sentence: ‘What most people don’t yet realise is that the value of land is best shared, and that whenever we profit from land we profit from society.”

Martin is no slave to doctrine and clearly thinks out the issues for himself. He sees the vision. “Once we being to share this value with one another, we have the opportunity to unleash a cultural, technological, ecological, and even spiritual renaissance that will liberate us in ways we can’t imagine.”

And – great news – Martin is no centralist. He understands that revenue must flow from the periphery to the centre, not the other way round. So he talks of land moving into a Community Land Trust and people then paying a Community Land Contribution. Some of the revenue stays local and the rest is passed upwards to other levels of government.

From his description of how to prevent urban sprawl to his chapter on using farmland efficiently, Martin challenges us to think in a fresh way.

Thoughout this valuable little book Martin has steadfastly refused to use the word ‘tax’ , arguing it implies that the people being taxed have to part with something that belongs to them. “Land value taxes”, he says, “are still rooted in the paradigm of private land ownership.”

The questions arising from this book regarding the practicalities of some of his suggested solution remain to be tackled. Martin, being so honest and so curious, will no doubt ask more questions, talk to more people and develop more politically realistic solutions. It's monumental task. I have no doubt he will make an even bigger contribution in the future. Watch this space!

Charles Eisenstein, Thom Hartman and Peter Barnes don’t just recommend any book or call a book a ‘brilliant contribution’ or a ‘modern breakthrough’. Their reputations would be at stake if they did.

Available here

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)

We are working to combine our land tax policy with our monetary reform policy in a new way

During the holiday season I have been talking on email and skype and phone to various people round the world and in New Zealand. One of our challenges will be to get sufficient government revenue and introducing an adequate level of land taxes is a political challenge of immense proportions. Many are implacably opposed to land taxes, although they see the importance of the type of monetary reform we propose on this site.

It seemed to me always that those involved in the Georgist movement for land value taxes have thought they had all the answers, while those involved in monetary reform thought they had all the answers. It was in 1996 that I visited the New Economics Foundation in London and had started to understand the money issue, and during that time also spent time at the Henry George Foundation or whatever it is called in London. A few years later I noticed that Margrit Kennedy, the author of Interest and Inflation Proof Money, also had the beliefs that the two reforms should come at the same time, otherwise there are problems.

I found in 2005 when I was writing my book, that the man involved with promotion of Land Value Taxes in NZ, believed there was nothing wrong with the money system and any reform to it would be terribly damaging. So I couldn't communicate with him. I was also aware that promoting an adequate land tax would be fraught with political trouble, so I was motivated to find fellow travellers internationally and see if they had any solutions or suggestions. Land tax has to have exemptions and there are anomalies, opposition. Scottish Greens have got it through, but only as far as local authorities And what is the use of a land tax at a local authority level when a local authority can't remove income tax or GST?

In my search for these potential colleagues I discovered that the LibDems in UK had a subgroup called ALTER and Chairman Dr Tony Vickers had written an excellent paper on the political strategies needed to introduce land value taxes (LVT). I emailed him and he replied to me, copying in his executive in the process. So it was wonderful to discover Robin Smith in London and his colleague Adrian Wrigley in Brittany and talk with them about their proposal for what they call a Location Value Covenant.

I was also alerted just before Christmas to an email to many leading figures in the international Georgist movement. It suggested there was heresy in the ranks and people should stick to the Georgist dogma, (yes it used the words heresy and dogma.) This flushed out more people, from US particularly and from the Occupy movement who were convinced on both issues so I started an ongoing skype chat (no audio, but easier to work with than emails) with those people. We paused for breath every now and then while we had one-to-one skype chats or small audio groups as we came to understand what they were talking about.

I can't pretend we have completely arrived at a solution, because we are still in the process of collaborating on a document with the new proposal and what it can do. But I can say it is looking at private debt, at mortgages, because it is mortgages where the two issues intersect. I can also say I am very excited and there are others round the world who are equally keyed up. It is taking a bit of time to get this to a stage where the proposal is easily understood and clear and feasible. So please be patient, and if you want to talk about it, do give me a call. (Skype callers please post a message first!)