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.”

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

The Land Dollar – how we came to offer this as an option

The combination of allowing banks to create money interest bearing debt, together with a land tenure system that allows people to profit from rising land values have led to growing debt, a built-in growth imperative, inequality and a never ending series of boom-busts. Both the issues of land and money need to be addressed, especially in the light of the climate emergency and the growing inequality we live with.

In our search to design an economy that isn't at war with the planet – one that doesn't write in forced economic growth or widen the gap between rich and poor – we have opted to combine basic income, monetary reform, governance reform and tax reform (the latter closely related to land tenure reform). We want a world where everyone has a fair share of our common wealth. We want to replace the extractive model that is killing our habitat with one that is life-friendly.

While addressing these reforms together is a huge challenge, we know for our climate's sake we must succeed. In reforming the system we know we can't afford to shock the economy. So we need incremental change of some sort and must look to nature for guidance about design.

We realised early on that imposing a land tax alone was politically well nigh impossible, even at half a percent. Raising it to the a full land rental level would be just as hard. That sort of incremental change would not be possible.

Objections for instance to charging a full rent for monopoly use of land include:-

a. The banks would block it. They hold the power because they issue mortgages backed by land.
b. The public wouldn’t like it because the market value of their property would decline. This is unacceptable especially to those with big mortgages.
c. Property owners would argue they already pay rates and a mortgage so why should they have to pay a third time?

We realised early on that reforming the money system by spending money into existence to build infrastructure would result in rising land values for those with properties served by that infrastructure – be it rail, schools or ports. It would be difficult to control land inflation and therefore to halt the march to further inequality. The rich would also buy up patents and any natural monopoly they could get their hands on.

Funding a full Basic Income is also a considerable challenge. An extremely large sum is needed, even when the net public expenditure is calculated.

During the summer of 2001-12 Deirdre had had a series of Skype calls with a Cambridge academic, the late Dr Adrian Wrigley. His solution was for the Treasury to pay off the mortgage and for a full land rental to be paid. The property would then have a covenant on it requiring owners to pay a full land rental to Treasury. No rates would then be payable. If the property was sold, the next owner would still have to pay that rental.

We only wanted the land to be bought/paid for, not the whole mortgage, so we changed it to that.

We soon learnt that using the preferred "covenant" idea was hard to explain to the public so we reluctantly dropped it in favour of publicly owned leasehold land. However we started with a centralised model of public ownership and remained with that for almost 2 years. All the time we were a uneasy about land being owned by any agency of central government.

Adrian never talked of a parallel currency. It was our idea to have one. We thought the current system is so badly messed up we had to start again, and believe that this was also the way not to shock the economy.

We knew a lot of land is overvalued and although we recommended buying land at market value, we know this isn't the total solution.

So we recommended designing a second parallel (and competing) national currency, and link it from the start to completely new tax laws. After all no public budget would ever stretch to paying for such a large quantity of land, no matter how slowly it was acquired. Treasury, not the Reserve Bank, would issue Treasury Notes to buy up land. We happily adopted Adrian’s excellent idea of having a Land Rental Index for each area and adjusting the rental each year accordingly. Only the land value needs assessing not the improvements, so that is easy. And you only need a sample of properties in each general area. Land rentals are valued each year and the index suitably adjusted.

Parity with the land dollar with NZ dollar became a hot topic of debate. After discussion we eventually said “issue it at par, redeem it at par and let it float in between.” The new currency would be valued by those who wanted to employ labour without tax or buy goods without sales tax.

The name of new currency changed many times – Tradeable Tax Credit, Treasury Note, Zeal and finally the Land Dollar. (We also went through a short stage of recommending Rates Vouchers for both Auckland and Christchurch.)

Then, in mid year 2014 we suddenly realised it didn’t have to be issued by Treasury at all. Eureka! It could be issued by Community Boards and the revenue could be shared by other levels of government and eventually flow to central Government. We said ‘turn the funding model upside down, replace centralisation with a model where decisions are made across the whole economy. Restore local democracy'. We gave a great deal of power to the local level of government – currency creation power, land buying power (compulsory where applicable), and revenue gathering power.

In this model the Community Board or its elected equivalent “owned” more and more land – a more politically acceptable solution. The local committee must have on it, by right, one or two representative from the local iwi or hapu grouping, who would have veto power over any decision to buy land, thus avoiding potentially sensitive land. Land would effectively go into a Community Land Trust. In this way land could be gradually taken out of the market place and the people who decide which land to choose would be answerable to the locals. (Adrian had hoped the land buying could all be done voluntarily to avoid legislation. Some will no doubt come in voluntarily)

A whole raft of tax laws applying to transactions using the new currency (the Land Dollar) would have to be passed right at the beginning. These would include all taxes on the rights to the use of natural monopolies. Natural monopolies are the rights to land, water, airwaves, minerals, fisheries, patents, domain names, hydro-electric power generation and supply, any public utility such as a port, airport or the monopolistic rights to reticulate wires, pipes, rails, roads and the like: the right to use water, air, land or the biosphere to absorb waste.

So what does the policy say now?

Our party wants to restore the concept of sharing the values of the commons, have a money system that doesn't build in increasing debt and the need for competitive behaviour. We want to distribute the rent from use of the commons to all NZ citizens over one year old as a regular Citizens Dividend.

A new national currency the Land Dollar is to be slowly spent into existence at Community Board level to buy up land. No rates would be payable for those whose land is community owned. A local land committee would give local hapu/iwi veto power over decisions as some land may be sensitive even after Treaty settlements. The rent from the land would be shared with other levels of Government and as a Citizens Dividend – using participatory budgeting as there would be many simultaneous claims. Inflation would be controlled by a network of committees at different levels working with Treasury and Reserve Bank.

Transactions using the land dollar would attract no income tax, GST or corporate tax. But a whole set of different taxes is needed. This is because it must not be spent to plunder the earth, deplete resources, subtract from the social or cultural capital or pollute the water, air or biosphere. That means a full carbon tax for example.

For any currency to be effective as a means of exchange there has to be a circulation incentive built in. Adrian Wrigley suggested that rather than having a financial penalty built in for hoarding as recommended by Silvio Gesell, to make it easier each note should be issued with an expiry date.

The electronic version when received by Treasury would be refreshed and redated before issuing it as a Citizens Dividend. All citizens would receive it. Where there were dependents, the designated carer would receive it, thus changing the economic status of carers. In time this dividend would rise to a basic income, allowing a huge range of inventions and options for people who have been in unsatisfying jobs but have a passion or a hobby they want to pursue. Entrpreneurism would flourish – much needed in a post carbon age.

There are many unresolved issues. The property owner that has land bought with the new currency will have $100,000 plus to spend. Trades with the land dollar will not attract GST, income tax or company tax. We need actual examples, but believe a lot of it will be spent on labour to upgrade their homes or on the development of their small business.

We invite alternative solutions
This policy has been derived by discussing with a range of people at and between meetings and it has been largely driven by Deirdre, who has received feedback from meetings in Christchurch, Otaki, Wellington, Motueka, and two at huis held by the Living Economies Educational Trust hui. We are also aware there are some big issues we have not yet tackled, like the issue of Maori land. Our solution, we emphasise, is one solution. If you have another, please let us know!!
April 2015

There is no shortage of bedrooms in Auckland but…

The Q and A programme on TVOne this week started with a debate on housing. Property investor Olly Newland and Hive News Publisher Bernard Hickey were asked by Susan Wood about how to control the housing bubble in Auckland, since the Reserve Banks had this week decided it was not budging and would leave the Loan To Value (LVR) restrictions in place.

Olly Newland seemed to want no restrictions at all so that rents will come down. Bernard Hickey pointed out that if you have first home buyers with 1% deposit you run the risk that the banks will fail and the Reserve Bank can’t take that risk. Olly replied that the banks can look after themselves, which fails to understand that we need a reliable banking system. He said that LVR restricts first home buyers and that is preventing them from getting on the housing ladder. He even used the term “moral aspect” and said he was the first to encourage home buying for first home buyers.

Bernard pointed out that if rents go up the government has a fiscal problem because it pays accommodation supplements. Bernard says if interest rates go up homeowners are in trouble. He reflected on the fact that RBNZ had been considering various ways of controlling lending to investors, including a different rule for those who have five or more properties.

They disagreed on whether interest rates will rise or go down, Olly opting for the latter and saying we are getting deflation starting round the world. He dismissed the RBNZ’s solution to control investment finance as “political claptrap” and said he wanted people to be able to rent property for a lifetime securely. He believes the market would steadily slow down and people were investing for the long term.

Oh well, interesting to have his views.

Then the panellists came on and included Matthew Horton and Laila Harre. Laila said the government doesn’t know whether
they want more people to live in their own houses
they want to control the rental market. They should get a policy on these.

Laila said there was an obsession with the supply issue and a lack of proper statistics. The housing shortage figures vary between 5000 and 30,000! Property investors owning 5-6 homes are often living in large houses themselves when all their children have gone. There isn’t a shortage of bedrooms in Auckland at all.

Matthew then pointed out the anomalies possible in the RBNZ’s other options e.g. does a property owner with five bedsits have a bigger portfolio than those with three huge student houses? Here we go again. If you don’t ask the right questions you don’t get the right answers and you end up with a complicated messy system full of anomalies.

So they managed to have a whole debate without once raising the issue of land prices and how to keep them down.

You know when I was writing my book Healthy Money Healthy Planet – Developing Sustainability through New Money Systems I was arguing that money be created without interest. Some said interest rates need to go up not down. But the strongest reaction I got from the drafts was from Robert Keall of Resource Rentals for Revenue. He basically said “zero interest loans over my dead body” because he knew land prices go up. He said we want higher interest rates not lower interest rates.

Ten years later I know what they all meant. Low interest rates mean a land bubble (people call them housing bubbles but it is really the land that rises in value not the building).

So while I am still of the opinion that money should be never be created as interest bearing debt, I am also acutely aware of the connection between land and money and know that in New Zealand new land tenure systems were introduced by British colonists at the same time as private banks and their money creation powers.

The whole point is that because land is naturally occurring, it belongs to everyone. Colonists brought with them a concept completely alien to Maori, and indeed to the thinking of indigenous people worldwide, – private land ownership. The setttlers, who had largely been tenant farmers in England and Scotland, wanted freehold land. Freehold means land ‘free of rent’. Thousands of years of enclosures of land in Britain had meant that freehold was the new ideal. They had forgotten that land belongs to everyone.

It is a sign of how little distance we have come in our understanding of land as a natural resource that a high profile debate like this QandA debate can go hard at it without mentioning land. One tweeter said ‘The elephant in the room is capital gains’, again without mentioning land.

Oh and they had a debate they had about ‘forcing people out of their homes’. When Laila pointed out that there was no shortage of bedrooms in Auckland, Matthew Hooten said you can’t force people out of their homes. Well a tax system can. That is what tax systems do – they alter behaviour. If a Remuera retired couple is living in a huge home and the only cost to hold their land is the rates, they stay there. If however they had to pay an extra 3% land tax they might reconsider buying a smaller property more suited to their needs.

The next day the Dominion Post carried a short piece making Laila look ridiculous for saying this but she was only pointing out a fact.

A recent Melbourne study has found that a great many property owners are not even renting, they are just sitting on their properties waiting for capital gain. In the commercial area it is a higher percentage and in each suburb it differs. 64,386 properties are likely vacancies during Melbourne’s record-long housing supply crisis - See more at: http://www.prosper.org.au/tag/speculative-vacancies/#sthash.cHtfoINb.dpuf

It is time such a study was done for Auckland.

Economics professor Steve Keen in a recent interview said it is only thing stopping unemployment rising to the levels of Europe is the the housing bubble. The housing bubble keeps money supply up. Goodness, that is a critical point and leads us to understand the interconnections between the money supply, unemployment and how the tax system affect where money is invested. Of course Steve Keen must then argue we need more money in the system as well as a tax system that taxes the monopoly use of the commons and not work. And we have to find a money system that is sufficient. Thank goodness for the citizen effort going on at the moment to start a Christchurch currency. Yes getting this new political economy is a huge challenge for the entire world. http://www.switzer.com.au/video/keen13112014/.

Land enclosures in England took centuries

UnknownAndro Linklater’s book Owning the Earth – the Transforming History of Land Ownership is a fascinating chronicle in the history of civilisation.

If you think that land speculation is something modern contemplate this: Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s lord chancellor was big speculator. Here is Andro Linklater on the topic:
“In three frenzied years, from 1537 to 1539, he bought almost twenty properties in the southeast of England at a cost of £38,000, then sold most of them again for a total profit of more than £4000…..

But the profit to be made from the rising price of land was irresistible. When the mighty abbey of Tewksbury lost its lands near the south coast, a wealthy London cloth merchant, Sir Robert Palmer, bought three of its manors in 1540 for £1255, and immediately cleared off the villeins and cottagers. Then he turned on the tenants, harassing them and even breaking into their homes.”

Jump two centuries forward and the enclosures are well advanced. He writes “The rising price of land triggered a new surge in enclosure. Much of England’s farmland had continued to be cultivated as ‘open fields’ with some common rights of pasturing livestock, and almost a quarter remained communally owned and used. It was a measure of the landowners’ influence in Parliament that more than four thousand ‘Inclosure acts’ were passed between 1700 and 1830, allowing their promoters to hedge and fence in most of this land as private, exclusive property….. Altogether some seven million acres were transferred into private ownership through the enclosure orders, brutal testimony to the political power now wielded by landowners. In many cases compensation was paid, but the total value of enclosed land represented the transfer of about £175million of assets from communal possession to the lawyers, merchants and wealthy landowners who controlled Parliament.”

Why did landowners want to enclose their property? Because they ran sheep and when the sheep were confined to one area bounded by hedges or ditches or stone walls, they manured the soil. The word ‘manure’ also meant ‘improve’. Their land was then more productive.

So let’s go back to 1485 and follow it through.

1485 Henry V11 first year on the throne
1489 The land revolution was well underway. Henry legislated to stop engrossment
1536 Pilgrimage of Grace opposes enclosures
1549 Robert Kett’s rebellion against enclosures. None statutes and 3 government commissions designed to prevent ploughland being turned into pasture and highways being thronged with homeless who were dispossessed of their land.

1517-1537 fines or imprisonment for those who enclosed land including 264 peers, bishops and knights.
1533 Inheritance issue. Struggle was won by the landowners and Henry V111 found that he was short of taxes.

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.

A Christchurch currency would help solve the budget problems and avoid asset sales or rates rises

chch-cbd-plan-620How can Christchurch City Council solve its financial woes with a $534 million shortfall in its budget. I sit watching the television and think, “I wonder if the people of Christchurch know that money is a human invention?” and “I wonder if they know how money is created and by whom?”

I suppose I am one of a handful of people who, through my life circumstances and choices, have studied money creation and especially local currencies. I spent seven years researching and writing a book on the topic, studying community currencies and national currencies throughout human history. Money is an agreement to accept something for payment. It is a social contract. We accept money because we know that other people trust it. Its value rests on a belief about a belief.

But what gives money its value? We need to choose something that we all have to pay so that we know the next person will trust it. That means taxes, or it could mean rates, insurance or food. The national currency we all use is trusted because everyone knows that in the end the Treasury will accept it for payment of taxes.

So how is Christchurch’s problem solved? None of the options given by the official report sound good to me – reduce the rebuild costs, increase rates, cut spending, borrow more, ask Government to pay more, or sell public assets.

But we can create our own money. It’s just that currently the banks have that privilege and government allows them to create money as interest bearing debt. I won’t go into the many and dire consequences of this destructive practice, but I will say this: Banks create money when they lend it into existence mostly to get the security on some land. They like it that way.

Everyone knows how much they owe their bank on their mortgage and when they see our big four Australian owned banks making huge profits, they know their mortgage payments go off to Australia and beyond.

It doesn’t take long to discover the staff from the restructuring firm who wrote the official KordaMentha report come from traditional university training in finance, accounting, law or business. And you can bet your bottom dollar that not one of them has had more than minimal teaching on how money is created and by whom. They don’t get taught the history of economics. Few (if any) will have studied the existence of complementary currencies or even know they exist. So they aren’t likely, any more than are Auckland City Council’s consultants, to offer a solution which includes any of this knowledge.

My proposal is for a land backed currency created by the Christchurch City Council, spent into existence without interest, dated and acceptable for rates by that date. The currency is created to gradually buy bare land in the inner city. Iwi and hapu should be involved to exclude sensitive land, and where relevant the titles checked by the Maori Land Court. The Government must also legislate to allow trades in this currency to be free of income tax and GST, for Christchurch City Council to be able to accept the local currency for rates, and for the Council to share its land rental revenue with Government. The Government must also legislate to allow the Christchurch Land Dollar to be acceptable for the payment of rates. City Council staff and contractors must be persuaded to accept part of their payment in Christchurch Dollars. This is the first way of many ways the Council will save precious national dollars. Gradual buy up is needed to avoid inflation.

Another thing I noticed was that central Christchurch isn’t thriving and a developer on television was almost begging for tenants to move in. The reason is the land in the centre of the city is only given value by the community. When infrastructure is built, businesses move in, and community facilities buzz with action, people will want to buy there and the price of land rises. This windfall is publicly created and should not be privately captured. Hence the need for full land rentals. Probably the best method is Council ownership of land with fair lease arrangements for both parties. The rental should preferably set by auction, with rents adjusted annually according to a new rental index for the area. Rents rise as the city rises and that solves the rating problem. The more facilities are built the higher the rental revenue. To ensure future Governments do not subvert the process by reducing the rents for electoral purposes as the 1970 Gorton government did in Canberra, the legislation should be enshrined. This suite of safeguards avoids the worst pitfalls of leasehold purchases. Speculators can then not benefit from Christchurch’s pain and loss.

Although this proposed solution will allow Christchurch city to thrive, it is unlikely to be taken seriously. But I can tell you this: In previous economic crises people have solved grave problems by novel methods. We can look at how Germany solved its hyperinflation problem in late November 1923 and learn a valuable lesson. They started a new bank and it issued a new currency and the hyperinflation stopped dead in its tracks. Or we can look to a small Austrian town called Wōrgl in 1932 and see how a local currency solved its unemployment problem and a situation where people weren’t paying their local rates. In a very short time they turned this around. The city built infrastructure, unemployment declined dramatically and people paid their taxes early.

Conventional economic thinking has been the cause of ever deeper holes that we find ourselves trying to dig out of. The only economists to see the GFC coming were largely the ones who recognise the privilege of private banks to create our money supply and the structural problems this system creates. By freeing our monetary system from this broken design, we can start to get the upper hand in dealing with a whole range of pressing matters – not the least of which is getting the city and citizens of Christchurch back on their feet without making them poorer in the bargain.