IMF economist Michael Kumhof says the key function of banks is to create money

imfToday I made the mistake of going to a website where there was a sentence which made me mad. It said that in New Zealand, banks like finance companies can only lend out deposits made with them. Well I rarely get mad these days but I don’t like untruths being perpetrated. So I thought the best way to recover would go and transcribe the first seven minutes of a talk Michael Kumhof, economist from the IMF made to a seminar in January 2013.  It is on youtube here and here is my transcript, give or take the odd aside I left out.

“Virtually all money is bank deposits.

The key function of banks is money creation not intermediation. The entire economics literature that you see out there today is that it is intermediation, taking the money from granny, storing it up and then when someone comes and needs it I can lend it out to them. That is complete nonsense. Intermediation of course exists, but it is incidental and secondary and it comes after the actual money creation. Banks do not have to attract deposits before they create money. I’m a former bank manager. I worked for Barclays for five years. I’ve created those book entries. That is how it works. And if a leading light economist like Paul Krugman tries to tell you otherwise, he does not know what he is talking about.

When you approve a loan, as a bank manager you enter on the asset side of your balance sheet the loan, which is your claim against this guy and at the exact same time you create a new deposit on the liability side. You have created new money because this gives this guy purchasing power to go out and buy something with it. Banks have created money at that point. No intermediation, because the asset and liability are in the same name at that moment. What happens afterwards is that that guy can spend it somewhere else later but it is still in the banking system. I care about the aggregate banking system. Looking at the microeconomy and transferring the logic to the macroeconomy is really wrong. Someone will accept that payment.

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What that means is that it becomes very, very easy for banks to start or lead a lending boom even though policy makers might not, because if they feel that the time is right, they simply expand the money supply. There is no third party involved, just the bank and the customer and I make the loan. The only thing that is required is that someone else will accept that deposit, say as payment for a machine, and he knows that is acceptable because it is legal fiat.

There is an important corollary to this story. A lot of loans are not for investment purposes, in physical capital. Loans that are for investment purposes are a small fraction. The story that is often told in development economics is that first you need to have savings, then once you have the savings, you can have investment. So a country needs to have sufficient savings in order to have enough investment. Nonsense too – at least for the part of investment that is financed through banks because when a bank makes a new loan it creates new purchasing power for the investment to go ahead. The investment goes ahead. Then the investor takes his new bank deposit and gives it to someone else In the end someone is going to leave that new deposit in the bank. That is saving.  The saving is created along with the investment. It’s not that saving has to come before investment. Saving comes after investment, not before. This is important for development economics.

The deposit multiplier that is taught in economics textbooks is a fairytale. I could use less polite terms. The story goes that central bank creates narrow money and there is a multiplier because banks can lend out a fraction. It is actually exactly the opposite. Broad monetary aggregates lead the cycle and narrow monetary aggregates lag the cycle.”

Why not do monetary reform then land tax reform?

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What is your solution?

One of the questions we often get asked is why not do monetary reform first and then do other things later.

Positive Money NZ and its parent in UK have done wonderful work in teaching about the dysfunctional money system. There is no doubting that. They are reaching a wide range of people and describing what is wrong with the money system, how it leads to growing debt, wealth disparity and the growth imperative. We really recommend going to their website and seeing all the wonderful youtube videos and articles and links there. It is a great website.

But when we are in a political party we need to aim to get a thriving economy and that means jobs.

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Untaxing labour and sales is like unblocking a currency river

And when we think of where the money flows and why it doesn’t flow into job creation if you fix the money system, we also need to think about the tax system.  Our party says it is time to untax labour and sales and to tax land and its resources. When we do this, all sorts of miracles occur.

Imagine having a currency where completely new rules apply. When using this new currency there is no tax on labour, sales or enterprise. No income tax, no GST and no company tax when using this money. Wow! What happens? Well employers realise that workers get 100% of their salary so they have a happy workforce. But that is not the end. When the workers spend their money they won’t have to pay GST. This is that they have more purchasing power. Their wages are higher now in relation to the prices of goods. And that is what unions have been crying out for for ages.

So it is like having the river bed carved out for a new currency. The new money flows in the riverbed unimpeded by taxes. So it flows into productive investment and creates jobs.

We have proposed the slow introduction of a parallel national currency created by a new agency (the Treasury) which adheres to these rules. The slideshow for this is now at http://www.slideshare.net/deirdrekent/sustainable-economics-without-fossil-fuels-21

Of course having argued that it is important to treat the global economic system as a living system and that we need to intervene where the effect is greatest, and having argued that the global economy is what Cantabrians would call ‘mega-munted’ and that you need to start again, people still come back saying Couldn’t we just have monetary reform for a start.

Yes I know a lot of people just want us to do the monetary reform and do the rest later. But what happens? Yes money is spent into existence rather than lent into existence so it doesn’t bear a debt and it has no interest due either. All good. But where does it go? With GST and income tax and company tax, it will of course go into buying up yet more property and naturally occurring assets, putting pressure on the limited resource of land and raising its price. And as before, the wealth concentrates with land owners.

Q. I thought you wanted to close the gap between rich and poor?

A. Oh yes we will do that now, we will impose a land tax.

Q. Well how are you going to do that?

A. Well we will start at 0.5% land tax and lower income tax a little across the board at the same time. That way we won’t shock the economy.

Q. But I am still paying my rates and my mortgage. Why should I pay a third land tax?

A. Oh I don’t know.

And there is stops. If there is another way, please would someone tell us about it! In all the time we have had this initiative up and running, nobody has come out with an alternative solution other than by starting again with a second national currency differently designed.

If you can come up with a suggestion which is better than the dual currency, we would be pleased to hear from you.

How To Build A Life-Supporting Economic System

How To Build A Life-Supporting Economic System

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Earth is a Living System

Earth is a living ecosystem and necessarily the model for the human economic system. The words ecology and economy have the same Greek root ‘ekos’, meaning ‘home’ or ‘earth’, so our economy is a subset of our ecology. All life-based systems are unique home economies – Earth, nations, states, cities, towns, communities, families, and each living being. Each economy can only survive in balance within natural limits.

Every global crisis derives from an unbalanced economy:

  • Financial collapse is caused by an interest-bearing debt-based money system and a grossly overinflated ‘shadow economy’. These cause rising debt as “promises to pay” that cannot be met by the real economy.
  • Energy collapse is caused by our economic dependence on fossil fuels and the new reality of relentlessly declining energy returns, leaving less energy to drive the economy.
  • Biosphere collapse is caused by the real world demands of the growth-based economy, required to service exponentially expanding interest-bearing debt.
  • Societal collapse is the descent into social unrest, the police state and militarism, driven by the above.

We have a Deadly Economy

In an interest-bearing debt system of money creation:

  • Private banks create money as a commodity for private profit, causing cycles of boom and bust as the money supply expands and shrinks. The lack of balance is destabilizing. Scarcity of money during recessions/depressions causes unemployment and turmoil.
  • The interest mechanism automatically transfers wealth upward from those with the least to those with the most, increasing income inequality. This undemocratic money system leads to social polarization and social collapse.
  • Interest-bearing debt expands exponentially, demanding perpetual growth of GDP despite our finite Earth, which exhausts all human and natural ‘capital’.
  • The need for growth is inflationary, promoting unproductive speculation in financial markets and real estate, inflating house prices, and eroding the productive economy.

A tax system which taxes labour, sales or enterprise discourages work discourages trade and discourages enterprise. It also greatly reduces people’s purchasing power (though there are cases for reducing this e.g. tobacco, alcohol, fossil fuel etc.). A tax system like this encourages property speculation, reduces productivity and concentrates wealth with landowners.

When we tax these three but fail to tax land, we invite taxpayers to use tax havens and do under-the-counter trades, resulting in lost government revenue. Land cannot be hidden offshore.

However, though it has been recommended for centuries, a land tax in the 21st century is a politician’s nightmare. Successive tax review by Inland Revenue, Treasury and universities have recommended land tax, but no government has implemented them. In fact there is actually a law prohibiting land tax in New Zealand, probably enacted to please the banks.

People already pay on their property two payments – rates and mortgage – so the possibility of government imposing a third burden is zero. In fact it is political suicide for any politician to recommend land tax, no matter how small. Yes, the banks have claimed land for themselves, as it is their best security on their loans. They vehemently oppose land tax and so governments have to be content with taxing a less secure asset – income taxes.  Banks love lending on property because as the price of land rises, so does the size of their loan portfolio.

A means tested welfare system with an intrusive state and a ‘benefit trap’ is trapping our unemployed and dampening enthusiasm for working. It is also complicated and expensive to run and requires billions being spent on IT systems. The benefit system with its various income support schemes which favour the children of employed over the children of the unemployed like Working for Families is basically unfair. A Universal Basic Income has been recommended for centuries, starting when someone saw thieves hanging in the street and said it would be better to pay them a living wage. However there has been no progress.

All of the above – monetary reform, a Georgist tax reform and a Citizens Dividend – would if introduced suddenly shock the economy. All of the above have attracted loyal movements that have made virtually no progress over the centuries. It is important to reflect on the reasons for inaction. Each major reform would shock the economy.

We Need a Living Economy

A living economy will feature:

  • Publicly created permanent debt-free money as a medium of exchange for public benefit, circulating permanently, its volume regulated by a publicly accountable body. A sufficient, balanced supply of money is stabilizing, promoting business and employment.
  • Reliable public revenue without debt or interest is spent directly into the economy. It is critical to take the power from the banks to create the country’s money and return this to the people.
  • Tax will be removed from ‘good’ activity like work and enterprise and trade, and will be imposed where people take more than their share of the commons or impose a burden on the commons.
  • A Citizen’s Basic Income removes the need for Social Welfare and numerous income support programmes. It avoids the ‘benefit trap’ and allows voluntary work and new businesses to thrive.
  • A stable money supply that is neither inflationary nor deflationary, and flows freely into productive investment in the real economy.

Transition To A Healthy Public Money System and to a Reformed Tax and Welfare system

First we need to explain why we are applying a broad-brush approach to reform, not doing it piece by piece.

When family therapists are presented with the problem of a difficult adolescent, it is important to treat the family as a whole system, rather than just look at the presenting problem, the adolescent. Tweak just one part of the system and the whole becomes healthier. You seem to solve all sorts of problems. But if you just try and fix one problem at a time, it won’t work. The original problem tends to persist. That is because the issues don’t exist in isolation and the relationships continue. You can’t divide up a system because you break the links and destroy the patterns. It is the same for any living system. The challenge is to intervene at the points where it is going to effect the greatest change. This is in the areas of goals of an economy and the fundamental paradigms which are taken as gospel. Those paradigms are the basic beliefs and ‘givens’ of a system.

In our case, we have an economic system showing a range of Big Problems. First we have the property bubbles in Auckland and Christchurch while the economy in the regions stagnates.  Second we need to sort out the welfare mess by introducing a universal payment, the UBI. Third we need to get a tax system that taxes what we hold or take, not what we do or make. (Taxing labour and enterprise is counterproductive, while it is quite fair to tax those who take or use more than their share of the commons.) Fourthly we need to move from privately created interest-bearing money to publicly created interest-free money.

These big issues are all connected through banks, land and taxes. If there is quite a simple solution where, if you tweak one or two parts of the system and the other problems solve themselves naturally, then we should use it. This is the systems approach. You don’t tackle the intractable problems issue by issue; you look at the whole integrated system and choose your point of intervention that gives the greatest leverage. In that way the fundamental relationship between the elements of an economic system will remain intact.

You will notice we are suggesting the point of intervention that has the most leverage – the currency, tax and land. We have paid attention to what is important. Changing the paradigm from a currency monoculture to a currency ecosystem is going to bring big change. Changing the tax and welfare systems will also have a major effect.

Second we set up a small new system parallel to but very different from the old system.

This proposal will put in place the small beginnings of a new and healthier system to coexist with the earlier deadly system as the old system dies away.

So we are going to start a new currency with new rules. This will be the beginning of the new healthy economy. The old economy will die and a new one will be born. It’s a transformational change. In order to transform the tax system from taxing labour, sale and enterprise to only taxing land and the use of the commons, you need to link that new tax system to a completely new currency.

It can’t be done effectively otherwise. New life is full of health and vitality. Just as new growth in a forest after a fire appears slowly, so will this process be gradual.

Note that by setting up a fledgling parallel system we have not just fiddled round the edges. We have changed the whole paradigm. So we would expect major change.

Step one

Government issues a new currency called Tradeable Tax Credits. These are acceptable by Treasury for tax on a certain date. (The Reserve Bank is left out)

Step Two

Using Tradeable Tax Credits, Treasury gradually buys up the land of homeowners who opt into the system voluntarily. Government doesn’t want to use New Zealand dollars – first because it hasn’t got enough of it and second because Government wants to link the vouchers to a new tax regime. The dated Tax Credits are to ensure that Treasury issues just the right amount so as not to cause inflation. The date by which it must be redeemed also serves as a circulation incentive.

Step Three

Then Government makes the rules for these tradeable tax credits. They say trades in Tax Credits will not incur income tax, GST or company tax. IRD is not involved with them except insofar as it imposes “land rates” and resource taxes.

Step Four

Full land rates would be set if possible by tender or auction and the lessee will pay it in perpetuity to Government, the revenue to be shared in some proportion between central and Local Government.

Step Five

A Land Rates Index would be established for each general area and rates adjusted annually or biennially according to the rates index. Note the rates are not indexed to inflation. Rates vary very little unless there is an earthquake, subsidence or new infrastructure or a significant business arrives in the area or departs from it.

Step Six

There would be no impediment preventing the Tradeable Tax Credits from being freely traded with NZ Dollars. Employers will want the Tax Credits and importers will want the New Zealand Dollars. The Tax Credits would be issued at par and redeemed at par. What happens in between will depend on the sentiment of the market.

Step Seven

From time to time Government will issue all men, women and children with a small Citizens Dividend in Tradeable Tax Credits to share some of the revenue with its citizens. This dividend would gradually grow as the area of land in the scheme grew.

Step Eight

Resource taxes are imposed on anyone with a monopoly on any part of the commons e.g. Oil, Coal, minerals, water, fisheries etc.

Step Nine

The homeowner who has opted into the scheme receives Tradeable Tax Credits to the value of their land and either puts it in the bank or uses it to pay labour for home improvements or for productive investment and always to pay taxes.

Step Ten

The bank lends out the new Tradeable Tax Credits to businesses to pay a portion of their labour and New Zealand materials. New jobs are created. As there will be no need to move to Auckland, labour intensive industries will attract young people back to regions, back to New Zealand. Organic farming and manufacturing will want them. At first some workers are paid only a small proportion of their wages in the new credits.

Step Eleven

No rates will be payable on any property where the land is Government owned and full land rates are paid.

 

The land to be changed to publicly owned leasehold land would include: –

  1. All land owned by those who do not pay income tax in New Zealand. This would have to be done in steps. It also includes trusts and companies who don’t pay tax in New Zealand.
  2. All land owned by government or local government and intended to be sold off to private buyers would stay with the Government e.g. The “green frame” in central Christchurch.
  3. Any other freehold land through an-opt in scheme. This would not alarm those who are capital rich and income poor like the elderly and would not alarm farmers. It would also take the worry from our would-be subsistence farmers on small holdings.
  4. All land under infrastructure like roads, hydroelectric power stations, airports, sewerage or stormwater or water servicing will be required to be converted to leasehold land. Once again to avoid inflation, this must be only done in stages.

The circulation incentive

Dated Tradeable Tax Credits will circulate relatively fast. They will not pool for long in anyone’s bank account. People don’t want to find themselves in possession of them when the date arrives, so they trade with it, put it in the bank for the bank to lend out or else pay their land rates early. When a tax credit circulates smoothly without pooling anywhere, it nourishes everything in its path. A trade mutually benefits the buyer and the seller. Even if the Tax Credit goes out of the country there is an incentive for the holder to get it back to New Zealand before its maturity date.

The NZ Dollar and the Tradeable Tax Credit

These can be exchanged. A market will develop naturally. There are two opposite forces acting. The NZ dollar will be used for importing goods and for those who are travelling overseas. The Tax Credits will be particularly attractive to those who plan to use it to pay for labour because this currency is completely delinked from all disincentives to show initiative. The labour they buy will not be taxed, their employers business will not be taxed and the goods and services produced will not be taxed. The Tax Credits will always be worth one NZ Dollar when it is paid for taxes before the expiry date. It is rather like the NZ Postage stamps they sold us when the 70c stamp replaced the 40c stamp. One stamp will take the letter anywhere in the country.

The Tradeable Tax Credits would be digital only

Kiwibank has a “Loaded” card. It is a debit card with embedded chips for each currency. It is issued when a customer travels overseas. Perhaps the Tax Credit could be issued this way, with EFTPOS machines dealing with both types of currency. It is possible each new voucher could have a unique identity so that their circulation speed could be tracked.

Results

Transformational reform when carefully and gradually introduced has an exciting range of effects. This policy gives us low cost housing while gradually but fundamentally changing the tax structure. According to the Productivity Commission, the value of land is on average half of the total value of an urban property, but for Auckland it is 60%. Secondly it makes an important but gradual change in the money creation process. Thirdly it starts on an overdue reform of the welfare mess. Fourthly it gradually changes the way we fund local authorities.

While it releases much needed liquidity for new businesses it has to be implemented along with adequate controls on resource use through resource taxes e.g. carbon tax.

Wouldn’t people cheat the system?

History tells us that wherever money is involved people will try and find a way to cheat the system. Some suggest that people will exchange their Tax Credits for NZ dollars and go and buy another property and do it again. But these people haven’t planned to pay their ground rent and this is a large ongoing obligation. In fact wise people will not opt in unless they have a plan to use the new credits productively to create sufficient revenue flow to pay the rent. Most will pay their land rates in advance. Remember the Tax Credits are issued at par and redeemed at par. The sorts of things that happen in between will soon settle down as people learn the rules. The new law will have meaningful penalties for those who default on their obligations to pay land rates.

How much land rates?

A full ground rent  or land rates for an urban or suburban property is ideally set by auction. However, rule of thumb indicates it is around five percent per annum or more depending on the zoning and other restrictions on the land. Location is important. The further away the property is from government services, the lower the rate. Certain land is however, already overvalued e.g. Auckland land and dairy land, so allowances for that would then have to be made. Other restrictions would include land with a  QE2 covenant or land under historic buildings or land otherwise used for the public purpose.

The Citizens Dividend

Although this starts out being small, the first payout will attract a great deal of attention. When people realise these Tax Credits will pay for food and other essentials, they will begin to trust them. Their value relative to the standard currency will rise. As time goes by this dividend will be repeated and will increase, perhaps allowing, say working couples to opt to care for their own children rather than drive to jobs they don’t like. It might also enable inventors to spend more time inventing. Because the dividend of a dependent will go to the nominated carer, it will redress the economic balance of power between those who care for dependents and those who don’t. This raises the status of carers – usually women, raises the standard of care for children and reduces the social service burden on the state. Many carers will opt to spend their dividends on further education. There is also a long known fact that as the education of women rises so does the control over fertility.

Shouldn’t relief of mortgages be a first priority?

Yes. However in practicality those who opt in at the start will probably be those who are mortgage free because those with mortgages don’t want the hassle of going to their banks and having the bank refuse the Tax Credits. It would be easier in the case of New Zealand owned banks like Kiwibank, the Cooperative Bank, TSB and the SBS. However over 90% of New Zealanders’ mortgages are with the Australian owned banks and the banks might take the case to the World Trade Organisation or other authority to challenge it. So it is better to do the easy things first until the public is onside.

Is there a precedent for Step One?

Yes. These Tradeable Tax Credits are the same as the Treasury Notes that have been used before in history e.g. China 1912 when there was an uprising.  Abraham Lincoln used the US Treasury to issue Greenbacks in 1865 and The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Lloyd George, on the advice of John Maynard Keynes, issued Emergency Bradbury Treasury Notes in 1914 to pay for World War I. Lord Bradbury was the Secretary of the Treasury.

Bernard Lietaer and Stephen Belgin in their book New Money for a New World describe three periods of history in which there were dual currencies. First, Dynastic Egypt, where there was gold for long distance trade and also pottery chards that were receipts for corn taken to a store. The built-in circulation incentive was that when, after a year, farmers came back with ten chards, they were only given nine bags of corn. These pottery pieces circulated for sixteen centuries in a period of relative prosperity.

Secondly in the Central Middle Ages in Europe people used gold for long distance trade but silver coins for local trade. The local Lord or Duke, who owned the land and issued the coins, reminted the silver coins at irregular and unpredictable intervals. Though the periods between reminting varied from area to area, a lord might give out, for example, four coins for every five that were brought in. Reminting happened when the Lord died. This practice coincided with a massive period of cathedral building and the authors say the enthusiasm cannot only be explained in terms of religious devotion but in the currency system. Maintenance of water wheels, mills and wine presses was excellent. Ordinary people wore silver buckles. Nutrition was so good that the average height of a woman in London at that time was 1 cm higher than today.

Thirdly in Wørgl Austria in 1933 during the depth of the Depression, ‘work certificates’ were paid to council workers who could in turn have them accepted by the butcher, baker, etc because they were redeemable for tax. But each month the bearer of the note had to place a stamp on the note to validate it. During the 18 month period these work certificates circulated, unemployment declined dramatically, bridges were built, people paid their local tax early and visitors came from far and wide to witness the ‘Miracle of Worgl’.

Lietaer and Belgin claim that in each period there was prosperity across all classes and a huge building programme. They attribute this favourable economic outcome to the dual currency, and in each case the domestic currency had a built-in circulation incentive. The authors did not describe the tax system of each society, but to my knowledge there was no income tax, sales tax or company tax during this period. In the central Middle Ages tax was more likely to be a regular tithe to the lord or duke, possibly paid in produce. This is basically a land tax.

There is also a precedent in New Zealand history for Step Six, a Citizens Dividend. In 1951, after a particularly high wool cheque, the government gave out a five pounds dividend to all families.

Why can we see so many bad symptoms start to reverse?

If we observe the results of these small actions being set in place, it is truly astonishing. It is almost as though a fallen domino set has begun to rise, piece by piece. Some are totally disbelieving, because we are so used to thinking that only one result is possible.

  1. A better, fairer tax system with reliable revenue.
    You can see it works towards a much simplified tax system where tax evasion becomes impossible, because you can’t hide land offshore. Many tax-based subsidies will cease to exist as GST, income and company taxes are gradually phased out. For example, tax exemptions on aviation, fuel, interest on mortgages simply disappear. The black and criminal economies no longer gain an unfair advantage. When you use the new money to employ a tradesman, you won’t have to hand it under the table.
  2. New life in industry, and a sea change in horticulture and agriculture. The new Tax Credits,  with a built-in circulation incentive, give opportunities for labour intensive industries to return. The post fossil fuel age will require a whole new set of businesses and these Tax Credits will provide the lubrication. It will be great for organic farming and pest destruction, both of which require a large labour input. Clean green technology will finally blossom and green jobs will no longer need to be subsidised.
  3. Lower prices and higher wages. The increased purchasing power, which results when Tax Credits are free of all other taxes, cannot be underestimated. The affordability of labour and of New Zealand produced goods increases dramatically. Holders of the credits find they can access the basics of food and clothing. Import substitution starts to happen and clothing factories may re-open. When the Tax Credits circulate unburdened by taxes on labour or trade, prices inevitably drop. When employers pay their employees in Tax Credits, which have no income tax, you get a contented workforce. And when workers discover their Tax Credits can buy necessities without GST they are doubly happy.
  4. Issuing of Tax Credits starts a process of gradual but inexorable reduction of private debt. This can only be good for our population and our businesses as all debt under the current system incurs interest.
  5. Because there will no longer be the necessity to move to Auckland for employment, it will be great for regional development, which will take some pressure off Auckland housing. The new Tradeable Tax Credits will flow to the regions without impediment. The attraction of Auckland where a growing portion of the economy is in the FIRE section – finance, insurance and real estate – will no longer apply. The two speed economy, where Auckland  and Christchurch are going ahead yet the regions are withering and suffering unemployment, will even out.
  6.  It is the origin of a new method of funding local authorities. No longer will all of their revenue come from the regressive policies of universal fixed charges or from rating on capital values that discourages investment.
  7. Maori and Pacific Islanders and low income people will benefit from this policy, as they will all be recipients of the jobs created, and from time to time of a Citizens Dividend.

This is quite a list of achievements.

 

Summary

The policy is powerful, elegant and simple. It creates jobs, provides cheaper housing and transforms interest-bearing money to government interest free money all simultaneously. And it does the whole thing gradually without shock to the economy.

 

More discussion needed

Among the issues to be fleshed out are: –

  1. Policy as it affects Maori. Because this is a policy dealing with land and its ownership, it is important to take the proposal round the country from iwi to iwi, preferably by group including Te Reo speakers, because in each rohe and iwi there would be a different situation with respect to the various types of Maori land, incorporations and trusts. However, because the system is an opt-in arrangement, nobody is immediately penalised.
  2. A programme to be devised for gradual rollout without causing inflation. There will have to be robust research on the value of foreign owned land, the tax take and the value of land in each category.
  3. We need a plan to handle the possible fear engendered in those who want their land to be made leasehold but have their mortgage with one of the big four Australian banks, which comprise over 90% of all mortgages.
  4. What is the role of Government in encouraging retail business to accept Tradeable Tax Credits, especially in the early days of implementation?
  5. Since the cost of the house and improvements are not included in the proposed mortgage relief, there needs to be other interest-free arrangements similar to the JAK Bank of Sweden6.   The role of banks in making loans to businesses wanting Tradeable Tax Credits to finance wages and materials.  Does this mean the banks finally get to be an intermediary between saver and borrower?

 

Deirdre Kent deirdre.kent@gmail.com 06 364 7779

021 728 852

New Economics Party

http://neweconomics.net.nz

With acknowledgement to the late Dr Adrian Wrigley of Cambridge UK

 

Vision and core policy discussion at an Otaki Meeting

Today we had 16 attending a meeting in Otaki. Although we only had only an afternoon to get through a lot, we agreed on at least the following core points:

Our vision is for a New Zealand..

1. Where we have full employment in quality fulfilling work for those wanting it.

2. Where sufficiency is a natural right.

3. Where New Zealanders are happy.

4. Where there is a ‘reverence’ for nature

5. Where the national and local economies are resilient in the face of shocks or threats.

6. Where there are vibrant and functioning local communities.

7. Where full human rights and responsibilities are affirmed and supported.

8. Where our economy is operating as a healthy living organism, like a social ecosystem.

Our core policy ideals 

1. New Zealand has the right to control the issue of its sovereign currrency.

2. We will reform the banking system including reregulation.

3. We will remove the imperative for growth.

4. We will seek radical monetary reform, including enabling multiple currencies.

5. We will stop land speculation.

6. We will discourage damaging speculative activity in currencies.

7. We support apprenticeships.

8. We will introduce a form of Universal Basic Income (UBI).

9. We will repatriate strategic assets.

10. We will enable local banks, local currencies and local redevelopment.

11. We will build stronger local economies and strengthen local community.

Three of us had been to the Values Party 40th reunion the previous day and we reported on the exciting day we had. We looked back, evaluated progress over 40 years and identified where we hadn’t succeeded. It had been agreed that inequality had widened and the environment had deteriorated over that time, despite all our rhetoric and our work. The reunion proposed a thinktank to challenge and improve Green policy. In fact the reunion was part of the Green Party conference and a book Beyond Today, a Values Story had been launched to link Greens with their origin.

So just as the Values Party did forty years ago, we had a delightful conversation about our long term and short term strategies and tactics. We had two columns, one for blue sky scenario and one for a realistic scenario. We are aiming to stand candiates for the local body election next year and for the next general election.

 

 

 

Land and Money, the Conjoined Twins

Land and Money, the Conjoined Twins

When there are two separate movements each claiming that they have the solutions to the world’s economic problems, we have an intellectual challenge. Rational beings might conclude each group of reformers has a key part of the truth. The two groups I refer to are the monetary reform movement and the Georgist movement.

The monetary reformers come in several varieties, but in common they believe the creation of money should be without interest and should be a public function. Privatising the right to create and control our means of exchange is the ultimate privatisation. The list of evils resulting from creating money as a monoculture with interest is long: it forces compulsory growth, concentrates wealth, causes rising debt and instability, and is generally incompatible with life on a finite planet.

So what do Georgists want? Named after Henry George, Georgists want to ensure we all have an equal right to the fruits of the earth. They seek economic justice. Since we can’t all occupy the one spot, land value taxation is the means by which those with exclusive use of the best sites or resources compensate the rest of us (who are excluded). The method of doing that is to tax land. They want to untax labour and enterprise and tax the monopoly use of land. This reduces paperwork and stimulates productivity. Business will boom. A land tax would prevent housing bubbles, arrest suburban sprawl, stop the transfer of wealth from the landless to the landowners, increase everyone’s purchasing power as incomes rise relative to prices, share the bounties of the earth and our accumulated wealth more equitably.

Both arguments seem reasonable. Neither movement is popular with any current political party. Very few have ever heard of Henry George or read John Stuart Mill on land. Politicians have fought the banks since 1694 when the Bank of England was formed and banks were given the right to create the nation’s money supply and charge interest.  While indigenous people have owned land communally and can understand why land should not be monetised and treated like other assets, they are wary because of historical injustices, and are very suspicious of local government when it comes to rating.

Some, like me, find themselves in both camps. And there are some in each movement who vaguely understand the other. Some monetary reformers realise that if interest rates fall, there will be another housing boom and those who own houses will reap an unearned windfall when they eventually sell.  They understand there must be some built-in disincentive against land speculation but when it comes to solutions they only get as far as capital gains tax.  Capital gains tax is limited because its effect is just to prevent property from coming on the market while owners wait for a law change to avoid paying it. To be effective it has to be imposed on all property at 100%. Unfortunately, current proposals by New Zealand political parties appear not to aspire to this ideal. Those in the Georgist movement have seen housing booms and watched banks charge interest on mortgages. They claim the banks are reaping what they call the ‘economic rent,’ an in-house term for the phenomenon where landowners reap the rise in land values over the years. Since these have actually been caused by the efforts of the community around them with the arrival of new businesses, government services and organisations, the windfalls should all be going to people in the form of the government, local and central.

Within the monetary reform movement there are two main camps. There are those (Type A) who believe fervently in central government action to control the banks and create the money supply for the country. These include the American Monetary Institute, Social Credit, and the more recent Positive Money movement.  The second type arises from the complementary currency movement (Type B) who argue that centrally issued national money is still a monoculture, can still cause monetary crises, can still cause inflation, is very disruptive to the economy and is politically impossible to achieve anyway because there are so many bank lobbyists for every legislator.

Let’s reflect for a moment on the historical connections between land and money and go back to the Italian goldsmiths. A decree of the year 1423 forbade all Jews of Venice to hold real estate (“pro Dei reverentia et pro utilitate et commodo loco rum”). So they became goldsmiths. People brought in their gold and the goldsmiths issued a receipt for that gold. Soon they found people using the notes for trading weren’t coming back for their gold very often. They discovered  a trick: they could issue more receipts than there was gold to back it with. They lent out the notes and charged interest. And we have had that banking system ever since.

Now Jews couldn’t lend to Jews at interest, Gentiles were forbidden from lending out money at interest. Christians couldn’t lend to anyone with interest because the Christian church banned usury. But Jews could lend to Gentiles at interest. That was essentially their retaliation for not being able to own land. The Rothschild family of course comes from a line of goldsmiths. Leymann Bros, Goldman Sachs and many others join them.

In Fiji Indians can’t own land. Indians have now been in Fiji for many generations so they have become the traders. A Fijian dominated military government has been in power for many years. The moral of the story is that unless the earth is shared fairly we cannot hope to have peace or justice. Repeating an earlier sentence, since we can’t all occupy the one spot, land value taxation is the means by which those with exclusive use of the best sites or resources compensate the rest of us (who are excluded).

Now let us go back to the type of monetary reform Type B. Unfortunately so far in New Zealand complementary currencies we have known e.g. LETS (Local Exchange and Trading Systems, for trading goods without dollars) and Timebanks (for trading time without dollars) make scarcely a scratch on the national economy. Perhaps Bartercard and other trade exchanges do. If we want to reduce unemployment it is time to upscale complementary currencies by creating a currency at local authority level, together with a range of currencies operating at national level. The argument is that monetary reform of this type will create a permaculture of currencies and the consequence will be a more stable and resilient national economy. Leave the national currency alone meanwhile and introduce a range of complementary currencies until we get enough liquidity to create jobs and restore hope.


If we undertake monetary reform alone with interest rates dropping to zero or below and money being publicly issued, then the extra money in the economy goes towards land speculation and landowners grow rich at the expense of the many. Low interest rates cause excess money to go into property rather than the productive sector. To prevent this happening there needs to be a price on the holding of land. In the tsunami of dollars that hit America during 2001-2006, 40% of homes were either investment homes or second properties. Most of any country’s land is owned by corporates in central cities. But if we carry out the land tax reform alone, the money goes towards banks and the banking industry gets rich.

So both reforms must be undertaken together. Money and land are conjoined twins that can’t be separated. We need a solution which reforms money and puts a price on the ownership and holding of land while simultaneously taking it off income tax, sales and company tax. This is a tall order.

 

A word about the current world situation

Financial analysts like Nicole Foss and economists like Steve Keen now claim we have entered into a long depression where purchasing power will keep declining. Even as prices decline, wages decline further and faster.

 

We have witnessed the largest asset bubble the world has ever seen and the bubble is bursting. House prices have fallen in Ireland and the US and this trend is coming, though unevenly, to Australia and New Zealand. Our house prices are rising in Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown but dropping elsewhere.

 

In depressions thinkers seek solutions. Henry George, a San Francisco printer, did his thinking during the 1870s depression.  Silvio Gesell, a German businessman in Argentina, did his in the 1880s depression and wrote The Natural Economy. The great economist John Maynard Keynes wrote during the Great Depression of the 1930s. While a long depression will cause unending pain and disruption and may buy us time to mitigate climate change, we do need a lasting solution. This century there is a lot more at stake because global warming is proceeding at an alarming rate and our current political leaders are mindlessly locked into a monetary system requiring growth. Because of peak oil and climate change the so-called ‘developed world’ is challenged to transform in a short time period to a very low carbon economy.  This time we can’t wait and must work together (fortunately with the help of the internet) for solutions.

Three Golden Ages
So let’s have a look at history. To my knowledge there have been at least three periods when there has been both great prosperity and great egalitarianism. In their book New Money for a New Society Bernard Lietaer and Stephen Belgin describe a golden age in Dynastic Egypt for sixteen centuries up to about 30BC. Food was plentiful, there were many holidays and education was common among ordinary housekeepers and servants.  They had a dual currency system with gold and silver being used for long distance trades, as well as a currency linked to the storage of food. Farmers brought ten bags of corn to the warehouse and were given a pottery receipt (an ostraka) with a date on it. When they came in a year’s time to get their corn, they were only given nine bags back. This accounted for the storage and protection against vermin. The longer the food was in storage the higher the cost. So people would not hoard the currency but spend it. Taxes were payable in ostraka and some in kind like wheat. One researcher said, “A landlord would request to have the renter of a farm pay for him the taxes in wheat owed by the landlord to that location, and that amount would be deducted from the renter’s dues.” So there was a dual currency system and a tax system based on a full land rent.

A second economy they described which was both prosperous and stable was in the Central Middle Ages in Europe from 1040 to 1290, “the Age of Cathedrals” when there was a building phenomenon. The general populace ate well, grew tall and only worked six hours a day. Some regions had 170 holidays a year.

 

There were two different types of currencies operating. One was a centralised royal coinage for long distance trading. The second consisted of an extensive network of different local currencies. There was a rather subtle hoarding charge for keeping the currency for too long without spending it. They changed the coins every time a lord died in a process called “renovatio monetae” As a rule four old coins were handed in when a lord died and exchanged for three new ones. As each coin had the same value of the coins they replaced and no one knew when the lord was going to die, it acted as a 25% tax and an incentive to spend or invest the currency quickly. The result was a great deal of building, land improvements, high quality maintenance of water wheels and windmills and enduring investments such as cathedral building. During this period the land would have been owned by a local lord and rented out to families. In other words probably the only tax they paid was on land and it was a full rental.

The third period was very much shorter – in Austria during the Great Depression in Austria from 1932-1933 for fourteen months. While the national taxation system of Austria at that time needs to be researched, the local taxes would probably have only been on the value of land. Faced with 25% unemployment and declining funds, the Mayor of the small town of Wørgl thought he would put Silvio Gesell’s ideas into practice. So he put 20,000 Austrian schillings aside and spent a new currency into existence. They paid their workers in Work Certificates rather than Austrian schillings and on the back were 12 spaces. Every month the holder would need to stick a one penny Austrian stamp on the back to validate the note. This monthly stamp requirement was sufficient to act as an incentive to spend the note or invest it. Back taxes were paid and there was growing council spending on infrastructure like bridges. People came from miles around to witness what they called the “Miracle of Wörgl”. However, soon the banks put enough pressure on the Austrian government to make the whole scheme illegal, and Wörgl went back to unemployment.

Although caution would have to be exercised in describing these three scenarios as idyllic and there undoubtedly have been other periods in history where a measure of prosperity and happiness has been achieved, these three periods all have the following features:

  1. There are two currencies in operation and the local currency has a built–in penalty for hoarding money. It is a spending currency.
  2.  A full rental is paid on land occupied and there are probably very few or no other taxes applied.

The first two eras were before the extraction of fossil fuels, while the second was in a period where there was growing oil and gas use.

Land tax, a political landmine

To invent a similar system these days provides a bigger challenge. When land taxes were an accepted feature of societies with local ‘lords of the land’ there was no income tax, company tax or sales tax. Now we are dependent on those taxes and, apart from a tiny fraction at local level, have no land tax. There may have been excise taxes imposed in Austria but it wouldn’t have significantly affected the outcome. Thus there may have been effectively only one tax operating during the Egyptian period or the Age of Cathedrals. Since all unique economies need an appropriate currency for trading, these societies each designed theirs to be a currency with an incentive to spend or invest rather than hoard.

When the idea of land tax is raised these days, there is often an immediate reaction. “I pay my mortgage on my property, I pay rates and now you want me to pay a third one? No way! The mortgage is paid to the bank, the rates to the council and now you want a tax to central government?” This is a political landmine.

These days in New Zealand we have a situation where land taxes have historically been imposed in some form at local authority level through the rating system. Local authorities used to gather in 12% of the country’s tax revenue, but now this has dropped to around 6%. At national level land taxes reached a peak of 9% of tax revenue in 1919 but these stopped in 1962. A law prohibiting land tax came into force in 1992.

The two world wars, together with a worldwide trend towards income tax, saw a great change in the tax systems. Income tax comprised 9% of tax revenue in 1909 but by 1944 it had risen to 54%. The change is probably due to the increasing power of the banks. Banks prefer income tax and hate land taxes. Income tax means banks can lend against the full value and security of land. Land tax means banks would have to lend against the security of people’s earnings power – less reliable, especially with the abolition of slavery. 2500 years ago, when borrowers defaulted, they could simply be enslaved. Now we have strong land tenure and weak “person tenure”, the land is the security to lend against. (You can get full rights over the tenure of land but you can’t get full rights over the tenure of people). Banks are higher up the “food chain” than governments. So banks get mortgage payments, governments get income tax. Our modern slavery is to the banks.

To impose a land tax and at the same time dramatically lower income tax, company tax and sales tax, would require significant cooperation between local and national government. To seriously propose this sudden change over could be political suicide, and it would cause a huge shock for the economy. A history of the New Zealand tax system certainly doesn’t include such big jumps.

So we are faced with the challenge of not shocking the economy while moving away from taxing labour and enterprise and towards taxing what we hold or take. This includes land, including the land of the family home.

There is another reason why land tax is important. It stops the monetising of the commons (the land) and so halts the expanding of the money supply. It is this expansion of the money supply without expanding the supply of goods and services which causes inflation. Inflation robs from everyone.

We now need to reform a system where local authorities have power to tax the unimproved value of land, but increasingly opt for regressive fixed annual charges and to rate on capital value rather than unimproved value. Fixed annual charges are really regressive according to a study done by Internal Affairs in 2007. While all councils have a different mix, in the case of the Auckland supercity they are forced by statute to tax on capital value.

Various people have advocated a land tax including the commentator Bernard Hickey of interest.co.nz, while in an article by economists Andrew Coleman and Arthur Grimes in October 2011 they explore and evaluate land tax as an option. They say a central government tax could be added as an adjunct to the current system with little additional administrative cost. The authors conclude a land tax has favourable efficiency properties relative to other taxes and that a 1% land tax on all non-government land could raise approximately $4.6 billion.

The authors of The Big Kahuna, Gareth Morgan and Susan Guthrie, propose a Comprehensive Capital Tax (CCT). Capital is defined as land, buildings, structure, plant, equipment and intellectual property. There is no exemption for homeowners. Capital that consistently earns less than the required minimum rate (6% in the proposal) would face an increased tax burden. They also tax income at a flat tax on the remainder of earnings (the total earnings less required amount of earnings). The lender (the bank), having an interest in the property, also pays CCT. The authors make an excellent case for a Universal Basic Income. They argue their changes will ensure incentives to use capital productively, to use our housing stock efficiently and redistribute wealth fairly. They spread a wider net. They say they would tax anyone who owns capital in New Zealand, anyone who earns an income in New Zealand and anyone who lives here, thus encompassing any person or any corporate who owns land here or who operates a company here.

A different type of economic growth will result

For forty years since the Values Party started, green politicians have been railing against economic growth. All Budgets have been full of the phrase and many listeners have been  flinching with pain for forty years. That is because what is being advocated by politicians economic growth of the type you get when you use only one currency, the national currency, a monoculture. This sort of economic growth stuffs our houses, shopping malls and landfills with electronic junk, plastic, polystyrene and nylon, clothing made using exploited labour, etc etc.  When we have a land tax together with a scaled up local currency based only on what we can produce locally from the land, the type of economic growth we are going to get is quite different. It is the type we all want – growth in affordability of the basics. This includes labour to produce food from the land, revival of the local textile industry (factories in Levin lie idle as all these jobs were exported to Asia). The house maintenance industry will thrive, the biopaint industry will expand, the insulation industry using natural materials will develop and expand. With an abundant local currency designed to circulate faster than the national currency our house building will move towards using local materials. The prospects become quite exciting as we start to see a future for our semi employed friends and family and all the teenagers and young people without hope. This is a qualitatively different type of economic growth from the one we have known. The type of land tax system I am proposing is one which creates this new type of growth but not the old sick type.

And you say wouldn’t we cut down all our trees, burn all our wood for fuel or take all the fish from our waters? Wouldn’t we dam all the rivers, mine all our metal or cover our whole area with wind turbines and change our climate? The answer that in some communities this could happen if there isn’t enough awareness. Maori eliminated moa, Easter Islanders deforested their land and couldn’t build boats and Indian communities burn the dung nutrients that should be returned to the soil. Turning all your trees into charcoal (as in parts of Africa) is a disaster on many fronts.

But on the whole most communities would observe and monitor their environment and wise heads will prevent this happening. When we rely on trade for goods made with exploited labour and exploited forests we don’t notice the environmental effects because it is too far away. It is someone else’s problem. The closer a problem is to home, the more responsibility you will take.

How big should a land tax be?

It is generally understood from Georgists’ knowledge that a full rental on land is around 5% of the value of the land. In 1924 a Royal Commission named this figure as the correct percentage to impose on idle land for speculation. Only a land tax at this level can in anyway hope to replace income and company tax, let alone GST. Only a land tax at this level will discourage property speculation.

Earlier it was mentioned that we already pay mortgages and rates on land and that a third payment would be totally unacceptable. It would be politically impossible to persuade the public. The proposal that follows collapses all the payments into one. The ideas outlined in the next section address three challenges. We need to introduce a land tax without shocking the economy, to introduce a full land rental not a token one ­– and all the while be mindful it must be politically achievable. Land tax is not about adding another tax. It is about paying to the government rather than the bank while keeping the fruits of your own labour. The land levy proposed is payable to the local authority, it keeps banks out of the loop and uses the council income to distribute a local citizens’ dividend, thereby immediately making the system relevant to the wider public and winning their support. It designs a local currency with a built-in circulation incentive. Moreover, it provides considerable hope for a transition to a very low carbon economy in a short time period.

 

 

 

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!)