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

New Paradigm economics for jobs in a post fossil fuel economy

I have uploaded a revised version of the slideshow on new paradigm economics. This is similar to the first one, yet addresses the question of how you get a financial incentive built in to an opt in scheme. It also comes after realisation that an opt in scheme will need to operate under current law. Homeowners will negotiate a land fee payable to government and agree under contract law. We no longer talk of leasehold land, though it is rather similar. This one suggests we burden the title with a covenant while the title remains with the property owner. The other change is that we are not referring to Zeals but are talking about a tradeable tax credit. We don't use the term land rental or land rent much, but talk about a land fee or land rates. These terms indicate more accurately that the fee is payable in exchange for the value provided by society in the services to the site. We have also returned to the idea we had in the first place, that of mortgage relief. If the government pays for the land and effectively takes land out of the market, then the homeowner's interest payments to the bank reduce while they have some precious new currency to spend. It naturally flows towards productive enterprise or the relief of more private debt e.g. student loans. So it is an ideal policy for first home buyers. Since posting it, I have realised only one more thing. The land fee will rise or fall depending on the zoning of the land.

Purchasing power, poverty and tax systems

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Who would have thought New Zealand children go hungry?

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

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

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

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