Zero Interest Rates aren’t the root cause of housing bubbles – wake up it’s the tax system

imagesJesse Colombo is a great person to follow on twitter (@thebubblebubble). He posts information on bubbles – housing bubbles, commodity bubbles, any sort of bubble. He is a young man who was one of a handful of people to forecast the Global Financial Crisis. He has a superb website.

So when he drew attention to an article by him in Forbes Magazine I was an eager reader. Entitled Why Singapore’s Economy is Heading for an Iceland Style Meltdown. Page after page of interesting facts, graphs, and the usual good analysis of what is happening…

But then I came to a sentence which said “Ultra-low interest rates are the primary reason why credit bubbles inflate” and I realised that my much admired Jesse Colombo hadn’t gone the step further in his understanding. He was so focussed on his bubbles he didn’t allow himself time to think of the illogical tax system we all use (and which of course suits the banks very nicely thanks).

Of course zero interest rates will cause bubbles of all sorts but only when there are no land taxes or resource taxes to stop them. So the zero interest rate isn’t the root cause, it is the illogical tax system.

Unfortunately most of the world is completely unaware of this and my hero is no exception. They assume unthinkingly that there is only one tax system regime, and that is income tax, corporate and sales taxes! England existed completely on land tax from 1066 to 1216 and progressively declined since then. Income tax wasn’t introduced in England till 1799. It is half a lifetime since a New Zealand government legislated against having a land tax and people have forgotten. A thirty year old in this country can’t even remember that we once had no sales tax.

If there is no charge on the holding of land, of course the price of land will escalate. A land rent, ground rent, land fee paid regularly to society will stop housing bubbles in their tracks. If there is no charge on the holding of a commodity, the price of that commodity will rise. But with a tax system that taxes what you hold or take not for what you do or make will set this right. Finally the liquidity in the system will flow into productive enterprises not speculation.

Bernard Lietaer says our relationship to money is like a fish’s relationship to the water in which they swim. They don’t notice it. Well the human species has two large issues yet to notice in the environment we live in – the design of our national currency and the tax system. If awareness is half way to solving it, we had better become conscious of our tax environment and currency design environment and we had better raise that consciousness mighty quickly.

Alert: Environmentalists must start asking questions about currency design and tax reform

Oh goodness me. I have been doing some searches on “climate action economy” and “climate change” “economic growth” and I find myself mad as hell.

Heavens where are their brains? Economists from the World Bank and IMF, Nicholas Stern and many others are talking about the topic as though the economic system is a given. Shucks. How did they really think we got into this mess? Can’t they ask themselves some basic questions?

Environmentalist Hunter Lovins is just as much to blame. She, like others, thinks that there is an economic case for climate change, but fails to look at the currency system we have and fails to look at the tax system we have. Gosh when she visited New Zealand a couple of years ago I gave her a copy of my book but she can’t have read it or she would understand that if you allow the creation of the country’s currency as interest bearing debt then you have a growth imperative built in to the whole system.

Now calm down Deirdre. Why should an environmentalist be interested in examining why there are flaws in the economic system we assume to be the only one?

Actually there is more to think about than the currency system. You also have to design a thriving low carbon economy as well and you can’t do this without addressing the fundamental change necessary to turn the tax system on its head. It is time to stop taxing labour and sales and start taxing the use of the commons. A post carbon economy will have a flowing currency, but not flowing into the overuse of natural resources. Those avenues have to be blocked. And it can’t flow into housing bubbles either. That is a no-brainer.

That is why my first e-book is going to be about climate change. Its about how currency and tax reform can save us from global warming. I am writing it now, well actually I’m researching for it now. We need a land-backed currency introduced in every single country. Comments like those from the UK Chancellor, George Osborne, after Doha in 2011 “We are not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business” are going to be a thing of the past.

As resourceful human beings, if we are clever enough to have google glass this year, we are also clever enough to start redesigning the political economy so we have both a thriving low carbon economy and we halt the death rush to a burning planet and death from drowning, starvation or drought. We can do both. We must do both. We will do both.