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.

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