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Newsletter No. 3 - June 2004

<<< Previous Newsletters

1. Search the Website

2. Comments on New Books and Reports

3. Monetary Reform and Land Value Taxation

4. Money and Finance paper, October 2003, now in hard copy

5. Discounted Bundle of Books

1. SEARCH THE WEBSITE

You can search the website for a more specific subject or name than appears in the Subject Guide by using the search option - www.jamesrobertson.com/search.htm

Search for "work" or "Thatcher" or "worldview" or "Illich" or "energy" or "tax shift" or "Henry George" or "monetary reform" - anything you like. You may be surprised; e.g. look up "wind of change" and one of the references you'll get is about "the digestive system of horses"!

2. COMMENTS ON NEW BOOKS AND REPORTS

(1) Owen Connellan et al, "Land Value Taxation in Britain: Experience and Opportunities", Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA - www.lincolninst.edu/pubs - 2004, 204 pp, $20 + shipping and handling, ISBN 1-55844-157-3, paperback.

UK launch at an Oxford conference, 16 September, 2004 - www.thewaterfront.co.uk.

UK enquiries: e-mail Tony Vickers - tonyvickers@cix.compulink.co.uk or see www.landvaluescape.org/archives/000015.html.

Other enquiries: e-mail: jgavira@lincolninst.edu

An excellent book. An important resource, full of valuable information and guidance. Particularly welcome at a time when awareness is steadily growing that public revenue should capture a bigger share than now of the rising land values created by public investment and by the activities and demands of society as a whole. Professionally comprehensive and authoritative, and refreshingly forward-looking.

It concludes that "it is now appropriate to contemplate an introduction of LVT, especially into Britain", and sets this conclusion "against a current background of taxation shift away from production and on to various exactions that could be made for the use and abuse of natural resources including land."

This would involve "less heavy tax on the incomes and profits [people] earn from useful work and enterprise, on the value they add, and on what they contribute to the common good; but heavier taxes and charges reflecting the value they subtract by their use of common resources.. ".

(2) Duncan Pickard, "Lie of the Land: A Study in the Culture of Deception", co-published by the Land Research Trust and Shepheard-Walwyn - www.shepheard-walwyn.co.uk - 2004, 68pp, £6.95, ISBN 0 85683 227 8, paperback. Hard-hitting, readable, short.

"The root cause of our problems [in society in general and agriculture in particular] ... is the antiquated, complicated and disincentive system of taxation under which we labour. It would be difficult to devise a worse way to pay for the necessary functions of the state."

Rural land makes up about 87% of Britain's total land area, but represents only about 5% of the total land value. So 95% of the burden of land value taxation would fall, not on farmers as is falsely alleged, but on wealthy urban dwellers like people who trade in land, bankers who want high-value collateral, and land agents who sell land on commission. "It is widely known that the House of Lords lost its right to veto Finance Bills from the Commons in 1911, but very few are aware that the issue over which that right was lost was the immensely popular demand to switch taxation from people's wages and savings on to land values".

The powerful last chapter in this tale of deception is contributed by Ronald Banks, on "The Geopolitics of Land and Rent".

(3) Clive Hamilton, "Growth Fetish", Allen & Unwin in Australia, 2003, Pluto Press in UK, 2004 - 288p, £12.99, ISBN 0 74532 250 6, paperback.

"Nor has the Third Way challenged the model of human wellbeing on which the economic texts are based. It has not questioned the utilitarian philosophy of modern economics and the marketing society; it explicitly accepts the philosophy built around homo economicus, rational economic man, and all the anthropocentrism, individualism, materialism and celebration of competition implied by it."

Clive Hamilton is Executive Director of the Australia Institute in Sydney. He proposes "eudemonism" as a vision for the post-growth society. He describes it as "a political and social system whose functional requirements are consistent with the need for people to find fulfilment in their lives", and foresees the transition to it being just as far-reaching as the transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism.

His book is an exciting contribution to 'new economics' thinking - particularly for questions the notion of eudemonism raises. For example, if the primary function of government in a post-growth society will be to protect, expand and enrich "our social, cultural and natural capital", what practical policies will that mean?

If governments are to provide an environment in which individuals and social groups can pursue "authentic" ways of achieving fulfilment and recognition - same question. What view will post-growth governments take of comfortable people like the worker who told Studs Terkel long ago, "I'm not going to bust my ass in order to be meaningful"?

(4) Nic Marks, Hetan Shah, Andrea Westall, "The Power and Potential of Well-being Indicators: Measuring young people's well-being in Nottingham", New Economics Foundation, 2004, 55pp, £25.00, ISBN 899 407 855, paperback - www.neweconomics.org/gen/.

This very interesting report of a recent pilot study begins to answer some of the questions prompted by "Growth Fetish" (above). It breaks new ground - both in theory and in practice: theoretically by using a two-dimensional model of well-being, and practically by looking at new uses for local government powers.

The two dimensions of well-being which it identifies are:

- life satisfaction, which includes satisfaction, pleasure, enjoyment and contentment, and

- personal development, which includes curiosity, enthusiasm, absorption, flow, exploration, commitment, creative challenge and also, potentially, meaningfulness.

An initial hypothesis of the study was that greater well-being would be seen to go with a greater tendency to 'pro-social' behaviour, i.e. behaviour that enhances other people's well-being. This was not conclusively validated and the report calls for further research.

However, this relatively small pilot study has shown that focusing attention on young people's well-being can shed light on key policy areas, and that using well-being indicators can help local government to develop positive policies that overlap departmentalboundaries.

(5) Joseph Huber, "New Technologies and Environmental Innovation", Edward Elgar, 2004, 384pp, £69.95 (in US $110), ISBN 1 84376 799 6, hardback - www.e-elgar.com/.

This book - by the Chair of Economic and Environmental Sociology at Martin-Luther-University, Halle, Germany - is a comprehensive contribution to our understanding of the environmental impacts of technology and what to do about them.

It discusses current developments in every field of technology, classifies technologies by "approaches", "realms" and "metabolic classes", and analyses the processes by which innovation takes place. It is in two Parts.

The first Part is on "Technological Environmental Innovations" (TEIs). Its 160-page section on "Trends and Visions of TEIs" covers: Energy; Raw Materials and Natural Resources; Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery; Chemistry and Chemicals, Basic Materials Processing and Reprocessing; End-products, Building, Vehicles and Utility Goods; and Emissions Control and Waste Processing.

An important conclusion is the need for a "paradigm shift from downstream to upstream" -"Action has to be refocused onto those industrial operations where large environmental impact actually occurs - in energy, raw materials, agriculture, chemistry and base industries, partly also in building and vehicles: not, however, in consumer goods and user behaviour".

Huber pulls no punches on this point - "environmental awareness and will-building, regulation, green marketing and business management remain ultimately pointless in the absence of a prior strategy of technological environmental upstream innovation to give a common focus to environmental policies".

The second Part is on "Innovation Life Cycle Analysis". It places technological innovations in a context where economic innovations, ordinative innovations (in the spheres of law, regulation, public administration), and formative (political and cultural) innovations are also happening. It relates technological innovations to anthropological and sociological theories of diffusion and the long-wave theories of economic development of Schumpeter and Kondratiev.

It discusses questions of "selective dynamics: connectivity and timeliness" and "interactive dynamics:co-operation and competition". It points out that decentralised market diffusion is suited to minor incremental innovations, but generic system innovations - such as the transition from carbon to hydrogen energy, or (inter)national currency reform - involve collective risk-sharing, shared learning and complex restructuring.

I need to study the book further. So far it has left some questions in my mind. For example:

- what needs to be done to prevent big business, big science and big government using the new technologies, including biotechnology, to extend their power even deeper into everyone's life?

- given the pressures on politicians, government officials, business leaders, technological innovators and other professionals, to think about their career prospects, making profits, and getting research funding in the world of existing technologies, is it safe to assume that they are better placed than ordinary citizens and consumers to promote radical innovation?

Joseph Huber and I have known each other since the 1970s. We wrote "Creating New Money" together in 2000. In spite of the questions above, I think his book is an absolute must for anyone professionally or academically concerned with sustainable development - and for other concerned people too. The sooner it becomes available in paperback at a sensible price, the better.

3. MONETARY REFORM AND LAND VALUE TAXATION

A report on the recent UK Visit of Stephen Zarlenga, Director of the American Monetary Institute, is available by e-mail from Peter Challen - peter@southwark.org.uk - who was the visit's main organiser.

At one event Stephen presented Henry George's thinking on monetary reform. For his longer paper on that subject, go to www.monetary.org/henrygeorgeconceptofmoney.htm.

Henry George is, of course, known mainly for his advocacy of Land Value Taxation (LVT). An important practical question for its supporters and for supporters of monetary reform today is how the two reforms would interact if both were implemented. This needs to be researched.

The two proposals - to collect ‘rental’ value of land as public revenue, and to transfer the function of creating new money to the state from the commercial banks (so collecting its value as public revenue too) - have much in common.

Both will:

- help to smooth out the peaks and troughs of economic cycles, including housing booms and busts, and borrowing booms and busts,

- allow substantial reductions in today's perverse taxes,

- distribute more fairly the publicly created value of resources that should be shared in common, and remove the ‘free lunches’ of the landowners and banks, business corporations and rich individuals, for whom those resource values are now a source of private profit,

- open up opportunities for enterprise and useful work to people whose access to them is now limited,

- discourage environmentally damaging activities, and

- allow electors, politicians, and professionals and academics of many kinds (including economists) to understand more clearly how the tax and monetary systems work and how they could be improved.

The two reforms will also interact in ways that need to be more fully worked out. For example, they will both affect mortgage borrowing and lending. LVT will reduce land values as collateral, and reduce land rental flows to pay interest. Monetary reform will prevent mortgage lenders like banks from creating the money they lend, and require them to borrow it in competitive financial markets.

So will purchasers find it more difficult to borrow and bankers more difficult to lend the money needed to buy land and houses?

Or, on the other hand, will it become relatively easier to borrow what is needed to buy houses to live in and land for productive purposes, when LVT and no longer allowing lenders to create loan money to buy land reduce growth in its value? In other words, will the two reforms combine to bring to an end the vicious circle of land-price and house-price booms and busts that now deprives so many people of secure access to land and housing?

Part of the background to a study of this in the UK today is that limited variants of both LVT and monetary reform are being discussed as possible ways of financing investment in public infrastructure -

- Could local government develop ways to finance transport investment from the resulting increases in private-sector property values? (contact Dave Wetzel - davewetzel@tfl.gov.uk - for information on this and LVT)

- Could central government put newly created money into circulation as interest-free loans? Parliamentary Early Day Motion 854 of 10 March 2003 on "Publicly Created Money and Monetary Reform" - www.monies.cc/forum/actions/edm_854.htm

urges the Treasury and Treasury Select Committee to commission independent reviews of ways of increasing the proportion of publicly created money in the economy and the benefits of doing so.

4. MONEY AND FINANCE PAPER, OCTOBER 2003

My October 2003 paper on "The Role of Money and Finance: Changing a Central Part of the Problem into a Central Part of the Solution" has now been published in hard-copy by -

(a) The Pio Manzu International Research Centre, texts in Italian and English. Vol. 2, pages 71-85 of the proceedings of the Centre's conference of 18-20 October on "The Economics of the Noble Path: Fraternal rights, the convivial society, fair shares for all" - www.piomanzu.com/

(b) foresight , Vol 6, No 1, 2004, pages 31-37. Information from Emerald Group Publishing, 60/62 Toller Lane, Bradford BD8 9BY

5. DISCOUNTED BUNDLE OF BOOKS

The bundle includes a copy of each of the following four books - Future Work, The Sane Alternative, Profit or People and Reform of British Central Government - at a reduced price. For details, click here.

 

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