Fifteen years ago Polly Higgins abandoned her career as a barrister to campaign for an international crime of ecocide. Sadly she died of cancer on Easter Sunday at the early age of 50.
Her aim in making ecocide an international crime was to enable people like company chief executives and government ministers to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for causing or contributing to large-scale ecosystem destruction.
In her research on the subject she discovered that the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC, had originally included the crime of ecocide, but that it had been dropped at the final drafting stage. She set out to see that this “missing” crime was reinstated alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression, and submitted a proposal to the UN Law Commission in 2010 that defined ecocide as “extensive loss, damage to or destruction of ecosystems of a given territory, such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished”.
Polly’s first book, Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of Our Planet (2010), won the 2010-11 People’s Book Prize and set out her full proposal, while her second book, Earth Is Our Business (2012), included a draft Ecocide Act and indictments that had been used in a mock trial in the UK Supreme Court with Michael Mansfield QC prosecuting. Read the full obituary in the Guardian.
Over the last year or so there have been a number of articles broaching the subject of land-value taxation in the national press. The Economist (9th August) even suggested ‘The time may be right for land-value taxes’, but
there is also much misunderstanding about that a land-value tax (LVT) is.
In the first place it is not a tax. A tax was defined by Hugh Dalton, later Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Principles of Public Finance as “a compulsory contribution imposed by a public authority, irrespective of the amount of service rendered in return”. An example will illustrate: the Jubilee Line extension to the London Underground system cost the taxpayer £3.5 billion. Millions of taxpayers who contributed to its cost will never use it. Those who use it for their daily commute or to go shopping pay for its use through their fares, but the big beneficiaries are the land owners along the route. They will have contributed to the cost as all other taxpayers, but the huge uplift in value of their land within a 100 metre radius of the 11 stations along the line was estimated to have been £13.5 billion. Properties beyond the 100 metre radius would also have benefited, but progressively less the further they were from the stations. The cost was born by all taxpayers but the ‘service rendered’ was not reaped in proportion to ‘contribution’. This is the nature of a tax.
With a Land-Value Tax (it is more accurate to regard it as an annual ground rent) there would be an equivalence between ‘contribution’ and ‘service rendered’ – the greater the services received, the higher the
contribution. The ground rent is a market estimation of the value of the services rendered. For example, the existence of a good school in a neighbourhood will increase property prices in exactly the same way as proximity to a station. It is not an arbitrary amount decided by government. LVT is therefore unlike a tax.
LVT differs from taxes in another respect. It does not distort economic activity. Some taxes, the so-called ‘sin taxes’ on tobacco, spirits and petrol, are introduced with the deliberate intent of discouraging certain behaviour by making it more expensive, but all taxes have this negative effect. They reduce economic activity. For example Stamp Duty discourages people from downsizing and affects adversely labour mobility. VAT makes goods 20% more expensive, thus reducing sales and affecting the viability of small businesses.read more
Further Reading: Public Revenue Without Taxation by Ronald Burgess Land-Value Taxation by Kenneth C. Wenzer By Dr Peter Bowman The market mechanism provides the most efficient way of allocating the resources of an economy. Yet public services, which can count for...read more
By John Symons: People debate endlessly whether or not Churchill would have supported Brexit. But what of the great man whom Churchill recommended to the King in 1942 as Archbishop of Canterbury? Which side would William Temple, perhaps the greatest Archbishop in the last century, have supported?read more
In Progress and Poverty Henry George sought the ‘cause of industrial depressions and the increase of want with the increase of wealth’ and offered a ‘remedy’ which remains as relevant to the problems of poverty and inequality we face today, as when he first wrote, but it also opens a new way of dealing with environmental pollution.read more
“You can become wealthy by creating wealth or by appropriating the wealth created by other people. When the appropriation of the wealth is illegal it is called theft or fraud. When it is legal economists call it rent-seeking”
John Kay, Financial Times 27th Dec 2009
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, they cannot save the few who are rich.”
John F Kennedy, Inaugural Speech, Jan 1961
“If science is defined by its ability to forecast the future, the failure of much of the economics profession to see the crisis coming should be a cause for great concern”
“Today we live in a world that is divided. A world in which we have made great progress and advances in science and technology. But it is also a world where millions of children die because they have no access to medicines… It is a world of great promise and hope. It is also a world of despair, disease and hunger”
Rent Unmasked explores the new economic paradigm that policy-makers need to solve global problems in the post-2008 era. With conventional economic theories discredited, the new model must equip governments with tools to re-stabilise societies in a dangerous world. Rent Unmasked explains why one paradigm only qualifies to serve this purpose: the dynamic model that reinstates time and space in economic theorising.
ISBN 9780856835117 | Price: £19.95