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Models of Fair Public Ownership

Further Reading:

No Debt, High Growth, Low Tax
by Andrew Purves

So often, the debate about public ownership is based on a narrative that sets the public interest against the private interest. In this debate in western democracies, one can characterise the period since the Second World War as having been a game of two halves. In Britain during the war, a social democratic narrative emerged, where the interests of society would be put first, in part to reward the collective effort to defeat the Nazi dictatorship, but also perhaps, to defuse the attraction of the alternative collective ownership experiment in the Soviet Union. This social welfare model was presented in the UK with the publication of the Beveridge Report in 1944, and its main recommendations were introduced during the following three decades. Living standards rose dramatically, and public service provision of housing, healthcare, and education among others became the normal expectation. We had ‘never had it so good’1.

However, this direction was challenged by many, including Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister 1979–1991, and Ronald Reagan, US President 1981–1989, leading to a reversal of public ownership and provision during the next 40 years, and the victory of the private interest. While this was driven primarily by ideology at least in the UK (see for example, Hayek, 1944), there was an appetite for change, due perhaps to the imbalance of power between the trades unions, management and government. The 1980s were as much about curtailing the power of the unions as the resurgence of free market principles, and the intended efficiency from competition.

We have now reached an intellectual and philosophical point at which voters are challenging the assumptions of globalisation, the dominance of financial interests and multinational companies protected by undemocratic supra-national organisations. This is in part a response to a sustained period of rising inequality, and a smaller share of national wealth flowing to labour, but also reflects a desire to rebuild the idea of local community, and sharing of resources at a time of environmental stress.

In this paper, I look at how two jurisdictions took a different path over these years. Hong Kong and Singapore have developed a somewhat unique approach, based on distinctive models of public asset ownership, which has been either missed, misinterpreted, or ignored by many economists and social scientists.

Read more From Models of Fair Public Ownership. By Andrew Purves, Int J. Public Policy Vol,15 Nos 1/2, 2019 Copyright Inderscience Publishers.

How Our Economy Really Works

Economists have long asserted that three factors of production, land, labour and capital, lie at the root of their subject. Yet in the development of the subject into theories and practical applications there has been a thorough analysis of labour and capital but a grievous omission of the factor of land. This is reflected in the minimal place it holds in modern textbooks, in popular discussion and political debate. Much of the argument about major issues, like industrial policy, the distribution of wealth and income and government policy reverts to a polarised struggle between two antagonists, labour and capital. The third factor, land, hides in the background unacknowledged yet exerting a major influence on the outcome of the whole economic process.

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A legal duty of care for the Earth

A legal duty of care for the Earth 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.

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Understanding Land-value Taxation

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.

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The End of Taxation

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...

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“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”

Joseph Stiglitz

“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”

Nelson Mandela

LATEST BOOK

How Our Economy Really Works

How Our Economy Really Works– Why are so many trapped in poverty, when others are grossly well-off?
– Why are house prices continuously rising faster than inflation?
– Why do people so often find themselves in jobs that give them little sense of fulfilment?
– Why is a multi-national coffee shop franchise not actually making its money from coffee?
These questions have confronted the UK economy for decades without resolution by governments of the right or left. It is the failure of economics, the author argues.

ISBN 9780856835292 | Price: £9.95