This was the headline of a report in the Guardian of a conference hosted by the Treasury in London ‘in answer to critics who argue that economists failed to spot the 2008 crash because they ignored the impact of financial markets and relied on outdated theories’.
Welcome as this is, the suggestion is that it is financial markets that undermine stability, but this overlooks an underlying cause of instability in financial market. This is the property market, more precisely the market in land. This was first noted in 1983 by Fred Harrison in The Power in the Land which revealed the cyclical nature of land markets in Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, the pattern being so similar that it suggested the timing of the next crash was predictable. Having witnessed the repetition of the boom-bust pattern in 1989-92, Harrison felt emboldened in 1997 to predict the next peak in 2007 with the crash following in 2008. This prediction was reiterated in 2005 in Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010. While a depression may have been avoided, this was at the cost of a massive taxpayer bailout and quantitative easing.
The Financial Times also commented on the need for a new economics in an editorial on 13th November. In a subsequent letter published in the FT, Brian Hodgkinson, the author of A New Model of the Economy pointed out that the failure to recognise land as a separate factor of production is a ‘key omission from current models of the economy’. As he spells out in his book, the ‘flat earth’ models economists employ are totally unrealistic because they ignore the huge influence of spatial location, which gives rise to economic or Ricardian, rent.
In Ricardo’s Law, Fred Harrison reveals how ignorance of the law of rent creates the perverse situation where low-income taxpayers fund infrastructure improvements that enrich the affluent. Whether the overhaul of the economic curriculum will take cognizance of this or not remains to be seen.
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In recognition of her work to create a new body of Earth Law, international environmental lawyer and activist, Polly Higgins, has been appointed to the Arne Naess Chair for Global Justice and the Environment at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM), an international research institution at the University of Oslo, which promotes scholarly work on the challenges and dilemmas posed by sustainable development. Previous holders of the Chair include James Lovelock and Stephan Harding.
In March 2010 Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be made the 5th Crime Against Peace.
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A reviewer of The Science of Economics in Network Review, the Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, wrote ‘The editor of The Science of Economics, Raymond Makewell, has done a wonderful job of making MacLaren’s thinking relevant to our times … MacLaren has important ideas on economic justice that we also need to reflect on in the wake of banking scandals and growing economic inequality.
Although MacLaren made his thought independent of its original inspiration in the work of Henry George, there is no doubt that George’s influence runs right through this book … MacLaren, like George, insists that land is the basis of economic activity … George’s vision … is certainly the inspiration for the many groups today arguing for the LVT [land value tax], and, in MacLaren’s reworking of it, deeply thought-provoking.
Whether one agrees that MacLaren’s economics is more scientific than any other, or agrees with the arguments for the LVT, is not the point here. What matters is to engage with any thinker who is serious about economic justice. It matters because, although it may seem like a deeply refractory problem, not thinking about it is collectively the most likely cause of the economic mess we are in today. This book will be of great interest to anyone concerned with this problem.’
Two reviews of Re-solving the Economic Puzzle by different reviewers appeared in the same issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology stating: ‘[Rybeck] gives us a multifaceted and enlightening book combining public policy analysis and autobiography … Rybeck is probably best known for developing the concept that land value taxation is actually a “super user charge” (1983). First it constitutes payment for the “license” to exclusive use of a particular site and, second, it overcomes the difficulty of setting individual user charges for each public service because location values provide an excellent means of judging the value of the totality of public facilities and services available to users of any particular site.
‘Its major benefits would include abundant jobs at living wages, affordable housing for all, self-financing infrastructure, an end to sprawl and urban decay, and a rational tax system, to give only the first five of his list of 10. He concludes that land value taxation should appeal to reasonable people on both the left and the right, providing greater social justice while remaining within the framework of a free-market system.
‘A broader application of Henry George’s insight into the role of the community in creating value has the potential to make the Georgist tradition central to contemporary debates over how to turn the United States away from its increasing trend towards plutocracy and develop an ethical economy that is compatible with democracy.’ Stephan Barton
‘While the media, politicians, and even economists claim that we must choose among painful trade-off alternatives, Rybeck shows there is a way to solve the puzzle. The solution is a tax shift that replaces taxes that hamper the economy with public revenues that do not hurt and may even benefit the economy … This book is truly one of the best introductions to real-world economics that I have come across.
‘His book is an ethical as well as an economic inquiry. Rybeck provides an analogy with slavery: the main argument against slavery was moral, beyond any economic analysis. For land issues, [his] message is one of harmony, as the policy that provides the greatest justice is also the policy that promotes maximum prosperity.
‘Land is central to the economy and to history, yet modern economists ignore it. While growing inequality is much discussed, there is little mention of the concentration of land ownership … The concentration of land value in a few hands is a global phenomenon.
‘This is indeed a book that should be read by every economist, every student, and every person who has been puzzled and troubled by our economic woes. It would be wonderful if a policymaker happens to read this book and actually implements its solution, but otherwise, the people should know that there are economic solutions, and that it is politics, not economics, that blocks universal prosperity.’ Fred Foldvary
Click here for full review
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‘This analysis [The Traumatised Society] integrates many data and many explanations to attack private land ownership as the basis of current economics. Harrison argues that cultural genocide … has afflicted Western civilization … [He] relates this to the omission of land as a term from the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the evisceration of economic rent by neo-classical economics.
‘Harrison offers a general theory of cheating; all to do with the control of land … The dishonesty which appropriates the commons to the purposes of a minority has established a dishonest social order.
‘Harrison’s views on humanicide merge with those of Polly Higgins on ecocide, and with those of Marx, J.S. Mill, Adam Smith and Ricardo. Harrison is trying to establish again and again that the privatising of value in land underlies all rottenness in society.
‘Harrison’s analysis of capitalism’s flaws pervades the book, but the chapter [ch.11] on society’s automatic stabiliser begins with the question (p. 172) “why, despite more than 200 years of economic data, are economists still unable to offer a coherent explanation for the regularity of disturbing booms and economic busts?” … The overwhelming strength of this one chapter – indeed, the book – is that the knowledge exists to correct course, but there is a lack of ethical or political capacity to make wise decisions.
‘Harrison cites a US intelligence report which – at last, after ca. 40 years – acknowledges the prospect of converging and interacting problems which may exceed the capacity of man to devise good outcomes or avoid bad ones. Yet the appallingly ill educated generality of politicians – not only in the US – continue as if they were capable of looking ahead beneficially and justifying their decisions on sound evidence: a charades of government. Harrison calls for psychotherapists.
‘What would happen if Harrison were to give a series of Reith Lectures, or even a Dimbleby Lecture?’
To read the full review click here.
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The Land Value Tax (LVT) is a “radical” form of taxation first proposed by Henry George in his 1879 Progress and Poverty (see What If Marx Got it Wrong?). What George proposes is to replace taxes on wages, purchases, and investments with a tax on unimproved land and natural resources. Fred Harrison’s The Traumatised Society: How to Outlaw Cheating and Save Our Civilisation provides an exhaustive update of George’s original work.
As Winston Churchill famously observed, “History is written by the victors.” Nearly all history books written in the last 400 years were written by or on behalf of the ruling elite. The Traumatised Society is unique in that it recounts the history of the industrial revolution from the perspective of the 99%. Harrison also presents a simple, but elegant prescription for taking back power from the corporate oligarchy, ending economic inequality and the debt crisis, staving off ecological disaster, and preventing World War III. On the surface these claims appear extravagant and somewhat grandiose. Yet, in my view, Harrison makes his case very convincingly.
Adam Smith was the first prominent economist to propose the LVT as the most “moral” and least economically harmful tax in his classic Wealth of Nations. Neoconservative icon Milton Friedman also considered it the “least bad” kind of tax. The most famous contemporary Georgist is former World Bank Economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
Basically the argument for an LVT goes as follows: click here to read more.
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In an article in the Guardian George Monbiot posed the question: ‘Why do we ignore the most blatant transfer of money from the poor to the rich?’
He explained that on the very same day that the Chancellor announced cuts in benefits for the very poor in Parliament, another minister in Luxemburg thwarted an EU attempt to cut benefits for the very rich through the Common Agriculture Policy. The Government justifies the latter, saying ‘we must help the farmers’, but it is in fact the big landowners who benefit as the main subsidy is paid on a per hectare basis as Duncan Pickard documents in Lie of the Land.
But it is not only in the agricultural sector that the poor taxpayer subsidises the rich. As Fred Harrison points out in Ricardo’s Law wealthier property owners in the South-East enjoy far more benefits from taxpayer funded infrastructure and amenities than those in the North, the unrecognised cause of the ‘north-south divide’.
It is the silence about this that puzzles Monbiot. He suggests three possible reasons, the third of which is that ‘after being brutally evicted from the land through centuries of enclosure, we have learnt not to go there, even in our minds’. This is the trauma to which Fred Harrison refers in the title of The Traumatised Society. Monbiot goes on: ‘Whatever the reason may be, it’s time we overcame these inhibitions and confronted this unembarrassed robbery of the poor by the rich.’ It is this rent-seeking Harrison advocates we outlaw. To read full article click here.
At the Eastern Economic Conference in New York, Alanna Hartzok, Founder and Co-Director, Earth Rights Institute, delivered a presentation entitled, “A Tribute to the New Economics of James Robertson”. He challenges the protagonists of the status quo, arguing that they compound their own incredibility by their refusal or their inability to confront 10 fundamental challenges:
1. That specific increases in output in any economy no longer necessarily create corresponding increases in employment;
2. That in an age of permanently high unemployment, it is neither efficient nor equitable to attempt to distribute a nation’s wealth predominantly through the labour market;
3. That our present standard of living can only be maintained at the expense of denying the basic necessities of life to millions in the Third World;
4. That our present standard of living can only be maintained through the continuing exploitation and degradation of the biosphere;
5. That the social, environmental and spiritual costs of pursuing a policy of permanent industrial expansionism already outweigh the advantages to be derived from it;
6. That ‘GNP’, ‘productivity’, ‘progress’ and many other notional concepts of contemporary economics are incapable of evaluating or expressing real wealth or people’s real standards of living;
7. That neither laissez-faire market economics nor state-dominated socialism is capable of defining the appropriate balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility;
8. That to think in terms of ‘jobs at all costs’ is quite inadequate, in as much as all work should be fulfilling both to the individual and to the community, and should not be destructive of the environment;
9. That the international banking system is on the verge of collapse;
10. That centralised top-down government spending has failed to create sustainable patterns of employment or to promote those structural changes in the economy that are so overdue.
Fred Harrison’s latest book, The Traumatised Society, has been voted into the finals of The Non-fiction section of the People’s Book Prize and so gone through to the next round of voting. Voting to select the winner is open from 21st – 29th May. The Prize will be awarded at a gala dinner in Stationers Hall in the City of London on 29th May with Frederick Forsyth presenting the Prize. To vote again, or for the first time, click here and follow the instructions, noting the additional instruction for finalists. The Traumatised Society is 2nd from the end in the Non-fiction section. You may like to read the comments before voting.
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In an interview with Marcin Gerwin of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia Polly Higgins, author of Eradicating Ecocide and Earth is our Business, explained why it is necessary to have an international law making it a criminal offence to damage or destroy the environment. To read the full interview, click here.
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“To discover of the conditions which allow every individual to find a fulfilling life is the true goal of Economics”
In The Science of Economics Raymond Makewell presents the three-year Economics course prepared by Leon MacLaren for the School of Economic Science in London in the late 1960s. Revised with contemporary, international examples, the core material remains the same.
MacLaren (1910–1994) was a barrister, politician, philosopher and (with the aid of his father, a Member of Parliament) founder of the School of Economic Science in 1937 when the world was struggling to emerge from the Great Depression. In 1939 he was selected to stand against Winston Churchill in the election that was cancelled by the outbreak of war.
Had the election not been cancelled, Churchill would have faced an awkward challenge as to why he had abandoned the principles he had so brilliantly expounded in support of Lloyd George’s People’s Budget in 1909 when he was a Liberal Cabinet Minister. These were the principles the School of Economic Science was founded to teach.
Rather like Adam Smith in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, MacLaren took his inquiry back to first principles. Instead of making supply and demand the starting point, he begins with the simple observation that all material wealth is ultimately derived from land, and, where goods are exchanged, the first requirement is trust, or a system of credit. The major characteristics of the modern economy are examined in terms of the conditions that govern how and why they evolved and how they operate today. Particular attention is given to the system of land tenure and the concepts of property evolved in the English-speaking world, the role of government in economic affairs, and the degree of economic freedom. This reveals how the current economic situation denies millions access to all that they need to work and produce wealth for themselves. Injustice is the inevitable result and poverty its inseparable companion.
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