All posts by Bryan Kavanagh

I'm a real estate valuer who worked in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) before co-founding a private valuation practice, Westlink Consulting. I discovered that we leave too much publicly-generated land rent to be privately capitalised by banks and individuals into land price bubbles. This generates repetitive recessions and depressions. These need to be avoided by capturing more revenue from land values to free up wages and household debt.

THE ECONOMY IS SICKLICAL (GET WELL SOON!)

SURRENDERING AT THE OUTSET?

“Recurring financial crises are part of the cyclical nature of a free market economy.”

[Sigh!]  With an opening sentence like that one, how likely is it that the Faculty of Law’s symposium ‘Global Financial Crisis: The Way Forward’ at Bond University on 9 April is going to be anything but complete farce?

So, an equivalent of the GFC, at regular intervals, is all that the “free market” has to offer us? Wait!  Don’t tell me: all we need then is a little more ‘regulation’?  Yes?  OMG!

Will any of the listed speakers have the intestinal fortitude to challenge the symposium’s hapless starting premiss?  Surely, there’s got to be a serious amount of grey matter among that lot, or, are they all fresh out of intellectual rigour?

Why should not the starting point for the Bond symposium be that these mindless 18-year cycles are most unnatural, and can be remediated by abolishing taxes and applying a land and resource rent system? Many people have written to this effect, even forecasting the GFC, but they are shunned because they are outsiders, beyond the pale:-

“Don’t you realise that although a land rent as an alternative to taxes may seem to be a simple fiscal adjustment, it actually amounts to a revolution?”

“Yes – a revolution which removes these repetitive 18 year cycles of boom and busts forever and creates a sustainable and genuinely free market.”

It has all happened before, of course.  The French Physiocrats tried to warn Louis XVI to apply l’impot unique, the single tax on land, but he gallantly chose to foster the French Revolution and lose his head rather than offend his brothers in land.

Seems retaining land monopoly and speculation is a principle worth dying for, even if it does create regular GFCs?

Wizard of Id 2

PROPAGANDA – OR HOME TRUTHS?

conservativesTHREE STORIES

[Once upon a time …]

“They’re undermining the country, I tell you! We’ve got to set up a conservative foundation. We’ll call it ‘Status Quo Now!’ and and give presentations showing the public that those bleeding-heart liberals amount to nothing more than stooges for the commie nihilists.”

“We’ll use words like ‘patriot’, ‘the flag’, ‘God’ and ‘defending our values’ a lot.  We’ll show them we’re the good guys, working for the principle of freedom on which this country was founded.”

_______________________________________________________

liberals [Once upon a time …]

“If we’re ever to reform society, we’ve got to start a body to counter all the right-wing claptrap spread by parts of the media, that healthy levels of government spending will pull the country down because we’re trying to create a ‘one world government’.  Let’s call the organisation ‘The Democracy Vibe’.”

“We’ve got to show the people that it’s big business and the political right that are pauperising them.”

_______________________________________________________

rentiers

[Today …]

“Phew! We thought that might be a close call; but it turns out that neither Status Quo Now! nor The Democracy Vibe really pose any real threat to us at all.  Neither have worked out how we’ve designed the tax system to grab for ourselves the 30% of the economy unearned incomes represents. They’re still puzzled about the means by which we, at less than 1% of the population, grow richer and richer.”

“While they and the political parties continue their misdiagnoses, we rentiers will keep running the show. So, let’s continue to encourage their delusions, boyos!”

JAPAN

JAPAN PLAYS RIP VAN WINKLE

Japan’s not one of the ‘PIIGS’, but it has its own problems.  In 1995 the Japanese economy, the second largest in the world to the US, had a GDP in excess of US$5 trillion. It didn’t achieve this figure again (in nominal terms) until last year, 2009.  In other words, the economy has deflated for 13 years.

We could learn a lot from Japan, because deflation is also our future.

For example, what might the USA learn from the Japanese experience?

  • That ‘quantitative easing’ (including zero, or near zero, interest rates) will fail to fend off the economic depression.
  • Feeding banks with cash, and the economy with stimuli, can’t replace productivity, sales and confidence.

Once the world’s powerhouse economy, Japan will this year be overtaken in the GDP stakes by an emergent China.  It has proven to be incredibly slow to pick up on the the fact that that Keynesian pump-priming ‘works’ only once the deflation has purged excessive debt out of the economy.  Rather than quickly writing off the unsustainable debt created by the banking system, Japan chose instead to cosset its banks: this should also offer us food for thought.

What brought about Japan’s lengthy slumber?  It was set in place by the gargantuan late-1980s  commercial real estate bubble which burst in the early-1990s.  Although the resemblance to the giant residential bubble that recently burst across the USA is remarkable, Barack Obama’s neo-classical economic boffins haven’t shown the wit to take these lessons on board: they are slowly but surely directing the USA into a form of hibernation within the same deep ruts that scoured the Japanese economy for so long.  Why repeat the somnambulance?  Maybe to avoid, at any cost, that most fundamental of actions that needs to be taken, namely, shifting the revenue base off production and onto land values? It’s a big step, but it works.

Back in 1987 I warned Japan about the gloomy prospect for its economy:-

Look Japan 1987

GREECE

Greek strikes and riots

AND SO IT BEGINS …

The ‘G’ in the ‘PIIGS’ acronym for troubled economies [i.e. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain] has begun to experience real social unrest.  Greece only has more of the same to look forward to, because slashing government spending and seeking international financial support can be no replacement for the GFC’s real remedy – shifting the revenue base by abolishing taxes and instituting a land rental system.  Yet that is as far removed from the people of Greece as it is for any other country.

Most Greeks, including those rioting in the streets, know that their taxation system has long been in tatters due to rampant avoidance and evasion – that it is unfair and must be recast – but they have no idea what should replace it.

…. and those in the know, the less than 1% of wealthy Greeks who understand the tax system and use it to direct vast swathes of unearned GDP unto themselves … they aint saying nothing.

Tony O’Brien (1945 – 2002)

TonyTony O’Brien was born in Sydney, grew up in Melbourne and was drafted into the army, serving in the infantry in Vietnam for a year in 1966-7.  He met and married Dinah in London where he worked as a landscape gardener before settling back in Adelaide with their three children.

In the late 1990s Tony’s statistical flair began to illuminate the pages of PROGRESS, the journal of Prosper Australia, so I quickly inducted him into the Land Values Research Group as its research coordinator.  I found Tony’s ease with meaningful statistical data difficult to believe.  It was as though statistics had been his training.

He was a remarkable Australian, not only identifying with the underdog, but pointing to ways he and she might retain the fruits of their labours. Tony’s Land Monopoly and Income Polarisation in Australia 1950 to 2000 has been widely distributed since publication in October 2001.

Numerous e-mail exchanges between Tony and me revealed his flair with the English language and love of music.  Learning of my interest in folk music, Tony pointed me to folk songs old and new, including Leon Rosselson’s Diggers Song, the poignant lyrics of which are reproduced here:

The Diggers’ Song 

(The World Turned Upside Down)

© Leon Rosselson

  

In 1649, to Saint George’s Hill

A ragged band they called The Diggers came to show the people’s will.

They defied the landlords, they defied the law

They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs.

We come in peace, they said, to dig and sow.

We come to work the land in common and to make the waste-land grow.

This earth divided, we will make whole

So it can be a common treasury for all.

 

The sin of property, we do disdain

No man has any right to buy and sell the earth for private gain

By theft and murder, they took the land

Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command.

They make the laws, to chain us well.

The clergy dazzle us with heaven or they damn us into hell.

We will not worship the god they serve

The god of greed who feeds the rich while poor men starve.

We work, we eat together, we need no swords.

We will not bow to the masters nor pay rent to the lords.

We are free men, though we are poor.

 

You diggers all stand up for glory, stand up now.

From the men of property

The orders came

They sent the hired men and troopers

To wipe out the Diggers claim.

Tear down their cottages

Destroy their corn.

They were dispersed

But still the vision lingers on.

 

You poor take courage

You rich take care

The earth was made a common treasury

For everyone to share

All things in common

All people one

We come in peace.

…  The order came to cut them down.

LAND DEALING AND THE COLLAPSE OF EMPIRES

History

LEARNING HISTORY’S FAILED ECONOMICS?

“The relevance of Moses’ economics to our own tax-burdened days is startling” proclaimed The Viking Press’ blurb for Francis Neilson’s book “The Eleventh Commandment” on its release in 1933.

However, during those early days of the Great Depression, policy makers made the gross error of failing to heed Neilson’s revelations about the destruction that had been visited upon empires that had “laid field to field”. Atrociously high prices for land occurred in Ancients Babylon, Rome and Greece, explained Neilson, and, once we understand the wrongful manner in which we hold real estate leads to the collapse of empires, we’ll also know how to break this repeating curse.

Although differing from Neilson’s profession and libertarian stance, UMKC’s distinguished professor of economics, Michael Hudson, presents as a modern-day counterpart of Francis Neilson.

Hudson’s heterodox financial analysis warned long and loud of the Great Recession, both from his intimate knowledge of Wall Street’s goings-on and also from intensive study of the economic verities exhibited by the collapse of empires since the times of Ancient Sumer.

Michael Hudson directs us to the same remedy as Francis Neilson: the public capture of land rent instead of taxation. He provides an additional insight, however: that land rent not captured for public revenue becomes available to banks as interest. Hence, banks’ massive profits before they brazenly seek public bailouts once the land price bubble has burst. They play both ends against the middle – the public.

Some quarters, not the least the economics profession, have been slow to pick up that orthodox economics has been thoroughly discredited by another real estate bubble. They fail to observe that the history of empires is simply a practical study of economics writ large. One of neoclassical economics paragons, once head of the US Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, admitted his surprise and ignorance at the arrival of the Great Recession.

Greenspan could do no better than humbly study the timeless wisdom of Francis Neilson and Michael Hudson – even if Hudson was once commissioned to sack him!

IRELAND’S TRAVAILS

David McWilliams
David McWilliams

Those who’ve not caught up with David McWilliams’ insightful Irish financial journalism might remember his recent television series “Addicted to Money”.  The latest post on his website is a thoughtful deconstruction of the absolutely ludicrous hoops through which Ireland is jumping, presumably for the sake of ‘saving face’ and doing ‘what is expected of it’ [or rather, expected of its taxpayers and inhabitants by the international financial community for the next generation or so].

I’m much more impressed with McWilliams’ alternative solution.

NEW ZEALAND DEBATES A LAND TAX

South Island New Zealand

New Zealanders are debating the introduction of a land tax to counter their savage decline into the GFC.  Of course, it’s arguable that if they already had a significant land tax in place, their economy wouldn’t have experienced the financial collapse caused by their bout of speculation, and would have generated more real wealth instead.

All the old property lobby canards are already being trotted out:  What about the ‘poor widow’? [She needn’t pay the land tax and can put it as a charge on her estate.];  It’s a wealth tax! [Er, yes, it’s based upon the value of the land the community has ceded to your use, and those with more valuable land will pay more than those with less valuable land, or  none. This is unfair? ]

Go for it New Zealand!  The main question is will Australia and the US allow you to go for it – because the first country that raises itself out of the economic mire in this fashion will stand out like a beacon from all the others – and they’ll have to follow.  But Australia and the US both heavied you over your ‘No nuclear ships’ policy and you stood tall.  So, you’re more likely to introduce it than we are in Australia.  This could get very interesting!

LEARNING OUR LESSONS

taxesGOVERNMENT INTERVENTION, ANYONE?

As the negative fallout deepens from the government roof batts and solar panels stimulus saga, the question becomes whether Peter Garrett will survive as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.  It seems to confirm that  governments are pretty useless in areas other than defence, law and order and public infrastructure.

What about education, health and social welfare, do I hear you ask? I’d suggest that governments have been drawn into these areas simply as a safety net from the pathologies that will always flow from aberrant taxation.  Think about it.  May not the fact that government has been drawn into the business of education, health and social welfare signify that too many people have paid too many taxes  over three levels of government for too long in Australia, and that this acts to destroy many other possibilities and opportunities?

Maybe we should more rightly conclude that ‘taxation and bloated governments destroy’?  In my opinion, this is a much more productive way in which to consider the world’s failing economies.  ‘The only certainty in life is death and taxes’ could be re-written ‘the only certainty in life is death and land rent’ because, whereas taxes can be abolished, land rent cannot.  It is either collected privately, publicly, or both.

John McRobert has made a great contribution in educating Australians to the devastation taxes wreak upon the Australian economy.  While his suggestion of a 2% tax on spending in Online Opinion yesterday would be a vast improvement on what we have today, I was inclined to respond:

“John McRobert has long displayed an excellent understanding of the vast damage wrought upon the Australian economy by an incredibly perverse taxation ‘system’. The role of taxation on industry and thrift in delivering the world into the GFC is undoubted.

However, I am less seized by his spending tax to replace the multitude of taxes with which we’ve been shackled. How would this deal with the undergound cash economy – or with barter? Also, although John’s proposal is infinitely superior to what we have now, a tax on spending will still tend to inhibit spending to some small extent.

Nor is his spending tax likely to curb property bubbles which is clearly the other half of the reason we’re having this GFC. A tax on land values would do all John McRobert is seeking and then some. It also addresses housing unaffordabilty for this and future generations of Australians by putting paid to the property speculation industry.”

DECLINING REAL WAGES AND RISING LAND PRICES ARE THE EFFECTS OF TAXATION

I’ve showed here and here that real wages increases actually topped out at the outset of the 1970s, at the peak of the Kondratieff Wave, and have consequently headed downward into the current depressionary K-wave trough.

Had we drawn more revenues from land immediately post WWII, and less from production and industry, the real wage increases and prosperity up to 1972 would have been even greater.  And had we captured only half our land rent since 1972, my report “Unlocking the Riches of Oz” demonstrates that Australia’s GDP would now be more than $2 trillion per annum (double what it is today).

If we took the more natural approach to revenue raising, we’d be able fend for ourselves much better without government intervention. But now, like the FIRE sector, government has come to believe that the world revolves around it when, as with the FIRE sector, government has grown to pathological proportion at the expense of real wealth creation, whether it be of a Liberal (conservative) or Labor (liberal) stripe.

When we come to see political parties, government and the FIRE sector for what they are, the primary ingredients of the GFC, then we might be able to remedy it; but not before.

In the meantime, governments of all persuasions will continue ‘stimulating’ economies, bailing out banks and real estate markets while, as it’s being done in the eye, an ill-informed public clings in misguided hope to one or other of the impotent political parties for a salvation that aint going to come.

The best stimulus any government can apply right now is to abolish taxes and capture its land rent.  It’s revolutionary, but it works. Unfortunately, neither the Right nor the Left accept this solution, because it’s only the Georgist school of economics that advocates it.  Interesting that it was predominantly Georgist economists who called the GFC.  Maybe they’ve studied and learnt the lessons of history better?

TAX MAN BREAK-INS ‘APPROPRIATE’

taxmanIT GETS WORSE …

As if to underscore why income tax must be abolished, Australians now learn the tax man’s been given the power to break into your home. People once resisted taxes upon their earnings, equating it to theft, but we’ve long surrendered the point to powerful interests and errant policy makers.

Income tax was introduced in the United States as a temporary WWI measure.  Similarly, the Commonwealth of Australia assumed the power from the states in WWII.  But, like geese, we’ve come to accept that being taxed on our income is as natural as night and day. Forget the fundamentally intrusive nature of income taxes, we’ve got to get revenue from somewhere, and politicians have come to see the incredible income tax bureaucracy as a great source of non-productive employment – a bit like the FIRE sector – and it doesn’t offend the wealthy.

For those with smart lawyers and accountants, income taxes remain relatively easy for the wealthy to avoid and evade. Fred Harrison’s excellent book, “Ricardo’s Law – House Prices and the Great Tax Clawback Scam” provides insight into how the wealthy claw back every cent they’ve ever paid in income taxes, and then some, through increases in the land value of their real estate holdings.  It goes unremarked that this privilege is unavailable to renters and those whose only real estate asset is their home.

The privacy intrusion and unfairness accompanying income taxes are, of course, done away with when revenues are drawn mainly from publicly created land values. But land-based revenue remains low on purpose – so as not to threaten the same power and privilege that has been permitted to widen the rich-poor gap and deliver us the GFC.

C’mon, off those sofas and back onto your hind legs, people!