PAY THE RENT

LANDISMUNDERSTANDING THE NEED FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

There is nothing like a developing economic depression for people to start to understand the need for social change.

Until now, the average person hasn’t felt the need to become philosophical about his or her lot in life. They’ve generally managed a living, even though it may have meant taking on more debt recently. 

They certainly hadn’t regarded themselves as wage slaves, although the question did occasionally arise in their minds as to how the super wealthy, at least those outside showbiz and top sport, had really made their millions.

As unemployment worsens, people who hadn’t formerly seen the need for fundamental change will start to ask themselves questions, particularly if they’ve lost their jobs.

Many will cast about looking for deeper social solutions, while the more conservative will see unemployment benefits, capitalism’s safety net, as offering the necessary ray of hope. The latter will be proven misguided as unemployment benefits fall short of their needs in a depression.  Importantly, they’re not essential anyway in a properly repaired economy.*  

The myriad working on their own particular aspect of social change will see this as an opportunity at least to make to make some headway, if not actually to change society for the better.

These reformers would be an estimable political voice were they to unite under one banner but, failing to do so because of their differences, they will be painted by media people beholden to the status quo for their jobs simply as a cacophony of dangerous socialists or fascists.

Whether reformers understand it or not, there is one fundamental thing that weaves the disparate threads together: an understanding of where the economic system goes wrong.  The Establishment manages to close its eyes to it.

Whether in the Middle East, South America, North America, Africa, Australia or elsewhere, the common thread to impoverishment, recession and depression has always been the dispossession of people from the land, or else their excessive indebtedness for access to it. 

Far fetched?  Not at all: we have to acknowledge this most basic point if we are to understand the economic process that visits unemployment, recession and depression on peoples of either the first, second or third worlds.

The aboriginal people of any nation understand only too well the effects of dispossession from their lands; they have long railed against its deepest cruelties and absolutely demoralising wrongs.  But to this very day, neither church nor state have been prepared to address this fact squarely.  You see, it’s more than a little embarrassing, so they’ll apply themselves to specious laws, or to charity and saving souls, instead of to real economic and social justice.

With their slogan Pay the Rent” (for the land you have taken from us), Australian Aborigines get straight to the point.  It is unfortunately implicit in this cry that the rent should be paid only to them, when, for justice to be done to all Australians, an equal part of the surplus in the production process represented by rent should be paid to every citizen.

Given that Land Value Research Group studies show that one third of GDP is now site (or land) rent as in the chart in my preceding blog – before we even consider mineral rents, spectrum rents, forestry rents, fishing rents, aircraft slot rents, which would take Australia’s total rent to some 50% of its GDP – there is more than enough natural resource rent to allow us to abolish all taxes on labour and capital, and for a social dividend to be paid to each and every citizen.  In these circumstances, there’s no need for unemployment benefits, nor charity. *  

If we have the humility to do so, we can learn a great deal from our indigenous peoples about finally reconciling the people and the planet.

As with the abolition of slavery, politicians, the law and the church will follow only when they see the people are serious. Until that time comes, they’ll continue to genuflect to the greedy, powerful few and pay only lip service or prayers to social and economic justice.  

If the thesis was capitalism and the antithesis Marxism, then the synthesis that grants equal access to everyone beckons all social reformers.

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PARASITES COUNTER-ATTACK

TIMOROUS ONE PER CENT TAKE TO THE FRONT FOOT

With all the evidence now pointing to the fact that less than one per cent of the population has been getting rich at our expense, it seems this powerful minority has become very restive.

Though now exposed, the privileged little group isn’t likely to stop privatising public rents without a fight:   So, what if private rent-seeking is a perversion of justice? Haven’t tax systems increasingly freed up the private capture of rent since the 1970s, and didn’t ‘economic rationalism‘ and the Washington Consensus give it its blessing? Wasn’t business told to “Go for it!”?

THE AGE today mentioned that freedom of information intelligence shows that Treasury correctly foresaw and warned that vested interests would be self-justificatory and insistent in seeking to avoid the mining resource rent.  Subsequently, in counter attack mode, mining magnates are said to looking for an avenue of Constitutional appeal, have accused Treasury of being on a witch hunt and won opposition leader Tony Abbott’s ear in trying to defeat the rightful claim of Australians to their mineral rents. 

Net incomes of wages and capital disappearing before our eyes
Net incomes of wages and capital disappearing before our eyes

Ken Henry’s tax review panel had obviously no longer been able to ignore the sheer extent of land and resource rents the one per cent had been able to claim unto itself.  They rightly concluded that resource rents belong equally to all Australians. 

Ken Henry’s taxation review panel made an excellent job of the task the Rudd government had set for it. Too excellent, maybe? Rudd was embarrassed, immediately disavowing the federal land tax component and putting many other recommendations on the back-burner.  To his credit, then Prime Minister Rudd did take the mining tax on board, but he took it on without clearly demonstrating to the public that he was collecting what was, in fact, their rightful inheritance.  Many have since come to understand the fact, but unfortunately after new Prime Minister Gillard substantially decreased the mining tax from its originally proposed 40% of net profit.

We do, indeed, need to redirect the emphasis of the tax system from labour and capital back onto publicly-created incomes from land and other natural resources.   Even some of the big boys now accept the damage the tax system has been wreaking, and that Australia does need such a revenue switch if we are to free up labour and capital and avoid the repercussions of the Global Financial Collapse.

To ignore the privatisation of rent, as the privileged one per cent requires, will cast Australia into the same mould as the US, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy. That is, when our property market collapses we will also be expected to start bailing out our banks with a view to ensuing that the less than one per cent retains its special privileges and that the tax system is permitted to continue to disembowel the economy, putting many Australians into unemployment.

Just look at the zombie economy of Japan I tried to warn in 1987 if you want to know to what point bailing out banks and supremacist property investors will take us.

Pollution, climate change and economics

HazlewoodIt shouldn’t do so, but the dichotomy on climate change does amuse me. It’s similar to the polarisation of the political system into Tweedledum and Tweedledummer, the divide and rule tactic employed by rent-seekers to steal from the earnings of the poor and middle class.

Climate change happens and has always happened. Man-made pollution hasn’t always happened and needs to be addressed.

I recall the positive steps made when the abattoirs for which I once conducted valuations were required to direct the foul-smelling emissions from their rendering plants into in-ground bio-filters, instead of into the air.  No more pollution ensued.

But it seems smaller businesses such as these were unfairly singled out when, for example, the pollution from Victoria’s Hazlewood power station is still permitted to pour out all over the inhabitants of the Latrobe Valley.  Why is this?  Maybe they don’t have enough political clout? 

In the 21st century pollution can obviously be controlled where there’s a will. Is the cost the problem?  It certainly cost the abattoirs, too, and many abattoirs went broke over the last 20 or so years.  Maybe some bigger polluters should also be allowed to go broke if they can’t toe the modern standards required of them?

Therefore, I certainly favour a carbon tax on polluters, but not via carbon trading schemes, which are shameless business rorts to prolong and profit from the man-made pollution of our environment.

The Reverend Thomas Malthus exemplifies that appealing to fear won’t win the argument where the science is contested. Malthus couldn’t win the majority over and he was proved incorrect by science anyway. However, we now have Neo-Malthusians saying he would have been right if we hadn’t used science wrongly [!] to improve yields, productivity, etc. These are the same people who believe that we can’t have continued economic growth when, in fact, we can. If were to abolish taxes and put a charge on the value of our land and natural resources many new possibilities start to emerge. 

It seems to me the Luddites aren’t going to be happy until we come to believe that humans are nothing less than a blight on the planet. I meanwhile rejoice in what we have been able to do right – we humans have a pretty good record of this, too – rather than running around wearing a hair shirt and crying “Woe! Woe!”.  The Greens will kick goals when they realise the environment doesn’t have to be sold in negative terms. 

What continues to rankle with me is that science is now mostly on board with humanity’s involvement in climate change, but it still hasn’t managed to bring itself within a bull’s roar of the Georgist remedy.

Why the hell not?

 

HELLO? HELLO? INFRASTRUCTURE AUSTRALIA, ARE YOU LISTENING?

 

Glen Canyon damI hope Infrastructure Australia (IA) gets to see and consider this inspired piece by EarthSharing’s Karl Fitzgerald (“K2”).

IA should understand that:-

  • worthwhile capital works carried out at the taxpayer’s expense will always raise land values
  • if the infrastructure is viable, it will more than pay for itself out of the uplift in land values
  • so, part of the increase in land values should be captured back to the public purse to pay for the project 
  • the uplift in land values should not simply be left in the hands of private interests as it is currently
  • no taxes will be needed, nor “public private partnerships” required
  • abolish taxes!

                                                                                                            Full stop.

TURNOVER IS A BUBBLE

afr logoAFR 5 Oct 2010

LVRG MEDIA RELEASE MONDAY 4 OCTOBER 2010

SOLD

 

LVRG CONFIRMS “THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN REAL ESTATE BUBBLE”

By a number of objective measures Australian property is in a bubble, exposing landowners to the imminent prospect of a once-in-a-century price collapse, the Land Values Research Group confirmed today.

“Sober cautionary voices from within Australia and overseas have been ignored in a frenzied headlong rush to profit from the surge in prices,” LVRG Research Associate Bryan Kavanagh said.

“It is now too late. The profits have been made.  Canny investors have already sold up and left the market.

The LVRG today released its annual assessment of real estate sales for the financial year ended 30 June 2010. It includes the aggregated residential, commercial, industrial and rural real estate sales from all Australian states and territories.

“The 2010 property turnover figure is 3.74 times that at the peak of the 1989 real estate bubble.

The 2010 figure of $327.447 billion (for 664,816 sales) is a new record. It compares with 2009 financial year sales of $272.997 billion (612,975) and the 2008 figure of $309.604 billion (665,982). Only the real estate sales for Queensland were less in 2010 than those in the previous year, $50.5 billion in 2010 compared to $53.3 billion in 2009.  

“The growing build-up of inventory with agents, particularly in residential real estate, will almost certainly ensure a drop in turnover during the current financial year – setting the conditions for the first Australian recession in twenty years.

The LVRG has tracked real estate sales data since 1972.  It defines a real estate bubble as anytime total sales exceed 18 per cent against seasonally adjusted gross domestic product.

During the period of the current bubble (1999 to 2010) Australians spent $2.767 trillion on real estate of which 29.1% ($805 billion) is in the bubble and will need to be ‘deleveraged’.

LVRG main graph

“Measuring the current level of real estate prices against GDP takes into account both the growth in population and in the economy. Despite difficulties in getting the data together, the picture they paint is clearly one of a bubble which must correct,” Mr Kavanagh said.

The argument that population increases and the shortage of supply explains away the current exceptionally high real estate prices does not stand up to scrutiny, Mr Kavanagh said. He noted property agents in the USA tried to justify high prices in just these terms before the bursting of its residential bubble.

Our studies show the housing market alone is over-valued by 45%.

 “I cannot give a date for the Australian bubble burst – this depends on spontaneous motivation, “animal spirits” – but it is clearly looking us in the face.

Although turnover represents a record, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show total land prices had already turned down in 2009 when the federal government primed them with the First Home Buyers Boost.  (See first graph below.)

“The GFC has reset expectations around the world. Australians are now focused on reducing their record high household debt to a more manageable level, making it unlikely any similar government intervention will induce another buying surge in the residential market, Mr Kavanagh concluded.

 

LVRG land to GDP

 

LVRG y-o-y change 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUSTRALIA’S TOTAL REAL ESTATE SALES

LVRGLogoI’ve been pretty quiet because I’ve been working on completing the Land Value Research Group’s unique assessment of Australia’s total property sales for the 2010 financial year.  

Of course, with the assistance of Dr Gavin Putland, I’ll use these figures to update the barometer of the economy and the Kavanagh-Putland Index which include similar data all the way back to 1972, and which anybody conversant with The Depression website knows paints the picture of Australia’s immediate economic future.  

Everything’s just about ready. I’m getting a media release together that I’ll also post here in due course.

Regards,

– Bryan Kavanagh

 

 

Depression2

WHY DOES STATUS QUO RESORT TO SNEER?

KeenJoye

I attended the first day of the Australian Property Institute’s Annual State Conference at Crown Casino on Friday, before venturing off into the evening to witness my once-mighty Geelong humbled by Collingwood at the MCG.

Conference master of ceremonies, financial journalist Michael Pascoe, deftly introduced and posed questions to a diverse range of speakers across a wide range of property-related topics.  

No speech was as legally forensic as Ian Pitt’s details of the bureaucratic impossibilities facing valuers in Melbourne’s five growth areas now overseen by the Growth Areas Authority.

And none was more impassioned than John Anderson’s account of the enjoyment, risks and tribulations in founding Contiki Tours forty-six years ago, at the age of twenty-two.

However, in a presentation suggesting that population and shortage of supply actually support the existing levels of Australian residential property prices, Christopher Joye, the managing director of the research group, Rismark, decided to venture into personal abuse to smear  Associate Professor Steve Keen of the University of Western Sydney as an “Aussie Roubini-wannabe”.   Keen was not in attendance.

I might add that I didn’t see Christopher Joye’s name next to Keen’s among the twelve economists who forecast this global financial crisis.  Envious, perhaps, Chris?

Joye sneered at Keen’s 2008 forecast that house prices are going to fall 40 per cent or so in the next few years and in his 2010 opinion that he now expects to see an accelerating rate of decline in house prices.    

(All Roger Babson’s such as Keen seem fated to be met with derision from those whose interests are wedded to the status quo, I mused.)

Fortunately, towards the end of the day, RMIT Associate Professor of Property, David Higgins more generously allowed that the residential market may be artificially inflated.

His statistical analysis then proceeded to show that government manipulation appears to account at least in part for Australia’s inflated residential markets.  This, it seems, is especially before an election and warrants further investigation.

Higgins’ paper “The impact of political risk on Australian house prices” appears in the September 2010 issue of the Australia and New Zealand Property Journal.

Summary?  A brickbat for Joye’s descent into ad hominem, and a bouquet for Higgins’ more thoughtful analysis of the overheated Australian residential market.  

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NO MORE BAILOUTS

LARRY_KUDLOW

 

 

At the risk of sounding like a member of the Tea Party, there’s more than a hint of truth about this CNBC Larry Kudlow “Reality Check” Report in connection with US housing. 

It’s what Japan didn’t do, and what the US doesn’t want to do: a bit of “free market shock therapy”, as Kudlow says. 

Oh, that and abolishing taxes on production, thrift and employment – and introducing a land tax, of course!

AUSTRALIA CAN LEARN WHAT NOT TO DO

ObamaFrom COUNTERPUNCH September 13, 2010

OBAMA’S THATCHERITE GIFT TO THE BANKS: A $50 BILLION “INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN”

–   by Michael Hudson

I can smell the newest giveaway looming a mile off. The Wall Street bailout, health-insurance giveaway and support of real estate prices rather than mortgage-debt write-downs were bad enough, not to mention the Oil War’s Afghan extension. But now comes a topper: the $50 billion transportation infrastructure plan that  Obama proposed in Milwaukee – cynically enough, on Labor Day. It looks like the Thatcherite Public-Private Partnership, Britain’s notorious giveaway to the City of London underwriters. The financial giveaway had the effect of increasing prices for basic infrastructure services by building in heavy financial fees – guaranteed for the banks, who lent the money that banks and property owners used to pay in taxes in more progressive times.

The Obama transport plan is like a Fannie Mae for bankers, based on the President’s guiding mantra: “Let’s help Wall Street put Americans back to work.” The theory is that giving public guarantees and bailouts will enable financial managers to use some of the money to fund some projects that employ people – with newly created, non-unionized companies, presumably.

Here’s the problem. Transportation projects will make real estate speculators, the construction industry and their bankers very rich unless the government recovers its public spending through windfall site-value gains on property along the right-of-way.

What’s the point of a party having a constituency, after all, if not to sell it out? Is not the Democratic Party’s role to deliver labor, the minorities and the large cities hog-tied to Wall Street?

Hollywood surely has made enough movies along these faux-populist lines. The banker of a Western town manages to grab property along the railroad tracks coming through, to make a killing. The local mobster pays off a state legislator to build a highway by his property, making his land much more valuable. Mortgages will be refinanced in much larger sums. At least, this seems to be President Obama’s hope as he positions himself to become America’s Tony Blair. The role of Britain’s New Labor, after all, was to ram through economic programs so far to the right than no Conservative government could get away with them. In the United States it falls to Obama’s New Democrats to shepherd through proposals that Democrats would vote down if the Bush-Cheney Republicans had tried to enact them.

What President Obama did not acknowledge is a basic principle that every transportation economist is taught: Transport investment normally can pay for itself, simply by a windfall-gains tax enabling cities or other jurisdictions to recapture the higher rent-of-location and site value along the right-of-way.

London’s extension of the Jubilee Tube Line to the city’s financial district in Canary Wharf recently demonstrated this principle. The line’s extension cost £3.5 billion but increased property values by an estimated £13 billion along the route. A political protest movement arose over London’s failure to finance its transport system by taxing the higher rent-of-location and site values it created. Failure to do so gave landlords a windfall – one that the city could have recaptured by a windfall tax to cover the cost of what it spent. For instance, it could have issued bonds secured by a windfall property-rent tax.

Paying for capital investment out of such tax levies could provide transportation at a subsidized price, minimizing the cost getting to and from work. That would have made its labor force more competitive by alleviating cost-of-living pressure on wages, freeing more income for spending on goods and services and thus helping the economy.

But Obama’s infrastructure plan is for Wall Street investors to get the windfall – as property owners or as mortgage lenders making much larger loans against the enhanced site value. Balzac said that behind every family fortune is a great theft, and I would add that behind every great fortune is a public-sector giveaway. The largest asset in most families, billionaires as well as small homeowners, is land. The key to its site value (“location, location and location”) is transportation and other public infrastructure. The land grants to railroad barons after America’s Civil War, for example created the largest American fortunes for the ensuing century.

Obama’s guiding principle since taking office is that of his Republican predecessors: It’s Wall Street that makes America rich. In this mythology it’s the wealthiest brackets that employ labor, not downsize and outsource it. So it’s the rich who deserve tax breaks.         

No wonder Americans are listening to populist rants against “big government.” The Wall Street bailout was the watershed in making our government look like those of Britain and France in medieval times, with their special interests, insider dealings and giveaways to court favorites. Governments were hated when they were controlled by landed aristocracies and foreign bankers funding each new war debt by an excise tax borne by the population at large, not by the wealthy.

America got rich from the Progressive Era onward by a different kind of big government than we have today. From the Cumberland Road and Erie Canal onward, it provided roads and other basic services at public expense for free or at subsidized prices. The guiding idea was that the “return” to public investment should be measured by the degree to which it lowers the economy’s costs of living and doing business, not in the amount of income it could extract.

The plan would not add to the government deficit,  Obama promised. Unfortunately, in place of government taking more revenue, it will be the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector that does the taking. The banking system will now do what government was supposed to do back in the Progressive Era: finance infrastructure. The difference today is that instead of funding transportation out of tax proceeds (levied progressively on the wealthy) or by the central bank monetizing public debt, the Obama plan calls for borrowing $50 billion at interest from banks.

The problem is that this will build in high interest charges, high private management charges, underwriting fees – and government guarantees. User fees will need to cover these financial and other privatization costs “freed” from the government budget. This will build about $2 billion a year into the cost of providing the transport services.

This threatens to be the kind of tollbooth program that the World Bank and IMF have been foisting on hapless Third World populations for the past half-century. The “infrastructure bank,” reports The New York Times, “would be run by the government but would pool tax dollars with private investment.” It would be a test balloon for financing “a broader range of projects, including water and clean-energy projects,” for which Democrats already are drawing up a blueprint:

“[Connecticut Democrat Rosa] DeLauro’s plan would create an infrastructure bank that would be part of the United States Treasury, where it would attract money from institutional investors, then channel the funds to projects selected by a panel. The program, which would make loans much like the World Bank, would finance projects with the potential to transform whole regions, or even the national economy, the way the interstate highway system and the first transcontinental railway once did.

“The outside investors would expect a competitive return on their money, so many of the completed projects would have to charge fees, taxes or tolls. In an interview, Ms. DeLauro said she would be “looking at a broader base,” meaning the bank would finance not just roads and rails, but also telecommunications, water, drainage, green energy and other large-scale works.

“But if the projects did not raise enough money, the Treasury might get stuck paying back the investors, a prospect that gave pause to so-called deficit hawks like [Ohio Republican Congressman Pat] Tiberi. In an e-mail last week, he said he agreed the nation’s road and communications networks needed to be improved but was concerned about creating another company like Fannie Mae that might need a bailout.” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mary Williams Walsh, “Obama Offers a Transit Plan to Create Jobs,” The New York Times September 7, 2010.

Britain’s Public-Private Partnership built enormous financing charges into the cost of providing transport. London could have built the tube extension without running up public debts to the banks, paying the construction costs by funding the higher rent-of-location. America could do the same. In fact, in times past the United States financed public infrastructure out of progressive taxation that fell mainly on the wealthy, and by monetizing the budget deficit. But under  Obama’s plan, the rental value is to be capitalized into interest payments or simply kept by well-placed landowners.

It looks like President Obama sat down with Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and his other Rubinomics holdovers from the Clinton/Goldman-Sachs Administration and asked what policies can be funded without taxing the wealthy, but by borrowing via a separate entity – with a government guarantee like the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac gravy train for Wall Street.

The cover story is always that giveaways to the wealthy are needed to employ labor.  (“Wall Street creates jobs.”) The Democratic excuse these days is that the economy won’t work without providing financial investors with “incentives.” The Democratic Leadership Council helped President Clinton accept the world as it is, rife with the fraud, crime and the proverbial free lunch as part and parcel of how the economy works. This certainly is how to attract campaign contributors and the Wall Street lobbyists that are designing today’s right-wing shift by Washington.
After its $13 trillion giveaway to Wall Street, the government has little debt-creating ability left in its budget to create jobs by public spending. Or so we are told. The giveaway money has not been lent out as promised to “get America back to work.” It has been paid out as bonuses to the bailed-out campaign contributors on Wall Street – and make offenders such as Bank of America and Citibank for their purchases of Countrywide, Wacovia and Washington Mutual (Wamu) whole for junk mortgages, on the pretense that a “sound banking system” is needed to get the economy moving again – the euphemism for pushing it further into debt.

But if there was so much money for bailouts, why is there any need to finance the fairly modest $50 billion transport initiative by borrowing instead of funding it out of the general budget?

There is no such need, of course. The program is simply an excuse for re-introducing Reaganomics as if the aim this time around is to “create jobs.” The way that  Obama proposes to do this threatens to price American labor even further out of world markets, by raising the cost of getting to work, and of renting or going into debt to buy homes and offices near the new transportation hubs. And I suspect that as in Britain, the new public-private agency will be non-unionized. Britain’s Public-Private Partnership still looms as the dress rehearsal for what we are getting into.

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Hudson 

 

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) and Trade, Development and Foreign Debt: A History of Theories of Polarization v. Convergence in the World Economy. He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

 

 

 

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