On 13 January 2010 “Online Opinion” published an article “Propping up Australian real estate” in which I asserted that over-investment in real estate is a rational reaction by individuals to the dictates of perverse tax regimes. But how stupid are our representative governments that they refuse to acknowledge penalising people for generating real wealth and rewarding them for inflating real estate bubbles will escalate land prices to all time highs at a terrible cost to the real economy and to society itself?
Unions and the bosses of industry remain light years away from perceiving how tax systems have been set up to benefit speculators at the expense of workers and business alike. So, speculators we’ve had to become. Economic Indicator Services’ Phil Anderson (author of the excellent study “The Secret Life of Real Estate“) was recently moved to tell subscribers to his newsletter:-
“Here’s a very good chart of US wages. Goes to show that under the present monopoly capitalist system, you will get slaughtered as a simple wage earner. But you know that already.”
You start to wonder at what point western governments would ever admit to the complicity of the tax system in cyles of boom and bust which, left uncorrected, direct us into economic depression and war.
This was long ago spelled out in Henry George’s seminal work “Progress and Poverty“. It remains the world’s biggest seller in economics and, in view of the Global Financial Crisis, its sub-title “An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth … The Remedy” should be attracting the interest of policy makers. However, as long as the economy’s handmaidens, finance and real estate, rule from the pedestals on which we’ve placed them, the wisdom contained in the book is unlikely to come to the attention of President Barack Obama and Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Kevin Rudd and others.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures parallel the US phenomenon shown in the chart above but, as the ABS time series was not as extensive, I’ve chosen to use the US data. This also suits the Taylor Caldwell reference. I used the Department of Labor Statistics’ helpful inflation calculator to bring average weekly earnings to 2009 dollars, but please note Mason Gaffney’s contention below that the increase depicted in the average real wage since the mid-1990s may be more apparent than real.*
You couldn’t get a more succinct nor poignant sentence than “Taxation destroys.” It’s a statement whose meaning has clearly eluded our policy makers and political representatives, but Taylor Caldwell’s citing of Thomas Jefferson’s “When we are taxed on our earned incomes, in our food and our drink, in our coming and going, in our property, we will face the return of slavery and the reestablishment of an all-powerful and despotic elite” shows that it hadn’t eluded her.
If we left private property alone, and drew our revenues instead from publicly-created land values, we’d not be breaching the dictum that taxation destroys, as it has destroyed the social fabric of the US by distributing wealth away from the vast majority of Americans to a small, rent-seeking elite.
A brief diversion that will come back to the point: After 50 days, Peter Spencer the New South Wales farmer remains on a hunger strike for not being adequately compensated for native vegetation regulations that deny him the ability to chop trees down on his own land. Regardless of the merits in Spencer’s case, I looked in vain in an article about it in THE AGE yesterday, “Lost property: home in deed but not in fact“, for land to be distinguished in some way from private property – such as Thomas Jefferson had distinguished it. In fact, as John Locke – approvingly cited by the article’s author, Chris Berg of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) – had himself distinguished it:
“It is in vain in a country whose great fund is land to hope to lay the public charge on anything else: there at last it will terminate. The merchant (do what you can) will not bear it, the laborer cannot, and therefore the landholder must.”
We owe the phenomenon of declining real wages and the GFC to the innumerable think tanks and institutions (such as the IPA) which have failed to comprehend the difference between land rent and the taxation of production, thrift and industry. Remember, “quit rents” used to be mandated on freehold titles! To even these dull-witted laggards, it should be starting to become apparent that we are having a new economic depression because our revenue systems penalise doers and reward land speculators; to the point that the middle class and poor are left with nothing but debt, or as some economists might say, with ‘ineffective demand’.
Let’s not forget that it is the poor and middle class who forge nearly all of our national wealth. Therefore revenue systems need to be reformatted to ensure that they start to get their fair share of it.
* I am indebted to Mason Gaffney for explaining to me yesterday that the APPARENT growth of real average weekly earnings shown in the graph since the mid-1990s “could be a trick of understating the Consumer Price Index ….”
Professor Gaffney provided two articles in support of this suggestion that are worth reporting in full, because they both bear directly on the matter:-
1. THE SHRINKING DOLLAR
for Insights, December 2007
In January 2006 Insights showed how successive administrations in Washington have doctored the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to conceal the real rise in the Cost of Living (COL). Self-defined “mainstream” economists have served as tools, some as active leaders and others as sheep in the herd.
As late as the spring of 2007 Professor Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, speaking at U.C. Riverside on another topic, strayed from his theme to defend the doctored CPI. He himself had been one of the doctors, as a member of the (Michael) Boskin Commission of 1995. That Commission, recall, had accepted a directed mission from House Speaker Newt Gingrich to show why the CPI should be lowered; and it obliged. Since then its findings have been parroted, and never questioned, in dozens of new economics textbooks by individual authors supposedly responsible for their own judgments.
By the spring of 2007 it was clear as a silver bell that the true COL, led by land and raw materials prices, had far outraced the CPI. Dozens of journalists had ganged up on the obvious point, but Gordon did not budge. Neither did the dozens of overpriced textbooks foisted on college students taking economics, even though they come out in new editions every two or three years to spoil the second-hand market that would save students hundreds of dollars yearly.
Gordon’s stance was a personal sorrow, too. His father, Aaron Gordon, had been a Professor of Economics at Berkeley when I went through that mill. Aaron was a Mensch, one of the few in that icy group. He had pulled my chestnuts out of the fire, although I had given him no reason to care what happened to me. Some other professors had tried to throw me out of graduate school for the misdemeanor of soliciting a letter of recommendation from Carey McWilliams, Editor of The Nation and a land reformer sympathetic to Henry George. This was during the McCarthy era, when the “charge” was not as laughable as it would seem at most times. Professor Paul Taylor, on whose support I had counted, disparaged me as “that single-taxer”. Aaron befriended and helped me through that time of troubles. It also helped, I suppose, that the Dean of the Graduate School doted on my new wife, a favorite student of his, but, well, one goes to war with the army one has. Anyway, I owed Aaron and he still holds a warm spot in my heart.
While Robert gravitated rightwards to Northwestern, which hasn’t changed much since Richard T. Ely, Aaron’s other son, David Gordon, took a left turn to the New School in New York. David was outstanding but died young, and Aaron is gone, leaving us with Robert and the Boskin connection, a sorry trade.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, but it is harder to fool traders on the foreign exchanges. The dollar price of the Euro has soared over 60% since the Boskin Report. The dollar price of copper on the London Metals Exchange has risen six-fold, 2001-date. The price of gasoline, which is somehow kept out of the CPI, is on everyone’s mind. Corn is way up, along with corn-land, while Congress continues its annual giveaways to the “poor farmers”. Meantime the CPI creeps up at about 2-3% a year, along with the social security checks that are keyed to it, while politicians in Washington blame national bankruptcy on these elderly pensioners who might interfere with their routine welfare for the rich.
An early theory of foreign exchanges was called Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). The idea was that if your COL doubles, your currency value is halved. It was far too simple, by omitting many other factors that move foreign exchanges, so economists disparaged it. They overreacted, as herds will, and PPP became “politico-academically incorrect”. One hardly dared mention it, for fear of losing caste, so the profession threw out the wheat with the chaff. Today we might benefit by noticing there is a strong connection, since all prices are linked by markets.
The various “other factors” have sustained the dollar for years now, while its domestic value fell. It has been a glorious time for big spenders in Washington, careening down the primrose path, but there is a reckoning due. These factors can work in reverse, and turn an orderly correction into a rout. Here are some of the factors.
Foreigners hold a big part of the national debt, denominated in dollars. As the debt turns over, why should they relend to a prodigal nation whose leaders keep spending more and taxing less? Each withdrawn loan weakens the dollar, prompting more withdrawals, and round and round she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows
Foreign banks hold huge dollar reserves. They have used the dollar as the basic international currency because its value was so stable. Now it is dropping fast they are likely to seek a replacement, of which there are many candidates. Iran has already stopped selling oil for dollars; Chavez could well be next. This could lead to a run on the dollar. Such a run is cumulative in a positive feedback loop aka a “vicious downward spiral”.
We have induced oil-exporting nations to “recycle” their huge rents into buying U.S. assets, including lots of “income properties” and “trophy properties” in high-grade locations – i.e. land. The combination of a falling dollar and falling land prices will encourage dumping, possibly in a panic.
U.S. banks and other mortgage lenders have “bundled” their loans in what once seemed like attractive packages, hiding the sub-prime loans in the bundles. Foreigners bought into these bundles, which seemed sound on the upswing of the land cycle. Bundling made it so easy to forget that it IS a cycle, always has been and probably always will be. On the downswing, all the bundles, good and bad, are tainted by the subprime loans hidden in the bad.
Collapse of the U.S. homebuilding industry lowers investment opportunities in the U.S., sending foreigners looking elsewhere for higher yields and sounder collateral. Bernanke of all people should have seen this coming: he published an early career-building article on how credit-rationing cum collateral value collapse choked off loan volume in the Great Depression, even though the few loans that were made were at low interest rates, because they were made only to the few borrowers whose collateral was still good.
Ben Bernanke has bet his reputation and our farm on there being a continual glut of foreign loans from thrifty savers in new economic giants like China, to sustain the dollar. He is losing that bet.
Washington’s fiscal crisis will force cuts in military spending, releasing and encouraging obstreperous foreign nations to go their own way, as several, including Putin’s Russia, already are. The glorious hayride is over; the bills are coming due.
“Far-called our navies melt away; on dune and headland sinks the fire
And all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet
Lest we forget; lest we forget” – Kipling
Michael Hudson did not forget, he warned us more than once. A majority did forget, however, and here we are facing an ever-shrinking dollar and all the wrenching adjustments that will imply. More denial won’t change the facts, and the Lord God of Hosts is not likely to let us off the hook, however much we invoke His name to get votes. The Fed cannot stop the recession by easing money because we must keep interest rates up to attract foreign loans, and avoid losing those we already have. This is a constraint that small nations have always had to face and understand, but it is new to the swollen-headed U.S.A. which still lives in denial and will probably not learn without a severe economic chastisement.
Higher interest rates will help collapse land prices. This is desirable and inevitable in the long run, but painful in the short because it is offer prices that will fall first, not asking prices. How do I know that? Because it has always happened that way, cycle after cycle. Sales and records of “deeds recorded” have always fallen much sooner and faster and farther than prices after the peak of a land boom, it’s the nature of the human beast, almost as though genetically imprinted. Oh, yes, governments will intercede, as they always have, to sustain land prices and avoid the “calamity” of making land affordable. This we will observe from our storm cellars, hoping the value of our remaining dollars does not blow away in the tempests. Let us Georgists resolve to use this opportunity to promote better ideas for avoiding the next cycle of boom and bust.
2. DENYING INFLATION: WHO, WHY, AND HOW
MASON GAFFNEY (Revised May 4, 2007)
Henry George foreboded that landowners might take a growing wedge [your old geometry teacher called this a “sector”] of the national “pie”, or product. Labor’s wedge might grow absolutely, as the whole pie grows, but still fall as a fraction. [The arc of its sector would shorten.] It might even shrivel.
In our times, George’s grimmer scenario is coming true. Since about 1975, labor’s wedge of the pie is shrinking as an absolute. “Real” wage rates have been falling since about 1975. “Family wage” used to mean a breadwinner’s wage high enough to support a family; now it means the combined wages of two adults. Many of these are “DINKS” (Double Income, No Kids) because that is all they can afford without cutting their customary material and educational standards.
What is this “real” wage rate? It is a ratio: the nominal money wage rate on top, divided by an index to the Cost of Living (COL) on the bottom. The higher the COL, the lower the real wage. Landowners cut into labor’s share from both the top and the bottom, because the COL includes many products of land (like building materials and energy) and land itself (like homesites). Shelter costs are by far the largest part of household budgets.
The standard index to the COL is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), calculated and published regularly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This index is, we will see, a political football.
Henry George said little about inflation because it was not a threat in his day. That was a time of “hard money” and the gold standard. Prices were stable or falling; DEflation was the great bugbear. Today, though, to check on George’s forecast, we have to distinguish between nominal money wages, and real wages.
An old Kingston Trio classic offered the following folk wisdom about survival in The Everglades: “If the skeeters don’t gyitcha then the gators will.” If the skeeters of life are nicks taken from money wages, the big gator now is the price of buying and owning a home.
Why deny inflation? Those in power have several reasons to understate rises in the cost of living (COL), measured by the CPI.
1. To mask the fall of real wage rates. This is supposed to placate working voters. It is supposed to support orators declaiming that our standard of living is ever rising, and we should all feel good. Actually, real wage rates have fallen steadily since peaking in about 1975. That is using the official Consumer Price Index (CPI) to measure rises in the COL. If the CPI understates rises in the COL, real wage rates have fallen even faster than the data show.
As a by-product, this denial of inflation supports those who like to dismiss George as a false prophet of doom.
2. To mask the fall of real interest rates, making savers and lenders feel better, and more willing to lend to governments. In this age of massive and growing federal debts, the U.S. Treasury depends on willing lenders more and more, to stay solvent.
3. To cut the real value of social security payments. This point is straightforward. These payments are also indexed to the CPI. If the CPI understates the COL, real social security benefits fall every year. Congress gets to spend the savings on wastes like Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere”, redundant imperialistic ventures, tax cuts for major campaign contributors, and no-bid contracts for the well-connected.
4. To cut rises in labor union and other wage contracts that are indexed to the CPI. The Federal minimum wage, like most state minima, is also indexed to the CPI.
5. To give the Federal Reserve Bank credit for having “tamed inflation”, when in fact inflation of land prices is running wild.
6. A lesser point today, but important before Congress leveled out the rise of tax rates with income, is to slow the rise of income tax brackets. That is because these brackets are indexed to the CPI. That is, when the CPI rises by, say, 5%, the income level at which you pass into a higher tax bracket also rises by 5%. Congress, briefly in a reasonable mood, enacted this sensible provision when enough people became aware that they were victims of “bracket creep”. Bracket creep is when inflation boosts your money income into a higher tax bracket, although your real income has not risen.
However, if the true COL rises by 10%, while the CPI rises by only 5%, this provision no longer protects us against bracket creep. It just gives a talking point to those who claim to protect us. Sneaky! That is why you, dear reader, may have had a hard time following the bean under one of the three shells. Politicians, of course, are good at withdrawing promises. The sneakier the method, the easier it is for them to cover their tracks.
That is the “Why” of veiling inflation. Now let us look at the “How”. There have been two major steps in recent decades.
First was removing the costs of buying and owning homes from the CPI. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency that calculates the CPI, did this from 1983 onwards. They didn’t remove it altogether, that would have been too transparent. Instead they substituted the “rental equivalent” of housing. This is supposed to be what your house would rent for, or what you would pay to rent a similar house. It is a hypothetical and casual figure – sloppy and unverifiable, that is – based simply on questionnaires to a sample of homeowners. It takes no account of the fact that some people will, and therefore everyone must pay a premium to own, because of expected higher future rents and resale values.
The “rationale” (cover story) for doing this is that a home is both an investment and a residence, and only the residence cost belongs in the cost of living. In fact, the annual economic cost of owning a home is the market value times the interest rate (plus the property tax rate, homeowners’ insurance, depreciation, etc.). When prices are rising we may deduct annual gain from the cost, but when prices are falling we then must add the annual loss to the cost of ownership, and now that losses are becoming current, there is no thought of adjusting the CPI for that. If the BLS were constructing a true measure of the COL they would be on top of this point; but they do not balance their act. They seize on reasons to lower the CPI, not to raise it.
Thus the land boom of 1983-89 was mostly blanked out of the official published CPI of those years. The CPI rose gently as though the land boom never happened. Again, in 2004 housing prices rose by 13%, while these “rental equivalents” rose only by 2%.
The CPI also takes no account of the price of extra land around some houses. It takes inadequate account of recreational lands, which now have displaced farming and forestry over whole counties and regions. And can we believe that the price of access to recreational lands has advanced as slowly as other prices? In 1946 a summer family membership in the Dorset Field Club, Vermont, cost $100, giving access to the links, tennis courts, and clubhouse privileges for three months. Today there is no access for non-members. A membership costs about $30,000, by private negotiation, and annual dues were $3,000 in 2003. Meantime, in the big leagues, Donald Trump is asking $300,000 or so for a membership in Ocean Trails C.C.; and even Rupert Murdoch is complaining about the green fees at Pebble Beach, $450 for one round. I am grateful that I got my fill of golf when I was young and dad could afford it.
The second major step was the Boskin Commission Report of 1995 (Newt Gingrich was dominating Congress), and its acceptance and implementation. Michael Boskin of the Hoover Institution was called upon to legitimize allegations that the CPI overstated inflation. He and his Commission obliged, and supplied the rationale for several rounds of trimming down the CPI even more.
The Boskin Commission’s advanced methodology included a lot of old-fashioned cherry-picking. They accumulated evidence supporting the foregone conclusion, and omitted contrary evidence. Most tellingly, they were silent about the biggest factor by which the CPI understates inflation: that is the use of “rental equivalence” in place of home prices. Now, shelter costs are about 40% of consumer budgets, and hence of the true COL. To accept an extreme understatement of shelter costs, while distracting us with lesser factors and arcane methodology, shows bias.
Most professional economists, sad to say, treat Boskin’s report as holy writ. They come on like preachers, salesmen, or just cheer-leaders, not like scientists exercising independent judgment. I have recently surveyed 20 current texts in Macroeconomics. They all list the same four “biases”, in the same order, that they allege make the CPI overstate inflation. These are:
a. Substitution bias. When the price of something rises, you use less of it, so it should be weighted less in the index.
b. Quality improvement bias. Products of the same name keep getting better, so they say.
c. New product bias. The CPI lags in showing how new gadgets raise our welfare. Microchip products, of course, are the example of choice.
d. “Discount bias”. The CPI scriveners assume that products sold in discount stores are of lower quality, when they really are just as good, according to Boskin et al.
As to point “a”, above, when the price of food rises elderly pensioners turn to cat food, so now the cost of fresh fruits and veggies counts for less in their cost of living, and they have shown a preference for cat food, whose weight in the CPI should rise, and they are as well off as ever. Hmmm – something fishy there.
Let’s take point “b”, above, quality improvement bias. The texts give some examples, but not a single counter-example. Here are a few of the latter.
2×4 dimensional lumber is no longer 2×4, but 15-20% smaller in cross-section, and of lower grade stock
salmon is no longer wild, but farm raised in unsanitary conditions, and dyed pink (ugh)
“wooden” furniture is now mostly particle-board
“wooden” doors are now mostly hollow
new houses have remote locations, far from desired destinations
ice cream is now filled out with seaweed products
the steel in autos is eked out with fiberglass, plastic, and other ersatz that crumbles in minor collisions
airline travel is no longer a delight but a series of insults and abuses
gasoline used to come with free services: pumping the gas, checking tire pressure and supplying free air, checking oil and water, cleaning glass, free maps, rest rooms (often clean), mechanic on duty, friendly attitudes and travel directions. They served you before you paid. Stations were easy to find, to enter and exit. Competing firms wanted your business: now most of them have merged.
cold fresh milk was delivered to your door
clerks in grocery and other stores brought your orders to the counter; now, many clerks, if you can find one, can hardly direct you to the right aisle
suits came with two pairs of pants and a vest, and they fitted the cuffs free. Waists came in half-sizes
socks came in a full range of sizes
shoes came in a full range of widths; the clerk patiently fitted the fussiest of customers
the post office delivered mail and parcels to your door or RFD, often twice a day
public telephones were everywhere, not just in airport lobbies. Information was free; live operators actually conversed with you, and often gave you street addresses
public transit service was frequent, and served many routes now abandoned
live people, living in America, used to answer commercial telephones, with no telephone tree to climb, and tell you what you actually wanted to know
autos used to buy “freedom of the road”; now they buy long commutes at low speeds and rage-inducing delays. One must now travel farther and buck more traffic to reach the same number of destinations. Boskin et al. dwell on higher performance of cars, and the bells and whistles, but rule out taking note of the cost-push of urban sprawl.
classes keep getting larger, with less access to teachers and top professors, and more use of mind-numbing “scantron” testing.
before world war II, an Ivy-league college student lodged in a roomy dorm with maid service and dined in a student union with table service, and a nutritionist planning healthy meals. All that, plus tuition and incidentals, cost under $1,000 a year. Now, to maintain your children’s place and status in the rat race, you’d put out $40,000 a year for a claustrophobic dorm and junk food. On top of that, a B.A. no longer has the former value and cachet. Now you need time in graduate and professional schools to achieve the same status. Many students emerge with huge student loan balances to pay off over life, with compound interest.
warranties on major appliances cost extra, aren’t promptly honored, and expire too soon. Repair services and fix-it shops used to abound to maintain smaller appliances. Now, most of them are throwaway.
replacement parts for autos are hard to find, exploitively overpriced, and are often ersatz or recycled aftermarket parts
musical instruments are mass-produced and tinny instead of hand-crafted and signed
piano keys were ivory; now plastic
many new “wonder drugs”, if you can afford them, have bad side-effects, while old aspirin still gets the highest marks
a rising array of taxes and other payroll deductions stand between one’s nominal income and consumer goods it might buy. Income and social security taxes are not counted as part of the CPI.
Medical doctors once made house calls, in the dim mists of history. Since then, access has become progressively more difficult, until today … well you know, you’ve been there. In many small towns there is no doctor at all.
In 1998 the BLS dropped auto finance charges from the CPI. I do not find the cost of other consumer credit in the CPI (although I stand subject to correction). Certainly the largest cost of consumer credit, mortgage interest, has been removed by use of the “rental equivalent” substitute, with never a squawk from Boskin.
In 1995 the BLS eliminated an “upward drift” in the “rental equivalent” index, with no explanation. It is probably relevant that Congressman Newt Gingrich was in the saddle.
One could go on, but the point is that Boskin et al. seem not to have considered counterexamples to their foregone conclusions. If they did this where we can observe them, what else did they do under cover of black box models? The BLS, succumbing to the political pressure, keeps modifying the CPI to show less inflation, even while our daily experiences and shrinking savings tell us there is more. A 1999 study of the changes in the 20 years between 1978 and 1998 showed the cumulative effect of many changes had been to lower the CPI substantially (Monthly Labor Review, 6-99, p.29).
George warned that landowners might take most of the fruits of progress, leaving labor barely enough to survive. Critics then and now have urged us, instead, to don rose-colored glasses. The rosiest of these is the CPI as manipulated to screen out bad news, especially news about soaring land prices. Let us be aware of who is manipulating the news, why, and how.
The parties have hijacked the political process by representing privileged interests instead of the people. Rather than attend to the interests of their denizens by obtaining revenues from whence they ought to come–thereby setting the economy on a course of steady and sustainable growth–politics has degenerated into a popularity contest behind which deals are done with the big rent-seekers.
As far as the parties are concerned, the decision-making necessary for a quick exit from the GFC can go jump, because appropriate action will bring unpopularity, not the least with those special interest groups who lobby and largely fund them. To turn this situation on its head and re-educate the public away from a speculative mindset is too big a brief for them! Better to try to forestall further economic and social collapse for as long as possible by printing money, austerity, anything, rather than taking the necessary medicine by acting now.
Parties of all shades have come to endorse dilatory tactics, because they don’t want to see beyond this blinkered, short term view. One party is as mediocre as this other in this game; they only have to attract enough of the middle ground punters to get their party back into power. The major parties march under seemingly alternative populist banners of ‘greater social justice’ or ‘better economic management’, whilst at the same time cosying up to rent-seeking interests who’d like to own society’s natural monopolies so they can extract risk-free incomes.
Once in power, none of the parties delivers what it had represented to swinging voters, nor even what the other party had represented, because it hasn’t an economics capable of supporting those programs. As the economy seems to have a mind of its own, parties will simply cling to power as long as possible, until the people, having had enough of them, will put the other party into office in a forlorn hope of improvement. And so the cycle repeats: just as certainly as the cycle of boom and bust which mocks the parties’ efficacy.
Some examples that political parties are obsolete? President George W Bush and his advisors, representing the ‘better economic management’ of the Republican Party, managed to engineer the financial downfall of the United States of America. [“Phew! Lucky you got outta there, George Dubbya?”]
The other side is no better. In the UK, Gordon Brown, representing Labour and ‘greater social justice’, helped the wealthy get rich at the expense of the poor and the middle class during his time as ‘the world’s greatest treasurer’. Having won the prime ministership of Britain by backstabbing Tony Blair, Brown now blames the ‘Global Financial Crisis’ for Britain’s economic woe – as though it’s unrelated to his inept decision-making during his chancellorship of the exchequer! In that position Brown had actually boasted there would be no return to boom/bust!
Meanwhile in Australia, Peter Costello, also claiming a supreme ability for his economic management, managed to widen the rich-poor gap as he clasped to his breast the faux-prosperity he manufactured out of arguably the world’s greatest real estate bubble.
When Australians sacked the Liberal Party/National Party coalition from government in 2007, they also removed Prime Minister John Howard from his seat of Bennelong. Peter Costello seemed to have read the portents from his time as treasurer, not wishing to lead the Liberal Party in opposition during a period of slowing economic growth emanating from the real estate bubble he fostered. So he’d sit on the backbenches, write his memoirs, then get the hell out of there!
Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has decided not to draw attention to Costello’s failure to address the incredible ten year real estate bubble, because he’d been silent on it, too. Speaking out on it might involve him in taking action against it instead of keeping it inflated, and that’s not what politics is about these days: fixing economies. It’s about continuing to grant favours to rent-seekers and hanging on in there and making yourself look good for as long as possible before they wake up to you.
So, rather than face the music and let the bubble deflate, Kevin Rudd and treasurer Wayne Swan have chosen to delay Australians from taking their depressionary medicine – by feeding the bubble. Wage earners were given $900 to spend; although numbers of real estate sales were down, the First Home Owners’ Boost kept prices up, while government capital spending on house roof insulation and spending on schools ensured a positive GDP. Both know this will only delay and worsen the crash but, these days, it’s all about buying time.
There’s a history to be written, so, during this period of deferring the inevitable, Rudd plays the climate change tune. Although nothing came out of Copenhagen, few doubt Rudd’s committed involvement on the world stage, and he’ll certainly take his extensive networking and the negotiation skills he displayed to the next election! But as for taking action that will resurrect the economy …. forget it!
Political parties’ preference for counter-productive taxes and encouraging real estate bubbles has slowly but surely eroded initiative and delivered us into another economic depression.
It’s beyond time to let political parties know they’re failing us.
You’ll remember the world’s having this economic depression we’ve chosen to call the GFC, right?
Oh! All except Australia, that is. Australia’s OK because, as Christopher Joye of RP Data Rismark and Macquarie Bank’s Rory Robertson say, we not only don’t have the most massive real estate bubble of any country in the world, but we don’t even have a land price bubble at all. [This is undoubtedly more in hope than reality, of course. Yes, it’s a bit of a fib.] Our high prices, they say, are simply the result of high immigration and insufficient land. [!] Then we have China helping us stave off a recession, so we’re pretty right; no worries! Hey! And we’ve got the best fall-back position of all when the bubble does burst. “Well, we couldn’t really say that, could we? Someone’s got to keep up Australia’s confidence!” Yep – they’re simply cheerleaders for a doomed economy and unprepared to draw attention to the role that property played in its collapse.
Now, TIME magazine has front-covered ‘helicopter’ Ben, the man famous for his essays on the Great Depression, and for saying that it’s easy to cure economic depressions simply by printing enough money. OK? And aren’t we so lucky to have Ben Bernanke? Yes, I suppose we are. Who else could have told us the way to get out of this depression was the way we got into it? Spend up big, print money and get into debt. It sounds a bit like a door: you got in that way, so that’s also the exit. Gee, who would have thought it? I wish I had Ben’s nous and imagination!
Meanwhile, happy that their economies are in such great shape, the world’s leaders tripped off to Copenhagen towards the end of the week to front the cast of thousands fixing up climate change while we’re all on Bernanke’s winning streak. That’ll go well, too!
Whereas I had thought the only remedy for the GFC would be to un-tax people for working, and taxing land prices (therefore, removing recessions and depressions caused by bursting land price bubbles), we’re told this just won’t be allowed to happen. But we don’t have a good track record for being able to get out of depressions without an eventual war. BTW, just try to engage your elected representatives on land rent instead of taxation! It doesn’t matter which party (or philosophy), which religion (or non-religion), which sex, they’ve all got their stuff rehearsed on this one:-
“Sorry, but we must treat you and your kind as pariahs, because EVERYONE knows there is NO such easy solution!”
“You’re trying to blow the whistle on boom and bust? But that’s how the capitalist system has always worked: boom, bust, boom, bust – and we slowly progress that way!”
“No, that’s madness! What would you know? We’ve got trained experts dealing with the economy! Who are you?”
“Oh! So your experts saw it coming then?”
“No, that’s beside the point. The point is they are our paid and appointed experts. Others, like you, may offer your way out opinions, of course.”
“But why not investigate the solution proposed by the handful of people who DID forecast the financial collapse – a sort of economic Copenhagen, if you like – which would exclude all the economic deadwood, the so-called experts?”
“Pshaw! Get out of here!”
Well, that just about brings you up to speed.
By the end of the year, we’ll learn to what extent Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and his panel of experts appointed to inquire into “Australia’s Future Tax System” decided to recommend dismantling the tax office and ratcheting up rates and land taxes.
Hey! That’s not a smile I see turning up at the corners of your mouth, is it? 🙂
Good on you, Barnaby! That’s saying it like it is; but it’s just about now they start get to you, mate.
Now there’s the following to contend with:-
1. “Shadow cabinet solidarity” [translation: Shut your face!];
2. “Coalition discipline” [translation: Do as you’re told!]
All of which means keeping up a stirling ‘front’, as though you agree with all the nonsensical politicking surrounding you, Barnaby. Don’t call things for what they are anymore. Don’t be a problem-solver anymore. Be prepared to lie, gild the lily, etc., because you’re in the coalition’s shadow cabinet now – and there are very few occasions when you will be able to say what you really think anymore.
Nice knowing you, mate, but today your colleagues and the press will let you know THEIR reality – and that’s rarely the sort of truth you spoke yesterday!
The Copenhagen climate change conference has brought to my mind some enormous ironies. Science must, of course, investigate the reality and extent of climate change, because global warming does pose a dire threat to the planet and to humanity.
Should global warming prove to be as real as the weight of scientific opinion suggests, and if humanity is as big a contributor as it is commonly thought to be, then the dark clouds of economic depression will paradoxically present a silver lining of delay to climate change – to the extent that polluting manufacturing industries will go out of business and be shut down during the depression. It might also provide the hiatus necessary for Prime Minister Rudd or his successor to reflect upon the stupidity of an emissions trading scheme as a valid and timely economic response to environmental pollution.
As opposed to the uncertainties accompanying climate change, science has displayed a blind spot to the reality directly responsible for the death of hundreds of millions of people over the last hundred years. I don’t refer to the weapons of ‘defence’ created by scientists, but of the abject failure of economies which direct us regularly into employing these weapons under some false pretext or other.
I’ve mentioned before the economic circumstances that delivered us WWI, but not that the impossible WWI reparations set upon Germany related directly to the outbreak of WWII. Was not the rise of a despotic Hitler a quite natural result of the Great Depression being overlaid upon these war reparations which therefore reduced Germany to a screaming shambles? Didn’t she have to try to get out from under? May not the useless devastation and loss of life of WWII, including the Jewish holocaust, have been prevented had the Treaty of Versailles not been so extremely punishing on the German people?
Indeed, a strong case can be mounted that WWII may not have been fought at all had the Central Powers actually defeated the Allies in WWI! Given that the mindset of Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Bulgarians is far less fixated upon the real estate speculation to which Pax Brittanica and Pax Americana been so witlessly and devastatingly wedded, it is arguable that the world would not, at the outset of the 21st century, have experienced history’s biggest ever real estate bubble. Its bursting has directed the world into its greatest economic depression and commenced the countdown to WWIII, which we will undoubtedly be misinformed is necessary for our safety and wellbeing (regardless of the probability that it will be nuclear!)
While it is interesting to speculate on what might have happened had Germany won the first world war, a more tangible fact is that by not calling the sham of neo-liberal economics for the fraud that it is, science has become complicit in the ongoing failure of economics. Representatives of science can at times become too self-righteous, but in that most crucial area of daily life which is economics, they can ill afford any such hubris.
In view of the economic reality now bearing upon us, and for the sake of people and the planet, a scientifically workable economics has become a priority more urgent than big climate change conferences. Moreover, the alternative revenue system outlined in this blog would provide the wherewithal to research and develop solutions to the increasing array of problems confronting the world at this historic turning point.
We the Selectorati (Please keep this message out of the hands of losers)
Once you’ve understood that you’re only on this planet for a short period, certain things should become clear to you. Namely, there’s only a few people who are life’s winners; the vast majority will die losers.
Whilst workers and capitalists are both losers, socialists are the greatest losers of all, because they actually believe capitalists are the cause of the misdistribution of wealth. Let them think that, because setting labour against capital is the tactic we call ‘divide and rule’.
Don’t advertise the fact but, to be on the winners’ team, no matter how unfortunate this may sound, you must make your way in life at the expense of all the losers. This is a zero sum game – and you don’t want to be among the zeros! It’s paramount that you work from this understanding and, if you throw yourself into it, wealth must come your way!
Here’s how to get workers and capitalists working for you, without their knowing. Get real estate in a good location, then …. get more.
It’s so easy, if you do it right! Leverage yourself properly and you’ll be able to claim the interest charges on your tax. Of course, your tenants will also help to pay off the mortgagea. Memorise this: “Rent is for the payment of interest.” Tenants can’t use this insight. Nor can they claw back all the taxation they’ve ever paid over the years per medium of their real estate capital gains! But you’ll certainly be able to do this! Politicians won’t stand in your way because we have political clout.
How it works
You see, as wealth is created, a surplus above costs and profits is spun off in the process. It’s called land rent. Some losers may say that it’s owed back equally to the whole community to pay for necessary government, education, health, law enforcement and capital works (for which the term ‘infrastructure’ is now the buzzword). But if we can get this rent–and we do in most cases–the losers will have to derive their public revenues from elsewhere, namely, from taxing the productivity, thrift and enterprise of those to choose not to be rent-seekers, or, as the French say, ‘rentiers’. Lovely word!
Offset your taxes
Sure, we’ll pay taxes, too, but we’ll be able to claw back each and every red cent of any revenue we pay through the increases in the value of our properties. If challenged, our quite legitimate disclaimer is: “The tax system made me do it!”
The two principles behind this idea are that rent in good locations is better than the rent in inferior locations, and publicly-generated land rent NOT collected by government will be crystallized into larger capital gains for us. This is the privilege granted to those with the insight to see the world for what it is. It’s dog eat dog out there, and it’s better to be the devourer than the prey, folks! There may be ways to make this sound much nicer, but that’s your bottom line.
Note that the location, size and topography of your properties, and their proximity to population, public works and private facilities will rapidly increase the value of the land component of your properties.
You don’t have to do much at all to grow your wealth in this manner. Let the community do it all for you. But, of course, at every opportunity make people aware, as you monitor your rents and capital gains, that your work is as difficult as any other job and that it is an honest living. The tax system encourages all Australians to do it, and if many prefer not to, then they clearly identify themselves to be among life’s great losers. It’s just that we at the top do it better and hold out hope to the plebs that they, too, may hope to join in this game.
Some naysayers will suggest that living high on the hog as a rentier is ‘like parasites living off the productive effort of others’, but that’s an easy-to-wear tag once you’ve seen the upside! Anyway refute this, by claiming to be a provider of accommodation!
Work at this!
There’s just one further thing you do need to secure your position. You should scream blue murder against council rates and state land taxes at each and every opportunity! “A man’s home is his castle”, and it’s quite unconscionable to have to pay taxes on properties for which you’ve bought and paid. They’re yours! You own them! Right? “Taxes on land penalise and deter property development” always works, too, even if it is untrue.
In this regard, you’ll be supported by the churches. They’ll always see the merit of your claims, as they also baulk at paying charges on their lands. They understand on which side their bread is buttered, because they are winners, too. Not necessarily their congregations, of course, but certainly their hierarchs who are entrusted with the management of their property and funds. George Pell, for example.
In fact, some of the churches have recently taken rent-seeking to new heights by being amongst the country’s biggest tollway investors. Tollways and private ownership of public utilities are other forms of the meretricious taxation we winners should be promoting. You can encourage these charges under the guise of ‘user pays’! Even if you don’t use the tollways, they’ll certainly add value to your properties! But, remember, we number the churches amongst our friends. Forget the rubbish that you must not capitalise land values for you are but passing strangers who must pay the rent, Leviticus something or other: what would he know?
So, let governments tax anything but the value of the land we hold. You’ll find the losers will support you on this because they are too unsuspecting and thick to see the manner in which taxation rips them off to our advantage. They actually believe that taxation can be used as a means to redistribute income, that is, to narrow the gap between we and they, although of course it must do exactly the opposite!
“No land or property taxes!” must remain the catchcry of both winners and losers – or else our free ride is over! See to it! You might even get public radio and television stations to promote residential property ‘investment’! Good luck, and happy rent-seeking, my brother and sister Selectorati!
Amongst other things, Hudson had suggested: “HIGHER land and house prices typically lead to an increased supply of housing. Yet at the peak of Australia’s perennial housing affordability crisis, the Housing Industry Association declared that there would be a 13 per cent fall in housing starts this calendar year, compounding last year’s 18 per cent fall.
In light of massive rezonings in Victoria and improved planning bureaucracy in many states, this can only be seen as a warning that property insiders expect there to be a price crash.”
Hudson also had the temerity to say: “Property prices are defined by how much a bank will lend.”
Well … didn’t that elicit comments from those who remain in denial of the world’s biggest real estate bubble?!
“In fact, it’s the opposite. The bank lends based on the value of the property (you must never have had a home loan).”
“… there’s a big housing shortage here”
“It’s important not to lump different types and markets into one.” [Well, there goes the ‘Barometer of the Economy’ and ‘the Kavanagh-Putland Index which does exactly that!]
“What a ridiculous article based on nothing other than property developers not being able to borrow millions anymore.”
“A 70 year old lecturer at a minor campus university is (sic) the USA is now the sage on Australia’s impending property disaster.” [Er, you would perhaps prefer the self-justificatory comments of the same Ivy League Harvard boys who sponsored this GFC, Greg? BTW, UMKC is the centre of credit analysis in the US.]
I am sometimes afflicted with secret doubts about the perspicacity of some of my fellow Australians. These same few will undoubtedly support our upcoming bank bailouts – although it defeats me how a government rescue of the banking sector at the expense of its citizenry can be seen as anything but the most obscene of all corruptions.
Connie Hedegaard, the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, has been a solid citizen in the area of alternative energies. But she and the world’s leaders will join the ranks of con-artists and purveyors of derivatives if they try to tie us into emissions trading schemes (ETS) as a response to pollution/global warming in December at Copenhagen.
Let’s keep it simple. The problem is pollution – so let’s tax polluters. The fact that taxes destroy CAN be usefully employed in this instance. Let’s destroy pollution!
Abattoirs, once notorious polluters in Australia, have been forced to address waste water issues by providing settlement ponds, anaerobic and aerobic. Also, the horrible odours that had previously escaped from these premises were remedied by after-burners and underground bio-filter beds, the latter kept moist to ensure that the micro-organisms which attack these offensive effluvia remain happy. Simple!
Hey, c’mon guys! We didn’t start trading in waste water and odour rights between abattoirs to get this done! (Or is this one somehow going to be turned on its head in Copenhagen, too?)
Let’s see. We’ve got this terrible pollution happening, so let’s create a trade in the right to pollute, so that sometime we might be able to reduce pollution levels? To what level of stupidity IS it possible for humanity to descend?!
The most frightening thing is that these people are deadly serious! Kevin Rudd got into his now-famous hissy fit last week about those who baulk at the ETS he’s been asked to promote. Maybe attack is the best form of defence when you’re found short on logic?
The real problem for most Australians, not having been convinced at all by the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Penny Wong) nor Prime Minister Rudd about carbon trading, is that the leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, having close ties to investment banks (who will no doubt see this new form of derivative as an absolute boon) ALSO favours the costly and ineffective carbon trading option!
December 2009 in Copenhagen promises to be hilarious. Go, Kevin ’07!