I'm a real estate valuer who worked in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) before co-founding Westlink Consulting, a real estate valuation practice. I discovered, by leaving publicly-generated land rents to be privately capitalised by banks and individuals into escalating land price bubbles, this generates repetitive recessions and financial depressions. We need a tax-switch: from wages, profits and commodities onto economic rents/unearned incomes, if we are to create prosperity and minimise excessive private debt.
rentier: (ron’tee’yay; Fr.) n. One who arrogates unto himself the rents of land and natural resources generated by the public at large.
Take a long walk off a short pier, rentiers!
The French fought a revolution against privilege but, not having the wit to understand the manner in which they were being ripped off by the rentier class, they resorted to murdering them, leaving taxation largely undisturbed. Some revolution!
As most of the others thought the “pursuit of Motherhood and Apple Pie” would be vastly preferable to taxing away the rent of land as suggested in Locke’s writings, everyone decided to settle for “Happiness”. So, “Happiness” it became.
Unless I’m mistaken, I believe America and Ben Bernanke are currently engaged in the pursuit of Happiness right at the moment. I rather suspect they might be pursuing it for quite some time if they don’t soon realise happiness can only be released upon the population of the United States by capturing rent for revenue, as the alternative to taxation.
The Tea Party offers little assistance. It certainly does comprehend how taxation has destroyed America, but doesn’t accept taking public rent for public revenue is the proper recourse. Like all self-interested politicians, Sarah Palin can’t quite bring herself to accept the citizens’ dividend paid to Alaskans for their oil might have the wider application of solving America’s increasingly dire financial plight. By squibbing it, she has proven to be no more than a populist – not a real leader.
William Pitt was Britain’s Prime Minister when France and America revolted. He was helped in avoiding a revolution at home by shipping his trouble makers and poor off to found a colony at New South Wales.
So, several depressions later, here we are again with vast differences between the wealthy and the poor, the latter having been done in the eye once more by rent-seekers.
Hey! Governments of the world: when are you going to learn that ‘owning’ land is the power to collect rent and taxes? How far are you prepared to go ingratiating yourself to landed privilege and finance? Are you purposefully trying to avoid addressing the cause of economic depressions? A depression is preferable to this reform?
Some of us know it would be a lot easier for everybody if you simply told rentiers to piss off and to go and do some useful work. Why not summon up the courage to do it?
Now that hard liners amongst the financial commentariat (bank economists, property spruikers and the odd journo), are about the only people left denying the Australian property bubble, the IMF has seen the light. But only 20% overpriced, IMF? Try 40% – minimally.
“We were simply being responsible”, the deniers will tell us when the bubble does finally burst. (Hi, Rory Robertson! Hi, Chris Joye!) “The public can’t handle the truth and, anyway, we’ve got to use the time we’ve got left to arrange our affairs to make sure we aint left holding the bag!” They’re having a bit each way.
Bankers believe they’ve perfected rent-gouging. They feed out excessive credit to borrowers so they compete wild-eyed against each other, inflating land price bubbles. Then, the financiers divert the public’s land rent to themselves, receiving rent both in principal and interest repayments, on hyper-inflated property prices. Rent-gouging is a great trick, but has a habit of crashing the financial system every 18 years. So, shouldn’t we be putting an end to it, instead of mindlessly repeating it?
However, the answer to bank chicanery is NOT regulation, nor applying arbitrary bank lending limits, as is being advocated in some quarters. We’ve got to solve it permanently, by taking the rent of land back into the public domain because it’s society, not the banks, that creates it. Banks won’t then be able to lend against escalating land prices.
Not only would this action keep a ceiling on land prices (the dynamic factor in property bubbles), but it would permit taxes to be abolished and for the economy to be got into gear.
Unfortunately, this is not the direction in which nations already into Phase One of the depression are headed; they believe they’ll be able to control excessive lending through regulation. Fat chance!
AUSTRALIA BETTER PLACED TO FAST-TRACK ITS EXIT
Having seen the errors of bank bailouts and Quantitative Easings 1 and 2, Australia will be in an excellent position not to repeat them.
Every Australian property already has a recent land value assessment attached to it, so it would be possible to abolish state taxes such as payroll tax, stamp duty and their poorly-designed land taxes overnight, and to replace them with a federal land tax rebated back to the states, as advocated by Ken Henry’s “Australia’s Future Tax System” panel.
Let’s hope Joe Public can be introduced to its logic by means of the public review of Henry’s tax system recommendations next year. Such a positive tax shift can only be made if the public has been educated to its merits.
Australia has experienced the world’s biggest and most extended real estate bubble, so, to be first to employ the GFC’s only real solution will help soften the damaging fallout.
Howard and Costello manufactured the world’s biggest property bubble!
By the way, while we’re on the uselessness of politicians, although former Prime Minister John Howard and his Treasurer Peter Costello obviously dislike each other immensely, they still come together to sing the other’s praises on economic management during the Liberal Party’s term of office from 1996 to 2007.
Let’s get a couple of things straight. They presided over the greatest property bubble in Australia’s history, bigger than anywhere in the world – and did absolutely nothing about it. It was bigger than the bubble so well described in Michael Cannon’s “The Land Boomers” of the 1880s, and bigger than the enormous mid-1920s property boom that directed us into the Great Depression. Good economic management?!
Why does George Orwell’s “Big Brother” spring to mind? White is black, and black is white: Howard and Costello got the economy right!
Mind you, since 2007 the Labour Party also seems to have believed it’s their duty to keep the bubble inflated. In October 2008 they introduced the $7000 ‘first home owner boost’ on top of the already-existing $7000 first home buyers’ grant. Of course, the grant was immediately sucked up into increased land prices, lining the pockets of sellers, not buyers, and creating a new record real estate sales turnover of $327.4 billion in financial year 2010.
Of course, when the bubble bursts Howard and Costello will be well out of the picture. How could they have possibly been responsible for it?
Short-sighted history texts will proceed to misinform future generations of Australians they were a successful political duo. That’s the thing: the media consider a lengthy term of office denotes political success. Not so. As I suggested in my 1994 report “The Recovery Myth”, giving a real estate valuer’s perspective on the economy, we can’t possibly have a genuine economic recovery until we address the repetitively negative impact of real estate bubbles on the economy. It simply can’t be done.
Take a peep at the bubble allowed to develop under the ‘excellent’ economic management of John Howard and Peter Costello:-
During yesterday’s parliamentary question time on TV, I took the opportunity to study the faces of the members of the House of Representatives.
Poor, ineffective, unwitting people, continuing the crime. Why are they prepared to sit there, allowing themselves to be circumscribed by a polity that steals from labour and capital and rewards already super-wealthy land owners?
I suppose it’s possible that a handful of them are actually working to assist wealthy property owners to become even richer at the expense of the poor and middle class, but I think the vast majority of them are basically well intentioned, if more than a little spineless, and too committed to the security of their party. What positive role are parties currently serving anyway?
Our politicians are devastatingly misguided. Look at them trying their hardest, at least in some cases, to do good for Australia as they’re hog-tied to a horribly pathological distributional system. Why not repair that first, guys? It’ll resolve most of your quandaries.
It’s undeniable, but they fail to redress the fact that the wealthy are able to claw back all the taxation they pay through the uplift in value of their lands. Our so-called ‘representatives’ need to ask themselves only one question: Can the landless and poor set off their taxes against the rises in the value of their properties? Even the middle class is unable to do so, because they don’t own, as individuals, as many properties as the super wealthy; nor are their properties as valuable. Point made?
Oh, when asked, they’ll certainly come out with the litany of arguments that are always put up against capturing the economic surplus – the peoples’ land rent – for revenue and getting rid of all taxation on labour and capital:-
Such as: If we collect the rent, property values will fall.
Response: Not property values; property prices.But they’ll fall equally across the board, granting equality of access to land to everyone. The prices of consumer goods and services would fall, and wages would rise without inflation, because taxes and land prices create inflation. So, we’d finally conquer the source of inflation, which is NOT caused by just printing money.
Such as: People will need to be compensated for the decline in their property values.
Response: Only if those people who seek compensation are prepared to compensate all those other people whom they have precluded from owning a house by their approval of the high land price regime that had dispossessed them.
Such as: It’s socialist! It nationalizes the land.
Response: It’s nothing of the sort; it creates a truly free enterprise at last, because it only captures the annual rent of sites which arises from public infrastructure and surrounding population. Individual owners don’t create this value, so it’s owed back to the community for revenue instead of taxes upon labour and capital.
Such as: But taking the annual value of the land for revenue would unfairly penalise the wealthy, because they own more land and the most valuable.
Response: Nonsense! The rent of their lands is the direct measurement of the advantages they hold over others in society. For the nation to take the rental value of land as revenue is patently fair for everybody. It still leaves the wealthy with the best sites, but paying the annual rent for them, like everyone else. And like everyone else, the taxes they now pay at all levels of government would be abolished.
Such as: We need a balance of revenues between incomes, sales and property.
Response: Why so? Isn’t this just an excuse to keep favouring wealthy landowners? People are surely not doing a disservice to society by earning incomes, and don’t famous philosophers, jurists and the Bible tell us that people are entitled to retain the fruits of their labours? Similarly, don’t taxes on sales raise the price of goods and services, and, along with land prices, generate inflation?
Such as: If collecting site rents instead of taxation worked, it would already have been tried.
Response: It has been tried, and people were all much wealthier. But over the years the lords of the land gradually passed off their responsibilities onto wages and goods and services. Now, we witness the truism that “taxes destroy” and see parliaments around the world trying to legislate to correct the poverty and dispossession created by taxation, rather than abolishing it. Where rent is now captured to a greater extent will also be found more successful economies. eg. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore.
Such as: Getting rid of all taxes sounds like “Tea Party” nonsense!
Response: It does, doesn’t it? But “Tea Party” adherents don’t understand that rent for revenue has a long history and is quite different from taxation. What do they propose as the source for necessary minimal government revenue? They usually still resort to a revenue base or other that adversely affect labour and capital, such as transaction taxes, or a Tobin tax. Unlike labour and capital, land cannot flee the country, and capturing land rent grants free access to ALL people who are prepared to pay the rent.
Such as: It’s too idealistic and can’t be done.
Response: It certainly is an ideal to which neither Jews nor Christians have been able to measure up, despite the Biblical injunction to do so: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine and you are but strangers and sojourners with me” – Levitucus XXV:XXIII
Such as: But a lot of people don’t believe in the Bible.
Response: That’s what all useless politicians say, but it’s a simple fiscal adjustment you could handle if you had the gumption and wanted to make yourself relevant. You haven’t the gumption and you remain irrelevant. Deep down, you realise you’re only serving the interests of the greedy and powerful, but you’re too scared of losing your seat to do otherwise. Why not listen to your conscience and let your party know what has to be done if Australia is to move forward?
[“Unlocking the Riches of Oz” explains why Australia’s GDP would now be $2 trillion, instead of $1 trillion, had we captured even half our land rent since the 1970s. Instead, we’ve ratcheted land rents back since that time, and, as a direct result, the rich have become richer and the poor poorer at great cost to most Australians. ]
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.
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.
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.
It shouldn’t do so, but the dichotomy on climate change amuses 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 the locals 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 rent-seeking 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 we 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.
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’.
“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.
“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.