Millionaire Joseph Fels (1815 – 1914) once received the following begging letter from the Dean of a theological institution:

Having read much of you and your many acts of charity and philanthropy, I write to ask for a donation from you for our institution. It may seem strange that I ask this of one who is not of our faith, yet I have read in some of your speeches that you make no distinction of race, creed, or color, and that you regard all men as your brothers; that you believe in the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God. Thus you are teaching what our institution teaches, and our school is doing, as best it can with limited means, the work you are trying to do. …

Fels’ response cut the ground from under the Dean and those who believe charity can ever be a replacement for economic justice:-


Replying to your communication, I am at a loss to know where you have read of my acts of charity and philanthropy.” I am not a philanthropist, and give nothing to charity. When you say I am not of your “faith,” I suppose you mean of your creed. Let me state my faith, and we can see wherein we differ.

I believe in the Fatherhood of God, and therefore in the Brotherhood of Man. By “Man,” I mean all men. So far, I suppose we agree.

I believe that the Creator freely gave the earth to all of His children, that all may have equal rights to its use. Do you agree to that?

I believe that the injunction, “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,” necessarily implies, “Thou shalt not eat bread in the sweat of thy brother’s brow.” Do you agree?

I believe that all are violating the divine law who live in idleness on wealth produced by others, since they eat bread in the sweat of their brothers’ brows. Do you agree?

I believe that no man should have power to take wealth he has not produced or earned unless freely given to him by the producer. Do you agree?

I believe that brotherhood requires giving an equivalent for every service received from a brother. Do you agree?

I believe it is blasphemous to assert or insinuate that God has condemned some of His children to hopeless poverty, and to the Crimea, want, and misery resulting therefrom, and has, at the same time, awarded to others lives of ease and luxury, without labor. Do you agree?

I believe that involuntary poverty and involuntary idleness are unnatural, and are due to the denial by some of the right of others to use freely the gift of God to all. Do you agree?

Since labor products are needed to sustain life, and since labor must be applied to land in order to produce, I believe that every child comes into life with divine permission to use land without the consent of any other child of God. Do you agree?

Where men congregate in organized society, land has a value apart from the value of things produced by labor; as population and industry increase, the value of land increases, but the value of labor products does not. That increase in land value is community-made value. Inasmuch as your power to labor is a gift of God, all the wealth produced by your labor is yours, and no man nor collection of men has a right to take any of it from you. Do you agree to that?

I believe the community-made value of land belongs to the community, just as the wealth produced by you belongs to you. Do you agree to that?

Therefore, I believe that the fundamental evil, the great God-denying crime of society, is the iniquitous system under which men are permitted to put into their pocket, confiscate, in fact, the community-made values of land, while organized society confiscates for public purposes a part of the wealth created by individuals. Do you agree to that?

Using a concrete illustration: I own in the city of Philadelphia 11½ acres of land, for which I paid 32,500 dollars a few years ago. On account of increase of population and industry in Philadelphia, that land is now worth about 125,000 dollars. I have expended no labor or money upon it. So I have done nothing to cause that increase of 92,500 dollars in a few years.

My fellow-citizens in Philadelphia created it, and I believe it therefore belongs to them, not to me. I believe that the man-made law which gives to me and other landlords values we have not created is a violation of the divine law. I believe that Justice demands that these community-made values be taken by the community for common purposes instead of taxing enterprise and industry. Do you agree?

That is my creed, my faith, my religion. Do you teach that, or anything like it, in your theological school? If not, why not?

I have a right to ask, since you have asked me for money. If you agree to my propositions, but do not teach them, tell me why. If I am in error, show me in what respect. I am using all the money I have to teach my creed, my faith, my religion, as best I can. I am using it as best I know how to abolish the Hell of civilization, which is want and fear of want. I am using it to bring in the will of our Father, to establish the Brotherhood of Man by giving each of my brothers an equal opportunity to have and use the gifts of our Father. Am I misusing that money? If so, why, and how?

If my teaching is wrong and contrary to true religion, I want to know it. I take it that if you are not teaching religion to its fullness, you wish to know it. Am I correct?

What I teach may be criticized as mixing politics with religion, but can I be successfully attacked on that ground?

Politics, in its true meaning, is the science of government. Is government a thing entirely apart from religion or from righteousness? Is not just government founded upon right doing?

If my religion is true, if it accords with the basic principles of morality taught by Jesus, how is it possible for your school to teach Christianity when it ignores the science of government? Or is your school so different from other theological schools that it does not teach the fundamental moral principles upon which men associate themselves in organised government? Do you question the relationship between taxation and righteousness?

Let us see. If government is a natural growth, then surely God’s natural law provides food and sustenance for government as that food is needed; for where in Nature do we find a creature coming into the world without timely provision of natural food for it?

It is in our system of taxation that we find the most emphatic denial of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, because, first, in order to meet our common needs, we take from individuals what does not belong to us in common; second, we permit individuals to take for themselves what does belong to us in common; thus, third, under the pretext of taxation for public purposes, we have established a system that permits some men to tax other men for private profit.

Does not that violate the natural, the divine law? Does it not surely beget wolfish greed on the one hand, and gaunt poverty on the other? Does it not surely breed millionaires on one end of the social scale and tramps on the other end? Has it not brought into civilization a hell, of which the savage can have no conception? Could any better system be devised for convincing men that God is the father of a few and the stepfather of the many? Is not that destructive of the sentiment of brotherhood?

With such a condition, how is it possible for men in masses to obey the new commandment, “that ye love one another”? What could more surely thrust men apart? What could more surely divide them into warring classes?

You say that you need money to train young men and fit them “to carry the Word to the heathen of foreign lands, and thus be instrumental in dispelling the darkness that reigns among millions of our brethren in other lands.” That is a noble purpose. But what message would your school give to these young men to take to the benighted brethren that would stand a fire of questions from an intelligent heathen? Suppose, for example, your school sends to some pagan country an intelligent young man, who delivers his message; and suppose an intelligent man in the audience asks these questions:

“You come from America, when your religion has been taught for about 400 years, where every small village has one of your churches, and the great cities have scores upon scores. Do all the people attend these churches? Do your countrymen generally practice what you preach to us? Does even a considerable minority practice it? Are your laws consistent with or contrary to the religion you preach to us? Are your cities clean morally in proportion to the number of churches they contain? Do your courts administer Justice impartially between man and man, between rich and poor? Is it as easy for a poor man as for a rich one to get his rights in your courts?

You have great and powerful millionaires. How did they get their money? Have they more influence than the poor in your churches and in your congress, your legislatures and courts? Do they, in dealing with their employees, observe the moral law that “the laborer is worthy of his hire”? Do they treat their hired laborers as brothers? Do they put children to work who ought to be at play or at school? Do your churches protect when the militia is called out during a strike, or do they forget at such times what Jesus said about the use of the sword?

After four centuries of teaching and preaching of your religion in your country, has crime disappeared or diminished? Have you less use for jails? Are fewer and fewer of your people driven into madhouses, and have suicides decreased? Is there a larger proportion of crime amongst Jews and infidels than among those who profess the Christian Religion?”

What answers would your missionary return to these questions? How would you answer them?

I do not attack Christianity. The foregoing questions are not intended as criticism of the great moral code underlying Christianity, but as criticism of the men who preach, but do not practice that code. My contention is that the code of morals taught to the fishermen of Galilee by the Carpenter of Nazareth is all-embracing and all-sufficient for our social life.

I shall be glad to contribute to your theological school or to any other that gets down to the bedrock of that social and moral code, accepts it in its fullness, and trains its students to teach and preach it regardless of the raiment, the bank accounts, the social standing or political position of the persons in the pews.

–         Joseph Fels



Prosper Australia has every reason to be proud of its new documentary “Real Estate 4 Ransom” which debuted to a packed audience at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square in Melbourne last night.

Fast, focused and entertaining, it is a tribute to co-directors Karl Fitzgerald and Gavin Emmanuel that they were able to produce such complete, timely and powerful insights on a shoestring.

Whilst economics is often boring, this wasn’t the case as “Ransom” transported its audience right to the heart of the reasons for the global financial collapse.  It is arguable even the resplendent and commercially successful “Inside Job” failed its viewers against this criterion, settling instead only for a fascination with crooked financial personalities and the Glass-Steagall Act.

As “Ransom” exposes a connection between the world’s tax systems, escalating land prices and the financial collapse, l hope it finds a much wider audience than last night’s obviously appreciative one.

It most certainly merits it.


The rioting in England is indefensible, but how to understand it?

I’ve mentioned several times throughout these blogs that the rent of land represents community.  However, although land and natural resource rent is community-generated, less and less of it has been captured back for public revenue over the last forty years.  Thereby, a sense of a community has been lost.

That’s because it has become fashionable to privatise the rent of land and natural resources in the misbegotten belief that ‘user pays’ and increased taxation is preferable to the public capture of publicly created resource rents. It is largely privatisers of our natural resource rents who’ve been able to put about this self-serving idea. And they’ve sold it successfully to government.

The cumulative effect of the process over forty years has been to widen the gap between rich and poor. This now vast divide is well documented, but the role of land rent remains virtually invisible.

Right wing shock jocks consider that parasitic leeching of natural resource rents by private interests is respectable employment, and, unable to think through the logical consequences, they’re flabbergasted by London’s street riots.

The rising of the hun in the city is obviously a function of poverty and dispossession. Feeling disenfranchised and disconnected, these predominantly lower class youth exhibit their hate for a system that keeps them down and often unemployed whilst bank CEOs who crashed the system flaunt their multi-millions.  Unlike many of us, the rioters see the game is rigged and their frustration has spilled over into aggression and excess.

But it’s not just happening in the west.  It’s a worldwide contagion.  This compelling cover story in India’s national magazine “Frontline” shows private rent-seeking is also doing gangbusters in India.









Dear Austan,

You didn’t reply to my last e-mail on 10 March 2009, but that’s OK, because I know you’re pretty busy. But most people can see this thing’s become a full-blown financial depression now, and I thought you might be more interested in what I want to suggest to you this time around.

I e-mailed you because I know you’re a mate of President Barack Obama’s, and you might convey to him this recipe for a quick exit from this collapse.

It’s all about the ONLY way to get out of it, Austan. Nothing else can possibly work, believe me. There’s much history to this effect.

President Obama needs to do a near-immediate tax shift, off producers, off workers, off exchange and thrift – and onto the rent of land and natural resources.

We’ve just had a major inquiry into tax reform here in Australia, Austan. The panel for ‘Australia’s Future Tax System’ was headed up by Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry. Henry and his panel did a great job.

The panel has come out in favour of abolishing most of our hopelessly inefficient taxes and getting significantly more rent revenue from mineral resources and from land.

The mining tax is being amended to a less effective format, but it’s going ahead. There’s to be a public meeting in Parliament House, Canberra, from 4th to 5th of October this year to see what other of Ken Henry’s panel recommendations Australia ought to employ.

I’m hoping we’ll take up the recommendation for an all-in single rate land tax – more correctly (as you’d realise) a land rent.

That’s because, as you’ll see at this particular hyperlink, the land rent/tax has an incredibly strong pedigree.

You’ll know, as any economics text book says, Austan, the charge on land values won’t be able to be passed on in prices, and it will help to allocate our natural resources more efficiently. It will put an end to monopoly and speculation in land, virtually reversing the process that led to this financial collapse, because we’ll also be taking taxes off productivity and getting things moving again.

Such a revenue shift will give all the right signs to productivity.

We have a politician here, Barnaby Joyce, who warned us of this ‘economic Armageddon’.  I doubt, however, he’ll take it further, because it would need guts for him to take the next step and press for the implementation of Ken Henry’s reformed State land tax to get us out of this mess.

I hope you might have the gumption to do so with President Obama, Austan.

Good luck, and best regards,

–      Bryan Kavanagh



(a) “Reasons to resist the financial panic”

Confidence and psychology play a nebulous but massive role in the real economy, as they do in financial markets. Australia long ago embraced global markets for goods and services and capital. Thus we are not immune from the turmoil wiping hundreds of billions of dollars from financial assets the world over, including some $55 billion here in several hours yesterday.

….. But there are fundamental reasons, too, why Australians ought to have greater confidence than is suggested by the plunge in the local sharemarket. Our economy is not shackled by debt. Nor is it highly taxed relative to other industrialised nations. The federal budget is headed towards surplus. This is the result of prudent public policy over the past quarter of a century. ….

Oh, good, the government’s doing fine, but what about the astronomical level of debt Australian households are carrying (and trying, with mixed success, to reduce)?  Generated, of course, by record land prices and, yes, by respective governments’  excessive taxation! That private debt doesn’t rate a mention, Mr Editor? Isn’t the fact that the Australian public doesn’t have a dollar to spend just a little bit worrying, you great pillock!

As for the “prudent public policy” of both Liberal and Labor governments presiding happily over the reduction of Australians’ real wages and their spending into a real estate bubble of $2.8 trillion between 1999 and 2010 ….! This includes some $805 billion we are somehow going to have to manage writing off, by the way.

Australia’s position is, in fact, far WORSE than anywhere else in the world, Mr Editor, whilst you, are off in la la land, away with the fairies!

Oh, I get it! Maybe making soothing noises will patch over the structural financial mess that surrounds us! Fat chance!

(b) “Importing gloom belies burgeoning national economy “

“While Europe and the United States are struggling, our budget deficit isn’t particularly big and our level of government debt is laughingly small, writes Ross Gittins.

Is it possible for a country that’s the envy of the developed world to talk itself into a recession? I don’t know. But it seems we’re about to find out.   …. Mining boom (blah blah) …. Pay rises are few (blah blah) …. Not  because the media are putting a negative spin on all the news, reveling in the bad news and forgetting to mention the good.

Now, Ross, please tell me you’re not a neo-liberal economist; a blinkered high priest for the status quo?

You didn’t write THE AGE editorial, did you. Ross?

Hey! Fairy stories some other time, you guys! Australia meanwhile has a serious structural problem of household debt with which we have to contend!

THE AGE can be much more forensic.  It can surely do much better than that sort of crud.

Giving tea partiers and so-called libertarians a serve


Unfortunately, modern Tea Partiers and most libertarians, who should be able to solve the problems of the US economy, have become integral to its hopeless morass.  They should read the proud history of the Boston tea party.

If you’re against taxes, guys, you’ve got to be for rents.  Only morons can be against both. Read your Locke, your Adam Smith, your Henry George.

And look at the timeless common sense of your forebears: “Put to the vote: as many are of the opinion that a public tax upon the land ought to be raised to defray the public charge, say ‘yea’.” …. “Carried in the affirmative, none dissenting.” (Philadelphia’s first tax law, 30 January 1693)

You are usurpers! You’ve fallen for the neo-classical idiocy that land doesn’t exist separate from capital anymore, and therefore, like the return to capital, land rent may be privatised. [!]

But land and its rent are separate from capital, guys. Unlike capital, no individual created them – and therein lies your BIG fallacy!

Land and natural resource rents which represent the community occupy 50% of the economy, and are therefore owed back to ALL the people because they created it.  But you seem to think this is communistic and are therefore presumably happy to include bank CEOs and their minions in with the 0.1% of the population who, like parasites, capture these publicly-created values.  I hate to tell you, guys, but that’s not ‘free market’, it’s socialism for the rich!

And allowing them to thieve from us is why we’re taxed when we should not be. (That last bit’s the only part you’ve got right!)

You have now made yourselves as irrelevant as the politicians you criticise.  Wake up to yourselves, you boorish idiots!

Surprise, Surprise – RBA gets it right!


The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) was quite right not to increase the overnight cash rate yesterday.

Having run their mortgages and credit cards up to record levels, the GFC has brought about a Pauline conversion amongst Australians. They’ve come to their own conclusions, because neither the RBA nor APRA (the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority) had really warned them their household debt load had become nigh on impossible.  Whilst people were waking up by themselves, the RBA and APRA remained asleep on the job.

In an article in THE AGE on 15 June 2005, I warned that the RBA shouldn’t increase interest rates because Australia’s “economic growth is primed to tank into a major deflation”.

Nevertheless, the RBA subsequently ratcheted the cash rate up from 5.75% to 7.25% over the next 27 months to 5 March 2008, before proving me right by having to drop it by 4.25% (to 3%) in a period of only 7 months!

But if I was ahead of the pack in foreseeing a drop in property prices in Australia and around the world as early as 2005, I’m surely not now? Is it not fear of a worsening global financial collapse that Australians have ‘deep pockets’ and our retail industry is now suffering so badly?

By not understanding the real problems faced by Australians, misguided RBA monetary policy has added to retailers and mortgage-holders deep concerns. Increases in the cash rate has made it more difficult for both. It has also sent the Australian dollar higher than it should be, thereby damaging our exports.

So, whilst it is the job of the RBA to attend to stability of the currency and full employment, it is its third criterion, the economic prosperity and welfare of all Australians, which is most important right now.

May I remind RBA governors that whilst Australians aren’t spending, whilst real estate values are declining and the dollar remains too high, it is STILL not the time for the RBA to even consider increasing interest rates.  A reduction is more appropriate.

In the current financial environment it’s only superficial commentators, unaware of the overarching concerns of Australians, who could believe otherwise .

It helps to understand that taxation and land price escalation is responsible for most inflation – and there certainly aint going to be much increase in land prices from hereon in!

So, get with the program, RBA!