The thoughts behind the Renegade Ecologist

From my 20 years as a nature conservationist I have learned the utter futility of trying to protect nature under our current economic system. But by making some small changes to our taxation system we could make a world fit for our children to inherit full of wildlife & prosperity for all.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root....
Henry David Thoreau
"In many ways, nature conservation has become just another method of rent extraction by landowners who are trying to hide the fact that modern farmers’ fields are essentially deserts, devoid of wildlife, and the taxpayer must pay ‘rent’ if we want wild animals to occupy ‘their land’."
Peter Smith

Land Value Tax, which is in my opinion the Holy Grail of legislative changes to protect wildlife, is the simplest expression of the Economic theories of Henry George. This theory goes that if we abolish all harmful taxes on our hard work and trade and instead charge a rent for the use of natural resources such as Land we will not waste them or allow private interests to exploit the rest of humanities access to them.

Such a tax would not only stimulate jobs and enterprise but put a value on all of our natural resources and force us to look after them. If it was implemented for agricultural land, where the lower value of perpetually designated wilderness or natural grazing land is reflected in its land value taxation, it would be the surest way to save the wildlife of the UK and for the least cost to the taxpayer”

This would mean hard to farm areas, steep banks, riverbanks, rocky outcrops and areas landowners want to designate a nature reserves, which must be legally binding, could be set aside for wildlife and as such attract no taxation. The result of this would be that unproductive and marginal land would become wildlife havens and receive long term protection for future generation to enjoy. But it would also take away land and monopolies from our plutocrats who own wealth with no obligation to the rest of society, these plutocrats fund both the red and blue (and Yellow) faction of the vested interest or ‘line my friends pocket’ parties that control the legislature in Britain.

This blog is dedicated to teaching those who love nature that there is a simple ‘magic bullet’ that can save the rare wildlife of this country at no cost to the taxpayer. This magic bullet will actually grow our economy and create jobs and help create a better society based on rewarding those who work hard while penalising idol people who make monopolies such as bankers and landowners.

The solution if adopted worldwide would alleviate poverty and starvation and make a significant contribution to preventing war and terrorism.

Follow me on twitter: @peetasmith

Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of Wildwood Trust

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Will Father Christmas Kill the Planet

I have just been ordering xmas presents for my son - the Chinese built radio controlled helicopter will make him very happy, but at what cost to the planet?

Christmas has become a obscene feast of needles consumption typifying the terrifying and unsustainable increase in the natural resource use. But how can we stop it? How can I and the rest of humanity make a decision to value something sustainable, instead of the radio controlled nightmare of unsustainable resources that is my son's present this year?

Equality and security of future income is key to reducing population and natural resource use. This was beautifully explained in the observations of the great political economist Henry George in 1870, who recognised this problem and its solution. Through observation he recorded that the 'Malthusian doctrine'  had some fundamental flaws and was often used by the rich to justify the status quo of poverty, as if nothing could be done about it. His empirical and non-empirical research and the work of economists since then have shown the huge flaws in taking a simplistic view to the work of Malthus.

Poverty will not always be with us and we can change the problems of the world very simply. We can reduce population growth to zero and even reverse it, we can use less resources per head and we can give everyone on the planet a better standard of living through innovation and efficiency and we can conserve its biological diversity.

The simple step needed for this is to make greed expensive!  To tax avarice and natural resource use exploitation. The private collection of the monopoly rents of land and natural resources is at the heart of the problem. We can only learn to live within the resource constraints of the planet if we share and value its natural resources, this can be simply achieved by using the monopoly value of land and natural resources as the only source of Government revenue and then sharing that equally to all.

I worked until the small hours last night turning a friends slide show, explaining some of the issues above into the video below:

A very Happy Xmas from the Renegade Ecologist...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Killing Fields

This interview shows the launch of the important new Film Directed by Carlo Nero and produced in conjunction with the Team behind Geophilos. The event was hosted by Oscar Winner Vanessa Redgrave, and was attended by a number of Hollywood stars and leaders of Nature Conservation Charities. The Film explores the relationship between Wildlife, Land, taxation and Law. The film Documents how the introduction of Land Value Tax would give Value to Wildlife and ensure Its protection. The film is presented by Economist Fred Harrison and features Peter Smith CEO and Founder of the Wildwood Trust, Dr Duncan Pickard, Landowner and Farmer, and Polly Higgins, Environmental barrister, author & campaigner.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The real St George!

From the New York Times

In 1879, George finished a draft of his most important book. “Discovery upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither lessened the toil of those who most need respite, nor brought plenty to the poor,” George wrote. He thought the solution was to abolish all taxes on labor and instead impose a single tax, on land. He sent the manuscript to New York. When no one would publish it, he set the type himself and begged publishers simply to ink his plates. The book, “Progress and Poverty,” sold three million copies.
George was neither a socialist nor a communist; he influenced Tolstoy but he disagreed with Marx. He saw himself as defending “the Republicanism of Jefferson and the Democracy of Jackson.” He had a bit of Melville in him (the sailor) and some of Thoreau (“We do not ride on the railroad,” Thoreau wrote from Walden. “It rides upon us.”) But, really, he was a Tocquevillian. Tocqueville believed that democracy in America was made possible by economic equality: people with equal estates will eventually fight for, and win, equal political rights. George agreed. But he thought that speculative, industrial capitalism was destroying democracy by making economic equality impossible. A land tax would solve all.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Why poverty? that would be Ricardo's Law

Someone told me that poverty exists as wages are too low to pay for rents and house prices are too high. This chap was right, but did not understand the connection between wages, rents and house prices. Once you understand Ricardo's Law then everything else in economics makes sense:

A recent history of why rents and house prices are always too high:
  1. ·         Since the 50’s the euro-dollar and offshore banking system has been able to magic up endless credit to any western financial player or developer free of tax and regulation. This is the key economic change along with the abandonment of post war controls on the movement of capital
  2. ·         Political changes since the thatcher/Reagan era, which were facilitated by my point above, and the triumph of the ‘neo-classical' economic cover story paraded by the dangerous buffoons from the ‘Chicago school’ of economic policy have effectively hidden real economic thinking. This has kept wages down while allowing a ‘free market’ to allow the full force of what is known as ‘Ricardo’s law of rent’ to capture most of our economic production and pass it into the hands of unproductive monopolists, of which landowners, owners of natural resource rights and banking are the biggest.
  3. ·         By understanding ‘Ricardo’s law of rent’ further and better explained by Henry George in the 1870’s in a ‘free market’ rent and land prices will increase to match the surplus of production and therefore capture our growing national wealth and all the money created by loose lending policies and the dodgy international shadow banking system.

Therefore most people are no better off, and will never be better off as long as we allow the monopoly value of land(and all the other monopolies  that operate in the world) to be captured by rents and inflated property values. It is immaterial what wages are, real wages could double and all that would happen is that rents and property values would expand to capture the higher level of disposable income.

In the UK the continued reduction in house building plays into the hands of all the little monopolists who bought houses in the Thatcher false boom. Then in the ultimate act of class betrayal New Labour found it much easier to continue the policies of credit expansion, reduced house building and neo-classical economics.  This way they kept floating voters in key marginal constituencies happy as the increase in value of their houses made them feel rich, while at the same time keeping the ‘plutocratic’ forces  happy as their wealth expanded enormously. Tax credits and housing benefit allowed the poor to feel a little richer but in the end the economic processes I explained means that this money really just filters through to enrich landowners and bankers. The banks have taken their slice of economic rent through ‘Buy to Let’ private landlords and people taking out mortgages they cannot really afford to pay back (just look at how many people have interest only mortgages or have lied to obtain a mortgage they cannot afford). House prices are a function of what banks are prepared to lend and have little relation to any intrinsic factor so they will rise and rise until people cannot afford to pay back the debt incurred to buy them, famously known as the 'Minsky Moment' after the great economist  Hyman Minsky
This was of course unsustainable and we now face at least 10 years of recession as debt deflation consumes the over borrowed. By bailing out the banks and enacting policies that keep asset prices high at the expense of the  average taxpayer, Government policy will extend the advantage of our plutocrats while furthering  poverty and wealth divide. The bank bailouts have effectively privatised a sizable portion of the next 15 years or so of taxpayer money.

The privatisation of future taxes will see a large drop in Government funding on nature conservation as we have seen in the last year and will continue to see in the foreseeable future. Lower incomes will mean even less money for wildlife charities from private donors, low interest rates will mean much less income from grant making trusts and artificially high land prices will allow less land to be acquired for nature conservation purposes. My nightmare is that wildlife charities will be forced back to their roots where they are apologists for land owners managing postage stamp  areas of marginal farmland donated by a kind soul but without the resources to make a real difference to wildlife and habit protection.

This policy has accelerated since Thatcher, no matter which political party has been in power and I do not see the Liberal Democrats doing anything about it apart from Vince Cable’s heroic efforts to extend a property tax and reform capital gains tax. I have grave doubts Miliband will do anything to change it too. Although there are some in in all 3 political parties who understand real economics, most have no idea of the forces at play in our economy and/or are just vain puppets.

So far Vince’s polices have not come to the fore and the only real change enacted by the coalition government has been the extension of VAT to 20% which is the most regressive of all the main taxes and the tax that has the least effect of the ability of monopolists and landlords to extract economic rent out of the general population. Vince agreed to this in the hope capital gains tax would rise and a property tax would be enacted. I fear this was an empty promise by the Tory coalition partners and we will never see an increase in these taxes as they will directly affect the rent seeking “plutocratic” forces that have so much power.

Our political system seems unable to do anything to counteract this trend, with policy formation being a squabble between the most powerful rent seeking forces, even organisations such as the CBI are now controlled by businesses that are more interested in monopolies and rent seeking than real productive industry. Even the house building industry seems far more interested in the untaxed capital gains they can make from their land banks and its interaction with offshore tax dodging shenanigans than on getting on with the business of making a profit from building and selling houses, and their lobbying of Government is reflected by this in the way they wish to relax planning laws..

But let Fred Harrison explain Ricardo's Law of Rent, he is far better at it than I and has a much better line in suits and ties.

Wildlife charities promoting child poverty part II

My response to a chap helping to organised a anti development petition

Any house building would help poor people, it is a national disgrace that we are building so few homes in the UK. But as you say there are no real planning proposals to redress this, and the Tory planning changes are a travesty that will maximise income to landowners and city spivs while minimising the social benefit that home building brings.

I still doubt it will have any real structural difference to biodiversity in the UK, changes in agriculture are at least 100 times more important than house building. I still think that this is not well understood by the general population and most people operate on a completely false set of assumptions that house building is a major factor in wildlife loss. Simplistic campaigns and some of the  rhetoric on the 38 degrees site play into this popular misconception.

I have grave concerns that the popularity whipped up by all sections of the media are more do to with present day home owners pulling up their ladder of privilege  to protect their capital value. I have been very guilty of using house building as a bogyman in my own past campaigns and deeply regret it, I used this for one of my most popular marketing campaigns while at Kent Wildlife Trust. Unfortunately this diverted attention from the real wildlife calamity that was befalling the county due to the changes  in farming and land use such as drainage and flood defences.

This proposal, just like the forestry proposal, shows just how much private interests have wholly captured public policy formation, and on that front I am a huge supporter of the work of 38degrees in being the biggest facilitator of poplar opinion to counter this trend.

David Cameron has shown he is just a PR man in the American mould of politics, he has farmed out policy formation to the lobby groups of the city’s largest finical institutions and in return for political donation is bringing them to parliament when he thinks it expedient to do so. Both the public forest sale and now these planning changes have come straight from the officers of one of the banks or hedge funds and have been written deliberately to allow our plutocrats to maximise their unearned income, further extending tax avoidance and furthering the terrifying wealth gap that is the unfolding calamity of our society

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

How Wildlife Charities are Causing Child Poverty...

A lot of wildlife charities are mobilising their supporters to sign petitions against the new Tory plans to relax planning permissions on new developments. These new proposal are obviously just political payback to  David Cameron's Landowning Chums in the Countryside Landowners Association and house building political donors.

But I have a big problem with wildlife organisations getting on the anti-house building NIMBY bandwagon as the issue is far more complex and we end being part of a system that is responsible for horrendous squalor and social inequality.

It is a terrible thing to pit the many people paying large rents, or have taken out mortgages they cannot repay or the many families living in appalling squalor against those of us trying to save wildlife. The reality is that there could be a massive house building programme in the UK, which would have very little direct impact on wildlife. With the right mitigations measures,  such as the construction of wildlife corridors and associated wildlife reserves we could easily triple house building in this country and make a huge wildlife gain at the same time.

In the majority of cases houses built on farmers’ fields will actually increase biodiversity as even the tiny back gardens of modern houses hold within them far more wildlife than a modern arable field. English Nature, just before its demise conducted a study which concluded the same; much to the outrage of many a rampant NIMBY whose only interest in nature conservation was to protect the property value of their overpriced three bedroomed semi on the edge of a farmer’s field.

The real scandal is the terrible planning system, or should I say lack of planning system, that allows the massive profits derived from the granting of planning permission, to the tune of many billions of pounds, to go untaxed into the pockets of landowners and banks without any real effort at compensating for the environmental and social problems that are created through the development.

My view is that wildlife campaigners should be fighting for the unearned income, the portion of land value ascribed to the granting of planning permission for house building, to be used to mitigate the environmental affects and enhance wildlife. Far better the community is enhanced by this community derived wealth than for it to go untaxed into the offshore accounts held by members of the countryside landowners association and their bank owning chums.

When a new housing development is granted the landowner and to a lesser extent the developer and banks are set to make a huge unearned capital gain. Because of our awful taxation system a lot of this profit from the increase in value of the land will disappear offshore into tax havens never to be seen again above and beyond the huge legal tax loopholes granted to landowners in this position. I understand some of you will doubt this but it really is true, much of the land will be owned and be  passed between a series of companies and hidden behind blind trusts in the Cayman islands as will the profits of the development company that builds the houses and the profits of the banks that loan the money to the developer and then the new home owners.

Many of the new costs associated with that development such as drainage, schools, roads will be paid for by the average hardworking taxpayer. Also the existing infrastructure that made the land so valuable in the first place when planning permissions was granted will have been paid for by those that work hard and pay normal income taxes.

In my opinion, and that of some of the world’s leading economists, the most efficient way to solve this conundrum is the shifting of income tax to a Land Value Tax which would pay for all of our government expenditure and have more than enough left over to fund environmental mitigation of all new development. We could easily afford to build a vast network of National Parks and  wildlife reserves with connecting wildlife corridors on the most marginal economic land which would become cheap to acquire. Thus we would create a UK brimming full of wildlife, with happy families in good quality housing and have all kind of extra benefits such as lower crime and more people in decent jobs etc.

There is a downside for some of  the richest 2% of the UK’s citizens, as they would have to get off their backsides and do a proper days work if they wanted to earn a living instead of enjoying a free lunch at the rest of society’s expense.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

LVT Wildlife & The Environment Lib Dems ALTER paper

I wrote this as a discussion for the Lib Dems ALTER group for their next party conference - Power to the elbows!

LVT Wildlife & The Environment
Land Value Tax (LVT) on all land in the UK will not only create jobs and boost the economy, but is the key to protecting our wildlife and conservation of natural resources.
LVT will allow all the citizens of the United Kingdom to share in the natural riches of our country and feel that they have a stake in its future. This will have many benefits for community cohesion and respect for the countryside and private property.
LVT has been recognised as the key economic reform by the academic discipline of ‘Environmental Economics’ as the only policy that will allow us to square the circle of having a growing economy, increasing employment with greater wildlife protection and conservation of natural resources.
Natural Capital
Government revenue should come from Natural Capital; the free gifts that nature gives us: the natural fertility of the soil, the sun, the water and the resources of oil and minerals. At present our tax system allows the monopoly value of these resources to be privatized without tax. This has the long term effect of concentrating unearned income into the hands of a few and reducing economic efficiency.
As society develops and becomes wealthier so natural capital, as a finite limiting resource, comes to constitute an ever increasing proportion of total wealth. But its monopoly value also concentrates in fewer hands, in the guise of corporate landowners and unproductive financial speculators. They capture ‘economic rent’ and make huge capital gains, acting as a massive drain on entrepreneurship and the productive members of our society.
Direct taxation of a fixed resource such as natural capital will have far less impact on our economy than taxation of trade and wages. This will allow jobs and industry to flourish while at the same time acting as a constant force to conserve the use of land and natural resources. The practical effect of this is that we will use our existing developed land far more efficiently; investment capital will flow to poorer areas and derelict land instead of seeking out green fields to exploit. Business and individuals will have a great incentive to conserve oil and minerals stimulating new green industries.
Giving Value to Wildlife
The fundamental problem we have in nature conservation is that when wildlife is destroyed there is no sanction. LVT will provide a positive feedback loop giving cash cost to wildlife destruction for anyone seeking to use natural land or intensify its use as this will have an impact on its unimproved value. Whenever a natural place is destroyed so it’s ‘Land Value’ will increase and thus it will be taxed accordingly.
Conversely marginal land that is of little commercial economic value (that is held in covenant as such) will have no commercial value and be free from such a tax – thus landowners will be encouraged not to use land in uneconomic ways that destroy wildlife promoting the creation of many more areas of high wildlife value that will have little impact on the productive economy.
Creating economically competitive rural, farming and conservation employment
Our present system of taxation vastly favours tax-dodgers, land speculators, large landowners and investment in huge capital infrastructure. This promotes the use of ever more intensive agricultural systems, increasing animal suffering, oil based chemical use and disproportionately  drives jobs out of rural areas.
Huge tax breaks exist for the purchase of large machines and capital infrastructure. Fuel, fertilisers and agricultural chemicals all have huge subsidies and do not reflect their true cost to society or the environment.
Taxation removed from wages and trade allows the creation of rural and urban jobs. In rural areas this would be further enhanced as it would allow less intensive systems of agriculture, that coexist with native wildlife, to become economically competitive, when compared with our most damaging forms of industrial agriculture. Opportunities would arise in our leisure and wildlife conservation businesses offering benefits for the rural economy in recreation and tourism.
Intensive livestock farming inputs like palm oil husks and soya, which are grown at the expensive of tropical rainforest, would also become less economically competitive, helping to save areas of high biodiversity elsewhere on our planet.
Why other systems have failed
There has been a series of attempts by government to enhance wildlife and protect our natural resources at a huge cost to the taxpayer. Many of these efforts have meant little benefit for wildlife yet have increased the land prices and enriched only a few landowners
Grants to landowners, agricultural subsidies and land use policy have been a disaster for British wildlife.
Just like the disaster of housing policy over the last 30 years, so we have created a system whereby the taxpayer ‘rents’ wildlife from private landlords. This is hugely costly and a massively inefficient way of protecting wildlife. A general LVT will achieve a much greater level of wildlife protection with a much reduced cost to the taxpayer and reduce the need for DEFRA to administer and police current grant systems.

The greatest Liberal politicians of the last 100 years have supported LVT as the key economic reform that will bring economic growth, employment, balance of payments, social cohesion & crime reduction. The new academic movement of ‘Environmental Economics’ has now recognised LVT as key to the protection of our wildlife and conservation of the natural resources of the planet. 

Friday, 2 September 2011

Bullingdon Dave - will he save us from the violent young men smashing up local businesses in our cities and Towns?

I had an e-mail exchange with a David Cameron apologist in a discussion about the role Wildlife conservation has in preventing riots,  my response to the Bullingdon Club apologist (who had the temerity to say that the poor and underclass relied on these people to create wealth) is copied below, :

The members of the Bullingdon club represent mostly landowners who derive their wealth by charging others a rent for land usage. The banking system, which many of the young Landowners find themselves working for these days works on a similar system of charging ‘economic rent’ by the private ownership of the supply of money, where only a tiny fraction is actually put into the productive economy and most goes into third world exploitation and the creation of massive asset bubbles, such as the frightening housing bubble that is crippling the economy of this country.

Our Bullingdon Club friends create virtually no wealth, so do not confuse them with entrepreneurs and the productive members of our society who drive innovation and wealth creation. These leaches are nothing but a drain on the productive, wealth creating parts of our economy, robbing hard working people of the fruits of their labour.

They also represent a system of privilege that enshrines the disenfranchisement of the youth who were involved in the riots. To understand is not to condone. And Both our Prime Minister displayed the same temperament in his involvement in smashing up the restaurant as did the vast majority of those involved in the riots. To both of them it was nothing more than hi-jinks. Obviously this does not include the very serious crimes committed by some very disturbed and violent individuals.

Of course every individual should be held responsible for their own actions but we must understand the factors that bring about trigger events and put policies in place that reduce the thuggish tendencies that lies in the hearts of young men. But when a 11-year-old boy is handed an 18-month youth rehabilitation order for stealing a bin and a 22 year old gets 4 years for posting something on facebook yet David Cameron can get away with hiding his involvement in the smashing up someone else’s restaurant then there is a fundamental problem in this society, one that eats away at the heart of any young man trying to establish his role in society and form a moral compass

The Nature Conservation movement has an important role in re-engaging all people with the nature of Britain as in that process we will give them a stake in this country. By far the biggest part of that process will be in allowing a disaffected young man in London to have just as much say in how the countryside is governed, and how its natural bounty is distributed, than a young man from the Bullingdon Club.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Use a land tax, and not a water cannon, to quell the riots

The riots and its causes are of course complex, but underneath the many social and individual issues lies a simple, yet subtle, economic truth. Because our economic system has no capacity to value our marginalised youth in the same fashion it has no method of valuing  nature and our natural assets except in a way that exploits them for private advantage of the privileged few.

In my view the problem is natural assets, namely access to land, natural resources and intellectual assets that are the essential bedrock of income creation and economic success for any young man or woman.

We live in a society that has created an economic and legal system that allows a very few (mostly old people), both in this country and abroad, to own all the natural assets that people need. This system has subtly evolved over many years and been adopted across the world as it benefits those with the greatest power to effect legal and economic change, while at the same time being complex enough to obfuscate any insight into its workings by the average ‘person in the street’.

Our country is one of great wealth, the majority of that wealth is tied up in the land, much of which is held far from the reaches of the taxman, in opaque ‘offshore’ financial vehicles, trusts and shell companies and laws have been lobbied for and adopted that give these asset owners very favourable tax terms or turns a blind eye to tax avoidance in illegal, semi legal and legal offshore financial services. An unthinking cabal of our wealthiest have found a way of taking their wealth out of our economy and creating a vast system of speculative ‘financial capital’ that for tax purposes belongs to no one, but is used by a financial service industry to invest in creating bubble and busts in the gifts of nature that should be shared by us all.  At present this financial capital is the chief cause in commodity food speculation that is starving millions, children are dying today of malnutrition just so an unthinking and uncaring elite can increase their wealth.

Our ‘neo classical’ economic system assists in the process by allowing economists to hide the role land,  natural and intellectual assets play in creating monopolies that extract the wealth created in our ‘real’ economy, and absorb the productive efforts of the majority. An upshot of such a system of monopolies is that it lowers the ‘margin of production’.

The "margin of production" is a key concept in economics and is fundamental to the creation of an underclass of people, who have no hope of ever being part of the productive economy. The upshot of which is since the start of our current depression we have seen youth unemployment in black areas, the areas of the riots, shoot up disproportionally with that of other socio-economic groups. This immigrant group has been the least successful in securing access to the ‘means of production’ and natural assets and as such is the most marginalised.

Google the ‘margin of production’  if you want its full explanation, but it is a concept that sets a floor on wages and thus the point at which people are able to leave dependency on state benefits. The rent of land is the key factor in setting the margin of production and at what point the poorest in society can earn a living wage. So high rents are the real cause of poverty and disaffection and what ultimately lead to riots.

Throughout history the relationship between earning and rents have been the determining factor in crime, unemployment and even riots.

When your only option for earning money is to become a wage slave serving others in a menial capacity that offers you no more advantage than stopping on state benefits that is the point that you become marginal and play no economically productive role in society. This is the true meaning of being marginalised and so all of your potential is wasted and so we see that manifested in self-harm, criminality and vengeance against a ‘rigged’ system.

A solution to the riots, and to conserving nature, is through a system that stops marginalising so many people and enshrines common ownership of all nature’s bounty. Everyone, and all of nature, should be valued, and feel valued. This can be achieved through common ownership of all of nature’s riches. The most efficient method for this will be a tax on the unimproved value of land, natural mineral wealth and nature’s other freely given assets, such as the electromagnetic spectrum.

If the government collected its revenue through such a system, after paying for our existing public services there would be a surplus that could be distributed as a citizen’s dividend to everyone equally; this would give everyone a very basic income and stop poverty.  (this is key to stopping poverty across the world and protecting nature – I would urge all to read Fred Harrison’s wonderful book on the subject– ‘The Silver Bullet’: or watch is film

The advantages of such a system are huge:

  • 1.       There would be no poverty trap so any work done would go untaxed and go straight to the worker, allowing them to experience an observed benefit to productive effort.

  • 2.       Land in cities would be much cheaper (due to a tax on the monopoly portion of their value) to buy or rent and this would in turn increase the margin of production. Such an increase would expand opportunities to set up a business. At present land values are so high it is very difficult to get access to the natural resources and land needed to start productive businesses as so much of the profits are swallowed up in the ‘economic rent’ paid to access land and natural resources. Just think of the colossal ground rents of a corner shop in worst part of London and see how rents, piled one on top of another through the economic  supply chain cascade across society, hoovering up the productivity from the productive many to the monopolistic few.

  • 3.       No more bad taxes; at the same time the rents of accessing opportunity are reduced so the taxes on work are removed, with income tax, national insurance contribution or VAT, opportunities will avails themselves to our poorest and jobs will be created in the most economically depressed areas. Lowering unemployment and creating lots of jobs for these disaffected young people.

Nature would benefit too as ‘natural’ land would be very expensive to develop as you would have to start paying tax on it, so marginal land would revert back to nature.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A word from a very wise old farmer on Bovine TB

What a wonderful chap - so much wisdom that ties in with the best scientific knowledge on the matter (deliberately forgotten or suppressed by our industrial farming lobby and DEFRA)

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Great Badger Swindle - Why industrial farming wants to blame the badger for Bovine TB

The badger debate has been around for a very long time, over 40 years, but behind the simplistic headlines that badger lovers and farmers are at loggerheads is a much more complex and subtle story, a story full of intrigue and vested interests competing for economic advantage.

A whole generation of farmers and ‘country people’ have grown up being told badgers are the main problem, but have forgotten the basic epidemiological science of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The farming lobby have found it much easier to blame badgers than address the fundamental problems of cattle farming and the poor practices that have led to the epidemic of bTB in the British cattle herd.”

A History of Cattle TB.

bTB was a dangerous disease and could infect people, mostly  through drinking milk. The introduction of pasteurisation effectively stopped the disease being transferred to humans. Over this time strict controls on cattle movements and herd quarantine ensured a reduction in bTB across the UK .  Since the 1970s these restrictions have been relaxed and the bTB has increased due to this lack of controls.

Changes in intensive farming practices have also contributed to the epidemic, as cattle live in larger and more dense groups and spend more time in large sheds and stockades increasing the spread of bTB. The larger groups ensure that bTB that is carried by few animals sub-clinically acting as a reservoir for the bTB going unobserved and be allowed to flare up again. This is the process that the farming lobby are trying to blame badgers, without credible scientific evidence.

Badger, Cattle and bTB

Cattle to badger bTB infection has been well demonstrated, but there is no evidence that can prove badger to cattle transference on the farm and the extent of the problem, except by guesswork or inference.

A simple  4 point plan to eradicate TB from cows in the UK:

1.       Private insurance – reward the good and punish the bad
The present system of subsides rewards poor practice, the solution is to make the farming industry pay for their bad and illegal farming practices. The best way to achieve this is by the withdrawal of all government subsidy and compensation payments. Farmers could then privately insure themselves against the risk of herd breakdown due to TB. This free market solution would reward good farming practices by them having lower premiums. Farms with poor risk would be charged high premiums and those farmers who commit fraud by changing ear tags and other illegal practices would invalidate their insurance. 

2.       Reintroduction of stricter quarantine regulations on cattle movement
Detailed statistical analysis has shown that it is the movement of cattle from one farm to another that is by far the most important factor in the spread of TB*. The reintroduction of the strict quarantine measure abandoned in our past is key to control of bTB in the UK.

(*M. Gilbert, A. Mitchell, D. Bourn, J. Mawdsley, R. Clifton-Hadley & W. Wint Nature Vol 435|26 May 2005|doi:10.1038/nature0354)

3.       Good credible science – put the funds used for badger killing into proper scientific study of disease propagation and vaccines
The current system of spending large amount of taxpayers’ money on trials of shooting and gassing badgers at the expense of proper scientific study should stop. These funds should be redirected into proper microbiological research of the disease and its control by vaccination in cattle and badgers

4.       Introduce economic changes to taxation and land tenure to promote less intensive agriculture.

Our present system of taxation vastly favours tax-dodgers, land speculators,  large landowners and investment in huge capital infrastructure. This promotes the use of ever more intensive agricultural systems, increasing disease and animal suffering.

Huge tax breaks exist on the purchase of large machines and capital infrastructural. Fuel, fertilisers and agricultural chemicals all have huge subsidies and do not reflect their true cost to society or the environment.

One of the greatest shifts in modern agriculture is the use of foodstuffs such as soya and palm oil husks as artificial feed for animals like cattle and pigs, this has allowed them to be concentrated in smaller areas and the result of this is greater incidences of density dependant diseases such as bTB.

Britain's grazing pasture is being slowly, but surely, converted to arable land, creating an 'agri desert' devoid of  wild animal life and causing the loss of many of our favourite wildlife species.  Not only are our cows and pigs suffering in horrendous conditions, the huge arable conversion of our countryside destroying native wildlife, but the true cost of this policy is the colossal destruction of the planet's most valuable tropical rainforests. The commercial growing of palm oil plantations and soya fields is wiping out tropical rainforests at a truly frightening pace. The economic driver to grow these crops is not human growth in population but the drive to produce cheap meat for western consumption,  as a lifestyle choice at the expense of our environment.

The landowner can benefit in many ways such as when they expand the buildings and gaining planning permission for huge new cattle sheds, the capital gains on their land value is tax free, while the costs of the building can be offset against income taxes.

By removing taxation on all wages and trade, from which we currently derive our income and removing the tax perks of buying large machinery and replacing that government revenue with a rent on the value of all land and a taxation of natural resources such as oil and minerals at source, we would create many more rural and farming jobs and reduce intensive inputs of artificial cattle feeds. This rebalancing of our economic climate would allow less intensive farming to compete on fair terms with the modern industrial farming methods and reduce the spread of disease and poor quality animal husbandry.

If a rent was levied in all the counties of the world those seeking to destroy tropical rainforests for soya and palm oil production would have to pay for the privilege, as the farmland they create would attract a yearly rental charge. The cost of this destruction would flow through into animal feeds and natural pasture would once again become economically viable for the grazing of cattle. Pristine wildlife habitat would have no rental charge and as such would be valued as as soon as someone destroyed the forest they would have to pay a yearly rent for doing so.

This policy would mean meat would become more expensive, but it would reflect its true cost and such a policy would actually increase human health and allow more food to become available for human consumption , increasing our food security and helping save the poor from starvation.

Key facts of bTB

  1. 1.       bTB is passed from animal to animal by aerosol in the form of close, mouth to mouth, transmission
  2. 2.       bTB is a ‘progressive’ disease not a black and white issue – the idea of ‘skin reactors’, the current method of detection is very flawed
  3. 3.       Cattle infect badgers but probably not the other way round (not one shred of real evidence exists for badger to cattle transmission, only inference conjecture)
  4. 4.       bTB is dormant for many years (if not decades in some animals) and this is the real ‘reservoir’ of infection –there is no real evidence of wild animal to cattle transmission. The best data available, from the studies done in Belgium, show that wild animal transmission has no statistical influence on the epidemiology
  5. 5.       The most probable culprit of the rise in bTB is when strict quarantine laws where relaxed 40 years ago, the bTB we see today is just the epidemiological statistical results of that relaxation, magnified by larger herd sizes (increases the chance a ‘dormant carrier’ infecting a herd) and greater densities in cattle sheds.
  6. 6.       Many cattle diseases, not just bTB, have increased over that time, pointing the finger to industry practices and animal husbandry issues
  7. 7.       Stress and ‘unnatural’ diet may (and I stress may as no real evidence) play a role in increasing the progression and expression of bTB in cattle


If you agree with my view point you can explain, in your own words, why killing badgers is not an acceptable solution to the TB problem. Ask the Government to base its policies solely on cattle controls and credible scientific research. 

COntact your MP: (letter is much more effective than e-mail)

On-line petition:

Monday, 25 July 2011

Trophic Level downgrading of planet Earth - part 2 II

Good comparison!
Crucial thing is to get across idea that it's capitalism - wealth and power concentrated in the hands of a few who get their welkath and power not buy woirking for it but just because they own the land and the other 'means of production' - that causes trouble, not the market economy in itself. The defenders of capitalism have been pushing the idea that the two are the same thing, but capitalism is a parasitic form of market economy. 

Rowan – you hit the nail on the head – Monopoly and the private extraction of a ‘fee’ for the use of mother nature’s bounty lies at the heart of our economic (and environmental) problems. Our Government must collect the ‘economic rents’ of the earth’s gifts to man and not allow it to fall into private hands for free. The free market of our economy is like natural selection, it cannot be stopped and it is foolish to try and work against it, we must work with it and help its processes and value its richness. When we try to control nature or the economy we get vested interests gaming the system for their own private advantage, to enrich themselves at everyone else’s expense. Such is the problem with our economy and legal system, it has a continuous pressure to adjust the legal environment to enshrine monopoly and advantage.

The worst example of this is environmental protection legislation which uses the well-meaning wishes of the populace to limit environmental damage, but the laws are framed in such a way as to increase the monopoly of those private interests that hold the economic rent of the natural resources in question, such is the problem of ‘carbon-trading’ which allows big industry and the private ownership of those resources the ability to further enshrine their monopoly and ownership and exclude competition. When all is needed is a simple tax on oil, gas and Coal, at point of extraction or entry to the country, to help reduce consumption and stimulate the free market to explore environmental friendly solutions which are now economically feasible thanks to the carbon- tax. As this reduces other taxes it would actually enhance our economic performance on the world stage.

Taking this further we see this concept at the heart of environmental economics, and what the great classical economist like Adam Smith, Henry George and David Ricardo warned us about, yet it is all forgotten and  brushed under the carpet by modern economists, news media and politicians desperate not upset the very powerful vested interests who pull their strings and fund their activities.

The solution to both issues is ‘land value tax’ where by a yearly rental charge is levied on all land, and natural resources, equal to the ‘economic rent’. This would allow all other taxes on wages and trade to be abolished. This would put a huge tax on those seeking to destroy natural processes by changing land use or extracting minerals. It would share all of our planets wealth out equally on a national basis and would not allow anyone to dodge their taxes.

Unfortunately all the policies of western governments in the UK and USA have been doing exactly the opposite as they have been lobbied to allow the ‘economic rent’ of land and the wealth of the planet to be privatised and go untaxed, enshrining the perpetual advantage of our ‘idol rich’. All taxes are taken from the most productive in society, stifling their efforts, and the margin of production is so high we have huge under employment and masses of people disenfranchised from our planets wealth and opportunities that can be created by that access.

The profits from the destruction of wildlife and natural processes goes untaxed and unfettered into the hands of the wealthy elite, while the efforts of conservationists and the hardworking majority of the population are penalised by at least 50% marginal tax rates.

It’s a big stitch up and many politicians are very aware of the process, but are powerless to prevent it as the careers of those who dare oppose this are destroyed and the general population are to dim to figure it out.

I have filmed a documentary film on this process and we aim to release the film at a screening in October.

Some further viewing – or go to

Professor Michael Hudson – on Economic Rent

My good friend – Fred Harrison on its role with international development:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Trophic Level downgrading of planet Earth

One thing evolutionary theory has to teach us of human ecology  is we are expanding Man’s ecological niche and any  occupier of the niches we expand into will be wiped out – hence our need to wipe out badgers… (see recent Government announcement to allow farmers to wipe out badgers in the South West of the UK) It is in our nature to focus on competition and eliminate it.

This is as true in human economics as it is in human ecology –modern 'neo-classical' free market economics is about the ability of the few to eliminate all competition and allow monopoly of trade and monopoly of ownership without taxation or any legal influence of other humans or other species.  Politicians are nobbled, laws bent and taxes dodged by the few so they can control more of the economy and reduced its ownership and ‘trophic levels’ as human ecology encompasses more of the trophic levels of the ecology of the planet.

As the neo-classicist monopolists expand so there will be less ‘trophic levels’ in nature and in our economy. Most large carnivores will disappear just as we will see the gradual elimination of upper working class, the middle class and upper middle class. The logical extension of this is we end up with many poor and a few super rich and that the planet ends up, with just humans, pests, pets and crops.

Our job as ecologists and conservationists is to ensure the free market of ecology can play out its rich game in as much diversity as possible(not be monolithic communists with rigid five year plans for our little nature reserves), and this should also be the objective of our politicians to ensure rich diversity in our economy, with dynamically changing ownership and control of  trade and ownership of natural resources, as it passes between those most able to make use of it and from generation to generation.

I have long been fascinated by the analogies between economic and ecological processes. 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

How Much is that birdy in your garden? Part II

It is impossible to value nature, it is too complex. Therefore the only practical way to value nature is to charge those who use it, and abuse it, an annual rent. This rent is to paid to the government in lieu of other taxes and will make natural resource destruction expensive and people will naturally seek to reduce their use of land and natural resources, so they can avoid the rental charge. It must be stressed that this tax is instead of other taxes, and total tax take would remain the same. It would be also much more progressive in that the poor would pay less and tax dodgers could not avoid it!

Nature’s value to man is endless and should belong to every human in equal measure. The best way to express this is to charge a  tax equal to the rent a landowner would charge for the use of their land or the fee to extract minerals etc. There are other natural rents that could be charged such as water extraction and use of electromagnetic spectrum.

This income would then form the basis of all Government revenue, all other taxes such as income tax, National Insurance, Vat etc. should be abolished .

Government could vary the tax on some natural resources in line with the ‘externalities’ a word economists use to express the wider problems to society, loss of wildlife, pollution etc. This would have the effect of shaping public use of a natural resource to become more efficient or find alternatives. Therefore oil could attract a great tax than less polluting natural gas. Land held as nature reserves our as extensive grazing in perpetuity would be less valuable and as such attract little or no tax. Foreign goods could have a charge put on them for their resource use to equalise tax on imported and exported goods.

To understand Georgist economics you should watch some of Fred Harrison’s other films or read his books:

Ricardo’s law:

Sunday, 5 June 2011

How Much is that birdy in your garden? Why the National Ecosystem Assessment have got it all wrong

There has been a lot of debate this week stimulated by the publication of the  National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA)

This is an interesting publication and something ‘green’ economist have been wrestling with for years. The value of something is very complicated and in our ‘neo classical economic’ consensus, the standard economic argument of today is something is worth what  someone else will pay for it.

Why the NEA is wrong and will never be practical

It is virtually impossible when it comes to nature and ecological processes to put a value on something. So many people have vastly different values they associate with it and the modern system of regulation and taxation finds it very hard to deal with complex economic externalities from the loss of natural processes of any form. The mechanisms to construct a system of valuation and payment for those valuation would be doomed to failure, except as a dry exercise for purely academic purposes.

Some basic Problems:

1.       How can you put a value on an intangible natural asset?
2.       How can you arrive at a market price when there is no market?
3.       How can you value something in a web of complex economic externalities?
4.       How can you value something that represents the wealth of many generations yet to come, as our children will need these resources to survive

The Fundamental Problem

The fundamental problem is not one of valuation (as outlined above), but one of who benefits from its destruction. The proceeds of the destruction of natural resources are all private in western economies. The profits at the moment go into the hands of a few landowners, whether that is the Saudi family in Arabia or the local country squire.

But worse than the private gain of natural resource destruction, is that that profit goes untaxed!

We have developed a ridiculous economic system, through hundreds of years of manipulation by vested interests, which sees the wealth provided by nature placed, untaxed, into the hands of a tiny percentage of our population. Our laws and economic policy set this out in the current system of taxation and the freehold ownership of land. Worse still public funds are used on a vast scale to subside such land and natural resource owners through agricultural grants, tax perks, indirect subsidy through government bodies such as the Environment Agency funding of land drainage, flood protection and land reclamation. The list is endless of the special rights and subsidies afforded to those that own land and natural resources. All these subsidies come out of the hard work and industry of the rest of the population though taxes on our wages and on commerce.

The Simple Solution:

But there is a simple method, that has been proven, that could address these issues. It would be incredibly easy to implement and benefit the vast majority of people in this country.

That system would be for the Government to charge a ‘rent’ for the natural resources used.

Such rents, based on an annual tax of what someone is prepared to pay for the service commercially, would be as follows:

1.        unimproved land value, based on its rental value, very easy to calculate.
2.       Water rent on abstraction, based on what an auction of water abstraction licenses would fetch on the open market
3.       Taxes on raw materials extraction such as salt, coal or oil equal to the rent someone would pay a landowner for the contract to operate such a business (natural resources extracted outside the UK would pay the tax on import). An estimate of resource use would be placed on all categories of imports such a TV’s fridges, food etc. and placed on those imports. This would be all done by importers and be audited just like VAT and other duties (which it would replace)
4.       While pollution laws would still be enforced, minor pollutants that fall below the scope of the law such as sewage, farm/industrial waste would be paid by the polluter based on the rent of a business operating such a disposal service. So the cost of putting X tonnes of nitrates on Y type of land would cost a water company Z to clean out of our drinking water. The cost Z would be levied on the landowner  on the fertilizer used.

Why this system would work:

1.       easily understood
2.       very easy to measure (and because its market based it is not vulnerable to distortion or corruption)
3.       very easy to collect
4.       impossible to avoid
5.       obeys all the modern ideas on economic efficiency
6.       Will not affect the wider economy as it is inelastic in supply
7.       Can offset other taxes – thus creating rural jobs and prosperity (this is all to do with lowering the margin of production see below)
8.       Helps regulate overuse of natural resource as it provides a negative feedback loop as rent increases as supply decreases
9.       As it is a yearly rent it will adapt to changes in the economy, as the economy grows so does the rental charge in line with the economy (Ricardo’s Law of Rent)  this would have the added benefit of buffering the effects of booms and recessions

The problems faced in implementation:

1.       The privileged elite:
Those who own the right to our natural resources are often very powerful financially and politically. These natural resource owners receive huge private rents for the ability to exploit,  pollute and use natural resources and would use all their power to stop any such proposal making it into law. I often think the biggest hurdle would be that many of our current squire-archy, who send their sons to Sandhurst, would baying for a Coup d'├ętat

2.       It would not tackle all externalities – we would still need pollution laws and wildlife protection laws for rare habitats and wildlife

3.       Legal changes in land and resource tenure – we would need legal mechanisms for land to be held in trust for the nation so it could receive tax breaks for those looking to recreate wilderness and high extensive natural grazing systems while at the same time allowing a landowner, private or collective, to retain the right to be steward and protector of that land

4.       Public misunderstanding – most people do not have the economic knowledge to understand these concepts and would find it hard to support them. Especially when faced by the massive lobbying efforts by those vested interests wishing to protect their monopoly and the ability to take private income from the loss of wildlife and natural resources.

Many people would need a lot of help understanding the beneficial effects of changing our system of taxation from taxes on earned income to unearned income and natural resources.

lowering the margin of production

This is the most important concept for rural businesses,  extensive farmers and wildlife managers. Because there is a tax break for jobs and not assets such as tractors and fertilizers (and they now reflect some of the externalities of their production) many more rural, farming, leisure and wildlife conservation jobs would be created.  This is because less profitable work would now become feasible and people could get a living wage.

The above is not my sole synthesis but based on the learning I have been doing for many years by learning from the great economists from Smith to Stiglitz, and of course Henry George.