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

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Who Was Henry George?

Who Was Henry George?

by Agnes George de Mille
A hundred years ago a young unknown printer in San Francisco wrote a book he calledProgress and Poverty. He wrote after his daily working hours, in the only leisure open to him for writing. He had no real training in political economy. Indeed he had stopped schooling in the seventh grade in his native Philadelphia, and shipped before the mast as a cabin boy, making a complete voyage around the world. Three years later, he was halfway through a second voyage as able seaman when he left the ship in San Francisco and went to work as a journeyman printer. After that he took whatever honest job came to hand. All he knew of economics were the basic rules of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and other economists, and the new philosophies of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, much of which he gleaned from reading in public libraries and from his own painstakingly amassed library. Marx was yet to be translated into English.

This portrait by Harry Thurston See is on display in the library of the Henry George School.
George was endowed for his job. He was curious and he was alertly attentive to all that went on around him. He had that rarest of all attributes in the scholar and historian that gift without which all education is useless. He had mother wit. He read what he needed to read, and he understood what he read. And he was fortunate; he lived and worked in a rapidly developing society. George had the unique opportunity of studying the formation of a civilization -- the change of an encampment into a thriving metropolis. He saw a city of tents and mud change into a fine town of paved streets and decent housing, with tramways and buses. And as he saw the beginning of wealth, he noted the first appearance of pauperism. He saw degradation forming as he saw the advent of leisure and affluence, and he felt compelled to discover why they arose concurrently.The result of his inquiry, Progress and Poverty, is written simply, but so beautifully that it has been compared to the very greatest works of the English language. But George was totally unknown, and so no one would print his book. He and his friends, also printers, set the type themselves and ran off an author's edition which eventually found its way into the hands of a New York publisher, D. Appleton & Co. An English edition soon followed which aroused enormous interest. Alfred Russel Wallace, the English scientist and writer, pronounced it "the most remarkable and important book of the present century." It was not long before George was known internationally.

This image (from a Henry George Cigar box) reflects George's fame at the time of his run for the Mayoralty of New York in 1886 (and later in 1897). George outpolled a young Theodore Roosevelt, but lost to machine Democrat Abraham Hewitt. The rooster was George's campaign icon, and his slogan was "The democracy of Thomas Jefferson. And although the cigars were advertised "for men", George was in fact an outspoken advocate for women's suffrage.
During his lifetime, he became the third most famous man in the United States, only surpassed in public acclaim by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. George was translated into almost every language that knew print, and some of the greatest, most influential thinkers of his time paid tribute. Leo Tolstoy's appreciation stressed the logic of George's exposition: "The chief weapon against the teaching of Henry George was that which is always used against irrefutable and self-evident truths. This method, which is still being applied in relation to George, was that of hushing up .... People do not argue with the teaching of George, they simply do not know it." John Dewey fervently stressed the originality of George's work, stating that, "Henry George is one of a small number of definitely original social philosophers that the world has produced," and "It would require less than the fingers of the two hands to enumerate those who, from Plato down, rank with Henry George among the world's social philosophers." And Bernard Shaw, in a letter to my mother, Anna George, years later wrote, "Your father found me a literary dilettante and militant rationalist in religion, and a barren rascal at that. By turning my mind to economics he made a man of me...."Inevitably he was reviled as well as idolized. The men who believed in what he advocated called themselves disciples, and they were in fact nothing less: working to the death, proclaiming, advocating, haranguing, and proselytizing the idea. But it was not implemented by blood, as was communism, and so was not forced on people's attention. Shortly after George's death, it dropped out of the political field. Once a badge of honor, the title, "Single Taxer," came into general disuse. Except in Australia and New Zealand, Taiwan and Hong Kong and scattered cities around the world, his plan of social action has been neglected while those of Marx, Keynes, Galbraith and Friedman have won great attention, and Marx's has been given partial implementation, for a time, at least, in large areas of the globe.
But nothing that has been tried satisfies. We, the people, are locked in a death grapple and nothing our leaders offer, or are willing to offer, mitigates our troubles. George said, "The people must think because the people alone can act."
We have reached the deplorable circumstance where in large measure a very powerful few are in possession of the earth's resources, the land and its riches and all the franchises and other privileges that yield a return. These positions are maintained virtually without taxation; they are immune to the demands made on others. The very poor, who have nothing, are the object of compulsory charity. And the rest -- the workers, the middle-class, the backbone of the country -- are made to support the lot by their labor.
We are taxed at every point of our lives, on everything we earn, on everything we save, on much that we inherit, on much that we buy at every stage of the manufacture and on the final purchase. The taxes are punishing, crippling, demoralizing. Also they are, to a great extent, unnecessary.
But our system, in which state and federal taxes are interlocked, is deeply entrenched and hard to correct. Moreover, it survives because it is based on bewilderment; it is maintained in a manner so bizarre and intricate that it is impossible for the ordinary citizen to know what he owes his government except with highly paid help. We support a large section of our government (the Internal Revenue Service) to prove that we are breaking our own laws. And we support a large profession (tax lawyers) to protect us from our own employees. College courses are given to explain the tax forms which would otherwise be quite unintelligible.
All this is galling and destructive, but it is still, in a measure, superficial. The great sinister fact, the one that we must live with, is that we are yielding up sovereignty. The nation is no longer comprised of the thirteen original states, nor of the thirty-seven younger sister states, but of the real powers: the cartels, the corporations. Owning the bulk of our productive resources, they are the issue of that concentration of ownership that George saw evolving, and warned against.
These multinationals are not American any more. Transcending nations, they serve not their country's interests, but their own. They manipulate our tax policies to help themselves. They determine our statecraft. They are autonomous. They do not need to coin money or raise armies. They use ours.
And in opposition rise up the great labor unions. In the meantime, the bureaucracy, both federal and local, supported by the deadly opposing factions, legislate themselves mounting power never originally intended for our government and exert a ubiquitous influence which can be, and often is, corrupt.
I do not wish to be misunderstood as falling into the trap of the socialists and communists who condemn all privately owned business, all factories, all machinery and organizations for producing wealth. There is nothing wrong with private corporations owning the means of producing wealth. Georgists believe in private enterprise, and in its virtues and incentives to produce at maximum efficiency. It is the insidious linking together of special privilege, the unjust outright private ownership of natural or public resources, monopolies, franchises, that produce unfair domination and autocracy.
The means of producing wealth differ at the root: some is thieved from the people and some is honestly earned. George differentiated; Marx did not. The consequences of our failure to discern lie at the heart of our trouble.
This clown civilization is ours. We chose this of our own free will, in our own free democracy, with all the means to legislate intelligently readily at hand. We chose this because it suited a few people to have us do so. They counted on our mental indolence and we freely and obediently conformed. We chose not to think.

An image of developing civilization: "The Story of the Savannah" from the set of illustrations done for Progress and Poverty in the 1950s by Henry George School Director Robert Clancy.
Henry George was a lucid voice, direct and bold, that pointed out basic truths, that cut through the confusion which developed like rot. Each age has known such diseases and each age has gone down for lack of understanding. It is not valid to say that our times are more complex than ages past and therefore the solution must be more complex. The problems are, on the whole, the same. The fact that we now have electricity and computers does not in any way controvert the fact that we can succumb to the injustices that toppled Rome.To avert such a calamity, to eliminate involuntary poverty and unemployment, and to enable each individual to attain his maximum potential, George wrote his extraordinary treatise a hundred years ago. His ideas stand: he who makes should have; he who saves should enjoy; what the community produces belongs to the community for communal uses; and God's earth, all of it, is the right of the people who inhabit the earth. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living."
This is simple and this is unanswerable. The ramifications may not be simple but they do not alter the fundamental logic.
There never has been a time in our history when we have needed so sorely to hear good sense, to learn to define terms exactly, to draw reasonable conclusions. As George said, "The truth that I have tried to make clear will not find easy acceptance. If that could be, it would have been accepted long ago. If that could be, it would never have been obscured."
We are on the brink. It is possible to have another Dark Ages. But in George there is a voice of hope.
-Agnes George de Mille, New York, January, 1979
Agnes George de Mille was the granddaughter of Henry George. Famous in her own right as a choreographer and the founder of the Agnes de Mille Heritage Dance Theater, she received the Handel Medallion, New York's highest award for achievement in the arts. She was the author of thirteen books.

Monday, 18 April 2011

England needs a land reform debate

Sue, A great article demonstrating the one aspect of the crazy economic system we live under.

I have made a deep study into land reform in the UK  and after looking for many solutions I discovered that there is a very simple solution that would really work. It has been promoted by all of the world’s leading economists, yet that solution has been systematically side-lined, as those that benefit from that economic status quo are the people who affect politics and political discourse, and so have blocked its wider discussion and implementation.

As I have mentioned a number of times the only real land reform that is needed is a system whereby the government collects the ‘rents’ of land and natural resources (and abolishes  all other taxes such as Income, NIC,  VAT etch).

The untaxed monopolisation of land means we will always be in this situation no matter what other remedies are tried. Lobbyist and vested interests have achieved the complete abolishment on all taxes associated with holding land, indeed there are many tax advantage to land ownership. The laws of land and its taxation has been groomed for centuries to harvest the wealth of all hard working people in this country so it can be received, with little tax, by landowners, monopolistic companies and investors in our banking system.

Any land reform that does not take out the unearned income from landownership will mean the attempted land reform will soon revert back to the system of monopolistic rent extraction that we have at the moment.  This is down to how rents work (Ricardo’s Law) and how the market will always take increases in productivity into land values and rents.

The smallholder or farmer who pays rent will always be in relative poverty as no matter how hard they work or whatever subsidy there receive. It will, over time, end up capitalised in the value of the land and charged as rent, by the landlord.

I would urge everyone to read Progress and Poverty (modern Version) you can get a free PDF or audio book from this website It sets out the problems and solutions in a coherent way and shows how all attempts at land reform are doomed to fail unless economic rents are captured and shared amongst all.

It is the greatest book ever written in my humble opinion and strips away all frippery about economics and gets to the root cause of inefficiency and poverty that is pre-determined in our political and legal system.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The best thing for extensive farming is to tax land values...

I am auguring that the best subsidy for extensive farming and stop the horrendous condition of feedlot farming would be to stop taxation on wages and put it on the value of land. Also tax inputs like energy and oil at a rate that reflects their environmental damage.

This would rebalance the economic issues in modern farming practices and allow extensive farmers to compete on a level playing field against the foodlot farms.

A land value tax relief would be given to those in ELS and other Agri environment schemes

Our present taxation system rewards those who favour capital investment in machines and high level of chemicals and energy while it punishes those farming systems that use a lot of labour as labour is taxed disproportionally.

A farmer could buy a new machine that he can offset his own taxation against and Vat. He does not pay the environmental costs on the fuel he uses or the chemicals. So when he makes an investment decision he rationally would favour machinery and chemical use against employing another person and moving to less intensive use of the land.

If the farmer did not have to pay employers NI, NI and income tax for his workers, if he could not offset asset purchases against his own income tax and if he had to pay the real cost of chemicals and fuel he would rationally move to a less intensive system.

Most people are very rational and it is taxation that is the most important factor in our rational decision making. That is why I think the we can never promote extensive grazing properly until tax is reformed.

I also think if the taxation system was reformed it would make farming more attractive to younger people and offer more quality rural jobs.

Giving Grants to Buy Land - Utter madness

For those of en economic mind it is madness to give grants to buy land, as it only puts up the price of land. Therefore any aid is doomed to fail in any serious objective.


In my many years with the Wildlife Trust I saw this repeatedly, especially when the Heritage Lottery fund gave Land purchase grants. The irony is that people at the lowest income levels are buying lottery tickets to increase the wealth of the very richest in society, through the use of Heritage Lottery funds to purchase 'nature reserves'.


Land as a finite commodity and its price is directly linked to the sum total of money in the economy. Money is created by borrowing (sounds mad but is true). Therefore as the money supply has increased enormously so has land values.


The money supply will decrease as we enter the recession proper over the next 5 years and thus land values will go down. This has been a cyclic process and has gone on for hundreds, if not, thousands of years


This is why a tax on land values is so important as it would reduce the speculators and people who sit on land without doing something with it and it would buffer the cycles and super cycles of land value bubbles and busts.


It is impossible for any farmer to buy land and make a living from it from extensive farming as land values are too high. A Land Value tax with tax relief for sustainability, wildlife etc. would redress that balance that exists, pop the bubble of land values and make extensive farming economically viable for those who do not own land at the moment.


Direct grants such as ELS and HLS are economic madness as you are pushing up the value of land through the direct subsidy of merely owning it.


In fact the existence of ELS, HLS and single farm payment has pushed land values out of the reach of most charitable organisation or individuals wishing to acquire land for extensive grazing. They are in essence a direct subsidy to those who already own land, giving a huge untaxed capital gain of billions of pounds to existing land owners.



Sunday, 3 April 2011

A Quote from Henry George - follow him on facebook

This quote encapsulates the most important concept for all humans to learn if we are to have prosperity progress and sustainability.

"The underminer of civilization is not the existence of rent; civilization's enemy is the existence and growth of *speculative* and *monopoly* rent. It is speculative and monopoly rent that the heavy annual single tax on land values will annihilate. The growth of *ordinary*, non-speculative, non-monopoly rent is natural and beneficent and an indicator of social health, development and cooperation, but it's *private retention* is unjust, creates vast unearned fortunes, and, *worse*, generates land speculation (the systemic underuse and nonuse of valuable land in anticipation of higher future rents and land values), land hoarding and land monopoly, which together *drive down wages to the subsistence level* regardless of population size or society's level of technology and also cause chronic unemployment and boom-and-bust economic cycles."

Friday, 1 April 2011

Ghost Towns

Ghost Towns:

Fred Harrison describes how the reckless activities of property developers and banks have left Ireland and Spain in a state of economic collapse with growing poverty and no hope of recovery. Fred goes on to say That the solution to this problem is to stop taxing people wages and start taxing land and natural resources.