The thoughts behind the Renegade Ecologist

From my 30 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

Monday, 24 June 2013

Zen and the Art of Land Value Tax

 Or why the green movement has trouble accepting the one policy that will guarantee their objectives.

 Land Value Tax (LVT) in its full theory is very complicated and to understand it properly requires a lot of thought and to mechanistically work out how it is fundamental to the protection of nature & natural assets.

I myself have been attacked at conferences by well-meaning greens who’s hostility and almost zeal at condemning LVT leaves me depressed and confused as to their thinking. Why such people should have such anger, denial and almost willful need not to educate themselves of the economics of environmental destruction needs further investigation.  My best answer for this came from the similarities to the title theme of Robert M. Pirsig's bestselling book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ exploring the ‘Metaphysics of Quality’.

Even though LVT is official Green Party Policy, explaining LVT to the leaders of the green movement can be arduous and their efforts to promote it both within and without the green party can seem lacklustre and unconvincing.

I am a huge fan of our one Green MP Caroline Lucas who bravely put forward a private members bill on LVT this year. Caroline has presented the bill in the media, on shows such as Radio 4's Today Programme, so well done. But I can tell from her tone in interviews that she does not truly see why LVT is the one policy that will achieve all of the Green Party’s aims and does not have the ability to communicate it. (then again who does….)

For those that need to investigate LVT the basic idea is that any ‘tax’ taken from a natural monopoly is good for the economy as it is taken from ‘the unearned income of monopoly’ and not from the productive economy, so more jobs and a healthier economy. The Land Value tax shifts the economic topography to make natural resource efficiency a certainty. It costs more, so all the decisions made by everybody will naturally tend to the more efficient use of the natural resources that are subject to tax such as land, oil, carbon and minerals etc. LVT is also the most redistributive of taxes and will vastly reduce income inequality. So with LVT we can have our cake and eat it. A world that will eliminate poverty, use natural resources as efficiently as possible, create more areas for wildlife and make our overall economy better, what’s not to like! Or more precisely why do so many people not understand.

While pondering why people in the ‘green’ movement have trouble understanding just why LVT is so important, often becoming hostile. My own thinking on this is because LVT, as a policy, is a mechanistic approach to environmental protection, it is logical and is formed from a deep understanding of economic processes. Some people fear mechanistic approaches and look to cultural and emotional solutions.

I now refer to this as the ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ problem. In so much that one of the central messages of  the book; that a motorcycle rider did not want to maintain his bike because he blamed science and scientific approaches as responsible for hurting humanity, war famine, environmental destruction and so distrusted any mechanistic approach to life. This caused him to fear maintaining his bike properly and it would regularly break down causing a vicious cycle of distrust in mechanical things. The protagonist used this example to look at the relationship between peoples thinking and how that affects their ability to cope with real day to day problems and how to get them to adopt simple mechanistic approaches that aided their everyday lives. Such is Zen

In my critique of those in the Green Movement that are hostile to LVT they are like the protagonist’s friend ‘John Sutherland’ who refuses to maintain his motorcycle. These people are often the personality types that are interested mostly in gestalts; the romantic viewpoints, focused on being culturally and emotionally ‘green’ and not on rational analysis.

Myself and my Fellow LVT supporting greens are like the protagonist and those who seek to comprehend the details and inner workings, and master the mechanics of either motorcycles or the economics of environmental destruction and world poverty.

To the Green sceptics of LVT – please read Prisig’s book and replace the motorcycle with the science of economics. An understanding of economics is not ‘ugly’ or ‘dehumanising’. You must open your mind so it is capable of seeing the beauty of technology & economics. Economic science, just like motorcycle maintenance, may be seen as dull and involve tedious mental drudgery or it could be the most enjoyable, enlightening and rewarding pursuit in trying to protect our planet and those that live upon it; it all depends on attitude.

Prisig did not discuss economics and he himself was not that aware of it, but to those of us who ponder the issues of creating a ‘green economy’ we can look at a wealth of books that have looked into this. Any book by economist Henry George or Fred Harrison will be a good starting point for understanding the concepts behind Land Value Tax and will form the mechanistic understanding that allows then to understand Green economics. Trying to understand Green economics without such underpinning concepts is going to be frustrating and unrewarding.

So Land Value Tax is deeply ‘Zen’……


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. There are several varieties of greens who will be resistant to land value tax, and several varieties who will embrace it. Among the resistant are (with considerable overlap):

    The conventional non-conformists. They belong to a cultural subgroup with its own non-conformist dogma, and think there is only one way to not conform. They can find reasons why anything else is selling out.

    The greener than thou: Green tax shifts are not green enough. They think people should not be motivated by profit, but should put the environment first, and the wolf should lie down with the lamb, and so on.

    The watermelons: When the green movement was first beginning, socialists said things like, "you can't change the world by eating granola." But as their influence grew and the world *did* begin to change, and as socialist influence began to wane, many socialists joined the green movement. Unfortunately, Marxist analysis confounds land with capital, and has never accepted the notion that individual enterprise can be beneficial if the tax structure punishes rent-seeking and rewards production. Some socialists, like Michael Hudson, are changing that.

    The parade leaders. In every movement, whether right or left, has people who figure out where the movement is headed, run to the head of the movement, and act like they are leading the parade. They are uncomfortable with uncertainty as to whether the parade might turn without them, and vice versal

    However, there are also the analysts, who study until get to the bottom of things, and the self-actualizers, who just plain love challenges. These are the people who actually lead movements, although it takes the others a long time to catch on.

  3. Good representation of the issues RE.
    As Dan says, the watermelons, I think they have a big impact on the marginal thoughts about economics among the Greens. That is, I find that most Greens I know are usually your average centrists. But they apply Marxists analysis as a sort of fence around the middle; poverty is always a fault/side-effects of markets and capitalism, noticeable wealth, however earned is suspicious, and any tax proposal seem to be analysed on its merits in taking from the "rich". The latter is not always easily understood when it comes to LVT.
    Also, a lot of Greens seem to have a secret dream, "if only I owned a lot of land, I would do good things with it/leave the trees alone/not hunt", the idea of a land tax sort of gets in the way of this.


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