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

Friday, 18 April 2014

Modern Economists re-learning the secret of a better society & environment

Pulling together the threads of 'Georgist Economics' and 'Green Economics'

I had a recent online discussion on 'economic rent' and it s role in 'Green economics'. Sparked by an interest in Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher, he was a ‘devote’ of Henry George and the same economic thought adopted by Joseph Stiglitz and many modern ‘green economists’. 

This has come into the news this week with a dream team of modern economists (Stiglitz, Krugman & Durlauf) debating the launch of ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, by Thomas Piketty, who has captured the zeitgeist with his modern interpretation of the classical ideas of what constitutes capital and the role of inherited wealth suppressing economic freedom and equality and highlighting the role of 'economic rent' which has been so fastidiously 'airbrushed' from modern economic texts and political debate.

The economic thought is the same as that adopted by a host of our leading thinkers; Sun Yat Sen,  Abraham Lincoln, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and a list of luminaries too long to mention. But they were all powerless in the face of vested interests and a population unknowing of the workings of our economic system.

The issue of 'Rent Seeking' Stiglitz highlighted is not new knowledge, but suppressed knowledge. He was interviewed in the documentaries below. History's greatest economic thinkers have all said the same thing, but this is ignored or obfuscated, often deliberately, by powerful vested interests, institutions and politicians.

Some commentators have talked about this for millennia but the Physiocrats in France first put this into the prose of modern economics. If you care to read the book idolised by modern free-market economics 'The Wealth of Nations' by Adam Smith the book is riddled with examples and references to 'rent seekers', he branded those who pocketed the nation's rents as "The Public Enemy".

Dramatic Documentary covering these issues:

Treason Part 1: Casino Capitalism:

Adam Smith branded those who pocketed the nation's rents as "The Public Enemy". But today, governments celebrate the privatisation of the income that we all help to create. The result, reports Fred Harrison in Part 1 of  The Treason Trilogy, is a house of cards built on debt. He forecasts the next property boom/bust, and accuses politicians of betraying their duty of care to their people

Treason Part 2: The Crucible of Terror:

Capitalism is built on a Royal Act of sacrilege. The historic injustice created a statecraft of greed and the financial model on which modern nations are built. This legitimised the violent streak in capitalism. In Part 2 of The Treason Trilogy, Harrison explains that current policies will not defeat the War on Terror.

Treason Part 3: The Temple of Doom:

The green agenda has been hijacked. To inflate corporate profits, the last of the commons (oceans and heaven) are being privatised in a financial scam that will create the Land Barons of the 21st century. Planet Earth is being converted into a Temple of Doom. It will take a new social contract with nature to prevent the looming ecological disaster.

The problem is that so few people understand the implications of the private capture of monopoly, 'Economic Rent' and the harm land & natural resource monopoly does to society and that it locks in the inefficient use of natural resources and relative poverty into our economic system.

I have been banging on about this for some time myself. Unfortunately until people truly grasp these economic principles they will never understand the problems and thus the solution. Hence why many fellow conservationists think I am a raving loony. Until they grasp these ideas I might as well be speaking a different language.

This is something I discover about 10 years ago and read the works of Henry George. Although it took me years of learning to pull all the threads together, and the brilliance of some gifted teachers.

I discovered this through my own experience in buying land and getting land for nature reserves in my time with the Wildlife Trusts. As I delved into land economics to understand its principles I realised just how we have been hoodwinked and how stupid most of the policies of Nature Conservationist organisation have been; on the micro scale raising money to buy land and getting agri-environment subsidies to landowners, but this is counterproductive and creates massive perverse effects when you consider the consequences of these policies in ‘aggregate’. So on the ‘Macro’ scale this just increases the rent and value of land so less and less of it falls below the ‘margin of economic productivity’ and is therefore unavailable for wildlife use. ‘We’, by our own actions, are actively working against our best interests because we do not understand the ‘law of rent’ and how it affects land use and the protection of biodiversity. As many ‘conservationists ’especially the big landowning ones get this benefit they actively campaign for ever more subsidies and will not challenge the interests of landowners in general. But they create a monopoly of nature conservation and help destroy nature elsewhere' due to the unintended consequences of increasing the economic reasons for farming land. If we stop farming subsidies and introduce LVT, all of us ‘professional’ conservationists could just lock up our offices and go home in the knowledge that there will be far more biodiversity.

These principles also are the basis of many ‘green economists’ such as Molly Scott-Catto who is the Green Parties Economic Advisor. Who approach this from the use of natural resources and the ‘free ride’ owners of natural resource have in profiting from that ownership and the ‘free ride’ polluters get from their activities. Simply changing our taxation system to the collection of ‘economic rent’ would be half the battle; supplement this with ‘pigovian taxes’ on the economic externalities of natural resource use and this would transform our economy to one that protects us all, naturally pushing every human to use land and natural resources more efficiently.

After Reading Henry George – Progress & Poverty I also added these to my reading list:
The Corruption of Economics by Mason Gaffney , probably the world’s leading Land Economist (now in his 90’s)

Dr Duncan Pickard: ‘The Lie of the Land’ for a farmers view of the idiocy of our economic & subsidy system in relations to Economic rent and monopoly.

After I met Fred Harrison we became firm friends and made the ‘Killing Fields’ documentary with our mutual Friend Carlo Nero. 

We have then made some documentaries you can watch on the ‘Geophilos’ YouTube channel.  to help explain some of these economic concepts, as well as Fred’s own site : Share the Rents:

This is a lovey article by Jim Tarbell which helps encapsulate the issues:
Creating a New Economic Story, By Jim Tarbell

It is time to turn around centuries of human behaviour. Our economic story must be rewritten before the final chapter ends it all. We must have a new vision for a restoration economy of the future, if there is going to be a future for our children, grandchildren and all the world we know.

Wise thinkers have been working on this "great turning" for over a century. But it was not until the 1980s that sustainable economics became defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and environmental needs of present and future generations."

But a sustainable economy will only leave the planet and our culture at the level of degradation caused by thousands of years of the extraction economy. We need to create a restoration economy that restores our ecology, human community and economic vitality to levels of maximum potential.

Many visionaries have wrestled with this problem over the past 130 years. The ideas of three economists, Henry George, E. F. Schumacher and Herman Daly, have helped lay the groundwork for a Restoration Economy.

In the 1870s Henry George dedicated his first book "to those who, seeing the vice and misery that spring from the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege, feel the possibility of a higher social state and would strive for its attainment." He challenged the assumptions of the classical economists in the late 1800s. He saw land and natural systems as a birthright for all of humanity. He made economic justice a focal point of his concerns.

In reorienting economics to concentrate on the value of land and natural systems, he created a firestorm of dissent among established economists who worked feverishly to discredit his views. These mathematically-based professors, working in the finest academies of the British Empire, created a neo-classical economics that re-emphasized their self-centered economic man, the virtue of free trade and posited that natural capital could simply be replaced by manufactured capital.

In the mid-twentieth century E. F. Schumacher began to develop what has become known as humanistic or Buddhist economics, which puts human needs ahead of financial gain. He laid out his vision in his seminal book Small is Beautiful.  He challenged the neo-classical paradigm with thoughts like:

·         “The aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity.”
·         “Ever bigger machines, entailing ever bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever greater violence against the environment, do not represent progress: they are a denial of wisdom. Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non- violent, the elegant and beautiful."

Herman Daly, beginning in the latter decades of the twentieth century, helped create a new economic vision called ecological economics. This growing field of academicians challenges the neo-classical claim that land and natural systems can be replaced by manufactured capital. They concentrate on the finite scale of our planet and the inevitable depletion of our fossil fuel energy resources. They emphasize that quality is far more important than quantity. A restoration economy recognizes that economic activity exists within a larger sphere of natural systems, Natural systems are not just a component of the economic system. The restoration economy will be a partner with community, creativity and that which brings contentment to maximize a high quality of life. This new economic vision will nurture and strengthen both natural capital and human capital. It will utilize social capital to create economic institutions that promote economic democracy and fairness. It will invest our economic capital in an appropriate and efficient manner. In this framework nature is valued, community is strengthened and people are secure, comfortable and happy.

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