Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

“We need an anti-Rentier Campaign” says Michael Lind

image credit: Erick_ckB via flickr (cc)

image credit: Erick_ckB via flickr (cc)

A nice series of three short articles (h/t Gloria Picchetti) in Salon by Michael Lind, explaining the difference between an entrepreneur — who may become wealthy by providing goods and services people want — and a rentier — who seeks to become rich by exacting a toll or tax on productive work.

Lind mentions, in a positive way, the land value tax, and also notes that this isn’t a left/right issue, as labor unions and professional associations can be just as monopolistic as bankers.  The negative effects of “intellectual” “property” are noted, altho Lind seems to think that those who profit from patents are “inventors.” Of course there’s no mention of Henry George, but maybe changing our name to “Institute for the Study and Extirpation of the Useless Rich” would be a helpful step.

Salon describes Michael Lind as author of Land of Promise, for which Amazon carries 15 reader reviews. Not all the reviews are positive, but the criticisms seem to focus on his style and attitude, nobody complaining that his analysis is flawed. Lind is also a “co-founder of the New America Foundation,” whose sources of funding are unclear to me but seem to include rentier George Soros.

The remedies Lind suggests are quite centralized, such as changing federal tax laws, and maintaining financial repression with the object of moving people from private savings to social programs.  Not what I would propose, but what does a geoist in flyover country have to contribute to this discussion?

 

Feeding a growing population on an earth that isn’t

image credit: Antwelm via flickr (cc)

image credit: Antwelm via flickr (cc)

Yesterday’s Guardian carried a very encouraging report from India, where rice farmers are multiplying their production figures by carefully and methodically managing their crops. This has nothing to do with genetic modification, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, and no need for “protecting” “intellectual” “property.”  Of course it may require more labor per acre than other methods, but growing population means growing supply of labor.  And it may work best on relatively small, owner-operated farms.  The method, known as System of Root (or Rice) Intensification, can be applied to other crops.  It’s based on a French Jesuit’s observations of practices in Madagascar, promoted by Cornell’s International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development.

The Guardian article asserts that Cornell’s work was funded by “an anonymous billionaire,” altho links from the Cornell site imply that “actor Jim Carrey” is somehow involved.   At this writing, there are 205 comments on the Guardian article, some of which are insightful.  One suggests that the reported results are quite exaggerated, but to read beyond the abstract of the source cited seems to cost $19.95.

I have no idea whether this particular method is as beneficial as described, but just last week I spoke to an Illinois farmer who reported that four adults were gainfully employed, supporting themselves, by intensively cultivating an acre of vegetables.  One way or another, people will find ways to coax more food from the earth, if they have a need (or desire) and are permitted to do so.

 

 

Another way to liberate books

empty card catalog

image credit: andresmh via flickr (cc)

While the logical way to make most books conveniently available to more people is to greatly reduce the scope and duration of the copy-prevention privilege known as “copyright,” another approach is to buy books their freedom, one-by-one. This seems to be the approach of Unglue.it.  They use a crowd-funding approach to pay privilege-holders for a creative-commons license, which essentially makes the book available to all if enough people are willing to donate enough money.  Certainly better than nothing and perhaps it will prove fruitful.

To date they seem to have ransomed three books in this way, tho their web site doesn’t tell us how much they paid, with four ongoing campaigns seeking to raise between $1,000 and $25,000.

Just because they ask, doesn’t mean we have to give it to them

Governments here in Illinois (and probably everywhere else) like to “request” things, but that doesn’t mean we mundanes always need to grant these requests.  Two examples from recent experience:

detail from work of Chris Karr via flickr (cc)

detail from a photo by Chris Karr via flickr (cc)

Saving money: Illinois Secretary of State Certificate of Good Standing.  Our high-tech sophisticated Secretary of State makes it easy, relatively, to get the “certificate of good standing” that organizations may require, for example, to set up some kinds of financial accounts.  No problem, just go to Jesse White’s web site, do a search (which really works, in my experience), fill out the simple form and authorize a credit card charge of $16 ($5 transaction fee, $1 payment processor fee, and $10 expedited fee).  But suppose you aren’t in a great hurry and don’t need (or want to pay for) expediting.  Or suppose you lack a credit card but have a checking account (or can buy a money order). What to do?

Nowhere could I find the answer on Jesse’s web site.  Fortunately, cheapness wonk Adam Kerman of the Transit Riders’ Authority knew what to do:

Write a letter to request the Certificate of Good Standing. Make sure to include the corporate file number and your contact phone number. $5 fee Secretary of State Business Services 501 S. Second St., Rm. 330 Springfield, IL 62756

And that’s just what I did.  A week or so later, the certificate arrived.

Current RTA Executive Director

Saving Dignity: Regional Transportation Authority old person discount fare card. A good and privacy-minded friend of mine, having recently attained the age of 65, wanted to take advantage of the “reduced fares” available to old people (among others) on RTA-funded transit systems. First thing she found out was that it takes 3-4 weeks to get the required farecard, so she should have applied 21 days prior to her birthday.  Too late for that, but she readily found the necessary form, which turns out to serve two functions: (a) apply for reduced fares based on age or other criteria; (b) apply for free fares based on likelihood of voting Democratic documented low income.  Being successful enough not to qualify for (b), she still had to complete a form with a blank for “Social Security Number.”  What do to?

She wrote “NOT REQUIRED” in the SSN blank, and 23 days later received a reduced fare card in the mail.  Moral of this story: You can surrender somewhat less privacy than the authorities ask for, without giving up rights or privileges, at least in this case.

Innovators’ Patent Agreement

Twitter says it plans for its future patents to be subject to an “Innovator’s Patent Agreement,” which will prevent them from being used “to impede the innovation of others.” Seems like a good thing, but it’s still very much a proposal, with the latest draft apparently here.  Like Google’s “don’t be evil,” I suspect there will end up being some flexibility as to what is “defensive” and what actually “impedes innovation.”

(via Barry Rithotlz)

The difference between money and wealth/services

 

image credit: taken in 1990 by John Foss via Wikimedia (cc)

This article from the Guardian illustrates nicely the difference between what we want– goods (“wealth” in terms of political economy) and services– vs. money.  Money is a medium of exchange, which we can use to obtain wealth and services, but in itself it really isn’t capable of satisfying our desires. The particular example here is from the town of Volos, whose railway station is pictured.

I could imagine Greece not formally dropping the Euro, but just kind of abandoning it, using local currencies, perhaps eventually united into a new Drachma. It’s not clear from the article whether their government is attempting to tax the alternative-currency transactions.  The wiser course would be to tax economic rents instead of transactions, and that could be done in whichever currency is most practical.

Bast drafts Henry George for Green Bay

image credit: freedigitalphotos.net

image credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Longtime HGS  supporter Joseph Bast, head of the Heartland Institute, has a new policy brief (pdf), with a podcast overview, recommending that fans of professional “sports” own the teams thru nonprofit corporations.  The only actual example of this is the Green Bay Packers, which originated as a for-profit organization but was bought out of bankruptcy by a fan-organized nonprofit.  They would never leave Green Bay since the owners cannot profit by moving them. Thus the main lever used by for-profit teams to extort new stadiums and other favors would be broken.

Pointing out that teams currently extract monopoly rents from the community, Bast mentions Henry George but rejects George’s idea that natural monopolies should be municipally-owned.  Of course, George never applied this concept to professional “sports,” which existed in his day but was nothing like what we see now. The closest I can think of is that George considered the idea of a publicly-subsidized theater to be so absurd, that he compared it to subsidy of various other industries to illustrate the absurdity of the latter.

So why don’t fans establish nonprofit teams?  My personal theory is that most fans of professional “sports” are masochists and like to be abused.  But perhaps I’m wrong.  Bast suggests routes around other barriers including opposition of major leagues, high cost of setting up a team, and existing taxpayer-subsidized facilities which are controlled by existing monopolies.

Securitizing the banksters, with cameras and contracts

Image credit: J D Abolins via Flickr (cc)Just in case there was any doubt, Pam Martens in Counterpunch gives us a report on the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center, where feeds from sophisticated spy cameras are integrated to essentially track anyone and everyone on the streets who might interest our supervisors. What’s news here, tho I suppose I already suspected it, is that partners in this operation are not just the NYPD, but also “the same firms under investigation in 50 states for mortgage and foreclosure fraud and widely credited with causing the Nation’s economic collapse.”  Presumably they have added some of the proceeds of their crimes to the $150 million public money that’s been used for this project.
It’s difficult to believe that Chicago doesn’t have something similar.
Meanwhile, and I suppose it’s more relevant to us here, the CTA will be paying up to $58,000/month, plus commission, to Goldman Sachs and other “financial advisors.” The Authority assures us such amounts “are comparatively very small compared to the billions of dollars in much-needed funding CTA would secure” if such commissions are paid. “Funding” more likely means “loans” or “new ways of packaging existing streams of money” rather than any actual additional resources or capture of land value which transit could create.

Gold vs. “real money”

Gold Mine

image credit: Kake Pugh via flickr (cc)

The basic function of money is as a medium of exchange.  Inevitably, a secondary function arises as a measure of value. Money can be paper, precious metals, shells, whatever people in a particular time and place use as a medium of exchange.  There’s no reason that it would need to have “intrinsic” value. If  people use U S currency to buy and sell, then it is “real money.”

So is gold “real money?” I don’t think so. Just about nobody uses it as a medium of exchange. Historically, gold coins have sometimes been used but for ordinary people silver, copper, or base metal fiat-type money would be much more common.

Certainly fiat money can depreciate, usually does, and for us in the U S that has been and will almost certainly continue to be the trend.  And gold might be a good investment, in the sense that it will be exhangeable in the future for more real wealth than it is now, or at least more in comparison to other kinds of investments available to ordinary people. Of course, gold can depreciate too, if large new deposits are discovered or folks decide they really don’t want gold after all.  Which isn’t to say that either of these things will happen any time soon.

Anyone who wishes to resurrect the “gold standard” might want to read the late Peter Bernstein’s “Power of Gold,” or some other history books. Somehow we end up electing people who don’t put a high priority on keeping the dollar strong (or at least, not too much weaker).  If that’s a problem, then maybe we should be electing other people, or finding ways to reduce the power of those who purchase elections. Making the U S dollar convertible into a fixed amount of gold is not going to bring prosperity, or even prevent further disruption. There are plenty of examples of economic collapse under a gold standard.

It might, however, benefit those who own gold, or gold mining stocks.

Somebody please disagree with me, or I will assume all of the above to be true.

Taiwan monitors land value

Shin Kong Life Tower

photo of Shin Kong Life Tower from Wikimedia

Much like Korea, Japan, and other advanced countries, Taiwan has a land value tax which requires it to monitor land value regularly.  And they do, apparently pretty well, as indicated by this report that 2011 land values average 8.65% over the previous year. The land value tax could be one of the reasons Taiwan seems to be more prosperous than most countries, but that isn’t my point.

My point is that assessing land value is not exceedingly difficult, if one has competent and reasonably honest assessors.  The most valuable land in Taiwan is reportedly under the Shin Kong Life Tower, NT$1.21 million per square meter (about $4,000 per square foot, a figure probably never seen in Chicago).

Thanks to the Facebook LVT group for the link.