The Rise and Fall of Syriza

The latest news from Greece is that Prime Minister Tsipras has resigned and called a new election. This follows a rebellion by 1/3 of Syriza MPs, who voted against the IMF bailout Greek voters rejected in the 5 July referendum. According to the The Guardian, 25 Syriza MPs have broken away to form the anti-austerity party Popular Unity, led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. Some analysts predict the new party will call for Greece to exit the euro monetary union: see Senior Syriza MP Greece Must Exit Monetary Union

The following documentary lays out some of the economic and social realities that led to the rise of Syriza.

Greece on the Brink

Manuel Reichetseder (2014)

Film Review

Greece on the Brink is a 2014 documentary about brutal living conditions in Greece that led to the rise of the left wing Syriza government. At the time the film was made, 65% of Greek youth age 15-34 were unemployed. Millions of Greeks had no income at all and were scavenging food out of garbage cans. Twenty thousand were homeless and one third had no access to privatized health care.

The film documents that only a tiny proportion of the $206.9 billion bailout Greece received between 2010-2013 went to public services:

  • 48% went to European creditors
  • 28% went to Greek banks
  • 22% went into the national budget (of this 16% went to interest payments, most of the balance went to the Greek military)

In addition to bolstering Syriza’s rise to power, the Greek economic crisis has led to numerous experiments in worker self-organization: solidarity clinics run by health professionals volunteering their services, solidarity networks that provide free food, a journalist cooperative in which journalists run their own newspaper, various worker co-ops which have occupied and taken over shuttered factories, and TV journalists and engineers who took over the state broadcasting service after the Greek government shut it down.

Most of the commentators featured in the film are militant Syriza members who predicted a year ago  (based on compromises Tsipras made to propel his party into power) that Syriza wouldn’t solve the problems faced by the Greek working class.

The most interesting section is a Marxist analysis by British economist Allen Woods about the real cause of the 2008 “credit crunch” that triggered Greece’s sudden economic collapse. According to Woods, debt is the mechanism capitalists use to avoid the crisis of overproduction. Marx believed that overproduction was an inevitable structural defect of so-called free market capitalism. By its very nature, capitalist production always overshoots the ability of the market to regulate it.

As Marx noted 150 years ago, capitalism tries to make up for this defect by expanding credit (ie debt). Woods gives the current 30% overcapacity of the global automotive industry as an example. This is illustrated by an article that appeared in Zero Hedge a year ago about new car graveyards – see Where the World’s Unsold Cars Go to Die

Woods predicts that there will be no solution to the current global economic crisis until overproduction (and the debt that supports it) are eliminated.

Forgotten History: the Theft of the Commons

stop thief

Stop Thief: the Commons Enclosures and Resistance

by Peter Linebaugh (2014)

Book Review

Free download at https://libcom.org/library/stop-thief-commons-enclosures-resistances

Occasionally you come across a book that totally turns your worldview on its head. This book is definitely one of them.

Stop Thief is about the loss of the Commons through enclosures,* which author Peter Linebaugh maintains is the essence of capitalism. Until 200 years ago, communally owned moors and forests were fundamental to all human civilization. In Europe, the Commons included specific customary rights, including gleaning, grazing rights, and access to the forest for medicines and wood for fuel, housing and tools. These rights had been guaranteed for thousands of years (they’re mentioned in both the Old and New Testament) and were codified in the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest. Thanks to the Commons, which provided for the basic subsistence needs of the population, there was virtually no crime as we know it and no extreme poverty.

In the essays in Stop Thief, Linebaugh details 800 years of enclosures, as well as the popular riots and rebellions that have resisted them. In doing so, he establishes a clear continuity between the organized resistance against European enclosure and the work of great revolutionary thinkers, such as Karl Marx, Thomas Paine, William Morris and Edward Thompson

According to Linebaugh, the European enclosure acts didn’t just enclose (privatize) moors and forests, but they enclosed handicrafts as factories, community markets as shops and women as units of reproduction who ceased to have a legal persona (women who resisted enclosure were burned and/or tortured as witches).

Enclosure: A Global Phenomenon

Enclosures, which occurred worldwide thanks to European colonization, began in the 13th century with peaks in the 15-16th century, the 18th-19th century and the 21th century. The latter have resulted in the theft of pensions and homes by banks, the privatization (and destruction) of the environment, the capture of health care by insurance companies and current attempts to privatize (enclose) the Internet. In other words, the essence of capitalism is dispossession, ie theft.

In Europe, enclosure mainly took the form of imprisonment and the privatization of communal land. In the 18th century, enclosure was accompanied by a prison building spree and the creation of a “civilian” police force, as well as massive emigration to European colonies. Commoners who persisted in claiming their customary rights were criminalized and either hanged (for minor crimes such as stealing firewood or a loaf of bread) or imprisoned.

Resistance to Enclosure Has Been Continuous

The resistance to enclosures, especially in England and Germany, was more or less continuous. Over 800 years, peasants blocked privatization of their communal land by petitioning, fence breaking, stoning officials for posting enclosure notices, riots and organized rebellion. Despite continuousl military occupation, it took 17 years to drive the peasants out and fully privatize Otmoor.

The Peasants Revolt of 1381, the Ketts Rebellion of 1549, the formation of Levellers, Ranters and Diggers movements that would culminate in the English Civil War in 1649, and the formation of the Luddites in the late 18th century were all part of the popular resistance to enclosures.

Marx and the Theft of Wood

Marx refers to the process by which the ruling elite encloses the Commons, depriving common people of the means of subsistence (aka the means of production), as primitive accumulation. Linebaugh traces how Marx’s interest in political economy was directly influenced by coming of age as the Moselle region in Germany was being enclosed. His very first essays on “Debates of Law and the Theft of Wood” expressed outrage at the appropriation of local forests by rich burgermeisters and the criminalization of customary wood gathering.

I also really enjoyed the essays on Tom Paine, which discuss his upbringing as the Norfolk commons was being enclosed and his critical influence in the Irish and French revolution. His essays and books calling for the restoration of the Commons are rarely discussed in American history textbooks.


*Enclosure is the legal (usually violent) process by which common people are driven off communal land to enable it to be fenced off as private property.
**The Charter of the Forest is a charter originally sealed by King Henry III under the regency of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke. A companion document to the Magna Carta, it re-established rights of access to the royal forest that had been eroded by William the Conqueror and his heirs.

The Innate Sloth and Indolence of the Working Class

Invention

The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation

By Michael Perelman
Duke University Press (2000)

Download Free PDF

The Invention of Capitalism is about the origin of an economic concept known as “primitive accumulation.” Marx defined primitive accumulation as the process by which precapitalist modes of production, such as feudalism and chattel slavery, are transformed into the capitalist mode of production. Using the term somewhat differently, Perelman describes it as the brutal process by which government denies peasants the means of subsistence to force them into wage labor.

Tracing the rise of capitalism in the 18th and 19th century, the Invention of Capitalism also studies the origin of the concept in the work of classical economists, such as Adam Smith, Ricardo and Malthus.

Forcing Workers to Accept Wage Labor

Nearly all the 18th century economists and social philosophers seem to agree that workers never voluntarily accept wage labor so long they have alternative means of providing for themselves. They all acknowledge, either directly or indirectly, that it’s natural for human beings to prefer “self-provisioning,” in which they own or rent a piece of land to produce their own food, clothing, fuel and other necessities. In addition to allowing them more control over their work, there is more leisure time associated with this lifestyle, as well as strong community ties that disappear with wage labor. Unless brutal force must be applied to strip people of the ability to provide for themselves, they never voluntarily agree to wage labor.

In Britain, “primitive accumulation” was largely accomplished through the Enclosure Acts, the Poor Laws and the Game Laws. The Enclosure Acts drove peasants off large tracts of land they had farmed communally for thousands of years; the Poor Laws forced disposed peasants into poorhouses and workhouses; and the Game Acts denied them the right to hunt (ie poach) or gather berries, firewood etc on unoccupied land.

Capitalism developed more slowly in Scotland, France, Italy, Spain and the British colonies, where the ruling elite was less savage in stripping the peasantry of access to land. These regions enjoyed a long transition in which factory workers performed wage labor and self-provisioning simultaneously, by raising crops and chickens and engaging in spinning and other crafts in their leisure time.

The Innate Sloth and Indolence of Workers

As Perelman quite ably demonstrates, most classical economists gloss over the brutal force required to establish a successful capitalist economic system. A few of the lesser known political economists (Perelman focuses in Sir James Steuart, one of Adam Smith’s rivals) are honest about need for laws that prevent workers from self-provisioning. They blame the need for such laws on an innate tendency towards “sloth and indolence” in workers and peasants (and indigenous peoples).

Perelman devotes special attention to the Scottish economist Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations, as well as the political economists and social philosophers who influenced Smith’s work. He also explores attitudes toward primitive accumulation in the work of Marx, Benjamin Franklin, Lenin and Mao Tse Tung. The forceful primitive accumulation that industrialized the Soviet Union and Communist China occurred much more rapidly than in Western Europe or North America. This makes the Soviet and Chinese process appear much more savage. However a close look at British history suggests they were far more brutal, especially in Ireland and the colonies, than either the Chinese or Soviets.

Yields Drop Under Commercial Agriculture

The part of the book I found most interesting concerns the drop in crop yields that occurred with the shift from labor intensive “spade labor” to commercial agriculture employing horse driven plows and eventually farm machinery. This corresponds closely with modern research showing that plowing reduces yields by destroying soil fertility. Then, as now, it’s clear that the goal of commercial agriculture isn’t to produce more food but to extract more profit from other people’s work.

A Return to Self-Provisioning

Perelman’s research seems especially significant in the face of growing unemployment and part time and casual labor. A growing number of unemployed and part time workers use their enforced leisure time to plant veggie gardens, collect rainwater, preserve their own food and make their own clothes and cleaning and beauty products. In other words, the cycle of primitive accumulation is being reversed, as more and more people leave formal employment and return to self-provisioning.

Takeover

corporate flag

 Guest blog by Steven Miller

(The following is an brilliant essay in 6 parts about the takeover of democracy by monopoly capitalism – that includes solutions.)

Capitalism in the 21st Century is no longer based largely on profits resulting from a real  economy productive process, windfall financial gains are acquired through large scale speculative operations, without the occurrence of real economy activity, at the touch of a mouse button.”  Michel Chussodovsky

Part I – Summary

It is a statement of fact, not ideology, that a class of billionaires, principally based in finance and speculation, control the levers of society. Since the Crash of 2008, the 1% has been waging a war against society that drives the 99% further towards disaster and ruin. Their End Game is the complete privatization of everything that is today owned by the public. This process is inevitable as long as political power remains in their hands. The question is: can this system be reformed? Another is: If not, can we fight and win? If so, how? These are strategic questions.

There are decisive moments in the history of capitalism when one form of wealth, one kind of property, becomes the most lucrative. The capitalists that control this property often become the dominant sector of the capitalist class and take control of the state, dictating policy to society. Marx writes, “The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”  (1)

The ruling class – call them the 1%, call them capitalists – commonly wages war against itself to seize markets and articulate the strategic view that makes the most profit, especially for them. They call this “the free market”. It is rigged and completely stacked in favor of the billionaires.

When the most profit-making form of labor was slavery, the slave owners ran the government and the state. They were succeeded, after the Civil War, by the railroad barons, industrialists, who owned property in factories, coal, and iron. Slave production was replaced by industrial production. Human slavery was replaced by the far more productive wage-slavery. Early bankers played an enormous role in this transition. Industrial production predominated into the 1950s. It didn’t disappear, but the control of capital passed to banks, investors and finance.

Now it’s all changing again. The tools themselves, the technology, determine which sector of capitalists comes out on top. Today the most revolutionary tools are the vast array of digital, electronic and communication technologies. This revolution is transforming society in ways unforeseen just a decade ago. When Obama was elected in 2008 – the same year as the great economic Meltdown – there was no such thing as social media, no apps, no data in the cloud, no viral videos. The IPhone was only a few months old. The tools are changing fast, driven by constantly evolving hardware and software.

As you read through this essay and examine the evidence, please keep the bigger question in mind. Can this system actually be changed in some sort of meaningful way? What would it take? How do we fight and win?

The growing electronic production of almost everything demonstrates what Karl Marx was referring to when he said, “capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction.” But it was Adam Smith, not Marx, who first proved that the real source of profit is human labor.

References and Resources

 Lead quote – Michel Chussodovsky. “The Speculative Endgame: The ‘Government Shutdown’ and Debt Default’, a Multibillion Bonanza for Wall Street”, Center for Global Research

 1)  Communist Manifesto. Chapter 1

To be continued.

***

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

photo credit: Adbusters Culturejammers HQ via photopin cc

Originally posted at Daily Censored

How an LVT Might Have Altered the Course of History

traumatizedsociety_DV

The Traumatised Society: How to Outlaw Cheating and Save Our Civilisation

by Fred Harrison (Shepheard-Wallwyn Limited, 2012)

Book Review – Part II

(In this section Harrison discusses the history of countries and communities that have tried to enact a Land Value Tax. See Part I here)

Britain’s Experience with Land Value Tax (LVT)

In Britain there have been several attempts to end predatory rent-seeking through the enactment of LVT. As a result of Henry George’s 1879 international bestseller Progress and Poverty, Winston Churchill (still a liberal in 1909) became one of the most vocal proponents of the People’s Budget. The law, passed by the British parliament in 1909, sought to shift the burden of taxation from wages to land. It was never implemented because the British aristocracy went to court to block the land valuation required to assess the tax. In 1931 Parliament passed a revised version of the People’s Budget, which Chancellor of the Exchequer Neville Chamberlain simply deleted it from the law book in 1934. If the LVT had been fully implemented, Britain would have been spared the worst effects of the Great Depression.

How an LVT Might Have Altered the Course of History

Harrison moves on to explore how an LVT might have alleviated severe economic and political turmoil in other countries:

  • Ireland – rent seekers “sucked: out all the wealth of Ireland for 200 years, a process that didn’t end with independence. Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” could have been sustainable if it had been funded by a LVT rather than debt. The result was a debt/real estate bubble that left the country even worse off when the bubble burst in 2008. In 2010, Harrison advocated for Ireland to pay off its debt by implementing a LVT. This would have provided the revenue the Irish government needed to stimulate growth. Instead the IMF bailout and austerity cuts has deeply suppressed growth.
  • China – made a fatal error by failing to implement an LVT when they began to privatize collectively owned land in the 1980s. China is currently facing slowing growth, thanks to a $1.7 trillion debt incurred by their city and provincial governments. While the central government was building up massive cash reserves by selling cheap exports, they forced regional governments to self-fund their public services. The only way they could do this was by selling land to property developers and by borrowing money.
  • Cuba – made a fatal error on November 11, 2011 when they began selling collectively owned land to rent-seekers, and allowed rents to be capitalized into land prices – instead of taxing them.
  • Russia – Gorbachev envisioned land remaining in public hands as part of Glasnost. After a threatened military coup forced him to step down, Harrison went to Russia trying to persuade Yeltsin to adapt an LVT. Instead Russia’s first president opened the country to the IMF and western rent-seekers. Both sucked out sufficient wealth to set the country’s standard of living back several decades.
  • Africa – South Africa’s current economic difficulties relate to a fatal error they made in 2004. They amended their LVT to add a tax on property improvements but should have done the opposite – increase the LVT and reduce other taxes. Much of the land in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is still communally owned. Thus there is still great potential for emerging African economies to adopt an LVT. This would allow them to develop debt-free, sustainable economies that don’t leave the majority of the population in abject poverty.
  • The US – suffers from a “constitutional neurosis,” according to Harrison. Supposedly the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were based on the Scottish Enlightenment. Whereas John Locke talked about a universal right to “Life, Liberty and Estate (Land),” our founding fathers changed this to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” even before the Constitution was written.

The Future of LVT

As Harrison points out, at present rent-seekers are extremely powerful and have absolute control over government, media, and public education. Nevertheless as countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America escape US military control, it’s imperative they have an avenue to escape the economic control of local and international rent-seekers. By adopting an LVT, they guarantee themselves sufficient income to provide government and public services – without falling into the predatory clutches of international bankers and the IMF.

In his 2011 book Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle, Walter Rybeck relates how the US contemplated LVT enabling legislation during the Carter administration. As an assistant to Representative Henry Reuss (D-Milwaukee), Rybeck helped Reuss (as chair of the House, Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee) promote land and resource taxes as a way to address crumbling infrastructure in financially strapped cities and states.

Enter Sarah Palin

According to Rybeck, a number of communities (and one state) have already adopted variations of an LVT. Alaska’s oil/gas tax is the best example of a resource-based LVT. This tax provides 80-90% of Alaska’s general fund, as well as providing annual dividends to residents. As governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin introduced Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES), which charges a 25 percent tax rate on oil profits, with the rate increasing progressively as oil prices go up.

Five other states have passed LVT enabling legislationConnecticutMarylandNew YorkPennsylvaniaVirginiaWashington – to make it easier for local communities to adopt an LVT.

Other American communities that have already benefited from an LVT include California’s Central Valley, Fairhope in Alabama, Arden in Delaware, and Pittsburgh and other cities in Pennsylvania.

Originally published in Dissident Voice

The Trauma of Cultural Genocide

traumatizedsociety_DV

The Traumatised Society: How to Outlaw Cheating and Save Our Civilisation

by Fred Harrison (Shepheard-Wallwyn Limited, 2012)

Book Review – Part I

(The first half of Harrison’s book explores the history of land value tax and the cultural genocide that resulted from the Enclosure Acts and the dispossession of Europeans from communally owned lands.)

The Land Value Tax (LVT) is a “radical” form of taxation first proposed by Henry George in his 1879 Progress and Poverty (see Progress and Poverty: the Suppressed Economics Classic). What George proposes is to replace taxes on wages, purchases, and investments with a tax on unimproved land and natural resources. In The Traumatised Society, Fred Harrison  provides an exhaustive update of George’s original work.

As Winston Churchill famously observed, “History is written by the victors.” Nearly all history books written in the last 400 years were written by or on behalf of the ruling elite. The Traumatised Society is unique in that it recounts the history of the industrial revolution from the perspective of the 99%. Harrison also presents a simple, but elegant prescription for taking back power from the corporate oligarchy, ending economic inequality and the debt crisis, staving off ecological disaster, and preventing World War III. On the surface these claims appear extravagant and somewhat grandiose. Yet, in my view, Harrison makes his case very convincingly.

Adam Smith was the first prominent economist to propose the LVT as the most “moral” and least economically harmful tax in his classic Wealth of Nations. Neoconservative icon Milton Friedman also considered it the “least bad” kind of tax. The most famous contemporary Georgist is former World Bank Economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

Basically the argument for an LVT goes as follows: because publicly funded infrastructure increases land values, this added value should return to the public. It shouldn’t return to the landowner, who has done nothing more than sit on his land. An LVT provides a valuable source of public revenue. It eliminates the need for governments to borrow from private banks without depleting the total wealth of the landowner.

Economies and personal freedom flourish wherever an LVT has been implemented. As Harrison reminds us, the economic surge known as the Asian Tiger didn’t start in China, but in Taiwan and Hong Kong – as a direct result of LVT-based economies. Moreover unlike China, economic growth in both Taiwan and Hong Kong has proved genuine and sustainable. In 2011, the per capita GDP of China was $8,400, while that of Taiwan was $37,900.

The Trauma of Cultural Genocide

The title The Traumatised Society is based on a severe dislocation Europeans experienced during the eighteenth century, a process remarkably similar to that of African slaves and indigenous people oppressed by colonization. The cause of this dislocation was The Enclosure Acts, a series of laws that drove our peasant ancestors off the communal farm lands that had supported them for a thousand years and fenced it to off as private property. In England alone, 160,000 freehold farmers were thrown off their land between 1700 and 1812. In addition to being stripped of their livelihood, our ancestors also experienced “cultural genocide,” as they lost a thousand years of cultural tradition linked to communal land ownership. This process is vividly described in the poems of 18th century poet John Clare, whose parents ended up in the poor house (i.e. jail) after being thrown off their land. Clare’s work was suppressed until the late 19th century, when the work of American journalist Henry George revived the British land reform movement.

The end result of this massive dislocation has been slavery, debt, alienation, depression, poverty (which was virtually non-existent prior to the Industrial Revolution), murder, rape, child abuse and alcohol and drug addiction. Counselors and therapists who work with African American and indigenous communities are very much aware of the trauma, which is passed from generation to generation, that results from severe economic dislocation and cultural genocide. Ironically, however, Europeans have no historical memory that we have been subjected to the same kind of trauma.

According to Harrison, the “moral evolution” of the human race ceased in the 1700s. This is when an authentic human culture of cooperation and interdependence was replaced with an artificial “cheating culture,” in which the highest ideal is to get something for nothing. The modern, free market version of Christianity is part and parcel of this phony culture – as is Marxism. Harrison feels Marx did us a great disservice by demonizing capitalism. The capitalistic funding model in itself isn’t the primary source of our major economic and social problems.

The Concept of Economic Rents

The Traumatised Society is written in classical economic language, in which “rent” refers to unearned income from the monopolization of land, natural resources, or the cultural commons (e.g. the public airwaves and money). Economic rent includes unearned profit gained from selling land that has increased in value (often due to land speculation). A “rent-seeker” is someone who derives unearned income from monopolization of these resources.

For most of human history land and resources were owned communally and any “rent” or unearned income went to finance public services. Beginning in the 18th century, this all changed. When “rent-seekers” privatized land and natural resources, they also captured control of government and shifted the burden of funding public services to workers. In this way modern capitalist society came to be divided into two classes, the Predators or rent-seekers, and the Producers, who engage in work to create economic wealth.

As more and more wealth is extracted from Producers, both as “rents” and as taxes, there is less and less money available to maintain public infrastructure. Eventually the number of Producers becomes inadequate to support the Predator rent-seeking class. At this point, the latter seeks to remedy the problem by conquering new lands and colonizing new populations, by using fossil fuel technology to increase productivity, by borrowing and extracting wealth from future generations, and/or by capital depletion (liquidating assets created by past production – like Greece).

Originally published in Dissident Voice

To be continued.

Progress and Poverty: A Suppressed Economics Classic

progress

Progress and Poverty

by Henry George (1879), edited and abridged by Bob Drake, Robert Shalkenbach Foundation (2006)

Downloadable as free PDF:Progress and Poverty

Book Review

Progress and Poverty is an economic classic which has been suppressed in the US owing to its subject matter: the elimination of poverty and economic inequality by restoring the Commons. Written over 130 years ago, the book provides uncanny insights for the current difficulties capitalism faces (i.e paralyzing recession, massive public and personal debt and growing income inequality). Internationally George’s economic theories are regarded as comparable to those of Marx, Keynes and Galbraith. Yet despite being the third most famous American in 1879 (after Edison and Mark Twain), George’s work remains largely unknown outside of Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Why Development Always Produces Poverty

George’s goal in writing Progress and Poverty is to explain, in economic terms, why material progress (i.e. economic development) is always accompanied by poverty and increasing inequality. Employing Adam Smith’s classical definitions of labor, capitol, wages and interest and Ricardo’s Law of Rent, he argues that development must always produce poverty and inequality so long as a privileged elite holds an exclusive monopoly on the ownership of land and basic resources.

George starts from the premise that land and natural resources are the source of all wealth, though wealth itself can only be created through human labor. According to George, the relative monopoly the elite hold on land allows them to capture all increases in productivity and production as “rent” increases.

The History of Land Privatization

George’s approach is relatively unique for political economists in his emphasis on the role ideology plays in the economic theories that gain popular acceptance. In contemporary society, no one questions the right of a privileged elite to monopolize land and natural resources for their own benefit. However private land (and resource) ownership is a relatively new concept originating in seventeenth century Britain with The Enclosure Act.

About a third of Progress and Poverty traces the historical evolution of private land ownership. In all human societies, the common right of all people to use the earth to support themselves has been sacrosanct. The concept of individual land ownership only emerged as societies advanced and either concentrated power in privileged classes or seized land and slaves through military conquest. Prior to the rise of Greek and Roman civilization, all land was communally owned and the notion of an individual claiming a patch of land as his exclusive possession was unthinkable.

Henry George sees the mass seizure of land by the nobility (in Rome this was referred to as the latifundia) as responsible for the death of democracy in these early societies and the ultimate collapse of both civilizations.

After the Roman Empire fell, feudalism was characterized by systems of communal and private property rights that operated in parallel. A feudal estate was considered to belong to society at large. The king, as the chief representative of the people, merely granted its use in trust to church leaders and military officers in return for services rendered to the commonwealth. Churches were expected to provide for the care and welfare of the sick and poor. For their part, feudal lords were expected to defend the king’s military interests.

Because they allowed the British system of private land ownership to persist in the US, George accuses the founding fathers of failing in their efforts to establish a true republic. Despite abolishing heredity titles and establishing the right to vote, they failed to reestablish the communal property rights that enabled the Greek and Roman democracies to flourish. He contends that political equality, when coexisting with wealth inequality, must always lead to either dictatorship or anarchy.

Restoring The Commons Through a Land Tax

George proposes that the wealth inequality, recessions and numerous other evils commonly attributed to the capitalist economic model could be totally eliminated by restoring public ownership of land and resources.

Rather than advocating outright government seizure of private land, he proposes to accomplish this by imposing a tax on unimproved land roughly equivalent to its rental value. Such a system would allow landholders to preserve their right of tenure, while discouraging them from speculating by holding land and resources out of production. While ending land speculation and recessions, this type of tax would simultaneously expand land and resource access for workers and capital investment. Any productivity increases (beyond interest on capital), would accrue to the government, rather than private landholders.

According to George, the government could use revenue from land and resource taxes to abolish taxes on wages and capital (which discourage production) and to pay down public debt.

An Australian Looks at the US Economy

dollars

How Private Banks (Not Government) Create Money

Australian economist Steve Keen (author of Debunking Economics) has an excellent 2009 article on his Debtwatch site explaining how Fractional Reserving Banking (FSB) supposedly works. The major premise of the article is that true FSB only exists in the minds of academic economists. Keen begins with a quote from Karl Marx (and a prominent photo) that was featured in a January 2009 article Investors Shortchanged  in the Sydney Morning Herald:  

karl marx

Talk about centralisation! The credit system, which has its focus in the so-called national banks and the big money-lenders and usurers surrounding them, constitutes enormous centralisation, and gives this class of parasites the fabulous power, not only to periodically despoil industrial capitalists, but also to interfere in actual production in a most dangerous manner— and this gang knows nothing about production and has nothing to do with it.” (Das Kapital, Volume 3, chapter 33).

Although Marx was totally off base in predicting the imminent downfall of capitalism, he sure got it right about banks.

 The Fiction of Fractional Reserve Banking

In the academic model of Fractional Reserve Banking, a retail bank establishes reserves (with depositors’ money and funds borrowed from the Federal Reserve). They then create $90 in new money for every $10 they hold in reserve. Only it never works this way in real life. The Reserve Bank of Australia totally eliminated the reserve requirement in the 1990s.The Federal Reserve has no reserve requirement for business loans and the 10% reserve requirement for personal loans is full of loopholes.

Keen’s article goes on to present M0/M1 and M2 data showing that what academic economists are calling Fractional Reserve Banking is actually a Pure Credit Monetary System. In other words, private banks are totally free to issue as much money, in the form of new loans, as they choose. They also have total control of both the money created by the commercial system and the money created by government.

M0 (sometimes called M1) refers to the Base Money or fiat money created by the Federal Reserve. M2 refers to M0 plus new money created by banks as loans. The ratio of M2/M0 is called the “money multiplier” ratio.

What his graphs show is that credit money (M2) is created first and M0 or fiat money (the reserves to cover it) is created up to a year later. In a true FRB system, M0 or Base Money would increase first, and M2 would follow as banks issue new money based on their reserves. The other major problem is that combined public and private debt greatly exceeds M2. Under a true FRB system, total debt could never exceed the amount of fiat and bank money created.

Why Quantitative Easing Won’t Work

Keen’s paper also includes an interesting prediction that the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (increasing M0 by electronically “printing” $85 billion in new fiat money every month) will be vastly insufficient to bring about economic recovery. He gives four reasons for this:

  1. Instead of using the money the Fed loans them to lend to borrowers, private banks are allowing inactive reserves to rise.
  2. Consumers are too far in debt to take out new loans.
  3. Deflation will continue because retailers and wholesalers must deeply discount their products to keep from going bankrupt.
  4. “Deleveraging” (paying off debt) is massively suppressing consumer demand.

Keen predicts that quantitative easing will have little effect unless Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pumps enough money into the economy to make a dent in the $42 trillion US debt. Deducting compound interest, he reckons $20 trillion would reduce it by about a quarter.

Ironically such a massive increase in government-issued Base Money (M0 ) would effectively replace our bank-controlled credit money system with a publicly controlled fiat money system. In other words it effectively restores the ability of the federal government to issue money, as Lincoln did (see The Role of Foreign Banks in US History).

Makes you wonder if this is Obama’s and Bernanke’s true agenda with all the electronic money they’re printing – to quietly nationalize America’s monetary system through the backdoor.

For more background on how private banks create the vast majority of US dollars (out of thin air), check out the free video The Secret of Oz:

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