August 1st, 2011 by Edward Miller

House of Cards | Esther Gibbons
House of Cards | Esther Gibbons
The world is a complex place, or so we are told here in the USA.

The pundits and journalists will tell you that there are no simple remedies to our problems, with an air of authority reserved only for those serious few with the courage to offer up this sober dose of “reality.” Besides, even if there were a simple solution, we can’t agree on the most basic of things anyways, since we are so “polarized,” or so the narrative goes.

So instead of actually solving problems, the best we can hope for is a series of convoluted band-aid solutions to fix whatever crisis is at hand.

Is unemployment soaring? Let’s produce a pathetic stimulus package that mixes the worst of both Keynesian and supply-side ideology.

Plagued by deficits? Let’s spend all our political energies on bickering about whether the top tax bracket should be 35% or 39.6%.

Of course we mustn’t forget to provide generous amounts of corporatism to the already-privileged.

So if the climate is in crisis, let’s give tradable pollution licenses based on how much one has been polluting historically, and give it a cute name like Cap and Trade.

And if prices in our cartelized healthcare sector are skyrocketing, just force everyone to buy private health insurance and label that “progressive.”

Everyone seems to agree there is something seriously wrong with the modern American political discourse. Some blame the Left, some blame the Right, and a fair number are now blaming the Center. There is plenty of blame to go around, and I would contend that we have a failure of critical thinking on the part of our intellectuals of all stripes.

It is undoubtedly the case that our establishment intellectuals are not chosen on the basis of their merit, but mostly on their compatibility with the interests of the privileged classes. Yet, I’m not just blaming the establishment figures; I’m blaming all politically-minded citizens who buy into their oh-so serious arguments and false political divisions.

What if I told you there was a solution which transcends political divisions? Which is consistent with the ideals of our Founding Fathers? Which can be implemented anywhere on the local, state, or federal level? Which can increase our overall prosperity, reduce inequality, promote peace, and improve the environment all at the same time? Which can do all this without any major restructuring of our institutions?

Assuming such a remedy even exists, surely it would be controversial, right? Something which all the various political ideologies could never agree on? Well the remedy does exist, and it has been supported by principled people of nearly every political persuasion, including some of the greatest minds in history.

The answer has nothing to do with techno-utopianism, monetary reform, deficit spending, austerity, or any of the other ideological cul-de-sacs commonly promoted.

Remedy you say? That’s preposterous!

It goes by the unassuming moniker of the Land Value Tax (LVT), which was most famously promoted by the American political economist Henry George. It is based on the notion that people ought to own what they produce, but since land is not a fruit of labor, private land ownership has no basis in natural rights and is thus the ideal source of government revenue. The Land Value Tax preserves the land title system, but simply makes it expensive to hoard land in unproductive ways.

Unlike common property taxes, the LVT does not count improvements to the land, such as buildings. Buildings are man-made, but land isn’t. When you tax buildings, you discourage people from building. Yet, when you tax land, the amount of land doesn’t decrease. The supply is fixed.

The Land Value Tax is an idea that has united in support people who would generally be considered political rivals: William F Buckley and Ralph Nader, Joseph Stiglitz and Milton Friedman, Aldous Huxley and Henry Ford, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, the list goes on.

By untaxing labor and shifting as much taxation as possible onto land values, we enhance the incentives for production as desired by fiscal conservatives. Yet, it provides a huge source of natural and community-generated wealth to tap into, which is the ideal funding mechanism for virtually any infrastructure project or social program desired by those on the Left.

Those of a more “geo-libertarian” bent would prefer that revenue be distributed as a Citizen’s Dividend, rather than used to fund bureaucracy. Yet, if the funding of bureaucracy is to come from somewhere, they would strongly prefer it come from land values. Milton Friedman called it the “least bad tax” for this reason, but really it is far more profound than that.

The LVT strikes at the heart of the land monopoly. In a powerful speech, Winston Churchill said, “Land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.” It is the essence of feudalism and for all of our supposed social progress we’ve yet to be free from it. Unless and until the land monopoly is destroyed, the positive effects of virtually all economic reforms are largely nullified.

Monopoly in the Park | Anna Fox
Monopoly in the Park | Anna Fox
Profits that are not a return to labor or capital are called economic rents, and are usually unearned incomes attributable to restricted access rights. One of the primary sources of rent is monopolization, and one of the greatest tools for achieving monopolization is actually government intervention on behalf of the monopolists. Historically, every major monopoly has been the beneficiary of enormous state-granted privilege. Whether it’s AT&T, Microsoft, or Standard Oil, the root of their power can invariably be traced to particular political privileges.

Taxing such privilege causes no disincentive for production because rents have nothing to do with production, they are a result of imbalances in power and imperfections in the market. Land, and the fruits of nature generally, are necessary for all production and even life itself. Therefore, when access to it is concentrated into the hands of a few, the rest have essentially no bargaining power.

Who Owns the Earth?

Photo by Kurt Elmelund
Photo by Kurt Elmelund
If all land on Earth is owned by a subset of the population, then the landless attain a status akin to that of trespassers on the Earth. If – as our moral instincts inform us – we all have a birthright to access the Earth, then this realization must be reflected in our political institutions. A Land Value Tax system recognizes that land titles are a practical way of allocating land use rights, but that the proceeds from such monopolization over locations on the Earth must be returned to their rightful owners, the community as a whole.

Really it isn’t a tax at all, in the usual sense of confiscating that which one produces. On the contrary, by allowing eternal sovereignties over our common inheritance without any repayment to society, one has essentially granted a subsidy to the landlords. Whenever anyone in the community does anything to improve the region, the land values rise. This occurs no matter what the intentions were. If a do-gooder builds a community center in an impoverished area, the land values and rents increase. Instead of helping the poor tenants in the region, the do-gooder may have just helped them right out of a home. Whilst the landlord could have been sleeping through the whole thing, and in the end see his land values rise.

Invent something to improve harvests? Excellent, more rent for the landlords and the exact same wages for labor. The same story could be said of welfare programs, basic income guarantees, and the like. If activists fight hard and turn the region into a bastion of civil liberty which attracts people from all around, it doesn’t matter if the landlords were sleeping or actively opposing the activists, they will see their land values rise, and the tenants will see their rents go up. The same is true again of government infrastructure projects, and anything else which makes a region attractive.

Back when I was a run-of-the-mill progressive, I would often echo progressive sentiments about how awful it is that people are forced into dangerous and low-wage jobs. This would provoke respectful but spirited debates with those who call themselves “libertarians.” They would say that nobody is forcing them to work. They were voluntarily agreeing to work.

Such debates were common around the Enlightenment. Thomas Malthus reacted to the Enlightenment notions about freedom leading to a golden age of prosperity. He claimed that natural resource scarcities and breeding patterns inevitably cause markets to reduce wages down to subsistence. He called this the Iron Law of Wages. He was certainly correct that something about the market system of his day (and our day), tends to drive wages down to a bare minimum. Yet, his emphasis on natural scarcities and overpopulation was unfounded.

David Ricardo responded forcefully to Malthus, and argued that actually the trends being witnessed were the result of what became known as the Law of Rent. Ricardo’s analysis of rent proved that once all freely available land is claimed, then as production increases, rent will eat up virtually all of the increase in production. This explains why all of the amazing technological improvements of the day were doing nothing to improve the conditions for the large masses of landless paupers.

This is why technology alone can’t save us; we need systemic reform. If you’re aware of the problems in the biotech industry regarding the patenting of life, you should recognize that is very much like another form of land monopoly, as it creates private sovereignties over the fruits of nature which should belong to all. Yet, biotech also increases the rent of real estate simply by improving crop yields or indeed whenever it does anything of value at all.

Same with any other advanced technology. We can’t rely on the super-rich to build us all nano-fabricated housing projects out of the goodness of their hearts, we need to reign in the privilege bestowed by the state upon private entities. I’m confident that the day they figure out how to upload minds into computers, they’ll still find a way to make you pay rent.

Ideology doesn’t matter, we’re in this together

While not everyone bases their political views on principles, I am confident that most do. In the case of LVT, it isn’t Right vs Left, but the principled vs the corrupt. Any serious political view, short of misanthropy, has every reason to support it.

– If you are an environmentalist, you should support Land Value Taxation in order to spark more efficient use of land. We’d still require all the usual mechanisms to internalize externalities, but the LVT alone would encourage all the more sensible agricultural practices promoted by environmentalists, such as permaculture and vertical farming. Industrial monoculture and factory farming is highly land-intensive. If holding land becomes expensive, then the markets would more accurately reflect the social costs of such massive landholding.

– If you are a humanitarian, you should support Land Value Taxation primarily because until the land monopoly has been defeated, no amount of philanthropy can possibly stop the trend of wages tending towards subsistence.

– If you are a serious technocrat, you should support LVT in order to reduce unemployment, increase wages, and promote peace. On a local scale there is evidence of all of this, including reduced crime rates. I have no doubt that if countries follow this model, we will see many former enemies become prosperous interdependent trading partners.

– If you believe in natural rights, you should support Land Value Taxation in order to end the confiscation of honest income and interest, and return that which belongs in the commons. The concept of the LVT really has its roots in the writings of people like Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and others who passionately believed that labor is the sovereign property of the individual, but that the Earth is our common inheritance.

“Men did not make the earth… it is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.” – Thomas Paine

Especially you, Progressives

It hardly seems possible that a concept which was supported by many of the original free market capitalist ideologues could be a progressive one. Yet, if you are a progressive, you absolutely should support Land Value Taxation, not as a small footnote of a larger platform, but as a central tenet.

The ideas of Henry George and the Single Tax Movement were one of the original inspirations of the Progressive Movement in the early 20th Century. Progressives like John Dewey were awestruck by the power of the arguments of Henry George in his masterpiece Progress and Poverty.

Of Henry George, Dewey wrote, “No man, no graduate of a higher educational institution, has a right to regard himself as an educated man in social thought unless he has some first-hand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of this great American thinker.” To this day, some of the most principled progressives like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader have drawn inspiration from him.

When you look at any vast fortune, you will virtually always find the heavy hand of government as part of the essential underpinning. Whether it is through regulatory capture, patents, state-sponsored licensing cartels, corporate personhood, or any other sort of government-granted privilege. Yet, as long as the mother of all monopolies remains, it would make no difference how many of those other privileges were struck down. The land monopoly would absorb all of the difference that the elimination of privilege might otherwise have made.

It is true that even under our land monopoly there are a small subset of progressive reforms that improve conditions of the lower classes, though often in an imprecise or inefficient manner. Yet, the only way one can even know what those are is though an understanding of the land monopoly. The reforms I am speaking of are very much like the previously mentioned artificial scarcities which favor big business. I am speaking of artificial labor scarcities.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 is a perfect example of this. By banning child labor and establishing the Eight Hour Day via overtime legislation, the FLSA restricted the supply of labor, increased leisure, and reduced the number of unemployed. Most think of it as the law which established the first federal minimum wage, but actually that was more like an afterthought meant to encourage automation in light of the artificial labor scarcity. The post-war economic boom and creation of the middle class was a result of such labor scarcities.

Unfortunately it is difficult to enforce overtime laws, and nowadays businesses have become so proficient at evading this regulation that it is practically non-existent for most. As with the income tax, overtime laws are not that difficult for people to evade. Even if it were a good idea, the government simply can’t be very efficient at sticking its nose into every business deal.

Land, however, cannot be hidden. It would therefore be much harder for individuals to evade. Thus, compared to many other economic reforms, it is fair, efficient, and straightforward. Our current system of real estate assessment would not even need to change drastically, and it could obsolete certain agencies like the IRS.

Income taxes cannot be truly progressive, by their nature, no matter what sorts of brackets are in place. Taxing income does not change the fundamental market power of individuals, and as such the burden of taxes are just passed around until the income distribution reflects market power. Again, it wasn’t income taxes that created the modicum of equality after WW2, it was merely labor scarcities, and those can only do so much.

Additionally, we are suffering under the volatility of speculative land bubbles, like the recent mortgage crisis, which are a byproduct of the land monopoly. Land is necessary for all economic activity, and when land is inflated in price, everything else tends to become inflated as well. Yet, it is still shocking how much of the bubble was directly tied to land.

When diagnosing the crisis, people like to point to all sorts of things such as derivatives, credit default swaps, collateralized mortgage obligations, and so on, yet they ignore that a huge portion off stuff was based on mortgages, i.e. the ability to speculate on land. The LVT would change all that in a truly progressive manner, and end the volatile land bubbles. It would reshuffle market power in favor of productive activity and away from unproductive hoarding of land. Most importantly, it would allow us to actually benefit from other sorts of reforms, and as such must be the top priority. Until then we’re merely reshuffling deckchairs on the Titanic.

Bring on The Remedy

Image by Nick Kenrick
Image by Nick Kenrick
There is hope. The hope lies not in austerity, monetary policy, deficit spending, or even technology. That last one was a hard pill I had to swallow, but the sooner we all accept that the better.

The beauty of this simple reform is almost surreal. It solves so much, yet asks so little. Instead of increasing bureaucracy, it would reduce it. Instead of weakening incentives for production, it would actually create them. Instead of encouraging waste and urban sprawl, it would promote efficient use of land.

The LVT has been experimented with in many times and places, and it has always succeeded to the extent that it was tried. It holds the potential for uniting principled minds of every persuasion, if only we can break free of the ignorance espoused by the talking heads who tell us that the only remedies available are painful and complex.

Let’s show those bastards that they’re wrong. A better way is possible, and through it we can finally reach that golden age we’re always dreaming of.

Flattr this!

October 8th, 2010 by Edward Miller

I have often referred to myself as a progressive but I have felt increasingly uneasy doing so. The word ‘progressive’ like nearly every other term which refers to a political ideology has become so broadly applied as to become virtually meaningless.

Historically, the term conjured images of Teddy Roosevelt and “Fighting Bob” La Follette. Progressives were seen as outspoken and fiery advocates for the common man. They were trust-busters, anti-monopolists, and anti-corporatists. In terms of foreign policy they were at times divided, but when it came to economics their voice was loud and clear: “We demand that big business give the people a square deal.”

The rest of that Roosevelt quote reads as follows: “in return we must insist that when any one engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal.” So progressivism was hardly anti-capitalist by any stretch of the imagination. It was simply a movement which sought to rectify the imbalances of power that had been usurped by the business elites. In the context of the era, this often happened through compromises, picking out “good trusts” from “bad trusts,” and later through the mixed bag of the New Deal.

In the present day, the Democrats have dusted off the progressive moniker and appropriated it for themselves. At their best they see themselves as nostalgic curators of the memory of the post-war economic order. The one which propelled the longest period of sustained rising wages and growth in US history. At their worst, Democrats are merely the friendlier face of corporatism. Unfortunately, if opinion polls are to be believed, the image which seems to be prevailing is the latter one. Thus, the good name of progressivism has been dragged through the mud, and all the Democrats have to say to their disappointed public is, “stop whining.”

Even if we for some reason concede the best of intentions to the Democrats, and conclude they are hoping to achieve progressive change through corporatist means, it is self-defeating lunacy at best. Defending these lunatics gets us nowhere. Virtually nothing hoped for by genuine progressives will come to pass unless our discourse changes dramatically, and we once again find that fighting anti-corporatist spirit.

Perhaps it is blasphemy to say, but what if progressivism’s historic achievement, the New Deal economy, is no longer viable? Kevin Carson has written a number of damning critiques of the progressive movement. Instead of engaging in the quixotic task of perpetually reforming bureaucracies that will inevitably corrupt, we must recognize that the era of big business, big bureaucracy, and big infrastructure needs to come to an end. There are no “good trusts.” With its crowning invention of the Internet, the corporate-state apparatus has laid the seeds for its own obsolescence.

I suspect Carson is wrong when he says that progressivism was fundamentally misguided from the start, considering the realities of the Gilded Age through the WW2 era and the fact that it’s doubtful the Internet would be here so soon otherwise. Though, since the Internet has arrived, perhaps it is time to recognize that now more than ever we need to re-orient our economy towards Lewis Mumford’s neotechnic ideal.

We must usher in an era of flexible manufacturing networks, digital fabrication, and distributed production. This sort of resilient model is our only hope against the converging crises we are experiencing, from the economic to the ecological.

Can progressives take the lead? We cannot go on defending the ever more draconian nature of the so-called “Intellectual Property” regime, the enormous corporate-captured regulatory system, the blood-sucking finance sector, and the gargantuan military-industrial-complex. We must stand firm against them, like a bull moose!

Flattr this!

November 23rd, 2008 by Edward Miller

Obama and the Democrats have come sweeping in. Now what? All those fundamental liberal democratic rights which we have been fighting to maintain throughout these past dark years of GOP dominance now suddenly seem in much less danger. A good portion of the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration have already been promised to be rolled back.

Obama and the Democrats have already agreed to the following policies:

  • Prevent the militarization of outer space.
  • Prudent withdrawal from Iraq
  • Expand public service opportunities
  • United States Public Service Academy
  • Carbon Tax
  • Ease Transition to Single-Payer Health Insurance
  • Legalize and Fund Stem Cell Research
  • Protect NASA funding for basic research
  • Close Gitmo and End Torture
  • End Warrant-less Wiretapping
  • Repeal PATRIOT Act
  • Repeal Bush’s cuts on the Estate Tax and upper tax brackets
  • Re-regulate the financial markets
  • Limit the power of lobbyists and special interests
  • Government transparency
  • Protect Abortion Rights
  • Class-based, not race-based, Affirmative Action
  • Negotiate international environmental agreements (but not Kyoto, unfortunately)

Should we continue to rail about the same old stuff? Or just sit back and hope everything turns out ok without public scrutiny? Absolutely not.

I have compiled a list of issues which activists should pursue, some of which are taken from Charlie Stross’s list. However, my list is systematically ranked by priority. We want to prioritize issues of high utility, attainability, and obscurity. Obscurity matters because advocating for the same old stuff is of little marginal benefit, since one of the major functions of activists and bloggers is to spread awareness, not to complain about the same old stuff that everyone knows about.

Feel free to add your own issues and rank them accordingly, or critique this ranking method.

U = Utility (1-10)
A = Attainability (1-10)
O = Obscurity (1-10)


Prizes for Technology Commons (U=9 A=6 O=8) 23

Competition and rewarding innovation are the bedrocks of technological advancement under capitalism. However, some urgent areas are in need of a boost, such as fuel efficiency, biotechnology, alternative energy, and space technology. There have already been successful prizes through NASA and DARPA for robot cars and space elevators, why not ramp up and extend this idea? The X Prize Foundation is another good example of such an endeavor. Unfortunately, all of these competitions did not require the resulting technological breakthroughs to be open to all through the Public Domain, despite the public funding. Why not start a billion dollar prize for energy efficient motors, instead of paying vastly more down the road to bailout our environment?

We must create a similar prize for Cultured Meat, considering that the UN shows that the meat industry is more harmful on the environment than all of our cars put together. (PETA already made a million dollar prize, but it is not nearly enough, and doesn’t specify Public Domain)

Georgist Land Value Taxes (U=8 A=5 O=9) 22

The property tax is a crucial policy for boosting innovation and preventing land from going to waste, but it needs to be a tax upon the land itself and not improvements. As property taxes now stand, they discourage land improvement. A georgist land value tax would make hoarding land in unproductive ways unprofitable, thus boosting the efficiency of land distribution. It also limits the amount of hardship rent places on labor and productivity, and allows for a collective benefit from land, which is a common resource. This policy would likely entail increasing the proportion of taxation coming from property taxes and lowering all other taxes.

Tax breaks for PC vendors who distribute Open Source software (U=5 A=8 O=9) 22

Open Source software is the vanguard of the new revolutionary decentralized mode of production which will characterize post-scarcity society. The sooner it becomes the dominant platform for desktop users, in addition to its current stronghold in the server sector, then the sooner this new model will become more broadly understood. This will in turn decrease transaction costs and technology costs making society more productive, since we will have even better software than before, yet pay no money for the software itself.

Stronger Overtime Laws (U=8 A=7 O=6) 21

A good combination with the Basic Income. As productivity increases, we should all share in the fruits by reduced labor. After our first really massive boost in productivity, the Industrial Revolution, the US enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Yet, despite all the massive productivity improvements since then, there have been no further reductions in the workweek.

Basic Income (U=10 A=3 O=8) 21

The single highest-utility government policy that could be enacted. A Basic Income helps promote a post-scarcity society. It invigorates civil society and frees us from wage slavery. Along with any other policies which combat wage slavery, this would also serve to incentivize the automation of menial tasks, which will help free us from dehumanizing toil in the long run. It also obsoletes the current pay-as-you go Social Security set up and removes the perverse incentives created by need-based welfare. It could be paid for through some of the other policies recommended here which cut spending or boost tax revenue, along with the money that otherwise would have been spent on needs-based welfare and Social Security. All citizens over the age of 18 and all immigrants who have resided in the US for longer than 18 years should receive the Basic Income.(Obscurity increasing as the Palin “spread the wealth” issue fades from memory)

Intellectual Property Tax (U=9 A=3 O=8) 20

All revenues from Intellectual Property must pay a fee to register with the government, and then must pay a flat tax upon all revenue from that intellectual property. If the government is going to defend one’s state-sponsored monopoly, one must expect to pay for this privilege. Clearly this would change copyrights from an opt-out to an opt-in system. Also, this must be coupled with Intellectual Property reform to get rid of ridiculous “business method” patents, algorithm patents, obvious patents, and other such abuses of the system.

Boost Estate Tax (U=7 A=6 O=6) 19

Estate taxes prevent the inter-generational centralization of wealth. Taxes are horrible, but if someone has to be taxed, rich dead people are surely at the top of the list. Even Warren Buffet, the richest man in the world, recognizes this. There was a time when there were whole countries controlled by a class that existed purely through inherited wealth, rather than productive activity. This was known as the aristocracy. Let it remain in the dustbin of history. This requires going further than just repealing Bush’s cuts.

Stop Subsidizing Unsustainable Agriculture (U=9 A=3 O=6) 18

The subsidized corn industry in the US is harming the economies of other countries, resulting in food crises, and diverting the use of perfectly good food towards the production of horribly unsustainable “biofuels.” Furthermore, it is keeping unhealthy fast foods at artificially low prices since most of it contains corn syrup or corn-fed animal products. It is shameful that we use our political power around the world to force open markets abroad, and yet subsidize our agriculture at home resulting in food riots abroad and the destruction of foreign economies.

Ethical Consumerism in Government (U=7 A=5 O=5) 17

The government has enormous buying power and virtually a monopsony in some markets. Why not use this power to mandate strict energy efficiency standards and promote sustainable modes of production? All newly purchased government vehicles, even aircraft, should meet very strict fuel standards. All government computers should use Open Source software and all government agencies should release all information in open formats. Strong human rights standards for employees must be met for all government suppliers and contractors. Healthier foods in all publicly owned facilities is also urgent.

Cut Military Spending (U=8 A=5 O=3) 16

The United States accounts for 50% of all military expenditure, and most of it goes toward bloated and useless programs like SDI. Attaining significant cuts in the most blatantly unnecessary programs is quite feasible. Yet, these expenses could be cut in half, freeing up enormous amounts of money for social programs and infrastructure which are currently decaying from lack of funding. The attainability on this issue is variable though, depending on how much cuts are desired.

Single-Payer Healthcare Insurance System (U=9 A=5 O=2) 16

The collective bargaining power of government can reduce medical costs considerably and also immensely reduce the paperwork mess that is the US medical system. Canada has proved vastly superior to us in both those respects, and is considered to actually be saving money through their system. By taking profit out of the equation, this will this stop insurance companies from denying coverage for any reason or no reason at all. For those who wish to use private supplemental health insurance, such as for cosmetic surgery, that would still be possible. A single payer system will also encourage preventative treatment, since it would save the government money. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Progressive Taxes (U=5 A=4 O=5) 14

The poor and middle class should pay a lower percent of their incomes to the government than the rich. This is already true formally, to some extent, but it has been formally eroded through the years. Yet, informally, it is widely known that there are numerous legal loopholes such as stock appreciation and offshore accounts which the rich take advantage of to avoid taxes. Warren Buffet noted that his receptionist paid 30% of her income as taxes, while he only pays 17% even without tax shelters.

Speculation Tax (U=5 A=7 O=3) 15

Day traders and hedge funds can play all sorts of games with stocks and ignore any sort of value investment strategies, by buying stocks only to dump them immediately. This causes all sorts of financial havok and can even ruin smaller companies. Creating a speculation tax would encourage long-term investing and tax the externalities caused by speculation. It would only need to be set at a rate below 1% in order to achieve the desired effects and generate a considerable revenue. This type of tax is often called the Tobin Tax, in honor of James Tobin, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who has advocated for it.

Accounting for Externalities (U=4 A=7 O=4) 15

The most-discussed untaxed externality is currently CO2. Many have proposed a Carbon Tax, or more convoluted schemes that amount to the same thing. A Carbon Tax would be a great idea, and Obama has actually agreed to this, but there are many other examples. Simple policies like taxing plastic bags, say a nickel a bag, could cut down immensely on the unsustainable packaging that is used. If a single-payer healthcare system is enacted, “sin taxes” upon cigarettes would be seen as more justifiable, and other taxes upon alcohol and so forth could be considered. If marijuana was legalized, the same could be true for that.

Prosecute White Collar Criminals (U=6 A=5 O=4) 15

All predatory lenders, insider traders, fraudsters, corrupt bureaucrats, and those who improperly funneled bailout money should be put on trial and imprisoned.

The End of Poverty (U=10 A=2 O=2) 14

Cost-effective and decentralized solutions for eliminating extreme poverty like vitamins, iodized salt, condoms, and mosquito nets are at the top of the list for those interested in alleviating extreme poverty and suffering. Other good ideas like the LifeStraw are being put forth. The Democrats actually have talked about this and consulted with Jeffrey Sachs and other experts. Furthermore, there is tons of non-profit attention given to this. Yet, considering the low commitment to previous “Millenium Goals” perhaps more activist prodding is required, though compared with other goals, which can indirectly aid this goal, activist resources might be best utilized elsewhere.

Corporate Taxes (U=6 A=4 O=3) 13

As reported here, “A 2004 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that 61% of American corporations, including 39% of large companies, paid no corporate income taxes between 1996 and 2000. Last year, corporations shouldered just 14.4% of the total U.S. tax burden, compared with about 50% in 1940.”

Corporations receive personhood and limited liability protections, and those privileges necessitate they take on the responsibilities of a person. Namely, they must pay taxes. I imagine closing these loopholes would be difficult.

Legalize Pot (U=5 A=5 O=3) 13

The time has come. The war on pot is a horrible waste of resources, prison space, border patrol, and so forth. Let it become a regulated industry like tobacco that can generate taxes and legal economic activity, as opposed to breeding an outlaw culture. Considering the low but increasing attainability, I think this is more of a long term goal.

Prosecute War Criminals (U=4 A=3 O=2) 9

All warmongers and torturers should be put on trial and imprisoned. This includes Bush. If we don’t… talk about a Moral Hazard. It would be worse than Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Yet, the amount of persistent pressure needed, in light of strong special interests pushing the other way, is immense. Perhaps other policies which attack the root of special interest power would be more effective.

Gay Marriage (U=3 A=5 O=0) 8

Homosexual couples should be allowed to have all the same rights, but honestly, this issue is used as a wedge by Republicans to scare voters away from all liberal causes, and Karl Rove and company have been amazingly effective at doing just that. This issue will likely resolve itself as time goes by, and trying to speed it up while there are significant segments of the population with archaic beliefs only endangers all the more fundamental issues such as the ones listed above.


We certainly still need to keep tabs on the policies which the Democrats have already agreed to, and perhaps the next good project would be to calculate the likelihood each of these Democrat promises will be kept, and the amount of pressure that needs to be consistently maintained. Given limited activist resources, knowing this information is urgent.


(02/11/2010) UPDATE:

Seems the Democrats predictably didn’t keep their word on their promises, but to a much larger extent than I had imagined. Here is a recap:

Prevent the militarization of outer space.
Prudent withdrawal from Iraq – FAIL
Expand public service opportunities
United States Public Service Academy – FAIL
Carbon Tax – FAIL
Ease Transition to Single-Payer Health Insurance – FAIL
Legalize and Fund Stem Cell Research
Protect NASA funding for basic research – FAIL
Close Gitmo and End Torture – FAIL
End Warrant-less Wiretapping – FAIL
Repeal Bush’s cuts on the Estate Tax and upper tax brackets – FAIL
Re-regulate the financial markets – FAIL
Limit the power of lobbyists and special interests – FAIL
Government transparency – FAIL
Protect Abortion Rights
Class-based, not race-based, Affirmative Action – FAIL
Negotiate international environmental agreements – FAIL

This document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

Flattr this!

July 31st, 2008 by Joseph Carpenter

Guest post by Joseph Carpenter.

This post will be more personal than others on EmbraceUnity – Edward and I have often written in a collective voice, and I want it to be made clear that this in no way reflects the opinions of Edward or EmbraceUnity in general.

In the past few months it has become increasingly clear to me that my dedication to socialism in general and Marxism in particular (historical materialism to be really particular) is unfounded. Furthermore, any sort of compromise position such as social democracy, state capitalism, or corporatism all seem to be misguided as well. The primary focus of my politics has always been personal liberty – a freedom both political and economic in nature. However, I have always felt that political freedom, while important, pales in comparison to economic freedom – if one is economically free it almost naturally follows that one is politically free. From the time I was sixteen until very recently it seemed that the best way to achieve economic freedom was non-violent anarchist socialism.

This idea is so alien to me now that I can barely remember the reasons for why I chose this system. I vaguely recall that I postulated that the only type of economic freedom that matters was relative economic freedom. If one was more free than another, then there really wasn’t true freedom, especially if someone came about their wealth in ways that primarily involved luck – inheritance, for instance.cheap jumpers for sale

I now believe I was wrong. Without a central authority (a board of economic planners), socialism cannot work on a large scale, and large scales make possible incredible advances in technology. Anarchist socialism is out when it comes to bettering the human condition. And examples of the failures of planned economies are endless and I have grown tired of making excuses for them. In the end, the USSR was an experiment in socialism that failed for many reasons, but fundamentally there was one deficiency in the system, that being there was no effective way to gauge what and how much was needed to be produced (here I borrow from the Austrian School). There were far too many surpluses and shortages that went on for far too long, which to me is unacceptable for two reasons. First, it is a huge waste of resources and time. Second, and more importantly, it caused a large amount of suffering in people. The free market, on the other (invisible) hand, naturally fixes surpluses and shortages – people still suffer in a free market, it is definitely true, but one would have to be willfully ignorant of the facts to suggest that there is less suffering under a planned economy.

I also dislike state socialism in principle. There is an underlying assumption in it that the economic planners somehow know better what people will need and want than the people themselves. To me, this idea is extremely elitist and classist – the two things that drove me away from capitalism in the first place. Under a free market, people have a mechanism to rebuff the controllers, and that is simply not paying for the good. If a monopoly exists on the good, at least there doesn’t have to be in principle – a different firm could theoretically pop up. Under a planned economy, nothing of the sort exists; people would have to turn to the black market which can subject them to punishment by the controllers. A monopoly under capitalism is better than a monopoly under state socialism. People, then, are more free under a free market, even if there are differing degrees of freedom between the people, at least in theory. Even in theory, under state socialism there is no economic freedom.

But why does this dissuade me from welfare systems or state capitalism? Once you have accepted the free market, you have accepted the idea of the existence of private property. I have often searched for some ontological proof of the existence of private property and have found none. However, I now accept that private property does exist in some form simply because it needs to exist for a free market to exist, which I have decided is better for the welfare of the people than a planned economy. Consider it an utilitarian argument. Private property now in existence, any sort of redistribution of the property via the state is simply theft, which undermines the market. Some thefts need to occur for a market to function – taxes need to be collected for a government to exist in order to punish lawbreakers without bias (after all, if it were up to private businesses to punish lawbreakers they would simply punish people that affected the business the most, which would result in a loss of competition and a loss of what makes free markets extremely beneficial. Anarcho-capitalism is just as foolish as anarcho-socialism). However, when a government decides that a wealthy person “will not miss the money more than a poor person will benefit from it,” the government is stating that it cares not that people, through their individual economic actions, have affectively decided the wealth of every person; that the government knows better than its people. This is no better than the elistism and classism of state socialism and no better than theft from the wealthy.

I will try to stay away from the tired argument that the wealthy are mostly the suppliers of goods and are the most productive citizens, but hey, they are much more productive than the wealthy under state socialism, if only by the virtue that their money has grown by investing in businesses that are productive and are supplying the wants of the people.

I won’t touch on the issue of the Federal Reserve at this time, but I do have much to say about it.

I do, however, still consider myself to be a transhumanist. I feel that the free market is the only way to develop technology – a truly free market devoid of intellectual property laws and trade secrets (more on intellectual property law being a barrier to innovation later). And, when scarcity is abolished, there will be no need of capitalism or socialism – both imperfect systems as they still both lead to great suffering.

Until then, I am going to pick the lesser of the two evils.

Flattr this!

May 15th, 2008 by Edward Miller

In a surprising showing of spine, the US House narrowly rejected a new appropriations bill that would have provided 162 billion dollars more for the war. Hopefully we can put that money to much better use. One can only imagine the value wasted on that immoral war in Iraq. Maybe the Democrats will finally take a stand against the war, or maybe even impeach our criminal president.

Or, more likely, they will do nothing and sit back quietly while the nation slides towards militarism, corporatism, and theocracy. It is up to those of us interested in social justice to build a progressive movement that transcends the election cycles. Don’t expect the politicians to do anything without us forcing them.

Flattr this!

April 2nd, 2008 by Joseph Carpenter

The current scheme for financial aid for college goes something like this: if you or your family make less than x amount, the government will give you x amount of money to pay for college. Even the most leftist of economists will tell you that handing money to people creates disincentives to work, but the idea is that the people going to college will eventually do something good for the state economically – nurses, lawyers, etc. At the risk of sounding libertarian, I will say that what this has done has crowded the field enormously and many people with college degrees will still be ditch-diggers. Not only that, but because grants rarely cover all college expenses, they will be ditch-diggers with a mound of debt. What the system has done, then, is worsen the problem for some of the poor of America.

The solution is not the free market one – to lower the amount of college demanded by removing grants (effectively raising the price); it is the loans that do most of the damage anyway. Despite its faults, this system does allow the less affluent to close out the class gap, the reason being grants. The free market would see a much larger percentage of school being paid with loans than there are now. A better way than free market? Compulsory service (“draft”).

Peace Corps
Peace Corps
A prerequisite for public colleges and universities ought to be 2-4 years of service to the United Nations, Peace Corps, other national or international public service, or if the applicant chooses, the military. I mention this last option for three reasons: one, it would be much easier for politicians to pitch the program to Americans if the military is included, two, in a legitimate and responsible democracy, the military is a perfectly acceptable form of public service, and three, the current system that the military has is very similar to this new program. This system will pay for four years of college in full to any public college or university.

The positive effects of this new program would be enormous. Not only will there be less college demanded (it would weed out those that don’t care enough about education to devote a few years of their life to public service), meaning more jobs available for recent graduates, but it would strengthen international opinion of America if more of its citizens devoted some time to international relations and aid efforts. It would also do much to negate a lot of the nationalism and aversion to the U.N. that American citizens have (if a reader is unsure that that is a bad thing, I encourage him or her to read the very first post of this blog detailing the principles on which this blog is based). The military will often meet its target rates of recruitment, delighting neoconservatives and hawks.

Of course, without this being mandatory for anyone wishing to attend a public school, the poor would be disproportionately affected. That is why anyone wishing to attend a state college or university must “join up” – all but the most disabled can contribute in a meaningful way.

Of course, this raises the question, “How will we pay for this?” I am working on exact figures, but I’m sure this program would not be light. This is the part where it does not look so rosy, as it never does when looking for money. A higher estate tax is an option. Legalizing and taxing things such as marijuana, prostitution, and online gambling can bring a large amount of revenue. An option that I personally dislike but could prove beneficial is removing welfare benefits for college aid adults – I am unsure if this would significantly raise crime rates, however, and this again hurts the poor and minorities disproportionately. All is not bleak, however. The services rendered to the U.N. could pay off our debt to the organization, and, in time, a deal could be struck with the United Nations to pay us for those that serve. The richest nation on Earth can certainly find a way for this to work.

A post at a later date will follow with estimated figures.

Flattr this!

February 20th, 2008 by Edward Miller

Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig, who has done some amazing activist work as a lawyer toward reforming intellectual property laws and the founder of Creative Commons. He is also the founder of the Free Culture movement.

Lessig has now expanded his horizons and is starting a new movement: the Change Congress Movement. His goal is to rid congress of the corruption caused by our broken money-based political system. This noble goal would go a long way to changing a fundamental problem that has been stifling all hopes of real progress.

Flattr this!

February 12th, 2008 by Edward Miller

In the 1980s, the Savings and Loan Crisis hit our nation. John Kenneth Galbraith called it, “the largest and costliest venture in public misfeasance, malfeasance and larceny of all time.” It cost our nation hundreds of billions of dollars because of immoral and illegal activity by financial corporations, and the result was the most massive corporate bailout in history. In the end, our government handed over 120 billion dollars to the corporate criminals who orchestrated this financial disaster and their creditors, a despicable form of corporate welfare.

Most don’t remember that John McCain was one of the Keating Five, and a key player in the Savings and Loan Crisis. McCain’s senatorial campaign was funded hundreds of thousands of dollars by Charles Keating, an ultra-rich and ultra-conservative banker who ran the largest Savings and Loan Association, Lincoln Savings. As a result of misguided deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry, corporate fraud in this industry skyrocketed. Keating’s organization was able to single-handedly defraud people, mostly the elderly, of billions of dollars. Thanks to his good friend John McCain and other friends in congress, he was able to evade investigation and generally skirt the law. Thanks to further corruption of our legislative branch, Keating’s organization alone was bailed out to the tune of 3 billion dollars.

We can look to the culture of corruption built by people like McCain as the direct cause of our current financial crisis that we are now in the midst of, the eerily similar Subprime Mortgage Crisis.

Granted, I do commend McCain for working with Russell Feingold on the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act, however this law is very limited and I remain thoroughly unconvinced of his commitment to battling corruption. Does anyone honestly feel hopeful that John McCain, a key player in fomenting the biggest financial corruption scandal in US history, would make any substantive progress in combating the fraud that has been continuously causing so much damage? Indeed, it is more than likely he would perpetuate, if not worsen, the current situation.

Flattr this!

February 12th, 2008 by Edward Miller

Here are some excellent examples of political propaganda.

The thing is, Obama claims to be pushing for involvement of the body politic in the political process, and seeking to create a real political culture in the United States. Thus, it is our duty to make damn sure he upholds these principles that he so eloquently speaks of. That said, I am inspired by Senator Obama.

Obama – Yes We Can

I am not so inspired by McCain.


Flattr this!

November 30th, 2007 by Edward Miller

In the event of emergency rule declared by George W Bush at the end of his term, leading to a refusal to relinquish power, my immediate reaction would be one of outrage. Without hesitation, I would go to Starbucks and rant about how bad the situation has become.

While sipping my $5.99 latte, I would use the Starbucks WiFi hotspot to email all my e-friends about the urgent need for more coffee shop meetups. I would then go home, pour a glass of organic soymilk, and valiantly blog about the virtues of democratic governance and the need to maintain the civil liberties that had been constitutionally guaranteed for over two hundred years.

As I meticulously document all 452 legal justifications for impeachment, I would sporadically shop on urbanoutfitters.com to find good consumer merchandise with which to display my authenticity as a true member of the anti-establishment. Seeing my anti-dictatorship Facebook group swell, I may decide to create a humorous YouTube video that sends a powerful message to the thousands of other petty bourgeois politicos inspiring them to make YouTube videos of their own, set to Green Day’s best-selling album American Idiot.

Looking around the country, I begin to wonder why Bush has no serious challenges to his power, despite the near unanimous hatred of him. However, with no more Democrats who will pretend to support progressive policies, I will be driven toward anomic behavior such as writing melodramatic poetry.

While sitting in my armchair watching Keith Olbermann, it would dawn on me… it is all my fault. Eventually social tension, famine, overpopulation, biowarfare, the militarization of space, and global warming will overtake the planet and consume most of humanity. From the wreckage, there will arise clans of subterranean mutants led by cannibalistic warlords who will fight in vain over the scraps of the dying wasteland once called Earth.

At the last minute, a lone group of eccentric technophilic billionaires will escape to outer space in a self-sustaining capsule, but megalomaniacal in-fighting among them seemingly seals the extinction of the human race. Just then, an AI saves the day.

Flattr this!