An open space for global conversation
A lot has been happening recently on the climate front. Hurricane Sandy put the issue front and center after it was virtually ignored during the elections. Echoing the anti-apartheid efforts of the 1980's, 350.org has started the new Go Fossil Free campaign, which calls on students to demand that university endowment funds divest from the coal, oil and gas industries. And the COP18 talks just finished up with another round of failed negotiations, highlighted by a tearful delegate from the storm-ravaged Philippines pleading for action on behalf of the seven billion people on this planet.
Join us this week in the Cafe for a conversation on the varied dimensions of this crisis. What is moving in the world? How might this online community participate? What are the personal challenges this subject brings up for you? Explore these questions together here on our forum, and on each of the three Cafe Calls we will be hosting. Monday's Vital Conversation will start us off with an overview, Connect2012 on Tuesday will focus on what this community might do and Thursday's Occupy Heart will address the inner struggles a crisis like this evokes. See the schedule on the right side of this page for times and registration links.
We will be testing out MaestroConference's new "social webinar" feature this week, which allows you to see who else is in your breakouts with you. Click here to access this feature once you are on a Cafe Call (note: you will need your call-in and PIN handy to sign up).
Really, Jerry? Tell me more (he asked tender-heartedly)!
Perhaps Jerry's "Ouch" is a reaction to the work that lies ahead... renunciation is not a trivial matter.
Can there be ANY meaningful change without ourselves changing radically? If people of governments change rules or laws, are influenced by corporate interests, and there is not very broad public agreement, how can it work for all? Won't it eventually wind up in a bigger mess because it plays up to a lie, denying it's motivated by self interest, esp of the big players? Surely the governments of the world (& corporate pontifs) are comprised mainly of the most ambitious, cunning and competitive of us... who's public image is at the heart of everything they do. I ask why they want this power so badly?
Haven't we as society produced this crop of humanity, and coincidentally ourselves... who all share the same illusions and have the same insecurities and the same self serving nature? It's obvious to me that some or many among us have more awareness, more sensitivity, more regret, more compassion, and as well more fear, more jealousy, more clinging... than others. But, one thing is without exception to my eyes*... even in the presence of affection and moments of happiness or light, each one of us (yes, I'm including you & me) clings desperately to our ample supply of self-centeredness to perpetuate seemingly endless contradiction in our actions-- rendering every act useless (except to learn from).
*If you don't take exception to this I yield to your wisdom and acknowledge you are ahead on this long, difficult, meandering journey.
OF COURSE INNER TRUTH BUT WHAT ABOUT SPECIFIC PUBLIC POLICY THAT MIRRORS THAT TRUTH?
I find nothing to argue with in the metaphysics you speak of. I just think it is only half the story. The other half in my opinion is how shall we conduct our outer affairs so that life here can continue to evolve or do whatever it is doing even if that is nothing in some absolute or enlightened sense. I see very sophisticated understanding and experience of inner reality in these conversations and elsewhere but among people so inclined in that direction I see a lack of concern and appreciation of the content of public policy that is the counterpart to the metaphysics of the inner life. I see a polarity of opinion between the validity and supremacy of inner and outer concerns. I do not think it is either or I think it is both and. I do not see a balance of concerns in these conversations between these two. Of course the world is an illusion and so what?
I personally have found a balance between metaphysics, spirituality and economics. It is not the economics of the ordinary kind that everyone laments for its support of greed, poverty, mindless consumption, war and environmental and climatological destruction. It is an economics that that includes an understanding of the absolute and continuing importance of land in modern non-agricultural industrial society. It is an economics that shows how the privatization and monopoly of the earth, her land and natural, resources has lead to and to this day is the root cause of the grotesque disparity of wealth. It is an economics that explains the mechanism whereby progress of every kind has been co-opted for the benefit of a few leaving the impression that progress is the enemy of life and environment in addition. It shows the mechanism whereby the promise of progress to benefit all is broken. It gives a simple yet profound insight into what can be done to solve the fundamental problem and with it a myriad of related proximate issue that cannot be solved any other way. This is not to say that there are n other ways but this is the only one that I know for sure touches all the bases.
It is an economics that requires individuals and society to be willing to call on a well developed spiritual sense in order to see and embrace its value and work for its adoption as the pathway to peace, justice and prosperity benefitting all. It calls for some very specific changes in public policy primarily including tax policy. For this reason in my experience many people of otherwise good heart and intention turn away because it is not what they expected. For many others it is not sexy enough or militant enough. I see such people as spiritual and liberal fundamentalists unwilling to open their minds in the same fashion as religious fundamentalists. That is just my opinion but there it is.
Nothing of real consequence can be accomplished without a balance of the inner and the outer and so far despite the fact that most spiritually minded folks seem to think that we are too mired in materiality I say that we just have not seen how the principles of the unity of the inner life apply to the outer. It cannot be just one or the other as we have seen demonstrated so many times in the past. I see at least a piece of it and recommend it for your consideration.
You can Google land value taxation, Henry George and PROUT (Progressive Utilization Theory developed by an Indian man by the name of P.R. Sarkar) for hints as to whatI I am blathering on about.
You make me feel my own humble & powerless reality, Wendell. When you say...
I find nothing to argue with in the metaphysics you speak of. I just think it is only half the story.
And I see no gesture by you to find common interest of inquiry (in that half the story). I'm confused by that lack of motivation considering this is dialogue, not bully pulpit.
RENUNCIATION YES BUT OF WHAT?
The renunciation in what I keep speaking about in the calls is the giving up of private profit from "ownership" of the earth, her land and natural resources. The purpose of this is to remove the major if not only incentive to abuse the environment which leads directly to global warming and myriads of other social and economic problems. Al of these things are of a piece in my opinion. In the case of global warming caused by fossil fuel technology based on extraction of oil, gas and coal from the earth it means taking the profit our of private collection of the value of the natural resources in the ground that all economists (and energy companies) know exists prior to the real capital investment necessary to extract them. This can be accomplished by an already well established policy of taxing this value. It is called land value taxation or land value capture and it is part of existing tax schemes such as the property tax and royalty fees governments require energy/mining companies to pay for the privilege of extraction. I and my colleagues say we need to do this to the point of leaving nothing and certainly very little of this value in the hands of energy companies.
The necessity of doing this is not merely because it will give energy companies every reason to look elsewhere for alternatives that are now available such as wind and solar in order to stay in business and continue to make a profit for their investors but for, in my opinion, the far more compelling reason that the value of these resources apart from the value added from the extraction, refining and delivery process is created by the community of all human beings and not one bit by the individual private "owners" of the resources. This means in terms of economics going back to the founders of the study of the subject (Adam Smith all the other classical economists and finally even karl Marx and some lonesome voices today including Herman Daly and Joseph Stiglitz) that private collection of these values by individuals and their corporations who do not create these values per se is an unearned income in their hands. This is unearned income and economic benefit in the sense of getting something for nothing. It is free lunch of which there isn't supposed to be any. It is also an unearned income at the expense of everyone else, all of us, all of whom participate in making land and natural resources economically valuable but who do not get acknowledged or paid for doing so because we are required under the current paradigm of conquer, expropriate and make the surviving losers pay for access to their own land. You think that you are not subject to what we did to native peoples on this continent and everywhere else?
This is no small issue also for the act that the private collection of unearned incomes the largest portion by far even today which is the income from "ownership" of land and natural resources has become highly concentrated in ownership and control in the hands of the wealthy (the 1% and the following 9%). This near monopoly of the most valuable land and natural resource of this planet in the hands of the few historically up until the present time is THE root cause of the disparity of wealth in the hands of these people and their corporations. Financial sector criminality pales in comparison. This is what allows the disparately wealthy to monopolize capital over the centuries. Marx finally acknowledged this although the Left in general has not understood this so focused is it on the issue of the monopoly of capital and more recently the dysfunction of the financial sector that they do not see the even more fundamental underlying condition that comes to us unreformed straight out of feudalism.
It is estimated that the unearned income and direct economic benefit measured in dollars and cents from ownership of land and natural resources amounts to at least 1/3 of GNP everywhere. In the U.S. alone with a $12trillion GNP this means $4trillion every year, year after year of income that flows into the hands of everyone who owns land and resources the lion's share flowing into the hands of those who we consider quite wealthy. Of course the middle class receives this form of income because they are land owners with homes built on top but even together they are bit players compared to the true monopolists of the earth. And besides most homeowners do not really own their homes and land because they owe such huge sums to banks for the privilege. This is where the financial sector intersects the land question in a big way and it is also the root cause of the so-called housing bubble which as all economists and real estate people know was really a land speculation bubble and not a bubble in the value or cost of houses per se. We are a nation of land speculators along with many other nations including the Chinese who have adopted this virulent part of the so-called free market system. You must also know that the Chinese along with us and other developed nations are grabbling land and natural resource all over the world wherever they/we can and mostly in Africa. So tell me that the economics of land is not absolutely important. The fact of our transition from an agrarian society to an industrial made the land question even more relevant yet no one speaks of it.
The point of all this is that unearned income from land and other sources could be taxed away completely without causing any injustice to any individual or take from them anything of any economic value they had created. Thus there woud be no negative consequences of such taxation except to land speculation, land hoarding and abusing of land for profit. Do you hear this as part of our current debate about taxation? Of course not. Who writes the tax laws and who tells us that economics is too hard to understand?
Economic value is created by labor and the use of real capital (the tools of production) and the income from those two factors of production are earned incomes. Of course capital when monopolized gets an unearned income and needs to be dealt with directly but the vast majority of capital in the hands of the working people and of Main Street is not monopolized and incomes from it are wholly earned. This means the we could call for a shift of taxation off of the earned incomes from labor and real capital and shift it onto community created land and resource values with the obvious benefits to be gained the least of which is that it would drive the energy companies away from their obsession with devastating the earth, the environment and the climate for profit and set them on the road to looking for appropriate technological real income earning activity.
I suggest that until we seriously consider giving up our individual profiting from ownership of the earth and hold the earth as property only for appropriate USE. We do not need to eliminate ownership of land and natural resources nor should we because everyone needs a place to be, live and work. All so-called uneducated and primitive native peoples of the world understand or at least once understood this. The peasants of the world understand this. But we do not so alienated from the earth and its fundmental role in our lives has it become. We have been cajoled into giving it away to our "betters", the feudal lords of yesterday and today. I am not talking about giving up private and exclusive use of land and resources. I am talking about giving up profiting from that ownership so that no one gets an unearned income at the expense of everyone else and so that no one has the incentive to exploit the earth itself merely to collect what they do not create an what they have no legitimate right to. I suggest that we have to renounce it far more completely and from a far deeper place of commitment to the earth and our own survival as a species than any of the calls for changing light bulbs, driving less or buying green products. In my opinion the issue confronting us is not one of lifestyle it is one of whether we are here to share the earth so that we may evolve together or not.
I suggest if we started to seriously consider this openly in this forum and many others that this would get the attention of the powers that be far more than anything that we have done so far with all due respect to the struggles for economic justice of the past and of the Occupy movement now.
Enough said for now.
The earth which sustained us for tens of thousands of years, has been almost entirely destroyed in less than a century of energy "progress."
The destruction of the planet is not progress.
Mark Smith. I agree that destruction of the planet is not progress. Progress is a loaded word so since you have raised the issue by commenting on it what I want to say and convey to you and the forum is that everything we humans consider good or desirable in our culture (thought of as progress) including our economies has the economic effect of increasing the value of land. Land broadly defined in economics includes natural resources and even more broadly defined includes the entire physical universe apart from human beings and what we do and produce. Only a small part of this has been brought under "ownership" by human beings thank God but the part that has, the land and natural resources is incredibly important to our economics and our civilization with mixed results to say the least.
In the case of oil for example the technology that brought us the internal combustion engine and all other machinery and processes (mostly thought of as a good thing even today) that use oil or products refined from it had the effect of making what previously was a worthless gooey mess that when it seeped onto the surface was often thought of as a nuisance. After the technology was developed to make use of what was previously of no economic value suddenly the stuff became valuable and it is worth in terms of our way of valuing it nearly $90 a barrel as of today.
In the case of land when populations increase the value/cost of acquisition of land increases as measured by land rents and sale/purchase price. When people congregate in cities the value of what may have been prairie with no value before people came and what may have been farm land after farmers came sky rockets to $millions per acre or even per square foot.
All I am saying by pointing this out here is that increase of value of land and natural resources is created not by anything individual "owners" of particular pieces of land or resources do but by the effect of the very existence of the entire community of all people and what they/we do and how we produce stuff. As our technology allows us to be ever more productive it along with our numbers increases land values. Community creates land value and individual owners of land do not except as they are equal members of the entire community of all people. This is well recognized by all economists. They just do not speak of it.
This means that the value of land is created 100% by the community of all of us and because that is so that value belongs to us by right of having created it. That means that we could tax this value in the hands of the owners to pay for public services which services themselves have the effect of increasing the value of land somewhere and usually in the specific community where the services are provided. All economists know and agree with this but again they seldom speak of it and it is not part of the discussion about tax policy. Nor do economists or other public intellectuals with few exceptons speak of the fact that the ownership of land and natural resources is highly concentrated in ownership in the hands of the few (the 1% and the next 9%). This means that taxation of community created land values would result in a more progressive tax regime than has ever existed here or anywhere else.
The reason to do this first is because the income and direct economic benefit from ownership of land is unearned in the hands of the owners of land. Unearned as in getting something for nothing, a free lunch, an undeserved subsidy. And second because taxing it does not burden or penalize anything land owners do because they themselves do not create the value of their land. Landowners can be wonderfully productive with their land and receive earned incomes thereby but that does not by itself increase the value of their particular piece of land. Again all economists agree. Further the taxation of community created land values merely takes back for community use the value that community gives to land by provision of public services. This is only just and to leave the community created value in the hands of those of us who do not create it is to give us an undeserved privilege at the expense of everyone who does not own land and in truth at the expense of everyone else whether or not they own land or not. This little understood aspect of simple economics is the cause of much corruption in governments local, state and federal as you can imagine. Remember the bridge to nowhere so famous from the early days of Sarah Palin's emergence on the political scene? Landowners are fond of getting governments to provide services or build infrastructure that make their land more valuable but they/we are not asked to pay if at all any where near the full cost for the service or infrastructure.
In addition the injustice is compounded by taxing people's earned incomes from labor and real capital investment in the real economy to pay for public services. Those of us who create real economic value through our labor and real capital investment are thereby forced to subsidize landowners in general. I myself earn income from work and real capital investment but I also own real estate, land and house, that I rent out and to the extent that I collect land rent that is wholly unearned in my hands. I do pay property tax on that value but mostly I get to put that value in my pocket. I did not earn it but i get to have it anyway. On the other hand I cannot avoid paying taxes on my earned income and I consider that a a form of injustice to me and everyone else who works and is otherwise productive. I am not opposed to paying my "fair share" but taxing unearned incomes/values of this type seems to me to be more than fair and to not tax it seems quite otherwise. Landowners per se as landowners produce nothing and what they/we get is pure extraction out of the community of all people and directly out of the pockets of those who actually are productive. It is as if landowners hold the planet for ransom with some kind of God given right to charge the rest of our kind for access to their/our own home in the universe. Native peoples and landless peasants worldwide understand understand this only too well. We educated and sophisticated ones no longer understand this so alienated have we become from the earth and her sacred land.
What I am saying here is that it makes sense and is economic justice to shift taxation off of earned incomes onto unearned (the kind of unearned income that comes from ownership of an asset whose economic value is created by the community of all people and not just me alone) incomes from land and natural resources. Since unearned incomes of this type are estimated at 1/3 of GNP the shift to this kind of taxation in all the ways that it can be accomplished could pay for every level of government with to spare. We could thereby eliminate all taxation of labor and real capital, eliminate all the negative effects of the current ax regimes so validly complained of by the conservative right, more than enough to fund public services and forever take the profit out of abusing the earth for profit. I am not saying we should or could do this all at once. I am saying that we could head in that direction and would be better off for it. Right now we are not headed in that direction and as far as I can tell we will head in the direction that has already proven to be problematical (although I would vote for a tax increase as currently proposed). Or we will continue to withdraw needed financial support from governments at all levels and suffer untold negative consequences as community and as individuals.
I suggest that the destruction of the earth you so properly keep pointing out to us here, Mark, would either not have happened or would have been remediated as we went along since we would have had adequate public funds to do so. Energy companies that depend for their profits on huge quantities of unearned incomes from extraction of our resources would have not had the incentive to greedily proceed with such operations especially in the face of the environmental and climate damage they were causing. They would have been looking for alternatives and all of that would already be in place today if we had adopte this kind of land tenure and tax policy early on when Henry George first proposed it in the late 19th century. We might not have even needed a political solution which we so far have found to be impossible. We still could do this. I do not know how we will do it as a practical matter of policy otherwise. How can it possibly happen when there is $trillions of unearned incomes to be made by ignoring the issue. I love the spiritual aspect of these discussions but what about policy based on the principles? I am not asking for anyone to drop what they soncider to be the most important issues. I am only asking for you/us to include what makes sense into whatever else you/we are doing. No one has become an economics geek like me to do this. We can work together.
"Right now we are not headed in that direction and as far as I can tell we will head in the direction that has already proven to be problematical (although I would vote for a tax increase as currently proposed)."
With regard to local taxes, you might have an opportunity to vote on them. With regard to federal taxes, at best you have only an opportunity to vote for those who will make that decision in your name, and if they happen to be in a minority, they will not prevail.
I agree that the earth which sustained us for tens of thousands of years before there was any such thing as money or national boundaries, should not be owned by and used for the sole benefit of a few. Ecuador's new Constitution recognizes the rights of nature so that, at least theoretically, extractive industries could no longer make huge swaths of the planet uninhabitable, take their profits, and use the courts to avoid paying any compensation.
I'm glad we are agreed that the survival of the planet is an important issue. You and I are not alone in this. There are significantly large, albeit still fringe groups, also in agreement. Most of them, however, expend much of their efforts trying to persuade those who benefit the most from the current arrangement, to forfeit their own benefits, rather than withdrawing support from the current arrangement so that those who benefit the most from it would not be the ones making the final decisions.
Rather than saying that property is theft, perhaps we should say that the privatization of the commons, without recompense to those who are thus deprived of what nature gave freely to all, is theft.
Mark Smith: Your comment "Rather than saying that property is theft, perhaps we should say that the privatization of the commons, without recompense to those who are thus deprived of what nature gave freely to all, is theft." sums up what I have said in very long winded fashion as a statement of the problem and taxing land values appears to me to be a serious solution if not THE solution. I know that there is no easy acceptance of the idea of taxing land values but the fat that all land values are created by the community and in principle belong to the community as it appropriate source of revenue/income has for me been incredibly in allowing me to see what is really going on and what we are up against. If it has to remain in the realm of theory and potential forever, it still is valuable for these purposes. It also provides an example of what a solution in public policy and in the 3d real world looks like. I do not other such regarding the land question although I think there are some really good solutions for the issue of money.
A balanced ecosystem sustains itself forever. Disrupt it, and it is no longer a balanced system, no longer perpetually self-sustainable. The disruptions we have caused in our ecosystem are driving climate change. They are serious disruptions. Planet-threatening disruptions. Much more serious than any disruptions my mentioning them may cause to the tranquility of delinquents seeking legislative reforms http://www.occupycafe.org/profiles/blogs/legislative-reform-school
Of course there are solutions to money. Money is man-made, unnatural, unsustainable, wholly artificial, and has no intrinsic value other than what may be assigned to it or what it represents. It is a symbol. A flag is a symbol of a nation, but if you are on a desert island with a US flag, you don't have the nation, you just have the symbol. Similarly, you can be on that desert island with a ton of money and no place to spend it.
The land, the earth, our grandmother, should be neither privatized nor taxed--it should be respected, nurtured, and thanked for making our lives possible.
Recently somebody on Twitter mentioned that there's a hugely expensive project being planned to colonize Mars with 80,000 rich people. I think that's a great idea, worth whatever it might cost. Since we are incapable of creating a self-sustaining ecosystem, they would be dependent upon us for supplies, and the only way they could ensure steady supplies from a planet with unstable economies is if they had a weapon with which they could threaten to destroy the earth unless we kept sending supplies. But if they destroyed the earth, we could no longer send supplies--it would be an empty threat. So we'd be ridding the planet of some of it's most dangerous toxic waste and making it possible for billions of people to survive who couldn't if the rich continue to hog most of the planet's resources for their luxurious lifestyles while others starve. I think it could happen, as most rich people are afraid of us, afraid that we might try to take away their wealth, so they'd like to get away and have a gated-planet with total security. I'm very low income, but if somebody tells me where I can chip in to help get rid of 80,000 rich people, I'd be happy to, as I think it is one of the worthiest causes around. Somebody left one of their magazines in my building's lobby today, showing the homes and furnishings of the rich, and just one of them requires the resources of at least 100,000 ordinary people. For one rich person to maintain their lifestyle requires that at least 50 poor people a day starve to death or are killed to free up the natural resources they happen to be living over, without which the rich cannot prosper. The true value of the money that is used to buy a car, TV, cell phone, iPod, or anything else using coltan, is the murder of one or more people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to get that coltan. The money doesn't represent gold, silver, faith, credit, or labor, it represents death. Instead of having to kill somebody to buy an electronic device, I just exchange money for it and somebody else does the killing. Nothing could be more convenient.
So tell me about those really good solutions for the issue of money, Wendell. I always enjoy hearing about creative solutions to gnarly problems. ;)
I hear your frustration Wendell. I have a good deal of my own. I must say I like your ideas and don't have any problems with your story and in fact support it. But, I sense you want more from me (& others).
Should I put my own constructs and insight aside to take up yours?
Would you put yours aside to take up mine? These are probably easy to answer, right? But wait, you can't answer for me Wendell and maybe that's frustrating. It seems quite common among many in the Occupy Movement to not accept that others don't stop doing what they think is important and fully embrace their well-thought-out solution. I've had some problem with this myself. But, to find out why we do this would be some difficult work, wouldn't you agree? Here's a few possible stumbling blocks:
Is one of us superior in some way... or in all ways... or only in the important ways?
When we listen to one another, what do we hear? If I run everything thru my own 'center' to see if it supports me or not, is that really listening? And doesn't this process allow acquisition and retention of false knowledge?
I wonder if you see that all our accumulating knowledge is limited. If that's true it means all our thinking is limited because that's what we use to think, no? If we use our thinking to formulate our questions and answers then mustn't that to be limited too, and hence a contradiction, a muddling, a worsening of the mess? And perhaps most ominous is that "thinking is who I am" and is the basis of self as a center.
Renunciation, that Ben quotes from Shambalha, is an inner and very spiritual act aimed at the elimination of all selfishness in this idyllic village.
Dyck, I find your analysis fascinating.
First, let me tell you I lost the thread between you and Wendell. I’m looking at your statement as it stands alone.
In my first career, I was an engineer, and much of my time was spent talking to other engineers and our clients about engineering projects. Most of our discussions were related to problems. For example, why isn’t something working, or how do we design a component?
Each of us would bring our own experience and knowledge into the discussion. I often had a lot of admiration for someone who might suggest a particularly clever solution, but I can’t remember ever being concerned about whether this person was superior to me. If the question of superiority was ever a “stumbling block,” I wasn’t aware of it.
When we would listen to someone offering a suggestion, we would always evaluate it because that’s why we were listening. We would evaluate using our own experience and knowledge because that’s all we had for making evaluations until we could, if needed, make some tests or do some calculations. I would always run it, in your words, “thru my own ‘center.’” In the back of my mind, I might have been more receptive if the suggestion supported some of my ideas. I don’t think my primary concern was ever whether a suggestion would “support me.” It was always a given that we should leave our egos at home.
Your take on information is definitely at odds with my experience. It is always a given that we have limited information. I don’t remember anyone ever asking whether we had all the information, but I suppose that might be taken to question whether we had all the pertinent information. More often the question was whether we had enough information to make a decision; and, if not, what was lacking.
A discussion with my family about what to do for a vacation is, of course, conducted differently. I always want to know whether a decision supports my wife and each of my children. I can usually tell by the expression on her face whether my wife is being supported. I can’t imagine using written words for such a discussion.
Dyck, in an earlier statement you wrote: “Can there be ANY meaningful change without ourselves changing radically?” I’m trying to tell you (Please don’t read as “TELL you.”) how I typically communicate, especially in writing. In this forum, on this topic, is there a problem with this “engineering” style of communication?