The New Start Scotland Conversation

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We will all be asked to help foot the bill for whatever measures our politicians enact to battle the virus. So let’s all have a conversation about the Scotland we want to see emerging from the crisis.

We don’t have to go back to business as usual after the Coronavirus crisis. By validating our government’s rightful claim to the rents of Scotland’s land and natural resources, a replenished Public Purse would provide all the funding necessary and more to renew not only our economy, but also Scottish society, Scottish culture and each Scottish community – a proper new start!

See our new booklet here New Start Scotland is up to us...

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13 thoughts on “The New Start Scotland Conversation

  1. Just as an addendum to my previous post these talks may be of interest. They mainly concern the problem of inequality and how this blocks efficient and fair democracy and economics. In effect, and in particular the talk on democracy, shows that politicians are picking voters not the other way round and nothing will change in this broken democracy until a small and fundamental law that could happen tomorrow, is put in place to create a fairer and more equitable society. Although, in this case, the location is the USA, this political and economic model is global. Here’s the talk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJy8vTu66tE. This on economics – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th3KE_H27bs from Nick Hanauser, a self-confessed member of the elite richest 1%.

    I add these because we, and any man or woman, politician or economist with a modicum of intelligence knows that AGR works. It has worked in history and it will work again. It is the fundamental root of an equitable and productive society enabling the opportunity of prosperity for everyone. I have asked myself over and again why AGR, which is a win win situation for everyone, is not implemented with all speed? And I am coming to the conclusion that it is this so-called broken democracy and false economics, that is structured for the purposes of financial, political and social control, that needs to change. And although this seems like a daunting task, (and here’s my naivety again), I think the right people are ready for it. I think if the right connections are made by lobbyists of AGR things could start happening quickly.. With the prospect of a dystopian future brought about by the current pandemic, AGR may well be the ground zero for greater good in the aftermath of our broken society.

  2. Government itself can often be the stumbling block for any kind of reform, radical or otherwise. Forgive me if this seems a little naive but to me both the reason and the solutions are clear. Politicians are far too wealthy. How can a man who is a millionaire ever be able to empathise with those who struggle to live. The background of many in power is private education among a privileged peer group often involving gender separation, very unhealthy in my view, but that’s another subject altogether and not one I want to go into here.

    The point is that politicians should be paid a simple annual income. They should be prohibited from having any financial involvement with private companies and corporations whatsoever. Campaign funds from organisations (which are ostensibly “cloaked bribes”) should be strictly forbidden. The party system should be abolished altogether. Only in this way can politicians, whose remit is simply to represent the best interests of the people, remain uncompromised and objective with a modicum of empathy for the plight of the common man. It begs the question whether or not the ten years of austerity would ever have been implemented had a fairer political structure been in place.

    Back in April 2018 the Guardian reported nine cabinet ministers earning more than £10,000 a year as landlords. Part of that investigation was the disclosure of Jeremy Hunt buying and renting out seven luxury apartments. He was forced to make an apology for not registering this business interest with Companies house and the parliamentary register. Such is how blazey they can become flouting the law with impunity. Teresa May, Philip Hammond rented our their personal homes whilst living in Downing Street, Chris Grayling rented out two properties. Even Boris Johnson and others were on the rent-seeking game! Read the full article here – https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/13/pm-among-cabinet-members-earning-money-as-a-landlord.

    I just don’t see how any political structure can function without stringent rules for politicians against collusion, self-interest and the pursuit of personal wealth. This must change if we are to establish a new and equitable society. A different breed of politician, not from the halls of academe at Eton, Harrow and Gordonstone but new leaders, men and women from the rank and file of life, who have been poor and worked hard and know the bitter taste of inequality and repression. I can only quote Julian Treasure’s TED talk where he uses the word “HAIL” to project four attributes that would actually make a great new-age politician. H – Honesty, be clear and straight. A – Authenticity – be yourself, don’t hide, shrink or pretend. I – Integrity – be your word, keep your word. L – Love, wish them well, represent them well. This would be a good start.

  3. I’m currently writing a book on human evolution (What’s Sex Got To Do with It? Darwin, Love, Lust and the Anthropocene) and have lifted this piece, almost verbatim, from those pages. Heather Remoff

    The ability of humans to symbolically control a disproportionate share of the commons in nature interferes with the right of every person to enjoy access to the material resources necessary to sustain life. This is the inequity at the heart of both our careless use of the planet and our growing economic inequality. We must employ the very skill with symbols that brought us to the crisis point in order to make sure that nobody is any longer allowed to get away with this kind of robbery. There is a way to guarantee that humans practice the same capacity to share and provide as that demonstrated by the various “races” of Juncos and the other creatures with whom we share the planet. We can do this while we fairly compensate individuals for their productive and innovative efforts. In point of fact, the system I propose would no longer allow increases in productivity to be siphoned off by the rent-seekers among us and would guarantee that those actually doing the work would reap the rewards. We need productivity. We need innovation. What we don’t need is behavior that enables some of us to get rich in our sleep while others have to work night and day simply to stay alive. It’s easy to state the solution. Charge resource rents any time anyone consumes a piece of the commons in nature. Call them users’ fees, call them taxes, call them resource rents. (I like Fred Harrison’s “Citizens’ Rent Dividend”). Except as a marketing device that facilitates support for the philosophy, the nomenclature is less important than the implantation of the practice. Call them what you will, just get busy figuring out how to put these policies in place. You pollute the air, you pay. You dump mercury into the water, you pay. You ravage virgin forests, or over-fish the rivers, streams, and oceans, you pay. You occupy a plot of land that someone else might also want to use, you pay. You control electromagnetic frequencies in ways that make them unavailable to others, you pay. You litter the Earth’s atmosphere with space “junk,” you pay. And yes, those in the extractive industries would pass those charges on to the ultimate consumers of the product. And yes, that would make those products more expensive. And yes, that burden would be more acutely experienced by those at the lower end of the economic ladder. There is a way around this. These fees would be remitted to the government in the same way that we now remit other taxes. In order to offset the unfair burden placed on those who already struggle to get by, they would qualify for remuneration through a process similar to the one that qualifies low income workers to receive an earned income tax credit. The amount of this credit would be determined by a calculation of the communal value of the resource made possible by nothing other than the bounty provided by nature or—in the case of land—by location and public investment and as the result of improvements to surrounding property by the landowner’s neighbors. In other words, landowners would be allowed to keep increases in value that they themselves created, while any increases in value that resulted simply from a combination of location and investments of others would be returned, through taxes on land, to the public that created them.

    In a perfect world, this system would have been in place from the very beginning. In a perfect world, this return on resource rents would be distributed equally to every single citizen. The state of Alaska already does this with their Alaska Permanent Fund. Every citizen receives a yearly rebate based on the value of rent flowing from the oil extracted that year. Eventually, this is how the more comprehensive collection and distribution of resource rents would function. However, the existing inequities in wealth that have been created by allowing the private ownership of a public good are already so extreme that until those have leveled off, I find it appropriate to adjust the amount of the distribution in accordance with the need of the recipients. Once the system is fair and has corrected for the unearned advantage accruing to private ownership of the commons in nature, then an equitable distribution similar to that practiced in Alaska is the ideal model. Simply by being born, a person has qualified for the right to share in Earth’s bounty. Remember, economic rent is unearned income that flows to the title holder based on nothing more than the exclusionary nature of his “ownership.” The total dollar amount of these rents is determined by calculating the value of all the natural resources in the world and then collecting the portion of that value that results from monopolistic privilege. It may take a while to reach the point where we view all human beings as part of a truly global community. Until we get to that understanding, resource rents would be determined according to national boundaries and distributed among those living and working within the geographic region. The dollar amount of the economic rents flowing from natural resources is enormous, potentially enough to fully fund government while also providing every human with a Guaranteed Basic Income.* The goal is to eliminate all other taxes in favor of collecting only the economic rent associated with monopoly holdings. Economic justice doesn’t happen overnight, but by continually holding the vision of a fair system in mind we will eventually achieve our goal. Having a conceptual understanding of the necessary components will keep us on track by providing a model against which to measure our progress.

  4. Scotland should set up a permanent basic income, but people with jobs shouldn’t have to pay for people without jobs.

    Rather than raising economy-damaging taxes on jobs, businesses or sales, the basic income should be financed by economic rent capture.

    Economic rent is the unearned income that accrues to land and resources, revenue from the rental of the commons. Everyone has a right to their share of this wealth, which makes it a perfect way to finance a basic income.

    Unless funded by economic rent capture, basic income programs will be self-defeating, they will become a subsidy to landlords who will raise rents to match the rise in incomes of the working poor. (Importantly, land value taxes cannot be passed on to tenants.)

    As a bonus, economic rent capture benefits the economy since it removes incentives for speculation leaving capital no alternative but to invest in the job-rich productive economy.

    1. We agree Frank. Once the damage of the past is repaired (which will absorb all the economic rent for quite a while!) we can see the logic of a UBI to help distribute the surplus fairly back into the economy. But Fred Harrison urges that the dividend be called something like “Citizens’ Rent Dividend” to help prevent our countries from being plunged back into institutional inequality. Such a name would remind us all of our right to a share of the economic rent and help us guard the shared rent principle against the forces that will inevitably line up (the rent-seekers) doing all in their power to again privatise socially produced wealth. Were such a dividend to drop in value, we’d all want to know why!

  5. I would like to learn from Bryan Kavanagh how he explains for defines MMT (i.e., Modern Monetary Theory). There seems to be no cohesive set of ideas put forward to replace the existing system of (in most countries) central bank created legal tender backed by nothing tangible, then used to “invest in” government securities that generate interest income to the central bank.

    It has always seemed to me that if all rents are appropriately treated as community or societal wealth, then the monetized exchange value of rents is the rightful limit of money that can be publicly generated. This should not prevent an individual or group of individuals from creating a private bank issuing receipts for, say, gold and silver coins of a standard weight and measure, that are held on deposit by the bank. No one would be required by law to accept these receipts in exchange for goods or services, but they would certainly have an exchange value based on the changing exchange value of the precious metals of which the coinage is composed.

  6. It is very exciting to read about what SLRG is doing, not only for Scotland but for land value re-collection in the U.S. Our President is forced in this twin health/economic pandemic to implement measures no conservative politician would ever contemplate, and so far what would be considered “leftist” a short 4 weeks ago is now considered reasonable – to name a few, we have health coverage for the uninsured, and the paying of unemployed workers to stay at home! Our opportunity is coming during this 2Q20 when rental housing operators demand a bailout for their speculative-land-value-weighted mortgages while at the same time demanding many of their 40 million tenants to pay their housing rent on time – thereby doubling the injustice of revenues going for land speculation. The logical political demand is to have the federal government (that insures those mortgages) modify the rental housing operator’s mortgages to cover just building value, thereby reducing the periodic mortgage payment of the operator and in turn reduce the burden of tenants of their monthly housing rent payment. A big win-win-win, and hopefully a surreptitious foot in the door for a more permanent approach to municipal revenue post-pandemic. Of course the provision of infrastructure services through capital and operational spending would be the next thing on our plates. What we are seeing is a crack in the political cover story, and an opportunity to bring reason in this period of grief and confusion.

  7. Agree, folks. The worst scenario would be for the world to emerge from the period of the pandemic without having a major economic reset. I was speaking to my daughter on the ‘phone an hour ago: she concluded by asking about the chances of she and her husband buying their own home in the next few years: “The way things are going might provide an opportunity, at last?” I agreed. But simply to return to square #1 is no recovery. That’s not an option. The alternatives need to include: land value ‘taxation’; modern monetary theory (it’s not at all ‘modern’ for governments to spend on essential services, and the spending is not out of some mythical pot of taxation) and; a universal basic income. They should all be on the table if tax regimes are to serve people instead of fostering asset price bubbles: another contagion! Ten years ago in Australia, we had ‘Australia’s Future Tax System’ (colloquially “The Henry Tax Review) which recommended the abolition of more than 100 taxes, the introduction of an all-in land tax, and a resource ‘super-profits’ tax. That might help, but it would only be a ‘start’. So, if we are to remedy our economic viruses, let’s trust the times are stirring enough for people to overcome the cultural standoff you mention, Mark?

  8. As an American with some Scottish blood running through my veins, I am heartened to learn that the effort to bring justice and equality of opportunity to Scotland is being reinvigorated. The removal of landed privilege from Scotland (and all nations) must be understood by the people as a fundamental and long-overdue systemic reform. Common sense ought to tell us that access to the earth is the birthright of all persons, equally. Claiming exclusive rights to control what nature provides to us free of charge is at best what John Locke would describe as an economic privilege, justice requires that the beneficiaries compensate the community for the economic advantage enjoyed. I should not need to explain this to Scots, as there is a long list of thoughtful Scots who have since the era of Adam Smith been saying the very same thing.

    My forefathers left different European countries for much the same reason: a chance for a better life. They came from Scotland, England, France and Belgium, settling in various parts of the northeastern United States but moving inland until finally residing in the region near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. They certainly endured hardships as they struggled to find employment, raise families and acquire property. My forefathers with the Dodson or Ross surnames entered the building trades as carpenters, and many members of my own generation continued in that trade. My Belgium-born grandmother worked on the family farm until she married my France-born grandfather, who learned to cook in the French army and in the United States became a highly regarded chef.

    As with the majority of people who came to the United States, my great-grandparents and grandparents aspired to own their own home. Already by the late 1800s, one of the obstacles they faced was the rising cost of land. When we in the United States celebrate the generation of the founders who by war and sacrifice achieved independence from Great Britain, we pay little attention to their role as major speculators in the land won by warfare, warfare that also involved the decimation of tribal societies incapable of effective resistance.

    Immigrants and the generations who came afterward helped to build thousands of communities that grew into cities with hundreds of thousands or millions of people. And, all this happened in a remarkably short time. What concerned many thoughtful people was the speed with which cities here in the United States began to look and feel like many cities in the Old World that people felt compelled to escape from. Reform movements arose everywhere, demanding the governments intervene. And, in many parts of the world governments have intervened to mitigate the worst social and economic conditions prevalent even into the 1950s and 1960s.

    What the Scottish Land Revenue Group is calling for is not mitigation but transformation. All thoughtful Scots ought to get behind this system-changing effort.

  9. There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about heather burning banned on moors, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/04/grouse-shoots-scrapped-as-heather-burning-is-banned-on-moors). The knee jerk reaction from owners of large estates is to threaten legal action. This is predictable. The burning of heather, ostensibly carried out to clear the way for grouse proliferation and profit is environmentally destructive in every way, there is no defense for it.

    My point here is that land owners in this country can be a force to be reckoned with. And until they see some proof of sustainability for their livelihood without diluting their income or worse, “sharing with lesser men”, Holyrood may be challenged to make the change. I am all for it. But the real question here is do politicians really understand the full and detailed implications of AGR? Do they have clear examples of effective implementation? And, how long will the implementation take? What preparations need to be made? How disruptive will it be to our current lives in the initial transitionary period? How will small and medium sized businesses be affected in terms of their day to day lives?

    I think it is interesting to hear about massive dead weight losses from the existing tax system, but there is a cultural issue to contend with. Henry Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It may well be true that the common man has his lot and makes the best of it. And though someone knocks on his door and says, ” I know a way your life can improve, you’ll have more money in your pocket, you won’t pay any more tax, and you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself.” Likely, he may be interested, but always with change there is an element of “fear of the unknown”. He may be thinking, “This may disrupt my life! How long will it all take? What do I have to give up? Perhaps I should keep things the way they are! “Better a devil I know, than a devil I don’t know!”

    I agree that from the current pandemic may spring a vital opportunity for a structural change in tax law. But implementing it is going to need focused, strategic and practical planning for all demographics to make such a huge change acceptable. And this should begin right now.

  10. If ever there was a time for the “wisdom of the crowd” to reveal itself, it’s now. Covid-19 has revealed one of the flaws in governance – the failure to plan for future crises. Citizens undertake that planning: it’s called “insurance”. With the future so uncertain, we need governments to act with similar prudence. And where better to start than in Scotland? This conversation could be the start of a new Scottish Enlightenment!

  11. Scotland needs this bold call for a new start. The SLRG calls for and explains the one reform that would be truly transformational.

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