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Posts by Jock

Oxford Green Belt and Land Use Planning: Inefficient, Inequitable, Indefensible.

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From the point of view of hypertension prevention I ought not to have, but for some crazy reason that currently eludes me, I found myself last evening at an event, a “panel discussion”, about the case for a “Green Belt Review” for Oxford. The panel was one councillor from beleaguered, hemmed in city council, one from the only one of the rural districts to have asked for some relaxation of the Green Belt, one senior planning consultant with a firm whose clients include some significant landowners around the city, the director of the local land preservation trust, and to set the scene a city council officer with some facts and figures on slides.

The audience was largely what you would broadly call land use professionals - many planning consultants and planning officers (it was organised by a group called the Thames Valley Young Planners’ Network), a smattering of land agents, a few developers, a few councillors, maybe a couple of civic groups and for some reason, me. I had gone along ostensibly down as Oxfordshire Community Land Trust, but obviously with wider interest from the perspective of land values, and being generally opposed to “Stalinist land use planning” as a councillor colleague used to describe it. 

The council statistician chappy kicked off with some background data showing that Oxford has the worst affordability crisis in the UK, ahead of London, Brighton and Cambridge. Rents account for well over 50% of median household incomes. And with house prices nearly 15 times those same median earnings very few people will be able to afford something with last night’s 4.5 times earnings Bankster of England imposed sledgehammer.  But most telling of all is that given this is a meeting about how planning might solve our problems, it was remarkable that nobody really addressed the fact that “planning” had failed to plan for a recent increase in population and is still trying to catch up from, effectively, the Morris Motors boom years from 1930 to 1970! 

It was also notable that much of the increase in the last two decades has been down to the success of the universities in a globally expanding market. This is a market the Centre for Cities reported a number of years ago ought to mean Oxford should grow to about a million households to take greatest advantage from its global knowledge economy reach. This is also a demographic less likely to be able to settle for the “country towns” strategy of trying to force large scale development in the county out to beyond the outer Green Belt boundary.

The failure of planning to date was highlighted also by the recently completed Strategic Housing Market Assessment which had doubled the amount of housing plots that had to be planned from now till 2031 compared with the Regional Spatial Strategy only completed a few years previously. How could planning have got things so wrong, or perhaps just so different, in four years? They, like many others enamoured of state planning, don’t seem to understand the knowledge problem highlighted so effectively by Hayek in “The Use of Knowledge in Society”.

This ineffectiveness is coupled with inefficiency and is readily apparent when you see how much effort goes into rent-seeking in the planning process. As mentioned, the speaker from the large international planning consultancy firm represents landowners that are set to gain tens of millions of pounds, just for succeeding in persuading the planning authorities to change their land from agricultural to residential use like those in the Vale of White Horse area a couple of months back.

But none of the speakers, not even the Labour councillor speaking up in favour of more building, put their finger on the inequity of it all. Yes, housing “affordability” was mentioned many times, usually with the “solution” that more subsidised housing needs to get built - subsidised by us as taxpayers, not landowners as landowners, who are the main beneficiaries of this protectionism. But even if that does happen it will barely scratch the surface of housing costs for people who fall outside the range of household incomes such subsidy is established to help. Do they not see the fundamental injustice of this? That a planner can with a stroke of a pen make a landowner immensely wealthy, and still turn round and demand you and I subsidise housing for the poorest even as we cannot afford housing for ourselves.

What they have presided over in Oxford for decades now is the shoveling of vast amounts of wealth from the poorest and least well connected to the wealthiest. This itself should be reason enough to abolish the entire edifice, councils and all, for abject failure to prevent this happening to the poorest of who they “represent”. I don’t want these mealy mouthed councillors “trying” any more. Their failure is stark, undemocratic and has exacerbated a near feudal structure to Oxford’s population - of ever more tenants dependent on the wealthy for their housing.

The system is indefensible. Not one person in the room mentioned, in all the talk of the history of Green Belts, that the idea emerged in the same political process as the Attlee government’s imposition of the Planning System which was intended to be accompanied by a Development Land Tax, to capture the increase in land values when permissions are granted for public benefit. Right now we have the antithesis of this - a system that restricts development, starving the multitude, whilst privatising the gains from rent-seeking. When the head of the preservation trust says "we need to preserve...." she seems to have no clue how difficult her sort of preservation makes it for many people just to preserve a decent quality of life and housing. Who is this "we" such people "represent"? Certainly not me. Not the thousands priced out of this part of the country.

Overall, I was left disappointed that nobody there seemed to appreciate these concerns, or at least to voice them.  There was little appetite for open discussion from the floor in any case, so it's difficult to know whether dissenting voices, like mine, were there, but silent, but I’d bet my house (hah!) that if there were much debate, it would have been more of the same - this is the system "we" have and "we" must play the game for the greatest benefit of our clients, none of whom are the dispossessed and overcharged, but the landowners of dubious title, and their desire to profit from this human suffering.

Land use planning, it seems to me, breaches at least two articles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: article 17 for property owners, prevented from doing what they want with their own property, and article 25 for the landless, unable to afford adequate housing even, in many cases, where they make a positive economic contribution that makes this city and its surroundings desirable, internationally. Last night took no steps toward mending those breaches. As Fred Harrison said recently at the ALTER conference here in Oxford, it is a primary example of how our entire political system is built on and perpetuates, for all the pro-people rhetoric from some, a culture of "cheating" from the wholesale looting of our country in feudal times to a neo-feudalism that is an affront to democracy.

A First in What?

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So the results are in, and I just managed to haul my average over 70% to get a First Class Honours classification in my degree. And many people have been asking me “what next?” Well I’d kind of like to work out just what I now have a degree in. Not least because the research for my soon-to-be-published dissertation made me think more about what a degree is about in contemporary higher education.

Ostensibly, of course, my subject was “Economics, Politics and International Relations” and there were a number of reasons for studying it when I did. First, it did seem a little odd to me, having been a governor of the university, not to hold one of its products, a degree. At the time, a former Pro-Vice-Chancellor was retiring, and her story, of having only started her academic career with her first degree, aged fifty, and now retiring at the top of the institution just fifteen years later, inspired me that it was not too late in life. The university was advertising for the first time a course intended from the start to meld economics and politics (as opposed to previously simply taking two separate self-contained fields of economics and politics) and I wanted to support that, having been interested, but never educated, in both economics and politics for a long time.

But most of all, I had come to the conclusion that, in the longer term at least, I wanted out of IT. I’m not a technology whizz-kid, so my only way to progress in IT would be into management, a thought that leaves me cold: with apologies to line managers everywhere! I want to write, about anarchism, freed markets and private law, and a credential looks good on a book jacket. I want to research, and teach, political economy, convinced that nobody should go through a course in politics without understanding some of the economic consequences of their policy recommendations.

So today, I graduate, but in what, I wonder? It’s only in the last few weeks of my studies, as I was researching my dissertation, that it dawned on me that we are generally speaking not being taught specific skills in the subject we chose, as if such a degree prepares us directly for a specific job (and civilization would probably not survive if all 200 or so politics and related students in every university became, er, politicians!). Even less so, perhaps in subjects in which there is much, and rapid, technological change. The so called “relevance half life” of what can be taught in a three year degree is often now too short to make teaching specific skills or ideas that might change before you put them into practice viable.

Enter the concept of “graduate attributes” - generic attributes that it is judged set a graduate apart from poor folk, like me three years ago, who had never been to university. Yes, you demonstrate your aptitude in those attributes through studying, researching and writing about your chosen subject, but it is the graduate attributes, rather than the subject, that many people now regard as the primary output - and conveniently, they allow comparison to be made across academic disciplines and subjects. The previous “learning outcomes” of each programme and module are mapped onto five, in Brookes’ case, core graduate attributes:

a) Academic literacy

Disciplinary and professional knowledge and skills, understanding the epistemology and ‘landscape’ of the discipline, and what it means to think and behave as a member of that disciplinary and/or professional community of practice.

b) Research literacy

Ability to be a critical consumer of research, and also, where possible, to design and undertake at least a small-scale research project in the discipline, using appropriate methodology.

c) Critical self-awareness and personal literacy

Understanding how one learns, the ability to assess the work of oneself and others, and to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses. The ability to organise oneself and perform as an autonomous, effective and independent learner. The ability to relate to other people and function collaboratively in diverse groups, including the development of appropriate interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and adaptive expertise.

d) Digital and information literacy

The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities.

e) Global citizenship

Knowledge and skills, showing cross-cultural awareness, and valuing human diversity. The ability to work effectively, and responsibly, in a global context. Knowledge of global perspectives on how disciplinary knowledge is represented and understood within other cultures; cross-cultural capability beginning with an awareness of our own culture and perspectives and the development of the confidence to question one’s own values and those of others responsibly and ethically; and responsible citizenship, actively engaging with issues of equity and social justice, sustainability and the reduction of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination.

If you are assiduous and carefully read all the module and programme documents, and all the expected learning outcomes of each piece of coursework or exam, the mappings become clearer. And whilst I would not hesitate to tell an undecided potential student to go and do a degree - it really has been the best thing I’ve done I think - I’m not entirely sure that I wasn’t already in possession of most or all of these attributes already, just by virtue of a nearly thirty year career. I can see that for traditional route undergraduates, moving from school to university and then into the world of work, they provide a useful mechanism for “filtering” by employers and others evaluating those graduates, and of course, it provides a piece of paper for me too that confirms I have them, whether or not I had them previously. But how often I am going to be called on to prove it, I’m not entirely sure!

All the same, it’s been a great three years - though I can barely believe it has been three years! I have enjoyed (nearly) every minute of it, and am very grateful for Brookes as an employer giving me the time to do it alongside my day (and night) jobs. I hope everyone enjoys the graduation!

And if you are really keen, and near internet access at 12:30 today, you can even watch it (a link will appear by the 12:30 19th June ceremony in the table shortly before it starts)

An Uncompromising Liberal

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[NB - for my US based readers, "liberal/-ism" should be understood in the European historical sense, rather than the rather general pejorative US term for "left"!]

Liberalism is failing. But all is not lost: it can be resurrected by looking to its 300 year old roots, in the Enlightenment, in England at least, around the time of the “Glorious Revolution”. From the outset, powerful interests frustrated the core idea of equality for all before the law, cementing instead what Fred Harrison calls the “culture of cheating” initiated by the mass expropriation of our country initiated by the Norman Bastard nearly a thousand years ago.

The slow but mostly steady advance through civil, to political and latterly social citizenship for all, as described by liberal sociologist T H Marshall in 1950 (pdf) has, it seems to me, been conducted sufficiently slowly to allow the elite to maintain a vice-like grip on the power that matters, of rent and privilege. Rather than revolutionise society in favour of the mass of its citizens, liberalism so slowly and deferentially implemented has permitted a few to gain access to the same old levers of power once held by the monarchs and their aristocratic chums.  

They may have tried to do a few things differently from their predecessors, but essentially, they have changed very little about the fundamental structures of power. Even if they claim now to wield those levers in the interest of the many, we must see that they remain the levers of privilege and oppression so deeply embedded by our elite masters of old oriented toward their entrenchment not the freedom of the many.

If you think this all a little far fetched, consider, for example, that just 0.3% of the population still owns more than two thirds of all the land in the UK, and a new elite are monopolising the best of the remainder. Many of these trace their roots back to the Bastard's acts of expropriation or to more modern expropriation in other countries, so often facilitated by our example.

Yet even as the landowning aristocracy went into decline in terms of political power, they weren't replaced by some champions of the people, but by Thomas Cromwell's great-great-nephew and his landed gentry. Such dynasties make poor disinterested democrats. They continued to oppress the weakest through enclosures for another nearly two hundred years, creating a dispossessed class that had little choice but to take what they could get in newly emerging industrial cities, sometimes effectively sold into the mills through the parish pauper system, controlled by, yes, those who had thrown them off their means of survival. That's not to say people weren't materially better off because of industrial growth - they clearly were, agrarian society was desperately poor and vulnerable. But they were no more sharing in the benefits of equal citizenship in the mills than their serf forebears, and if they were motivated by desperation arising from illegitimate expropriation it was not a choice.

Nearly 8% of even today's House of Commons are related either to each other or to close preceding generations of parliamentarians (and this applies almost as much to Labour as to Conservative). If there were a "Family Party" of MPs they would be Britain's third largest political party in terms of MPs, ever. And that doesn't even take into consideration remoter relations, such a Penny Mordaunt’s relation to Philip Snowden, or Clegg’s relationship with Russian aristocracy. Nor does it account for the House of Lords, even without the majority of the hereditary peers, mostly superannuated members of the system many of them have monopolised for years between them. This is no real democracy, but a club we plebs are permitted to elect some of the membership of.

In the financial realm today's banks represent a continuous lineage of firms from the time when a bunch of royal favourites decided to force the new King Billy to give some of them a monopoly on dubiously ethical financing of the country's, or rather the monarch's and the mercantilists' wars. Today, playing with money backed by our debt-slavery, they gamble this illegitimate "hot money", as often destructively as beneficially, around the world terrorising weaker nations and their people. 

The commercial regulatory system inherently favours the financial and commercial elites: there are just 6,000 companies in Britain which employ fifty per cent of all private sector workers. Ten CEOs per MP, each with more resources than even many of the wealthiest of our politicians with which to have a concerted effort at influencing them, power and privilege they exercise regularly in their own narrow interests. And between them and the central bank (founded by those seventeenth century royal favourites who helped make Billy the King to extract debt repayments from "his" country) currency inflation continues to ravage the least well connected and least wealthy -c4ss almost as much is recklessly looted from the poorest by even modest inflation as we spend in benefits to keep them barely alive.

One response of liberals, a hundred or so years ago now, to the emergence of the new serfdom in industrial cities was to begin creating a welfare system, both in regulation and in benefits, that even now only just keeps peoples' nostrils above the sewage level, maintains a level of unemployment that ensures wages are kept down, and ensures that getting on by one's own effort is so often a regulatory nightmare. Regulation favours the biggest - it is estimated that the burden of regulation and tax compliance is, proportionate to revenue, sixteen times for a small firm what it costs one of those 6,000 large employers. An important reason there are any efficiencies of scale in the corporate world is the burden of regulation to deal with which larger firms can spread the cost of bloated bureaucracies that contribute little toward the goods or services that firm and the economy as a whole produces. 

Much of that regulation harms the poorest directly in many other ways. Many know about the work of Charles Booth, documenting squalid conditions in working class Victorian London. Yet Herbert Spencer explained how much of this was actually caused by the introduction of building regulations in the mid-century. You guessed in - many of these were excuses to line the pockets of influential materials suppliers, by rules such as outlawing perfectly good, lower cost, Scandinavian timber in favour of well-connected forestry owners who had set up in the more distant and more expensive British colonies. People could no longer afford to build or maintain housing that the working poor could afford. Today, failure to release the pressure-cooker of land values, maintained by the erudite and well connected for their benefit, leads to some of the meanest housing in the developed world, at some of the highest prices.

Today, we see one after another economist and political theorist wailing about the new "precariat", "winner takes all politics" or the "price of inequality", a generation likely to be priced out of housing, or housing costing far too high a proportion of an ordinary family income to be able to provide for their own futures, leaving them again in the new serf class, in hock to those bankers for life and dependent often on handouts and politically driven assistance, paid for by expropriating the meagre resources of the same struggling masses. And for all the complaining that this is because "unregulated markets" are proving to be inefficient and unfair at distributing the benefits of development and growth they seem to willfully ignore the role of that regulation in maintaining inequity before the law by skewing markets in favour of the connected few and frustrating opportunity for the many.

None of this would be conceivable under a stricter Lockean liberalism, if attempts were made genuinely to respect individual freedoms, to make all equal before the law, and to protect justly acquired (and only justly acquired) property - not property derived from the rent seeking of the powerful and connected or the legacy of expropriation by the powerful.

This is why I am an anarchist, or in the words of French 19th century educationalist Emile Faguet, an "uncompromising liberal". I want to have my, and for you to have your, natural birthright back - those freedoms the US and French revolutionaries championed but so often failed to deliver because they established close replicas of the ancien regime in all but name. I reject this contemporary feudalism with its minor tweaks that has continued to create artificial elites by patronage and privilege. As should all liberals.

This institutionalised looting by one group of another will not stop until we can claim back our entire culture from the kleptocratic system created to make status, rather than work and honest contracts, the determinants of success. Traditional, Rigorous Liberalism holds the answer, but it is stifled beneath the well-meaning attempts to fix its own failures over recent centuries. 

This should be a manifesto that any liberal could get behind. But to do so, many will need to shed their faith in a system designed from the start to oppress them, to create inequity that has changed remarkably little. One really only need watch the extraordinary, quasi-religious, worship of the symbols of that ancien regime still present in our society, such as Wednesday's monarchical condescension to allow our "representatives" to start a new year's work, to see how at its core, the Bastard's conquest is still at the heart of our system. It is no liberalism that I recognise.

Now, more than ever, we need a more Rigorous Liberalism

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Whilst this was never intended to be a post-mortem on the European and local elections, the decline in vote share of liberal parties across Europe seems to emphasise the need for liberals to do something different. 

The UK Labour party keeps popping up with what seem like populist, on the hoof, policy announcements about the “cost of living” but so far it has not been apparent that they understand the reasons behind the worst of the problem, let alone found solutions that will do anything other than hamfistedly make it worse.  The Tories (sadly in some cases with the support of Liberal Democrats in coalition) have focussed on a sort of austerity that makes the poorest weaker because they’re doing nothing to address these costs of living, and are presiding, on the contrary, over increasing costs as they pump up property bubbles in what are already the most expensive places in the country and much of the benefit of “economic recovery” appears to go to the have mores rather than the have nots.

Only by going back to distinctively radical liberal roots, principles and values can we reconcile these problems, of cost of living, and a need to trim the size of the state under constant pressure from global forces. Step forward what I have been calling for a number of years now “Rigorous Liberalism”. The core idea of Rigorous Liberalism is that by embracing “austerity” in those areas in which the state’s actions actually increase the cost of living we can have both a smaller state with a freer and fairer society, on a more level playing field and with lower costs of living for all.

Think of it this way: a person or household may be unable to afford a decent standard of living, either because prices for essential needs are about right and their incomes are artificially low so they aren’t able to afford them, or their incomes are about right but prices are artificially inflated so, once again, they cannot afford them. But we don’t even know who, in an ideal world, would still need some help to afford a decent standard of living while either of these conditions exist - artificially depressed incomes or artificially elevated prices. In fact, throughout much of our system, people are hit with a double whammy - both artificially depressed incomes AND artificially elevated prices.

The aim of Rigorous Liberalism is to eradicate these artificial distortions on both sides, reducing costs and increasing incomes. Contrast this, for example, with Labour’s ideas, drawn from the work of academics such as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, which seek to force up wages through regulations such as minimum and living wages, whilst more or less accepting that market prices are about right. This creates even more artificial distortions, even if, at the outset, the intention is to “fix” one of the possible problems, of depressed wages. And if they think that market prices are too high, they don’t look to the causes, but reach for the sledgehammer to try and force them down, as with their recent proposed tenancy charges caps.

In the UK for instance, a thousand years of state interventions have piled on top of each other to cause immense distortions in what should be a much more equitable natural distribution of resources. From the Bastard Norman and the sex mad Henry doling out vast tracts of lands to favourites who largely still hold them today, to intervention in the monetary system that makes so much of what we spend more expensive through embedded interest. 80% of households (link to PDF) will be net interest payers all of their lives, whilst the 9th decile will just about break even and the top decile are the only ones who will be net interest recipients.

Protecting professions has created an economic rent in law, in medicine, teaching, and public administration that today still see almost dynastic monopolies in some of these areas, increasing the costs of obtaining justice when something does go wrong. I saws recently that a depression era Federal law in the United States allows the Department of Agriculture seize sometimes up to half of a raisin crop with no compensation in order to maintain high prices - supposedly to benefit the farmers, but they’re the ones whose crops get stolen, whilst at the same time maintaining a floor on the price paid by consumers.

Now I hear you all moan that this is me just going on an anti-state rant, and it is true, I do believe we can live more prosperously and equitably without a state, but that’s because of the vast privilege that state power doles out, not because I want the poorest to starve (as they still do even though we pay 5/12 of our incomes in the UK to stop that happening through taxes). I will always say that a genuinely free market, offering choice, mutual benefit in transactions, and the dignity of being able to pay one’s own way whenever possible, is deontologically superior to coercive state intervention. 

There’s nothing illiberal about that, and the Liberal Democrats even enshrine that in their constitution, though sometimes you wouldn't know it from our policies. Indeed it should be a liberal policy making style first to investigate why existing markets are distorted, and in very many cases we will find that it is some prior intervention, meant to solve an earlier problem, that has caused a contemporary problem that rather than piling on more coercive measures to fix, should be eradicated at source. And that is what “Rigorous Liberalism” aims to do. Government are elected, if at all, by the people, as citizens, individual citizens, to work in their interests. But far too often they act in the interests of producers, propping up prices, favouring some with vast state contracts, maintaining a pool of unemployed labour with the result of keeping wages artificially low and so on.

There needs to be a framework for analysing any apparent social/welfare need, or situation where seemingly the market is not efficient, to work out whether the state is involved in creating that inefficiency in the first place. If so policy makers should be ruthless about eradicating that effect, not merely adding to it with new welfare programs. Over the next few weeks I shall be writing more about this, and launching a new site to collect aspects of “Rigorous Liberalism” together.

This should be the real “new politics of welfare capitalism”, and it should not shrink from slaying some sacred cows whenever they are part of the problem - big cows too: the land monopoly, the money monopoly, protectionism and intellectual property were identified over a century ago by the likes of Henry George and US Mutualists as the biggest distortions that keep the poor poor. It is only when we have cleared out these distortions as much as possible that we can really tell just how much we need to support the poorest in society and how. Because ignoring them and letting both distortions and interventions get ever bigger is unsustainable and fundamentally illiberal, involving as it does ever more coercion and collectivisation, monopolisation and loss of choice, especially on the part of the weakest in society more reliant on those state interventions just to keep their heads above water.

In fact, our basic rights, liberal rights, to equality of treatment before the law, protection of justly acquired property and so on, are being trampled on every day these state created distortions exist. It must be a significant plank of policy for anyone who claims to put the individual welfare ahead of the state and corporations to unwind these distortions as far as possible. Rigorous Liberalism is the true "predistribution" that some of us in land and monetary reform circles have been talking about since long before Pierson and Miliband co-opted the term in recent debate, making sure that a just distribution of welfare is produced as far as possible before even the redistributive interventions of the state.

As one of my inspirations in free market anarchism puts it:

...coercive state policies are not necessary to remedy the evils of present-day capitalism. All these evils--exploitation of labor, monopoly and concentration, the energy crisis, pollution, waste--result from government intervention in the market on behalf of capitalists. The solution is not more government intervention, but to eliminate the existing government intervention from which the problems derive. A genuine free market society, in which all transactions are voluntary and all costs are internalized in price, would be a decentralized society of human-scale production, in which all of labor's product went to labor, instead of to capitalists, landlords and government bureaucrats.


Don’t blame me for refusing to participate in institutionalised violence!

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In the aftermath of these recent elections I hear many people blaming those of us who didn't vote for letting nasty people get elected. Burke's famous, but misattributed, quote about good people doing nothing and so on is being trotted out.

How very dare you! Blaming people like me who refuse to participate in what we see as an act of aggression against our fellow human beings. For the record, I did traipse along to my desultory designated polling place, intending fully to do my usual of writing some pithy version of "I do not consent" - though with a ballot paper that long, there would have been plenty of space for an essay rather than a pithy phrase! As it happens, I had been disenfranchised, probably by a colleague warden picking up the annual canvas letter and thinking it was only for them registereing only themselves meaning the ERO thought I had gone. But I went, and though my spoiled ballot would have made absolutely no difference, I would have registered my protest.

But stop and think about it for a while. Voting is an act of violence. If I were to come round to your house and demand that if you don't give me some money for my pet cause I will let myself in anyway and take some, and if you resist I will kidnap you and keep you in a cage for a while until you've learned your lesson, it would be an outrage, a criminal act. Yet that is what "democracy" asks us to do in institutionalised form. Hiding behind a secret ballot, you side with a big gang that not all of us agree with, and if you get just a nose ahead of everyone else, your gang wins and somehow we think what they then do, to everyone, regardless of whether they supported them or not, has some legitimacy.

As an anarchist, I believe in what we usually call the "Non-Aggression Principle". Voting, it seems to me, even "defensive" voting - trying to keep the gang you most dislike out of power - breaches that principle. What this means in policy terms, for example, is that if I perceive some need, social, welfare, economic or whatever, that looks like it needs some fixing, I may not assume that I have a right to demand you have to contribute to that solution against your will, and especially not by ganging up against you and your opinions.

Franz Oppenheimer, a German sociologist of the early twentieth century, and a "classical liberal" who nevertheless was a supporter of some aspects of the then relatively new social liberalism, wrote (pdf):

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one's own labour and the forcible appropriate of the labour of others...I call one's own labour and the equivalent exchange of one's own labour for the labour of others, the "economic means" for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labour of others will be called the "political means."...The state is an organization of the political means.

So, you participate in institutionalised violence and robbery if you wish. I can no longer justify it, seeing it for what it is. But don't blame me if that violence works against you every so often. 

One Right to Rule Them All?

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Continue reading at Jock's OXFr33? Blog - Thoughts, and occasionally Confessions, of Jock Coats, Citizen of Headington …

Strange visitors

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Every so often I trawl through the access logs for this site. It's interesting to see what the few people who visit are reading.

But sometimes there are some weird ones.  There's been one visitor, from Oxford, who has frequently visited over the past year or so, often around election times, searching for "Ruth Wilkinson". Why, I'm not sure. I suppose I might be one of the few Lib Dem members who blog in East Oxford where Ruth is a councillor. But if you ask me, it's a bit creepy. And I know partisan keyboard warriors used to trawl my blog when I was actively participating in local politics, trying to dig dirt, so I assume it's the same sort of LabGreTories with too much time on their hands an a leaflet to fill or something.

So, if this is you, I have a message: Of course I welcome your reading my blog, and I hope you enjoy it (even if you have read almost exclusively the same article dozens of times), but I *very* rarely write about Oxford, let alone Lib Dems in Oxford, and particularly individuals. I suspect you are wasting your time, whatever scurrilous information you are hoping to find!

But make yourself known and I can surely put you in touch with Ruth. But no doubt you know how to do that already.

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The Poor Man of Old Europe?

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I only vaguely remember in the late seventies people referring to Britain as the "Sick Man of Europe"

For some reason I found myself needing to lookup British Gross National Income just now, and it struck me just how far down what one might call "old Europe" we are. Of the nine members in the EEC when we joined in 1973, we ranked 8th in 1980, and guess what, we "languish" in 8th still today.  Of the "EU15" that were members in 1995, we ranked 10th in 1995 and we've dropped one, to 11th, today. Mind you, in 1980 we had lower GNI per capita than Greece!

Overall, including Norway, Iceland and Switzerland as well as the EU members, in 1980 we ranked 15th of the 31 countries in the sample, in 1995 we had moved up to 13th. I compared also the year of the start of the main Central and Eastern Europe EU expansion, and there in 2004, we are up in 7th place overall before "crashing" back to 13th in 2012. 

And as you do, I started adding other data to my set, and looking at measures of income and wealth inequality, on the GINI Index of income inequality we rank 10th across Europe, with a GINI Index of 34.0, a full ten points above Denmark and ahead even of Switzerland.

But talking of Denmark, which we often think of as quite an ideal egalitarian society generally as their income inequality rank shows (it's the lowest in the world), when you look at their wealth inequality GINI coefficient they are the third most unequal country in the world, after only Namibia and Zimbabwe. I wonder if that figure is correct? Digging a little deeper, in the paper from which the list was derived, I see it says that indeed, in Denmark, the wealthiest 10% of the population own 76.4% of national wealth. That seems incredible. What accounts for that? Sweden is third highest in Europe after Denmark, and less surprisingly perhaps, Switzerland.

Anyway, so I just thought, I know poverty is not a sickness, but if we were the sick man of Europe back when we were 8th of 9 members, are we not still when we are 8th of the same 9 today? Our inequality is third highest of the nine for income (behind Italy and Ireland) and also third highest for wealth (behind Denmark and France). I guess that's a kind of a double whammy of inequality for Britain then.

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Schedule A Tax

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Just a quickie, as the bisho...

I often hear people claim, in arguing against Land Value Tax, something along the lines of "Britain has a long history of not taxing something that doesn't involve a transaction" or also "Britain has never taxed personal property  that has already been paid for by taxed income" and so on.

Well I call bullshit on those claims.

Setting aside the claim by Richard Cobden (in 1945 1845 during debates on the Corn Laws) that...

"For a period of one hundred fifty years after the [Norman] Conquest, the whole of the revenue of the country was derived from the land. During the next one hundred and fifty years it yielded nineteen-twentieths of the revenue. For the next century down to the reign of Richard III it was nine-tenths. During the next seventy years to the time of Mary it fell to about three-fourths. From this time to the end of the Commonwealth, land appeared to have yielded one half of the revenue. Down to the reign of Anne it was one-fourth. In the reign of George III it was one-sixth. For the first thirty years of his reign the land yielded one-seventh of the revenue. From 1793 to 1816 (during the period of the land tax), land contributed one-ninth, from which time to the present [1845] one-twenty-fifth only has been derived from the land. ...Thus, the land which anciently paid the whole of taxation paid now only a fraction. ...The people had fared better under the despotic monarchs than when the power of the state had fallen into the hands of a landed oligarchy who had first exempted themselves from taxation, and next claimed compensation for themselves by a corn law for their heavy and peculiar burdens."

If that weren't proof enough (because, say, some of that land tax was paid in men to die for the monarch etc) there is still Schedule A tax on imputed rent for corporations, and it was only abolished on private residential owner-occcupied housing in 1963.

Now imputed rent for the whole property is not LVT. It is more like Council Tax but based on the amount you would have spent in occupancy costs for an equivalent house if you weren't in the one you owned.  But it lasted throughout the various "income tax" regimes of Pitt, Addington, Peel, Disraeli and Gladstone right up till 1963 apart from those short periods when the entire income tax was abolished for short periods (it had never been intended to be permanent, but useless politicians, even in the 19th century, were clearly as good as Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg at keeping promises when their other projects suited them).

LVT would be more economically efficient as it would not tax the value of the capital "improvements" (usually buildings but could be investment in agricultural technology to improve otherwise lower yielding land) and so place a deadweight loss on investment in such improvements, and would only tax the bit that owners really haven't paid for - the increases (or decreases) in the value of a particular location (which are predominantly created by the many public and to a lesser extent private investments that create the "amenities" listed in your estate agent's sales-spiel).

So those of you whose primary objection to LVT is some silly romantic fiction that "and Englishman's home has never been taxed" or some such, you have been rumbled and called liars. Prove me wrong?

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