How to Effectively Make Dreams Come True

Be A Visionary

“I have a dream that… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

Martin Luther King’s speech was ‘I Have a Dream’, not ‘I Have a Plan’. There is a secret to inspiring people the way MLK did, a magic that you can possess and be a part of with enough focus.

A vision is the constitutive feature of a force of change. A movement is the collective behavior resulting from an idea that persuades people to work toward a common goal. The most important feature of a movement is the communication of that vision in such a way that it galvanizes and coordinates action. When that happens, people spontaneously work together, like once randomly-strewn iron filings suddenly aligning around a magnetic field.

Once the vision is perfectly communicated, the right action becomes obvious and spontaneous.

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Where Groups Go Wrong

In a 2015 survey of over 900 non-profit boards, researchers at Stanford University concluded that the primary thing these boards should do to achieve their goals is to first define them. The failure to do so is the primary reason for failure. Indeed, by definition, a goal can not be accomplished if it is not defined. This may seem obvious, but very intelligent people have great difficulty in grasping its ramifications. For example:

An NGO with a beautiful and charismatic director obtained a great deal of outside funding without thoroughly defining the organization’s vision. This director had figured out how to tell wealthy donors what they wanted to hear, regarding curbing climate change. Even while believing that she was making progress, she was flexible on every issue and, in truth, optimized her activities for one thing and one thing only -money.

There was no guiding principle. The result was a 300 percent increase in donations, millions of dollars, in a very short period of time. Yet, everyone in the organization was racking their brains as to what to do with all of the funds. They knew they want to do ‘good’ but in the absence of a vision, there was a great deal of inertia and very little focused action. Despite the funds, the organization went bust in a few years. They had assumed that having more money than they knew what to do with was a good problem to have. But as the rapper Notorious B.I.G once said “Mo money mo problems.” [sic]

A famous philosopher, who will also remain anonymous, with many very technical and detailed philosophical ideas, dreams of just having enough to host low-budget conferences for coalition-building. Faced with the decision of how to envision the results of these conferences, what those in his coalition would realistically do to further the vision, he quickly becomes overwhelmed and depressed. To regain a sense of progress and improve his mood, he tries to focus on small things he can do without having to face the tough questions. He longs for a strong-willed individual out there who can move mountains, much like the charismatic director mentioned above. He falls into the trap of believing that money is the limiting factor in getting his ideas off the ground when in reality it’s his lack of vision that fails to attract funding.

He removes the possibility of receiving the help of a go-getter by failing to accept that no progress can occur without a clear vision. Conversations with these would-be empowered leaders quickly turn from the overall vision back to tactics, almost imperceptibly. Would-be volunteers, supporters, leaders, etc go along executing random tasks in the hopes that things will get better, but that is impossible. Vision is being unconsciously avoided by the person with the authority to make decisions. Subordinates of all types are less likely to be able to articulate a vision themselves, but even if they were, they would not have the necessary authority, in association with our philosopher at least, to set that vision.

Another group is a foundation with a sizeable corpus which aims to achieve a particular social reform. However, it is afraid to focus its energies on a particular strategic outcome. Its board knows the policy change it would like to create in the world, but when asked to think strategically about influencing outsiders with political or cultural influence, the conversation quickly devolves into one about tactics, aesthetic preferences, personnel, and other considerations that can only be answered definitely in light of a strategic vision.

One philosophy among the board is that the foundation should be considered a family or a social club. Those receiving funds should be paid to be who they are because there are not many advocates out there and they need support. Those advocating the position are not intentionally harmful or nepotistic; their actions flow from a desire to treat these advocates with decency and respect. They are, however, misguided. Another philosophy that is prevalent is that this group should act diffusely, actively resist focus, and try a bit of every tactic. The idea is ‘who knows what will ultimately work? A shotgun approach is likely to be the best one.’ These vague perceptions reinforce one another and eliminate the possibility of making a bona fide difference that would intuitively meet the board’s deepest aspirations. A goal can not be attained, a question can not be answered, a theory can not be tested, without first defining it.

These groups need a well-defined vision. They need to drop the superfluous and focus on the strategic.

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Know What You Want

People go their whole lives believing they want something only to find that it did not satisfy them in the way they thought it would.

A man decides that he wants a Lamborghini, and it becomes a fixation that is seemingly at the center of everything he does. He gets a job he hates, working for people who treat him poorly and sacrifices a lot of day-to-day happiness for his goal. He envisions the beautiful car every time he laments his mistreatment. Ask him why he wants the car, and he might respond that he wants women to desire him, a symbol of his masculinity and financial security. Ask him again why he wants these things and perhaps he will say that he wants to have the freedom to live a life unshackled from employment and to share it with someone who loves, supports and challenges him.

How far have we now come from the original goal? And how distorted and misguided a goal was it considering the true ambitions that the man held for himself? This is but one example of countless personal priorities and broader social structures from the level of small business to political decision-making. Adherence to the Delphic maxim “know thyself” is to be able to cast off the distractions disguised as goals and locate the real outcome you seek. The truth is that personal goals scale up to affect everything, and are in fact a prerequisite for good decisions.

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How can we achieve great things and accurately measure our progress if our goals haven’t been clearly defined from the outset? People often speak of efficiency in a vacuum, without defining to what end it is efficient towards or somehow expedites the realization of a goal. We feel strongly that we know what we value, that it’s obvious, and that it is really in line with what will ultimately make us fulfilled. Yet, the tasks we set for ourselves can be horribly misguided and misaligned with what we truly want, had we done the hard work of thoroughly reflecting on it.

For example, people tend to use their daily to-do lists wrong, by identifying a series of random tasks they believe they need to work on. Actions at the level of tasks are essential, but they must be aligned with a larger vision to be worth doing. Tasks are manageable and achievable today, goals are aspirational and long-term. Outcomes go beyond a single action, and encompass a vision of what completion looks like.

Goals Must Be Easy To Envision

Visions are visual. They motivate us at a level deeper than words. We literally have to be able to imagine them visually in order to motivate action. They must paint an idea of the type of world we want to create. For the hiker and mountain climber, tasks include traversing trails, clambering over rocks, fording streams, and the goal or outcome is to reach the peak. The vision is the view overlooking the summit and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

This vision is set with reference to the climber’s values, and so it is with any goal or outcomes we want to achieve; they must reflect our values. Without being aware that we hold different values we can neither prioritize them nor have a chance to synthesize.

Concise, Elegant Goals Automatically Prioritize Action

Richard Branson famously said of a business goal that “if it can’t fit on the back of an envelope, it’s rubbish.” Being able to easily understand a goal in tangible and non-abstract terms is a vital first step before people can get excited about it and take meaningful steps toward it. Beyond this, productivity depends on simple tasks — the what — that can always be referred back to a central goal — the why.

In the private sector, consumers respond first and foremost to the values imbued in a product, not to its technical features and points of difference. Apple doesn’t open any of its communications with the actual details of its newest iPhone or computer; it says things like “We believe in thinking differently. We challenge the status quo with products that are beautifully designed and simple for anyone to use.” This philosophy is what drives its immense popularity, and its central goal as an organization is also its most prominent public message.

Author Simon Sinek has discussed at length and authored books on the subject of purpose in business and leadership. Sinek rightly points out that very few people or organizations know why they do what they do.

And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out.

Sinek describes how in the human brain, the neocortex corresponds with the “what” level of language, rational and analytical thought. Dig deeper and you will find the limbic system, responsible for feelings, behavior, and decision-making. The implication of this is that emotions, values, visions, drive behavior far more than information. “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions” – David Hume

The Best Managers Don’t Manage

People don’t need to be managed, just inspired and aligned with a vision. Humans are not mindless automatons without needs and wants of their own. They are ends in and of themselves. You cannot program them like a computer to do your bidding, or whip them into submission. To influence, to win hearts and minds, you have to inspire people. You have to value them, you have to give them the freedom to choose your vision as not only in their personal self-interest, but in the interest of a greater purpose.

Consider recent college graduates seeking to make a difference. If the organization is not aligned with a clear vision, they will grow disillusioned and a great deal of talent will be lost. An organization may chalk up the result to a failing on the part of the subordinate, but it is more likely to be a failing on the part of the organization as a whole to organize its priorities. Managers are usually in a safe position to blame their subordinates, but we have good reason to assume that it is a deeper problem with the organization itself, especially if criticism lies along ageist reasoning. Their impatience is vitally important to pushing organizations in the right direction.

If a coherent, concise strategic vision can be presented, competent subordinates will be empowered and encouraged to work toward that end. They won’t need supervision, only support. They will seek out the needed feedback and critique with a receptive and open mind. This creates an environment of trust and safety, which has been empirically shown to be the most important factor in creating effective teams.

To rally the troops, they must be aligned on precisely why they are working together. Why does it matter and what is their individual role? If they can infer that immediately, without someone barking orders at them, they will search for ways to best use their skills; they will give everything they have for that purpose. Those lower on the totem pole in an organization need to have an emotional stake in outcomes if they are to be achieved in the most efficient and vigorous manner possible. They need to feel safe and protected by those above them in the hierarchy.

If people feel like pawns in an unethical and unfulfilling enterprise, their reliability will be greatly diminished. That said, even if the higher-ups mean well, and their cause is just, this is not enough. People literally have to be able to hold the vision of a desired goal in their mind. It has to motivate them more than money. If your vision is articulated in a manner that does not start with its overall importance, and instead begins with a proposition that is overly complex, technical, or laden with tactics, it will obscure the vision; those you need help from will be unmotivated and ineffective.

Our hearts have to be in the right place, first and foremost, but our analytical brains do as well. Subordinates quickly suss out what an organization is ultimately trying to achieve, and if the organization behaves in irrational, disorganized, and whimsical ways, this will frustrate subordinates. This is especially true of those with a great deal of leadership potential because these are the individuals who care the most about whether they are making a difference or not.

Game theory tells us that preferences must be complete and transitive in order to meet a basic definition of rationality, meaning they are ranked logically with a clear order of preferences, even if some outcomes are equal in weight to one another. With this in mind, every person and organization should be capable of defining meaningful goals within a value system.

Effective Governance

The Carver model of governance is a system of guidelines for boards to align interests in effective ways. It suggests that proper evaluation is “impossible unless the board has first stated its expectations and assigned them to a specific delegatee.” Once the board has done its job, effective monitoring becomes possible and is less time consuming, because they know what they are expecting to see proven or unfulfilled. It is up to the board to make sure that they have a coherent vision and then to hire people who can be held accountable to objective deliverables. If goals are left arbitrary, this is a great waste of resources to the organization and inevitably creates unnecessary confusion and conflict.

The point is to maximize accountability and autonomy on specific outcomes that align with larger goals while minimizing micromanagement and supervision. Give the delegatee good parameters and then get out of their way. Let them work their magic. Empower them to come up with creative, expedient, efficient, cost-saving, better-aligned strategies, and tactics corresponding to predefined goals. Don’t breathe down their neck. So long as a few specific objective outcomes are achieved, how they are achieved is irrelevant. Only a few basic ethical and quality control parameters are necessary. Interference in their work is unnecessary. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

One challenge of studying the literature of goal-setting is an inconsistent use of terms. Goals and vision are used somewhat interchangeably in this article, for instance. The main idea is that a vision is defined and communicated clearly and concisely. It is inspiring and easy to understand. It is implemented in a fashion where all items in a hierarchy do not conflict with the higher values in the hierarchy. Tactics cannot conflict with a goal or else they should be thrown out. Strategies should not conflict with visions, or they should be thrown out, and so on. Use whatever terms you like, but the point is that there is a hierarchy of priorities that guide all action.

The MOST system takes a broad approach to setting and accomplishing such goals. By specifying — from the top down — Mission, Objectives, Strategy, and Tactics, it aligns high-level goals with the day-to-day tasks in a way that shows everyone they are aiming for the same target. General Electric has long been a model of task-setting, with its pioneering SMART system. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and fit into a Timeline.

If an outcome is too large and abstract, as is often the case with nonprofit causes, break these goals down into multiple bite-size chunks, or Goldilocks goals. When breaking them down, don’t lose sight of the ultimate desired outcome.

Common Reasons People Avoid Getting Clear on Goals

One obvious reason people fail to set priorities is simply a lack of focus and mental fortitude. It’s hard to shut off our monkey brains. However, the major impediment to sparking a coordinated social force is the belief that the goal already exists and is self-evident, when in fact it isn’t. People can’t understand why others don’t want to do things their way. They believe that it is obvious what the group is about, and others should just fall in line.

Image result for t is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows. – Epictetus

The Vietnam War is a good example of this. In the U.S., the public was never clear whether it was fighting to improve the lives of the Vietnamese, to prevent Southeast Asia from becoming communist, or to make profits for companies that produced military hardware. Some citizens wanted to withdraw, and others wanted to escalate. The latter necessarily saw goals in purely tactical terms of “winning,” but they were unable to articulate what winning would look like.

An organization’s goals have to be so obvious that it is unmistakable.  But most organizations stop articulating their goals at the point equivalent to claiming that the purpose of the war in Vietnam was to win. A standard vague goal of for-profit companies is “to satisfy customers.” A standard vague goal of nonprofits is to “help people”, “end poverty”, or “reduce suffering.” But until a business knows the specific customers it seeks to satisfy and which unstated goals or needs of those customers it seeks to fulfill, it is not ready to begin satisfying them.

In the case of nonprofits, having a goal requires specifying an outcome in terms of a change in the condition or actions of a defined group. In education, these are called “behavioral outcomes,” which generally means new skills or understandings that have been acquired as a result of a learning unit. Teaching does not occur just because a teacher goes through the motions. Teaching implies learning. The same principle applies to the Red Cross or the Sierra Club.  Their goals cannot be vaguely worded statements like “save people” or “protect nature.”  They have to refine them to the point that they can judge whether the experiences of a target group have been modified in the way the organization hopes.

The parameters, delineation, and definition of the goal has to be so meticulously designed and elegantly presented such that it truly is obvious to the point of almost being understood non-verbally. There can be no mistake or it will be impossible to coordinate. It’s sort of like writing a contract; all contingencies have to be accounted for. However, creating a vision is much more challenging because all of these contingencies need to be accounted for in a concise format. Just as a picture tells a thousand words, so should a strategic vision.

Another reason spontaneous coordinated action is often difficult is real ideological differences. Since values are so variable and cause conflict, we run the risk of sacrificing effective goal-setting for the short-term benefit of keeping the peace. We also think we can argue the facts in a vacuum, free from values and goals. Everyone’s interests, aesthetic preferences, and moral compasses point in different directions, failing to satisfy basic game theoretic conditions for group rationality (Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem).

We are told that there is nothing we can do about it except pretend that we don’t have values or biases. Modern culture exhibits a kind of scientific fetishism, embracing the theatrical trappings of science but not the actual philosophy underpinning the scientific method. It is to the philosophy of science what the labcoat-wearing snake oil salesmen on Alex Jones are to actual scientists.

To be objective in academia, people must deny values and purposes, as they are a source of inexorable biases. This presumes that it is even possible to be free of bias. News networks impossibly deny their own bias as well, making it all the more pernicious.

Photo: Gage Skidmore Sean Hannity via photopin (license)

The anti-purpose mentality is so pervasive it is hard to notice. Stephen Hawking, however, was not so subtle when he said “Philosophy is dead”, suggesting that physics can provide us with everything that philosophy does, but better. It may even tell us what we ought to value, that is if we really let the data do all the talking. However, data does not interpret itself. Daniel Dennett wrote: “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”

This anti-purpose worldview can also be observed in the way people intuitively think about history and religion. In a cyclical view of history, events are viewed as recurring, no different than before, merely a changing of the seasons. In fact, novel change is not even possible under such a lens. One doesn’t easily recognize they are thinking this way, but it has important implications. Goals are denigrated in favor of the unalterable status quo. Tasks are favored over outcomes; how something is done is deemed more important than why it is done. Otherwise pointless activities become traditions and are even assigned mystical and religious significance. This is the philosophy of Dilbert’s world. It stands in contrast to a linear view of history which forces us to ask what the ultimate outcomes of our efforts are and if what we are doing now aligns with where we ultimately want to go.

There Is No Technological Substitute For Disciplined Goal-Setting

The ease with which many tasks can be completed thanks to tech is a blessing, but the hidden danger of ongoing automation in our quotidian groove is that it blinds us to the need to still have an overarching hierarchy of focused goals. Having a series of automatic reminders for appointments or intelligent filtering of your inbox doesn’t do anything to help this process. Even our most advanced AI is only going to be able to take you as far as listing all the Lamborghinis for sale within a 50-mile radius; it’s not going to say this is the wrong priority in the first place.

There is a place for plug-and-play algorithms in achieving our tasks, though. Whatever our goals are, privately or in the public sphere, they can be achieved in more or less efficient ways. Why wouldn’t we want scientists, marketing experts, and even artificial intelligence to help with efficiency? We will always be limited in the consistency of our work and in the information we have available to us. So, we should let algorithms work to provide us with solutions to problems that we, most importantly, have ourselves already defined.

Metric Fetishism: A Measure Of A Goal Is Not A Goal

The faux-scientific fetishism mentioned earlier crops up in a similar place. Those seeking to signal their intelligence will fetishize numbers, metrics, and mathematization to the exclusions of purposes and goals. ‘I see numbers. I don’t understand them. The presenter must be smarter than me. I’d better accept that their opinion and their goals are superior to mine.’ This is the ultimate rhetorical goal of someone seeking to mislead with numbers, not to provide earnest evidence.

Photo: MellieRene4 145 – Crunching the Numbers via photopin (license)

For example, gross domestic product (GDP) is often taken as a general metric of economic well being. There could be a hurricane that causes a spike in construction and thus GDP, but you would not conclude that we are better off because there was a hurricane. We could pay people to start digging holes and fill them again, increasing GDP. GDP could even be going up while the median income is going down. We could be breaking windows just to fix them. We could be increasing GDP by reducing leisure time or destroying the environment.

GDP could go up when we spend more money on healthcare than is necessary because insurance is cartelized. In this case, increasing competition in the healthcare sector and efficiency could actually drive GDP down with lower healthcare costs, but we would be better off. GDP doesn’t tell you what our ultimate goal is or if we are any closer to reaching it. Yet, lay people and economists alike constantly slip into talking about GDP as a goal in and of itself. It is but one metric, one that is not really even that useful when discussing our aspirations as a society. We are optimizing our economic policies on the basis of this metric, and it does a lot of harm. Metrics do not tell you what you ought to value.

Why Setting Goals Is Difficult

People are running around thinking about this detail and that detail — an emotive, self-referential mess. We could get a sense of accomplishment from shuffling paper if we were under the illusion that that was our ultimate goal. Institutions, including big companies, do this constantly. They may have been successful innovators in the past, but they fall into the trap of doing what they’ve always done, tactically but not in purpose, getting hung up on outmoded ways of doing things because they forget that it is the ultimate outcome that matters. Eventually, they adapt and get new life blood or they become sclerotic and die out.

A primary reason people don’t prioritize their goals is that it is computationally difficult, mentally and emotionally taxing, and forces us to recognize our mistakes. In a competitive dog-eat-dog environment where management fires people for mistakes instead of encouraging learning, it’s obvious why the topic would be avoided.

It takes a lot of focus, research, time and energy to come to sensible conclusions about what ought to be done. You can feel confused and that you’re not getting anywhere. It’s much easier to just adopt a belief system that is spoon fed to you about what you ought to do than to be the Übermensch, as it were. If the ‘why’ isn’t understood and held above all else, devotion to an ideal becomes about completing random sisyphean tasks.

Why Communicating Goals Is More Critical Than Ever

Just when we thought we had made so much progress purging the world of Nazis and supposedly winning the Cold War, in battling racial and LGBT oppression, we have become complacent. We were so confident that we knew our purpose and had articulated our priorities poetically that we thought the work was done. We let our political parties erode into nothing more than naked self-interest.

Photo: Gage Skidmore Donald Trump via photopin (license)

We’ve rested on our laurels for far too long, and our self-righteous laziness has been disturbed by a series of vulgar and rude awakenings over the last year. The most esteemed position in our society, the person most emblematic of our collective aspirations is a flagrant narcissist, racial opportunist, and fascist.  We are experiencing an existential crisis over who we are and what we believe. And not only that, our political existential crisis is bordering on a real one as the U.S. and North Korea square off over nuclear weapons.

It is not enough that we have rosy abstract ideas of what the world should be or a neat 12-point plan. Our strategic visions need to galvanize emotions and direct spontaneous and well-coordinated action. They need to be concise and instantaneously prioritize certain actions over others, tradeoffs that may be difficult to make but are absolutely necessary.

We cannot merely define ourselves in opposition to Trump. We get rid of him, what then? We get rid of Saddam Hussein, what then? We get rid of ISIS, what then? We get rid of Kim-Jong un, what then? We get rid of this banker or that CEO, what then? We get rid of this director or this bad manager, what then?

Our goals and actions have to point to a clear destination. More than ever, the world needs a vision.

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The Henry George Program Ep. 9 – James Howard Kunstler vs Sprawl

In this June 6, 2017, episode, we talk to James Howard Kunstler, who has long been a voice railing against the ugliness of modern sprawl and the psychic torment things brings on ourselves. How does a land tax offer a possible answer to this tragedy? TED called Kunstler “the world’s most outspoken critic of suburban sprawl”. He believes the end of the fossil fuels era will soon force a return to smaller-scale, agrarian communities, and an overhaul of the most destructive features of postwar society.

Kunstler was introduced to the ideas of Henry George when working on his book Geography of Nowhere, and subsequently discussed Georgism in the sequel Home from Nowhere.

“I began to get in in touch with people who were forming the ‘new urbanist’ movement, which was a reform movement among architects and developers and urban planners and public officials to do something about what has become a kind of mandated suburban sprawl. And when I say mandated I mean where we have been literally compelled to build all of our stuff that way because of the embedded codes and the tax laws in our system.”

Sprawl makes sense in a historical context, considering that the industrial revolution made cities into places that were not very attractive for a good and peaceful life, Kunstler said. The story of American development has been one of running with ideas that seemed good at the time.

“In the 1920s, there was very little thought that we would ever a problem with our oil supply; we thought that it would not only be there perpetually but that it would be incredibly cheap forever, and we never thought we would run out of cheap, exploitable real estate on the fringe of the city. It just seemed impossible, but now in the places like the Bay Area you’re there, so what seemed like a good idea at the time is not a good idea anymore.”

One good idea that is on its way out is the concept of megastructures, according to Kunstler, and any solution to affordable housing in urban cores is unlikely to stack thousands of people on top of each other. Moving into the future, the skyscraper is likely to become obsolete due to the cost and we will discover an optimal building height for an urban footprint. “My guess is that it’s probably not much more than five, six, seven stories — airy, and it may amount to as simple a proposition as the number of stories that you can ask people to walk up comfortably. But it’s simply not true that you know if you can just stack so many people in an urban spot that that’s the greatest solution.”

“We’re moving into a capital-scarce period of history where we just don’t have as much money as we thought we did and as we used to, and we’re going to have trouble with fabricated modular building materials of the type that you need to keep these buildings going. Even things as humble as sheetrock which require long manufacturing and mining chains, these materials may not be there for us.

“So if you ask the architects and the developers about the skyscraper they will never come around to that idea, because for them the prime mission is to maximize the floor-to-area ratio of any given building. So the whole question of what the city ends up being in scale is a major issue. We’re ready for a major debate on that and we’re not prepared to have it, because very few people have their head screwed on about this.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

Kunstler is perhaps best known for his nonfiction books, The Geography of Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic. James has also written The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, World Made By Hand, a fictional depiction of “the post-oil American future”, which became a four-part series with the subsequent publication of The Witch of Hebron, A History of the Future, and The Harrows of Spring.

Kunstler is the author of eight other novels including The Halloween Ball and An Embarrassment of Riches. He is a contributor to the New York Times Sunday Magazine and Op-Ed page, where he has written on environmental and economic issues.

Kunstler was born in New York City. He worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. He has lectured at colleges across America and delivered one of the most watched TED talks.

Starting in 2017, EarthSharing.org has been collaborating with KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM to create a weekly hour-long radio show. The Henry George Program is a platform for interviews, roundtable discussions, and debates on economic justice and policy.

Tune in for challenging content on the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, economic stagnation, widening wealth inequality, and environmental degradation ― can Henry George’s ideas offer a path forward that unfettered capitalism and incremental socialism lack?

An archive of the Henry George Program can be found here.

Featured photo: Charlie Samuels via Kunstler.com

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The Henry George Program Ep. 8 – Stephen Barton And The Berkeley Landlord Tax

In this May 30, 2017, episode, we speak with Stephen Barton, co-chairman of the Committee for Safe & Affordable Homes, established to support passage of a windfall profits tax on residential landlords. Last November, Berkeley passed Measure U1, nicknamed the “Landlord Tax.” It increased the tax rate for landlords of five or more rental units. Behind the bill was Barton, who’s been working for affordable housing for decades. On the side, he’s been writing about the Georgist history of Berkeley’s leadership.

Barton explained that Measure U1 in Berkeley was targeted at residential landlords in the San Francisco Bay Area, who “are reaping tremendous windfall profits from rising rents and the result is a massive transfer of wealth from tenants to real estate investors.”

“So the idea was to recapture some of this windfall and put the money to use to create permanently affordable housing for the low-income tenants who are hardest hit by all this, and to help prevent homelessness.”

Value captured by landlords, even those owners of rent-controlled properties, was primarily the creation of the community due to its attractiveness and was thus owed to everyone, Barton said.

“We have businesses that thrive off of that diverse and creative culture and happen to be creating quite an economic boom in the area, so the entire community is making this a really great attractive place to live. And the result is you get increasing demand for moving into the area that’s increasing far faster than the housing supply can possibly increase, and the result then is that landlords — a small sector of the community, those people who own real estate  — are particularly able to take the value that the whole community has created and charge higher rents.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

Barton previously served as Berkeley’s Housing Director, and Deputy Director of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Program. His work on affordable housing received a National Planning Award from the American Planning Association and an Affordable Housing Leadership award from the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California.

Barton also serves on the Board of the Bay Area Community Land Trust, which specializes in the development of limited-equity housing cooperatives and is active in East Bay Housing Organizations and Democratic Socialists of America. He is the author of numerous articles on housing policy and economics, as well as on the history of the Georgist and Socialist movements and has a Ph.D. in City & Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Starting in 2017, EarthSharing.org has been collaborating with KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM to create a weekly hour-long radio show. The Henry George Program is a platform for interviews, roundtable discussions, and debates on economic justice and policy.

Tune in for challenging content on the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, economic stagnation, widening wealth inequality, and environmental degradation ― can Henry George’s ideas offer a path forward that unfettered capitalism and incremental socialism lack?

An archive of the Henry George Program can be found here.

Featured photo: Committee for Safe and Affordable Housing

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Intentional Communities and Alternative Housing

BIL: Oakland 2016 Recession Generation was an Earthsharing.org conference in Oakland, California on July 9th, 2016. The Intentional Communities Panel explored new ways of living communally, and the need to respond to the housing affordability crisis with revised land use policy.

Betsy Morris, a partner with Co-Housing California, presented dozens of cases around California where tiny homes, mobile accommodation, and other kinds of modern living were proliferating and finding success. The need for these new kinds of housing was stark and urgent, she said.

“Let’s just say it: here in the Bay Area, it is crisis mode. We have a 30-year shortage of housing at almost every scale below the top 10 or 20 percent of the market. And today, our Bay Area government acknowledges that 43 percent of all the nine county households are overpaying, which means that they are sacrificing other parts of their budget to take care of housing, and 23 percent are seriously overpaying.”

The debt-driven housing system that still dominated modern economies was driving people to dream up new ways to live close to amenities, keep communities intact, and avoid devoting a majority of disposable income to simply putting a roof over one’s head, Morris said.

“Not a single county in the U.S. provides enough housing for its low-income people, and that affects everybody else up the scale of incomes to an extent,” she said. “It’s like we’ve forgotten that other alternatives exist.”

Shared equity communities were spreading across California and in other parts of the U.S., and with the right municipal leeway they could be a readily accessible solution for thousands of people otherwise unable to be part of a housing community.

“The great thing about Georgist land economics is it provides a logical, theoretical basis for looking at situations and saying ‘how could this work?’ The kinds of communities I’m showing you are living examples of efforts not to talk about some big overarching macro global economy, but actually on the ground, what does it look like to share the earth?”

“We’re starting to see a body of knowledge that allows conversations with the policymakers who primarily rely on traditional economic theories whether it’s of the state, intervention, or free-market rampant.”

The panel was completed by Aaron Castle and Candace Anderson, a Bay Area couple who have lived in their own tiny house for more than two years. The economic necessity of finding an alternative living solution had also given them both new freedoms and a new sense of community that paying thousands of dollars to rent a room simply didn’t offer.

“There’s no way we would have been able to stay in the Bay Area if we didn’t do this,” Anderson said.

Watch the full panel below:

Featured photo: Bill Dickinson via Flickr

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The Henry George Program – Matt Krisiloff on Y Combinator, Basic Income, and LVT on The United Slate

In this episode, we have Matt Krisiloff of Y Combinator Research to talk about its Basic Income project, Y Combinator, and The United Slate, which features Land Value Taxation as a plank. Should these be viewed as separate, or two ideas that are fundamentally linked?

Krisiloff manages the basic income research being conducted by Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley-based start-up factory that was critical in the success of companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. Fast Company has called it “the world’s most powerful start-up incubator”.

As part of its nonprofit YC Research, Y Combinator is designing a long-term study to distribute basic incomes and understand the positive or negative impacts basic income might have in a US-based population.

Krisiloff said the pilot in Oakland had been operating for a few months now, and the preliminary results of the study could be available in just two years. The study will explore how best to distribute a guaranteed basic income, how to monitor spending, and whether recipients spend their money “responsibly”. The project also opened up a wide discussion of cost of living and the housing crisis in the Bay Area.

“To really be able to afford something like basic income, we’re going to have to dramatically lower the cost of living,” Krisiloff said.

“Particularly in California, policy could go a long way to alleviate the housing crisis. I think there is a lot of speculation, our zoning laws could be refined to allow for more building in certain areas. I think it’s far too easy right now to block development in communities for long periods of times, using laws on the books — such as CICA environmental regulations — inappropriately.”

Krisiloff has another project that ties directly into economic justice: in partnership with Y Combinator chief executive Sam Altman, Krisiloff is working on The United Slate, a policy project that has laid out ten policy goals for California. Housing supply and some form of land tax are planks of The United Slate.

Krisiloff said Land Value Taxation made a lot of sense.

“Longer term it seems like that is the most fair, equitable taxation system. I think as we go to a world where we should have more and more abundance created by smaller groups of people we shouldn’t be trying to tax incomes — output for work — we should be taxing the resources that are controlled by groups of people.”

“Land is something that is essentially micro-monopolies for whoever is holding it, and we should be taking the resource contributions from those people, rather than just letting the resources just accrue back to them for resource extraction.”

Listen to the full discussion below, and keep up with Sam Altman and Matt Krisiloff on Twitter.

Matt Krisiloff was a co-founder of Entom Foods, which aimed to derive sustainable and palatable food from insect meat, and of a mental health directory for therapists. He led teams that won the University of Chicago’s College New Venture Challenge in his first and second years for Entom Foods and another called CrowdCoin.

Starting in 2017, EarthSharing.org has been collaborating with KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM to create a weekly hour-long radio show. The Henry George Program is a platform for interviews, roundtable discussions, and debates on economic justice and policy.

Tune in for challenging content on the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, economic stagnation, widening wealth inequality, and environmental degradation ― can Henry George’s ideas offer a path forward that unfettered capitalism and incremental socialism lack?

An archive of the Henry George Program can be found here.

Featured photo: Generation Grundeinkommen via Flickr

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Movin’ On Up: A Winning Strategy For Housing And Prosperity

Well we’re movin’ on up,
To the east side,
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin on up,
To the east side.
We finally got a piece of the pie…

We Can Have it All

Image result for paris buildings
Typical Parisian architecture in the 7th arrondissement.

Who says that a big house surrounded by nature can only be found in the country? Do you have to sacrifice high wages and the convenience of city life for some peace and quiet?

We want everyone living in cities to have space, views, and creature comforts. This sounds like a pipe dream, but it isn’t. To house more people without displacement, it is possible to stimulate the construction of new affordable housing and guarantee existing residents at least the same size home for no more than their current rent.

Paris, for instance, is one of the densest cities in the world. It’s also arguably the most beautiful. They do not have many skyscrapers. Instead of capping the height of buildings at 2 stories, as San Francisco does, Paris consistently has 6 story buildings. Whatever a city’s needs are, and however tall people feel comfortable building, rapid construction is not an external physical constraint.

We’ve been building tall stuff for centuries, and construction technology has only become safer, faster, and more modular. Chinese company Broad Sustainable Building has broken numerous records with its prefabricated construction, completing a 15-story hotel in 48 hours and a 57-story complex in just 19 days. With the right economic incentives, this technology could improve faster even as it becomes more sustainable. Necessity is the mother of invention and if there is one thing that the San Francisco Bay Area has in spades it’s the ability to take innovative ideas and run with them.

But skyscrapers alone do not improve density. There are tall buildings everywhere that sit empty for much of the year. What’s more, landowners in the urban core won’t build if they can coast along on the increases in value of their land being generated by all of the activity around them. Their lot becomes worth more and more simply because of location, so there’s little incentive to use land to generate as much rent as possible. There is really only one way to make sure that urban core landowners actually improve the real supply of housing for everybody and thus lower market rents throughout a city. There must be a strong incentive to use land and buildings for people’s needs.

In Brief

  • Strong Cores: Restrict Land Value Tax to the urban core as a transitional measure.
  • Reduce other taxes such as sales and wage taxes in and outside the core.
  • Freeze the rent of urban core renters.
  • Movin’ On Up: Offer a free upgrade, in terms of location, unit quality, and cost, for those whose building is replaced.

The Transition to a Winning Solution

Land Value Taxation is a proven and sorely needed policy. If you need a primer, start here. With LVT in place, landowners have to use their land productively to cover the tax.  Rather than construct luxury units to be held vacant as a store of wealth, they are going to build sites for rich, middle class, and poor renters alike that actually generate rent. Right now, new development in the urban core simply spurs new speculation, and new development outside the urban core is either met with fierce resistance or it doesn’t happen at all.

In New York, Manhattan’s Upper East Side now sees a huge proportion of apartments left vacant for most of the year. According to the New York Times, about one in every 25 Manhattan homes has an owner or renter who lives there less than two months of the year, and the number of absentee owners and renters grew more than 70 percent between 2000 and 2011. Ownership of this space in the urban core is being used as an investment by the wealthy all around the world, while local residents are pushed out of the city.

Photo: smith_cl9 East River Esplanade, Yorkville via photopin (license)

In the long run under an LVT, city centers become more accessible to all. The problem with LVT is not the end result but that without a slow transition, it too could temporarily push poor people toward the periphery.

Freeze Rent and Free Apartment Upgrades

To get around even the temporary downsides of LVT, a sensible and politically feasible solution would be to restrict the tax to the urban core, freeze the rent of all urban core residents, and guarantee them a new better and more centrally located home if their building is replaced. Heck, we’ll even pay their moving costs. This will stop the banishment without turning newcomers away.

For renters and newcomers alike in the SF Bay Area, this will mean an enormous new supply of housing in the city center. When housing is no longer in such short supply, landlords won’t be able to charge such exorbitant rents. Less disposable income will be lost to rent, and young tech industry employees can rest assured that they are not creating gentrification and displacement.

Here’s a table showing how key players will be affected by such an Urban Core Land Value Tax policy, coupled with a few other transitional measures:

Landowners Outside the Core

  • No new proposed subsidized housing in their communities
  • Lower taxes
Urban Core Landlords & Developers

  • Lifts on zoning requirements
  • Land values increase faster than the tax
  • LVT will offset income and sales tax
  • Bigger workforce, less pressure on wages
Renters Outside the Core

  • Much greater supply of housing near their jobs
  • Lower rents as supply in the core increases to satisfy demand
Urban Core Renters

  • Rent freeze
  • Possibility of upgrade
  • Keep their community

Among those worried about higher taxes on land are suburban and peri-urban NIMBY (not in my backyard) landowners, and they are the source of many uninformed and polemical attacks on Land Value Tax and those who would seek to get rid of Prop 13. They are a barrier to the system we need, but they have legitimate needs too. It has to be made clear that these people will pay the same taxes or less and that they won’t be forced, by this measure, to adopt new zoning laws.

In fact, all of the people they may currently want to keep out of their single-story neighborhoods will stay out, not merely via zoning laws and blocks on subsidized housing, but because living in the urban core will become possible again. Everyone will flock there. These outlying communities can be run however local residents see fit, and the increase in the supply of real housing in the city centers will reduce the push to build affordable housing in these neighborhoods. Pressure will be taken off the periphery.

Savings for Everyone, Everywhere

In addition, NIMBYs outside of the urban core could actually pay less tax than they currently do, even under Prop. 13! This is because land in the center of the city is exponentially more valuable the closer it is to the urban core. Outlying landowners will see a drop in what they pay in taxes, in most cities, under LVT. However, if it’s salient to these owners that an Urban Core Land Value Tax will be restricted to the core, outlying land owners will not be affected. In fact, their tax bills would probably go down. One reason for this is that the city would be enabled to eliminate sales and wage taxes with the revenue obtained from taxing the value of the land in the urban core. It might even be possible to offer a rebate on federal income taxes. Everyone will want to flock to the urban cores for these reasons, and this will increase land values and the revenue it generates, even more.

 

st_theheightsb_f

With a radically greater supply of housing and business space, renters will gain leverage and everyone’s taxes will be reduced. It’s a win-win, even for the property developers who want to build higher but are prevented from doing so. As long as the buildings are safe and conform to zoning, there is no reason why this should not be implemented. If it makes it more politically feasible, the urban core land value tax can be slowly raised as opposed to being done all at once.

SF’s Historical Barriers to Housing

The Mission Yuppie Eradication Project began in the summer of 1998, encouraging the destruction of property of dotcom-era newcomers to the Mission District. Photo: Found SF

Kim-Mai Cutler, writing for TechCrunch in 2014, described how the “formidable permitting process” in San Francisco is a product of tenant action and environmental movements over the past 50 years.

“Even back in 1967, thousands of Latino residents in the Mission — the heart of the gentrification battle today — organized and convinced the city’s Board of Supervisors to vote down an urban renewal program in the neighborhood. They saw what happened to the Fillmore — once the “Harlem of the West” —when the city’s re-development agency razed it, displacing tens of thousands of black residents and the businesses they had created after World War II.

To this day, there’s distrust and fear that the same thing will happen again, especially if it’s carried out by private developers. Advocacy group Causa Justa has been documenting this displacement through Census data, noting that the Mission has lost 1,400 Latino households while adding 2,900 white households between 1990 and 2011. In the same time period, Oakland lost 40 percent of its black residents.”

In 1986, a resolution was enacted that set annual limits on new commercial real estate space. Cutler highlights the side effect of this preservation movement as a barrier to housing for all. The city has added 1,500 units per year for the last 20 years, while between 2010 and 2013 alone the population grew by 32,000.

What about the eyesore of tall buildings? A more consistent use of the land — say a limit of six stories like Paris versus the height limit of two stories (see image below) — would allow SF to accommodate a lot more people at more affordable rents. This will undoubtedly be the solution in certain areas of the city where buildings are more vulnerable to earthquakes and other considerations.

Map of San Francisco’s building height limits. Yellow represents a two-story limit.

 

Luxury Apartments for All!

Though this article is focused on SF, the same key insights apply to other cities as well. In essence, the idea is that if you’re a renter somewhere in an urban core, you are either going to keep living there at the same rent, or (if your building is demolished) be moved into a much nicer building. Your rent won’t go up, and you’ll either live on the same lot or move on up closer to the center. This would not be a scheme to force all the low-income people into the same shoddy inner-city housing, and they wouldn’t be singled out or ridiculed for receiving one of these apartments.

It would be a bona fide upgrade and sustainable means of protection from erratic forms of displacement and gentrification. Note, that this is a slightly different conception of the idealized end-stage Georgist model of housing where the market is flooded with centrally located supply and the lowest income residents live only slightly outside the core. It’s also not the YIMBY(yes in my backyard) ideal of “Build Baby Build” –anywhere and everywhere. This would only affect urban cores and would leave other communities alone. There would a boom in housing for all, not just the rich, and not just existing privileged residents. Everyone could put down their pitchforks and get along.

We all have a right to space. We all have an equal right to the social value that we collectively create in city centers, with all of their passion and innovative dynamism. Here’s a realistic and economically sensible way to achieve that.

Featured photo: ShanePix Fly with me! via photopin (license)

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Yoram Bauman: The Layman’s Principles Of Economics

BIL: Oakland 2016 Recession Generation was an Earthsharing.org conference in Oakland, California on July 9th, 2016. Yoram Bauman, who declares himself the world’s first and only stand-up economist, took the opportunity to present a humorous interlude before a featured panel on optimal taxation.

“Many people are surprised that I do economics comedy for a living. I believe it is one of the last jobs that will be taken over by robots.”

Bauman spoke about political apathy and his belief that centrist swing voters are to blame for budget deficits. The misinformed voter will respond to ideas for new infrastructure and to promises of tax cuts, without realizing the necessary tradeoffs to achieve this, he said.

“In America, there are a lot of swing voters. If you are not a communist or a fascist, then you are probably a swing voter. And if you do not know the difference between communists and fascists then you are definitely a swing voter. Now, your job when it comes to politics and current events, extremely important… your job is to pay absolutely no attention whatsoever, and then every four years you determine the fate of the free world. I know it sounds like a big responsibility, but trust me, don’t give it a second thought.”

Bauman’s main presentation was his revised and translated version of Greg Mankiw’s 10 Principles of Economics:

Mankiw

  1. People face tradeoffs
  2. The cost of something is what you give up to get it
  3. Rational people think at the margin
  4. People respond to incentives
  5. Trade can make everyone better off
  6. Markets are usually a good way to organize economic activity
  7. Governments can sometimes improve market conditions
  8. A country’s standard of living depends on its ability to produce goods and services
  9. Prices rise when the government prints too much money
  10. Society faces a short-run tradeoff between inflation and unemployment

Bauman

  1. Choices are bad
  2. Choices are really bad
  3. People are stupid
  4. People aren’t that stupid
  5. Trade can make everyone worse off
  6. Governments are stupid
  7. Governments aren’t that stupid
  8. Blah blah blah
  9. Blah blah blah
  10. Blah blah blah

Watch the full talk below:

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Featured photo: Alaska Dispatch News

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Ageism, Power, and Intergenerational Animosity

Ageism is a two-way street, but is usually thought of only in terms of discrimination against the old. In federal employment law, protections are afforded to over-40s, but favoring an older worker over a younger one is not a problem.

In terms of power in society, almost every area is completely dominated by old people, from billionaires and boards of directors to major shareholders and company executives. In academia, tenured professors hold all the power and associate professors are disposable and work for scraps. The average age of the 113th Congress was 57.6 years, and our last presidential election was between two 70-year-olds.

The only voting blocs that politicians really cater to are “homeowners”, which is a codeword for landed upper middle-class people who are older and financially secure. They vote the most and donate the most because they want their land titles propped up in value through government policy. They want their healthcare and pensions. They want all taxes shifted away from accumulated wealth, which inevitably means that they want taxation redirected to the young. Meanwhile, political participation for the young is intrinsically a more altruistic endeavor, because they really don’t draw on government privilege for their existence.

Unfortunately, this also results in low turnout for young adults. More than half of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 stayed home for the 1998 midterms. Those young people who are politically inclined tend to care about a more diverse spectrum of issues, which creates divisions within liberal politics and keeps deciding power in the hands of older, more cohesive voters. This imbalance is likely to get worse, as declining fertility rates among younger generations will see seniors account for much higher proportions of overall population growth in the future than they did in the past. While the population aged 65 and older accounted for 18 percent of overall population growth from 1950 to 2010, they will account for 51 percent of population growth between 2010 and 2050.

Despite the imbalance of power, most conversations about age discrimination involve the young victimizing the old. Why is it that the reverse is rarely considered? Historically, the perception is that old people are responsible, with traditional moral values, and are inherently worthy of respect and capitulation. But at this point in time, statistically speaking, young people have far fewer vices.

Rates of teen pregnancy are at an historic low, and young people smoke less, exercise more and make better choices about what they put in their bodies. They are frugal, more secular, and more tolerant than any previous generation in memory. Millennials are the most educated generation in American history, with more than 63 percent of millennials having a Bachelor’s Degree. More than half either want to start a business or already have started one.

Sociology professor Judith Bessant has explored how two early-twentieth-century writers encouraged the perception of the young as less capable: psychologist G. Stanley Hall introduced the concept of ‘the adolescent’ and sociologist Talcott Parsons began the discussion of so-called ‘youth culture’. Both these men focussed on the most troublesome among young people, popularizing the notion that they are unpredictable, emotionally turbulent, and rebellious across the board.

Photo: Mikey G Ottawa Boom Box – Montreal 1987 via photopin (license)

Surely the expectation of rebellion or failure is partly responsible for that same rebellion, or that failure. A lack of rights, responsibilities, and respect can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and if young people are not afforded treatment as equals in society, they will continue to boycott full participation. Intergenerational animosity can manifest itself as a healthy and friendly competition, or it can mutate into genuine resentment. In many cases, we seem to be trending toward the latter.

The generalizations they made have persisted for decades. Meanwhile, young people are showing themselves to be more purpose-driven in their work than any previous generation. Research from Deloitte showed that while millennials in leadership positions believe profit is important, they prioritize purpose, innovation, and the wellbeing of themselves and the workforce. Despite their demonstrable ability and ambition, young people have been walled off from many avenues of power in society.

Having started out with huge student debt, many young people have trouble getting jobs at all, and old people are living longer than ever, closing leadership opportunities off even more. Further confounding this is that there are formal and informal metrics by which the old judge the performance of the young based on the values of the old. Often times these metrics are outmoded in certain fields.

This is particularly true of technology. Consider the ‘rapid iteration’ work style of software development, whereby timeliness and planning are discarded in favor of live progress-tracking and goals that can be discarded as quickly as they are set. How does this compare to the clunky, paper-pushing environment in which much of business and bureaucracy still operates?

Older people will thus downplay the importance of technological understanding as a metric for leadership abilities and play up the importance of skills with which older people have more experience, even if these skills are outmoded.

Older people, being in the position to create rules and regulations, have the ability to subtly introduce ways to increase their perceived value to an institution. This makes the legitimacy of authority in an institution circular in its reasoning. Why do we do what we do? Tradition! Why should this be done? Because I said so! If there are no definable goals, there are no checks and balances on power. No newcomers can challenge that power on a strategic or meritocratic basis because strategy and merit are nonexistent.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the erosion of the union movement has made it more difficult for those with blue collar jobs to rise to the middle class. Males with high school diplomas in 2010 actually made less money than their 1980 counterparts: $30,000 versus $39,750 in annual salary adjusted for inflation. The younger worker is more likely to be laid off if a “Last In, First Out” policy is in place, simply because she has not been with the company for as long. The assumption persists that experience equates to merit, when in many cases the opposite may be true.

Despite the genuine difficulties young people face, it’s not uncommon to hear it suggested that the young are lazy, entitled, or incapable. It is socially acceptable to vent frustration about dealing with young people and children in public places, or in extreme cases to implement high-frequency sound technology only audible to young people as a deterrent to keep young people away from certain areas entirely. The fact that more millennials are still living with their parents is easy fodder for mockery. Yet, it is the economic policies of previous generations that have caused the current economic climate.

Photo: Kurayba For Rent via photopin (license)

As a brief thought experiment, consider these common criticisms:

  • “Oppressed ethnic groups shouldn’t be treated like children!”
  • “Women shouldn’t be treated like children!”
  • “Disabled people shouldn’t be treated like children!”

Maybe there is something deeply wrong with the way that we treat children and young people. The ageism that flows towards the young is insidious, since it is the powerful attacking the powerless. Whereas the faintest hint of ageism towards the elderly is met with grave condemnation.

Experience is sometimes correlated with merit, but it is not merit itself. Furthermore, people “rise to the level of their incompetence.” Young people are less likely to have reached their capacities yet. Therefore, there is a lag that needs to be accounted for when comparing young and old. There should be more active competition on objective standards of merit instead of simply discounting a person on the basis of age. Certainly, people at their peak physical and intellectual capacities stand an increased chance of being the best choice for a position, if irrational biases against the young are properly accounted for.

WIthout young people, we simply wouldn’t have seen the kind of power that brought the civil rights movement to the United States. Many young people postponed their studies and early careers for the sake of fighting for change, against entrenched powers that were not necessarily malicious but which had no reason to upset the present structure of society. There are countless other instances of young people being the engine of critical improvements throughout history.

How do we create the best situation for everyone? Public office, corporate boards, taxes, and voting laws disproportionately favor the old. The old need young people’s new talents and energy. The young need to learn from the experiences of the old. Both groups can work for the benefit of the other. If people are given power in proportion to their merits, irrespective of age and other irrelevant factors, we would see a more balanced age distribution and much more sensible policy outcomes. No rational agent wants to give up power, but there are rare occasions where doing so is better for everyone, including the powerful.

Featured photo: DonkeyHotey MSM Spotlights (license)

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A New Resource For Advocacy And Education

Over the years, many reputable researchers and organizations have dedicated resources to examining the theory and the implementation of Land Value Taxation. This system of tax is not just a good idea, it is a demonstrably effective tool for reducing speculation, driving down land prices, and incentivizing the optimal use of centrally-located land.

EarthSharing has compiled a database of high-quality research on LVT, which you can access here. This is not a gathering of platitudes presented by people who are influenced by their pre-existing support for such a policy; this is serious academic work that scrutinizes LVT alongside other tax structures and has reached the same conclusions. Consider the following from a 2015 OECD publication:

Property taxes can underpin sustainable land use. A pure land tax can help contain urban sprawl and foster the conversion of developed land instead of greenfield development. The land-use effects of property taxes – which also tax investment – are more ambiguous. Specifically designed “green” property taxes (soil-sealing taxes, development charges, etc.) can further help internalise land-use externalities

This list is far from exhaustive, and we strive to create a resource for advocacy and education that is as comprehensive as possible. If you can contribute to furthering the goal of this resource with additional research, please contact us and we will add to it.

Land Value Taxation Endorsements

Prosper Australia Research Institute (2016)
Australian Dept. of Infrastructure & Regional Development (2016)
OECD (2015)
National Tax Journal (2015)
International Monetary Fund (2013)
Institute for Fiscal Studies (2013)
Land Values Research Group (2013)
Prosper Australia Research Institute (2013)
Romney Institute, Brigham Young University (2012)
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2011)
SERC, London School of Economics (2011)
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (2010)
Kingston University School of Planning & Surveying (2009)
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research (2009)
Land Values Research Group (2007)
Oxfordshire CC & Vale of White Horse DC (2006)
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (2004)
Australian Tax Forum (2003)
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (2001)

Featured photo: Unsplash via Pixabay

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The Henry George Program Ep. 6 – Economy of Cities with Kedar

In this May 16, 2017, episode of The Henry George Program, Kedar is back to talk about mobility. We have depressed economies and cities with excess demand. Why? Mark and Kedar discuss whether the desire to move to cities is still justifiable and necessary, and whether everyone should have the same opportunity to move into high-value urban areas. What are the best policies for making this available to all?

The discussion also hones in on the need to alter the incentives of the current building consent system, wherein it is in the interest and within the reach of communities to be as obstructive as possible in the face of development.

“It’s kind of a zero-sum game in our old systems of looking at things. Why shouldn’t you fight? If you say ‘hey, you’re going to block my view’, ‘hey, your neighbor will be worse off…’ Right now, the people who fight for it, they get rewarded and it’ considered to be a righteous thing. You’re defending your tribe, you’re defending your people in your neighborhood, you are keeping it pure. And I’d say there isn’t really considered to be a good alternative to this and I would say there is one valid alternative to NIMBYism and it’s George’s.”

Starting in 2017, EarthSharing.org has been collaborating with KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM to create a weekly hour-long radio show. The Henry George Program is a platform for interviews, roundtable discussions, and debates on economic justice and policy.

Tune in for challenging content on the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, economic stagnation, widening wealth inequality, and environmental degradation ― can Henry George’s ideas offer a path forward that unfettered capitalism and incremental socialism lack?

An archive of the Henry George Program can be found here.

Featured photo: Always Shooting Best place to watch sunset in Phoenix via photopin (license)

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