Building A Better Local Economy

BIL: Oakland 2016 Recession Generation was an Earthsharing.org conference in Oakland, California on July 9th, 2016. The ‘Building a better local economy’ panel brought together experts and activists across a range of fields to discuss the future of building communities using technology and compassionate organizing.

The speakers were:

  • Gustavo Aguirre, Director of Organizing with The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
  • Aaron Fernando and Mike Lomuto from Bay Bucks, which promotes and facilitates a local currency in the Bay Area
  • Chelsea Rustrum, co-author of ‘It’s a Shareable Life’, consultant and speaker on the sharing economy.

Rustrum spoke about the tremendous changes that had been brought about by websites like Couchsurfing, AirBnB, Uber and Craiglist. Many technologies like Open Source and Creative Commons were taking sharing beyond the profit motive, however, and this was a trend that seemed likely to continue, she said. “Technology is great but who is actually creating the value for these things?”

Bay Bucks’ Fernando spoke about the need to reform our system of money, by which 80 percent of people end up worse off because of interest. Local currencies that keep value circulating within communities were hugely beneficial, and Bay Bucks was driving a movement of interest-free value exchange between businesses.

“When you spend locally, only about 32 percent leaves the local area, whereas when you spend big bucks or chain stores, about 57 percent of it goes away. It is very difficult to keep 100 percent of all spending locally because you have things like taxes…but in general, spending locally keeps that wealth generated by the community within the community.”

Watch the full panel discussion below:

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Featured photo: wuestenigel Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal via photopin (license)

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Land Value Tax Searches Peaked in June

Following the U.K. election in early June, we discussed how the Labour Party manifesto had proven to be a springboard for public interest in Land Value Tax. Anti-LVT misinformation and encouraging support for such a policy filled column inches and websites in the weeks preceding what was an astonishing result for the party.

Beyond media coverage, though, interest in LVT skyrocketed in online searches. Google Trends recorded the highest interest in its recorded history for the period May 28 to June 3, most concentrated in the U.K. but visibly spilling across the Atlantic to the U.S.

Google’s ‘interest over time’ value for a particular term is relative to itself, with 100 denoting the highest volumes in the term’s history. The spike in interest around the time of the U.K. election was more than four times greater than at any other time in at least the past decade.

It’s reasonable to conclude that the election was solely responsible for the jump, and this is corroborated by comparing the trend with searches for ‘garden tax’. This was the pejorative name given to LVT by many tabloid publications, based on the misconception that homeowners with gardens would be charged exorbitant tax bills. Take a look at the correlation below:

Irrespective of the bias in media coverage, any increase of this magnitude in independent searches is a victory for proponents of a Land Value Tax. It’s up to us to capitalize on public interest at times like this and make sure that information and discussion online are productive and accessible. We are always on the lookout for interesting trends, and anyone can analyze and compare Google trends using this tool. Let us know if you find anything noteworthy!

Featured photo: theanthonyryan arsp_064 via photopin (license)

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Heather VanCura: How To Ally For Women In Tech

BIL: Oakland 2016 Recession Generation was an Earthsharing.org conference in Oakland, California on July 9th. Heather VanCura spoke about the need for companies and employees in the tech industry to change direct and subconscious behaviors and “ally” for women in tech.

There are myriad ways to encourage more women to take up roles in the ever-expanding tech industry, but policies that attempted to force change could be counterproductive, VanCura said. “Giving people quotas and forcing things on them… people react very negatively to it,” she said. “Just try to focus on being human.”

It was helpful to think of ally as a verb, not a noun, to encourage the idea that small actions could make a huge impact on employment culture for women, VanCura said. Things like being aware of how assignments are distributed, being prepared to change the subject from conversations about sex, and creating normalized expectations about salary negotiation and job competencies all have the potential to create a more positive environment for women.

“Women do not want to put themselves up for a job, they want to be told that they should go for that job. They will not put themselves up for a job unless they have all the requirements listed in the job description,” VanCura said.

 

Photo: wocintechchat.com Women In Tech – 92 via photopin (license)

Almost half of the women who take tech jobs leave within 10 years, and this was in part to an environment in which work traits were interpreted very differently in men and women.

“Some of the feedback that I received from my mentors and sponsors was that I was perceived as a little bit bossy or aggressive, sometimes abrasive, where when I think about it myself, I saw myself as a strong leader, independent, taking the lead, being brave. So there’s two different ways you can think about those types of behaviors.”

In an environment where perception is as or more important than performance, it was extremely difficult for women to succeed solely on the basis of their skill set. “I really did think it was a meritocracy, and I think that’s a big misconception,” VanCura said.

Overall, there is a need to disrupt the natural tendency to make assumptions about people, and to build a culture where everyone is treated as an individual.

“Remember that we are all human. We are more similar than we are different and we can all be the change that we wish to see if we focus on people as individuals and focus on what brings us together rather than what divides us.”

 

Heather VanCura is chairwoman of the Java Community Process standardization efforts at Oracle. She spearheads efforts to transform the JCP program and broaden participation and diversity in the community. She is passionate about women in technology and development, and is a regular international speaker and organizer of developer hack days around the world.

Featured photo: Ars Electronica Deep Space 8K / Play Spaces via photopin (license)

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The Henry George Program Ep. 5 – Corey Smith of SFHAC

In this May 9, 2017 episode, Corey Smith of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition talks about the policies and the politics to get the housing supply up to 5,000 units a year. All your favorites are here: CEQA and Prop 13. Some talk about the limits of empathy: are our land-use policies making us meaner?

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: San Francisco Housing Action Coalition

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Oregon And The Self-Sabotage Of Civic Cutbacks

At the beginning of April, 10 public libraries shut their doors all at once across Douglas County, Oregon. The mass closure of these critical civic institutions is the result of a democratic process in communities where every extra dollar on a tax bill is seen as an affront to personal liberty. The only hope for the future of these libraries rests on volunteers.

Oregon’s public purse has historically been filled by the spoils of logging the timber-rich regions of southern and western Oregon. Douglas County and its neighbors experienced a surge in demand for timber during and after World War II, and a flood of federal cash allowed small communities to provide all kinds of public infrastructure and services. For Douglas County, this included a public library system that would grow to encompass 11 branches.

Photo: courthouselover via Flickr.

Logging began to decline in the 1980s, and environmental protections on public land in 1990 sealed the fate of many communities reliant on timber. In Douglas County, federal timber revenues fell from $50 million a year to just several million. Once-free public services began to charge locals for use.

With library services firmly in the sights of further budget cuts, library supporters put together a proposal last fall that would have added about $6 per month to an average tax bill and saved the libraries from closure. This in a county where property taxes are subject to a cap set in 1990 that cannot be exceeded without a public vote, and specific county services like libraries must be funded out of special tax districts.

The taxpayers rejected the proposal, in the process generating a lot of negativity around the purpose of libraries in general and their perceived obsolescence. County authorities are seemingly ambivalent, caught between families and community groups on one hand and a complete lack of revenue on the other. Property taxes have always been one of the most effective and widely used mechanisms for public funding of vital services. This includes schools, roads, energy and waste infrastructure, and critical facilities like libraries and pools.

Thousands of small communities around the world are struggling due to a lost industry, and the only two options seem to usually be hoping for that industry to return, or tightening the purse strings exponentially as the community evaporates. There is a need for creative thinking in places like Douglas County, where an untold number of people have now lost access to essential services.

The many factors playing into this shameful development are summed up by Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, writing for Vocativ:

Just three hours south of Portland, where residents enjoy the fruits afforded by a tech and real estate boom, this rural community of loggers and agricultural workers is preparing to do without a publicly-funded institution considered by many to be as fundamental to American life as schools, paved roads, and the local police. In some ways, the demise of the public library system in Douglas County, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, is the outcome of a perfect storm of factors confronting towns and cities across the U.S. — the slow death of an industry; an exodus of young people and influx of retirees; an explosion of anti-tax fervor; and shifting perceptions on what government and people are willing to pay for today.

Featured photo: Daddy-David 137 – Look up! via photopin (license)

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The Henry George Program Ep. 4 – James Hughes: Technoprogressivism

We featured the libertarian transhumanist perspective of Zoltan Istvan a few weeks ago. In this May 2, 2017 episode, we speak with James Hughes, who couples a concern for transhumanism with a progressive attitude and a focus on economic justice.

Hughes is an American sociologist and bioethicist who falls on the progressive side of the political spectrum. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, which he founded with Nick Bostrom. He serves as Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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: KnightCap via Wikimedia.

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Will Robots Take Our Jobs?

This year at BIL San Francisco 2017, talks such as “When the Robots Don’t Work”, “Are Robots Trying to Kill Us?”, and “Why AI Works – The Epistemology of Deep Learning” take on a subject similar to presentations given at BIL Oakland 2016, for example, the “Will Robots Take Our Jobs? panel”

Julia Bossman argued that, given an explosion in robots and AI, there will be massive unemployment, with Timothy Roscoe Carter arguing that we need a basic income to protect people from such unemployment. Edward Miller questioned the assumption that AI will permanently replace human labor, instead arguing that AI will cause disruptions that temporarily displace workers as they attempt to provide their ‘comparative advantage’, referencing the classical economist David Ricardo.

Miller goes on to state that Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, demonstrating that even parties who are worse at producing everything (e.g. futuristic humans) will still be involved in the productive economy. This is true even if the other parties, in this case robots, are vastly better at producing everything.

Bolstering his point with an example, he said that there are even cases of de-automation especially in poor nations where labor is much cheaper. Miller went on to say that basic income will tend to increase people’s rent, such that the benefit provided by a basic income will be siphoned off by people who own high-value land in places like the San Francisco Bay Area. He cites a similar dynamic in the Bay Area where an increase in many people’s wages have simply driven up rent.

It was mentioned in the panel that humans in the future will likely not be separate from AI, leveraging it to augment their own intelligence as cyborgs, as opposed to a disembodied super-computer. Perhaps AI will not “take” our jobs because we will merge with them.

Andrés Gómez Emilsson questioned the panel’s assumption about what humans would even desire in a world with advanced AI, saying that such advancement would enable humans to fundamentally alter their own motivational systems, indeed human nature, not to mention our economic systems. This tied in with Miller’s statement about barring fantastical futuristic scenarios like in The Terminator, ones where robots literally try to exterminate humans, and in effect do a lot more than merely take our jobs. A more sober view is one in which land, natural resources, and other fundamental aspects of political economy persist, regardless of technological advancement. In such a scenario, It was argued that a land value tax would be the best way to fund a basic income because, as the basic income bids up rent, these higher land values would be continuously recollected via the tax to fund increasingly higher levels of basic income.

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UK Election A Light On Land Value Tax

The U.K. snap election ended with the confusion and dissatisfaction of a hung parliament today, as the Conservative Party lost its majority and the Labour Party made significant gains. Results aside, this 51-day election campaign has been a huge test for public perceptions of Land Value Taxation.

Labour’s manifesto proved hugely popular and was a major talking point of the campaign. The replacement of council tax with a Land Value Tax was one of its planks, and this presented the media and the public with an opportunity to give LVT its due diligence. Evidently, tens of thousands of U.K. voters were not dissuaded from voting Labour by the idea.

By the end of the campaign, LVT was making regular appearances in newspaper columns and generating productive public debate. Last week, a letter to the editor from Rev. Paul Nicholson in The Guardian read:

Rents must stop taking the money needed for food, fuel, water and other necessities. Several parties’ manifestos gave land value tax a nod. The advantages are that land cannot be placed tax-free in an overseas bank, taxing land forces into use the 600,000 plots of unused land owned by the big builders, it is progressive, it relieves the incomes of hardworking people and companies by enabling the abolition of inefficient taxes such as council tax, business rates and stamp duty.

Predictably, there were also waves of misinformation delivered by the Conservative Party and infamous U.K. tabloid publications, quick to label LVT a “garden tax” that would potentially triple the tax bills of regular working families and force farmers to raise their prices.

Photo: The Labour Party.

These kinds of arguments have only given more coverage to the policy, and given experts the opportunity to clarify exactly what LVT does and does not achieve. Land Value Tax is now on its way to being a mainstream policy idea across the U.K., where for years disillusionment has been spreading regarding the ownership, under-use, and monopolization of land. Responding to a prominent criticism of LVT as a “Marxist tax grab”, senior lecturer at the Institute of Local Government Studies Chris Game had this to say:

There’s a minor irony here. The principle of land value taxation – the recognition that land’s true ‘location’ value derives less from the actions of the individual owner than from the wider efforts of the community in creating transport links, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, and the community should benefit from this ‘unearned betterment’ part of the value accordingly – does indeed have history. Far from an invention of Corbyn’s Labour Party, it dates back well beyond Marx to at least the 18th Century classical economists, Adam Smith and David Ricardo: hardly proto-Marxists. Indeed, the bearded one himself dismissed it as a distraction from the historically inevitable transition from capitalism to communism.

While the millions who voted for progressive policy and economic justice in the U.K. this week will be left disappointed by the familiar government taking shape before them, this unexpected election cycle has propelled an otherwise unknown idea into the public consciousness. Land Value Tax will be a familiar proposal the next time it is put before voters, and debates on its efficacy will hopefully continue in the public and private domains.

Featured photo: Andy Miah via Flickr.

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The Henry George Program Ep. 3 – Introduction to Georgism with Kedar

In this April 25, 2017 episode, Kedar and Mark have a conversation about Georgism, Prop 13, and why this all matters.

 

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: curtis.kennington Studio Microphone via photopin (license)

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Watch & Listen: Sacred Water, Profane Markets

On May 19, the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation co-sponsored an event in New York with the International Union for Land Value Taxation, a United Nations ECOSOC NGO, the Center for the Study of Economics and The American Journal of Economics and Sociology.

The event was intended to foster an ongoing public dialogue on Mason Gaffney’s Sacred Water, Profane Markets, which appears in the November 2016 edition of American Journal of Economics and Sociology and challenges the fundamental assumptions of even the most liberal economic dogmas of the past century. According to the journal’s editor, Gaffney has produced “principles of universal relevance” by recognizing the tendencies toward capital accumulation inherent in laissez-faire capitalism and enshrining the sanctity of nature at the forefront of any policy discussion. Gaffney writes:

“Treating nature as a sacred gift requires our full capacity to imagine ways to heal the split between humans and the earth. A comprehensive plan to protect nature while securing the human right to water means changing the rules that govern the current ‘operating system’ for planet Earth.”

Two of the event’s speakers, David Triggs and Mary Cleveland, address the economics and management of water. They describe how a just system of charging for nature’s services can not only protect nature from excessive use but also make the market for produced goods and services healthier by preventing the development of monopolies that impede economic efficiency and destroy social harmony.

Drawing upon many years of practical experience in both developed and developing countries and extensive academic research, they show how a healthy balance of demand management and market forces may be used to ensure both safe drinking water for all in water scarce cities and the optimum sharing of water between agricultural, industrial and commercial users of water.

David Michel has researched and written about transboundary water governance, maritime resources management, and water conflict and cooperation. He is co-author of Toward Global Water Security: US Strategy for a Twenty-First-Century Challenge. He shares his views about the water ethics and policy presented by the first two speakers and how these might make a valuable contribution to a global water grand strategy formulation. The intention of Michel’s current work on global water security is to maximize the potential for civil society and the private sector to speak with a cohesive voice on water ethics and policy.

Following the three main speakers several designated respondents draw on their own insights and experiences in water ethics and management in giving their input to the proposed reconciliation of Sacred Water and Profane Markets. The main speakers and the respondents will then participate in a plenary round table discussion on a number of key points and questions raised by forum attendees.

Watch the full event below:

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