CHAPTER THIRTEEN, DEMOCRACY?

It seems impossible that we ordinary geezers can have anything but tiny & mundane effects, but fashions and folk movements have sometimes exploded in extra-ordinary ways.  In any case, to think that druidic power will survive is to accept that in just a few decades (not centuries) Earth will be unfit for what we know as civilization.  400ppm of atmospheric CO2 is a far, far greater thing than the power of Monsanto.  If we accept that we can do nothing to contribute to a sustainable culture, then we must reconcile our moral position to cope with the end of modern civilisation.  That last would be a far harder thing for me to do.  What if that position becomes so for most of us?

Romantic dream or accepted night mare?

What of the democratic process?  – We can choose between pre-packed, druid-backed political parties, as we do labels on a variety of baked bean tins, because, like the tins, those parties are sold in the same retail park.   But we can choose between the least-worst options.  A slightly less damaged world is worth voting for and may make things easier if we do finally emerge into something like the light.  The fact that voting for any of those parties gives further support to the retail park re-enforces the tragedy of our social natures.  We must keep it in mind (and heart) that we are choosing the least worst option – and that in doing so we are morally compromised as decent people usually are.

Don’t forget that those politicians tangle with our lives even though we’d not tangle with them – so that we are entangled.  We can work towards a good life by avoiding super markets and supporting better markets, but most politicians will work to destroy better markets and to support super markets.  We can judiciously choose a better politician – with the simple and un-ambitious hope of removing the nuisance of the other.

Meanwhile, after the day job is the time for the real work of cultures to begin.  After all, is that not the time when amateurs, of necessity, have pursued their loves?

My reader can take it as read that when I speak of governance, I speak for the most part, of the islands of Britain and to lesser extents of those other cultures, which have influenced my perceptions – European, North American, Indian…..

Within these islands, new possibilities have arisen with the devolved powers of Scotland and Wales and the real possibility of independence – at least for Scotland.  Some powers have also been devolved to local government, where the tragically tiny Green Party can and sometimes does have a small influence.  Proportional representation has helped.

Of course an independent Scotland or Wales must re-consider what nationhood might mean and return to the first principles of a constitution.  Who are we as Scots or Welsh?  How do we cohabit?  What is common?  What can be enclosed?  Even – What is happiness?

If both Scotland and Wales gain independence, then England will become independent too – with necessary constitutional reforms.

My reader can guess how I have cast my vote – not to the winds of None of the Above (an honourable position), but for Plaid Cymru.  Incidentally, that honourable position has an honourable history in the early church and more recently in some small parts of the environmental movement.

Talking of winds, the turbines of Wales & Scotland have already set them on roads to energy independence, even though the SNP have proved disappointing in their lust for oil-extracted wealth.

They have also proved disappointing on land reform.

In Scotland, memory of the clearances is a deeply-felt force and it’s to be hoped: a force for the good – the common good is something all constitutions must consider!  That the common good land has been stolen by dukes, thanes and lords before rival dukes, thanes and lords could get their bloody hands on it, is an accepted truism.  When we think of commons today, we think of wild moors, or sandy heaths, which have not been worth the stealing.  Today, shooting and stalking estates, and golf courses have changed even that simple truth.  Of course, occasional village greens have survived.  But they survive as picturesque backdrops to pub and post office to be (once upon a time) shown off by a squire to his guests.

Please read Andy Wightman’s The Poor had no Lawyers.  The blood-thirsty goings on of the Scottish nobility make an entertaining horror story – and he tells it well.

Anyway, though restorative land justice may be very inconvenient and even impossible to a modern, propertied mind, new constitutions may re-consider both the natures of commons and of property.

The land reform movement in the Highlands and Islands of Western Scotland has proved wonderfully successful – increasing both self-reliance and population.  Today, you can stand on any one of more than 5000,000 acres in the Highlands and Islands and, on asking some local person who owns that acre, get the answer, “Us.”  James Hunter, From the Low Tide of the Sea to the Highest Mountain Tops, 2012

Here are some quotes from James Hunter’s book:

The pattern of land ownership in the Highlands and Islands today is not a harmless relic of a bygone age…. That pattern of ownership represents a serious distortion of our social and economic life and the time has finally come to consign it to history.  Today we are lighting a beacon for radical and sweeping land reform right across the Highlands, Alasdair Morrison MSP (LABOUR?! Western Isles)

I can’t imagine Milliband and co approving that.

Since the community buy-out in 2002, the island has gone from strength to strength with a growing population that is sustainably-developing its local economy.  Wind turbines that generate income for the local economy, a housing refurbishment programme (..) increasing local business activity and a forward-looking trust with directors elected from the island leading the way. Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, 2011

Community ownership of pubs, village shops, post offices and wind/water turbines has had some success in recent years and such models can be extended to include farmland and wider manufacturing and trade.  After all, many such ventures such as mills and trading vessels have been historically financed by locally-released share, or bond systems.  A coastal community could be independent of a chancellor’s manipulation, while remaining curious about the wider world.  It could build sail-trading ships, form shipping companies or co-operatives and develop its own manufacturing and agriculture.  The transition town movement has been leading the way and also leading with the introduction of local currencies, such as the Totness Pound.  A community well-settled in its terrain is best able to ferret out where and how its resources lie.  For instance generating electrical energy to drive factories and workshops may not be the best use of resources.  The direct traction of mill races can generally provide abundant power.  Those sluggish dykes of Holland and East Anglia may provoke the return of the wind mill.

Considering new nation states, I suppose we must consider the unpleasant sides of nationalism.  But surely, the massive challenges all communities will face should present more of a focus than that of race.  Severely depleted resources and a probably wilding climate may bring communities together in adversity.  People with their backs to the wall have historically rounded on racial scapegoats, but if my folk movement embraces the thought that cultures are what we do, not who we are, then we’ll have more than enough to do to consider who another is.  In fact, the tools and techniques of foreign neighbours will be of profound interest to those seeking technological solutions.

As Alastair McIntosh reminds us, the bonds of milk are stronger than the bonds of blood.  Let’s hope that a diversity of religions and cultures may bond us as foster-children of the same terrains.

Smaller nation states can trade more easily within a shared (& mutually reforming) culture.  The Nordic and Baltic states may be fitting partners for Scots, Welsh, Irish, and let’s hope English trade.  It goes without saying to anyone enchanted by real and natural physics and disenchanted with anachronistic fossil physics, that sailing boats will liberate the future.  It seems to me that citizens of the Bronze Ages and even the Neolithic must have had a far less parochial outlook than we Britons do today.  Their trade routes were extensive.  Close to home for me, artisan ship wrights of the Lleyn Peninsula built ocean going vessels for American and Australian trade – right up until the first years of the Twentieth Century – boats built on small slipways and beaches – owned by local trading companies and sailed by local families of seafarers.  The last of the famous Porthmadog schooners was built in Nineteen Fourteen.  Two styles of boat design have thriven for centuries and will continue into the future – ocean-going deep-keeled, which need offshore anchorage or suitably deep harbours and flat-bottomed for beaching – which can be used for trade almost anywhere – shore-hopping from community to community….

Localist remedies to the resource-usage of excessive food-miles become redundant when sail can provide an answer.  Rigid localism may be a dangerous position to hold, when both scarcity and abundance will be unpredictable and trade could be a solution to both.

Sail-trade may also provide enticingly romantic employment to many in the exodus from inappropriately-sized cities.

Considering trade, one Porthmadog route was slate to North America and Canada with a return cargo from the cod banks.

My more frivolous trade would be white slaves (bankers, politicians & TV presenters) to the Mediterranean and a home voyage of wine and olives – well convivial rather than frivolous – a benefit to all – We’d be rid of a pernicious influence and would gain in pleasurable cuisine, while the barbarian bankers and politicians would be mellowed and civilized by sunshine, honest work and good food in the vineyards.  They could then be freed as productive members of society.

Anyway, some attempted conversation (rather than abduction) with the powers will be necessary.  Since knowledge and thought are not functions of power and are always a danger to it, such conversations will be limited and difficult.

Site value taxation for the revenue of the common good is a danger to propertied power, but is a subject worth negotiating, since it will stimulate economic activity, while taming the powerful casino which has historically appropriated the wealth generated by ingenuity and labour.

Similarly, restoration and economic stimulation may be achieved by replacing social security relief payments with a simple citizen’s income for all – sometimes called social credit or basic income.  There is a growing basic income movement in Europe.

Thomas Paine first proposed a basic income in his pamphlet Agrarian Justice, printed in 1797.  I think he still puts it best.  I’ve nothing to add to it.

Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.

In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for. But it is that kind of right which, being neglected at first, could not be brought forward afterwards till heaven had opened the way by a revolution in the system of government. Let us then do honor to revolutions by justice, and give currency to their principles by blessings.

Having thus in a few words, opened the merits of the case, I shall now proceed to the plan I have to propose, which is,

To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property:

And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.

As Tom Paine says, much land property is a legacy of violence and theft.  Citizen’s income is a small restoration of justice – a land rental paid back into funds for the common good – from legalised but amoral enclosures back to the moral commons.

It may seem crazy to a GDP-obsessed, monetarist trickle-downer, but the same basic income for all adults – enough for simple needs, could easily replace current social security and pension payments.  It would be visibly egalitarian.  It would be enough for the simple needs of the retired and for those who’d retire from the world (in monkish cells, scientific garden sheds or poetical garrets).

Wages could be smaller and the risks would be minimised for those seeking workshops or businesses of their own.  I see a basic income releasing new ingenuities to solve the massive dysfunctions of post modernity.  Not least, parenthood and in particular, motherhood would not face its current, sometimes heart-breaking moral dilemmas.  Moreover, those unable to work would not face the stigma of dependency.

Funding may be raised from taxation of income above the tax-free basic income, but hopefully (in my midsummer night’s dream) from a site value tax – a tax on the wealth takers to return to the wealth generators.

Basic income, by reducing wage needs and stimulating personal responsibility and endeavour may also provide a useful tool to stabilise the economic shrinkage necessary for cultures to live within their means.  Probably about two thirds of current spending (GDP) is in ephemeral, unnecessary and ultimately impossible goods and services.  Shrinking spending towards the necessary third will not be easy and contains the risk of economic collapse.  Creating a descent rather than a collapse may be partly achieved by controlled inflation, but most importantly by a common social perception of the necessity to descend.  Basic income would add a re-assuring floor for that descent.

As we’ve explored, site value of properties is by far the largest part of their price – a price that has been bid upwards in a wild casino to today’s cloud-capped levels.  In a real economy, houses depreciate in value – they decay and need repair.  It seems to me that banks will begin to collapse as the truth of our energy-supply becomes apparent.  Mortgages (which were abstract, debt-created moneys to buy fantasies – not things) could be written off as those fantastical cloud-capped towers of site value collapsed.

Prospero’s debt-created capital which has funded today’s fantastic growth in frivolous and abstract spending was created from empty air – and like the baseless fabric of its vision – may leave not a wrack behind.

Banks could be nationalised – and rationalised.  They have swollen to today’s fantastical size by creating capital simply by lending it.  Governments could demand a return to base value.  Some readers may be unaware that banks immediately lend the money which they have deposited and still command, so that the money has two owners – effectively doubling the money in circulation and making fortunes for banks.  It is time for the reckoning.  Incidentally, global “aid” moneys have been “given” or “lent” in the same way, increasing (for the most part) the circulation of American dollars and making (for the most part) fortunes for donors and saddling impoverished recipients with debt and political obligation.

British chancellors who fret at one, two, or three percent growth in spending measured in GDP, must eventually face at least a sixty six percent reduction in spending – probably more – Of course it is unlikely that any will do so.  It is not a promise for which they were elected.  Only a folk movement could achieve such a thing – by a mass belief in the necessity for a descent.  That is a comic proposition to the seriousness of power.

Here is Anne Ryan describing the application of a basic income for Ireland:

Within the tax system that prevails now in Ireland, basic income would require the payment of a higher rate of income tax – about 45% — on any income over and above the basic income, which is always tax-free. That extra tax would be offset by the basic income received. In other words, only very high earners would experience a decrease in net income.xv The chief point is that any tax paid to finance basic income would be returned as basic income. But the change in the system would bring priceless freedom and dynamic benefits for everybody.

Basic financial security requires just a modest amount of adjustment to the current system, but gets money circulating in economy and society, without reliance on banks and without tying a basic standard of income to paid employment. Basic income also eliminates the benefits trap that many people welfare recipients can often experience if they are offered employment. With the benefits trap gone and basic security and money circulation in place, individual members of society can judge for themselves how best to organise their lives; they have scope for creativity and diversity in how they manage their different concerns, including paid and unpaid work, family, personal relationships, self-development, community and education.

Money flow and energy flow are directly related.  Energy flow has been excessive and so money flow has been similarly excessive.  However money flow has recently accelerated beyond energy flow by eloquent, but fictitious promises of further energy supplies and the release of still more debt-created capital.  The whole is exacerbated (as we’ve explored) by the enclosure of the common good of land, which is in the end the generator of everything.  Either a crash or a descent is inevitable.  Unfortunately, belief in the convenient promises of “business as usual” is making a crash more likely than a descent.  Arctic oil, shale gas and biofuels are supposed to provide for the business as usual.

Modern monetary casinos are maintained on the beliefs and dreams of the gamblers within them.  Puncture the dream and economies crash.  Recent UK chancellors have made a descent more difficult and a crash more likely by “quantitive easing”: that is by spending money into being through banks – to increase amoral spending on unsustainable frivolities.  Spending into new deals in the Roosevelt manner could have created employment and also palpable assets for the future, such as new localised infrastructures, housing, renewable energy systems and so on.  It is my view that high-speed rail spending would be far better spent on low-speed rail spending – in a network of branch lines.  Similarly small harbours, small boatyards, small workshops/engineering shops could be assisted by new deals and also by localised share and bond systems, in which local people can share stakes in local futures.  To soften the fall, we must build up the real economy and diminish the height of the casino.

Considering belief and lack of belief – lack of belief in the casino may be relieved by a stronger belief in a more localised economy, whose services are exchanged by means of a localised currency.  A community may more easily discover gaps in local services by discovering limits to what a local currency can buy and sell– so stimulating localised ingenuity to develop what is missing.  As the local economy is preferred and its currency swells, so a national or global economy’s influence will be diminished.  Risks will also be spread.  Graham Barnes of Feasta is adding to the thoughts Of Richard Douthwaite.

If people living in an area cannot trade among themselves without using money issued by outsiders, their local economy will always be at the mercy of events elsewhere.  The first step for any community aiming to become more self-reliant is therefore to establish its own currency system, Richard Douthwaite, Short Circuit, 1996.

Basic income and the plainly-visible solid economic ground of soils, resources, labour and human ingenuity (traded at last partially by a local currency) may provide a destination for a relieved and orderly descent from the eclectic and esoteric casino of GDP – towards the ordinary and familiar ground of a warm and comforting humanity.

Such a folk movement, considering and growing from ordinary laws of physics and cultural history may have a contagious and international potency.  A movement may grow unchecked by power, when it does not challenge it.  I don’t mean to say that it doesn’t diminish that power.  In truth, I hope that such a dream may prove the most effective way of diminishing the power of the current government/corporate partnership.  In a reversion to historical roles, a folk movement can build a culture by taking knowledge and ingenuity back to the common, where it can flow naturally between generations.  Because (until post modernity) knowledge has not been a function of power, so power should be happy reverting to its traditional games of feasting, drinking and promenading.  It can remain in a bigger house than the rest of us and no doubt, its wealthy attractions will still lure a few of the physically attractive of both sexes from “below”.  Those without moral weight (as the saying goes) will still rise to the top.  Good riddance!

Traditionally, those without moral substance have risen to the top of societies, while integrity has remained in the sediments.  We can’t change human nature.

Of course powerful corporations which control fossil fuel supplies, roads, retail parks, super markets, the big retail brands, shipping companies, grain trade, seeds, drugs and agricultural chemicals will fight to have their revenues maintained.  But corporations have no governing legitimacy to fall back to – Their license as privateers was always by a nod and a wink over those country suppers.  The documentation has been deliberately obscure – while revolving door contracts have been swept behind the door…. In any case corporations don’t physically exist.  They are abstractions.  They can vanish at a thought.

The Right of Monsanto has no scripture to give it credence.  Those seed patents were owned by an abstraction and may return to the common by a sort of human gravity.  Patents are property, which can be bequeathed, or sold, but I’ve hopes that those once owned by an historical abstraction will be returned to more substantial funds of the common good.

A voluntary exodus from Tesco and a return to street markets, proper, village/corner shops and workshops – can only be illegal if there is a coup (monetary or military) by the fatherly republic of Monsanto, Cargil, Syngenta, Bayer, Tesco, the Murdoch press and their tame political children from the Conservative, Liberal, New Labour and United Kingdom Independence Parties.

Considering druidic revolving doors, such a coup is possible.  However, I suggest it to be more unlikely than even my midsummer night’s dream.

Anyway, to conclude this chapter, here are some passages from Henry George’s Progress and Poverty (1879), which explain very well the reasons for unequal wealth and the remedies for it.

 It is not in the relations of capital and labour, it is not in the pressure of population against subsistence, that an explanation of the unequal development of our civilization is to be found. The great cause of inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land.

Now here are two men of equal incomes – that of the one derived from the exertion of his labour, that of the other from the rent of land. Is it just that they should contribute equally to the expenses of the state? Evidently not. The income of the one represents wealth he creates and adds to the general wealth of the community; the income of the other represents merely wealth that he takes from the general stock, returning nothing. The right of the one to the enjoyment of one’s income rests on the warrant of nature, which returns wealth to labour. The right of the other to the enjoyment of his income is a mere fictitious right, the creation of municipal regulation, which is unknown and unrecognized by nature. The father who is told that from his labour he must support his children must acquiesce, for such is the natural decree; but he may justly demand that from the income gained by his labour not one penny shall be taken, so long as a penny remains of incomes that are gained through monopoly of the opportunities nature offers impartially to all, and in which his children have, as their birthright, an equal share.

The equal taxation of all species of property is commonly insisted upon on the ground that all property is equally protected by the state. The basis of this idea is evidently that the enjoyment of property is made possible by the state; that there is a value created and maintained by the community, which is justly called upon to meet community expenses. Now, of what values is this true? Only of the value of land. This is a value that does not arise until a community is formed and, unlike other values, it grows with the growth of the community. It exists only as the community exists. Scatter again the largest community, and land, now so valuable, would have no value at all. With every increase of population the value of land rises; with every decrease it falls. This is true of nothing else save of things which, like the ownership of land, are in their nature monopolies.

The tax upon land values falls upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, of the value that is the creation of the community. It is the application of the common property to common uses. When all rent is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, no citizen will have an advantage over any other citizen save as is given by his industry, skill and intelligence; and each will obtain what he fairly earns.

And so with the farmer. I speak not of the farmer who never touches the handles of a plough, but of the working farmer who holds a small farm which he cultivates with the aid of his sons and perhaps some hired help. He would be a great gainer by the substitution of a single tax upon the value of land for all the taxes now imposed on commodities because the taxation of land values rests only on the value of land, which is low in agricultural districts as compared with towns and cities, where it is high. Acre for acre, the improved and cultivated farm, with its buildings, fences, orchard, crops and stock, would be taxed no more than unused land of equal quality. For taxes, being levied upon the value of the land alone, would fall with equal incidence upon unimproved as upon improved land.

As Henry George says, the gap between rich and poor increases because the poor generate the wealth, which increases both property prices and rents.  As the many ask wages of the few (whose money commands still more money) so wages fall.

Historically, before acts of enclosure, rights have been granted as rights to responsible roles.  Commons rights conferred right to a prescribed behaviour for maintaining the common.  All rights had responsibility attached, including inherited rights to lordship; lairdship; kingship.

Land enclosure was radical in that it endowed ownership as a right with no responsibility attached.  Of course, intellectual property enclosure is performed by the same sleight of hand.

Restoration of wealth to what generated the wealth is not only a matter of simple justice, but is also essential to restore economic thinking to the observant morality of the skilled and to remove it from the careless, unobservant amorality of the propertied – many of whom still deny our entry into the Anthropocene.

The same can be said of the removal of intellectual property from the diverse ingenuities of the common to the parochial stillness of ownership.  Intellectual property ownership is a state to be protected from the curiosity and the sheer diversity and mass of the many minds that reap their many experiences.  The same applies to intellectual property ownership as to land property ownership – it widens the gap between rich and poor.  As the labours of the poor generate the wealth of fields, (for instance) so intellectual property rents will also rise.  We know the story with agricultural commodities.

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