The Marriage of Basic Income and Land Value Tax

Get real, say basic income evangelists from symposiums and podiums with robotic futures on prophetic tongues. Automation and increased leisure need a reciprocal and productive arrangement between producer and consumer.

Yet, their culture of driverless cars and robotic manufacturing is only decades old and will soon lose the sources of energy which power it. Such thinking is street – consumerist – of hip products in on-line, high and democracy street.

The story on Consumer Street says that by paying for the product we create the need for it and so have right to a participant’s share of the profits. The robots make profits, but need no wages, beyond cost of materials and the protective intellectual property right claimed in design. Anyway, social security relief payments are more costly to administer than a simple basic income for all. Moreover, a consumer of robots, who is equipped with a basic income, may find monetary liberty to use that understanding to design better robots herself.

Well, it’s true that automation is the natural progression of the oil age.

However, it is not the natural progression of the digital age.

Fossil fuel has created the digital revolution. It is surplus energy – not human ingenuity, which truly powers robotics.

If settled cultures are to survive we have to face this truth – we have no surplus energy – we have an extreme deficit.

Renewable energy cannot power fossil-fuelled ways of life. We only know that it can power a well-organised pre-fossil fuelled way of life.

Fossil fuels had made manual labour largely redundant. We employed fossil fuels and sacked people. Now we must employ people and sack fossil fuels.

Our primal renewable energy will be man-power. Other sources are bound to absolute physical limits. Those limits make these things redundant – suburbia, the family car, air traffic, industrial agriculture, super markets and internet shopping. Those things have been powered by millions of years of fossilised photosynthesis – from outside our time and space. All happy futures will be bound to the limits of each, particular and singular season as it passes – and bound to particular places – soils; resources…  We must change our ways of living to sit happily in time and space.  Only then can we look about for available energy supplies.  We put the cart before the horse, if we think firstly of green energy and afterwards of how to use it.

Places are mutable by personal behaviour and by the unpredictable passing of time and seasons. As Ivan Illich says, soils are enriched, or diminished by our traces…

Basic income will be productive in quite another way – As Tom Paine proposed – in restorative justice. Depraved yeoman farmers and aristocrats, enclosed ancient commons, forcing settled, convivial self-sustaining communities into wage dependency, city slums and further rent extraction by city landlords. Every proprietor owes the community a ground rent for the land which he holds. Basic income is that ground rent.

The pillage of the Reformation had also imposed a state doctrine. Protestantism replaced shrines, festivals, gossip and holidays with a totalitarian new-speak. Complex, evolved cultures were displaced by brutalist, unremembering austerity. That imposition has survived through every turn of post-reformation history and remains as our cultural narrative today.

Literature and music easily recall that lost pre-reformation complexity – Falstaff babbling of green fields – Farwell, rewards and fairies of which the moping owl doth to the moon complain…

The cultures we’ll need to survive without oil, sit within just the means a landscape supplies – alongside trades of scarcity and surplus with similar neighbours. We’ll not build such a culture without shrines, festivals and holidays, which were the punctuating memorial repositories of pre-enclosure times. We need complexity. But there’s no recipe. David Fleming reminded us that large scale tasks need small scale systems, working within that large system. Today, we have large scale tasks employing large scale solutions, which compound the magnitude of the task. I met a fool in the forest. The beauty of the only sort of society that can survive and mitigate resource depletion and climate change is that it is small scale and includes every one of us. If we can respond instantly, intelligently and ingeniously to our personal mistakes, then those mistakes remain just as small as we are. But our solutions is connected to the larger community. For I am come with broom before – to sweep the dust behind the door…

We’ll be bound to place – to responsibility for it – for the passing on of soil, water, biomass, songs, morals, ancestral adventures… Basic income is reparation for enclosure of those commons – for replacing ingenious culture with idle sheep and then the stupefaction of the factory gate. Little people can reverse big history of oil and land monopoly with personally-identified intelligence, ingenuity and dexterity. Basic income can have a part in re-centring suburbia and repopulating fields.

That is – a massive migration of people – an epic change of culture – and an unprecedented wave of irresistibly contagious happiness can only be made possible by all of us – one at a time.  Only small, locally intelligent systems, which communicate together, can create a properly-responsive, large-scale change.

That will never happen? – That’s probably true. But if it is true, then young women today would be wiser not to bear children.

Meanwhile, an intellectual property rent, reimbursed as a productive cycle through the pockets of hipster robot masters is not the basic income I’d choose.

Since the Reformation, rent has bled production dry. Through passages of empire, advantageous trading and industrialisation, wealth has been sucked from the acts of economies into acts of enclosure. Cultures are what people do, and yet wealth has been extracted from the value added by good work to be sequestered in the pockets of idle monopoly – principally land monopoly. Others are status (lawyer, medical practitioner, politician, banker and so on), resources such as coal, oil and intellectual property in seeds, medicines, chemicals, machinery… The better people work, the more the values of those properties are enhanced and the higher the land rent extracted. Rent extracted by doctor, lawyer & etc. also increases, while doctor and lawyer gain surplus wealth for the purchase of further land property. Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates and men decay.

Even now, the rich grow richer by sitting idly in their properties, while the poor grow poorer in waiting on them – laying drains, building roads, growing food… Nearly five hundred years is a long time to hold down a festering injustice. I think we may have seen the pot boiling over in the Trump/Farage phenomena – the unpleasant side of reaction.

A better side may be celebrated in a Spring festival with a fiddler, a song and a marriage ceremony – for the marriage of Land Value Tax and Basic Income. When that Summer with his sunne softe – has the Wintre wedres over shake…

Donald Trump is Lord of Misrule for a day, but tomorrow…

Even black-hatted John Milton sang –

Rough satyrs danced and fauns with cloven heel, from the glad sound would not be absent long, And old Damaetas loved to hear our song.

Of course, those who hold monopolies never have, and never will agree to be taxed, although many have proposed it. Most certainly, it will prove the same today. But this decade is probably the most epic of all human times. It is likely that human cultures will not change and instead, step blindly forward into the havoc of climate change.

Grasping at straws is the best, most realistic, most convivial and most hopeful thing to do.

Take a straw.



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