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Lessons from the Radical Somewhere

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These days, Economic Reform groups have replaced Stock Investment clubs as the trendy thing to join. After two 50% crashes in the three major indexes (Dow, S&P 500, Nasdaq), it is unsurprising that people burned by stagnant employment, opportunities, and wages for years would rise to the occasion by promoting radical reformation of the most complicated thing ever invented by Man - the economy.

But we are.

I am part of several economic reform groups and a third-year student in the Henry George School of Social Science in New York City, which focuses on the political-economic philosophy espoused by Henry George. I am also president of the New York chapter of Common Ground, a Georgist organization with about a dozen other North American chapters.

The Members of the Federation

While the dozens of intelligent, curious and engaged people - with a large dollop of hubris - in these groups don't always agree on everything, we do agree on one thing: our political-economic system is profoundly broken and in need of an overhaul, or even a replacement with something new to human history.

Some of the players in our loose confederation include: Andrew, an ex-CEO of a fortune 500 company who now spends his time "making up" for his capitalist excesses by teaching at the Henry George school and joining our Common Ground meetings, and more tightly focused meetings with me and other "advanced" students; Tom Weiss, publisher of UP FRONT News, who has worked with the Coalition for the Homeless, and faced hard times himself; Allen, who leads an economic book club - we are currently reading Stephen Zarlenga's 700 opus, "The Lost Science of Money," and whose American Monetary Act would replace debt with non-inflationary money produced by Congress and end the fractional reserve banking system forever; Eric, who facilitates a boisterous and highly engaged group of about 20 people meeting weekly in place like the large back room of New York's Ukrainian East Village Restaurant to talk about everything from supporting Julian Assange to ending the Federal Reserve. Naturally, it is called the Liberty Coalition.

In my own group, I recently invited United for Action (UFA) - an anti-fracking group trying to end Natural Gas Fracking in New York State and beyond, the ultimate "land" (land is defined as ALL natural resources in classical economics) issue for Georgists and non-Georgists alike! UFA was founded by several laser-focused members of Obama for America, and recently held a press conference on New York State Governor Paterson's executive order restricting certain kinds of gas drilling. Tom's capped head pops up at the 14-second mark in this UFA video to actor Mark Ruffalo's left, and I'm proud to have introduced him and other Common Ground members to this group with Common Ground's showing of the movie "Split Estate." This sort of cross-pollination with environmental movements makes our Geoist economic group stronger and is something we will do more of.

The Issues
Not for us are relatively small debates like raising the top rate from 36% to 39%, the level of interest rates, or whether to raise the minimum wage. While important, we aim for radical reform.

For example, Georgists, like me, are more likely to promote the Single Tax, which would simply shift taxes off income/sales/capital entirely and onto natural resources and locational values whose value comes from the community, not the land-owner. Our motto is "To All the Fruits of The Earth. To Each the Products of their Labor." Why should someone get "rich in their sleep" without working? That locational value should be collected, as a Land Value Tax (LVT), and returned to the community that created it. We have hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that show the LVT promotes new building wherever it's tried. Tom wonders whether these new buildings will house the poor or just be new Manhattan luxury high rises, while Andrew says if the true land value was taxed on Wall Street, "Goldman Sachs would be out of there in a flash!" I argue that there would be more housing for the former as under/un-used land is freed up, and for the middle class, while the wealthy are already paying close to top Ground Rents, not counting their wealth derived from external sources (Andrew's point: locational values are less meaningful in a world where capital can be easily accumulated anywhere. Land-Users of the World, Unite!). Our next Common Ground meeting is going to go into this in more depth with several presentations.

We believe in a day when jobs chase people instead of people chasing jobs. Why should this sound so idealistic? After all, there are millions of jobs to be done, and millions of people who want to do them. All that's standing in the way is money. Money, which is often hidden in plain sight in the Comprehensive Financial Annual Reports (CAFRs), for example, for purposes that benefit an unproductive few. Andrew, probably the wealthiest among us, says reform is needed because, "The elite have to be protected from themselves and their own self-destructive behavior." I have further argued in a position paper published in Common Ground's newsletter, GroundSwell, that certain elite are actually The Least Productive People in the World because of their siphoning of both wealth and bailouts.

Two of our recent intense debates center around State Banking, as espoused by Ellen Brown, and Greenbacking, as endorsed by Brown, and Stephen Zarlenga, her unilateral partial nemesis on the issues of government banking, at any level, and of fractional reserve banking. I argue that these two reformers have more in common than differences, and besides, the model of State Banking most often cited, the Bank of North Dakota, is so conservatively run, with both assets and deposits that exceed loan portfolio amounts, it is fractional reserve banking in name only.

I'll have more to report from our grassroots efforts to reform the system in future articles. In the meantime...

Discuss!