How Georgism can be the answer to environmental degradation

The Amazon rainforest has been burning for three weeks. This is devastating the lives of indigenous communities and the wildlife that inhabit this fundamental ecosystem of the earth. On Monday, the smoke covered the skies of Brazil’s biggest city, Sau Paulo, blocking out the sun of a city that is over 2700km (1700 miles) away. The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The fact it has taken up to three weeks for the news of the fires to reach the West has been cause for concern to the public and many have taken to Twitter to express their sadness, anger, and disbelief, as seen below.

Indeed, it is important to identify the role of President Bolsonaro in enabling such catastrophic deforestation, which begun immediately after he took office in January with his assault on Amazon rainforest protections through the transference of regulations and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry. The agricultural ministry is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby and led indigenous spokespersons to highlight such an event as a symbolic concession to farming interests at a time when deforestation is rising again.

Such a statement has unfortunately been proven correct by data from the National Institute for Space Research, whom have reported the number of fires in Brazil this year is has increased by 84% than over the same period in 2018.

Nevertheless, it is time for more pragmatism in addressing environmental degradation. Calls to organise demonstrations and other forms of virtue signalling from the left simply aren’t good enough. Environmental disaster is here and now, calls to defeat capitalism are not. Capitalism is deeply ingrained into the global order, therefore to create a new global order takes time which we simply do not have at our disposal. Instead, I argue we must invoke the ideals of Georgism.

Georgist economic theory posits that whilst individuals should own the value they produce themselves, economic value derived from land should belong equally to all members of society because the resources of the land should be free for all to benefit from. Policy proposals that incorporate this are eco-taxes which tax polluters. This would include deforestation by farmers. In Georgist terms, this is a land-value tax which discourages waste. Therefore, for a land mass as large as the Amazon, which provides up to 20% of global oxygen, any attempts to deforest would see a huge financial burden placed on the individuals and businesses that seek to do so.

Although the majority of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal, the actions of President Bolsonaro in weakening the power of government agencies responsible for protecting the rainforest, implicate him as an enabler and as someone who doesn’t take climate concerns seriously. This is most recently evident in his dismissal of former head of agency and physicist Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, for releasing a report highlighting the alarming rate of Amazonian deforestation in Brazil.

However,  international sanctions on states which do not adhere to an international standard of land-value tax would demand much more action. This would make the continuity of such economically damaging activities politically nonviable. Therefore, this is a possible route to success in saving the environment from leaders such as Bolsonaro, whom seek to bypass the importance of protecting the environment in their pursuit of development.

If, and it’s a big if, the international community and world leaders can come together to implement a global, Georgist land-value tax, it would go a long way in beginning to reduce pollution and other damaging activities to our environment.

REVEALED: EU Parliament demands €535,609 in repayment from Conservative MEP group

 

Daniel Hannan, MEP for South East England, is at the centre of a spending scandal concerning the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) having served three consecutive terms as ACRE secretary-general up until December 2017. ACRE’s website states their agenda as one which seeks a new reformed Europe, however, the group stand accused of misspending funding supplied by the European Union on events for Hannan’s other projects – the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) think-tank, as well as Conservatives International, both with little relevance to such an agenda. Therefore, misleading the public in regards to the ownership and authorship of the conferences.

Hannan has been accused of having a conflict of interest for his part, with the European Parliament stating in a letter addressed to the ACRE current secretary general, the Czech MEP, Jan Zahradil that “the overlap of the functions of Mr Daniel Hannan MEP and the advantage taken by the IFT from the financial activities of ACRE could be considered as a conflict of interest”.

The European Parliament has demanded that ACRE repay the €535,609 (£484,360) of EU funds and will issue a formal demand for the payment of the full sum next week. Some examples of misspending by which the European Parliament paid particular attention to were outgoings such as the €250,000 spent on a three-day event at a luxury beach resort in Miami which listed former Spanish prime minister, José María Aznar as a key speaker at the conference, despite the event having an “almost exclusively American audience” thus bearing little relevance to the ACRE group’s agenda of promoting a new and reformed EU.

In addition to this, the European Parliament has suspicions over another trip made by the group. ACRE spent a further €90,000 on a trade “summit” at a five-star hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kampala. The summit audience is said to have consisted of mostly African attendees who met 20 British politicians and participants, with only three attendees from continental Europe. Thus once again, drawing into question the relevance of such a trip to the group’s agenda.

The two events appear on the IFT website yet fail to mention the EU as the source of funding for either.

Both Hannan and ACRE have responded to the allegations. With the latter insisting that both events “contributed to EU awareness and focused on topics clearly pertinent to EU integration and EU policies”. Whilst Hannan personally, defensively described the European Parliament’s findings as “absurd and outrageous”. 

Nevertheless, even fellow conservative sources have been quick to distance themselves from ACRE, despite helping to create the group, with some brandishing the group as merely “Daniel Hannan’s travel agency”.

 

 

 

Universal Credits and the Nationalisation of debt: Let’s not let Harry’s past be our future

Following the death of the late, great historian, RAF veteran, author and champion of socialism Harry Leslie Smith. Now more than ever, is a time to call for more empathy in British politics. Harry Leslie Smith powerfully wrote for the Independent on Christmas Eve last year, divulging into What Christmas was like for his generation during the Great Depression.

Harry explains – “When Christmas morning came that year, I awoke like too many children across Britain, with hunger in my belly and the realisation that there was no Father Christmas for the poor. I remember crying in anger and desperation. My dad tried to calm my agitation as best he could by hugging me and saying: “Go into my trouser pocket. It’s not from Father Christmas and it’s not much, but it is from thy dad.”

Mr Smith has time and time again has pleaded with citizens: ‘Don’t let my past be your future’. However, the Guardian on Sunday identified that more than 100,000 children in the UK this year likely are likely to face Christmas hardship. The primary reason being the poorly designed Universal Credits system and it’s feature of payment in monthly arrears – intended to mirror the world of work. This system is cruel and illogical.

Although statistically true that most people in work are paid in monthly arrears, this statistic is disproportionate to the demographic whom are most likely to claim Universal Credits. Therefore rather than fulfilling the governments underlying objectives of changing the benefits system to transform the culture of claimants, the 5-6 week assessment period following application simply means that many tenants are left helpless, without the income required to pay their rent in the first 6 weeks of transition, leading to the accumulation of debt in the form of rent arrears.

Such flaws have been identified within the Housing Plus Academy Think Tank on ‘Universal Credit and its impact on communities – how can we help? The summary of the Think Tank’s findings state that:

“The wait for a first payment had severe and immediate consequences: 70% of respondents found themselves in debt, 57% experienced issues with their mental or physical health, and 57% experienced housing issues.”

The effects of the waiting time are particularly relevant this Christmas, given that claimants who signed up after 20 November will not receive any benefit until after the festive period because of the built-in wait of at least 35 days for a first monthly payment, the Peabody Trust said. Therefore, families and parents are left to struggle and borrow, only increasing their accumulation of debt further, to avoid their children facing a Christmas day such as that faced by Harry Leslie Smith.

According to the Guardian, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “There’s no reason for people to be without money over Christmas because advance payments are widely available. Anyone applying for Universal Credit can get an advance of up to 100% upfront, payable on the same day if someone is in urgent need.” Whilst, in the last week, Justin Tomlinson, the junior work and pensions minister, described how poor families could simply just take in a lodger to beat the benefit cap. Such comments by people occupying prominent roles in government and civil service demonstrate a complete lack of empathy and understanding within British Politics. How is it, that the worst off within our society are being blamed for the failings of a system?

These comments are also ignorant. Anya Martin, quoted in the Guardian, describes how despite advances being made available to claimants, it simply means that ‘people are then having to use their benefits to repay the government’s advances’. The government made welcome changes in the budget, reducing the maximum percentage of income that could be used to repay advances to 30% from its original 40% yet that remains too high. The government through the Universal Credits system are creating a debt culture; they have created the debt within the policy and then administer advances in response, thus nationalising the whole process. The nationalisation of debt.

In addition, such failings are also relatively easy to solve. An adoption of the system the Scottish Government are currently trialling that provides the option of two monthly payments, therefore two week arrears rather than monthly. This would help to alleviate at least some of the financial burden on claimants by reducing and in some cases possibly preventing the accumulation of debt and the intense stress that comes with it, particularly at Christmas time.

The Universal Credits system requires further investment now more than ever in order to help families avoid such hardship this Christmas.

And so, now is the time to remind you that austerity is a political choice and not an economic necessity. I believe that this system can in fact be saved with increased funding from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and has the potential to improve the lives of many citizens if the necessary improvements are made alongside more efficient implementation. Without such improvements, many will continue to suffer.

An opportunity missed? The case for renationalising Scotland’s railways

In the past week, the SNP and the Scottish Conservative Party teamed up to voting down a Scottish Labour motion to utilise the break clause in Abellio’s ScotRail contract and re-nationalise the railways. The Scottish Labour motion was defeated by 85 votes to 34.

Despite an argument that, perhaps the SNP may be forgiven for the prevention of such a measure, given the franchise does indeed carry some considerable public support – a 9/10 passenger satisfaction in the twice-yearly National Rail Passenger Survey published in July, this view is short-sighted and ignores the wider issues underpinning the UK railway system.

Simply put, the UK railway system is a strange model of both public and private ownership, meaning it is both fragmented and chaotic. Railway infrastructure is nationalised whilst operation is privatised. Network Rail admitted at least 60% of passenger delays are attributed to themselves. Therefore, blame cannot be solely directed at Abellio ScotRail but at the system, too.

But, the segmentation between public and private and the multiple companies running the railways means that communication is poor which impacts performance through delays and cancellations, as evident through official figures that declare the proportion of trains arriving within five minutes of their scheduled time has fallen again to 88.2 per cent, as opposed to the terms of Abellio ScotRails’ government contract target of 92 per cent. The argument for privatisation is that the increased competition will lead to more competitive ticket prices and a generally improved performance. However, as highlighted in the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) report 2017: “travel by rail is clearly unsuited to this kind of competition – firms can hardly offer competing services at the same time on the same route – and most passengers seeking to take the train to a particular destination simply do not have a choice of which TOC they travel with.”

Consequently, privatisation essentially catalyses franchising, meaning monopolies form and prices rise. The TSSA report also identified the fact that Scotrail is one of the most highly subsidised franchises in the UK – in 2015-16, Abellio Scotrail received £293 million in direct government funding, amounting to nearly 45.6% of its total income.

Meanwhile, profits such as the £10m made by Abellio in its first 9 months, as ScotRail franchise operator that would be reinvested into the system under nationalisation, are instead used by Abellio to subsidise rail fares for their parent company Dutch Railways, and their passengers. This system is not sustainable and is not in the interest of Scottish citizens.

Furthermore, the performance of Abellio Scotrail has inevitably taken a dramatic turn for the worse. A loss of £3.5m has been announced in the operators first full year of service in Scotland. It has begun to request the voluntary redundancy of any willing workers within the administrative, clerical, supervisory and managerial staff across Scotland, leaving workers naturally in fear, regardless of the companies commitment to no compulsory redundancies. The privatisation of the railways is not only damaging the livelihoods of its passengers but now also its own workers.

Author and broadcaster, Simon Jenkins, said: “Every sensible report on Britain’s railway for 20 years has reached this same conclusion. A railway needs one managerial unit, one loyalty, one leader.”

This is the re-nationalisation proposed by Scottish Labour, with a split still between a track company and operators. The SNP had the opportunity to re-nationalise the railways and to lead the way for re-nationalisation of the railways across the U.K, especially given the current railway crisis gripping the north of England. If the SNP were indeed a progressive party as their rhetoric suggests, they would not prevent such a measure.