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Moving back to “menace of privilege”

June 28, 2009

I’ve moved the entire contents of this blog to my new one, menace of privilege. Of course moving is never simple.  For instance, it turns out that all the blogroll links had to be moved manually, which I did, but that they are now all in a single category.  One of these days real soon now I shall get them organized. (Meanwhile, the separate “priceofprivilege” blog that I experimented with last year has been discontinued.)

This blog will stay up for a while, I guess, but please update your bookmark to the new site: http://menaceofprivilege.com/

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Madagascar update

June 7, 2009

Last fall I mentioned a deal between Korean conglomerate Daewoo and the gov’t of Madascar, for the former to get half a Belgium’s worth of farmland at basically no charge. Turns out it was more controversial than I thought, caused a revolution, and the new government has revoked the deal. But, as the linked article explains, similar deals are proceeding in several other countries.

This information comes from farmlandgrab.org (“Governments and corporations are buying up farmland in other countries to grow their own food – or simply to make money”), via Alanna Hartzok.

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patents + taxes = insanity squared

June 1, 2009

Yes, over sixty patents have been issued for “tax planning methods.”  You discover (or contrive?) a loophole, then patent its use. Subsequent taxpayers (or tax avoiders) who might happen on the same idea are obligated to contact you and arrange to license your innovation.  This is not what the Framers had in mind when they empowered Congress

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

Cong. Rick Boucher introduced a bill a couple of years ago to limit the benefits patent holders could obtain for such patents (summarized here(doc) with full text here(pdf)).   A message today from Vaughn Henry implies that this has been reintroduced.

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Chicago consumer prices lag

May 31, 2009

Now that we have the highest sales tax rates of any substantial community in the nation, it stands to reason that consumer prices, which include taxes, would be increasing faster here than nationally, right? Read the rest of this entry »

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Farmers still don’t own their land

May 17, 2009

The Census Bureau has issued the 2007 Census of Agriculture reports for Illinois, and, no surprise, most farmland is not owned by the farmer who works it.  62% of farmland in the state is tenant-farmed, up from 58% in 2002.  (table 9, pdf) . Owner-operators are the majority of farmers, but have much smaller farms, 107 acres and $47,726 gross revenue, compared to part-tenants (784 acres and $407,013) and farmers who rent all their land (439 acres and $254,814) (table 65, pdf)

Nationally, however, more than half of farmland is operator-owned.  And these owners paid more than $7 billion in interest on loans secured by real estate.

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The Secret Life of Real Estate

May 17, 2009

is subtitled “How it Moves and Why,” but this isn’t about the Kinetic Condos. It’s a response to a questions Georgists often hear: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”  Different Georgists give different answers, including “I am rich.”

We know that the major cause of the business cycle is the capitalization and trading of government-protected privilege.  This privilege can be any kind of income obtained without producing, and may flow from spectrum licenses, drilling rights, patents, copyrights, or a hundred other sources.  But the main one is land ownership, since land is not a product of human labour.

When demand increases for a product or service, production can increase, but that isn’t true of privilege. The only limit on the price of privilege is what the market will bear without breaking.   So can’t we measure that price, use the information to forecast economic meltdowns, and thus become wealthy?

Our massive government statistics operations, which know how much more Asian-American households spend on rice than the rest of us do (4 times as much, as of 2003), and that people spend an average of 2.43 hours each weekday watching television, know just about nothing about the price of land.  Only a few countries maintain any such information (Korea, Japan, Denmark, and Australia come to mind).  Many local authorities compile land assessments, but the relationship to actual market prices is, at best, elastic, and the information is not systematically reported.  So indirect and ephemeral indicators must be relied upon.

Moreover, they land price cycle tends to run about 18 years, and may be disrupted by war (not by much else, it appears). This means that taking advantage of it requires a great deal of patience and, one can only say, a certain amount of faith.  And starting at a young enough age, by the way. Of course the cycle might be entirely abolished, but that would require the elites, and some of the non-elites, to surrender significant privilege.

The book is well-written, well-edited, and well-documented. (A subject index would be nice.) Economist Mason Gaffney’s  review is far more informed than anything I could have produced.  He points out a number of imperfections, but on the whole this is a very useful book for anybody who wants to know why many of us aren’t rich, or who would like to be.

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How many things are wrong with ethanol?

May 16, 2009

More than I had thought, according to  Business Week.

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