Daily Archives: June 11, 2011

Town Planning is a UN ‘Communist Conspiracy’ – Anti-Sustainability Paranoia Grips Republican Presidential Candidates & Tea Party

Michelle Bachmann

“This is their agenda. I know it is hard to believe, it’s hard to fathom — but this is ‘mission accomplished’ for them.  “They want Americans to take transit and move to the inner cities. They want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs. That’s their vision for America.”

Newt Gingrich it would be a mistake to take away oil companies’ tax subsidies because…

This whole problem of intellectuals who live on university campuses and take mass transit and then have no idea what the rest of the country is like…. in Europe, they’re not driving very far and they’re not driving cars that are very big. And that happens to be different than America on two grounds—we travel a long way and we like driving bigger vehicles. Now liberals don’t like us liking bigger vehicles, so they want to find a way to punish us economically. Hit our pocketbook, make us change, because they’d like all of us to live in big cities in high rises, taking mass transit. That’s their idealized utopia.

Many Tea Party activists have dug out 18 year old Agenda 21 documents from the UN (which everyone else has forgotten about) and found mentions of town planning.

According to Mother Jones magasine

“tea partiers have trained their sights on a new and insidious target: local planning and zoning commissions, which activists believe are carrying out a global conspiracy to trample American liberties and force citizens into Orwellian “human habitation zones.”

Henry Lamb, a WorldNetDaily columnist and founder of Sovereignty International and Freedom21, groups designed to fight Agenda 21 and its ilk. He has been arguing for decades that the UN is secretly plotting to herd humans into crowded cities so that the rest of the world can be devoted to wildlife preservation.

Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center and a climate change denier whose group has been funded by Exxon. DeWeese’s organization hosted a conference in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, this summer attended by many tea partiers, which featured sessions on Agenda 21. Schooled by such activists, Holt, the Virginia coordinator of Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, has set to work spreading the word about Agenda 21 and the evils of sustainable development. She’s finding a very receptive audience among tea party groups, who she believes are going to make sustainable development the next target of their activism.

Viginia Activist Donna Holt ” tea partiers understand that “there is a global agenda to actually abolish private property and abolish the Constitution for that matter.” If sustainable development is fully implemented, she says, “This basically will turn us into a Soviet state.

One planning consultant I spoke with, who requested anonymity, recalled a recent meeting where he was on the receiving end of tea party rage. “I got called a communist,” he says. Someone in another tea party-heavy area recently told him, “We don’t need none of that smart growth communism.” The people he’s been encountering are new to the process, short on solid facts, and many are “spitting mad.”

Frightening video

The precautionary principle basically means you are guilty until you are proven innocent.

‘Screwflation’ The word of the year

Douglas A Kass at Barrons

In the 1970s, when growth was stagnant and inflation was high, economists spoke of “stagflation.” Four decades later, there’s another threat to a sustainable trajectory of economic and corporate profit growth. It’s “screwflation,” which combines inflation with the screwing of the struggling middle class.

He doesnt define it but does note that for the past 30 years median incomes have not risen, The concept seems similar to the millibandian ‘squeezed middle’ which he of course struggled to define.

He didnt invent the term its been knocking around since december last year. According to George Wolf.

Most average family investment portfolios have showed zero gains (at best) after the bubbles and busts of the last decade. The values of hard assets like homes have plunged while household debt levels have remained high. Consumer inflation may not be a big problem, but good-paying jobs are being eliminated. And, when the long-term unemployed find work, skilled Americans are forced to settle for part-time work and low-paying service jobs with few benefits.

How might we define an index of ‘screwflation’ – how about the real rate of decline of disposable earnings of those on median income after tax and debt payments.

The office of national statistics even publish a nice graph showing how screwed we are.

Growth in median gross weekly earnings of full-time employees by sex, United Kingdom

Subtract inflation and taxation and you have your screwflation index

Those who belive in rational expectations would say we have already made the claculation – no we just know that we are screwed.

Kids Home Made Mecha Monster

Ive seen the future and its scary.

Leicester City ‘not ready’ for a Zombie Invasion

According to BBC Leicester The City received an FOI request as follows:

Dear Leicester City Council,

Can you please let us know what provisions you have in place in the event of a zombie invasion? Having watched several films it is clear that preparation for such an event is poor and one that councils throughout the kingdom must prepare for.

Please provide any information you may have.

Yours faithfully,

Concerned Citizen

Lynn Wyeth head of information governance said she was unaware of any specific reference to a zombie attack in the council’s emergency plan, however some elements of it could be applied if the situation arose.

Doesnt she know that according to mathematicians at the University of Ottowa that  a zombie invasion must be dealt with quickly and energetically. If allowed to go too long without intervention, the zombies will undoubtedly cause the collapse of the human race – probably within days.

Notice something about all of the countries with high debt/gdp problems

Not paying for public services out of income – implying paying for it out of debt.

Wall of Books

Stockholm Library

Sadly only a CG rendering of a failed entry in a 2007 architectural competition by Oliver Charles.  How it was done just published here.

Apparently Arnos Green Tube station was based on the shape of Stockholm library.

National Planning Policy Framework Forensics #11 Housing Mix and Affordability

Ill deal with the remaining housing issues in this section.

The draft doesn’t deal with Gypsies and Travellers or travelleing show-people at all. Can we presume that the proposed revised circular will be rolled in

Housing Mix

Current national policy in PPS3 paras 23

Developers should bring forward proposals for market housing which reflect demand and the profile of households requiring market housing, in order to sustain mixed
communities. Proposals for affordable housing should reflect the size and type of affordable housing required.

And 24 – though 24 is confusingly worded, a lot seems to have got confused in the editing. How exactly does it apply differently for large and small sites?

The NPPF by contrast states that local planning authorities should:

  • plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community (such as families with children, the elderly, disabled people);
  •  identify the size, type, tenure and range of housing that is required in particular locations, reflecting local demand;

Note ‘local planning authorities should’  so if there is a S78 appeal where there is not yet a ‘local plan’ does the new ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ mean that no mix is required.  National policy should call a spade a spade if a mix is required it should say so.

It doesn’t need to say both market trends in the first bullet point and local demand in the second.  The absence in the second bullet of PPS3s ‘the profile of households requiring market housing’ could be taken as implying that the correction of market imbalances is less important.

It is entirely unclear that once a preferred mix is identified if that mix isnt provided whether a scheme could be refused.

The omission of ‘Proposals for affordable housing should reflect the size and type of affordable housing required.’ could see a return to developers only providing small sub-market or intermediate units even if the main need was for larger affordable family homes.  A big step backwards.   This phrase should be retained.

Affordable Housing

I’ll compare the draft with PPS3, as amended last week, and ‘Delivering Affordable Housing Policy Statement, Communities and Local Government, November 2006

The NPPF draft says

where affordable housing is required, set policies for meeting this need on site or through commuted payments with the objective of creating mixed and balanced communities. These policies should recognise the advantages of using commuted payments to improve and make effective use of the existing housing stock.

There is no reference to the setting of targets (PPS3 para 29).  Can authorities set targets, or only site targets now?

No longer any reference to setting targets for different types of affordable housing.  So would the familiar London 30/20 split policy be prohibited?

No reference to the ability to specify the size and type of affordable housing.  The only reference is to size of units overall.  Of course the size of affordable units needed may be completely different than for general market housing.

No reference to the ability to set out the range of circumstances in which affordable housing will be required i.e. thresholds.  It is right to let LPAs decide this.  But a sentence is needed to make this explicit.

Current PPS3 states

In seeking developer contributions, the presumption is that
affordable housing will be provided on the application site so that it contributes towards creating a mix of housing. However, where it can be robustly justified, off-site provision or a financial contribution in lieu of on- site provision (of broadly equivalent value) may be accepted as long as the agreed approach contributes to the creation of mixed communities in the local authority area.

Rather than a presumption against commuted payments we now have a presumption in favour. As the biggest issue is shortage of land at low price for affordable housing this could lead to a lessening of affordable housing provision with monies instead used for improving the existing stock. This is not an ‘advantage’ it only to the advantage of existing households. Planning is about meeting the needs of new households. The purpose of planning obligations is not to substitute for existing welfare expenditure but to provide new development and infrastructure. If this is permitted why not use CIF/S106 to pay for school meals? This section has to go.

No reference to rural exceptions site policy. It is right to let lpas decide the precise mechanism of provision in rural areas and allow flexibility. But at least a sentence is needed of the need for plans to provide for the special needs of rural settlements, and allow for unpredicted projects coming forward driven by neighbourhood imitative. The reference before only to site targets could be read by some to ruling out such provision.

The essence of paras 48 and 49 of delivering affordable housing should be retained – preventing conditions which prevent choice of affordable housing supplier.

The essence of para 78 of delivering affordable housing should be retained – mortgagee in possession and cascade conditions.  Even today many lpas have delivery models which make it difficult to get mortgages.

The essence of Para 91 of this should be included:
The Housing Corporation will use financial appraisal tools to help ensure that it receives value for grant from section 106 sites, ie that grant delivers additional benefits and does not artificially inflate land prices. An economic viability tool used by the Housing Corporation for this purpose is available from their website at: http://www.housingcorp.gov.uk

Otherwise public subsidy will not be effective it will raise land prices. There also needs to be a sentence on alternative options if no subsidy is obtained.

It is to be expected that the revised definitions of affordable housing and its sub-types agreed last week will be included in the consultation draft NPPF.

The revised PPS3 seems to have responded to consultation concerns that intermediate sub-market housing needs to meet the definition of affordability.  The definition seems strangely similer to several affordable housing SPDs I have written.

Double Dip – an Explanation?

With great timing Steve Keen has just published at debtdeflation a  masterly draft paper – ‘Dude wheres my recovery’ which uses some of the latest thinking to explain why we my be heading for a double dip when most economists predicted a rapid recovery – the credit accellorator hypothesis.

The equations didnt come out so the full pdf is here

the rate of change of asset prices is related to the acceleration of debt. …
There isn’t a one-to-one link between accelerating debt and asset price rises: some of the borrowed money drives up production (think SUVs during the boom), consumer prices, the fraction of existing assets sold, and the production of new assets (think McMansions during the boom). But the more the economy becomes a disguised Ponzi Scheme, the more the acceleration of debt turns up in rising asset prices.

Capitalisms Last Frontier #4 How Rome was Fed

Roman horticulture and agricuture appears to use ideas and techniques spread from East to West with civilisation, with ideas transmitted from Persia via Greece.

The practical necessities of growing were accompanied by the chance of economic gain. Cicero In his treatise On Duties, declared that

“of all the occupations by which gain is secured, none is better than agriculture, none more profitable, none more delightful, none more becoming to a free man.”

Ownership of large areas of land defined the Roman Senetorial Class until the time of Diocletian, after which it became hereditary. The more land a Roman owned, the more greater their social standing in the City.

Roman authors left us several treatises on horticulture and agriculture.  Although we know that Roman cities possessed many ornamental gardens these work focus on the practical rearing of food plants.

Cato gives exact directions for cultivating the asparagus.  Pliny and Columella treat at length on grafting and inoculating, on pruning the vine and olive, and on stirring the soil among fruit trees generally.

Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (AD4-AD70) was a former soldier, and like many if not most former soldiers took up farming.

His De Re Rustica – the rural economy-  in twelve volumes is the key text on Roman agriculture, and one volume was exclusively on horticulture.  He was such a successful farmer that he bought and owned several estates at at Ardea, Carseoli, and Alba.

During the times of the rapid growth of the Roman Empire its success came from a system which expanded the margin of cultivation, booty from which agricultural colnaie  were formed as a way to compensate legionaries in smaller landholdings.

As long as there was a frontier to expand, this self reinforcing system of growth through agricultural expansion could continue.

Ancient Rome was originally a city state of small family farms. Agriculture extended to most of the peninsula except for the more difficult, highest and most swampy areas.

Ager publicus – public land – was land owned by the Roman polity rather than individuals. In imperial times it became synonymous with land owned by the emperor. Sulla, Caeser and Pompey distributed most of the remaaining Ager Publicus, often at great cost of reclamation, to their legionaries. Hence-force additional Ager publicus could only come from conquest.  And the ferocity of the Roman legions could be reinforced by the boost to morale that the potential for a land grant on retirement. Social mobility was possible as a plebeian could become a patrician, a landowner. (Roselaar, Saskia T., Public land in the Roman Republic: a social and economic history of the ager publicus, 396-89 BC (Oxford, 2010))

According to Max Weber by this process the Roman ager publicus was transformed into privately-owned land, or its equivalent in the form of long-term, inheritable leaseholds.

Despite laws restricting the size of landholding much of the ager publicus was ‘leased’ to wealthier citizens who rarely paid rent. In 111 BC, a new law was passed which allowed individual smallholders to assume ownership of their part of the ager publicus

In late republican times Rome found itself at war with Punis. With many farmers called away from war for long periods farms became decayed and many were sold to wealthier citizens. This led to the expansion of larger farms.  In distressed times smaller farms of colonaie were accumulated by larger landholders of latifundia ,

By imperial times with the ager publicus expanded through conquest and comprised vast landholdings at the fringes of empire.  In theory owned by the emperor in practice almost all of it was under private occupation.

As well as slave labour there was sharecropping, direct work by families and hired labour.

The latifundia quickly started concentrating because of economies of scale, because Senetors did not pay land taxes and because of the ompetative advantages of slavery. There is also evidence of farming being highly mechanised, with the adoption of water powered mills and even mechanical harvesting of grain, using technology adopted from the Gauls.

Owners accumulated and expanded by purchasing smaller neighbouring farms.  The latifundia were a form of agribusiness.

By the 2nd century AD, latifundia had displaced small farms as the agricultural bedrock of much of the Roman Empire.

Roman society was destabilised. The small farms of the Roman peasantry were bought up by the wealthy and their vast stock of slaves.

Landless peasantry were displaced to urban centres such as the City of Rome, relying on bread and circuses.

Pliny the Elder argued that the latifundia had ruined Italy and would ruin the Roman provinces as well. He complained that at one point just six owners possessed half of the province of Africa.

But conservative Pliny was also opposed to the new commercial villas as in Colmellas writings.  The profit focus was seen as antithetical to the ideal of the gentleman senetor.

Apart from grants of the ager publicus and inheritance the most common way of acquiring land was through buying it.  The Roman Empire had a highly developed land market.  It also had a highly developed market in slaves to work the land, often acquired as captives during war.

The further farms were away from cities or ports the greater the expense of transport, and also the greater the security risks.  So the furthest flung edges of the empire tended to be organised in self-sufficient latifundia, which often needed to organise their own defence.  With the decline and collapse of the Roman Empire this self sufficient household economy formed the basis of medieval feudalism.

Roman agriculture was enormously productive.  One seed of grain typically yielding 8 to 10.  Few areas recovered these yields until the C19.

Subsistence farming for a family of six typically required three hectares of land to provide crops and enough seed for the next year, although to include a one third payment to a landlord requires cultivation of at least five hectares of land.

Early classical economists such as Petty and Cantillon became fascinated by this relationship – what they called the land/labour par – and it can be expressed as a mathematical relationship showing the source of agricultural value and land rent from physical surplus and also setting the optimum size of farms.

The roots of this land-labour, or food, theory of value became somewhat obscured.  In large part because of Adam Smiths very poor acknowledgement of his French sources.  Hence it became over simplified and misunderstood as a ‘labour theory of value’.

Grain was not grown near Rome.  It was most suited to growth in large latifundia – and so in the provinces.  Rome was particularly relient on Egypt, which grew half its grain.

The increasing size of Roman Cities (there were at least half a sozen with populations of over 100,000), especially the titan Rome itself, required huge imports of grain.  The clearing of the Mediterranean of pirates in 67bc finally removed the barrier to the expansion of the grain trade and the size of the city of Rome itself.

About one third of grains were distributed by the government to the poor and two thirds by the private market. Farmers could grant surplus crops to the government in lieu of a monetary tax. This allowed rulers to gain popularity with the masses through free grain distribution and also help to feed the legions at no direct monetary cost. Unfortunately it also left farmers with little incentive to increase productivity or output, since more crop translated to more taxes (and more free grain distributions).

As Kessler and Temin write (2007)

The literature about the ancient world is full of speculations about how this economic activity was organized. Modern thought has focused on the informal parts of this system, friendship and patronage, but it increasingly acknowledges that the ancient economy operated primarily on the basis of private markets. It is one thing to say that Cicero transmitted business through people he called his friends; it is quite another to specify how these agents made their decisions or how the many inhabitants of Rome who were not his friends were fed. The volume of goods being traded was too large to be dealt with informally, and the government was too small to have administered it directly.

The Roman Empire then operated a market economy both in land and food, and using a common coinage and legal system. Feudalism and self sufficiency only predominated at the fringes of Empire, where the reach of the cities of Rome were less.

Close to the cities with lesser transport costs, but lacking the economies of scale of the Wheat growing provinces of North Africa, villa farming focussed on high value added groups expensive to transport longer distances, such as Wine, or impractical, such as perishable meat and fresh vegetables – classic market gardening.

Columella, his farm close to Rome, urged growing of vines as more profitable as Wheat. Olive oil and Wine were important exports from Italy.

Until the Christian period Rome had banks which issued credit, secured interest, and paid interest on deposits. The Roman preference for coin though hindered the spread of banking. As we famously know from the new testament temples, as in Ancient Greece, were major banking centres. Probably arising from the use of money, rather than physical tithes, for payment of religious tributes.

Though the Roman Empire had industry it was primarily an agrarian-slave empire. Its largest industry by far was mining, providing building materials for cities and metals for war. The hardest jobs, such as mining and milling were often given to slaves.

Small scale craftwork predominated – but the factory system was not unknown. Pottery works have been uncovered in ancient Greece and Rome. In various parts of the Roman Empire factories manufactured glassware and bronze ware and other similar articles, both for trade and domestic consumption. We know that Rome traded such goods widely for basic resources, even outside the fringes of empire itself.

Rome even developed a middle class outside the strict pleblian-patrician boundaries. Before the republic the higher ranks of the armour developed as a knights class. Later the Knights quit the cavalry but retained their status as the leading voting block in the Comitia Centuriata- the senior people’s assembly.

Patricians considered merchant activities off limits for them – it lacked dignitas. Since there was no government administration the Senate looked to the Knights to handle the business of the Republic. The first of these “businessmen” were called Publicans.

Publicans were employed by the state to manage public contracts: to collect taxes, manage mining companies, and oversee road construction. These contracts were awarded at auction and their duration was five years.

During the Punic Wars Publicans built ships for the Roman Navy and equiped the Roman Army. The nobility began to covert the profits of the Knights and become involved in sea trade, until a law was passed in 218 BC forbidding Senators from owning large ships.

The Senate chose to utilize the Knights commercially, instead of creating a civil service, and as a means of displacing their political claims.

The influence of the historian M. I. Finley Ancient Economy (1973) has cast a long shadow on studies in this area. The Ancient Economy (1973) Finley launched an all-out attack on the modernist tradition within the discipline of ancient economic history. Following the example of Karl Polanyi, Finley argued that the ancient economy should not be analyzed using the concepts of modern economic science, because ancient man had no notion of the economy as a separate sphere of society, and because economic actions in antiquity were determined not primarily by economic, but by social concerns.

Finley viewed Rome as primarily a ‘Consumer City’ rather than a place of consumption utisling a phrase and archytype from Weber.

In recent years Finleys ideas have come under great assault, for underestimating the importance of economic motivation, for denying the critical role of technological changes and that the decription of Rome as a ‘consumer city’ – utilising Cantillon’s conception that cities such as Rome arose had their justification in housing a nobility that then had requirements for manufacture of luxury goods. (Roman Urbaanism – Beyond the Consumer City, HM Parkins 1997).

For Finley there was a ‘wall’ between the economic activity of land and the money economy – caused by the reluctance of patricians to engage in trade. He also made much of the absence of double entry bookeeping.

As Edward M Harris concludes in the classical review

“On the Roman side, Finley’s ideas have found few supporters and many critics. For instance, Macve has shown that the conclusions Finley drew about economic attitudes from the absence of double-entry bookkeeping are unfounded. In a survey of the archaeological evidence for the economy of the Roman Empire, K. Greene has written “the level of economic activity revealed by archaeological research makes the ‘minimalist’ approach of historians such as Finley untenable. J. D’Arms has brought weighty objections againt Finley’s view that the Roman elite did not get their hands dirty with investments in commerce, lending, and handicrafts. In a careful analysis of the Heroninus archive D. Rathbone has shown that Finley greatly underestimated the degree of economic rationality in estate management. Tchernia has estimated that contrary to Finley’s view the demand for wine at Rome could not have been met by the supply provided by local vineyards, but by long-distance trade. D. Engels has drawn on evidence from Roman Corinth to argue that the ancient city was not a “consumer city” but a “service city.” …More recently, E. Cohen has questioned Finley’s dogmas about the prevalence of loans for consumption and about the role of private banks.”

In the light of modern research we have to question – without modern preconceptions of capitalism – to what extent the Roman Empire comprised a form of Classical Capitalism, and critically whether and why the fall of the Roman Empire and civilisation represents the historical example of the total collapse of a capitalist economy?

In the next sections we will examine the relevance of the traditional Marxian divide of ‘primitive accumulation’ preceding capitalist growth, before examining what elements of a social system are critical to it being a self sustaining capitalistic, including whether or not it is compatible with salvery,  one and then looking at how and why Rome experienced a social and economic breakdown.

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