TheIU Conference 2013 Report

Report on the 2013 Conference of the International Union for Land Value Taxation held at the School of Economic Science London, UK July 24th -28th

by Bill Batt, Albany, New York

Thirty-six presenters from five continents spoke at the 28th conference of the International Union for Land Value Taxation  (www.theIU.org). Titled Economics for Conscious Evolution with subtitle A Geo-Justice Conference, this conference no doubt will be remembered as among the best in living memory. Eighty-six people initially registered, though a few could not make it at the last minute due to health issues, visa problems, or other conflicts.  Those coming to London from beyond the UK represented almost half of those present, together representing seventeen countries. All this made for some interesting and even compelling exchanges. Conference session topics included:

  • Land and Geo-Justice
  • Land Rights Prospects and Realities in Africa
  • Sharing the Commons: Land, Land Rent and Money
  • Critique of Current Financial Policies
  • Claiming Water, Fish & Oil Commons
  • Why Socializing Rent & Untaxing Production is Good for Labour
  • Case Study: Argentina – From Public Debt to Abundance for All
  • The Socialist Case for Supporting an Annual Land Value Tax
  • Climate Change and New Economics
  • Inequality: Cause and Cure
  • Land Trusts & Eco-villages

The London Tour Day on Saturday, July 27, organized and hosted by David Triggs and Dave Wetzel, was an informative and fun river and bus tour of London’s high points relevant to matters of economic justice. Included in the tour were stops at the revitalized Docklands, the British Museum where we viewed an original copy of the Magna Carta, and the Guildhall, the home of the London’s Corporate seat (The City of London) for some 800 years. The day-long tour finished at the notable Hyde Park “Speakers’ Corner,” where conference participants from many countries joined together to speak out their support for  the  Declaration of Individual and Common Rights to Earth, first composed by the IU international conference in 1949.

The conference was held at Mandeville Place, the home of the School of Economic Science (SES) – www.schooleconomicscience.org. The Mandeville Place building is a gorgeously appointed structure with space fully adequate for the conference sessions, coffee and lunch breaks, and book displays.  We were pleased to have Ian Mason, Principal of the School, give us a welcome address and Peter Bowman, Head of Economics, present on  “China: Four Thousand Years of Taxing the Land.”

The conference presentations were organized within topics for specific days that included Conscious Evolution, Land & Geo-Justice; Sharing the Commons; Socializing Land Rent, Untaxing Production; and Towards a New Economics for Conscious Evolution. No account here can be complete given the number of sessions. Besides the listing above (and details from the conference brochure on www.theIU.org) one might mention the possible legal challenge to South Africa’s Constitution that is now looming, suggestion of airport landing slot rent collection as a solution to the growing congestion at Heathrow, Gatwick and other London Airports, the growing power of a rejuvenated Georgist movement in Australia, history and current focus of land value tax in Korea, the utility of computers and the internet in our movement, and the appeal of Georgism to all dimensions of the political spectrum.

Gary Flomenhoft presented his innovative model of a  holistic, integrated new economics approach – Vermont Common Assets – that specifies economic rent from several commons rent domains, monetary policy reform, and citizen dividends. Sessions on the last day of the conference explored Inequality – Cause and Cure, publishing for Geo-Justice, leadership skills, and a synergy workshop utilizing open space and small groups to envision and develop ways to strengthen and harmonize our work together after the conference.

The whole conference, including the Saturday tour, was filmed by Joni Smith and Noel Jamie for their new movie, The Taxing Question of Land. For the first time the conference had live video streaming provided by  Daniel Syddall, an enthusiastic young British Georgist, with the assistance of Jacob Shwartz-Lucas (USA), newly employed by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation that awarded the IU a small grant to help with conference expenses. The entire program is available for viewing on uStream.tv.

Daniel has also created graphics online that explain how land value taxation works in dynamic format.  These can be viewed at  http://www.geogebratube.org/material/show/id/12785, and other sites linked from here. They are powerful explications of the relationship between land rent, labor and taxation. Daniel and Jacob also imparted their technological and internet social networking skills to others at the conference.

Our conference made more use of visual materials than ever before. Most presenters had PowerPoint presentations, maps, diagrams, statistical graphics, YouTube segments, and photographs. The presentations of this conference have been collected and will shortly be online and downloadable in addition to the video-streamed presentations. Records of all the other conference programs going back to its founding in 1926, will also soon be available on theIU website (www.theIU.org) (Last year’s 2012 Buenos Aires conference is also available here.)

A sideline feature of this conference was the number of newly available books written by members of the Georgist movement. Alanna Hartzok’s collection of published articles, The Earth Belongs to Everyone, was available at the registration desk, as was the DVD of the film, The End of Poverty, sponsored by the Schalkenbach Foundation three years ago. The exhibit table also carried a reprinted edition of Leon MacLaren’s The Science of Economics. Along with his father Andrew, MacLaren was the Founder of London’s School of Economic Science in 1937. One needs also to note Fred Harrison’s several books, including his newest, The Traumatized Society. The conference speaker and Irish author of The Fair Tax, Emer O’Siochru, was also available. John Stewart, who portrays his Georgist philosophy through fictionalized accounts, had all his books there and was honored by the conference for his long involvement in the movement. We are fortunate to have a close working relationship with the Shepheard-Walwyn publishing house and its director Anthony Werner. Anthony had the books in its ethical economics series on the exhibit table for the full duration of the conference.

The conference acknowledged the outstanding contributions promoting LVT and working with TheIU over many years by awarding trophies to Ole Lefmann (UK/Denmark), Fernando Scornik Gerstein (Spain) and, in absentia, Hector Raul Sandler (Argentina).

A few other items are worthy of note.  Shortly before the conference, the news of the second revolution in Egypt was broadcast. The interim Prime Minister appointed by the intervening military is the venerable elder-statesman and well-known liberal economist, Hazem Beblawi, who had earlier served as vice-prime minister and minister of finance. His past writing shows a very clear understanding of rentier states, noting his 1987 book anthology titled The Rentier State. A letter was drafted and signed by conference attendees urging Mr. Beblawi to press the new leadership to tax resource rents as a way to revitalize the Egyptian economy. This letter is now available on the IU website.

The IU General Business Meeting began by thanking Fernando Scornik-Gerstein for his service as president for the past seven years, and the election of Dave Wetzel as the new president. Vice presidents of fourteen nations were chosen as well. It was also formally agreed that the IU should aim to have a conference every second year.

The most contentious measure involved whether to change the name of the organization by deleting reference to “Free Trade.” From its inception, the name has been ‘The International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade,’ even though it is widely understood that the words “Free Trade,” have today become linked to an economic philosophy of neoliberalism with corporate trade rules that are detrimental to labor and the environment. Free trade advocacy for Georgists has always been premised on the assumption of the universal institution of taxation of land rents, which would then provide greater efficiency, equity, and a harmonized level playing field among nations. For this reason, and the fact that current usage of free trade in our title acts as a barrier when discussing LVT within the UN and other venues, a majority of those present and voting argued for the elimination of the words “and Free Trade.” But altering the IU constitution requires a 2/3 majority, and the vote fell just one short of that number.  As a result the informal agreement arrived at was to explore other wording for a special General Business Meeting early next year.

Lastly, no conference report can be complete without mention of the role that Alanna Hartzok played as the newly-engaged General Secretary for the IU. She performed not only as the pivotal person in the conference management but also kept discussion of the executive committee on track in its many prior Skype conference calls and email exchanges.

Alanna in turn would like to acknowledge the significant contributions made by other IU leaders: David Triggs for the many hours he worked with her in developing the conference program, for being the liaison person for Mandeville Place (the conference venue), for hosting with his wife Gay our several speakers from Africa, and for planning and conducting the informative and enjoyable London Tour Day with Dave Wetzel, who also admirably chaired the General Business Meeting and hosted a conference speaker;  Ole Lefmann for the prodigious amount of time and energy he put into registering and tracking payments of conference participants, helping to develop the General Business Meeting Agenda, meticulous attention to changes he suggested to the IU Constitution, preparation of conference materials and sitting at the registration desk along with Mirta Osorio, who was of great help in compiling an accommodations list and assisting conference registrants in finding suitable places to stay during the conference.

The organization now faces the task of generating a budget that will allow the operations of the IU to continue at the new level of accomplishment and success it has now reached.