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Is the corporation which extracts a non-renewable resource from the earth entitled to take it for free, or is payment due to the commons? How should that payment be calculated? How should it change over time, especially as we approach the point where a resource is used up?

Royalties do not raise consumer prices. They reduce the profits that corporations make on our scarce resources. To whom do those resources rightly belong? How often should the level of royalties be recalculated, reset? Are 100+ year-old formulae acceptable? (Even the Jubilee came every 50 years!)

Should foreign corporations have a prior claim over living individuals? Should any corporation?

Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism of Natural Taxation, from Principles of Natural Taxation (1917)

Q8. How about fertility value?
A. On the surface of the globe are countless varieties of exhaustible fertility, i.e. chemical constituency, differing in kind and degree, from the nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon of the soil to the carbon of the coal, the gold, and the diamond. Fertility as an attribute need not be predicated of agricultural land alone. Economic fertility belongs equally to any other land which yields to labor its product whether in food, mineral, or metal. Land may be fertile in wheat, corn, and potatoes. It may be fertile in cotton, in tobacco, or in rice. It may be fertile in diamonds, in gold, silver, copper, lead, or iron. It may be fertile in oil, coal, or natural gas, in a water power or water front. The value of artificial fertility is an improvement value. The value of natural fertility of any kind is a site value.

... read the whole article


Abstract: Citizens of Alaska have been receiving individual dividend checks from an oil rent trust fund since 1982. Norway¹s citizens receive substantial social services and invest oil rents in a permanent fund for the future. Nigeria has yet to establish a similar fund for its oil revenue stream. This paper explores the oil rent institutions of Alaska, Norway and Nigeria with a focus on these questions:
  • Are citizen dividends from oil rent funds currently or potentially a source of substantial basic income?
  • Are oil rent funds the best source for citizen dividends or should CDs be based on other types of resource rents?
The paper recommends full use of information and communication technologies for transparency in extractive resource industries, that resource rent from non-renewable resources should be invested in socially and environmentally responsible ways and primarily in the needed transition to renewable energy based economies, and that oil and other non-renewable resource rent funds should transition towards capturing substantial resource rents from surface land site values (ground rent) and other permanent and sustainable sources of rent for possible distribution of citizen dividends.

Alaska relies on oil for about 80 percent of its revenue and has no sales or income tax. Alaska state government is mandated to invest 25% of its oil revenue into the APF while the other 75% of oil royalty revenue is dispersed to other government funds to finance education, infrastructure and social services.

If 100% of Alaska¹s oil royalties had been deposited into the APF, it is conceivable that the CD this year could have been about $4,400 or $17,600 for a family of four. But then there would have been no funds for roads, education and other public services and no funds available to run the state legislature - a libertarian dream fulfillment or a social and economic disaster, which one we will never know. If state services were to have been maintained while 100% of oil royalties were deposited in the APF, there would of course have been the need for income, sales and other taxes on wages and production.

At the end of the 2002 fiscal year, the state of Alaska had a deficit of nearly $400 million. State lawmakers frequently debate whether the APF should be used to help run state government, but the Fund is protected by law from being used for government expenditures. Rather than cutting into the Fund and citizen dividends, others are proposing an increase in oil rents and royalties from oil corporations.

On February 5th of this year of 2004, several Democratic Representatives filed legislation to help Alaskans recover a fairer share for their oil. That same week former Alaska Governors Jay Hammond and Wally Hickel stated that it is time to review the fairness of oil tax exemptions contained in a 1989 law known as "the ELF," or Economic Limit Factor. Their viewpoint is that ELF gives unjustified tax exemptions. The Alaska Fair Share bill would redress the Economic Limit Factor and meet the constitutional obligation to make sure Alaska¹s oil provides ³the maximum benefit to the people² as mandated by the state constitution.

Because of the ELF statute tax breaks, Alaska¹s oil production tax rate has plummeted from 13.5% in 1993 to 7.5% today, and by 2013, it would be down to 4% if the law is not changed. Also because of ELF, 11 of the last 14 fields developed since 1989 pay none or almost none of Alaska¹s 15% Production Tax. While the state¹s share for Alaska oil has fallen, corporate oil profits have soared. BP and Conoco Phillips reported net earnings of $9 billion and $7 billion respectively last year. According to the Department of Revenue, at recent oil prices of $30 per barrel the annual share corporations receive for Alaska oil would exceed total state oil revenue by $1.2 billion.

The Alaska Fair Share bill establishes a modest minimum production tax of 5% and would raise an additional $400 million in revenue this year. That approximates the current state budget gap. The bill raises more at higher prices per barrel, and an additional $100 million at average prices, according to the Department. The bill also lets the state share in profits above $20 per barrel by slowly increasing the severance tax above that price. To encourage development, the Alaska Fair Share bill reduces the severance tax rate at low prices, when companies face the prospect of reduced profits, and possible investment losses. ...


Norway, one of the world's richest economies, is a model of prudent economic management of resource wealth. So states the IMF 2000 Article IV consultation with Norway. Norway is the top non-OPEC oil exporter, the world's third-largest exporter of oil, and pumps about 3.2 million barrels per day. Norway's oil and gas industry underpins the economy, providing up to 25% of the country's gross domestic product. This country of nearly four and one half million people has a steady growth rate, almost no poverty, and negligible unemployment. Norway has a diverse economy based on agriculture, forestry, fishing and manufacturing, among other things, and its oil industry has developed amid much planning, bargaining, and public debate. ...


Two thousand years ago, Pliny the Elder wrote that the two greatest curses of civilization were the discovery of silver and gold. Perhaps oil and gas should be added to the list of natural wealth that ends up damaging more then helping people in many parts of the world that are rich in subsoil resources. This has certainly been the case in Nigeria. ...

Nigeria is potentially Africa's richest country. As the world's sixth largest producer of crude oil, with huge reserves of mineral and agricultural riches and manpower, it should be enjoying some of the highest global living standards. But it has some of the lowest living standards in Africa. ...

Northern and southern Nigeria are essentially two different countries. Some view the oil producing region of the Niger Delta in the south as a sort of internal colony of Nigeria. Home to 15 million impoverished people, the Niger Delta region produces 90 percent of Nigeria's wealth. Under the swamps and mangroves of one of the world's richest ecosystems lie vast reserves - an estimated 40 more years of crude and a century of natural gas. The first oil was produced here in 1956. After 40 years of production, there are rutted roads, decrepit schools, few health clinics, no conduits for running water, and polluted creeks and farmlands. There have been dozens of oil spills and gas flares spew carbon dioxide 24 hours a day. The Niger Delta is one of this country's poorest regions, despite its oil wealth. Most people are struggling to survive on less than $1 a day. Away from the main towns there is no real development, no roads, no electricity, no running water and no telephones.

Most of the oil that has earned Nigeria close to US$340 billion since production began over four decades ago has come from the Niger Delta onshore sites. Some put the number at $300 billion with about $50 billion ³disappeared overseas² meaning stolen by corrupt officials. Shell and other western oil companies extract oil worth an estimated $150 billion a year in recent years from the area. A rough estimate is that Nigeria earns some $10 billion every year from oil. ...

What has become of Nigeria¹s oil wealth? Nigeria was rated the world¹s most corrupt country (out of 52) by Transparency International¹s Corruption Perception Index. Much has been made of the fact that money generated from Africa's oil reserves has been lost in corruption, mismanagement and violent conflict. In Nigeria, an estimated $4 billion in government funds was stolen by the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha in the 1990s. Some estimate that as much as $50 billion in oil revenue has been stolen since Nigeria first began production. ...

The IMF and WB could have insisted that a transparent oil rent fund similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund be established as a condition for loans. The fact that the international banking institutions did not act in a responsible manner by promoting transparent public finance institutions and socially just structural adjustments programs but instead put countries into odious debt lends credence to the position that these institutions were established to maintain the predominance of the US dollar as the major global currency over and above any humanitarian or even good governance objectives. ...  Read the entire article
Mason Gaffney -- Canada's System of Revenue Sharing

It seems to me therefore that we need to face up to the question that is known in my trade as Fiscal Federalism, that is, how is money going to be distributed by the federal government out of its so-called surplus, either to people or the States, or localities? ...

The reason it's so hard to sell growth policies at the local level today in the United States is very much due to the fact that the United States federal government taxes people and it gives subventions to landlords. So the landlords can get the subventions without having the people. So who needs people? That's it in a nutshell. We need to reverse that, I think, if we're going to be able to make Georgism work at the local level. ...

At any rate, let's begin by looking at the similarities between the federal systems in the United States and Canada. In both countries we find something called 'vertical balancing' which means that the senior governments send money to the junior governments. We find also something called 'horizontal balancing' which means that the payments are made more to the poorer governments, those that are poorer on a per capita basis, than to richer ones. ...

 ... Cannan's Law. ... But the general idea is, you may think you have tenure control of land but if the municipal government can tax that land and use that money to finance public welfare services, public education and other things that are open to all comers, then you will end up with an uneconomical distribution of population. ...

At the same time, in both countries you find something I will call Hammer's Law. This is not a carpenter's tool but again the name of a man, an economist in Missouri, who observed in 1935 that if you compared population to land values in the different counties of his State (in the very poor counties of the Ozarks the land was hard scrabble land of very little value, with the very rich lands in the north-western part of the State, which resembles Iowa) you found that the population density was much greater on the very poor land of the Ozarks than it was on the very rich land of the northwest. ...

Now another similarity to the two countries us that the subventions that do go from the federal government to the provinces in Canada (and you find a similar thing in the United States) do not come from the richer provinces. They come instead from the general fund, the general taxpayer. There is in other words more vertical balancing than there is horizontal balancing (horizontal balancing you remember means equalization among the different jurisdictions). It's a little like what somebody said about foreign aid. 'Foreign aid is a device by which poor people in rich countries are taxed to subsidize rich people in poor countries.'

We'll see that equalisation in most countries works something like that; that is, in addition to this inter-provincial equalisation, there's a tax shift involved where local sources of taxation like the property tax are being displaced by the federal income tax. I suppose Ferdinand Marcos would be a splendid example of the kind of person I was talking about in the poor country and in West Virginia you have all these coal companies whose owners live in Palm Beach, whose shareholders live in Palm Beach and such places, who benefit from an inter-state equalisation that benefits West Virginia. Well these are similarities.  ...

The federal aid in Canada goes to provinces, whereas in the United States it goes to specific cities, The U.S. Congressman likes to have his fingerprint, as they say, on every dollar that goes from Washington. ... So in the States the idea has been: Tax the States according to their population and then give the money back according to political power. In the United States Senate it means that the smallest State has just as much clout as the biggest State or would have if their senators weren't so merchantable. (I mean, in California when we need something we just look to Nevada or one of those places for a Senator who is having difficulty raising funds for his next election. But that's another story.) ...

But the most delightful distinction about Canadians is the strong and explicit recognition among almost everyone, even if he's an economist, who discusses this subject, that different resource endowments are the basis of inter-provincial differences. Equalisation in Canadian politics means sharing the economic rent. Everybody talks that way. Canadian economists even when they come to the States talk that way. Just as though rent were a permissible word in polite discourse. It's very refreshing. However there's a very selective attitude towards rent -- towards what rents are shareable, I should say.

  • Rents from oil and gas are fair game.
  • Forest revenues are fair game.
  • Mineral revenues of other kinds are fair game.
  • Water power is fair game.

But now how about the rents that are generated by the valuable lands of Montreal, or Toronto, or some of those other big and powerful cities in the east? They are not fair game. As a matter of fact, if you pore through the fine print of the equalization law, which I did on the airplane, you find the most interesting exception to what's included in the formula. I'll explain the formula to you in a moment if you are still awake. ...

Now let's look at the sharing formula. The sharing formula in Canada is essentially based on population and potential tax base. And it can be made to look very complicated but I think I've boiled it down to its essence. You take a province's percentage of the population of Canada, and then you take the percentage of the tax base that it has, subtract that and that gives you another percentage. And then you multiply that times the total tax revenue that's collected throughout Canada from that tax source, and then you pay them that amount out of the provincial treasury. ...


The next episode in this drama might be called 'the Empire strikes back', with John Turner as Darth Vader. This was back in '74 or so. He said, since these pesky western provinces are collecting so much economic rent from their Crown lands by raising their royalties and going up with the market, what we are now going to do is to fool hem. We are going to say that these royalties are not deductibles for federal income tax purposes. And since all the provincial income taxes are piggybacked on to the federal tax, or most of them, that also went for provincial income tax purposes. Thus in effect the provinces were penalised for this effort to collect economic rent at the provincial level. This had two objectives.

  • The good reason and the obvious reason was to protect the federal revenues.
  • But the subtler one, I think, was one of protecting the major rent barons by assuring that the provinces would not get carried away with raising their royalties. In effect, the provincial governments were being penalised by the federal government for raising royalties.

And although in the short run this obviously damaged the lessees and they screamed bloody murder in the not so long run it forced the provinces to back off on their royalties and it certainly forced them to sell their leaseholds for lower prices in he future. Those that hadn't yet been sold because the anticipation that the roya1ties would not be deductible. So as it was viewed in the western provinces, and I think correctly, this was an attempt on the part of the government in Ottawa to protect the absentee owners of western resources from provincial populism.

It must not be forgotten that John Turner got his training with the Bechtel Corporation, just like George Schultz, or perhaps with him.

The conclusion of all this is that the Canadian system is really better in terms of its Georgist implications because the payments to the provinces, with all the faults that I've described, are essentially based on population. Population is in the formula. And if you compare this with the way things are done in the States, population plays a very minor role in the formula for equalisation payments in the United States.

Now, how should it be done? Well, there's a well known Georgist economist who figured this out a long time ago and wrote an article about it. His name is Colin Clark. ... He came up with a plan for collecting economic rent at the federal level, and he said what we really should do, and this I think is the ultimate equalisation payment, is we should classify local jurisdictions according to land value per capita, and those that have the least land value per capita, we'll leave all of that land value for them to use for local purposes. But then we will graduate the federal land tax according to the amount of land value per capita in the jurisdiction, and thus we will have a federal tax that automatically achieves inter-regional equity, without all this razzmatazz that I've been describing about inter-regional equalisation payments. Read the whole article

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 3: The Limits of Government (pages 33-48)

Limits of Public Ownership

Because of historical circumstances, America has a long tradition of public land ownership. When Europeans first arrived, North America was held in common by an assortment of tribes. As these tribes were dispossessed, the federal government acquired their territories. Some of the federal holdings were given to states as they entered the union. Though most of what the federal and state governments owned was then sold cheaply, much was retained. Today, nearly a third of the land in the United States is government-owned.

To say that land — or any asset — is “government-owned,” however, isn’t to say it’s managed on behalf of future generations, nonhuman species, or ordinary citizens. Consider what the federal and state governments have done with the lands they own.

Outside of Alaska, about 5 percent of government-owned lands have been designated as wilderness. In such areas, humans may enter on foot but not use motorized vehicles. Mining, logging, and hunting are also prohibited. On the other 95 percent of government-owned land, private and commercial use is regulated by various agencies. National forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, grazing and mineral lands by the Bureau of Land Management, hunting and fishing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As a general rule, politics — not fiduciary duty — determines what uses are permitted and what prices are charged. A classic example is the Mining Act of 1872, under which private companies can stake claims to mineral-bearing lands for $5 an acre, and pay no royalties on the minerals they extract. Every attempt to reform this antiquated law has failed because of the mining companies’ political clout.

In the same vein, the U.S. Forest Service has for decades been selling trees to timber companies for below-market prices. On top of that, it spends billions of tax dollars building roads in virgin forests so timber firms can harvest the people’s trees. This is, of course, economically irrational and a huge subsidy to private corporations. It also addicts Americans to cheap forest products and destructive logging methods. These practices occur because the Forest Service is not a trust committed to ecosystem preservation, but a politically influenced agency dedicated to “multiple use” of government-owned forests.

There are exceptions to this dismal pattern. One involves trust lands given by the federal government to states. Such gifts began with the Land Ordinance of 1785, which reserved one square mile per township for the support of public schools. Later, the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 gave more land to states to support colleges of agriculture and mechanics. And in 1954, Congress gave Texas title to oil-rich coastal lands, providing that all revenue from them be placed in an endowment, or permanent fund, that generates income for public schools forever.

Today, twenty-two states hold about 155 million acres in trust for public schools and colleges — which is to say, for future generations. Like the federal government, the state trusts lease much of their land for oil drilling, timber cutting, and cattle grazing. The trusts’ duty is to preserve not the land itself but the income streams it generates. This creates beneficiaries (educators, students, parents) who monitor the land managers closely. One result, according to University of California professor Sally Fairfax, is that state trust lands are better managed than federally owned lands. Whereas the U.S. Forest Service “has been hiding the ball on cash flows and returns to investments for most of this century . . . the state trust land managers know how to keep books and make them public.” Further, even though the state trusts aren’t bound to protect ecosystems per se, they tend to do so because they have a long-term calculus.

An interesting variant of the typical state land trust is the Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1976 to absorb some of the windfall from leasing state land to oil companies. The aim was to create an endowment that would benefit Alaskans even after the oil is gone. To this end, the Permanent Fund invests in stocks, bonds, and similar assets, and off the earnings pays yearly dividends to every resident. Originally, the dividends were to be allocated in proportion to the recipients’ length of residence in Alaska, with old-timers getting more than newcomers. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, because of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Alaska couldn’t discriminate against newcomers that way. The dividend formula was then changed to one person, one share. ... read the whole chapter


Mason Gaffney:  Oil and Gas Leasing: a Study in Pseudo-Socialism

... Distributive Socialism, then, means tapping land and resource rents for the public. Read the entire article

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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper