BTR: Bulgaria’s Alternative to NATO, the EU & Neoliberalism

by Serban V.C. Enache

Toward the end of October, local elections will be held in Bulgaria. The recently, legally-formed BTR party has announced its participation. Last year I wrote several radical proposals for Bulgaria, well aware that BTR was organizing and gathering signatures to make the shift from political movement to political party. I also put together a promo vid for them, in hopes of getting the word out and trying to persuade them to adopt the Georgist framework.

The main purpose of BTR [Bulgaria of Labor and Reason] is to activate its local municipal and regional structures, as well as to persuade the electorate it has a true alternative to the established neoliberal outlook and neocolonial way of doing business. BTR is trying to get the word out on its policies and attract people of various political persuasions under a single banner toward a common goal: the restoration of Bulgarian statehood, sovereignty, and prosperity. Anyone who longs to break the cycle of organized theft, sabotage, and national humiliation is welcome in BTR.

They sport many high-profile individuals at grassroots, patriots and excellent professionals, who can win the election and transform local politics and administration for the better. The main objectives are outlined in their manifesto. I’ll enumerate the more important ones and provide suggestions – the things I’d emphasize for these local elections in order to smash the traditional framing, to which all the other parties subscribe, that leads to nowhere.

On the social side, BTR wants: a Job Guarantee programs that offers work at decent pay to anyone willing and able to work, public health insurance and education services without extra fiscal drag levied on the citizens. And on the geopolitical side, BTR wants the restoration of Bulgaria’s sovereignty: to eliminate the currency board, [through which the ECB is effectively in control of the country’s money], and issue a sovereign, free floating Lev, and to get Bulgaria out of NATO and the European Union.

Running on an ‘old school’ labor platform, BTR wants to re-nationalize key industries and infrastructure, while pursuing the elimination of all regressive taxes. Treating the new Lev as a state-issued tax-credit, BTR recognizes the [extrinsic] value of the currency rests in the country’s land and natural resources, and in the citizens’ productive power of labor [manual and intellectual]. BTR wants to revitalize and expand the national infrastructure, revive the Bulgarian countryside, turn around the country’s catastrophic demographic situation, protect and promote the family [like the State used to do in a past epoch], put an end to economic migration, and excise all the bureaucratic overhead.

It’s good to advertise the macro plan, but since these are local elections, heterodox policies have to be carried out without the help of central authorities and against the rotten, neoliberal traditions of that same center. These policies include things like: untangling the bureaucratic quagmire, redistributing the fiscal burden from active / productive agents to passive / unproductive ones, investing in public utilities, promoting CLTs [Community Land Trusts, which ensure affordable housing], easing operation costs for farmers and securing demand for their produce, implementing biochar programs [good for agriculture and the environment].

I wrote about funding schemes for local governments in the past as well. I wish BTR, on top of promoting MMT [Modern Monetary Theory], would also firmly stress the Georgist philosophy on taxation. It’s quite simple. If you tax productive economic activity, you get less of it. If you tax unproductive activity, you get less of it and more productive activity. Labor, buildings, sales, and enterprise should be tax exempt. Economic rent and negative externalities [like pollution] should be taxed.

Local governments should evaluate and tax land values and eliminate the property tax. Land value taxation also takes into account the situation of poor farmers and the need for environmental protection. On the question of finance, the initiatives of public banking and credit unions [credit cooperatives] should be merged. Community banks don’t operate under the shareholder principle, but on the stakeholder principle, just like CLTs. There are no shareholders and there are no dividends; their goal isn’t to maximize markups or gamble on asset prices, but to finance productive economic activities within the community. These banks have trustees, who run the company – but they can’t sell their “trusteeship” to anyone else. So 100 percent of the revenue minus operation costs is reinvested in the company [the money is recirculated in the communities].

Disclaimer: I’m not a member of BTR, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything they pledge in their manifesto. However, being a new party with new people and some great ideas overall, I offer them my moral support and my two cents on policy.

Apples of Discord, RT Documentary

Russia’s 2014 embargo on European food imports cut European farmers out of their second biggest export market. At first, they hoped the measure, taken in response to Western financial sanctions following Crimea’s adherence to Russia, would be temporary. Five years down the road, the consequences for farmers throughout Europe are dreadful. RTD travels around the continent to meet Spanish, Italian, French, Polish, German and Dutch farmers and Farmers’ Union Reps. They explain how the embargo dramatically hit their turnover and bargaining power. They worry about whether they still have a future in agriculture and question the European Union’s response to the crisis.

This particular situation is the best argument, I think, for bringing back the tradition of buffer stock policies. This prudent custom had been scrapped in favor of neoliberal market reforms; but we all know that foreign interests don’t necessarily coincide with the national interest. The role of a buffer stock policy is to ensure an acceptable base level price for both consumers and producers, irrespective of the business cycle. During times of exceptional harvests, when supply exceeds demand and prices favor consumers to the detriment of producers, the Government steps in with a bid to purchase this excess. It’s not mandatory for them to sell the unsold produce they have left, so the Government’s action in this sense cannot be labeled as coercive. The opposite occurs during periods of poor harvests. The Government steps in to sell from its stockpiles to cover the gap in supply and, in so doing, normalize prices. It’s not a silver bullet policy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s better to have a safety net for consumers and producers.

Another good policy for agriculture, set in a fully phased in Land-Value Tax [LVT] system [also known as the single tax system], land taken out of production for soil or water regeneration purposes would no longer be considered productive land and would be exempt from the LVT, thus helping disadvantaged farmers and protecting nature at the same time. Under the present system, however, it’s the norm for farmers to put all their available land under cultivation just to pay the bills. For more info on the subject of agriculture under the LVT system, see this short video.

Prudence should come before ideology; and make no mistake, many of these trans-national accords are based on ideology. The EU political class must come to grips with the fact that European geopolitics cannot ignore the fate of neighbouring countries, unlike the US geopolitical mentality, based on the island nation context. And making bad decisions on Washington’s behalf hurts not only Russia, but the EU states as well.

Land-Value Taxation & Farming

Dan Sullivan, from Saving Communities, talks on LVT and farming on his stay in Sweden in November 2014. Sullivan brings in a wide array of keen observations in terms of methodology and socio-economic consequences. Labor efficient and land inefficient firms vs land efficient ones. The different types of farmers. The different type of farms. The different interests among farm owners. Incentives and penalties. Land trusts. Appealing assessments. And much more. The video quality is only 240p, but the sound is clear.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The folks from Saving Communities get everything right, especially from a moral standpoint, with a tiny observation in terms of banking operations, issue which can be tackled via asset side discipline reforms instead of full reserve banking, which has a regressive effect (doesn’t discriminate between lending for wealth creation and lending for wealth extraction) unlike the former. But I won’t get into that here – instead, I will quote their view on Money as a Common Medium and conclude this post with their Call To Action.

“Money is a common medium of exchange, without which modern production and exchange methods are impossible. Government, which demands money in taxes or as payment against necessary privileges, violates its charge if it forces taxpayers to resort to privately created money, and further violates its charge if it guarantees the value of privately created money or credit. Government’s demand for money requires that it issue enough money to satisfy the demand for money, and that newly issued money be distributed in a way that is fair to all citizens.

Government should issue enough money to maintain stable prices, with neither significant inflation nor deflation. However, it is even more important that government issue money directly into circulation rather than lending it to banks or granting banks the privilege of lending money they do not actually have.

Once money is rightfully issued, the exchange of that money is private matter, and the money itself is morally private property until it is redeemed by government.”

Justice Begins with You

“Each of us has an obligation, not only to advocate justice, but to be personally just toward ourselves and toward those with whom we interact. In this regard, charity without justice can be a device for sustaining injustice. That is, if you demand justice and another thing, you will get the other thing, and only the other thing.

In the aggregate, there is no such thing as ‘more than fair.’ That is, it is impossible to be more than fair to some without being less than fair to others, or to yourself. In every human interaction, other than that of punishment or restraint against those who had violated the rights of others, all parties should come out ahead. That is the minimum standard of justice.”