Explaining sociology

Some serious Head Wallah of the profession:

Aditya Chakrabortty says that sociologists take refuge in debating quibbles instead of tackling the neoliberal economic and social disaster head-on,

So not at all biased one way or the other.

In fact our conference, to which journalists were invited, had three main sessions, each attended by hundreds of researchers: on private equity firms; the failure of Marxism to predict the downturn;

I\’m sure that you\’ll be quite amazed to find that the failure of Marxism to predict the downturn is not a refutation of Marxism in the same manner that the failure of neoliberalism to predict the downturn is an obvious and whole refutaiton of neoliberalism.

Academics – from sociology and other disciplines – and research funding bodies have to work together to ensure there is funding to tackle these issues in-depth.

And we need more taxpayers\’ cash.

31 thoughts on “Explaining sociology”

  1. At this point, the Guardianistas are just talking amongst themselves, while the grown ups get on with running the country…

  2. The failure to forecast something does not discredit an economic theory; if it did, all theories would be discredited, as accurate economic forecasting is impossible (clue – free will).
    Anti-neoliberals say the fact of the crisis discredits neoliberalism, as it shows that private sector activity does not always yield desirable outcomes.
    This claim may be right or wrong, but it’s got nothing to do with forecasts.
    And another thing, can we distinguish between prediction and forecasting?

  3. Sociology as an academic discipline is a complete waste of time and money. I’m all in favour of the humanities, but sociology has all the academic rigour of a blancmange. Get rid of it and put the money towards something useful, like… well, anything really.

  4. Possibly relevant:

    In examining those [sociology] courses, we found very few indications that students were introduced to ideas about the causes of inequality or policies to deal with it that reflect free-market or public-choice perspectives. (Public-choice theory proposes that the bureaucrats who administer social programs are motivated largely by their own self-interest). Overwhelmingly, the courses take an approach perfectly in keeping with left/progressive beliefs about the causes of and cures for inequality. The textbooks and assigned readings are almost invariably by leftist authors. Students almost never encounter well-known conservative critics of leftist conceptions about inequality such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Martin Anderson, or Charles Murray.

  5. ‘The failure to forecast something does not discredit an economic theory’

    Congratulations on having understood the point of the post Chris.

  6. There is a substantial “school” of “Post-modernist” writing in Sociology who regard Marxists as not left-wing enough, some of which is included in required reading in undergraduate Sociology courses.

  7. Frederick Harrison (UK)predicted the Credit Crunch by tracking land prices in his 2005 book Boom Bust: he got it down to the right month.Fred Foldvary also used the same predictive cycle based on land values.
    Nearly all land taxers, in their daft, self-absorbed way, saw it coming .
    The website Investor Home Who predicted the Global Financial Crisis gives 50 names of predicters ,many familiar to the usual LVT suspects.
    Since Economics has been challenged by the return of the Founding Fathers of the subject and their old privileging of land values,it is perhaps Economics that needs a period of re-evaluation.

  8. I see the broken record is back in the charts at number nine.

    If 5000 people predict a downturn (actually it was probably closer to 500,000) they will all be right eventually, and a lot of them will be right about the timing as well. Simply by pot luck.

  9. Sociology was a pointless load of Marxist crap 20 years ago, now you have to pay upwards of £30,000 on top. I mean, who in their right mind would bother?

  10. dbc reed: Most people who gave the question serious consideration, including me, knew before it burst that there was a housing bubble in the USA. What no one realised was how bad the fall-out would be. I didn’t even know that the bank I was working for had huge exposure to the US mortgage market, and nor apparently did its board of directors.

    You may have missed the request I made when you were banging on about LVT some time ago:

    This Land Value Tax is an amorphous beastie. If you’d care to point us to a coherent description of the version you favour I’d be happy to give it due consideration.

  11. PaulB, I can’t speak for DBC Reed but I suspect you’re just being obtuse. Socialists always oppose LVT because it eliminates the only meaningful “unearned income” in existence, thus preventing them from using the guilt by association fallacy: “Some income is unearned under capitalism, therefore all income can be confiscated.”

    At any rate LVT is perfectly simple. Just levy “business rates” on domestic property as well, based on the rateable value of the land rather than land+buildings.

  12. No. I see many practical objections to a Land Value Tax, but of course the practicalities depend on the implementation, which is why I would like to consider a concrete proposal, such as this one supported by the Labour Land Campaign.

    …you’re just being obtuse. Socialists always oppose LVT…”

    Come again?

  13. @ Richard Allan
    The value of the best quality land without planning permission has jumped to £6,000 per acre. Poor quality land with planning permission is nearer £600,000 per acre. Which rateable value?
    To talk about the value of land without buildings one has to assume the most profitable alternative use, which is usually a NCP Car Park in the town or agriculture elsewhere which only a fraction of the value of the land with buildings.

  14. @john77; Quite. I have repeatedly pointed out to the LVT crowd that what they propose to tax is not the rental value of land based on its location, but the planning status of said land. A piece of parkland in a town that cannot be built on ever has considerably less value than a piece of land next door with planning permission for houses. Why should this be? The location is identical. The answer of course is the piece of paper granted by the State that allows you to do something with one that you can’t with the other. And LVT taxes that State created value.

    If all land had equal development rights, then any differences in value would be down to location etc, and houses would cost a fraction of what they do now. LVT might make sense in a system where planning restrictions were low or zero, but in a small crowded nation such as ours, with its restrictive planning rules, is entirely inappropriate.

  15. I am a member of Labour Land Campaign and so support Jerry Jones’s proposal.

    In a purely private capacity I also like the older JS Mill idea of a from- now- onwards land tax which would be levied at a percentage rate to stop land values inflating further (but not reclaim past inflationaryincreases).
    From the Programme of the Land Tenure Reform Association 1871 ( on Online Library of Liberty site):

    The Society do (sic) not propose to to disturb the landowners in their present acquisitions.But they assert the right of the State to all such accessions of income in the future.Whatever value the land may have acquired at the time when the principle they contend for shall obtain the assent of Parliament,they do not propose to interfere with”.
    This appears to me a very fair compromise.

    It was precisely what Gordon Brown should have followed through with when he said at the time of his 1997 Budget “I will not allow house prices to get out of control and put at risk the sustainability of the recovery”.

  16. Jim:

    If all land had equal development rights, then any differences in value would be down to location etc


    and houses would cost a fraction of what they do now.


  17. I’d be fascinated to learn what the LVT crowd intend to do when land values fall, as they will inevitably do. Do all landowners get a cash handout?

  18. Don’t see why the planning thing is an obstacle for LVT.

    If you don’t have planning permission, you pay tax on the gbp6k value; if you do, you pay it on the gbp600k. If you don’t want to develop the land, you don’t need to apply for planning permission and you don’t need to pay the tax.

    (you’d need to modify the system so you can only apply for PP on land that you own, but that’d be a very minor change to the law).

    BiS: I think you’re thinking of capital gains tax (which, of course, exists for most high-value land, just not for farmland or primary dwellings). LVT is an annual tax on the property’s value, so obviously there wouldn’t be a rebate. Why would there be?

  19. @ john b
    Most housebuilders/developers do not buy land until after planning permission has been granted. They enter into a conditional purchase agreement with the landowner and then apply for planning permission. The application is done by the developer because typical landowner would be comprehensively defeated by the bureaucracy.

  20. [email protected]
    There does seem to be a sense of glee floating around the LVT community that increases in land values can be considered as, in some way, the property of the state. if you consider, as I do, that land and property values are made up two elements ; the utility value- what the user is content to pay to enjoy the benefits & the investment value- the expectation of benefiting from future increase in price, you might see a slight problem. There’s nothing in the rules to say the investment value has to be a positive number. I’m sitting down here watching property prices plummeting towards & below utility value.
    An LVT is going to help turn land ownership into more of a liability than an asset. Now, historically, we’ve had LVT’s before. It was how the Roman state raised a lot of it’s taxes & feudal England did much the same – hence Domesday Book. So what are LVTers advocating as land values fall? Can’t say I’ve ever seen any enthusiasm for reducing the overall tax spending, so it’ll be trying to raise the same money from a dwindling asset. Serious positive feedback there. Probably enough paradigm shift to bring down the entire house of cards. Enjoy the new dark ages.

  21. If increases in land values are not the property of the community/State, whose are they?They’re not the property of the resident landowner who has sat on the land while the efforts of other, more economically active people, have increased general prosperity and so put up land values,his included.These increases are unearned ,adventitious, capital
    Since nowadays these land values are the straightforward product of increases in the money supply ,the State ,which meant the money to act as a stimulus to production/consumption, should take a small precaution like LVT to block money leaking into th property market instead .(Cue bellows from Economic Stone Age Man “The State should n’t try to control its own money supply.Whatever next: it belongs to the banks!”

    The whole point of John Stuart Mill’s land value tax is that it only kicks in during land price inflation : it does not try to tax a falling market .
    What would be the point of taxing a falling market?Gravity and general economic mania is doing a lot of LVT’s job for it.

    There is no “glee”among land taxers: they realise what they’re up against,thank you very much.

  22. dbc reed believes that a fairy with a magic wand increases the value of land – or maybe his native tongue is Russian in which “value” and “price” are the same word.
    The value of land is increased by the work of the landowner (or by that of his employees, funded by the landowner) in improving it, digging ditches to drain it, planting hedges, repairing fences, clearing undergrowth, removing weeds, fertilising the soil … or, for urban areas, installing drains and sewers, culverting streams, building access roads, boundary walls, installing CCTV etc
    An increase in nominal price solely due to the debasement of the currency (aka inflation) is *not* an increase in value.
    There is a simple short word for the expropriation of assets or money belonging to other people – it is “theft”.

  23. @J77
    If J is ,rather courageously, leading into the lists the old dray horse that LVT is theft,he should look to his own definition where he mentions things that belong to other people.An unearned capital gain in land price due to mere monetary inflation cannot belong to the recipient being a diversion or embezzlement (to be equally legalistic) of money directed by the State at stimulating demand for consumption then production.As such LVT is a repayment, a term which many years ago I tried to get Land Taxers to adopt instead of the rebarbative word “Tax”(Without success.)
    The distinction made between land value and land price is made like a true Henry Georgite who would relish this distinction. But if somebody drains and removes stones from land etc ,it seems to me that this is going to be reflected sooner rather than later in prices which is the only thing a market economy can deal in.

  24. An unearned capital gain in land price due to mere monetary inflation cannot belong to the recipient being a diversion or embezzlement (to be equally legalistic) of money directed by the State at stimulating demand for consumption then production.

    Have we found the WGCE’s ghost writer? “An unearned gain cannot belong”? WTF not? State confiscation? This is the man who maintains he’s not a socialist.

    Anyway – a gain due to “mere monetary inflation” is no gain at all. That’s what inflation means. Sighs …

    Embezzlement? Under what insane definition?

    It’s like a polite version of Arnald.

  25. The value of land is increased by the work of the landowner

    If we’re talking Wild West pioneers, absolutely yes.

    But if we’re talking about the UK as it is, mostly no, because most land is already in use one way or another. Either it’s agricultural and the work was done centuries ago, or it’s built-up and the work was done years ago. There are a few developers at the margin, but it’s fairly limited.

    Rocketing house prices from 1950-2008 did not reflect the fact that homeowners were making their houses super-awesome. You can tell this by looking at the price of a derelict wreck in central London (=the price of a nice house minus the cost of renovations).

    That value was entirely created externally, and it’s insane to pretend otherwise.

  26. @jb
    “That value was entirely created externally amd its insane to pretend otherwise.”
    Well quite ,but I would be far too polite to say so.

  27. John 77 is making two fundamental mistakes here:

    1. LVT does not tax capital gains on land values (or compensate for losses) and does not seek to, it is a tax on the annual rental value which is fairly constant from year to year (like Business Rates). As a positive knock-on effect, capital gains and losses would be much smaller than they are now, because selling prices would be much lower to start with), that’s a bonus not a feature.

    2. LVT is a tax on the pure location value of a site, excluding the owner’s own improvements, i.e. bricks and mortar, drainage, whatever. No owner can claimed to have created the co-ordinates of the map and therefore cannot claim to have created the location.

    It would be helpful to have a sensible discussion for a change instead of all these Faux Libertarians saying “I don’t like LVT because [completely made up facts and logic], so there” because rebutting their stuff is pretty much a waste of time because then they say “Ah yes, but I also hate LVT because [more spurious economic theories and unfounded assumptions]” and so on.

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