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Henry George and the Single-Tax

William F. Buckley, Jr.

[an interview with Brian Lamb, CSpan Book Notes, April 2-3, 2000]

CALLER: Mr. Buckley, it's a pleasure to talk to you.

William F. Buckley, Jr.(WFB): Thank You.

CALLER: I've heard you describe yourself as a Georgist, a follower of Henry George, but I haven't heard much in having you promote land value taxation and his theories, and I'm wondering why that is the case.

W.F.B.: It's mostly because I'm beaten down by my right-wing theorists and intellectual friends. They always find something wrong with the Single-Tax idea. What I'm talking about Mr. Lamb is Henry George who said there is infinite capacity to increase capital and to increase labor, but none to increase land, and since wealth is a function of how they play against each other, land should be thought of as common property. The effect of this would be that if you have a parking lot and the Empire State Building next to it, the tax on the parking lot should be the same as the tax on the Empire State Building, because you shouldn't encourage land speculation.

Anyway I've run into tons of situations where I think the Single-Tax theory would be applicable. We should remember also this about Henry George, he was sort of co-opted by the socialists in the 20s and the 30s, but he was not one at all. Alfred J. Nock's book on him makes that plain. Plus, also, he believes in only that tax. He believes in zero income tax.

You look bored (addressing Brian Lamb)!

B.L.: No, no. As a matter of fact I was going to ask you about this little book ("Lexicon, A Cornucopia of Wonderful Words for the Inquisitive Word Lover"). I'm fascinated by it. I'm going to see if you can pronounce the word, the-fear-of-having-peanut-butter-stuck-to-your-roof-of-your-mouth, This little book starts off and the fellow's name, is it Jesse Sheidlower?...

W.F.B.: I think so.

B.L.: S-H-E-I-D-L-O-W-E-R? You've never read it (the Introduction to "The Lexicon").

W.F.B.: No. I never have.

B.L.: (Quoting the book) "The first time I met William F. Buckley, we were both members of a televised panel discussing word. The moderator introduced me with a pop-quiz to test my credentials asked me to define the word..." Is it USUFRUCT?

W.F.B.: Usufruct, yeah.

B.L. (Quoting the book) "I felt smug as I recite the right to enjoy another's property as long as you don't damage it. Then Mr. Buckley leaned into his microphone and quoted an entire paragraph on usufruct from the political economist, Henry George.

W.F.B.: Oh for heaven's sake!

B.L.: And this little book has..

W.F.B.: The land belongs to those in usufruct .

The reference is from Henry George's speech entitled "The Land for the People".

We start out with these two principles, which I think are clear and self-evident:
  • that which a man makes belongs to him and can by him be given or sold to anyone that he pleases.
  • But that which existed before man came upon the earth, that which was not produced by man, but which was created by God-that belongs equally to all men.
As no man made the land, so no man can claim a right of ownership in the land. As God made the land, and as we know both from natural perception and from revealed religion, that God the Creator is no respecter of persons, that in His eyes all men are equal, so also do we know that He made this earth equally for all the human creatures that He has called to dwell upon it. We start out with this clear principle that as all men are here by the equal permission of the Creator, as they are all here under His laws equally requiring the use of land, as they are all here with equal right to live, so they are all here with equal right to the enjoyment of His bounty.

We claim that the land of Ireland, like the land of every country, cannot justly belong to any class, whether that class be large or small; but that the land of Ireland, like the land of every other country, justly belongs in usufruct to the whole people of that country equally, and that no man and no class of men can have any just right in the land that is not equally shared by all others. ...

THESE are the plain, simple principles for which we contend, and our practical measure for restoring to all men of any country their equal rights in the land of that country is simply to abolish other taxes, to put a tax upon the value of land, irrespective of the improvements, to carry that tax up as fast as we can, until we absorb the full value of the land, and we say that that would utterly destroy the monopoly of land and create a fund for the benefit of the entire community. How easy a way that is to go from an unjust situation like the present to an ideally just situation may be seen among other things in this. Where you propose to take land for the benefit of the whole people you are at once met by the demands of the landlords for compensation. Now, if you tax them, no one ever heard of such an idea as to compensate a people for imposing tax.

In that easy way the land can again be made the property in usufruct of the whole people, by a gentle and gradual process.

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