Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
Home Essential Documents Themes All Documents Authors Glossary Links Contact Us


Basic Income
Also known as a citizen's dividend or a social salary

Georgists generally agree that Henry George's Remedy — the collection of the rental value of land as our common treasure — is necessary if we are every to have social and economic justice and genuine equality. They don't all agree, however, about whether it should be distributed as an income to all citizens, as Alaska's Permanent Fund is, or used to fund our common spending. (I fall into the latter category, because I am convinced that in addition to the necessity of collecting rent, we must also lift taxes off trade (sales) and labor (income and wage taxes.)

For the past few years, there has been an annual meeting of a group called USBIG, the US Basic Income Group, in conjunction with the Eastern Economic Association. My sense is that most people who attend that conference are convinced of the need for a basic income for everyone, as a way to reduce poverty, but that they aren't much interested in how to fund it, and don't see the importance of not funding it from income taxes or sales taxes on other people's labor or purchases. Georgists, on the other hand, know exactly how to fund it, but are not agreed on whether that funding should flow to individuals directly, or be used to lift oppressive taxation.

Nic Tideman:  A Bill of Economic Rights and Obligations

Communities are allowed to have whatever taxes and regulations their citizens choose. Anyone who is dissatisfied can live elsewhere. While communities would be permitted to tax wages and interest if they wished, they would find it attractive to do so only if their citizens were content with such sharing. The primary source of financing for communities would be the rental value of land and other natural opportunities. Because the provision of a worthwhile local public good generally raises rent by enough to pay for the good, communities would generally be able to finance themselves with only a fraction of the rent of land. The rest of rent could provide as a basic income for all. ...

Support for those who are unable to provide for themselves would come from this basic income, from the generosity of the fellow citizens of their community, and from insurance that their parents might reasonably be expected to provide for them in a world in which all parents received justice themselves.
  Read the entire article

Nic Tideman: Being Just While Conceptions of Justice are Changing
This paper analyzes the issue of compensation in connection with the possible emergence of an understanding that land is the common heritage of citizens, and that therefore the rental value of land should be collected for public purposes or for a guaranteed income.  ...  Read the whole article

Nic Tideman:  Improving Efficiency and Preventing Exploitation in Taxing and Spending Decisions
There is a proposal that tax increases be allowed only with a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress. That has some merit, but it carries a risk of excessive deficits. It also allows the existing level of taxation to go unquestioned. It would probably be better to have a rule that every spending proposal must be approved by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress to be enacted. Maybe three-fourths. If spending is truly worthwhile, then, as Wicksell said, there is a way of financing it that will secure the approval of nearly everyone.

The current trend toward returning functions to the states is a step in the right direction. But it encounters understandable objections that poor states cannot afford to do what they ought to do. Some form of revenue sharing is needed. But it is important to have the right definition of which states are rich and which are poor. The level of well-being in a state is determined in part by the wisdom of its public policies. States should not be penalized for adopting productive policies. Revenue sharing should equalize per capita levels of natural opportunities (mineral revenues, fishing rights, pre-development land rents, etc.) Replacing the personal and corporate income taxes with either a flat income tax or a national sales or value added tax would greatly reduce the excess burden of federal taxes. (Excess burden is roughly proportional to the square of the typical marginal tax rate.) But almost all the gains go to the rich. Perhaps the flat tax could be combined with a guaranteed income. ...  Read the whole article


Nic Tideman: The Case for Site Value Rating

The three sources of land rent, the gift of nature, public services and community development, lead logically to the justice of three distinct taxes on land. The gift of nature is primarily the agricultural value of land, but also the value of natural resources and the extra value of land near rivers and harbors that arises because such land represents good places to put cities whether or not cities are presently there. This component of the rental value of land should be collected nationally and used to support a guaranteed income for all citizens. The part of land value that arises from public services is justly the income of the community that provides those services. When private individuals and firms undertake activities that raise the rental value of surrounding land, the value thereby created should justly be awarded to those whose actions create it. ... read the whole article


The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here?

We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either by the task, by the taskmaster, or by animal necessity. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished. [Book IX: Effects of the Remedy; Chapter 4: Of the changes that would be wrought in social organization and social life]

Work of this sort could be enormously increased, and we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes who have a double disability will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts among husbands, wives and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on the scale of dollars is eliminated .

Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet right here on earth. ... read the whole chapter and speech

To share this page with a friend: right click, choose "send," and add your comments.

Red links have not been visited; .
Green links are pages you've seen

Essential Documents pertinent to this theme:

Top of page
Essential Documents
to email this page to a friend: right click, choose "send"
Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper