Wealth and Want
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... it is best that the truth be fully stated and clearly recognized. He who sees the truth, let him proclaim it, without asking who is for it or who is against it. This is not radicalism in the bad sense which so many attach to the word. This is conservatism in the true sense.
Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

Consider what rent is. It does not arise spontaneously from land; it is due to nothing that the land owners have done. It represents a value created by the whole community.

Let the land holders have, if you please, all that the possession of the land would give them in the absence of the rest of the community. But rent, the creation of the whole community, necessarily belongs to the whole community.*

* To the view of the extreme conservative that due consideration for the claims of rent receivers negatives the adoption of such a policy, it may be replied that society as such is under no obligation to maintain an unchanged policy through out all future time. Public policies are constantly changing in such ways as to disappoint the expectations of persons who have invested on the supposition that policies would not change and to affect the value of their property. Tarriffs are raised, and lowered. The brewing of spirituous liquors is at one time permitted and at another time outlawed. Prices of monopolized services are first left to be fixed by the monopolist and are then regulated. Taxes are increased on some goods and decreased on others. In some communities taxes have already been made higher on land values than on improvements. Purchasers of land have no right to insist that society may not, even by gradual steps, discriminate in taxation against land rent, which is an income socially produced. (Henry George himself elsewhere said -- Century Magazine, July, 1890 -- that "we cannot get to the Single Tax at one leap, but only by gradual steps.") We must presume that land owners, like other persons, buy their property with no guarantee that public policy will never change. The conservative insistence that society, which makes frequent changes of policy in other matters, is under a binding implied pledge and obligation never to move, even by successive steps, towards the eventual taking of the economic rent of land by taxation, seems preposterous. H. G. B. ... read the whole chapter

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

... it is best that the truth be fully stated and clearly recognized. He who sees the truth, let him proclaim it, without asking who is for it or who is against it. This is not radicalism in the bad sense which so many attach to the word. This is conservatism in the true sense. ...

THERE are those who may look on this little book as very radical, in the bad sense they attach to the word. They mistake. This is, in the true sense of the word, a most conservative little book. I do not appeal to prejudice and passion. I appeal to intelligence. I do not incite to strife; I seek to prevent strife. ...

It is not true conservatism which cries "Peace! peace!" when there is no peace; which, like the ostrich, sticks its head in the sand and fancies itself secure; which would compromise matters by putting more coal in the furnace, and hanging heavier weights on the safety-valve! That alone is true conservatism which would look facts in the face, which would reconcile opposing forces on the only basis on which reconciliation is possible – that of justice.  ... read the whole article

Henry George: Political Dangers (Chapter 2 of Social Problems, 1883)

[09] It is not merely positively, but negatively, that great aggregations of wealth, whether individual or corporate, tend to corrupt government and take it out of the control of the masses of the people. "Nothing is more timorous than a million dollars — except two million dollars." Great wealth always supports the party in power, no matter how corrupt it may be. It never exerts itself for reform, for it instinctively fears change. It never struggles against misgovernment. When threatened by the holders of political power it does not agitate, nor appeal to the people; it buys them off. It is in this way, no less than by its direct interference, that aggregated wealth corrupts government, and helps to make politics a trade. Our organized lobbies, both legislative and Congressional, rely as much upon the fears as upon the hopes of moneyed interests. When "business" is dull, their resource is to get up a bill which some moneyed interest will pay them to beat. So, too, these large moneyed interests will subscribe to political funds, on the principle of keeping on the right side of those in power, just as the railroad companies deadhead President Arthur when he goes to Florida to fish. ... read the entire essay

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)

f. The Single Tax Retains Rent for Common Use.

To retain Rent for common use it is not necessary to abolish land-titles, nor to let land out to the highest bidder, nor to invent some new mechanism of taxation, nor in any other way to directly change existing modes of holding land for use, or existing machinery for collecting public revenues. "Great changes can be best brought about under old forms."109 Let land be held nominally as it is now. Let taxes be collected by the same kind of machinery as now. But abolish all taxes except those that fall upon actual and potential Rent, that is to say, upon land values.

109. "Such dupes are men to custom, and so prone
To rev'rence what is ancient and can plead
A course of long observance for its use,
That even servitude, the worst of ills,
Because delivered down from sire to son
Is kept and guarded as a sacred thing." —Cowper.

It is only custom that makes the ownership of land seem reasonable. I have frequently had occasion to tell of the necessity under which the city of Cleveland, Ohio, found itself, of paying a land-owner several thousand dollars for the right to swing a bridge-draw over his land. When I described the matter in that way, the story attracted no attention; it seemed perfectly reasonable to the ordinary lecture audience. But when I described the transaction as a payment by the city to a land-owner of thousands of dollars for the privilege of swinging the draw "through that man's air," the audience invariably manifested its appreciation of the absurdity of such an ownership. The idea of owning air was ridiculous; the idea of owning land was not. Yet who can explain the difference, except as a matter of custom?

To the same effect was the question of the Rev. F. L. Higgins to a friend. While stationed at Galveston, Tex., Mr. Higgins fell into a discussion with his friend as to the right of government to make land private property. The friend argued that no matter what the abstract right might be, the government had made private property of land, and people had bought and sold upon the strength of the government title, and therefore land titles were morally absolute.

"Suppose," said Mr. Higgins, "that the government should vest in a corporation title to the Gulf of Mexico, so that no one could fish there, or sail there, or do anything in or upon the waters of the Gulf without permission from the corporation. Would that be right?"

"No," answered the friend.

"Well, suppose the corporation should then parcel out the Gulf to different parties until some of the people came to own the whole Gulf to the exclusion of everybody else, born and unborn. Could any such title be acquired by these purchasers, or their descendants or assignees, as that the rest of the people if they got the power would not have a moral right to abrogate it?"

"Certainly not," said the friend.

"Could private titles to the Gulf possibly become absolute in morals?"


"Then tell me," asked Mr. Higgins, "what difference it would make if all the water were taken off the Gulf and only the bare land left."

If that were done it is doubtful if land-owners could any longer confiscate enough Rent to be worth the trouble. Even though some surplus were still kept by them, it would be so much more easy to secure Wealth by working for it than by confiscating Rent to private use, to say nothing of its being so much more respectable, that speculation in land values would practically be abandoned. At any rate, the question of a surplus — Rent in excess of the requirements of the community — may be readily determined when the principle that Rent justly belongs to the community and Wages to the individual shall have been recognized by society in the adoption of the Single Tax. 110

110. Thomas G. Shearman, Esq., of New York, author of the famous magazine article on "Who Owns the United States," estimates that sixty-five per cent of the present annual value of the land in the United States would pay all the present expenses of American government — federal, state, county, and municipal. ... read the book

Nic Tideman:  The Ethics of Coercion in Public Finance

One way to sidestep the lack of disinterested parties to define justice is to identify justice with tradition. To the extent that tradition can be identified unambiguously, it is at least a disinterested source for justice. Conservatives stress the further virtue of tradition, that it has passed the test of evolutionary success. The traditions that we have inherited may have hidden strengths that we do not discern and would lose if we sought to design our own institutions.

As valid as these claims for tradition are, they are not sufficient to make tradition an adequate source for justice. In some times and places, tradition has given us slavery, serfdom, denial of voting rights to women, and any number of other inequalities that we have come to realize we cannot accept. While the Conservative perspective is valuable for the insights it provides into rationales for the status quo, its automatic acceptance of tradition cannot guarantee the evenhandedness that is essential in a theory of justice.

In rejecting tradition as a fundamental source for justice, we must also reject the ultimate authority of laws and constitutions as sources for justice. Justice is the standard to which we hold laws and constitutions; it is not defined by them. Nevertheless, our traditions often embody promises that we have made to one another, which we may need to take into account when we decide how we will get from where we are to where justice tells us we must be....  Read the whole article

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)

... Why, in the rudest state of society in the most primitive state of the arts the labour of the natural bread-winner will suffice to provide a living for himself and for those who are dependent upon him. Amid all our inventions there are large bodies of men who cannot do this. What is the most astonishing thing in our civilisation? Why, the most astonishing thing to those Sioux chiefs who were recently brought from the Far West and taken through our manufacturing cities in the East, was not the marvellous inventions that enabled machinery to act almost as if it had intellect; it was not the growth of our cities; it was not the speed with which the railway car whirled along; it was not the telegraph or the telephone that most astonished them; but the fact that amid this marvellous development of productive power they found little children at work. And astonishing that ought to be to us; a most astounding thing!

Talk about improvement in the condition of the working classes, when the facts are that a larger and larger proportion of women and children are forced to toil. Why, I am told that, even here in your own city, there are children of thirteen and fourteen working in factories. In Detroit, according to the report of the Michigan Bureau of Labour Statistics, one half of the children of school age do not go to school. In New Jersey, the report made to the legislature discloses an amount of misery and ignorance that is appalling. Children are growing up there, compelled to monotonous toil when they ought to be at play, children who do not know how to play; children who have been so long accustomed to work that they have become used to it; children growing up in such ignorance that they do not know what country New Jersey is in, that they never heard of George Washington, that some of them think Europe is in New York. Such facts are appalling; they mean that the very foundations of the Republic are being sapped. The dangerous man is not the man who tries to excite discontent; the dangerous man is the man who says that all is as it ought to be. Such a state of things cannot continue; such tendencies as we see at work here cannot go on without bringing at last an overwhelming crash. ... read the whole speech
Nic Tideman:  Peace, Justice and Economic Reform

There is a bumper sticker that says, "If you want peace, then work for justice." At a superficial level, this simple slogan contains an important half-truth. At a deeper level, it contains a more profound half-truth. To understand these half-truths and why they are only half true, we need to know what peace is, what justice is, and we need to understand the relationship between the two. So in this talk I want to explore the meanings of peace and justice, their relationship, and the role of economic reform in attaining both.

"If you want peace, then work for justice." The more obvious and superficial meaning of this slogan is that people who are treated unjustly will prevent the attainment of peace until the wrongs to which they are subject are righted. Demonstrators shout: "No justice. No peace." The apparent meaning of peace in this case is tranquility, the absence of strife. And if this meaning of peace is accepted, the slogan is true. You cannot expect to end strife as long as people have unresolved grievances. But the reason that this is only half true is that this meaning is only a shadow of what peace really is.

Peace is more than armistice, more than the cessation of violence. Peace is unity and harmony. In a peaceful world people are all pleased to cooperate with one another. When we have attained true peace, there will be no person who has any purpose that any other person seeks to thwart. In a peaceful world, everyone will feel the truth of John Donne's meditation,

No man is an Island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent; a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, and well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.[1]

Is it imaginable that we might ever attain a world where everyone felt so? And if we do so, what will be the role of justice in that world? What is justice?

There are so many conflicting, strident claims for different conceptions of justice that a person might reasonably despair of ever finding a meaning of justice that people would agree upon. Any conception of justice may seem to be no more than one person's opinion. And yet there are things that we all know about justice. ...

Even the utilitarian proposal that conflicting claims should be settled in the way that yields the greatest possible utility must be rejected as an elitist imposition of a particular goal on people who may have other plans. If I choose to pursue a life that can be guaranteed to lead to depression and despair, I have as much claim to the protection of justice in that pursuit as if I choose the path that leads to bliss. Justice must be neutral in its evaluation of people and their goals. ...

If we commit ourselves to neutrality, does that provide a unique definition of justice? No, it doesn't. There are a number of definitions of justice that might claim to satisfy neutrality, although the claims of some definitions are dubious, and other definitions can be rejected on other grounds.

Consider first the conservative claim that justice is defined by traditional rules.  ...

Next, consider the claim that justice is defined by what the majority wants. The majoritarian says, "If you want to know who should prevail in a conflict, take a vote." As appealing as majoritarianism may be on the surface, it cannot provide a coherent theory of justice. ...

If voting cannot be used to define justice, one might entertain the possibility of using a contractarian formulation: What is just is the rules to which people would have agreed if they did not know their personal circumstances.  ...

This is a reasonable recipe for implementing the Golden Rule and a fine idea for seeking agreement about the principles by which complaints shall be judged. If people were to follow this suggestion and achieve the agreement that is described, they would achieve fairness.

However, this does not make Rawls's suggestion a good way to identify justice.  ...

Next, consider egalitarianism. The egalitarian says that justice is equality. There is a conceptual difficulty in specifying how beings as different from each other as humans are could ever be equal, unless we create a society where all humans are female clones of one another. (This should be technologically feasible within a few decades, if it is not already.) But I do not think that egalitarians want a society of clones. ...

John Rawls has proposed that the talents that individuals possess be regarded as a common pool, so that anyone who has more than his share has an obligation to compensate those who have less then their shares. ...

All of these suggestions should be rejected. Talents are not a common pool from which some persons have taken more then their shares. If we are all fishing in the same pond, the quantity of fish that you take will diminish the quantity that is available to me. But the quantity of talent that you have in no way diminishes the quantity that is available to me. Your talent is not acquired at my expense.

From the perspective of peace, no man is an island; each of us is a part of mankind. And any of us who has been graced with an extra measure of talent should recognize that, often, the best use of our talent is to provide for others. Nevertheless, from the perspective of justice, each of us must be allowed to act like an island if he wishes. .

Suppose that a bone-marrow transplant from me would save your life--or at least prolong it. ...
If you do not mind requiring a bone-marrow transplant of me, then what about a kidney? ...
If you do not mind requiring me to donate a kidney, then what about my heart?  ...

A good egalitarian should require me to part with the one available heart after I have had my share of years.

But I don't think you would. I don't think anyone would. We are not egalitarians. We recognize the sanctity of the boundaries of the human body. In a peaceful world I will gladly give a spare kidney to anyone who needs it. But in a just world, no one will forcefully extract a kidney from me, even to save someone else's life. Justice is not egalitarianism.

Just as I own my kidneys, so do I own my talents. In a peaceful world I will use them for the benefit of all mankind. But the sword of justice should not be used to force me to compensate those with less talent. Nor should it be used to force me to abide by the insurance contract that you believe I would have signed, if I had had the chance, before I knew what talents I would have.  ...

A proper definition of justice begins with the principles of classical liberalism. In a just world each person is permitted to determine the purposes to which his or her body is put--the hands and the brain no less than the kidneys. We each have rights of self-determination. This includes the right of ownership of what we produce, at least, as John Locke said, when we leave as much in natural opportunities for others as we appropriate for our own productive activities.[11]

We have the right to co-operate with whom we choose for whatever mutually agreed purposes we choose. Thus we have the right to trade with others, without any artificial hindrances, and we have the right to keep any wages or interest that we receive from such trading.

These components of the classical liberal conception of justice are held by two groups that hold conflicting views on a companion issue of great importance: how are claims of exclusive access to natural opportunities to be established?

John Locke qualified his statement that we own what we produce with his famous "proviso" that there be "as much and as good left in common for others." A few pages later, writing in the last decade of the seventeenth century, he said that private appropriations of land are actually not restricted, because anyone who is dissatisfied with the land available to him in Europe can always go to America, where there is plenty of unclaimed land.[12] Locke does not address the issue of rights to land when land is scarce. One tradition in classical liberalism concerning claims to land is that of the "homesteading libertarians ...

The other tradition is that of the "geoists," as inspired if not exemplified by Henry George, who say that, whenever natural opportunities are scarce, each person has an obligation to ensure that the per capita value of the natural opportunities that he leaves for others is as great as the value of the natural opportunities that he claims for himself.[14] Any excess in one's claim generates an obligation to compensate those who thereby have less. George actually proposed the nearly equivalent idea, that all or nearly all of the rental value of land should be collected in taxes, and all other taxes should be abolished. The geoist position as I have expressed it emphasizes the idea that, at least when value generated by public services is not an issue, rights to land are fundamentally rights of individuals, not rights of governments.

There are two fundamental problems with the position of homesteading libertarians on claims to land.  ...

The second fundamental problem with the position of the homesteading libertarians is that, even if there were previously unsettled land to be allocated, say a new continent emerging from the ocean, first grabbing would make no sense as a criterion for allocating land.

It would be inefficient, for one thing, as people stampeded to do whatever was necessary to establish their claims. But that is not decisive because, if we are concerned with justice, it might be necessary for us to tolerate inefficiency. But the homesteading libertarian view makes no sense in terms of justice. "I get it all because I got here first," isn't justice.

Justice -- the balancing of the scales -- is the geoist position, "I get exclusive access to this natural opportunity because I have left natural opportunities of equal value for you."  ...

Justice is thus a regime in which persons have the greatest possible individual liberty, and all acknowledge an obligation to share equally the value of natural opportunities. Justice is economic reform -- the abolition of all taxes on labor and capital, the acceptance of individual responsibility, the creation of institutions that will provide equal sharing the value of natural opportunities. ...

So if you want a peace for others, then work for justice. Work for freedom. Work for the elimination of all taxes on the productive things that people do. Work for equality in the right to benefit from natural opportunities. All these things will make it easier for people to make the leap to peace.

But if you want peace for yourself, simply have it.  Read the entire article

Nic Tideman:  Global Economic Justice, followed by Creating Global Economic Justice
I. The Functions of a Theory of Justice
II. Henry George's Principles of Justice
III. Applying the Theory of Justice to Land Rights Among Nations
IV. Applying the Theory of Justice to Other Connections among Nations
V. Differences in Ability and in Wealth
VI. Resources that Fluctuate over Time
VII. Justice and the Demographic Equation
VIII. Conclusion

Humanity is emerging from eons of development during which survival has been promoted both by the ability to grab resources from others and by the ability of groups to cooperate and share natural resources within communities that occupied territorial homelands. In recent centuries we have been developing a consensus that taking from the weak is wrong, and that we ought to have a social order that prevents all such behavior. But we have not yet worked out how to do it.

Some people think of preventing grabbing in terms of preserving the status quo. There are two difficulties with this.

  • First, the status quo incorporates extensive holdings that were acquired by indefensible means. A decision to preserve the status quo commits us to defending the indefensible.
  • Second, there is no magic to any particular date, before which unjust appropriations are incorporated into the status quo and after which they are reversed.

A practice of allowing an appropriation to be treated as just if it has survived long enough gives aggressors an incentive to see if they can grab and hold on long enough. The result is actions like Indonesia's seizure of East Timor and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Only if we have a standard of justice that is independent of history can we expect to end such actions.

Henry George's theory of economic justice--that every person has a right to his or her productive powers, and that all persons have equal rights to all natural opportunities--provides a simple formula around which opinion about the shape of a peaceful world can coalesce.

This may seem hopelessly optimistic. But no other theory that I have seen has anything like the clarity, coherence and power of this theory.  ...  Read the whole article

Clarence Darrow: How to Abolish Unfair Taxation (1913)

... Most of our laws were made by the dead, and the dead have no right to legislate for the living. The present generation has no right to bind its legislation upon the generation still unborn. When one generation is dead, it ought to stay dead and not reach out its dead hand to bind the living. We have no right to fix terms and conditions for those yet unborn; it is for each generation to fix the rules and regulations for itself. The earth should be owned by all men, the coal mines should belong to the people who live here, so they can take what they want while they live, as when they are dead they won't need coal — they will be warm enough without it — and they should not have the power to say who shall have it when they are gone. Carnegie and Morgan cannot use or withhold it much longer, as they will soon be gone — that is one consolation. ... read the whole speech

Dave Wetzel: Justice or Injustice: The Locational Benefit Levy

We all have our own personal interpretation of how “justice” can be achieved.

Often “justice” is interpreted in a very narrow legal sense and only in reference to the judicial system, which has been designed to protect the status quo. ...

Of course, all citizens (and subjects in the UK) -- need to know exactly what are the legal boundaries within which society operates.

But, supposing those original rules are unfair and unjust. Then the legal framework, being used to perpetuate an injustice -- does not make that injustice moral and proper even if within the rules of jurisprudence it is “legal.”

Obvious examples of this dislocation between immoral laws and natural justice is
  • South Africa's former policy of apartheid;
  • the USA's former segregated schools and buses;
  • discrimination based on race, religion, disability or sex;
  • slavery;
  • the oppression of women;
  • Victorian Britain's use of child labour and colonialism.
All these policies were “lawful” according to the legal framework of their day but that veneer of legality did not make these policies righteous and just.

Any society built on a basis of injustice will be burdened down with its own predisposition towards self-destruction. Even the most suppressed people will one-day, demand justice, rise up and overthrow their oppressors.

Human survival demands justice. Wherever slavery or dictatorship has been installed -- eventually, justice has triumphed and a more democratic and fairer system has replaced it. It is safe to predict that wherever slavery or dictatorship exists today -- it will be superseded by a fairer and more just system.

Similarly, let's consider our distribution of natural resources.

By definition, natural resources are not made by human effort. Our planet offers every inhabitant a bounty -- an amazing treasure chest of wealth that can supply our needs for food, shelter and every aspect for our survival.

Surely, “justice” demands that this natural wealth should be equally available to all and that nobody should starve, be homeless or suffer poverty simply because they are excluded from tapping in to this enormous wealth that nature has provided. ...

If our whole economy, with the private possession of land and other natural resources, is built upon an injustice -- then can any of us really be surprised that we continue to live on a planet where wars predominate, intolerance is common, crime is rife and where poverty and starvation is the norm for a huge percentage of earth's population.

Is this inherited system really the best we can do?

There must be a method for fairly utilising the earth's natural resources.

Referring to the rebuilding of Iraq in his recent speech to the American Congress, Tony Blair stated “We promised Iraq democratic Government. We will deliver it. We promised them the chance to use their oil wealth to build prosperity for all their citizens, not a corrupt elite. We will do so”.

Thus, Tony Blair recognises the difference between political justice in the form of a democratic Government and economic justice in the form of sharing natural resources.

We have not heard any dissenting voice from this promise to share Iraq's natural oil wealth for all the people of Iraq to enjoy the benefits. But if it is so obviously right and proper for the Iraqi people to share their natural wealth – why is it not the practice to do the same in all nations?

No landowner can create land values. If this were the case, then an entrepreurial landowner in the Scottish Highlands would be able to create more value than an indolent landowner in the City of London.

No, land values arise because of natural advantages (eg fertility for agricultural land or approximity to ports or harbours for commercial sites) or because of the efforts of the whole community -- past and present investment by both the public and private sectors, and the activities of individuals all give rise to land values. Why do we not advocate the sharing of these land values, which are as much a gift of nature and probably in most western economies are worth much more than Iraqi oil?

One solution would be to introduce a Location Benefit Levy, where each site is valued, based on its optimum permitted use and a levy is applied – a similar method to Britain's commercial rates on buildings but based soley on the land value and ignoring the condition of the building.

The outcome of this policy would be to give all citizens a share in the natural wealth of the nation. ...

It is an injustice that landowners can speculate on empty sites, denying their use for jobs or homes.

It is an injustice that a factory owner can sack all their workers, smash the roof of their building to let in the rain and be rewarded with elimination of their rates bill.

It is an injustice that the poorest residents pay the highest share of their incomes in Council Tax.

It is an injustice that people are denied their share of the earth's resources.

The Location Benefit Levy is a simple way to start addressing the world's last great injustice.   Read the whole article

Joseph Stiglitz: October, 2002, interview

Q: A former Director of Robert Schalkenbach Foundation was given a grant recently to research the adequacy of land as a tax base. He's a professor at the University of California, Riverside, named Mason Gaffney, and he wrote a book titled, "The Corruption of Economics." Are you familiar with his work?

JES: No.

Q: I'll send you a copy of the book. Basically, he argues that the founders of neo-classical economics, which, as you know, is the paradigm taught in schools such as the University of Chicago, distorted the science of economics to protect vested interests. For example, Rockefeller money was spent to hire professors of economics with a view to their discrediting the ideas of Henry George. Did that happen?

JES: My general impression is that most donors that give money to universities don't take a very strong view of [who should be on] the faculty. Sometimes it ends up on one side, sometimes on the other. It would have been unusual [at Chicago], but it could have happened there. What is striking about Chicago as a school of economic theory is that it's very conservative. One would have thought that Henry George was someone who would have been liked by "Conservatives."

Q: In that George wanted to reduce tax on the fruits of one's own labor?

JES: Exactly. And you want non-distortionary taxes, so I would have thought that every "Conservative" would be in Henry George's camp. Now, as far as I know, I'm one of the few people who keeps emphasizing that you ought to view Henry George in a broader way, to include natural resources. I didn't think that people thought about that a hundred years ago. But if they had, and maybe Rockefeller was smart — he realized that he obviously didn't want a tax on natural resources.

Q: He wouldn't have wanted rents flowing from natural resources to go to the people rather than to him.

JES: Yes, he obviously wouldn't like that perspective. But I don't know if that view was at that time recognized, and I just don't know whether he actively intervened at Chicago. ... read the entire interview

The Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881) 

Anyone who ventures to question the justice or the policy of maintaining the present system of Irish Land Tenure will be met at once by a pretty general feeling which will warn him emphatically that its venerable antiquity entitles it, if not to reverence and respect, at least to tenderness and forbearance. ... Read the whole letter

Nic Tideman: Coercion Decision Tree

Bill Batt: Fallacies of the Slippery Slope Argument
We often hear opposition to a policy proposal because it approaches a practice that “down the line” we find abhorrent, even though there is nothing particularly offensive about the proposal itself. The English language is replete with metaphors about practices which, once started, will evolve beyond the capacity of our own control. We speak, for example, of chain reactions (here the reference obviously to nuclear energy), or of things being inexorable or inevitable once begun. The metaphors are usually mechanistic and from the physical world, even when discussing political, economic, social or psychological dynamics.

Consider some others which you will recognize immediately. We must be wary of “letting the genie out of the bottle,” or allowing “the camel’s nose under the tent,” or “opening Pandora’s box, “or “leading [anyone] down the garden path.” So we must “nip things in the bud,” because otherwise we will “open up the floodgates” and “if we give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.” If you can think of others, let me know; I’m making a collection of them.

These are known in philosophy as wedge arguments.2 We’re hearing them more and more, perhaps because public policy matters are framed by politicians and pundits in sound bite format. Search “slippery slope” on the web and you’ll come up with hundreds of hits. The arguments seem, on their face, difficult to answer, even if we’re often nonetheless vaguely uncomfortable with them. What I hope to do here is to explore in an analytic way what in these arguments is sound and what is fallacious or preposterous. Some recent textbooks in logic have taken pages to analyze these patterns of thought — but how many of us have taken a course in logic recently!  ...

There are people who believe that the social world is just as determined and fated as the world of physics. But for the most part we live our lives on the daily presumption that we do have choice over matters and that we make choices as individuals and as a society. We believe, for the most part, in the free will of people. Few of us are doctrinaire behaviorists or determinists, and one is hard put to find many social scientists or philosophers that defend such approaches to explanation today. The behavioral sciences arose in an era dominated by assumptions of natural law and later of reductionist positivism, but philosophy has long since transcended the impasses which provided the underpinnings of early social science.

It becomes particularly remarkable, therefore, to reflect upon our reluctance as a society to confront certain policy matters because in the minds of some they would “open the doors” to other ethical choices down the line. We do indeed have choices, both as individuals and as corporate institutions. Yet rather than openly confront each dilemma incrementally as mature and responsible adults, many would close such matters from discussion entirely because it would “lead us down the garden path” to some forbidden or dangerous realm or other.

Creeping Socialism

Consider some instances where the specter of the slippery slope has often been invoked. We all are old enough to remember “creeping socialism,” the conservative bugaboo which we thought died after Goldwater invoked it to damn Johnson’s Great Society programs. 

There was a time in this country’s history when the general public was largely incapable of distinguishing socialism from communism. ...

Fears of creeping socialism were revived during and after World War II, leading to McCarthyism and destroying the lives and reputations of many artists, writers and other public figures, particularly in Hollywood. Certain organizations had a vested interest in maintaining confusion between the free-market social welfare state and state-communism. Hence, whenever programs of a social welfare nature were proposed — even to address those elements of an economy understood as “public goods” and “natural monopolies,” the specter was raised that a coterie of treacherous plotters sought to transform the “American way of life!” Adlai Stevenson’s comment summed up much of the final days of this era with his comment that “There’s something else I dislike just as much as creeping socialism, and that’s galloping reaction.”3 I thought the phrase had disappeared from the American lexicon, but a search on the web site turned up several recent articles and news releases, one from the Conservative News Service in Washington just this past March. According to that article, “The greatest threat facing the planet today is not AIDS, overpopulation or global warming but creeping socialism, according to a group of conservative women gathered in Washington, D.C. this week for an international conference.”4 Democratic governor Jim Hunt of North Carolina had his health care proposals met with the editorial comment that "It’s time to call a halt to the creeping socialism that threatens to destroy this nation one program at a time. If the goal is to provide health care for children, there are any number of ways to achieve that desirable end other than implementation of yet another income redistribution scheme.5

It appears that with the demise of the “cold war,” American politics is struggling to rediscover its philosophical moorings; conservatives, no longer able to invoke communism as a bugaboo, are reaching back to a pre-industrial era of laissez faire capitalism and the nightwatchman state.  ...

There is a difference, too, between explaining things historically and attributing unilinear causality to social events. As it happens, if our views of human nature and of social institutions are colored by pessimism and if we believe that we human beings are by nature self serving and rapacious, we are likely to have one view of matters. If, on the other hand, our view of human beings, both collectively and individually, is more optimistic and altruistic, our conclusions will reflect this too.

This has been borne out in several studies of personality and politics over the years. People with a dim view of human nature are more likely to see conspiracies and negative consequences to what is often perceived as social engineering. And people more trusting of others and of institutional authority are less likely to be concerned about the negative consequences of policy proposals. In recent years, those wearing the popular appellation of “conservative” — at least in the American sense of the term — are more distrustful of others, of government, and of institutions generally. There is a further corollary to this as well: that people who believe that human nature is inherently selfish will tend to believe that their own selfish behavior is only natural, and they will attribute the same low motives to others that they use to justify their own behavior.

This further reinforces their own view that they are completely justified in acting in the way that they do. Realizing that this is the mentality that drives such people, those who take a more benign view of human nature and of political institutions are then compelled to find the motives of their opposites suspect and threatening.17 So such escalating distrust becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I would like to illustrate the dynamics ofthis thinking through one widely used psychological scale, used in countless studies over the course of some 40 years. It is known as the “Faith in People Scale,” originally developed in 1956 by Rosenberg.18 One point is awarded for each scaled response. A score of five identifies you as having a very low level of trust in others. I will read the five paired statements to you, since they are very short:
1. Some people say that most people can be trusted. Others say you can’t be too careful in your dealings with people. How do you feel about it?

• Most people can be trusted.   • You can’t be too careful.

2. Would you say that most people are more inclined to help others, or more inclined to look out for themselves?

• To help others. • To look out for themselves.

3. If you don’t watch yourself, people will take advantage of you.

Agree     Disagree

4. No one is going to care much what happens to you, when you get right down to it.

Agree     Disagree

5. Human nature is fundamentally cooperative.

Agree     Disagree

So that’s what it may come down to, not to a matter of validity of the slippery slope argument as measured in logical terms, but rather by the extent to which social decisions are made by people who can be trusted and relied upon to act in altruistic ways. If people expect the worst, the worst may happen. If people look on the positive side, that trust may engender further such feelings and be self-reinforcing.“What goes around comes around,” as they say, applied to both conservatives with a dim view of human nature and society as well as to progressives with their more hopeful view.

There is a further dimension to all this which offers a fascinating area for study. The faith-in-people scale along with many other research instruments has been used in many societies and at various times. But time has been too short in this country for us to be able to say very much about what has happened over the past 250 years with respect to public sentiments. The general view is that people have become more cynical and pessimistic; what this portends for America’s future, and particularly the future of our political health, is well worth pondering.

We used to be a nation of optimists, at least as other nations saw us. That may have been our greatest asset. If we lose this optimism, we may be the worse for it as a nation. And to this extent, our declining view of ourselves and our motives may be the ultimate slippery slope.... read the whole article

Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)

The proverb "There is nothing sure but Death and Taxes," is at once a recognition of the tendency to change in all human affairs, and a triumphant assertion of Conservatism that there remain at least two immutable things.

But the tooth of time which respects no mortal institution is boldly at work on even this proverb and threatens to remove Taxes from the meagre list of things permanent. It is the purpose of this booklet to give some account of this startling phenomenon. With this in view let us lay down and briefly defend the proposition that —

Taxation as a means of meeting the proper expenses of government is oppressive, unjust, inexpedient and unnecessary. ... read the whole article

Nic Tideman: Improving Efficiency and Preventing Exploitation in Taxing and Spending Decisions

Two of the most troublesome features of taxation and public spending are that taxation relies on coercion, and that the combination of taxing and public spending generates substantially haphazard redistribution. People must pay their taxes on penalty of having their property confiscated, or of going to jail. And we cannot say that this process is for everyone's good.

There is reason to believe, though we do not have the basis to say for sure, that some people receive much less in benefits from public spending than they pay in taxes. How do we justify the harm that is thereby done to some persons by the combination of taxing and public spending? I would like to address this question by first discussing some possible justifications that might seem attractive, but should be rejected.

  • One possible justification is conservatism: Things have always been done this way. Our institutions have evolved to solve social problems that we may not even be aware of. Who knows what terrible things might happen if we did things differently?

    There is an element of validity to the conservative position, but not an adequate basis for making conservatism the primary principle of social organization. If we had adopted conservatism as the primary principle of social organization centuries ago, there would have been no end to slavery, no women's suffrage, nor any of the numerous other changes in social organization in response to improvements in our moral understanding. It would be foolhardy to assert that we will never experience further improvements in our moral understanding that will call for changes in social organization. ... read the whole article


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