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If we are all here by the equal permission of the creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty -- with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers. This is a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others. There is in nature no such thing as a fee simple in land. There is on earth no power which can rightfully make a grant of exclusive ownership in land. If all existing men were to unite to grant away their equal rights, they could not grant away the right of those who follow them.

We hear the word "humility" a lot, as a desirable quality for a president, a supreme court justice, and for our elected representatives. It is usually used in relation to God or perhaps to government systems, but perhaps the best expression of it is to seek to eliminate privileges which benefit some of us at the expense of others. To have humility is to recognize that none of us is God's eldest son, and that privileges which benefit some at the expense of others are wrong.

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

If the earnest men among the Irish leaders abandon their present half-hearted, illogical position, and take their stand frankly and firmly upon the principle that the youngest child of the poorest peasant has as good a right to tread the soil and breathe the air of Ireland as the eldest son of the proudest duke, they will have put their fight on the right line. ... read the whole article

Henry George: Moses, Apostle of Freedom  (1878 speech)

We boast of equality before the law; yet notoriously justice is deaf to the call of those who have no gold and blind to the sin of those who have. ... read the whole speech

Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal  (1887 speech)
We propose to abolish poverty, to tear it up by the roots, to open free and abundant employment for every person. We propose to disturb no just right of property. We are defenders and upholders of the sacred right of property — that right of property which justly attaches to everything that is produced by labor; that right which gives to all people a just right of property in what they have produced — that makes it theirs to give, to sell, to bequeath, to do whatever they please with, as long as in using it they do not injure any one else. That right of property we insist upon; that, we would uphold against all the world.

To a house, a coat, a book — anything produced by labor — there is a clear individual title, which goes back to the person who made it. That is the foundation of the just, the sacred right of property. It rests on the right of people to the use of their own powers, on their right to profit by the exertion of their own labor; but who can carry the right of property in land that far?

Who can claim a title of absolute ownership in land? Until one who claims the exclusive ownership of a piece of this planet can show a title originating with the Maker of this planet; until that one can produce a decree from the Creator declaring that this city lot, or that great tract of agricultural or coal land, or that gas well, was made for that one person alone — until then we have a right to hold that the land was intended for all of us.

Natural religion and revealed religion alike tell us that God is no respecter of persons; that He did not make this planet for a few individuals; that He did not give it to one generation in preference to other generations, but that He made it for the use during their lives of all the people that His providence brings into the world. If this be true, the child that is born tonight in the humblest tenement in the most squalid quarter of New York, comes into life seized with as good a title to the land of this city as any Astor or Rhinelander. ...  read the whole article

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

[06] Liberty is natural. Primitive perceptions are of the equal rights of the citizen, and political organization always starts from this base. It is as social development goes on that we find power concentrating, in institutions based upon the equality of rights passing into institutions which make the many the slaves of the few. How this is we may see. In all institutions which involve the lodgment of governing power there is, with social growth, a tendency to the exaltation of their function and the centralization of their power, and in the stronger of these institutions a tendency to the absorption of the powers of the rest. Thus the tendency of social growth is to make government the business of a special class. And as numbers increase and the power and importance of each become less and less as compared with that of all, so, for this reason, does government tend to pass beyond the scrutiny and control of the masses. The leader of a handful of warriors, or head man of a little village, can command or govern only by common consent, and anyone aggrieved can readily appeal to his fellows. But when a tribe becomes a nation and the village expands to a populous country, the powers of the chieftain, without formal addition, become practically much greater. For with increase of numbers scrutiny of his acts becomes more difficult, it is harder and harder successfully to appeal from them, and the aggregate power which he directs becomes irresistible as against individuals. And gradually, as power thus concentrates, primitive ideas are lost, and the habit of thought grows up which regards the masses as born but for the service of their rulers. ... read the entire essay

Henry George: The Wages of Labor

Man, physically, can live only on and from land, and can use elements such as air, sunshine, and water, only by the use of land.

Being the equal creatures of the Creator, equally entitled under His providence to live their lives and satisfy their needs, men are equally entitled to the use of land, and any adjustment that denies this equal right to the use of land is morally wrong. ...

This right of private possession in things created by God is, however, very different from the right of private ownership in things produced by labor. The one is limited, the other unlimited, save in cases when the dictate of self-preservation may terminate all other rights. The purpose of the one, the exclusive possession of land, is merely to secure the other, the exclusive ownership of the products of labor; and it can never rightfully be carried so far as to impair or deny this. While anyone may hold exclusive possession of land so far as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others, he can rightfully hold it no further.

Thus Cain and Abel, were there only two men on earth, might by agreement divide the earth between them. Under this compact each might claim exclusive right to his share as against the other. But neither could rightfully continue such claim against the next child born. For since no one comes into the world without God's permission, his presence attests his equal right to the use of God’s bounty. For them to refuse him any use of the earth which they had divided between them would therefore be for them to commit murder. And for them to refuse him any use of the earth, unless by laboring for them or by giving them part of the products of his labor he bought It of them, would be for them to commit theft.  ...

Consider: Here is a natural law by which as society advances the one thing that increases in value is land – a natural law by virtue of which all growth of population, all advance of the arts, all general improvements of whatever kind, add to a fund that both the commands of justice and the dictates of expediency prompt us to take for the common uses of society.

Now, since increase in the fund available for the common uses of society is increase in the gain that goes equally to each member of society, is it not clear that this law by which land values increase with social advance while the values of the products of labor do not increase – tends, with the advance of civilisation, to make the share that goes equally to each member of society more and more important as compared with what goes to him from his individual earnings, and thus to make the advance of civilisation lessen relatively the differences that in a ruder social state must exist between the strong and the weak, the fortunate and the unfortunate? Does it not show the purpose of the Creator to be that the advance of man in civilisation should be an advance, not merely to larger powers, but to a greater and greater equality, instead of what we by our ignoring of His intent are making it – an advance towards a more and more monstrous inequality?

That the value attaching to land with social growth is intended for social needs is shown by the final proof. For refusal to take for public purposes the increasing values that attach to land with social growth is to necessitate the getting of public revenues by taxes that lessen production, distort distribution, and corrupt society.

It is to have some to take what justly belongs to all; it is to forego the only means by which it is possible in an advanced civilisation to combine the security of possession that is necessary to improvement with equality of natural opportunity – the most important of all natural rights.

It is thus at the basis of all social life to set up an unjust inequality between man and man, compelling some to pay others for the privilege of living, for the chance of working, for the advantages of civilisation, for the gifts of God. ...

To persist in a wrong, to refuse to undo it, is always to become involved in other wrongs!

Those who defend private property in land, and thereby deny the first and most important of all human rights, the equal right to the material substratum of life, are compelled to one of two courses. Either they must, as do those whose gospel is “Devil take the hindmost,” deny the equal right to life, and, by some theory like that to which Malthus has given his name, assert that Nature brings into the world more men than there is provision for; or, they must, as do the Socialists, assert as rights what in themselves are wrongs. ...  read the whole article

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

THE tax upon land values is the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, of that value which is the creation of the community. It is the application of the common property to common uses. When all rent is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will the equality ordained by nature be attained. No citizen will have an advantage over any other citizen save as is given by his industry, skill, and intelligence; and each will obtain what he fairly earns. Then, but not till then, will labor get its full reward, and capital its natural return. — Progress & Poverty — Book VIII, Chapter 3, Application of the Remedy: The Proposition Tried by the Canons of Taxation

HERE is a provision made by natural law for the increasing needs of social growth; here is an adaptation of nature by virtue of which the natural progress of society is a progress toward equality not toward inequality; a centripetal force tending to unity growing out of and ever balancing a centrifugal force tending to diversity. Here is a fund belonging to society as a whole, from which without the degradation of alms, private or public, provision can be made for the weak, the helpless, the aged; from which provision can be made for the common wants of all as a matter of common right to each. — Social Problems — Chapter 19, The First Great Reform

NOT only do all economic considerations point to a tax on land values as the proper source of public revenues; but so do all British traditions. A land tax of four shillings in the pound of rental value is still nominally enforced in England, but being levied on a valuation made in the reign of William III, it amounts in reality to not much over a penny in the pound. With the abolition of indirect taxation this is the tax to which men would naturally turn. The resistance of landholders would bring up the question of title, and thus any movement which went so far as to propose the substitution of direct for indirect taxation must inevitably end in a demand for the restoration to the British people of their birthright. — Protection or Free Trade— Chapter 27: The Lion in the Way - econlib 

THE feudal system, which is not peculiar to Europe but seems to be the natural result of the conquest of a settled country by a race among whom equality and individuality are yet strong, clearly recognized, in theory at least, that the land belongs to society at large, not to the individual. Rude outcome of an age in which might stood for right as nearly as it ever can (for the idea of right is ineradicable from the human mind, and must in some shape show itself even in the association of pirates and robbers), the feudal system yet admitted in no one the uncontrolled and exclusive right to land. A fief was essentially a a trust, and to enjoyment was annexed obligation. The sovereign, theoretically the representative of the collective power and rights of the whole people, was in feudal view the only absolute owner of land. And though land was granted to individual possession, yet in its possession were involved duties, by which the enjoyer of its revenues was supposed to render back to the commonwealth an equivalent for the benefits which from the delegation of the common right he received. — Progress &Poverty — Book VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically Considered

THE abolition of the military tenures in England by the Long Parliament, ratified after the accession of Charles II, though simply an appropriation of public revenues by the feudal landowners, who thus got rid of the consideration on which they held the common property of the nation, and saddled it on the people at large in the taxation of all consumers, has been long characterized, and is still held up in the law books, as a triumph of the spirit of freedom. Yet here is the source of the immense debt and heavy taxation of England. Had the form of these feudal dues been simply changed into one better adapted to the changed times, English wars need never have occasioned the incurring of debt to the amount of a single pound, and the labor and capital of England need not have been taxed a single farthing for the maintenance of a military establishment. All this would have come from rent, which the landholders since that time have appropriated to themselves — from the tax which land ownership levies on the earnings of labor and capital. The landholders of England got their land on terms which required them even in the sparse population of Norman days to put in the field, upon call, sixty thousand perfectly equipped horsemen, and on the further condition of various fines and incidents which amounted to a considerable part of the rent. It would probably be a low estimate to put the pecuniary value of these various services and dues at one-half the rental value of the land. Had the landholders been kept to this contract and no land been permitted to be inclosed except upon similar terms, the income accruing to the nation from English land would today be greater by many millions than the entire public revenues of the United Kingdom. England today might have enjoyed absolute free trade. There need not have been a customs duty, an excise, license or income tax, yet all the present expenditures could be met, and a large surplus remain to be devoted to any purpose which would conduce to the comfort or well-being of the whole people. — Progress &Poverty — Book VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically Considered
MENTAL power is the motor of progress, and men tend to advance in proportion to the mental power expended in progression — the mental power which is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the improvement of methods, and the betterment of social conditions. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress

To compare society to a boat.  Her progress through the water will not depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force required for baling, or any expenditure of force in fighting among themselves or in pulling in different directions.

Now, as in a separated state the whole powers of man are required to maintain existence, and mental power is only set free for higher uses by the association of men in communities, which permits the division of labor and all the economies which come with the co-operation of increased numbers, association is the first essential of progress. Improvement becomes possible as men come together in peaceful association, and the wider and closer the association, the greater the possibilities of improvement. And as the wasteful expenditure of mental power in conflict becomes greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an equality of rights is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice) is the second essential of progress.

Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality (or justice, or freedom — for the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition of the moral law) prevents the dissipation of this power in fruitless struggles. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress

... go to "Gems from George"

William Ogilvie: An Essay on the Right of Property in Land (Scotland, 1782)

All Right of property is founded either in occupancy or labour. The earth having been given to mankind in common occupancy, each individual seems to have by nature a right to possess and cultivate an equal share. This right is little different from that which he has to the free use of the open air and running water; though not so indispensably requisite at short intervals for his actual existence, it is not less essential to the welfare and right state of his life through all its progressive stages. ... Read the entire essay

D. C. MacDonald: Preface (1891?) to Ogilvie's Essay (circa 1782)
Professor Ogilvie, who came after Locke, devotes himself in this treatise to one subject - Birthright in land, it may be called. And the Author may be justly styled - The Euclid of Land Law Reform. He has left little or nothing unsolved in connection with the Land Question. He has given us a true base line -- man’s equal right to the raw material of the earth, to the air, to the water, to the rays of the sun, and all natural products -- from which we can work out any problem, and by which we can test the “title and measure” of every man’s property. Resting on this baseline -- man’s natural rights -- he represents to us the perpendicular line of man's right to labour, “with security of reaping its full produce and just reward.” Here we have the question in a nutshell. Take away the base line, and you have no right to labour, and no produce or reward, except what may be meted out by the usurper of your natural rights. You have to beg for leave to toil! We thus see clearly how the robbery of labour may be prevented, and how impossible it is to put a stop to such robbery while the industrial classes neglect to claim and exercise their natural right -- their right to an equal share in the earth, and all its natural products.   ...   Read the entire preface

Henry George: The Great Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy  (1889)
It is perfectly clear that we are all here with equal rights to the use of the universe. We are all here equally entitled to the use of land.

How can we secure that equal right? Not by the dividing up of land equally; that in the present stage of civilisation is utterly impossible. Equality could not be secured in that way, nor could it be maintained. The ideal way, the way which wise men, desirous of according to each his equal right, would resort to in a new country, would be to treat the land as the property of the whole, to allow individuals to possess and to use it, paying for the whole a proper rent for any superiority in the piece of land they were using. ...

Whether the rent is large or small is not of importance to the principle. I would take rent – always meaning by rent economic rent – for the community because it belongs to the community. (Cheers.) I would not abolish it; I would exact it from anyone who used land wherever it was used; because that is the only way in which all can be put upon an equality. (Hear, hear.)

If you are to leave to the man who gets possession of a piece of land in the centre of London the whole rent you give him an enormous advantage over the man who for his purposes, to get his land, has to go to some out of the way district or up to the Highlands of Scotland. (Hear, hear.)

The importance that we attribute to this taking of rent is that it is not merely taking that much from a source that will not restrict industry, will not oppress labour, will not hamper production; but it will make mere landownership utterly valueless. (Applause.) By taking the rent

  • we make it unprofitable to hold land in expectation of future increase in its value. (Cheers.)
  • We make it impossible to extort from the worker a monopoly rent (Hear, hear.)
  • We make it impossible for great landowners to hold vast tracts of land – which their fellow citizens would be glad to make fruitful – in idleness or for purposes of pleasure. (Loud cheers.)
Tax land values up to the full and what would you have? The land that has no value, that is to say, the land that two men do not want to use could be had by labour not merely without price, but without tax. The selling value of land would be destroyed, and all that the user of land need pay would be a price amounting to the special advantage that he had above his fellows by the possession and use of a particular piece of land.  ..

Mr Hyndman speaks of the history of the development of England. What is the history of the development of England? It is the gradual suppression of the common rights – the gradual making of private property out of what was originally recognised as common property. (Hear, hear.) It is the gradual taking of the land of England from the whole people, and making the class originally tenants landowners. (Hear; hear.) The long series of usurpations was finally consummated by a no-rent manifesto, by which the landowning class live off the rents they had agreed to pay for the use of land, and put them in indirect taxes upon labour. (Cheers.) What we propose to do is to go back the same way. What we single tax men would do would be to go back to the old system, to bring it back in a way adapted to our time; to recognise, not half-heartedly, but fully, that all men are equally entitled to the use of the land, and its correlative that each man is absolutely entitled to that which his labour produces. (Applause.)  ... Read the entire article

Henry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
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.   Read the whole speech

Henry George: The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It (1890)
The right of property does not rest upon human laws; they have often ignored and violated it. It rests on natural laws -- that is to say, the law of God. It is clear and absolute, and every violation of it, whether committed by a man or a nation, is a violation of the command, "Thou shalt not steal."

The man who catches a fish, grows an apple, raises a calf, builds a house, makes a coat, paints a picture, constructs a machine, has, as to any such thing, an exclusive right of ownership which carries with it the right to give, to sell or bequeath that thing.

But who made the earth that any man can claim such ownership of it, or any part of it, or the right to give, sell or bequeath it? Since the earth was not made by us, but is only a temporary dwelling place on which one generation of men follow another; since we find ourselves here, are manifestly here with equal permission of the Creator, it is manifest that no one can have any exclusive right of ownership in land, and that the rights of all men to land must be equal and inalienable. There must be exclusive right of possession of land, for the man who uses it must have secure possession of land in order to reap the products of his labor. But his right of possession must be limited by the equal right of all, and should therefore be conditioned upon the payment to the community by the possessor of an equivalent for any special valuable privilege thus accorded him.  ...  read the whole article

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 14 Liberty, and Equality of Opportunity (in the unabridged P&P: Part X: The Law of Human Progress — Chapter 5: The Central Truth)

The truth to which we were led in the politico-economic branch of our inquiry is as clearly apparent in the rise and fall of nations and the growth and decay of civilizations, and it accords with those deep-seated recognitions of relation and sequence that we denominate moral perceptions. Thus are given to our conclusions the greatest certitude and highest sanction.

This truth involves both a menace and a promise. It shows that the evils arising from the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth, which are becoming more and more apparent as modern civilization goes on, are not incidents of progress, but tendencies which must bring progress to a halt; that they will not cure themselves, but, on the contrary, must, unless their cause is removed, grow greater and greater, until they sweep us back into barbarism by the road every previous civilization has trod. But it also shows that these evils are not imposed by natural laws; that they spring solely from social maladjustments which ignore natural laws, and that in removing their cause we shall be giving an enormous impetus to progress.

The poverty which in the midst of abundance pinches and embrutes men, and all the manifold evils which flow from it, spring from a denial of justice. In permitting the monopolization of the opportunities which nature freely offers to all, we have ignored the fundamental law of justice — for, so far as we can see, when we view things upon a large scale, justice seems to be the supreme law of the universe. But by sweeping away this injustice and asserting the rights of all men to natural opportunities, we shall conform ourselves to the law —

  • we shall remove the great cause of unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth and power;
  • we shall abolish poverty;
  • tame the ruthless passions of greed;
  • dry up the springs of vice and misery;
  • light in dark places the lamp of knowledge;
  • give new vigor to invention and a fresh impulse to discovery;
  • substitute political strength for political weakness; and
  • make tyranny and anarchy impossible.

The reform I have proposed accords with all that is politically, socially, or morally desirable. It has the qualities of a true reform, for it will make all other reforms easier. What is it but the carrying out in letter and spirit of the truth enunciated in the Declaration of Independence — the "self-evident" truth that is the heart and soul of the Declaration —"That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"

These rights are denied when the equal right to land — on which and by which men alone can live — is denied. Equality of political rights will not compensate for the denial of the equal right to the bounty of nature. Political liberty, when the equal right to land is denied, becomes, as population increases and invention goes on, merely the liberty to compete for employment at starvation wages. ...

Our primary social adjustment is a denial of justice. In allowing one man to own the land on which and from which other men must live, we have made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on. This is the subtle alchemy that in ways they do not realize is extracting from the masses in every civilized country the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting a harder and more hopeless slavery in place of that which has been destroyed; that is bringing political despotism out of political freedom, and must soon transmute democratic institutions into anarchy.

It is this that turns the blessings of material progress into a curse. It is this that crowds human beings into noisome cellars and squalid tenement houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that goads men with want and consumes them with greed; that robs women of the grace and beauty of perfect womanhood; that takes from little children the joy and innocence of life's morning.

Civilization so based cannot continue. The eternal laws of the universe forbid it. ...

But if, while there is yet time, we turn to Justice and obey her, if we trust Liberty and follow her, the dangers that now threaten must disappear, the forces that now menace will turn to agencies of elevation. Think of the powers now wasted; of the infinite fields of knowledge yet to be explored; of the possibilities of which the wondrous inventions of this century give us but a hint.

  • With want destroyed;
  • with greed changed to noble passions;
  • with the fraternity that is born of equality taking the place of the jealousy and fear that now array men against each other;
  • with mental power loosed by conditions that give to the humblest comfort and leisure; and
  • who shall measure the heights to which our civilization may soar?

Words fail the thought! It is the Golden Age of which poets have sung and high-raised seers have told in metaphor! It is the glorious vision which has always haunted man with gleams of fitful splendor. It is what he saw whose eyes at Patmos were closed in a trance. It is the culmination of Christianity — the City of God on earth, with its walls of jasper and its gates of pearl! It is the reign of the Prince of Peace! read the whole chapter

Nic Tideman:  A Bill of Economic Rights and Obligations

Our nation was founded on the idea that we are all created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In living, expressing our liberty, and pursuing happiness we sometimes conflict with one another, so we need a shared understanding of the extent of the sphere of equal rights given to every person, and beyond that sphere our obligation to respect the rights of others. This Bill is concerned with the economic aspects of these rights and obligations. ...  Read the entire article

Nic Tideman: Basic Tenets of the Incentive Taxation Philosophy
Equal Rights
We believe that the opportunities that governments assign to citizens should be assigned in ways that recognize the equal rights of all. Governments should not enrich some persons at the expense of, or to the exclusion of, others. When governments must assign opportunities that cannot be made available to all, those to whom the opportunities are assigned should be required to pay into the public treasury, on an annual basis, an amount equal to what the opportunities would have been worth to others.

For some opportunities this principle is widely recognized. An example would be the allocation of off-shore oil drilling rights. No one says that governments should decide how much drilling rights each oil company deserves, and pass the rights out without charge. It is recognized that the value of these rights ought to accrue to the public treasury, and any company that extracts the oil should be obliged to pay, through an auction, what the rights it exercises would have been worth to some other oil company. We believe that this principle should be applied to all opportunities that are assigned by governments....  Read the whole article

Fred Foldvary:  The Rent, the Whole Rent, and Nothing but the Rent
If we regard human beings as having equal moral worth, then it is morally wrong for some to be masters and others slaves. Each person therefore has proper moral ownership of his labor and wage. Such self-ownership does not extend to land, but people may properly have individual rights to possess land, since this is necessary for the application of labor, and it is efficient for land to be under private title and control.

But it is not necessary for efficiency for the pure land rent to belong to the individual title holder. ...

Alanna Hartzok: Earth Rights Democracy: Public Finance based on Early Christian Teachings

The United Nations Millennium Declaration was adopted by the world's leaders at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that the Declaration "captured the aspirations of the international community for the new century" and spoke of a "world united by common values and striving with renewed determination to achieve peace and decent standards of living for every man, woman and child."[1]

All UN Member States pledged to achieve several Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015, including
(1) reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day;
(2) reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger; and
(3) by 2020, achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

The basic framework for these goals was set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Article I states that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Article 25 says that
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by the General Assembly on December 16, 1966 and entered into force on January 3, 1976. The Covenant proclaims these economic human rights, among others:
  • the right to wages sufficient to support a minimum standard of living,
  • to equal pay for equal work, and
  • equal opportunity for advancement.
  • In addition, the Covenant forbids exploitation of children, and
  • requires all nations to cooperate to end world hunger.
Nearly every UN member state has signed and ratified this important Covenant. The United States, Cambodia and Liberia have signed but not ratified it. Our government, founded upon clearly articulated political human rights, is floundering in the field of economic human rights. ...

The US Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans living below the poverty line jumped by 1.3 million to 35.9 million or 12.5 percent of the population last year.  ...

There is a significant lack of decent affordable housing in the United States. The growing gap between wage earnings and the cost of housing leaves millions of families and individuals unable to make ends meet. ...

Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security for 2002. It was no surprise given the recent increases in poverty that hunger and food insecurity rose for the third year in a row. A food insecure household is defined as a household which faces limited or uncertain availability of food. ...

The wealth gap is increasing in the US. According to the latest Federal Reserve data, the top 1% of the population has $2 trillion more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

Perceptions of the causal factors of these statistics and the suffering of so many who lack basic necessities in this wealthy country are most often simplistic explanations - these people lack money and they lack money because they lack jobs or their wages are too low, or housing costs are too high. For those concerned about the growing wealth gap in America and worldwide, and the resultant poverty, homelessness, hunger and food insecurity, the dilemma usually bogs down into supply or demand side efforts to find solutions. But the root cause is a deeper injustice.

The primary cause of the enormous and growing wealth gap is that the land and natural resources of the earth are treated as if they are mere market commodities from which a few are allowed to reap massive private profits or hold land and resources out of use in anticipation of future profits. Henry George, the great 19th century American political economist and social philosopher, proposed a solution to a problem that too few understood at the time and too few understand today. Early Christian teachings drew upon deep wisdom teachings of the Jubilee justice tradition when they addressed this problem. The problem is the Land Problem.

The Land Problem takes two primary forms: land price escalation and concentrated land ownership.
  • As our system of economic development proceeds, land values rise faster than wages increase, until inevitably the price paid for access to land consumes increasing amounts of a worker's wages. In classical economics, this dilemma is called the "law of rent" and has been mostly ignored by mainstream economists. The predictability of the "law of rent" - that land values will continually rise - fuels frenzies of land speculation and the inevitable bust that follows the boom. A recent Fortune cover story informs us that there are big gains and huge risks in housing speculation in about 30 predominantly coastal markets that encompass 100 million people. Since 2000, home prices in New York, Washington, and Boston have surged 56% to 61%. Prices jumped 58% in Miami and Los Angeles and 76% in San Diego where the median home price county-wide is $582,000. The gap between home prices and fundamentals like job growth and incomes is greater than ever.[7]
  • The second form of the Land Problem is the fact that in most countries, including the United States, a small minority of people own and control a disproportionately large amount of land and natural resources. Data suggests that about 3% of the population owns 95% of the privately held land in the US. Less than 600 companies control 22% of our private land, a land mass the size of Spain. Those same companies land interests worldwide comprise a total area larger than that of Europe - almost 2 billion acres.[8]
In order to show that there was NO NEED for land reform in Central America because our land in the US is even more concentrated in ownership than Central America, Senator Jesse Helms read these facts into the Congressional Record in 1981:
  • In Florida, 1% owns 77% of the land.
  • Other states where the top 1% own over two-thirds of the land are Maine, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon. Read the whole article

Nic Tideman:  Applications of Land Value Taxation to Problems of Environmental Protection, Congestion, Efficient Resource Use, Population, and Economic Growth

The idea that natural opportunities are everyone's common heritage is often defended with religious language. John Locke said:
Whether we consider natural reason, which tells us that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their sustenance, or revelation, which gives us an account of those grants God made of the world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons, 'tis very clear that God, as King David says, Psal. CXV. xvi. has given the Earth to the children of men, given it to mankind in common.2

John Locke did not advocate land value taxation. Writing in about 1690, he said that there was so much unclaimed land in America that no one could properly complain about the private appropriation of land in Europe.3 Writing nearly 200 year later, when it was becoming impossible for people to appropriate good unclaimed land in America, Henry George said:

If we are all here by the equal permission of the creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty -- with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers. This is a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others. There is in nature no such thing as a fee simple in land. There is on earth no power which can rightfully make a grant of exclusive ownership in land. If all existing men were to unite to grant away their equal rights, they could not grant away the right of those who follow them.4

George preceded this argument with a psychological and linguistic one. He said that our conception of property, of a right of exclusive possession, is based on the idea that each person has a right to his or her productive powers, and therefore to what he or she produces. Since no one produced land, no one can properly claim to own it.5

This psychological and linguistic argument is not entirely convincing. It seems clear that humans, like other species, have an impulse toward the appropriation and defense of territory. Natural selection has worked in favor of those who are skilled in appropriating natural opportunities and deterring others from encroaching on them. It seems possible that, as a way of limiting violence, humans have merged an idea of ownership based on production with an idea of ownership based on the ability to appropriate territory and deter encroachment.

If this is the social and biological reality, then there is a different argument for treating natural opportunities as everyone's common heritage.  ...

Much more credible is a statement of the form, "We will share equally the value of natural opportunities that might be appropriated." This is the potential of land value taxation: to provide a framework in which the value of natural opportunities will be shared equally, both as an expression of the idea that all persons have equal rights to natural opportunities, and as a formula whose potential to remove the motive for future aggression is greater than that of enshrining the status quo of any particular year. And in addition, land value taxation is one way of achieving allocative efficiency with respect to a wide variety of public issues.  ... Read the entire article
Nic Tideman:  The Morality of Taxation: The Local Case

From a moral perspective, taxation is dubious or worse. We tell our fellow citizens that if they do not pay taxes that we say they owe, their property will be seized or they will be sent to prison. Why do we treat people this way? Is there a justification?

The dubiousness of taxation increases when we consider its origins. Government seems to have originated as roving bandits who learned that total destruction was less profitable than protecting their victims from other bandits and allowing them to keep a fraction of what they produced (Olson, 1993). In time, scheduled partial plunder evolved into taxation. Over the centuries, regimes that started as tyrannies evolved into democracies. The public sector evolved from an apparatus for implementing the will of despots into a mechanism for carrying out democratic decisions. But public finance continues to rely on the power of tax collectors, developed under early tyrants, to coerce citizen to pay taxes. The wrath that citizens feel toward tax collectors is probably the strongest antagonistic feeling that citizens have toward a governmental institution. Why do we allow ourselves to do this to one another?

There is a gentler side of taxation that provides some explanation of our tolerance of this coercion. Taxation can be the way that people achieve their common purposes. People may agree to be taxed so that there will be money to pay for public services that they want. From this perspective, taxation may be considered no more than the dues for belonging to a club that provides people with things that they would rather pay their share of than do without. However, to make this "voluntary exchange" theory of taxation relevant, people must be able to choose freely whether or not to "join the club," to be a citizen of the taxing jurisdiction. With all land claimed by some taxing jurisdiction, the choice isn't exactly free.

The problem of morality in taxation is the following:

  • How do we retain the possibility of people pooling their contributions to the cost of services that they agree are worthwhile, while eliminating the possibility of citizens treating their fellow citizens as targets of plunder?
  • What are the limits of obligations that we can justly impose on our fellow citizens?
  • And how do we set up a structure of government that will ensure that these limits are observed? ...
we would probably have a much more efficient public sector if every public expenditure required two-thirds approval in legislative bodies.

But to make taxation truly voluntary, the option to leave must be viable. If people could move costlessly from one jurisdiction to another, taking all of their belongings with them, then competition among jurisdictions would tend to eliminate oppressive taxation. This would leave only the fees that people were prepared to pay to have public services (Tiebout, 1956).

Of course, moving will always have some costs, so the ideal will not be attainable. But what can be imagined is a system in which all taxes were local taxes. Then people would not have to move nearly as far to escape from taxes that they regarded as oppressive. Higher levels of government would not need to disappear; if the services that they provide are desired, they could be financed by levies on lower levels of government. ...

...Thus communities would not be able to raise much revenue from income tax or taxes on capital before they would drive residents and investment away. It might seem that there would be no way that localities could finance themselves.

Such a conclusion would be unwarranted, because there is a very significant source of public revenue that can survive when localities compete for mobile residents. This source is land. When people are taxed in proportion to the land they possess, no land moves to another locality where taxes are lower. Thus two questions arise:

  • Would taxes on land be sufficient to finance the public activities that ought to be undertaken, and
  • would such a system be fair? ...

The fairness of such a tax system might also be questioned from another perspective. If people are required to pay the costs of the public services that they use, then who will pay for schools?

There are two possible answers.

  • One possibility is that people will agree on the value of living in a community where children are well educated, whether they have children or not, and they will find the presence of another child in the community to be a benefit for which the cost of educating the child is not too high a price to pay. In this case, educational expenditures add to the value of land throughout the community, and education can be financed efficiently by land taxes, without requiring students or their parents to pay. Those who pay will be receiving benefits that are equal to what they pay.
  • The second possibility is that there will be a consensus that, whether anyone wants to pay or not, education is a birthright of all children. In this case, the birthright can be financed efficiently by a tax on land, since land does not leave town or work less hard when it is taxed.

But is such a tax fair? Consider first a case in which everyone has the same number of children. Then the taxation of land value to finance education is equivalent to the assertion of an equal claim of everybody to land. And there is a good basis for such a claim. No one made the land. The titles to land that we recognize today generally originated in conquest. Our affection for the words of the Declaration of Independence, that "All men are created equal," in conjunction with the recognition that titles to land are privileges that are created by government, should lead us to the implication that we have an obligation to share the benefits of land equally. As Henry George pointed out (1960 [1879], 403-407), the sensible way to assert equal rights to land is not to divide the land equally, but rather to collect the rent of land and use it for public purposes. A tax on land takes for public purposes only what nature, public services, and the growth of communities produce, unlike taxes on labor and capital, which take what people produce and which people may properly resent having taken from them. Thus, at least when everyone has the same number of children, it is fair to finance education by taxing land.

Now consider how the situation changes when people have different numbers of children. Consider two possibilities.

  • First, it is possible that additional children provide a benefit to everyone in society, because the number of persons with whom everyone can interact will be greater. If this benefit is as large as the cost of education, then there is no unfairness in paying for the education of all children from public funds.
  • On the other hand if the birth of an additional child does not provide general benefits as large as the cost of educating the child, or if it generates crowding costs, then people who have more children than average can rightfully be required to pay those costs.

"But wait!" you may say. "Many people will not be able to afford to pay the cost of educating their children. How can you expect them to do so?"

I would like to turn the question around. If people cannot be expected to pay for educating the children that they ought to be able to have, doesn't that mean that there is some fundamental unfairness in the starting conditions? Is it not the combination of past injustice and current unequal access to natural opportunities that makes us reluctant to require people to pay the full costs of having children? In my conception of justice, we have not adequately compensated for past injustice until we have put people in a position where we are content to oblige them to pay the full costs of their choices.

But there is another potential inequality that needs to be addressed. What if different communities have different amounts of land value per person? Here a distinction in sources of land value must be made. If a community has higher land value because it has built itself into a wonderful place, then it should be allowed to keep that value for itself. On the other hand, if a community has a higher-than-average natural endowment per citizen, then it owes something to communities with lower-than-average natural endowment per citizen. A program of payments among communities to equalize natural endowments per citizen will be both efficient and fair. It will be efficient because in the absence of such a program, people would gravitate to the communities with higher-than-average natural endowments (like Alaska) even when it was socially uneconomic for them to go there. It is fair because it accords with an equal right of all to natural opportunities.

Thus just and efficient local taxation is achieved by the combination of public collection of rent, marginal cost charges for public services, and a program of transfers among communities to equalize natural endowment per citizen. ...Read the whole article

Nic Tideman: The Shape of a World Inspired by Henry George

How would the world look if its political institutions were shaped by the conception of social justice advanced by Henry George?

Henry George: The Land For The People -- speech, 1889
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.  Read the whole speech
Weld Carter: An Introduction to Henry George
What is the law of human progress? 
George saw ours alone among the civilizations of the world as still progressing; all others had either petrified or had vanished. And in our civilization he had already detected alarming evidences of corruption and decay. So he sought out the forces that create civilization and the forces that destroy it.

He found the incentives to progress to be the desires inherent in human nature, and the motor of progress to be what he called mental power. But the mental power that is available for progress is only what remains after nonprogressive demands have been met. These demands George listed as maintenance and conflict.

In his isolated state, primitive man's powers are required simply to maintain existence; only as he begins to associate in communities and to enjoy the resultant economies is mental power set free for higher uses. Hence, association is the first essential of progress:

And as the wasteful expenditure of mental power in conflict becomes greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an equality of rights is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice) is the second essential of progress.

Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality, or justice, or freedom -- for the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition of the moral law -- prevents the dissipation of this power in fruitless struggles.

He concluded this phase of his analysis of civilization in these words: "The law of human progress, what is it but the moral law? Just as social adjustments promote justice, just as they acknowledge the equality of right between man and man, just as they insure to each the perfect liberty which is bounded only by the equal liberty of every other, must civilization advance. Just as they fail in this, must advancing civilization come to a halt and recede..." 

However, as the primary relation of man is to the earth, so must the primary social adjustment concern the relation of man to the earth. Only that social adjustment which affords all mankind equal access to nature and which insures labor its full earnings will promote justice, acknowledge equality of right between man and man, and insure perfect liberty to each.

This, according to George, was what the single tax would do. It was why he saw the single tax as not merely a fiscal reform but as the basic reform without which no other reform could, in the long run, avail. This is why he said, "What is inexplicable, if we lose sight of man's absolute and constant dependence upon land, is clear when we recognize it." ... 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