Wealth and Want
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Land History

As a society, we are rather unconscious about land, and seem to pretend that it has little value. (Think about the last five articles you've read about housing affordability. Chances are that none of them even mentioned land, and they probably talked about houses appreciating,which is a total fiction!) Our willingness to forget about or ignore land's importance may be the source of many of our most serious societal problems.

"The neoclassical economists' view of their proper role is rather like that in The Realtor's Oath, which includes a vow 'To protect the individual right of real estate ownership.' The word 'individual' is construed broadly to include corporations, estates, trusts, anonymous offshore funds, schools, government agencies, institutions, partnerships, cooperatives, the Duke of Westminster, the Sultan of Brunei, the Medellin Cartel, Saddam Hussein, congregations, Archbishops, families (including criminal families) and so on, but 'individual' sounds more all-American and subsumes them all. This is a potent chant that stirs people to extremes of self-righteousness and siege mentality when challenged." - Professor Mason Gaffney, US Geonomic academic

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

In New York, in San Francisco, in Washington, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, live men who own large tracts of land which they seldom or never see. A resident of Rochester is said to own no less than four hundred farms in different States, one of which (I believe in Kentucky) comprises thirty-five thousand acres. Under the plantation system of farming and that of stock-raising on a grand scale, which are developing so rapidly in our new States, very much of the profits go to professional men and capitalists who live in distant cities. Corporations whose stock is held in the East or in Europe own much greater bodies of land, at much greater distances, than do the London corporations possessing landed estates in Ireland. To say nothing of the great land-grant railroad companies, the Standard Oil Company probably owns more acres of Western land than all the London companies put together own of Irish land. And, although landlordism in its grosser forms is only beginning in the United States, there is probably no American, wherever he may live, who cannot in his immediate vicinity see some instance of absentee landlordism. The tendency to concentration born of the new era ushered in by the application of steam shows itself in this way as in many others. To those who can live where they please, the great cities are becoming more and more attractive. ... read the whole article

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)

As I say, the man that owns the land is the master of those who must live on it. Here is a modern instance: you who are familiar with the history of the Scottish Church know that in the forties there was a disruption in the church. You who have read Hugh Miller's work on "The Cruise of the Betsey" know something about it; how a great body, led by Dr. Chalmers, came out from the Established Church and said they would set up a Free Church. In the Established Church were a great many of the landowners. Some of them, like the Duke of Buccleugh, owning miles and miles of land on which no common Scotsman had a right to put his foot, save by the Duke of Buccleugh's permission. These landowners refused not only to allow these Free Churchmen to have ground upon which to erect a church, but they would not let them stand on their land and worship God. You who have read "The Cruise of the Betsey" know that it is the story of a clergyman who was obliged to make his home in a boat on that wild sea because he was not allowed to have land enough to live on. In many places the people had to take the sacrament with the tide coming to their knees — many a man lost his life worshipping on the roads in rain and snow. They were not permitted to go on Mr. Landlord's land and worship God, and had to take to the roads. The Duke of Buccleugh stood out for seven years compelling people to worship in the roads, until finally relenting a little, he allowed them to worship God in a gravel pit; whereupon they passed a resolution of thanks to His Grace.

But that is not what I wanted to tell you. The thing that struck me was this significant fact: As soon as the disruption occurred, the Free Church, composed of a great many able men, at once sent a delegation to the landlords to ask permission for Scotsmen to worship God in Scotland and in their own way. This delegation set out for London — they had to go to London, England, to get permission for Scotsmen to worship God in Scotland, and in their own native home!

But that is not the most absurd thing. In one place where they were refused land upon which to stand and worship God, the late landowner had died and his estate was in the hands of the trustees, and the answer of the trustees was, that so far as they were concerned they would exceedingly like to allow them to have a place to put up a church to worship God, but they could not conscientiously do it because they knew that such a course would be very displeasing to the late Mr. Monaltie! Now this dead man had gone to heaven, let us hope; at any rate he had gone away from this world, but lest it might displease him men yet living could not worship God. Is it possible for absurdity to go any further?

You may say that those Scotch people are very absurd people, but they are not a whit more so than we are. I read only a little while ago of some Long Island fishermen who had been paying as rent for the privilege of fishing there, a certain part of the catch. They paid it because they believed that James II, a dead man centuries ago, a man who never put his foot in America, a king who was kicked off the English throne, had said they had to pay it, and they got up a committee, went to the county town and searched the records. They could not find anything in the records to show that James II had ever ordered that they should give any of their fish to anybody, and so they refused to pay any longer. But if they had found that James II had really said they should they would have gone on paying. Can anything be more absurd?  ... read the whole speech

Mason Gaffney:  Who Owns Southern California?
1. HOLDINGS BY ALIENS  ... Non-resident aliens own about 75% of the "major" buildings in the L.A. CBD west of Broadway ...
2. AMERICANS FROM OTHER STATES ... A second kind of holder is the out-of-state American, individual or corporate.
3. CALIFORNIANS Many of our largest landholders also live in California. This is partly because the lands are here, but moreso because certain places in California are good places to live. One of the advantages of receiving property as opposed to labor income is it lets one choose his residence. California ranks after New York in the number of rich Americans (using Forbes' list) who reside here.

Also included here are California-based corporations. A corporation's "base" refers simply to the site of its headquarters: its shareholders are scattered around the world, and the major shareholders, who exercise control, are effectively screened behind layers of trusts and financial institutions, so they are impossible to identify with certainty.
Institutions acquire land for their operations and then it tends to stick to them for various reasons. It is tax free, for one, so long as they retain it (and do not use it commercially). They are not subject to corporate raids. Thus there is no mechanism whereby the current opportunity cost of land is felt by management. It never appears in their budgets; they never need compete for or justify it. College Boards are not accountable to any public body, a precedent set by Marshall's U.S. Supreme Court in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819. read the entire article

Karl Williams:  Social Justice In Australia: ADVANCED KIT
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child, for what is man's lifetime without the memory of past events woven with those of earlier times?" - Cicero (106 - 43 BC), Roman orator, statesman and man of letters

One of the main reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was economic. It had been eaten from within by that very malaise that curses us today: the appropriation of the land on the part of a powerful, politically empowered elite to the exclusion of the rest. The result was inevitable. Who wants to fight for land he does not own? Certainly not the slaves who were doing the donkey work to support the landowners of the decaying Roman Empire.

When the barbarian tribes began to turn into civilised nations, they realised that the privilege of controlling land had to be counterweighted by extra duties like the costs of administration, defence and the social services (education, health, hostelry etc.).

Hence Feudalism. This social system, which lasted about seven centuries (far longer than either capitalism or socialism) consisted in an exchange of services between king, nobility, the Church and the people. Who did what?

The king was the nominal owner of the land. This provided him with an independent income, which allowed him (occasionally her) to govern. The nobility were the actual occupiers of the various duchies, counties etc. They controlled the land by taking part of the rent as personal/family income and spending the rest in the services of defence, administration and justice. The Church also occupied large tracts of land, taking part of the rent for the upkeep of its monasteries and spending the rest in the social services: education, health, hostelry etc.

The people supported the system by working, mostly agriculturally. For about four weeks of the year the peasants worked either for their lord in exchange for administration and defence costs or for the Church in exchange for social services. 14-15 weeks of work would be enough for the support of a medium to large family (small families were an exception), and 10 weeks more would provide for whatever extras were available in those days, like beer, bacon and the like. Working time amounted to some 200 days/year, with 150 for leisure (from handicrafts to Gothic cathedrals). There was no concept of unemployment or vagrancy.

What broke the equilibrium was the nobility. Conventional history books gloat over the English barons demanding "freedom" from king John by forcing him to append his seal to the famous Magna Charta. What they don't explain is the type of freedom demanded. It was freedom from duty, i.e. from spending the excess rent on administration and defence.

In time, the nobility of other countries followed suit, but administration and defence costs remained, gradually becoming the responsibility of the king. Increasingly it was the people who had to pay for such, by means of increasing taxation.

Things deteriorated, but not too much while the social services remained in the hands of Church bureaucracy. A dramatic slide for the worse occurred when the king, unable to get sufficient income, had to start selling his land to the nobility, the only people who had the money to buy it.

The trend continued. Henry VIII of England having run out of land of his own, confiscated Church lands while the nobility began the process of enclosing more and more common land which forced the people either to work in the large estates for bare subsistence or to starve outside them.

Slavery, shown the door during the first millennium, re-entered through the window during the second. There exist in fact two ways of unjustly appropriating the work of others: either considering a human being as private property, or preventing him from accessing land and its natural resources, forcing the landless to work for whatever conditions dictated to them by the exclusive holders of land. Philosophically it is possible to distinguish between the two forms of slavery. For those at the receiving end it makes little difference.

The process of enclosure was completed towards the end of the 18th century. The landless, expelled from the commons where they had sought refuge, had no choice but to pour into the cities, which at the time were experiencing the Industrial Revolution.

Conventional historians are only too ready to blame the Industrial Revolution for the appalling social conditions of the workers, but keep silent about the more plausible interpretation that it was the Industrial Revolution which had actually saved those poor wretches from starvation, however unwittingly.
"None ought to be lords or landlords over another, but the earth is free for every son and daughter of mankind to live free upon." - Gerard Winstanley, (1609? - 1660?) A leader of the 17th century Diggers movement
"The Irish Famine of '46 is example and proof. The corn crops were sufficient to feed the island. But the landlords would have their rents in spite of famine and in defiance of fever. They took the whole harvest and left hunger to those who raised it. Had the people of Ireland been the landlords of Ireland, not a human creature would have died of hunger, nor the failure of the potato been considered a matter of any consequence." - James Fintan Lalor, (1807 - 49), Irish patriot

The accursed social conditions of workers during the Industrial Revolution naturally prompted many inquiries - in those days, the connection between the enclosures and the Dickensian conditions in the cities was much more apparent.

The first great inquirer was the Frenchman Quesnay (1694-1774), "the European Confucius" as they dubbed him, who recommended a tax on land as a modern remedy to re-impose the old social charge on land ownership. Another was Turgot (1727-81). As Minister of Finance of Louis XVI he tried to abolish the irresponsible privileges of the nobility, but they ganged up and destroyed him instead. Even Adam Smith (1723-90) noticed, but as he was in the pay of the Scottish Duke of Buccleuch, he could not bite the "benefactor's" hand.

When Professor Thorold Rogers of Oxford (1823-90) dared expose the real causes of the relentless plunging into poverty of the English people from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria, he lost his chair at the University of Oxford. It would not be the last time that the vested interests tried to muzzle a seeker after truth.

The complete picture cannot be had by perusing a single book. One has to glean a good number of apparently unconnected symptoms before seeing the larger image hidden in a confusing array of smaller ones.

Europe had serfdom. America, a younger land, saw traditional slavery instituted afresh. Why were the African slaves not sent to Europe? - because Europe was already full of such! H.M. Government indeed began enthusiastically to transport its "surplus" population to Australia. The land there was "free" in the sense that the militarily weak Aborigines could be rendered landless with a few musket shots, much as the American Indians would a few decades later.

At the time when Don Bosco was gathering his stray waifs thrown onto the streets of Turin by the same policy of forced landlessness, the blight struck the Irish potato, sole crop of the landless there. Eight million of them, expelled from their ancestral lands for the benefit of a couple of a hundred absentee landlords, were being rack-rented to the point of either starvation or emigration. Meanwhile, Ireland remained a net food exporter!

The Irish and later the Italians, both militarily weak, crossed the Atlantic. The British, militarily strong, and thrown out of America three generations earlier, found their opportunity in Africa. They enclosed the land and forced the indigenous people to work for them exactly along the same pattern as their English and Scottish landowner forebears had done before. But they had another problem: a surplus industrial production that the impoverished Britons could not buy for lack of purchasing power. So what did they do? They went to "open up" China, Korea and Japan, which reacted with Oriental swiftness and cunning deception, filibuster and well-struck murderous blows.

The Second German Reich was not far behind, for it had the same problem. Forty-odd years later the insane policy would explode into the slaughter known to this day as the Great War.

The American Civil War of 1861-65 dramatically exposed the difference between the two forms of slavery. The economic victors were the militarily defeated Confederates, who found that hired labour was a great deal cheaper than having to feed, clothe, shelter and cure slaves....   Read the entire article

Jeff Smith and Kris Nelson: Giving Life to the Property Tax Shift (PTS)
John Muir is right. "Tug on any one thing and find it connected to everything else in the universe." Tug on the property tax and find it connected to urban slums, farmland loss, political favoritism, and unearned equity with disrupted neighborhood tenure. Echoing Thoreau, the more familiar reforms have failed to address this many-headed hydra at its root. To think that the root could be chopped by a mere shift in the property tax base -- from buildings to land -- must seem like the epitome of unfounded faith. Yet the evidence shows that state and local tax activists do have a powerful, if subtle, tool at their disposal. The "stick" spurring efficient use of land is a higher tax rate upon land, up to even the site's full annual value. The "carrot" rewarding efficient use of land is a lower or zero tax rate upon improvements. ...

A big problem needs a big solution which in turn needs a matching shift of our prevailing paradigm. Geonomics -- advocating that we share the social value of sites and natural resources and untax earnings -- does just that. Read the whole article

a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
In the book of Joshua, we find that although the Promised Land is a gift from God, it is a gift that has to be claimed. Even before the actual conquest of the Promised Land, the Mosaic Law prescribed a method whereby possession of land was to be rendered pleasing in God's sight. The Canaanites' claim was forfeited by their idolatry, with human sacrifice and temple prostitution, and by their exploitive, monopolistic social order. By contrast, Israel, to make good its claim, had to institute a social order that would guard against the desecration, pollution, and injustices of which its predecessors were guilty, and would secure to each family and to every generation within the Hebrew commonwealth the equal right to the use of the land, of which the Lord was recognized as the sole absolute owner.

They began with a census of the tribes and families before the conquest (Num. 26:1-51). Every tribe, excepting Levi, and within each tribe every family, was to receive its proportionate share, according to size (Num. 26:55-56), and ultimately, to ensure fairness, by lot (Num. 34:16-29). The actual distribution, according to these provisions, was concluded at Shiloh (Josh. 19:51). According to ancient historian Josephus, the territory was not divided into shares of equal size but of equal agricultural value. The landmarks that protected these allotments were protected by the public and solemn denunciation of a curse against anyone who should dishonestly tamper with them (Deut. 27:11-16; 19:14).

As discovered again in our own century, it is easier to devise a one-time fair apportionment of land that it is to keep the system from falling apart. This is why the ancient law established the Jubilee year. At the end of every fifty years, any alienated lands -- given away, sold, or lost from unpaid debts -- would be restored to the original families. Temporary possessors were to be compensated for any unexhausted improvements they may have made on the land. Concentrated landownership, and the division of society into landed and landless classes, was thereby prevented from creeping into the system. The Jubilee effectively took the profit out of landholding as such, leaving no incentive for speculation. When it was observed -- and historical records indicate that it was observed for long periods -- the Jubilee system successfully removed the root cause of poverty from the Jewish society.

The influence of the Jubilee idea upon early Pennsylvania colonists is evidenced by the inscription on the Liberty Bell of the biblical words enjoining the Jubilee year: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." (Lev. 25:10) The founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, advocated that all men be "tenants to the public", and to defray public expenses instituted a tax on land. Read the whole synopsis

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