Should we all have equal access to natural opportunities, or
is it right that some of us should be able to monopolize natural opportunities?
If some are permitted to monopolize natural opportunities, what do they owe
to the rest of us?
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 4: Land Speculation
Causes Reduced Wages
That mineral land, when reduced to private ownership, is frequently withheld
from use while poorer deposits are worked, is well known, and in new states
it is common to find individuals who are called "land poor" --
that is, who remain poor, sometimes almost to deprivation, because they
holding land, which they themselves cannot use, at prices at which no one
else can profitably use it. ... read the whole chapter
Poverty deepens as wealth increases, and wages are forced down while
productive power grows, because land, which is the source of all wealth
and the field of all labor, is monopolized. To extirpate poverty, to
make wages what justice commands they should be, the full earnings of
the laborer, we must therefore substitute for the individual ownership
of land a common ownership. [footnote omitted]
This right of ownership that springs from
labor excludes the possibility of any other right of ownership. If a man
be rightfully entitled to the
produce of his labor, then no one can be rightfully entitled to the
ownership of anything which is not the produce of his labor, or the labor
one else from whom the right has passed to him. For the right to
the produce of labor cannot be enjoyed without the right to the free use
of the opportunities offered by nature, and to admit the right of
in these is to deny the right of property in the produce of labor.
When nonproducers can claim as rent a portion of the wealth created by
the right of the producers to the fruits of their labor is to that
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty,
Chapter 8: Why a Land-Value Tax is Better than an Equal Tax on All Property (in
the unabridged P&P: Book
VIII: Application of the Remedy — Chapter 3: The proposition tried
by the canons of taxation)
The ground upon which the equal taxation of all species of property is commonly
insisted upon is that it is equally protected by the state. The basis of
this idea is evidently that the enjoyment of property is made possible by
the state — that
there is a value created and maintained by the community, which is justly
called upon to meet community expenses. Now, of what values is this true?
the value of land. This is a value that does not arise until a community
is formed, and that, unlike other values, grows with the growth of the community.
It exists only as the community exists. Scatter again the largest community,
and land, now so valuable, would have no value at all. With every increase
of population the value of land rises; with every decrease it falls. This
true of nothing else save of things which, like the ownership of land,
are in their nature monopolies.
The tax upon land values is, therefore, 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
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. ... read the whole chapter
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
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
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
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
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. This is the truth that we have ignored. And so
- there come beggars in our streets and tramps on our roads; and
- poverty enslaves men who we boast are political sovereigns; and
- want breeds ignorance that our schools cannot enlighten; and
- citizens vote as their masters dictate; and
- the demagogue usurps the part of the statesman; and
- gold weighs in the scales of justice; and
- in high places sit those who do not pay to civic virtue even the compliment
of hypocrisy; and
- the pillars of the republic that we thought so strong already bend under
an increasing strain.
We honor Liberty in name and in form. We set up her statues and sound her
praises. But we have not fully trusted her. And with our growth so grow her
demands. She will have no half service!
Liberty! it is a word to conjure with, not to vex the ear in empty boastings.
For Liberty means Justice, and Justice is the natural law — the law
of health and symmetry and strength, of fraternity and co-operation.
They who look upon Liberty as having accomplished her mission when she has
abolished hereditary privileges and given men the ballot, who think of
her as having no further relations to the everyday affairs of life, have
her real grandeur — to them the poets who have sung of her must seem
rhapsodists, and her martyrs fools! As the sun is the lord of life, as
well as of light; as his beams not merely pierce the clouds, but support
supply all motion, and call forth from what would otherwise be a cold and
inert mass all the infinite diversities of being and beauty, so is liberty
It is not for an abstraction that men have toiled and died; that in every
age the witnesses of Liberty have stood forth, and the martyrs of Liberty
We speak of Liberty as one thing, and of virtue, wealth, knowledge, invention,
national strength, and national independence as other things. But, of all these,
Liberty is the source, the mother, the necessary condition. ...
Only in broken gleams and partial light has the sun of Liberty yet beamed
among men, but all progress hath she called forth. ...
Shall we not trust her?
In our time, as in times before, creep on the insidious forces that, producing
inequality, destroy Liberty. On the horizon the clouds begin to lower. Liberty
calls to us again. We must follow her further; we must trust her fully. Either
we must wholly accept her or she will not stay. It is not enough that
men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before
They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of
life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature.
Either this, or Liberty withdraws her light! Either this, or darkness comes
on, and the very forces that progress has evolved turn to powers that work
destruction. This is the universal law. This is the lesson of the centuries.
Unless its foundations be laid in justice the social structure cannot stand.
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
his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on. This
is the subtile 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. Ruins of dead empires testify, and the witness that
is in every soul answers, that it cannot be. It is something grander
than Benevolence, something more
august than Charity — it is Justice herself that demands of us to right
this wrong. Justice that will not be denied; that cannot be put off — Justice
that with the scales carries the sword. Shall we ward the stroke with liturgies
and prayers? Shall we avert the decrees of immutable law by raising churches
when hungry infants moan and weary mothers weep?
Though it may take the language of prayer, it is blasphemy that attributes
to the inscrutable decrees of Providence the suffering and brutishness that
come of poverty; that turns with folded hands to the All-Father and lays
on Him the responsibility for the want and crime of our great cities. We
degrade the Everlasting. We slander the Just One. A merciful man would
have better ordered the world; a just man would crush with his foot such
ant-hill! It is not the Almighty, but we who are responsible for the
vice and misery that fester amid our civilization. The Creator showers
his gifts — more than enough for all. But like swine scrambling for
food, we tread them in the mire — tread them in the mire, while
we tear and rend each other!
In the very centers of our civilization today are want and suffering
enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his
nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing
the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into
being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air;
fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should
spring up, and the seed that now increases fiftyfold should increase a hundredfold!
Would poverty be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit
would accrue would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the
material universe could be utilized only through land.
This is not merely a deduction of political economy; it is a fact of experience. We
know it because we have seen it. Within our own times, under our
very eyes, that Power which is above all, and in all, and through all; that
Power of which the whole universe is but the manifestation; that Power which
maketh all things, and without which is not anything made that is made, has
increased the bounty which men may enjoy, as truly as though the fertility
of nature had been increased.
- Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the service
- To the inner ear of another was whispered the secret that compels the
lightning to bear a message round the globe.
- In every direction have the laws of matter been revealed;
- in every department of industry have arisen arms of iron and fingers
of steel, whose effect upon the production of wealth has been precisely
same as an increase in the fertility of nature.
What has been the result? Simply that landowners get all the gain.
Can it be that the gifts of the Creator may be thus misappropriated
with impunity? Is it a light thing that labor should be robbed of its earnings
while greed rolls in wealth — that the many should want while the few
are surfeited? Turn to history, and on every page may be read
the lesson that such wrong never goes unpunished; that the Nemesis that
injustice never falters nor sleeps! Look around today. Can this state
of things continue? May we even say, "After us the deluge!" Nay;
the pillars of the State are trembling even now, and the very foundations
society begin to quiver with pent-up forces that glow underneath. The
struggle that must either revivify, or convulse in ruin, is near at hand,
if it be
not already begun.
The fiat has gone forth! With steam and electricity, and the new powers born
of progress, forces have entered the world that will either compel us to a
higher plane or overwhelm us, as nation after nation, as civilization after
civilization, have been overwhelmed before. ...
- We cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to tramp.
- We cannot go on educating boys and girls in our public schools and then
refusing them the right to earn an honest living.
- We cannot go on prating of the inalienable rights of man and then denying
the inalienable right to the bounty of the Creator.
Even now, in old bottles the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental forces
gather for the strife!
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
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
That the value attaching to land with social growth is intended for social
needs is shown by the final proof. God is indeed a jealous God in the sense
that nothing but injury and disaster can attend the effort of men to do things
other than in the way he has intended; in the sense that where the blessings
he proffers to men are refused or misused they turn to evils that scourge
us. And just as for the mother to withhold the provision that fills her breast
with the birth of the child is to endanger physical health, so for society
to refuse to take for social uses the provision intended for them is to breed
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 leave some to take what justly belongs to all; it is to forego the
only means by which it is possible in an advanced civilization to combine
the security of possession that is necessary to improvement with the
equality of natural opportunity that is the most important of all natural
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 civilization, for the gifts
of their God. But it is even more than this. The very robbery that the masses
of men thus suffer gives rise in advancing communities to a new robbery.
For the value that with the increase of population and social advance attaches
to land being suffered to go to individuals who have secured ownership of
the land, it prompts to a forestalling of and speculation in land wherever
there is any prospect of advancing population or of coming improvement, thus
producing an artificial scarcity of the natural elements of life and labor,
and a strangulation of production that shows itself in recurring spasms of
industrial depression as disastrous to the world as destructive wars. It
is this that is driving men from the old countries to the new countries,
only to bring there the same curses. It is this that causes our material
advance not merely to fail to improve the condition of the mere worker, but
to make the condition of large classes positively worse. It is this that
in our richest Christian countries is giving us a large population whose
lives are harder, more hopeless, more degraded than those of the veriest
savages. It is this that leads so many men to think that God is a bungler
and is constantly bringing more people into his world than he has made provision
for; or that there is no God, and that belief in him is a superstition which
the facts of life and the advance of science are dispelling. ...
And it is because that in what we propose — the securing to all men
of equal natural opportunities for the exercise of their powers and the removal
of all legal restriction on the legitimate exercise of those powers — we
see the conformation of human law to the moral law, that we hold with confidence
that this is not merely the sufficient remedy for all the evils you so strikingly
portray, but that it is the only possible remedy.
Nor is there any other. The organization of man is such, his relations to
the world in which he is placed are such — that is to say, the immutable
laws of God are such, that it is beyond the power of human ingenuity to devise
any way by which the evils born of the injustice that robs men of their birthright
can be removed otherwise than by doing justice, by opening to all the bounty
that God has provided for all. ...
Men who are sure of getting food when they shall need it eat only what appetite
dictates. But with the sparse tribes who exist on the verge of the habitable
globe life is either a famine or a feast. Enduring hunger for days, the fear
of it prompts them to gorge like anacondas when successful in their quest
of game. And so, what gives wealth its curse is what drives men to seek it,
what makes it so envied and admired — the fear of want. As the unduly
rich are the corollary of the unduly poor, so is the soul-destroying quality
of riches but the reflex of the want that embrutes and degrades. The real
evil lies in the injustice from which unnatural possession and unnatural
deprivation both spring.
But this injustice can hardly be charged on individuals or classes.
The existence of private property in land is a great social wrong from
society at large suffers, and of which the very rich and the very poor are
alike victims, though at the opposite extremes. Seeing this, it seems to
us like a violation of Christian charity to speak of the rich as though they
individually were responsible for the sufferings of the poor. Yet, while
you do this, you insist that the cause of monstrous wealth and degrading
poverty shall not be touched. Here is a man with a disfiguring and dangerous
excrescence. One physician would kindly, gently, but firmly remove it. Another
insists that it shall not be removed, but at the same time holds up the poor
victim to hatred and ridicule. Which is right?
In seeking to restore all men to their equal and natural rights we do not
seek the benefit of any class, but of all. For we both know by faith and
see by fact that injustice can profit no one and that justice must benefit
Nor do we seek any “futile and ridiculous equality.” We recognize,
with you, that there must always be differences and inequalities. In so far
as these are in conformity with the moral law, in so far as they do not violate
the command, “Thou shalt not steal,” we are content. We do not
seek to better God’s work; we seek only to do his will. The equality
we would bring about is not the equality of fortune, but the equality of
natural opportunity; the equality that reason and religion alike proclaim — the
equality in usufruct of all his children to the bounty of Our Father who
art in Heaven. ...
Hence, short of what wages may be earned when all restrictions on labor
are removed and access to natural opportunities on equal terms secured to
all, it is impossible to fix any rate of wages that will be deemed just,
or any rate of wages that can prevent working-men striving to get more. So
far from it making working-men more contented to improve their condition
a little, it is certain to make them more discontented.
Nor are you asking justice when you ask employers to pay their working-men
more than they are compelled to pay — more than they could get others
to do the work for. You are asking charity. For the surplus that the rich
employer thus gives is not in reality wages, it is essentially alms. ... read
the whole letter
Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial
Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)
Our little local politics may differ; our greater politics are one and the
same. We have the same evils to redress, the same truth to propagate, the same
end to seek.
And that end, what is it but liberty? (Hear, hear) He who listens to the voice
of Freedom, she will lead and lead him on. Before I was born, before our friend
there was born, there was in a southern city of the United States a young printer
bearing the name William Lloyd Garrison. (Cheers) He saw around him the iniquity
of negro slavery. (Hear, hear) The voice of the oppressed cried to him and
would not let him rest, and he took up the cross. He became the great apostle
of human liberty, and today in American cities that once hooted and stoned
him there are now statues raised to William Lloyd Garrison.
He began as a protectionist. As he moved on he saw that liberty meant something
more than simply the abolition of chattel slavery. He saw that liberty also
meant, not merely the right to freely labor for oneself, but the right to freely
exchange one's production, and, from a protectionist, William Lloyd Garrison
became a free trader. (Cheers)
And now, when the first is gone, the second comes forward, to take one further
step to realize that for perfect freedom there must also be freedom
in the use of natural opportunities. (Hear, hear, and cheers)
We have come . . . to the same point by converging lines. Why is freedom
of trade good? Simply that trade — exchange — is but a mode of production.
Therefore, to secure full free trade we must also secure freedom to the natural
opportunities of production. (Hear, hear) Our production—what is it?
We produce from what? From land. All human production consists but in working
up the raw materials that we find in nature — consists simply in changing
in place, or in form, that matter which we call land. To free production there
must be no monopoly of the natural element. Even in our methods we agree primarily
on this essential point — that everyone ought to be free to exert
his labor, to retain or to exchange its fruits, unhampered by restrictions,
by the tax gatherer. (Hear, hear) . . .
Chattel slavery, thank God, is abolished at last. Nowhere, where the American
flag flies, can one man be bought, or sold, or held by another. (Cheers) But
a great struggle still lies before us now. Chattel slavery is gone; industrial
slavery remains. The effort, the aim of the abolitionists of this time is to
abolish industrial slavery. (Cheers) ... read the whole speech
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a
themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
DWARFED into mere revenue reform the harmony and beauty of free trade are
hidden; its moral force is lost; its power to remedy social evils cannot
be shown, and the injustice and meanness of protection cannot be arraigned.
The "international law of God" becomes a mere fiscal question which appeals
only to the intellect and not to the heart, to the pocket and not to the
conscience, and on which it is impossible to arouse the enthusiasm that is
alone capable of contending with powerful interests. — Protection
or Free Trade — Chapter 29: Practical Politics - econlib
THEY [the Physiocrats) were — what the so-called "English free-traders" who
have followed Adam Smith never yet have been — free traders in the full
sense of the term. In their practical proposition, the single tax, they proposed
the only means by which the free trade principle can ever be carried to its logical
conclusion — the freedom not merely of trade but of all other forms and
modes of production, with full freedom of access to the natural element which
is essential to all production. They were the authors of the motto that in the
English use of the phrase "Laissez faire!" "Let things alone," has been so emasculated
and perverted, but which on their lips was "Laissez faire, laissez aller!" "Clear
the ways and let things alone." This is said to come from the cry that in medieval
tournaments gave the signal for combat, The English motto which I take to come
closest to the spirit of the French phrase is, "A fair field and no favor!" — The
Science of Political Economy
HERE is a traveler who, beset by robbers, has been left bound, blindfolded, and
gagged. Shall we stand in a knot about him and discuss whether to put a piece
of court-plaster on his cheek or a new patch on his coat, or shall we dispute
with each other as to what road he ought to take, and whether a bicycle, a tricycle,
a horse and wagon, or a railway, would best help him on? Should we not rather
postpone such discussion until we have cut the man's bonds? Then he can see for
himself, speak for himself, and help himself. Though with a scratched cheek and
a torn coat, he may get on his feet, and if he cannot find a conveyance to suit
him, he will at least be free to walk.
Very much like such a discussion is a good deal of that now going on over "the
social problem" — a discussion in which all sorts of inadequate and impossible
schemes are advocated to the neglect of the simple plan of removing restrictions
and giving Labor the use of its powers. — Protection or Free Trade — Chapter
28: Free Trade and Socialism - econlib -|- abridged
WE talk about the supply of labor, and the demand for labor,
but, evidently, these are only relative terms. The supply of labor
is everywhere the same — two hands always come into the world
with one mouth, twenty-one boys to every twenty girls; and the demand
for labor must always exist as long as men want things which labor
alone can procure. We talk about the "want of work," but, evidently
it is not work that is short while want continues; evidently, the
supply of labor cannot be too great, nor the demand for labor too
small, when people suffer for the lack of things that labor produces.
The real trouble must be that the supply is somehow prevented from
satisfying demand, that somewhere there is an obstacle which prevents
labor from producing the things that laborers want.
Take the case of anyone of these vast masses of unemployed men, to whom, though
he never heard of Malthus, it today seems that there are too many people in the
world. In his own wants, in the needs of his anxious wife, in the demands for
his half cared for, perhaps even hungry and shivering, children, there is demand
enough for labor, Heaven knows! In his own willing hands is the supply. Put him
on a solitary island, and though cut off from all the enormous advantages which
the co-operation, combination, and machinery of a civilized community give to
the productive powers of man, yet his two hands can fill the mouths and keep
warm the backs that depend upon them. Yet where productive power is at
its highest development, he cannot. Why? Is it not because in the one case he
to the material and forces of nature, and in the other this access is denied? — Progress & Poverty Book
V, Chapter 1, The Problem Solved: The primary cause of recurring paroxysms of
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. For what are we but tenants for a day? Have we made the earth
that we should determine the rights of those who after us shall tenant it in
their turn? The Almighty, who created the earth for man and man for the earth,
has entailed it upon all the generations of the children of men by a decree
written upon the constitution of all things — a decree which no human
action can bar and no prescription determine, Let the parchments be ever so
many, or possession ever so long, natural justice can recognize no right in
one man to the possession and enjoyment of land that is not equally the right
of all his fellows. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 1, Justice of the Remedy: Injustice of private property in land
HAS the first comer at a banquet the right to turn back all the chairs
and claim that none of the other guests shall partake of the food provided,
except as they make terms with him? Does the first man who presents a ticket
at the door of a theater and passes in, acquire by his priority the right
to shut the doors and have the performance go on for him alone? Does the
first passenger who enters a railroad car obtain the right to scatter his
baggage over all the seats and compel the passengers who come in after him
to stand up?
The cases are perfectly analogous. We arrive and we depart, guests at a banquet
continually spread, spectators and participants in an entertainment where there
is room for all who come; passengers from station to station, on an orb that
whirls through space — our rights to take and possess cannot be exclusive;
they must be bounded everywhere by the equal rights of others. Just as the
passenger in a railroad car may spread himself and his baggage over as many
seats as he pleases, until other passengers come in, so may a settler take
and use as much land as he chooses, until it is needed by others — a
fact which is shown by the land acquiring a value — when his right must
be curtailed by the equal rights of the others, and no priority of appropriation
can give a right which will bar these equal rights of others. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 1, Justice of the Remedy: Injustice of private property in land
AND will not the community gain by thus refusing to kill the goose that lays
the golden eggs; by thus refraining from muzzling the ox that treadeth out
the corn; by thus leaving to industry, and thrift, and skill, their natural
reward, full and unimpaired? For there is to the community also a natural
reward. The law of society is, each for all, as well as all for each. No one
to himself the good he may do, any more than he can keep the bad. Every productive
enterprise, besides its return to those who undertake it, yields collateral
advantages to others. If a man plant a fruit tree, his gain is that he gathers
the fruit in its time and season. But in addition to his gain, there is a
gain to the whole community. Others than the owner are benefited by the increased
supply of fruit; the birds which it shelters fly far and wide; the rain which
it helps to attract falls not alone on his field; and, even to the eye which
rests upon it from a distance, it brings a sense of beauty. And so with everything
else. The building of a house, a factory, a ship, or a railroad, benefits
besides those who get the direct profits. Nature laughs at a miser. He is
like the squirrel who buries his nuts and refrains from digging them up again.
they sprout and grow into trees. In fine linen, steeped in costly spices,
the mummy is laid away. Thousands and thousands of years thereafter, the Bedouin
cooks his food by a fire of its encasings, it generates the steam by which
the traveler is whirled on his way, or it passes into far-off lands to gratify
the curiosity of another race. The bee fills the hollow tree with honey,
along comes the bear or the man. — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 1, Effects of the Remedy: Of the Effect upon the Production of
CONSIDER the effect of such a change upon the labor market. Competition
would no longer be one-sided, as now. Instead of laborers competing with
each other for employment, and in their competition cutting down wages to
the point of bare subsistence, employers would everywhere be competing for
laborers, and wages would rise to the fair earnings of labor. For into the
labor market would have entered the greatest of all competitors for the employment
of labor, a competitor whose demand cannot be satisfied until want is satisfied — the
demand of labor itself. The employers of labor would not have merely to bid
against other employers, all feeling the stimulus of greater trade and increased
profits, but against the ability of laborers to become their own employers
upon the natural opportunities freely opened to them by the tax which prevented
monopolization. — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 1, Effects of the Remedy: Of the Effect upon the Production of
... go to "Gems from George"
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix:
Q26. Hasn't every man who needs it a right to be employed by the government?
A. No. But he has a right to have government secure him in the enjoyment of his
equal right to the opportunities for employment that nature and social growth
supply. When government secures him in that respect, if he cannot get work
it is because (1) he does not offer the kind of service that people want; or
(2) he is incapable. His remedy, if he does not offer the kind of service that
people want, is either to make people see that they are mistaken, or go to
work at something else; if he is incapable, his remedy is to improve himself.
In no case has he a right to government interference in his behalf, either
through schemes to make work, or by bounties or tariffs.
Q30. What effect would the single tax have on immigration? Would it
cause an influx of foreigners from different nations?
A. If adopted in one country of great natural opportunities, and not in others,
its tendency would not only be to cause an influx of foreigners, but also
to make their coming highly desirable. Our own experience in the United States,
when we had an abundance of free land and were begging the populations of
the world to come to us, offers a faint suggestion of what might be expected.
Q34. Would the single tax benefit the debtor class? If so, how?
A. It would. By abolishing the monopoly of opportunities to work, and thus enabling
debtors to earn enough, while decently supporting themselves, to honestly pay
their debts. The debtor class deserves sympathy, not because it is in debt,
but because it is forced by existing institutions to go into debt in order
to work, and is then so hampered and harried by the same institutions as to
make orderly repayment impossible and bankruptcy inevitable.
Q52. Is not the right of ownership of a gold ring the same as the ownership
of a gold mine? and if the latter is wrong is not the former also wrong?
A. If it be wrong for you to own the spring of water which you and your fellows
use, is it therefore wrong for you to own the water that you lift from the spring
to drink? If so how do you propose to slake your thirst? If you argue in reply
that it is not wrong for you to own the spring, then how shall your fellows slake
their thirst when you treat them, as you would have a right to, as trespassers
upon your property? To own the source of labor products is to own the labor of
others; to own what you produce from that source is to own only your own labor.
Nature furnishes gold mines, but men fashion gold rings. The right of ownership
is radically different.... read the book
Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism
of Natural Taxation, from Principles of
Natural Taxation (1917)
Q30. How would the single tax increase wages?
A. By gradually transferring to wages that portion of the current wealth that
now flows to privilege. In other words, it would widen and deepen the channel
of wages by enlarging opportunities for labor, and by increasing the purchasing
power of nominal wages through reduction of prices. On the other hand it would
narrow the channel of privilege by making the man who has a privilege pay for
Q31. How can this transfer be effected?
A. By the taxation of privilege.
Q32. How much ultimately may wages be thus increased?
A. Fifty percent would be a low estimate.
Q33. What are fair prices and fair wages?
A. Prices unenhanced by privilege, and wages undiminished by taxation.
Q58. What expected result of the single tax needs studious emphasis?
A. That it would unlock the land to labor at its present value for use, instead
of locking out labor from the land by a prohibitive price based upon the future
value for use. ... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Applications
of Land Value Taxation to Problems of
Environmental Protection, Congestion, Efficient Resource Use,
Population, and Economic Growth
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. ...
the entire article
Nic Tideman: The
Constitutional Conflict Between Protecting
Expectations and Moral Evolution
Complementary Right of Equal Access to Natural Opportunities
One of the factors that makes
the case for secession difficult is
the problem of regional inequality in natural resources. When the
people who called themselves Biafrans sought to secede from Nigeria
in the 1960s, the morality of their claim was undermined by the fact
that, if they had succeeded, they would have taken disproportionate
oil resources from the rest of Nigerians. The limited support for the
efforts of the Chechins to separate from Russia is explained in part
by the understanding that, even though the Chechins have been abused
by Russians for centuries and have never fully acceded to their
incorporation into Russia, if Chechniya were allowed to separate from
Russia, that would create a precedent that would make it difficult to
oppose an effort by the people of the sparsely populated Yakutsia
region of Eastern Siberia, rich in oil and diamonds, to insist that
they too have a right to be a separate nation.
Perhaps, a general recognition of
a right of secession will need
to wait for another component of moral evolution: a recognition that
all persons have equal claims on the value of natural opportunities.
If this were recognized, then any nation or region with
disproportionately great natural resources would be seen to have an
obligation to share the value from using those resources with those
parts of the world that have less than average resources per capita.
This would eliminate the desire to appropriate natural resources as a
reason for secession and as a reason for opposing secession. Signs of
a recognition of the equal claims of all persons on the use of
natural opportunities are slim. One can point to John Locke:
Whether we consider natural Reason, which tells
us, the 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 Subsistence: 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
Locke goes on to say that every
person has a right to himself, and
therefore to the things of value that are created by combining his
efforts with natural opportunities, "at least where there is as much
and as good left in common for others." He then argues that with so
much unclaimed land in America, no one can justly complain if all of
Europe is privately appropriated. Locke does not address the question
of how rights to land should be handled if there is no unclaimed
Thomas Jefferson, writing on the
subject of patents, said, But
while it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of
property is derived from nature at all, it would be singular to admit
a natural and even an hereditary right to inventors. It is agreed by
those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual
has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for
Henry George said,
The equal right of all
men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the
air--it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we
cannot suppose that some men have the right to be in this world and
others no right.
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.4
General recognition of the equal
rights of all to the use of land
and other natural opportunities is hard to find. When the powerful
nations of the world got together to eject Iraq from Kuwait, very
little was heard of the bizarreness of supposing that Emir of Kuwait
and his relatives had a right to all the oil that lay under Kuwait.
Some recognition of equal rights to the use of natural opportunities
can be found in the proposed Law of the Sea Treaty, which would have
had all nations benefiting from the granting of franchises to extract
minerals from the sea. From an economic perspective, the treaty was
flawed by the fact that it would have created an artificial scarcity
of seabed mining activities in order to raise revenue, and it was
opposed by the U.S. and not implemented. But it did suggest general
recognition of global equal rights to at least those natural
opportunities that no one has yet begun to use.
One impediment to the recognition
of equal rights to the use of
natural opportunities is that some system of assessment would be
needed to identify the transfers that would compensate for unequal
access to natural opportunities. Another impediment is that a system
of rewards for those who discover new opportunities would be needed.
But if there were a will to address them, these technical
difficulties could be solved adequately, as they are in jurisdictions
such as Alberta, Canada, that claim all mineral rights for the
government. ... Read
the whole article
Nic Tideman: The
Case for Taxing Land
I. Taxing Land as Ethics
II. What is Land?
III. The simple efficiency argument for taxing land
IV. Taxing Land is Better Than Neutral
V. Measuring the Economic Gains from Shifting Taxes to Land
VI. The Ethical Case for Taxing Land
VII. Answer to Arguments against Taxing Land
There is a case for taxing land based on ethical principles and
for taxing land based on efficiency principles. As a matter of
logic, these two cases are separate. Ethical conclusions
follow from ethical premises and efficiency conclusions from efficiency
principles. However, it is natural for human minds to conflate
the two cases. It is easier to believe that something is good if
one knows that it is efficient, and it is easier to see that something
is efficient if one believes that it is good. Therefore it is
important for a discussion of land taxation to address both question of
efficiency and questions of ethics.
This monograph will first address the efficiency case for taxing land,
because that is the less controversial case. The efficiency case
for taxing land has two main parts. ...
To estimate the magnitudes of the impacts that additional taxes
would have on an economy, one must have a model of the economy. I
report on estimates of the magnitudes of impacts on the U.S. economy of
shifting taxes to land, based on a mathematical model that is outlined
in the Appendix.
The ethical case for
taxing land is based on two ethical premises:
every person has a right to himself or herself, and
2) all persons have
equal rights to the natural opportunities that are not embodied in
The first premise leads to the
conclusion that taxing
people according to the products of their efforts or the products of
their saving can only be just if people voluntarily agree,
individually, to be subject to such taxes. Taxing land, on the
other hand, does not involve such an intrusion on individual
rights. In fact, taxing land is a way equalizing the advantages
of access to land, as required by the second premise.The ethical case for taxing land ends with a discussion of the reasons
why recognition of the equal rights of all to land may be essential for
After developing the efficiency argument and the ethical argument for
taxing land, I consider a variety of counter-arguments that have been
offered against taxing land. For a given level of other taxes, a
rise in the rate at which land is taxed causes a fall in the selling
price of land. It is sometimes argued that only modest taxes on
land are therefore feasible, because as the rate of taxation on land
increases and the selling price of land falls, market transactions
become increasingly less reliable as indicators of the value of
Another basis on which it is argued that greatly increased taxes on
land are infeasible is that if land values were to fall precipitously,
the financial system would collapse. ...
Apart from questions of feasibility, it is sometimes argued that
erosion of land values from taxing land would harm economic efficiency,
because it would reduce opportunities for entrepreneurs to use land as
collateral for loans to finance their ideas. ...
Another ethical argument that is made against taxing land is that the
return to unusual ability is “rent” just as the return to land is
But before developing any of these arguments, I must discuss what land
Ethical Case for Taxing Land
The ethical case for taxing land is based on two premises.
first is that people have rights to themselves. This has not been
controversial since the end of slavery, so I will simply assume that
this is agreed. The second premise is that all people have equal
rights to natural opportunities. This is not so widely agreed.
Natural opportunities include not only land, but also water, fish in
oceans and rivers, the frequency spectrum, minerals, virgin forests,
and geosynchronous orbits. Some natural opportunities, such as
the opportunity to use the oceans for transport, are most valuable to
people when all are allowed to use them as they wish. (This does
not imply that their value is greatest when all can pollute as they
wish.) Other natural opportunities, such as most plots of land,
are most valuable when one person has exclusive use of them.
The processes that humans employ to determine who shall have exclusive
use of natural opportunities are complex. To some extent,
opportunities are assigned to those who first make use of them.
However, another important component of the
natural-opportunity-assignment process is the ability and willingness
to use deadly force to exclude others. Americans from Europe
undertook some negotiations with the native American Indians, but
primarily they threatened to kill the Indians if they did not agree to
move into smaller territories. All over the world, nations
emerged when war-minded leaders imposed their rule where they
could. We have built a relatively humane world on this violent
foundation, but the origins of the assignment of natural opportunities
cannot be characterized as just.
Nor would have been just (or efficient) to adhere to a rule of initial
assignment based on first use. It would not be just because a
person who arrives later than another is not inherently less
deserving. (It would not be efficient because a rule of
assignment based on first use promotes inefficient, excessive
investment in being first. Still, to motivate efficient
discovery, it pays to provide some reward for discoverers.)
Justice requires that we acknowledge the equal rights of all persons to
the gifts of nature. At the level of relations among nations,
this requires every nation to determine whether it is using more than
its share of natural opportunities, and if it is using more than its
share, to compensate other nations that therefore have less than their
An additional ethical reason for
recognizing equal rights to natural
opportunities is that it may be necessary to secure world peace.
Nations have arisen through violence. While the world condemns
violence among nations, it has persistently acquiesced to regimes
established by violence. The greater the natural resources of a
nation, the greater is the attraction to potential tyrants of the
possibility of taking over the nation. If the world is able to
establish an understanding, backed up by the threat of economic
boycotts, that nations have an obligation to share the value of natural
opportunities in proportion to population, and that people are free to
leave nations that they find unacceptable, then the return to violent
appropriation of power will be removed. As long as we accept the
continued exercise of disproportionate power over natural opportunities
by those who acquired that power through violence, we will have
difficulty persuading potential usurpers of power that we will not
accept their conquests.
the whole article
Nic Tideman: Peace,
and Economic Reform
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.
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,"
as exemplified by Murray
Rothbard, who say that there is really no need to be concerned with
Locke's proviso. Natural opportunities belong to whoever first
appropriates them, regardless of whether opportunities of equal value
are available to others.
The other tradition is that of the
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. 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 first problem is the
incongruity with historical reality. Humans have emerged from an
environment of violence. Those who now have titles to land can trace
those titles back only so far, before they come to events where fiat
backed by violence determined title. And the persons who were
displaced at that time themselves had titles that originated in
violence. If there ever were humans who acquired the use of land
without forcibly displacing other humans, we have no way of knowing
who they were or who their current descendants might be. There is, in
practice, no way of assigning land to the legitimate successors of
the persons who first claimed land. And to assign titles based on any
fraction of history is to reward the last land seizures that are not
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
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,
get exclusive access to this natural opportunity because I have left
natural opportunities of equal value for you." (How one compares, in
practice, the value of different natural opportunities is a bit
complex. If you really want to know, you can invite me back for
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. ... Read the
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
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. ...
Article 3: All persons,
generations, have equal rights to natural opportunities, such as the
use of land, natural resources, and the frequency spectrum. Therefore
Congress shall place levies on states to equalize among states the
per capita annual value of access to natural opportunities, and to
compensate for the harmful effects of activities in states on other
states and on future generations. State legislatures shall place
corresponding levies on their subdivisions. ...
Lindy Davies: Socialism,
Capitalism and Geoism
the term "socialism" does mean
something, and it is often
identified with the quest for economic justice. The basic assumption
underlying it is that the market place, under conditions of pure
laissez-faire competition, is incapable of securing to society an
equitable distribution of wealth. Socialists assert that if the
is left alone to decide who is to get how much of the world's goods,
the result is a division of society into classes and the emergence of a
struggle between the exploiting class and the enslaved working class.
Competition becomes “cutthroat competition,” fostering trusts, cartels
and monopolies. Instead of making earnings proportional to service
rendered, the market place gives the highest rewards to the most
However, many are proud to
behind the banner of “capitalism.”They contend that free competition makes the fullest possible use of
the gifts of nature and human ingenuity. When the admirable equilibrium
of the market is upset by do-gooders trying to secure their idea of
fairness, the result is unemployment, stagnation and corruption.
Capitalists and socialists may
to disagree about everything --
but on one crucial point of political economy their views are uncannily
similar. Both tend to
lump land and capital under the single heading of
“capital,” and many even include money as capital. This
prevents socialists from seeing the possibility of a beneficial free
market without the element of monopoly. And it prevents capitalists
from seeing the fundamental role of the public sector in a just and
prosperous market economy.
It may seem odd that both "capitalists" and "socialists" speak of the
justice of their system and the vile in-justice of their opponents'.
(Of course, the emotion behind such discussions is often heightened by
a kind of home-team fervor.) Is there any
universal standard of justice
upon which economic policy can be based?
The answer lies in clarifying
question of the rightful basis (if
there is one) of public vs. private ownership. For the thorough-going
free-market capitalist, "public ownership" of anything is anathema: the
community's interests are best served by the unhindered interactions of
self-interested producers and traders. But the poverty, suffering and
environmental destruction that come under such a "private property"
regime cannot be denied. Because of this, the great bulk of
social-policy debate revolves around how much of the efficiency of free
enterprise must be traded for public interference, imposed in the name
of equity. The question of the rightful balance between public and
private control becomes one of expediency and political fashion,
lacking any guiding principle. Indeed, modern "neoclassical economics"
denies that any such principle exists.
For Henry George, however, the
principle was clear. The value of
natural opportunities belongs entirely to the community, and the
production of wealth by labor, using capital, should be entirely
unhindered by the penalty of taxation. For George, the most important
question was not the amount of wealth that should be taken by
community, but the kind of wealth that should rightfully
go to the
community, because it is a value that the community has created.
In recent years, this understanding of the distinctive character of
natural opportunity (land) as a factor of production has led to the
coining of a new term: Geoism, indicating a philosophy based on the
rightful understanding of the place of the Earth (Geo-) in economic
Read the whole article
James Kiefer: James Huntington and
the ideas of Henry George
Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty,
argued that, while some forms of wealth are produced by human activity, and
are rightly the property of the producers (or those who have obtained them
from the previous owners by voluntary gift or exchange), land and natural
resources are bestowed by God on the human race, and that every one of the
N inhabitants of the earth has a claim to 1/Nth of the coal beds, 1/Nth of
the oil wells, 1/Nth of the mines, and 1/Nth of the fertile soil. God wills
a society where everyone may sit in peace under his own vine and his own
The Law of Moses undertook to implement this by making the ownership of
land hereditary, with a man's land divided among his sons (or, in the absence
of sons, his daughters), and prohibiting the permanent sale of land. (See
Leviticus 25:13-17,23.) The most a man might do with his land is sell the
use of it until the next Jubilee year, an amnesty declared once every fifty
years, when all debts were cancelled and all land returned to its hereditary
Henry George's proposed implementation is to tax all land at about 99.99%
of its rental value, leaving the owner of record enough to cover his bookkeeping
expenses. The resulting revenues would be divided equally among the natural
owners of the land, viz. the people of the country, with everyone receiving
a dividend check regularly for the use of his share of the earth (here I
am anticipating what I think George would have suggested if he had written
in the 1990's rather than the 1870's).
This procedure would have the effect of making the sale price of a piece
of land, not including the price of buildings and other improvements on it,
practically zero. The cost of being a landholder would be, not the original
sale price, but the tax, equivalent to rent. A man who chose to hold his "fair
share," or 1/Nth of all the land, would pay a land tax about equal to
his dividend check, and so would break even. By 1/Nth of the land is meant
land with a value equal to 1/Nth of the value of all the land in the country.
Naturally, an acre in the business district of a great city would be worth
as much as many square miles in the open country. Some would prefer to hold
more than one N'th of the land and pay for the privilege. Some would prefer
to hold less land, or no land at all, and get a small annual check representing
the dividend on their inheritance from their father Adam.
Note that, at least for the able-bodied, this solves the problem of poverty
at a stroke. If the total land and total labor of the world are enough to
feed and clothe the existing population, then 1/Nth of the land and 1/Nth
of the labor are enough to feed and clothe 1/Nth of the population. A family
of 4 occupying 4/Nths of the land (which is what their dividend checks will
enable them to pay the tax on) will find that their labor applied to that
land is enough to enable them to feed and clothe themselves. Of course, they
may prefer to apply their labor elsewhere more profitably, but the situation
from which we start is one in which everyone has his own plot of ground from
which to wrest a living by the strength of his own back, and any deviation
from this is the result of voluntary exchanges agreed to by the parties directly
involved, who judge themselves to be better off as the result of the exchanges.
Some readers may think this a very radical proposal. In fact, it is extremely
conservative, in the sense of being in agreement with historic ideas about
land ownership as opposed to ownership of, say, tools or vehicles or gold
or domestic animals or other movables. The laws of English-speaking countries
uniformly distinguish between real property (land) and personal property
(everything else). In this context, "real" is not the opposite
of "imaginary." It is a form of the word "royal," and
means that the ultimate owner of the land is the king, as symbol of the people.
Note that English-derived law does not recognize "landowners." The
term is "landholders." The concept of eminent domain is that the
landholder may be forced to surrender his landholdings to the government
for a public purpose. Historically, eminent domain does not apply to property
other than land, although complications arise when there are buildings on
the land that is being seized.
I will mention in passing that the proposals of Henry George have attracted
support from persons as diverse as Felix Morley, Aldous
Huxley, Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Winston
Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, William
F Buckley Jr, and Sun Yat-sen. To the Five Nobel Prizes authorized by
Alfred Nobel himself there has been added a sixth, in Economics, and the
Henry George Foundation claims eight of the
Economics Laureates as supporters, in whole or in part, of the proposals
of Henry George (Paul Samuelson, 1970; Milton Friedman,
1976; Herbert A Simon, 1978; James Tobin, 1981; Franco Modigliani, 1985;
James M Buchanan, 1986; Robert M Solow, 1987; William
S Vickrey, 1996).
The immediate concrete proposal favored by most Georgists today is that
cities shall tax land within their boundaries at a higher rate than they
tax buildings and other improvements on the land. (In case anyone is about
to ask, "How can we possibly distinguish between the value of the land
and the value of the buildings on it?" let me assure you that real estate
assessors do it all the time. It is standard practice to make the two assessments
separately, and a parcel of land in the business district of a large city
very often has a different owner from the building on it.) Many cities have
moved to a system of taxing land more heavily than improvements, and most
have been pleased with the results, finding that landholders are more likely
to use their land productively -- to their own benefit and that of the public
-- if their taxes do not automatically go up when they improve their land
by constructing or maintaining buildings on it.
An advantage of this proposal in the eyes of many is that it is a Fabian
proposal, "evolution, not revolution," that it is incremental and
reversible. If a city or other jurisdiction does not like the results of
a two-level tax system, it can repeal the arrangement or reduce the difference
in levels with no great upheaval. It is not like some other proposals of
the form, "Distribute all wealth justly, and make me absolute dictator
of the world so that I can supervise the distribution, and if it doesn't
work, I promise to resign." The problem is that absolute dictators seldom
resign. ... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: The Structure of an Inquiry
into the Attractiveness of A Social Order Inspired by the Ideas of Henry
A. People own themselves and therefore own what they produce.
B. People have obligations to share equally the opportunities that are provided
C. People are free to interact with other competent adults on whatever terms
are mutually agreed.
D. People have obligations to pay the costs that their intrusive behaviors
impose on others. ... read the whole article
Ethical Land Tenure
I want to tell you the story of
Charles Avilla. A while back I came
across a book called Ownership, Early
Christian Teachings. Avilla was a divinity student in the
Phillipines. One of his professors had a great concern about poverty
conditions in the Phillipines, and was taking students out to prisons
where the cooks were the land rights revolutionaries in the
Phillipines. Because they kept pushing for land reform for the people,
they had ended up in jail. So they were political prisoners who were
reading the Bible and were asking the question, who did God give this earth to? Who does it
belong to? It isn't
in the Bible that so few should have so much and so many have so little.
In the theological world in this upscale seminary he was trying to put
this together about poverty and what the biblical teachings were. He
had a thesis to write and he was thinking he would do something about
economic justice. One of his professors thought there would be a wealth
of information from the church's early history, the first 300 years
after Jesus. So he actually went back to read the Latin and Greek about
land ownership and found a wealth of information about the prophetic
railings of the people in that early time on the rights of the land. ...
In the Judaic tradition, and the Talmudic tradition, how much of
Jubilee justice was actually implemented is a subject of discussion.
Some say it was a good idea but not put in place. Others say it was
substantially put into place.
The Talmudic rabinical discussion is of interest to Georgists
they tried to allocate the land according to the richness of the soil
for agriculture. For better soil, richer for agriculture, maybe an acre
of that would be allocated. On the poorer soil, these tribes could get
The other thing was some lands were closer to the market. Some
closer to Jerusalem. That is an advantage over those who would have to
travel a longer distance to get to the market. How do you have an equal
rights distribution of land allocation with reference to the market
problem? For those more advantageously situated, the adjustment was to
be made by money. Those holding land nearer the city should pay in to
the common treasury the estimated excess of value attaining to it by
reason of superior situation. While those holding land of less value by
reason of distance from the city would receive from the treasury a
money compensation. On the more valuable holdings would be imposed a
tax or a lease fee, the measure of which was the excess of their
respective values over a given standard, and the fund thus created was
to be paid out in due proportion to those whose holdings were in less
In this, then, we see affirmed
the doctrine that natural advantages are
common property and may not be diverted to private gain.
ages when wisdom is applied to land problems, we see this emerge
Read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Improving
Efficiency and Preventing Exploitation in Taxing and Spending Decisions
The principle of maximum individual liberty
does not address the question of how the rights to natural opportunities
(land, water, ocean fish, minerals, the frequency spectrum, etc.) should
assigned. There are at least three approaches within the classical liberal
tradition as to how these returns should be divided.
George Reisman advocates what might be called "conservative classical liberalism." This position
is that certainty in property rights is so valuable that one should never
ask whether unjustifiable violence was used in establishing the existing
pattern of control over natural opportunities.
Every natural opportunity belongs to whoever most recently succeeded in
establishing control over it.
Murray Rothbard, by contrast, took what might be called the "homesteading
libertarian" position. This is the position that when we can know
who first used a natural opportunity, it belongs to that person, or to
his or her successor in title through gift and exchange. All thefts from
victims with identifiable successors should be undone. When we cannot identify
the proper successor of the first user, the a thing belongs to whoever
is using it now, unless that person stole it, in which case it properly
belongs to whoever brings the thief to justice.
The third position, which might be called "geoliberalism" emerges from the work of Henry
George. This is the position that all persons have equal rights to natural
opportunities, which rights should be secured by having the public treasury
collect the rental value of exclusive access to land and other natural opportunities,
with the revenue used for public purposes and guaranteed incomes.
Of these three approaches, I find geoliberalism most attractive. It fits
my sense of justice that all persons should have equal rights to natural
opportunities. In addition, by providing funding for guaranteed incomes,
geoliberalism offers a greater prospect for removing more of the distorting
taxes that finance the welfare state. ... read the whole article
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where
do we go from here," that we honestly face the fact that the Movement
must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American
society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must
ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And
when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about
the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you
ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And
I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions
about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars
in life's market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice
which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must
be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this,
* you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?"
* You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?"
* You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water
bills in a world that is two thirds water?"
These are questions that must be asked. ... read
the book excerpt and whole speech