Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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Prolonged Adolescence

Have you thought about the implications of it being harder and harder, decade by decade, for our young people to get a start in life? In families where there is sufficient income, they continue to live with their parents well into their 20s, returning home after college, and their families of origin may keep homes large enough to house them and their spouses and children, just in case careers fail. Parents may help with down payments on homes, or help pay their rent.

In families where money is scarce, one's opportunities are very different, and one's hopes may be a good deal lower.

What is it we say about living in a nation dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal? How can we make that real in the world of the 21st century? I submit that we must start with Henry George's Remedy: make land common property. Yes, I know what Clarence Darrow said: “The “single tax” is so simple, so fundamental, and so easy to carry into effect that I have no doubt that it will be about the last reform the world will ever get. People in this world are not often logical.”

What kind of society do we want to leave our children and grandchildren? Do we love them enough to work to create it?

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

What is it that in England restrains the early marriages of the poor and industrious classes of men? Alas! not the Marriage Act but a system of institutions more difficult to be reformed; establishing in a few hands that monopoly of land by which the improvable as well as the improved value of the soil is engrossed. It is this which chiefly occasions the difficulty of their finding early and comfortable settlements in life, and so prevents the consent of parents from being given before the legal age. It is this difficulty which even after that age is passed still withholds the consent of parents, restrains the inclinations of the parties themselves, and keeps so great a number of the lower classes unmarried to their thirtieth or fortieth years, perhaps for their whole lives. ... Read the entire essay

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 12. Effect of Remedy Upon Various Economic Classes (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX: Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 3. Of the effect upon individuals and classes)

When it is first proposed to put all taxes upon the value of land, all landholders are likely to take the alarm, and there will not be wanting appeals to the fears of small farm and homestead owners, who will be told that this is a proposition to rob them of their hard-earned property. But a moment's reflection will show that this proposition should commend itself to all whose interests as landholders do not largely exceed their interests as laborers or capitalists, or both. And further consideration will show that though the large landholders may lose relatively, yet even in their case there will be an absolute gain. For, the increase in production will be so great that labor and capital will gain very much more than will be lost to private landownership, while in these gains, and in the greater ones involved in a more healthy social condition, the whole community, including the landowners themselves, will share.

  • It is manifest, of course, that the change I propose will greatly benefit all those who live by wages, whether of hand or of head -- laborers, operatives, mechanics, clerks, professional men of all sorts.
  • It is manifest, also, that it will benefit all those who live partly by wages and partly by the earnings of their capital -- storekeepers, merchants, manufacturers, employing or undertaking producers and exchangers of all sorts from the peddler or drayman to the railroad or steamship owner -- and
  • it is likewise manifest that it will increase the incomes of those whose incomes are drawn from the earnings of capital.

Take, now, the case of the homestead owner -- the mechanic, storekeeper, or professional man who has secured himself a house and lot, where he lives, and which he contemplates with satisfaction as a place from which his family cannot be ejected in case of his death. He will not be injured; on the contrary, he will be the gainer. The selling value of his lot will diminish -- theoretically it will entirely disappear. But its usefulness to him will not disappear. It will serve his purpose as well as ever. While, as the value of all other lots will diminish or disappear in the same ratio, he retains the same security of always having a lot that he had before. That is to say, he is a loser only as the man who has bought himself a pair of boots may be said to be a loser by a subsequent fall in the price of boots. His boots will be just as useful to him, and the next pair of boots he can get cheaper. So, to the homestead owner, his lot will be as useful, and should he look forward to getting a larger lot, or having his children, as they grow up, get homesteads of their own, he will, even in the matter of lots, be the gainer. And in the present, other things considered, he will be much the gainer. For though he will have more taxes to pay upon his land, he will be released from taxes upon his house and improvements, upon his furniture and personal property, upon all that he and his family eat, drink and wear, while his earnings will be largely increased by the rise of wages, the constant employment, and the increased briskness of trade. His only loss will be, if he wants to sell his lot without getting another, and this will be a small loss compared with the great gain. ... read the whole chapter

William F. Buckley, Jr.: Home Dear Home

The real estate boom is a familiar phenomenon. Most people are predicting that it will, if not burst, at least wilt. But the basic components aren't going to change, not unless we have a catastrophe of sorts, something economists don't feel obliged to integrate into their speculations.

The components are:

  • a relatively wealthy community;
  • the hard desire to own one's own house, along with the ambition to make it more and more comfortable and pleasing;
  • the dependence of building sites on immediate amenities (sewage, power); and
  • strategic sources of nourishment (jobs).

The convenience of infinitely available land faded as urbanization brought on heavy dependence on elements that weren't always available to homes on the range. Schools and hospitals are not only useful for educating children and curing the infirm. They are necessary to attract affluent home buyers.

Jon Gertner, writing for The New York Times Magazine, gives a useful account of the home-building industry. Here are some basic indices.

  • We have 34 million rented apartments at this point and 74 million owner-occupied homes.
  • The pool is being fed
    • by immigrants seeking houses,
    • by children growing and seeking their own homes, and
    • by the elderly wanting a second house in which to vacation or retire.
  • The home-building industry has constructed about 13.5 million single-family homes since the mid-1990s.

So why is the cost of housing so high?

We learn that the average new house nationwide now sells for nearly $300,000. The writer tells us, "I asked (a builder) what our children -- my kids are both under 8, I told him -- would be paying when they're ready to buy.

"'They're going to live with us until they're 40,' (the builder) said matter-of-factly. 'And when they have their second kid, then we'll finally kick them out and make them pay for the house that we paid for. And that house will cost them 45 to 50 percent of their income.'" ...

Henry George, the eminent social philosopher of a century ago, turned the attention of planners and economists, however briefly, to the indefeasible factor of land scarcity. Capital and labor can increase; land cannot.

Accordingly, George was the apostle of the single tax. It aimed most directly at land speculators. ... read the whole column



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