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THE way to secure equality is plain. It is not by dividing the land; it is by calling upon those who are allowed possession of pieces of land giving special advantage to pay to the whole community, the rest of the people, aye, and including themselves--to the whole people, a fair rent or premium for that privilege, and using the fund so obtained for the benefit of the whole people. What we would do would be to make the whole people the general landlord, to have whatever rent is paid for the use of land to go, not into the pockets of individual landlords, but into the treasury of the general community, where it could be used for the common benefit.

Henry George: The Land for the People

Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)

Nothing is clearer than that if we are all children of the universal Father, we are all entitled to the use of His bounty. No one dare deny that proposition. But the people who set their faces against its carrying out say, virtually: “Oh, yes! that is true; but it is impracticable to carry it into effect!” Just think of what this means. This is God’s world, and yet such people say that it is a world in which God’s justice, God’s will, cannot be carried into effect. What a monstrous absurdity, what a monstrous blasphemy!

If the loving God does reign, if His laws are the laws not merely of the physical, but of the moral universe, there must be a way of carrying His will into effect, there must be a way of doing equal justice to all of His creatures.

There is. The people who deny that there is any practical way of carrying into effect the perception that all human beings are equally children of the Creator shut their eyes to the plain and obvious way. It is, of course, impossible in a civilisation like this of ours to divide land up into equal pieces. Such a system might have done in a primitive state of society. We have progressed in civilisation beyond such rude devices, but we have not, nor can we, progress beyond God’s providence.

There is a way of securing the equal rights of all, not by dividing land up into equal pieces, but by taking for the use of all that value which attaches to land, not as the result of individual labour upon it, but as the result of the increase in population, and the improvement of society. In that way everyone would be equally interested in the land of one’s native country. Here is the simple way. It is a way that impresses the person who really sees its beauty with a more vivid idea of the beneficence of the providence of the All-Father than, it seems to me, does anything else.... Read the whole speech

Henry George:  The Irish Land Question (1881)
What seem to be considered the most radical propositions yet made are those for the creation of a "peasant proprietary" – the State to buy out the landlords and resell to the tenants, for annual payments extending over a term of years, and covering principal and interest. Waiving all practical difficulties, and they are very great, what could thus be accomplished? Nothing real and permanent. For not merely is this, too, but a partial measure, which could not improve the condition of the masses of the people or help those most needing help, but no sooner were the lands thus divided than a process of concentration would infallibly set in which would be all the more rapid from the fact that the new landholders would be heavily mortgaged. The tendency to concentration which has so steadily operated in Great Britain, and is so plainly showing itself in our new States, must operate in Ireland, and would immediately begin to weld together again the little patches of the newly created peasant proprietors. The tendency of the time is against peasant proprietorships; it is in everything to concentration, not to separation. The tendency which has wiped out the small landowners, the boasted yeomanry, of England – which in our new States is uniting the quarter-sections of preemption and homestead settlers into great farms of thousands of acres – is already too strong to be resisted, and is constantly becoming stronger and more penetrating. For it springs from the inventions and improvements and economies which are transforming modern industry – the same influences which are concentrating population in large cities, business into the hands of great houses, and for the blacksmith making his own nails or the weaver working his own loom substitute the factory of the great corporation.  ... read the whole article

Nic Tideman: The Constitutional Conflict Between Protecting Expectations and Moral Evolution
Constitutions must be amendable, to allow for the possibility of incorporating new moral insights into them. This impinges on the protection of expectations, including those regarded as property. Protection of property rights is achieved by constitutional restrictions on the ability of voters and legislators to reduce the value of property by regulation, taxation or expropriation. But such restrictions also prevent voters and legislatures from reflecting new moral insights in legislation, if those insights would reduce the value of property. There have been times in the past when moral development has compelled societies to change laws in ways that reduced the value of property (e.g., elimination of slavery). We cannot guarantee that there will be no future advances in our moral evolution that would require similar changes in laws, reducing or eliminating the value of what we now consider property. Looking forward to the possibility of such moral advances, we should design constitutions that permit amendments to reflect new moral insights, while prohibiting legislators (or voters in referenda) from passing laws that redistribute in ways not explicitly sanctioned by the constitution.

1. The Possibility of New Moral Insights that Necessitate Redistribution
2. Assigning the Costs of Moral Accidents
3. The Possibility of a Right of Secession
4. The Complementary Right of Equal Access to Natural Opportunities
5. Power, Population and Process ...  Read the whole article

Jeff Smith: What the Left Must Do: Share the Surplus
Given the collateral damage by most taxes, the Left must make clear that the extra income is to come not from taxes upon people’s legitimate earnings but from rent, making it a social salary from society’s surplus. While opponents will cry “redistribution”, the Left can point out that sharing the commonwealth is actually “predistribution.” Acting like a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) for the public, government would merely recover and disburse rents before the elite or their friendly politicians have a chance to misspend society’s surplus. Read the whole article

Henry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
... We say that all the social difficulties we see here, all the social difficulties that exist in England or Scotland, all the social difficulties that are growing up in the United States--
  • the lowness of wages,
  • the scarcity of employment,
  • the fact that though labor is the producer of wealth, yet everywhere the laboring class is the poor class
--are all due to one great primary wrong, that wrong which makes the natural element necessary to all, the natural element that was made by the Creator for the use of all, the property of some of the people, that great wrong that in every civilized country disinherited the mass of men of the bounty of their Creator. What we aim at is not the increase in the number of a privileged class, not making some thousands of earth owners into some more thousands. No, no; what we aim at is to secure the natural and God-given right to the humblest in the community--to secure to every child born in Ireland, or in any other country, his natural right to the equal use of his native land.

How can we secure that? We cannot secure it by dividing the land up equally, by giving each man or each family an equal piece. That is a device that might suit a rude community, provided that, as under the Mosaic code, those equal pieces be made unalienable, so that they could never be sold away from the family. But under our modern civilization where industry is complex, where land in some places is very valuable and in other places of but little value, where it is constantly changing in relative value, the equal division of the land could not secure equality.

THE way to secure equality is plain. It is not by dividing the land; it is by calling upon those who are allowed possession of pieces of land giving special advantage to pay to the whole community, the rest of the people, aye, and including themselves--to the whole people, a fair rent or premium for that privilege, and using the fund so obtained for the benefit of the whole people. What we would do would be to make the whole people the general landlord, to have whatever rent is paid for the use of land to go, not into the pockets of individual landlords, but into the treasury of the general community, where it could be used for the common benefit.

Now, rent is a natural and just thing. For instance, if we in this room were to go together to a new country and we were to agree that we should settle in that new country on equal terms, how could we divide the land up in such a way as to insure and to continue equality? If it were proposed that we should divide it up into equal pieces, there would be in the first place this objection, that in our division we would not fully know the character of the land; one man would get a more valuable piece than the other. Then as time passed the value of different pieces of land would change, and further than that if we were once to make a division and then allow full and absolute ownership of the land, inequality would come up in the succeeding generation. One man would be thriftless, another man, on the contrary, would be extremely keen in saving and pushing; one man would be unfortunate and another man more fortunate; and so on. In a little while many of these people would have parted with their land to others, so that their children coming after them into the world would have no land. The only fair way would be this -- that any man among us should be at liberty to take up any piece of land, and use it, that no one else wanted to use; that where more than one man wanted to use the same piece of land, the man who did use it should pay a premium which, going into a common fund and being used for the benefit of all, would put everybody upon a plane of equality. That would be the ideal way of dividing up the land of a new country.

THE problem is how to apply that to an old country. True we are confronted with this fact all over the civilized world that a certain class have got possession of the land, and want to hold it. Now one of your distinguished leaders, Mr. Parnell in his Drogheda speech some years ago, said there were only two ways of getting the land for the people. One way was to buy it; the other was to fight for it. I do not think that is true. I think that Mr. Parnell overlooked at that time a most important third way, and that is the way we advocate.

That is what we propose by what we call the single tax. We propose to abolish all taxes for revenue. In place of all the taxes that are now levied, to impose one single tax, and that a tax upon the value of land. Mark me, upon the value of land alone -- not upon the value of improvements, not upon the value of what the exercise of labor has done to make land valuable, that belongs to the individual; but upon the value of the land itself, irrespective of the improvements, so that an acre of land that has not been improved will pay as much tax as an acre of like land that has been improved. So that in a town a house site on which there is no building shall be called upon to pay just as much tax as a house site on which there is a house. Read the whole speech

Henry George: Justice the Object -- Taxation the Means (1890)

We used to be confronted constantly by the question: "Well, after you have divided the land up, how do you propose to keep it divided?" We don't meet that question now. The Single Tax has, at least, this great merit: it suggests our method; it shows the way we would travel — the simple way of abolishing all taxes, save one tax upon land values. Now, mark: One tax upon land values.

We do not propose a tax upon land, as people who misapprehend us constantly say. We do not propose a tax upon land; we propose a tax upon land values, or what in the terminology of political economy is termed rent; that is to say, the value which attaches to land irrespective of any improvements — in or on it; that value which attaches to land, not by reason of anything that the user or improver of land does — not by reason of any individual exertion of labour, but by reason of the growth and improvement of the community. A tax that will take up what John Stuart Mill called the unearned increment; that is to say, that increment of wealth which comes to the owner of land, not as a user; that comes whether he be a resident or an absentee; whether he be engaged in the active business of life; whether he be an idiot and whether he be a child; that growth of value that we have seen in our own times so astonishingly great in this city; that has made sand lots, lying in the same condition that they were thousands of years ago, worth enormous sums, without anyone putting any exertion of labour or any expenditure of capital upon them.

Now, the distinction between a tax on land and a tax on land values may at first seem an idle one, but it is a most important one. A tax on land that is to say, a tax upon all land — would ultimately become a condition to the use of land; would therefore fall upon labour, would increase prices, and be borne by the general community. But a tax on land values cannot fall on all land, because all land is not of value; it can only fall on valuable land, and on valuable land in proportion to its value; therefore, it can no more become a tax on labour than can a tax upon the value of special privileges of any kind. It can merely take from the individual, not the earnings of the individual, but that premium which, as society grows and improves, attaches to the use of land of superior quality.    Read the entire article

Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
The focus of Henry George’s inquiry, and of his disciples, is the pursuit of justice. Economic justice is an agenda which ecological economists also subscribe to, even though their immediate focus is concern about the earth’s survival at all, let alone the distribution of its fruits. Here, however, is where the Georgist tradition is able to contribute most to the environmental justice program. There is a broad appreciation, particularly among ecological economists that have worked in poorer nations, that natural resources are endangered every bit as much by the scarcity of basic necessities as by overpopulation. Urban elites usurp high value lands and retain land rents growing out of their production; poor people are marginalized and left to fend for themselves. They often survive by taking what little environmental resources are left on ravaged land sites, further reducing the resiliency of these local ecologies. Collection and redistribution of land rents, either in the form of public services or in the form of a citizens’ dividends, offers a way to restore equity without redistribution of land titles and without all the dislocations this might entail. Many third world leaders at the present time see solutions to poverty and economic inequality in the redistribution of land titles. Georgists argue that this is not necessary; all that is necessary is to recover the land rent and assure its equitable distribution to rightful claimants.  ... read the whole article


Nic Tideman: Being Just While Conceptions of Justice are Changing: 7 Cases

Case 4. There is an agricultural society in which land is initially redivided equally each year among all adults. Then a band of marauders invades and claims ownership of all land by right of conquest. The marauders form a ruling oligarchy and create tradable land titles, which they parcel out equally among themselves. The original inhabitants are allowed to continue to use most of the land in exchange for payments of rent. They are also allowed to buy land. Two generations later, the softer descendants of the marauders succumb to pressures to implement a democracy. At a time when 90% of the land is in the hands of descendants of the marauders, a democratically elected parliament implements a tax of 100% of the rental value of land.

For this case, the descendants of the marauders have no claims to compensation. Those who bought land from the marauders or their descendants have respectable claims against the sellers, as in Case 3. But such claims cannot always be satisfied. A profligate son of a marauder may have sold all the land he inherited, spent the proceeds on high living and died penniless, leaving nothing to his heirs. If there is no reason why some buyers of land should be compensated but not others, and if there are substantial fortunes that can be identified as the products of land sales, then it may be sensible to have an aggregate compensation scheme, in which all persons who sold land, and their heirs, are required to compensate all persons who had purchased land.

Case 5. Land has been privately owned and rather equally distributed since time immemorial. One day people suddenly realize that land should be regarded as the heritage of all citizens.

The new realization entails redistribution from current citizens to future ones. It cannot be achieved without making current citizens worse off. Virtually all current citizens have participated in the past legitimization of private ownership of land by buying and selling land titles. But there is no realistic possibility of identifying how much of the assets of any person were derived from appropriations and sales of land.

In these circumstances, there may be no class of individuals who can reasonably be called upon to finance compensation. Financing compensation by either a tax on wages or a capital levy could only be justified by a high correlation between the tax base and unjust enrichment under the previous order. It may be most appropriate to simply allow losses from the new understanding to lie where they fall and handle any resulting case of true distress by whatever system is used to care for other persons who are not able to provide for themselves.

If, despite the difficulties, a compensation scheme were implemented, it would at least be possible to reduce claims for compensation by the amounts of claimants' past gains from rises in the price of land. A person who has been the beneficiary of a rise in land values because of population growth and expansion of public services cannot reasonably complain if subsequent moral development eliminates those gains.

Case 6. This is a variation on case 5, where the recognition that equal access to land should be a birthright occurs gradually, over decades. As the recognition develops momentum, the price of land begins to fall because people believe that if it succeeds, land may have no sale value and there may be no compensation. After 30 years of public debate, the movement has achieved the degree of acceptance necessary to implement a constitutional amendment that will cement the new understanding. The only question that remains to be decided is what compensation, if any, will be granted to people for the loss of sale value of their land.

Here, whatever strength there may have been to the claim for compensation is attenuated by the discounted transactions. Anyone who knows that the price of an asset that he or she buys is lower because of the possibility that a new understanding of justice will prevail has a hard time arguing for compensation once it does prevail. It should be noted that in this case the attenuation does not apply to the claims of those who hold land throughout the period of discounting.

Case 7. This is a variation on case 6, where there are initially substantial taxes on labor and capital. The proposal that is put forward entails removing from labor and capital taxes that yield revenue equal to the revenue that can be raised by collecting the full rental value of land.

For this case, compensation has all the difficulties of Case 6. But if there is to be a compensation scheme, the magnitude of any claim for compensation can be reduced by the claimant's expected savings in future taxes on labor and capital. ... read the whole article


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

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

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

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

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

  • A second possible justification of public spending is majoritarianism: Once we have voted we know the right thing to do. The possibility of majority-rule cycles undermines the simple-minded version of majoritarianism that says that the majority is always right. Still, it would be possible to assert that majorities should have their way when cycles are not observed, and that when they are observed, some device for cutting through cycles can restore the viability of majoritarianism. However, that would give free rein to any majority to exploit any minority. That makes no sense as a theory of justice. One could assert that voters, acting as judges of what is best rather than as self-interested advocates, have a claim to determine in a majoritarian fashion what a collectivity ought to do. But then one still needs a theory of the principles by which the voters ought to judge.
  • A third possible justification of public spending is egalitarianism: People should be required to provide as much for others as they have themselves. This theory suffers from the difficulties of vagueness and questionable operationality. As much what? There is no way to ensure that all persons will have equal quantities of such valued things as affection, talent or self-confidence. It is possible to imagine a crude egalitarianism of goods, but only by eliminating all incentives to be productive. If equality is traded off against some other goal, then egalitarianism is no longer the first principle.

Rawls manages to retain the primacy of egalitarianism without destroying all incentives to be productive by the maximin rule: Laws should be designed to maximize the well-being of the least advantaged person. This formulation, however, generates such anomalies as the following: If there are three persons, and the choice is either a distribution of $10,000, $12,000 and $50,0000, or a distribution of $10,001, $10,002 and $80,000, the maximin rule will select the latter, despite the fact that it makes the middle income person, who is already relatively poor, even poorer while making the richest person noticeably richer. In Rawls's particular formulation there is a further difficulty. He makes the maximin rule lexically subordinate to the rule that all persons should have the maximum individual liberty that all can have. However, he does not deal with the following problem: My individual liberty will be unnecessarily restricted if I am not allowed to sing you a song in exchange for a haircut (without being taxed), but if I am allowed to do so without being taxed, the maximin rule is not satisfied. If Rawls really does mean to put individual liberty lexically first, no redistributive income taxes would be permitted. ... read the whole article

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Where Do We Go From Here?

While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development.

  • Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy.
  • Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions.
  • Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies.

At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing -- they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual's abilities and talents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber. ... read the entire book excerpt and speech

Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place

One might expect such arguments to have led to the advocacy of land nationalisation. But George thought this unnecessary because a tax on land could be effective in capturing the economic surplus arising from land ownership. This tax would generate all the revenue necessary to fund public expenditures. George thought that such a land tax would permit the removal of other taxes on labour and capital, which he regarded as inherently inefficient. He argued that taxes on incomes, sales, and payrolls, for example, acted as disincentives to production and active endeavour, thereby stifling economic growth and creating a barrier to full employment. A land tax, by contrast, would be both economically efficient and more equitable in its distributional effects.

George’s advocacy of replacing all existing taxes with a single tax on land values was powerful. He argued that this tax would redistribute the wealth that would otherwise accrue to private landowners, forcing them to repay the community for their exclusive use of a public resource. Moreover, such redistribution would reduce wealth inequalities and allow massive improvements in welfare provisions and public services. In addition, removing taxes on labour and capital would boost economic growth and provide a stimulus to employment. Conversely, taxing land values would reduce speculation in land and depress land prices, allowing greater access to landownership while reducing economic instability. ... read the whole article


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