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Theodore Roosevelt

(1858-1919; president from 1901-1909)

The burden of municipal taxation should be so shifted as to put the weight ... upon the unearned rise in value of the land itself, rather than upon the improvements, the buildings; the effort being to prevent the undue rise of rent."

— Theodore Roosevelt, Politics and People: The Ordeal of Self-Government in America, p. 549.


excerpts from
"We Stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord"
August 6, 1912, Chicago, Illinois

To you, men and women who have come here to this great city of this great State formally to launch a new party, a party of the people of the whole Union, the National Progressive Party, I extend my hearty greeting. You are taking a bold and a greatly needed step for the service of our beloved country. The old parties are husks, with no real soul within either, divided on artificial lines, boss-ridden and privilege-controlled, each a jumble of incongruous elements, and neither daring to speak out wisely and fearlessly what should be said on the vital issues of the day. This new movement is a movement of truth, sincerity, and wisdom, a movement which proposes to put at the service of all our people the collective power of the people, through their Governmental agencies, alike in the Nation and in the several States. We propose boldly to face the real and great questions of the day, and not skillfully to evade them as do the old parties. We propose to raise aloft a standard to which all honest men can repair, and under which all can fight, no matter what their past political differences, if they are content to face the future and no longer to dwell among the dead issues of the past. We propose to put forth a platform which shall not be a platform of the ordinary and insincere kind, but shall be a contract with the people; and, if the people accept this contract by putting us in power, we shall hold ourselves under honorable obligation to fulfill every promise it contains as loyally as if it were actually enforceable under the penalties of the law. ...


There is no body of our people whose interests are more inextricably interwoven with the interests of all the people than is the case with the farmers. The Country Life Commission should be revived with greatly increased powers; its abandonment was a severe blow to the interests of our people. The welfare of the farmer is a basic need of this Nation. It is the men from the farm who in the past have taken the lead in every great movement within this Nation, whether in time of war or in time of peace. It is well to have our cities prosper, but it is not well if they prosper at the expense of the country. I am glad to say that in many sections of our country there has been an extraordinary revival of recent years in intelligent interest in and work for those who live in the open country. In this movement the lead must be taken by the farmers themselves; but our people as a whole, through their governmental agencies, should back the farmers. Everything possible should be done to better the economic condition of the farmer, and also to increase the social value of the life of the farmer, the farmer's wife, and their children. The burdens of labor and loneliness bear heavily on the women in the country; their welfare should be the especial concern of all of us. Everything possible should be done to make life in the country profitable so as to be attractive from the economic standpoint and also to give an outlet among farming people for those forms of activity which now tend to make life in the cities especially desirable for ambitious men and women. There should be just the same chance to live as full, as well-rounded, and as highly useful lives in the country as in the city.

The Government must co-operate with the farmer to make the farm more productive. There must be no skinning of the soil. The farm should be left to the farmer's soil in better, and not worse, condition because of its cultivation. Moreover, every invention and improvement, every discovery and economy, should be at the service of the farmer in the work of production; and, in addition, he should be helped to co-operate in business fashion with his fellows, so that the money paid by the consumer for the product of the soil shall to as large a degree as possible go into the pockets of the man who raised that product from the soil. So long as the farmer leaves co-operative activities with their profit-sharing to the city man of business, so long will the foundations of wealth be undermined and the comforts of enlightenment be impossible in the country communities. In every respect this Nation has to learn the lessons of efficiency in production and distribution, and of avoidance of waste and destruction; we must develop and improve instead of exhausting our resources. It is entirely possible by improvements in production, in the avoidance of waste, and in business methods on the part of the farmer to give him all increased income from his farm while at the same time reducing to the consumer the price of the articles raised on the farm. Important although education is everywhere, it has a special importance in the country. The country school must fit the country life; in the country, as elsewhere, education must be hitched up with life. The country church and the country Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations have great parts to play. The farmers must own and work their own land; steps must be taken at once to put a stop to the tendency towards absentee landlordism and tenant farming; this is one of the most imperative duties confronting the Nation. The question of rural banking and rural credits is also of immediate importance. ...


There can be no more important question than the high cost of living necessities. The main purpose of the Progressive movement is to place the American people in possession of their birthright, to secure for all the American people unobstructed access to the fountains of measureless prosperity which their Creator offers them. We in this country are blessed with great natural resources, and our men and women have a very high standard of intelligence and of industrial capacity. Surely such being the case, we cannot permanently support conditions under which each family finds it increasingly difficult to secure the necessaries of life and a fair share of its comforts through the earnings of its members. The cost of living in this country has risen during the last few years out of all proportion to the increase in the rate of most salaries and wages; the same situation confronts alike the majority of wage-workers, small business men, small professional men, the clerks, the doctors, clergymen. Now, grave though the problem is, there is one way to make it graver, and that is to deal with it insincerely, to advance false remedies, to promise the impossible. Our opponents, Republicans and Democrats alike, propose to deal with it in this way. The Republicans in their platform promise all inquiry into the facts. Most certainly there should be such inquiry. But the way the present Administration has failed to keep its promises in the past, and the rank dishonesty of action on the part of the Penrose-Barnes-Guggenheim National Convention, makes their every promise worthless. The Democratic platform affects to find the entire cause of the high cost of living in the tariff, and promises to remedy it by free trade, especially free trade in the necessaries of life. In the first place, this attitude ignores the patent fact that the problem is world-wide, that everywhere, in England and France, as in Germany and Japan, it appears with greater or less severity; that in England, for instance, it has become a very severe problem, although neither the tariff nor, save to a small degree, the trusts can there have any possible effect upon the situation. In the second place, the Democratic platform, if it is sincere, must mean that all duties will be taken off the products of the farmer. Yet most certainly we cannot afford to have the farmer struck down. The welfare of the tiller of the soil is as important as the welfare of the wage worker himself, and we must sedulously guard both. The farmer, the producer of the necessities of life, can himself live only if he raises these necessities for a profit. On the other hand, the consumer who must have that farmer's product in order to live, must be allowed to purchase it at the lowest cost that can give the farmer his profit, and everything possible must be done to eliminate any middleman whose function does not tend to increase the cheapness of distribution of the product; and, moreover, everything must be done to stop all speculating, all gambling with the bread-basket which has even the slightest deleterious effect upon the producer and consumer. There must be legislation which will bring about a closer business relationship between the farmer and the consumer. Recently experts in the Agricultural Department have figured that nearly fifty per cent of the price for agricultural products paid by the consumer goes into the pockets, not of the farmer, but of various middlemen; and it is probable that over half of what is thus paid to middlemen is needless, can be saved by wise business methods (introduced through both law and custom), and can therefore be returned to the farmer and the consumer. Through the proposed Inter-State Industrial Commission we can effectively do away with any arbitrary control by combinations of the necessities of life. Furthermore, the Governments of the Nation and of the several States must combine in doing everything they can to make the farming business profitable, so that he shall get more out of the soil, and enjoy better business facilities for marketing what he thus gets. In this manner his return will be increased while the price to the consumer is diminished. The elimination of the middleman by agricultural exchanges and by the use of improved business methods generally, the development of good roads, the reclamation of arid lands and swamp lands, the improvement in the productivity of farms, the encouragement of all agencies which tend to bring people back to the soil and to make country life more interesting as well as more profitable — all these movements will help not only the farmer but the man who consumes the farmer's products.

There is urgent need of non-partisan expert examination into any tariff schedule which seems to increase the cost of living, and, unless the increase thus caused is more than countervailed by the benefit to the class of the community which actually receives the protection, it must of course mean that that particular duty must be reduced. The system of levying a tariff for the protection and encouragement of American industry so as to secure higher wages and better conditions of life for American laborers must never be perverted so as to operate for the impoverishment of those whom it was intended to benefit. But, in any event, the effect of the tariff on the cost of living is slight; any householder can satisfy himself of this fact by considering the increase in price of articles, like milk and eggs, where the influence of both the tariff and the trusts is negligible. No conditions have been shown which warrant us in believing that the abolition of the protective tariff as a whole would bring any substantial benefit to the consumer, while it would certainly cause unheard of immediate disaster to all wage-workers, all business men, and all farmers, and in all probability would permanently lower the standard of living here. In order to show the utter futility of the belief that the abolition of the tariff and the establishment of free trade would remedy the condition complained of, all that is necessary is to look at the course of industrial events in England and in Germany during the last thirty years, the former under free trade, the latter under a protective system. During these thirty years it is a matter of common knowledge that Germany has forged ahead relatively to England, and this not only as regards the employers, but as regards the wage-earners — in short, as regards all members of the industrial classes. Doubtless, many causes have combined to produce this result; it is not to be ascribed to the tariff alone, but, on the other hand it is evident that it could not have come about if a protective tariff were even a chief cause among many other causes of the high cost of living.

It is also asserted that the trusts are responsible for the high cost of living. I have no question that, as regards certain trusts, this is true. I also have no question that it will continue to be true just as long as the country confines itself to acting as the Baltimore platform demands that we act. This demand is, in effect, for the States and National Government to make the futile attempt to exercise forty-nine sovereign and conflicting authorities in the effort jointly to suppress the trusts, while at the same time the National Government refuses to exercise proper control over them. There will be no diminution in the cost of trust-made articles so long as our Government attempts the impossible task of restoring the flint-lock conditions of business sixty years ago by trusting only to a succession of lawsuits under the Anti-Trust Law — a method which it has been definitely shown usually results to the benefit of any big business concern which really ought to be dissolved, but which cause disturbance and distress to multitudes of smaller concerns. Trusts which increase production — unless they do it wastefully, as in certain forms of mining and lumbering — cannot permanently increase the cost of living; it is the trusts which limit production, or which without limiting production, take advantage of the lack of governmental control, and eliminate competition by combining to control the market, that cause all increase in the cost of living. There should be established at once, as I have elsewhere said, under the National Government an inter-State industrial commission, which should exercise full supervision over the big industrial concerns doing an inter-State business into which an element of monopoly enters. Where these concerns deal with the necessaries of life the commission should not shrink, if the necessity is proved, of going to the extent of exercising regulatory control over the conditions that create or determine monopoly prices.

By such action we shall certainly be able to remove the element of contributory causation on the part of the trusts and the tariff towards the high cost of living. There will remain many other elements. Wrong taxation, including failure to tax swollen inheritances and unused land and other natural resources held for speculative purposes, is one of these elements. The modern tendency to leave the country for the town is another element; and exhaustion of the soil and poor methods of raising and marketing the products of the soil make up another element, as I have already shown. Another element is that of waste and extravagance, individual and National. No laws which the wit of man can devise will avail to make the community prosperous if the average individual lives in such fashion that his expenditure always exceeds his income.

National extravagance — that is, the expenditure of money which is not warranted — we can ourselves control, and to some degree we can help in doing away with the extravagance caused by international rivalries.

These are all definite methods by which something can be accomplished in the direction of decreasing the cost of living. All taken together will not fully meet the situation. There are in it elements which as yet we do not understand. We can be certain that the remedy proposed by the Democratic party is a quack remedy. It is just as emphatically a quack remedy as was the quack remedy, the panacea, the universal cure-all which they proposed sixteen years ago. It is instructive to compare what they now say with what they said in 1896. Only sixteen years ago they were telling us that the decrease in prices was fatal to our people, that the fall in the production of gold, and, as a consequence, the fall in the prices of commodities, was responsible for our ills. Now they ascribe these ills to diametrically opposite causes, such as the rise in the price of commodities. It may well be that the immense output of gold during the last few years is partly responsible for certain phases of the present trouble — which is an instructive commentary on the wisdom of those men who sixteen years ago insisted that the remedy for everything was to be found in the mere additional output of coin, silver and gold alike. There is no more curious delusion than that the Democratic platform is a Progressive platform. The Democratic platform, representing the best thought of the acknowledged Democratic leaders at Baltimore, is purely retrogressive and reactionary. There is no progress in it. It represents an effort to go back; to put this Nation of a hundred millions, existing under modern conditions, back to where it was as a Nation of twenty-five millions in the days of the stage-coach and canal boat. Such an attitude is toryism, not Progressivism.

In addition, then, to the remedies that we can begin forthwith, there should be a fearless, intelligent, and searching inquiry into the whole subject made by an absolutely non-partisan body of experts, with no prejudices to warp their minds, no object to serve, who shall recommend any necessary remedy, heedless of what interest may be helped or hurt thereby, and caring only for the interests of the people as a whole. ...


There can be no greater issue than that of Conservation in this country. Just as we must conserve our men, women, and children, so we must conserve the resources of the land on which they live. We must conserve the soil so that our children shall have a land that is more and not less fertile than that our fathers dwelt in. We must conserve the forests, not by disuse but by use, making them more valuable at the same time that we use them. We must conserve the mines. Moreover, we must insure so far as possible the use of certain types of great natural resources for the benefit of the people as a whole. The public should not alienate its fee in the water power which will be of incalculable consequence as a source of power in the immediate future. The Nation and the States within their several spheres should by immediate legislation keep the fee of the water power, leasing its use only for a reasonable length of time on terms that will secure the interests of the public. Just as the Nation has gone into the work of irrigation in the West, so it should go into the work of helping reclaim the swamp lands of the South. We should undertake the complete development and control of the Mississippi as a National work, just as we have undertaken the work of building the Panama Canal. We can use the plant, and we call use the human experience, left free by the completion of the Panama Canal in so developing the Mississippi as to make it a mighty highroad of commerce, and a source of fructification and not of death to the rich and fertile lands lying along its lower length.

In the West, the forests, the grazing lands, the reserves of every kind, should be so handled as to be in the interests of the actual settler, the actual home-maker. He should be encouraged to use them at once, but in such a way as to preserve and not exhaust them. We do not intend that our natural resources shall be exploited by the few against the interests of the many, nor do we intend to turn them over to any man who will wastefully use them by destruction, and leave to those who come after us a heritage damaged by just so much. The man in whose interests we are working is the small farmer and settler, the man who works with his own hands, who is working not only for himself but for his children, and who wishes to leave to them the fruits of his labor. His permanent welfare is the prime factor for consideration in developing the policy of Conservation; for our aim is to preserve our natural resources for the public as a whole, for the average man and the average woman who make up the body of the American people.


Alaska should be developed at once, but in the interest of the actual settler. In Alaska the Government has an opportunity of starting in what is almost a fresh field to work out various problems by actual experiment. The Government should at once construct, own, and operate the railways in Alaska. The Government should keep the fee of all the coal-fields and allow them to be operated by lessees with the condition in the lease that non-use shall operate as a forfeit. Telegraph lines should be operated as the railways are. Moreover, it would be well in Alaska to try a system of land taxation which will, so far as possible, remove all the burdens from those who actually use the land, whether for building or for agricultural purposes, and will operate against any man who holds the land for speculation, or derives an income from it based, not on his own exertions, but on the increase in value due to activities not his own. There is very real need that this Nation shall seriously prepare itself for the task of remedying social injustice and meeting social problems by well-considered governmental effort; and the best preparation for such wise action is to test by actual experiment under favorable conditions the device which we have reason to believe will work well, but which it is difficult to apply in old settled communities without preliminary experiment. ...

Surely there never was a fight better worth making than the one in which we are engaged. It little matters what befalls any one of us who for the time being stand in the forefront of the battle. I hope we shall win, and I believe that if we can wake the people to what the fight really means we shall win. But, win or lose, we shall not falter. Whatever fate may at the moment overtake any of us, the movement itself will not stop. Our cause is based on the eternal principles of righteousness; and even though we who now lead may for the time fail, in the end the cause itself shall triumph. Six weeks ago, here in Chicago, I spoke to the honest representatives of a Convention which was not dominated by honest men; a Convention wherein sat, alas! a majority of men who, with sneering indifference to every principle of right, so acted as to bring to a shameful end a party which had been founded over half a century ago by men in whose souls burned the fire of lofty endeavor. Now to you men, who, in your turn, have corne together to spend and be spent in the endless crusade against wrong, to you who face the future resolute and confident, to you who strive in a spirit of brotherhood for the betterment of our Nation, to you who gird yourselves for this great new fight in the never-ending warfare for the good of humankind, I say in closing what in that speech I said in closing: We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.

Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics

Living within the laws of nature would seem to be axiomatic in the development of any ethical system, and it is a mark of degree that our ethics have so ignored such realities that a corrective is called for. Only in 1967 Professor Lynn White noted in a now famous article how much the Judeo-Christian tradition has been used to explain and justify practices of exploitation and domination of our natural environment.99 Mistaken or not, this view of man’s place in nature is generally accepted as conventional wisdom throughout western culture. The ecology movement constitutes a revolutionary and very unsettling outlook to this prevailing view, a radical shift in thinking from even mainstream environmentalism and conservation ethics half a century ago. In this view other species, both plants and animals, are as much entitled to life and well being as is homo sapiens. Theodore Roosevelt a century ago could never have subscribed to the views of contemporary environmental ethicists, as much of a conservationist as he was. The earliest clear manifestation of modern thinking at least in western thought appears to be Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, a work only published in 1949!100 Ecological economists accept this so much as given — that human beings are of the earth and its bio-system rather than on the earth to dominate it — that further refinement of this basic orientation is almost beside the point. This was simply prudent care and planning to Leopold; he fully recognized our total dependence upon nature. ... read the whole article
Theodore Roosevelt, Politics and People: The Ordeal of Self-Government in America, p. 549:

We believe that great fortunes, even when accumulated by the man himself, are of limited benefit to the country, and that they are detrimental rather than beneficial when secured through inheritance, We therefore believe in a heavily progressive inheritance tax — a tax which shall bear very lightly on small or ordinary inheritances, but which shall bear very heavily upon all inheritances of colossal size. We believe in a heavily graded income tax, along the same lines, but discriminating sharply in favor of earned, as compared with unearned, incomes.

It would be needless and burdensome to set forth in detail all the matters, national, State, and municipal, to which we would apply our principles. We believe that municipalities should have complete self-government as regards all the affairs that are exclusively their own, including the important matter of taxation, and that the burden of municipal taxation should be so shifted as to put the weight of land taxation upon the unearned rise in value of the land itself rather than upon the improvements, the buildings; the effort being to prevent the undue rise of rent.

NYT Articles:

One of the most significant developments in the matter of land reform, it is stated, is the attitude assumed by ex-President Roosevelt in the matter of the conservation of natural resources. Mr. Roosevelt while in office established the principle that no grant of land would be made to any railroad or corporation, and that a system of leaseholds would be followed by him. He vetoed a bill giving such a grant to a Western road, and in his veto declared for the leasehold system.

This system has also been accepted as the policy of the Taft Administration both in this country and in the Philippines, and Gov. Hughes in this State has repeatedly declared himself in favor of the conservation of "natural opportunities." There are in fact some who declare that Gov. Hughes is a pretty good single taxer, having obtained some light on the subject from the late Thomas G. Shearman, years ago. Mr. Roosevelt is said to have obtained what knowledge he has on the subject from "Bucky" O'Neill, the Rough Rider, who fought with Roosevelt in this campaign before Santiago in the Spanish-American war. "Bucky" O'Neill had been a single taxer for many years.


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