Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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The Georgist economic proposal insists on the primary importance of land as a factor in the economy. Many people dismiss that as a quaint, agrarian notion. "Perhaps," they scoff, "land was that significant back when most people had to work the soil for a living, but modern agriculture has moved far past that! Nowadays we deal with modern issues of technology, global markets, information -- land is no longer a big deal."
10. There's no place to dump your trash for free. ...
9. Scratch a financial crisis, find a real estate bubble. ...
8. Information (like railroads) needs routes. ...
7. Cities can no longer afford to be inefficient. ...
6. Global climate change is too likely to ignore. ...
5. The loss of biological diversity cannot be reversed. ...
4. Two out of every five people lack a safe and dependable source of drinking water. ...
3. The myth of overpopulation causes cultural sickness. ...
2. We have forgotten what nations are. ...
1. "The land shall not be sold forever, for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me." ...

Alanna Hartzok: Earth Rights Democracy: Public Finance based on Early Christian Teachings
Democratic governance has not yet concerned itself with a "first principle" question. This question concerns property rights in land - property rights in the earth itself. The question is, "Who Should Own the Earth?" The question of "Who Should Own the Earth?" is a fundamental question. In venues when this question is asked, the answer is always the same. The answer is, "everyone should own the earth and on an equal basis as a birthright."

The right to the earth has yet to be pronounced in human rights covenants. Democracy is unclear, ethically weak, and on shaky ground when it comes to the question of the right to the land and resources of the earth. Democracy as presently constituted lacks this most fundamental and basic human right - the equal right to earth. The right to the earth is the great undiscovered revolution in both American and global politics.

Early Christian teachings on the Land Problem, however, were clear and precise. The question of "Who Should Own the Earth?" was unequivocally answered. The land ethic of the early Christian communities was that of "koinonia" meaning essentially that God was the sole owner of the earth which was given as a gift to all for the "autarkeia," the self-reliant livelihood, of all. In the words of John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople at the close of the fourth century, "The very air, earth, matter, are the Creator's; and so are you yourself...; and all other things also."

When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire, the early Christian teachings on land were overtaken by the Roman land laws of "dominium" - a legalization of property in land originally obtained by conquest and plunder. A largely corrupted Christianity, uprooted from its early teachings on land ownership, too often went hand in hand with the exploitation and degradation of centuries of colonial conquests. A statement by the great South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed this point in a succinct and profound manner. He said, "When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land."[10]  ...

Augustine: He (according to Avila's research) saw that the poor are poor because they have been deprived by the propertied few of the wealth that should belong to all. He laid the blame for this unjust situation squarely on the doorstep of an absolutist and exclusivist legal right of private ownership. He reminded his audience that they were all "made from one mud" and sustained "on one earth" under the same natural conditions, having the same essence and called to the same destiny. He rejected the legalized status quo as inappropriate for human living. Holding that legal arrangements of property rights were of human origin, he asserted that they should be changed, in theory and in practice, in function of a faith-informed ethic based on the true meaning of ownership.

Basil the Great: He saw that a privileged few were exceedingly rich, ostentatious, and powerful, inasmuch as wealth, particularly the wealth-producing resource, land, was concentrated in the hands of the few. He taught a philosophy of ownership based on the view that God was Father and giver and Provider for all, and that therefore a few must cease stealing the food-producing resources that God had destined for the use of all.

Basil admits a certain right of laborers to the product of their labor but asks the landlords by what right they exercise ownership over their vast estates: "Which things, tell me, are yours? Whence have you brought them into being?" Whatever you have produced, or brought into being, may justly be yours. However, it is land that has made the landlords rich, and land is not something they have brought into being." Speaking to the rich Basil said:
You are like one occupying a place in a theatre, who should prohibit others from entering, treating that as one's own which was designed for the common use of all.... If each one would take that which is sufficient for one's needs, leaving what is in excess to those in distress, no one would be rich, no one poor. Did you not come naked from the womb? Will you not return naked into the earth?[14]

Jesus pointed to Old Testament teachings regarding land ethics. According to some contemporary theologians, one of the tasks of the mission of Jesus was to restore the original intent of the Jubilee. In Luke 4:18 (by way of Isaiah 61:1-3): He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.. to proclaim release of captives.. To set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

As theologian Walter Brueggeman explains in "Land: The Foundation of Humanness"[15], the "acceptable year" is the year of the Jubilee when the land was to be returned to the original holders. The "release of captives" is the release of debt slaves who had lost their land because they could not pay the mortgage. A crucial aspect of Jesus' mission was the reassertion of the land rights of the poor and displaced. ...

Enormous sums are currently accruing as unearned income to a relatively few individuals, families and corporations who are holding large amounts of land, very valuable and well-located land, and natural resources as their own exclusive private property. These enormous land values and resource rents are also accruing as unearned income to banks holding mortgages based on exploitative compound interest rates. It may be of interest to note that the word "mortgage" means "dead hand." Truly, when one must work so many years of one's life to pay off a mortgage, one productive hand is as if dead in terms of producing for oneself, as the labor of that hand pays the mortgage. For the 33% of citizens (40 million people) in the United States who are renters, there is not even equity ownership to look forward to after a life of labor. For the more than three million homeless people in American and the multi-millions who are homeless around the world, what Henry George said in 1879 holds true today:

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 made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on.[19]

Not only is the land ethic of Old and New Testament prophets and Henry George virtually the same, the policy approach of "resource rent for revenue" also known as "land or site value taxation" has its corollary in the approach called for by the ancient rabbis in their discussions about the finer and little known details of Jubilee.

Talmudic rabbinical discussions considered how fairly to partition the land of Canaan among the tribes under Joshua. Those with poorer land were to be given more acreage and those with more fertile land would be given less. As for land disadvantageously situated, the adjustment was to be made by money; that is to say, those holding land nearer the city (Jerusalem) should pay into the common treasury the estimated excess of value pertaining to it by reason of its superior situation, while those holding land of less value, by reason of its distance from the city, would receive from the treasury a money compensation. Upon the more valuable holdings was to be imposed a tax, or 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 proportions to those whose holdings were in less favorable locations. In this, then we see affirmed the doctrine that natural advantages are common property, and may not be diverted to private gain.[20] ...

It has been said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes and that the power to tax is the power to create or destroy. The story of the birth of Jesus is on one level the story of a family on a long and onerous journey to pay taxes imposed by the Romans upon the people of the land. We urgently need to establish land tenure and tax policies based on the deepest wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition - a truth based on the perception of the unity of life, that all is created by God, and on the realization of the brotherhood and sisterhood of the one humanity. The privilege of holding large amounts of land or highly valuable land as individual private property needs to be a conditional, not an absolute right. For justice to prevail, the right to exclusive access to land must be granted only upon payment of full and fairly assessed land value taxes and resource rents.

We have at hand a powerful solution and a way to secure a world of peace and plenty. We need to constitute democratic governance on the firm foundation of equal rights to the land and resources of the earth, an "earth rights democracy" which removes the burden of taxes from the backs of those who labor and instead directs government to collect the value of our common wealth for the benefit of all. A morally correct form of taxation may not lead to everlasting life, but it WILL promote and sustain the conditions for lives worth living on planet earth.  Read the whole article

Joseph Fels -- True Christianity and My Own Religious Beliefs 
I believe it is blasphemous to assert or insinuate that God has condemned some of His children to hopeless poverty, and to the Crimea, want, and misery resulting therefrom, and has, at the same time, awarded to others lives of ease and luxury, without labor. Do you agree?

I believe that involuntary poverty and involuntary idleness are unnatural, and are due to the denial by some of the right of others to use freely the gift of God to all. Do you agree?

Since labor products are needed to sustain life, and since labor must be applied to land in order to produce, I believe that every child comes into life with divine permission to use land without the consent of any other child of God. Do you agree?

Where men congregate in organized society, land has a value apart from the value of things produced by labor; as population and industry increase, the value of land increases, but the value of labor products does not. That increase in land value is community-made value. Inasmuch as your power to labor is a gift of God, all the wealth produced by your labor is yours, and no man nor collection of men has a right to take any of it from you. Do you agree to that?

I believe the community-made value of land belongs to the community, just as the wealth produced by you belongs to you. Do you agree to that?

Therefore, I believe that the fundamental evil, the great God-denying crime of society, is the iniquitous system under which men are permitted to put into their pocket, confiscate, in fact, the community-made values of land, while organized society confiscates for public purposes a part of the wealth created by individuals. Do you agree to that? Read the whole article

Walter Rybeck and Ronald Pasquariello: 
Combating Modern-day Feudalism: Land as God’s Gift
Calling for "a modern equivalent of Jubilee," signers of a proposal fundamentally to revise the property tax structure petitioned the endorsement of the 1984 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The proposal, which the conference did endorse, sought to shift taxes from labor to land values. Combining good biblical theology with public policy insight, the plan offers a simple but critical tax change as a way of dealing with "poverty, joblessness, slums, urban decay, farmland destruction, the erosion of public services and facilities and social justice."

The current property tax combines land and building taxes; recently, it has become a tax mostly on buildings. As a result, owner-made building improvements are overtaxed, while land is under-taxed. And undertaxing land encourages its disuse. The Methodist petitioners’ simple proposal was to tax land, not buildings. The possibilities are great for achieving social justice through this easily implemented change in the property tax. ...

Biblical justice in this instance, as Walter Brueggemann asserts, "is to sort out what belongs to whom, and return it to them." ...

The generally held belief that ours is a nation of small landholders is a myth. According to Gene Wunderlich, quoted in a 1979 Harper’s article, "about 3 percent of the population owns 55 percent of all American land." And that same 3 per cent holds "95 percent of the private land." Furthermore, while 64 per cent of families own or are in the process of buying their residences, the residential sector occupies only 2 per cent of the 1.3 billion acres of privately held land.

Feudalism, it seems, is still with us; its new face is the landlordism that lets a few benefit from what belongs to society. This lopsided arrangement denies the Bible’s insistence that an equitable share of the Lord’s resources is the birthright of all humans. While the U.S. is infinitely better off than the countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa, our situation is worsening. Consider these facts:

• Poor people pay inordinate rents. While in 1970, 25 per cent of income generally went for rent, today, according to National Low-Income Housing Coalition reports, that percentage for many renters, especially the poor, has doubled.

Early in the century, poor immigrants in New York City could buy or lease a shop with a fair chance of prospering. Now many minorities face site costs that almost doom new businesses from the start. A front foot costs more than the whole lot would have 70 years ago, a startling change even when considering inflation.

•Large firms are deserting the cities for cheaper suburban sites, taking with them employment and badly needed tax revenues.

•Large agribusinesses represent only 13 per cent of U.S. farms but take in 72 per cent of agricultural sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. At the other end of the scale, 50 per cent of the farms account for only 3 per cent of sales.

• Land-holding is gaining ascendancy over land-using. Land speculation -- holding land for its future worth rather than putting it into current production -- has become standard practice for the affluent.

What gives value to land. Any real estate textbook will explain that the three factors for determining land value are "location, location and location." And any property owner will affirm this truth. But what generates locational value? Three phenomena: God, people and public activities.

  • God the creator, Genesis tells us, "looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." We recognize this goodness in the fertility of the soil, natural harbors, scenic beauty, the availability of water, and the subsurface riches of coal, oil, gold, iron and other substances. The land has a God-given goodness and is one of the gifts through which God sustains us.
  • People create land values simply because they are social beings, consumers and producers. The more people concentrated on a piece of land, the higher its value. The press of population intensifies the demand for homes, jobs and services; this is what makes Manhattan far more valuable than downtown Richmond, Virginia, and Richmond more valuable than Anderson, Indiana, and Anderson more valuable than an uninhabited Utah crossroad.
  • Finally, the public or government generates land values by providing streets, schools, police protection and other infrastructures. Opening a subway system for the District of Columbia in 1976 gave Washington’s blighted downtown a new lease on life. The subway and its riders are stimulating the economy along all of its corridors. According to a 1981 congressional study, "a minimum of $2 billion in land values has already been added to the existing land value base." However, it concluded that "only a trickle" of these new values finds its way back to local government through the property tax. The biggest share goes to people "lucky enough to own land within easy access of Metro stations."
Private vs. common property. ... "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof" (Ps. 24:1). ...

This idea of the land belonging to all humanity, to the community as a whole, is not entirely inoperative today. National parks, school grounds, public building sites, many wilderness areas, lakes and ocean fronts are recognized as the common property of all.

The immorality of landlordism. An increasingly small elite is taking possession of the nation’s land, enabling them to squeeze more and more from the landless. This is runaway landlordism, and current public policy fuels its progress.

On the federal level, while the wages of ordinary workers find no shelter from the Internal Revenue Service, exemptions and special preferences for landowners whittle down their taxes or turn real estate losses into profits. The 1986 Tax Reform Act aims to reduce these privileges, but landowners’ past ingenuity in avoiding taxation warrants continued vigilance over tax structures. At the local level, the property tax rises for owners who build or improve their homes, rental apartments or commercial buildings, while it is reduced for those who let their land go fallow. Compare the following situation of the Joneses, the Smiths and the Greens.
  • The Joneses have a well-maintained home. The local tax office, seeing that they have has added air conditioning, a recreation room and a new roof, raises their assessment. Never mind that the Joneses improved their neighborhood and generated jobs and business. The result will be higher taxes not only this year, but as long as they keep the house in good condition.
  • The Smiths’ home of the same size and age is an eyesore. The yard is full of junk, gutters are rusted, screens are torn, paint is peeling. The tax office says it is worth less than last year. The Smiths’ taxes are reduced, a "reward" for blighting the community.
  • The Greens do not use their lot at all. They offer no production or housing on it. For wasting the site’s potential, they enjoy the lowest tax bill of the three.

Overtaxing good land use while under-taxing blight and empty lots invites slumlords and encourages land speculators. This type of landlordism -- or modern feudalism -- is an injustice. It allows individual landowners to siphon off the lion’s share of land values.

The ethical foundations of land value taxation. The biblical Jubilee prescription -- redividing the land every half century -- may have been feasible for a people practicing crude agriculture. However, a modern civilization cannot reshuffle the land without confiscating unmovable property or discouraging economic progress. The land value plan suggested here -- increasing land taxes, while decreasing taxes on labor, production and buildings -- achieves the same Jubilee goal without negative effects. It lets everyone share the economic value of the land rather than the land itself, just as a corporation, instead of carving up physical portions of itself each year, lets shareholders enjoy portions of the profit. ...

Poverty, joblessness and homelessness have been central concerns of religious social-action groups. There is a growing awareness that neither private nor public charity is sufficient in dealing with these problems. Shifting property taxes offers an effective way to encourage public policy to be responsive to blighted cities, farm dislocation, declining industries, chronic unemployment and growing poverty. The need to infuse biblical principles into solutions for these problems seems imperative. Acknowledgment of this necessity is already evident in the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter on the economy and parallel works by the Presbyterians, United Methodists and the United Church of Christ. The need to address poverty’s basic causes, including the unhealthy concentration of America’s land and resources in the hands of so few owners -- who have tended to misappropriate land values -- ought to be high on our religious and public policy agendas.

Robert Andelson: The Earth is the Lord's!

Brendan Hennigan: Comparison of George's Economic Theory of Justice with the Catholic Church's Social Teachings Concerning the Right to Private Property in Land

Alanna Hartzok: Who Would Jesus Tax?  The Saga of Susan Pace Hamill's Alabama Tax Crusade

Nic Tideman:  The Political Economy of the Gospels

The message of the Gospels is that our sins are forgivable, that death is not to be feared because our true lives are spiritual rather than physical, and that participation in the kingdom of God -- a new and better life in this world as well as the next -- is accessible to all who orient themselves to God.

Drawing on the Old Testament, Jesus taught that our first commandment is that we love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength, and that our second commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.1 When asked who our neighbor is, he replied with the parable of the good Samaritan, implying that anyone we encounter is our neighbor. 2 Jesus taught an ethic in which there are no bounds on our obligations to others:  ...

When asked by Peter, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Jesus replied, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."  In other words, we are to forgive indefinitely.

This unbounded obligation to others is reconciled with the need to survive through the introduction of the idea that it is not through our own anxious efforts, but through God's provision for us that we survive: ...

The message of the Gospels denies the validity of concern for material scarcity. This is made particularly clear in the accounts of the feeding of the multitudes with just a few loaves and fishes.

comprehending this counterintuitive idea, that material scarcity is not to concern us, is brought out by the accounts of how even Jesus' disciples did not understand the message: ...

Without a concept of material scarcity it is difficult to construct an economic theory, as material scarcity is central to economic theory. And yet, even without a concept of material scarcity there is an allocation problem to be solved--the allocation of our efforts.

In the parable of the talents we are told that we will be expected to accomplish something with the resources that are put into our hands. 8 This parable is followed in Matthew by a teaching that may be taken as an indication of what constitutes accomplishment: ...

In other words, every person is a manifestation of God, and anything that we can do to help anyone is to our credit.

There is thus an unlimited task for each of us. No one of us will ever be able to say, "I have done every last thing that might be required of me. I have no further obligations." But neither are we to be concerned that that which we have left undone might be held against us. For if we refrain from judging others, we ourselves will not be judged:  ...

With this message of the Gospels in mind, turn now to the problem of political economy, the problem of what principles ought to govern the organization of the production of goods and their distribution.

One might first ask whether the requirement that we abandon concern for scarcity would preclude production. The answer is no, it is not production that we are cautioned to avoid, but anxiety. There are any number of reasons why we might allocate some of our time to production, without being anxious about our own material requirements. We feel called to undertake a particular kind of work, so we do it, trusting that any material needs we may have will be satisfied. If we want to undertake our productive activities in conjunction with others, that's fine, too. Associating with others provides us with opportunities to be useful to them.

Among those who are close to us there is no need for prices and markets, because we can see easily enough how we can be of service to them. But human discernment is limited, and prices and markets help us to be aware of what is valued by people who are less close to us. ...

Refraining from the use of force is a recurring theme in the political economy of the Gospels. We are called to refrain from the use of force in defense of property. We are called to refrain from the use of force in financing public activities. We are called to refrain from the use of force in providing for those who might otherwise lack. And we show our love for those who do not wish to participate in our political economy by leaving for them the same per capita value of land and natural resources that we claim for ourselves.

Consider now how this framework bears on some traditional questions of economic ethics. Take first the problem of the just price. This simply is not an issue. If two people have the opportunity to trade--to cooperate--on terms that are mutually agreeable to the two of them, it is not for us to say that they ought to be trading on other terms. Between people who love one another, the problem of settling on the terms of trade is no more difficult than the problem when friends eat lunch together of deciding who will pick up the tab, or how it will be split.

That those outside a relationship are not called upon to prescribe its terms is supported by a passage from Luke: ...

Relations between employers and employees are a special case of relations between traders. ...
The problem of worker management is not a problem either. ...

Corporate responsibility may be more of an issue for a Gospel-based political economy. The corporate form of organization permits us to participate in the establishment and management of firms while knowing very little about the other people with whom we are involved or the actions that are taken on our behalf. If this leads us to support implicitly actions of managers in their concern for the bottom line that we could not in good conscience take ourselves, then there is something troubling about our participation in corporations. We need to find ways of managing the resources under our control that do not lead us to endorse implicitly and to profit from actions that we would not endorse directly or take ourselves.

The grand question of economic ethics, the question of whether capitalism or socialism is the more appropriate form of political economy, is another non-question from the perspective of the Gospels. Everyone who wants to live under socialism should be free to live under socialism, and everyone who wants to live under capitalism should be free to live under capitalism. In whichever group we fall, we will want to insure that those who want to organize their lives by different principles of political economy have their share of land and natural resources with which to do so.

A political economy based on the Gospels is a political economy based on love. As the First Epistle of John says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear."17 To construct a political economy of the Gospels we must be free of fear: free of fear that others may rob us; free of fear that others may not contribute to the provision of public goods or to provision for those who might otherwise lack; free of fear that our incomes will be too low or the prices we face too high; free of fear that if we don't do something, someone will be exploited. Only when love has replaced all fear in our hearts will we be able to construct the political economy of the Gospels. Read the whole article

Jeff Smith: How Sharing Earth Brought Peace
Since forever, humans have claimed and counter-claimed every square inch of this planet. Occasionally, these disputes have ended peacefully. What has worked in other times and places might work again in the Mideast. Delivering a double dividend, what settled land disputes also developed moribund economies and revived developed ones. Among others, New York, now aiming to rebuild, has used this policy before. Because it's growing popular among environmentalists, greens could lead the US to geonomics.

...  These cases involved different classes, not different cultures. Yet with a new twist the rent rebate that worked within society may work between societies. The Koran urges landlords to not gouge tenants but to consider land a trust. In Israel, admonished to not own land forever, since the land is Mine (Leviticus), the National Trust leases all the land to the occupants. These strictures could lead to geonomics.

Israel and Palestine would establish a steward to collect land dues and disburse rent dividends a la Alaska's oil dividend. Since land is more valuable in Israel than in Palestine, Jews would pay in more than Arabs, yet everyone would get back the same. And since Israelis prosper, they drive up land values; having Jews as co-owners developing land, raising its value, fattening everyone's Citizens Dividend Arabs might accept that. Profit does make for strange bedfellows. Two archrivals, China and Taiwan, recently agreed to explore for oil together.

While sharing rent may soothe hurt feelings, collecting it stimulates development.  ...

Using geonomics, people have turned some of the poorest lands into the richest economies. Hong Kong is a barren rock owned by the public. The city collects enough site-rent to keep taxes on effort way down.  ...

Where to draw a line in the sand becomes a lot less contentious when land and oil are no longer spoils of war and when neighbors do not endure drastically different standards of living. Growing up, we learn to not fight over toys but to take turns. Societies need to learn this, too.

Early last century, Gifford Pinchot, first head of the US Forest Service, said: "The earth belongs of right to all its people and not to a minority, insignificant in numbers but tremendous in wealth and power. The people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country which belongs to us all with equal opportunity for all and special privileges for none." A man in a Republican administration could say that then. We need to hear it again now.   Read the whole article

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on earth

the earth is the lord's!


liberation theology


, created equal

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the least of these

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, to whom much is given

prayer and works


a society with no victims


widows' skirts

gospel of justice

burdening the poor

protecting the poor

daily bread

do justice

equity for the landless

God's wisdom

land as common property


Lord's Prayer


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