Land Value Taxation will solve many of the 21st century's most serious social, economic and environmental problems, and promote justice, fairness and sustainability. We CAN have a world in which all can prosper.
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George Here are links to online editions of George's landmark book, Progress & Poverty, including audio and a number of abridgments -- the shortest is 30 words! I commend this book to your attention, if you are concerned about economic justice, poverty, sprawl, energy use, pollution, wages, housing affordability. Its observations will change how you approach all these problems. A mind-opening experience!
Henry George: Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy This is perhaps the most important book ever written on the subjects of poverty, political economy, how we might live together in a society dedicated to the ideals Americans claim to believe are self-evident. It will provide you new lenses through which to view many of our most serious problems and how we might go about solving them: poverty, sprawl, long commutes, despoilation of the environment, housing affordability, wealth concentration, income concentration, concentration of power, low wages, etc. Read it online, or in hardcopy.
Bob Drake's abridgement of Henry George's original: Progress and Poverty: Why There Are Recessions and Poverty Amid Plenty -- And What To Do About It! This is a very readable thought-by-thought updating of Henry George's longer book, written in the language of a newsweekly. A fine way to get to know Henry George's ideas. Available online at progressandpoverty.org and http://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
Where Else Might You Look?
Wealth and Want The URL comes from the subtitle to Progress & Poverty -- and the goal is widely shared prosperity in the 21st century. How do we get there from here? A roadmap and a reference source.
Reforming the Property Tax for the Common Good I'm a tax reform activist who seeks to promote fairness and reduce poverty. Let's start with the enabling legislation and state requirements for the property tax. There are opportunities for great good!
SOCIAL progress makes the well-being of all
more and more the business of each; it binds all closer and
closer together in bonds from which none can escape. He who
observes the law and the proprieties, and cares for his
family, yet takes no interest in the general weal, and gives
no thought to those who are trodden underfoot, save now and
then to bestow alms, is not a true Christian. Nor is he a
good citizen. — Social Problems — Chapter 1, the
Increasing Importance of Social Questions
I BELIEVE that in a really Christian community, in a society
that honored, not with the lips but with the act, the
doctrines of Jesus, no one would have occasion to worry
about physical needs any more than do the lilies of the
field. There is enough and to spare. The trouble is that, in
this mad struggle, we trample in the mire what has been
provided in sufficiency for us all; trample it in the mire
while we tear and rend each other. — The Crime of Poverty
WE are so accustomed to poverty that even in
the most advanced countries we regard it as the natural lot
of the great masses of the people; that we take it as a
matter of course that even in our highest civilization large
classes should want the necessaries of healthful life, and
the vast majority should only get a poor and pinched living
by the hardest toil. There are professors of political
economy who teach that this condition of things is the
result of social laws of which it is idle to complain!
There are ministers of religion who preach that this is the
condition which an all-wise, all-powerful Creator intended
for His children! If an architect were to build a theater so
that not more than one-tenth of the audience could see and
hear, we should call him a bungler and a botcher. If a man
were to give a feast and provide so little food that
nine-tenths of his guests must go away hungry, we should
call him a fool, or worse. Yet so accustomed are we to
poverty, that even the preachers of what passes for
Christianity tell us that the great Architect of the
Universe, to whose infinite skill all nature testifies, has
made such a botch job of this world that the vast majority
of the human creatures whom He has called into it are
condemned by the conditions he has imposed to want,
suffering, and brutalizing toil that gives no opportunity
for the development of mental powers — must pass their lives
in a hard struggle to merely live! — Social Problems — Chapter 8:
That We All Might Be Rich
"The Lord's Prayer says, Give us this day our daily bread. Our
daily bread comes from the land. No man made the land. It is God's
gift to mankind. It belongs to all men. Therefore individual
ownership of land is wrong. Individual control of the fruits of the
land is wrong."
If, then, successive generations of men cannot have their fractional
share of the actual soil (including mines, etc.) how can the
division of the advantages of the natural earth be effected? By the
division of its annual value or rent; that is, by making the rent of
the soil the common property of the nation. That is (as the taxation
is the common property of the State), by taking the whole of the
taxes out of the rents of the soil, and thereby abolishing all other
kinds of taxation whatever. And thus all industry would be
absolutely emancipated from every burden.
— PATRICK EDWARD DOVE, Theory of
Human Progression (1850), Chap. III., Sec. 3.
Any settlement of the land of a country that would exclude the
humblest man in that country from his share of the common
inheritance would be not only an injustice and a wrong to that man,
but moreover would be an impious resistance to the benevolent
intentions of the Creator.
They ate up Earth and promised you The Heaven of an empty shell! 'Twas theirs to say: 'twas yours to do, On pain of everlasting Hell! They rob and leave you helplessly For help of Heaven to cry and call; Heaven did not make your misery; The Earth was given for all.
— GERALD MASSEY, The Earth for All, My Lyrical Life, 2d Series, p. 232.
But if the love of the supernal sphere Should upwardly direct your aspiration, There would not be that fear within your breast, For there, so much the more as one says Our, So much the more of good each one possesses.
At the outdoor mass you held in Wroclaw in Poland during your recent visit to that country, you said the following very true and sincere words:
"The Earth is capable of feeding everyone. Why therefore -- here at the end of the 20th century -- should thousands of people die from starvation" -- "Pray solidarity will prevail over the unrestrained thirst for profit and ways to handle laws of trade, which do not take into consideration inalienable human rights".
It was the same concern about the greed of the wealthy and the plight of the poor, that your predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, expressed in his Encyclical Letter of 1891, 'Rerum Novarum'. Yet, in the more than hundred years that have past, if there has been a change, it has been for the worse!
The wealth is there. The growth of industry and the discoveries of science about which Pope Leo spoke, are even more fantastic and surprising than he would have imagined in his most inspired dreams. The enormous fortunes of individuals, of which he also spoke, have become more enormous. Yet the poverty is still there. Even in countries that are considered wealthy, people are homeless and live in cardboard boxes; people die, not just by the thousands as your Holiness said in Wroclaw, but by the millions, from poverty related diseases, malnutrition and starvation. You are indeed right to ask the question:
THE EXCLUSION FROM THE GIFTS OF GOD
As your Holiness will know, the Encyclical Letter of 1891 was not only an attack on socialism, but also a strong defence of the right to hold land as private property, a right that Pope Leo XIII claimed to be natural.
But the right to hold land includes the right for the owner to exclude other people from it, and, as all usable land in industrially developed countries is owned in that way, people without such a right will be unable to enjoy the gifts of God unless they accept the conditions exacted of them by a landowner. Neither can they work, reside nor relax without land, and again they have to accept conditions exacted by a landowner.
Normally the landowner will ask people to pay the market-determined site rental, which is high because of the many excluded people who want land, or he will offer to let them work at a market-determined wage, which is low because of many excluded people wanting a working place.
Some people, in fact -- as a consequence of the many excluded -- a growing number of people, can neither qualify for a job nor afford to pay the site rental, and they have to live on the streets, on the roads, at the dumping grounds or wherever they can find a poor shelter, some clothes and a little to eat. Some of them find that crime and prison give them a better life than there is available through the legal opportunities open to them.
In some countries Social Security is implemented to mitigate the cruel consequences of the exclusion of people from the gifts of God. The Social Security bill is not paid by landowners, but by entrepreneurs, wage earners, pensioners, savers and consumers.
In other countries only private charity is available to relieve the hardships.
But neither Social Security nor charity will change the basic injustice that causes the horrible conditions of the people excluded, that increases the site rentals to be paid for the use of land, and reduces net-wages, widening the gap between poor and rich. The basic cause of these evils has to be destroyed.
Political leaders from all over the world, including representatives of the Holy See, agreed at the United Nations conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) at Istanbul last year, that:
"The failure to adapt, at all levels, appropriate rural and urban land policies and land management practices remains a primary cause of inequity and poverty".
LETTER TO POPE LEO XIII
Allow us, your Holiness, to point to the Open Letter of September 11th, 1891, written in New York by Henry George and sent to your predecessor his Holiness Pope Leo XIII, as a response to 'Rerum Novarum'.
Published as a book this Open Letter has been read by many thousands, and still today the book is sold and read.
Henry George did consider 'inalienable human rights' and 'unrestrained thirst for profit and ways to handle laws of trade'. On exactly this background he spoke for all people's equal rights to the gifts of God.
To maintain this right for everybody and at the same time to allow exclusive right for some to own land as private property, he advocated that people who are given the exclusive right to own land -- and thereby the right to exclude other people from the gifts of Nature -- should pay a compensation to the people they exclude (in fact to all citizens).
The compensation, as a duty to be paid by the landowners, should be the market-determined rentals of the sites from which they can exclude others. This being a fair charge of justice as the rentals are not due to efforts or investments made by the landowners, but due to the development of society and to the growth of the population of human beings, all wanting a place to work, and a place to reside.
The rentals should be collected from all landowners by society, and the revenue should be used to the benefit of all citizens. In that way, Henry George emphasized, all citizens would be able to get their equal share of the gifts of God.
HOLY INCENTIVES OR HOLLOW FALSEHOOD
We do agree with your Holiness and with Henry George that people have private right to property created by man, the right to the fruits of their labour; and also that people can achieve private right to exclusive possession of land, from which they can exclude other people.
But we find it logically inconsistent to believe that people have equal right to life and to be on the Earth, when at the same time some of them have exclusive right to own land as private property without paying compensation to those people whom they exclude from their land.
Your Holiness' sincere words, as quoted initially in this letter, accord with Rerum Novarum of 1891 and with the Habitat II statement quoted above, but they will only become true if your Holiness will succeed in urging on the rulers/governments of this world to collect the annual market-determined Site Rentals of all land in their countries, and distribute the revenue thus acquired to the benefit of all their citizens.
If your Holiness could succeed in persuading the governments to do so, all people on Earth would gain equal access to the gifts of Nature, and true solidarity would become a reality. If not, all statements about equal right to life, to work, to education and to residence, will continue being hollow and false; and our successors will not see a change for the better; on the contrary, they will see the gap between very rich people and alienated poor people grow bigger, and the problems of poverty grow more serious than they are today.
We pray your Holiness may succeed in convincing the governments of this world of the importance of public collection of the annual market rental of all land, and the revenue to be used for equal benefit of all the citizens, thus to provide far all human beings, equal rights to the gifts of Nature.
Let this become the manifestation of the new Millennium, the 2000 year anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. Let it become a Jubilee in the original meaning of the word, striking unjust shackles from society; thereby preparing a new age of humanity, a social life in friendship and peace.
A. The outlawing of abortion so that all embryos that implant are permitted to mature to full term.
B. The outlawing of some sorts of birth control so that all fertilized eggs have rights
C. The provision of full pre-natal care and healthy foods, air and water to all pregnant women until birth, so that all babies born have as good a start as possible
D. The provision of affordable healthy food, clean air and clean water until age 18, so that all young people have as healthy a start as possible
E. The provision of good schools, without regard for one's parents' ability to pay, for all children, including those with special needs
F. The provision of some reasonable income so that the families of children can afford to meet all of each child's most simply defined needs, including health care, education, nutritious good, a safe home
G. The provision of healthy air and water to all, of all ages
H. The acknowledgments that (a) every person has a right to himself or herself; and (b) that all persons have equal rights to the gifts of nature, even after they reach the age of 18 or 21
I. The notion that the born have more rights than the unborn if one comes into conflict with the other
This quote came across my inbox today, and I thought it worth sharing:
“We operate from the concept of ‘shalom,’” Forrister said when he reported on that meeting to The Huntsville Times. “’Shalom’ means more than the absence of war, it means the well-being of all. Ezekiel said to seek the ‘shalom’ of the city you’re in – and he was writing to people in exile in Babylon. We’re to seek the good of the whole community, of all of society.”
I came very slowly to the point of view that the nature of the ways we fund our common spending is at least as important as the spending side of the budget. That taxation can be destructive or constructive. That it can be used to create vital healthy communities or ones in which wealth and power concentrate into a few hands.
I grew up with the benefit of grandparents who understood this, and I still didn't "get it" until well after they were gone. Certainly my college education didn't provide me any glimpses of it, despite being concentrated in fields in and around it. I hope that others who are seekers after peace -- after Shalom -- will investigate what Henry George's "Remedy" -- land value taxation -- has to offer for their community and their country.
And here's the final paragraph from the email that the first quote came from:
Taking care of each other is simple kindness, not something sinister, said Forrister, who was trained as a Church of Christ minister.
“Thinking about looking out for the common good is not socialism,” Forrister said. “Capitalism has to be tempered by social policy that responds to human needs that capitalism won’t respond to.”
Our current form of capitalism is, among other things, land monopoly capitalism. Were we to remove the land monopoly aspect, through land value taxation, we would have a purer capitalism, one which I think would better serve the ideals we claim to hold dear.
I think DCJ is asking the right question here, at least as a top-line, and raising some important points in support of answering it.
Five ancient principles that have survived the test of time and are, therefore, profoundly conservative, should guide us.
The first is the moral principle of progressive taxation -- that the greater the gain you manage to attain, whether through hard work or luck, the greater your duty to pay back the society that made your riches possible so that it will endure. This concept is 2,500 years old, coming to us along with its civil twin, democracy, from ancient Athens.
The second is horizontal equity. Each person, or business, with the same ability to pay should pay the same tax. We must not tolerate a system in which one family or company pays far more than another with the same income, thanks to all the fine print in the tax code.
Simplicity, transparency and ease of payment should be the last three of the five guiding principles, as Adam Smith taught more than two centuries ago.
Adam Smith called these the Canons of Taxation. I urge you to read more about these ideas, including, particularly, Louis Post's expansions of these ideas, in the footnotes associated with this passage:
The best tax by which public revenues can be raised is evidently that which will closest conform to the following conditions:
That it bear as lightly as possible upon production — so as least to check the increase of the general fund from which taxes must be paid and the community maintained. 20
That it be easily and cheaply collected, and fall as directly as may be upon the ultimate payers — so as to take from the people as little as possible in addition to what it yields the government. 21
That it be certain — so as to give the least opportunity for tyranny or corruption on the part of officials, and the least temptation to law-breaking and evasion on the part of the tax-payers. 22
That it bear equally — so as to give no citizen an advantage or put any at a disadvantage, as compared with others. 23
At that same link, you'll see how Henry George expressed it, in a letter to Pope Leo XIII:
It must not take from individuals what rightfully belongs to individuals.
It must not give some an advantage over others, as by increasing the prices of what some have to sell and others must buy.
It must not lead men into temptation, by requiring trivial oaths, by making it profitable to lie, to swear falsely, to bribe or to take bribes.
It must not confuse the distinctions of right and wrong, and weaken the sanctions of religion and the state by creating crimes that are not sins, and punishing men for doing what in itself they have an undoubted right to do.
It must not repress industry. It must not check commerce. It must not punish thrift. It must offer no impediment to the largest production and the fairest division of wealth.
DCJ goes on to raise some other good questions:
Look at the same question in reverse -- is our tax system encouraging unproductive or even counterproductive activities?
What else should we call a system that lets hedge-fund and other financial speculators defer paying taxes for years or decades on their carried interest, while discouraging investment in long-term projects that may not pay off for a decade or more? How else to explain our gross overinvestment in housing?
And what about corporate tax accounting costs?
Under President Barack Obama, business has been able to immediately write off 50 percent of new investment one year and 100 percent in two other years. We need to examine the long-term benefits and costs of full expensing. The White House says full expensing lowers the average cost of capital for business investment by 75 percent. But what other effects are there?
More broadly, we need to debate why corporations must keep two sets of books, one for shareholders and one for the IRS. How much more efficient would taxation, and commerce, be with one set of books?
I hope that DCJ, perhaps the best journalist on this beat, will explore further, to see what other tax bases might be used.
Which ones would be just?
Which ones would avoid taking from individuals and corporations value they've created?
Which ones would take back from individuals and corporations value that the community created or nature provided?
Which ones would push back on individuals and corporations the costs of the pollution they've incurred instead of permitting them to impose those externalities on the rest of us?
Which ones would encourage good behavior?
Which ones would create widely shared prosperity?
Which ones could tax the value of franchises and privileges that our ancestors gave out willy-nilly, or which past administrations or Congresses have given to their BFFs (best friends forever), which rightly belongs to we-the-people?
The writings of Mason Gaffney, from the 1950s to the present, provide a wide variety of logical and just tax bases. They've remained largely hidden, for reasons that relate to how delighted the special interests have been with their privileges. DCJ could help bring these to popular attention.