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!
Beating an Elephant With a Feather
By Steve Hyle | Feb 12, 2014
LEWES, DE — Ever notice how many times we read or hear about the Demopublicans "Slamming " Obama for his latest blatant attack on the Constitution? I guess they're too stupid to realize that "slamming" Obama has about as much effect as beating an elephant with a feather. So they're really not serious in their sanctimonious outrage. They conveniently forget that they too took an oath to protect the Constitution which reads as follows:
The Congressional Oath of Office:I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
The key words are "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Therefore, I contend that the Demopublicans, on a daily basis, fail to honor their oath and are therefore derelict in their most critical duty…defending our Constitution. This applies to Members on both sides of the aisle. By their inaction, they are all complicit in the destruction of the Constitution of the United States.
A paragraph from "To Destroy the Rum Power," by Henry George, in the February, 1890, issue of The Arena. (The full article follows this single eloquent paragraph.) --
"Almost universal sobriety," wrote Adam
Smith in Kirkaldy, somewhere in the early seventies of the eighteenth
century. Writing as the wonderful nineteenth century nears its final
decade and in the great metropolis of a mighty nation then unborn, I
can say no more, if as much. The temperance question does not stand
alone. It is related — nay, it is but a phase, of the great social
question. By abolishing liquor
taxes and licenses we may drive the "rum power" out of politics, and
somewhat, I think, lessen intemperance. Thus we may get rid of an
obstacle to the improvement of social conditions and increase the
effective force that demands improvement. But without the improvement
of social conditions we cannot hope to abolish intemperance.
Intemperance today springs mainly from that unjust distribution of
wealth which gives to some less and to others more than they have
fairly earned. Among the masses it is fed by hard and monotonous toil,
or the still more straining and demoralizing search for leave to toil;
by overtasked muscles and overstrained nerves, and under-nurtured
bodies; by the poverty which makes men afraid to marry and sets little
children at work, and crowds families into the rooms of tenement
houses; which stints the nobler and brings out the baser qualities; and
in full tide of the highest civilization the world has yet seen, robs
life of poetry and glory of beauty and joy. Among the classes it finds
its victims in those from whom the obligation to exertion has been
artificially lifted; who are born to enjoy the results of labor without
doing any labor, and in whom the lack of stimulus to healthy exertion
causes moral obesity, and consumption without the need of productive
work breeds satiety. Intemperance is abnormal. It is the vice of those
who are starved and those who are gorged. Free trade in liquor would
tend to reduce it, but could not abolish it. But free trade in
everything would. I do not mean a sneaking, half-hearted, and
half-witted "tariff reform," but that absolute, thorough free trade,
which would not only abolish the custom house and the excise, but would
do away with every tax on the products of labor and every restriction
on the exertion of labor, and would leave everyone free to do whatever
did not infringe the ten commandments.
It is worth noting that Frances Willard, a major figure in the temperance movement, published, in 1896, An Up-to-Date Catechism. She saw the connection between poverty and intemperance, and recognized that the Single Tax could make all the difference in making life better.
Here's George's full article follows (check out the corset analogy!):
Henry George is the most famous American popular economist you've never heard of, a 19th century cross between Michael Lewis, Howard Dean and Ron Paul. Progress and Poverty, George's most important book, sold three million copies and was translated into German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew and Mandarin. During his lifetime, George was probably the third best-known American, eclipsed only by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. He was admired by the foreign luminaries of the age, too -- Leo Tolstoy, Sun-Yat Sen and Albert Einstein, who wrote that "men like Henry George are unfortunately rare. One cannot image a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice." George Bernard Shaw described his own thinking about the political economy as a continuation of the ideas of George, whom he had once heard deliver a speech.
Later, she writes,
George found most mysterious about the economic consequences of the
industrial revolution was that its failure to deliver economic
prosperity was not uniform -- instead it had created a winner-take-all
society: "Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others
find it hard to get a living at all. The 'tramp' comes with the
locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of
'material progress' as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and
magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by
uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow
of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns
and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied."
diagnosis was beguilingly simple -- the fruits of innovation weren't
widely shared because they were going to the landlords. This was a very
American indictment of industrial capitalism: at a time when Marx was
responding to Europe's version of progress and poverty with a wholesale
denunciation of private property, George was an enthusiastic supporter
of industry, free trade and a limited role for government. His culprits
were the rentier rich, the landowners who profited hugely from
industrialization and urbanization, but did not contribute to it.
had such tremendous popular appeal because he addressed the obvious
inequity of 19th century American capitalism without disavowing
capitalism itself. George wasn't trying to build a communist utopia. His
campaign promise was to rescue America from the clutches of the robber
barons and to return it to "the democracy of Thomas Jefferson." That
ideal -- as much Tea Party as Occupy Wall Street -- won support not only
among working class voters and their leaders, like Samuel Gompers, but
also resonated with many small businessmen. Robert Ingersoll, a
Republican orator, attorney and intellectual, was a George supporter. He
urged his fellow Republicans to back his man and thereby "show that
their sympathies are not given to bankers, corporations and
I commend the entire post, adapted from Freeland's new book, Plutocrats. It ends with these paragraphs:
today urgently needs a 21st century Henry George -- a thinker who
embraces the wealth-creating power of capitalism, but squarely faces the
inequity of its current manifestation. That kind of thinking is missing
on the right, which is still relying on Reagan-era trickle-down
economics and hopes complaints about income inequality can be silenced
with accusations of class war. But the left isn't doing much better
either, preferring nostalgia for the high-wage, medium-skill
manufacturing jobs of the post-war era and China-bashing to a serious
and original effort to figure out how to make 21st century capitalism
work for the middle class.
and the technology revolution aren't going away -- and thank goodness
for that. Industrialization didn't go away either. But between 1886,
when George lost the mayoral race, and the presidency of FDR, American
progressives invented, fought for and implemented a broad range of new
social and political institutions to make capitalism serve the whole of
society -- ranging from trust-busting, to the income tax, to the welfare
are living in an era of comparably tumultuous economic change. The
great challenge of our time is to devise the new social and political
institutions we need to make the new economy work for everyone. So far,
that is a historic task neither party is taking on with enough energy,
honesty or originality."
Along the same lines, you might find interesting an earlier post here, an article by Thomas Shearman entitled "Henry George's Mistakes." (He was a co-founder of Shearman & Sterling, and went on to write some excellent articles on plutocracy in The Standard, October, 1887.)
His next task, and indeed the most hazardous he ever undertook, was
the making a new division of their lands. For there was an
extreme inequality among them, and their State was overloaded with a
multitude of indigent and necessitous persons, while its whole
wealth had centered upon a very few.
Well, not quite. The film's a little older than I am.
Watched that film last night ... great quote:
Billie: Because when ya steal from the government, you're stealing from yourself, ya dumb ass.
And when we allow others to steal from the commons what rightly belongs to the community, what are we? Some of that theft we all recognize as theft, and other kinds are perfectly legal, even honored, under our current laws. I find the latter even more troubling than the former.
And when neither our economists nor our leaders even SEE it, it is fair to call that a corruption of what their businesses are supposed to be.
A friend uses as his sig file the quote from Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania:
"I believe in the division of labor. You send us to
Congress; we pass laws under which you make money ... and out of your
profits, you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back
again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money."
-- Senator Boies Penrose (R-Pa.), 1896, citing the relationship between his politics and big business.
I assumed, without giving it a great deal of thought, that Senator Penrose must
have been a local machine boss of some sort. But today I came across a reference to
a paper he co-authored, circa 1886, which said that he had a Bachelor's
degree from Harvard:
City Government of Philadelphia. By Edward P. Allinson, A. B. (Haverford) and Boies Penrose, A. B. (Harvard).
Let us suppose that a people is excluded from the ownership of the
land. I say that this exclusion, even if followed by no other
injustice (which I think impossible), by making a man a stranger to
the commonwealth, makes him indifferent to the existence of the
— MARMONTEL, Address in Favor of
the Peasants of the North (1757), Oeuvres, Vol X., p. 72.
I'm reading through parts of The Standard, Henry George's weekly newspaper from 125 years ago. In the issue I finished the other day, there was a reference to there being 154 contributors to that issue (and 100,000 readers, a figure one might find a bit difficult to believe -- this was in the first year of publication, though pass-along readership, particularly in the numerous local "land and labor" and "single tax" clubs, and library copies might make that credible). Though each issue at this time runs 8 printed pages, when I do "print preview" there are generally 90 to 110 pages of text per issue.
The piece below is signed by George, and while it is speaking to the anarchist trial in Chicago, it contains a lot that is extremely relevant in this election year 125 years later. It comes from page 1 of the October 8, 1887 issue.
I have seen no statement of the ground on which the authorities of Union
Hill, New Jersey, prohibited the meeting of sympathy for the Chicago
anarchists, which was to have been held there on Sunday afternoon, and
was prevented by the police with a free use of their clubs. But whatever
may have been the legal excuse, the action was wrong in principle and
mistaken in policy. We cannot too carefully guard the right of free
speech, and the surest way to prevent the spread of doctrines wrong in
themselves is to allow them to be freely ventilated, drawing the line
only when overt acts of violence are committed or incited to.
This, is illustrated by the effect which the violent language used by
the sympathizers of the Chicago anarchists has been producing, and which
is likely to be retarded by such occurrences as that at Union Hill. The
withdrawal from the Central labor union on Sunday week of the
representatives of the strongest and most influential of its component
bodies rather than permit themselves to be trapped into action which
would have been used as an expression of the sympathy of the workingmen
of New York with the methods and deeds of the Chicago anarchists is
indicative of the marked change, of opinion, which has been produced by
the ravings of the socialists of the progressive labor party.
Among the great body of workingmen there has never been any sympathy
with the bomb throwers of Chicago or any justification of anarchistic
methods, but there was a widespread impression that the men condemned at
Chicago had, in their excited state of public opinion, failed to get a
fair trial: and this feeling led some of the representative men of the
New-York trades unions, upon the first receipt of the news that the
anarchists had been refused a new trial, to consent to put their names
to a circular calling for a protest against the execution of the
sentence. But the violent utterances of the “progressive socialists,"
one of whom, at the meeting of the Central labor union last Sunday week,
called on God to bless the hand that threw the bomb at Chicago, and
their attempt to put the Chicago anarchists in the light of leaders of
the industrial movement who were being persecuted to the death for
legitimate and laudable efforts in the cause of labor, have produced a
strong reaction, well, indeed, may the personal friends of the men who
in Chicago are under sentence of death declare that their blatant
“sympathizers” are their worst enemies.
The truth is that there is no ground for asking executive clemency in
behalf of the Chicago anarchists as a matter of right. An unlawful and
murderous deed was committed in Chicago, the penalty of which by
the laws of the state of Illinois is death. Seven men were tried on the
charge of being accessory to the crime, and after a long trial were
convicted. The case was appealed to the supreme court of the state of
Illinois, and that body, composed of seven judges, removed, both in time
and place, from the excitement which may have been supposed to have
affected public opinion in Chicago during the first trial, have, after
an elaborate examination of the evidence and the law, unanimously
confirmed the sentence.
That seven judges of the highest court of Illinois, men accustomed to
weigh evidence and to pass upon judicial rulings, should, after a full
examination of the testimony and the record, and with the responsibility
of life and death resting upon them, unanimously sustain the verdict
and the sentence, is inconsistent with the idea that the Chicago
anarchists were condemned on insufficient evidence. And the elaborate
review of the testimony which is given in the decision of the supreme
court dissipates the impression that these men were only connected with
the bomb throwing by general and vague incitements to and preparations
for acts of this kind. Even discarding the testimony (contradicted by
other testimony) that Spies handed a bomb to the man who is supposed to
have thrown it, there was enough evidence left to connect the seven men
with a specific conspiracy to prepare dynamite bombs and to use them
against the police on the evening on which the bomb was thrown. It was not indeed proved that any of the
seven men threw the bomb, nor even was it proved who did throw the bomb,
but it was proved beyond any reasonable doubt that these men were
engaged in a conspiracy, as a result of which the bomb was thrown, and
were therefore under the laws of Illinois as guilty as though they
themselves had done the act. It may be said that these men had worked
themselves up to the belief that it is only by acts of violence and
bloodshed that social reform can be attained, but that does not affect
the justice of their sentence. No matter how honest or how intense may
have been their conviction on this point, organized society is none the less justified in protecting itself against such acts.
There may be countries in which the suppression by an absolute despotism
of all freedom of speech and action justifies the use of force, if the
use of force ever can be justified. But even in such countries complaint
cannot be made when the sword is unsheathed against those who draw the
sword. In this country, however, where a freedom of speech which extends
almost to license is seldom interfered with, and where all political
power rests upon the will of the people, those who counsel to force or
to the use of force in the name of political or social reform are
enemies of society, and especially are they enemies of the working
masses. What in this country holds the masses down and permits the
social injustice of which they are becoming so bitterly conscious, is
not any superimposed tyranny, but their own ignorance. The workingmen of
the United States have in their own hands the power to remedy political
abuses and to change social conditions by rewriting the laws as they
will. For the intelligent use of this power thought must be aroused and
reason invoked. But the effect of force, on the contrary, is always to
awaken prejudice and to kindle passion.
There is legitimate ground on which executive clemency may be asked for
the Chicago anarchists — that, being imbued with ideas which germinate in
countries where the legitimate freedom of speech and action is sternly
repressed, they were not fully conscious of the moral criminality of
their action, and that the main purpose of their punishment — the
prevention of such crimes in future — will be as well served, if not even
better served, by a commutation of the sentence of death into a sentence
This last is a very strong ground for the interposition of executive
clemency; and it is sincerely to be hoped that the governor of Illinois
will see its force. A tragical death always tends to condone mistakes
and crimes, and a certain amount of sympathy will undoubtedly attach to
the Chicago anarchists if they are hanged, which would not be aroused if
they were merely imprisoned.
But in whatever expression of opinion associations of workingmen who do
not themselves believe in the use of dynamite may see fit to make upon
this subject, there should be nothing which tends to put the Chicago
anarchists in the light of leaders and martyrs in the cause of American
There are certain lessons connected with this Chicago tragedy that are
well worth the consideration of every thoughtful American. The
appearance in this country of a violent phase of anarchism is not to be
imputed entirely to the ignorance or viciousness of foreigners
unacquainted with our institutions. If they did not find in this country
deep and grievous social injustice, they would not retain the idea of
violence as a remedy for social evils after coming here; and were it not
for this injustice which large bodies of our people keenly feel, the
man who should propose violence or plot violence as a means for improving the condition of the
people would be laughed into silence. The really dangerous thing in this
country is not the presence of foreign born incendiaries, but the
existence of industrial conditions, which, in the midst of plenty,
deprive the laborer of what he knows to be the fair earnings of his
toil, and condemn men able to work and willing to work to enforced idleness.
And the most dangerous men are in reality not the socialists or
anarchists, but the comfortable classes who declare that things as they
are are just what they ought to be, and who not only do not address
themselves to finding any reasonable or peaceful solution for social
difficulties, but do their utmost to prevent any such peaceful solution
from being generally accepted.
Nor is the talking about force confined to anarchists. The rich and
influential are too ready to talk about it, and to condone such
applications of it as the employment of Pinkerton's detectives and the
clubbing of peaceful assemblages by police. And the readiness with which
the idea has spread that the Chicago anarchists have been unjustly and
illegally condemned is a grave warning of the loss of faith in our
judicial system consequent upon the corruption of our politics. We are
yet far from the point at which it can be rationally assumed that seven
judges of a highest state court would condemn a number of their fellow
creatures to death against law and evidence; but when, as in this state,
$60,000 is sometimes spent to secure a judicial nomination, and great
corporations can make their influence felt in politics to secure friends
on the bench, the belief in judicial integrity is surely on the wane.
As I listen to the 2012 party platforms, I am reminded of what they ought to be focused on, embodied pretty well in this platform from 1886-87.
PLATFORM OF THE UNITED PARTY.
Adopted at Syracuse August 19, 1887.
We, the delegates of the united labor party of New York, in state
convention assembled, hereby reassert, as the fundamental platform of
the party, and the basis on which we ask the co-operation of citizens of
other states, the following declaration or principles adopted on
September 23, 1886, by the convention of trade and labor associations of
the city of New York, that resulted in the formation of the united
"Holding that the corruptions of government and the impoverishment of
labor result from neglect of the self-evident truths proclaimed by the
founders of this republic that all men are created equal and are endowed
by their Creator with unalienable rights, we aim at the abolition of a
system which compels men to pay their fellow creatures for the use of
God’s gifts to all, and permits monopolizers to deprive labor of natural
opportunities for employment, thus filling the land with tramps and
paupers and bringing about an unnatural competition which tends to
reduce wages to starvation rates and to make the wealth producer the
industrial slave of those who grow rich by his toil.
'“Holding, moreover, that the advantages arising from social growth and
improvement belong to society at large, we aim at the abolition of the
system which makes such beneficent inventions as the railroad and
telegraph a means for the oppression of the people and the
aggrandizement of an aristocracy of wealth and power. We declare the
true purpose of government to be the maintenance of that sacred right of
property which gives to every one opportunity to employ his labor, and
security that he shall enjoy its fruits; to prevent the strong from
oppressing the weak, and the unscrupulous from robbing the honest; and
to do for the equal benefit of all such things as can be better done by
organized society than by individuals; and we aim at the abolition of
all laws which give to any class of citizens advantages, either
judicial, financial, industrial or political, that are not equally
shared by all others."
We call upon all who seek the emancipation of labor, and who would make
the American union and its component states democratic commonwealths of
really free and independent citizens, to ignore all minor differences
and join with us in organizing a great national party on this broad
platform of natural rights and equal justice. We do not aim at securing
any forced equality in the distribution of wealth. We do not propose
that the state shall attempt to control production, conduct
distribution, or in any wise interfere with the freedom of the
individual to use his labor or capital in any way that may seem proper
to him and that will not interfere with the equal rights of others. Nor
do we propose that the state shall take possession of land and either
work it or rent it out. What we propose is not the disturbing of any man
in his holding or title, but by abolishing all taxes on industry or its
products, to leave to the producer the full fruits of his exertion and
by the taxation of land values, exclusive or improvements, to devote to
the common use and benefit those values, which, arising not from the
exertion of the individual, but from the growth of society, belong
justly to the community as a whole. This increased taxation of land, not
according to its area, but according to its value, must, while
relieving the working farmer and small homestead owner of the undue
burdens now imposed upon them, make it unprofitable to hold land for
speculation, and thus throw open abundant opportunities for the
employment of labor and the building up of homes.
While thus simplifying government by doing away with the horde of
officials required by the present system of taxation and with its
incentives to fraud and corruption, we would further promote the common
weal and further secure the equal rights of all, by placing under public
control such agencies as are in their nature monopolies: We would have
our municipalities supply their inhabitants with water, light and heat;
we would have the general government issue all money, without the
intervention of banks; we would add a postal telegraph system and postal
savings banks to the postal service, and would assume public control
and ownership of those iron roads which have become the highways of
While declaring the foregoing to be the fundamental principles and aims
of the united labor party, and while conscious that no reform can give
effectual and permanent relief to labor that does not involve the legal
recognition of equal rights, to natural opportunities, we nevertheless,
as measures of relief from some of the evil effects of ignoring those
rights, favor such legislation as may tend to reduce the hours of labor,
to prevent the employment of children of tender years, to avoid the
competition of convict labor with honest industry, to secure the
sanitary inspection of tenements, factories and mines, and to put an end
to the abuse of conspiracy laws.
We desire also to so simplify the procedure of our courts and diminish
the expense of legal proceedings, that the poor may be placed on an
equality with the rich and the long delays winch now result in
scandalous miscarriages of justice may be prevented.
And since the ballot is the only means by which in our Republic the
redress of political and social grievances is to besought, we especially
and emphatically declare for the adoption of what is known as the
“Australian system of voting,” an order that the effectual secrecy of
the ballot and the relief of candidates for public office from the heavy
expenses now imposed upon them, may prevent bribery and intimidation,
do away with practical discriminations in favor of the rich and
unscrupulous, and lessen the pernicious influence of money in politics.
In support or these aims we solicit the co-operation of all patriotic
citizens who, sick of the degradation of politics, desire by
constitutional methods to establish justice, to preserve liberty, to
extend the spirit of fraternity, and to elevate humanity.
Rollin M. Squire, the peculiar humbug whose career in this town illustrates the possible absurdities of government by deals, has appeared in Boston, where, in answer to a suit, he pleads the poor debtor act, and swears that he is possessed of no property. Brief as was his term of office, it is difficult to believe that he did not get away with a considerable sum. If he is as poor as he pretends, the lawyers who defended him must be rich.
Recorder Smyth appears to think that James A. Richmond and Jacob Sharp are not so ignorant as they pretend concerning the evidence on which they have been indicted for bribery, and he denies their request for a copy of the evidence submitted to the grand jury. It is believed that the demand is merely a part of their tactics of delay, by which rich criminals secure the protracted postponement of proceedings against them. A poor man against whom such charges were pending would have been "railroaded" into the penitentiary long before this; yet we are assured that in this country all men are equal before the law.
"Our progressive and scheming civilization has developed new forms of speculation and new organizations to give power to capital. Corporations have already become more formidable than the government. Law has clothed them with artificial power without placing proper restriction on its selfish and unjust exercise. There is not adequate security against the frauds they perpetrate. Aggregated capital is managed by boards of directors or trustees whose first business is to advance their own individual interests, and then, so far as consistent with it, the interests of the stockholders."
William Phillips: Labor, Land and Law: A Search for the Missing Wealth of the Working Poor (1886), p. 23
It is well known that these materials and agencies, as fast as they become available, are in the main appropriated by individuals, through the agency or consent of the government, and are then held as private property. Such is the case with the soil and the minerals beneath it. The owners of this property charge as much for the use of it as if it were their own creation, and not that of nature.
— PROF. SIMON NEWCOMB, The Labor Question, North American Review, July, 1870, p. 151.
This is a paragraph from a book written about 100 years ago about Dr. Edward McGlynn, a much-loved Roman Catholic priest in Manhattan (St. Stephen's Church) who, with Henry George, was active in the Anti-Poverty Society in the last 15 years of the 19th century. It comes from a section listing "Thoughts of Dr. McGlynn."
It was told of a recently deceased Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, a man who sat in the Senate of the United States, one of the most eminent men of his generation, how he, a poor lawyer, in a comparatively poor western town, had been able to accumulate some two or three millions of dollars worth of property. How? By "sagacity" in investing in lands at some distance from villages and towns, with foresight that in the course of a few years the growth of those communities, the industry, thrift, talent, virtue, patience of large communities would all keep adding to the value of his property, and in course of time cities, towns and villages would grow up on these lands, and he would be able to command an enormous price for land that cost him but a song. Now, while the law tolerated or even sanctioned what he was doing, he was guilty of an iniquity, of reaping where he had not sown, of exacting tribute where he had contributed nothing.
38. Mining companies which mine on public lands pay far less to the Federal government than they pay on privately held lands.
A. That's fair, because the private landholders are better negotiators
B. That's fair, because the 1872 Mining Act set the price, and it wouldn't be fair to change the business environment after setting the rules.
C. That's fair. Corporations need subsidies to create jobs.
D. That's unfair, and the federal government should be getting just as much from the miners as the private landholders are getting
E. That's unfair, and not only should the federal government be getting more from the mining companies, but the federal government should be collecting a significant portion of the royalties now privatized by private and corporate landholders, since we're all equally entitled to nature's bounty. This would permit us to reduce other taxes on wages and production, and perhaps lead to a citizen's dividend, similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund
F. That's unfair, because the 1872 Mining Act was based on old prices and old mining technology.
A. Sell them off at the current price, about $5 per acre, per the 1872 Mining Act, even if they contain minerals worth billions of dollars.
B. Sell them off to the highest bidder, as soon as possible
C. Sell them off to any bidder, as soon as possible
D. Lease them for fixed terms, to the highest bidder, with future lease prices to be calculated with an eye to making it profitable for the tenant
E. Lease them for fixed terms, to the highest bidder, and then repeat the auction in 10 years. Maintain extensive online databases so that the lease descriptions are visible to all, and the lease expirations are well advertised to all who might be interested in bidding. Make it the landlord's business to get high quality unbiased appraisals of tenant improvements, so that tenants can make sensible improvements and be secure in them. Use the revenue to reduce other taxes which burden the economy.
F. Lease them out, at market rates, with the proceeds used to generated a citizen's dividend. If there is a monopoly or oligopoly, break it up so that there is a genuine market.
G. Keep renting them out at whatever price they're now receiving; we don't want to upset anyone's plans or privileges.
The taxation of all property at a uniform rate is made necessary by the constitutions of about three-fourths of the States of the Union. The taxes on chattels, tools, implements, money, credits, etc., find their condemnation from the Single Taxer's point of view in those ethical considerations which differentiate private from public property. Where there arises a fund known as "land values," growing with the growth of the community and the need of public improvements, it is not only impolitic, it is a violation of the rights of property to tax individual earnings for public expenses.
The value of land is the day-to-day product of the presence and communal activity of the people. It is not a creation of the title-holder and should not be placed in the category of property. If population deserts a town or portions of a town, the value of land will fall; the land may become unsalable. When treated as private property the owner of land receives from day-to-day in ground rent a gift from the community; and justice requires that he should pay taxes to the community proportionate to that gift.
"Land value" or "ground rent" as the older economists termed it, is a tribute which economic law levies upon every occupant of land, however fleeting his stay, as the market price of all the advantages, natural and social, appertaining to that land, including necessarily his just share of the cost of government.
In the files I've been digging through, from the late 50s to the early 80s, I found an early draft of a fine paper by Mason Gaffney about California's Proposition 13, for presentation at an August, 1978 conference. I dug around and found a published copy of that paper, and think it worth sharing here. Original title, "Tax Limitation: Proposition 13 and Its Alternatives"
First, a few of my favorite paragraphs, which I hope will whet your appetite for the whole paper. I won't attempt to provide the context (you can pick that up when you continue to the paper, below).
"There is a deferment option for the elderly, bearing only 7% interest (which is about the annual rate of inflation). In California, as also in Oregon and British Columbia, hardly anyone takes advantage of this deferment option. This fact, it seems to me, rather calls the bluff of those who so freely allege that the woods are full of widows with insoluble cash-flow problems, widows who are losing their houses to the sheriff and whose heirs presumptive, will not help keep the property, which they will eventually inherit."
We hear a lot these days about cutting the fat out of the public sector; but there is fat in the private sector too. I interpret "fat" to mean paying someone for doing nothing, or for doing nothing useful. Most economists agree that payments to people. for holding title to land is nonfunctional income, since the land was created by nature, secured by the nation's armed forces, improved by public spending, and enhanced by the progress of society. "Economic rent" is the economist's term, but in Jarvis-talk we may call it the fat of the land or "land-fat." It has also been called unearned increment, unjust enrichment, and other unflattering names. Howard Jarvis has said that the policeman or fireman who risks his life protecting the property of others has his "nose in the public trough." But it has seemed to generations of economists that the owner whose land rises in value because public spending builds an 8-lane freeway from, let us say, Anaheim to Riverside, and carries water from the Feather River to San Diego, is the first to have his nose in the trough. Nineteenth-century English economists who worked this out were more decorous. They said things like "landlords grow rich in their sleep" (John Stuart Mill), or the value of land is a "public value" (Alfred Marshall) because the public, not the owner, gives it value.
Some 43% of the value of taxable real estate in California is land value. When we lower the property tax we are untaxing not only buildings, but also land-fat.
The ownership of property is highly concentrated, much more so than the receipt of income. Economists in recent years are increasingly saying that the property tax is, after all, progressive because the base is so concentrated, and because so little of it can be shifted. But this message has not yet reached many traditional political action groups who continue to repeat the old refrains. Two remedies are in order.
One is to collect and publish data on the concentration of ownership of real estate. The facts are simply overwhelming and need only to be disseminated.
The second remedy is to note how strikingly little of the Proposition 13 dividend is being passed on to renters. This corroborates the belief of economists that the property tax rests mainly on the property owner where it originally falls, and not on the renter.
A high percentage of real property is owned from out of state and even out of the country. The percentage is much higher than we may think. It is not just Japanese banks and the Arabs in Beverly Hills. It is corporate-held property which comprises almost half the real estate tax base. If we assume that California's share of the stockholders equals California's share of the national population, then 90% of this property is absentee-owned; the percentage may be higher because many of these, after all, are multinational corporations with multinational ownership.
No one seems to have seized on the fact that half the taxable property in California is owned by people not voting in the state. Senator Russell Long has suggested the following principle of taxation: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that man behind the tree." Property tax advocates have done well in the past and should do well again in the future when they make their slogan: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that unregistered absentee. Don't tax your voters, they'll retaliate; tax those stiffs from out of state." Chauvinism and localism can be ugly and counterproductive, as we know; but here is one instance where they may be harnessed to help create a more healthy society. The purpose of democracy is to represent the electorate, not the absentee who stands between the resident and the resources of his homeland.
California's legislative analyst, William Hamm, estimates that over 50% of the value of taxable property in California is absentee-owned. This is such a bold, bare, and enormous fact it is hard to believe that Californians will long resist the urge to levy taxes on all this foreign wealth. They may be put off by the argument that they need to attract outside capital, but that carries no weight when considering the large percentage of this property which is land value.
Property income is generally more beneficial to the receiver than is the same income from wages or salaries, because the property owner does not have to work for it.
Property, particularly land, has been bought and sold for years on the understanding that it was encumbered with peculiar social obligations. These are, in effect, part of our social contract. They compensate those who have been left out. Black activists have laid great stress in recent years on the importance of getting a few people into medical and other professional schools. Does it not make more sense that the landless black people should have, through the property tax, the benefit of some equity in the nation's land from which their ancestors were excluded while others were cornering the supply?
A popular theme these last few years is that property owners should pay only for services to property, narrowly construed. Who, then, is to pay for welfare — the cripples? Who is to pay for schooling — the children? Who should sacrifice for the blacks — Allan Bakke? Who should finance our national defense — unpaid conscripts? The concept that one privileged group of takers can exempt itself from the giving obligations of life denies that we are a society at all.
Here is, perhaps, my favorite:
We can ask that a single standard be applied to owners troubled by higher taxes and to tenants troubled by higher rents. When widow A is in tax trouble, it is time to turn to hearts and flowers, forebode darkly, curse oppressive government, and demand tax relief. When widow B has trouble with escalating rents, that touches a different button. You have to be realistic about welfare bums who play on your sympathy so they can tie up valuable property. You have to pay the bank, after all. A man will grit his teeth and do what he must: garnishee her welfare check. If that is too little, give notice. Finally, you can call the sheriff and go to the beach until it's over. That's what we pay taxes for. Welfare is their problem.
Anyway, widow B is not being forced out of her own house, like widow A and so many like her. Jarvis said that taxes are forcing three million Californians from their homes this year. But in truth, while evictions of tenants are frequent, sheriff's sales of homes are rare. Those who do sell ("because of taxes," they say, as well as all their other circumstances) usually cash out handsomely, which is, after all, why their taxes had gone up.
Then there is the fruit tree anomaly. Under Proposition 13, a tree can only be assessed at its value when planted, with a 2% annual increment. The value of a seed thrown in the ground or even a sapling planted from nursery stock is so small compared with the mature tree that this is virtual exemption. This anomaly rather graphically illustrates how Proposition 13 automatically favors any appreciating property over depreciating property. The greatest gain here goes, of course, to appreciating land.
Finally, build no surpluses. Surpluses attract raiders and raiders are often organized landowners. "Property never sleeps," said the jurist Sir William Blackstone. "One eye is always open." Even though the surplus was built up by taxing income, Howard Jarvis made it seem the most righteous thing in the world that it should be distributed to property owners. He was geared up for this because his landlord patrons kept him constantly in the field.
Economists of many generations even before Adam Smith and continuing to the present — have preached on the advantages of land as a tax base. Let me enumerate a few of those.
A tax on land value is the only tax known to man which is both progressive and favorable to incentives. One can wax lyrical only about a tax that combines these two properties, because the conflict between progressivity and incentives has baffled tax practitioners for centuries, and still baffles them today.
A land tax is progressive because the ownership of the base is highly concentrated, much more so than income and even more so than the ownership of machines and improvements.
Also, the tax on land values cannot be shifted to the consumer. The tax stimulates effort and investment because it is a fixed charge based merely on the passage of time.
It does not rise when people work harder or invest money in improvements. Think about this. It is remarkable. With the land tax, there is no conflict but only harmony between progressivity in taxation and incentives to work and invest. In one stroke it solves one of the central divisive conflicts of all time.
The land tax does that because it cuts only the fat, not the muscle. It takes from the taxpayer only "economic rent," only the income he gets for doing nothing. If people could grasp this one overriding idea, then the whole sterile, counterproductive, endless impasse between conservatives who favor incentives and liberals who favor welfare would be resolved in a trice, and we could get on to higher things.
The final paragraphs speak directly to us in 2012. 34 years have passed since this was written.
Summing up, Walter Rybeck, an administrative assistant for Congressman Henry Reuss of Wisconsin, and head of the League for Urban Land Conservation, has sagely suggested that we distinguish two functions of business: wealth-creating and resource-holding. A good tax system will not make people pay for creating wealth but simply for holding resources. Most taxes wait on a "taxable event" — they shoot anything that moves, while sparing those who just sit still on their resources.
If we really want to revive the work ethic and put the United States back on its feet, we had better take steps to change the effect of taxes on incentives. Legislatures have got in the habit of acting as though persons with energy and talent, and with character for self-denial, should be punished, as if guilty of some crime against humanity. We cannot study the tax laws without inferring that Congress regards giving and receiving employment to be some kind of social evil, like liquor and tobacco, to be taxed and discouraged by all means not inconsistent with the rights of property. Little wonder the natives are getting restless. If we tax people for holding resources rather than creating wealth and serving each others' needs, we will be taking a giant step toward a good and healthy society.
If your appetite is whetted by these excerpts, you can read the entire article below:
While I'm glad to see our troops coming home from Iraq, I think we ought to be very conscious that our spending large amounts of money there is continuing. I think it is fair to assume that the private contractors have large amounts of corporate or "small business" profits built into their invoices to we-the-people.
We're paying for their pensions, their life insurance, their health care, and their not-trivial "wages." The lowest-paid contractors are probably receiving wages approaching those of mid-level military, and benefits far superior. Their management is likely taking home compensation many times what we pay our President.
I realize that some will think this is a fine thing, but I submit that its costs to our society are non-trivial.
Sometimes public employees are the best people for the job. There is a lot less fat in our military than there is in private-sector substitutes.
Let's not fool ourselves about Iraq.
"Out of sight, out of mind" sometimes gets translated by the naive as "blind and crazy."
Daddy Warbucks. Daddy "peace"bucks?
We ought to be getting a monthly accounting of the dollars flowing, and to whom they are flowing.
"ARE WE SOCIALISTS?" Thomas B. Preston, in the Arena, December, 1899
It is socialistic to make the revenues of the government a burden on industry. Revenues there must be, but they should not bear upon industry. In fact, the taxation of any product of labor is simply taking from the laborer part of his earnings. To such an extent we are socialists. Any other form of taxation than that on the value of land is essentially socialistic because any other tax is passed on from the seller to the consumer, and takes part of the latter's earnings without compensation, for use by the community. Any tax on earnings is socialistic, although it may not go so far as to take all a man earns. The substitution for our present system of a single tax amounting to the full rental value of land would sound the death-knell of socialism.
While we sin so deeply in our present bungling, socialistic way by forcing individuals to give up part of the proceeds of their labor, by fining a man who builds a house more than if he were maintaining a public nuisance, by tariffs which hinder trade with foreign countries, and add millions to private fortunes at the expense of the people, and by a thousand indirect taxes which make life harder for men without their being able easily to see the reason, on the other hand we foolishly leave to individuals those great agencies which are the outcome of social growth — the product of the inventive genius of a few men, if you like, but which after a time grow so powerful as to become the very arbiters of life and death. Prominent among such agencies are the railroad and the telegraph. They can crush communities out of existence and enrich the owners at the expense of their fellow men. They have already become the chief source of corruption in government. The ownership of these agencies by the community becomes a necessity for the continuance of social progress. Otherwise these monopolies can go on increasing and concentrating until a few persons are enabled, through them, to appropriate the wealth of a community. In so far as socialism demands the state ownership of agencies of this nature, it is proceeding in the right direction. There are many other agencies besides the railroad and the telegraph, such as the supply of water, gas, light, heat, telephones and means of transit and communication, in which the American idea of free competition is a fallacy. Here we are too individualistic. The right to make war and peace was long ago taken from individuals and vested in the community. So at a later stage was the carriage of letters. National quarantines, boards of health, public schools, are all examples of applied socialism in its legitimate sense. But why should we stop here? The existence of such great monopolies as the railroad and the telegraph is a standing menace to the life of the Republic. Let us munificently reward the inventors or appliances which shall add to the comfort and convenience of the community, but allow these agencies to be owned perpetually by individuals never!
We are socialistic where we should respect the rights of the individual, and we are individualistic when individualism is a crime against the Commonwealth. And so we go blundering on. When our stupid and oppressive system leads men to cry out against it, and riot and murder follow, we hang a few anarchists. When monopolists, grown bold through long years of immunity, attempt to rob a little more openly, by pools and combinations or by direct bribery, we create interstate commissions to watch them, or we send a few to prison, allowing others to escape to Canada; repressing a little here those who complain too loudly, where we should rather rectify their grievances, and lopping off a little there the enormous unearned profits, which we should abolish altogether. Meanwhile our two classes of tramps are increasing — those who travel around the world in flowing palaces, living upon the toil of others, without using their capital in any legitimate enterprise and those who go afoot, pilfering from cornfields and hen roosts — both classes an unjust burden on a hard working, long suffering community. We have arrived at a critical period of our history, where we must meet the demands of social progress, or our civilization will perish as surely as did the fallen empires of former ages. Already the mutterings of revolt are growing louder and louder, while upstart monopoly was never so insolent and imperious as it is today. Let us be warned in time, and, discarding all half measures, face the issue like men, and not go on trusting to luck, foolishly dreaming that somehow, at some time, existing wrongs will right themselves.