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!
TWENTY men working together will, where
nature is niggardly, produce more than twenty times the
wealth that one man can produce where nature is most
bountiful. The denser the population the more minute becomes
the subdivision of labor, the greater the economies of
production and distribution, and, hence, the very reverse of
the Malthusian doctrine is true; and, within the limits in
which we have any reason to suppose increase would still go
on, in any given state of civilization a greater number of
people can produce a larger proportionate amount of wealth
and more fully supply their wants, than can a smaller
number. —Progress & Poverty — Book II,
Chapter 4: Population and Subsistence: Disproof of the
DOES not the fact that all of the things which
furnish man's subsistence have the power to multiply many
fold — some of them many thousand fold, and some of them
many million or even billion fold — while he is only
doubling his numbers, show that, let human beings increase
to the full extent of their reproductive power, the increase
of population can never exceed subsistence? This is clear
when it is remembered that though in the vegetable and
animal kingdoms each species, by virtue of its reproductive
power, naturally and necessarily presses against the
conditions which limit its further increase, yet these
conditions are nowhere fixed and final. No species reaches
the ultimate limit of soil, water, air, and sunshine; but
the actual limit of each is in the existence of other
species, its rivals, its enemies, or its food. Thus the
conditions which limit the existence of such of these
species as afford him subsistence man can extend (in some
cases his mere appearance will extend them), and thus the
reproductive forces of the species which supply his wants,
instead of wasting themselves against their former limit,
start forward in his service at a pace which his powers of
increase cannot rival. If he but shoot hawks, food-birds
will increase: if he but trap foxes the wild rabbits will
multiply; the bumble bee moves with the pioneer, and on the
organic matter with which man's presence fills the rivers,
fishes feed. — Progress & Poverty — Book II,
Chapter 3: Population and Subsistence: Inferences from
read the corresponding passage in Bob Drake's abridgement:
THAT man cannot exhaust or lessen the powers of nature
follows from the indestructibility of matter and the
persistence of force. Production and consumption are only
relative terms. Speaking absolutely, man neither produces
nor consumes. The whole human race, were they to labor to
infinity, could not make this rolling sphere one atom
heavier or one atom lighter, could not add to or diminish by
one iota the sum of the forces whose everlasting circling
produces all motion and sustains all life. As the water that
we take from the ocean must again return to the ocean, so
the food we take from the reservoirs of nature is, from the
moment we take it, on its way back to those reservoirs. What
we draw from a limited extent of land may temporarily reduce
the productiveness of that land, because the return may be
to other land, or may be divided between that land and other
land, or perhaps, all land; but this possibility lessens
with increasing area, and ceases when the whole globe is
considered. —Progress & Poverty — Book II,
Chapter 3: Population and Subsistence: Inferences from
read the corresponding section in Bob Drake's abridgement ...
1. There are a lot of living costs that we don't pay for.
2. A higher gas tax could make the economy more efficient.
3. And so could taxes for all kinds of things.
4. But where do you draw the line?
Adam Davidson is asking some good questions here. Henry George provided some good answers to those questions. I recommend starting with "Social Problems" and then progressing to "Progress and Poverty."
A few snippets from the season premier of Downton Abbey and a preliminary program about the estate where it is filmed.
Like many others, I'm a fan of the Downton Abbey series. I think a lot about the economics of maintaining an estate that size -- how many people are involved -- how many breadwinners employed, and for whose benefit -- what the products are, what the opportunities are for local residents to live without being either employees or tenants, and what percentage of their annual income goes to support the owners of the land. Large spreads of land certainly reduce the pool of employers.
5,000 acres is 7.8 square miles. 5 times Central Park, I think they said. That's a circle of 1.57 miles radius. A long way from one's nearest non-tenant neighbor, even if they live right at one's perimeter! Small by Texas standards, perhaps, but its location within a reasonable radius of London makes it far more valuable.
It was 20% bigger when the current owner's grandfather owned it. Taxes "chipped away" at it. (Cui bono?)
The program focuses on the people involved in keeping the castle itself and its immediate grounds going; it doesn't mention the tenant farmers.
Watching the program about the Highclere property, I am reminded of a presentation I heard in Newport, Rhode Island, this fall, about the gardeners and property managers of the great estates there. They seemed to have more employers to choose from, since the typical estate in Newport might be a few acres.
Ah, there's a Rothschild in the picture! The wife of the 1890's occupant ... with a dowry.
Against all odds, Highclere survived ... in other words, they didn't need to sell off land to other people?
1500 acres of grazing ... an important source of income for generations ... and oats for the queen's (and others') racehorses. (Do the royals watch Downton Abbey?)
A straight-on view of one side of the castle suggested that one side was about 17 windows wide. I grew up in a subdivision "colonial-style" home, built about 1963, which was 5 windows wide on its front side. I thought it was huge!
The 3rd season premier:
@14 minutes: "The estate must be a major employer and support the house!"
In our society, established upon a very rigorous idea of
property, the position of the poor man is horrible; he has literally
no place under the sun. There are no flowers, no shade, no grass but
for him who possesses the earth. In the East these are the gifts of
God, which belong to no man. The proprietor has but a slender
privilege; nature is the patrimony of all.
We worked through spring and winter,
through summer and through fall.
But the mortgage worked the hardest
and steadiest of them all;
It worked on nights and Sundays, it
worked each holiday;
It settled down among us and it never
Whatever we kept from it seemed almost as bad as theft;
It watched us every minute and it
ruled us right and left.
The rust and blight were with us
sometimes, and sometimes not;
scowling mortgage was forever on the spot.
The weevil and the cutworm they went
as well as came;
The mortgage stayed forever, eating
heartily all the same.
It nailed up every window, stood
guard at every door,
And happiness and sunshine, made
their home with us no more;
Till with falling crops and sickness
we got stalled upon the grade.
And there came a dark
day on us when the interest wasn't paid.
And there came a sharp foreclosure,
and I kind o' lost my hold.
And grew weary and discouraged and
the farm was cheaply sold.
The children left and scattered, when
they hardly yet were grown;
My wife she pined and perished, and I found myself alone.
What she died of was a mystery, and
the doctors never knew;
But I knew she died of mortgage — Just
as well as I wanted to.
If to trace a hidden sorrow were
within the doctors art.
They'd ha' found a mortgage lying on
that woman's broken heart.
Worm or beetle, drought
or tempest, on a farmer's land may fall.
But for a first-class
ruination, trust a mortgage 'gainst them all.
How much of a farmer's mortgage is for the value of the land itself, and how much for the present value of the improvements which previous owners have made, such as clearing, draining, fencing, irrigating, building structures, plus, perhaps, equipment purchased with the land and buildings?
For that matter, how much of a homeowner's mortgage is for the value of the land itself --including its access to community-provided services such as city water and sewer, fire hydrants, and the like -- and how much for the purchase price of the landscaping and structures on the property, built by any of the previous owners?
To what degree is the modern buyer including in his formal calculations or his underlying assumptions the notion that the land will increase in value during his tenure? (See Case & Schiller, 2003.)
Researching the post immediately below this one, I came across an interesting item which ends with these paragraphs. I've highlighted the piece that caught my eye:
WHY DO WE LOOK AT EACH NEW birth as the arrival on earth of another hungry mouth? Why are we incapable of seeing that along with each new mouth comes a pair of hands? The world does not have six billion mouths to feed — it has six billion hard-working human beings whose creativity and ingenuity must be unleashed.
In the next decade India and China will each add to the planet about 10 times as many people as the US. But the stress on the “world’s carrying capacity” caused by the new Americans will far exceed India’s and China’s combined.
In any case even if, as predicted by the UN, Asians and Africans will make up 80 per cent of humanity by 2050, they will simply have returned to being proportionately as numerous as they were before the Industrial Revolution.
Me voici, owner of some
four hundred well developed pines, a few thousand tons of granite
scattered in blocks at the roots of the pines, and a sprinkling of
earth. That's a town lot in Vancouver. You or your agent hold to it
till property rises, then sell out and buy more land further out of
town and repeat the process. I do not quite see how this sort of
thing helps the growth of a town, but the English Boy says that it
is the "essence of speculation," so it must be all right.
The use of a certain area of the earth's surface is a primary
condition of anything that man can do; it gives him room for his own
actions, with the enjoyment of the heat and the light, the air and
the rain which nature assigns to the area; and it determines
his distance from, and in a great measure his relations to, other
things and other persons. We shall find that it is this
property of "land" which, though as yet insufficient prominence has
been given to it, is the ultimate cause of the distinction which all
writers on economics are compelled to make between land and other
— PROF. ALFRED MARSHALL, of the
University of Cambridge,
Principles of Economics, Vol. I., Book 4,
Chap. 2, Sec. I.
StarWatch investigation: State paid twice what some I-69 land was worth
To secure path for I-69, INDOT offered $7M for property appraised at $3.34M Written by Ryan Sabalow and Tim Evans | 7:47 PM, Nov 10, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In 2006, Barry Elkins paid $850,000 for about 200
acres in Monroe County owned by former Indiana University basketball
coach Bob Knight.
$4,250 per acre
Elkins told a local newspaper he had no plans to develop the land. He
said he also was quite aware state officials planned to acquire at least
some of the property for the new I-69 freeway project.
Nonetheless, Elkins told a reporter: "It's a heck of a piece of ground."
Turns out, it produced a heck of a profit, too.
In July, state highway officials paid Elkins $2.41 million for an
easement covering 140 of the 200 acres. That's almost four times the
$658,800 that state appraisers said the easement was worth.
$17,214 per acre for the 140 acres.
$658,800 is $4,705 per acre.
The $2.41 million represents a profit of $1.56 million since 2006, still
leaves the owner with 60 acres with no easement and 140 acres with an
easement. The $1.56 million profit in 6 years on an $850,000 investment
is 84%! Quite a return! For what effort?
What did society get in return?
According to I-69 cost estimates INDOT provided this summer, $162.6
million in state and federal funds were spent on right-of-way purchases
along the new stretch of freeway.
He said the property payments also haven't caused the project to go over
budget. He said the I-69 project is 25 percent under budget estimates.
Officials this summer pegged the cost of the Evansville-to-Bloomington
project at $1.5 billion.
The land Elkins bought from Knight wasn't the only Monroe County
property along I-69's path that he sold to the state for far more than
its fair market value. He and two co-owners also got $348,600 for a
27-acre property appraised at $194,625; and $795,956 for 58 acres
appraised at $278,295.
As for the former Knight property, the state purchased the easement to
create an "environmental mitigation site" to make up for damage to
forests, wetlands, wildlife habitat and other natural resources caused
by the new freeway.
After the $2.41 million payday -- which was nearly three times the
amount Elkins paid Knight for the entire 200 acres -- Elkins still owns
the picturesque expanse of undeveloped pasture and woods about eight
miles southwest of Bloomington.
The easement forbids any development on 140 acres of the land but allows
Elkins to use it for "low-impact" recreational activities such as
hiking, photography and hunting.
And he doesn't have to pay property taxes.
One might reasonably ask what valuation Elkins was paying property taxes on before the transactions.
One might reasonably ask how much the labor costs on this project were -- what men and women got paid for their hours of labor put into building the highway, and then compare that to Mr. Elkins' and others' receipts as passive landholders!! Quite amazing that we treat the "rights" of landholders as more sacred than we make the rights of the community or of those who work.
One might reasonably wonder how soon the communities along the route of this new highway will revalue their land, and whether the communities will collect more from those whose land benefited from the presence of this highway (and less from those whose properties were in reality negatively impacted, should that be the case). In general, the aggregate benefits will far exceed the aggregate negative impacts, and would likely be enough to pay all the costs of the construction.
Mr. Elkins' free lunch did not come out of thin air. And likely, his heirs will continue to enjoy the benefit of it.
THIS is how wealth concentrates. This is why we are forced into taxing wages, and sales, and other things we have no business taxing!
... many Americans are facing the likelihood of not having sufficient income in retirement unless they increase their savings, work longer, or significantly decrease their expenditures in retirement if they hope to make ends meet.
The Employee Benefits Research Institute recently published an analysis of 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances data. It demonstrates how few people have the traditional defined-benefit retirement plans, and the account balances people of various demographics have in their individually-directed retirement accounts.
Here are some statistics worth considering as we think about the effects of a system which permits a few of us to capture a large share of the nation's net worth and a large share of its income, and to unduly influence our elections with advertising which works to conceal and reinforce the structures of that system:
38% of all families -- of all ages -- had a family member with a retirement plan. [Figure 2]
of those 38%, 18% had only a defined benefit plan; 61% had only a defined contribution plan; 21% had both. 82% had a 401(k) type plan, and of that 82%, 22% also had a defined benefit plan
Among those families whose head was 55-64, 43% had a member with a retirement plan; among those 45-54, 53% did.
Interestingly, the top 75% of the net worth spectrum all had rates in the 41% to 46% range; in the bottom 25%, only 21%.
Among families whose head was under 65 and working, 52% had a member participating in a retirement plan [Figure 3].
Among households with income abov e $100,000, 76% had retirement plans; in the $50,000 to $100,000 income range, 64%; in the lower income groups, the rate ranged from 44% down to 9%
In the 55-64 age group, 59% had a retirement plan; in the 45-54 group, 61%.
Within this working-age universe, similar trends held: the top 50% had roughly 61-67% availability of employment-related retirement plans; for the next 25%, only 53%; for the bottom 25% of working families, only 29%.
IRAs and Keogh plans: 28% had one or both; median value, $40,000 (up from $34,574 in 2007). Among those 55-64, 41% had one or both; median value $60,000 (down from $68,101); among those 45-54, 29% had one or both; median value $40,000, up from $37,717. [Figure 5]
Even among those in the top 10% of the net worth spectrum, only 77% had IRA or Keogh accounts, median value $200,,000, up from $142,487 in 2007; in the next 15% of the net worth spectrum, median value was $60,000.
Of all families, 64% had some sort of retirement account from a current or previous employer (down from 66% in 2007)
Retirement assets in Defined Contribution plans and IRAs typically [that is, at the median] represent 61% to 66% of total financial assets, which is to say that most have less in mutual funds, stocks, checking and other accounts than they do in their retirement accounts. [Figure 8]
Only in the top 10% do retirement assets represent less than half of financial assets.
As is typical of median/average ratios, average holdings are considerably higher -- that is, the holdings of the top few are huge, and most of us are below average. The average balance is $173,232; in the top 10% of the net worth spectrum, average balances are $519,034. For the next 15% of us, the average balance is 147,061 -- well below the average of all of us! [Figure 9] Recall from Figure 6 that 64% of us have such a plan; the other 36% have no balance at all (and likely a significant percentage have very small account balances).
For those in the 65-74 age group, the average balance is $324,199; for those in the 55-64 group, the average balance is $297,903.
For those in the top 10%, average account balance is $519,034. One might reasonably guess that the top 5% have the lion's share of this.
It might be worth noting that a 70 year old must withdraw at least 1/27 of his IRA per year. Based on that 65-74 age group average balance, that's $12,000 per year. (Another rule of thumb says that if one only withdraws 3% per year, one's account should last forever. That would be $9,725 per year, for that "average" -- not median -- family in the 65-74 age group.
Enough said. Time to circle back to the study's conclusion:
... many Americans are facing the likelihood of not having sufficient income in retirement unless they increase their savings, work longer, or significantly decrease their expenditures in retirement if they hope to make ends meet.
What public policy reforms might one suggest based on these data points?
Find a way to raise wages for ordinary workers
Find a way to lower the cost of living for ordinary workers and retirees
Find a way to reduce the sum of the taxes we pay and the costs of housing without reducing the public goods which those taxes provide (unless it is by reducing the demand for social safety net
If you have other suggestions, I'd like to hear them.
But the reason for this blog is that I believe I have found the public policy reform which would accomplish these goals, in collecting the lion's share of the annual rental value of our land, and in collecting for the commons certain other kinds of natural public revenue which our current system permits to accrue to individuals and corporations. I didn't invent it. Henry George is the clearest exponent of it, but not the first or last. Is it perfect? No, but it is vastly superior to what we've got now, and I believe it is consistent with the ideals to which Americans pay the most honor.
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.
To such a point have we been brought by an artificial system of
society, that we must either deny altogether the right of the poor
to their just proportion of the fruits of the earth, or afford them
some means of subsistence out of them by the institution of positive
— SIR WALTER SCOTT, St. Ronan's
Well, Chap. XXXII., Note G.
In the early ages of society it would have been impossible to
maintain the exclusive ownership of a few persons in what seems at
first sight an equal gift to all (the land) — a thing to which
everyone has the same claim.
— WALTER BAGEHOT (1826-1877),
Economic Studies, Essay I., Part I., p. 31.
That any human being should dare to apply to another the epithet
"pauper" is, to me, the greatest, the vilest, the most unpardonable
crime that could be committed. Each human being by mere birth
has a birthright in this earth and all its productions; and if they
do not receive it, then it is they who are injured, and it is not
the "pauper," oh, inexpressibly wicked word! — it is the well-to-do
who are the criminal classes.
— RICHARD JEFFERIES, The Story of
My Heart, Chap. X., p. 122.
"But how is it that you allow these chiefs — landlords, don't you call them? — to taboo the
soil, and prevent you all from even walking on it? Don't you see
that if you choose to combine in a body, and insist upon the
recognition of your natural rights — if you determined to make the landlords give up
their taboo, and cease from injustice, they'd have to yield to you?
And then you could exercise your natural right of going where you
pleased, and cultivate the land in common for the public benefit,
instead of leaving it as now, to be cultivated anyhow, or turned
into waste, for the benefit of the tabooers?"
— GRANT ALLEN, The British
Barbarians (Words spoken by Bertram).
The post below this one, "Mitt Romney's 'Fair Share' " refers to his fair share of the costs of providing public goods.
But perhaps an equally important question is the nature of one's fair share of the output of our economy and the output of the earth. Some of the former output is the result of individual efforts, and one ought to be able to keep that portion. But at the same time we must recognize how much comes from the division of labor, from drawing down on the non-infinite supply of non-renewable natural resources on which all of us today must depend and on which future generations of human beings must rely. Those who draw down more than their legitimate share owe something to the rest of the community. Our wealthiest tend, we suspect, to use many, many times their legitimate share, and the median American likely draws far more than their share, when one considers the planet as a whole.
Perhaps "legitimate" is not the right word here. It refers to what is permissible under current law. (The word gets misused a lot -- see the discussion on "legitimate rape," which seemed to be about the circumstances under which a woman has a right to make a specific very personal, decision, and when it is considered by some to not be left to her and is the province of government, legislators or others.)
What is one's "fair share" of natural resources? America is using a hugely disproportionate share of the world's resources. Are we entitled to it because we're somehow "exceptional"? Because "our" God is somehow better than other nation's Gods? Or do we genuinely believe that all people are created equal, and intend to live our lives accordingly?
Our output of greenhouse gases exceeds our share of the world's population. This is not without consequences for the world, and for peace on earth.
We ought to be re-examining our incentives so that they move us in the direction we ought to be going, which is, to my mind, using less. We can build transportation infrastructure which will permit many more of us to move around with less impact on the environment. We can fund that through collecting the increases in land value that infrastructure creates. We can correct the incentives which cause us to use today's inferior technologies to extract natural resources from the earth in ways which damage the environment, as if ours was the final generation, or the only one worth serious consideration.
Better incentives could reduce, eliminate, even reverse urban sprawl. I refer specifically to land value taxation as a replacement for the existing property tax, particularly in places where assessments are for one reason or another not consistent with current property values -- e.g., California and Florida, parts of Delaware and Pennsylvania which currently use assessments from the 1970s, and many other places where assessments are simply out of whack with current reality!) We should be replacing sales taxes, wage taxes, building taxes with taxes on land value and on natural resources. Most of that value is flowing generously into private or corporate pockets, to our detriment. It concentrates wealth, income, and, of course, political power.
Collecting the rent, instead of leaving the lion's share of it to be pocketed by the rent-seekers, would go a long way to making our society and our economy healthier. Eliminating the privilege of privatizing that which in a wisely designed society would be our common treasure would make our society a better place in which to live, a place in which all could thrive and prosper without victimizing their fellow human beings.
A major theme of the underlying political debate in the United States is the role of the state and the need for collective action. The private sector, while central in a modern economy, cannot ensure its success alone. For example, the financial crisis that began in 2008 demonstrated the need for adequate regulation.
Moreover, beyond effective regulation (including ensuring a level playing field for competition), modern economies are founded on technological innovation, which in turn presupposes basic research funded by government. This is an example of a public good – things from which we all benefit, but that would be undersupplied (or not supplied at all) were we to rely on the private sector.
Conservative politicians in the US underestimate the importance of publicly provided education, technology, and infrastructure. Economies in which government provides these public goods perform far better than those in which it does not.
But public goods must be paid for, and it is imperative that everyone pays their fair share. While there may be disagreement about what that entails, those at the top of the income distribution who pay 15% of their reported income (money accruing in tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens may not be reported to US authorities) clearly are not paying their fair share. ...
I have to disagree with the second sentence of this next paragraph. And I think Stiglitz knows better, if he stops to think about it:
Democracies rely on a spirit of trust and cooperation in paying taxes. If every individual devoted as much energy and resources as the rich do to avoiding their fair share of taxes, the tax system either would collapse, or would have to be replaced by a far more intrusive and coercive scheme. Both alternatives are unacceptable.
We don't need intrusive or coercive; we just need to start collecting the lion's share of the rent! Well, I suppose some rent-seekers would find this extremely intrusive -- it intrudes on their habit of self-enrichment by privatizing of what is rightly and logically our PUBLIC treasure, the logical way of financing PUBLIC goods. And Professor Stiglitz is quite aware of the value of natural resources; he may not be quite as conscious of the value of urban and other well-situated land.
Our national recordkeeping doesn't even collect the valuations of land and natural resources on any consistent basis! (One could reasonably argue that this failure-to-measure is a form of corruption!) What we don't measure we can't do anything about. And the powers that be are quite content with how we do things; the benefits accrue to them! And several generations of college-educated people know nothing about the issue, which was well known and widely discussed 100 years ago. (Look into the extensive Single Tax literature and the ideas of Henry George.)
Some more excerpts:
The billionaire investor Warren Buffett argues that he should pay only the taxes that he must, but that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that taxes his income at a lower rate than his secretary is required to pay. He is right. Romney might be forgiven were he to take a similar position. Indeed, it might be a Nixon-in-China moment: a wealthy politician at the pinnacle of power advocating higher taxes for the rich could change the course of history.
But Romney has not chosen to do so. He evidently does not recognize that a system that taxes speculation at a lower rate than hard work distorts the economy. Indeed, much of the money that accrues to those at the top is what economists call rents, which arise not from increasing the size of the economic pie, but from grabbing a larger slice of the existing pie.
Those at the top include a disproportionate number of monopolists who increase their income by restricting production and engaging in anti-competitive practices; CEOs who exploit deficiencies in corporate-governance laws to grab a larger share of corporate revenues for themselves (leaving less for workers); and bankers who have engaged in predatory lending and abusive credit-card practices (often targeting poor and middle-class households). It is perhaps no accident that rent-seeking and inequality have increased as top tax rates have fallen, regulations have been eviscerated, and enforcement of existing rules has been weakened: the opportunity and returns from rent-seeking have increased.
Today, a deficiency of aggregate demand afflicts almost all advanced countries, leading to high unemployment, lower wages, greater inequality, and – coming full, vicious circle – constrained consumption. There is now a growing recognition of the link between inequality and economic instability and weakness.
There is another vicious circle: Economic inequality translates into political inequality, which in turn reinforces the former, including through a tax system that allows people like Romney – who insists that he has been subject to an income-tax rate of “at least 13%” for the last ten years – not to pay their fair share. The resulting economic inequality – a result of politics as much as market forces – contributes to today’s overall economic weakness.
In love of home the love of country has its rise, and who are the truer patriots or the better in time of need — those who venerate the land, owning its woods and streams and earth and all that they produce, or those who love their country, boasting not a foot of ground in all its wide domain?
— CHARLES DICKENS, Old Curiosity Shop, Chap. XXXVIII.
ON Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia’s carbon tax — a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province — increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.
This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.
The only bad news is that this is the last increase scheduled in British Columbia. In our view, the reason is simple: the province is waiting for the rest of North America to catch up so that its tax system will not become unbalanced or put energy-intensive industries at a competitive disadvantage.
Over dinner tonight, Milton Friedman's name came up, and I commented that in about 1978 and again in 2006, a few weeks before his death, Milton Friedman called land value taxation the "least bad" tax, but never lifted a finger in the intervening years to help promote it.
The carbon tax is another good, and wise, and just, tax.
How many economists will put their shoulder to getting it enacted?
How many will simply hang out in their ivory towers?
Let’s start with the economics. Substituting a carbon tax for some of our current taxes — on payroll, on investment, on businesses and on workers — is a no-brainer. Why tax good things when you can tax bad things, like emissions? The idea has support from economists across the political spectrum, from Arthur B. Laffer and N. Gregory Mankiw on the right to Peter Orszag and Joseph E. Stiglitz on the left. That’s because economists know that a carbon tax swap can reduce the economic drag created by our current tax system and increase long-run growth by nudging the economy away from consumption and borrowing and toward saving and investment.
What would a British Columbia-style carbon tax look like in the United States? According to our calculations, a British Columbia-style $30 carbon tax would generate about $145 billion a year in the United States. That could be used to reduce individual and corporate income taxes by 10 percent, and afterward there would still be $35 billion left over.
Why on earth should the privilege to pollute OUR air be be given away for free, or for less than the social costs it imposes on us? Who benefits from such a system?
A carbon tax makes sense whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a climate change skeptic or a believer, a conservative or a conservationist (or both). We can move past the partisan fireworks over global warming by turning British Columbia’s carbon tax into a made-in-America solution.
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.
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.
Land, which nature has destined to man's sustenance, is the only source from which everything comes, and to which everything flows back, and the existence of which constantly remains in spite of all changes. From this unmistakable truth it results that land alone can furnish the wants of the state, and that in natural fairness no distinctions can be made in this.
— EMPEROR JOSEPH II., in Oestreichische Geschichte fur das Volk, Vol. XIV. (Vienna, 1867).
While I was in the wood alone by myself a gathering of nuts, the forester popped through the bushes upon me, and asking me what I did there, I answered, "Gathering nuts."
"Gathering nuts!" said he; "and dare you say so?"
"Yes," said I. "Why not? Would you question a monkey or a squirrel about such a business?"
. . "I tell you," said he, "this wood is not common; it belongs to the Duke of Portland."
"Oh! My service to the Duke of Portland," said I; "Nature knows no more of him than of me. Therefore, as in Nature's storehouse the rule is, First come, first served, so the Duke of Portland must look sharp if he wants any nuts."
— THOMAS SPENCE, Pig's Meat (1793)
in Land for the Landless (Wm. Reeves, 1896), pp. 7-8.
7. The corporations which pollute the world's air through emissions from their US-based factories and refineries and electricity-generating plants will be asked to pay for carbon credits to offset the pollution they create. Where should the revenue go?
A. Back to the corporations and their shareholders
B. To the American people as a Citizen's Dividend (similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund)
C. To American workers and retirees in the form of revenue to support Social Security
D. To the American people as a reduction in federal income taxes, starting with the highest income people who pay the highest income taxes
E. Same, starting with the lowest-income workers who have the least left from their wages
F. To corporate shareholders in the form of a reduction on their dividend taxes
5. Water is running short in some parts of the US. How should we effectively share the water?
A. Let those who own it now continue to treat it as their private treasure. After all, they've planned on it, and we can't interfere with their plans, can we?
B. Recognize that every one of us needs water, and charge everyone for the water they use, based on the local supply and demand situation. Where water is scarce, all will pay high prices for the water they use; where the supply is generous, the price will be lower.
C. Treat water as our common treasure. Charge for it. Let the revenues flow into public coffers, not private or corporate pockets.
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.
When the structures that our laws and traditions create provide opportunities for someone to capture a windfall, should we blame the fellow who "takes advantage" of those structures, or should we respond by studying and correcting those structures and laws?
Winston Churchill, in his speeches under the baanner "The People's Rights," in 1909, said this:
I hope you will understand that when I speak of the land monopolist I am dealing more with the process than with the individual landowner. I have no wish to hold any class up to public disapprobation. I do not think that the man who makes money by unearned increment in land is morally a worse man than anyone else who gathers his profit where he finds it in this hard world under the law and according to common usage. It is not the individual I attack, it is the system. It is not the man who is bad, it is the law which is bad. It is not the man who is blameworthy for doing what the law allows and what other men do; it is the State which would be blameworthy were it not to endeavour to reform the law and correct the practice. We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law.
The 99% need to start identifying the laws and structures that must be adjusted. This is not easy work.
What individuals produce, and corporations produce, should not be "there for the taking" -- be it by corporate management in the form of hugely generous compensation packages and golden parachutes, or by simply saying "these resources are OURS, not everyone's" or by establishing monopolies or duopolies or other such structures. We-the-people need to educate ourselves about how things are done now, who benefits from that, and what alternatives exist. It won't be easy. We'll be challenging special interests who somehow think they're entitled to their advantaged positions, and the rest of us exist to keep them comfortable.
Labor should get its share, and capital should get its share, and we-the-people should get land's share. That last could fund a large portion of our common spending, on infrastructure and services, and permit us to reduce or eliminate the dumb taxes which take which individuals and corporations legitimately create. That "keeping what we create" extends, also, to "externalities," to being responsible for the pollution we create, and setting up incentives so that it is minimized, for the good of all of us now here and the good of future generations.
I think it is quite possible, even likely, that a few years after we've made this shift in who gets what, we'll find that we don't need nearly so robust a social safety net, and that we-the-people may get some of "land's share" back in the form of a Citizen's Dividend, just as all permanent residents of Alaska receive an annual dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund.
In any case, letting some corporations and some individuals grab that which we all create together is just plain wrong. Letting it be "there for the taking" is insanity and injustice. And don't we pledge "liberty and justice for all?"
Our ancestors may have granted some privileges to some lucky folks for one reason or another. That doesn't mean that we can't, politely and firmly, revoke those privileges. A couple of centuries is plenty. Experience has shown us that those privileges don't serve the greater good, and it is time to revoke them. Will the privileged give up those privileges graciously? Quite possibly not. But the first step is to identify them, and then to seek to change the system so that those rightly-common assets aren't "there for the taking."
I have a family member who, when Herman Cain says "9-9-9," plays a sound bite of another voice shouting "nein! nein! nein!"
Georgists have a better proposal for how we ought to fund our common spending.
0% tax on wages
0% tax on sales
0% tax on corporate profits
0% tax on buildings and equipment
100% recovery of our commonwealth
This probably raises several questions in your mind:
what is "recovery of our commonwealth"?
how will it affect me?
Our commonwealth includes the value of land -- not the improvements made by the present or previous owner, but the value of the site itself, which is created by the gifts of nature; by the investment of the local, state and national communities in public goods and services (including most "pork"); by the presence of the community and its economic activity. While good farmland may be worth $5,000 or $10,000 per acre, depending on climate and proximity to markets, suburban residential lots might be $35,000 to $1,000,000 -- or far more! -- per acre, and an acre in midtown Manhattan can be worth $250,000,000 or more. The landholder doesn't create that locational value.
Our commonwealth includes the value of ecosystem services. It includes the value of electromagnetic spectrum (the airwaves which most people would agree rightly belong to the American people, not to corporations). It includes the value of water, particularly fresh water for drinking and water for irrigating crops and for corporate use. It includes the value of government-granted privileges. It includes the value of geosynchronous orbits -- those parking spots in space for satellites whose owners and customers would not want to see crashing into each other. It includes the value of landing rights at busy congested constrained airports, such as LaGuardia or JFK, particularly at their rush hours. It includes the value of scarce on-street parking in congested cities. It includes the value of nonrenewable natural resources extracted from below the earth and the oceans, for 200 miles beyond our land borders. It includes a whole range of other similar things.
As you look at that paragraph, compare it to the 0-0-0-0 list above, and notice that it collects upfront certain values, and leaves the rest to those who produce. It is direct taxation rather than indirect, and one could reasonably argue that it isn't even really taxation; rather it is more in the nature of a user-fee.
It is Natural Public Revenue.
Once one has sat with this idea for a while, it seems quite unnatural to permit the value to continue to accrue to private individuals, or to corporations publicly or privately owned, or to entities other than the community as a whole!
Recall how concentrated wealth is in the US: The 2007 SCF [the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances] reported that aggregate net worth is "distributed" as follows:
Top 1% of us have 33.8%
Next 4% of us 26.6% [cumulative: 60.4%]
Next 5% of us 11.1% [cumulative: 71.5%]
Next 40% of us 26.0% [cumulative 97.5%]
Bottom 50% of us 2.5%
Recall also that the Forbes 400 families are specifically and intentionally omitted from the SCF, and that Forbes estimates that they represent 2.5% of aggregate net worth. So add that 2.5% to the numerator and denominator. And note, as Michael Moore did, that it is very similar to the value of the Net Worth of the bottom 50% of us.
And it seems quite unnatural to tax wages, and sales, and corporate profits, and buildings at all before we've fully collected Natural Public Revenue.
Will Natural Public Revenue be sufficient to meet all the needs of all levels of government?
Quite possibly not, at least today when we are so reliant on a social safety net because current conditions have kept a significant share of our people from providing well for themselves. But I regard it as altogether possible that within a generation or two, it could be quite sufficient, in part because it would have the effect of redistributing some of the wealth which today is pouring into the pockets of a relative few of us.
How much of corporate profits are coming from (quite legal) privatization of the value of natural resources, the value of being able to get away with polluting air, water and soil, and the value of other privileges which corporations -- public and private -- are used to enjoying? One of the interesting findings in the SCF is that the value of privately held businesses [BUS] actually exceeds the value of publicly held ones [EQUITY] in household wealth -- and the value of both is highly concentrated:
Consider, too, how much more of this value the Forbes 400 have! These two categories represent 21.2% and 23.1% of aggregate net worth held by the rest of us -- a total of 44.3%. Most of the 2.5% is likely in these two categories. I'll leave the math to you.
How much is it worth to you to have the potholes and cracks in the roads in your town promptly filled in? Probably roughly what it costs you to have each of your cars fixed a couple of times a year.
So is it better for the local economy to (1) keep the tire retailers and alignment shops in business; or (2) to pay city employees or contractors to maintain the roads in a condition that minimizes damage to cars and tires?
Fans of small government might opt for the first choice. Fans of individuals having more money to spend on discretionary purchases or to invest toward their own futures might opt for the second one.
Some things ought to be done by the community, and financed by the community.
So how should we pay for this sort of public works?
Should we impose sales taxes on goods sold within the town providing services?
Should we impose a wage tax on workers within the town providing services?
Should we tax the buildings within the town?
Should we throw an extra tax on tobacco, alcohol, cell phone use, cable TV subscriptions, electricity use in the town?
Should we tax all the cars and trucks garaged within the city limits?
Should we tax the gasoline and diesel sold within the city limits?
Or should we finance this by taxing the land value within the town limits?
If you're new to this concept, all these may make equal sense to you. (Indeed, some people argue for "balance" in taxation, or for spreading taxes across many tax bases in order to "keep rates low." But I think there is one option that is far better than the others.
Who benefits when we make it less expensive to live within a particular community than it would otherwise be, as we do by improving road maintenance? Isn't it ultimately those who own land within the city limits -- the landlords (residential and commercial), the homeowners, the business community -- who benefit, both as individuals and as property owners, when people are more prone to drive in their community than in one which does not maintain its roads to the same standards? Even those who don't own cars benefit.
Some would say that this fails to collect from the tenants -- residential tenants, commercial tenants -- who also benefit, but I'd have to disagree with that argument. Their landlords can charge them more in the presence of such services than they could charge in the absence of that road maintenance. Should that benefit accrue to the landlords, or should it be passed through to the community whose spending created it?
I'll return to something a Tennessee business man wrote to his governor in 1873:
"Never tax anything That would be of value to your State, That could and would run away, or That could and would come to you."
The same is true of individual towns, too. Don't tax jobs, or workers, or buildings, or equipment, or products.
This is not a reason not to raise public revenue; rather, it is a reason to think carefully about what should be taxed -- and what should not be. Charge for that which the community's presence and activity creates, and the privilege of using that which nature or community provides in limited supply, e.g., water, electromagnetic spectrum, geosynchronous orbits, minerals, oil, natural gas; privileges like franchises for monopolies; landing rights at congested airports; on-street parking; etc.
It comes from a 1914 report of a Washington State taxation symposium, in a section about taxing forests. Here's a section of it, a comment from someone representing the state Grange:
Mr. Kegley of the state grange requested me to express to this conference as the representative of the grange the purport of the resolution that we have been adopting for the past five years, and with the permission of the chairman I will do so. He cautioned me particularly not to "let them put anything over on us," and I will try not to do so. Our particular grievance lies against the speculators. We have adopted resolutions for the past five years at every session of the state grange, county granges, and by a great many subordinates, for the reform of our system of revenue so as to abolish speculation in land. When I was a small boy I purchased a pig. It spent most of its time rubbing itself against the pen, but did not seem to grow. Finally I asked my father what was the trouble. He teased me for awhile and then stated, using big words, that it was "supporting too many parasites." I asked him what a parasite was, and he said, "Your pig is lousy." The speculator is a louse on the body politic. He is absolutely useless, a mere parasite. He takes what does not belong to him. We farmers clear up our land and more than half the values we create goes to speculators. That ought to stop. We ought to collect from the speculator all that he gets that he does not earn. There ought to be taken from the speculator a special economic rent, not a tax, not a burden upon industry, not a burden on anything he is doing except his stealing.
We believe that the speculator ought to be relieved of that which he has unjustly acquired, to which he has no more right than the slave-holder or pirate to his ill-gotten wealth. These are strong terms, but it is the language of the grange. They have adopted resolutions again and again, unanimously and with great enthusiasm, and we submit that the principal thing this conference can do is to so reform our system of taxation, of public revenue, as to prevent the speculator getting a single dollar he has not earned.
Just a word considering what the speculator is doing in the community. If I went over on the other side of the mountains and dug a ditch, and a man should take water from that ditch, say half of it, he would be stealing. Yet every farmer who goes out on the stump land on the West coast, cultivates a farm and opens it up, has most of his value stolen from him by speculators — absolutely stolen. If a man were to come to my farm and drive off half my stock he would not be robbing me of a bit more, directly or morally, of what I had created, than he does when he takes the value I have created by clearing my farm. An Italian went to Bellingham and bought a lot from a speculator in the suburbs for $200. After awhile he thought he wanted to buy another lot, and tried to buy it for $200 — a lot next to the one he had already bought. But the speculator said, "No, you have added $100 to the lot adjoining your house." He did not get that $100. The speculator stole it. It is absolute stealing. Now we go further than that; we say the special curse of our whole system of taxation is the speculator. If we take from the speculator anything like what he is stealing from us we would not need any taxes. We could absolutely abolish all taxes and have a vast fund left over for a dividend to every stockholder.
Our timber is increasing tremendously. Our fisheries are increasing. The value of land on Second Avenue has increased, not because of what has been done by the owner, but because there are something like 80,000 people more in Seattle now than there were 10 years ago. The people that come in create but don't get that value. The speculator gets it all.The speculator is the sole cause of unemployment. Every man who wishes to control any natural resource should be made to pay to the public an annual rent of 4% or 5%, whatever is right, on the population value of the natural resources he is controlling, and we would have in this state more than $100,000,000 a year over and above our expenses, and that is a very conservative estimate. Timber increased in the State of Minnesota in 8 years more than $7 per thousand. You and I have built the Panama Canal by the increase in the price of sugar, $1.50 a sack, a few dollars on a suit of clothes, 50 cents to a dollar on a pair of shoes. The Panama Canal will add to the price of the billions of feet of timber in this state perhaps a dollar or two dollars per thousand, how much nobody knows yet, but something. Who is going to get that? If any man living thinks the timber barons are going to get that he is badly fooled. The state grange, the state federation of labor, and other organizations in this state propose to collect for the people every dollar of population-made value, or a fair rental on the values which our people have added to these natural resources, giving to the timber men merely what they have created, but keeping for the people all the values they have created. We propose to give the individually-made value to the individual who creates it. That is all we claim, all that we want. It is considerable to be sure, but it is all that we want. We want that every individual should have all that he creates, absolutely free of taxes. That is the position of the grange, asserted again and again in resolutions as clear as language can be made, to give to each individual all that he creates; to abolish all penalizing fines upon any industry and not fine a man for doing what he ought to do, what we want him to do. Up in Whatcom County every man who keeps a cow is fined 60 cents a year. If he keeps a good horse he is fined $8 a year. If he paints his house or takes out a stump he is taxed (fined). In the state in which I was born and raised, they paid a man for planting trees; but here we tax a man who blows out a stump. We should fine the man who keeps the stump in, and reward the man who takes it out. We want to tax the stump and exempt the cow. That, we think, is the only system. As representative of the grange I will have to make my report to the grange — they want to know what the attitude of every speaker is and what he thinks concerning the speculators. I think we of the grange do not care a continental about anything else. Are you going to help us to rid ourselves of the parasites (the speculators), or are you not? Are you going to help us to free ourselves from the men who are robbing as of the values we create, or are you going to fool away your time in a sham fight in putting upon property a lying tax which ultimately will fall upon the farmer and the wage-worker?
As I listen to the accounts of what was on the computers in the compound where Osama bin Ladin was living, including ideas for attacking American commuter railroads, my mind turns to why people in other countries might have such hatred for America.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we are using, month in and month out, such a disproportionate share of the world's finite natural resources, and our corporations (and multinational corporations, too) are profiting hugely from withdrawing those resources from land around the world without adequately compensating the peoples of those countries -- not the current leaders but also the future generations of peoples -- for what is being taken out. In our name.
Then my mind turns to the distribution of those benefits in this country. Ads from the Petroleum Institute remind us that half of us own stock, and suggest that if we own stock, we benefit from letting that industry have its way. Well, sort of. But it is worth noting that stock ownership in publicly held companies is rather concentrated in the top 5% of our population [data source: 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, Federal Reserve Board], who own 66.5% of the value. And just as important, the value of privately held companies is even more concentrated, with 88.1% residing in the top 5%. The latter category is actually larger than the former, in terms of household wealth. [Some might argue that pension funds hold stock for bottom 95%-ers -- but relatively few of us have defined benefit pensions any more, and we ought not to be swayed by that one!]
Why do they hate us, if they do? Because we are consuming 2 to 4 times our per capita share of the world's resources, and there are others who can't get their per capita share as a result. And maybe because some might have reason to suspect that the extremes of weather that many parts of the world seem to be experiencing are a result of our disproportionate pollution of the environment.
So how do we revise our incentives so that we structure things better?
To the best of my knowledge, the answers lie in the ideas commonly associated with Henry George. Explore this blog. Explore wealthandwant.com. Read George's books, "Progress and Poverty" and "Social Problems" (a collection of essays) online. Explore Mason Gaffney's website. See what you think. Is there a better way? Is there a way to better organize things to create a better, more peaceful, more just, more sustainable world, in which all of us can prosper, and none can reap what others sow?
This was a comment to a recent Paul Krugman blog post, and I thought it worth sharing. (Multiple Google searches did not bring me to any version of it. I'd welcome any further information!)
Here is ancient wisdom about the rich from China...
"When flies attach themselves to the tail of a galloping horse, they move at high speed. But it is difficult for them to efface the shame of being an appendage. When vines entwine themselves around a tall pine, they reach an awesome height. But they cannot erase the disgrace of being a dependent."
The problem seems to be that the rich see themselves as the horse, when in fact they are the flies. The problem seems to be that the rich see themselves as the pine, when in fact they are the vine.
The People of a country are the horse and pine.
Tax the rich... they think their wealth was earned by them... when in fact it was earned by the work of people.
LVTfan here: This doesn't suggest any understanding of the mechanisms by which the rich become rich illegitimately (though legally) through privilege. I invite the curious to explore this blog, and its sibling website wealthandwant.
None of this is to say that bright people who come up with ways to meet human needs and wants should not be able to become wealthy. But to the extent that our rich owe their position to privileges, specialness, we naively grant to some, we need to be examining and eliminating those privileges, or collect from those granted them the value of those privileges, month in and month out. Doing this would level our playing field AND provide a healthy and growing revenue to fund our common spending without depressing our economy.
Open it in another window, let it fill the screen, scrolling if necessary to see it in full -- and then continue reading here.
It comes from a 2006 article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled "The Height of Inequality," which lays out very well the extent of the income inequality we have in America, though it starts with an explanation done in 1971 by Dutch economist Jan Pen, describing the distribution of income in the British economy at that time. (I've put part of it into bullet format.) It begins,
In 1971, Jan Pen, a Dutch economist, published a celebrated treatise with a less-than-gripping title: Income Distribution. The book summoned a memorable image. This is how to think of the pattern of incomes in an economy, Pen said (he was writing about Britain, but bear with me). Suppose that every person in the economy walks by, as if in a parade. Imagine that the parade takes exactly an hour to pass, and that the marchers are arranged in order of income, with the lowest incomes at the front and the highest at the back. Also imagine that the heights of the people in the parade are proportional to what they make: those earning the average income will be of average height, those earning twice the average income will be twice the average height, and so on. We spectators, let us imagine, are also of average height.
Pen then described what the observers would see. Not a series of people of steadily increasing height—that’s far too bland a picture. The observers would see something much stranger. They would see, mostly, a parade of dwarves, and then some unbelievable giants at the very end.
As the parade begins, Pen explained, the marchers cannot be seen at all. They are walking upside down, with their heads underground—owners of loss-making businesses, most likely.
Very soon, upright marchers begin to pass by, but they are tiny. For five minutes or so, the observers are peering down at people just inches high—old people and youngsters, mainly; people without regular work, who make a little from odd jobs.
Ten minutes in, the full-time labor force has arrived: to begin with, mainly unskilled manual and clerical workers, burger flippers, shop assistants, and the like, standing about waist-high to the observers. And at this point things start to get dull, because there are so very many of these very small people. The minutes pass, and pass, and they keep on coming.
By about halfway through the parade, Pen wrote, the observers might expect to be looking people in the eye—people of average height ought to be in the middle. But no, the marchers are still quite small, these experienced tradespeople, skilled industrial workers, trained office staff, and so on—not yet five feet tall, many of them. On and on they come.
It takes about forty-five minutes—the parade is drawing to a close—before the marchers are as tall as the observers. Heights are visibly rising by this point, but even now not very fast.
In the final six minutes, however, when people with earnings in the top 10 percent begin to arrive, things get weird again. Heights begin to surge upward at a madly accelerating rate. Doctors, lawyers, and senior civil servants twenty feet tall speed by. Moments later, successful corporate executives, bankers, stockbrokers—peering down from fifty feet, 100 feet, 500 feet.
In the last few seconds you glimpse pop stars, movie stars, the most successful entrepreneurs. You can see only up to their knees (this is Britain: it’s cloudy). And if you blink, you’ll miss them altogether.
As Garrison Keillor ironically informs his listeners, not every child can be above average. But when it comes to incomes, the great majority can very easily be below average. A comparative handful of exceptionally well-paid people pulls the average up. As a matter of arithmetic, the median income—the income of the worker halfway up the income distribution—is bound to be less than average.
This is true in every economy, but in some more than others. Back when Pen wrote his book, incomes were already more skewed in America than in Britain. Over the past thirty-five years, and especially over the past ten, that top-end skewness has greatly increased. The weirdness of the last half minute of today’s American parade—even more so the weirdness of the last few seconds, and above all the weirdness of the last fraction of a second—is vastly greater than that of the vision, bizarre as it was, described by Pen.
The article goes on to point out that (1) at the time, the US giants were even taller than the British ones; (2) that in the intervening years, a highly disproportionate share of US income has gone to make the giants taller yet in proportion to the rest of us. It quotes a study suggesting that a large share of the top income earners were sports and media celebrities and top corporate executives. 13,000 people in the 99.99th percentile, with total earnings of $83 billion in 2001. (an average of $6.4 million, so some are much higher, many a lot lower.) In 2001, there were probably relatively few Hedge Fund managers pocketing billions each (and their incomes are likely not shown as wages, but rather as "capital" gains, taxed at less than all but our lowest wage earners must pay in federal income taxes, and not subject to Social Security or Medicare taxes.
Most of us, as the article points out, have a big problem with sports or media celebrities receiving large incomes, considering it a "perfecting of the labor market." But how is it that corporate executives get to harvest so much? We know about hand-picked board compensation committees which reward their pickers with high incomes, whether or not performance has been strong. But do we think about just how it is that there is so much for them to work with? Do we know why so little goes to the rest of the parade in wages? We're so used to the situation that we no longer examine it. Even your family's college economics major probably has never been exposed to a serious examination of the question. Air to the bird, water to the fish -- just the environment we live in, not even interesting enough to study, until it no longer supports life.
Professor Stiglitz told a packed UQ Centre that Australia's economic stimulus package was the best designed in the world.
AND he said natural resources - coal, iron ore - should be properly valued at market just like the electromagnetic spectrum.
The government auctions the spectrum to the highest bidders who want to operate mobile phone networks, cable companies, television and radio stations.
Basically, a country - like Australia - will end up poor if doesn't get the best price for its assets - and natural assets are not renewable, once they are gone they are gone. If the proceeds from the sale of these assets are not invested in infrastructure to support and grow other sectors the economy (manufacturing and value-adding, goods creation) then a country and it's people will not prosper - HELLO! HELLO! Drowning not waving.
"It should be subtracted from Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," he said. "You are selling off assets at a very low price if you don't have adequate taxes on mining - you are being cheated," he said to audience applause.
He thinks resources should be auctioned off to the highest bidder - the free market at work. Of course, the mining industry will make all kinds of threats.
To everyone's amusement he joked about how mining companies bamboozled, threatened and bribed governments of developing, fragile nations.
"I assume that's not the case in Australia," he mused.
To prosper, a country needs to set up a stabilization fund (from a mining tax, if not a resources auction) for nation building.
This is what he calls an investment fund for building infrastructure and to grow value-adding industries, maintain education, job creation.
Not only that but the sell-off of natural resources should appear on a country's accounts as a kind of depreciation of assets - otherwise the accounts are not accurate. ...
He made these comments at the end of the oration after he explained the difference between the financial sector and the economy - the economy is not the financial sector.
The financial sector (the banks and regulators) are the culprits behind the global financial crisis which has crippled the global economy. Apparently, moneylenders have been skimming 40 percent of the profits from companies that actually make and produce things. His big point was that this is not really the role of the financial sector. The financial sector's job is to support economic growth, not cripple it.
"Finance is a means to an end," he said. "The lack of balance between the financial sector and the economic sector was actually the real problem in this economic crisis (NOT the real estate bubble)."
So how do we create more competition for the services of workers? How do we create more opportunity for all to employ themselves if they don't like their chances with other employers? To find out, explore this blog, explore the ideas associated with the name of 19th century economist and philosopher Henry George.
Political economy is the science which deals with the natural laws governing the production and distribution of valuable goods and services. I'll also reference Adam Smith's definition:
Political economy considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator proposes two distinct objects, first, to supply a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public service. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.
I stumbled across this document in a little book which runs to 24 pages, from 1887. Those with an interest in Alabama history, particularly as it relates to taxation, might find that it helps explain how the 1903 constitution came about -- whose interests it sought to protect. Consider it, too, in light of our current economic situation -- too few jobs, lots of income and wealth concentration; not enough credit available to afford housing or commercial sites. These problems can be solved, but not in the ways we've already tried.
The Case Plainly Stated By H. F. RING
PREFATORY NOTE -- This address originally was delivered to the United Labor Organization of Houston, Texas, in 1887. It appeared in full the next morning in the Houston Daily Post, and afterwards in The Standard, published at that time in New York by Henry George. Mr. George then issued it in tract form, giving it the name of "The Case Plainly Stated." Many editions of it have since been published from time to time in this country and in Europe and Australia, and it is generally regarded as one of the clearest brief statements extant of the philosophy of land value taxation as taught by Henry George in his famous "Progress and Poverty."
MR. CHAIRMAN:— The land question is simply a question as to how the use of the bounties of nature shall be best regulated and controlled. By bounties of nature I mean the coal beds, the mineral deposits, the land — all those natural elements which were not created by human industry, but which Nature has freely and abundantly provided for the use and enjoyment of all the children of men; and I propose to show how the right of capital and. labor to use these natural elements should be regulated by the government*, so as most to conduce to the happiness and well-being of mankind.
* The word "government" as used in this presentation of the Single Tax refers to the tax levying power as vested, not alone in the federal, but also and even primarily in the state, county, and municipal governments. It is probable that a complete application of the Single Tax will be reached through its gradual adoption at first in cities, counties and states, before it is substituted for tariff and internal revenue taxation.
I am a Single Taxer, and a discussion of the land question by me can be nothing more than a mere attempt to expound the teachings of that great master of the subject, Henry George.
George, at the outset, calls attention to the marvelous improvements in the arts and sciences, the discoveries, inventions, and labor-saving machines which, within the past 100 years, have so immensely increased the productive powers of the human race. Is it not a moderate estimate to assume that on an average the labor of one man today, with all these labor-saving inventions, will produce as much of the comforts and luxuries of life as the labors of four men would a hundred years ago? And does it not follow that the average workman of today creates, by each day's labor, four times as much wealth as the average workman did a hundred years ago? George teaches that if the workman of today, on an average, creates four times as much wealth as the workman of a hundred years ago, then the services of this workman of today are four times as valuable to society; then why should not his wages of right be four times as great? Why should he not be four times as independent? Why should it not be four times as easy for him to make a living and support his family in comfort and decency?
Will any one presume to assert that this is in fact the case? On the contrary, is it not just about as hard for the poor man to make a living today as it ever was? Does he not dread the loss of a position today just as much as he ever did? George asserts that labor-saving machinery really ought to lessen the burdens of labor, to make it easier for the laborer to live, and in fact, to lighten his toil. But alas, from some apparently mysterious cause, — a cause which many comfortably well-to-do people insist is one of the unfathomable mysteries of Divine Providence, — what George claims should rightly result from inventions does not result from them. And still we are all the time making new discoveries, and year by year increasing, by means of new inventions, the productive powers of working men; yet, with the increase of population, the lot of those who produce all this wealth seems to be becoming more precarious, less independent and more and more wretched.
Who denies that under the present social system, wages tend to fall irresistibly to the point at which the wage-workers can barely subsist? This is called the iron law of wages, and all the strikes conceivable can only temporarily, and but fitfully, arrest this steady tendency. For so long as unemployed men compete for employment against the employed, wages cannot permanently advance. The worker may create quadruple the wealth, but he is not permitted to retain any more of it as his share.
WHO GETS THE WEALTH?
Now, where does this wealth go — this wealth which we now produce so much more easily and in such vastly greater quantities than ever before? What becomes of it? Who gets it? Why is it that in this age of wealth-producing and labor-saving machinery, poverty as abject and hideous as ever before seen in the history of the world abounds and increases in our midst? What is the cause of the so-called iron law of wages? Henry George has discovered it. He has pointed it out, and he has shown us the remedy. He has demonstrated beyond a doubt or question that it does not result as a fatal necessity from the nature of things, but that it is a result of violation of natural law, of a refusal on the part of society to recognize the inalienable right of every citizen of access to the bounties of nature within the territory of his country on equal terms with every other citizen of that country.
Let me now give you a short lesson in the elements of this new political economy.
Three factors enter into the creation of every conceivable kind of wealth. By wealth we mean any material thing produced by human industry which gratifies human desires. These factors are land, labor and capital. Wealth in a civilized community is produced only by means of a union or partnership between land, labor and capital. Labor does the work, capital loans the tools, and land furnishes the natural elements on which, and out of which all material things resulting from human industry are created. In speaking of land in the new political economy we never include improvements or anything which is the result of human toil. We simply mean the opportunities which land and the elements within it afford for the employment of capital and labor — we mean the raw elements as they lie on or in the bosom of the eartli, untouched by the hand of man.
Now, as before remarked, the product of land, labor and capital is wealth, and after it is produced, it is divided among these factors entering into its composition. A certain portion of it, called rent, goes to land, either directly in the form of rent or in the form of interest on the selling price of the land or of the coal bed, or whatever it is; another portion of it, called profit or interest, goes to capital for the use of tools which capital has furnished, and the balance left, after land has been paid rent and capital has been paid interest or profits, goes to labor as wages for the work which labor has done, including the labor of superintendence.
MEANING OF RENT.
Now what does rent signify as used here? Rent is the price paid for the privilege of access to the raw material — for the mere privilege of getting hold of something not created by man, on which and out of which labor and capital can produce wealth. This rent may be paid periodically, or may be paid in a lump in the form of purchase money. In either case the result will be the same. Is it not clear that in the division of wealth after it has been produced by this partnership between land, labor and capital, the more land gets for rent the less there will be left for capital and labor? Is it not quite as plain as A B C that the more it costs capital and labor to get hold of these natural elements, the coal beds, the mines, the water fronts, the land — the gifts of nature which a kind providence has provided for the equal use and enjoyment of all — the less there will be for labor and capital to divide between them?
In the new political economy we must never confuse land with capital. One is never the synonym of the other. Land, as before stated, is simply the natural opportunity, exclusive of improvements or anything done to it by man. Capital is something that has been made by man, like a machine for instance, which is useful in the production of wealth. It is wealth used to produce more wealth.
LABOR AND CAPITAL PARTNERS.
But someone asks: Suppose the capitalist who is using the coal bed or using this natural opportunity, whatever it may be, is also owner of it. Where then does your partnership between land, labor and capital come in? We answer just the same as before. A sum equal to the interest on the market value of the coal bed (independent of the machinery, excavation work, etc.) is in such cases a factor of rent. The owner, in addition to profit or interest on his capital, as before defined, must also take from the wealth produced a sum equal, approximately, to interest on the market value of the coal land, otherwise he would sell out and quit. It is evident that the more money the owner is obliged to invest in purchasing the coal bed, for instance, the greater must be the sum which he takes out of the wealth produced to cover interest on that investment, and hence such interest money is simply rent paid for the use of a natural element, for the privilege of access to one of the bounties of nature. Therefore, is it not equally plain in this case that the more paid for this privilege of use, the less will remain out of which labor can get wages?
A few years ago we read in the newspapers of a great boom in the vicinity of Birmingham, Alabama. We were exultingly told that the lands containing coal beds and mineral deposits in northern Alabama had gone up in value from $75,000 to $50,000,000 in the space of six years. What does this signify? It means that when capital and labor shall attempt to utilize these coal beds and mineral deposits, when capital and labor shall unite together, the one to furnish the tools, the other the labor, with which to produce wealth out of this raw material, then will a set of landlords step forward and block the enterprise with a demand for $50,000,000 for the mere right of access to these free gifts of nature, or in lieu of it the payment of $3,000,000 a year as tribute money, that being the interest of $50,000,000 at six per cent.
There lie the coal beds and mineral deposits untouched by man, fresh from the hands of the Creator, intended by Him, if He is the just, benevolent Being whom we have been taught to worship, for the equal use and enjoyment of all His children, and yet our laws say that capital and labor must pay a few forestallers $3,000,000 a year for the privilege of applying the hand of industry to these elements.
And after this blackmail has been paid, how much will there be left for the wages of labor? The answer is, just as little as labor can ordinarily subsist upon. Why? Because this monopolization of the gifts of nature going on, not only in northern Alabama, but everywhere else, enables capital to drive a hard bargain with labor. For this reason, and this alone, they can't deal with each other on equal vantage grounds. Suppose labor objects and says to capital: "I'll not accept the pittance you offer." Capital replies: "All right, go elsewhere." And so labor starts out to get work for himself, and what does he find? Here he is, living in a country capable of raising food for ten times its present population, and he finds four-fifths of the land untilled or but partially cultivated. He finds four-fifths of the coal beds and mineral deposits unused. He finds vacant land and unused lots on every side. He goes to New York City even and he finds there within its corporate limits almost one-third the area of that city vacant, unoccupied, and unused, although there are miles and miles of tenement houses, in which men and women and innocent children are packed and crowded like maggots, as though there wasn't ample room in the city for the comfortable housing of every human being in it. He finds unused natural elements all around him wherever he goes, sufficient to give employment and support in abundance to tens of millions of happy families.
But now suppose labor attempts to make use of any of these unused natural opportunities? Suppose he concludes to go to work for himself upon a piece of vacant land in the suburbs of a city, for instance, where labor could be applied to the greatest advantage. What happens? An individual comes along and waves a title deed, and orders him off the premises. He finds that all these unused natural opportunities are owned by individuals and claimed as private property. He finds himself frustrated at every point. He finds that he can't go to work anywhere without paying blackmail to the owner of some natural element for the mere privilege of working and so he strikes back to northern Alabama and takes off his hat to Capital and bows very low and says: 'Please, sir, give me a bare living and I will be your slave."
And that is about all that he does get, and that is all he ever will get under the present system of land ownership, though you may strike and boycott and potter about graduated land taxes, graduated income taxes, and graduated nonsense until doomsday.
THE GREAT PARASITE.
With advancing population the greater becomes the demand for natural opportunities and the higher the prices which can be extorted for the privilege of using them. As population increases, the town lots, the coal beds, the mineral deposits, the water fronts, the land, go up in value, and so goes up also the amount of tribute money which labor must pay for access to them, for the privilege of employment. The more of the products of industry which go for the payment of this constantly increasing tribute, the less and less will grow the share allowed the laborer and the more dependent and the more wretched will his lot become.
Here in Houston today, suppose Enterprise has $50,000 to invest in the paper mill business, a sum barely sufficient to put up the building, buy the machinery and carry stock. He finds a beautiful site for his mill on the banks of the bayou. It is a vacant lot. The hand of man has never been applied to it, and it stands there now just as it stood when the Indian roamed over the site of this city. The owner of that block, however, thinks he can make Enterprise pay him $20,000 for the privilege of giving employment to labor on this natural opportunity — this piece of ground. That is the price, and if he can't get it today he will get it when the city grows a little larger. But Enterprise says to him: "I have only $50,000 capital, all of which I shall need in my business." The land owner answers it is not his lookout, and so Enterprise turns away checkened and baffled, and the mill is not built.
CAUSE OF DULL TIMES.
And so it is everywhere. Wherever we find a portion of the vacant surface of the earth which could be utilized by capital and labor, and which affords an opportunity for human toil and enterprise, there we find a human vampire with a paper title in his hand warning off labor; and that vampire must always be placated by the payment of blackmail before the wheels of industry can begin to turn.
Need we wonder that these wheels turn slowly, and that they are always getting out of gear; that we are always talking about dull times; that men are always out of employment and always hunting for work, regarding it as a favor even to be allowed to work; that we are all the time growing too much cotton, when millions of human beings have only one shirt to their names; that we are producing too much food, when half the population of the world is insufficiently fed; that carpenters are out of work, when half the people are not comfortably housed; shoemakers wanting work and millions needing shoes? How could it be otherwise, when labor is compelled to beg for work in the midst of limitless unused opportunities for work, on which opportunities, however, sit these human vampires, these dogs in the manger, waving labor back with their paper title deeds?
Now let us go back for a moment to that partnership between land, labor and capital. For illustration, suppose the wealth produced by the partnership to be created by the application of capital and labor to those coal beds and mineral deposits in northern Alabama, valued, as we have seen, at $50,000,000. In the division of wealth produced we have shown how, say six percent of this $50,000,000, or $3,000,000, must go to land as rent. Or, in other words, $3,000,000 a year must be paid to land owners directly as rent or interest on purchase money for the bare privilege of utilizing these gifts of nature. Now, in the division of wealth produced, why is labor entitled to any portion of it? Clearly because labor's industry has contributed to its creation. Why is capital entitled to any part of it? Because capital has furnished labor with tools with which to develop the mineral deposits. The capitalist who owns the tools can trace his title back to the creator of them, to some individual or set of individuals whose industry produced them and from whom he purchased or inherited them. The title, then, of both labor and capital to a portion of the wealth produced from these mineral deposits originates in human industry, and it is a sacred title. Now then, why should the land owner get any portion of this wealth, to produce which capital has supplied the tools and labor has done the work? This owner claims the right of making capital and labor pay him interest on $50,000,000, or $3,000,000 a year, for the mere privilege of access to this raw coal and raw ore. Ought we not to scrutinize most carefully his right to extort this immense tribute? And if he can show no natural and moral right to claim it, does not society countenance the robbery of labor in permitting him to do so? Where does his title originate?
We find that six or seven years ago he paid someone who claimed to own the land in which these mineral deposits are found $750,000 for the raw natural element for which he now demands $50,000,000. Was this additional value of $49,250,000 in six years produced by his industry? Was it produced by the industry of any previous owner of these natural elements? Did it cost $49,250,000 to discover these mineral deposits? We trace back his title a little further, and we find that perhaps a hundred years ago it originated in a grant to John Jones from the government — that is to say, the people who inhabited this country a hundred years ago and who constituted the government said: "We will divide the land and we will give John Jones this particular tract for his private property."
But did these people create that land and the coal and iron in it? Can it be shown that they had any better right to it from the Almighty Creator than the people of this generation have? Was the earth intended by the Heavenly Father for one generation to dispose of forever, or as an abiding place for all generations? Was Thomas Jefferson right or wrong when he wrote: "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living; the dead have no right or power over it?" By what authority could the people living here a hundred years ago, long since dead and gone, confer upon John Jones, also dead and gone, a right which would enable John Smith today, by tracing a paper chain of titles from him, to extort from capital and labor a tribute of $3,000,000 a year for the bare privilege of getting to that coal and iron and making it useful to mankind?
Who dares to blaspheme the name of the Almighty Ruler of the universe by saying that the coal and iron were not intended by Him for the equal use and the enjoyment of all His children — the humblest babe born today in a garret equally with a child of the proudest duke who ever lived?
MAN IS A LAND ANIMAL.
Is not man a land animal? Can he live without land? Can he any more rightfully be deprived of access to land than he can rightfully be deprived of life itself? Can he any more rightfully be compelled to yield up to a forestaller, a mere owner of land, a portion of the fruit of his industry for the privilege of getting hold of the raw material elements than he can rightfully be compelled as a slave to yield up to a master a portion of the fruits of his industry? To compel him to do so is as much a robbery of labor in one case as in the other. Why then is not the humblest babe that God sends into this world naturally and by inalienable right entitled to access to land on equal terms with all his fellow human beings?
ORIGIN OF PROPERTY RIGHT.
Mind, when we say access to land we do not include access to improvements on land, or access to anything produced by human industry, a title to which can be shown originating in human toil; we simply mean access upon equal terms to the free bounties of nature as they lie upon the kind bosom of mother earth, untouched and undisturbed by the hand of man. What I produce by my industry is mine. What I obtain by exchanging the products of my industry for the products of another's industry is mine. What my father or my grandfather produced by his industry was his, and if he has given it to me it is mine.
In all these cases human industry is the origin of property right, and property rights originating in human industry must be held sacred, else there would be no incentive to human effort. Do not the values produced by the individual belong to the individual producing them? Do not the values produced by the community belong to the community producing them? Is there anything wrong, immoral or communistic in this ideal? And yet this is the sum and substance of the Henry George philosophy.
Take the case of the vacant block on the bank of the bayou which Enterprise wanted for a paper mill and could not get. Fifty years ago it was worthless. Now labor must pay a tribute of over $20,000 to the so-called owner for the privilege of using it. Whose industry has put $20,000 of value on that piece of vacant ground? Not the industry of the present owner, nor the industry of any former owner, because no man has ever done a stroke of work upon it. That value of $20,000 has been placed upon the land by the common energy and enterprise of the entire community. Since the community has produced that land value why does it not belong to the community? Why has not the community the same rights to the value it creates as the individual has to the values which he individually creates?
How shall this derangement of the wheels of industry, this blackmail upon enterprise, this robbery of labor, this eager and fatal competition among laborers for employment, this slavish fear of the loss of a situation in the midst of abundant unused opportunities for employment — how shall this curse which our present land system has fastened upon the productive industry of the country, be removed? Simply by doing justice; by being honest; by recognizing in our laws one of the inalienable rights of man; by recognizing in every human being, in every generation, the present as well as the past, an inalienable right of access to the bounties of nature on equal terms with every other human being.
How shall this right of access on equal terms be secured? Simply by making every individual who claims a right to the exclusive possession of a tract of land pay in the form of a tax approximately what the use of that tract of land is worth, exclusive of all improvements on it or anything done to it by the hand of man, and by abolishing every other form of taxation. Take the rent of land for public use instead of taxes.
WILL SIMPLIFY GOVERNMENT.
Some one asks: "Will not this proposed change vastly increase the functions of government and immensely add to the number of government employees?" I reply no. On the contrary, at least two-thirds of the present army of revenue collectors and tax gatherers will be dispensed with, and the remaining one-third will collect this single tax on land values at one-third the expense now incurred in the collection of national, state, county, and municipal taxes.
Another inquirer asks: "Will not the new system offer abundant opportunities for corruption and partiality in fixing the amount of this tax annually to be paid for the exclusive use of a piece of land? And how do you propose the amount of the tax shall be determined?" It will be determined by the same law of demand and supply which now determines the amount of tax under the present system. The single tax will be fixed by the same machinery of an assessor and a board of equalization which fixes it now. For instance, under this system a piece of property on Main street rents for $5,000 a year. Interest at the prevailing rate on the building alone, added to the annual cost of insurance, repairs and caretaking, and a sum sufficient to provide a sinking fund for renewals amounted to, say $3,000 a year. The landlord is then collecting the difference between $3,000 and $5,000, or $3,000 for the use of this naked earth. That is to say, he is collecting $2,000 a year for the use of something never created by man, to which all are by natural right equally entitled, and which owes its rental value of $2,000 a year exclusively to the common enterprise and energy of the entire community.
This is the sum which, under Henry George's system, would be turned over to the government in the form of a tax for the common benefit of the community who collectively have made the use of this land worth $2,000 a year.
Here an interested friend anxiously inquires: "But if the landlord has to pay this tax of $2,000 a year for the use of the land, will he not take it out of the tenant by raising his rent to $7,000?" No, for the landlord's charges now all he can compel the tenant to pay. Suppose he tries to. Suppose he says to his tenant: "You must now pay me $7,000 a year." What happens? Just what happens every day now. If the tenant can do no better he pays the increase. But now, mark you, when the landlord goes to pay his tax what happens then? Why the board of equalization says to him, you have received $7,000 a year rent for the use of improvements worth only $3,000 a year. You are therefore collecting $4,000 a year instead of $2,000 for the use of the naked lot, and you will therefore pay the city or state $4,000 a year for the privilege of the exclusive use of the ground instead of $2,000 a year as heretofore. Now what has the landlord made by jumping up the rent? Nothing. What would be made by thus jumping up the rents under the present system? Everything. Under which system would landlords be more apt to force up rents?
DETERMINING THE TAX.
Another way by which the board of equalization under the George system would determine the amount of tax to be paid for the privilege of the exclusive possession of a tract of land, and which would also compel landlords to collect from their tenants and turn over to the government in the form of a tax the full value of the use of the land, would be from observation of the prices which real estate brought in the market. But note, at this point some smart fellow jumps up — and he is likely enough to be a newspaper editor — and vehemently protests, saying: "Why, sir, the taxation of ground values plan does not propose to allow any exclusive ownership of land. It demands that the government own it all and rent it out or divide it up into 60,000,000 or 70,000,000 little bits, or do something of that kind with it, and here you are talking about lands being bought and sold under the Henry George system. Why, man alive, you don't know what that system is!"
Now, Mr. Editor, or Mr. Who-ever-you-are, let me say to you that in your ignorance, or in your indifference to the sufferings of your fellowmen, or in your desire to pander to the greed of monopoly, or to the timidity of capital, you may say what you please; you may misrepresent as much as you please for the purpose of bringing odium and contempt upon the cause; you may call it what you please — state ownership, state landlordism, ownership in common, communism, nihilism, anarchism or anything else; but the fact, nevertheless, remains that, under the just and righteous land system which we are trying to explain, the land will continue to be bought and sold under the same form of paper deeds, precisely as it is bought and sold today. It will continue in precisely the same way to pass to devisees by will and to heirs by law of descent and distribution. The right of control, of exclusive possession and dominion over a piece of land and of the free and exclusive enjoyment of all improvements on it, will in no way be abridged or disturbed. When you buy a lot on Main street today worth $10,000 with a building on it worth $10,000 more, your deed recites a consideration of $20,000. Now when you buy this same property under the George system, the only difference in the whole transaction will be that your deed for it — assuming that the price accords with the market value prevailing at the time of your purchase — will recite a consideration of only $10,000, and $10,000 is all that you will then pay for the property. You will pay nothing for the land. After you have bought the property you will pay yearly in the form of a tax to the government, approximately the full market value of the (yearly) use of it — which will amount to the annual rental value of the land, and as the man from whom you purchased had to pay the government the same annual rental value, you will consequently pay nothing, or approximately nothing*, to him for the land itself when you purchase the property. You thus save an investment of $10,000 in dirt; instead of such investment you will pay for the common benefit of the community, including yourself, what the privilege of the exclusive use of that spot of earth is worth — nothing more, nothing less — and that is simply what you ought to pay. The $10,000, which, under the present system, you are compelled to bury in a bit of earth, you will have left you with which to increase your business; and if you do increase your business with it, and add another story to your building, no tax gatherer will come around and impose an additional fine upon you for doing something with your money which gives employment to labor.
* There will, no doubt, be instances where the desire of an individual to get and retain possession of a certain piece of property, will cause him tooffer a bonus over and above the market value of the improvements.
NO PROPERTY IN LAND.
Thus, under the single tax system, land would be sold and would change hands as it does now, but it would only bring in the market approximately the value of the improvements on it. If land in any locality should get to selling for considerably more than the value of the improvements on it, this would be a certain indication that the parties using the natural elements in that neighborhood were not paying for the benefit of all the people what the use of the same was worth, and so a board of equalization would put the tax up. As population increases the value of the use of land increases, and with it, under the George system, the revenue from this tax on land values will increase, and thus the entire people who collectively produce this increasing value will get the benefit of the values collectively produced by them. As it is now, the increase in the value of land, which amounts to several billions annually in the United States, four-fifths of which is increase in the value of city and town lots and mineral deposits, goes to a comparatively small number of individuals who do no more to produce these values than any other members of the community.
Another doubter puts this objection: Under the George system you would make the owner of a lot on Main street, with an improvement on it worth $10,000, pay as much tax as the owner of a similar lot adjoining, having a building on it worth $50,000. What justice is there in that?
Let us see. Take away the improvements and these two lots are of the same value — that is to say, the value of the use of both lots for ordinary business purposes is the same. Suppose it is $300 a year. Now, the man with the $50,000 improvement collects from his tenant ten percent on his $50,000, or $5,000. He also collects $300, the value of the use of the lot, making in all $5,300. The man with the $10,000 improvement also collects ten percent upon the valuation of his improvement from his tenant, of $1,000. He, too, collects $300 in addition for the use of the lot, making in all $1,300. Now after both have paid the government $300 apiece for the privilege of the exclusive use of these lots, each will have left ten percent upon the capital invested, and why should one be entitled to any greater percent upon the capital invested than the other?
The fact is, that under this system there will be no such thing as taxes. Taxation, as we now understand it, will be abolished. The revenue derived by the government from requiring all who use a natural opportunity to pay into the common treasury what the use of that opportunity is worth, if it is worth anything at all, will be more than sufficient to enable the government to dispense with every species of taxation. As it is now, when you pay your taxes, you are simply robbed of a portion of the fruits of your industry, for which you do not get, directly, any equivalent. Under the proposed system, when you pay your single tax on land values you will get directly a full equivalent for every dollar paid. You will get the privilege of the exclusive use of a tract of land for what that privilege is worth.
ACCESS TO UNUSED LAND.
If this system were adopted what would become of the vacant lots and lands, the unused coal beds and mineral deposits, the unoccupied water fronts and water privileges over which human vampires now stand guard, retarding enterprise and driving off labor? They would become absolutely free. No one could afford to hold them and pay taxes on them. The vampires would turn them loose. Land speculators and land sharks, instead of trying to grow rich by forestalling labor and capital and thus preying like devouring beasts on their fellowmen, would turn their talents to better account. Wherever labor could find an unused lot or coal bed or mineral deposit or unused tract of land, there labor could go to work and employ itself without being required to invest a dollar in the purchase of a right of access to the natural element, without being compelled to first make terms with a dog in the manger claiming it as private property and holding it for speculative purposes.
If that vacant natural opportunity were situated near a center of population, or were of a character to bestow peculiar money-making advantages upon the persons using it, this advantage would create a demand for it, and this demand would regulate in the manner already pointed out the amount which labor and capital would pay for the use of it, in the form of a tax for the common benefit of all. If that vacant opportunity, for instance, were a tract of land four or five miles from this city, it would have few advantages to make the use of it at present peculiarly valuable. Why? Because there is so much vacant land of the same character near it, the use of which is equally valuable, that no one would give a bonus, as it were, for the use of that particular tract. Labor would, therefore, at first get the use of that land for nothing. It would have no taxable value at all until all the other vacant land similarly situated was put into use. Under this most just and equitable system the taxable values of land would be confined almost exclusively to the cities and towns and the coal and mineral deposits. Where people congregate, there land has value. In New York City alone, capital and labor today pay to a few thousand land owners, in ground rent alone, exclusive of rent paid on improvements, for the bare privilege of living and doing business, tribute money amounting to hundreds of millions annually, a sum almost equal to the expense of carrying on the government of the United States. It is in these great centers of trade and commerce that land has its greatest value; it is here that land values are mostly found and from these centers nine-tenths of the revenue of the government from this tax on land values would be derived.
FARMERS WOULD BE BENEFITED.
If the George plan were suddenly put in force today, not only would all farmers be relieved from direct and indirect taxation, not only would farmers participate in common with all others in the universal and uninterrupted prosperity which would result from removing the obstructions which needlessly hamper and clog enterprise, but probably three-fourths of the working farmers in this country would pay no land tax at all. Why? Because with so much vacant or but partially cultivated land as there is here today three-fourths of the farmers would have no taxable value at all; and all who are counting on the farmers of America being so foolish as not to see how they will be as much benefited by a just and righteous land system as any other class will certainly be disappointed.
EFFECT ON FARMS.
"Yes," says our farmer friend, "but you propose to confiscate the farmer's land." Let's see about that. You are a farmer owning say a hundred-acre farm, situated like a majority of farms, in a neighborhood where for every acre of land in cultivation there are two or more acres unimproved or but partially improved. Your farm is worth under the present system, say $2,000. A hundred acres of this unimproved land adjoining it of the same quality is held by some speculator at $500. Your tax on your hundred-acre farm is $10 a year, the speculator's tax on the hundred acres of land adjoining of equal value, exclusive of improvements, is $2.50 a year — one-fourth as much as yours. You give employment to labor on your land, and thereby add to the prosperity of the community. The speculator excludes labor from employment on his land, and thereby retards the prosperity of the community. Why should you be taxed any more for using your hundred-acre tract, and giving employment to labor on it, than the speculator is taxed for holding in idleness a tract of equal value and preventing labor from using it? Why should not the speculator pay at least as much tax for the privilege of excluding labor from his tract as you have to pay for the privilege of employing labor on yours? Have you hurt anyone by turning up the wild sod and building fences and houses and putting $1,500 worth of improvements on your land? If not, why should you be fined for it by having your taxes increased?
Where our plan is adopted you will have no taxes at all to pay until this vacant land around your farm is put into use. Until then no land value could attach to your farm, and the tax which, with increasing population, you would ultimately be required to pay, would seldom equal and rarely, if ever, exceed that which farmers now pay on the improvement valuation. Assuming that you spend say $600 a year on your family, then under the present system your taxes, direct and indirect, and the toll which the merchants take for collecting indirect taxes, amount to at least $100 a year. You may not know it, because an indirect tax always fools a fellow paying it. You will be relieved from all these taxes, but best of all, men who are now idle and who can't buy what you raise will all be at work, and not only that, but their wages will be high enough to pay good prices for what you raise. It is true that under the new system you could only sell your place for $1,500. Still, with this same $1,500 you could buy just as good a place from some one else. The purchasing power of your farm, when it comes to buying another farm, would not have been reduced. Do not your interests as producer or a laborer vastly exceed your interests as a land owner?
LANDLORDISM AND GOVERNMENT
Now, coming back to the elements of the new political economy, some one says: "What difference does it make to the workmen whether labor and capital pay this ground rent to the individual or to the government, since, according to your theory, it must be paid all the same?" In the first place, if it is paid to the individual none of it ever comes back to labor and capital unless value received is paid for it; so far as labor and capital are concerned, it might about as well be cast into the sea. But when it is paid to the government in the form of a tax on land values it does come back to labor and capital again in the form of relief from every species of taxation, direct and indirect.
Again, the amount that Enterprise would pay the government for the privilege of access to the natural elements would be less under the single tax than is now paid individuals for this privilege. Under the land value tax the prices could not be advanced by monopolization of these elements, as is being done now.
But best of all, and by far the most glorious result that will flow from the establishment of a just and righteous land system, is that it will enable the wealth creator to stand erect, presenting to capital an unterrified front.
Return for a moment to the coal beds of northern Alabama and imagine the Henry George system adopted. Labor now again objects to the terms offered by capital, and again capital tells him to go. And again labor goes forth hunting for work. But how different he finds the aspect of things. He finds the same unused natural elements, the same unused coal beds and mineral deposits, the vacant lots and lands, but he no longer finds a fellowman sitting upon every vacant opportunity for work and waving him off. They have vanished. They have gone to work themselves. He finds every unused opportunity for labor, wherever it may be, absolutely free. Not a dollar of capital need be invested in buying a natural opportunity, in paying for the privilege of work. When labor went forth hunting work before, he not only had to ask capital to pay for the tools, but also to pay, usually a greater sum, to some forestaller, in addition, as blackmail, for the privilege of access to a natural element.
This will all be changed. It won't take near as much capital to start enterprises as it did, or in other words, to give employment to labor. In fact, labor could then take even an axe and hoe and find plenty of vacant opportunities on which he could make a living without having to bury himself in a wilderness to do it. All this makes him feel independent and enables him to bargain with capital for employment on equal vantage grounds.
MONOPOLY IS PROFITABLE.
Some time since a large manufacturing firm in Massachusetts adopted the eight-hour system. After trying it a year they gave it up and went back to the ten-hour system. The general manager said they could only make five percent profit on their investments by requiring only eight hours' work, and that unless they could make a bigger percentage than that, they would not be bothered with the management of the business — they would put their money into town and city lots, because that species of property would certainly enhance in value as much as five percent annually, and that, too, without any trouble to the owner, and so it is everywhere. Now, is it not absurd to expect to reduce the rate of profits with which capital will be content below this steady percent of increase in the value of town and city lots, by any combination of labor, or by any legislation which falls short of restoring these land values to the people who collectively create them?
Suppose you have $10,000 today. The best and safest thing you can do with it is to invest it in town lots in or near some growing town. Ten years from today, unless the George theory becomes generally understood, the lots will be worth $20,000 and you will have drawn to yourself $10,000 worth of wealth for which you have given no equivalent. You will simply have robbed the labor of the country of $10,000. But now suppose ground values to be appropriated to the public use by taxation. What are you to do with your $10,000? You would not buy vacant lots now; there is no speculation in them. The tax which you would have to pay for the privilege of excluding capital and labor from the opportunities for employment which vacant lots afford, would be too heavy for you. In fact, you couldn't even loan on land alone, because land alone will have no selling value in the market. The result is, that unless you let your money lie idle and so lose interest on it, you will be compelled to invest it so as to give employment to labor. You must put it into buildings, into machinery, into manufactory stock, into farm implements, into some channel where it will be active and where it will afford employment to labor.
Not only must you do this with your capital, but every other capitalist must do the same with his capital. Capitalist thus must bid against capitalist, since capital can only increase by calling labor to its aid and giving it employment.
Under the present system the rich can grow richer without calling in the aid of labor, without giving employment to labor. They do so by buying space and monopolizing land.
Under the present system, as wealth accumulates, the wealthy seek to invest in land, to get control of natural elements, and get into a position from which to blackmail labor, thus becoming an obstacle in the way of the production of more wealth.
Under the better system, however, wealth could not thus be made to set up an obstacle to the creation of more wealth, or, in other words, to the employment of labor. It can then only obtain a profit by investing in lines of enterprise which give employment to labor.
Under which system will the demand for labor be greater? Under which will earnings be higher?
I had the pleasure of stumbling across a piece of writing from about 100 years ago. It is in one of quite a large number of books written by enthusiastic admirers of the ideas of Henry George, put online by Google Books. This is from a book by one James Love (written under a pseudonym). I've reformatted it a bit to make it easier to read here. It is a good summary of "Progress and Poverty," still the best book I know on political economy and economic justice -- why we suffer from wealth concentration, income concentration, poverty, sprawl, and a number of our other most serious social and environmental problems. Here's the excerpt; read it slowly and consider its implications!
This man, who I believe to be the completest in thought and language that the world has seen, and his book the most precious ever given by man to men, concludes
that the world (even more necessary to our existence than our own bodies are) is intended for all men of all generations, and not for some men alone.
That every human being born into the world has a natural right in it equal to that of every other human being born into it.
That as man by his nature seeks to gain his ends in the easiest way, some parts of the earth on which he can accomplish much become more desirable than other parts on which he can accomplish less.
That this varying desirability, causing competition for the use of certain lands, shows itself in "rent," which is thus a communal product, and as clearly belongs to communities as the remainder of the produced wealth belongs to the individual producers.
That it is as impolitic and unjust to take from the individual for the use of the community what has been produced by the individual as it is impolitic and unjust not to take for the use of all, or of the community, that which is produced in common by the community.
That, in short, "rent" is the natural, God-intended fund for general public use. And
that in denying this moral law of equal rights to land there is brought about a pitiful inequality of true wealth, and a sordid struggle for existence, destructive of human freedom and eventually bringing progress to a halt.
And that we are at last learning that in setting up "vested rights" — based whether on ancient force or ancient law — developed into modern custom — and denying this equality, we rob men and deny the truly sacred right of every man to the product of his labor; deny the sacred right of property in "wealth."
And that in treating private property in land as sacred (worse than treating property in man as sacred) "there never was a more degrading abasement of the human mind before a fetich."
But that, on the contrary, "by conforming our institutions to this divine law of justice we will bring about conditions in which human nature can develop its best;
will permit such enormous production of wealth as we can now hardly conceive;
will secure an equitable distribution;
will solve the labor problem and dispel the darkening clouds now gathering over the horizon of European civilization.
We will make undeserved poverty an unknown thing;
will check the soul-destroying greed of gain, and
will enable men to be at least as honest, as true, as considerate and highminded as they would like to be.
We will open to all, even the poorest, the comforts and refinements and opportunities of an advanced civilization; and
we will thus, so we reverently believe, clear the way for the coming of that kingdom of right and justice, and consequently of abundance and peace and happiness, for which the Master told his disciples to pray and work."*
* "The strength of ' Progress and Poverty' is not that it restated fundamental truths which others had before stated. It is that it related these truths to all other truths. That it shattered the elaborate structure that under the name of 'Political Economy' had been built up to hide them, and restoring what had, indeed, been a dismal science to its own proper symmetry, made it the science of hope and of faith." —Reply to charge of plagiarism.—Henry George.
Almost a month ago (7/12), Martin Wolf, the Financial Times' chief economics commentator, posted a piece to his blog under this title. The last time I looked, perhaps 10 days after his initial post, there were about 150 responses. I circled back recently, and found that the comments count had risen to over 350.
This ended up as a heated debate. Nobody will be surprised if I conclude
that the result of the debate (often surprisingly ill-tempered) was
pro-LVT 10, anti-LVT zero. I am surprised by some of what the anti-LVT
proponents have said. I would have thought they would wish to open their
minds a bit. I did and was persuaded of the case, as a result. Is not
the purpose of such exchanges to learn from one another?
Some of the arguments addressed at the case for LVT are quite extraordinary.
The essential point is quite simple: the value of resources is created
by the economic activity of other factors of production. The owners of
these resources can become hugely wealthy and are often untaxed on that
increase in wealth: the Duke of Westminster is the richest Englishman
simply because he owns a large amount of land in a valuable part of
London. So why should he have command over the labour of so many other
That wealth is, in the strictest sense, unearned. If that rise in wealth
were taxed away, other taxes -- those on labour, capital and
entrepreneurship -- could fall. This would be both efficient (because
taxes on rent do not create distortions, as Ricardo showed) and also
just, because the wealth was unearned. Now, surprisingly, the UK allows
foreign landowners to enjoy the increase in value created by the British
economy, entirely tax-free. This is utterly crazy.
Let me add four other points.
First, throughout history, the main source of wealth was land-ownership.
The parasitic landowner became wealthy on the efforts of others --
peasants, tenants and even developers. Sometimes the parasite was also a
farmer or developer, but that does not change the fact that these are
two distinct economic roles. The parasite built fine castles and palaces
and often sponsored music and culture. But he was still a parasite. The
beauty of capitalism is that many of the wealthiest are no longer
parasites. This is good. But many of the wealthy still are parasites.
Moreover, now everybody wants to get rich by being a mini-landowner.
That is a huge diversion of effort.
Second, the financial system's ills are the result of unchecked
credit-creation. Yes. But unchecked credit-creation would be impossible
without collateral. Land is always the principal form of collateral
(buildings are a depreciating asset). That is why financial bubbles that
do not create credit booms (like the dotcom bubble) are economically
benign, while property bubbles are potentially catastrophic. When the
value of collateral collapses, the financial system implodes.
Third, there is really nothing new about this understanding of the role
of resource rents. They were central to the classical system, from which
modern economics, in its various forms, derives. Ricardo's analysis of
rent remains intellectually impeccable.
Finally, as Herman Daly has noted
(http://steadystate.org/modernizing-henry-george/), today economically valuable
resources are much more than just land (and what lies below it). They
include all the services of the biosphere - those that are appropriated,
those that are appropriable and those that are non-appropriable. If we
do not think seriously and intelligently about how to price resources,
we are likely to go seriously adrift, perhaps even into disaster. Here
land is the least of our problems -- it is appropriable and, by and
large, appropriated. So, at least, the price mechanism works, even
though the distribution of the gain is grossly unjust. But, in other
cases, no appropriation is possible, or at least it is not easy. Nobody
can appropriate the atmosphere. It is nigh on impossible to appropriate
the oceans. How do you own species diversity? These are serious
So, I conclude where I started: resources matter. It was a great mistake
to exclude them from the canonical neo-classical model. It is also a
great mistake not to tax their owners to the hilt.
The floods battered New England, then Nashville, then Arkansas, then Oklahoma — and were followed by a deluge in Pakistan that has upended the lives of 20 million people.
The summer’s heat waves baked the eastern United States, parts of Africa and eastern Asia, and above all Russia, which lost millions of acres of wheat and thousands of lives in a drought worse than any other in the historical record.
Seemingly disconnected, these far-flung disasters are reviving the question of whether global warming is causing more weather extremes.
The collective answer of the scientific community can be boiled down to a single word: probably.
“The climate is changing,” said Jay Lawrimore, chief of climate analysis at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. “Extreme events are occurring with greater frequency, and in many cases with greater intensity.”
He described excessive heat, in particular, as “consistent with our
understanding of how the climate responds to increasing greenhouse
Theory suggests that a world warming up because of those gases will
feature heavier rainstorms in summer, bigger snowstorms in winter, more
intense droughts in at least some places and more record-breaking heat
waves. Scientists and government reports say the statistical evidence
shows that much of this is starting to happen. . . .
If the earth were not warming, random variations in the weather should
cause about the same number of record-breaking high temperatures and
record-breaking low temperatures over a given period. But climatologists
have long theorized that in a warming world, the added heat would cause
more record highs and fewer record lows.
Recall that the US uses a disproportionate percentage of the world's oil and coal, and produces a disproportionate percentage of the world's greenhouse gases.
As poor people around the world -- and not-so-poor people, too -- contemplate America's place in the world, particularly when they are suffering from the effects of extremes of weather, are they likely to be willing to accept the notion that America is somehow special, and that it is the rest of the world that must adjust to us, or will they come to hold us accountable to the rest of the world's people?
When we wrap our minds around the implications of that question, we will come to the question of how we can reduce the demand for the kinds of energy which pollute the world's air.
Part of the answer will come from reducing, even reversing, urban sprawl, and setting our incentives so that our cities get re-developed more quickly and more effectively. This will also be good for the economy, creating jobs in the ongoing redevelopment process and then again in the new buildings created by this redevelopment.
What incentives? Start with the incentives which promote intense use of land well-served by taxpayer-provided infrastructure (highway systems, rail and subway systems, bridges, tunnels, air travel, etc.; water, sanitary sewer, stormwater management, etc.); and services (schools, police, ambulance, firefighting, street-cleaning, trash removal, recycling, public health, courts and prisons; public parking, etc.) Every one of those services serves to increase the value of land within the area served. Most of them contribute more to the land value than they cost. Yet we continue to fund them, in many places, with taxes not on land value but on wages or sales -- stupid taxes, to be blunt about it!
We can settle down and study the problem, or we can continue to do what hasn't worked yet. But not for long, and not for free. Our neighbors in the other 94% of the world are going to start holding us accountable at some point. Do we want to wait until it hits us, or do we want to get out in front of it?
And if we could, via a simple reform in the US, set an example that would contribute to prosperity in other countries, wouldn't we be wise to pursue it?