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!
The rental value of land is due to our common human needs. No single individual -- the people as a whole produce that value. It grows larger as the population and its activities increase.
This natural law of rent gives the community the moral right to take all of this value which it creates.
The mistake is made of permitting a few to take this value, thus creating speculation in land, upsetting economic stability, necessitating unemployment and the recurring breakdowns in our civilization.
This fundamental wrong must be righted before wars and all injustice can be abolished.
And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need.
I posted this comment elsewhere, and thought it worth sharing here:
I've not read far into the book yet -- and it is available online as a PDF file -- but by the time I was into the first chapter, it was clear that Dr. Piketty's economic education, extensive as it might be, entirely omitted the ideas of the classical economists who described a 3-factor economy: land, labor and capital. Piketty, like nearly everyone educated in economics in the past 40 to 80 years, writes as if there were only two factors -- labor and capital -- treating land as if it were a mere subset of capital, with no reason to recognize it as differentiated.
Land -- not only urban sites, but also the other things the classical economists would recognize as Land, such as water rights, oil, electromagnetic spectrum (our airwaves which we all say belong to the American people, but which are in reality owned by corporations), landing rights at busy landlocked airports, geosynchronous orbits, urban street parking, the value of dozens of other non-renewable natural resources -- is completely different in character from that which is created by labor. To fail to recognize that difference lies at the bottom of our inequality problem.
That which individuals and corporations produce is rightly individual property. That which the community and nature produce is rightly common property, belonging to all of us. Conflating Capital and Land leads us to permit the privatization of that which is rightly our common treasure.
You might be interested to know that the Landlord Game, invented by 1902, was intended to teach this concept. You have probably played Monopoly, which was based on this game, played with very different rules.
Explore the ideas of Henry George. Between 1885 and 1900 or so, everyone knew the name and many well understood his ideas. You might start with "Social Problems" or the more analytical "Progress and Poverty," or his speeches, "The Crime of Poverty," "Thou Shalt Not Steal," among others, online at http://www.wealthandwant.com. See also http://lvtfan.typepad.com.
Dr. Piketty and others whose education in economics has omitted George's ideas should not be treated as experts; they've mixed apples and oranges and not noticed that what they've created impoverishes the vast majority of us -- and enriches a few. (Parenthetically, consider who donates heavily to our universities.)
David Cay Johnston wrote an interesting column recently, laying out some excellent reasons why the mortgage interest deduction should be phased out.
He points out that fewer than half of homeowners benefit from the deduction; 70% do not itemize deductions, and 30% own their homes outright.
DCJ doesn't say it explicitly, but in general, it is mostly people in and near the major coastal cities (mostly the blue congressional districts) which reap the benefits. But he -- rightly -- comes close to pointing out that the benefits flow not to buyers of such homes, but to the sellers.
Imagine you make $50,000 to $75,000. Statistically you would save $75 a month in federal income taxes if you bought a house, the congressional study shows. Now which option would you prefer?
• Pay $300,000 for your house, the median for Sacramento in late 2013, and save $900 annually on your federal income tax by deducting the mortgage interest?
• Pay $200,000 for your house, but without being able to deduct your mortgage interest?
Assuming you borrowed the entire purchase price at 4 percent interest the initial mortgage interest savings would be $4,000 per year. Not only would you have more than $250 more cash in your pocket each month, you would have a much smaller debt to pay off. Of course, if you own that home, this is not such a good deal, which is why Camp proposes to phase in his modest change over several years, a change that would only affect new mortgages of more than $500,000.
Which brings me to a larger point. Suppose that, instead of paying $300,000 for your home, of which $150,000 is for the site, and $150,000 is for the home itself, under the tax design this blog proposes, you would pay the seller the $150,000 for the depreciated home and then pay your community approximately 5% of the $150,000 selling price of the site each year -- and that would be INSTEAD of paying income or sales taxes, and there would be no tax on the value of the building.
You'd borrow (assuming DCJ's assumption of 100% financing) $150,000, and most likely, you would not need or want to keep that mortgage for 30 years. Imagine being mortgage free within, say, 10 years. Aggregate mortgage borrowing would be much lower than it is now, and the average years of one's life spent paying off mortgages would be less.
The downside? None of us would be treating our home as an "investment" or a "savings account" or an ATM machine. Offset that with the many benefits, including the reduction or elimination of the land-based ~17 year boom-bust cycle we are currently stuck with.
(In Bermuda, as I understand it, when young couples buy a home, both work two jobs for a few years to pay off the mortgage, and then live mortgage-free thereafter.)
MUTUAL TOWN-BUILDING IN ENGLAND "GARDEN CITIES" OF INDIVIDUAL, DETACHED HOMES BUILT WITHOUT THE AID OF PHILANTHROPY — A BETTER PLAN THAN REBUILDING THE SLUMS
BY WILHELM MILLER
(who visited these cities to make a first hand study of them)
LETCHWORTH, "the perfect city," less than five years old but with 6,000
inhabitants, is thirty-four miles north of London and is reached by the
best trains in fifty minutes. It has 3,818 acres and its population is
limited to 35,000 inhabitants, so that there will never be any crowding.
The factory quarter can never be enlarged; it is situated as far as
possible from the residence quarter and the prevailing wind carries the
smoke away from the homes. Nearly one-sixth of the town site, or two
hundred acres, is perpetually reserved for open spaces, including parks,
jjlaygrounds, and a golf course.
And even if the surrounding country should build up as solidly as
London, the people of Letchworth are always sure of enjoying a beautiful
rural scene because a large belt is perpetually reserved for
agriculture. This belt comprises 2,500 acres, or 65 percent of the
whole estate. It will undoubtedly be occupied by market gardeners and
dairymen, for gardens yield about eleven times as much profit per acre
A man can buy a house at Letchworth or he can rent one, but he cannot
buy the land. He cannot even lease it for 999 years, because that would
enable him to sell or lease his property in such a way as to make a
profit from the unearned increment. He can lease the land for
ninety-nine years without revaluation and the improvements will not
revert to the landowner. In any case, he has every advantage enjoyed by
the man who owns the land outright — save one. He cannot get rich from what Henry George called the "unearned increment" but which in Letchworth is called the "collectively earned increment."
Even if he rents his house and land from week to week he cannot be
dispossessed by some one who offers more money. In the agricultural
belt, the tenant is allowed to continue in occupation as long as he is
willing to pay as much as anyone else, less 10 percent, in favor of the
Letchworth has been built upon a plan whereby people in any part of the
world can make a city that is practically perfect without asking any
rich man to give money, and without facilities for borrowing any large
amount. The essence of the scheme is to preserve to the people the
"collectively earned increment." The Letchworth people take some pride
in the use of this phrase, and justly. For, merely by moving to
Letchworth and living there they created in four and a half years a net
increase of half a million dollars. They do not get that half million
now, but some day they will get 95 percent of it in the form of
abolition of taxes. And that day, in my opinion will come in about
twenty years, for by that time the city should be able to pay back all
that its public works have cost.
THE TWO OTHER "GARDEN CITIES "
There are two other successful "garden cities," Bourneville, a suburb of
Liverpool built by the Cadbury Cocoa Works, and Port Sunlight near
Birmingham created by the Lever Brothers, soap manufacturers, solely for
Port Sunlight is the most beautiful because the Messrs. Lever have gone
to the unnecessary extreme of making no two houses alike. Also, they
have spent more upon ornamentation of
houses than is necessary and they plant and care for all the front yard gardens.
The tenants at Port Sunlight get more for their money than elsewhere for
two reasons. First, the rents are too low, because they are calculated
only to pay expenses. Second, the social institutions, though more
elaborate than elsewhere, cost the people nothing originally and they
can and do manage them so as to keep expenses down to the mininum.
THE "taint" of philanthropy
The one great drawback to the Port Sunlight idea is that it involves too
great an expenditure on the part of one man or one firm, and it is hard
to prove to a factory owner that the investment is worth while. In this
case, the factory owners disclaim all idea of philanthropy and are
positive that it pays, because their employees are healthier, happier,
more prosperous and therefore more efficient.
The Lever Brothers rejected all direct profit-sharing schemes because
they thought this the only plan that would benefit the wives and
children of the men. There is the keenest competition for a chance to
work in that factory and live in one of those houses. But all the
profits to the firm are indirect. Rarely, if ever, can they be expressed
in dollars and cents and indirect profits can never be expected to
weigh in the mind of the average employer against the appalling fact
that Lever Brothers have put about $1,700,000 into their paradise at
Port Sunlight and have never directly gotten back one cent.
In other words, if this is not philanthropy, it is too much like it to
be generally copied. Humanity cannot look to great employers for the
solution of the housing problem. And employees do not want philanthropy.
And at Bourneville there is less of the philanthropic spirit. The
employees of the Cadbury Cocoa Works get a normal social life, which the
people of Port Sunlight do not have. The cocoa workers are not obliged
to live in Bourneville and only 42 percent of the tenants at Bourneville
are employed at the Cadbury factory. Thus Bourneville is a mixed
community and the ideal community must be mixed — not merely industrial,
or suburban, or composed exclusively of any one class. It is sad to see
the magnificent clubs, lecture halls, baths, and other social features
at Port Sunlight languish for attendance, but it is only human nature.
On getting home after a day's work, a man wants to forget thoughts of
his work. And if he lives in a city where every house and every person
he sees on the street suggests the workroom, he is bound to escape to
the next town where he can get a drink or otherwise forget his daily
routine. The only serious complaint which the tenants at Port Sunlight
have any right to make is that they live in the atmosphere of a single
Mr. Cadbury gave Bourneville to the people. How then does it escape the "taint" of philanthropy?"
A GREAT FUND FOR PROPAGANDA
It is true that Mr. Cadbury gave the property to a trust which
administers it for the benefit of the people, but eventually this trust
will be able to finance hundreds of other garden cities that will be
purely cooperative. For instance, people wishing to live in a "garden
city," where all the "collectively earned increment" benefits all alike
instead of going to the building up of individual fortunes, can form a
stock company with shares as low as $25. If the Bourneville trust
approves of their plan, it will lend them enough money to start a town.
But the company must pay it back, so that the Bourneville trust can use
it again and again.
How does the Bourneville trust hope to get this fund? Its income, which
is almost wholly rent, doubles every five years. At this rate, in fifty
years it will have an annual income of five million dollars. Long before
that, Bourneville will have reached its limit of population. And since
the trust never has to pay back the cost of the houses, roads, or other
public works, it will be able to roll up a vast sum for the propagation
of the "garden city" idea.
The all-important point is that the Bourneville trust will never give
anyone something for nothing. It will merely lend money to people who
are building "garden cities."
THE HEALTH AND BEAUTY OF THESE CITIES
These are far healthier and more beautiful than cities that have grown
up normally; healthier because crowding is prevented by a limit to the
population and because more and better provision is made for outdoor
sports — to say nothing of architecture in which health is the first
thought. The average town death-rate in England is 15 per 1,000.
Letchworth has cut this down to 2.75. The birthrate at Port Sunlight is
twice the average for the rest of England.
The greater beauty of these garden cities lies chiefly in the
architecture and gardening. The houses and stores all conform to one
general style of architecture, but are never monotonous. Every building
must be approved by the city's architect. The houses are all of brick
and built to last. There are no long rows of houses just alike. The
first idea was to have no two houses alike but that is a needless waste
of money. For poor people it is impossible to get good houses cheap
enough without building three or four in a row and this row can be
duplicated in another part of town without harming the total effect.
Moreover, Bourneville has shown how much can be saved on ornamentation.
The plainest houses are transformed in three years by the use of
climbers. Bourneville's head gardener sees that every house has a
different set of vines. Not merely is the plainness soon hidden thereby,
but also the individuality of each home is notably increased.
Gardening is compulsory at Bourneville and Letchworth. If a tenant
neglects his garden at Bourneville and will not hire some one to weed
it, the estate notifies him that he will forfeit his lease unless he
makes his place look decent. But there have been only two cases of
The estate plants a hawthorn hedge all round each man's place, digs and
manures his vegetable garden, lays down the lawn, sets out dwarf fruit
trees, plants the climbers on his house, and digs his flower-beds. These
expenses are considered part of the cost of building and the rent is
based thereon. The tenant must keep it in good condition but he can buy
plants from the estate cheaper than from a nurseryman and he gets
instruction for nothing. There is no chance for a beginner to get
A FIVE-ROOM HOUSE FOR $7.80 A MONTH
I am almost afraid to tell how much a tenant gets for his money at one
of these garden cities. The cheapest houses at Bourneville rent for only
$7.80 a month, which includes taxes and water rates. Such a house
contains five rooms and a wonderful "folding bath" which stands up like a
cabinet when not in use. Clerks and artisans, however, generally pay
about $12.30 a month for seven rooms and an eighth of an acre.
The ideal amount of land at Bourneville is one-eighth of an acre, and
the average value of the fruits and vegetables produced on such a plot
is about $32.24 a year, or sixty-two cents a week the year round. The
smallest lots at Letchworth are a twelfth of an acre, which is the same
as 25 x 145 feet, and is 45 percent larger than the typical New York
lot, on which many families are allowed to live. In addition to these
direct benefits the tenant gets a chance to play cricket, tennis, bowls,
quoits, and hockey near by at no expense or at less cost than in an
All rents at Bourneville are figured at 8 percent of the cost. Taxes,
insurance and repairs cost 3 percent, leaving a profit to the
Bourneville estate of 5 percent. With this 5 percent, it employs a
permanent staff of about one hundred builders and has about fifty houses
under construction all the time.
OBSTACLES OVERCOME AT LETCHWORTH
The Letchworth company had its hands full with public works, for it had
to construct eight miles of road, eleven miles of sewers, and seventeen
miles of water main. Also it had to build a reservoir for water, a gas
making plant, and an electric power station to supply the factories, of
which it now has twenty-four. Another difficulty overcome was
transportation. The company has cooperated with the railroad so well
that its "commuters" can make their thirty-four miles to and from London
daily in less than an hour, though most trains require an hour and a
The income of the land company is partly from the sale of water, gas,
and electricity, but chiefly from ground rent. It never sells any land
or houses. Ground rent may seem a very small source of revenue, but
every man, woman and child in England contributes for ground rent an
average of $10.50 a year. The Letchworth company can, and doubtless
will, raise the ground rent as its limit of population approaches, but
even if it should raise it as high as the average for England, the
tenant will pay less than elsewhere, for taxes will eventually be
The only point where I do not find myself in complete accord (and
that is perhaps more due to your comparative silence than anything
else) is that I attach relatively more importance to the initial
injustice done by the permitted monopoly of raw material in a few
hands. It seems to me that individualism, in order to be just, must
strive hard for an equalisation of original conditions by the
removal of all artificial advantages. The great reservoir of natural
wealth that we sum up as land (including mines, etc.) ought, it
seems to me, to be nationalised before we can say that the
individual is allowed fair play. While he is thwarted in obtaining
his fair share of the raw material, he is being put at a
disadvantage by artificial laws.
—Grant Allen, Letter to Herbert Spencer, 1886, in "Grant Allen, A
Memoir," by Edward Clodd.
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.)
If, then, successive generations of men cannot have their fractional
share of the actual soil (including mines, etc.) how can the
division of the advantages of the natural earth be effected? By the
division of its annual value or rent; that is, by making the rent of
the soil the common property of the nation. That is (as the taxation
is the common property of the State), by taking the whole of the
taxes out of the rents of the soil, and thereby abolishing all other
kinds of taxation whatever. And thus all industry would be
absolutely emancipated from every burden.
— PATRICK EDWARD DOVE, Theory of
Human Progression (1850), Chap. III., Sec. 3.
I stumbled across an excerpt from this in The American Cooperator, and when I couldn't find the material in any of George's other books, I went looking for the source, an 1887 book with chapters by 16 authors.
Enjoy! (It prints out as about 9 pages, if you're so inclined)
THE HISTORY, PURPOSE AND
POSSIBILITIES OF LABOR ORGANIZATIONS
IN EUROPE AND AMERICA; GUILDS, TRADES-
UNIONS, AND KNIGHTS OF LABOR; WAGES AND PROFITS;
HOURS OF LABOR; FUNCTIONS OF CAPITAL; CHINESE LABOR:
COMPETITION; ARBITRATION; PROFIT-SHARING AND
CO-OPERATION; PRINCIPLES OF THE KNIGHTS OF
LABOR; MORAL AND EDUCATIONAL AS-
PECTS OF THE LABOR QUESTION.
EDITED BY GEORGE E. McNEILL,
First Deputy of Mass. Bureau of Statistics of Labor; Sec.-Treas. of D. A. 30, Knights of Labor.
ASSOCIATE AUTHORS: TERENCE V. POWDERLY, G. M. W., K. of L.; DR. EDMUND J. JAMES, University of Pennsylvania; HON. JOHN J. O'NEILL, of Missouri;
HON. J. M. FARQUHAR, of New York; HON. ROBERT HOWARD, of Massachusetts; HENRY GEORGE, of New York;
ADOLPH STRASSER, Pres. Cigar Makers' Union; JOHN JARRETT, of
Pennsylvania; REV. R. HEBER NEWTON, of New York; F K. FOSTER, of
Massachusetts; P. M. ARTHUR, Chief Engineer Locomotive Brotherhood; W.
W. STONE and W. W. MORROW, of California; FRANKLIN H. GIDDINGS,
"Springfield Union"; JOHN McBRIDE, Secretary Coal Miners' Union;
D.J.O'DONOGHUE, of Toronto, Canada; P. J. McGUIRE, Secretary Carpenters'
NEW YORK: THE M. W. HAZEN CO.
Copyright 1886, by
A M. BRIDGMAN & CO.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE LAND QUESTION.
MAGNITUDE OF THE QUESTION — FIRST PRINCIPLES — THE
LAND-OWNER THE ABSOLUTE MASTER OF MEN WHO MUST LIVE ON HIS LAND — THE
ORDER OF NATURE INVERTED — EQUAL RIGHTS TO THE USE OF THE EARTH —
SELFISHNESS, THE EVIL GENIUS OF MAN — THE IRISH PEOPLE FORCED TO BEG
PERMISSION TO TILL THE SOIL — APPROPRIATION OF THE CHURCH-LANDS — LAND
IN ITSELF HAS NO VALUE — THE GREAT CAUSE OF THE UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF
WEALTH — NO HOPE FOR THE LABORER, SO LONG AS PRIVATE PROPERTY IN LAND
EXISTS — NOTHING MYSTERIOUS ABOUT THE LABOR QUESTION — THE DIFFICULTY IN
FINDING EMPLOYMENT — NATURE OFFERS FREELY TO LABOR — NATURAL MEANS OF
EMPLOYMENT MONOPOLIZED — SPECULATION IN THE BOUNTIES OF NATURE.
BENEATH all the great social questions of our time lies one of primary
and universal importance, the question of the rights of men to the use
of the earth.
The magnitude of the pecuniary interests involved, the fact that the
influential classes in all communities where private property in land
exists are interested in its maintenance, lead to a disposition to
ignore or belittle the land question: but it is impossible to give any
satisfactory explanation of the most important social phenomena without
reference to it; and the growing unrest of the masses of all civilized
countries, under conditions which they feel to be galling and unjust,
must at length lead them, as the only way of securing the rights of
labor, to turn to the land question.
To see that the land question does involve the problem of the equitable
distribution of wealth; that it lies at the root of all the vexed social
questions of our time, and is, indeed, but another name for the great
labor question in all its phases, it is only needful to revert to first
principles, and to consider the relations between men and the planet
We find ourselves on the surface of a sphere, circling through
immeasurable space. Beneath our feet, the diameter of the planet extends
for eight thousand miles; above our heads night reveals countless
points of light, which science tells us are suns, that blaze billions of
miles away. In this inconceivably vast universe, we are confined to the
surface of our sphere, as the mariner in mid-ocean is confined to the
deck of his ship. We are limited to that line where the exterior of the
planet meets the atmospheric envelope that surrounds it. We may look
beyond, but cannot pass. We are not denizens of one element, like the
fish; but while our bodies must be upheld by one element, they must be
laved in another. We live on the earth, and in the air. In the search
for minerals men are able to descend for a few thousand feet into the
earth's crust, provided communication with the surface be kept open, and
air thus supplied; and in balloons men have ascended to like distances
above the surface; but on a globe of thirty-five feet diameter, this
range would be represented by the thickness of a sheet of paper. And
though it is thus possible for man to ascend for a few thousand feet
above the surface, or to descend for a few thousand feet below it, it is
only on the surface of the earth that he can habitually live and supply
his wants; nor can he do this on all parts of the surface of the globe,
but only on that smaller part, which we call land, as distinguished
from the water, while considerable parts even of the land are
uninhabitable by him.
By constructing vessels of materials obtained from land, and
provisioning them with the produce of land, it is true that man is able
to traverse the fluid-surface of the globe; yet he is none the less
dependent upon land. If the land of the globe were again to be
submerged, human life could not long be maintained on the best-appointed
Man, in short, is a land-animal. Physically considered, he is as much a
product of land as is the tree. His body, composed of materials drawn
from land, can only be maintained by nutriment furnished by land; and
all the processes by which he secures food, clothing and shelter consist
but in the working up of land or the products of land. Labor is
possible only on condition of access to land, and all human production
is but the union of land and labor, the transportation or transformation
of previously existing matter into places or forms suited to the
satisfaction of man's needs.
Land, being thus indispensable to man, the most important of social
adjustments is that which fixes the relations between men with regard to
that element. Where all are accorded equal rights to the use of the
earth, no one needs ask another to give him employment, and no one can
stand in fear of being deprived of the opportunity to make, a living. In
such a community, there could be no "labor question." There could be
neither degrading poverty nor demoralizing wealth. And the personal
independence arising from such a condition of equality, in respect to
the ability to get a living, must give character to all social and
On the other hand, inequality of privilege in the use of the earth must
beget inequality of wealth and power, must divide men into those who can
command and those who are forced to serve. The rewards which nature
yields to labor no longer go to the laborers in proportion to industry
and skill; but a privileged class are enabled to live without labor by
compelling a disinherited class to give up some part of their earnings
for permission to live and work. Thus the order of nature is inverted,
those who do no work become rich, and "workingman" becomes synonymous,
with "poor man." Material progress tends to monstrous wealth on one
side, and abject poverty on the other; and society is differentiated
into masters and servants, rulers and ruled.
If one man were permitted to claim the land of the world as his
individual property, he would be the absolute master of all humanity.
All the rest of mankind could live only by his permission, and under
such conditions as he chose to prescribe. So, if one man be permitted to
treat as his own the land of any country, he becomes the absolute
sovereign of its people. Or, if the land of a country be made the
property of a class, a ruling aristocracy is created, who soon begin to
regard themselves, and to be regarded, as of nobler blood and superior
rights. That "God will think twice before he damns people of quality,"
is the natural feeling of those who are taught to believe that the land
on which all must live is legitimately their private property.
"Of course the fact that a chief or land-owner has bought and paid
for a particular privilege or species of taboo, or has inherited
from his fathers, doesn't give him in any moral claim to it. The
question is, Is the claim in itself right and reasonable? for a
wrong is only all the more a wrong for having been long and
— GRANT ALLEN, The British
Barbarians. (Words spoken by Bertram.)
... 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.
The doctrine that land can become the private property of one is a
doctrine morally repugnant to the Bantu. The idea which is today
beginning to haunt Europe, that, as the one possible salve for our
social wounds and diseases, it might be well if the land should
become again the property of the nation at large, is no ideal to the
Bantu, but a realistic actuality. He finds it difficult, if not
impossible, to reconcile his sense of justice with any other form of
— OLIVE SCHREINER, Stray Thoughts
on South Africa, Fortnightly Review, July, 1896, p. 6.
The accompanying map says, "Around Grand Central Terminal, towers could be up to twice the size now permitted. Development could also take place along the Park Avenue corridor, where towers could be more than 40% larger. Elsewhere in the district, towers could be 20% larger."
New York’s premier district, the 70-block area around Grand Central
Terminal, has lagged, Bloomberg officials say, hampered by zoning rules,
decades old, that have limited the height of buildings.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants
to overhaul these rules so that buildings in Midtown Manhattan can soar
as high as those elsewhere. New towers could eventually cast shadows
over landmarks across the area, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral and
the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. They could rise above the 59-story MetLife
Building and even the 77-story Chrysler Building.
Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal reflects
his effort to put his stamp on the city well after his tenure ends in
December 2013. Moving swiftly, he wants the City Council to adopt the
new zoning, for what is being called Midtown East, by October 2013, with
the first permits for new buildings granted four years later.
administration says that without the changes, the neighborhood around
Grand Central will not retain its reputation as “the best business
address in the world” because 300 of its roughly 400 buildings are more
than 50 years old. These structures also lack the large column-free
spaces, tall ceilings and environmental features now sought by corporate
rezoning — from 39th Street to 57th Street on the East Side — would
make it easier to demolish aging buildings in order to make way for
state of-the-art towers.
it, “the top Class A tenants who have been attracted to the area in the
past would begin to look elsewhere for space,” the administration says
in its proposal.
plan has stirred criticism from some urban planners, community boards
and City Council members, who have contended that the mayor has acted
hastily. They said they were concerned about the impact of taller towers
in an already dense district where buildings, public spaces, streets,
sidewalks and subways have long remained unchanged.
Mr. Bloomberg has encouraged high-rise development in industrial neighborhoods, including the Far West Side of Manhattan,
the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in Long Island City,
Queens. But with the proposal for Midtown, which is working its way
through environmental and public reviews, he is tackling the city’s
the development potential in this area will generate historic
opportunities for investment in New York City,” Deputy Mayor Robert K.
The initiative would, in some cases, allow developers to build towers twice the size now permitted in the Grand Central area. The
owner of the 19-story Roosevelt Hotel at Madison and 45th Street could
replace it with a 58-story tower under the proposed rules. Current
regulations permit no more than 30 floors.
When zoning changes increase the value of land, who should reap the benefit? The current landholder, or the community? What did the landholder do to earn that windfall? Do you think it comes out of thin air? Do you think it is paid him by other rich people?
Or do you recognize that it is part of the structure which enriches a few and impoverishes the many?
It is easy to fix this one. One just has to recognize the structure, and value the land correctly, and start collecting the lion's share of the land rent for the community. If it is more than NYC can put to use -- and it will be -- then apply the excess to reducing our federal taxes on productive effort. Use it to fund Social Security, or Medicare, or universal health insurance, or something else that will benefit the vast majority of us instead of an undeserving tiny privileged minority. Don't throw it in the ocean, and don't leave it in private pockets, be they American or not.
Collect the land rent. Repeat next year, and the next, and the next. Natural Public Revenue.
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.
Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if
one portion of the earth's surface may justly become the
possession of an individual and may be held by him for his sole use
and benefit as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then
other portions of the earth's surface may be so held; and eventually
the whole of the earth's surface may be so held; and our planet may
thus lapse into private hands.
— HERBERT SPENCER, in 1850, Social
Statics, Chap. IX.
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.
Let us suppose that a people is excluded from the ownership of the
land. I say that this exclusion, even if followed by no other
injustice (which I think impossible), by making a man a stranger to
the commonwealth, makes him indifferent to the existence of the
— MARMONTEL, Address in Favor of
the Peasants of the North (1757), Oeuvres, Vol X., p. 72.
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.
Any settlement of the land of a country that would exclude the
humblest man in that country from his share of the common
inheritance would be not only an injustice and a wrong to that man,
but moreover would be an impious resistance to the benevolent
intentions of the Creator.
"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 vacant land belongs to the landless. The simple fact that
the one is vacant and the other landless is of itself the highest
proof that they should be allowed to come together. Alas, what
a crime against nature that they should be kept apart.
— GERRIT SMITH, Smith's Speeches
in the U. S. Congress, p. 247 (1854).
The earth in its natural uncultivated state was, and ever would
have continued to be, the common property of the human race.
It was in vain anyone repeated, "I built this well; I gained this spot by my industry." Who gave you the boundaries? it might be objected, and what right have you to demand payment of us for doing what we did not require of you? Are you ignorant that numbers of your fellow-creatures are starving for want of what you possess in superfluity?
— J. J. ROUSSEAU, Essay on the Origin of Inequality Among Men, Part II., p. 20.
We occupy an island, on which we live by the fruits of our labor; a shipwrecked sailor is cast up on it; what is his right? May he say: "I, too, am a man; I, too, have a natural right to cultivate the soil. I may, therefore, on the same title as you, occupy a corner of the land to support myself by my labor?"
— EMILE DE LAVELEYE, Primitive Property, Chap. XXVII., p. 351
This quote is attributed to the Irish landlords, in an 1835 piece by Thomas Ainge Devyr entitled "Natural Rights: A Pamphlet for the People."
The statement bears thinking about: when private landlords collect high rents, they force their tenants to work quite hard -- keep in mind that they still have to pay taxes on various things in order to support local spending -- while the landlord has provided them NOTHING that he has made (and nothing he has bought from the fellow who made it, either).
But at the same time, it is worth considering what happens when the community collects reasonably high rents on the land, particularly urban land. When the community collects high rent, there are no vacant lots. There are relatively few underused lots. There is housing for all who want it. All this economic activity creates jobs -- for those who would design, those who would build, those who would maintain, those who would improve, those who would expand, those who would protect. All those workers' needs and spending create more jobs. Wages rise, as jobs chase workers.
So the phrase is not simply an 18th century rural one, but highly relevant in 21st century U.S. cities, towns and rural areas. When the community collects the land rent and recycles it to serve local needs -- schools, parks, well-maintained roads, public transportation systems, police, ambulance, fire protection, courts -- communities become good places to live. When we permit private landlords (be they individual or corporate, universities or trusts) to pocket those funds -- and perhaps "invest" the excess in acquiring more land on which to pocket the rent, those good things, if they happen at all, must be financed by high taxes on productive activity.
One is a virtuous circle; the other a vicious one. Which one is consistent with our ideals? If Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are for ALL of us, then I think we have to opt for the virtuous circle.
Sir, Joseph Stiglitz is concerned that America has become less egalitarian, and no longer the land of opportunity (June 26). He mentions reducing rent-seeking as a solution, but he does not mention the paradigmatic form of rent-seeking: collecting the ground rents of land. If an increasing share of gross national product is going to the top 1 per cent, it is at least in part because they are the people who own most of the valuable land, and the rents of land are absorbing a larger share of production. No one is making more land to keep the price down by competition.
I'll leave it to you to go read the rest. (Registration is free.)
The following list comprises the most commonly asked questions about the concept of making land and resource rentals the source of revenue for government. As you continue this study, you will see the value from giving resources the respect they deserve and the benefits resulting from the freeing of labour, production and exchange from taxation. If you have any questions which are not covered here, or observations you would like to put to our panel, please feel free to do so by sending your question as an e-mail query and we will attempt to respond.
The inclusion of land and resources in the economic equation is central to any solution for revenue raising. A taxation solution which does not consider the nature of taxation itself and allows the continuing private monopolisation of community land and resources fails to recognise the essential role land plays in the economic equation and will not work. Land is the only element in the economic equation which is both fixed and finite. It can be monopolised. It is a unique class of asset which must be treated accordingly. If we were to wrest not the land itself, but its unimproved value from private monopolies and return the value to the community — whose very presence creates it — then we would have reduced many problems in one stroke with great benefit to production, to the environment and to the cause of individual freedom and justice.
On the subject of land and resource rents, Henry George said this:
The tax upon land values is the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, of that value which is the creation of the community. It is the application of the common property to common uses. When all rent is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will the equality ordained by nature be attained.
The man of wealth and pride Takes up a space that many poor supplied — Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds, Space for his horses, equipage and hounds; The robe that wraps his limbs in silken cloth Has robbed the neighboring fields of half their growth; His seat where solitary sports are seen Indignant spurns the cottage from the green; Around the world each needful product flies, For all the luxuries the world supplies, While thus the land adorned for pleasure all In barren splendor feebly waits the fall.
The essential principle of property being to assure to all persons what they have produced by their labor and accumulated by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the product of labor, the raw material of the earth.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 5.
When the "sacredness of property" is talked of, it should always be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 6.
Here is the fundamental error, the crude and monstrous assumption, that the land which God has given to our nation, is or can be the private property of anyone. It is a usurpation exactly similar to that of slavery.
— PROF. F. W. NEWMAN, Lectures on Political Economy (1851), Lecture VI., p. 533.
No man made the land; it is the original inheritance of the whole species.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 6.
Man did not make the earth, and though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did the Creator of the earth open a land office, from whence title deeds should issue.
— THOMAS PAINE, Agrarian Justice (1795-6), Paine's Writings, Vol. III., p. 330.
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.
Wherever there is in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on.
— THOMAS JEFFERSON (1785), Ford's Writings of Jefferson, Vol. VII., 36.
"The land is common to all. All have the same right to it; but there is good land and bad land, and everyone would like to take the good land. How is one to get it justly divided? In this way: he who will use the good land must pay those who have got no land of the value of the land he uses," Nekhludoff went on, answering his own question. . . . "Well, he had a head, this George," said the oven builder, moving his brows. "He who has good land must pay more."
— COUNT TOLSTOY, Resurrection, Book II., Chap. 9.
Tolstoy has rightly discerned the evils which follow the uprooting of the people from fostering Mother Earth, and the incubation of a day-wage-earning, urban, industrial proletariat.
Thou, O Lord, providest enough for all men with Thy most liberal and bountiful hand, but whereas Thy gifts are, in respect of Thy goodness and free favour, made common to all men, we (through our naughtiness, niggardship and distrust), do make them private and peculiar. Correct Thou the thing which our inequity hath put out of order, and let Thy goodness supply that which our niggardliness hath plucked away.
— A Prayer for Them That Be in Poverty, from Queen Elizabeth's Private Prayer Book (1578).
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).
The evil is expressed in a few words, and sooner or later the nation will appreciate it and rectify it. It is the alienation of the soil from the state, and the consequent taxation of the industry of the country.
— PATRICK EDWARD DOVE, Theory of Human Progression (1850),
Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated land owes to the community a ground rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the land which he holds.
— THOMAS PAINE, Agrarian Justice, Paine's Writings, Vol. III., p. 329 (1795-6).
If all men were so far tenants to the public that the superfluities of gain and expense were applied to the exigencies thereof, it would put an end to taxes, leave never a beggar and make the greatest bank for national trade in Europe.
— WILLIAM PENN, Reflections and Maxims, Sec. 222, Works V., pp. 190-1.
Let the fields and all the soil, and, if possible, even the houses, belong to the state, that is, to him which is the depositary of the right of the state, so that he may let them out for an annual rent to the inhabitants of the cities and the cultivators. This will exempt all citizens from extraordinary taxes in time of peace.
— SPINOZA, Tractatus Politicus, Chap. VI., On Monarchy, Sec. 12.
another excerpt from Dawson (1910 -- see an earlier post, below) -
IT is necessary now to consider more fully than hitherto the question, cannot society with right claim the increased value given to land by distinctly social causes? We have seen the various factors which tend to create what is generally known as "unearned increment." In one sense this term is very inaccurate. The increment is by no means unearned; what is meant, when the phrase is used, is that the landowner has not earned it. Society, however, has; and earned it honestly by heavy toil, by exertion of body and brain, by plodding industry, by bold enterprise, by culture and enlightenment, by progress in numbers, in wealth, and in morality. There is not a yard of land in the country — be it used for the growing of corn, the pasturing of cattle, or the habitations of men — whose value has not been enhanced by these social causes. It was the settlement of men with their various activities upon the land which originally gave it value, and the increase of population has been a constant and potent factor in value-growth since the primitive communities first established the institution of private property in the common soil. And yet, while society has for centuries been growing and labouring to increase the value of the land it required for its food, its industries, and its habitations, it has ever done so to its own detriment. While enriching the landlords it has impoverished itself.
This, indeed, is the greatest anomaly presented by the social increment problem. As a community develops and prospers, owing to its energy, enterprise, and enlightenment, it is all the time preparing a rod, armed with which the landlords will sooner or later turn upon it. A town's residents are punished for their industry and merited success by having to pay the landlords more and more money for the land they use. Did not tradesmen, by dint of perseverance and pluck, succeed and thrive, the demands made upon them would not increase; but simply because they reap in prosperity the reward of exertion, the landlords require growing tribute in the form of higher rents. And so it is in all departments of social life. In the eyes of the owners of the soil, human communities become, in fact, simply value-creators, rent-producers. The landlords reap where they have not sown, they gather where they have not strawed. Little of the value of that land which they lend and sell, at prices which are often so fabulous, has been created by them, yet they appropriate it all.
At present in this vicinity the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned. But possibly the day will come when fences shall be multiplied and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman's rounds.
— HENRY DAVID THOREAU, Essay on Walking, in Excursions, p. 264.
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.