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!
Wherever the ownership of the soil is so engrossed by a small part of the community that the far larger number are compelled to pay whatever the few may see fit to exact for the privilege of occupying and cultivating the earth, there is something very like slavery.
— HORACE GREELEY, Slavery at Home, in Hints Toward Reforms (1845), pp. 354-5.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
The remarkable thing about this story, to my eye, is that the size of the lot isn't even mentioned! It is worth $1 million land rent per year, and one might infer from the information provided that the lot is about 10,000 square feet, or less than 1/4 acre.
Capitalized at 5% (also known as "20 years' purchase") the lot would sell for about $20 million.
I assume that in addition to the land rent, the tenant pays the property tax on the land. So the entire $1 million annual land rent flows out of NYC, to the property's owner, in Marshall, Virginia.
What, pray tell, has the land owner done to earn that land rent?
Consider how many people's wage taxes and sales taxes could be lifted, and what that additional spending power could do for the local economy. Consider what would happen if there were no taxes to be paid on the apartments or on people's condo structures.
Or NYC can just keep letting the land rent leave the city, and even leave the country, continuing to flow into private pockets, just as if they'd rendered someone some service and earned it!
Land rent is natural public revenue, and we permit landlords to privatize it. Aren't we generous with our patrimony? (Leona told us the truth!)
The developer of a nine-story Karl Fischer rental apartment building planned for a corner site in the East Village signed a 99-year ground lease that requires payments each year of about $1 million.
The development company, YYY Third Avenue, signed the long-term lease for the vacant site at 74-84 Third Avenue, at 12th Street, April 27, 2011, however, a memorandum of the lease was not recorded in public records until last Wednesday, city property documents show.
A source citing city property records said the lease payment, which is not specifically recorded, could be inferred to be about $1 million per year. Prior to the document’s release, the annual lease cost was not known.
The prolific and controversial architect Fischer filed plans to build an 82,000-square-foot, nine-story residential building with 94 units, city Department of Buildings online records show. The permit has not been approved and is pending, DOB data indicate, and is to include nearly 9,511 square feet of retail, as well.
You might also be intrigued by the URL for the story ... I'm not sure what to make of it.
He thought again of that deep store of the earth's largess lying under their unfruitful custody, . . that root of so many world-wide evils — the calling still private what the common need has made public.
— GEORGE W. CABLE, John March, Southerner; Chap. XXVIII., p. 164.
Unrestricted private property in land is inherently wrong, and leads to serious and wide-spread evils.
— PROF. ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE, Land Nationalization; Chap. VIII., p. 229.
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.
38. Mining companies which mine on public lands pay far less to the Federal government than they pay on privately held lands.
A. That's fair, because the private landholders are better negotiators
B. That's fair, because the 1872 Mining Act set the price, and it wouldn't be fair to change the business environment after setting the rules.
C. That's fair. Corporations need subsidies to create jobs.
D. That's unfair, and the federal government should be getting just as much from the miners as the private landholders are getting
E. That's unfair, and not only should the federal government be getting more from the mining companies, but the federal government should be collecting a significant portion of the royalties now privatized by private and corporate landholders, since we're all equally entitled to nature's bounty. This would permit us to reduce other taxes on wages and production, and perhaps lead to a citizen's dividend, similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund
F. That's unfair, because the 1872 Mining Act was based on old prices and old mining technology.
"I find this vast net-work, which you call property, extending over the whole planet. I cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the White Hills or the Allegheny Range, but some man or corporation steps up to me to show me that it is his."
— EMERSON, The Conservative.
Extended excerpts from The Conservative (an 1841 speech) follow ...
Nothing but the most horrible perversion of humanity and moral justice, under the specious name of political economy, could have blinded men to this truth as to the possession of land, the law of God having connected indissolubly the cultivation of every rood of earth with the maintenance and watchful labor of man. But money, stock, riches by credit, transferable and convertible at will, are under no such obligations, and, unhappily, it is from the selfish, autocratic possession of such property, that our landholders have learned their present theory of trading with that which was never meant to be an object of commerce.
— SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, Table Talk, March 31, 1833.
29. The states need money. Should they sell their toll roads to private companies?
A. Sure! That would provide a nice pot of money that would help with this year's budget and next year's, and after that, we can leave the problem to a future group of legislators and a new governor!
B. Sure! The private sector will take better care of them and turn a profit to boot!
C. No. The taxpayers paid for those roads to be built, and have a right to more control over them than would exist after privatization.
D. No. The taxpayers own that land, a unique right of way, and selling it off forever is irresponsible and wrong!
E. No. Our society -- any society -- is highly dependent on our infrastructure, and control over it must remain in the public sector.
F. No. Those highways are built on land that was bought or taken from individual property owners for the public good. To turn them over to the private sector, for profit, would be wrong.
G. No. Those highways will increase in value over the coming decades and centuries, and should not become anyone's private property, at any price. Both their economic value and the control over them belongs in the common sector.
H. No. Even if it looks as if it might make sense for our generation, what of future generations? Should we permit the privatization of a common asset they will likely be dependent on?
I. No. Future taxpayers will build more highways intersecting with these current tollroads, and increase their value; were these to be privatized, it would be the private corporation who would reap the benefit of that future public investment.
27. A new subway line costs $2 billion. Suppose that its construction increases the surrounding land values by $2 billion. (Assume 5 miles long, 10 stations, 0.5 mile radius, average lot size of 0.10 acre. How should the new subway line be financed?
A. Taxes on sales of groceries, clothing, etc. within those 1/2 mile radius areas
B. Taxes on sales of groceries, clothing, etc., all over the city the subway line connects to
C. Taxes on sales of services within those 1/2 mile radius areas
D. Taxes on sales of services of all kinds, all over the city the subway line connects to
E. Taxes on wages of those working in those 1/2 mile radius areas
F. Taxes on wages all over the city the subway line connects to
G. Taxes on wages of those living within the 1/2 mile radius areas
H. Taxes on capital gains and dividends of those living within the 1/2 mile radius areas
I. Taxes on capital gains and dividends of those with residence anywhere in the city
J. Taxes on all real estate within those 1/2 mile radius areas
K. Taxes on all real estate, all over the city the subway line connects to
L. Taxes on just the buildings within those 1/2 mile radius areas
M. Taxes on all the buildings, all over the city the subway line connects to
N. Taxes on the land value within those 1/2 mile radius areas
O. Taxes on the land value, all over the city the subway line connects to
P. Transfer taxes on either or both of buyers and sellers whenever a property within the 1/2 mile radius is sold
Q. Transfer taxes on either or both of buyers and sellers whenever a property anywhere within the city is sold
R. An inheritance tax when a house or commercial property is transferred from a decedent to a survivor.
The taxation of all property at a uniform rate is made necessary by the constitutions of about three-fourths of the States of the Union. The taxes on chattels, tools, implements, money, credits, etc., find their condemnation from the Single Taxer's point of view in those ethical considerations which differentiate private from public property. Where there arises a fund known as "land values," growing with the growth of the community and the need of public improvements, it is not only impolitic, it is a violation of the rights of property to tax individual earnings for public expenses.
The value of land is the day-to-day product of the presence and communal activity of the people. It is not a creation of the title-holder and should not be placed in the category of property. If population deserts a town or portions of a town, the value of land will fall; the land may become unsalable. When treated as private property the owner of land receives from day-to-day in ground rent a gift from the community; and justice requires that he should pay taxes to the community proportionate to that gift.
"Land value" or "ground rent" as the older economists termed it, is a tribute which economic law levies upon every occupant of land, however fleeting his stay, as the market price of all the advantages, natural and social, appertaining to that land, including necessarily his just share of the cost of government.
I came across this rather good letter to the editor, from 1938. (Trinity Church Corporation, a major landlord in downtown Manhattan, was the subject of a NYT article this past week, as well as the subject of a major series in the NYT in December, 1894):
1938-09-03 Letters to The Times
Collecting Ground Rent Single-Tax System Regarded as No Detriment to Building
TO THE EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Fabian Franklin, in his letter to THE TIMES discussing the demolition of John D. Rockefeller's Harlem tenements in order to save taxes, writes:
"That objection is simply that virtual abolition of land ownership, which the single-tax plan is designed to effect, would make the building of houses in a city an extra-hazardous business, because, under the single-tax regime, in the great majority of cases the investment would result in a disastrous loss to the owner of the building. I was neither blaming nor praising Mr. Rockefeller for the demolition of Harlem tenements."
What is the so-called single-tax system? It is the collection by the government, through the taxing officials, of the entire economic or ground rent of land and the repeal of all taxes on buildings and other products of labor and capital. That ground rent is estimated to be 9% of the capital value of the land. New York City is now collecting one-third of this ground rent. The market value of the lots is the remaining two-thirds, capitalized. Dr. Franklin's thesis is that if the entire ground rent is collected no one would erect buildings, because "in the great majority of cases the investment would result in a disastrous loss to the owner of the building."
Some of the finest buildings in New York City are erected on leased land and the lessee pays the ground rent 100% besides a tax on the building. There are hundreds of buildings erected by lessees of lots owned by Trinity Church, Astor estate, Rhinelander estate, Sailors Snug Harbor and others. The lessees must pay all the taxes, both on land and building, amounting to 3% of the assessed value of both, and to the landlord 6% of the market value of the land.
Thus the entire ground rent is paid by the lessee, but only one-third to the government representing the people who made that value by their presence and activities, the remaining two-thirds to the landlord. Notwithstanding that they are thus obliged to pay 100% of the economic rent, bankers and business men erect buildings costing millions. Under the Henry George plan they would have to pay less, for the taxes on these costly structures will have been repealed.
Perhaps if Mr. Rockefeller had not been obliged to pay taxes on the buildings he might not have pulled them down; or, if he had, would have erected better buildings in their place in order to get a return on his investment in buildings. The ones who will benefit most from the adoption of the Georgian philosophy are the owners of humble homes. The average small homeowner's house is assessed for at least twice the assessed value of the lot. If the house is relieved from taxation and the lot taxed the entire ground rent, his tax will be less than it is now. The difference will be made up from vacant lots and lots that are worth more than the improvements.
After all, the building of houses is like any other business. The builder takes the risk of lessened demand because of changes in fashion, obsolescence, competition. It is estimated that 95% of new businesses ultimately fail. With the adoption, however, of the philosophy of Henry George, commonly called the single tax, failures in the housing and other businesses will be much fewer. This is because neither houses nor goods nor anything else will be taxed. The collection of the entire ground rent will not lessen the area of the surface of the earth one inch. On the contrary, it will open to occupation and use land that is now held for speculation purposes.
The taxation of any product of labor and capital will add the amount of the tax to the price, lessen demand and thus curtail production. The result is unemployment and misery.
Frederic Cyrus Leubuscher Essex Fells, N. J., Aug. 31, 1938
David Brooks suggested in a recent column that the country needs a national service program to unite the diverging classes in society. He’s right.
Not long ago, we had one that did so very well. It was the draft. Every young man — regrettably, only men — shared a potential obligation to his country.
Any serious discussion of comprehensive national service means talking about a draft. It’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court upholding nondefense conscription, but if civilian service were an alternative to military duty, the prospects would improve.
The all-volunteer military is exemplary for its professionalism, sacrifice, meritocracy and diversity. (I have a son with two college degrees who enlisted.) But the benefits and burdens need to be shared more widely. There have been too many multiple deployments of regulars and reserves, and if draftees were in the mix once again, perhaps there would be no more wars of choice.
Many domestic needs could be served by a comprehensive national service program. Like the Depression’s best idea, the Civilian Conservation Corps, it could involve people from all classes in repairing our parks, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. It could also bring fresh ideas and talent to teaching, law enforcement, social work and other underpaid public services. The benefits to our national character, as Mr. Brooks suggests, would be immense.
There are past and present models of a national service program in more than a dozen other nations. It is time we gave it a try.
MARTIN A. DYCKMAN Waynesville, N.C., Feb. 14, 2012 The writer is a retired associate editor and columnist for The St. Petersburg Times.
Editors’ Note: We invite readers to respond to this letter for our Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and Mr. Dyckman’s rejoinder in the Sunday Review. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
LVTfan's observation: Every investment in improved infrastructure creates land value. Most projects that have value -- education, law enforcement, social work, improved public health -- will also increase land value.
A project is, by definition, worthwhile if it creates more in land value than it costs to do,* and, it could be argued that, when comparing two infrastructure projects that cost the same amount, say, $100 million, if one creates $200 million in land value and the other creates merely $150 million in incremental land value, the $200 million project should probably take priority, all other things being equal.
*which isn't to say that many public spending projects which don't create increased land value aren't worthwhile, too, for other reasons.
Pork barrel is the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative's district. The usage originated in American English. In election campaigns, the term is used in derogatory fashion to attack opponents. Scholars, however, use it as a technical term regarding legislative control of local appropriations.
The term pork barrel politics usually refers to spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. In the popular 1863 story "The Children of the Public", Edward Everett Hale used the term pork barrel as a homely metaphor for any form of public spending to the citizenry. After the American Civil War, however, the term came to be used in a derogatory sense. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern sense of the term from 1873. By the 1870s, references to "pork" were common in Congress, and the term was further popularized by a 1919 article by Chester Collins Maxey in the National Municipal Review, which reported on certain legislative acts known to members of Congress as "pork barrel bills". He claimed that the phrase originated in a pre-Civil War practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward and requiring them to compete among themselves to get their share of the handout. More generally, a barrel of salt pork was a common larder item in 19th century households, and could be used as a measure of the family's financial well-being. For example, in his 1845 novel The Chainbearer, James Fenimore Cooper wrote, "I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel."
Typically, "pork" involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples.
Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
Serves only a local or special interest.
The last of these seems as if it might be the most important one.
So here's the question: How should we finance these projects, if they are to be done? How would we pay for a modern CCC? (Ah -- this sounds like The Land Questions ...)
A. By a local tax on land value. This would necessitate regular reassessment of the land value in every community in America, say, every 3 years, which could be done for well under $40 per parcel. It would probably also require some state and/or federal oversight, checking values against transactions to verify that all municipalities or assessing units are doing high-quality market-based assessments. [In Maryland, they're already doing assessments every 3 years. In Connecticut, assessments every 4 years are required. In southern Delaware, the assessments are 30+ years old. In California, the assessments are meaningless, due to Proposition 13. It would take a few years for some of these entities to update their assessments.]
B. By a state tax on land value. [same issues apply]
C. By a national tax on land value.
D. Let's just use the federal income tax. It's there. It's easy.
E. Let's use a national sales tax.
F. Let's use a tax on imports.
G. Let's tax buildings.
H. Let's tax services.
It seems to me that a national service corps of some sort has a lot of merit. It could promote a lot of highly desirable goals. It could provide a lot of home-front protection in the event of natural disasters. It could get some important projects done, including the maintenance of existing infrastructure currently under-maintained,and the provision of services we believe are important (particularly when we are the beneficiaries).
But the financial benefits ought not to fall into private or corporate pockets; they ought to accrue to all of us, and ease the burdens of financing other kinds of federal spending. Land value taxation strikes me as the answer to so many of our supposedly intractible problems.
13. Electric utilities have long been regarded as "widows' and orphans'" stocks. Safe, if not high income. A few years ago, they were deregulated. A recent study has shown that retail electricity prices have increased faster in states that adopted competitive pricing than in those where rates continue to be set by government agencies. We all need reliable electricity. Should we permit the licenses to generate and distribute electricity to be an opportunity to make a windfall profit? (Or should we encourage municipal ownership of vital utilities?)
A. Sure! People and businesses are quite free to move from states without regulation to states with regulation if they choose. They may not mind paying 20% more for their electricity, if other conditions are good. And didn't the utilities earn it?
B. Sure. If local regulatory agencies decide that local best interests conflict with the interests of the corporate shareholders, they can re-regulate. After all, the corporations don't vote.
C. No. Electricity is important and we ought to do what we can to keep the price down so that poor people can afford electricity and still have funds for other costs of living.
D. No. Electricity is vital to the economy, and we ought to do what we can to keep it affordable to ordinary people, and not a source of corporate windfalls.
E. No. Natural monopolies ought to be publicly owned, the prices kept low, and any excess revenue accrue to the public treasury, not to the benefit of private investors.
11. Foreign corporations and governments are seeking to buy some of our ports from the American corporations that own them. Large shares of the goods we consume come through these ports, and the ports set the price that the shippers pay for access to the ports. The possibility of weapons, invasive species, etc., entering the US through these ports is frightening. Ports are unique locations, on sheltered waterfronts, served by elaborate rail and highway systems. Is foreign ownership acceptable?
A. Sure! No problem! The costs to shippers are the same whether the owners are American or foreign!
B. Sure! No problem! These corporations have long term contracts with the local Port Authorities, and the PAs are smart bargainers who make sure that they collect the economic value of these unique sites from whoever has the contracts or owns the ports, for the entire term of the contract.
C. It is acceptable for foreign corporations to "own" the ports, but they must pay into the US treasury the economic value of the site. They must not be permitted to privatize what is rightly common property.
D. It is not acceptable for foreign corporations to own the ports, but okay for US companies to privatize that value.
E. We ought to be collecting the annual rental value of the site itself, month in and month out, as our common treasure. It shouldn't be privatized by anyone.
10. The advent of digital TV freed up many broadcast frequencies. What should we do with them?
A. Give them to the media companies, in proportion to their current share of market. Let them decide what to do with them; after all, they are the experts.
B. Give them to the media companies, in proportion to their current share of market. Let them decide what to do with them; after all, they created them!
C. Auction off the frequencies to the highest bidders, forever, with no further strings attached; they can hold onto them without using them if they choose, for as long as they like, or simply put a test pattern on the air, or whatever they prefer. When demand rises and they believe they can make a high enough profit, they are welcome to sell them to the highest bidder, forever, and use the profits to enrich their deserving and smart shareholders.
D. Auction off to the highest bidder the licenses, for five year terms, with the auction to be repeated every five years, or the price to be set as a function of the size, wealth, income of the available audience. Use the revenue to reduce taxes on productive activity.
E. Auction off to the highest bidder the licenses, for five year terms, with the auction to be repeated every five years, or the price to be set as a function of the size, wealth, income of the available audience. Use the revenue to provide a dividend to every American, something like the Alaska Permanent Fund.
4. Oil and natural gas are pumped from the Gulf of Mexico and along our ocean coasts by corporations large and small. (Mason Gaffney points out that Harry Truman increased the size of the US by more than any other president by expanding the coastal zone, but that we collect little revenue from the natural resources drawn therefrom.) How much should the oil companies pay the federal government?
B. Just the amount negotiated in 1996. We can't change the rules just because the price of these commodities has risen rapidly.
C. A fixed and trivial percentage of the value of the oil.
D. A rising percentage of the value of the oil and gas, related to the retail prices of the products.
E. An amount that is based both on a percentage of the value of the oil and gas and on the amount of carbon produced by burning the finished product.
In the files I've been digging through, from the late 50s to the early 80s, I found an early draft of a fine paper by Mason Gaffney about California's Proposition 13, for presentation at an August, 1978 conference. I dug around and found a published copy of that paper, and think it worth sharing here. Original title, "Tax Limitation: Proposition 13 and Its Alternatives"
First, a few of my favorite paragraphs, which I hope will whet your appetite for the whole paper. I won't attempt to provide the context (you can pick that up when you continue to the paper, below).
"There is a deferment option for the elderly, bearing only 7% interest (which is about the annual rate of inflation). In California, as also in Oregon and British Columbia, hardly anyone takes advantage of this deferment option. This fact, it seems to me, rather calls the bluff of those who so freely allege that the woods are full of widows with insoluble cash-flow problems, widows who are losing their houses to the sheriff and whose heirs presumptive, will not help keep the property, which they will eventually inherit."
We hear a lot these days about cutting the fat out of the public sector; but there is fat in the private sector too. I interpret "fat" to mean paying someone for doing nothing, or for doing nothing useful. Most economists agree that payments to people. for holding title to land is nonfunctional income, since the land was created by nature, secured by the nation's armed forces, improved by public spending, and enhanced by the progress of society. "Economic rent" is the economist's term, but in Jarvis-talk we may call it the fat of the land or "land-fat." It has also been called unearned increment, unjust enrichment, and other unflattering names. Howard Jarvis has said that the policeman or fireman who risks his life protecting the property of others has his "nose in the public trough." But it has seemed to generations of economists that the owner whose land rises in value because public spending builds an 8-lane freeway from, let us say, Anaheim to Riverside, and carries water from the Feather River to San Diego, is the first to have his nose in the trough. Nineteenth-century English economists who worked this out were more decorous. They said things like "landlords grow rich in their sleep" (John Stuart Mill), or the value of land is a "public value" (Alfred Marshall) because the public, not the owner, gives it value.
Some 43% of the value of taxable real estate in California is land value. When we lower the property tax we are untaxing not only buildings, but also land-fat.
The ownership of property is highly concentrated, much more so than the receipt of income. Economists in recent years are increasingly saying that the property tax is, after all, progressive because the base is so concentrated, and because so little of it can be shifted. But this message has not yet reached many traditional political action groups who continue to repeat the old refrains. Two remedies are in order.
One is to collect and publish data on the concentration of ownership of real estate. The facts are simply overwhelming and need only to be disseminated.
The second remedy is to note how strikingly little of the Proposition 13 dividend is being passed on to renters. This corroborates the belief of economists that the property tax rests mainly on the property owner where it originally falls, and not on the renter.
A high percentage of real property is owned from out of state and even out of the country. The percentage is much higher than we may think. It is not just Japanese banks and the Arabs in Beverly Hills. It is corporate-held property which comprises almost half the real estate tax base. If we assume that California's share of the stockholders equals California's share of the national population, then 90% of this property is absentee-owned; the percentage may be higher because many of these, after all, are multinational corporations with multinational ownership.
No one seems to have seized on the fact that half the taxable property in California is owned by people not voting in the state. Senator Russell Long has suggested the following principle of taxation: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that man behind the tree." Property tax advocates have done well in the past and should do well again in the future when they make their slogan: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that unregistered absentee. Don't tax your voters, they'll retaliate; tax those stiffs from out of state." Chauvinism and localism can be ugly and counterproductive, as we know; but here is one instance where they may be harnessed to help create a more healthy society. The purpose of democracy is to represent the electorate, not the absentee who stands between the resident and the resources of his homeland.
California's legislative analyst, William Hamm, estimates that over 50% of the value of taxable property in California is absentee-owned. This is such a bold, bare, and enormous fact it is hard to believe that Californians will long resist the urge to levy taxes on all this foreign wealth. They may be put off by the argument that they need to attract outside capital, but that carries no weight when considering the large percentage of this property which is land value.
Property income is generally more beneficial to the receiver than is the same income from wages or salaries, because the property owner does not have to work for it.
Property, particularly land, has been bought and sold for years on the understanding that it was encumbered with peculiar social obligations. These are, in effect, part of our social contract. They compensate those who have been left out. Black activists have laid great stress in recent years on the importance of getting a few people into medical and other professional schools. Does it not make more sense that the landless black people should have, through the property tax, the benefit of some equity in the nation's land from which their ancestors were excluded while others were cornering the supply?
A popular theme these last few years is that property owners should pay only for services to property, narrowly construed. Who, then, is to pay for welfare — the cripples? Who is to pay for schooling — the children? Who should sacrifice for the blacks — Allan Bakke? Who should finance our national defense — unpaid conscripts? The concept that one privileged group of takers can exempt itself from the giving obligations of life denies that we are a society at all.
Here is, perhaps, my favorite:
We can ask that a single standard be applied to owners troubled by higher taxes and to tenants troubled by higher rents. When widow A is in tax trouble, it is time to turn to hearts and flowers, forebode darkly, curse oppressive government, and demand tax relief. When widow B has trouble with escalating rents, that touches a different button. You have to be realistic about welfare bums who play on your sympathy so they can tie up valuable property. You have to pay the bank, after all. A man will grit his teeth and do what he must: garnishee her welfare check. If that is too little, give notice. Finally, you can call the sheriff and go to the beach until it's over. That's what we pay taxes for. Welfare is their problem.
Anyway, widow B is not being forced out of her own house, like widow A and so many like her. Jarvis said that taxes are forcing three million Californians from their homes this year. But in truth, while evictions of tenants are frequent, sheriff's sales of homes are rare. Those who do sell ("because of taxes," they say, as well as all their other circumstances) usually cash out handsomely, which is, after all, why their taxes had gone up.
Then there is the fruit tree anomaly. Under Proposition 13, a tree can only be assessed at its value when planted, with a 2% annual increment. The value of a seed thrown in the ground or even a sapling planted from nursery stock is so small compared with the mature tree that this is virtual exemption. This anomaly rather graphically illustrates how Proposition 13 automatically favors any appreciating property over depreciating property. The greatest gain here goes, of course, to appreciating land.
Finally, build no surpluses. Surpluses attract raiders and raiders are often organized landowners. "Property never sleeps," said the jurist Sir William Blackstone. "One eye is always open." Even though the surplus was built up by taxing income, Howard Jarvis made it seem the most righteous thing in the world that it should be distributed to property owners. He was geared up for this because his landlord patrons kept him constantly in the field.
Economists of many generations even before Adam Smith and continuing to the present — have preached on the advantages of land as a tax base. Let me enumerate a few of those.
A tax on land value is the only tax known to man which is both progressive and favorable to incentives. One can wax lyrical only about a tax that combines these two properties, because the conflict between progressivity and incentives has baffled tax practitioners for centuries, and still baffles them today.
A land tax is progressive because the ownership of the base is highly concentrated, much more so than income and even more so than the ownership of machines and improvements.
Also, the tax on land values cannot be shifted to the consumer. The tax stimulates effort and investment because it is a fixed charge based merely on the passage of time.
It does not rise when people work harder or invest money in improvements. Think about this. It is remarkable. With the land tax, there is no conflict but only harmony between progressivity in taxation and incentives to work and invest. In one stroke it solves one of the central divisive conflicts of all time.
The land tax does that because it cuts only the fat, not the muscle. It takes from the taxpayer only "economic rent," only the income he gets for doing nothing. If people could grasp this one overriding idea, then the whole sterile, counterproductive, endless impasse between conservatives who favor incentives and liberals who favor welfare would be resolved in a trice, and we could get on to higher things.
The final paragraphs speak directly to us in 2012. 34 years have passed since this was written.
Summing up, Walter Rybeck, an administrative assistant for Congressman Henry Reuss of Wisconsin, and head of the League for Urban Land Conservation, has sagely suggested that we distinguish two functions of business: wealth-creating and resource-holding. A good tax system will not make people pay for creating wealth but simply for holding resources. Most taxes wait on a "taxable event" — they shoot anything that moves, while sparing those who just sit still on their resources.
If we really want to revive the work ethic and put the United States back on its feet, we had better take steps to change the effect of taxes on incentives. Legislatures have got in the habit of acting as though persons with energy and talent, and with character for self-denial, should be punished, as if guilty of some crime against humanity. We cannot study the tax laws without inferring that Congress regards giving and receiving employment to be some kind of social evil, like liquor and tobacco, to be taxed and discouraged by all means not inconsistent with the rights of property. Little wonder the natives are getting restless. If we tax people for holding resources rather than creating wealth and serving each others' needs, we will be taking a giant step toward a good and healthy society.
If your appetite is whetted by these excerpts, you can read the entire article below:
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 13, 2012
The state appeals court on Friday ordered the release of the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Canada, after he spent a night in jail for civil contempt tied to a long-running dispute over a major construction project.
The court said it would hear a full appeal of a Wayne County judge’s order that jailed the bridge’s owner, Manuel Moroun, 84, and his top business associate, Dan Stamper, 62. Mr. Moroun and Mr. Stamper were sent to jail on Thursday after their company, the Detroit International Bridge Company, was found in contempt of court.
Judge Prentis Edwards said it had repeatedly failed to follow his orders to work with the state to complete a project that would connect the international bridge to area Interstate highways and would relieve truck congestion on residential streets.
But eight years after construction began, the company and the Michigan Department of Transportation cannot agree on how to finish the job.
Should infrastructure on which the common good depends be subject to privatization? I think not.
The first cultivators of Italy were the Aborigines, whose king, Saturn, was so just that he allowed no man to be a slave to another, nor to hold anything as private property; but all things were in common and undivided, as if there had been one heritage for all.
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."
Pointing to the recent declines at the top, Mr. Kaplan argues the Occupy protesters have accused the wrong villain by focusing on inequality, which he called an inevitable byproduct of growth. “If you want to reduce inequality, all you need to do is put the economy in a recession,” he said. “If you want the economy to do well, as all of us do, then you’ll get more inequality.”
Well, maybe at the University of Chicago, that is what is taught, but is it true?
It may be inevitable under our current structures, but if one gets outside that box, and looks deeper, one finds other answers.
I would suggest that Mr. Kaplan, who teaches economics at the Graduate School of Business at the U of C, look beyond the interests of the university's and b-school's founders and big donors and alumni and current students, and consider that we're all in this together, and that when we permit a few to monopolize and privatize things which rightly are our common treasure, inequality is the inevitable byproduct.
Mr. Kaplan might start by exploring the ideas of Henry George. They were in his freshman economics texts, but most likely his instructor didn't lecture on them, or include them in exams (most likely because his own instructors hadn't!)
Read what those textbooks have to say, and then think about whether it is in Mr. Kaplan's personal career interests to speak of an idea that could rock the yachts of alumni and donors and others who like our current structures just fine, thank you! The privileged like their privileges, and would prefer that we not notice that they are privileges, or, if we do notice, think that THEIR privileges are somehow in OUR best interests.
Paul Krugman's column in the NYT Sunday was entitled "Things to Tax," and I thought it was a bit broad-brush.
"Let me suggest two areas in which it would make a lot of sense to raise taxes in earnest, not just return them to pre-Bush levels: taxes on very high incomes and taxes on financial transactions."
I don't disagree with either of those as a starting point, but neither goes to the root of the problem, which I believe to be the sorts of privileges we have given out, or somebody's ancestors put in place and we've not even thought about questioning. They are so familiar to us that we don't question them any more than we think about breathing. So (switching metaphors) we find ourselves barking loudly up the wrong tree -- while the critters in the other trees are smiling broadly!
The best answers I know to which tree we ought to be barking up come from the writings of Henry George. Several speeches were what I was first inspired by:
Whether or not your own orientation is theological, I think you might appreciate these.
We ought not to be taxing indiscriminately. What we tax matters greatly. Some provide Natural Public Revenue -- and we ought to socialize that revenue -- and other possible objects of taxation ought not to be taxed at all -- privatize them!
Should we tax the ones who have bought or inherited or otherwise acquired our very choicest land -- that in our biggest cities, well-served by taxpayer-provided infrastructure and services?
Should we tax the ones who, in effect, own our most valuable natural resources, or have access to resources we send our military to protect on our behalf?
Should we tax those who benefit from monopolies of various kinds, such as owning our water companies, our electric utilities, our cable-tv companies, or monopolies of their own creation?
Should we tax those who benefit from privileges of various kinds, such as the possession of our airwaves, landing/takeoff rights at busy constrained airports (think LGA at rush hour)?
Should we tax those who benefit by taking some fraction of every financial transaction, even if that transaction doesn't create additional value for the economy as a whole?
Should we tax those who benefit from the activity or inactivity of the FIRE sector, which Joe Stigitz says is creaming 40% of the profits made by the productive sectors of the economy?
Or should we just tax all the high-income people, without going to the root of the privileges which produce undeserved wealth for some at the expense of the rest of us.
The answers to these questions matter.
Go to the root. Understand what is privilege, and what is an actual contribution to the economy. Understand what is someone's free lunch, paid for by the labor of others. Understand who reaps what they haven't sown. Correct these things.
An old idea. Look up Henry George's writings from the late 19th century, which kicked off the Progressive movement and still inspire many of us.
Short term, maybe, changing the income tax brackets is appropriate. But it doesn't get at the root of the problem.
Perhaps you saw "60 Minutes" last Sunday (11/13). Just in case you didn't, here are some excerpts from the transcript. I commend the whole thing to your attention. It begins:
The next national election is now less than a year away and congressmen and senators are expending much of their time and their energy raising the millions of dollars in campaign funds they'll need just to hold onto a job that pays $174,000 a year.
Few of them are doing it for the salary and all of them will say they are doing it to serve the public. But there are other benefits: Power, prestige, and the opportunity to become a Washington insider with access to information and connections that no one else has, in an environment of privilege where rules that govern the rest of the country, don't always apply to them. ...
Most former congressmen and senators manage to leave Washington - if they ever leave Washington - with more money in their pockets than they had when they arrived, and as you are about to see, the biggest challenge is often avoiding temptation.
Peter Schweizer: This is a venture opportunity. This is an opportunity to leverage your position in public service and use that position to enrich yourself, your friends, and your family.
Schweizer says he wanted to know why some congressmen and senators managed to accumulate significant wealth beyond their salaries, and proved particularly adept at buying and selling stocks.
Schweizer: There are all sorts of forms of honest grafts that congressmen engage in that allow them to become very, very wealthy. So it's not illegal, but I think it's highly unethical, I think it's highly offensive, and wrong.
Steve Kroft: What do you mean honest graft?
Schweizer: For example insider trading on the stock market. If you are a member of Congress, those laws are deemed not to apply.
Kroft: So congressman get a pass on insider trading?
Schweizer: They do. The fact is, if you sit on a healthcare committee and you know that Medicare, for example, is-- is considering not reimbursing for a certain drug that's market moving information. And if you can trade stock on-- off of that information and do so legally, that's a great profit making opportunity. And that sort of behavior goes on.
Kroft: Why does Congress get a pass on this?
Schweizer: It's really the way the rules have been defined. And the people who make the rules are the political class in Washington. And they've conveniently written them in such a way that they don't apply to themselves.
The buying and selling of stock by corporate insiders who have access to non-public information that could affect the stock price can be a criminal offense, just ask hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam who recently got 11 years in prison for doing it. But, congressional lawmakers have no corporate responsibilities and have long been considered exempt from insider trading laws, even though they have daily access to non-public information and plenty of opportunities to trade on it.
Schweizer: We know that during the health care debate people were trading health care stocks. We know that during the financial crisis of 2008 they were getting out of the market before the rest of America really knew what was going on.
While Congressman Bachus was publicly trying to keep the economy from cratering, he was privately betting that it would, buying option funds that would go up in value if the market went down. He would make a variety of trades and profited at a time when most Americans were losing their shirts.
Peter Schweizer thinks the timing is suspicious, and believes congressional leaders should have their stock funds in blind trusts.
Schweizer: Whether it's uh-- $15,000 or $150,000, the principle in my mind is that it's simply wrong and it shouldn't take place.
But there is a long history of self-dealing in Washington. And it doesn't always involve stock trades.
Congressmen and senators also seem to have a special knack for land and real estate deals. When Illinois Congressman Dennis Hastert became speaker of the House in 1999, he was worth a few hundred thousand dollars. He left the job eight years later a multi-millionaire.
Jan Strasma: The road that Hastert wants to build will go through these farm fields right here.
In 2005, Speaker Hastert got a $207 million federal earmark to build the Prairie Parkway through these cornfields near his home. What Jan Strasma and his neighbors didn't know was that Hastert had also bought some land adjacent to where the highway is supposed to go.
Strasma: And five months after this earmark went through he sold that land and made a bundle of money.
Kroft: How much?
Strasma: Two million dollars.
Kroft: What do you think of it?
Strasma: It stinks.
We stopped by the former speaker's farm, to ask him about the land deal, but he was off in Washington where he now works as a lobbyist. His office told us that property values in the area began to appreciate even before the earmark and that the Hastert land was several miles from the nearest exit.
But the same good fortune befell former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, who helped steer nearly $70 million dollars in government funds towards redeveloping this defunct Air Force base, which he and his brother both had a commercial interest in. Gregg has said that he violated no congressional rules.
It's but one more example of good things happening to powerful members of Congress. Another is the access to initial public stock offerings, the opportunity to buy a new stock at insider prices just as it goes on the market. They can be incredibly lucrative and hard to get.
Schweizer: If you were a senator, Steve, and I gave you $10,000 cash, one or both of us is probably gonna go to jail. But if I'm a corporate executive and you're a senator, and I give you IPO shares in stock and over the course of one day that stock nets you $100,000, that's completely legal.
And former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband have participated in at least eight IPOs. One of those came in 2008, from Visa, just as a troublesome piece of legislation that would have hurt credit card companies, began making its way through the House. Undisturbed by a potential conflict of interest the Pelosis purchased 5,000 shares of Visa at the initial price of $44 dollars. Two days later it was trading at $64. The credit card legislation never made it to the floor of the House.
Brian Baird is a former congressman from Washington state who served six terms in the house before retiring last year. He spent half of those 12 years trying to get his colleagues to prohibit insider trading in Congress and establish some rules governing conflicts of interest.
Baird: One line in a bill in Congress can be worth millions and millions of dollars. There was one night, we had a late, late night caucus and you could kind of tell how a vote was going to go the next day. I literally walked home and I thought, 'Man, if you-- if you went online and made-- some significant trades, you could make a lot of money on this.' You-- you could just see it. You could see the potential here.
So in 2004, Baird and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter introduced the Stock Act which would make it illegal for members of Congress to trade stocks on non-public information and require them to report their stock trades every 90 days instead of once a year.
Kroft: How far did you get with this?
Baird: We didn't get anywhere. Just flat died. Went nowhere.
Kroft: How many cosponsors did you get?
Baird: I think we got six.
Baird: When you have a bill like this that makes so much sense and you can't get the co-sponsorships, you can't get the leadership to move it, it gets tremendously frustrating. Set aside that it's the right thing to do, it's good politics. People want their Congress to function well. It still baffles me.
But what baffles Baird even more is that the situation has gotten worse. In the past few years a whole new totally unregulated, $100 million dollar industry has grown up in Washington called political intelligence. It employs former congressmen and former staffers to scour the halls of the Capitol gathering valuable non-public information then selling it to hedge funds and traders on Wall Street who can trade on it.
Baird: Now if you're a political intel guy. And you get that information. Long before it's public. Long before somebody wakes up the next morning and reads or watches the television or whatever, you've got it. And you can make real-- real-time trades before anybody else.
Baird says its taken what would be a criminal enterprise anyplace else in the country and turned it into a profitable business model.
Baird: The town is all about people saying-- what do you know that I don't know. This is the currency of Washington, D.C. And it's that kind of informational currency that translates into real currency. Maybe it's over drinks maybe somebody picks up a phone. And says you know just to let you know it's in the bill. Trades happen. Can't trace 'em. If you can trace 'em, it's not illegal. It's a pretty great system. You feel like an idiot to not take advantage of it.
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.
.... this time because perhaps his targets are the well-situated, those in a position to contribute the funds which political campaigns need. Keep in mind that NYS's former governor, though previously an attorney general, is also the scion of a real estate fortune.
Urban real estate investors live off the fruit of the land, the fruits of the community's sowing, and we praise them as philanthropists when they toss us a few tulips in the median strips or parks.
And notice that the refusal continued even Harry Markopolis testified before a congressional committee about his repeated and data-filled attempts to bring Bernard Madoff's obvious Ponzi scheme to the attention of the SEC (January, 2009). Talk about tone-deafness on the part of those we pay to monitor things for us. As someone else recently wrote, small government or weak government? And government of, for and by WHICH people??
I hope some upstate legislators will push at this issue. Their constituents ought to expect it of them.
The writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
By David Cay Johnston
(Reuters) - Each year New York State lets real estate investors evade at least $200 million of taxes. In peak years the figure likely rises to $700 million, if known tax cheating in another state is any indication. Some of the investors who cheat New York State also cheat New York City out of at least $40 million annually.
Back in the 1990s Jerry Curnutt figured out how to finger such cheats when he was the top partnership specialist at the Internal Revenue Service. Curnutt's computer sifted through tax returns until he learned how to separate thieves from honest taxpayers. The tax-evasion estimates of $200 million and $40 million are his.
Six New York state tax auditors took classes Curnutt taught in June 2000 and gave stellar evaluations. California's top tax auditor praised Curnutt's course as "effective, relevant and most importantly, appreciated and understood by our auditors."
Why has nothing been done for more than 11 years to make the cheats in New York pay what the law requires?
New York state and city are strapped for cash, slashing services for the poor, disabled and elderly. With penalties of up to 50 percent plus interest at penalty rates, the state is easily due more than $5 billion from years still open to collection, I calculate.
Every state has similar issues, but New York matters most as the epicenter of highly leveraged real estate investment pools.
Curnutt found that real estate investment partnerships with depreciated properties often misreport gains when they sell. That such cheating is widespread screams about tax law enforcement looking the other way when those at the top steal. In contrast, New York State has a well-deserved reputation for going after people whose mistakes cost the state as little as three dollars.
GO AWAY, THEY SAY
Yet in letter after letter since 2001, New York state tax officials told Curnutt to go away, smugly insisting there were no untaxed millions.
As head of audits for New York State, Thomas Heinz wrote Curnutt in 2003 that the state was "not interested in pursuing you or any other consultant on the matter" of systematic cheating by real estate partnership investors. Months later Heinz wrote a second letter that made it clear he had not understood what Curnutt was proposing, while reiterating that there were no untaxed millions to be found.
A year ago Curnutt again was told to go away because there was no money going untaxed.
And yet in Pennsylvania, Curnutt's research "resulted in the taxation of over $700 million in unreported income," the Pennsylvania Revenue Department wrote in a letter to tax administrators across the country in reference to a single instance.
"Without his assistance, our staff would have spent numerous hours getting to the crux of the issues, in that especially complex case," Pennsylvania tax authorities said.
Pennsylvania has relied on Curnutt since 2002, calculating that every dollar spent on his research and subsequent audits was worth $10 of tax.
So why are sightless sheriffs ignoring massive cheating by the most affluent among us?
The likely reason became clear nearly a decade ago when one Kentucky tax official told Curnutt that the governor's office did not want his services because it would uncover tax cheating by influential citizens, meaning campaign donors.
It is time for New York's three top state officials, all Democrats with higher ambitions, to do their duty, especially since the thieves are virtually certain to include some of their campaign contributors.
LAWMEN AND THEIR DUTY
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who harbors ambitions to be president, made his name as a state attorney general who appeared to get tough with Wall Street. Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy rose from Rochester street cop to chief and would love to be governor. So would Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, elected in 2010 on a promise to be tough on white-collar crime.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, has a similar duty to go after tax cheats even if these should turn out to include some of his friends.
New York law gives authorities leverage aplenty. The mere threat of public exposure through civil lawsuits would prompt many to write checks. For repeat offenders, the threat of indictment for tax evasion would produce checks even faster. Faced with the prospect of civil or criminal charges, many in positions of public trust would be ruined if their names got out.
The general partners -- those in charge in the partnerships Curnutt investigated -- took calculated steps to cheat and the most serious offenders should face indictment and, upon conviction, years of prison time. But many limited partners may have assumed their K-1 tax statements were reliable. Innocent victims owe taxes and interest, but not penalties. Those with multiple untaxed gains are not innocents.
As lawmen Cuomo, Duffy and Schneiderman all understand leverage. They have enough to lift billions into the state treasury where it belongs just by indicating in letters that failure to pay will result in disclosure of names. Will they?
Until Cuomo, Duffy, Schneiderman and Bloomberg enforce the law, their official inaction lends credence to billionaire Leona Helmsley's remark, quoted by her housekeeper, that "we don't pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes."
This column will keep you posted on whether these officials act or not. (Editing by Howard Goller)
I'm glad to see DCJ quoting Leona Helmsley -- but I don't think he yet fully "sees the cat" or realizes that Leona Helmsley's reference could just as accurately have been to tax STRUCTURES, not to tax evasion.
Buildings do not appreciate. Even with the best of care and occasional renovations, they depreciate, as technologies advance, efficiencies improve. What rises in value is land -- the location -- and it rises for reasons which have nothing to do with the individual or corporate landholder (resident or absentee), and everything to do with the community and with public investment in infrastructure and services. These owners are evading taxes which support that spending. In multiple ways, they are reaping what they do not -- cannot! -- sow. These companies are in it for the so-called "capital" gains, which aren't "capital" at all, but land gains.
Another example of the FIRE sector gobbling up the profits of the productive portions of our economy. Their "free lunch" is at the expense of the rest of us. And the phrase "rich people's useful idiots" comes to mind.
The goal is a fair field and no favor. But I don't think that's what this crowd is looking for.
I recently came across an 1889 article by Thomas G. Shearman, co-founder of the NYC law firm Shearman & Sterling, entitled "The Owners of the United States." It seems rather timely, and might be of particular interest to the Occupy Wall Street movement. It appeared in The Forum, in November, 1889. It refers to an earlier article in the September 1889 issue of the same journal, which appeared under the title, "Henry George's Mistakes." (Based on its content, it seems to me that it would have more accurately been titled "Henry George's 'Mistakes'.")
The Owners of the United States
by Thomas Gaskell Shearman
It has been and still is the boast of the American people, that wealth is more equally distributed here than in any other part of the world. While every one admits that the old days of New England, in which none was very rich and none was very poor, have passed away, yet it is still believed that the land, buildings, and personal property of this country are owned mainly by the majority of its people, and that there is no danger of any such concentration of wealth in a few hands among us as exists in older and more aristocratic nations. Statistics as to the wide distribution of wealth, shown by the deposits in American savings banks, by the large number of American farms, and by the supposed high standard of American wages, have been consistently set forth as conclusive evidence that American wealth is substantially owned by the mass of the American people. The object of the present inquiry is not to determine whether such a condition would be desirable or not, but simply to ascertain whether it actually exists.
Interesting as such an inquiry must be, especially to that laboring class on whose behalf it was supposed that labor commissions were established, little effort has been made by any of them to solve this problem. The very able gentleman at the head of the National Labor Bureau, after taking statistics of industrial depressions, convict labor, and strikes, seems to have felt that he had exhausted all subjects of special interest to the laboring classes; and he therefore directed the energies of all his assistants to an investigation of the subject of divorce -- the one subject, among all grave social questions, with which the masses of laboring men have the least practical concern. One who desires to investigate the great problem of the distribution of wealth in this country must, therefore, feel this way, without much assistance from the official representatives of the very class which has the deepest interest in the question.
In the "effete monarchy" of Great Britain, where the laborer, deprived of all the blessings of a protective tariff, has no representative in the national government, no bureau, no commissioner, and only five members of Parliament among 1200, there is nevertheless no serious difficulty in the way of forming a pretty close estimate of the distribution of wealth. The income-tax returns, combined with those of the probate and succession duties, furnish the means of estimating, at frequent intervals, the proportions in which wealth is distributed among different classes of the nation; while a return of rent rolls, made in 1872, enables us to determine with considerable accuracy the proportions in which the land of the whole country is owned. Mulhall's estimate is as follows:
DISTRIBUTION OF BRITISH WEALTH, 1877
Wealth in Millions
Wealth per Family
From this table it will be seen that one thirtieth part of the English people own two thirds of the national wealth. With what scorn we have long pointed to these figures; and with what pride have we bade foreign nations to look upon our own beloved land, where such things no only did not exist, but were made impossible by our republican form of government!
Can any light be thrown upon the distribution of American wealth by a study of English statistics? Let us see. By adding to the published returns of the personal estates of British decedents a capitalization of the rental value of their estates, at 4% interest, we may form a tolerably accurate estimate of the aggregate wealth, real and personal, of the richest noblemen and bankers of England who have died within the last quarter of a century. We may then compare these figures with the known wealth of a few American citizens, and thus obtain a starting point for further comparisons.
In this way, we find that the richest of the Rothschilds, and the world-renowned banker Baron Overstone, each left about $17,000,000. Earl Dudley, the owners of the richest iron mines, left $20,000,000. The Duke of Buccleuch (and the Duke of Buccleuch carries half of Scotland in his pocket) left about $30,000,000. The Marquis of Bute was worth, in 1872, about $28,000,000 in land; and he may now be worth $40,000,000 in all. The Duke of Norfolk may be worth $40,000,000, and the Duke of Westminster perhaps $50,000,000.
There is no official classification of British wealth or rents. But incomes derived from the profits of business, exclusive of railways, mines, etc., are classified as follows:
British Incomes from Business Profits, 1884
50,000 and over
10,000 to 50,000
5,000 to 10,000
4,000 to 5,000
3,000 to 4,000
2,000 to 3,000
1,000 to 2,000
400 to 1,000
200 to 400
The great law of averages may be relied upon as confidently in America as in Europe. We need only find a starting point; then we may safely proceed to calculations based upon general experience as to the average increase in the number of persons owning wealth, in proportion to the decrease of the amount owned by each individual. To find this starting point, it will be necessary to give a list of Americans whose wealth is approximately known. The writer abstains from mentioning in this list a single name concerning which he has any information which might possibly be confidential; and, to make quite sure of this, he omits the names of all gentlemen with whom he has any confidential relations. The names of person who have died (six of them within one year) will be included, more accurate information being obtainable concerning their affairs than in any other cases. Their estates are nearly all either undivided or in the hands of so small a number of persons as to make no practical difference, while the number of names which have been omitted will far outweigh all possible errors in the list. No name is given which is not believed, for good reasons, to represent an individual wealth of at least $20,000,000. The figures indicate the wealth believed to be possessed on the average by each of the persons whose names follow:
J. J. Astor, Trinity Church
C. Vanderbilt, W. K. Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Leland Stanford, J. D. Rockefeller
Estate of A. Packer
John I. Blair, Estate of Charles Crocker
Wm. Astor, W. W. Astor, Russell Sage, E. A. Stevens, Estates of Moses Taylor, Brown & Ives
P. D. Armour, F. L. Ames, Wm. Rockefeller, H. M. Flagler, Powers & Weightman, Estate of P. Goelet
C. P. Huntington, D. O. Mills, Estates of T. A. Scott, J. W. Garrett
G. B. Roberts, Charles Pratt, Ross Winans, E. B. Coxe, Claus Spreckels, A. Belmont, R. J. Livingston, Fred. Weyerhauser, Mrs. Mark Hopkins, Mrs. Hetty Green, Estates of S. V. Harkness, R. W. Coleman, I. M. Singer
A. J. Drexel, J. S. Morgan, J. P. Morgan, Marshall Field, David Dows, J. G. Fair, E. T. Gerry, Estates of Gov. Fairbanks, A. T. Stewart, A. Schermerhorn
O. H. Payne, Estates of F. A. Drexel, I. V. Williamon, W. F. Weld
F. W. Vanderbilt, Theo. Havermeyer, H. O. Havermeyer, W. G. Warden, W. P. Thompson, Mrs. Schenley, J. B. Haggin, H. A. Hutchins, Estates of W. Sloane, E. S. Higgins, C. Tower, Wm. Thaw, Dr. Hostetter, Wm. Sharon, Peter Donohue
Trinity Church is included in this list because it is practically an individual owner. For the purpose of estimating the distribution of wealth, it is obvious that this corporation, which has no stockholders, must be treated as a unit.
It will be said that these estates could not be readily sold for their estimated value. In a few cases this is true; but it is immaterial, because it is equally true of the property of farmers and other small owners, and so does not change the relative proportion of wealth, which is the only important question. Our estimate of the whole national wealth is based upon the census of 1880, in which the capital and debts of railway, telegraphy, and steamboat companies were included at par. But in the foregoing estimates of individual wealth the current market value is adopted, which is much less than par. For purposes of comparison between different classes the census valuations ought to be adopted all around. But if they were, the wealth of Mr. Gould would be fixed at over $125,000,000, and that of Messrs. Crocker and Huntington at nearly as much; and the proportionate share of the very rich would be greatly increased.
Making the largest allowance for exaggerated reports, there can be no doubt that these 70 names represent an aggregate wealth of $2,700,000,000, or an average of over $37,500,000 each. The writer has not especially sought for information concerning any one worth less than $20,000,000, but has incidentally learned of 50 other persons worth over $10,000,000, of whom 30 are valued in all at $450,000,00, making together 100 persons worth over $3,000,000,000; yet this list includes very few names from New England and none from the South. Evidently it would be easy for any specially well-informed person to make up a list of 100 persons averaging $25,000,000 each, in addition to ten averaging $100,000,000 each. No such list of concentrated wealth could be given in any other country in the world. The richest dukes of England fall below the average wealth of a dozen American citizens; while the greatest bankers, merchants, and railway magnates of England cannot compare in wealth with many Americans.
Lists were lately published of 67 millionaires residing in Pittsburgh, of 63 residents of Cleveland possessing in the aggregate $300,000,000, and of 60 persons residing in three villages near New York whose wealth was said to aggregate $500,000,000. One of the gentlemen included in the last estimate said that if it included one of his neighbors, with whose affairs he is intimately acquainted, it was entirely too low: $750,000,000 would be none too much. The Goelet estate, in New York City, pays taxes on $25,000,000 real estate. The mayor of Chicago says that four gentlemen of that city are worth over $20,000,000 each; but only two are included in the above list. The Boston "Advertiser" lately asserted that there were not 50 millionaires in Boston; but the official tax-list shows that more than 50 families pay taxes on over $1,000,000 each, and 200 persons pay taxes on amounts which clearly show that they are really millionaires.
The facts already stated conclusively demonstrate that the wealthiest class in the United States is vastly richer than the wealthiest class in Great Britain. The average annual income of the richest 100 Englishmen is about $450,000; but the average annual income of the richest 100 Americans cannot be less than $1,200,000, and probably exceeds $1,500,000. It follows, inevitably, that wealth must be far more concentrated in the United States than in Great Britain; because, where enormous amounts of wealth are placed in a few hands, this necessarily implies that the great mass of the people have very small possessions. On the other hand, we know with tolerable certainty what are the average earnings and possible savings of the masses. The earnings of fully fourth-fifths of American families do not average as much as $500 per annum. As the average age of busy men is less than 40 years, their savings cannot spread over more than an average period of 20 years. Farmers being always more economical than mechanics or other laborers of the same income, the savings of farmers, represented by their farms, will afford a maximum standard for the classes to which they correspond. According to the census of 1880, the average value of 25% of farms was $635, of another 25%, $1,750, and of about 35%, $3,500; the remaining 15% being held by wealthy owners. To allow, in marketable property, $750 each to the mass of the community, $2,000 each to the next class and $3,500 each to the small tradesmen, highly-skilled mechanics, and others whose condition corresponds with that of the best class of ordinary farmers, will be quite as much as facts will justify; especially when we take out of this highest class, as we must, a considerable number (say one sixth) who, by saving one third to one half of their income, have accumulated four or five times as much as their fellows.
In 1877 the number of British capitalists possessed of over $25,000 each was about 222,000, while the number of persons deriving profits of over $1,000 per annum each from business was nearly 200,000. The two classes of persons were not at all the same; on the contrary, probably not one third of either class, possibly not even one fifth, was included in the other. Yet, in the absence of any detailed information as to the distribution of wealth, the classification of incomes must be taken, with much reserve, as the only attainable guide. But incomes, in their very nature, are much more equally distributed than wealth. Millions have inomces who have practically no wealth. Therefore, a computation on this basis will greatly underestimate the concentration of wealth in the higher figures, while it will lead to such an overestimate of wealth in the lower figures as to make it gradually quite misleading. Such a computation is indeed of no use whatever outside of the first 250,000 families, and must be greatly modified long before reaching that number.
Bearing these considerations in mind, we proceed to estimate the distribution of American wealth. Judging from the rate of increase in wealth indicated by the last census, it is probably that (estimated by the same method) it now amounts to nearly $1,000 per head, or $65,000,000,000 in all. In 1880, $2,000,000,000 was invested in public buildings, churches, colleges, charitable institutions, etc.; and this item must be about $2,500,000,000 now.
Taking the number of British incomes exceeding 200 pounds as a basis for comparative classification, starting on the basis of known facts about American wealth, and modifying the figures gradually, for the reasons already stated, we arrive at the following conclusions:
DISTRIBUTION OF AMERICAN WEALTH, ON THE BASIS OF BRITISH INCOME RETURNS.
Average Wealth in Thousands
Total in Millions
Public property, churches, etc.
Condensing this table, so as to arrange it in three great classes, we arrive at this result:
DISTRIBUTION OF AMERICAN WEALTH
Wealth in Millions
Average per Family
On this basis, 50,000 families would appear to own one half of the national wealth.
In this table small farmers, skilled mechanics, foremen, conductors, engineers, etc., are included in the "working class," and $968 has been allowed as the average savings of each family in this class -- more than double the highest claim made on behalf of the same class in England, and nearly treble the average deposit in American savings banks. This amount is certainly too large. The number of the very largest millionaires has been kept down to very nearly the limit of the writer's personal information; while in his judgment there must have been at least as many more, of whom he has never heard. If this surmise is correct, it would add at once $2,500,000,000 to the share of wealth belonging to the millionaire class, and would confirm the writer's rough estimate in the FORUM for September, that 25,000 persons own just about one half of all the wealth of the United States.
Objection will doubtless be made to any estimates based upon British statistics. Fortunately, Massachusetts furnishes a purely American basis for estimates of the distribution of American wealth. A list of the largest individual taxpayers in Boston, published this year, including all (exclusive of corporations and executors) who paid more than $1,000 in taxes, and who were therefore assessed at more than $75,000 (the tax being 1.33%) showed the following results:
BOSTON TAX LIST FOR 1888
Amount of Tax
Average Assessed Wealth
$50,000 to 75,000
40,000 to 50,000
30,000 to 40,000
20,000 to 30,000
10,000 to 20,000
5,000 to 10,000
1,000 to 5,000
It may be safely assumed that every one who is assessed at $400,000 is really worth $1,000,000; because large estates are never assessed at their full value, and because these assessments include no shares in corporate stock, nor government, municipal, or mortgage bonds, in which a vast proportion of the wealth of the very rich is invested. For the same reasons, an assessment of $75,000 represents in actual wealth not less than $150,000. The wealth of the very rich is always more under-estimated by assessors than that of men in moderate circumstances. Assessments of $400,000 and over are therefore multiplied, in the next table, by two and one half, while those below that line are only doubled. In both cases the increase is too small. Boston has less than a forty-fifth part of the nation's wealth, and less than a hundred and thirtieth part of its population. Multiplying the Boston figures by only 45, it would follow that there are in the United States more than 56,000 persons worth over $150,000 each, of whom at least 8,500 are worth over $1,000,00. Classifying men of wealth in conformity to the proportion in which assessment returns show that their wealth is divided in Boston, but adding the 70 persons who have been specifically named as averaging $37,500,000, we arrive at the following estimate, which errs only on the side of moderation:
DISTRIBUTION OF AMERICAN WEALTH, ON THE BASIS OF BOSTON TAX RETURNS
Wealth in Thousands
Average Wealth in Thousands
Total Wealth in Millions
Distribution in Classes
Wealth in Millions
Average per Family
On this basis, 40,000 persons own over one half of the wealth of the United States, while one seventieth part of the people own over two thirds of the wealth.
It will be seen that in these tables, which are prepared upon the basis of purely American statistics, the concentration of wealth appears to be much greater than in tables prepared upon the basis of British statistics. By either table, 70% of the national wealth appears to be concentrated in the hands of a very small minority of the people; but dividing this wealth in proportion to the English ratio, it is distributed among 235,000 families, while dividing it according to the Boston ratio, it is possessed by only 182,000 families. The truth probably lies between the two; and it may safely be assumed that 200,000 persons control 70% of the national wealth, while 250,000 persons control from 75 to 80% of the whole.
These conclusions are of course very unpalatable to comfortable optimists. But what other results could possibly be expected, in view of well-known facts? No one can entertain a reasonable doubt that there has been an accumulation of wealth in a few individual hands in the United States, during the last 25 years, vastly in excess of any which has taken place in other parts of the world. In no other country have railroad-managers, manufacturers, oil-refiners, mine-owners, bankers, and land speculators accumulated fortunes so rapidly as they have in this. In no other country, and least of all in England, during the last 30 years, has the burden of taxation been cast so exclusively upon the working class, or the machinery of public taxation been used so unscrupulously for private profit.
In Great Britain, although indirect taxation still constitutes the greatest part of the public revenue, a large share of direct taxation has been maintained, and, as far as possible, all tribute levied by the rich upon the poor, under the pretense of taxation, has been abolished. The natural consequence is that the disproportion between the rich and the poor in Great Britain is less today than it was 40 years ago, that wealth is more widely distributed, that the middle class is much more numerous, and that the masses are rapidly gaining in power and influence.
In America the drift has been in precisely the opposite direction. Federal taxation has increased 6-fold since 1860, and the whole of this increase has been taken out of the relatively poorer classes. At the same time, the profit which is secured to the wealthier classes by the adjustment of indirect taxation in their interest has been increased not less than 10-fold. The wealthy classes, collectively, have made a clear profit out of the indirect effects of taxation to an amount far exceeding all that they have paid in taxes, although this profit has been absorbed by a minority of even the rich. But, apart from this, the whole system of taxation is and has been such as to take from the rich only from 3% to 10% of their annual savings, while taking from the poor 75 to 90%. It is true that the same system existed, in form, before the war; but, taxation being light, the amount taken from each individual was far less, and the disproportion between the rich and the poor not so great, while the profit levied from the poor by the rich was much smaller. The amount of the burden has increased, and it has been more and more shifted over upon the poor.
It is childish to imagine that, under such circumstances, the concentration of wealth can go on less rapidly here than in Europe. On the contrary, it has gone on far more rapidly here; and it will continue to do so, at a tremendous pace.
It is intended to confine this paper to a simple investigation of facts, without suggesting remedies; but, to avoid misapprehension, the writer wishes it to be distinctly understood that he is opposed, on principle, to all schemes for arbitrary limitations of individual wealth, whether by a graduated income tax, a heavy succession tax, or otherwise; that he is utterly opposed to communism, socialism, and anarchism; and that he is of opinion that the enormous wealth of the few in this country has been forced upon them by the votes of the very masses who have been impoverished for their benefit. Populous vult decipi. The farmers insist upon throwing away their inheritance; and since they are determined to heap their earnings upon somebody, it is well that the list of their chief beneficiaries should be, upon the whole, so respectable. And, indeed, has it not been clearly explained to us that it makes no sort of difference who owns the wealth of the nation, so long as it is kept at home?
But the facts should be known, without regard to the inferences which may be drawn from them; and we are now prepared to answer the question: "Who own the United States?"
The United States of America are practically owned by less than 250,000 persons, constituting less than 1 in 60 of its adult male population.
Within 30 years, the present methods of taxation being continued, the United States of America will be substantially owned by less than 50,000 persons, constituting less than one in 500 of the adult male population.
In September, 1889, Thomas Shearman, co-founder of the NYC law firm Shearman & Sterling, published an article in The Forum, entitled "Henry George's Mistakes." This was ten years after the publication of Henry George's "Progress and Poverty," which was, by that time well known to most Americans and many in other parts of the world; by 1900, P&P had sold something like 6 million copies and been serialized in many periodicals. As the first paragraph shows, George's ideas were controversial, particularly with the vested interests who were more than happy with the current structure, and were in a position to spend to influence public opinion.
Shearman is responding to those who thought that George's Remedy (the subtitle to P&P is "An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy") was unrealistic, and in particular, to an 1887 article in The Forum.
Shearman shows why indirect taxes raise prices and the cost of living, particularly for the poor. Recall Leona Helmsley's statement about taxes: "We don't pay taxes. The little people pay taxes." I don't think she was talking about tax evasion; she was talking about tax structures.
I've taken the formatting liberty of presenting some lists contined in paragraphs as bullet points.
HENRY GEORGE'S MISTAKES.
Since the mistakes of Moses were so triumphantly demolished by Col. Ingersoll, his example has been followed by numerous writers, who, possibly because they concluded that the Mosaic field has been sufficiently occupied, have devoted themselves to an equally triumphant demonstration of the mistakes of Henry George. Space could not be afforded for even an abstract of these brilliant productions. Crushed by the Duke of Argyll, refuted by Mr. Mallock, extinguished by Mayor Hewitt, undermined by Mr. Edward Atkinson, exploded by Prof. Harris, excommunicated by archbishops, consigned to eternal damnation by countless doctors of divinity, put outside the pale of the Constitution by numberless legal pundits, waved out of existence by a million Podsnaps, and finally annihilated by Mr. George Gunton, still Henry George's theories seem to have a miraculous faculty of rising from the dead. For it is certain that his general doctrines are more widely believed in today than ever before; while the one practical measure which he advocates for present and immediate enactment is accepted by a vast number of intelligent men on both sides of the Atlantic. It is, therefore, still worth while to look into this terrible delusion, and to inquire seriously what are these fatal mistakes which, being so often slain, nevertheless live.
Mr. George has devoted a large portion of his famous book, "Progress and Poverty," to the assertion and illustration of his belief that, all over the civilized world, the rich are growing richer and the poor relatively poorer. He undertakes to trace the cause of this assumed evil to the private ownership of land and the steady increase of economic rent. He insists, with admitted eloquence and earnestness, that private ownership of land must be abolished; but he proposes one remedy and only one, the concentration of all taxes upon ground rent alone. He urges that these taxes should be increased to such an amount as will absorb ground rent. This, in view of statements made by all Mr. George's opponents, would seem to be really only a matter of detail, concerning which any one might be at liberty to entertain, as Mr. Disraeli used to say, a "pious opinion." For they all, with one voice, maintain that ground rent would never be sufficient to meet the existing taxes; and so this question, if any of Mr. George's critics are correct, could never arise.
To a practical mind there are only two important questions involved in this controversy.
First, is there any undesirable tendency toward the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few?
Secondly, is the concentration of all taxes upon ground rent alone a real, just, and effective remedy?
Let us inquire whether there is any excessive concentration of wealth going on in the United States of America. Leaving mere clamor and unsupported assertions out of consideration, on either side, let us look into facts. As lately as 1847, there was but one man in this country who was reputed to be worth more than $5,000,000; and though some estimated his wealth at $20,000,000, there is no good reason for believing it to have been so great. The wealth of his lineal descendants is estimated at $250,000,000, or over $50,000,000 each. In 1867, in the New York constitutional convention, one of the most prominent delegates stated that he could name 30 men, residing in that State, whose wealth averaged $15,000,000 each. The St. Louis "Globe" recently published a list of 72 persons who were worth, collectively, the whole amount of our national debt, averaging $18,000,000 each. The wealthiest railroad manager in America, in 1865, was worth $40,000,000, but not more. His heir died recently, leaving an estate of nearly $200,000,000; and there are several gentlemen now living who are worth over $100,000,000 each. Within a short period, a number of quiet, unobtrusive men, of no national fame, have died in Pennsylvania, leaving estates of over $20,000,000 each. Twenty living persons, in the oil business, are reputed to be as rich. Forty persons could be easily named, none of them worth less than $20,000,000, and averaging $40,000,000 each. At the lowest reasonable estimate, there must now be more than 250 persons in this country whose wealth averages over $20,000,000 for each. But let us call the number only 200. Income-tax returns in Great Britain and in the United States show that, in general, the number of incomes, when arranged in large classes, multiplies by from three to five-fold for every reduction in the amount of one-half.* For extreme caution, however, we estimate the increase in the number of incomes at a very much lower rate than this. At this reduced rate, the amount of wealth in the hands of persons worth over $500,000 each in the United States would be about as follows:
200 persons at
* In Brooklyn, N. Y., in 1865, the tax returns showed one income of $600,000, 2 incomes of $200,000, 11 incomes of $100,000, 61 incomes of $50,000, 1,700 incomes averaging $7,000. See also the "Cyclopedia of Political Science," art. "Income Tax."
In Great Britain, in 1872, 3 landlords averaged each $1,100,000 rent, 14 averaged $675,000, and 83 averaged over $250,000. In 1884, the returns of business profits, only, showed 104 incomes averaging $450,000,1,192 of $85,000, 1,871 of $32,000, and 20,534 of $9,000.
This estimate is very far below the actual truth. Yet, even upon this basis, we are confronted with the startling result that 25,000 persons now possess more than half of the whole national wealth, real and personal, according to the highest estimate ($60,000,000,000) which any one has yet ventured to make of the aggregate amount. Nor is this conclusion at all improbable.
Let us test the question in another way. Eastern savings banks show an average deposit of $365. This sum represents the extreme savings of the average thrifty workingman of the East. But even estimating that 20,000,000 workers of 1889, earning an average of less than $400 each, of whom 5,000,000 are women and children, have saved, on the average, $600, still, their aggregate savings would not amount to $12,000,000,000, or $1,100 for each average family. Let us suppose that the 1,000,000 workers of superior class, earning an average of $1,000 each, have saved $3,000 — a monstrous exaggeration. This would make their total possessions $3,000,000,000. The result would be to show that 21,000,000 persons had saved up in the whole course of their lives $15,000,000,000, leaving $45,000,000,000 in the possession of not more than 400,000 persons.
Look again. Excluding churches, public buildings, etc., from the items of wealth enumerated in the census estimate for 1880, it is reduced to $41,000,000,000. Railroads, telegraphs, shipping, mines, quarries, canals, merchandise, and specie count for $13,500,000,000. These certainly do not belong to $400 workingmen. $5,000,000,000 is charged to household furniture, paintings, and jewelry. Two-thirds of this would be an extreme allowance for the 9,700,000 families of the poorer class; but let us allow them more, and estimate the furniture of the 300,000 richer families at only $5,000 each. Farms stand for $10,000,000,000, of which more than one-fourth were owned by landlords and leased to tenants, while one-fifth were so large as to imply wealthy owners; and mortgages were certainly outstanding for more than one-fifth of the rest. Business and residential real estate, water-power, etc., were estimated at about the same value. Of this, at least three-fourths was owned by the wealthy class, either absolutely or by mortgages. On this basis we arrive at the following estimate of the possessions, in 1880, of not more than 300,000 persons:
Railroads, shipping, mines, merchandise, specie, etc.
Farms, 45 per cent
Mortgages on farms, 20 per cent
Other real estate
The total national wealth held as private property being $41,000,000,000, this estimate confirms the previous one, that a small minority of the people own two-thirds of the national wealth. Is Mr. George so very much mistaken, in view of these figures, when he asserts that the rich are growing richer and the poor relatively poorer?
A sufficient cause for the immense and growing chasm between the rich and the poor of this country is to be found in indirect taxation. The population of the United States has increased in 25 years from 35,000,000 to 60,000,000. Let us call the average 45,000,000. The average annual taxes for the same period have been about $175,000,000 on imports, $136,000,000 on domestic productions, $14,000,000 on incomes, $25,000,000 miscellaneous, and $300,000,000 State and local taxes, mostly on houses and improvements and personal property. Duties on imports have entailed an average increase of prices on domestic goods to the amount of fully thrice the duties, say $525,000,000. Excise duties, by promoting monopolies, have largely increased prices, as in the well-known case of matches, where a duty of one cent caused an increase in price of' two cents. Let us, however, call this increase only one-fifth of the excise, or $27,000,000. But upon these taxes there are three profits, made by the importers or manufacturers, the jobbers, and the retailers, amounting to not less than 20% in all, or $172,600,000. Two-thirds of the State and local taxes are paid by middlemen, who of course add a profit; but this may be put as low as 5%, or about $10,000,000. The grand total now comes to $1,384,000,000 per annum, as the average annual burden borne by the people for 25 years past. Of this all was indirect taxation, except something over $100,000,000; leaving the average annual burden imposed by indirect taxation at $1,280,000,000.
This burden was distributed as equally as possible by natural laws, in proportion to the expenditure of each income-receiver in the support of his family. As each worker supported, on the average, three persons, including himself, the people may be divided into 15,000,000 families, or rather groups of three.* On the basis of the careful estimate of Mr. Atkinson, 14,000,000 of these must have been supported upon incomes of less than $400 (in my judgment less than $350), 700,000 on less than $1,000, and the other 300,000 on larger incomes. The average annual earnings of the nation during 25 years cannot have exceeded $7,500,000,000. Allowing 15% as savings, destruction, and cost of replacement, and adding to this the tax burdens, which must be paid out of savings, there would remain, as the sum expended in the support of the people, an average of less than $5,100,000,000 per annum. On this the burden of indirect taxation has averaged 25%. We are now prepared to calculate the effect.
* The actual number of real families was much less. It was under 10,000,000 in 18S0, averaging 5 persons each.
Supposing them exempt from taxes, still it would be unreasonable to expect the mass of the laborers to support their groups of three on less than $300 a year. Their burden of taxation, then, has averaged 25% on this, or $75 a year. Contrast with this the case of men who enjoyed an income of $1,000,000, which a fortune of $15,000,000 would on an average easily have produced in simple interest during this period. Allow them $100,000 each, for a modest living; on which their tax would be $25,000 each. From what fund would these taxes be paid? Obviously, from what would have been saved, but for taxation, not from what was spent. This fund, in the case of the masses, would amount to $100 each; tax, $75. In the case of the great millionaires, $900,000; tax, $25,000. Tax on the property of the very rich, less than 3%. Tax on the property of the masses, more than 75%.
What would be the result, at the end of a year, on these two classes? Assume only 200 such very wealthy men; yet their savings would be, under such taxation, $175,000,000. Assume only 600 more, with incomes of $500,000 each, spending $50,000, and taxed therefore $12,500; their net savings would be $437,500 each, or $262,500,000 in all. Thus 800 rich men would save $437,500,000. The savings of the 14,000,000 laborers could not exceed $25 each, or $350,000,000. But, if taxes could be dispensed with, the savings of the millions of poor men would have reached $1,400,000,000, while those of the 800 rich would not have exceeded $450,000,000.
Here is a mathematical demonstration that the mere fact of indirect taxation is sufficient to strip the poor of three-fourths of their natural savings, and to concentrate a majority of the wealth of the community in the hands of an infinitesimally small part of its number.
What, then, is the remedy proposed by the wild fanatic whose blunders we are considering? It is threefold.
First, the total abolition of indirect taxation.
Secondly, the substitution of a single tax on ground rent, the only sufficient form of strictly direct taxation which has ever been invented.
Thirdly, the gradual increase of this direct tax, if necessary to that end, to an amount sufficient to absorb ground rents. This is all.
The third branch of this proposition is the only one which has brought the penalties of everlasting damnation upon Mr. George's head, from the hand of Dr. Van Dyke. But Prof. Harris and Mr. Atkinson are sure that they have saved his soul, at the expense of his arithmetic, by demonstrating that rent is a very insignificant item, which would not suffice to meet the present necessary taxes. Assuming, for the moment, that Mr. George's arithmetical critics have delivered his soul from Sheol, let us try to rescue his body from the lunatic asylum.
Every form of tax upon personal property or improvements upon land, whether in the form of a tariff, an excise, a license, or a so-called "direct tax" upon their value, is, in the inherent nature of things, an indirect tax. It is and always must be shifted from the original tax-payer to the final consumer. In many individual cases the original tax-payer is unable thus to shift the tax; but in that event he is crippled in business, and, if the difficulty is permanent, he is ruined and driven out of business, to give place to a shrewder man, who makes the customer pay the tax in the end, with a bigger profit than would have contented the weaker man.
There are no direct taxes worth discussing, except the income tax, the succession tax, and the tax on land, valued without reference to its improvements. The income tax opens the door to innumerable frauds, and puts a premium upon perjury and corruption. If adopted in this country as the sole method of taxation, it will open the way to such plunder of the honest rich as will make them sigh for Henry George and his tax on rent. Poor folk and rascals will escape from all taxation whatever. The succession tax will fall exclusively upon the rich. If made high enough to support the cost of all government, it will fail, because it will be evaded. There remains only the tax on land values, or the natural rent of land, irrespective of improvements.
This tax is absolutely direct. It cannot be evaded. It cannot be shifted by the original tax-payer. That is an axiom of economic science. If it were not so, there would not be a particle of the clamor which is raised against it. The thunders of the pulpit would have slept forever, if the land-owner could make poor folk pay his land tax, with a little profit. The adoption of this tax would therefore put an end to all the unnatural impoverishment of the poor and enrichment of the rich, which take place under the present system. It would amount to a total abolition of taxation, as to that vast majority of the poor who own no land. Whereas now they pay both rent and taxes, then they would pay rent alone. This simple fact is a complete answer to the inquiry: "How are the masses to get the benefit of taxing rent?" As to such of the poor as own land, they would be relieved from the taxes which they now pay on personal property and improvements, that is, from more tax than would be added to their land tax. For we need reckon none among the poor who own more than $3,000 worth of land clear, that being more than the average value of improved farms; and those who own less than $6,000 worth of improved real estate are now paying more taxes indirectly than they could ever be required to pay under the single-tax system.
Let us briefly consider "Henry George's Mistake about Land," as set forth by Prof. W. T. Harris, in the Forum for July, 1887. That "mistake" lies in his assumption that ground rent would be sufficient to defray all the expenses of government, national, State, and local. Prof. Harris, finding that the official assessment of real estate in this country, in 1880, was about $13,000,000,000, and estimating that this was two-thirds of the market value, and the value of the land alone about one-half of the whole, or somewhat less than $10,000,000,000, calculates the ground rent at 4% on this sum, or $400,000,000 per annum; which of course is wholly insufficient to meet the taxes of $700,000,000 levied in 1880. He then refers to Great Britain and Ireland, where, he says, land forms only one-fifth of the total wealth, with an annual rental of £65,442,000. As British taxes altogether amount to about £118,500,000, it is clear that, if this estimate is correct, the single tax would not suffice to meet British taxes.
Taking first the case of the United States, the census report of 1880 shows conclusively that assessments are worthless, as a means of estimating real values. They vary from 10% to 70% of the true value of real estate; and no average can be estimated from them. The census of 1880, upon which Prof. Harris relies to show the proportion of land to the aggregate wealth, and which he must not therefore desert for local assessment tables, contains items of real estate, including all privileges over land, aggregating over $28,000,000,000. Adopting the rule of division between land and improvements propounded by him, the lowest estimate of pure land values for 1880 would be between $15,000,000,000 and $16,000,000,000. There is no estimate whatever of wild lands belonging to private individuals, unconnected with farms, the value of which could hardly have been less than $2,000,000,000; but of this we will take no notice. The rental of 4% for 1880, upon which Prof. Harris bases his calculation, is utterly absurd. Strictly first-class mortgages could not be placed at less than 5% in the city of New York in 1880; and such mortgages averaged, the country over, nearer 7% than 6%. It is impossible that the ownership of land, which is no better than a second mortgage, should not, on the average, produce a rate of interest higher than a first mortgage. The lowest rate of interest to be allowed on the value of land would therefore be 6.5%. But to this must be added the amount of taxation which actually fell upon land values in 1880. This could not have been less than 0.5%. Such taxes, being paid by landlords and not by tenants, necessarily depreciate the market value of the land; and this amount should be either added to the rent, or deducted from the amount expected to fall upon lands in consequence of the adoption of the single tax, since this falls upon it already.
It follows that the ground rent of the United States, in 1880, was considerably over $1,000,000,000. The taxes for that year were about $700,000,000. But of this, $100,000,000 was levied only for the purpose of piling up a surplus. The necessary taxation was only $600,000,000; and the land-owners of the United States would have been able to pay all taxes and yet retain a very large surplus. The value of land in the United States is now not less than $20,000,000,000; but the rate of interest is lower, and ground rent has not increased in equal proportion to nominal values.
Turning to Great Britain, the mistakes of Prof. Harris can be readily shown to be vastly greater than any mistakes of Henry George. His fundamental errors are three.
He mistakes the rent of agricultural lands alone for the whole rent of the United Kingdom;
he mistakes the valuation of "houses" for that of structures alone, without the lots beneath them; and
he assumes that railways are not built upon land.
The following are the official figures for 1884, taken from the 28th British Inland Revenue Report; to which we append a very low estimate of the proportion of mixed land values which should be charged to ground rents alone:
British Pure Annual Land Values, 1884.
Lands, returned as such
Manors, tithes, fines, etc.
Fishing and shooting rights
Markets and tolls
British Mixed Annual Land Values, 1884.
Houses and lots
Canals, water-works, mines, gas, iron, etc
One-half of these values as land
Total land values
Now the whole net amount of British taxes is £118,500,000. But of this, over £27,500,000 is already assessed upon pure land values. The adoption of the single tax would therefore increase the burden upon land only by £91,000,000. The net rental value of land being over £158,000,000, it follows that the land-owners of Great Britain and Ireland could pay all national and local taxes, and still retain for their own benefit the comfortable margin of £67,000,000. Prof. Harris will do well to study his statistics carefully before he again undertakes to exhibit "the mistakes of Henry George." *
*Prof. Harris quotes Mulhall, as proof that "land" in the United Kingdom is worth only £1,737,000,000, in a total of £8,720,000,000, or one-fifth of the whole. But Mulhall distinctly shows that this amount includes only agricultural land ("Dictionary of Statistics," 5); and he very properly recognizes houses and railways as real estate, stating (p. 280) that 62%, of British wealth consists of real estate. It is notorious that the mere land occupied by British railways was enormously costly, and is now worth far more than it cost. Land alone, on Mulhall's showing, forms one-third of British values, just as it does in America.
Mr. Gunton, in the Forum for March, 1887, had preceded Prof. Harris in the same field and with about equal accuracy. He calls the entire rental value of real estate in the United Kingdom, including, of course, improvements, £131,468,000. The correct official figure (including £43,000,000 taxes, paid by occupiers) was, in 1884, almost exactly £293,000,000; and the real value is far greater. Instead of being only 11% of the gross produce, as claimed by Mr. Gunton, it is fully 25%. It is not worth while to follow either Mr. Gunton's figures or arguments any further.
I regret that the space allotted for this article will not allow an examination of Mr. Edward Atkinson's calculations on the same general point. His statistics are far more accurate than those of Messrs. Harris and Gunton. Accepting all his statistics as absolutely accurate, I have shown in another place, by his own figures, that two-thirds of the ground rents of Boston would provide for all local, State, and national taxes on Boston.
The single tax, therefore, would be a real, effective, and adequate remedy for the present unjust intervention of the state in favor of the rich and against the poor.
There still remains the question: "Is the remedy just?" Many of Mr. George's critics (notably Mr. Gunton) are debarred from raising this question, since they assert the absolute right of the state to deal with all property as may be deemed expedient. But the majority of them are better represented by Dr. Van Dyke, who thinks the proposition of Mr. George "thoroughly unrighteous." So far as we can make out, this is because the state has in the past allowed private individuals to appropriate land and its rent to their own use, and is therefore estopped from taking away that rent by taxation. But land has always been taxed. In most of our large cities it is now theoretically taxed at least 2% on its value; often 3%. Why should a tax of 2% or 3% be just and righteous, but a tax of 4%, 5%, or 6% incur penalties of everlasting damnation? Is it because land is especially singled out for taxation? Then is there not at least equal wickedness on the part of Congress, which for half a century singled out the business of importation as the only subject of taxation, and still taxes it ten times as heavily as anything else? Does the wickedness consist in taxing land up to its full value? Then is it not equally wicked to tax the poor man's window glass 100% upon its value? Does the wickedness consist in imposing a tax for the purpose of accomplishing some ulterior result? How about our whole tariff legislation, which is avowedly maintained for an ulterior purpose? Is it wicked to tax private property out of existence? How about the tax on bank notes, which was levied for the express purpose of destroying State banks? How about the tax on oleomargarine? Is it wicked to tax property out of existence, without giving compensation? Why do not those who urge this plea petition Congress for compensation for those whose wealth has been destroyed and whose occupation has been taken away by taxes avowedly levied for that purpose? Not one of these critics has ever suggested such a petition; not one of them would sign such a petition; and not one of the many thousands who have suffered from such tax laws ever thought of presenting such a petition.
Judged by any standard which has ever been applied to public affairs, even by clergymen, the proposition of a single tax on land values is perfectly reasonable, moral, and honorable. As to the amount of such a tax, that is a question to be decided by a wise expediency. There is not the slightest moral obligation on the part of the state to make the tax small, or to leave any margin to land-owners, so long as no more is taken than is needed for the honest use of the state.
It is not necessary to follow any further the proposition of Mr. George to increase taxation up to a point which would practically absorb all ground rent. Every one of the critics who has discussed the point at all, has committed himself to the theory that no such artificial increase of taxation would be necessary to absorb rent. Moreover, it is not a practical question at present, and will not be for a very long time to come, if ever. Taxation rises quite fast enough, without artificial efforts to increase it. In 40 years, in Ohio, population increased 100%, assessed wealth 1,000%, and taxation 1,360%. It is sufficient for the present to show that the actual remedy proposed by Henry George for the evils of our present social condition, the only practical measure which he asks to have adopted today, is a real remedy, an adequate remedy, and a just remedy. The criticisms of his adversaries have been directed to mere side issues, to his minor arguments, to his intellectual processes, to his illustrations, to anything except the real pith of the matter in hand. Not one of them has really wrestled with the problem; not one of them (except Mr. Atkinson) has been even approximately correct in his statistics; not one of them has failed to commit mistakes in his reasoning and his calculations far more serious than any which can be fastened upon Henry George.
I thought this presentation -- made nearly 100 years ago, in December, 1911, to County Assessors in California -- worth sharing. (Merriam-Webster defines plunderbund as "a league of commercial, political, or financial interests that exploits the public.") That such a paper would be delivered to such a body gives one a hint of how widely understood and appreciated Georgist ideas were 100 years ago. The notes say:
"Mr. Edmund Norton presented a paper entitled "What is Single Tax?" Upon conclusion of the reading, which was interspersed with many extemporaneous remarks by the speaker, a very free discussion of the subject was held, and many interrogatories propounded to the author of the paper."
I'll give you the final paragraphs first, and then the whole talk.
Never, while the world lasts, will mankind become "Masters, lords and rulers" of themselves till these public values are publicly absorbed in taxation. The Single Tax is the most feasible, practical, expedient, simple, natural and just way of making the necessary, rational change without the violence of revolution. It stands "four square to all the winds that blow" — in economics, and politics; in ethics, morals and religion; in principle, science and philosophy; it is the practical application of Christianity to social affairs. "Equal Rights to All and Special Privileges to None," is the translation of the Golden Rule of the Nazarene to an economic and political formula. Therefore, fulfilled democracy is applied Christianity to governmental affairs.
"Do unto others as ye would that they should do to you," "Equal Rights to all and special privileges to none"; the Single Tax: these are synonymous.
Here we have the great Eleventh Commandment of the Master of Nazareth — the sum total of all "the Law and all the prophets" — we have its Jeffersonian formulation into a politico-social maxim of "Equal rights to all," and its scientific practical application in the Single Tax of Henry George. This is applied Christianity; this is democracy; this is Georgean philosophy; this is the Single Tax; different expressions of the one Unity.
and here's the whole thing:
WHAT IS THE SINGLE TAX?
The Georgean Philosophy and the Jeffersonian Formula. By Edmund Norton.
Never in the history of the world have there been so many inquiring minds asking: "What is the Single Tax and the Georgean Philosophy?" In England, Germany, Australia and Canada, as elsewhere, the constructive work of the leading statesmen is all being developed along the lines laid down by Henry George. To my mind, "The Prophet of San Francisco," as he was derisively dubbed by the Duke of Argyle, is, measured by his influence on the world of statesmanship, present and future, and as a sociological thinker, the greatest personality in the Western world between the North Pole and Patagonia since Columbus found the land. Henry George has found more continents than did Columbus by uncovering monopoly-submerged lands in the presence of which we hungered and died.
This paper is meant to merely outline the principles and philosophy of the great school of thought that has grown up in the last thirty years around its teachings that now has a literature of its own that will fill a library.
The Single Tax is the popular name of the great fiscal reform and social philosophy most powerfully promulgated by our great American, Henry George, sometimes called "the Prophet of San Francisco."
WHAT IT PROPOSES TO DO.
Its purpose is to increase wages to the full returns or earnings of labor; to shorten the hours necessary to earn a living; to leave to capital, which is secondary labor, its full returns, which are secondary wages; to abolish monopoly, which is the thief that is robbing both labor and capital, and thereby prove the unity and remove the apparent antagonisms which have no place in a natural order where monopoly does not exist. It will free production, including all trade, barter and exchange, which are but processes of production, and will equalize the distribution of wealth into the possession only of those who can earn it. It will destroy privilege by substituting equal natural rights, remove the dead hand from the control of living men; throw open the limitless natural resources of the planet to willing labor, and, by taking all social creations of value into the social treasury, will conserve all natural resources forever to the people and make private appropriation of public values impossible. This condition will start a boom that will never stop till every human want is satisfied.
It will make internecine and international wars impossible by destroying all trade and monopoly privileges which are the chief causes tempting the crafty, cunning and unscrupulous to create or encourage these sum totals of all vices, crimes and horrors against humanity for personal power and profit.
THE METHOD OF ATTAINMENT.
The Single Tax does not intend to add to or multiply the already almost infinite statutory enactments now confusing and befuddling the social state, but rather means to abolish, one after the other, every law on the statute books granting a special privilege to any one man or body of men that is at the expense of the unprivileged mass of society. This will destroy the petty and grand larceny now preying upon the social body.
Aside from the million of petty privileges granted by municipalities, states and the nation to individuals, the great and glorious pillage shows itself in privileges and monopoly in labor-saving inventions, trade restrictions and the private ownership of natural resources, the major part of which is a matter of taxation; therefore, the Single Tax would abolish all taxes on barter, trade, exchange, personal property and improvements, commensurately raising all taxes from the value of land alone, till there was in existence but one single tax upon the value of bare land exclusive of improvements. This would be a single tax on land value — not on land, for some land would pay no tax while other land would pay much tax.
For instance, one acre of land worth a million dollars would pay as much tax as a million acres worth only one dollar per acre.
SQUARES WITH THE MORAL LAW.
The Single Tax is ethically sound in application for the simple reason that all labor-created wealth is the result of individual effort and leaving that wealth untaxed would be leaving to the individual only that which belonged to him by his right to himself and to that which he himself creates; while taking into the public treasury only those values which society creates in its collective capacity would be leaving to society only that which belongs to it, for no individual on earth, by himself, can create land values.
At present we compound injustice by permitting private individuals to appropriate what society creates and then society turns about and deprives the individual of his private creation to support the governments whose existence makes possible the public values privately appropriated.
This basic injustice results in a fundamental disturbance of the equilibrium of society, showing itself in numberless evils — economic, social, political, physical, mental and moral.
Mistaken symptoms for disease, effects for causes, we have numerous social quacks pressing forward with innumerable nostrums — palliative, alleviative, suppressive or curative of the particular symptoms they have noted — each claiming he has found a remedy and each ready to cure the world with a salve, bandage, pill or liniment.
The diseased social body can be cured only by removing the cause and restoring it to a normal condition. Monopoly and Special Privilege is all that the social body suffers from today, and destruction of Monopoly and Special Privilege will cure it. Equal rights to All and Special Privilege to None is the only magic remedy. Apply this, make man free and equal before the law and the Divine Mind operating through nature will do the rest.
Thomas Jefferson's was probably the greatest democratic mind of his age and the equal of any age. If we examine the Jeffersonian formula we will find it the square, level and compass, without which no nation can ever be permanently founded., The natural rights of man, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," we must take for granted, and the right of revolution — also put forth in the immortal document — "the Right of the People to alter or to abolish and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness" we must also take for granted.
The constitution — itself a reactionary document, taking away from the people perhaps 75% of the liberties gained in the war of 1776 — still leaves us the power to apply the golden rule of democratic thought to our government without violence — for which we may be thankful.
EQUAL RIGHTS; NO SPECIAL PRIVILEGE.
If we view the recent, present and past history of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado, Springfield, New York, Albany, Pittsburg, and the nation at large, we will have to confess that now and for fifty years past, at least, municipality, state and nation have been passing through a Saturnalia of public pillage by Special Privileges working through varying forms of oligarchic, partisan and political control. The government has been wrested from the hand of Democracy by Plutocratic privileges.
Applying the rule of Equal Rights to All, we clearly see that while these rights exist, the power to exercise them has been nullified; therefore, all of these reforms such as the Initiative, Referendum, Recall, Commission Government for cities, Direct Primaries and Popular Senatorial elections, are democratic efforts for the restoration of the Mechanics of Government into the hands of Equal Citizens.
I say the Mechanics of Government, for in no sense will the people be at all benefited permanently, even by the perfection of these reforms, which are but tools of government to develop efficiency of popular expression, unless they grasp these economic truths and change or readjust economic conditions. Indeed they might be worse off, for having captured these means completely, they might mistake them for ends, and believing their victory full, might slumber while being worse pillaged, which has been the case in the past.
I wish to inject here one pertinent suggestion — cities, within themselves, should have absolute right to exert self-government in all things within their borders that do not infringe upon the equal freedom of other cities, the state or nation, especially in matters of taxation.
SOME FISCAL FACTS OF LOS ANGELES (1910).
Having eliminated, then, the mechanics of government, suppose we apply our rule to the fiscal and economic conditions existing in our city of Los Angeles, and nearly every other city.
During the last fiscal year we raised about $5,000,000 in taxes imposed on land values, improvements, personal property and license — fines, which amounted to some $650,000. Now, there is no civic, fiscal or economic excuse for license, business and occupation fines other than police regulation or revenue raising.
Police regulations have no reason for existence except to protect the citizens from infringement on his equal rights, and to grant a special privilege under any name whatever for some persons to possess to the exclusion of other persons, is a wrong that breaks our golden rule of Democracy and should be abolished on that ground alone.
For Government to grant these powers of wrong doing on receipt of a stipulated share of the profits of the wrong, is to participate in, sanction and legalize the wrong and thereby corrupt society at its fountain head by official and statutory enactments.
Again, varying the cost of these granted privileges from $1.00 to $200.00 or more per month is absurdly unjust, unequal and discriminative, for or against certain businesses, making another breach of the rule calling for their abolition.
The effect of these fines is to act as trade restrictions, as interference with production, and to centralize business in the hands of a dominant privileged class. They are national protective tariff superstitions localized for the benefit of civic plunder.
Here I wish to call your attention to a vital, absolute, commercial and economic law: ''All taxes on things produced by human exertion enter into the cost of production and are paid for by the ultimate consumer."
If we grasp this fact in its fullness we will see that these fines and taxes effect not so much the middlemen who are compelled by this inexorable law to add them to the price, as it does the ultimate consumer, who is the whole body of society. Thus we do not hit the one we imagine, but simply strike ourselves.
To abolish them would be to free trade, diffuse business, accelerate its activity and lower prices to the ultimate consumer, permitting him to retain a greater amount of his earned wealth.
If we could so emphasize this one law as to make all see it, the ideals of democracy would be here.
I have laid particular stress on this all-important law because it applies not only to license fines but to all personal property and improvement taxes — on everything made by man. Therefore, in all forms of wealth in course of production there are no real taxpayers but the ultimate consumers — the intermediary is only a tax shifter. This is vital.
The Single Tax would abolish all these taxes; so would the Jeffersonian formula. In the two we have a principle and a method for its practical application.
To extend this practical application of the Democratic Principle to all things — including the international tariff — would immediately destroy the nightmare of high prices and flood the world with limitless possibilities of trade. This trade is now stifled and vast amounts of wealth are wrongly diverted to the possession of those who do not create or earn it.
The question arises: Where would you get the money to run the government if the Single Tax theory were put into operation? Of course! Why, there would be no place to get it except from land values. Here is something fastened to the world — possibly by the "Big Nail" of the North Pole — anyway it is where it can be seen; it can't run away, hide in a hole nor be loaned to a convenient friend in an adjoining county when the assessor comes around.
The millions of varieties and values of other forms of property being eliminated, scientific simplicity would be possible in taxation. Taking into the public treasury publicly created values in the form of a tax and leaving in the possession of private individuals their private creations, by tax exemptions, would square with the moral law. Incidentally, "Conservation of natural resources" would become an accomplished fact in city, state and nation; for the taxing power involved in the private possession of the "Unearned Increment," "Land Values," "Economic Kent," or "Ground Rent," is a governmental power now privately possessed, obtained by grant, theft or tax evasion. It is a special privilege held only by land owners — the abolition of which is necessary to the restoration of equal rights to all.
The private possession of a governmental privilege is, moreover, the prime motive — the chief incentive — to all the speculative holdings of idle city lots, agricultural, mining, timber, coal and oil lands, and all other natural resources. It is responsible for 90% of the speculative gambling that is prostituting city councils, state legislatures, the national government and even threatening the judiciary itself.
In fact, this basic injustice is at the bottom of 90% of all the vice, crime and graft — public and private — from which society is now suffering. The removal of the cause by the socialization of land values through the application of the Single Tax, would destroy the incentive, divert the evil tendencies to the best instead of the worst in society, displace an abnormal condition by a normal one, and cut out, eventually, the 90% of evil which we now deplore. The victories opening to us under these possible conditions are only picturable by the poet or the seer.
The Single Tax will remove unjust conditions by a rational, expedient process of readjustment. It will restore to the individual his freedom and to the state its own values.
The right to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," "Equality of Opportunity," "Equality of Rights," and destruction of Special Privilege, all demand its enactment as the only natural and perfectly sane method of squaring these demands.
The equal right to life can never be guaranteed until equal right to the natural opportunities upon which that life depends is also guaranteed. A denial of one is the denial of the other.
The opening up of the limitless storehouse of nature on this continent alone, by the destruction of its monopoly, would be equivalent to discovering several new continents.
Labor and capital, unrestricted, would flow to these opportunities as the sparks fly upward. Relieved of the pressure at the bottom and congestion of trade restriction removed from the top, who can tell the wonderful possibilities of America?
Here, toward the last, we come in contact with another vital related problem: that of the functions and ownership of highways — national, state, county and municipal.
These highways are, in organ and function, to the social body, what veins, arteries and nerves are to the human body. They are the channels of communication and transportation for persons, property and intelligence. Interference, restriction, congestion — all tend to varying disorders in the social body. Perfect freedom to normal action is the solvent. Private control of a public function is privileged ownership of a governmental power which should never be tolerated in a state of equal freedom. In fact, equal freedom is impossible where special privileges of government are farmed out to private individuals.
It will be noted that practically all private possessions of land on the continent, except those facing free waterways, are criss-crossed, intersected and separated by these highways. Theoretically we can easily see that, should we grant absolute ownership of highways to one individual — even were every other adjustment on earth perfected — that one individual would be master of the continent, for no possible intercommunication of persons, property, or intelligence could take place on, by, through or across these arteries and nerves without his consent, which condition, if submitted to, would make him sole arbiter of the world.
What is true of the whole is fractionally true of any part. We can never establish Equality of Right till absolute freedom of highway is guaranteed. Private possession of highways is no more necessary to private possession of property than is private possession of the ocean necessary to private ownership of ships.
In fact, the rights of private property are abrogated when governmental power to exact tribute from private property is granted to a privileged few; therefore, "Equal Rights to All and Special Privilege to None,'' demand the application of the Georgean philosophy to highway functions as a democratic and not a socialistic measure.
When we remember that these privileges now controlled (facts of 1900 since accentuated) by the national steam railways alone are capitalized at $8,000,000,000 in excess of the $5,000,000,000 of actual cost, we can see the enormity of one form of special privilege and the corresponding abrogation of natural property rights.
In passing, I will say that there are three practical methods by which these rights may be restored.
(1) Government control, ownership and operation of entire systems;
(2) Government control, ownership and operation of roadbeds only through official control of despatching service — leaving free operation of untaxed capital in all else, or:
(3) Public taxation of all incomes and values in excess of current rate of interest on actual capital — said capital otherwise untaxed.
The practical applications of these principles are mere matters of detail, expediency and policy. The brains that organize and manipulate these gigantic social plunders in all their minutia, can just as well work out the details of public restitution when deprived of activity in private depredations — and would be glad of the job.
Applied, this would mean the destruction of special privilege in national railways, telegraph, telephone, street railways, water, light, heat, power and all other monopolies of highway function.
This, with absolute free trade and the taxation of land-values through all other things being exempt, would mean the complete abolition of "Special Privilege" in all things; the institution of "Equal Rights" the "Conservation of Natural Resources,'' and the restoration of "Equal Opportunity to All." When all this is done — and never until it is done — there will be left nothing but the individual problem for man to solve.
Again let me interject a vital suggestion: Had we absolute free trade — international, state and local — including absolute freedom of highways, which is but an extension of freedom of trade — in truth, had we reached perfection in production — for this all means freedom in production — had we all these things while still leaving the "Unearned Increment, or Economic Rent,'' in the hands of the land-owner — there would be no permanent benefit to society except that incident to the transitional period of readjustment. Eventually all these wonderful benefits would clearly raise nothing but land-values and make the plunderbund richer and mightier than ever. The rise and fall of land values measure all the advances of civilization and their private appropriators are the "Masters, lords and rulers in all lands'' of whom the poet spoke.
Never, while the world lasts, will mankind become "Masters, lords and rulers" of themselves till these public values are publicly absorbed in taxation. The Single Tax is the most feasible, practical, expedient, simple, natural and just way of making the necessary, rational change without the violence of revolution. It stands "four square to all the winds that blow" — in economics, and politics; in ethics, morals and religion; in principle, science and philosophy; it is the practical application of Christianity to social affairs. "Equal Rights to All and Special Privileges to None," is the translation of the Golden Rule of the Nazarene to an economic and political formula. Therefore, fulfilled democracy is applied Christianity to governmental affairs.
"Do unto others as ye would that they should do to you," "Equal Rights to all and special privileges to none"; the Single Tax: these are synonymous.
Here we have the great Eleventh Commandment of the Master of Nazareth — the sum total of all "the Law and all the prophets" — we have its Jeffersonian formulation into a politico-social maxim of "Equal rights to all," and its scientific practical application in the Single Tax of Henry George. This is applied Christianity; this is democracy; this is Georgean philosophy; this is the Single Tax; different expressions of the one Unity.
I'm re-reading Robert Reich's recent NYT piece, which sits open on my computer:
By 2007, financial companies accounted for over 40% of American corporate profits and almost as great a percentage of pay, up from 10% during the Great Prosperity.
The economy cannot possibly get out of its current doldrums without a strategy to revive the purchasing power of America’s vast middle class. The spending of the richest 5% alone will not lead to a virtuous cycle of more jobs and higher living standards.
If you've seen the film "Inside Job" -- and even if you haven't -- you are probably at least somewhat aware of the extent to which the FIRE sector is, in the immortal words of someone I worked for years ago, "eating our lunch."
A recent column by David Cay Johnston provided an interesting graphic showing officer compensation as a percentage of corporate profits. In recent years, that percentage has ranged from a low of about 23% in 2005 to a high of about 67% in 2002, with the most recent year, 2008, being about 48%. So for 2008, it is "1 for 'us,' 2 for the shareholders." Now his study extends far beyond the top corporate executives; he's looking at an IRS database that includes nearly 1 million corporate officers, and it may well be that the top, say, 2% of that rarified universe takes a hugely disproportionate share of the total compensation. However, DCJ raises a very important question, which I take to be a challenge that someone in Congress should ask the Congressional Budget Office to look into, to determine whether companies -- particularly nonpublic ones -- are understating officer pay by not filing Schedule E. And he says,
Existing IRS corporate tax reports have for years shown us that fewer than 2,600 megafirms own 81% of all U.S. corporate assets. Another 21,000 firms control most of the rest, leaving just 5.6% of corporate assets that are divvied up among the more than 5.8 million remaining corporations.
The 2008 data show that while almost three million corporate officers show up on company tax returns, only 990,077 Social Security numbers do and of those only 838,551 show up as being paid. That may suggest some owners took no pay in the Great Recession year of 2008, but it also hints at how many officers serve multiple corporations.
The officer pay data show huge variations. Just 70 officers of 1,660 Real Estate Investment Trusts averaged $5.2 million in 2008, while 832 officers of 7,670 property and casualty insurers averaged $3.8 million. At the other end, more than 2.1 million officers of S Corporations averaged just $107,403, though many of them must be officers of multiple corporations.
The FIRE sector. Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. Most Americans, even those who were economics majors in college, don't know the mechanisms by which these parts of the economy get to be such amazing sponges. For the most part, the economics majors learned their economics from instructors whose own education was primarily in neoclassical economics, which only sees two main inputs to production -- Labor and Capital -- and somehow tuck Land in as a minor subset of Capital, rather than recognizing, as the classical economists did, that Land -- locations, natural resources and like things -- is unique and vital. The common wisdom knows "Buy land: they aren't making more of it" but doesn't realize the monstrous and far-reaching corollaries. Who does know? Those whose adult reading experience includes the ideas of Henry George, particularly "Progress and Poverty" and "Social Problems." And "The Science of Political Economy" has a lot to say about vested interests and their effects on economics. (You're likely to find some very quotable material!) All three are online.
Joe Stiglitz, last summer at a talk in Queensland, Australia, made remarks that were reported as follows:
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% 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)."
THE 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases, according to the latest research from Moody’s Analytics. That should come as no surprise. Our society has become more and more unequal. When so much income goes to the top, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking ever more deeply into debt — which, as we’ve seen, ends badly. An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar?
That's the first paragraph of a recent op-ed by economist Robert Reich of UC-Berkeley.
I think this article is important, but that it misses a larger, longer-acting dynamic: the extent to which our most wealthy, with an awesome amount of "patient money" need to find places to "park" that money, and end up buying land and natural resources.
When we need land, particularly well-located land, we end up paying them for access. When we need natural resources, we pay them for that, too.
It isn't that such access shouldn't be paid for -- it should -- rather, why on earth should private individuals or entities be the recipients of that income, rather than it flowing to the commons to finance the goods and services that make our society a good place to live, without taxing work or purchases.
The rioting in England is indefensible, but how to understand it?
I’ve mentioned several times throughout these blogs that the rent of land represents community. However, although land and natural resource rent is community-generated, less and less of it has been captured back for public revenue over the last forty years. Thereby, a sense of a community has been lost.
That’s because it has become fashionable to privatise the rent of land and natural resources in the misbegotten belief that ‘user pays’ and increased taxation is preferable to the public capture of publicly created resource rents. It is largely privatisers of our natural resource rents who’ve been able to put about this self-serving idea successfully. And they’ve sold it well to governments.
The cumulative effect of the process over forty years has been to widen the gap between rich and poor. This now vast divide is well documented, but the role of rent has been kept invisible.
Right wing shock jocks consider the private leeching of natural resource rents by private interests is respectable employment and, unable to think through the natural consequences, they’re flabbergasted by London’s street riots.
The rising of the hun in the city is obviously a function of poverty and dispossession. Feeling disenfranchised and disconnected, these predominantly lower class youth exhibit their hate for a system that keeps them down and often unemployed whilst bank CEOs receive their multi-millions. Unlike many of us, the rioters see the game is rigged and their frustration has spilled over into aggression and excess.
I couldn't figure out how to comment at HuffPost, but I question the wisdom of selling off our airwaves, rather than leasing them for, say, 5 or 10 or 20 years. They're OUR asset, and shouldn't become a privatized corporate asset under any circumstance. We aren't the final generation. Yes, we have revenue needs, and the value of the airwaves can certainly make a solid contribution to those needs. But we ought not to do it at the expense of the next generation, and the one after that. LEASE those airwaves, and then repeat it in 5 or 10 or so years.
Who benefits? Smartphone Users??? Hah!
Spectrum auctions are a win-win-win? Only if you omit future generations -- even our own future selves, if we expect to be alive in, say, 15 years -- from the calculation.
"Congressional budget officials estimate those auctions would raise a total of $24.5 billion over 10 years. Reid's plan envisions $13.1 billion going to the Treasury Department to help narrow the federal deficit. The remainder would largely go to compensate television broadcasters that give up airwaves, cover the expenses of broadcasters and government agencies that move to different parts of the spectrum and fund the construction of the public safety wireless network."
Compensate television broadcasters for giving up their privilege of owning a portion of OUR airwaves? Should we have compensated Captain Kidd when piracy was stopped?
I don't know whether Chicago has yet figured out that selling its parking meters wasn't a particulary smart thing to do. But we need to study this, and recognize that we ought not to be selling off our public assets. LEASE THEM, and REPEAT in a decade or two. NATURAL PUBLIC REVENUE, not just once, but forever!
Debt Ceiling Battle: Harry Reid's Plan May Benefit Smartphone Users
By JOELLE TESSLER 07/28/11 06:01 PM ET
WASHINGTON -- The debt ceiling battle could produce an unlikely winner: smartphone users.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's current plan would direct the Federal Communications Commission to auction off highly valuable radio spectrum to wireless carriers desperate for more airwaves. Companies such as AT&T and T-Mobile USA say they need more capacity to keep up as their customers increasingly use iPhones, tablets and other portable devices to handle mobile applications, online video and other bandwidth-hungry services.
The plan could generate critical revenue for a government spending beyond its means. Congressional budget officials estimate the auctions would raise $13.1 billion for deficit reduction.
Reid's proposal would also deliver a big victory to public safety officials: It would set aside airwaves and money for the construction of a nationwide wireless broadband network that would let police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers communicate with each other across agencies and jurisdictions.
"Spectrum auctions are a win-win-win," said Tim Doyle, a spokesman for the Consumers Electronics Association.
But the proposal still faces significant hurdles. For one thing, a competing debt ceiling plan from House Speaker John Boehner, which will be voted on Thursday, contains nothing on wireless spectrum auctions. Boehner's focus is on spending cuts, not finding new sources of revenue. What's more, Reid's proposal has run into major opposition from television broadcasters, which are under pressure to give up spectrum that would be sold to wireless carriers.
The haggling over wireless spectrum auctions comes as Congress rushes to try to agree on a plan to stave off an unprecedented U.S. default on its debt, which could have catastrophic consequences for the global economy. The Treasury Department has warned that the government will run out of money to pay its bills after Aug. 2 if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling. Reid and Boehner are pushing competing proposals to lift the debt limit and slash spending.
No matter how the current fight plays out, many in Washington see spectrum auctions as an attractive way to chip away at the federal deficit.
Stifel Nicolaus analyst David Kaut, for one, says spectrum auction legislation has a good shot of passage in Congress – whether it is part of the current debt ceiling package, a deficit reduction measure down the road or even a stand-alone bill.
"You have wireless pressures, budget pressures and public safety pressures," Kaut said. "The forces are aligned."
Reid's proposal would give the FCC authority to auction off airwaves voluntarily relinquished by government agencies such as the Pentagon and television broadcasters with extra spectrum. It would allow broadcasters to share in the auction proceeds.
Congressional budget officials estimate those auctions would raise a total of $24.5 billion over 10 years. Reid's plan envisions $13.1 billion going to the Treasury Department to help narrow the federal deficit. The remainder would largely go to compensate television broadcasters that give up airwaves, cover the expenses of broadcasters and government agencies that move to different parts of the spectrum and fund the construction of the public safety wireless network.
Reid's plan, based largely on a Senate Commerce Committee bill, would also dedicate a highly contested piece of airwaves to that network. Such an "interoperable" network was a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, and is becoming an urgent priority for lawmakers as the 10-year anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks approaches. The shortcomings of existing networks became apparent after the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, when emergency workers could not talk to one another because they were using incompatible – and sometimes antiquated – systems.
At this point, perhaps the biggest hurdle facing any spectrum auction proposal is opposition from television broadcasters reluctant to give up their existing airwaves. Dennis Wharton, an official with the National Association of Broadcasters, noted that many broadcasters fear being moved to different channels that would reach fewer viewers.
He added that many broadcasters want to use their existing airwaves to deliver television signals to mobile devices and to "multicast" more than one television signal at a time. Broadcasters worry that they could be moved to a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is less conducive to such broadcasts.
Wharton said that while the proposals in Congress are intended to be voluntary for broadcasters, those that want to hang onto their airwaves are concerned that they could face user fees and other government sanctions intended to force them to give up their spectrum anyway.
Ultimately, Wharton said, it will be viewers who suffer in the face of "incredibly shrinking free and local television."
Governor A. Harry Moore, of New Jersey, in his first inaugural address to the 1927 Legislature, after discussing several methods of financing new highway construction, said: "Lastly, I might suggest to you the wisdom of assessing some part of the cost of the road system upon the land specially benefitted thereby, as is the practice in municipal improvements. A striking illustration of what might be regarded as an evil of having the State at large pay for major improvements and the land peculiarly benefitted by the improvements escape, except in so far as it shares its proportion of the State's expense, is in the increase of land values in Bergen county, which came as a result of the projected Hudson River Bridge."
Notice that this was said before the George Washington Bridge had become a reality: the increase in land values began well before construction began.
Governor Christie could learn from Governor Moore's wise observation in 1927, as New Jersey considers the benefits to be derived from building an additional tunnel under the Hudson River.
And those who are upset about pork spending don't seem to notice that much of that federal spending has the effect of increasing land value in the localities where it is done, and that smart states, counties and towns would collect some significant share of that increase in land value, month in and month out, from those benefited by that federal investment.
Where I live, an Australian bank owns the city water system, a stockowner electric company has the power franchise, Cablevision has the cable franchise -- and a lot of money that could profitably be recycled locally gets sent out of town. (We do still own the sanitary sewer system.)
There was a time when these franchises were given to local entities, or held by the community. Then we permitted them to be privatized, and revenue that was once recycled locally now leaves. (Google "The City for the People" for more about this. It showed, among other things, that residents of cities where the utilities were publicly owned paid less for their utilities and workers in those utilities were better paid.)
The short article quoted below makes an interesting point. I'll preface it by quoting California Georgist Harry Pollard, who says that it would be better to collect land rent and throw it into the sea than not to collect it at all. This shows why. It comes from Tax Facts, 1926:
LAND SPECULATOR'S PARADISE
Arthur Brisbane has discovered that Ponca City, Oklahoma, a town of 15,000 population, is free from taxes. Through ownership of the power, light and water departments the city derives sufficient revenue to dispense with all taxes.
But is that an unmixed blessing? Police and fire protection, schools, etc., are so desirable that people will move to places where they may be had. Since no one can enjoy these government services without occupying land, the people will bid against each other till they force the price up to a point where it equals the value of the service. If the people know they will not have to pay taxes they can and will pay that much more for the land.
What a bonanza for the land speculator! He can add to his price what buyers save in taxes.
Economic rent, or land value, attaches to land whether or not the land is taxed. The amount of this land value depends upon the number and kind of people in the community, and must be paid in any event. Should the government take sufficient taxes out of this land value to pay expenses, two results will follow:
The user of land will pay more than he would if the owner kept it all, as in Ponca City.
The taking of this tax from the land owner will add to the cost of holding the land idle, and since it falls on all valuable idle land, it will make speculators more willing to make terms with land users.
When the city must pay a stockholder utility for the lights on the streets, who benefits? The taxpayers spend more than they would otherwise need to, and instead of getting electricity at the lowest price, pay a price that benefits the shareholders, few of whom live locally -- and if you've read the "stock ownership" pages linked at left, you know how concentrated stock ownership is, based on the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances data. (A fine example of trickle-up economics.)
Local communities which own their own utilities would be more likely to care about using clean energy. They'd be creating secure local jobs, and good management would benefit the local community. Accountability.
Digging through primary sources can provide some great thrills. I stumbled onto this article about The Landlords' Game in the Autumn, 1902, number of The Single Tax Review (then a 64-page quarterly, later more frequent) . It was the Landlord's' Game which was later revised to create the board game Monopoly. As I've written earlier here, the Landlords' Game (probably in later editions than what is referred to here) came with 2 sets of rules, one which would create widespread prosperity, and the other which would create a winner-take-all situation.
Magie's comments are quite relevant to understanding the game of Monopoly, too:
from The Single Tax Review, Autumn, 1902
THE LANDLORDS' GAME.
AN INTERESTING INVENTION OF A YOUNG LADY IN WASHINGTON BY WHICH CHILDREN AT THEIR PLAY MAY BE TAUGHT THE TRUE LAWS OF ECONOMICS. Miss Lizzie J. Magie, a single taxer of Washington, D. C has invented an ingenious game, played with checkers and dice as is parcheesi, and thus describes it for the Review:
"It is a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences," says Miss Magie. " It might well have been called the 'Game of Life,' as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem to have, i. e., the accumulation of wealth. Representative money, deeds, mortgages, notes and charters are used in the game; lots are bought and sold; rents are collected; money is borrowed (either from the bank or from individuals), and interest and taxes are paid. The railroad is also represented, and those who make use of it are obliged to pay their fare, unless they are fortunate enough to possess a pass, which, in the game, means throwing a double. There are two franchises: the water and the lighting; and the first player whose throw brings him upon one of these receives a charter giving him the privilege of taxing all others who must use his light and water.
"There are two tracts of land on the board that are held out of use—are neither for rent nor for sale—and on each of these appear the forbidding sign: 'No Trespassing. Go to Jail.' One of these tracts of land (the largest on the board) is owned by Lord Blueblood, of London, England, and represents foreign ownership of American soil. A jail is provided for any one who trespasses upon this land, and there the unfortunate individual must linger until he serves out his time or pays the required fine. 'Serving out his time' means waiting until he throws a double.
"Before the game begins, each player is provided with a certain amount of cash, sufficient to pay all necessary expenses until he is well enough along in life to earn his living. Should any one be so unlucky, or so reckless and extravagant, as to become 'broke,' there is a nice little poor house off in one corner where he may tarry until he makes a lucky throw or until some friend takes pity on him and lends him enough to set him on his feet again. And here is where he generally gets 'soaked,' for the other players, taking advantage of the unfortunate one's necessities, demand an enormous rate of interest which the impecunious individual must pay before he can complete his round and get his wages.
"The rallying and chaffing of the others when one player finds himself an inmate of the jail, and the expressions of mock sympathy and condolence when one is obliged to betake himself to the poor house, make a large part of the fun and merriment of the game.
"Each time around the board represents so much labor performed, for which so much wages are paid. When a player has been the rounds ten times he retires from his labors, although he still remains in the game, which is not finished until the last player has made his tenth round. It takes forty moves to make a round and there is in each round one little black-bordered spot marked 'Legacy,' and whenever a player stops on this he receives a cash legacy. In each round there are three spots marked 'Luxury,' and these the player may indulge in or not, according to his inclinations or finances, but each luxury purchased counts the player so much more at the end of the game.
"General directions for playing the game accompany this description, but it is difficult to make a set of rules that will cover all contingencies since no two games are alike. The combination of circumstances are so many that almost every time the game is played new situations are brought out. Thus it is a game that is always interesting—never monotonous. It was the original intention of the author simply to work out a demonstration of how the landlord gets his money and keeps it, but while doing this there gradually developed a game which has proven one of amusement as well as of instruction and one which has attractions for both old and young.
"Children of nine or ten years and who possess average intelligence can easily understand the game and they get a good deal of hearty enjoyment out of it. They like to handle the make-believe money, deeds, etc., and the little landlords take a general delight in demanding the payment of their rent. They learn that the quickest way to accumulate wealth and gain power is to get all the land they can in the best localities and hold on to it. There are those who argue that it may be a dangerous thing to teach children how they may thus get the advantage of their fellows, but let me tell you there are no fairer-minded beings in the world than our own little American children. Watch them in their play and see how quick they are, should any one of their number attempt to cheat or take undue advantage of another, to cry, 'No fair!' And who has not heard almost every little girl say, 'I won't play if you don't play fair.' Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied."
To read more about The Landlord's Game, explore the two "Monopoly and the Landlord's Game" tags in the cloud (I can't seem to meld them into a single one!) It is quite an interesting story.
We have no disposition to say anything about Andrew Carnegie's munificent benefactions. On the one hand there is nothing in this philanthropic spree of a modern Dives to call for commendation; and on the other, the expenditure by any man of what society concedes to be his own fortune, is a private matter outside the pale of criticism.
It is only when the question of how a millionaire ought to use his wealth is brought forward in connection with these charitable performances that the subject becomes one of public concern. Then it is of public concern only to the extent of justifying the retort that it is nobody's business but his own how any millionaire uses his wealth, provided he does not use it prejudicially to the rights of others.
The vital question is not how millionaires use their wealth, but how they get it. Not how they did get it, for what has happened has happened, and by-gones should be by-gones; but how they are getting it now.
Have they a hoard of goods formerly accumulated, from which they draw? Then their getting it hurts nobody.
Do they earn it as they go along? Then their getting it benefits everybody.
Or do they merely possess legal authority to levy continually upon the common earnings for their own enrichment? Then their getting it is a present and continuing wrong, which is of incalculable public concern.
-- From "The Public," March 23, 1901
One might be led to ask whether the FIRE sector is levying upon the earnings of the larger community a toll they don't actually rightly earn.
In a recent column in the NYT, entitled "Description is Prescription", David Brooks made references to Tolstoy, and it sent me looking to see whether a book I remembered was available via Google Books. The book was written in 1905 by Bolton Hall, and it is entitled "What Tolstoy Taught." Its next-to-last chapter, "The Great Iniquity," follows. (Below this post is the final chapter from Hall's book.)
(This history-making article, dated July, 1905, first appeared in the London Times of August 1, 1905. We give the essence of the article verbatim as it appeared in the Times, for which it was translated from the Russian by V. Tchertkoff (editor of the Free Age Press, Christchurch, Hants, England), and I. F. H. It is expressly declared to be free from copyright. — Ed.)
Russia is living through an important time destined to have enormous results. One need only for a time free oneself from the idea which has taken root amongst our intellectuals, that the work now before Russia is the introduction into our country of those same forms of political life which have been introduced into Europe and America, and are supposed to insure the liberty and welfare of all the citizens — and to simply think of what is morally wrong in our life, in order to see quite clearly that the chief evil from which the whole of the Russian people are unceasingly and cruelly suffering cannot be removed by any political reforms, just as it is not up to the present time removed by any of the political reforms of Europe and America. This evil — the fundamental evil from which the Russian people, as well as the peoples of Europe and America, are suffering — is that the majority of the people are deprived of the indisputable natural right of every man to use a portion of the land on which he was born. It is sufficient to understand all the criminality, the sinfulness of the situation in this respect, in order to understand that until this atrocity, continuously committed by the owners of the land, shall cease, no political reforms will give freedom and welfare to the people, but that, on the contrary, only the emancipation of the majority of the people from that land-slavery in which they are now held can render political reforms, not a plaything and a tool for personal aims in the hands of politicians, but the real expression of the will of the people.
The other day I was walking along the highroad to Tula. It was on the Saturday of Holy Week; the people were driving to market in lines of carts, with calves, hens, horses, cows (some of the cows were being conveyed in the carts, so starved were they). A young peasant was leading a sleek, well-fed horse to sell.
"Nice horse," said I.
"Couldn't be better," said he, thinking me a buyer. "Good for plowing and driving."
"Then why do you sell it?"
"I can't use it. I've only two allotments. I can manage them with one horse. I've kept them both over the winter, and I'm sorry enough for it. The cattle have eaten everything up, and we want money to pay the rent."
"From whom do you rent?"
"From Maria Ivanovna; thanks be to her she let us have it. Otherwise it would have been the end of us."
"What are the terms?"
"She fleeces us of fourteen roubles. But where else can we go? So we take it."
A woman passed driving along with a boy wearing a little cap. She knew me, clambered out, and offered me her boy for service. The boy is quite a tiny fellow with quick, intelligent eyes.
"He looks small, but he can do everything," she says.
"But why do you hire out such a little one?"
"Well, sir, at least it'll be one mouth less to feed. I have four besides myself, and only one allotment. God knows, we've nothing to eat. They ask for bread and I've none to give them."
With whomsoever one talks, all complain of their want and all similarly from one side or another come back to the sole reason. There is insufficient bread, and bread is insufficient because there is no land.
"What is man?" says Henry George in one of his speeches. [lvtfan note: The Crime of Poverty, 1885 -- NYC in February, per NYT article; Burlington, Iowa in April]
"In the first place, he is an animal, a land animal who cannot live without land. All that man produces comes from the land; all productive labor, in the final analysis, consists in working up land, or materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit them for the satisfaction of human wants and desires. Why, man's very body is drawn from the land. Children of the soil, we come from the land, and to the land we must return. Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore he who holds the land on which and from which another man must live is that man's master; and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing slavery — we have not abolished slavery; we have only abolished one rude form of it, chattel slavery. There is a deeper and more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him in the name of freedom.
"Did you ever think (says Henry George in another part of the same speech) of the utter absurdity and strangeness of the fact that all over the civilized world the working classes are the poor classes? Think for a moment how it would strike a rational being who had never been on the earth before, if such an intelligence could come down, and you were to explain to him how we live on earth, how houses and food and clothing and all the many things we need were all produced by work, would he not think that the working people would be the people who lived in the finest houses and had most of everything that work produces? Yet, whether you took him to London or Paris, or New York, or even to Burlington, he would find that those called the working people were the people who lived in the poorest houses."
The same thing, I would add, takes place in a yet greater degree in the country. Idle people live in luxurious palaces, in spacious and fine abodes. The workers live in dark and dirty hovels.
"All this is strange — just think of it. We naturally despise poverty, and it is reasonable that we should. . . . Nature gives to labor, and to labor alone; there must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the working man as a poor man. . . . The primary cause of this is that we compel those who work to pay others for permission to do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house; there you are paying the seller for labor exerted, for something that he has produced, or that he has got from the man who did produce it; but when you pay a man for land, what are you paying him for? You are paying for something that no man has produced; you pay him for something that was here before man was, or for a value that was created, not by him individually, but by the community of which you are a part."
It is for this reason that the one who has seized the land and possesses it is rich, whereas he who cultivates it or works on its products is poor.
"We talk about over-production. How can there be such a thing as over-production while people want? All these things that are said to be over-produced are desired by many people. Why do they not get them ? They do not get them because they have not the means to buy them; not that they do not want them. Why have not they the means to buy them? They earn too little. When the great mass of men have to work for an average of $1.40 a day, it is no wonder that great quantities of goods cannot be sold.
"Now, why is it that men have to work for such low wages? Because if they were to demand higher wages there are plenty of unemployed men ready to step into their places. It is this mass of unemployed men who compel that fierce competition that drives wages down to the point of bare subsistence. Why is it that there are men who cannot get employment? Did you ever think what a strange thing it is that men cannot find employment? Adam had no difficulty in finding employment, neither had Robinson Crusoe; the finding of employment was the last thing that troubled them.
"If men cannot find an employer, why cannot they employ themselves? Simply because they are shut out from the element on which human labor can alone be exerted. Men are compelled to compete with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot find a piece of God's world on which to work without paying some other human creature for the privilege.
"Men pray to the Almighty to relieve poverty. But poverty comes not from God's laws — it is blasphemy of the worst kind to say that; it comes from man's injustice to his fellows. Supposing the Almighty were to hear the prayer, how could He carry out the request so long as His laws are what they are? Consider, the Almighty gives us nothing of the things that constitute wealth; He merely gives us the raw material, which must be utilized by men to produce wealth. Does He not give us enough of that now? How could He relieve poverty even if He were to give us more? Supposing in answer to these prayers He were to increase the power of the sun, or the virtue of the soil? Supposing He were to make plants more prolific, or animals to produce after their kind more abundantly ? Who would get the benefit of it? Take a country where land is completely monopolized, as it is in most of the civilized countries, who would get the benefit of it ? Simply the landowners. And even if God in answer to prayer were to send down out of the heavens those things that men require, who would get the benefit?
"In the Old Testament we are told that when the Israelites journeyed through the desert they were hungered, and that God sent manna down out of the heavens. There was enough for all of them, and they all took it and were relieved. But supposing that the desert had been held as private property, as the soil of Great Britain is held, as the soil even of our new States is being held; suppose that one of the Israelites had a square mile, and another one had 20 square miles, and another one had 100 square miles, and the great majority of the Israelites did not have enough to set the soles of their feet upon which they could call their own — what would become of the manna? What good would it have done to the majority? Not a whit. Though God had sent down manna enough for all, that manna would have been the property of the landholders, they would have employed some of the others perhaps to gather it up into heaps for them, and would have sold it to their hungry brethren. Consider it; this purchase and sale of manna might have gone on until the majority of Israelites had given all they had, even to the clothes off their backs. What then? Then they would not have had anything to buy manna with, and the consequences would have been that while they went hungry the manna would have lain in great heaps, and the landowners would have been complaining of the over-production of manna. There would have been a great harvest of manna and hungry people, just precisely the phenomenon that we see today.
"I do not mean to say that even after you had set right this fundamental injustice there would not be many things to do; but this I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the bottom of all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you please, reform as you may, you never can get rid of widespread poverty so long as the element on which and from which all men must live is made the private property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government; get taxes down to the minimum; build railroads; institute cooperative stores; divide profits, if you choose, between employers and employed — and what will be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value — that will be the result — that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not all improvements simply increase the value of land — the price that some must pay others for the privilege of living?"
The same, I shall add, do we unceasingly see in Russia. All landowners complain of the unprofitableness and expense of their estates, whilst the price of the land is continually rising. It cannot but rise, since the population is increasing and land is a question of life and death for this population.
And therefore, the people surrender everything they can, not only their labor, but even their lives, for the land which is being withheld from them.
There used to be cannibalism and human sacrifices; there used to be religious prostitution and the murder of weak children and of girls; there used to be bloody revenge and the slaughter of whole populations, judicial tortures, quarterings, burnings at the stake, the lash; and there have been, within our memory, "running the gauntlet" and slavery, which have also disappeared. But if we have outlived these dreadful customs and institutions, this does not prove that institutions and customs do not exist amongst us which have become as abhorrent to enlightened reason and conscience as those which have in their time been abolished and have become for us only a dreadful remembrance. The way of human perfecting is endless, and at every moment of historical life there are superstitions, deceits, pernicious and evil institutions already outlived by men and belonging to the past; there are others which appear to us in the far mists of the future; and there are some which we are now living through and whose overliving forms the object of our life. Such in our time is capital punishment and all punishment in general. Such is prostitution, such is flesh eating, such is the work of militarism, war, and such is the nearest and most obvious evil, private property in land.
The evil and injustice of private property in land have been pointed out a thousand years ago by the prophets and sages of old. Later progressive thinkers of Europe have been oftener and oftener pointing it out. With special clearness did the workers of the French Revolution do so. In latter days, owing to the increase of the population and the seizure by the rich of a great quantity of previously free land, also owing to general enlightenment and the spread of humanitarianism, this injustice has become so obvious that not only the progressive, but even the most average people cannot help seeing and feeling it. But men, especially those who profit by the advantages of landed property — the owners themselves, as well as those whose interests are connected with this institution — are so accustomed to this order of things, they have for so long profited by it, have so much depended upon it, that often they themselves do not see its injustice, and they use all possible means to conceal from themselves and others the truth which is disclosing itself more and more clearly, and to crush, extinguish, and distort it, or, if these do not succeed, to hush it up.
But what has happened? Notwithstanding that at the time of their appearance the English writings of Henry George spread very quickly in the Anglo-Saxon world, and did not fail to be appreciated to the full extent of their great merit, it very soon appeared that in England, and even in Ireland, where the crying injustice of private landed property is particularly manifest, the majority of the most influential educated people, notwithstanding the conclusiveness of Henry George's arguments and the practicability of the remedy he proposes, opposed his teaching. Radical agitators like Parnell, who at first sympathized with George's scheme, very soon shrank from it, regarding political reforms as more important. In England almost all the aristocrats were against it, also, amongst others, the famous Toynbee, Gladstone, and Herbert Spencer — that Spencer who in his "Social Statics" at first most categorically asserted the injustice of landed property, and then, renouncing this view of his, bought up the old editions of his writings in order to eliminate from them all that he had said concerning the injustice of landed property.
The chief weapon against the teaching of Henry George was that which is always used against irrefutable and self-evident truths. This method, which is still being applied in relation to George, was that of hushing up. This hushing up was effected so successfully that a member of the English Parliament, Labouchere, could publicly say, without meeting any refutation, that "he was not such a visionary as Henry George. He did not propose to take the land from the landlords and rent it out again. What he was in favor of was putting a tax on land values." That is, whilst attributing to George what he could not possibly have said, Labouchere, by way of correcting these imaginary fantasies, suggested that which Henry George did indeed say.
People do not argue with the teaching of George, they simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.
Yet, notwithstanding all, the truth that land cannot be an object of property has become so elucidated by the very life of contemporary mankind that in order to continue to retain a way of life in which private landed property is recognized there is only one means — not to think of it, to ignore the truth, and to occupy oneself with other absorbing business. So, indeed, do the men of our time.
Political workers of Europe and America occupy themselves for the welfare of their nations in various matters: tariffs, colonies, income taxes, military and naval budgets, socialistic assemblies, unions, syndicates, the election of presidents, diplomatic connections — by anything save the one thing without which there cannot be any true improvement in the condition of the people — the reestablishment of the infringed right of all men to use the land. Although in the depth of their souls political workers of the Christian world feel — cannot but feel — that all their activity, the commercial strife with which they are occupied, as well as the military strife in which they put all their energies — can lead to nothing but a general exhaustion of the strength of nations; still they, without looking forward, give themselves up to the demand of the minute, and, as if with the one desire to forget themselves, continue to turn round and round in an enchanted circle out of which there is no issue.
However strange this temporary blindness of the political workers of Europe and America, it can be explained by the fact that in Europe and America people have already gone so far along a wrong road that the majority of their population is already torn from the land (in America it has never lived on the rural land) and lives either in factories or by hired agricultural labor, and desires and demands only one thing — the improvement of its position as hired laborers. It is therefore comprehensible that to the political workers of Europe and America — listening to the demands of the majority — it may seem that the chief means for the improvement of the position of the people consists in tariffs, trusts, and colonies, but to the Russian people in Russia, where the agricultural population composes 80 percent of the whole nation, where all this people request only one thing — that opportunity be given them to remain in this state — it would seem it should be clear that for the improvement of the position of the people something else is necessary.
The people of Europe and America are in the position of a man who has gone so far along a road which at first appeared the right one, but which the further he goes the more it removes him from his object, that he is afraid of confessing his mistake. But the Russians are yet standing before the turning of the path and can, according to the wise saying, "ask their way while yet on the road."
If Russian political workers do speak about land abuse, which they for some reason call the "agrarian" question — probably thinking that this silly word will conceal the substance of the matter — they speak of it, not in the sense that private landed property is an evil which should be abolished, but in the sense that it is necessary in some way or other, by various patchings and palliatives, to plaster up, hush up, and pass over this essential, ancient, and cruel, this obvious and crying injustice, which is awaiting its turn for abolition not only in Russia, but in the whole world.
People have driven a herd of cows, on the milk products of which they are fed, into an enclosure. The cows have eaten up and trampled the forage in the enclosure, they are hungry, they have chewed one another's tails, they low and moan, imploring to be released from the enclosure and set free in the pastures. But the very men who feed themselves on the milk of these cows have set around the enclosure plantations of mint, of plants for dyeing purposes, and of tobacco; they have cultivated flowers, laid out a racecourse, a park, and a lawn tennis ground, and they do not let out the cows lest they spoil these arrangements. But the cows bellow, get thin, and the men begin to be afraid that the cows may cease to yield milk, and they invent various means of improving the condition of these cows. They erect sheds over them, they introduce wet brushes for rubbing the cows, they gild their horns, alter the hour of milking, concern themselves with the housing and treating of invalid and old cows, they invent new and improved methods of milking, they expect that some kind of wonderfully nutritious grass they have sown in the enclosure will grow up, they argue about these and many other varied matters, but they do not, cannot — without disturbing all they have arranged around the enclosure — do the only simple thing necessary for themselves as well as for the cows, take down the fence and grant the cows their natural freedom of using in plenty the pastures surrounding them.
Acting thus, men act reasonably, but there is an explanation of their action; they are sorry for the fate of all they have arranged around the enclosure. But what shall we call those people who have set nothing around the fence, but who, out of imitation of those who do not set free their cows, owing to what they had arranged around the enclosure, also keep their cows inside the fence, and assert that they do so for the welfare of the cows themselves?
Precisely thus act those Russians, both Governmental and anti-Governmental, who arrange for the Russian people, unceasingly suffering from the want of land, every kind of European institution, forgetting and denying the chief thing: that which alone the Russian people requires — the liberation of the land from private property, the establishment of equal rights on the land for all men.
The true bread-supporters of these European parasites are the laborers they do not see in India, Africa, Australia, and partly in Russia. But it is not so for us Russians; we have no colonies where slaves invisible to ourselves feed us for our manufacturing produce. Our bread-winners, suffering, hungry, are always before our eyes, and we cannot transfer the burden of our iniquitous life to distant colonies, that slaves invisible to us should feed us. Our sins are always before us.
And behold, instead of entering into the needs of those who support us, instead of hearing their cries and endeavoring to satisfy them, we, instead of this, under pretext of serving them, also prepare, according to the European sample, socialistic organizations for the future, and in the present occupy ourselves with what amuses and distracts us, and appears to be directed to the welfare of the people out of whom we are squeezing their last strength in order to support us, their parasites.
One need only enter into the unceasing sufferings of millions of the people; the dying out from want of the aged, women, and children, and of the workers from excessive work and insufficient food — one need only enter into the servitude, the humiliations, all the useless expenditures of strength, into the deprivations, into all the horror of the needless calamities of the Russian rural population which all proceed from insufficiency of land — in order that it should become quite clear that all such measures as the abolition of censorship, of arbitrary banishment, etc., which are being striven after by the pseudo-defenders of the people, even were they to be realized, would form only the most insignificant drop in the ocean of that want from which the people are suffering.
There was a time when In the name of God and of true faith in Him men were destroyed, tortured, executed, beaten in scores and hundreds of thousands. We, from the height of our attainments, now look down upon the men who did these things.
But we are wrong. Amongst us there are many such people, the difference lies only here — that those men of old did these things then in the name of God, and of His true service, whilst now those who commit the same evil amongst us do so in the name of "the people," "for the true service of the people." And as amongst the former there were men insanely self-convinced that they knew the truth, and there were others, hypocrites, taking up their position under the pretext of serving God, and there was a crowd without consideration following the more dexterous and bold, so also now those who do evil in the name of serving the people consist of men insanely self-convinced that they alone know the truth — of hypocrites and of the crowd. Much evil have the self-proclaimed servants of God done in their time, thanks to the teaching which they called Theology, but the servants of the people, thanks to the teaching which they call Science, if they have done less evil, it is only because they have not yet had time to do it, but already on their conscience there lie rivers of blood and great divisions and exasperation amongst men.
Of all indispensable alterations of the forms of social life there is in the life of the world one which is most ripe, one without which not a single step forward in improvement in the life of men can be accomplished. The necessity of this alteration is obvious to every man who is free from preconceived theories. This alteration is not the work of Russia alone, but of the whole world. All the calamities of mankind in our time are connected with this condition.
[This is perhaps an example of Tolstoy's general statements; so broad as to seem absurd at first glance. But it is clear that every improvement in the condition of the earth, whether agricultural, mechanical, political, social, ethical, educational or even religious, must go eventually and mainly to the benefit of the owners of the earth. If, then, Tolstoy's idea is correct, that our land system is the root of our economic evils; all the "improvements" which go to make it less hideous, result in the main in strengthening the system.—Ed.]
Without religion one cannot really love men, and without loving men one cannot know what they require, and what is more, and what is less necessary for them. Only those who are not religious, and therefore do not truly love, can invent trifling, unimportant improvements in the condition of the people without seeing that chief evil from which others are suffering, and which they themselves are partly producing. Only such people can preach more or less cleverly-constructed abstract theories supposed to render the people happy in the future, and not see the sufferings the people are bearing in the present and which demand immediate and practical alleviation. As it were, a man who has deprived a hungry man of his food is giving him his counsel (and that of a very doubtful character) as to how he should get food in the future, without deeming it necessary immediately to share with him that part of his own abundance consisting of the food he has actually taken away from the man.
Fortunately, great beneficial movements in humanity are accomplished not by parasites feeding on the life-blood of the people, whatever they may call themselves — Governments, Revolutionists, or Liberals — but by religious people — that is, by people who are serious, simple, laborious, and who live not for their own profit, vanity, or ambition, and not for the attainment of external results, but for the fulfillment before God of their human vocation.
Such men, and only such, by their noiseless but resolute activity, move mankind forward. Such men will not, desiring to distinguish themselves in the eyes of others, invent this or that improvement in the condition of the people (there can be an endless number of such improvements, and they are all insignificant if the chief thing is not done), but will endeavor to live in accordance with the law of God, with conscience, and in endeavoring to live so they will naturally come across the most obvious transgression of this law, and for themselves, and for others will search for the means of freeing themselves from it.
"Great social reforms," says Mazzini, "always ve been and will be the result of great religious movements."
And such is the religious movement which is now pending for the Russian people, for all the Russian people, for the working classes deprived of land as well as, and especially for, the big, medium, and small landowners, and for all those hundreds of thousands of men who, although they do not directly possess land, yet occupy an advantageous position, thanks to the compulsory labor of the people who are deprived of land.
This sin can be undone, not by political reform, nor socialistic schemes for the future, nor by revolutions in the present, and still less by philanthropic assistance or governmental organization for the purchase and distribution of land among the peasants. Such palliative measures only distract attention from the essence of the problem and thus retard its solution.
No artificial sacrifices are necessary, no concern about the people — there is only necessary the consciousness of this sin by all those who commit or participate in it, and the desire of freeing themselves from it.
It is only necessary that the undeniable truth which the best men of the people always knew and know — that the land cannot be the exclusive property of some, and that the non-admission to the land of those who are in need of it is a sin — that this truth should become generally recognized by all men; that people should become ashamed of retaining the land from those who want to feed themselves from it; that it should become a shame in any way to participate in this retention of the land from those who need it, a shame to possess land, a shame to profit by the labor of men compelled to work only because they have been deprived of their legitimate right to the land.
Possessing hundreds, thousands, scores of thousands of acres, trading in land, profiting one way or the other by landed property, and living luxuriously, thanks to the oppression of the people, possible through this cruel and obvious injustice — to argue in various committees and assemblies about the improvement of the conditions of the peasant's life without surrendering one's own exclusively advantageous position growing from this injustice, is not only an unkind but a detestable and evil thing, equally condemnable by common sense, honesty and Christianity. It is necessary, not to invent cunning devices for the improvement of men deprived of their lawful right to the land, but to understand one's own sin in relation to them, and before all else to cease to participate in it, whatever this may cost. Only such moral activity of every man can and will contribute to the solution of the question now standing before humanity.
The land question has at the present time reached such a state of ripeness as fifty years ago was reached by the question of serfdom. Exactly the same is being repeated. As at that time men searched for the means of remedying the general uneasiness and dissatisfaction which were felt in society, and applied all kinds of external governmental means, but nothing helped nor could help whilst there remained the ripening and unsolved question of personal slavery, so also now no external measures will help or can help until the ripe question of landed property be solved. As now measures are proposed for adding slices to the peasants' land, for the purchase of land by the aid of banks, etc., so then also palliative measures were proposed and enacted, material improvements, rules about three days' labor, and so forth. Even as now the owners of land talk, about the injustice of putting a stop to their criminal ownership, so then people talked about the unlawfulness of depriving owners of their serfs. As then the Church justified the serf right, so now that which occupies the place of the Church — Science — justifies landed property. Just as then slave owners, realizing their sin more or less, endeavored in various ways without undoing it to mitigate it, and substituted the payment of a ransom by the serfs for direct compulsory work for their masters and moderated their exactions from the peasants, so also now the more sensitive landowners, feeling their guilt, endeavor to redeem it by renting their land to the peasants on more lenient conditions, by selling it through the peasant banks, by arranging schools for the people, ridiculous houses of recreation, magic-lantern lectures and theaters.
The question will be solved, not by those who will endeavor to mitigate the evil or to invent alleviations for the people or to postpone the task of the future, but by those who will understand that, however one may mitigate a wrong, it remains a wrong, and that it is senseless to invent alleviations for a man we are torturing, and that one cannot postpone when people are suffering, but should immediately take the best way of solving the difficulty and immediately apply it in practice. And the more should it be so that the method of solving the land problem has been elaborated by Henry George to such a degree of perfection that, under the existing State organization and compulsory taxation, it is impossible to invent any other better, more just, practical, and peaceful solution.
"To beat down and cover up the truth that I have tried tonight to make clear to you [said Henry George], selfishness will call on ignorance. But it has in it the germinative force of truth, and the times are ripe for it. . . . The ground is plowed; the seed is set; the good tree will grow. So little now; only the eye of faith can see it."
And I think Henry George is right, that the removal of the sin of landed property is near, that the movement called forth by Henry George was the last birth-throe, and that the birth is on the point of taking place; the liberation of men from the sufferings they have so long borne must now be realized. Besides this, I think (and I would like to contribute to this, in however small a measure) that the removal of this great universal sin — a removal which will form an epoch in the history of mankind — is to be effected precisely by the Russian Slavonian people, who are, by their spiritual and economic character, predestined for this great universal task — that the Russian people should not become proletarians in imitation of the peoples of Europe and America, but, on the contrary, that they should solve the land question at home by the abolition of landed property, and show other nations the way to a rational, free and happy life, outside industrial, factory, or capitalistic coercion and slavery — that in this lies their great historical calling.
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.
For several years now I've been following the story of a lovely, scenic 30-acre neck (almost-island) of land on a sheltered piece of the Atlantic Ocean about an hour's train ride north of Boston. It currently contains 167 rented-out lots, of which 24 can be occupied year-round and the other 143 only seasonally. Half of the land is unoccupied, available to all tenants; the rest is subdivided into mostly small lots; all have panoramic water views, of varying quality. The tenants own their cottages, most of which are in the 800 to 1000 square foot range, and typically 70 to 100 years old; a few are 2-story, newer or larger. Asking prices run as high as $600,000, and I've seen few transactions below $300,000. I estimate the cottages themselves to be worth about $75,000 anywhere else. Currently annual land rent is in the range of $10,000, up considerably from many years of token rents, and many of the tenants are objecting to paying them, putting them into escrow -- and, remarkably, planning to use the escrowed rent as a down payment to BUY the land! (That brings a new meaning to chutzpah, which, you might recall, was exemplified by the man who killed his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan!)
In 1650, the will of a resident, William Paine (Payne?), apparently gave the land to be managed for the benefit of the school(s) of Ipswich, via the provision that "unto the free scoole of Ipswitch the little neck of land at Ipswitch knowne as Jeferry's neck, the which is to be and remaine to the benefitt of the said scoole ... for ever as I have formerly intended and therefore for the sayd land not to be sould nor wasted". It seems to me that his intent was pretty clear: keep the land forever ("not soulde"), take care of it, and collect market-level rents ("nor wasted") for the benefit of the beneficiary (the local school).
And yet the trustees -- known as Feoffees -- have apparently entertained an offer from the current group of 167 tenants (calling themselves "The Little Neck Legal Action Committee!) to sell the land for a tiny fraction of its value, which I estimate could be as high as $71 million. (My calculations are 3 paragraphs below this one.) The offer was in the range of $30 million, of which $6 million would go for paying off bonds on a wastewater system installed a few years ago.
There has been no effort to market the land to other possible buyers.
Apparently this has become so troublesome that some in Ipswich want to sell the land to the tenants, figuring that a little income from the proceeds is better than no income from recalcitrant tenants! Absolutely amazing. Short sighted. And it represents the privatization of an asset which was designed to provide a public benefit, forever.
Calculations: When a cottage worth $75,000 sells for $300,000 or more, what is being sold is land value -- locational value.But the tenants don't own the land, and I can't imagine a rational lender being willing to lend on an asset which the borrower doesn't own! The current land rent of about $10,000 per year represents roughly $200,000 in land value per lot (5% capitalization or "20 years' purchase"). Add to that the $225,000 in land value in the $300,000 price for a $75,000 cottage, and you're looking at $425,000 in land value per cottage. Multiply that by 167 and that's $70,975,000. (The cottages would be another $13.4 million or so.) Obviously, some locations are better than others, some lots are larger than others, and year-round rights are more valuable than only seasonal occupancy rights. (You'll note that the $225,000 in land value in the $300,000 example is less than what 5 of the 6 current listings suggest.)
A. Current Little Neck listings at realtor.com and zillow.com [the latter added here on 11/15/10]: recall that all the sellers own is the building, not the land. And that the cottage buyers should expect to pay $10,000 or more in land rent -- the current rate)
Table 1: Cottages for Sale on Little Neck, mid November, 2010
--- Assessments ---
Ask as % Bldg*
Ask minus Bldg
50 River Road
$432,300 LY: $383,400
5BR, 1B, 1779 sq ft
33 Bay Road
$303,600 LY: $343,800
3BR, 1B, 1318 sq ft
35 Hilltop Road
$284,200 LY: $268,500
4BR, 1B, 852 sq ft
24 Hilltop Road
$303,000 LY: $287,300
3BR, 1B, 1408 sq ft
6 Plum Sound Rd
$329,400 LY: $323,200
3BR, 1B, 1160 sq ft
23 Bay Road
$287,000 LY: $285,800
2BR, 1B, 800 sq ft
5% of LV **
*Asking price as percent of assessed building value
** Land rent at 5%, a/k/a "20 years' purchase" Note that $11,360 is somewhat higher than the current land rent of $9,700 (seasonal) and $10,800 (year-round), suggesting that those rents are low vis a vis the assessed land value. The $18,518 in the final column suggests that current rents, based on these 6 asking prices, should be 80% more than what is now being charged, assuming that the building valuations are reasonably accurate. Sources: realtor.com (viewed 11/14/2010) supplemented by zillow.com and assessor's database (viewed 11/15/10)
The sellers are asking prices which are well above not just the assessor's valuation of the building itself, but also above the value of the land plus the building! Compare this to the asking prices on other homes in Ipswich with less than 1800 square feet, and with 1 or 2 bathrooms (below). And this is under the condition of annual land rent of about $10,000.
The lowest-priced LN listing, at $259,900, has a building assessment of $64,200 and a land assessment of $222,800. The difference between the asking price and the building assessment is $195,000. ($195,000 times 167 is $32,565,000.) And this is under the condition of annual land rent of about $10,000.
The average difference between the ask and the building assessment is $370,350. Multiple that by 167 tenants, and one gets an aggregate land value of $61,850,000 -- and that's with the $10,000 land rent!!
The building assessments average $95,950. The land assessments average $227,200. Multiply that $227,200 by 167, and the aggregate value of the LN land is $37,942,400. And that's under the condition of a $10,000 annual land rent!
The asking prices average $466,300, 485% of the average building assessment!
It seems odd that the LNLAC is offering so little, and that the hired appraisers are valuing the land at such low figures.
B. Comparable cottages for sale in other parts of Ipswich (where the seller owns the land and is selling both land and house, so there is no land rent payment involved) suggest that most other sellers are asking much closer to the assessor's valuation (some higher, some lower, but typically within 20%, as compared to 385%!):
$479,000: 975 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .42 acre lot [35 Plover Hill Rd, built 1940; building assessment $102,900; land assessment $296,800; total assessment $399,700, down from $431,700 in 2009.] --- photos suggest views somewhat comparable to Little Neck's Asking price as % of assessment: 120%
$425,000: 1867 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath; on .97 acre lot [299 Linebrook Rd, built 1950; building assessment, $153,700; land assessment $228,800; total assessment $382,500, down from $401,200 in 2009.] Asking price as % of assessment: 111%
$339,900: 1216 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .34 acre lot [5 James Rd, built 1962; building assessment $108,500; land assessment $185,500; total assessment $294,000, down from $317,100 in 2009.]
$319,900: 1344 sq ft, 3 BR, 2 bath, on .25 acre lot [13 Poplar St, built 1948; building assessment $113,200; land assessment $245,200; total assessment $358,400, down from $402,000 in 2009.]
$319,900: 1187 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .08 acre lot [13 Peatfield Street, built 1900; building assessment $125,500; land assessment $148,500; total assessment $274,000, down from $293,400 in 2009.]
$319,000: 1250 sq ft, 2 BR, 2 bath, on 7840 sq ft lot [3 Brownville Avenue, built 1910; building assessment $130,700; land assessment $174,300; total assessment $305,000, down from $332,300 in 2009.]
$309,000: 1584 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath on 9149 sq ft lot [1 Heatherside Ln, built 1958; building assessment $111,900; land assessment $199,300; total assessment $311,200, down from $338,900 in 2009.]
$265,000: 1100 sq ft; 3 BR, 2 bath on 9,583 sq ft lot [12 Washington Street, built 1900; building assessment $110,300; land assessment $177,100; total assessment $287,400, down from $301,100 in 2009.]
$265,000: 1410 sq ft, 3 BR, 2 bath on 0.06 acre lot [4 6th Street, built 1910; building assessment $111,900; land assessment $125,600; total assessment $237,500, down from $253,300 in 2009.]
$259,000: 932 sq ft, 3 BR, 2 bath on 9583 sq ft lot [8 Cleveland Avenue, built 1900; building assessment $105,600; land assessment $176,600; total assessment $282,200, down from $311,200 in 2009.]
$224,999: 1632 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath on 0.07 acre [4 Highland Avenue, built 1907; building assessment $157,400; land assessment $195,000; total assessment $352,400, down from $389,700 in 2009.]
$229,000: 668 sq ft, 2 BR, 1 bath on .27 acre lot [6 Cameron Avenue, built 1930; building assessment $42,200; land assessment $204,000, total assessment $246,200, down from $264,900 in 2009.]
$169,900: 1019 sq ft 2BR, 1 bath on .40 acre lot [8 Winter Street, built 1920; building assessment $81,200; land assessment $189,400]
C. Some additional newer/larger homes on sites with good views:
$1,150,000 on .36 acre lot [52 Skytop Rd, built 1992 on .36 acres: building assessment $328,000; land assessment $290,800; total assessment $618,800, down from $681,000 in 2009]
$970,000: 2330 sq ft, 3 BR, 2 baths on .30 acre lot [28 North Ridge Road, built 1990; building assessment $211,800; land assessment $543,400; total assessment $755,200, up from $582,200 in 2009.]
$639,900: 1923 sq ft, 3 BR, 2 baths, on 7841 sq ft lot [114 North Ridge Road, built 2010, building assessment $160,800; land assessment $377,400, total assessment $538,200. photos suggest views somewhat comparable to Little Neck's. Asking price as % of assessment: 119%
D. Some recent sales, also from Realtor.com; notice that the transaction prices are generally pretty close to the assessor's valuations, which validates the assessments:
$612,500 (May, 2010): 2309 sq ft, 2 BR, 2 baths, on .26 acre lot [24 Northridge Road, built 1940; building assessment $163,700; land assessment $534,200; total assessment $697,900, down from $753,800 in 2009.]
$530,000 (Oct, 2010): 1410 sq ft, 2 BR, 2 baths, on .34 acre lot [59 Skytop Rd, built 1986; building assessment $204,600; land assessment, $288,000; total assessment $492,600, down from $533,700 in 2009.]
$400,000 (Oct, 2010): 1500 sq ft, 2 BR, 2 baths, on 3.90 acre lot [76 Town Farm Road, built 1930; building assessment $96,400; land assessment, $300,600; total assessment $397,000, down from $471,500 in 2009.]
$379,900 (Sept, 2010): 1610 sq ft, 2 BR, 2 baths, on 2.32 acre lot [156 Topsfield Rd, built 1968; building assessment $154,600; land assessment $240,800; total assessment $395,400, down from $418,100 in 2009.]
$360,000 (Sept, 2010) 1600 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on 1.00 acre lot [316 Linebrook Rd, built N/A; building assessment, $133,300; land assessment 230,900; total assessment $364,200, down from $391,500 in 2009.]
$309,000 (Sept, 2010): 1894 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .22 acre lot [12 Hodges Way, built 1964, building assessment, $143,500; land assessment, $168,000; total assessment $311,500, down from $332,300 in 2009.]
$300,000 (June, 2010): 1626 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .08 acre lot [2 Hovey Street, built 1880, building assessment $136,200; land assessment, $157,900; total assessment $294,100, down from $319,100 in 2009.]
$290,000 (July 2010): 480 sq ft, 1 BR, 1 bath on .24 acre lot [16 Chattanooga Rd, built 1952; building assessment $49,700; land assessment $249,900; total assessment $299,600, down from $352,100 in 2009.]
$279,000 (Oct 2010): 1092 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .20 acre lot [2 Hodges Way, built 1959; building assessment $110,900; land assessment $166,500; total assessment $277,400, down from $300,400 in 2009.]
$250,000 (July 2010): 1010 sq ft, 2 BR, 1 bath, on .14 acre lot [8 Currier Park, built 1935; building assessment $107,800; land assessment $161,400; total assessment $269,200, down from $281,100 in 2009.]
$235,000 (June 2010): 912 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .28 acre lot [27 Paradise Road, built 1970; building assessment $106,200; land assessment $180,700, total assessment $286,900, down from $315,200 in 2009.]
$229,700 (Aug 2010): 720 sq ft, 1 BR, 2 baths, on .15 acre lot [3 Sawyer Street, built 1920; building assessment $75,400; land assessment $171,800; total assessment $247,200, down from $271,500 in 2009.]
$209,000 (May, 2010): 1034 sq ft, 2 BR, 1 bath, on .09 acre lot [84 High Street, built 1860; building assessment $109,300; land assessment $167,600; total assessment $276,900, down from $290,000 in 2009.]
$185,000 (Oct 2010): 1620 sq ft, 2 BR, 1 bath, on .29 acre lot [138 Linebrook Rd, built 1956; building assessment $145,400; land assessment $182,000; total assessment $327,400, down from $352,300 in 2009; note that Realtor.com values it at $286,997 as of 11/14/10]
$170,000 (Aug 2010): 1182 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on .19 acre lot [3 Turkey Shore Road, built N/A; building assessment $104,000; land assessment $239,100; total assessment $343,100, down from $387,200 in 2009; note that Realtor.com values it at $302,124 as of 11/2/2010.]
$160,000 (Aug, 2010): 1640 sq ft, 3 BR, 1 bath, on 1.04 acre lot [20 Lakeman's Lane, built 1948; building assessment $126,100; land assessment $283,500; total assessment $409,600, down from $449,900. Realtor.com vales it at $420,520, as of 11/14/10]
$160,000 (Oct 2010): 1386 sq ft, 5 BR, 1 bath, on .21 acre lot [8 5th Street, built 1910; building assessment, $118,000; land assessment $216,100; total assessment $334,100, down from $374,100 in 2009; realtor.com values it at $296,672 as of 11/4/10
$120,000 (June 2010): 1386 sq ft, 3 BR, 2 baths, on .05 acre lot [2 5th Street, built 1910; building assessment $123,000; land assessment $97,700; total assessment $220,700, down from $237,900 in 2009; realtor.com values it at $223,234 as of 11/2/10.]
$80,000 (Aug 2010): 760 sq ft, 2 BR, 1 bath, on .18 acre lto [53 Jeffreys Neck Road, built 1943; building assessment $76,600; land assessment $174,000; total assessment $250,600, down from $276,900 in 2009; realtor.com values it at $227,594 as of 11/2/10.]
(I suspect the last six of these might be situations where a co-heir to an estate bought out another heir, with the transaction price representing half of the value, but I can't be sure of that.) Have any of the assessments been adjusted downwards in 2010 on the basis of the transaction price? That might have been the case in a few situations(?)
If the landlords were collecting the full market rent on the Little Neck land, then the asking prices for the cottages on Little Neck would be in the range of 90% to 120% of the assessor's valuation of the buildings.
The tenants did not create -- could not possibly have created! -- any of the land value, despite what the "Little Neck Legal Action" committee asserts below. The letter makes interesting, even humorous, reading, particularly in light of the fact that were there to be a sale, it would be the seller who would be paying off the debt on the wastewater system, not the buyers. That wastewater system created some value, particularly if it ends up making it possible for more than 24 cottages to be used year-round.
Here are the various prices, divided by 167 current tenants and by 32 acres:
$42,325,000 works out to $253,443 per average lot, or $1.3 million per acre (see letter, below). Capitalized at 5%, an average land rent of $12,672, and aggregate annual gross rent to LN trustees of $2.116 million
$31,500,000 works out to $188,623 per average lot, or $984,000 per acre (see letter, below). Capitalized at 5%, an average land rent of $9,431, and aggregate annual gross rent to LN trustees of $1.575 million.
$10,000,000 works out to $59,880 per average lot, or $305,000 per acre (see letter, below). Capitalized at 5%, an average land rent of $2,994, and aggregate annual gross rent to LN trustees of $500,000. Compare $305,000/acre to the assessments on nearby land, particularly land with fine views and breezes; an acre is 43,560 square feet.
$70,975,000 works out to $425,000 per average lot, or $2.2 million per acre (see my analysis, above). Capitalized at 5%, an average land rent of $21,250, and aggregate annual gross rent to LN trustees of $3.549 million.
(Compare those amounts per lot to the assessed values of the land, and then to the asking prices, above. Did the assessor get it that wrong? I suspect his LN land valuations are low.)
Here's the letter from the "Legal Action" committee to the local paper:
To the editor:
The School Committee’s recently released appraisal performed by Lincoln Property Company (“Lincoln”) establishes four things:
It further discredits the Finance Committee’s continued assertion that the market value of Little Neck is $42.325 million. Lincoln states that Colliers Meredith & Grew’s (“CMG”) $42.325 Million estimate “is completely one-sided, ignoring that any value over … $10,000,000 is the result of a long term partnership between the Feoffee and the Tenants.” The Finance Committee’s claim was previously revealed to be without merit when the portion of the appraisal that the Finance Committee tried to hide from the public was released as a result of the Probate Court lifting a Protective Order. In their “supplemental letter”, CMG set the market value of Little Neck to a third party at $ 26.4 Million.
In Lincoln’s view, the “fair value” of Little Neck may be as low as $20.5 Million. However, in summarizing the appraiser’s analysis of all relevant considerations, the appraiser specifically states the “market value of $31,500,000 … represents my opinion of the fair value of the property” to the homeowners in the specific “closed market transaction” contemplated here.
The School Committee’s appraisal, completed in a more deliberate and professional manner than what the Finance Committee put forward, recognizes the significant value created by the tenant homeowners who have bought, built and/or improved their own homes. The Lincoln appraiser wrote, “Without the tenants’ improvements, the property would not contain the 167 grandfathered cottages and its value, according to CMG, would only be $10,000,000.” The appraiser clearly states that the tenant homeowners should not be compelled to pay twice for their part in creating the current value of Little Neck.
The Lincoln appraisal offers further indisputable support for the $29,150,000 purchase price set forth in the settlement agreement between the Feoffees and the homeowners.
While the Little Neck Legal Action Committee (“LNLAC”) appreciates the good faith effort of the Lincoln appraisal, we believe that it does not appropriately take into account the potential adverse consequences to the School Committee of not affirmatively supporting the settlement agreement. The cost of not doing so includes:
The direct cost of litigating the controversy in the Probate Court. At the Town Meeting in October, an additional $300,000 was authorized. If the Probate Court litigation is not resolved, the total cost to the School Committee will be dramatically higher.
The Feoffees have already spent nearly $1 Million in legal fees on the presently stayed Superior Court class action litigation. If the settlement is not implemented and that litigation is reactivated, the four year history of no contributions by the Feoffees to the Schools will continue while the litigation drags on for many years to come.
If the Homeowners prevail, the Feoffees may be ordered to pay many millions of dollars in damages, plus interest and attorney’s fees.
Even if the Feoffees ultimately succeed in the Superior Court litigation, which LNLAC believes to be highly unlikely, they may still be compelled to pay the fair market value of each of the 167 homes on Little Neck of the tenants, which could easily exceed $16 Million.
Under either scenario, the Feoffees would be unable to provide any funds to the Ipswich Public Schools for perhaps decades to come.
We believe that the settlement agreement is fair to all parties and that a rational review will bring all reasonable and clear minded parties to that conclusion. Should that not be the case, LNLAC is willing to allow the Probate Court to make the judgment as to whether the settlement agreement is, in light of all relevant circumstances, fair and reasonable. The School Committee is aware that the Feoffees have engaged LandVest and LNLAC has engaged Petersen/LaChance Realty Advisors to update their prior appraisals. At the end of the day, we anticipate that the Probate Court will conclude that the agreed upon figure of $29,150,000 is more than justified and supported by a careful review of the four appraisals at issue. We appreciate the deliberate approach taken by the School Committee and believe that responsible and professional analysis will be demonstrated by its members. We await the conclusion and closing of the settlement that will allow the School Committee and the school children for which it is responsible, to benefit from what we are advised will be the largest investment trust for any public school system in the commonwealth.
Mark DiSalvo and William Gottlieb
Little Neck Legal Action Committee
So what do you think? Should the 2010 Ipswich citizens be in favor of selling this piece of land to the LNLAC at $29 million? $40 million? $70 million? Or is this a priceless asset that ought to be kept, to serve its intended purpose for future generations of Ipswich students? Should the Feoffees sell it, or simply collect, month in and month out, the market-value rent of the land?
Is there a statute of limitations on how long a public-spirited gift with growth potential should remain an asset for the benefit of the schools, or is the LNLAC arguing that the value of this gorgeous piece of land has peaked, to stagnate forever, and they're willing to accept the downside and the upside for a mere $30 million?
I just can't imagine how the discussion has ever gotten this far. This asset was never to be sold. And were the trustees to stop wasting it -- permitting tenants to remain without paying roughly market rent -- the schools would, as the donor intended, have a fine -- and growing -- income, forever. "The largest investment trust for any school in the commonwealth" will provide a fine income to a lot of investment brokers and firms, but an inferior and declining income for the schools. (Think about what the schools would have in 2010 if the trustees of, say, 1933, had sold Little Neck and invested the proceeds. What do you think that fund would be worth now? Remember the question: where are the customers' yachts?) Keep the asset. Collect the rent. Repeat annually.
The alternative? Sell it to the tenants now, and then watch some private equity or hedge fund swoop in and double the tenants' purchase price -- on a down payment made with escrowed rent! -- and then watch the investor hold the asset until the market improves and they can develop it. A win for the tenants, but what about the rest of Ipswich, and the intended beneficiaries?
The Social Security Administration released some interesting information a few weeks ago (and corrected it after David Cay Johnston called attention to some anomalies in the data, which turned out to have resulted from false W-2's from two individuals; what's reported below is the corrected data) on 2009 wages.
First, here is a summarized table of the 150.9 million individual wage earners in 2009.
75% of wage earners earned $50,000 or under; 25% earned less than $10,000
Nearly 94% of wage earners earned less than $100,000. (Is this how you pictured it?)
The 6.3% of us who earned over $100,000 received over 30% of the wages.
In total, 32% of wage earners deferred any wages; the deferrals equaled just 3.56% of aggregate wages.
Net Compensation Interval
Number of Wage Earners
Percent of Total Wage Earners
Cumulative Percent Wage Earners
Percent of Aggregate Wages
Cumulative Percent Aggregate Wages
$0 to $10,000
$10,000 to $30,000
$30,000 to $50,000
$50,000 to $100,000
$100,000 to $500,000
memo: contributions to deferred compensation plans
These data do not include funds received by hedge fund managers which most of us would consider wages, but which get treated as capital gains, and taxed at a much lower rate than do all but the lowest wages. It would be interesting and useful to see those data arranged next to these.
One might use these data to consider whether there should be a separate bracket for higher incomes. Keep in mind that these are individual wages, net only of 401(k) type deferrals of income, not adjusted gross income at the taxpayer/household level.
The next table examines the amount of wage income which is represented by the portion of wages over $100,000, just below the current level at which one stops paying social security withholding.
Net Compensation Interval
Number of Wage Earners
Percent of Total Wage Earners
Cumulative Percent Wage Earners
Aggregate Wages over $100,000
Percent of Aggregate Wages
Cumulative Percent Aggregate Wages
$100,000 to $500,000
14.10/85.90 = 16.4%
So how does all this relate to this blog's focus on Land Value Taxation?
The focus is on smart, just, efficient taxation -- and on ending the privileges which enrich some people and impoverish the vast majority of us.
Many of the ways that people "earn" large salaries are in large part the result of our permitting privileges: the privatization of the value of natural resources; the privatization of the value of urban land; and structures which permit some sectors of the economy to skim off value created by all of us. (Did anyone yell FIRE?)
We have to hold the feet of our elected representatives to the fire: make it worth their while NOT TO obey the requests of their huge campaign contributors and TO listen to the rest of us and reconfigure the structures which funnel wealth and income into the pockets of the currently-and-traditionally-privileged folks.
Are you ready?
I think there were some signs in this recent midterm election that voters in several states were not bowled over by the well-constructed advertising and heavy media buys of some very rich candidates for office, and I find that encouraging. Connecticut's Foley and McMahon, California's Fiorino and Whitman, and a number of entities enabled by the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court spent large amounts of money, with very uneven results.