Land Value Taxation will solve many of the 21st century's most serious social, economic and environmental problems, and promote justice, fairness and sustainability. We CAN have a world in which all can prosper.
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George Here are links to online editions of George's landmark book, Progress & Poverty, including audio and a number of abridgments -- the shortest is 30 words! I commend this book to your attention, if you are concerned about economic justice, poverty, sprawl, energy use, pollution, wages, housing affordability. Its observations will change how you approach all these problems. A mind-opening experience!
Henry George: Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy This is perhaps the most important book ever written on the subjects of poverty, political economy, how we might live together in a society dedicated to the ideals Americans claim to believe are self-evident. It will provide you new lenses through which to view many of our most serious problems and how we might go about solving them: poverty, sprawl, long commutes, despoilation of the environment, housing affordability, wealth concentration, income concentration, concentration of power, low wages, etc. Read it online, or in hardcopy.
Bob Drake's abridgement of Henry George's original: Progress and Poverty: Why There Are Recessions and Poverty Amid Plenty -- And What To Do About It! This is a very readable thought-by-thought updating of Henry George's longer book, written in the language of a newsweekly. A fine way to get to know Henry George's ideas. Available online at progressandpoverty.org and http://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
Where Else Might You Look?
Wealth and Want The URL comes from the subtitle to Progress & Poverty -- and the goal is widely shared prosperity in the 21st century. How do we get there from here? A roadmap and a reference source.
Reforming the Property Tax for the Common Good I'm a tax reform activist who seeks to promote fairness and reduce poverty. Let's start with the enabling legislation and state requirements for the property tax. There are opportunities for great good!
The rental value of land is due to our common human needs. No single individual -- the people as a whole produce that value. It grows larger as the population and its activities increase.
This natural law of rent gives the community the moral right to take all of this value which it creates.
The mistake is made of permitting a few to take this value, thus creating speculation in land, upsetting economic stability, necessitating unemployment and the recurring breakdowns in our civilization.
This fundamental wrong must be righted before wars and all injustice can be abolished.
"In a study of 2010 nationwide property tax rates, the average homeowner paid a median of 1.14 percent of home value that year, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group. In Manhattan, that figure was 0.78 percent. For the $88 million apartment at 15 Central Park West, 0.78 percent would be $686,000. But this year, the property taxes due on that penthouse were $59,000."
Just think how much productive activity we could untax were we-the-people to collect some portion of that annual land rent for public purposes. And consider how unproductive the Lords of Land are. What have they done to earn that land rent? Is our "tradition" -- to let them keep it -- a wise or just one, or is it part of our wealth concentration structure?
Here are the two articles, with a couple of calculations added: (Notice that acreage is not even mentioned!)
NYC Trump Co-Op Dwellers Face Million-Dollar Bills By Oshrat Carmiel Nov 6, 2014 4:16 PM ET
The ground beneath Trump Plaza, at 167 E. 61st St., is up for sale as land prices break records. Manhattan’s surging land costs are leaving the shareholders of an East Side luxury co-operative with a tough choice: pay a hefty price to buy the land under the building, or face increasing bills to keep renting it.
The ground beneath Trump Plaza, at 167 E. 61st St., is up for sale as land prices break records. The co-op board has offered to buy the property for $185 million, a cost that would saddle residents with assessments that, for some, would top $1 million, said Adam Leitman Bailey, a New York real estate attorney who has been contacted by owners concerned about the deal before it goes into contract.
“People are calling me to stop this from happening,” said Bailey, who has reviewed board documents but hasn’t been officially retained. “People want to stop the assessment.”
The 31-year-old co-op, which makes annual rent payments to the family that owns the ground, is weighing its financial future at a time when rising prices for land make it attractive for investors to buy such property for a reliable stream of rental income. The board opted to put in a bid as it otherwise faces the prospect of a steep rent increase when the lease resets in 2024, Bailey said.
“The fact that the family put it up for sale should terrify the co-op,” said Joshua Stein, a Manhattan real estate attorney who isn’t involved in the transaction.
“Whatever opportunistic investor buys the land will probably be way more aggressive about the rent reset than either an estate or a group of heirs,” he said. “Someone who is buying it, is buying it specifically to squeeze out every last dollar of rent.”
Marc Cooper, president of the co-op board and vice chairman of investment-banking firm Peter J. Solomon Co., didn’t return a phone call left at his office yesterday seeking comment on the plan to purchase the ground.
Co-op residents buy shares in a corporation that owns the building, rather than getting a deed to the apartment itself, as they would in a condominium. Shareholders make monthly maintenance payments that collectively cover building costs such as mortgage payments, ground rent and operating expenses.
A Trump Plaza shareholder with a 1,000-square-foot (93-square-meter) one-bedroom apartment whose monthly maintenance fee is now about $2,100 would pay about $9,800 after the rent is recalculated in 10 years, Bailey said, citing a projection by the building’s co-op board. The rent increase would be about 8 percent of what the land value is in 2024, he said.
Buildable lots in Manhattan sold for an average of $657 a square foot in the third quarter, up 29 percent from a year earlier and an all-time high for the period, according to Massey Knakal Realty Services. Three purchases completed in the quarter were for more than $1,000 a square foot, the firm’s data show.
LVTfan here: That $657 per square foot is NOT per square foot of land (at 43,560 sq ft per acre, that would be just $28.6 million per acre, laughably low in Manhattan). Rather, it is per buildable square foot. Quick and dirty, if a, say, 20 story building can be built on a 10,000 sf footprint, constituting 200,000 sf, the calculation would be 200,000 times $657, or $131.4 million, for that 1/4 acre, which works out to over $500 million per acre. $500 million per acre -- compared to an acre of good agricultural land, at $5,000 per acre, that's 100,000:1. (And for those 3 purchases over $1,000 psf, add 50% to that ratio.)
Possibly difficult for those of us who see land which sells for $5,000 or $50,000 or even $500,000 per acre to fathom $500 million per acre. But that's reality!
Trump Plaza’s situation is different from most other co-operatives in Manhattan, which do own the land on which the building sits and make no rent payments. Co-op units with ground leases tend to sell at a discount because they have higher maintenance costs and buyers sometimes face challenges getting mortgage financing. Other ground-lease co-ops in New York include 995 Fifth Ave., the Excelsior at 303 E. 57th St. and Carnegie House at 100 W. 57th St.
The ground beneath the 324-unit Carnegie House was purchased for $285 million to a group that includes Rubin Schron’s Cammeby’s International and real estate investor David Werner, Christa Segalini, a spokeswoman for Cammeby’s, said today. The 21-story building, with an entrance on Sixth Avenue, occupies an entire block front from 56th Street to 57th Street, according to real estate website Streeteasy.com.
For shareholders at Trump Plaza, buying the land beneath them means coming up with large sums of cash up front. Each owner was assessed a fee of about $2,329.40 a share, according to Bailey.
A resident of a two-bedroom unit who holds 440 shares in the corporation, for example, would be charged $1.02 million, Bailey said. A 1,600-square-foot three-bedroom apartment, worth 671 shares, would get a $1.56 million assessment. Residents get more shares the higher up their apartments are in the 39-story building.
The 154-unit Trump Plaza, at 61st Street and Third Avenue, was completed in 1983, according to StreetEasy. A 2,800-square-foot unit on the 32nd floor with views of Central Park is listed for sale at $3.95 million. The monthly maintenance charge for the three-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment is $7,228, according to the website.
LVTfan here: One might reasonably wonder how much (a) the sellers of the land were paying NYC in property taxes; (b) how much of the monthly "maintenance charge" for the condo is paid by the condo complex to the city in property taxes (which pay for the schools and lots of other public services) and how much is for the building and its services to the condo owners; and (c) how much the land share of that 32nd floor unit is. If a 1600sf apartment gets a $1.56 million assessment, the 32nd floor apartment, at 2800sf should be roughly twice that, or about $3 million. Thus, the $3.95 million asking price on the 32nd floor is about 4/7 of the total value, or 56%; the other 44% is land value.
The sale of the ground beneath the tower hasn’t gone into contract yet. Douglas Harmon and Adam Spies, brokers at Eastdil Secured LLC, are representing the owners, who are listed in public records as the estate of Donald S. Ruth and members of the Ruth family. Spies declined to comment on plans for the sale.
A purchase of the land by the co-op ultimately would add resale value to the building’s apartments, Stein said. Extinguishing the ground lease permanently removes the threat that rents will reset to unaffordable levels. With that uncertainty gone, future buyers would be willing to pay more for a unit in the tower, he said.
“If you’re the co-op, getting rid of that threat is a really good thing,” Stein said. “There’s a lot of value being created.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Oshrat Carmiel in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at email@example.com Christine Maurus
Carnegie House at 100 West 57th Street (Photo credit: Google)
David Werner, a Borough Park investor who has wowed New York City with a series of big buys this year, partnered with Rubin Schron and the Cohen family to pay $285 million for the land under 100 West 57th Street, sources told The Real Deal. The 324-unit Carnegie House cooperative building is the ground tenant on the property.
A person close to the deal said the investment group closed yesterday on the purchase of the property, which is located at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 57th Street.
Insiders expect to see more pricey sales of land under co-op buildings with resets looming.
In fact, the sale is being mirrored nearby with the marketing of the ground under the Trump Plaza at 167 East 61st Street, which has a rent reset in 2024. Eastdil Secured brokers Doug Harmon and Adam Spies have that listing.
The co-op building has a ground lease that runs for another 51 years with the property owner, currently paying about $4.4 million per year. In approximately 10 years, the rent for the ground lease payments will reset. That reset will be based on market values.
an average of $13,600 per year per family -- ignoring the commercial tenants
Ground resets typically price the new rent at about 6 percent of the current market value.
Investment sales broker Robert Knakal, chairman of Massey Knakal Realty Services, estimated the value of the land to be at least $1,200 per square foot and up to $1,500 per foot, if the value of the retail is taken into consideration. Knakal is not involved in this property.
At that value, the land with 377,000 square feet of development rights, would be worth $452 million. That could work out to an annual rent payment of $27 million per year, if reset today, according to an analysis by TRD.
An average of $83,300 per family -- ignoring the commercial tenants
To help fund the purchase, the group obtained a $180 million loan from Natixis Capital Markets in a deal arranged by Drew Anderman, a senior managing director at the mortgage brokerage firm Meridian Capital Group, insiders familiar with the deal said.
I posted this comment elsewhere, and thought it worth sharing here:
I've not read far into the book yet -- and it is available online as a PDF file -- but by the time I was into the first chapter, it was clear that Dr. Piketty's economic education, extensive as it might be, entirely omitted the ideas of the classical economists who described a 3-factor economy: land, labor and capital. Piketty, like nearly everyone educated in economics in the past 40 to 80 years, writes as if there were only two factors -- labor and capital -- treating land as if it were a mere subset of capital, with no reason to recognize it as differentiated.
Land -- not only urban sites, but also the other things the classical economists would recognize as Land, such as water rights, oil, electromagnetic spectrum (our airwaves which we all say belong to the American people, but which are in reality owned by corporations), landing rights at busy landlocked airports, geosynchronous orbits, urban street parking, the value of dozens of other non-renewable natural resources -- is completely different in character from that which is created by labor. To fail to recognize that difference lies at the bottom of our inequality problem.
That which individuals and corporations produce is rightly individual property. That which the community and nature produce is rightly common property, belonging to all of us. Conflating Capital and Land leads us to permit the privatization of that which is rightly our common treasure.
You might be interested to know that the Landlord Game, invented by 1902, was intended to teach this concept. You have probably played Monopoly, which was based on this game, played with very different rules.
Explore the ideas of Henry George. Between 1885 and 1900 or so, everyone knew the name and many well understood his ideas. You might start with "Social Problems" or the more analytical "Progress and Poverty," or his speeches, "The Crime of Poverty," "Thou Shalt Not Steal," among others, online at http://www.wealthandwant.com. See also http://lvtfan.typepad.com.
Dr. Piketty and others whose education in economics has omitted George's ideas should not be treated as experts; they've mixed apples and oranges and not noticed that what they've created impoverishes the vast majority of us -- and enriches a few. (Parenthetically, consider who donates heavily to our universities.)
Interesting comments on a number of things, including doctors, slaves, soldiers, income inequality, sobriety, thrift, poverty,
Bad as we are, I believe that if we all understood how we are living,
and what we are doing daily, we should make a revolution before the end
of the week. But as we do not know; and as many of us, forseeing
unpleasant revelations, do not want to know; I can only assure you that I
am in perfect concord with standard economists when I state that
competition is the force that makes our industrial system self-acting.
It produces the effects which I have described without the conscious
contrivance or interference of either master on the one hand, or slave
on the other. It may be described as a seesaw, or lever of the first
order, having the fulcrum between the power and the weight.
The so-called right of private property is a convention that every man
should enjoy the product of his own labour, either to consume it or
exchange it for the equivalent product of his fellow labourer. But the
landlord and capitalist enjoy the product of the labour of others, which
they consume to the value of many millions sterling every year without
even a pretence of producing an equivalent. They daily violate the right to which they appeal when the socialist
attacks them. Nor is their inconsistency so obvious as might be
expected. If you violate a workman's right daily for centuries, and
daily respect the landlord's right, the workman's right will at last be
forgotten, whilst the landlord's right will appear more sacred as
successive years add to its antiquity. In this way the most illogical
distinctions come to be accepted as natural and inevitable. One man
enters a farmhouse secretly, helps himself to a share of the farm
produce, and leaves without giving the farmer an equivalent. We call him
a burglar, and send him to penal servitude. Another man does precisely
the same thing openly, has the impudence even to send a note to say when
he is coming, and repeats his foray twice a year, breaking forcibly
into the premises if his demand is not complied with. We call him a
landlord, respect him, and, if his freebooting extends over a large
district, make him deputy-lieutenant of the country or send him to
Parliament, to make laws to license his predatory habits.
One might be led to ask, how many is enough, and how we might go about encouraging our best and brightest into careers that serve others instead of rent-seeking. Two generations ago, many became doctors, engineers and teachers.
What changes in public policy will reduce the returns now funneled so generously to the rent-seekers, leaving more for the folks who labor in the productive sectors of the economy?
Why do we pay so little attention to rent-seeking?
Why is rent-seeking taught to our MBAs, but the impacts of rent-seeking not taught to our liberal arts, social sciences, political science, public policy students?
D'ya think that the rent-seekers might really really like it this way??
Shiller: Too Many Graduating Seniors Go Into Finance
Too many of the our brightest people may be choosing careers in finance,
undertaking economically and socially useless — and even harmful —
activities, Robert Shiller, a Yale University economics professor,
writes in an article for Project Syndicate.
survey of elite U.S. universities showed that 25 percent of Harvard
graduating seniors, 24 percent of Yale graduating seniors and 46 percent
of Princeton graduating seniors were going into financial services in
2006, notes Shiller, co-creator of the Case-Shiller home price index.
While those proportions have fallen more recently, he explains that might only be a temporary effect of the financial crisis.
more are going into speculative fields like investment banking rather
than traditional finance such as lending, he says, citing a study by
Thomas Philippon of the Stern School of Business, New York University
and Ariell Reshef of the University of Virginia.
need some traders and speculators, Shiller concedes, as they provide
some useful service — sorting through information about businesses and
trying to judge their real worth.
"But these people's activities
also impose costs on the rest of us," he explains. Much of their
speculation and deal making is "pure rent-seeking."
other words, it is wasteful activity that achieves nothing more than
enabling the collection of rents on items that might otherwise be free."
working in speculative finance fields are like a feudal lord installing
a chain across a river to charge fees on passing boats, he argues.
Making no improvements to the river, the lord does nothing productive
and helps no one but himself. Few people will use the river if enough
lords put chains across it to collect fees.
working in speculative fields, he says, "skim the best business deals,
creating a 'negative externality' on those who are not party to them."
For example, they can reject bad assets, such as subprime mortgage securities, offloading them to less knowledgeable investors.
repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which blocked commercial banks from
investment banking, allowed bankers to act more and more like those
feudal lords collecting fees.
"In fact, the main advantages of
the original Glass-Steagall Act," he says, "may have been more
sociological than technical, changing the business culture and
environment in subtle ways. By keeping the deal-making business
separate, banks may have focused more on their traditional core
A paper by economists at Columbia University and Princeton published on the Social Science Research Network website
showed that over-the-counter (OTC) traders allowed informed dealers to
extract excessive rents and to undermine organized exchanges by
"cream-skimming" the best deals.
informational rents in OTC markets in turn attract too much talent to
the financial industry, which would be more efficiently deployed as
real-sector entrepreneurs," the paper asserts.
Plus, OTC dealers'
rents tend to increase "as there are more informed dealers, because the
greater cream-skimming by dealers worsens the terms entrepreneurs can
get for their assets on the organized exchange, and therefore their
bargaining power on OTC markets."
What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.
There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).
Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.
It’s an old story; we really need a new one.
But perhaps Buffett's most important observation is this one:
"Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left."
To which I can only insert ... "and are benefiting from."
He also points out,
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
I hope Mr. Buffett will take the time to read Henry George's "Progress and Poverty." He might be better able to identify the particular structures that create and maintain poverty and the concentrations of wealth, income and power. And, based on that last sentence, I think Buffett would appreciate the final section of P&P. (Bob Drake's 2006 abridgment is a fine starting place, but the unabridged is a pleasure of its own.)
Quite belatedly, I found an interesting article on Taxi Medallions and Rent-Seeking. I particularly like the juxtaposition of the sidebar and the article's primary content; read the sidebar first.
Why did I include in the "categories" for this post "all benefits go to the landholder"? Because a taxi medallion is a privilege, which, in classical economics, is another form of "land." Read the sidebar!
There is an easy solution: auction off those privileges for limited periods of time. Lather, rinse, repeat!
The sidebar quotes Adam Smith "... the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce," which leads me to think about Henry George's axiom that
"The fundamental principle of human action — the law that is to political economy what the law of gravitation is to physics — is that men seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion." [Progress & Poverty Book III, Chapter 6 — The Laws of Distribution: Wages and the Law of Wages]
One quote from the body of the article:
Studies of economic losses due to rent-seeking and the resulting
monopolies have produced figures ranging from 3 to 12 percentage points
of national output for the US.
All of these are possible reasons why the city of Milwaukee might want
to limit the number of cab permits, but they do not imply that the
existing owners must have a permanent right to them.
The city could simply auction 321 licences every year or two and capture
all of the economic rents for itself. Another argument is that a permit
acts as a pension for drivers that would otherwise not have a business
they could sell on retirement. But that is true only for the first,
lucky generation of owners.
George Monbiot has an excellent article on tax in the Guardian this morning. At its core is an argument for land value taxation, which he explains has long had powerful support. As he puts it:
In 1909 a dangerous subversive explained the issue thus. “Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains -– and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived … the unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.”
Who was this firebrand? Winston Churchill. As Churchill, Adam Smith and many others have pointed out, those who own the land skim wealth from everyone else, without exertion or enterprise. They “levy a toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of industry”. A land value tax would recoup this toll.
[W]hat’s wrong with the argument the Terry Leahys and the Bob Diamonds make for their extreme wealth? Look, the line runs, we work bloody hard for it; we’re worth it. And it’s true: unlike previous generations of the ultra-wealthy, many of the modern super-rich work for a living, in running major businesses or in finance (although the Davos guestlist still includes plenty of sheikhs and royals). But that doesn’t mean they truly earn the millions they claim.
Take a look at who’s in the Davos set. Last spring, two American academics, Jon Bakija and Brad Helm, and a US Treasury official, Adam Cole, published the most comprehensive analysis yet of the richest 0.1% earners, based on tax returns. Of these top dogs, nearly two in three were top corporate executives and bankers. And the story in both those professions has not been of brilliant returns to shareholders or vast improvements for society, but of wealth extraction and lobbying politicians, Davos-style. In particular, the tale of modern high-finance is of generating transactions, whether in corporate mergers or sub-prime mortgages and then skimming off some of the cash.
That’s extracting rent in exactly the same way that the property owner does. Economically the logic is the same. This is all unearned income, and we should not be granting it favours which increase the divisions and stresses in society; we should be taxing it.
That means we need land value taxation for sure, but we need progressive income taxation, capital gains tax at the same rate as income tax and enforceable corporation tax too if these rents are to be collected. And then there’s the need for reform of inheritance tax.
I really must get round to writing the Joy of Tax. It is next on my list.
"This is where the debate about workers and shirkers, strivers and skivers should have led. The skivers and shirkers sucking the money out of your pockets are not the recipients of social security demonised by the Daily Mail and the Conservative party, the overwhelming majority of whom are honest claimants. We are being parasitised from above, not below, and the tax system should reflect this."
Although this is a UK-focused story, it has international relevance. As we've noted several times before, Land Value Tax is an essential element of any good tax mix. It's progressive, it doesn't damage productivity, and it curbs the abusive practice of economic rent extraction. The article has a particular opinion:
"It's not really a tax. It's a return to the public of the benefits we have donated to the landlords. When land rises in value, the government and the people deliver a great unearned gift to those who happen to own it."
Here are the opening paragraphs of a recent article about the complexities of Ground Lease contracts. I commend the entire article to your attention. It helps flesh out why and how the entire FIRE sector -- Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (as well as their attorneys) -- is receiving such a large share of the profits produced by the productive sectors of the economy. The owner of land, and the entities which lend on land, and insure the buildings and the revenue flow, all reap significant shares of what the tenants labor to create. Modern sharecropping. And the recipients of the ground rent get to parade as self-made men, people of awesome foresight and wisdom -- and even philanthropists (think Brooke Astor, the Fishers, and others in your own community) when they donate a small share back to a charity! As you read this, think both of Manhattan land and of land in your community's central business district, and along its major roads. (Location, location, location!)
If one wonders why (true) small business struggles, one might consider the complexity and expense of their ground leases, and contrast that with the Georgist alternative: that one's taxes would be simply the current rental value of the land, while the value of the building remains one's private property, not subject to taxation or going pouf! at the end of a ground lease.
The land lord is "supplying" something he didn't create. We ought to ease him out. Land value taxation is the obvious tool for reducing, and -- slowly or not -- eliminating, his "take" on those who do create. Think what it would mean if working people had that spending power, instead of the lords of the land.
All that land rent could be used to fund our community's needs, instead of lining the pockets of a few very "lucky" -- privileged -- duckies. (The analogies to chattel slavery are not a long stretch, once one starts to think about it. We should all own ourselves, and reap the fruits of our own labors.)
A lease is a lease is a lease – or so you may think. Yes, real property leases grant an estate in land to a tenant for a period of time. And yes, the tenant pays for that right of possession. But the action in a lease isn’t in the conveyance provisions; it’s in the contract provisions. Multiply out the rent and other annual monetary obligations by the length of the lease term (in years), and you’ll see that it might be (and often is) a big dollar contract. Even more important, unlike the vast majority of contracts whose obligations are satisfied in days or weeks, a lease contract goes unfulfilled for 50, 75, “99,” and even 500 years. That takes it beyond the life of the parties involved in its creation, and the future brings surprises. Neither Nostradamus nor Jules Verne got everything right.
Why a Ground Lease?
If a tenant has to build its own building (as is often the case), and has all of the burdens of ownership, why would it lease a property knowing that at the end of the lease term it has nothing left to show for its money and efforts? There are a number of common reasons, principal among them is that the owner won’t sell the land and the tenant has no alternative.
Real property often carries a long term unrealized gain, waiting to be taxed upon its sale.
Not every landowner is interested in making further active real property investments. This makes a like kind exchange unappealing.
Ground leasing the same land keeps ownership in the family. At the owner’s death, because of the current estate tax “stepped up basis” arrangement, the built in gain may never be taxed.
The hospitals (of England) are full of the ancient. . . . The
almshouses are filled with old laborers. Many there are who get
their living with bearing burdens, but more are fain to burden the
land with their whole bodies. Neither come these straits upon men
always through intemperance, ill-husbandry, indiscretion, etc.; but
even the most wise, sober and discreet men go often to the wall when
they have done their best. . . The rent-taker lives on the sweet
morsels, but the rent-payer eats a dry crust often with watery eyes.
—Robert Cushman, Plymouth, 1621, in Young's "Chronicles of the
In our society, established upon a very rigorous idea of
property, the position of the poor man is horrible; he has literally
no place under the sun. There are no flowers, no shade, no grass but
for him who possesses the earth. In the East these are the gifts of
God, which belong to no man. The proprietor has but a slender
privilege; nature is the patrimony of all.
This excerpt from an 1890 article in The Arena seems relevant as we look at gun violence and other contemporary problems created by lack of employment and income -- and hope.
It would be far better for society if instead of speculating on the
forms of punishment we turned our attention to the means of preventing
the crimes for which we punish the offenders. It has been observed that
most of the murders occur among the poor people, and upon the top floors
of tenement houses; that is to say, among the poorest of the poor. The
connection between poverty and the crime of murder, like the connection
between poverty and all other crime, is demonstrably close. If we could
cure the social disease of poverty, the seeds of crime would be
destroyed. The people rarely think of this. They think it is our
business to punish crime; but it is our best business to prevent it. Our
present organization of society manufactures criminals faster than we
can possibly take care of them. Poverty degrades men; it robs them of
leisure, which is absolutely necessary for the development of mind, and
the proper control of the passions; it keeps the people hungry and
fierce; it imbrutes them; it makes Ishmaels of them — their hand is
against society as the hand of society is against them. Plant a
generation of paupers, and you will reap a crop of criminals.
If we are wise we will turn our attention to the most important problem
of this or any age: how to so enrich the people that the temptations to
crime will be minified to the last possible degree. The solution of the
problem is as simple as it is important. For every millionaire we shall
have a thousand tramps; for every monopolist we shall have a hundred
burglars; for every woman who lives in idleness upon the fruit of
others’ toil, filched from them under the name of interest or rent, we shall have a score of prostitutes; for
every vacant land owner and money limiter — the twin man-starvers — we
shall have a murderer. One is the seed from which the other grows.
Eliminate your monopolists, the king of whom is the owner of vacant
land, and your problem of crime is settled. With open opportunities for
men to apply their labor to natural wealth productions, tenfold more
wealth would be produced and equitably distributed; and with wealth many
times multiplied and equitably distributed, a criminal would be more of
a curiosity than the original three-toed horse.
If memory serves, Hugh Pentecost was an Episcopal priest, perhaps in Newark. The title of the article from which these paragraphs come is "The Crime of Capital Punishment."
I like the word "minified." Maybe there is a useful slogan there: Minify Taxation! ("To make smaller or less significant; reduce.") We could collect the revenue we need with lower taxes were we to concentrate our taxes on land value, in all its manifestations. And in the process, we would reduce poverty, reduce the cost of living, reduce wealth concentration, reverse sprawl, naturally create employment and self-employment opportunities, and stabilize our economy. It seems to me that any one of these goals is worthy, and if this reform would move us closer to any of these goals, it is worth pursuing.
And, importantly, with less need to rely on a social safety net, spending could be signficantly reduced.
Third Fisherman: Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
First Fisherman: Why, as men do a land. The great ones eat up the
little ones. I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to
a whale , 'a plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and
at last devours them all at a mouthful; such whales have I heard on
o' the land, who never leave gaping till they have swallowed the
whole parish, church, steeple, bells and all. . . .
Third Fisherman: If the good King Simonides were of my mind, he
would purge the land of these drones that rob the bee of her honey.
—Shakspere, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," Act II, Scene 1.
The land question . . . means hunger, thirst, nakedness, notice to
quit, labor spent in vain, the toil of years seized upon, the
breaking up of homes, the miseries, sicknesses, deaths of parents,
children, wives; the despair and wildness which spring up in the
hearts of the poor, when legal force, like a sharp harrow, goes over
the most sensitive and vital right of mankind. All this is contained
in the land question.
— CARDINAL MANNING, Letter to Earl
Grey (1868), Miscellanies, Vol. I.; p. 251
I stumbled across an excerpt from this in The American Cooperator, and when I couldn't find the material in any of George's other books, I went looking for the source, an 1887 book with chapters by 16 authors.
Enjoy! (It prints out as about 9 pages, if you're so inclined)
THE HISTORY, PURPOSE AND
POSSIBILITIES OF LABOR ORGANIZATIONS
IN EUROPE AND AMERICA; GUILDS, TRADES-
UNIONS, AND KNIGHTS OF LABOR; WAGES AND PROFITS;
HOURS OF LABOR; FUNCTIONS OF CAPITAL; CHINESE LABOR:
COMPETITION; ARBITRATION; PROFIT-SHARING AND
CO-OPERATION; PRINCIPLES OF THE KNIGHTS OF
LABOR; MORAL AND EDUCATIONAL AS-
PECTS OF THE LABOR QUESTION.
EDITED BY GEORGE E. McNEILL,
First Deputy of Mass. Bureau of Statistics of Labor; Sec.-Treas. of D. A. 30, Knights of Labor.
ASSOCIATE AUTHORS: TERENCE V. POWDERLY, G. M. W., K. of L.; DR. EDMUND J. JAMES, University of Pennsylvania; HON. JOHN J. O'NEILL, of Missouri;
HON. J. M. FARQUHAR, of New York; HON. ROBERT HOWARD, of Massachusetts; HENRY GEORGE, of New York;
ADOLPH STRASSER, Pres. Cigar Makers' Union; JOHN JARRETT, of
Pennsylvania; REV. R. HEBER NEWTON, of New York; F K. FOSTER, of
Massachusetts; P. M. ARTHUR, Chief Engineer Locomotive Brotherhood; W.
W. STONE and W. W. MORROW, of California; FRANKLIN H. GIDDINGS,
"Springfield Union"; JOHN McBRIDE, Secretary Coal Miners' Union;
D.J.O'DONOGHUE, of Toronto, Canada; P. J. McGUIRE, Secretary Carpenters'
NEW YORK: THE M. W. HAZEN CO.
Copyright 1886, by
A M. BRIDGMAN & CO.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE LAND QUESTION.
MAGNITUDE OF THE QUESTION — FIRST PRINCIPLES — THE
LAND-OWNER THE ABSOLUTE MASTER OF MEN WHO MUST LIVE ON HIS LAND — THE
ORDER OF NATURE INVERTED — EQUAL RIGHTS TO THE USE OF THE EARTH —
SELFISHNESS, THE EVIL GENIUS OF MAN — THE IRISH PEOPLE FORCED TO BEG
PERMISSION TO TILL THE SOIL — APPROPRIATION OF THE CHURCH-LANDS — LAND
IN ITSELF HAS NO VALUE — THE GREAT CAUSE OF THE UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF
WEALTH — NO HOPE FOR THE LABORER, SO LONG AS PRIVATE PROPERTY IN LAND
EXISTS — NOTHING MYSTERIOUS ABOUT THE LABOR QUESTION — THE DIFFICULTY IN
FINDING EMPLOYMENT — NATURE OFFERS FREELY TO LABOR — NATURAL MEANS OF
EMPLOYMENT MONOPOLIZED — SPECULATION IN THE BOUNTIES OF NATURE.
BENEATH all the great social questions of our time lies one of primary
and universal importance, the question of the rights of men to the use
of the earth.
The magnitude of the pecuniary interests involved, the fact that the
influential classes in all communities where private property in land
exists are interested in its maintenance, lead to a disposition to
ignore or belittle the land question: but it is impossible to give any
satisfactory explanation of the most important social phenomena without
reference to it; and the growing unrest of the masses of all civilized
countries, under conditions which they feel to be galling and unjust,
must at length lead them, as the only way of securing the rights of
labor, to turn to the land question.
To see that the land question does involve the problem of the equitable
distribution of wealth; that it lies at the root of all the vexed social
questions of our time, and is, indeed, but another name for the great
labor question in all its phases, it is only needful to revert to first
principles, and to consider the relations between men and the planet
We find ourselves on the surface of a sphere, circling through
immeasurable space. Beneath our feet, the diameter of the planet extends
for eight thousand miles; above our heads night reveals countless
points of light, which science tells us are suns, that blaze billions of
miles away. In this inconceivably vast universe, we are confined to the
surface of our sphere, as the mariner in mid-ocean is confined to the
deck of his ship. We are limited to that line where the exterior of the
planet meets the atmospheric envelope that surrounds it. We may look
beyond, but cannot pass. We are not denizens of one element, like the
fish; but while our bodies must be upheld by one element, they must be
laved in another. We live on the earth, and in the air. In the search
for minerals men are able to descend for a few thousand feet into the
earth's crust, provided communication with the surface be kept open, and
air thus supplied; and in balloons men have ascended to like distances
above the surface; but on a globe of thirty-five feet diameter, this
range would be represented by the thickness of a sheet of paper. And
though it is thus possible for man to ascend for a few thousand feet
above the surface, or to descend for a few thousand feet below it, it is
only on the surface of the earth that he can habitually live and supply
his wants; nor can he do this on all parts of the surface of the globe,
but only on that smaller part, which we call land, as distinguished
from the water, while considerable parts even of the land are
uninhabitable by him.
By constructing vessels of materials obtained from land, and
provisioning them with the produce of land, it is true that man is able
to traverse the fluid-surface of the globe; yet he is none the less
dependent upon land. If the land of the globe were again to be
submerged, human life could not long be maintained on the best-appointed
Man, in short, is a land-animal. Physically considered, he is as much a
product of land as is the tree. His body, composed of materials drawn
from land, can only be maintained by nutriment furnished by land; and
all the processes by which he secures food, clothing and shelter consist
but in the working up of land or the products of land. Labor is
possible only on condition of access to land, and all human production
is but the union of land and labor, the transportation or transformation
of previously existing matter into places or forms suited to the
satisfaction of man's needs.
Land, being thus indispensable to man, the most important of social
adjustments is that which fixes the relations between men with regard to
that element. Where all are accorded equal rights to the use of the
earth, no one needs ask another to give him employment, and no one can
stand in fear of being deprived of the opportunity to make, a living. In
such a community, there could be no "labor question." There could be
neither degrading poverty nor demoralizing wealth. And the personal
independence arising from such a condition of equality, in respect to
the ability to get a living, must give character to all social and
On the other hand, inequality of privilege in the use of the earth must
beget inequality of wealth and power, must divide men into those who can
command and those who are forced to serve. The rewards which nature
yields to labor no longer go to the laborers in proportion to industry
and skill; but a privileged class are enabled to live without labor by
compelling a disinherited class to give up some part of their earnings
for permission to live and work. Thus the order of nature is inverted,
those who do no work become rich, and "workingman" becomes synonymous,
with "poor man." Material progress tends to monstrous wealth on one
side, and abject poverty on the other; and society is differentiated
into masters and servants, rulers and ruled.
If one man were permitted to claim the land of the world as his
individual property, he would be the absolute master of all humanity.
All the rest of mankind could live only by his permission, and under
such conditions as he chose to prescribe. So, if one man be permitted to
treat as his own the land of any country, he becomes the absolute
sovereign of its people. Or, if the land of a country be made the
property of a class, a ruling aristocracy is created, who soon begin to
regard themselves, and to be regarded, as of nobler blood and superior
rights. That "God will think twice before he damns people of quality,"
is the natural feeling of those who are taught to believe that the land
on which all must live is legitimately their private property.
"Of course the fact that a chief or land-owner has bought and paid
for a particular privilege or species of taboo, or has inherited
from his fathers, doesn't give him in any moral claim to it. The
question is, Is the claim in itself right and reasonable? for a
wrong is only all the more a wrong for having been long and
— GRANT ALLEN, The British
Barbarians. (Words spoken by Bertram.)
But if Egyptian civilization had its victims, it had also its
favorites. . . . There stood . . . that upper class . .
. owners of a large portion of the soil, and so possessed of
hereditary wealth, one which seemed born to enjoy existence and
"consume the fruits" of other men's toil and industry.
— GEORGE RAWLINSON, History of
Ancient Egypt, Vol. I., Chap. II., p. 533.
Pigou, a key bridge figure in the history of his field, was one of the earliest classical economists to notice that markets do not always produce the best possible social outcomes. The pollution generated by a factory imposes costs on those who live downstream or in the path of its airborne emissions. The risks assumed by banks leading up to the recent financial crisis imposed costs on just about everybody. Market transactions often generate what economists call “externalities” — side effects, sometimes positive but often negative, that affect people who do not participate in the transaction.
Pigou, having recognized the problem, was the first to propose a solution. Society should tax the negative externalities and subsidize the positive ones. This simple notion — if you want less of something, tax it — is why his ideas periodically bubble up in the service of combating a recognizable cost to society, like pollution. We think that his approach offers an answer to another great problem of our time: inequality.
Does the extreme degree of inequality in America today really create, as Pigou would put it, negative externalities? Does the fact that hedge-fund manager Mr. Jones rakes in 100 or 1,000 times what office manager Mrs. Smith earns impose costs on everybody else? Plenty of Americans think not. Defenders of our skewed income distribution point out that a free-enterprise system requires some inequality. Unequal rewards give people an incentive to work hard and acquire new skills. They encourage inventors to invent, entrepreneurs to start companies, investors to take risks. It’s fine in this view that some people get astronomically rich. As Mitt Romney likes to say, “I’m not going to apologize for being successful.”
On the other side, many of us have a gut feeling that inequality has gone too far. Our times are reminiscent of the Gilded Age’s worst excesses. Hence the popularity of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s slogan, “We are the 99 percent.”
LVTfan here: Wouldn't it be better to prevent the inequality by such measures as treating the natural creation as our common treasure, instead of permitting its privatization and then taxing back what is taken? Treating the natural creation, and that which the community creates by its presence and its investment in public goods -- schools, roads, libraries, etc. -- as our COMMON treasure would create equal opportunity for all, a much better idea than permitting some to capture it and then taxing some of their booty back after the fact. When we let some reap what others sow, and then take back a share after the fact, we're still permitting them to reap which deprives the sowers of that right. Whether it be nature doing the sowing, or the community as a whole, no good can come of permitting the privatization of that. Henry George, in "Progress and Poverty" and "Social Problems" showed the logical, efficient, just way to do better.
StarWatch investigation: State paid twice what some I-69 land was worth
To secure path for I-69, INDOT offered $7M for property appraised at $3.34M Written by Ryan Sabalow and Tim Evans | 7:47 PM, Nov 10, 2012
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In 2006, Barry Elkins paid $850,000 for about 200
acres in Monroe County owned by former Indiana University basketball
coach Bob Knight.
$4,250 per acre
Elkins told a local newspaper he had no plans to develop the land. He
said he also was quite aware state officials planned to acquire at least
some of the property for the new I-69 freeway project.
Nonetheless, Elkins told a reporter: "It's a heck of a piece of ground."
Turns out, it produced a heck of a profit, too.
In July, state highway officials paid Elkins $2.41 million for an
easement covering 140 of the 200 acres. That's almost four times the
$658,800 that state appraisers said the easement was worth.
$17,214 per acre for the 140 acres.
$658,800 is $4,705 per acre.
The $2.41 million represents a profit of $1.56 million since 2006, still
leaves the owner with 60 acres with no easement and 140 acres with an
easement. The $1.56 million profit in 6 years on an $850,000 investment
is 84%! Quite a return! For what effort?
What did society get in return?
According to I-69 cost estimates INDOT provided this summer, $162.6
million in state and federal funds were spent on right-of-way purchases
along the new stretch of freeway.
He said the property payments also haven't caused the project to go over
budget. He said the I-69 project is 25 percent under budget estimates.
Officials this summer pegged the cost of the Evansville-to-Bloomington
project at $1.5 billion.
The land Elkins bought from Knight wasn't the only Monroe County
property along I-69's path that he sold to the state for far more than
its fair market value. He and two co-owners also got $348,600 for a
27-acre property appraised at $194,625; and $795,956 for 58 acres
appraised at $278,295.
As for the former Knight property, the state purchased the easement to
create an "environmental mitigation site" to make up for damage to
forests, wetlands, wildlife habitat and other natural resources caused
by the new freeway.
After the $2.41 million payday -- which was nearly three times the
amount Elkins paid Knight for the entire 200 acres -- Elkins still owns
the picturesque expanse of undeveloped pasture and woods about eight
miles southwest of Bloomington.
The easement forbids any development on 140 acres of the land but allows
Elkins to use it for "low-impact" recreational activities such as
hiking, photography and hunting.
And he doesn't have to pay property taxes.
One might reasonably ask what valuation Elkins was paying property taxes on before the transactions.
One might reasonably ask how much the labor costs on this project were -- what men and women got paid for their hours of labor put into building the highway, and then compare that to Mr. Elkins' and others' receipts as passive landholders!! Quite amazing that we treat the "rights" of landholders as more sacred than we make the rights of the community or of those who work.
One might reasonably wonder how soon the communities along the route of this new highway will revalue their land, and whether the communities will collect more from those whose land benefited from the presence of this highway (and less from those whose properties were in reality negatively impacted, should that be the case). In general, the aggregate benefits will far exceed the aggregate negative impacts, and would likely be enough to pay all the costs of the construction.
Mr. Elkins' free lunch did not come out of thin air. And likely, his heirs will continue to enjoy the benefit of it.
THIS is how wealth concentrates. This is why we are forced into taxing wages, and sales, and other things we have no business taxing!
As you read this, recall that a single acre of urban land can be worth $250,000,000 or more -- over 23,000 times what the recently-doubled farmland described in this article sold for!! Also, it seems worthwhile to point out that 160 acres (one quarter of a square mile), at $10,700 each, works out to $1.7 million -- currently well below the threshold for the federal estate tax!
Consider, too, what it is that the land speculator brings to the process of production, and what he is rightly entitled to in a fair and just society, and what society is entitled to, and what the workers -- the farmer and his employees -- are entitled to, and what the capitalist -- the fellow who pays for the buildings and equipment -- is entitled to. Seems like the land speculator is making out awfully -- awefully! -- well but isn't producing or creating anything!! Why do we do things this way? Did the absentee landlord deserve a share of the crop the farmer created? If the farmer has to pay rent to someone, shouldn't it be the community? Wouldn't it be better if America's investors were motivated to put their funds into better equipment (capital) or employing people (labor)?
November 8, 2012
Howard Audsley has been driving through Missouri for the past 30 years to assess the value of farmland. Barreling down the flat roads of Saline County on a recent day, he stopped his truck at a 160-acre tract of newly tilled black land. The land sold in February for $10,700 per acre, double what it would have gone for five years ago.
Heading out into the field, Audsley picked up a clod of the dirt that makes this pocket of land some of the priciest in the state.
"This is a very loamy, very productive, but loamy soil," Audsley said. "A high-clay soil will just be like a rock and that's the difference between the ... soils. And the farmers know this and the investors know this. That's why they pay for it what they do."
A Steep Surge In Prices
not just the value of Missouri cropland that's rising. Corn Belt
farmland prices from Iowa to Illinois and Nebraska to Kansas have been
sky-high lately, boosted by $8-a-bushel corn.
paid about $3.3 million for [about 650 acres] in Southeast Illinois in
2009," said Diggle, who is the CEO of Singapore-based Vulpes Investment
Management. The company handles $250 million of investor money, about 15
percent of which is in farmland.The
high commodity prices have helped encourage investors like Steve
Diggle, who have no connection to farming, to compete for their very own
acreage in the Heartland.
year we sold it at auction and we got $5.1 million," he said, referring
to the Illinois farmland. "That's 55 percent higher than we paid. Plus
we got two yields — one of 3.5 percent and one of 5 percent. So, you
know, as an investment, that's 63 percent over three years. [It] is
great and we're extremely happy with it."
says his firm also purchased a 1,400-acre tract in Illinois two years
ago. The company plans to hold on to it to make money through cash rents
and land appreciation.
value of your land may go up or down. But as long as bond prices remain
where they are, it's very hard to see how we'll have a sustained bear
market for agriculture," Diggle said. By comparison, he said, the
extremely low returns in the bond market are "just so inferior."
A Safer Investment
You don't have to be a billionaire to invest in farmland.
professor Andy Trupin, who lives in Delray Beach, Fla., bought a
155-acre tract of farmland in Lebo, Kan., two years ago because it
looked like it would make him more money than gold or the stock market.
He also owns another tract that's primarily pastureland.
seemed like a much safer vehicle to get an income stream even though
... it's not a high-income stream. At least it's more than you would get
on Treasuries at any duration," Trupin said. "And at the same time,
[farmland offers] price appreciation or to at least [holds] its value in
the event of an inflation period."
investment has paid off so far, Trupin said. He rented out the land to a
local farmer who grows corn, soybeans and wheat. Even the brutal
drought failed to knock down the investment.
we managed to get 20 bushels to the acre of corn even though the place
was as dry as Las Vegas last year," Trupin said. "I'm willing to let the
income from this thing fluctuate. In bad years, it's a slight loss —
maybe a couple of thousand on the year — and in good years, you gain up
to $10,000 on it."
found the land online and got help purchasing it by Realty Executives
of Kansas City. The company says 90 percent of its new customers are
investors like Trupin, and it holds seminars for investors that walk
them through the process of evaluating and buying farmland and how to
find local farmers to rent the land.
probably a higher percentage now of people who are strictly investors,
stock market people, money-market-type investors, and ... they're buying
all types of land," said Dale Hermreck, a broker for Realty Executives
who says he sold $21 million worth of farmland in Kansas last year.
have a lot of outside interest from Texas, Chicago, New York," Hermreck
said. "I get calls and inquiries all over the United States."
The Specter Of A Bubble
to University of Missouri agriculture economist Ron Plain all of this
sounds a bit like the housing bubble burst of 2006. He is concerned a
similar bubble could be happening in farmland.
get several years going up faster than that long-term trend of 6
percent [annual increases] and you're then in a situation where you're
sort of due for a correction," Plain said. "And the way you correct is
pull those land values down — or 'pop the bubble' ... and so there's
concern about that and it's kind of reasonable to worry."
said that with mortgage rates at their lowest in 60 years, it's
reasonable to expect the cost of borrowing to go up eventually. And if
crop prices retreat from record highs, he said, that means "less income
per acre and therefore less ability to pay for farmland."
a bubble burst, farmland might be harder to sell, especially compared
with other more liquid investments. But investors argue that any bubble
is still far off, and they believe that farm acreage will remain a solid
long-term investment so long as the demand for food continues to grow.
remains to be seen whether investors will be able to compete with
farmers for the small supply of high-quality cropland available in the
Midwest, says broker Hermreck.
have people call me all the time and I just don't have what they're
looking for," Hermreck said. "Simply supply and demand. It's just not
there. I could sell an awful lot more of this land if it was available.
And people seem to hang on to something that's making some money and
real popular. It's just real popular now to own land."
Fentress Swanson reports from Missouri for Harvest Public Media, an
agriculture-reporting project involving six NPR member stations in the
Midwest. For more stories about farm and food, check out harvestpublicmedia.org
Henry George is the most famous American popular economist you've never heard of, a 19th century cross between Michael Lewis, Howard Dean and Ron Paul. Progress and Poverty, George's most important book, sold three million copies and was translated into German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew and Mandarin. During his lifetime, George was probably the third best-known American, eclipsed only by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. He was admired by the foreign luminaries of the age, too -- Leo Tolstoy, Sun-Yat Sen and Albert Einstein, who wrote that "men like Henry George are unfortunately rare. One cannot image a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice." George Bernard Shaw described his own thinking about the political economy as a continuation of the ideas of George, whom he had once heard deliver a speech.
Later, she writes,
George found most mysterious about the economic consequences of the
industrial revolution was that its failure to deliver economic
prosperity was not uniform -- instead it had created a winner-take-all
society: "Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others
find it hard to get a living at all. The 'tramp' comes with the
locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of
'material progress' as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and
magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by
uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow
of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns
and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied."
diagnosis was beguilingly simple -- the fruits of innovation weren't
widely shared because they were going to the landlords. This was a very
American indictment of industrial capitalism: at a time when Marx was
responding to Europe's version of progress and poverty with a wholesale
denunciation of private property, George was an enthusiastic supporter
of industry, free trade and a limited role for government. His culprits
were the rentier rich, the landowners who profited hugely from
industrialization and urbanization, but did not contribute to it.
had such tremendous popular appeal because he addressed the obvious
inequity of 19th century American capitalism without disavowing
capitalism itself. George wasn't trying to build a communist utopia. His
campaign promise was to rescue America from the clutches of the robber
barons and to return it to "the democracy of Thomas Jefferson." That
ideal -- as much Tea Party as Occupy Wall Street -- won support not only
among working class voters and their leaders, like Samuel Gompers, but
also resonated with many small businessmen. Robert Ingersoll, a
Republican orator, attorney and intellectual, was a George supporter. He
urged his fellow Republicans to back his man and thereby "show that
their sympathies are not given to bankers, corporations and
I commend the entire post, adapted from Freeland's new book, Plutocrats. It ends with these paragraphs:
today urgently needs a 21st century Henry George -- a thinker who
embraces the wealth-creating power of capitalism, but squarely faces the
inequity of its current manifestation. That kind of thinking is missing
on the right, which is still relying on Reagan-era trickle-down
economics and hopes complaints about income inequality can be silenced
with accusations of class war. But the left isn't doing much better
either, preferring nostalgia for the high-wage, medium-skill
manufacturing jobs of the post-war era and China-bashing to a serious
and original effort to figure out how to make 21st century capitalism
work for the middle class.
and the technology revolution aren't going away -- and thank goodness
for that. Industrialization didn't go away either. But between 1886,
when George lost the mayoral race, and the presidency of FDR, American
progressives invented, fought for and implemented a broad range of new
social and political institutions to make capitalism serve the whole of
society -- ranging from trust-busting, to the income tax, to the welfare
are living in an era of comparably tumultuous economic change. The
great challenge of our time is to devise the new social and political
institutions we need to make the new economy work for everyone. So far,
that is a historic task neither party is taking on with enough energy,
honesty or originality."
Along the same lines, you might find interesting an earlier post here, an article by Thomas Shearman entitled "Henry George's Mistakes." (He was a co-founder of Shearman & Sterling, and went on to write some excellent articles on plutocracy in The Standard, October, 1887.)
One of my tenants I have just let off from his lease, because he
thought he could do better with less land. This takes off about a
sixth of my income. Another has not yet paid me a cent, and I
cannot ask him for it, since it seems to me that the man who tills
the land and makes it useful has a better right to it than he who
has merely inherited it.
— JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL (1848),
Letters, Vol. 1., p. 149.
See, there they troop from fields and farmyards; they've tilled the
earth and turned it to a smiling garden, and fruits in plenty,
enough for all who live, have paid their pains — yet poor are they
and naked, starving; for not to them, or others who are needy,
belongs earth's blessing, but solely to the rich and mighty one who
calls men and the earth his own.
— RICHARD WAGNER, The Revolution,
Prose Works, Vol. VIII, Chap. 14, p. 235. (Translation of W.
That which is yet wanting on your part to be done is this, to see
that the oppressor's power be cast out with his person; and to see
that the free possession of the land and liberties be put into the
hands of the oppressed commoners of England.
— JERRARD WINSTANLEY,
Epistle Dedicatory to Oliver Cromwell, in
The Law of Freedom in a
Platform, or True Magistracy Restored.
"But how is it that you allow these chiefs — landlords, don't you call them? — to taboo the
soil, and prevent you all from even walking on it? Don't you see
that if you choose to combine in a body, and insist upon the
recognition of your natural rights — if you determined to make the landlords give up
their taboo, and cease from injustice, they'd have to yield to you?
And then you could exercise your natural right of going where you
pleased, and cultivate the land in common for the public benefit,
instead of leaving it as now, to be cultivated anyhow, or turned
into waste, for the benefit of the tabooers?"
— GRANT ALLEN, The British
Barbarians (Words spoken by Bertram).
A major theme of the underlying political debate in the United States is the role of the state and the need for collective action. The private sector, while central in a modern economy, cannot ensure its success alone. For example, the financial crisis that began in 2008 demonstrated the need for adequate regulation.
Moreover, beyond effective regulation (including ensuring a level playing field for competition), modern economies are founded on technological innovation, which in turn presupposes basic research funded by government. This is an example of a public good – things from which we all benefit, but that would be undersupplied (or not supplied at all) were we to rely on the private sector.
Conservative politicians in the US underestimate the importance of publicly provided education, technology, and infrastructure. Economies in which government provides these public goods perform far better than those in which it does not.
But public goods must be paid for, and it is imperative that everyone pays their fair share. While there may be disagreement about what that entails, those at the top of the income distribution who pay 15% of their reported income (money accruing in tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens may not be reported to US authorities) clearly are not paying their fair share. ...
I have to disagree with the second sentence of this next paragraph. And I think Stiglitz knows better, if he stops to think about it:
Democracies rely on a spirit of trust and cooperation in paying taxes. If every individual devoted as much energy and resources as the rich do to avoiding their fair share of taxes, the tax system either would collapse, or would have to be replaced by a far more intrusive and coercive scheme. Both alternatives are unacceptable.
We don't need intrusive or coercive; we just need to start collecting the lion's share of the rent! Well, I suppose some rent-seekers would find this extremely intrusive -- it intrudes on their habit of self-enrichment by privatizing of what is rightly and logically our PUBLIC treasure, the logical way of financing PUBLIC goods. And Professor Stiglitz is quite aware of the value of natural resources; he may not be quite as conscious of the value of urban and other well-situated land.
Our national recordkeeping doesn't even collect the valuations of land and natural resources on any consistent basis! (One could reasonably argue that this failure-to-measure is a form of corruption!) What we don't measure we can't do anything about. And the powers that be are quite content with how we do things; the benefits accrue to them! And several generations of college-educated people know nothing about the issue, which was well known and widely discussed 100 years ago. (Look into the extensive Single Tax literature and the ideas of Henry George.)
Some more excerpts:
The billionaire investor Warren Buffett argues that he should pay only the taxes that he must, but that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that taxes his income at a lower rate than his secretary is required to pay. He is right. Romney might be forgiven were he to take a similar position. Indeed, it might be a Nixon-in-China moment: a wealthy politician at the pinnacle of power advocating higher taxes for the rich could change the course of history.
But Romney has not chosen to do so. He evidently does not recognize that a system that taxes speculation at a lower rate than hard work distorts the economy. Indeed, much of the money that accrues to those at the top is what economists call rents, which arise not from increasing the size of the economic pie, but from grabbing a larger slice of the existing pie.
Those at the top include a disproportionate number of monopolists who increase their income by restricting production and engaging in anti-competitive practices; CEOs who exploit deficiencies in corporate-governance laws to grab a larger share of corporate revenues for themselves (leaving less for workers); and bankers who have engaged in predatory lending and abusive credit-card practices (often targeting poor and middle-class households). It is perhaps no accident that rent-seeking and inequality have increased as top tax rates have fallen, regulations have been eviscerated, and enforcement of existing rules has been weakened: the opportunity and returns from rent-seeking have increased.
Today, a deficiency of aggregate demand afflicts almost all advanced countries, leading to high unemployment, lower wages, greater inequality, and – coming full, vicious circle – constrained consumption. There is now a growing recognition of the link between inequality and economic instability and weakness.
There is another vicious circle: Economic inequality translates into political inequality, which in turn reinforces the former, including through a tax system that allows people like Romney – who insists that he has been subject to an income-tax rate of “at least 13%” for the last ten years – not to pay their fair share. The resulting economic inequality – a result of politics as much as market forces – contributes to today’s overall economic weakness.
As I listen to the 2012 party platforms, I am reminded of what they ought to be focused on, embodied pretty well in this platform from 1886-87.
PLATFORM OF THE UNITED PARTY.
Adopted at Syracuse August 19, 1887.
We, the delegates of the united labor party of New York, in state
convention assembled, hereby reassert, as the fundamental platform of
the party, and the basis on which we ask the co-operation of citizens of
other states, the following declaration or principles adopted on
September 23, 1886, by the convention of trade and labor associations of
the city of New York, that resulted in the formation of the united
"Holding that the corruptions of government and the impoverishment of
labor result from neglect of the self-evident truths proclaimed by the
founders of this republic that all men are created equal and are endowed
by their Creator with unalienable rights, we aim at the abolition of a
system which compels men to pay their fellow creatures for the use of
God’s gifts to all, and permits monopolizers to deprive labor of natural
opportunities for employment, thus filling the land with tramps and
paupers and bringing about an unnatural competition which tends to
reduce wages to starvation rates and to make the wealth producer the
industrial slave of those who grow rich by his toil.
'“Holding, moreover, that the advantages arising from social growth and
improvement belong to society at large, we aim at the abolition of the
system which makes such beneficent inventions as the railroad and
telegraph a means for the oppression of the people and the
aggrandizement of an aristocracy of wealth and power. We declare the
true purpose of government to be the maintenance of that sacred right of
property which gives to every one opportunity to employ his labor, and
security that he shall enjoy its fruits; to prevent the strong from
oppressing the weak, and the unscrupulous from robbing the honest; and
to do for the equal benefit of all such things as can be better done by
organized society than by individuals; and we aim at the abolition of
all laws which give to any class of citizens advantages, either
judicial, financial, industrial or political, that are not equally
shared by all others."
We call upon all who seek the emancipation of labor, and who would make
the American union and its component states democratic commonwealths of
really free and independent citizens, to ignore all minor differences
and join with us in organizing a great national party on this broad
platform of natural rights and equal justice. We do not aim at securing
any forced equality in the distribution of wealth. We do not propose
that the state shall attempt to control production, conduct
distribution, or in any wise interfere with the freedom of the
individual to use his labor or capital in any way that may seem proper
to him and that will not interfere with the equal rights of others. Nor
do we propose that the state shall take possession of land and either
work it or rent it out. What we propose is not the disturbing of any man
in his holding or title, but by abolishing all taxes on industry or its
products, to leave to the producer the full fruits of his exertion and
by the taxation of land values, exclusive or improvements, to devote to
the common use and benefit those values, which, arising not from the
exertion of the individual, but from the growth of society, belong
justly to the community as a whole. This increased taxation of land, not
according to its area, but according to its value, must, while
relieving the working farmer and small homestead owner of the undue
burdens now imposed upon them, make it unprofitable to hold land for
speculation, and thus throw open abundant opportunities for the
employment of labor and the building up of homes.
While thus simplifying government by doing away with the horde of
officials required by the present system of taxation and with its
incentives to fraud and corruption, we would further promote the common
weal and further secure the equal rights of all, by placing under public
control such agencies as are in their nature monopolies: We would have
our municipalities supply their inhabitants with water, light and heat;
we would have the general government issue all money, without the
intervention of banks; we would add a postal telegraph system and postal
savings banks to the postal service, and would assume public control
and ownership of those iron roads which have become the highways of
While declaring the foregoing to be the fundamental principles and aims
of the united labor party, and while conscious that no reform can give
effectual and permanent relief to labor that does not involve the legal
recognition of equal rights, to natural opportunities, we nevertheless,
as measures of relief from some of the evil effects of ignoring those
rights, favor such legislation as may tend to reduce the hours of labor,
to prevent the employment of children of tender years, to avoid the
competition of convict labor with honest industry, to secure the
sanitary inspection of tenements, factories and mines, and to put an end
to the abuse of conspiracy laws.
We desire also to so simplify the procedure of our courts and diminish
the expense of legal proceedings, that the poor may be placed on an
equality with the rich and the long delays winch now result in
scandalous miscarriages of justice may be prevented.
And since the ballot is the only means by which in our Republic the
redress of political and social grievances is to besought, we especially
and emphatically declare for the adoption of what is known as the
“Australian system of voting,” an order that the effectual secrecy of
the ballot and the relief of candidates for public office from the heavy
expenses now imposed upon them, may prevent bribery and intimidation,
do away with practical discriminations in favor of the rich and
unscrupulous, and lessen the pernicious influence of money in politics.
In support or these aims we solicit the co-operation of all patriotic
citizens who, sick of the degradation of politics, desire by
constitutional methods to establish justice, to preserve liberty, to
extend the spirit of fraternity, and to elevate humanity.
I can easily imagine a great proprietor of ground rents in the metropolis calling attention to the habitations of the poor, to the evils of overcrowding, and to the scandals which the inquiry reveals, while his own income is greatly increased by the causes which make house-rent dear in London, and decent lodging hardly obtainable by thousands of laborers.
The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which when land was in common, cost the laborer only the trouble of gathering them, come, even to him, to have an additional price fixed upon them. He must then pay for the license to gather them, and must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labor either collects or produces. This portion, or what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of the land.
— ADAM SMITH, The Wealth of Nations, Book I., Chap. 6.
A bale of cloth, a machine, a house, owes its value to the labor expended upon it, and belongs to the person who expends or employs the labor; a piece of land owes its value, so far as its value is affected by the causes I am now considering, not to the labor expended on it, but to that expended upon something else — to the labor expended in making a railroad or building houses in an adjoining town. . . . How many landlords have their rent rolls doubled, by railways made in their despite!
— PROF. J. E. CAIRNES, Essays in Political Economy (1870), VI., p. 193.
If this land (i.e., "land available for building in the neighborhood of our populous cities"), were rated at, say, 4% on its selling value, . . . the owners of the building land would be forced to offer their land for sale, and thus their competition with one another would bring down the price of building land, and so diminish the tax in the shape of ground-rent or price paid for land, which is now levied on urban enterprise by the adjacent land-owners, a tax, be it remembered, which is no recompense for any industry or expenditure on their part, but is the natural result of the industry and activity of the townspeople themselves.
— First Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes (1885), p. 42.
The ordinary progress of a society which increases in wealth is at all times to augment the incomes of landlords — to give them both a greater amount and a greater proportion of the wealth of the community, independently of any trouble or outlay incurred by themselves. They grow richer as it were in their sleep, without working, risking or economizing. What claims have they, on the general principles of social justice, to this accession of riches?
— JOHN STUART MILL, Principles of Political Economy, Book V., Chap. 2, Sec. 5
It will be thought an intolerable thing that men shall derive enormous increments of income from the growth of towns to which they have contributed nothing — that they shall be able to sweep into their coffers what they have not produced — that they shall be able to go on throttling towns, as they are well known to do in some cases. It is impossible to suppose that the system will not be vigorously, powerfully, persistently and successfully attacked.
—JOHN MORLEY, Speech at Forfar, October 4, 1897. The Times, October 5, 1897, p. 5, column 3.
It is not proposed to confiscate any value that has been created by human industry. This would be robbery. But when the community creates wealth it is entitled to it as much as the individual is to the wealth he creates.
Has no one in California figured out that when the calf is deprived of mother's milk, starvation is inevitable?
It has taken 34 years, but it is coming about.
Feeding calves grain, or seaweed, or sunflower seeds isn't as smart as letting it consume its natural food.
Taxing wages, sales and buildings isn't as smart as collecting the lion's share -- calf's share, if you will -- of the land rent for public purposes.
Proposition 13 was designed to make sure that the cows' milk was kept for the Irvines, the big landowners, the commercial property owners, and the longtime homeowners, while providing a diminishing fifth of it to the calf and supplementing with grain, seaweed and sunflower seeds.
The calf's digestive system has blown up because it was deprived of its proper food, and "nourished" with stolen fake food.
Thousands Sign Petition at a Mass Meeting Held in Union Square
Pastor Flays Legislature
Dr. John Haynes Holmes Says Bosses Have No Right to Stop the Expression of the People's Will
Petitions asking for a referendum vote upon the question of reducing gradually the tax rate upon buildings in New York to one-half the tax rate upon land, through five consecutive reductions in as many years, were signed yesterday by several thousand persons at a mass-meeting held in Union Square under the auspices of the New York Congestion Committee. The meeting was announced as a public protest for lower rents.
Benjamin Clark Marsh, Executive Secretary of the Committee on Congestion of Population in New York, was Chairman. Dr. John Haynes Holmes of the Church of the Messiah said that the Legislature "in the wisdom of the Big Sachem at Fourteenth Street has decreed that the people are not fit to register their judgment as to this bill. I, for one, desire to protest against the boss or set of bosses who presume to forbid the people to express their will on any question."
Frederick Leubuscher, representing the New York State League of Savings and Loan Association, said:
"It was admitted by some of the land speculators at the hearing of the Lower Rents bill at Albany that they were unable to answer our arguments. Nevertheless, a Democratic majority stifled the bill. As a savings and loan association man, I am interested particularly in the enactment of this proposed law. The stimulation of the erection of buildings and the making of improvements generally will be more market in the suburbs, where modest homes, costing from $2,000 to $5,000 to erect, are most in demand."
The purpose of the law was explained in a letter from Assemblyman Michael Schaap, who introduced the Salant-Schaap bill in the lower House of the State Legislature.
"If the tax rate on buildings had been half that on land this year," he wrote, "the rents of the average tenant would have been at least one month's rent less than it was; owners of small houses would have paid $15 to $25 less taxes than they do, and there would be fewer than 9,000 evictions for non-payment of rent.
"The taxes on all adequately improved property would have been reduced and the city would have recovered almost $20,000,000 more of ground rent which now goes to a few people of New York and to absentee landlords. This ground rent at 6% is over $273,000,000. The people of the city have created and maintain these values, but they get less than $84,000,000 of it -- the land owners get the other $189,000,000. Rent and taxes on homes and other buildings would have been reduced by at least $20,000,000."
The Rev. Alexander Irvine said that one family out of every 150 in New York City was evicted for non-payment of rent, because of the unjust taxation of improved property as contrasted with vacant land. Only 3% of the residents of the city own land, the speaker asserted.
John J. Hopper, Chairman of the New York State Independence League, said:
"A tax upon anything tends to lessen the supply of that commodity. By the same principle a tax upon buildings tends to lessen their number. A bill tending to reduce the tax upon buildings will bring about the construction of more buildings, and as a result there will be more competition and a corresponding reduction in rents.
"The Legislature refused to let us decide this question for ourselves, asserting that we did not know enough to vote on the subject of taxation. When we realize that for the expenses of the National Government each one of us pays $7.50 a year; for the state expenses, $5.50 and for the city expenses $38.50, making a total of $51.50 per individual, or $255 for a family of five, then we understand that we must think upon this subject of taxation.
Frederick C. Howe, Director of the People's Institute, said:
"Think of the stupidity of New York citizens. We talk about bankruptcy and lack of city credit and yet we give away each year at least $100,000,000 in the speculative increase of land values which the growth of the community creates. That is, the increase show by the tax valuation of the city. New York could pay a large part of its present budget out of the land speculation profits alone, if it taxed land and exempted buildings."
C. N. Sheehan of the Twenty-eighth Assembly District Board of Trade, Brooklyn, and J. P. Coughlin of the Central Labor Union of Brooklyn also spoke.
Dewey Beach — The Town of Dewey Beach [Delaware] is marching to the beat of its own drum: Town officials have imposed a fee of $109 to all bands that play in town. No other town in the Cape Region imposes such a law. “This is just a matter of fairness,” said Mayor Diane Hanson. ... Hanson said if her cleaning lady has to buy a business license, it is fair to require bands to buy one as well.
Dewey Beach, Delaware, prides itself on not having a property tax. This forces it to rely on taxes which are far less just and less logical than a simple tax on land value would be -- including a licensing fee for anyone who works in Dewey Beach!
And if one lets one's license skip a year, and then needs it again, one must pay for the year one didn't have a customer there, as well as the years in which one does.
Why? Well, perhaps the explanation is partially related to the fact that one company owns an amazing amount of the land in Dewey Beach, and it is rented out on ground leases which are currently at a very low level -- say, $550 to $650 per year -- and whose end comes in about 11 to 14 years. Many of these lots sell for $600,000 or more, when one comes on the market; those in the ocean block perhaps significantly more. The County last assessed the land in the late 1960s. County taxes on the cottages (excluding the land), which typically sell for $200,000 or less because they are aging and must be removed at the end of the lease, run from $300 to $900 a year (and the county tax is mostly for the school district). In neighboring Rehoboth Beach, city taxes typically run about 1/4 of county taxes, though the relationship is not constant because one relies on a 1960s assessment, the other on a 1970s one!!
Dewey Beach collects something each year from property owners to restore the beaches, in case there is erosion that the federal government or state government won't pay to correct, but the beaches were renourished this past winter, at no expense to the property owners. According to an article from a week or two ago, the tax is $0.40 per $100 of assessed value. That article says, "A property in Dewey Beach with an assessed value of $200,000 would pay a total of $240 each year in taxes – $80 for beach replenishment and $160 for capital improvements." But it doesn't seem to realize that the only homes with assessed values of $200,000 are valued by their sellers at over $6 million! $80 is trivial to the owner of those $6 million oceanfront homes.
But to the typical worker in Dewey Beach, the $109 annual license to work within the borders is not so trivial.
Does it make sense to tax workers? Or is there a better tax base than productive activity? What taxes work best? Which taxes do the least damage?
Is working a privilege, or a right? I understand licensing doctors, nurses, lawyers and the like; I don't understand licensing singers, painters, waiters, and other workers.
The essential principle of property being to assure to all persons what they have produced by their labor and accumulated by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the product of labor, the raw material of the earth.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 5.
When the "sacredness of property" is talked of, it should always be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 6.
This item, from a Canadian library, seems to me to be a good short statement of the reform many of us seek; I particularly like the next-to-last paragraph.
1899 ADDRESS TO THE CHURCHES FROM THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS:
The Single Tax Association, The Trades and Labor Council, The Allied Printing Trades Council, The International Builders' Laborers' Union, The International Association of Machinists, The Toronto Typographical Union, The Toronto Street Railway Employees' Union and Benefit Society.
THE circumstances of the last few years have revealed a most serious condition in the social arrangements of this Continent. With an immeasurable endowment of natural wealth, with the improvement of machinery beyond all parallel, with the means of transportation perfected as never before, with the power of producing wealth in abundance vastly greater than in any other age, we still see the terrible sight of ghastly poverty, of oppressive want, of enforced idleness, and all this in the shadow of palaces with all the outward and visible signs of inordinate luxury.
Is it not true that the larger the city the more evident is the widening of the gulf between the haunts of poverty and the palaces of the millionaires? Is it not manifestly evident that somehow and somewhere in our social arrangements there is an unfortunate want of equity, a terrible miscarriage of justice? When some must toil like slaves and then secure only a fractional part of what they produce, and when others without doing the slightest productive act, can enjoy an abundance of superfluous luxuries, when with the most ample natural opportunities for employment, thousands find it so difficult to secure employment, how can the industrial classes be convinced that equity reigns and justice triumphs?
We trust you will pardon us for submitting to you the following enquiries: —
For whom did the Creator furnish this vast storehouse of natural wealth? What are we to understand by the terms "God the Father, maker of heaven and earth" and the terms "Dearly beloved brethren"? Are we to understand that he is the universal father and that every child of every generation can come to him with the same filial reverence and say, "My Father, am not I thy child, an heir of thy bounties?" Do you ask us to accept this doctrine of Fatherhood and Brotherhood, this doctrine of equal heirship for all, or are we to understand that herein is a serious mistake, that we are not all equally the heirs to his gifts, but that the bounties of the Creator were a special gift to one portion of humanity, to them and their heirs, "to have and to hold forever?" Are we to regard it as in accordance with equity, that one part of humanity may claim for themselves the power to exclude us from these bounties, and to demand from us an endless tribute for occupying the surface of the planet, so that no matter how abundant may be our productions, we must for ever surrender that abundance for the opportunity of getting access to the common heritage furnished by the Creator?
When the farmer produces food and the clothier produces clothing, and they exchange, we can at once recognize the equity and justice of the transaction. In this transaction we see the fulfilment of the Golden Rule, to do unto others as we would have others do unto us. This is service for service, burden for burden, sacrifice for sacrifice, enrichment for enrichment, and its equity is at once most clearly apparent. There is no difficulty in seeing the justice of the transaction that leaves both parties benefited by a mutual enrichment and we can at once recognize the brotherhood in the injunction: "Bear ye one another's burdens and thus fulfil the law of Christ."
Nor is there any difficulty in understanding that when men have raised crops, built houses, fabricated goods, when they have changed scarcity into abundance, then they have established an unquestionable right to claim abundance.
We ask you now to look at a marked contrast to these examples. The growth of population on this continent is proceeding with very great rapidity, especially in the cities, many of which double their population every ten years. With this increase of population there must necessarily come relative scarcity of land. While, therefore, industry is ever striving to produce abundance of commodities, increased population is necessarily making land more scarce. Now we would like to know by what principle of justice should we, who beget the abundance, have to surrender that abundance and thus have left for ourselves only scarcity, while speculators and other holders of land, claim the abundance that we have produced because land has become scarce?
Is there not something monstrously unjust, awfully inequitable in this arrangement? With every increase in population, with every public improvement, the land holder can claim from us more and more. As the years go by his claim may increase ten fold, twenty fold, fifty fold, a hundred fold or a thousand fold. Is this because he has increased the productiveness of his energies, and the abundance of his industry? Is it because of his industry that the harvest waves, that dwellings increase, that railroads develop? Not at all, but the very reverse. Does he give abundance for abundance, benefit for benefit? Not at all, but the very reverse. It is out of the abundance of our products that he is licensed by law to appropriate that abundance and to leave us but a meagre relict of penury. The transaction is not enrichment for enrichment, but while we enrich, the land holder impoverishes.
Could there be anything more contrary to the spirit of true religion than this method by which, as fast as one party does the enriching, another party appropriates the riches, leaving the producers in poverty?
The producers of abundance despoiled and left with scarcity; others allowed to appropriate the abundance because land becomes scarce; and by our present arrangements this may continue to the end of time, the obligation of the industrious classes ever increasing, thus insuring their endless impoverishment, the power of the land owner to appropriate the products of industry ever increasing, thus insuring the widening of the gulf between leisured affluence and overworked poverty. Can we be convinced that this is the fruits of righteousness and of that "love which rejoices not in iniquity"?
We have no difficulty in understanding why we should pay the farmer who feeds us, the tailor who clothes us, the teacher who instructs us, and any one who produces for us, or renders us a service; but we cannot possibly understand why we should have to pay any man for access to the land, the forest, the minerals or the other things that man never furnished, any more than we should have to pay him for the sunlight, the air or any other gift of the Creator, and it is equally difficult to understand why we should have to pay an increasing amount of our productions to land holders because the increase of population makes land more scarce. Is not the whole system of land speculation an attempt to secure the products of industry by the impoverishment of the producers; how can it succeed except by the spoliation and degradation of industry? Is it not a wrong that should receive the most emphatic condemnation of the whole church?
You urge us, you plead with us, you beseech us to come and unite with you and to yield ourselves to the claims of religion. But what kind of religion do you ask us to adopt? A religion that rejoices in equity, that loves justice and hates iniquity; or a religion that looks on the spoliation of labor, if not with complacency at any rate too often in silent tolerance or even acquiescence? A religion that recognizes every child of God as equally the heir of God, the heir to the bounties of the All-Father-Creator, or a religion that ignores the fact that the earth with all its potentialities is the gift of God to his children? A religion that seeks to secare all the benefits and rewards of an advancing civilization to those who bear the burden of begetting and supporting that civilization, or a religion that secures the benefits of civilization to the full and overflowing to those, who not merely contribute nothing whatever to its maintenance, but who by their mischievous dog-in-the-manger speculations, often stand in the way of its progress? A religion that demands obedience before sacrifice, or a religion that substitutes charity for justice and cast-off clothing for the principles of righteousness!
Is it not vain to expect men to join with enthusiastic devotion in the propagation of a professed religion that unfortunately ignores the highest claims of religion, that repeats, "Our Father who art in heaven," but ignores the fatherhood on earth, that initiates its service with "Dearly beloved brethren," and then splits society into lordlings and serfs, that enjoins honesty and then fosters and rewards despoiling speculations, that with the lips extols peace and unity, love and justice, but, alas! alas! maintains in operation lorces that beget hostility and discord, strikes and lockouts, riots and labor wars?
The universal and unvarying testimony of the ages endorses the truth, "As ye sow, so shall ye also reap." To sow the seeds of injustice and to expect the fruits of righteousness, to plant the apples of discord and then to look for the fruits of peace, is to look for limpid purity in the stream, while maintaining putrescent corruption in the fountain, it is to look for grapes from thorns and figs from thistles.
With all respect we submit to you these thoughts as transcendantly the most important to which we could call your attention.