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!
40. Studies have confirmed the common wisdom that people who live in cities do more walking than those who live in suburban and rural areas, and tend to be in better shape. What economic policies might help promote the kind of density that will encourage the development of affordable housing -- for people all across the income spectrum -- near the centers of activity?
A. Land value taxation, which will cause urban landholders to put their underused land to better use, replacing vacant lots and obsolete buildings with taller modern buildings, approaching the highest and best use for that land.
B. Land value taxation, which will capture the increases in value that are the result of public investment in new transportation systems: subway stops, bus stops, etc., instead of leaving it to raise the selling price of sites served.
C. Land value taxation, which produces the kind of density that makes public transportation systems feasible.
D. Land value taxation, which will allow people who would like to live closer to their work to afford housing there
E. LVT, which will bring down the selling price of land -- without reducing its value at all -- to make it appealing to developers who can put it to use
F. LVT, which will allow people to afford housing with smaller and shorter mortgages to live where they want to live.
39. The Israelis and the Palestinians each want to occupy the same land. How might they go about settling this peacefully, to create the greatest prosperity and security for everyone involved, and without subjugating one people to another?
A. By living side by side, collecting the land rent for each property from whomever has title, and using that revenue to provide public goods. Any excess can be distributed as a Citizens Dividend, similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund.
38. Mining companies which mine on public lands pay far less to the Federal government than they pay on privately held lands.
A. That's fair, because the private landholders are better negotiators
B. That's fair, because the 1872 Mining Act set the price, and it wouldn't be fair to change the business environment after setting the rules.
C. That's fair. Corporations need subsidies to create jobs.
D. That's unfair, and the federal government should be getting just as much from the miners as the private landholders are getting
E. That's unfair, and not only should the federal government be getting more from the mining companies, but the federal government should be collecting a significant portion of the royalties now privatized by private and corporate landholders, since we're all equally entitled to nature's bounty. This would permit us to reduce other taxes on wages and production, and perhaps lead to a citizen's dividend, similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund
F. That's unfair, because the 1872 Mining Act was based on old prices and old mining technology.
35. He worked hard. He played by the rules. He bought up land before the interstate highway was announced, and his widow and orphans now have a very valuable land portfolio, for which others will pay a high purchase price or high lease prices for generations. Is it right to exact an estate tax of 50% or so on the true market value of that estate?
A. No! Widows and orphans must be protected! We wouldn't want them to have to depend on the social safety net.
B. No! The dollars he spent to buy that land decades ago were already subject to an income tax -- maybe two (federal and state) -- and the heirs are entitled to keep all the increase from the purchase price, even if that is a 20% increase, or a 200% increase, or a 2000% increase, over the purchase price.
C. No! The man had foresight, and we ought to honor, reward and encourage that!
D. No! The interstate highway could have been re-routed, and the man and his widow and children could have been left high and dry. They took a risk, and we ought to reward them for their brilliance!
E. An estate tax is a good way to capture this socially-created windfall once per generation. After all, he can't take it with him. Half for the heirs, half for the community that created the value. Seems fair, and keeps them out of the social safety net.
F. An estate tax is better than nothing, but it is a poor alternative to collecting some significant portion of the rental value of the land, month in and month out, whether that rental value be low (before the interstate highway's route is determined) or high (after it is announced and built, and the community grows up around that highway).
37. Our ancestors bought or stole the land which the ancestors of some of those now identified as "Native Americans" relied on. How should we and our children pay back them and their children?
A. By giving them the privilege of selling cigarettes without taxes, forgoing revenue that could help meet the health costs associated with smoking, both for smokers and for those who live with them.
B. By giving them the privilege of running casinos, even if a percentage of that revenue must be contributed to the state, and even if gambling is creates tremendous problems for some individuals in society, beyond those who actually gamble.
C. By collecting from everyone who owns land and natural resources the annual economic value, and giving everyone a per-capita share of those resources, every year, forever. (Similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund)
D. By collecting from everyone who owns land and natural resources the annual economic value, and giving everyone a per-capita share of those resources, every year, forever, and providing a double share to those who are starting from a disadvantaged position for some fixed number of years
E. By collecting from everyone who owns land and natural resources the annual economic value, paying the costs of government and common spending from that source, producing equal opportunity for all.
36. He worked hard. He played by the rules. He bought up land before the interstate highway was announced, and his widow and orphans now have a very valuable land portfolio, for which others will pay a high purchase price or high -- and rising -- lease prices, for generations. Is it right to change our tax code to tax -- heavily -- year in and year out, the economic value of that land?
34. He worked hard. He played by the rules. Before he died, he bought for his wife and children some land and a few slaves. Our conception of justice, and our laws, changed. Is it right to deprive the widow of this means of support?
A. The outlawing of abortion so that all embryos that implant are permitted to mature to full term.
B. The outlawing of some sorts of birth control so that all fertilized eggs have rights
C. The provision of full pre-natal care and healthy foods, air and water to all pregnant women until birth, so that all babies born have as good a start as possible
D. The provision of affordable healthy food, clean air and clean water until age 18, so that all young people have as healthy a start as possible
E. The provision of good schools, without regard for one's parents' ability to pay, for all children, including those with special needs
F. The provision of some reasonable income so that the families of children can afford to meet all of each child's most simply defined needs, including health care, education, nutritious good, a safe home
G. The provision of healthy air and water to all, of all ages
H. The acknowledgments that (a) every person has a right to himself or herself; and (b) that all persons have equal rights to the gifts of nature, even after they reach the age of 18 or 21
I. The notion that the born have more rights than the unborn if one comes into conflict with the other
A. Sell them off at the current price, about $5 per acre, per the 1872 Mining Act, even if they contain minerals worth billions of dollars.
B. Sell them off to the highest bidder, as soon as possible
C. Sell them off to any bidder, as soon as possible
D. Lease them for fixed terms, to the highest bidder, with future lease prices to be calculated with an eye to making it profitable for the tenant
E. Lease them for fixed terms, to the highest bidder, and then repeat the auction in 10 years. Maintain extensive online databases so that the lease descriptions are visible to all, and the lease expirations are well advertised to all who might be interested in bidding. Make it the landlord's business to get high quality unbiased appraisals of tenant improvements, so that tenants can make sensible improvements and be secure in them. Use the revenue to reduce other taxes which burden the economy.
F. Lease them out, at market rates, with the proceeds used to generated a citizen's dividend. If there is a monopoly or oligopoly, break it up so that there is a genuine market.
G. Keep renting them out at whatever price they're now receiving; we don't want to upset anyone's plans or privileges.
29. The states need money. Should they sell their toll roads to private companies?
A. Sure! That would provide a nice pot of money that would help with this year's budget and next year's, and after that, we can leave the problem to a future group of legislators and a new governor!
B. Sure! The private sector will take better care of them and turn a profit to boot!
C. No. The taxpayers paid for those roads to be built, and have a right to more control over them than would exist after privatization.
D. No. The taxpayers own that land, a unique right of way, and selling it off forever is irresponsible and wrong!
E. No. Our society -- any society -- is highly dependent on our infrastructure, and control over it must remain in the public sector.
F. No. Those highways are built on land that was bought or taken from individual property owners for the public good. To turn them over to the private sector, for profit, would be wrong.
G. No. Those highways will increase in value over the coming decades and centuries, and should not become anyone's private property, at any price. Both their economic value and the control over them belongs in the common sector.
H. No. Even if it looks as if it might make sense for our generation, what of future generations? Should we permit the privatization of a common asset they will likely be dependent on?
I. No. Future taxpayers will build more highways intersecting with these current tollroads, and increase their value; were these to be privatized, it would be the private corporation who would reap the benefit of that future public investment.
27. A new subway line costs $2 billion. Suppose that its construction increases the surrounding land values by $2 billion. (Assume 5 miles long, 10 stations, 0.5 mile radius, average lot size of 0.10 acre. How should the new subway line be financed?
A. Taxes on sales of groceries, clothing, etc. within those 1/2 mile radius areas
B. Taxes on sales of groceries, clothing, etc., all over the city the subway line connects to
C. Taxes on sales of services within those 1/2 mile radius areas
D. Taxes on sales of services of all kinds, all over the city the subway line connects to
E. Taxes on wages of those working in those 1/2 mile radius areas
F. Taxes on wages all over the city the subway line connects to
G. Taxes on wages of those living within the 1/2 mile radius areas
H. Taxes on capital gains and dividends of those living within the 1/2 mile radius areas
I. Taxes on capital gains and dividends of those with residence anywhere in the city
J. Taxes on all real estate within those 1/2 mile radius areas
K. Taxes on all real estate, all over the city the subway line connects to
L. Taxes on just the buildings within those 1/2 mile radius areas
M. Taxes on all the buildings, all over the city the subway line connects to
N. Taxes on the land value within those 1/2 mile radius areas
O. Taxes on the land value, all over the city the subway line connects to
P. Transfer taxes on either or both of buyers and sellers whenever a property within the 1/2 mile radius is sold
Q. Transfer taxes on either or both of buyers and sellers whenever a property anywhere within the city is sold
R. An inheritance tax when a house or commercial property is transferred from a decedent to a survivor.
23. Fares on local public transportation may not be high enough to finance all the costs of providing the transportation. Does that mean that it is a poor investment, or are there other logical and just ways of funding it?
21. The creation of a new subway line raises the land values near each of the stations. Who should pay for the building of the subway line?
A. Riders of the new subway line
B. Riders of all subways in the system.
C. Riders of all mass transit in the metro area.
D. Drivers of cars and trucks, all over the metro area, via taxes on their fuel purchases (that is, in proportion to miles driven and the fuel efficiency of their vehicles)
E. Drivers of cars and trucks, all over the metro area, via an annual surcharge on their registration
F. Drivers of cars and trucks, all over the metro area, in proportion to the value of their cars, owned or leased
G. Drivers of cars and trucks, via tolls when they use bridges and tunnels, or HOV lanes, or certain highways
G. The taxpayers, via increased sales taxes on their purchases
H. The tourists and business travelers, via hotel occupancy taxes and taxes on rental cars.
I. Passengers in taxis, via a surcharge on their fares.
J. The homeowners, via taxes on their homes
K. Drivers, commercial and individual, via taxes on fuel purchased within the city
L. Employees all over the metro area, via a payroll tax
M. The tenants of commercial buildings in the heart of the central business district
N. All landholders, paying equally (a parcel tax)
O. All landholders, in proportion to the size of their lots
P. Landholders, in proportion to the value of the land they hold, without regard to the buildings or their contents. Those whose land values are raised by their proximity to the new line will see a proportional increase in their share of the tax burden; those far from the new line will not.
I had the pleasure of watching part of a marathon of the second season of Downton Abbey yesterday, knowing that I'd missed a few shows -- and want to watch them all in sequence.
The setting of the show raises some questions one might want to think about.
1. What sort of wages do all the "downstairs" employees receive?
2. What employment alternatives are available to them?
3. How does the owner of Downton Abbey afford to pay for the services of all those workers, in addition to the non-wage costs of maintaining the castle and the surrounding land, which is an overwhelming job -- and passion -- for him?
4. Is there a middle class in that town? On what are their fortunes dependent? How are they different from the staff at Downton Abbey?
5. What are the opportunities for the children of the house staff at Downton Abbey to have a different life from their parents?
6. Can others prosper?
7. What sorts of ideas, particularly on public policy, maintain the status quo?
8. Why is having the property pass intact to one person so important? What would happen if it were divided among several heirs?
9. Do you think there are small holdings in the same area, where individual families can live, work and prosper, or a series of large holdings like DA?
10. Are people unemployed or underemployed? Are their opportunities limited by the system, particularly if they care about staying close to family?
This is off the top of my head. I'm charmed by the series, and at the same time, am puzzled by how much I enjoy watching it. (Good writing, of course.)
20. What is the best way to insure that affordable housing -- for people of all ages and stages, all income levels -- is available, both for ownership and for rental, both near the center of activities and, if needed after the desire for housing near the center of activities is satisfied, on the fringes?
B. Community Land Trusts
C. Affordable Housing Regulations that require that for every 10 new condos built, 1 must be affordable to people earning less than the local median household income
D. Rent control
G. Habitat for Humanity
H. Relaxed mortgage lending rules and more private mortgage insurance
I. Land value taxation, to encourage the redevelopment of underused sites near the center of things
19. Storms continue to erode the resort beaches up and down our coasts. Who should pay for beach restoration every few years?
A. The federal government, from income tax revenues. (why?)
B. Taxes on pollution should be used to pay for this, on the basis that pollution produces the climatic conditions that make storms slower moving and more destructive.
C. State governments along the coasts.
D. Local governments, town by town, paid for by sales taxes.
E. County governments along the coasts.
F. Local governments, town by town, paid for by taxing wages.
G. Local governments, town by town, paid for by summer parking revenue, hotel bill taxes and taxes on rental properties' revenue;
H. Local governments, town by town, paid for by property taxes, taxing both buildings and land, in proportion to current market value
I. Local governments, town by town, paid for by land value taxation. Land values close to the beaches rise and fall with the sand, and properties further from the beaches are far less effected by the presence/absence of beach sand than those near the beaches.
J. Local governments, town by town, paid for by transfer taxes on sold properties, so as not to burden long-time owners who aren't selling.
I came across this rather good letter to the editor, from 1938. (Trinity Church Corporation, a major landlord in downtown Manhattan, was the subject of a NYT article this past week, as well as the subject of a major series in the NYT in December, 1894):
1938-09-03 Letters to The Times
Collecting Ground Rent Single-Tax System Regarded as No Detriment to Building
TO THE EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Fabian Franklin, in his letter to THE TIMES discussing the demolition of John D. Rockefeller's Harlem tenements in order to save taxes, writes:
"That objection is simply that virtual abolition of land ownership, which the single-tax plan is designed to effect, would make the building of houses in a city an extra-hazardous business, because, under the single-tax regime, in the great majority of cases the investment would result in a disastrous loss to the owner of the building. I was neither blaming nor praising Mr. Rockefeller for the demolition of Harlem tenements."
What is the so-called single-tax system? It is the collection by the government, through the taxing officials, of the entire economic or ground rent of land and the repeal of all taxes on buildings and other products of labor and capital. That ground rent is estimated to be 9% of the capital value of the land. New York City is now collecting one-third of this ground rent. The market value of the lots is the remaining two-thirds, capitalized. Dr. Franklin's thesis is that if the entire ground rent is collected no one would erect buildings, because "in the great majority of cases the investment would result in a disastrous loss to the owner of the building."
Some of the finest buildings in New York City are erected on leased land and the lessee pays the ground rent 100% besides a tax on the building. There are hundreds of buildings erected by lessees of lots owned by Trinity Church, Astor estate, Rhinelander estate, Sailors Snug Harbor and others. The lessees must pay all the taxes, both on land and building, amounting to 3% of the assessed value of both, and to the landlord 6% of the market value of the land.
Thus the entire ground rent is paid by the lessee, but only one-third to the government representing the people who made that value by their presence and activities, the remaining two-thirds to the landlord. Notwithstanding that they are thus obliged to pay 100% of the economic rent, bankers and business men erect buildings costing millions. Under the Henry George plan they would have to pay less, for the taxes on these costly structures will have been repealed.
Perhaps if Mr. Rockefeller had not been obliged to pay taxes on the buildings he might not have pulled them down; or, if he had, would have erected better buildings in their place in order to get a return on his investment in buildings. The ones who will benefit most from the adoption of the Georgian philosophy are the owners of humble homes. The average small homeowner's house is assessed for at least twice the assessed value of the lot. If the house is relieved from taxation and the lot taxed the entire ground rent, his tax will be less than it is now. The difference will be made up from vacant lots and lots that are worth more than the improvements.
After all, the building of houses is like any other business. The builder takes the risk of lessened demand because of changes in fashion, obsolescence, competition. It is estimated that 95% of new businesses ultimately fail. With the adoption, however, of the philosophy of Henry George, commonly called the single tax, failures in the housing and other businesses will be much fewer. This is because neither houses nor goods nor anything else will be taxed. The collection of the entire ground rent will not lessen the area of the surface of the earth one inch. On the contrary, it will open to occupation and use land that is now held for speculation purposes.
The taxation of any product of labor and capital will add the amount of the tax to the price, lessen demand and thus curtail production. The result is unemployment and misery.
Frederic Cyrus Leubuscher Essex Fells, N. J., Aug. 31, 1938
A. Don't worry about that. Our children should pay for it, and their children if necessary, with interest accumulating. The economy will grow sufficiently that it will not unduly burden them.
B. We should pay for it via federal taxes on wages.
C. We should pay for it via a federal tax on sales (or consumption).
D. We should pay for it via a federal tax on land value; people and corporations (domestic or foreign) who own land in midtown Manhattan or downtown Los Angeles would pay a lot; those who own rural property would pay little or nothing. Tenants' rents -- residential, commercial, agricultural -- would cover their share, and be collected from landlords.
E. We should pay for it via royalties on non-renewable natural resources. (Whose natural resources? from U.S. soil? from Afghanistan soil? other?)
David Brooks suggested in a recent column that the country needs a national service program to unite the diverging classes in society. He’s right.
Not long ago, we had one that did so very well. It was the draft. Every young man — regrettably, only men — shared a potential obligation to his country.
Any serious discussion of comprehensive national service means talking about a draft. It’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court upholding nondefense conscription, but if civilian service were an alternative to military duty, the prospects would improve.
The all-volunteer military is exemplary for its professionalism, sacrifice, meritocracy and diversity. (I have a son with two college degrees who enlisted.) But the benefits and burdens need to be shared more widely. There have been too many multiple deployments of regulars and reserves, and if draftees were in the mix once again, perhaps there would be no more wars of choice.
Many domestic needs could be served by a comprehensive national service program. Like the Depression’s best idea, the Civilian Conservation Corps, it could involve people from all classes in repairing our parks, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. It could also bring fresh ideas and talent to teaching, law enforcement, social work and other underpaid public services. The benefits to our national character, as Mr. Brooks suggests, would be immense.
There are past and present models of a national service program in more than a dozen other nations. It is time we gave it a try.
MARTIN A. DYCKMAN Waynesville, N.C., Feb. 14, 2012 The writer is a retired associate editor and columnist for The St. Petersburg Times.
Editors’ Note: We invite readers to respond to this letter for our Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and Mr. Dyckman’s rejoinder in the Sunday Review. E-mail: [email protected]
LVTfan's observation: Every investment in improved infrastructure creates land value. Most projects that have value -- education, law enforcement, social work, improved public health -- will also increase land value.
A project is, by definition, worthwhile if it creates more in land value than it costs to do,* and, it could be argued that, when comparing two infrastructure projects that cost the same amount, say, $100 million, if one creates $200 million in land value and the other creates merely $150 million in incremental land value, the $200 million project should probably take priority, all other things being equal.
*which isn't to say that many public spending projects which don't create increased land value aren't worthwhile, too, for other reasons.
Pork barrel is the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative's district. The usage originated in American English. In election campaigns, the term is used in derogatory fashion to attack opponents. Scholars, however, use it as a technical term regarding legislative control of local appropriations.
The term pork barrel politics usually refers to spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. In the popular 1863 story "The Children of the Public", Edward Everett Hale used the term pork barrel as a homely metaphor for any form of public spending to the citizenry. After the American Civil War, however, the term came to be used in a derogatory sense. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern sense of the term from 1873. By the 1870s, references to "pork" were common in Congress, and the term was further popularized by a 1919 article by Chester Collins Maxey in the National Municipal Review, which reported on certain legislative acts known to members of Congress as "pork barrel bills". He claimed that the phrase originated in a pre-Civil War practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward and requiring them to compete among themselves to get their share of the handout. More generally, a barrel of salt pork was a common larder item in 19th century households, and could be used as a measure of the family's financial well-being. For example, in his 1845 novel The Chainbearer, James Fenimore Cooper wrote, "I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel."
Typically, "pork" involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most commonly cited examples.
Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
Serves only a local or special interest.
The last of these seems as if it might be the most important one.
So here's the question: How should we finance these projects, if they are to be done? How would we pay for a modern CCC? (Ah -- this sounds like The Land Questions ...)
A. By a local tax on land value. This would necessitate regular reassessment of the land value in every community in America, say, every 3 years, which could be done for well under $40 per parcel. It would probably also require some state and/or federal oversight, checking values against transactions to verify that all municipalities or assessing units are doing high-quality market-based assessments. [In Maryland, they're already doing assessments every 3 years. In Connecticut, assessments every 4 years are required. In southern Delaware, the assessments are 30+ years old. In California, the assessments are meaningless, due to Proposition 13. It would take a few years for some of these entities to update their assessments.]
B. By a state tax on land value. [same issues apply]
C. By a national tax on land value.
D. Let's just use the federal income tax. It's there. It's easy.
E. Let's use a national sales tax.
F. Let's use a tax on imports.
G. Let's tax buildings.
H. Let's tax services.
It seems to me that a national service corps of some sort has a lot of merit. It could promote a lot of highly desirable goals. It could provide a lot of home-front protection in the event of natural disasters. It could get some important projects done, including the maintenance of existing infrastructure currently under-maintained,and the provision of services we believe are important (particularly when we are the beneficiaries).
But the financial benefits ought not to fall into private or corporate pockets; they ought to accrue to all of us, and ease the burdens of financing other kinds of federal spending. Land value taxation strikes me as the answer to so many of our supposedly intractible problems.
13. Electric utilities have long been regarded as "widows' and orphans'" stocks. Safe, if not high income. A few years ago, they were deregulated. A recent study has shown that retail electricity prices have increased faster in states that adopted competitive pricing than in those where rates continue to be set by government agencies. We all need reliable electricity. Should we permit the licenses to generate and distribute electricity to be an opportunity to make a windfall profit? (Or should we encourage municipal ownership of vital utilities?)
A. Sure! People and businesses are quite free to move from states without regulation to states with regulation if they choose. They may not mind paying 20% more for their electricity, if other conditions are good. And didn't the utilities earn it?
B. Sure. If local regulatory agencies decide that local best interests conflict with the interests of the corporate shareholders, they can re-regulate. After all, the corporations don't vote.
C. No. Electricity is important and we ought to do what we can to keep the price down so that poor people can afford electricity and still have funds for other costs of living.
D. No. Electricity is vital to the economy, and we ought to do what we can to keep it affordable to ordinary people, and not a source of corporate windfalls.
E. No. Natural monopolies ought to be publicly owned, the prices kept low, and any excess revenue accrue to the public treasury, not to the benefit of private investors.
10. The advent of digital TV freed up many broadcast frequencies. What should we do with them?
A. Give them to the media companies, in proportion to their current share of market. Let them decide what to do with them; after all, they are the experts.
B. Give them to the media companies, in proportion to their current share of market. Let them decide what to do with them; after all, they created them!
C. Auction off the frequencies to the highest bidders, forever, with no further strings attached; they can hold onto them without using them if they choose, for as long as they like, or simply put a test pattern on the air, or whatever they prefer. When demand rises and they believe they can make a high enough profit, they are welcome to sell them to the highest bidder, forever, and use the profits to enrich their deserving and smart shareholders.
D. Auction off to the highest bidder the licenses, for five year terms, with the auction to be repeated every five years, or the price to be set as a function of the size, wealth, income of the available audience. Use the revenue to reduce taxes on productive activity.
E. Auction off to the highest bidder the licenses, for five year terms, with the auction to be repeated every five years, or the price to be set as a function of the size, wealth, income of the available audience. Use the revenue to provide a dividend to every American, something like the Alaska Permanent Fund.
9. The corporations which pump oil from beneath federal lands are paying low royalties into the federal treasury, despite the fact that the price of oil has risen significantly since their royalties were set. The royalties should be raised. To whom should the revenue go?
A. The Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the LDS Church, the orthodox, conservative, and reform bodies of Judaism, the American Islamic governing entity, etc., in proportion to their proven membership. Further provision should be made to insure that those who belong to no religious group can name an entity which should control their share.
B. Keep giving it to the corporations, but increase their corporate income taxes. Or reduce their loopholes.
C. Use the revenue to fund education, providing all children the same amount of funding, to be used at any school their parents choose.
D. Use the revenue to fund education, providing all children some funding, but more for those in poverty or handicapped, autistic, special needs, gifted.
E. Create a national version of the Alaska Permanent Fund, to provide, over the decades, an income to every American.
F. Use the revenues to reduce other taxes which burden the economy, and most particularly those which burden the poor most heavily.
G. Give the revenues to the people of the states where the oil is pumped. They're more entitled than the rest of us.
H. Use oil royalties to fund wars overseas, particularly those which relate to oil.
I. Use oil revenues to finance health care, or fund Social Security.
8. The corporations which pump oil from beneath federal lands are paying low royalties into the federal treasury, despite the fact that the price of oil has risen significantly since their royalties were set. Should their royalties be raised?
A. No. A deal is a deal, and those corporations made their business plans in good faith. The spoils belong to them. They can sell those rights to whomever they choose to, at whatever price they can get, for the benefit of their shareholders and their management.
B. Yes. All persons have equal rights to the gifts of nature.
C. Yes. The resource is finite, and the oil companies don't create it.
D. Yes. We can now see that we will be running out of oil, and the price is rising, for reasons that have nothing to do with the oil companies.
7. The corporations which pollute the world's air through emissions from their US-based factories and refineries and electricity-generating plants will be asked to pay for carbon credits to offset the pollution they create. Where should the revenue go?
A. Back to the corporations and their shareholders
B. To the American people as a Citizen's Dividend (similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund)
C. To American workers and retirees in the form of revenue to support Social Security
D. To the American people as a reduction in federal income taxes, starting with the highest income people who pay the highest income taxes
E. Same, starting with the lowest-income workers who have the least left from their wages
F. To corporate shareholders in the form of a reduction on their dividend taxes
6. We say that the airwaves [over the US, that is] belong to the American people. Who should get the economic rent on their value?
A. The American people, in the form of a Citizen's Dividend (similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund)
B. The American people, in the form of a reduction in payroll withholding for Social Security
C. Those who pay federal income taxes (about 75% of us pay more in withholding for social insurance than we do in federal income taxes) in the form of a reduction of federal income tax rates -- starting from the bottom? starting from the top?
D. The corporations which pay corporate income taxes, in the form of a reduction on corporate income taxes
E. The shareholders of the media companies, small, medium and large: let them keep that rent, or just tax it as we do now, as a corporate income tax, and then light taxes on dividends and capital gains
F. The management of the various media companies, to the extent that they can negotiate good contracts for themselves.
G. The lobbyists for the media companies, to the extent that they are successful in preserving the privileges we currently grant the media companies, their management and shareholders
5. Water is running short in some parts of the US. How should we effectively share the water?
A. Let those who own it now continue to treat it as their private treasure. After all, they've planned on it, and we can't interfere with their plans, can we?
B. Recognize that every one of us needs water, and charge everyone for the water they use, based on the local supply and demand situation. Where water is scarce, all will pay high prices for the water they use; where the supply is generous, the price will be lower.
C. Treat water as our common treasure. Charge for it. Let the revenues flow into public coffers, not private or corporate pockets.
4. Oil and natural gas are pumped from the Gulf of Mexico and along our ocean coasts by corporations large and small. (Mason Gaffney points out that Harry Truman increased the size of the US by more than any other president by expanding the coastal zone, but that we collect little revenue from the natural resources drawn therefrom.) How much should the oil companies pay the federal government?
B. Just the amount negotiated in 1996. We can't change the rules just because the price of these commodities has risen rapidly.
C. A fixed and trivial percentage of the value of the oil.
D. A rising percentage of the value of the oil and gas, related to the retail prices of the products.
E. An amount that is based both on a percentage of the value of the oil and gas and on the amount of carbon produced by burning the finished product.
3. Oil and natural gas are pumped from federal lands by corporations large and small. How much should the oil companies pay the federal government?
B. Just the amount negotiated in 1996. We can't change the rules just because the price of these commodities has risen rapidly.
C. A fixed and trivial percentage of the value of the oil.
D. A rising percentage of the value of the oil and gas, related to the retail prices of the products.
E. An amount that is based both on a percentage of the value of the oil and gas and on the amount of carbon produced by burning the finished product.
F. An amount that relates to the medium- to long-term scarcity of these natural resources, so that we have incentives to leave more for future generations, who may develop technologies to use them more efficiently or extract them with less harm to the environment.
2. Some of our busiest airports do not have sufficient runways, landing slots at preferred times, gates, tarmac, etc., to meet demand. Flights end up circling and arriving late, producing cascading delays for passengers across the country. Many airports are constrained by surrounding communities not to expand their acreage. It takes time to build a new airport further from the city, and is expensive to add the transportation infrastructure to serve it. How should scarce resources at existing busy airports be allocated?
a. The airlines who currently own a gate ought to be able to sell it off to the highest bidder, or rent it for whatever they can charge their competitor.
b. Landing rights ought to be sold once and for all to the highest bidder. When they no longer want them, or can no longer use them profitably, those rights should be theirs to auction off at whatever price they can get, even if it is double or triple -- or more -- what they initially paid.
c. Leases for landing rights at peak hours should be auctioned off, with a term of a few years, and the revenue should first support airport costs and air-traffic control expenses. Should there be an excess, it should not be returned to the leaseholders: it belongs to the community at large and should go into general revenue.
Today I'm starting a new series of posts entitled "The Land Questions." Eventually I'll accumulate them onto a website of their own, but before I do that, I think they could be improved. There's a tag at left if you'd like to look at just these posts.
I welcome your suggestions, rephrasings, additions, edits, etc, via the "comments" opportunity.
1. The skies are getting crowded with flights. Small planes and commercial jetliners take up large amounts of sky, and require equal attention from air traffic controllers. How should we allocate scarce airspace, particularly at peak travel hours?
A. Permit the corporate jets and individual flyers to have priority. After all, those who can afford their own jet or plane must be important people!
B. Require all planes, regardless of their size, to help pay for the air traffic control system, in proportion to the mileage they fly.
C. Whoever gets there first has priority.
D. Whoever has owned planes the longest has priority.
E. Charge large planes more, because they have more seats and can divide the cost among more passengers. A corporate jet would pay 5/200th of what a 200-seater would pay, even if it is a 737 carrying one executive and his immediate office staff, or one executive and his family .
F. Charge planes for the amount of airspace they use: so-called "heavy" jets with long swirling vortexes pay more than smaller planes which don't trail such large choppy areas.
This article describes how difficult it is for condo owners to sell, since most buyers need mortgages with high loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, and FHA, Fannie and Freddie aren't lending because of rule-making on building approvals. And many buildings prohibit renting one's condo, a particular problem in a city where people rotate from one assignment to another, often in other countries.
It suggests that people with cash offers can get good deals.
Let's consider a different approach to housing. Suppose that, instead of paying taxes on one's wages, sales and building, taxes were shifted over to the value of the land one occupies. Were we to collect the full rental value of the land, in the form of a tax, reducing the selling price of the site to $0 or a token amount, a home, be it a high-rise condo unit or a single-family house, would sell for the depreciated value of the structure. A 2-bedroom, 2 bath condo of 1200 square feet would sell for pretty much the same amount wherever it is, with the buyer taking over the land value tax just as buyers now pick up the responsibility for the conventional property tax.
Buyers would need to borrow a great deal less. A 1200 square foot condo, at a generous $100 per square foot, would sell for $120,000. A 10% down payment on that would be a manageable $12,000. And the $108,000 mortgage could probably be paid off in far less than 30 years, incurring much less interest.
Relieved of taxation on wages and other income, one could afford to pay for the location one chooses, in the form of a monthly or quarterly payment to one's community. One wouldn't expect appreciation of one's housing -- after all, it is a depreciating asset. But assuming one's local government is providing services which others consider worth the price of the rental value of the land, one could expect to sell an attractive house or condo unit fairly quickly, and be able to relocated locally or cross-country in fairly short order.
Housing would no longer be regarded as an investment expected to appreciate. Buyers would enter clear-eyed and realistic, and seek to find the housing that best fits their needs without trying to make an investment.
Perhaps best of all, it would free up capital. We'd no longer be borrowing anything to buy land, so those funds would be available for investment in buildings, equipment and other things that create jobs. And many more of us, I think, would become investors, and would be accumulating resources to see ourselves through our retirement years.
Post Script: It occurs to me that among the first people to benefit from this measure, were it to be enacted in Washington, DC, would be our incoming congressmen, senators and their aides, who could afford housing, whether they were coming from a rich district or a poor one, whether they had tremendous fortune, or barely enough for a down payment. They could afford their own home, without living with roommates on C Street, or sleeping on their congressional couch and showering down the hall, as some impecunious or loudly frugal members of Congress choose to. And they would become conscious of how much of the cost of living in a city is payment for the location itself -- which should benefit all of their constituents, be they in blue counties or red ones. (And it might be interesting to look at how many blue cities there are.)
In a recent column in the NYT, entitled "Description is Prescription", David Brooks made references to Tolstoy, and it sent me looking to see whether a book I remembered was available via Google Books. The book was written in 1905 by Bolton Hall, and it is entitled "What Tolstoy Taught." Its next-to-last chapter, "The Great Iniquity," follows. (Below this post is the final chapter from Hall's book.)
(This history-making article, dated July, 1905, first appeared in the London Times of August 1, 1905. We give the essence of the article verbatim as it appeared in the Times, for which it was translated from the Russian by V. Tchertkoff (editor of the Free Age Press, Christchurch, Hants, England), and I. F. H. It is expressly declared to be free from copyright. — Ed.)
Russia is living through an important time destined to have enormous results. One need only for a time free oneself from the idea which has taken root amongst our intellectuals, that the work now before Russia is the introduction into our country of those same forms of political life which have been introduced into Europe and America, and are supposed to insure the liberty and welfare of all the citizens — and to simply think of what is morally wrong in our life, in order to see quite clearly that the chief evil from which the whole of the Russian people are unceasingly and cruelly suffering cannot be removed by any political reforms, just as it is not up to the present time removed by any of the political reforms of Europe and America. This evil — the fundamental evil from which the Russian people, as well as the peoples of Europe and America, are suffering — is that the majority of the people are deprived of the indisputable natural right of every man to use a portion of the land on which he was born. It is sufficient to understand all the criminality, the sinfulness of the situation in this respect, in order to understand that until this atrocity, continuously committed by the owners of the land, shall cease, no political reforms will give freedom and welfare to the people, but that, on the contrary, only the emancipation of the majority of the people from that land-slavery in which they are now held can render political reforms, not a plaything and a tool for personal aims in the hands of politicians, but the real expression of the will of the people.
The other day I was walking along the highroad to Tula. It was on the Saturday of Holy Week; the people were driving to market in lines of carts, with calves, hens, horses, cows (some of the cows were being conveyed in the carts, so starved were they). A young peasant was leading a sleek, well-fed horse to sell.
"Nice horse," said I.
"Couldn't be better," said he, thinking me a buyer. "Good for plowing and driving."
"Then why do you sell it?"
"I can't use it. I've only two allotments. I can manage them with one horse. I've kept them both over the winter, and I'm sorry enough for it. The cattle have eaten everything up, and we want money to pay the rent."
"From whom do you rent?"
"From Maria Ivanovna; thanks be to her she let us have it. Otherwise it would have been the end of us."
"What are the terms?"
"She fleeces us of fourteen roubles. But where else can we go? So we take it."
A woman passed driving along with a boy wearing a little cap. She knew me, clambered out, and offered me her boy for service. The boy is quite a tiny fellow with quick, intelligent eyes.
"He looks small, but he can do everything," she says.
"But why do you hire out such a little one?"
"Well, sir, at least it'll be one mouth less to feed. I have four besides myself, and only one allotment. God knows, we've nothing to eat. They ask for bread and I've none to give them."
With whomsoever one talks, all complain of their want and all similarly from one side or another come back to the sole reason. There is insufficient bread, and bread is insufficient because there is no land.
"What is man?" says Henry George in one of his speeches. [lvtfan note: The Crime of Poverty, 1885 -- NYC in February, per NYT article; Burlington, Iowa in April]
"In the first place, he is an animal, a land animal who cannot live without land. All that man produces comes from the land; all productive labor, in the final analysis, consists in working up land, or materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit them for the satisfaction of human wants and desires. Why, man's very body is drawn from the land. Children of the soil, we come from the land, and to the land we must return. Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore he who holds the land on which and from which another man must live is that man's master; and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing slavery — we have not abolished slavery; we have only abolished one rude form of it, chattel slavery. There is a deeper and more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him in the name of freedom.
"Did you ever think (says Henry George in another part of the same speech) of the utter absurdity and strangeness of the fact that all over the civilized world the working classes are the poor classes? Think for a moment how it would strike a rational being who had never been on the earth before, if such an intelligence could come down, and you were to explain to him how we live on earth, how houses and food and clothing and all the many things we need were all produced by work, would he not think that the working people would be the people who lived in the finest houses and had most of everything that work produces? Yet, whether you took him to London or Paris, or New York, or even to Burlington, he would find that those called the working people were the people who lived in the poorest houses."
The same thing, I would add, takes place in a yet greater degree in the country. Idle people live in luxurious palaces, in spacious and fine abodes. The workers live in dark and dirty hovels.
"All this is strange — just think of it. We naturally despise poverty, and it is reasonable that we should. . . . Nature gives to labor, and to labor alone; there must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the working man as a poor man. . . . The primary cause of this is that we compel those who work to pay others for permission to do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house; there you are paying the seller for labor exerted, for something that he has produced, or that he has got from the man who did produce it; but when you pay a man for land, what are you paying him for? You are paying for something that no man has produced; you pay him for something that was here before man was, or for a value that was created, not by him individually, but by the community of which you are a part."
It is for this reason that the one who has seized the land and possesses it is rich, whereas he who cultivates it or works on its products is poor.
"We talk about over-production. How can there be such a thing as over-production while people want? All these things that are said to be over-produced are desired by many people. Why do they not get them ? They do not get them because they have not the means to buy them; not that they do not want them. Why have not they the means to buy them? They earn too little. When the great mass of men have to work for an average of $1.40 a day, it is no wonder that great quantities of goods cannot be sold.
"Now, why is it that men have to work for such low wages? Because if they were to demand higher wages there are plenty of unemployed men ready to step into their places. It is this mass of unemployed men who compel that fierce competition that drives wages down to the point of bare subsistence. Why is it that there are men who cannot get employment? Did you ever think what a strange thing it is that men cannot find employment? Adam had no difficulty in finding employment, neither had Robinson Crusoe; the finding of employment was the last thing that troubled them.
"If men cannot find an employer, why cannot they employ themselves? Simply because they are shut out from the element on which human labor can alone be exerted. Men are compelled to compete with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot find a piece of God's world on which to work without paying some other human creature for the privilege.
"Men pray to the Almighty to relieve poverty. But poverty comes not from God's laws — it is blasphemy of the worst kind to say that; it comes from man's injustice to his fellows. Supposing the Almighty were to hear the prayer, how could He carry out the request so long as His laws are what they are? Consider, the Almighty gives us nothing of the things that constitute wealth; He merely gives us the raw material, which must be utilized by men to produce wealth. Does He not give us enough of that now? How could He relieve poverty even if He were to give us more? Supposing in answer to these prayers He were to increase the power of the sun, or the virtue of the soil? Supposing He were to make plants more prolific, or animals to produce after their kind more abundantly ? Who would get the benefit of it? Take a country where land is completely monopolized, as it is in most of the civilized countries, who would get the benefit of it ? Simply the landowners. And even if God in answer to prayer were to send down out of the heavens those things that men require, who would get the benefit?
"In the Old Testament we are told that when the Israelites journeyed through the desert they were hungered, and that God sent manna down out of the heavens. There was enough for all of them, and they all took it and were relieved. But supposing that the desert had been held as private property, as the soil of Great Britain is held, as the soil even of our new States is being held; suppose that one of the Israelites had a square mile, and another one had 20 square miles, and another one had 100 square miles, and the great majority of the Israelites did not have enough to set the soles of their feet upon which they could call their own — what would become of the manna? What good would it have done to the majority? Not a whit. Though God had sent down manna enough for all, that manna would have been the property of the landholders, they would have employed some of the others perhaps to gather it up into heaps for them, and would have sold it to their hungry brethren. Consider it; this purchase and sale of manna might have gone on until the majority of Israelites had given all they had, even to the clothes off their backs. What then? Then they would not have had anything to buy manna with, and the consequences would have been that while they went hungry the manna would have lain in great heaps, and the landowners would have been complaining of the over-production of manna. There would have been a great harvest of manna and hungry people, just precisely the phenomenon that we see today.
"I do not mean to say that even after you had set right this fundamental injustice there would not be many things to do; but this I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the bottom of all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you please, reform as you may, you never can get rid of widespread poverty so long as the element on which and from which all men must live is made the private property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government; get taxes down to the minimum; build railroads; institute cooperative stores; divide profits, if you choose, between employers and employed — and what will be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value — that will be the result — that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not all improvements simply increase the value of land — the price that some must pay others for the privilege of living?"
The same, I shall add, do we unceasingly see in Russia. All landowners complain of the unprofitableness and expense of their estates, whilst the price of the land is continually rising. It cannot but rise, since the population is increasing and land is a question of life and death for this population.
And therefore, the people surrender everything they can, not only their labor, but even their lives, for the land which is being withheld from them.
There used to be cannibalism and human sacrifices; there used to be religious prostitution and the murder of weak children and of girls; there used to be bloody revenge and the slaughter of whole populations, judicial tortures, quarterings, burnings at the stake, the lash; and there have been, within our memory, "running the gauntlet" and slavery, which have also disappeared. But if we have outlived these dreadful customs and institutions, this does not prove that institutions and customs do not exist amongst us which have become as abhorrent to enlightened reason and conscience as those which have in their time been abolished and have become for us only a dreadful remembrance. The way of human perfecting is endless, and at every moment of historical life there are superstitions, deceits, pernicious and evil institutions already outlived by men and belonging to the past; there are others which appear to us in the far mists of the future; and there are some which we are now living through and whose overliving forms the object of our life. Such in our time is capital punishment and all punishment in general. Such is prostitution, such is flesh eating, such is the work of militarism, war, and such is the nearest and most obvious evil, private property in land.
The evil and injustice of private property in land have been pointed out a thousand years ago by the prophets and sages of old. Later progressive thinkers of Europe have been oftener and oftener pointing it out. With special clearness did the workers of the French Revolution do so. In latter days, owing to the increase of the population and the seizure by the rich of a great quantity of previously free land, also owing to general enlightenment and the spread of humanitarianism, this injustice has become so obvious that not only the progressive, but even the most average people cannot help seeing and feeling it. But men, especially those who profit by the advantages of landed property — the owners themselves, as well as those whose interests are connected with this institution — are so accustomed to this order of things, they have for so long profited by it, have so much depended upon it, that often they themselves do not see its injustice, and they use all possible means to conceal from themselves and others the truth which is disclosing itself more and more clearly, and to crush, extinguish, and distort it, or, if these do not succeed, to hush it up.
But what has happened? Notwithstanding that at the time of their appearance the English writings of Henry George spread very quickly in the Anglo-Saxon world, and did not fail to be appreciated to the full extent of their great merit, it very soon appeared that in England, and even in Ireland, where the crying injustice of private landed property is particularly manifest, the majority of the most influential educated people, notwithstanding the conclusiveness of Henry George's arguments and the practicability of the remedy he proposes, opposed his teaching. Radical agitators like Parnell, who at first sympathized with George's scheme, very soon shrank from it, regarding political reforms as more important. In England almost all the aristocrats were against it, also, amongst others, the famous Toynbee, Gladstone, and Herbert Spencer — that Spencer who in his "Social Statics" at first most categorically asserted the injustice of landed property, and then, renouncing this view of his, bought up the old editions of his writings in order to eliminate from them all that he had said concerning the injustice of landed property.
The chief weapon against the teaching of Henry George was that which is always used against irrefutable and self-evident truths. This method, which is still being applied in relation to George, was that of hushing up. This hushing up was effected so successfully that a member of the English Parliament, Labouchere, could publicly say, without meeting any refutation, that "he was not such a visionary as Henry George. He did not propose to take the land from the landlords and rent it out again. What he was in favor of was putting a tax on land values." That is, whilst attributing to George what he could not possibly have said, Labouchere, by way of correcting these imaginary fantasies, suggested that which Henry George did indeed say.
People do not argue with the teaching of George, they simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.
Yet, notwithstanding all, the truth that land cannot be an object of property has become so elucidated by the very life of contemporary mankind that in order to continue to retain a way of life in which private landed property is recognized there is only one means — not to think of it, to ignore the truth, and to occupy oneself with other absorbing business. So, indeed, do the men of our time.
Political workers of Europe and America occupy themselves for the welfare of their nations in various matters: tariffs, colonies, income taxes, military and naval budgets, socialistic assemblies, unions, syndicates, the election of presidents, diplomatic connections — by anything save the one thing without which there cannot be any true improvement in the condition of the people — the reestablishment of the infringed right of all men to use the land. Although in the depth of their souls political workers of the Christian world feel — cannot but feel — that all their activity, the commercial strife with which they are occupied, as well as the military strife in which they put all their energies — can lead to nothing but a general exhaustion of the strength of nations; still they, without looking forward, give themselves up to the demand of the minute, and, as if with the one desire to forget themselves, continue to turn round and round in an enchanted circle out of which there is no issue.
However strange this temporary blindness of the political workers of Europe and America, it can be explained by the fact that in Europe and America people have already gone so far along a wrong road that the majority of their population is already torn from the land (in America it has never lived on the rural land) and lives either in factories or by hired agricultural labor, and desires and demands only one thing — the improvement of its position as hired laborers. It is therefore comprehensible that to the political workers of Europe and America — listening to the demands of the majority — it may seem that the chief means for the improvement of the position of the people consists in tariffs, trusts, and colonies, but to the Russian people in Russia, where the agricultural population composes 80 percent of the whole nation, where all this people request only one thing — that opportunity be given them to remain in this state — it would seem it should be clear that for the improvement of the position of the people something else is necessary.
The people of Europe and America are in the position of a man who has gone so far along a road which at first appeared the right one, but which the further he goes the more it removes him from his object, that he is afraid of confessing his mistake. But the Russians are yet standing before the turning of the path and can, according to the wise saying, "ask their way while yet on the road."
If Russian political workers do speak about land abuse, which they for some reason call the "agrarian" question — probably thinking that this silly word will conceal the substance of the matter — they speak of it, not in the sense that private landed property is an evil which should be abolished, but in the sense that it is necessary in some way or other, by various patchings and palliatives, to plaster up, hush up, and pass over this essential, ancient, and cruel, this obvious and crying injustice, which is awaiting its turn for abolition not only in Russia, but in the whole world.
People have driven a herd of cows, on the milk products of which they are fed, into an enclosure. The cows have eaten up and trampled the forage in the enclosure, they are hungry, they have chewed one another's tails, they low and moan, imploring to be released from the enclosure and set free in the pastures. But the very men who feed themselves on the milk of these cows have set around the enclosure plantations of mint, of plants for dyeing purposes, and of tobacco; they have cultivated flowers, laid out a racecourse, a park, and a lawn tennis ground, and they do not let out the cows lest they spoil these arrangements. But the cows bellow, get thin, and the men begin to be afraid that the cows may cease to yield milk, and they invent various means of improving the condition of these cows. They erect sheds over them, they introduce wet brushes for rubbing the cows, they gild their horns, alter the hour of milking, concern themselves with the housing and treating of invalid and old cows, they invent new and improved methods of milking, they expect that some kind of wonderfully nutritious grass they have sown in the enclosure will grow up, they argue about these and many other varied matters, but they do not, cannot — without disturbing all they have arranged around the enclosure — do the only simple thing necessary for themselves as well as for the cows, take down the fence and grant the cows their natural freedom of using in plenty the pastures surrounding them.
Acting thus, men act reasonably, but there is an explanation of their action; they are sorry for the fate of all they have arranged around the enclosure. But what shall we call those people who have set nothing around the fence, but who, out of imitation of those who do not set free their cows, owing to what they had arranged around the enclosure, also keep their cows inside the fence, and assert that they do so for the welfare of the cows themselves?
Precisely thus act those Russians, both Governmental and anti-Governmental, who arrange for the Russian people, unceasingly suffering from the want of land, every kind of European institution, forgetting and denying the chief thing: that which alone the Russian people requires — the liberation of the land from private property, the establishment of equal rights on the land for all men.
The true bread-supporters of these European parasites are the laborers they do not see in India, Africa, Australia, and partly in Russia. But it is not so for us Russians; we have no colonies where slaves invisible to ourselves feed us for our manufacturing produce. Our bread-winners, suffering, hungry, are always before our eyes, and we cannot transfer the burden of our iniquitous life to distant colonies, that slaves invisible to us should feed us. Our sins are always before us.
And behold, instead of entering into the needs of those who support us, instead of hearing their cries and endeavoring to satisfy them, we, instead of this, under pretext of serving them, also prepare, according to the European sample, socialistic organizations for the future, and in the present occupy ourselves with what amuses and distracts us, and appears to be directed to the welfare of the people out of whom we are squeezing their last strength in order to support us, their parasites.
One need only enter into the unceasing sufferings of millions of the people; the dying out from want of the aged, women, and children, and of the workers from excessive work and insufficient food — one need only enter into the servitude, the humiliations, all the useless expenditures of strength, into the deprivations, into all the horror of the needless calamities of the Russian rural population which all proceed from insufficiency of land — in order that it should become quite clear that all such measures as the abolition of censorship, of arbitrary banishment, etc., which are being striven after by the pseudo-defenders of the people, even were they to be realized, would form only the most insignificant drop in the ocean of that want from which the people are suffering.
There was a time when In the name of God and of true faith in Him men were destroyed, tortured, executed, beaten in scores and hundreds of thousands. We, from the height of our attainments, now look down upon the men who did these things.
But we are wrong. Amongst us there are many such people, the difference lies only here — that those men of old did these things then in the name of God, and of His true service, whilst now those who commit the same evil amongst us do so in the name of "the people," "for the true service of the people." And as amongst the former there were men insanely self-convinced that they knew the truth, and there were others, hypocrites, taking up their position under the pretext of serving God, and there was a crowd without consideration following the more dexterous and bold, so also now those who do evil in the name of serving the people consist of men insanely self-convinced that they alone know the truth — of hypocrites and of the crowd. Much evil have the self-proclaimed servants of God done in their time, thanks to the teaching which they called Theology, but the servants of the people, thanks to the teaching which they call Science, if they have done less evil, it is only because they have not yet had time to do it, but already on their conscience there lie rivers of blood and great divisions and exasperation amongst men.
Of all indispensable alterations of the forms of social life there is in the life of the world one which is most ripe, one without which not a single step forward in improvement in the life of men can be accomplished. The necessity of this alteration is obvious to every man who is free from preconceived theories. This alteration is not the work of Russia alone, but of the whole world. All the calamities of mankind in our time are connected with this condition.
[This is perhaps an example of Tolstoy's general statements; so broad as to seem absurd at first glance. But it is clear that every improvement in the condition of the earth, whether agricultural, mechanical, political, social, ethical, educational or even religious, must go eventually and mainly to the benefit of the owners of the earth. If, then, Tolstoy's idea is correct, that our land system is the root of our economic evils; all the "improvements" which go to make it less hideous, result in the main in strengthening the system.—Ed.]
Without religion one cannot really love men, and without loving men one cannot know what they require, and what is more, and what is less necessary for them. Only those who are not religious, and therefore do not truly love, can invent trifling, unimportant improvements in the condition of the people without seeing that chief evil from which others are suffering, and which they themselves are partly producing. Only such people can preach more or less cleverly-constructed abstract theories supposed to render the people happy in the future, and not see the sufferings the people are bearing in the present and which demand immediate and practical alleviation. As it were, a man who has deprived a hungry man of his food is giving him his counsel (and that of a very doubtful character) as to how he should get food in the future, without deeming it necessary immediately to share with him that part of his own abundance consisting of the food he has actually taken away from the man.
Fortunately, great beneficial movements in humanity are accomplished not by parasites feeding on the life-blood of the people, whatever they may call themselves — Governments, Revolutionists, or Liberals — but by religious people — that is, by people who are serious, simple, laborious, and who live not for their own profit, vanity, or ambition, and not for the attainment of external results, but for the fulfillment before God of their human vocation.
Such men, and only such, by their noiseless but resolute activity, move mankind forward. Such men will not, desiring to distinguish themselves in the eyes of others, invent this or that improvement in the condition of the people (there can be an endless number of such improvements, and they are all insignificant if the chief thing is not done), but will endeavor to live in accordance with the law of God, with conscience, and in endeavoring to live so they will naturally come across the most obvious transgression of this law, and for themselves, and for others will search for the means of freeing themselves from it.
"Great social reforms," says Mazzini, "always ve been and will be the result of great religious movements."
And such is the religious movement which is now pending for the Russian people, for all the Russian people, for the working classes deprived of land as well as, and especially for, the big, medium, and small landowners, and for all those hundreds of thousands of men who, although they do not directly possess land, yet occupy an advantageous position, thanks to the compulsory labor of the people who are deprived of land.
This sin can be undone, not by political reform, nor socialistic schemes for the future, nor by revolutions in the present, and still less by philanthropic assistance or governmental organization for the purchase and distribution of land among the peasants. Such palliative measures only distract attention from the essence of the problem and thus retard its solution.
No artificial sacrifices are necessary, no concern about the people — there is only necessary the consciousness of this sin by all those who commit or participate in it, and the desire of freeing themselves from it.
It is only necessary that the undeniable truth which the best men of the people always knew and know — that the land cannot be the exclusive property of some, and that the non-admission to the land of those who are in need of it is a sin — that this truth should become generally recognized by all men; that people should become ashamed of retaining the land from those who want to feed themselves from it; that it should become a shame in any way to participate in this retention of the land from those who need it, a shame to possess land, a shame to profit by the labor of men compelled to work only because they have been deprived of their legitimate right to the land.
Possessing hundreds, thousands, scores of thousands of acres, trading in land, profiting one way or the other by landed property, and living luxuriously, thanks to the oppression of the people, possible through this cruel and obvious injustice — to argue in various committees and assemblies about the improvement of the conditions of the peasant's life without surrendering one's own exclusively advantageous position growing from this injustice, is not only an unkind but a detestable and evil thing, equally condemnable by common sense, honesty and Christianity. It is necessary, not to invent cunning devices for the improvement of men deprived of their lawful right to the land, but to understand one's own sin in relation to them, and before all else to cease to participate in it, whatever this may cost. Only such moral activity of every man can and will contribute to the solution of the question now standing before humanity.
The land question has at the present time reached such a state of ripeness as fifty years ago was reached by the question of serfdom. Exactly the same is being repeated. As at that time men searched for the means of remedying the general uneasiness and dissatisfaction which were felt in society, and applied all kinds of external governmental means, but nothing helped nor could help whilst there remained the ripening and unsolved question of personal slavery, so also now no external measures will help or can help until the ripe question of landed property be solved. As now measures are proposed for adding slices to the peasants' land, for the purchase of land by the aid of banks, etc., so then also palliative measures were proposed and enacted, material improvements, rules about three days' labor, and so forth. Even as now the owners of land talk, about the injustice of putting a stop to their criminal ownership, so then people talked about the unlawfulness of depriving owners of their serfs. As then the Church justified the serf right, so now that which occupies the place of the Church — Science — justifies landed property. Just as then slave owners, realizing their sin more or less, endeavored in various ways without undoing it to mitigate it, and substituted the payment of a ransom by the serfs for direct compulsory work for their masters and moderated their exactions from the peasants, so also now the more sensitive landowners, feeling their guilt, endeavor to redeem it by renting their land to the peasants on more lenient conditions, by selling it through the peasant banks, by arranging schools for the people, ridiculous houses of recreation, magic-lantern lectures and theaters.
The question will be solved, not by those who will endeavor to mitigate the evil or to invent alleviations for the people or to postpone the task of the future, but by those who will understand that, however one may mitigate a wrong, it remains a wrong, and that it is senseless to invent alleviations for a man we are torturing, and that one cannot postpone when people are suffering, but should immediately take the best way of solving the difficulty and immediately apply it in practice. And the more should it be so that the method of solving the land problem has been elaborated by Henry George to such a degree of perfection that, under the existing State organization and compulsory taxation, it is impossible to invent any other better, more just, practical, and peaceful solution.
"To beat down and cover up the truth that I have tried tonight to make clear to you [said Henry George], selfishness will call on ignorance. But it has in it the germinative force of truth, and the times are ripe for it. . . . The ground is plowed; the seed is set; the good tree will grow. So little now; only the eye of faith can see it."
And I think Henry George is right, that the removal of the sin of landed property is near, that the movement called forth by Henry George was the last birth-throe, and that the birth is on the point of taking place; the liberation of men from the sufferings they have so long borne must now be realized. Besides this, I think (and I would like to contribute to this, in however small a measure) that the removal of this great universal sin — a removal which will form an epoch in the history of mankind — is to be effected precisely by the Russian Slavonian people, who are, by their spiritual and economic character, predestined for this great universal task — that the Russian people should not become proletarians in imitation of the peoples of Europe and America, but, on the contrary, that they should solve the land question at home by the abolition of landed property, and show other nations the way to a rational, free and happy life, outside industrial, factory, or capitalistic coercion and slavery — that in this lies their great historical calling.
Despite this nation’s rise as a technology titan with some of the best engineering minds in the world, its full economic potential is stifled by potholed roads, collapsing bridges, rickety railroads and a power grid so unreliable that many modern office buildings run their own diesel generators to make sure the lights and computers stay on.
It is not for want of money. The Indian government aims to spend $500 billion on infrastructure by 2012 and twice that amount in the following five years.
The problem is a dearth of engineers — or at least of civil engineers with the skill and expertise to make sure those ambitious projects are done on time and to specification.
Civil engineering was once an elite occupation in India, not only during the British colonial era of carving roads and laying train tracks, but long after independence as part of the civil service. These days, though, India’s best and brightest know there is more money and prestige in writing software for foreign customers than in building roads for their nation.
Our best and brightest ...
Think about it. $500 billion in spending on infrastructure between now and 2012. Those projects are likely to create $1 trillion to $6 trillion in increased land value!
Another $1 trillion in investment in infrastructure between 2013 and 2017. That will create $2 trillion to $12 trillion in increased land value.
So here's the question. How should India finance that $1.5 trillion in investment?
Should they tax the wages of their workers?
Should they tax the purchases of their workers?
Or should they collect some portion of that increase in land value year in and year out?
What might America learn by considering what India's options are?