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!
They had so long held the Swamp and felt it to be their very own
in every part and suburb, . . . that they would have resented the
appearance of another rabbit even about the adjoining barnyard.
Their claim, that of long, successful occupancy, was exactly the
same as that by which most nations hold their land, and it would be
hard to find a better right.
—Ernest Thompson Seton, "Wild Animals I Have Known."
"Raggylug," Chapter VIII.
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.
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.
"Yes, ah yes, there is frightful misery in the world," answered
Gabriel tenderly and sadly. "Yes, many of the poor, cut off
from all joy, all hope, are cold and hungry and in want of shelter
and raiment, in the midst of the immense riches which the Creator
has provided, not for the happiness of a few, but for the happiness
of all, for his wish was that they should be equitably divided — but
a few have acquired the common inheritance by fraud and violence."
— EUGENE SUE, The Wandering Jew,
Part XVI., Chap. 34.
"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.)
He may, and often he does, engross the first necessity of labor,
land, and neither use it himself or allow anyone else to use it, and
though it is clear that . . . he is injuring the community, the law
is sternly on his side.
— WILLIAM MORRIS, Signs of Change,
Land should be given to those who can use it.
— JOHN RUSKIN, Fors Clavigera,
Part II., Letter ii, p. 96.
The accompanying map says, "Around Grand Central Terminal, towers could be up to twice the size now permitted. Development could also take place along the Park Avenue corridor, where towers could be more than 40% larger. Elsewhere in the district, towers could be 20% larger."
New York’s premier district, the 70-block area around Grand Central
Terminal, has lagged, Bloomberg officials say, hampered by zoning rules,
decades old, that have limited the height of buildings.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants
to overhaul these rules so that buildings in Midtown Manhattan can soar
as high as those elsewhere. New towers could eventually cast shadows
over landmarks across the area, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral and
the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. They could rise above the 59-story MetLife
Building and even the 77-story Chrysler Building.
Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal reflects
his effort to put his stamp on the city well after his tenure ends in
December 2013. Moving swiftly, he wants the City Council to adopt the
new zoning, for what is being called Midtown East, by October 2013, with
the first permits for new buildings granted four years later.
administration says that without the changes, the neighborhood around
Grand Central will not retain its reputation as “the best business
address in the world” because 300 of its roughly 400 buildings are more
than 50 years old. These structures also lack the large column-free
spaces, tall ceilings and environmental features now sought by corporate
rezoning — from 39th Street to 57th Street on the East Side — would
make it easier to demolish aging buildings in order to make way for
state of-the-art towers.
it, “the top Class A tenants who have been attracted to the area in the
past would begin to look elsewhere for space,” the administration says
in its proposal.
plan has stirred criticism from some urban planners, community boards
and City Council members, who have contended that the mayor has acted
hastily. They said they were concerned about the impact of taller towers
in an already dense district where buildings, public spaces, streets,
sidewalks and subways have long remained unchanged.
Mr. Bloomberg has encouraged high-rise development in industrial neighborhoods, including the Far West Side of Manhattan,
the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in Long Island City,
Queens. But with the proposal for Midtown, which is working its way
through environmental and public reviews, he is tackling the city’s
the development potential in this area will generate historic
opportunities for investment in New York City,” Deputy Mayor Robert K.
The initiative would, in some cases, allow developers to build towers twice the size now permitted in the Grand Central area. The
owner of the 19-story Roosevelt Hotel at Madison and 45th Street could
replace it with a 58-story tower under the proposed rules. Current
regulations permit no more than 30 floors.
When zoning changes increase the value of land, who should reap the benefit? The current landholder, or the community? What did the landholder do to earn that windfall? Do you think it comes out of thin air? Do you think it is paid him by other rich people?
Or do you recognize that it is part of the structure which enriches a few and impoverishes the many?
It is easy to fix this one. One just has to recognize the structure, and value the land correctly, and start collecting the lion's share of the land rent for the community. If it is more than NYC can put to use -- and it will be -- then apply the excess to reducing our federal taxes on productive effort. Use it to fund Social Security, or Medicare, or universal health insurance, or something else that will benefit the vast majority of us instead of an undeserving tiny privileged minority. Don't throw it in the ocean, and don't leave it in private pockets, be they American or not.
Collect the land rent. Repeat next year, and the next, and the next. Natural Public Revenue.
Well, not quite. The film's a little older than I am.
Watched that film last night ... great quote:
Billie: Because when ya steal from the government, you're stealing from yourself, ya dumb ass.
And when we allow others to steal from the commons what rightly belongs to the community, what are we? Some of that theft we all recognize as theft, and other kinds are perfectly legal, even honored, under our current laws. I find the latter even more troubling than the former.
And when neither our economists nor our leaders even SEE it, it is fair to call that a corruption of what their businesses are supposed to be.
Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if
one portion of the earth's surface may justly become the
possession of an individual and may be held by him for his sole use
and benefit as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then
other portions of the earth's surface may be so held; and eventually
the whole of the earth's surface may be so held; and our planet may
thus lapse into private hands.
— HERBERT SPENCER, in 1850, Social
Statics, Chap. IX.
In the early ages of society it would have been impossible to
maintain the exclusive ownership of a few persons in what seems at
first sight an equal gift to all (the land) — a thing to which
everyone has the same claim.
— WALTER BAGEHOT (1826-1877),
Economic Studies, Essay I., Part I., p. 31.
Let us suppose that a people is excluded from the ownership of the
land. I say that this exclusion, even if followed by no other
injustice (which I think impossible), by making a man a stranger to
the commonwealth, makes him indifferent to the existence of the
— MARMONTEL, Address in Favor of
the Peasants of the North (1757), Oeuvres, Vol X., p. 72.
Any settlement of the land of a country that would exclude the
humblest man in that country from his share of the common
inheritance would be not only an injustice and a wrong to that man,
but moreover would be an impious resistance to the benevolent
intentions of the Creator.
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.
The right of inheritance, or descent to the children and relations of the deceased, seems to have been allowed much earlier than the right of devising by testament. We are apt to conceive at first view that it has nature on its side; yet we often mistake for nature what we find established by long and inveterate custom.
— SIR WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, Commentaries, Book II., Chap. I, p. II.
Then he says: "If I am born into the earth, where is my part? Have the goodness, gentlemen of this world, to show me my wood lot, where I may fell my wood, my field where to plant my corn, my pleasant ground where to build my cabin."
"Touch any wood or field or house-lot on your peril," cry all the gentlemen of this world; "but you may come and work in ours for us, and we will give you a piece of bread."
When I came across this article, 111 years old, I thought of the Ipswich, Massachusetts, trust established in 1650 by the gift of a fine 32-acre piece of land by a forward-thinking resident. His stated intention was that the land be kept by the town, forever, for the benefit of the public schools. Alas, it was poorly managed for a number of years, perhaps decades, and this appears to have been transformed, remarkably, into an excuse for the eager TENANTS to buy the land (and at less than half what I calculate it to be worth -- click on the "Little Neck Feoffees of Ipswich" link at left to see all my posts on the topic).
The tradition of school lands has served many communities very well. Part of Chicago was rented out to tenants and the revenues used to fund the city's schools.
But some fast-talkers appear to have convinced the powers-that-be in Ipswich, Mass., (including, remarkably, some judges and perhaps the state A.G.!) that "forever" is just temporary, and other investments are superior to the revenue from land and natural resources for funding public spending. (Not!) And the land will be there forever; a few decades of poor management is, in the long run, a triviality; the same would not be true of any of the substitute investments the Feoffees and their highly-compensated investment advisors will come up with.
(The first-quoted writer was the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)
The Lands Sub-Committee submitted the following report at the last annual meeting of the Progressive Liberal Association: --
General Francis Walker, in "First Lessons in Political Economy," says: -- "It certainly is true that any increase in the rental value or selling value of land is due, not to the exertions and sacrifices of the owners of the land, but to the exertions and sacrifices of the community. It certainly is true that economic rent tends to increase with the growth of wealth and population, and that thus a larger and larger share of the products of industry tends to pass into the hands of the owners of land, not because they have done more for society, but because society has greater need of that which they control."
On the same subject Thorold Rogers has expressed himself thus: -- Every permanent improvement, every railway and road, every bettering of the general condition of society, every facility given for production, every stimulus applied to consumption, raises rent. The land owner sleeps, but thrives."
The observant thinking man must admit that the above opinions are borne out by facts, but the importance to the community of the nationalisation of the land is unfortunately realised by comparatively few. If people would endeavour to understand its importance, there is little doubt that the majority would be forced to the conclusion that the private ownership of land is beyond question decidedly against the best interests of the State.
Cardinal Manning has said: -- "The land question means hunger, thirst, nakedness, notice to quit, labour spent in vain, the toil of years seized upon, the breaking up of homes, the misery, 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." The opinion of the late Cardinal, expressed in such a forcible language, should at the very least induce people to study this question thoroughly. As a proof of its importance many object lessons are to be found -- as bearing upon it from a municipal point of view two may be mentioned. Doncaster in Yorkshire has no borough rate. Why? Because it is the owner of certain remunerative land; and Durban, in South Africa, for a rate of 1½d in the £ obtains the usual municipal services such as we possess in Christchurch, and in addition enjoys several others which we much desire to have. The difference is because in Durban its founders made reserve round the town which have not been alienated and have so increased in value that the rentals therefrom very nearly provide for all municipal requirements. The founders of Canterbury made a similar wise provision for Christchurch, but in an evil day the Provincial Council, when it took over the affairs of the Canterbury Association, sold the city's inheritance for a mess of pottage. It will doubtless be interesting to many to lean something of the history of the
CHRISTCHURCH TOWN RESERVES.
When constitutional government was established in Canterbury the Provincial Government took over the property of the Canterbury Association, including the town reserves of Christchurch and Hagley Park, the total area of these two being 897 acres, which, five years previoiusly, had been considered of the value of £2700. The Association had got into debt to the extent of nearly £29,000, which the Provincial Government paid with money raised on debentures, and proceeded to sell the reserves situated inside the belts. To prevent any misunderstanding as to the then estimated value of these town reserves, it is desirable to state that for the £29,000 mentioned the Association transferred to the Provincial Government all the property it possessed in Canterbury, which included other reserves than those in Christchurch, also plant, tools, survey maps and field books, which must have been value for a considerable portion of the sum named. By the deed poll of the Association these lands were to be held in trust for the purposes for which they were reserved, but a special Act of the Assembly was obtained to permit of their alienation. It has been truly said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. It is equally true with regard to reserves of land made for the benefit of the public; the people (every individual) should be ever on guard and watchful that no tampering with public reserves be allowed.
At the present day it is particularly interesting to consider what would now be the position of Christchurch if the reserves inside the belts had not been sold. What income would now be derivable therefrom?
Excluding twelve acres which were set apart by the Provincial Council as endowments for various religious bodies, the frontages of the reserves on the main streets of the city, as originally laid out in the extensions of these streets to the belts, amount to about 92,400 ft, after deducting 1¼ chains at each corner to avoid reckoning double frontages at corners. At 4s per foot frontage it would be £23,100. Bearing in mind that more than half the frontages have a depth of 5½ chains, it is estimated that if these lands were now let on building leases they would average a return of not less than 4s per foot, possibly more, and it is probably safe to say that the income therefrom would be £20,000 a year.
HOW WOULD CHRISTCHURCH BE AFFECTED.
The statement of accounts of the City Treasurer shows that for the year ending March 31, 1901, the rates assessed amounted to £28,526 --
General rate (omitting shillings and pence)
Special drainage rate
obtained by a total assessment of 2s 7½d in the pound, whereas, had the town reserves not been alienated, all the municipal services rendered would probably have been obtained for a modest rate of less than 9d. in the pound.
This is surely an object lesson which should be laid to heart by every inhabitant of the colony, as well as by the citizens of Christchurch, and should demonstrate how very desirable it is in the interests of the people as a community, that all land should be owned by the community, seeing that increased values of land are derived from the exertions and sacrifices of society. It will serve to show what enormous sums society thus pays to individuals to state that it is estimated that the value of land in London is increasing at the rate of 7½ millions annually; under the system of private ownership of land this large sum is accruing yearly in London alone to private individuals, and the public who must use the land, necessarily pay interest on that sum.
The Progressive Liberal Association earnestly commends these facts to the consideration of the people of New Zealand in the hope that they will insist upon a stoppage being put to the sale of Crown lands; and as regards the granting of leases in perpetuity, which, in parting with the possession for 999 years at a rental based on the present value, hands over to individuals the unearned increment for that unconscionably long period, it is hoped that a mandate will go forth from the electors of the colony insisting upon a periodical revaluation of the unimproved value. When these have been accomplished, there will be the question of the nationalisation of all the lands in the colony to be dealt with.
"That which was created for the use of all, the use of which is absolutely necessary for the existence of every individual, should be owned and controlled for the benefit of all. The private control of land is dead against the common welfare. Justice demands this, and what justice demands must sooner or later be conceded.
These principles the professor (Fawcett) goes on contentedly to investigate, never appearing to contemplate for an instant the possibility of the first principle of the whole business — the maintenance, by force, of the possession of land obtained by force, being ever called in question by any human mind. It is nevertheless the nearest task of our day to discover how far original theft may be justly encountered by reactionary theft, or whether reactionary theft be indeed theft at all; and farther, what, excluding either original or corrective theft, are the just conditions of the possession of land.
It can never be pretended that the existing titles to such property (i.e., land) are legitimate. Should anyone think so, let him look in the chronicles. Violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, the claims of superior cunning — these are the sources to which these titles may be traced.
— HERBERT SPENCER, in 1850; Social Statics, Chap. IX.
ON Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia’s carbon tax — a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province — increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.
This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.
The only bad news is that this is the last increase scheduled in British Columbia. In our view, the reason is simple: the province is waiting for the rest of North America to catch up so that its tax system will not become unbalanced or put energy-intensive industries at a competitive disadvantage.
Over dinner tonight, Milton Friedman's name came up, and I commented that in about 1978 and again in 2006, a few weeks before his death, Milton Friedman called land value taxation the "least bad" tax, but never lifted a finger in the intervening years to help promote it.
The carbon tax is another good, and wise, and just, tax.
How many economists will put their shoulder to getting it enacted?
How many will simply hang out in their ivory towers?
Let’s start with the economics. Substituting a carbon tax for some of our current taxes — on payroll, on investment, on businesses and on workers — is a no-brainer. Why tax good things when you can tax bad things, like emissions? The idea has support from economists across the political spectrum, from Arthur B. Laffer and N. Gregory Mankiw on the right to Peter Orszag and Joseph E. Stiglitz on the left. That’s because economists know that a carbon tax swap can reduce the economic drag created by our current tax system and increase long-run growth by nudging the economy away from consumption and borrowing and toward saving and investment.
What would a British Columbia-style carbon tax look like in the United States? According to our calculations, a British Columbia-style $30 carbon tax would generate about $145 billion a year in the United States. That could be used to reduce individual and corporate income taxes by 10 percent, and afterward there would still be $35 billion left over.
Why on earth should the privilege to pollute OUR air be be given away for free, or for less than the social costs it imposes on us? Who benefits from such a system?
A carbon tax makes sense whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a climate change skeptic or a believer, a conservative or a conservationist (or both). We can move past the partisan fireworks over global warming by turning British Columbia’s carbon tax into a made-in-America solution.
I thought this 110 year old article worth sharing. (See also, over at wealthandwant.com, the page on "ownership and possession.") Seems appropriate as we enter the celebration of the Declaration of Independence.
The Railroad trainman, Volume 19 - By Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen December, 1902, page 918
Property Rights Florence A. Burleigh
THE recent coal strike has brought the subject of property rights to the minds of many people who had never before thought of it seriously. In a general way, most people think that no one should appropriate to himself what does not belong to him, and that every one has a right to keep what does belong to him. The only question is, what constitutes rightful ownership? Possession certainly does not, neither does any one rightfully own anything simply because he bought it and paid for it in "hard-earned money."
It is a little amusing to hear people argue that such and such a person — often a "poor widow" — owns a piece of land, a horse or a building because it was paid for in "hard-earned money." Is it his or hers any more because the money was hard to earn than if it was easily earned or came down from heaven like manna? Paying for a thing, whether with "hard-earned" money or money that is easily earned, gives no valid title; there must be a little back of that which is transferred or there is no rightful ownership. A man might buy a horse and pay to the seller its full value in gold; but if the horse had been stolen, no matter how many times it had been sold since, it belonged to the man from whom it was stolen. A man can give no better title to anything than he possesses, and title is not made by buying or selling.
Hard and unjust as were the demands of the mine owners in the recent coal strike, they are perfectly legitimate, if it is once conceded that those men or corporations own the mines. A man may do what he likes with his own if he does not aggress on other people's rights. If these men really owned the mines they had a perfect right to sit back and say to the miners, "You shall not work for us unless you come to our terms; there is nothing to arbitrate." They have a right to close their mines for as long a time as they choose, to offer only starvation wages, to compel their employes to trade at "pluck-in" stores, or to exact any other terms they may choose to impose if the mines are really theirs.
Ownership includes absolute control by the owner of the thing owned. If a man owns a tool, a piece of furniture or a watch, he is at liberty to break or burn it, or give it away if he does not care to use it. He may refuse to lend it to any but men with black hair or may put it in a glass case in his parlor if he chooses; it is nobody's business but his own what he does with it, so long as he injures no one else. It may be that he would be foolish, selfish in his disposal of it, but that is his own affair; the article is his without question — his to do with as he pleases.
So it is with mines or any other land; if a man really owns them and can show a good title, he has a right to "dictate terms'' to any one else who wants to use them or whom he wants to work for him; no one can justly interfere. But is the title to coal mines or other natural resources as good as that to labor products? Can it be traced back to the Creator? If so, private property in land is right; if not, private property in land is wrong.
Ownership comes from production -- production being used in the large sense to include exchange. If a man makes a hat it is his; if he exchanges the hat for a coat or a pair of shoes, they are also his because that for which he exchanged them was his. But how is it with land? Can anyone show a title from the producer? Henry George says in "Progress and Poverty," Book VII, Chapter 1: "What constitutes the rightful basis of property? . . . Is it not, primarily, the right of a man to himself, to the use of his own powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions? . . . As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete form, belongs to him. And for this reason that which a man makes or produces is bis own as against all the world — to enjoy or to destroy, to use, to exchange, or to give. No one else can rightfully claim it, and his exclusive right to it involves no wrong to anyone else. Thus, there is to everything produced by human exertion a clear and indisputable title to exclusive possession and enjoyment which is perfectly consistent with justice as it descends from the original producer in whom it is invested by natural law. . . . . There can be to the ownership of anything no rightful title which is not derived from the title of the producer and does not rest upon the natural right of the man to himself. There can be no other rightful title because, (first) there is no other natural right from which any other title can be derived, and (second) because the recog nition of any other title is inconsistent with and destructive of this.
" . . . If production give to the producer the right to exclusive possession and enjoyment, there can rightfully be no exclusive possession and enjoyment of anything not the production of labor and the recognition of private property in land is wrong. For the right to the produce of labor cannot be enjoyed without the right to the free use of the opportunities offered by nature, and to admit the right of private property in these is to deny the right of property in the produce of labor."
Herbert Spencer, in the unrevised edition of "Social Statics," Chapter 9, said: "Either men have the right to make the soil private property or they have not. . . . . If they have such a right, then is that right absolutely sacred, not on any pretense to be violated. . . . If they have such a right, then it would be proper for the sole proprietor of any kingdom — a Jersey or a Guernsey, for example — to impose just what regulations he might choose on its inhabitants — to tell them that they should not live on his property unless they professed a certain religion, spoke a particular language, paid him a specified reverence, adopted an authorized dress and conformed to all other conditions he might see fit to make. . . . There is no escape from these inferences. They are necessary corollaries to the theory that the earth can become individual property. And they can only be repudiated by denying that theory."
These quotations are given not because Mr. George or Mr. Spencer or anyone else is infallible, but because the conclusions are irrefutable if once the premises are granted and it is inconceivable that anyone who is at the same time thoughtful, intelligent and fair can deny the premises.
It may be that the statute law allows private property in land, but statute law never of itself made right. Statute law has always winked at or allowed much wrong and injustice, but notwithstanding that, piracy and chattel slavery were finally abolished. When the majority of people come to see the enormous and fundamental wrong in private ownership of land, they will change the laws and wonder how they could have been so blind before as to think that private ownership, in what was not and never could be made by man, was right.
When once the right of all men to the use of the earth is recognized and land is free for all to use as long as they pay to the community the value of that use, then labor will be really free and employers will find that they cannot get a man to work for them unless they treat him justly and fairly.
Imagine a man saying to his physician, "I will not employ you unless you will trade at my store, profess my religion and vote the ticket I tell you to!" The idea is preposterous; yet it is not essentially different from what we see about us everywhere. The sick man employs his physician in essentially the same way that he employs his coachman or his tailor, but the physician is a free agent and the coachman is not, yet both do him a service.
It is seldom that people see that anyone who works for them does them a service, yet that is the case. A rather amusing incident which illustrates this point happened not so long ago at an out of the way town where there are no very poor and no very rich people. A lady who was spending the summer in this place needed extra help and went to ask for it from a woman who had occasionally helped in an emergency, but who at this time did not, for reasons of her own, care to go out to cook even for a day. The burden of the would-be employer's sad song was not so much that she was inconvenienced by the woman's refusal, but that she (the lady) had so kindly and generously offered work and it was scorned. The truth probably was that the woman did not want the small amount of money she would have received as much as she wanted to stay at home and, fortunately, she was free to make her own choice which is not often the case. The reverse of this is so generally the rule that it is a pleasure to occasionally find workers who can afford to be independent. Sometime, when enough people see the injustice of our present social conditions, when we have real freedom and equality, men will not need to almost sell their souls in order to keep their bodies alive for employers will not ask anyone to do it, as they would know it would be useless. Competition will be free and both sides can make a fair bargain, not only between employers and employes, but between all business men.
Among the proper subjects for ownership the one which stands pre-eminent among the others is the man himself. A man's ownership of himself is one of the most sacred things in the world, for it includes his right to freedom of thought, speech and action and the just claim to the product of his labor. It means that every man will have a chance to make the most of himself without interference from anybody.
Let us, then, do what we can to bring about this condition that the world may be the better for our having lived in it, and the next generation may enjoy their right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.''
This appeared in the March 2, 1907 issue of The Public, edited by Louis F. Post:
GIVE AND TAKE.
For The Public
"Why do you come to me?" said the Millionaire. "I am not to blame for what you gave me. Surely you would not be heartless enough to take it away again. And then you must remember that I am a Captain of Industry, while you are only Vox Populi."
"But," said the Citizen, "we make the laws and can do as we please."
"Laws which I do not like are very apt to be unconstitutional," quoth the Captain.
"But certainly we are entitled to a fair share of what we produce," said the Labor Unionist.
"The trouble is you have produced too much," replied the Captain.
"But," said the Single-Taxer, "the value of land is purely social and should belong to society."
"Those who have the supreme pleasure of basking inthe sunlight of my society have all the land they need," rejoined the Captain.
"But the whole system is wrong," said the Socialist.
"You are a revolutionist," hissed the Captain.
"All systems are wrong," said the Anarchist.
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," said the Minister.
The man of wealth and pride Takes up a space that many poor supplied — Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds, Space for his horses, equipage and hounds; The robe that wraps his limbs in silken cloth Has robbed the neighboring fields of half their growth; His seat where solitary sports are seen Indignant spurns the cottage from the green; Around the world each needful product flies, For all the luxuries the world supplies, While thus the land adorned for pleasure all In barren splendor feebly waits the fall.
The essential principle of property being to assure to all persons what they have produced by their labor and accumulated by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the product of labor, the raw material of the earth.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 5.
When the "sacredness of property" is talked of, it should always be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 6.
Not one solitary square inch of English soil remains unclaimed on which the landless citizen can legally lay his hand without paying tax and toll to somebody; in other words, without giving a part of his own labor or the product of his labor to one of the squatting and tabooing class in exchange for their permission (which they can withhold if they choose) merely to go on existing upon the ground which was originally common to all alike, and has been unjustly seized upon (through what particular process matters little) by the ancestors or predecessors of the present monopolists.
— GRANT ALLEN, Individualism and Socialism, Contemporary Review, 1889, p. 732.
But the colony multiplies, while the space still continues the same, the common rights, the equal inheritance of mankind, are engrossed by the bold and crafty; each field and forest is circumscribed by the landmarks of a jealous master. . . . In the progress from primitive equity to final injustice the steps are silent, the shades are almost imperceptible, and the absolute monopoly is guarded by positive laws and artificial reason.
— EDWARD GIBBON, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them.
— HENRY GEORGE, Progress and Poverty, Book VII., Chap. 2, p. 312.
Here is the fundamental error, the crude and monstrous assumption, that the land which God has given to our nation, is or can be the private property of anyone. It is a usurpation exactly similar to that of slavery.
— PROF. F. W. NEWMAN, Lectures on Political Economy (1851), Lecture VI., p. 533.
It is well known that these materials and agencies, as fast as they become available, are in the main appropriated by individuals, through the agency or consent of the government, and are then held as private property. Such is the case with the soil and the minerals beneath it. The owners of this property charge as much for the use of it as if it were their own creation, and not that of nature.
— PROF. SIMON NEWCOMB, The Labor Question, North American Review, July, 1870, p. 151.
Wherever there is in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on.
— THOMAS JEFFERSON (1785), Ford's Writings of Jefferson, Vol. VII., 36.
Thou, O Lord, providest enough for all men with Thy most liberal and bountiful hand, but whereas Thy gifts are, in respect of Thy goodness and free favour, made common to all men, we (through our naughtiness, niggardship and distrust), do make them private and peculiar. Correct Thou the thing which our inequity hath put out of order, and let Thy goodness supply that which our niggardliness hath plucked away.
— A Prayer for Them That Be in Poverty, from Queen Elizabeth's Private Prayer Book (1578).
The remarkable thing about this story, to my eye, is that the size of the lot isn't even mentioned! It is worth $1 million land rent per year, and one might infer from the information provided that the lot is about 10,000 square feet, or less than 1/4 acre.
Capitalized at 5% (also known as "20 years' purchase") the lot would sell for about $20 million.
I assume that in addition to the land rent, the tenant pays the property tax on the land. So the entire $1 million annual land rent flows out of NYC, to the property's owner, in Marshall, Virginia.
What, pray tell, has the land owner done to earn that land rent?
Consider how many people's wage taxes and sales taxes could be lifted, and what that additional spending power could do for the local economy. Consider what would happen if there were no taxes to be paid on the apartments or on people's condo structures.
Or NYC can just keep letting the land rent leave the city, and even leave the country, continuing to flow into private pockets, just as if they'd rendered someone some service and earned it!
Land rent is natural public revenue, and we permit landlords to privatize it. Aren't we generous with our patrimony? (Leona told us the truth!)
The developer of a nine-story Karl Fischer rental apartment building planned for a corner site in the East Village signed a 99-year ground lease that requires payments each year of about $1 million.
The development company, YYY Third Avenue, signed the long-term lease for the vacant site at 74-84 Third Avenue, at 12th Street, April 27, 2011, however, a memorandum of the lease was not recorded in public records until last Wednesday, city property documents show.
A source citing city property records said the lease payment, which is not specifically recorded, could be inferred to be about $1 million per year. Prior to the document’s release, the annual lease cost was not known.
The prolific and controversial architect Fischer filed plans to build an 82,000-square-foot, nine-story residential building with 94 units, city Department of Buildings online records show. The permit has not been approved and is pending, DOB data indicate, and is to include nearly 9,511 square feet of retail, as well.
You might also be intrigued by the URL for the story ... I'm not sure what to make of it.
As our time honored political maxims become hackneyed they are very apt to pass into what Grover Cleveland would call innocuous desuetude. We subscribe to the sentiment that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" and yet little is done to counteract those aggressive forces which nullify that freedom which we profess to prize so highly. Even the prayer, "Thy Kingdom Come," is repeated as a mere wish that something good would happen rather than with a determination to bring about those righteous conditions which make for a heaven on earth. Possibly the most neglected of all of our national ideals is our professed adherence to that most democratic of all maxims, "Equal rights for all and special privileges for none." For at the present time our country is honeycombed with special privilege that has become so entirely entrenched as to be regarded on all sides as vested right. Special privilege is condoned by force of its familiarity. Like vice it is endured, then pitied, then embraced.
There lived in a Colorado city years ago a housewife who made convenient use of coal cars on the side track across the street from her dwelling with which to replenish her stock of fuel. This she did without any qualm of conscience but as a special privilege which, by the sanctifying touch of time had grown into a vested right. This woman doubtless was punctilious in the ordinary obligations of life and would have hotly resented any statement to the effect that she was stealing coal. She was guided by that all too common kind of honesty which is based upon expediency rather than principle. Not on any account would she have withheld what was due from her to a neighbor who would have suffered by her delinquency, but the advantage to her of getting this coal was so great and the loss to some impersonal owner of same, mine, railroad, or smelter, was relatively so negligible that the argument was all in favor of her acting in her own interest without question. No personal equation was involved and if at first there had been any hesitation on her part of this practice, that was long ago a thing of the past. But the railroad company put a watchman on guard and her supply of fuel was thereby stopped. She then turned to the local charity organization with request for a continuation of the supply which had thus been rudely taken from her and the very righteous indignation with which she told her story was ample proof of entire absence of comprehension on her part that she had been stealing.
This incident, which is a true story, illustrates very nicely the evolution and the nature of that special privilege which eventually becomes a vested right. And if the searchlight of analysis is turned upon our social system we may be surprised to find the presence of special privilege in unexpected places and of a volume that is, in the aggregate, enormous.
As a basis for this inquiry it may be well to state the fundamental truth that property may be secured in three ways only; first, by labor; second, by gift; and third, by theft. If this test is repeatedly kept in mind, the task will become easier. One of the commonest forms of special privilege is that which is provided under ninety-nine year leases on valuable business property sites. These leases convey to the owner of the land a stipulated income after the tenant has paid all taxes and expenses. In the parlance of political economy this revenue consists of what John Stuart Mill defined as unearned increment, a value which is produced by no individual but which is purely the result of population reflected upon desirable locations. For this revenue to be turned over to individuals as is now the unquestioned custom in all of our large cities and to an amount of billions of dollars annually is a procedure which is precisely in the same class as the stealing of coal from the railroad car by the Colorado housewife.
A much larger source of public revenue which is diverted to individuals is that of the rent of valuable property in excess of a fair interest return upon the intrinsic value of improvements on the property. This applies to practically all property located at the center of our large cities and involves enormous revenues. There is a mixture here of legitimate return on capital invested with the unearned increment which belongs absolutely to society but the case is not less clear on that account.
Another prolific source of public revenue which is diverted to individuals is that which comes from the lucky possession of oil wells. This possession frequently gives incomes of thousands of dollars daily to those who have no more claim on such revenue than is involved in the possession of the land upon which the wells were developed. The wealth that has by this means been given to certain sections of the country and certain groups of people has run into the billions of dollars. The Osage tribe of Indians in Oklahoma are said to have been made the richest people in the world due to this special privilege. Such beneficiaries are no more justly entitled to the revenue which they receive than was the Colorado woman justified in stealing coal from the railroad car. It will be said that the oil industry involves a great deal of capital and that many dry wells are paid for before a single producing well is developed. This is true and therefore makes the proposition somewhat more complicated but does not alter the conclusion.
Another source of revenue which diverts public funds into private hands is speculation in land. Purchase of inside property sure to increase in value is the one investment that has been invariably recommended by shrewd financiers. This speculation is far greater than has been generally realized. More than one-half the area of New York City consists in vacant lots which are held out of use for speculative purposes, and the same is true of all our larger cities. Incidentally, this speculation has the effect of enhancing the selling price of desirable land to artificially high figures. When land which is purchased with a hope of subsequent rise in value, the investor practically lays a trap by which he may secure values that rightfully belong to the community. And this process makes an artificial scarcity of land with consequent artificially high cost to those who must use it. This process of securing a profit, of getting something for nothing, is persistently the same in character as that by which the Colorado housewife secured her supply of coal. Here again objection may be interposed to the effect that land frequently has to be sold for less than it cost. This is an objection that was raised by no less an economist than Francis A. Walker, the foremost critic of Henry George during his lifetime. General Walker exclaimed, "Mr. George has much to say about unearned increment: He says nothing, however, about unrequited decrement." Mr. George's rejoinder to this was an expression on his part of his inability to discuss the problem with one who spoke of unrequited decrement in something which originally had no value. In other words, so far as society is concerned its interest is only in the rental value which is produced from year to year and which rises or fall accordingly as population grows or wanes. The important fact is that this increment, whether large or small, belongs to the community which produced it.
The most spectacular form of special privilege which we have to deal with today is that provided by the protective tariff. This protection enables the America manufacturer to secure an artificially high price for his product. The common argument in support of the protective system is that the American standard of living must be maintained by this artificial means, but this argument falls to the ground, if at the same time, we permit any improvement in labor-saving machinery which naturally has far greater effect upon the labor market than is produced by the competition of merchandise imported from abroad. The enormity of special privilege due to the tariff is perhaps more conspicuous in the State of Pennsylvania than elsewhere, a single family in Pittsburgh, the direct beneficiaries of the tariff on aluminum, being reputed to be worth in excess of $2 billion. There will be found that, with a few rare exceptions, the great fortunes of America are based upon special privilege of one kind or another.
Although there are many minor sources of special privilege which are embedded in our political and social institutions, those above enumerated are the principal ones.
The special privileges provided by legislative action at Washington are in a different class from those which have become a regular part of our system of taxation but are none the less to be condemned. The most flagrant of these in recent times was the appropriation by Congress and approved by President Hoover, of $500,000,000 of tax payers' money for the specific purpose of stabilizing or artificially enhancing the price of wheat, cotton, and other farm products. It was presumed by the makers of this law that it would have the effect of giving artificial advantage to the farming class, which would offset in a measure the special privileges which had been given so generously to Eastern interests by means of the protective tariff. The plea for this farm legislation was repeatedly based upon that consideration. It so happened that even the immense waste of money involved by the farm marketing act was negligible as an influence in the world wide markets and that it did not affect in any considerable degree the law of supply and demand upon the prices of the agricultural products which were supposed to be favored. But the very fact that this legislation was put through with little opposition furnished a very good illustration of the fact that special privilege legislation is regarded as perfectly legitimate. And this has been further illustrated in monstrous degree by the New Deal legislation under President Roosevelt.
There is everywhere consciousness of a mysterious force which is responsible for easily acquired fortunes on one hand together with an increase of unemployment and consequent lower incomes on the other hand. Each succeeding census report makes more appalling this undemocratic and unjust condition in our social fabric.
If prosperity is to be secure, there must be an end to special privilege of every kind, and a system of taxation inaugurated in place thereof which shall be based upon justice to all. Henry George has demonstrated how this should be done.
While I was in the wood alone by myself a gathering of nuts, the forester popped through the bushes upon me, and asking me what I did there, I answered, "Gathering nuts."
"Gathering nuts!" said he; "and dare you say so?"
"Yes," said I. "Why not? Would you question a monkey or a squirrel about such a business?"
. . "I tell you," said he, "this wood is not common; it belongs to the Duke of Portland."
"Oh! My service to the Duke of Portland," said I; "Nature knows no more of him than of me. Therefore, as in Nature's storehouse the rule is, First come, first served, so the Duke of Portland must look sharp if he wants any nuts."
— THOMAS SPENCE, Pig's Meat (1793)
in Land for the Landless (Wm. Reeves, 1896), pp. 7-8.
"I find this vast net-work, which you call property, extending over the whole planet. I cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the White Hills or the Allegheny Range, but some man or corporation steps up to me to show me that it is his."
— EMERSON, The Conservative.
Extended excerpts from The Conservative (an 1841 speech) follow ...
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?
Nothing but the most horrible perversion of humanity and moral justice, under the specious name of political economy, could have blinded men to this truth as to the possession of land, the law of God having connected indissolubly the cultivation of every rood of earth with the maintenance and watchful labor of man. But money, stock, riches by credit, transferable and convertible at will, are under no such obligations, and, unhappily, it is from the selfish, autocratic possession of such property, that our landholders have learned their present theory of trading with that which was never meant to be an object of commerce.
— SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, Table Talk, March 31, 1833.
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.)
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