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!
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
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!
Recently, four city mayors in Connecticut
proposed that cities ought to be permitted to impose a 1% sales tax if
they chose. Those who spend much time thinking about incentives
recognize this as a poor idea. I particularly liked this pair of
letters to the editor in the New London Day:
STAMFORD - During an appearance yesterday at the Urban Transitway
construction site, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., called for
major national investment in roads, trains, bridges and other
Dodd came to town to promote his bill that would set up an independent
national bank for such projects. The bank would designate regionally
significant projects for loans, loan guarantees or other financial help
and issue tax-exempt bonds to finance them.
Dodd said the United States needs a national policy and a dedicated
funding stream for maintaining infrastructure, rather than leaving it
to politicians to fight for money for individual projects.
It may be a dry topic, but it's important, he said.
"It normally glazes over the eyes of the most determined listener," Dodd said. "I'm proud to be in a city that cares about it."
The title for this post was prompted by an article in the NYT about
people not raised on farms deciding to become farmers, particularly in
places near large cities. It seems that local food was said to be the
answer to a number of questions. I'm generally in favor of it, but I'm
not sure it is the answer to as many questions as its supporters
claim. That doesn't make "local food" a bad thing; just not the answer
to as many questions as it might seem.
But the title for this post sprang to mind. It seems to me that Land Value Taxation is the answer to a lot of very important questions.
By this, I mean fixing the problem of low wages -- wages
insufficient to support an individual or a family in conditions we
consider acceptable on a reasonable number of hours of labor per week.
I don't mean minimum wage legislation, or living wage legislation, both
of which I regard as well-intentioned but ultimately destructive for
the community they intend to help. I don't mean measures like the
Earned Income Tax Credit, either. It appears that people must jump
through high hoops to get those dollars (which often seems to require
professional advice, at a price), and then a significant portion of the
money goes not to the wage earner but to his tax preparer/advisor, in
the form of fees and interest.
I've heard this point made a couple of times recently, but
particularly liked the way Gail Collins expressed it in her recent
column, George Speaks, Badly:
Besides being incoherent, this is a perfect sign of an utterly phony
speech. Earmarks are one of those easy-to-attack Congressional
weaknesses, and in a perfect world, they would not exist. But they cost
approximately two cents in the grand budgetary scheme of things. Saying
you’re going to fix the economy or balance the budget by cutting out
earmarks is like saying you’re going to end global warming by banning
relative magnitude of earmarks relative to total federal spending or
total discretionary federal spending may be rather small. But earmarks
do have tremendous potential to do good locally. They can fund projects
that may not be feasible for local government to fund, which can
contribute mightily to local economic activity and economic rent.
The question, I think, is what happens AFTER the earmark project.
Will the local community that benefits from that federal spending
collect the benefit from the local residents who are benefited, or will
that benefit keep accruing to particular individuals, and continue to
be just a nice permanent federal gift to them?
Bob Herbert wrote, in his 3/11/08 column entitled "Sharing the Pain", in part,
The American dream is on life
support because men and women by the millions who want very much to
work — who still have in their heads the ideal of a thriving family in
a nice home with maybe a picket fence — are unable to find a decent job.
For years, families have been fighting weakness on the employment front
with every other option imaginable.
Wives and mothers have gone to work.
People have been putting in more hours and working additional
And Americans have plunged like Olympic diving champions into
every form of debt they could find.
Who has gotten the benefits of women spending many more years and many
more hours per year in the workplace? Who has benefited from
carrying more and more debt? How does this relate to the run-up
price of housing? I said I'd write about these issues in
another post. This is it.
In a recent NYT, there is an article
about the building on the southwest corner of 72nd and Madison in NYC.
Twice in the article and once in the caption to the photos, the
building is referred to as a "taxpayer" or "taxpayer-style building."
The article describes the 2 buildings which have occupied the 48' by
100' lot on the sw corner of 72nd and Madison: the first was a 5-story
mansion built in 1894, which was occupied by an ex-wife of William K.
Vanderbilt II. On the northwest corner stood Louis Tiffany's grand
house, and Gertrude Rhinelander was building her chateau, now the Ralph
Lauren store, on the southeast corner. The mansion remained a private
home until 1951, when it was
... replaced with a two-story-high taxpayer-style building, designed by Boak & Raad with severe simplicity.
Lauren acquired the old Rhinelander mansion for its flagship store in
1986, and seven years later took over the taxpayer on the site of the
Cutting house. It has operated a store there since then.
Americans have a tendency to respect those who are "self-made men."
This seems to include people whose fortunes have been made in real
estate. The latest example in the news is the outgoing governor of New
York, whose father, Bernard Spitzer, reportedly has a $500 million
portfolio of properties, most or all in NYC.
I have nothing against real estate developers in their role as
developers. They bring large amounts of money and multiple talents to
bear to create new modern buildings on sites previously occupied by
more modest buildings suitable to another decade or century. And when
they build they generally create the venues in which dozens, even
hundreds, of entrepreneurial visions can be made into reality, and
where thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of people can be employed
in a single building. Appropriate development of choice sites, served
by existing infrastructure such as NYC's elaborate transportation
system and things as prosaic as city water, sanitary sewers, stormwater
runoff, and all the other systems that are paid for by we-the-people:
schools, public safety, public health, libraries, courts, hospitals,
etc., means that specialized work can take in the center of the central
business district, conducted by people who come from a 360 degree
radius. It minimizes sprawl on the fringe, and makes the economy work
But there are other facets of the real estate business that I think
are "opportunities for plunder" that should be restructured to serve
the common good instead of the private good. This involves a revision
of our notions of what is right, what is just, what is rightly private
property and what legitimately belongs to the commons.