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!
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?
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.
An important question, and one whose significance relatively few of
us understand. Many are not even familiar with the term "land rent."
Land rent is the annual value of a particular piece of land. Quick
and dirty, it can be estimated at about 5% of the selling value of the
land part of the property. It is a value created not by the individual
or corporate titleholder, but by the community. Land has no value
until more than one party wants to use it (or wants to speculate in
The Hartford Courant published an editorial yesterday entitled "Let's Redirect Sprawl." The title is taken from a statement by Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.
The editorial says, in part,
Advocates for smart growth often cite the
need for "infill development." But "redirect sprawl" gets the message
across better. One of the aspects of smart growth that is sometimes
forgotten is — growth. To redirect sprawl is emphatically to keep
growing, but in places that don't waste energy, add to traffic
congestion or ruin the view.
How do we do this? The editorial doesn't say. It does mention the underused land in our cities:
That should be part of a strong and focused effort to redirect sprawl
to the empty and underused sites that pockmark nearly all of our urban
areas. The central part of Hartford, for example, has acres of land that is severely underused as surface parking.
usually does cost more to build in town centers and transit corridors.
But it is the right thing to do. If we rebuild cities to a healthy
urban density, we won't have to drive as much, and thus will save
energy and cause less pollution. Cities will be safer and more
walkable. There will be less pressure to develop the last of our farms.
"People want to live in cities, if you do it right," Mr. Rendell said.
This ought to be the next phase of the smart-growth movement in Connecticut, and Mr. Rendell may have provided the catchphrase.
It is apparently standard practice for assessors in some places to
value large parcels of land very generously. I'm not talking about
special valuations for farms or forests (even if they are long-fallow
and in areas where land sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars per
acre). Rather, I am talking about valuations which treat the portion
of an owner's land beyond the minimum zoning size as if it were worth
perhaps 10% of its real value.
This happens in fairly dense suburban neighborhoods and in places where much larger lots are the minimum.
I live in small city within commuting distance of New York City.
For the 32 years I've been here, there has been a 4.3 acre
hole-in-the-ground within about 1/4 mile of the city's "100%
location." It is surrounded by a chain link fence, and bordered by a
shopping mall, a hotel, some apartments and some office buildings. It
is within walking distance of a major railroad station and two
interstate highway exits. It is even identified in the city's
assessment database as the hole in the ground. It has weed trees and
concrete-lined puddles. I seem to recall that at least one person has
drowned when their car ended up in deep water on the property.
When I moved here, the tallest building in town was 22 stories.
Today, the tallest building is still that 22-story office building. It
sits a bit to the north of the geographic center of downtown. We
currently have under construction a 37-story luxury condo complex ...
on 1/2 acre at the northwest corner of the downtown ... and a 39-story
hotel and condo complex on 3 acres, solidly in the downtown area and
close to the highway and railroad.