Pages I refer to often

  • Income Distribution in the US
    How is our income distributed? Well, it is pretty concentrated. How concentrated? Take a look.
  • 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!
  • Wealth Concentration Tables from 2004 SCF: Bottom 90%, Next 9% and Top 1%
    Aggregated data by net worth quantile, for various kinds of wealth. With calculations you won't find anywhere else!
  • Wealth Concentration Tables from 2004 SCF: 50-40-5-4-1
    These tables show how concentrated the ownership of various kinds of assets are. With calculations you won't find anywhere else! This version is less aggregated: Bottom 50%, Next 40%, Next 5%, Next 4% and Top 1%.


Books I Value

  • 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 and

Where Else Might You Look?

Sites I enjoy

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« HG quote for today | Main | Thoughts for Barack Obama »

June 19, 2008


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I participated in the War on Poverty as a Vista Volunteer under Lyndon Johnson in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I lost interest and enthusiasm for that effort midway through my service and left it with a sense of failure, feeling sorry for myself and for the people I thought I was serving. I later encountered an explanation for the poverty I had seen and hoped to ameliorate and that explanation has inspired me everyday since then (going on 35 years). The justice and effectiveness of sharing community created land values as the first, primary and perhaps only source of revenue for government services (certainly all services that increase land value and I am hard pressed to find any such service that does not increase land value in some way) is obvious and self evident to me.

I finally realized that the War on Poverty and every other social welfare program merely helped, if it even did that, to make the great masses of poor people more comfortable in their poverty. I realized that none of these programs ever came close to rocking the boat of the privilege Wyn Achenbaum speaks of. Certainly many people will argue that some aspects of poverty have been ameliorated in some significant ways as a result of these many decades of huge expenditure and heart felt and properly motivated effort but no one can say that any of the problems have been solved. Not one. And now I find on the web and in public debate expressions of the idea that it is these very social welfare programs that are the root cause of the problems. That the history of poverty and privilege long predating our current public policies is forgotten and the very efforts to deal with it in some effective way are now turned on their head is appalling and beyond belief. The real problem is that the real root cause of poverty has never been addressed and only the most timid of efforts to get at it have been attempted. Timidity is weakness vulnerable to distortion as we have seen.

Although progress is slow in the acceptance of the idea of collecting community created land values to pay for public services, I am grateful for the legacy of previous generations that allows some of this value to be collected directly via that part of the property tax that falls on land values. I understand that most if not all of the 4,000 or so counties in the US administer a property tax and even if administered poorly (with malice aforethought in California under Proposition 13) that land value is collected to some significant extent thereby. Of course land value is not collected anywhere to the extent that it rocks the boat of real estate speculators and sprawl promoting developers looking to make a quick unearned buck with the connivance of local officialdom but it is collected and the mechanism for doing more is in place.

I understand that the extent to which a country collects its community created values for public purposes is the extent to which that country fares well economically, socially, environmentally and in world standing. It seems that America is in the process of being humbled in many ways. I expect some of us will realize the failure of public policy if the pain gets too bad and be glad of the fact that there is an existing well developed alternative theory backed up by a fair amount of practice worldwide to look to when the hard questions get asked.

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