Wealth and Want
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The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air — it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have the right to be in this world and others no right.

If we are all here by the equal permission of the creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty — with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers. This is a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others.

Robert G. Ingersoll: A Lay Sermon (1886)
No man should be allowed to own any land that he does not use. Everybody knows that -- I do not care whether he has thousands or millions. I have owned a great deal of land, but I know just as well as I know I am living that I should not be allowed to have it unless I use it. And why? Don't you know that if people could bottle the air, they would? Don't you know that there would be an American Air-bottling Association? And don't you know that they would allow thousands and millions to die for want of breath, if they could not pay for air? I am not blaming anybody. I am just telling how it is. Now, the land belongs to the children of Nature. Nature invites into this world every babe that is born. And what would you think of me, for instance, tonight, if I had invited you here -- nobody had charged you anything, but you had been invited -- and when you got here you had found one man pretending to occupy a hundred seats, another fifty, and another seventy-five, and thereupon you were compelled to stand up -- what would you think of the invitation? It seems to me that every child of Nature is entitled to his share of the land, and that he should not be compelled to beg the privilege to work the soil, of a babe that happened to be born before him. And why do I say this? Because it is not to our interest to have a few landlords and millions of tenants.

The tenement house is the enemy of modesty, the enemy of virtue, the enemy of patriotism. Home is where the virtues grow. I would like to see the law so that every home, to a small amount, should be free not only from sale for debts, but should be absolutely free from taxation, so that every man could have a home. Then we will have a nation of patriots.

Now, suppose that every man were to have all the land he is able to buy. The Vanderbilts could buy today all the land that is in farms in the State of Ohio -- every foot of it. Would it be for the best interest of that State to have a few landlords and four or five millions of serfs? ... read the whole article

Robert Smilie, quoted by James Dundas White in a pamphlet entitled "Land-Value Policy"

Land and Social Problems

"Late in life I have realised, what I failed to see in the early days, that the root of all our social problems lies in the land question. So long as land is withheld from free access to men, anxious and willing to utilise Nature's bounty, just so long will you have a crowd of men at the factory gate waiting for jobs. The key to the anomalies we are all endeavouring to solve is the land problem. …If the atmosphere could have been parcelled out and bottled up so that every child that comes into the world would only be allowed to breathe on the payment of air-rent, you can picture a state of affairs as deplorable, but no less unjust and ridiculous, as that obtaining at the present time with your private ownership and monopoly of the land." [Mr. Robert Smillie, at Newcastle-under-Lyme, October 1921]

Mason Gaffney: Bottling the Air

Times have caught up with Ingersoll. Ronald Coase, prominent Chicago economist, says polluters (whom he calls emitters, to avoid bias) have as much right to emit as victims (he says receptors) have to breathe clean air. It doesn’t matter, says Coase, how we assign property rights originally: as long as property is firm, the market will sort it all out. However, since emitters have invested in costly facilities, and property is sacred... you see whither this unbiased science is tending.

Was he laughed to scorn? Au contraire, he was raised on the shoulders of his adulatory peers and anointed a demi-god (which tells you something about his peers). Having risen on wings of theory the idea found its way into practice, and today The South Coast Air Quality Management District awards "offset rights" to those with worthy track records of emitting. New emitters must buy "property rights" from old ones. ...

And those who want to breathe? Coase says they should pay for the privilege, as they pay for indulging any personal taste. After all, they already pay those who supply them with land to live on. Only welfare bums would expect property owners to dip into their hard-earned savings and supply them with free air, when the market has a solution at hand. All they need do is buy offset rights from Ancient and Honorable Emitters. When they want to breathe, they just retire the rights upwind of them. This is a marvel of efficiency, too. They retire only what it takes to clean the air they need: no waste.

If they can’t afford to buy outright, they could rent -- markets have ingenious solutions for all problems, like any good panacea. Gas masks are another free-market solution: much better than socialistic policies that would impose uniform clean air on everyone, whether they want it or not.  ... read the whole article

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0: Preface (pages ix.-xvi)

I began pondering this dilemma about ten years ago after retiring from Working Assets, a business I cofounded in 1982. (Working Assets offers telephone and credit card services which automatically donate to nonprofit groups working for a better world.) My initial ruminations focused on climate change caused by human emissions of heat-trapping gases. Some analysts saw this as a “tragedy of the commons,” a concept popularized forty years ago by biologist Garrett Hardin. According to Hardin, people will always overuse a commons because it’s in their self-interest to do so. I saw the problem instead as a pair of tragedies: first a tragedy of the market, which has no way of curbing its own excesses, and second a tragedy of government, which fails to protect the atmosphere because polluting corporations are powerful and future generations don’t vote.

This way of viewing the situation led to a hypothesis: if the commons is a victim of market and government failures, rather than the cause of its own destruction, the remedy might lie in strengthening the commons. But how might that be done? According to prevailing wisdom, commons are inherently difficult to manage because no one effectively owns them. If Waste Management Inc. owned the atmosphere, it would charge dumpers a fee, just as it does for terrestrial landfills. But since no one has title to the atmosphere, dumping proceeds without limit or cost. ... read the whole chapter


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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper