Wealth and Want
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All benefits accrue to the Landholder

Henry George called attention to the solution to a mystery, but as a society, we've managed to forget what most well-read people in George's day knew: that the primary reason we have such a concentration of wealth and a concentration of income relates to an unacknowledged distortion: as society grows, most of the economic benefits go to those who own the best land. The best land is not the land on which most of us make our homes; it is generally the urban land (particularly the central business district) and occasionally the coastal land (that house on the Outer Banks or in the Hamptons that sells or rents for an amazing sum would earn a lot less were it located in a less choice location).


John Stuart Mill: Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy

The ordinary progress of a society which increases in wealth, is at all times tending to augment the incomes of landlords; to give them both a greater amount and a greater proportion of the wealth of the community, independently of any trouble or outlay incurred by themselves. They grow richer, as it were in their sleep, without working, risking, or economizing. What claim have they, on the general principle of social justice, to this accession of riches? In what would they have been wronged if society had, from the beginning, reserved the right of taxing the spontaneous increase of rent, to the highest amount required by financial exigencies?

Henry George: The Common Sense of Taxation (1881 article)

Or, take the case of the railroads. That railroads are a public benefit no one will dispute. We want more railroads, and want them to reduce their fares and freight. Why then should we tax them? for taxes upon railroads deter from railroad building, and compel higher charges. Instead of taxing the railroads, is it not clear that we should rather tax the increased value which they give to land? To tax railroads is to check railroad building, to reduce profits, and compel higher rates; to tax the value they give to land is to increase railroad business and permit lower rates. The elevated railroads, for instance, have opened to the overcrowded population of New York the wide, vacant spaces of the upper part of the island. But this great public benefit is neutralized by the rise in land values. Because these vacant lots can be reached more cheaply and quickly, their owners demand more for them, and so the public gain in one way is offset in another, while the roads lose the business they would get were not building checked by the high prices demanded for lots. The increase of land values, which the elevated roads have caused, is not merely no advantage to them — it is an injury; and it is clearly a public injury. The elevated railroads ought not to be taxed. The more profit they make, with the better conscience can they be asked to still further reduce fares. It is the increased land values which they have created that ought to be taxed, for taxing them will give the public the full benefit of cheap fares.

So with railroads everywhere. And so not alone with railroads, but with all industrial enterprises. So long as we consider that community most prosperous which increases most rapidly in wealth, so long is it the height of absurdity for us to tax wealth in any of its beneficial forms. We should tax what we want to repress, not what we want to encourage. We should tax that which results from the general prosperity, not that which conduces to it. It is the increase of population, the extension of cultivation, the manufacture of goods, the building of houses and ships and railroads, the accumulation of capital, and the growth of commerce that add to the value of land — not the increase in the value of land that induces the increase of population and increase of wealth. It is not that the land of Manhattan Island is now worth hundreds of millions where, in the time of the early Dutch settlers, it was only worth dollars, that there are on it now so many more people, and so much more wealth. It is because of the increase of population and the increase of wealth that the value of the land has so much increased. Increase of land values tends of itself to repel population and prevent improvement. And thus the taxation of land values, unlike taxation of other property, does not tend to prevent the increase of wealth, but rather to stimulate it. It is the taking of the golden egg, not the choking of the goose that lays it.

Every consideration of policy and ethics squares with this conclusion. The tax upon land values is the most economically perfect of all taxes. It does not raise prices; it maybe collected at least cost, and with the utmost ease and certainty; it leaves in full strength all the springs of production; and, above all, it consorts with the truest equality and the highest justice. For, to take for the common purposes of the community that value which results from the growth of the community, and to free industry and enterprise and thrift from burden and restraint, is to leave to each that which he fairly earns, and to assert the first and most comprehensive of equal rights — the equal right of all to the land on which, and from which, all must live.

Thus it is that the scheme of taxation which conduces to the greatest production is also that which conduces to the fairest distribution, and that in the proper adjustment of taxation lies not merely the possibility of enormously increasing the general wealth, but the solution of these pressing social and political problems which spring from unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth.

"There is," says M. de Laveleye, in concluding that work in which he shows that the first perceptions of mankind have everywhere recognized a most vital distinction between property in land and property which results from labor, — "there is in human affairs one system which is the best; it is not that system which always exists, otherwise why should we desire to change it; but it is that system which should exist for the greatest good of humanity. God knows it, and wills it; man's duty it is to discover and establish it." ... read the whole article

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 5: The Basic Cause of Poverty (in the unabridged: Book V: The Problem Solved)

The truth is self-evident. Put to any one capable of consecutive thought this question:

"Suppose there should arise from the English Channel or the German Ocean a no man's land on which common labor to an unlimited amount should be able to make thirty shillings a day and which should remain unappropriated and of free access, like the commons which once comprised so large a part of English soil. What would be the effect upon wages in England?"

He would at once tell you that common wages throughout England must soon increase to thirty shillings a day.

And in response to another question, "What would be the effect on rents?" he would at a moment's reflection say that rents must necessarily fall; and if he thought out the next step he would tell you that all this would happen without any very large part of English labor being diverted to the new natural opportunities, or the forms and direction of industry being much changed; only that kind of production being abandoned which now yields to labor and to landlord together less than labor could secure on the new opportunities. The great rise in wages would be at the expense of rent.

Take now the same man or another — some hardheaded business man, who has no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him: "Here is a little village; in ten years it will be a great city — in ten years the railroad will have taken the place of the stage coach, the electric light of the candle; it will abound with all the machinery and improvements that so enormously multiply the effective power of labor. Will, in ten years, interest be any higher?"

He will tell you, "No!"

"Will the wages of common labor be any higher; will it be easier for a man who has nothing but his labor to make an independent living?"

He will tell you, "No; the wages of common labor will not be any higher; on the contrary, all the chances are that they will be lower; it will not be easier for the mere laborer to make an independent living; the chances are that it will be harder."

"What, then, will be higher?"

"Rent; the value of land. Go, get yourself a piece of ground, and hold possession."

And if, under such circumstances, you take his advice, you need do nothing more. You may sit down and smoke your pipe; you may lie around like the lazzaroni of Naples or the leperos of Mexico; you may go up in a balloon, or down a hole in the ground; and without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota to the wealth of the community, in ten years you will be rich! In the new city you may have a luxurious mansion; but among its public buildings will be an almshouse.

In all our long investigation we have been advancing to this simple truth: That as land is necessary to the exertion of labor in the production of wealth, to command the land which is necessary to labor, is to command all the fruits of labor save enough to enable labor to exist. ...

... For land is the habitation of man, the storehouse upon which he must draw for all his needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for the supply of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be taken, the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized, without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from it we live, to it we return again — children of the soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all that belongs to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit. Material progress cannot rid us of our dependence upon land; it can but add to the power of producing wealth from land; and hence, when land is monopolized, it might go on to infinity without increasing wages or improving the condition of those who have but their labor. It can but add to the value of land and the power which its possession gives. Everywhere, in all times, among all peoples, the possession of land is the base of aristocracy, the foundation of great fortunes, the source of power. ... read the whole chapter

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 10. Effect of Remedy Upon Wealth Production (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX — Effects of the Remedy: Chapter 1 — Of the effect upon the production of wealth)

The elder Mirabeau, we are told, ranked the proposition of Quesnay, to substitute one single tax on rent (the impôt unique) for all other taxes, as a discovery equal in utility to the invention of writing or the substitution of the use of money for barter.

To whosoever will think over the matter, this saying will appear an evidence of penetration rather than of extravagance. The advantages which would be gained by substituting for the numerous taxes by which the public revenues are now raised, a single tax levied upon the value of land, will appear more and more important the more they are considered. ...

And to shift the burden of taxation from production and exchange to the value or rent of land would not merely be to give new stimulus to the production of wealth; it would be to open new opportunities. For under this system no one would care to hold land unless to use it, and land now withheld from use would everywhere be thrown open to improvement.

The selling price of land would fall; land speculation would receive its death blow; land monopolization would no longer pay.* Millions and millions of acres from which settlers are now shut out by high prices would be abandoned by their present owners or sold to settlers upon nominal terms. And this not merely on the frontiers, but within what are now considered well settled districts.

* The fact that a tax on the rental value of land cannot be shifted by landowners to tenants, though recognized by all competent economists, is sometimes a stumbling block to persons untrained in economics. The reason such a tax cannot be shifted is that it cannot limit the supply of land. Landowners are presumably, before the tax is laid, charging all the rent they can get. There is nothing in a tax on the rental value of land to make tenants willing to pay more or to make land more difficult to hire. On the contrary, more land will be on the market, because of such a tax, rather than less, since the tax puts a heavy penalty on holding land out of use and unimproved for mere speculation. The competition of former vacant land speculators to get their land used will make land cheaper to rent rather than more expensive. And since only the net rent remaining after the tax is subtracted is capitalized into salable value, land will be very much cheaper to buy. H.G.B.

And it must be remembered that this would apply, not merely to agricultural land, but to all land. Mineral land would be thrown open to use, just as agricultural land; and in the heart of a city no one could afford to keep land from its most profitable use, or on the outskirts to demand more for it than the use to which it could at the time be put would warrant. Everywhere that land had attained a value, taxation, instead of operating, as now, as a fine upon improvement, would operate to force improvement. Whoever planted an orchard, or sowed a field, or built a house, or erected a manufactory, no matter how costly, would have no more to pay in taxes than if he kept so much land idle.

  • The monopolist of agricultural land would be taxed as much as though his land were covered with houses and barns, with crops and with stock.
  • The owner of a vacant city lot would have to pay as much for the privilege of keeping other people off of it until he wanted to use it, as his neighbor who has a fine house upon his lot.
  • It would cost as much to keep a row of tumble-down shanties upon valuable land as though it were covered with a grand hotel or a pile of great warehouses filled with costly goods.

Thus, the bonus that wherever labor is most productive must now be paid before labor can be exerted would disappear.

  • The farmer would not have to pay out half his means, or mortgage his labor for years, in order to obtain land to cultivate;
  • the builder of a city homestead would not have to lay out as much for a small lot as for the house he puts upon it*;
  • the company that proposed to erect a manufactory would not have to expend a great part of its capital for a site.
  • And what would be paid from year to year to the state would be in lieu of all the taxes now levied upon improvements, machinery, and stock.

    *Many persons, and among them some professional economists, have never succeeded in getting a thorough comprehension of this point. Thus, the editor has heard the objection advanced that the greater cheapness of land is no advantage to the poor man who is trying to save enough from his earnings to buy a piece of land; for, it is said, the higher taxes on the land after it is acquired, offset the lower purchase price. What such objectors do not see is that even if the lower price of land does no more than balance the higher tax on it, (and this overlooks, for one thing, the discouragement to speculation in land), the reduction or removal of other taxes is all clear gain. It is easier to save in proportion as earnings and commodities are relieved of taxation. It is easier to buy land, because its selling price is lower, if the land is taxed. And although the land, after its purchase, continues to be taxed, not only can this tax be fully paid out of the annual interest on the saving in the purchase price, but also there is to be reckoned the saving in taxes on buildings and other improvements and in whatever other taxes are thus rendered unnecessary. H.G.B.

Consider the effect of such a change upon the labor market. Competition would no longer be one-sided, as now. Instead of laborers competing with each other for employment, and in their competition cutting down wages to the point of bare subsistence, employers would everywhere be competing for laborers, and wages would rise to the fair earnings of labor. For into the labor market would have entered the greatest of all competitors for the employment of labor, a competitor whose demand cannot be satisfied until want is satisfied — the demand of labor itself. The employers of labor would not have merely to bid against other employers, all feeling the stimulus of greater trade and increased profits, but against the ability of laborers to become their own employers upon the natural opportunities freely opened to them by the tax which prevented monopolization.

With natural opportunities thus free to labor;

  • with capital and improvements exempt from tax, and exchange released from restrictions, the spectacle of willing men unable to turn their labor into the things they are suffering for would become impossible;
  • the recurring paroxysms which paralyze industry would cease;
  • every wheel of production would be set in motion;
  • demand would keep pace with supply, and supply with demand;
  • trade would increase in every direction, and wealth augment on every hand. ... read the whole chapter

Henry George: Ode to Liberty  (1877 speech)

In the very centers of our civilization today are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundredfold! Would poverty be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would accrue would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the material universe could be utilized only through land. And land, being private property, the classes that now monopolize the bounty of the Creator would monopolize all the new bounty. Land owners would alone be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend to the starvation point!

This is not merely a deduction of political economy; it is a fact of experience. We know it because we have seen it. Within our own times, under our very eyes, that Power which is above all, and in all, and through all; that Power of which the whole universe is but the manifestation; that Power which maketh all things, and without which is not anything made that is made, has increased the bounty which men may enjoy, as truly as though the fertility of nature had been increased.
  • Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the service of mankind.
  • To the inner ear of another was whispered the secret that compels the lightning to bear a message around the globe.
  • In every direction have the laws of matter been revealed; in every department of industry have arisen arms of iron and fingers of steel, whose effect upon the production of wealth has been precisely the same as an increase in the fertility of nature.
What has been the result? Simply that land owners get all the gain. The wonderful discoveries and inventions of our century have neither increased wages nor lightened toil. The effect has simply been to make the few richer; the many more helpless! Can it be that the gifts of the Creator may be thus misappropriated with impunity? Is it a light thing that labor should be robbed of its earnings while greed rolls in wealth — that the many should want while the few are surfeited? Turn to history, and on every page may be read the lesson that such wrong never goes unpunished; that the Nemesis that follows injustice never falters nor sleeps! Look around today. Can this state of things continue? May we even say, “After us the deluge!” Nay; the pillars of the state are trembling even now, and the very foundations of society begin to quiver with pent-up forces that glow underneath. The struggle that must either revivify, or convulse in ruin, is near at hand, if it be not already begun. The fiat has gone forth! With steam and electricity, and the new powers born of progress, forces have entered the world that will either compel us to a higher plane or overwhelm us, as nation after nation, as civilization after civilization, have been overwhelmed before. It is the delusion which precedes destruction that sees in the popular unrest with which the civilized world is feverishly pulsing only the passing effect of ephemeral causes. Between democratic ideas and the aristocratic adjustments of society there is an irreconcilable conflict. Here in the United States, as there in Europe, it may be seen arising. We cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to tramp. We cannot go on educating boys and girls in our public schools and then refusing them the right to earn an honest living. We cannot go on prating of the inalienable rights of man and then denying the inalienable right to the bounty of the Creator. Even now, in old bottles the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental forces gather for the strife!  ... read the whole speech and also Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 14 Liberty, and Equality of Opportunity (in the unabridged P&P: Part X: The Law of Human Progress — Chapter 5: The Central Truth)

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)
... Men are compelled to compete with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot find a piece of God's world on which to work without paying some other human creature for the privilege.

I do not mean to say that even after you had set right this fundamental injustice, there would not be many things to do; but this I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the bottom of all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you please, reform as you may, you never can get rid of wide-spread poverty so long as the element on which and from which all men must live is made the private property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government — get taxes down to the minimum — build railroads; institute co-operative stores; divide profits, if you choose, between employers and employed -- and what will be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value — that will be the result — that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not all improvements simply increase the value of land — the price that some must pay others for the privilege of living?

Consider the matter, I say it with all reverence, and I merely say it because I wish to impress a truth upon your minds — it is utterly impossible, so long as His laws are what they are, that God himself could relieve poverty — utterly impossible. Think of it and you will see. Men pray to the Almighty to relieve poverty. But poverty comes not from God's laws — it is blasphemy of the worst kind to say that; it comes from man's injustice to his fellows. Supposing the Almighty were to hear the prayer, how could He carry out the request so long as His laws are what they are?

Consider -- the Almighty gives us nothing of the things that constitute wealth; He merely gives us the raw material, which must be utilised by man to produce wealth. Does He not give us enough of that now? How could He relieve poverty even if He were to give us more? Supposing in answer to these prayers He were to increase the power of the sun; or the virtue of the soil? Supposing He were to make plants more prolific, or animals to produce after their kind more abundantly? Who would get the benefit of it? Take a country where land is completely monopolised, as it is in most of the civilised countries — who would get the benefit of it? Simply the landowners. And even if God in answer to prayer were to send down out of the heavens those things that men require, who would get the benefit?

In the Old Testament we are told that when the Israelites journeyed through the desert, they were hungered, and that God sent manna down out of the heavens. There was enough for all of them, and they all took it and were relieved. But supposing that desert had been held as private property, as the soil of Great Britain is held, as the soil even of our new States is being held; suppose that one of the Israelites had a square mile, and another one had twenty square miles, and another one had a hundred square miles, and the great majority of the Israelites did not have enough to set the soles of their feet upon, which they could call their own — what would become of the manna? What good would it have done to the majority? Not a whit. Though God had sent down manna enough for all, that manna would have been the property of the landholders; they would have employed some of the others perhaps, to gather it up into heaps for them, and would have sold it to their hungry brethren. Consider it; this purchase and sale of manna might have gone on until the majority of Israelites had given all they had, even to the clothes off their backs. What then? Then they would not have had anything left to buy manna with, and the consequences would have been that while they went hungry the manna would have lain in great heaps, and the landowners would have been complaining of the over-production of manna. There would have been a great harvest of manna and hungry people, just precisely the phenomenon that we see today. ...

... Yet that is not any more absurd than our land titles. From whom do they come? Dead man after dead man. Suppose you get on the cars here going to Council Bluffs or Chicago. You find a passenger with his baggage strewn over the seats. You say: "Will you give me a seat, if you please, sir?" He replies: "No; I bought this seat." "Bought this seat? From whom did you buy it?" I bought it from the man who got out at the last station," That is the way we manage this earth of ours.  ... read the whole speech

Henry George: The Wages of Labor
Land being necessary to life and labor, where private property in land has divided society into a landowning class and a landless class, there is no possible invention or improvement, whether it be industrial, social, or moral, which, so long as it does not affect the ownership of land can prevent poverty or relieve the general conditions of mere laborers.

For, whether the effect of any invention or improvement be to increase what labor can produce or to decrease what is required to support the laborer, it can, so soon as it becomes general, result only in increasing the income of the owners of land, without benefiting the mere laborers.

How true this is we may see in the facts of today. In our own time invention and discovery have enormously increased the productive power of labor, and at the same time greatly reduced the cost of many things necessary to the support of the laborer.

Have not the benefits of these improvements mainly gone to the owners of land – enormously increased land values?

I say mainly, for some part of the benefit has gone to the cost of monstrous standing armies and warlike preparations; to the payment of interest on great public debts; and, largely disguised as interest on fictitious capital, to the owners of monopolies other than that of land. ...

If labor-saving inventions and improvements could be carried, to the very abolition of the necessity for labor, what would be the result? Would it not be that landowners could then get all the wealth that the land was capable of producing, and would have no need at all for laborers, who must then either starve or live as pensioners on the bounty of the landowners? ...

So long as private property in land continues – so long as some men are treated as owners of the earth, and other men live on it only by their sufferance – human wisdom can devise no means by which the evils of our present condition may be avoided.

Could even the wisdom of God do so? How could He? Should He infuse new vigour into the sunlight, new virtue into the air; new fertility into the soil, would not all this new bounty go to the owners of the land?

Should He open the minds of men to the possibilities of new substances, new adjustments, new powers, would this do any more to relieve poverty than steam, electricity and all the numberless discoveries and inventions of our time have done?

Or, if He were to send down from the heavens above or cause to gush up from the subterranean depths, food, clothing – all the things that satisfy man’s material desires to whom under our laws would all these belong? Would not this increase and extension of His bounty merely enable the privileged class more riotously to roll in wealth, and bring the disinherited class to more widespread pauperism? ...

Though the rich were to “bestow all their goods to feed the poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would continue while property in land continued.

Take the case of the rich man today who is honestly desirous of devoting his wealth to the improvement of the condition of labor. What can he do?

  • Bestow his wealth on those who need it?   He may help some who deserve it, but he will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may do will be the danger of doing harm.
  • Build churches?  Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the vice that is born of it breeds!
  • Build schools and colleges?  Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity of private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink!
  • Establish hospitals?      Why, already it seems to laborers that there are too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure!
  • Build model tenements?  Unless he cheapens house accommodation he but drives further the class he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodation he brings more to seek employment, and cheapens wages!
  • Institute laboratories, scientific schools, workshops far physical experiments?   He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as between the upper and the nether millstone!
  • Promote emigration from places where wages are low to places where they are somewhat higher?  If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate will soon turn on him and demand that such emigration shall be stopped as reducing their wages!
  • Give away what land he may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let it at lower rents than the market price?  He will simply make new landowners or partial landowners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
  • Or, bethinking himself of those public-spirited citizens of classic times who spent great sums in improving their native cities, shall he try to beautify the city of his birth or adoption?  Let him widen and straighten narrow and crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let him open tramways and bring in railways, or in any way make beautiful and attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not be that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will it not be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of his benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to landowners?   Why, even the mere announcement that he is going to do such things will start speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.
What, then, can the rich man do to improve the condition of labor?

He can do nothing at all except to use his strength for the abolition of the great primary wrong that robs men of their birthright.

The justice of God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything else for it! ...  read the whole article

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

But worse perhaps than all else is the way in which this substituting of vague injunctions to charity for the clear-cut demands of justice opens an easy means for the professed teachers of the Christian religion of all branches and communions to placate Mammon while persuading themselves that they are serving God. Had the English clergy not subordinated the teaching of justice to the teaching of charity — to go no further in illustrating a principle of which the whole history of Christendom from Constantine’s time to our own is witness — the Tudor tyranny would never have arisen, and the separation of the church been averted; had the clergy of France never substituted charity for justice, the monstrous iniquities of the ancient régime would never have brought the horrors of the Great Revolution; and in my own country had those who should have preached justice not satisfied themselves with preaching kindness, chattel slavery could never have demanded the holocaust of our civil war.

No, your Holiness; as faith without works is dead, as men cannot give to God his due while denying to their fellows the rights be gave them, so charity unsupported by justice can do nothing to solve the problem of the existing condition of labor. Though the rich were to “bestow all their goods to feed the poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would continue while property in land continues.

Take the case of the rich man today who is honestly desirous of devoting his wealth to the improvement of the condition of labor. What can he do?

  • Bestow his wealth on those who need it? He may help some who deserve it, but will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may do will be the danger of doing harm.
  • Build churches? Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the vice that is born of it breeds.
  • Build schools and colleges? Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity of private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink.
  • Establish hospitals? Why, already it seems to laborers that there are too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure.
  • Build model tenements? Unless he cheapens house accommodations he but drives further the class he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodations he brings more to seek employment and cheapens wages.
  • Institute laboratories, scientific schools, workshops for physical experiments? He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as between the upper and the nether millstone.
  • Promote emigration from places where wages are low to places where they are somewhat higher? If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate will soon turn on him to demand that such emigration shall be stopped as reducing their wages.
  • Give away what land he may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let it at lower rents than the market price? He will simply make new landowners or partial landowners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
  • Or, bethinking himself of those public-spirited citizens of classic times who spent great sums in improving their native cities, shall he try to beautify the city of his birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten narrow and crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let him open tramways and bring in railroads, or in any way make beautiful and attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not be that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will it not be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of his benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to landowners? Why, even the mere announcement that he is going to do such things will start speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.

What, then, can the rich man do to improve the condition of labor?

He can do nothing at all except to use his strength for the abolition of the great primary wrong that robs men of their birthright. The justice of God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything else for it. ... read the whole letter

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)

... Nature gives to labour, and to labour alone; there must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the workingman as a poor man.

And if you trace it out I believe you will see that the primary cause of this is that we compel those who work to pay others for permission to do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house; there you are paying the seller for labour exerted, for something that he has produced, or that he has got from the man who did produce it; but when you pay a man for land, what are you paying him for? You are paying for something that no man has produced; you pay him for something that was here before man was, or for a value that was created, not by him individually, but by the community of which you are a part. What is the reason that the land here, where we stand tonight, is worth more than it was twenty-five years ago? What is the reason that land in the centre of New York, that once could be bought by the mile for a jug of whiskey, is now worth so much that, though you were to cover it with gold, you would not have its value? Is it not because of the increase of population? Take away that population, and where would the value of the land be? Look at it in any way you please. ...

Now, supposing we should abolish all other taxes direct and indirect, substituting for them a tax upon land values, what would be the effect?

  • In the first place it would be to kill speculative values. It would be to remove from the newer parts of the country the bulk of the taxation and put it on the richer parts. It would be to exempt the pioneer from taxation and make the larger cities pay more of it. It would be to relieve energy and enterprise, capital and labour, from all those burdens that now bear upon them. What a start that would give to production!
  • In the second place we could, from the value of the land, not merely pay all the present expenses of the government, but we could do infinitely more. In the city of San Francisco James Lick left a few blocks of ground to be used for public purposes there, and the rent amounts to so much, that out of it will be built the largest telescope in the world, large public baths and other public buildings, and various costly works. If, instead of these few blocks, the whole value of the land upon which the city is built had accrued to San Francisco what could she not do? ... read the whole speech

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)

d. Dependence of Labor upon Land

We have now seen that division of labor and trade, the distinguishing characteristics of civilization, not only increase labor power, but grow out of a law of human nature which tends, by maintaining a perpetual revolution of the circle of trade, to cause opportunities for mutual employment to correspond to desire for wealth. Surely there could be no lack of employment if the circle flowed freely in accordance with the principle here illustrated; work would abound until want was satisfied. There must therefore be some obstruction. That indirect taxes hamper trade, we have already seen;78 but there is a more fundamental obstruction. As we learned at the outset, all the material wants of men are satisfied by Labor from Land. Even personal services cannot be rendered without the use of appropriate land.79 Let us then introduce into the preceding chart, in addition to the different classes of Labor, the corresponding classes of Land-owning interests, indicating them by black balls:

78. See ante, pp. 9, 6 and 16.

79. Demand for food is not only demand for all kinds and grades of Food-makers, but also for as many different kinds of land as there are different kinds of labor set at work. So a demand for clothing is not only a demand for Clothing-makers, a demand for shelter is not only one for Shelter-makers, a demand for luxuries is not only one for Luxury-makers, a demand for services is not only one for Personal Servants, but those demands are also demands for appropriate land — pasture land for wool, cotton land for cotton, factory land, water fronts and rights of way, store sites, residence sites, office sites, theater sites, and so on to the end of an almost endless catalogue.

Every class of Labor has now its own parasite.

The arrows which run from one kind of Labor to another, indicating an out-flow of service, are respectively offset by arrows that indicate a corresponding in-flow of service; but the arrows that flow from the various classes of Labor to the various Land-owning interests are offset by nothing to indicate a corresponding return. What possible return could those interests make?

  • They do not produce the land which they charge laborers for using; nature provides that.
  • They do not give value to it; Labor as a whole does that.
  • They do not protect the community through the police, the courts, or the army, nor assist it through schools and post offices; organized society does that to the extent to which it is done, and the Land-owning interests contribute nothing toward it other than a part of what they exact from Labor.80

As between Labor interests and Land-owning interests the arrows can be made to run only in the one direction.

80 See ante, pp. 12, 13, and 14.

Now, suppose that as productive methods improve, the exactions of the Land-owning interests so expand — so enlarge the drain from Labor — as to make it increasingly difficult for any of the workers to obtain the Land they need in order to satisfy the demands made upon them for the kind of Wealth they produce. Would it then be much of a problem to determine the cause of poverty or to explain hard times? Assuredly not. It would be plain that poverty and hard times are due to obstacles placed by Land-owning interests in the way of Labor's access to Land.

We thus see that in the civilized state as well as in the primitive, the fundamental cause of poverty is the divorce of Labor from Land. 81 But the manner in which that divorce is accomplished in the civilized state remains to be explained.

81. People with socialistic tendencies argue that while it is true that Labor and Land are the only things necessary in primitive conditions, Capital also is necessary in civilized conditions. (See ante, notes 49 and 58.) And they want to know, with something like a sneer, what clerks and mechanics and bookkeepers and other specialists in our highly organized industry would do with land even if it were freely open to them. "They don't know how to make food, and they can't eat sand!" I once heard a socialist exclaim. The same notion is widespread among that large class of single tax opponents in church and college, whom the late Wm. T. Croasdale described as "people who believe in socialism, but don't believe in putting it into practice."

The idea is best expressed perhaps by a writer of the most brilliant socialistic verses, Charlotte Perkins Stetson, in the following :

"Free land is not enough. In earliest days
When man, the baby, from the earth's bare breast
Drew for himself his simple sustenance,
Then freedom and his effort were enough.
The world to which a man is born to-day
Is a constructed, human, man-built world.
As the first savage needed the free wood,
We need the road, the ship, the bridge, the house,
The government, society, and church, —
These are the basis of our life to-day
As much necessities to modern man
As was the forest to his ancestor.
To say to the newborn, 'Take here your land;
In primal freedom settle where you will,
And work your own salvation in the world
Is but to put the last-come upon earth
Back with the dim fore-runners of his race,
To climb the race's stairway in one life
Allied society owes to the young—
The new men come to carry on the world—
Account for all the past, the deeds, the keys,
Full access to the riches of the earth.
Why? That these new ones may not be compelled
Each for himself to do our work again ;
But reach their manhood even with to-day,
And gain to-morrow sooner.
To go on,—
To start from where we are and go ahead
That is true progress, true humanity."—In This Our World.

If one man were turned loose alone upon the earth, or shut off from trading with his fellows, it might in great degree be true, as Mrs. Stetson says, that he would be put "back with the dim forerunners of his race, to climb the race's stairway in one life"; but her criticism does not apply to millions of free men who freely trade. To them the land would be enough. Even though they were denied existing roads and ships and bridges and houses, they would soon make new ones, and starting "from where we are," would "go ahead." For free land means access to all natural materials and forces, and free trade means unobstructed industrial intercourse between laborer and laborer. These are the essential conditions, the only conditions, of all production — even of the most civilized.

The root of the socialistic idea is the thought that we are dependent for social life upon accumulated capital. This is a mistake. Social life depends, not upon accumulated capital, but upon accumulated knowledge made effective by interchange of labor. A laborer who operates some great machine seems to be dependent upon the owner of his machine for opportunity to work; but the only people upon whom he really depends are laborers who are competent co-operatively to make such machines, and who have access to both the land from which the materials must be drawn and that upon which they must group themselves while doing the work. When socialists lay stress upon the importance of accumulated capital they are attributing to accumulated capital the power that resides in land and trade; for to control these is to command the benefits of accumulated knowledge.

Since the production of a machine precedes its use, the inference is almost irresistible, upon a superficial consideration, that opportunities to labor and compensation for labor are governed by the existing supplies of machinery to which labor is allowed access. But this is of a piece with the old notion of classical political economy that opportunities to labor are dependent upon the existing supplies of subsistence that are devoted to the maintenance of laborers. The inference is wrong in either form. When we once grasp the essential truth of the law illustrated in the text, that the production of subsistence, or machinery, or any other unfinished object, that is to say, of Capital, is but a form of general wealth production, and that all forms of wealth production are in obedience to demand, we clearly see that labor is in no respect dependent upon capital either for employment or compensation. In the social as in the solitary state, Labor and Land are the only factors of wealth production. It is not Capital but Land that supplies materials to Labor for its subsistence and its machinery. Instead of capitalists supplying laborers with subsistence and machinery, laborers themselves continuously produce subsistence and machinery from the materials that land supplies. Capitalists neither employ nor pay laborers; laborers employ and pay one another.

Read "Progress and Poverty," book i, chs. iii, iv, and v. Also read "The Story of My Dictatorship" (No. 4, Sterling Library), chs. v, vi, vii, and viii.

b. Normal Effect of Social Progress upon Wages and Rent

In the foregoing charts the effect of social growth is ignored, it being assumed that the given expenditure of labor force does not become more productive.93 Let us now try to illustrate that effect, upon the supposition that social growth increases the productive power of the given expenditure of labor force as applied to the first closed space, to 100; as applied to the second, to 50; as applied to the third, to 10; as applied to the fourth, to 3, and as applied to the open space, to 1. 94 If there were no increased demand for land the chart would then be like this: [chart]

93. "The effect of increasing population upon the distribution of wealth is to increase rent .. . in two ways: First, By lowering the margin of cultivation. Second, By bringing out in land special capabilities otherwise latent, and by attaching special capabilities to particular lands.

"I am disposed to think that the latter mode, to which little attention has been given by political economists, is really the more important." — Progress and Poverty, book iv, ch. iii.

"When we have inquired what it is that marks off land from those material things which we regard as products of the land, we shall find that the fundamental attribute of land is its extension. The right to use a piece of land gives command over a certain space — a certain part of the earth's surface. The area of the earth is fixed; the geometric relations in which any particular part of it stands to other parts are fixed. Man has no control over them; they are wholly unaffected by demand; they have no cost of production; there is no supply price at which they can be produced.

"The use of a certain area of the earth's surface is a primary condition of anything that man can do; it gives him room for his own actions, with the enjoyment of the heat and the light, the air and the rain which nature assigns to that area; and it determines his distance from, and in great measure his relations to, other things and other persons. We shall find that it is this property of land, which, though as yet insufficient prominence has been given to it, is the ultimate cause of the distinction which all writers are compelled to make between land and other things." — Marshall's Prin., book iv, ch. ii, sec. i.

94. Of course social growth does not go on in this regular way; the charts are merely illustrative. They are intended to illustrate the universal fact that as any land becomes a center of trade or other social relationship its value rises.

Though Rent is now increased, so are Wages. Both benefit by social growth. But if we consider the fact that increase in the productive power of labor increases demand for land we shall see that the tendency of Wages (as a proportion of product if not as an absolute quantity) is downward, while that of Rent is upward. 95 And this conclusion is confirmed by observation. 96

95. "Perhaps it may be well to remind the reader, before closing this chapter, of what has been before stated — that I am using the word wages not in the sense of a quantity, but in the sense of a proportion. When I say that wages fall as rent rises, I do not mean that the quantity of wealth obtained by laborers as wages is necessarily less, but that the proportion which it bears to the whole produce is necessarily less. The proportion may diminish while the quantity remains the same or increases." — Progress and Poverty, book iii, ch. vi.

96. The condition illustrated in the last chart would be the result of social growth if all land but that which was in full use were common land. The discovery of mines, the development of cities and towns, and the construction of railroads, the irrigation of and places, improvements in government, all the infinite conveniences and laborsaving devices that civilization generates, would tend to abolish poverty by increasing the compensation of labor, and making it impossible for any man to be in involuntary idleness, or underpaid, so long as mankind was in want. If demand for land increased, Wages would tend to fall as the demand brought lower grades of land into use; but they would at the same time tend to rise as social growth added new capabilities to the lower grades. And it is altogether probable that, while progress would lower Wages as a proportion of total product, it would increase them as an absolute quantity.

c. Significance of the Upward Tendency of Rent

Now, what is the meaning of this tendency of Rent to rise with social progress, while Wages tend to fall? Is it not a plain promise that if Rent be treated as common property, advances in productive power shall be steps in the direction of realizing through orderly and natural growth those grand conceptions of both the socialist and the individualist, which in the present condition of society are justly ranked as Utopian? Is it not likewise a plain warning that if Rent be treated as private property, advances in productive power will be steps in the direction of making slaves of the many laborers, and masters of a few land-owners? Does it not mean that common ownership of Rent is in harmony with natural law, and that its private appropriation is disorderly and degrading? When the cause of Rent and the tendency illustrated in the preceding chart are considered in connection with the self-evident truth that God made the earth for common use and not for private monopoly, how can a contrary inference hold? Caused and increased by social growth, 97 the benefits of which should be common, and attaching to land, the just right to which is equal, Rent must be the natural fund for public expenses. 98

97. Here, far away from civilization, is a solitary settler. Getting no benefits from government, he needs no public revenues, and none of the land about him has any value. Another settler comes, and another, until a village appears. Some public revenue is then required. Not much, but some. And the land has a little value, only a little; perhaps just enough to equal the need for public revenue. The village becomes a town. More revenues are needed, and land values are higher. It becomes a city. The public revenues required are enormous, and so are the land values.

98. Society, and society alone, causes Rent. Rising with the rise, advancing with the growth, and receding with the decline of society, it measures the earning power of society as a whole as distinguished from that of the individuals. Wages, on the other hand, measure the earning power of the individuals as distinguished from that of society as a whole. We have distinguished the parts into which Wealth is distributed as Wages and Rent; but it would be correct, indeed it is the same thing, to regard all wealth as earnings, and to distinguish the two kinds as Communal Earnings and Individual Earnings. How, then, can there be any question as to the fund from which society should be supported? How can it be justly supported in any other way than out of its own earnings?

If there be at all such a thing as design in the universe — and who can doubt it? — then has it been designed that Rent, the earnings of the community, shall be retained for the support of the community, and that Wages, the earnings of the individual, shall be left to the individual in proportion to the value of his service. This is the divine law, whether we trace it through complex moral and economic relations, or find it in the eighth commandment. ...

d. Effect of Confiscating Rent to Private Use.

By giving Rent to individuals society ignores this most just law, 99 thereby creating social disorder and inviting social disease. Upon society alone, therefore, and not upon divine Providence which has provided bountifully, nor upon the disinherited poor, rests the responsibility for poverty and fear of poverty.

99. "Whatever dispute arouses the passions of men, the conflict is sure to rage, not so much as to the question 'Is it wise?' as to the question 'Is it right?'

"This tendency of popular discussions to take an ethical form has a cause. It springs from a law of the human mind; it rests upon a vague and instinctive recognition of what is probably the deepest truth we can grasp. That alone is wise which is just; that alone is enduring which is right. In the narrow scale of individual actions and individual life this truth may be often obscured, but in the wider field of national life it everywhere stands out.

"I bow to this arbitrament, and accept this test." — Progress and Poverty, book vii, ch. i.

The reader who has been deceived into believing that Mr. George's proposition is in any respect unjust, will find profit in a perusal of the entire chapter from which the foregoing extract is taken.

Let us try to trace the connection by means of a chart, beginning with the white spaces on page 68. As before, the first-comers take possession of the best land. But instead of leaving for others what they do not themselves need for use, as in the previous illustrations, they appropriate the whole space, using only part, but claiming ownership of the rest. We may distinguish the used part with red color, and that which is appropriated without use with blue. Thus: [chart]

But what motive is there for appropriating more of the space than is used? Simply that the appropriators may secure the pecuniary benefit of future social growth. What will enable them to secure that? Our system of confiscating Rent from the community that earns it, and giving it to land-owners who, as such, earn nothing.100

100. It is reported from Iowa that a few years ago a workman in that State saw a meteorite fall, and. securing possession of it after much digging, he was offered $105 by a college for his "find." But the owner of the land on which the meteorite fell claimed the money, and the two went to law about it. After an appeal to the highest court of the State, it was finally decided that neither by right of discovery, nor by right of labor, could the workman have the money, because the title to the meteorite was in the man who owned the land upon which it fell.

Observe the effect now upon Rent and Wages. When other men come, instead of finding half of the best land still common and free, as in the corresponding chart on page 68, they find all of it owned, and are obliged either to go upon poorer land or to buy or rent from owners of the best. How much will they pay for the best? Not more than 1, if they want it for use and not to hold for a higher price in the future, for that represents the full difference between its productiveness and the productiveness of the next best. But if the first-comers, reasoning that the next best land will soon be scarce and theirs will then rise in value, refuse to sell or to rent at that valuation, the newcomers must resort to land of the second grade, though the best be as yet only partly used. Consequently land of the first grade commands Rent before it otherwise would.

As the sellers' price, under these circumstances, is arbitrary it cannot be stated in the chart; but the buyers' price is limited by the superiority of the best land over that which can be had for nothing, and the chart may be made to show it: [chart]

And now, owing to the success of the appropriators of the best land in securing more than their fellows for the same expenditure of labor force, a rush is made for unappropriated land. It is not to use it that it is wanted, but to enable its appropriators to put Rent into their own pockets as soon as growing demand for land makes it valuable.101 We may, for illustration, suppose that all the remainder of the second space and the whole of the third are thus appropriated, and note the effect: [chart]

At this point Rent does not increase nor Wages fall, because there is no increased demand for land for use. The holding of inferior land for higher prices, when demand for use is at a standstill, is like owning lots in the moon — entertaining, perhaps, but not profitable. But let more land be needed for use, and matters promptly assume a different appearance. The new labor must either go to the space that yields but 1, or buy or rent from owners of better grades, or hire out. The effect would be the same in any case. Nobody for the given expenditure of labor force would get more than 1; the surplus of products would go to landowners as Rent, either directly in rent payments, or indirectly through lower Wages. Thus: [chart]

101. The text speaks of Rent only as a periodical or continuous payment — what would be called "ground rent." But actual or potential Rent may always be, and frequently is, capitalized for the purpose of selling the right to enjoy it, and it is to selling value that we usually refer when dealing in land.

Land which has the power of yielding Rent to its owner will have a selling value, whether it be used or not, and whether Rent is actually derived from it or not. This selling value will be the capitalization of its present or prospective power of producing Rent. In fact, much the larger proportion of laud that has a selling value is wholly or partly unused, producing no Rent at all, or less than it would if fully used. This condition is expressed in the chart by the blue color.

"The capitalized value of land is the actuarial 'discounted' value of all the net incomes which it is likely to afford, allowance being made on the one hand for all incidental expenses, including those of collecting the rents, and on the other for its mineral wealth, its capabilities of development for any kind of business, and its advantages, material, social, and aesthetic, for the purposes of residence." — Marshall's Prin., book vi, ch. ix, sec. 9.

"The value of land is commonly expressed as a certain number of times the current money rental, or in other words, a certain 'number of years' purchase' of that rental; and other things being equal, it will be the higher the more important these direct gratifications are, as well as the greater the chance that they and the money income afforded by the land will rise." — Id., note.

"Value . . . means not utility, not any quality inhering in the thing itself, but a quality which gives to the possession of a thing the power of obtaining other things, in return for it or for its use. . . Value in this sense — the usual sense — is purely relative. It exists from and is measured by the power of obtaining things for things by exchanging them. . . Utility is necessary to value, for nothing can be valuable unless it has the quality of gratifying some physical or mental desire of man, though it be but a fancy or whim. But utility of itself does not give value. . . If we ask ourselves the reason of . . . variations in . . . value . . . we see that things having some form of utility or desirability, are valuable or not valuable, as they are hard or easy to get. And if we ask further, we may see that with most of the things that have value this difficulty or ease of getting them, which determines value, depends on the amount of labor which must be expended in producing them ; i.e., bringing them into the place, form and condition in which they are desired. . . Value is simply an expression of the labor required for the production of such a thing. But there are some things as to which this is not so clear. Land is not produced by labor, yet land, irrespective of any improvements that labor has made on it, often has value. . . Yet a little examination will show that such facts are but exemplifications of the general principle, just as the rise of a balloon and the fall of a stone both exemplify the universal law of gravitation. . . The value of everything produced by labor, from a pound of chalk or a paper of pins to the elaborate structure and appurtenances of a first-class ocean steamer, is resolvable on analysis into an equivalent of the labor required to produce such a thing in form and place; while the value of things not produced by labor, but nevertheless susceptible of ownership, is in the same way resolvable into an equivalent of the labor which the ownership of such a thing enables the owner to obtain or save." — Perplexed Philosopher, ch. v.

The figure 1 in parenthesis, as an item of Rent, indicates potential Rent. Labor would give that much for the privilege of using the space, but the owners hold out for better terms; therefore neither Rent nor Wages is actually produced, though but for this both might be.

In this chart, notwithstanding that but little space is used, indicated with red, Wages are reduced to the same low point by the mere appropriation of space, indicated with blue, that they would reach if all the space above the poorest were fully used. It thereby appears that under a system which confiscates Rent to private uses, the demand for land for speculative purposes becomes so great that Wages fall to a minimum long before they would if land were appropriated only for use.

In illustrating the effect of confiscating Rent to private use we have as yet ignored the element of social growth. Let us now assume as before (page 73), that social growth increases the productive power of the given expenditure of labor force to 100 when applied to the best land, 50 when applied to the next best, 10 to the next, 3 to the next, and 1 to the poorest. Labor would not be benefited now, as it appeared to be when on page 73 we illustrated the appropriation of land for use only, although much less land is actually used. The prizes which expectation of future social growth dangles before men as the rewards of owning land, would raise demand so as to make it more than ever difficult to get land. All of the fourth grade would be taken up in expectation of future demand; and "surplus labor" would be crowded out to the open space that originally yielded nothing, but which in consequence of increased labor power now yields as much as the poorest closed space originally yielded, namely, 1 to the given expenditure of labor force.102 Wages would then be reduced to the present productiveness of the open space. Thus: [chart]

102. The paradise to which the youth of our country have so long been directed in the advice, "Go West, young man, go West," is truthfully described in "Progress and Poverty," book iv, ch. iv, as follows :

"The man who sets out from the eastern seaboard in search of the margin of cultivation, where he may obtain land without paying rent, must, like the man who swam the river to get a drink, pass for long distances through half-titled farms, and traverse vast areas of virgin soil, before he reaches the point where land can be had free of rent — i.e., by homestead entry or preemption."

If we assume that 1 for the given expenditure of labor force is the least that labor can take while exerting the same force, the downward movement of Wages will be here held in equilibrium. They cannot fall below 1; but neither can they rise above it, no matter how much productive power may increase, so long as it pays to hold land for higher values. Some laborers would continually be pushed back to land which increased productive power would have brought up in productiveness from 0 to 1, and by perpetual competition for work would so regulate the labor market that the given expenditure of labor force, however much it produced, could nowhere secure more than 1 in Wages.103 And this tendency would persist until some labor was forced upon land which, despite increase in productive power, would not yield the accustomed living without increase of labor force. Competition for work would then compel all laborers to increase their expenditure of labor force, and to do it over and over again as progress went on and lower and lower grades of land were monopolized, until human endurance could go no further.104 Either that, or they would be obliged to adapt themselves to a lower scale of living.105

103. Henry Fawcett, in his work on "Political Economy," book ii, ch. iii, observes with reference to improvements in agricultural implements which diminish the expense of cultivation, that they do not increase the profits of the farmer or the wages of his laborers, but that "the landlord will receive in addition to the rent already paid to him, all that is saved in the expense of cultivation." This is true not alone of improvements in agriculture, but also of improvements in all other branches of industry.

104. "The cause which limits speculation in commodities, the tendency of increasing price to draw forth additional supplies, cannot limit the speculative advance in land values, as land is a fixed quantity, which human agency can neither increase nor diminish; but there is nevertheless a limit to the price of land, in the minimum required by labor and capital as the condition of engaging in production. If it were possible to continuously reduce wages until zero were reached, it would be possible to continuously increase rent until it swallowed up the whole produce. But as wages cannot be permanently reduced below the point at which laborers will consent to work and reproduce, nor interest below the point at which capital will be devoted to production, there is a limit which restrains the speculative advance of rent. Hence, speculation cannot have the same scope to advance rent in countries where wages and interest are already near the minimum, as in countries where they are considerably above it. Yet that there is in all progressive countries a constant tendency in the speculative advance of rent to overpass the limit where production would cease, is, I think, shown by recurring seasons of industrial paralysis." — Progress and Poverty, book iv, ch. iv.

105. As Puck once put it, "the man who makes two blades of grass to grow where but one grew before, must not be surprised when ordered to 'keep off the grass.' "

They in fact do both, and the incidental disturbances of general readjustment are what we call "hard times." 106 These culminate in forcing unused land into the market, thereby reducing Rent and reviving industry. Thus increase of labor force, a lowering of the scale of living, and depression of Rent, co-operate to bring on what we call "good times." But no sooner do "good times" return than renewed demands for land set in, Rent rises again, Wages fall again, and "hard times" duly reappear. The end of every period of "hard times" finds Rent higher and Wages lower than at the end of the previous period.107

106. "That a speculative advance in rent or land values invariably precedes each of these seasons of industrial depression is everywhere clear. That they bear to each other the relation of cause and effect, is obvious to whoever considers the necessary relation between land and labor." — Progress and Poverty, book v, ch. i.

107. What are called "good times" reach a point at which an upward land market sets in. From that point there is a downward tendency of wages (or a rise in the cost of living, which is the same thing) in all departments of labor and with all grades of laborers. This tendency continues until the fictitious values of land give way. So long as the tendency is felt only by that class which is hired for wages, it is poverty merely; when the same tendency is felt by the class of labor that is distinguished as "the business interests of the country," it is "hard times." And "hard times" are periodical because land values, by falling, allow "good times " to set it, and by rising with "good times" bring "hard times" on again. The effect of "hard times" may be overcome, without much, if any, fall in land values, by sufficient increase in productive power to overtake the fictitious value of land.

The dishonest and disorderly system under which society confiscates Rent from common to individual uses, produces this result. That maladjustment is the fundamental cause of poverty. And progress, so long as the maladjustment continues, instead of tending to remove poverty as naturally it should, actually generates and intensifies it. Poverty persists with increase of productive power because land values, when Rent is privately appropriated, tend to even greater increase. There can be but one outcome if this continues: for individuals suffering and degradation, and for society destruction. ...

Q32. Is not ownership of land necessary to induce its improvement? Does not history show that private ownership is a step in advance of common ownership?
A. No. Private use was doubtless a step in advance of common use. And because private use seems to us to have been brought about under the institution of private ownership, private ownership appears to the superficial to have been the real advance. But a little observation and reflection will remove that impression. Private ownership of land is not necessary to its private use. And so far from inducing improvement, private ownership retards it. When a man owns land he may accumulate wealth by doing nothing with the land, simply allowing the community to increase its value while he pays a merely nominal tax, upon the plea that he gets no income from the property. But when the possessor has to pay the value of his land every year, as he would have to under the single tax, and as ground renters do now, he must improve his holding in order to profit by it. Private possession of land, without profit except from use, promotes improvement; private ownership, with profit regardless of use, retards improvement. Every city in the world, in its vacant lots, offers proof of the statement. It is the lots that are owned, and not those that are held upon ground-lease, that remain vacant.

Q39. Why does not labor-saving machinery benefit laborers?
A. Suppose labor-saving machinery to be ideally perfect — so perfect that no more labor is needed. Could that benefit laborers, so long as land was owned? Would it not rather make landowners completely independent of laborers? Of course it would. Well, the labor-saving machinery that falls short of being ideally perfect has the same tendency. The reason that it does not benefit laborers is because by enhancing the value of land it restricts opportunities for employment.

Q42. Does not the growth of a community increase the value of other things as well as of land? For example, does it not add to the value of the services of professional men, or of any other business that is dependent upon the presence and growth of the community, as truly as it does to the value of land?
A. Granted that the growth of a community primarily tends to increase profits, the increased profits tend in turn to attract men there to share them. This intensifies competition and tends to lower profits. At the same time it increases demand for land and tends to enhance the value of that. It therefore cannot be said that the growth of a community finally increases the value of other things as well as of land. In fact it does not. Appropriate houses in cities are no dearer than appropriate houses in the country, differences in cost of production being allowed for. And although some professional men get very high wages in thickly populated cities, the average comfort of professional men in cities is no higher than in the country, if as high. Moreover, even if labor values as well as land values were increased by communal growth, it must never be forgotten that labor values must always be worked for by the individual, whereas land values are never worked for by the individual. A lawyer may command enormous fees, but he gets no fee at all unless he works for it; but when land commands enormous rent the owner gets it without doing the slightest work.... read the book

Dan Sullivan: Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?

Even welfare increases do not stay in the hands of welfare recipients, but are quickly greeted by higher rent demands from ghetto landlords. (The War on Poverty did little to end poverty, but it did a lot to enrich absentee owners of poor communities.) ... Read the whole piece

Winston Churchill: The People's Land  
Every form of enterprise only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for himself   It does not matter where you look or what examples you select, you will see that every form of enterprise, every step in material progress, is only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for himself, and everywhere today the man or the public body who wishes to put land to its highest use is forced to pay a preliminary fine in land values to the man who is putting it to an inferior use, and in some cases to no use at all. All comes back to the land value, and its owner for the time being is able to levy his toll upon all other forms of wealth and upon every form of industry. A portion, in some cases the whole, of every benefit which is laboriously acquired by the community is represented in the land value, and finds its way automatically into the landlord's pocket. If there is a rise in wages, rents are able to move forward, because the workers can afford to pay a little more. If the opening of a new railway or a new tramway or the institution of an improved service of workmen's trains or a lowering of fares or a new invention or any other public convenience affords a benefit to the workers in any particular district, it becomes easier for them to live, and therefore the landlord and the ground landlord, one on top of the other, are able to charge them more for the privilege of living there. ...

Now let the Manchester Ship Canal tell its tale about the land. It has a story to tell which is just as simple and just as pregnant as its story about Free Trade. When it was resolved to build the Canal, the first thing that had to be done was to buy the land. Before the resolution to build the Canal was taken, the land on which the Canal flows -- or perhaps I should say 'stands' -- was, in the main, agricultural land, paying rates on an assessment from 30s. to L2 an acre. I am told that 4,495 acres of land purchased fell within that description out of something under 5,000 purchased altogether. Immediately after the decision, the 4,495 acres were sold for L777,000 sterling -- or an average of L172 an acre -- that is to say, five or six times the agricultural value of the land and the value on which it had been rated for public purposes.

Now what had the landowner done for the community; what enterprise had he shown; what service had he rendered; what capital had he risked in order that he should gain this enormous multiplication of the value of his property! I will tell you in one word what he had done. Can you guess it! Nothing.

But it was not only the owners of the land that was needed for making the Canal, who were automatically enriched. All the surrounding land either having a frontage on the Canal or access to it rose and rose rapidly, and splendidly, in value. By the stroke of a fairy wand, without toil, without risk, without even a half-hour's thought many landowners in Salford, Eccles, Stretford, Irlam, Warrington Runcorn, etc., found themselves in possession of property which had trebled, quadrupled, quintupled in value.

Apart from the high prices which were paid, there was a heavy bill for compensation, severance, disturbance, and injurious affection where no land was taken -- injurious affection, namely, raising the land not taken many times in value -- all this was added to the dead-weight cost of construction. All this was a burden on those whose labour skill, and capital created this great public work. Much of this land today is still rated at ordinary agricultural value, and in order to make sure that no injustice is done, in order to make quite certain that these landowners are not injured by our system of government, half their rates are, under the Agricultural Rates Act, paid back to them. The balance is made up by you. The land is still rising in value, and with every day's work that every man in this neighbourhood does and with every addition to the prosperity of Manchester and improvement of this great city, the land is further enhanced in value. ... Read the whole piece

Weld Carter: A Clarion Call to Sanity, to Honesty, to Justice  (1982)

Back in the early days of this century, Winston Churchill saw and recorded an example of this. There had been a ferry fare over the river Thames for the common laborers who lived on the wrong side of the river to pay in order to get to work. A spirit of nobility prompted the absorption of this fare by the City, and almost immediately rents in the working class area were increased by the same amount as the fare had been. When this thing was done, the guys who got the benefit were not the poor working class people, but the owners of the homes in which they lived, or, more accurately and more critically, the owners of the land on which those homes stood. The laborers were thus charged a higher rent, and that rent diverted the benefit from the seemingly intended beneficiary (i.e., the public) to landowners in the affected area.

This occurs every day in this country. A new road is built, or a superhighway is constructed, which makes access to a particular site much easier. We telll outselves that we justify this as an expenditure of public funds by the benefits that accrue to the traveling public; but the benefits go, in the form of higher land prices and rents, to the owners of the sites that are served by this new road. If you doubt this, consider the jockeying for the insider information or for influence over the selection.

Robert Caro, in his biography of Robert Moses, recalls the time in the early 1920s that Moses suggested to the authorities the building of a causeway from the Long Island mainland over to Jones Island. This proposal was rejected outright by the Long Island Park Commission. Some months later, Moses presented them with a drawing showing precisely where this causeway would run, and, after a suitable period of during which these public employees could buy up the land along the proposed highway, he resubmitted his proposal. This time, they officially approved the suggested construction.

In the town of Antioch, Illinois, there were two developments underway almost simultaneously. In the one, roads were provided, together with water and sewer lines, but no sidewalks; in the other, just across a main road from the first, the mayor of the city had storm sewers, curbs and sidewalks installed at public expense, for which of course, any prospective buyer or tenant would gladly pay for use of that land the higher price these added benefits provided. Any reader will recognize this chain of events and set of economic relationships as being the course of everyday life and business at the local, state and national level. The cynic would say that a primary motivation for entering local or even national politics would be the opportunity for personal gain offered daily by publicly financed improvements.

Another example relates to a piece of farmland in central Pennsylvania. In the early 1940's, an 18-acre farm complete with a two-story house with five bedrooms, a large barn that would among other things hang 3 ½ acres of tobacco and store hay, straw and corn on the upper level, with stalls for 6 milking cows and a half dozen steers, housing for 100 laying hens and for fattening a few hogs plus a shed for equipment – all in all, not a large farm by local standards at the time – sold for $7,500. Twenty years later, with about $12,000 in residential improvements, that land and its buildings were sold for approximately $20,000. In those twenty years, the neighborhood and the general economy in the county had not changed a great deal. Within the next year, a decision was pending on the exact location and routing of a new superhighway. The decision, which was announced some time later, carried the route of the highway via a bridge across the local road on which that farm was situated and a cloverleaf access was built nearby. Soon, the value of that piece of land jumped to $10,000 per acre, which, ignoring the value of any improvements to the original piece of land, was an increase of 800%. That increase, from $20,000 to $180,000, benefitted the most recent purchaser of the land. However, the increase resulted from the effects of public (i.e., taxpayers') spending, and, in a more just society, would have been returned to the taxpayers, rather than accruing to the private benefit of an individual who either made a good guess, had some private information, or even perhaps lobbied for that particular routing of that publicly financed highway.

Thus, the benefits of a tax-supported public work accrued once more not to the benefit of the public at large, but to that of a very limited and narrowly defined class, those who were rich enough to own land in that location.

There are undoubtedly many other problems to be resolved before the ills of our society are cured; but what many do not recognize and understand is the primacy of the adoption of land value taxation over all these other corrections. The reason for that can be very simply stated: If any of these other measures already adopted have no merit and have only added to the burden of our problems, then they are disqualified at the outset. On the other hand, if they are of themselves beneficial, any benefit from them will be immediately capitalized into land values and will therefore exacerbate the very problems which otherwise might be helped toward a cure. Thus it is that our first step toward any possible remedy for the awesome plight into which we have been led increasingly over the recent years must be the adoption of land value taxation.  ... read the whole essay

Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)

Every community, whatever its political name and extent — village, city, state or province or nation — has its own normal, unfailing income, growing with the growth of the community and always adequate to meet necessary governmental expenditure.

To explain: Every community has an indefeasible original right to the land on which it exists, and to all the natural, unmodified properties and advantages of that particular area of the earth's surface. To this land in its natural state, undrained, unfenced, unfertilized, unplanted and unoccupied, including its waters, its contents and its location, every individual in the community (which may consist of any political unit selected) has an equal right, while all the individuals together have a joint right to the value for use which society has conferred upon these natural advantages.

This value for use is known as "Land Value," or by the not particularly descriptive but generally adopted name of "Economic Rent."

Briefly defined the land value or economic rent of any piece of ground is the largest annual amount voluntarily offered for the exclusive use of that ground, or of an equivalent parcel, independent of improvements thereon. Every holder or user of land pays economic rent, but he now pays most of it to the wrong party. The aggregate economic rent of the territory occupied by any political unit is, as has been stated above, always sufficient, usually more than sufficient, for the legitimate expenses of the government of that unit. As also stated above, the economic rent belongs to the community, and not to individual landowners.

On the other hand, the result of every utilization or enhancement of the natural advantages of land (such as farm profits, the rent and selling value of buildings and other improvements), when accomplished by an individual, belongs wholly to that individual, and should never, and need never, be taken from him by taxation. ...

This principle of economic rent applies to all the users of land, including mining, use of waterpower, and rights of way over or under its surface. Had this principle always been recognized, and the economic rent always been retained by the community, taxation would never have been heard of. When the economic rent is reclaimed by the community, the need of taxation will disappear.

Let us roughly restate the proposition: All members of the community having a joint right to the income which the social advantages of the land will command, they are all partners in this income.

Therefore, when one of their number wishes to take for his private use a parcel of this land, he should buy out his partners, i.e., the rest of the community, by paying regularly into the common treasury the economic rent of that parcel, instead of paying, as at present, the purchase price, i.e., the right to collect the economic rent, in a lump, to some other individual who has no more original right to it than himself.

But before this time the reader, unless he has given previous attention to the subject, is full of objections to the above doctrine: "How about the law?" he is asking. "Hasn't a man the right to buy a piece of land as cheaply as he can, to do what he pleases with it, and hold on to it till he gets ready to sell?" The answer is that at present he certainly has this statutory right, which has been so long and so universally recognized that most people suppose it to be not only a legal, but a real or equitable right. A shrewd man, foreseeing the direction of growth of population in a city, for example, can buy a well-located block at a moderate figure from some less far-seeing owner, can let it grow up to weeds, fence it off against all comers and give it no further attention except to pay the very small tax usually imposed upon vacant land.

Meantime the increasing community builds up all around it with homes, banks, stores, churches, schools, paving and lighting the streets, giving police and fire protection, etc., and at last comes to need this block so urgently that the owner is fairly begged to sell it, at three or ten or fifty times what it cost him. Quite often the purchaser at this enormous advance is the very community which has through its presence and the expenditure of its taxes created practically the whole value of the land in question!

It was said above that an individual has a statutory right to pursue this very common course. That was an error. The statement should have been that he has a statutory wrong; for no disinterested person can follow the course of land speculation as almost universally practiced, without feeling its rank injustice. ...

Being the high financiers of their days and generations, they managed to contrive taxes which could be plausibly and gradually imposed upon the landless, until within a few generations they had succeeded in shifting most of the cost of government on to the plebeians without giving up a foot of land or any considerable part of the income therefrom. The "common people" were deftly loaded with the heavy end of the beam, which they have been carrying ever since; while the arbitrarily created landlords and their successors, down to the present day, have kept their tight hold on the community's natural income.

The landlords, being also the lawmakers, have seen to it that their tenure of this easy money should not be disturbed, but on the contrary have so buttressed it with centuries of legislation, precedents, and judicial decisions, that any proposition to hark back to the terms of the original bargain, whereby the owners of the land agreed to pay the expenses of the government, is now denounced as anarchy and sacrilege.

Lapse of time, however, never can transform wrong into right, nor can a buyer acquire any better title than the seller possessed. The economic rent belongs to the community, which can and will begin to reclaim it as soon as the voters thoroughly awake to the facts and the right and wrong of the matter, which are not hard to grasp when the subject is presented in its simplest form.

An illustration has already been given of the case of a piece of farm land. Let us take an example in a large city. Let us take a corner lot centrally located in New York City, the title to which lot is held by, say, Mr. John William Rhinelastor. This lot was a part of an old Dutch farm, and is an heirloom. It did not cost the present owner anything, nor his father nor his grandfather. There is a little old building on it, which has always been rented at a figure ten times as large as the taxes imposed, so that the owner has been handsomely subsidized each year for storing his title-deeds during a period of the city's growth in which the increase in population and the expenditure of public money in that neighborhood have raised the value of this corner location to, say, two hundred times its early value.

About now, Mr. Rhinelastor decides that he will go abroad to live, and can't be bothered with this piece of property. But knowing that the pressure of population is sure to increase and that the expenditure of public money to the benefit of this land must continue, he will not sell it. So he gives a twenty-one year lease to the corner for, say, $20,000 a year net, with a privilege to the lessee of renewals at advancing figures. The lessee agrees to pay all taxes.

Now what is this net $20,000 a year, which will be regularly remitted to Mr. Rhinelastor, in Europe or wherever he may be, given in payment for? Not for the old building — the first thing the lessee does is to pull it down. Not for the land itself — it is all rock, which has got to be blasted out as part of its improvement.

Clearly it is paid for a location or site value, which the community, and the community only, has built up and paid for. In other words, the present $20,000 rental, and the larger one which that location will command in later years, is strictly a community product, and as such belongs to the community and not to Mr. Rhinelastor.

That the latter has no good right to it is at once evident when we remember that "When one man gets something for nothing somebody else has got to give something for nothing." Here are $20,000 that some men and women have got to work to earn every year to hand over to a man who does not render, and does not feel any obligation to render, one dollar's worth of public or private service in return. Such is the wild travesty of justice which we call law. It is not comical only because it is frankly tragic in its social results. ... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: The Taxable Surplus of Land: Measuring, Guarding and Gathering It

Taxable surplus is also what you can tax without driving land into the wrong use. It is not enough that the land supply is fixed: a tax must not force underuse or other misuse of the fixed supply.
A great advantage of taxing rent is that it does not change the ranking of land uses in the eyes of the landowner. Let me explain.
In a free market, the function of rent is to sort and arrange land uses: landowners allocate land to those uses yielding the most net product, or rent. Economists have shown (and you can easily see) that this is socially advantageous: the net product is the excess of revenue over all costs, so land yielding the highest rent is adding its utmost to the national product.
When you base your tax on the net product (or rent), the ranking of rival land uses remains the same after-tax as it was before-tax. That is, if use "A" yields 20% more rent than use "B", and a tax takes 50% of the rent, then use A still yields the owner 20% more after-tax than use B, and the owner still prefers use A. We will see below, (Section D), that when you tax something other than rent (say the Gross Revenue, G), you will drive the land into less intensive uses, or out of use altogether.
A related advantage of taxing rent is that you can often levy the tax on the land's potential to yield rent, regardless of what use the owner actually chooses. This is, indeed, a standard way of taxing rent in most capitalist nations. It is possible because buyers and sellers trade land based on their careful estimates of its maximum rent-yielding capability. The tax valuer observes and records these value data, and uses them to place a value on all comparable lands. Many books and manuals and professional journals have been published on the techniques used: it is a well established art, with its own professional associations, of which our speaker Mr. Gwartney is a leading member.
Such a tax is limited to the maximum possible rent, and so will not exceed a landowner's ability to pay - provided he uses the land in the most economical manner (which is not always the most intensive manner). It will surely not interfere with his using the land in the best way, but will discourage using it any other way.
... read the whole article

Everett Gross: Explaining Rent

Sometimes it's difficult for people to understand the meaning of "rent" as an economic concept. One way I have of explaining it doesn't use the word rent. I just use a little analogy.

I'm from Crete, Nebraska. It's a small town of 5,000 people.

Suppose a man comes to Crete, and he wants to start a business. He needs a building, but first he needs a piece of ground to build this new building on. So he looks up a real estate agent, describes what he wants, and the real estate agent shows him a parcel that's just right for his needs. The man asks the agent, "All right, now how much money do you want for this land?" The agent says, "It's worth $50,000." The man says, "Why is it worth $50,000?" And the real estate agent points out that "The school is good, the roads are good, the police department is good, the rescue crew is good and very fast, and business is good here."

So the man says "Yeah, I believe that $50,0000 is a fair price. I'll take it. How do I pay the $50,000 to the school people, and the road people, and the police department? To whom do I pay the $50,000?" And the real estate agent says, "Oh no. You don't pay it to them. You pay it to the person who owned the land before."

The man says, "But who supports the schools, and the roads, and the police, and the other good things?" And the real estate agent says, "If you build, then you'll pay for them again."

The buyer then asks, "And what will the previous owner do for me for my $50,000?"  The real estate man answers, "Nothing!  Nothing at all!"

Now I don't need to use the word "rent" in that explanation.

Jeff Smith: Share Rent, Transform Society

If society decided to share among its members all the annual value of society's sites and resources and air space, what would happen? 

If someone buys a ticket to Super Bowl and decides not to go and sells it for more than its face value, he could face the wrath of the law. If he bought a super location and sold it for more than he paid for it, he could become a pillar of society. Temporary ownership for profiteering is illegal; but if permanent ownership, it is legal. If only we had a single standard, I think society would change for better. It doesn't matter who owns what. What matters is who gets the rent. We have millions of acres of forest we Americans own together, and we are losing rent on it. 

The word property cannot convey the distinction between rent and land. Ralph Borsodi came up with an alternative, a trust that would claim publicly and occupy privately and use sparingly and compensate neighborly. Share the rent with neighbors. A word for that is geonomics, earth-focused economics. It hones in on all this flow of rent that is so overlooked. Shift the focus to sharing; then owning of land loses importance and belonging to earth regains its importance. It is a different identity for human beings as parts of the economic system.  ... read the whole article

Karl Williams: Two Cow Economics

You have two cows and several hectares of land.

Your neighbour is a single mother, has no cows, no land and works a part-time job.

You tell her that if she works longer and harder she could buy one of your cows and become an enterprising capitalist. So she takes on full-time work so that, after 3 months, she has saved enough money to buy one of your cows.

But what use is a cow (or anything, for that matter) without a plot of your land, which is now worth $20,000?

So your neighbour takes on a night shift in addition to her day job, leaving for work after the kids are in bed and arriving home just in time to get them dressed for school.

After a year she has saved enough money to buy that land.

Expressing great regret you explain that, in the meantime, the taxes on her income have paid for the infrastructure that have boosted the value of your land, so that the current market price for that plot is now worth $30,000. Back to the grindstone, baby!

Another year of sweat and toil follows, after which she returns with the money. But, with hand on heart, you break the news that economic circumstances have recently driven most single and married mothers to bring in an extra income in order to save for the ever-escalating price of land. As no-one’s making any more land, the greater number of bidders has pushed up the price of the fixed amount of land (this is called a “healthy, buoyant property market”). It’s now worth $40,000 but it would be a lot easier if she just got a bank loan, you tell her. However, all those eager bidders for land have also bid up the rate of interest they’re prepared to suffer, so that interest rates are now prohibitive. Your neighbour collapses in tears at your feet, but what can you do? – you didn’t invent the system! Just as our poor mum relents and considers taking out a mortgage, she finally gets some good news – in a surprise move, the Reserve Bank has decided to make it easier on prospective home-owners by reducing interest rates. However, this has had the effect of making the owning of property more attractive, so – immediately the interest rate decision is announced – landowners raise the selling price of land. The “fair market price” of that plot is now $50,000.

However, under political pressure because of the unaffordability of property, the federal government announce that it will institute a First Home Owners’ grant of $7,000. Suddenly that plot is selling for $57,000.

You have two cows and several acres of land.

Your neighbour is a single mother, has no cows, no land and works a minimum wage job.

You’ve had an amazing vision wherein you see the geoist paradigm in all its glory and realise that all other reforms are just band-aids, so you become an activist with ProsperAustralia. You share your insight with your neighbour and so everyone pulls together to successfully reform our insane tax laws and system of land tenure. As a result:
(1) your neighbour can keep all of her hard-earned income, and
(2) those who have enclosed substantial amounts of the Common Wealth for their own private domain now pay fair land value taxation (LVT) to society.

Your LVT bill arrives and you realise you have been holding more land than you really need, so auction off the title to your land and the improvements on it. Because of genuine tax relief, your neighbour can now afford to buy the property.

And so - with LVT and trust and angel dust - they all live happily ever after.  ... read the whole article

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 5: Reinventing the Commons (pages 65-78)

Thus far I’ve argued that Capitalism 2.0 — or surplus capitalism — has three tragic flaws: it devours nature, widens inequality, and fails to make us happier in the end. It behaves this way because it’s programmed to do so. It must make thneeds, reward property owners disproportionately, and distract us from truer paths to happiness because its algorithms direct it to do so. Neither enlightened managers nor the occasional zealous regulator can make it behave much differently. ...

Property rights are useful human inventions. They’re legally enforceable agreements through which society grants specific privileges to owners. Among these are rights to use, exclude, sell, rent, lend, trade, or bequeath a particular asset. These assorted privileges can be bundled or unbundled almost any which way.

It’s largely through property rights that economies are shaped. Feudal economies were based on estates passed from lords to their eldest sons, alongside commons that sustained the commoners. Commoners were required, in one way or another, to labor for the lords, while the lords lived off that labor and the bounty of the land. The whole edifice was anchored by the so-called divine right of kings.

Similarly, capitalism is shaped by the property rights we create and honor today. Its greatest invention has been the web of property rights we call the joint stock corporation. This fictitious entity enjoys perpetual life, limited liability, and — like the feudal estate of yesteryear — almost total sovereignty. Its beneficial ownership has been fractionalized into tradeable shares, which themselves are a species of property. ... read the whole chapter

Bill Batt: Comment on Parts of the NYS Legislative Tax Study Commission's 1985 study “Who Pays New York Taxes?”

As for their treatment of the New York Local Property Tax, the authors first identified seven separate categories of real property: owner-occupied, rental, commercial, industrial, public utilities, farmland, and unimproved. This is a somewhat unusual classification, different even than those universally used in New York State.7 One can see immediately that there will necessarily be some overlap – “unimproved” parcels can sometimes be assigned in other categories according to their zoning. And rental property is commercial, whomever the tenants may be, whether households or businesses.

To their credit, however, the authors devoted considerable attention to the issue of tax shifting, which is never an easy subject, including a discussion of taxes on real property. They recognized that no shifting occurs for vacant parcels and titleholders therefore bear the full burden. So also for homeowners. For rental properties they assigned 50% of the burden to tenants, 25% to corporate stockowners, and 25% to real estate owners. For commercial, industrial, farmers, and public utility parcels, the shifting was put at 67%. In every instance where shifting is recognized, the part never shifted, of course, is the land component, and this is implicit in their assumption. These were referred to as “consensus incidence assumptions regarding the property tax.”8

A third consideration they recognized is the potential for tax exporting to other states, more often important for classes other than residential property but still significant. It occurs both on account of titleholders being out-of-state and also because of what is known as the “federal offset,” i.e., the deductibility of state and local taxes for federal tax itemizing. For all New York State and local taxes taken together, they estimated that roughly 10% percent of total revenue is exported, but for real property taxes, the total exported is only about half that. ... read the whole commentary


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