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Big land holders
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 12. Effect of Remedy Upon Various Economic Classes (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX: Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 3. Of the effect upon individuals and classes)
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 13 Effect of Remedy Upon Social Ideals (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX: Effects of the Remedy — 4. Of the changes that would be wrought in social organization and social life)
Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)
Nic Tideman: Basic Tenets of the Incentive Taxation Philosophy
Applications Abroad as Well as at Home
As important as our ideas are for the justice and efficiency of the American economy, their application is even more important in less developed countries, where often 80% of the land is held by 3% of the population. To give all the citizens of these countries chances to make something of their lives, it is extremely important to equalize access to land, not by redividing the land (which inevitably winds up putting land into the hands of people who cannot use it well) but by requiring any one who uses land to pay according to the unimproved value of the land that he or she uses. To bring this message to the world, we must first apply it to ourselves. ... Read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Full Employment, Growth And Progress On A Small Planet: Relieving Poverty While Healing The Earth
The rural landed gentry. Georgists have focused on urban land, stressing its stupendous value p.s.f., and also its high value per capita. Some have favored ignoring rural areas completely, to placate the rural vote, and the putative empathy of urban Americans with their rural roots, and the supposed rural preservation of old cultural values. If those notions ever had merit, they do not today. George himself did not think they had merit in his day, either: his first book, Our Land and Land Policy (1871) went into great detail about the villainies (his word) involved in monopolizing rural land from the public domain. He demolished economist Francis A. Walker while exposing how Walker’s direction of the U.S. Census concealed the concentrated ownership of rural land – an early example of “How to Lie with Statistics.” In the process, George invented what today is called the Lorenz Curve, and influenced the U.S. Census to begin arranging data in a template geared to that curve, and to report on land separate from buildings (which it did until 1940).
Today, more than ever, persons of great wealth have fled the cities and bought up (or retained) vast and valuable lands in rustic retreats. To name but a few, there are San Juan County, Washington; Aspen, CO; Vilas and Walworth Counties, Wisconsin; Napa and Sonoma Counties, CA; the Sta. Ynez Valley north of Sta. Barbara; Kenedy County, TX; Barrington, IL; the Hudson Valley; Berkshire County, MA; Nantucket Island, MA; Manchester/Dorset and Woodstock, VT; Fauquier County, VA; Bourbon County, KY; and much of the whole State of NM. In addition there are individual spreads so vast they constitute regions in themselves:
Once known mainly for blood sports, owners in these areas wrap themselves now in the mantle of environmentalism – a major challenge for those seeking to reconcile fair taxation with ecological values. ...
George wrote little about the corporate form of organization. His modern allies are aware that corporations are our major landholders. That is a most important truth, one neglected by most other economists and reformers. However, the Georgists are mostly content to let it go at that. They do not see the corporate form itself as a menacing kind of special privilege. In this they are somewhat behind other reform groups, and have, alas, little to contribute to the current debate on this matter. They are unaware of the seminal old work by inveterate Georgist lecturer John Z. White on the meaning of the Dartmouth College Case decision of 1819. ...
Weight of excess burden of most taxes. Many modern Georgists tend, oddly, to trivialize the power of tax bias to keep land from its best use. They have seized upon a conventional micro-economic device, now generally called the “Harberger Triangle,” in recognition of one Chicago-School expositor. It is based on supply and demand curves, with no reference to land markets at all. Perhaps these Georgists are hoping this will help them get through to ordinary economists; but this device has the effect, by accident or design, of minimizing estimates of the economic losses, or “excess burdens,” that bad taxes cause.
The power of tax bias to keep land from its best use is starkly obvious by analyzing the economics of using marginal land. Any tax at all will sterilize such land completely, unless the taxes are so universal that the mobile factors, labor and capital, cannot escape them by moving.
“Who cares about marginal land?”, some may say. The distorting power of taxes has been demonstrated inadvertently by Chicago-School economists Gale Johnson and Stephen Cheung. They have shown that sharecropping, as a private arrangement, creates a bias on the part of tenants to substitute land for labor and equipment, almost without limit. This is because extra land costs the cropper nothing, unless it adds to output, so the cropper’s interest is to substitute land, which is free to him, for his labor and capital, which he pays for.
Taxes based on gross output affect all landowners the same way the cropshare lease affects croppers. They make every landowner a cropper of the state, giving every landowner a motive to substitute land for labor and capital indefinitely. Private landlords overcome this by limiting how much land to allow each cropper; but the state has no such offsetting control. Thus, each landowner’s motive to acquire excess land runs wild.
In conjunction, consider that taxes (other than property taxes) are based solely on cash flows, thus entirely exempting all the imputed income from and imputed consumption of the service flows of land – the “amenities.” Government tells the landed gentry, “Hold land as a totem, an heirloom, a private hunting and riding park, a dream of future retirement, a speculation, a hedge against inflation, an entry into high society, a beach access, a protection against future neighbors, a shooting range, a golf course, a ski hideaway, a drinking club, a private landing strip … anything private and narcissistic or exclusionary or snobbish … and your pleasures are tax exempt. Produce goods and services for others, though, and we will treat you like a sharecropper – and tax your employees, too.”
Now hark back to George’s second force holding labor off the better lands (Item A,3,b): holding land as a totem. He noted that tendency in an age before we even had an income tax, or state sales taxes. Our present tax system magnifies the tendency beyond all reason, resulting in the relegation of much of our best land to the indulgences of the landed gentry, old and new. ...
City and country. Few studies ever hit such a sensitive nerve as Walter Goldschmidt’s (1947) demonstration of the greater sociological health and wholesomeness of Dinuba, CA, compared with nearby Arvin, CA. Dinuba is surrounded by small farms in the Alta Irrigation District, which taxes land values. The District also taxes land values inside the city itself. Arvin is surrounded by giant industrial-type farms, “factories in the fields,” without such taxes.
Goldschmidt’s prose was tedious, melding acadamese and bureaucratese – anything but rabble-rousing. The values he celebrated were square and middle-class – nothing of Greenwich Village. Yet the substance resonated radically. The big owners sensed a vital threat. They roared and threatened and reared up with their political power, and “terminated with extreme prejudice” the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the agency that sponsored the study. That tells us something about its deep significance and its threat to the landed establishment. Goldschmidt identified a viable, market-oriented, indigenous American alternative to gigantic, absentee-owned industrial agriculture exploiting cheap migrant labor.
No Georgist to my knowledge has yet drawn the Georgist morals from this great study. Goldschmidt himself was only dimly aware of the role of land taxation in his story. The facts are there, the documents are there … only the scholars, so far, are missing. Read the whole article
Walter Rybeck: The Uncertain Future of the Metropolis
The single element that makes me apprehensive about the future of our cities is our land system. Tentacles of our misguided land policies are choking almost every vital aspect of metropolitan life. This is doubly worrisome, because the full dimensions of the land problem have barely surfaced in the public consciousness. To put it in the vernacular, most of us don't know what's eating us.
We have scarcely begun to identify the causes of today's city land problems. This is not to denigrate the legions of good folk -- officials and citizens alike -- who are trying desperately to cope with the daily disasters. But without a better notion of what is producing these disasters, we are unlikely to stem the flood.
A major problem, certainly, is our distorted land system that operates around the clock and around the calendar, and under the full sanction of the law. It rips off the poor, saps small business, and deprives municipalities of their rightful revenue.
The people as a whole create land values, not only by their presence, but also through participation in government, as taxpayers. Schools, firehouses, streets, police, water lines -- the whole gamut of public works and services that enhance a neighborhood are converted into higher land values. The taxpayers of the entire country, through federal aid for our multi-billion-dollar Metrorail project, have been boosting Washington, D.C. land values mightily.
Not all land values are manmade. Inherent qualities also give land special advantages: fertile soils in farming districts, scenic views in residential areas, subsurface riches of coal, oil, and minerals. None of us, as landlords, tenants, or governments, can lay claim to having created these values. The people who have been drawing up an international law of the Seas have characterized these natural endowments as "the common heritage of mankind", where no people, individually or collectively, produce these land values, it is difficult to argue with the conclusion that they belong to all people equally.
If the institution of private property has a sound foundation, and I believe it does, theSn it rests on the principle that people have a right to reap what they sow, to retain for themselves what they themselves produce or earn. Land values, produced by all of society, and by nature, do not conform to this prescription. ...
Decade after decade, billions of dollars in urban land values are being siphoned off by a narrowing class that has no ethical or economic claim to them. To be outraged when a few ghetto dwellers, in an occasional frenzy of despair, engage in looting on a relatively miniscule scale, but to remain indifferent to this massive, wholesale looting, is worse than hypocritical. It is to ignore a catastrophic social maladjustment, more severe, I believe, than anything the U.S. has experienced since slavery. ...
But I sense that we are drifting rapidly towards a landlord-dominated society. ...
Before that happens, the opportunity awaits to see whether a reasonably free economy can still be made to work. Unless we tackle the land question, and the looting of America, that game may be forfeited.
The future of the metropolis is uncertain. The choice is ours. We can intervene in the way society is now headed, to preserve the American dream. Or, we can continue along the present path and await the American nightmare. Read the whole article
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper