Most of us want to live in association with others. As Henry George described
in The Savannah, the advantages
of living near others are considerable. When some of us can afford to keep
more land than we need, as a nest egg for our individual future, or for the
advantage of our grandchildren, others must commute long distances to get from
work we need and enjoy to land we can afford to live on, and we may be forced
in the process to live in relatively isolated places, where there is less infrastructure
(e.g., sewers, city water, paid firefighters) and fewer amenities (e.g., a
choice of grocery stores, a well-stocked library, established schools). We
spend our time and money commuting, and have less to show for it.
some of us value being in a rural location, and would freely choose that
option even if others were available to us. But many of us would prefer to
association with others, with the benefits of community.
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 4: Land
Speculation Causes Reduced Wages
In communities like the United States, where the user of land generally prefers,
if he can, to own it, and where there is a great extent of land to overrun,
this cause operated with enormous power.
The immense area over which the population of the United States is scattered
shows this. 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-tilled 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 pre-emption.
He (and, with him, the margin of cultivation) is forced so much farther than
he otherwise need have gone, by the speculation which is holding these unused
lands in expectation of increased value in the future. And when he settles,
he will, in his turn, take up, if he can, more land than he can use, in the
belief that it will soon become valuable; and so those who follow him are again
forced farther on than the necessities of production require, carrying the
margin of cultivation to still less productive, because still more remote points.
If the land of superior quality as to location were always fully used before
land of inferior quality were resorted to, no vacant lots would be left as
a city extended, nor would we find miserable shanties in the midst of costly
buildings. These lots, some of them extremely valuable, are withheld from use,
or from the full use to which they might be put, because their owners, not
being able or not wishing to improve them, prefer, in expectation of the advance
of land values, to hold them for a higher rate than could now be obtained from
those willing to improve them. And, in consequence of this land being withheld
from use, or from the full use of which it is capable, the margin of the city
is pushed away so much farther from the center.
But when we reach the limits of the growing city the actual margin of building,
which corresponds to the margin of cultivation in agriculture — we
shall not find the land purchasable at its value for agricultural purposes,
would be were rent determined simply by present requirements; but we shall
find that for a long distance beyond the city, land bears a speculative
value, based upon the belief that it will be required in the future for
and that to reach the point at which land can be purchased at a price not
based upon urban rent, we must go very far beyond the actual margin of
... read the whole chapter
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
When it is first proposed to put all taxes upon the value of land, all landholders
are likely to take the alarm, and there will not be wanting appeals to
the fears of small farm and homestead owners, who will be told that this
is a proposition
to rob them of their hard-earned property. But a moment's reflection will
show that this proposition should commend itself to all whose interests as
do not largely exceed their interests as laborers or capitalists, or both.
And further consideration will show that though the large landholders may
lose relatively, yet even in their case there will be an absolute gain. For,
increase in production will be so great that labor and capital will gain
very much more than will be lost to private landownership, while in these
and in the greater ones involved in a more healthy social condition, the
whole community, including the landowners themselves, will share.
- It is manifest, of course, that the change I propose will greatly benefit
all those who live by wages, whether of hand or of head -- laborers,
operatives, mechanics, clerks, professional men of all sorts.
- It is manifest, also, that it will benefit all those who live partly
by wages and partly by the earnings of their capital -- storekeepers, merchants,
manufacturers, employing or undertaking producers and exchangers of
from the peddler or drayman to the railroad or steamship owner -- and
- it is likewise manifest that it will increase the incomes of those whose
incomes are drawn from the earnings of capital. ...
...But the great gain of the working farmer can be seen only when the effect
upon the distribution of population is considered. The destruction of speculative
land values would tend to diffuse population where it is too dense and
to concentrate it where it is too sparse; to substitute for the tenement
house, homes surrounded
by gardens, and fully to settle agricultural districts before people were
driven far from neighbors to look for land. The people of the cities would
more of the pure air and sunshine of the country, the people of the country
more of the economies and social life of the city. If, as is doubtless
the case, the application of machinery tends to large fields, agricultural
will assume the primitive form and cluster in villages. The life of the
average farmer is now unnecessarily dreary. He is not only compelled to work
and late, but he is cut off by the sparseness of population from the conveniences,
and amusements, the educational facilities, and the social and intellectual
opportunities that come with the closer contact of man with man. He would
be far better off in all these respects, and his labor would be far more
if he and those around him held no more land than they wanted to use. While
his children, as they grew up, would neither be so impelled to seek the
excitement of a city nor would they be driven so far away to seek farms of
Their means of living would be in their own hands, and at home. ...
In short, the working farmer is both a laborer and a capitalist, as well as
a landowner, and it is by his labor and capital that his living is made. His
loss would be nominal; his gain would be real and great. In varying degrees
is this true of all landholders. Many landholders are laborers of one sort
or another. This measure would make no one poorer but such as could be made
a great deal poorer without being really hurt. It would cut down great fortunes,
but it would impoverish no one.
Wealth would not only be enormously increased; it would be equally distributed.
I do not mean that each individual would get the same amount of wealth. That
would not be equal distribution, so long as different individuals have different
powers and different desires. But I mean that wealth would be distributed in
accordance with the degree in which the industry, skill, knowledge, or prudence
of each contributed to the common stock. The great cause which concentrates
wealth in the hands of those who do not produce, and takes it from the hands
of those who do, would be gone. The inequalities that continued to exist would
be those of nature, not the artificial inequalities produced by the denial
of natural law. The nonproducer would no longer roll in luxury while the producer
got but the barest necessities of animal existence. ... read the whole chapter
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)
To remove want and the fear of want, to give to all classes leisure, and
comfort, and independence, the decencies and refinements of life, the opportunities
of mental and moral development, would be like turning water into a desert.
The sterile waste would clothe itself with verdure, and the barren places
life seemed banned would ere long be dappled with the shade of trees and
musical with the song of birds. Talents now hidden, virtues unsuspected,
forth to make human life richer, fuller, happier, nobler. For
- in these round men who are stuck into three-cornered holes, and three-cornered
men who are jammed into round holes;
- in these men who are wasting their energies in the scramble to be rich;
- in these who in factories are turned into machines, or are chained by
necessity to bench or plow;
- in these children who are growing up in squalor, and vice, and ignorance,
are powers of the highest order, talents the most splendid.
They need but the opportunity to bring them forth.
Consider the possibilities of a state of society that gave that opportunity
to all. Let imagination fill out the picture; its colors grow too bright for
words to paint.
- Consider the moral elevation, the intellectual activity, the social
- Consider how by a thousand actions and interactions the members of every
community are linked together, and how in the present condition of
things even the fortunate few who stand upon the apex of the social pyramid
suffer, though they know it not, from the want, ignorance, and degradation
that are underneath.
- Consider these things and then say whether the change I propose would
not be for the benefit of every one — even the greatest landholder?
... read the whole chapter
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
God’s laws do not change. Though their applications may alter with
altering conditions, the same principles of right and wrong that hold when
men are few and industry is rude also hold amid teeming populations and complex
industries. In our cities of millions and our states of scores of millions,
in a civilization where the division of labor has gone so far that large
numbers are hardly conscious that they are land-users, it still remains true
that we are all land animals and can live only on land, and that land is
God’s bounty to all, of which no one can be deprived without being
murdered, and for which no one can be compelled to pay another without being
robbed. But even in a state of society where the elaboration of industry
and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need for private
possession of land wide-spread, there is no difficulty in conforming individual
possession with the equal right to land. For as soon as any piece of land
will yield to the possessor a larger return than is had by similar labor
on other land a value attaches to it which is shown when it is sold or rented.
Thus, the value of the land itself, irrespective of the value of any improvements
in or on it, always indicates the precise value of the benefit to which all
are entitled in its use, as distinguished from the value which, as producer
or successor of a producer, belongs to the possessor in individual right.
To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common
ownership it is only necessary therefore to take for common uses what value
attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. The principle
is the same as in the case referred to, where a human father leaves equally
to his children things not susceptible of specific division or common use.
In that case such things would be sold or rented and the value equally applied.
It is on this common-sense principle that we, who term ourselves single-tax
men, would have the community act.
We do not propose to assert equal rights to land by keeping land common,
letting any one use any part of it at any time. We do not propose the task,
impossible in the present state of society, of dividing land in equal shares;
still less the yet more impossible task of keeping it so divided.
We propose — leaving land in the private possession of individuals,
with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it — simply
to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of
the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on
it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public revenues, we
would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes now
levied on the products and processes of industry — which taxes, since
they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the
right of property.
This we propose, not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a conforming
of human regulations to the will of God.
God cannot contradict himself nor impose on his creatures laws that clash.
If it be God’s command to men that they should not steal — that
is to say, that they should respect the right of property which each one
has in the fruits of his labor;
And if he be also the Father of all men, who in his common bounty has intended
all to have equal opportunities for sharing;
Then, in any possible stage of civilization, however elaborate, there must
be some way in which the exclusive right to the products of industry may
be reconciled with the equal right to land.
If the Almighty be consistent with himself, it cannot be, as say those socialists
referred to by you, that in order to secure the equal participation of men
in the opportunities of life and labor we must ignore the right of private
property. Nor yet can it be, as you yourself in the Encyclical seem to argue,
that to secure the right of private property we must ignore the equality
of right in the opportunities of life and labor. To say the one thing or
the other is equally to deny the harmony of God’s laws.
But, the private possession of land, subject to the payment to the community
of the value of any special advantage thus given to the individual, satisfies
both laws, securing to all equal participation in the bounty of the Creator
and to each the full ownership of the products of his labor. ....read
the whole letter
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George,
a themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
MENTAL power is the motor of progress, and men tend to advance in proportion
to the mental power expended in progression — the mental power which
is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the improvement of methods, and
the betterment of social conditions. — Progress & Poverty — Book
X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress
To compare society to a boat. Her progress through the water will not depend
upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her.
This will be lessened by any expenditure of force required for baling, or any
expenditure of force in fighting among themselves or in pulling in different
Now, as in a separated state the whole powers of man are required to maintain
existence, and mental power is only set free for higher uses by the association
of men in communities, which permits the division of labor and all the economies
which come with the co-operation of increased numbers, association is the first
essential of progress. Improvement becomes possible as men come together in peaceful
association, and the wider and closer the association, the greater the possibilities
of improvement. And as the wasteful expenditure of mental power in conflict becomes
greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an equality of rights
is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice) is the second essential of
Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees mental
power for expenditure in improvement, and equality (or justice, or freedom — for
the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition of the moral law) prevents
the dissipation of this power in fruitless struggles. — Progress & Poverty — Book
X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress ... go
to "Gems from George"
Nic Tideman: The
Structure of an Inquiry into the Attractiveness of A Social Order
Inspired by the Ideas of Henry George
A. People own
themselves and therefore own what
B. People have obligations to share equally the opportunities that
are provided by nature.
C. People are free to interact with other competent adults on
whatever terms are mutually agreed.
D. People have obligations to pay the costs that their intrusive
behaviors impose on others.
A. What is the relationship between justice
embodied in the ethical principles) and community (or peace or
B. How are the weak to be provided for?
C. How should natural opportunities be shared?
D. Who should be included in the group among whom rent should be
E. Is there an obligation to compensate those whose presently
recognized titles to land and other exclusive natural opportunities
will lose value when rent is shared equally?
F. Can a person who is occupying a per capita share of land
reasonably ask to be left undisturbed indefinitely on that land?
G. What is the moral status of "intellectual property?"
H. What standards of environmental respect can people reasonably
require of others?
I. What forms of land use control are consistent with the philosophy
of Henry George?
A. Would public
collection of the rent of land
provide enough revenue for an appropriate public sector?
B. How much revenue could public collection of rent raise?
C. Is it possible to assess land with sufficient accuracy?
D. How much growth can a community expect if it shifts taxes from
improvements to land?
E. To what extent does the benefit that one community receives from
shifting taxes from buildings to land come at the expense of other
F. What is the impact of land taxes on land speculation?
G. How, if at all, does the impact of shifting the source of public
revenue to land change if it is a whole nation rather than just a
community that makes the shift?
H. Is there a danger that the application of Henry George's ideas
would lead to a world of over-development?
I. How would natural resources be managed appropriately if
regarded as the common heritage of humanity?
Read the whole article
Bill Batt: How Our Towns Got That
Way (1996 speech)
society is characterized by suburban sprawl and is
therefore motor vehicle dependent, community is destroyed. George
Kennan expresses this well in the book cited earlier, but it is more
empirically documented in a recent article entitled "Bowling
Alone", which David Broder of the Washington Post
considered the most important academic article of 1995. The
author of that piece, Harvard Professor Bob Putnam, shows that our
communal relationships are declining, and that an ever smaller
proportion of the population is involved in social activities of a
cooperative and communal nature. As Tocqueville noted, this used to
be the unique strength of American society; we're now losing it.
Suburban sprawl and the automobile play a large part in this. And the
reason we have these land-use configurations is in good part, to my
way of thinking, due to our property tax policies and our subsidies
to motor vehicle transportation.
It doesn't take much reflection to realize that the practices
which we are following are unsustainable. This is true not only
environmentally but also economically and socially. Author James
Howard Kunstler recently has described in his book Home from
Nowhere how our cities are becoming not only ugly but
unlivable. The irony is also that, by having followed the legacy of
classical economics, we could easily have provided for all our
government services through taxes based on land value.... read
the whole article
Bill Batt: The
Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
The more cohesive the
development of communities is, the greater the
synergy exists among its members. Sprawl development not only increases
the cost of transportation and other infrastructure needed to service
these sites, it also reduces the extent to which people are accessible
to one another. There is considerable indication that American society
is losing this elusive quality of community. When Harvard professor
Robert Putnam published his celebrated article Bowling Alone in January, 1995, it
was remarkable as much for the resonance that it generated throughout
the nation as for the message itself. David Broder of the Washington
Post pronounced Bowling Alone
the most important academic article that year. Putnam argued that our
communal relationships are declining, and that an ever smaller
proportion of the population is involved in social activities of a
cooperative and communal nature.54 We
used to be a nation of joiners; increasingly now we’re a nation of
loners. As Tocqueville noted 150 years ago, affiliative groups used to
be the unique strength of American society.55
Several hypotheses were offered in this and subsequent studies to
explain the decline in the civic engagement of Americans — various
demographic changes, technological innovations such as television, the
changing role of government, the cultural revolution, and so on. The
land-use and transportation patterns that have evolved in the post-war
period are a factor as well. The concepts of neighborhood and community
today no longer mean the same thing as they
did in the past. ...
Much of the loss of scale communities is due to the fact
that transportation planners have reconfigured the urban areas of the
country to serve the automobile.58 It
stems from a fundamental confusion between what geographers call
accessibility and mobility. This distinction is explained particularly
well in a recent text, The Geography
of Urban Transportation:
Accessibility refers to the number of
opportunities, also called activity sites, available within a certain
distance or travel time. Mobility refers to the ability to move between
different activity sites (e.g., from home to a grocery store).59 ....
the other hand, collection of economic rent, whether it be from the
use of land sites, fossil fuels, fishing grounds, solar and wind energy
settings, electromagnetic spectrum frequencies, airport landing
timeslots, and or even air sinks facilitates their highest and best use
while leaving less attractive settings unaffected. Where there exists
the possibility that environmentally sensitive sites or resources might
otherwise be exploited, then is the appropriate time to institute
focused CAC approaches, and with more attentive and efficient
administration for all involved. The practice of concentrating economic
activity in the more limited footprint that pricing creates is
consistent with approaches taken in ecological economics. This is
because the economy is recognized as only one component of human
experience and the world system, not coterminous with it. Daly, for
instance, draws concentric circles to illustrate the proper setting of
the economic system — inside the social and cultural system which
itself exists in a greater ecosystem. Collection of economic rent has a
centrifugal and concentrating effect on human activity and hence upon
the ecosystem itself. It has a benign effect on ecosystems insofar as
it effectuates a steep and identifiable market gradient between areas
of heavy socio-economic activity and those that bring no price at all.
And yet by facilitating closer contact
between members of the human
community, it also fosters exchanges of a nature
that are outside the market economy — family relationships and
neighborhood activity.... read the whole article
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)
One cannot look, it seems to me, through
nature — whether one looks at the stars through a telescope, or have
the microscope reveal to one those worlds that we find in drops of water.
Whether one considers the human frame, the adjustments of the animal kingdom,
or any department of physical nature, one must see that there has been a
contriver and adjuster, that there has been an intent. So strong is that
feeling, so natural is it to our minds, that even people who deny the Creative
Intelligence are forced, in spite of themselves, to talk of intent; the claws
on one animal were intended, we say, to climb with, the fins of another to
propel it through the water.
Yet, while in looking through the laws
of physical nature, we find intelligence
we do not so clearly find beneficence. But in the great social fact
that as population increases, and improvements are made, and men progress
in civilisation, the one thing that rises everywhere in value is land, and
in this we may see a proof of the beneficence of the Creator.
Why, consider what it means! It means that
the social laws are adapted to progressive humanity! In a rude state of society
where there is no need for common expenditure, there is no value attaching
to land. The only value which attaches there is to things produced by labour.
But as civilisation goes on, as a division of labour takes place,
as people come into centres, so do the common wants increase, and so does
for public revenue arise. And so in that value which attaches to land, not
by reason of anything the individual does, but by reason of the growth of
the community, is a provision intended — we may safely say intended — to
meet that social want.
Just as society grows, so do the
common needs grow, and so grows this value attaching to land — the provided
fund from which they can be supplied. Here is a value that may be taken,
without impairing the right of property, without taking anything from the
producer, without lessening the natural rewards of industry and thrift. Nay,
here is a value that must be taken if we would prevent the most monstrous
of all monopolies. What does all this mean? It means that in the creative
plan, the natural advance in civilisation is an advance to a greater and
greater equality instead of to a more and more monstrous inequality.... Read the whole speech
Weld Carter: An
Introduction to Henry George
The Ethics of Taxation
It was but a short step from the ethics of property to the ethics of taxation.
George's position here was that as labor and capital rightfully and unconditionally
own what they produce, no one can rightfully appropriate any of their earnings;
nor can the State. On the other hand, land value is always a socially created
value, never the result of action by the owner of the land. Therefore this
is a value that must be taken by society; otherwise, those who comprise
the social whole are deprived of what is rightfully theirs. Furthermore,
to charge the owner for this value, in the form of taxation, is only to
collect from him the precise value of the benefit he receives from society.
As to the justice of taxes on products,
George spoke of "...all taxes now levied on the products and processes of
industry -- which taxes, since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold
to be infringements of the right of property."
justice of taxes on land values, he said, "Adam Smith speaks of incomes
as 'enjoyed under the protection of the state'; and this is the ground
upon which the equal taxation of all species of property is commonly insisted
upon -- that it is equally protected by the state. The basis of this idea
is evidently that the enjoyment of property is made possible by the state
-- that there is a value created and maintained by the community, which
is justly called upon to meet community expenses. Now of what values is
this true? Only of the value of land. This is a value that does not arise
until a community is formed, and that, unlike other values, grows with
the growth of the community. It exists only as the community exists. Scatter
again the largest community, and land, now so valuable, would have no value
at all. With every increase of population the value of land rises; with
every decrease it falls. ...
"The tax upon land values is, therefore,
the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only upon those who receive
from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion
to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use
of the community, that value which is the creation of the community. It is
the application the common property to common uses." ...read the whole article
Bill Batt: Stemming Sprawl: The Fiscal Approach
SPRAWL DEVELOPMENT CONFIGURATIONS are not natural. Were it not for incentives
to the contrary, people would choose to live and work in close proximity. This
has been well documented in studies of every era and place. Only
when incentives are put in place that induce people to live in other circumstances
do they choose settlement patterns that are remote, less accessible, and
alienating. Only in the industrial era and after have outlying areas become
Tracing the history of such developments makes it clear that they are a response
to less livable conditions of urban life as they have evolved — the
pollution of air and water, loss of nature, loss of privacy, housing deficiencies,
so on. In more recent years, differentials in taxation and the quality of
services (such as schools) have also played a role in making the suburbs
... read the whole article
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 5: Reinventing the Commons (pages 65-78)
Trust and liquidity, I eventually realized, are just two small rivulets in
an enormous river of common wealth that encompasses nature, community,
and culture. Nature’s gifts are all those wondrous things, living
and nonliving, that we inherit from the creation. Community includes the
myriad threads, tangible and intangible, that connect us to other humans
efficiently. Culture embodies our vast store of science, inventions, and
The value of community and cultural assets has been less studied than that
of natural assets. However, we can get an order of magnitude by considering
a few examples.
The Internet has contributed significantly to the U.S. economy since the
1990s. It has spawned many new companies (America Online, Amazon.com, Ebay,
to name a few), boosted sales and efficiency of existing companies, and stimulated
educational, cultural, and informational exchange. How much is all that worth?
There’s no right answer to this question.However, a study by Cisco
Systems and the University of Texas found that the Internet generated $830
billion in revenue in 2000. Assuming the asset value of the Internet is 16.5
times the yearly revenue it generates, we arrive at an estimated value of
$13 trillion. Another valuable social asset is the complex system of stock
exchanges, laws, and communications media that makes it possible for Americans
to sell stock easily. Assuming that this socially created “liquidity
premium” accounts for 30 percent of stock market capitalization, its
value in 2006 was roughly $5 trillion. If that much equity were put in a
mutual fund whose shares belonged to all Americans, the average household
would be $45,000 richer.
Not-for-profit cultural activities also pump billions of dollars into the
U.S. economy.A 2002 study by Americans for the Arts found that nonprofit
art and cultural activities generate $134 billion in economic value every
year, including $89 billion in household income and $24 billion in tax revenues.
Using the 16.5 multiplier suggests that America’s cultural assets are
worth in excess of $2 trillion.
These three examples alone add up to about $20 trillion. The long list of
other social assets — including scientific and technical knowledge,
our legal and political systems, our universities, libraries, accounting
procedures, and transportation infrastructure — suggest that the total
value of our social assets is comparable in magnitude to that of our natural
assets. ... read
the whole chapter
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 7: Universal Birthrights (pages 101-116)
Capitalism and community aren’t natural allies. Capitalism’s
emphasis on individual acquisition and consumption is usually antithetical
to the needs of community. Where capitalism is about the pursuit of self-interest,
community is about connecting to — and at times assisting — others.
It’s driven not by monetary gain but by caring, giving, and sharing.
While the opportunity to advance one’s self-interest is essential
to happiness, so too is community. No person is an island, and no one can
truly attain happiness without connection to others. This raises the question
of how to promote community. One view is that community can’t be promoted;
it either arises spontaneously or it doesn’t. Another view is that
community can be strengthened through public schools, farmers’ markets,
charitable gifts, and the like. It’s rarely imagined that community
can be built into our economic operating system. In this chapter I show how
it can be — if our operating system includes a healthy commons sector.
the whole chapter