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Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism of Natural Taxation, from Principles of Natural Taxation (1917)
Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place
The Ethics of Property
Any discussion of Henry George should include a consideration of his ethical ideas, for throughout his works the question of right and wrong is dominant. In Progress and Poverty, for instance, he struck this keynote:
'. ..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?'. ..I bow to this arbitrament, and accept this test."
George wrote as a social philosopher. Therefore his preoccupation in the field of ethics was with the relations of man to man, rather than with man himself -- with stealing rather than with thriftlessness. This necessarily involves the matter of property and ownership.
Once again, the student will find George's analysis to be based on the differences inherent in the two categories of land and products. "The real and natural distinction is between things which are the produce of labor and things which are the gratuitous offerings of nature. ...These two classes of things are in essence and relations widely different, and to class them together as property is to confuse all thought when we come to consider the justice or the injustice, the right or the wrong of property."
What is the moral basis of property?
Is it not, primarily, the right of a man to himself, to the use of his own powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions? ... As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete form belongs to him.
And for this reason, that which a man makes or produces is his own, as against all the world -- to enjoy or to destroy, to use, to exchange, or to give. No one else can rightfully claim it, and his exclusive right to it involves no wrong to anyone else. Thus there is to everything produced by human exertion a clear and indisputable title to exclusive possession and enjoyment, which is perfectly consistent with justice, as it descends from the original producer. ...
Here is a justification for private property in products. But what of land, which is not produced by man? Is there any other basis from which a justification for private property in land might be derived? In addition, is there anything in the right of private property in products which precludes the right of private property in land?
George explains, "Now this [the right of the individual to the use of his own faculties] is not only the original source from which all ideas of exclusive ownership arise ... but it is necessarily the only source. There can be to the ownership of anything no rightful title which is not derived from the title of the producer and does not rest upon the natural right of the man to himself. There can be no other rightful title, because (lst) there is no other natural right from which any other title can be derived, and (2nd) because the recognition of any other title is inconsistent with and destructive of this."
To substantiate the first reason he further said,
As to the second reason he said:
This right of ownership that springs from labor excludes the possibility of any other right of ownership. ...If production give to the producer the right to exclusive possession and enjoyment, there can rightfully be no exclusive possession and enjoyment of anything not the production of labor, and the recognition of private property in land is a wrong. For the right to the produce of labor cannot be enjoyed without the right to the free use of the opportunities offered by nature, and to admit the right of property in these is to deny the right of property in the produce of labor. When nonproducers can claim as rent a portion of the wealth created by producers, the right of the producers to the fruits of their labor is to that extent denied (1879, rpt. 1958, p. 336).
Private property in land, according to George, is unjust because it lets owners of land refuse access to land, and thereby threatens livelihood and life itself. Private property in land is also unjust because it enables owners of land to levy toll on production for the use of land; therefore it is robbery. So another difference between products and land, in George's view, is that private property in products is right, and private property in land is wrong.... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: The Case for Taxing Land
I. Taxing Land as Ethics and Efficiency
II. What is Land?
III. The simple efficiency argument for taxing land
IV. Taxing Land is Better Than Neutral
V. Measuring the Economic Gains from Shifting Taxes to Land
VI. The Ethical Case for Taxing Land
VII. Answer to Arguments against Taxing Land
There is a case for taxing land based on ethical principles and a case for taxing land based on efficiency principles. As a matter of logic, these two cases are separate. Ethical conclusions follow from ethical premises and efficiency conclusions from efficiency principles. However, it is natural for human minds to conflate the two cases. It is easier to believe that something is good if one knows that it is efficient, and it is easier to see that something is efficient if one believes that it is good. Therefore it is important for a discussion of land taxation to address both question of efficiency and questions of ethics.
This monograph will first address the efficiency case for taxing land, because that is the less controversial case. The efficiency case for taxing land has two main parts. ...
To estimate the magnitudes of the impacts that additional taxes on land would have on an economy, one must have a model of the economy. I report on estimates of the magnitudes of impacts on the U.S. economy of shifting taxes to land, based on a mathematical model that is outlined in the Appendix.
The ethical case for taxing land is based on two ethical premises: ...
The ethical case for taxing land ends with a discussion of the reasons why recognition of the equal rights of all to land may be essential for world peace.
After developing the efficiency argument and the ethical argument for taxing land, I consider a variety of counter-arguments that have been offered against taxing land. For a given level of other taxes, a rise in the rate at which land is taxed causes a fall in the selling price of land. It is sometimes argued that only modest taxes on land are therefore feasible, because as the rate of taxation on land increases and the selling price of land falls, market transactions become increasingly less reliable as indicators of the value of land. ...
Another basis on which it is argued that greatly increased taxes on land are infeasible is that if land values were to fall precipitously, the financial system would collapse. ...
Apart from questions of feasibility, it is sometimes argued that erosion of land values from taxing land would harm economic efficiency, because it would reduce opportunities for entrepreneurs to use land as collateral for loans to finance their ideas. ...
Another ethical argument that is made against taxing land is that the return to unusual ability is “rent” just as the return to land is rent. ...
But before developing any of these arguments, I must discuss what land is.
The Ethical Case for Taxing Land
The ethical case for taxing land is based on two premises. The first is that people have rights to themselves. This has not been controversial since the end of slavery, so I will simply assume that this is agreed. The second premise is that all people have equal rights to natural opportunities. This is not so widely agreed.
Natural opportunities include not only land, but also water, fish in oceans and rivers, the frequency spectrum, minerals, virgin forests, and geosynchronous orbits. Some natural opportunities, such as the opportunity to use the oceans for transport, are most valuable to people when all are allowed to use them as they wish. (This does not imply that their value is greatest when all can pollute as they wish.) Other natural opportunities, such as most plots of land, are most valuable when one person has exclusive use of them.
The processes that humans employ to determine who shall have exclusive use of natural opportunities are complex. To some extent, opportunities are assigned to those who first make use of them. However, another important component of the natural-opportunity-assignment process is the ability and willingness to use deadly force to exclude others. Americans from Europe undertook some negotiations with the native American Indians, but primarily they threatened to kill the Indians if they did not agree to move into smaller territories. All over the world, nations emerged when war-minded leaders imposed their rule where they could. We have built a relatively humane world on this violent foundation, but the origins of the assignment of natural opportunities cannot be characterized as just.
Nor would have been just (or efficient) to adhere to a rule of initial assignment based on first use. ...
Justice requires that we acknowledge the equal rights of all persons to the gifts of nature. At the level of relations among nations, this requires every nation to determine whether it is using more than its share of natural opportunities, and if it is using more than its share, to compensate other nations that therefore have less than their shares.
Within a nation, the requirements of justice are not so rigorous, as long as anyone who wishes can migrate to another nation and take with him a claim to an equal share of natural opportunities. ...
An additional ethical reason for recognizing equal rights to natural opportunities is that it may be necessary to secure world peace. ... Read the whole article
Nic Tideman: The Political Economy of the Gospels
The message of the Gospels is that our sins are forgivable, that death is not to be feared because our true lives are spiritual rather than physical, and that participation in the kingdom of God -- a new and better life in this world as well as the next -- is accessible to all who orient themselves to God.
Drawing on the Old Testament, Jesus taught that our first commandment is that we love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength, and that our second commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.1 When asked who our neighbor is, he replied with the parable of the good Samaritan, implying that anyone we encounter is our neighbor. 2 Jesus taught an ethic in which there are no bounds on our obligations to others: ...
When asked by Peter, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Jesus replied, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." In other words, we are to forgive indefinitely.
This unbounded obligation to others is reconciled with the need to survive through the introduction of the idea that it is not through our own anxious efforts, but through God's provision for us that we survive: ...
The message of the Gospels denies the validity of concern for material scarcity. This is made particularly clear in the accounts of the feeding of the multitudes with just a few loaves and fishes.
comprehending this counterintuitive idea, that material scarcity is not to concern us, is brought out by the accounts of how even Jesus' disciples did not understand the message: ...
Without a concept of material scarcity it is difficult to construct an economic theory, as material scarcity is central to economic theory. And yet, even without a concept of material scarcity there is an allocation problem to be solved--the allocation of our efforts.
In the parable of the talents we are told that we will be expected to accomplish something with the resources that are put into our hands. 8 This parable is followed in Matthew by a teaching that may be taken as an indication of what constitutes accomplishment: ...
In other words, every person is a manifestation of God, and anything that we can do to help anyone is to our credit.There is thus an unlimited task for each of us. No one of us will ever be able to say, "I have done every last thing that might be required of me. I have no further obligations." But neither are we to be concerned that that which we have left undone might be held against us. For if we refrain from judging others, we ourselves will not be judged: ...
With this message of the Gospels in mind, turn now to the problem of political economy, the problem of what principles ought to govern the organization of the production of goods and their distribution.
One might first ask whether the requirement that we abandon concern for scarcity would preclude production. The answer is no, it is not production that we are cautioned to avoid, but anxiety. There are any number of reasons why we might allocate some of our time to production, without being anxious about our own material requirements. We feel called to undertake a particular kind of work, so we do it, trusting that any material needs we may have will be satisfied. If we want to undertake our productive activities in conjunction with others, that's fine, too. Associating with others provides us with opportunities to be useful to them.
Among those who are close to us there is no need for prices and markets, because we can see easily enough how we can be of service to them. But human discernment is limited, and prices and markets help us to be aware of what is valued by people who are less close to us. ...
Refraining from the use of force is a recurring theme in the political economy of the Gospels. We are called to refrain from the use of force in defense of property. We are called to refrain from the use of force in financing public activities. We are called to refrain from the use of force in providing for those who might otherwise lack. And we show our love for those who do not wish to participate in our political economy by leaving for them the same per capita value of land and natural resources that we claim for ourselves.
Consider now how this framework bears on some traditional questions of economic ethics. Take first the problem of the just price. This simply is not an issue. If two people have the opportunity to trade--to cooperate--on terms that are mutually agreeable to the two of them, it is not for us to say that they ought to be trading on other terms. Between people who love one another, the problem of settling on the terms of trade is no more difficult than the problem when friends eat lunch together of deciding who will pick up the tab, or how it will be split.That those outside a relationship are not called upon to prescribe its terms is supported by a passage from Luke: ...
Relations between employers and employees are a special case of relations between traders. ...
The problem of worker management is not a problem either. ...
Corporate responsibility may be more of an issue for a Gospel-based political economy. The corporate form of organization permits us to participate in the establishment and management of firms while knowing very little about the other people with whom we are involved or the actions that are taken on our behalf. If this leads us to support implicitly actions of managers in their concern for the bottom line that we could not in good conscience take ourselves, then there is something troubling about our participation in corporations. We need to find ways of managing the resources under our control that do not lead us to endorse implicitly and to profit from actions that we would not endorse directly or take ourselves.
The grand question of economic ethics, the question of whether capitalism or socialism is the more appropriate form of political economy, is another non-question from the perspective of the Gospels. Everyone who wants to live under socialism should be free to live under socialism, and everyone who wants to live under capitalism should be free to live under capitalism. In whichever group we fall, we will want to insure that those who want to organize their lives by different principles of political economy have their share of land and natural resources with which to do so.
A political economy based on the Gospels is a political
based on love. As the First Epistle of John says, "There is no fear
in love; but perfect love casteth out
political economy of the Gospels we must be free of fear: free of
fear that others may rob us; free of fear that others may not
contribute to the provision of public goods or to provision for those
who might otherwise lack; free of fear that our incomes will be too
low or the prices we face too high; free of fear that if we don't do
something, someone will be exploited. Only when love has replaced all
fear in our hearts will we be able to construct the political economy
of the Gospels. 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