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Founding Fathers, First Families

As a country, we tend to honor the founders of the country. And they should be honored, to the extent that they created the framework for a society that works for all of us. But it is also useful to notice that most of them were large landholders, and that they set things up in ways that were profitable and advantageous to their class. Their heirs tended to have a lot of land, often very good land. Fortunes were made on that land, and their slaves and their tenants were the losers in the equation. And today, there are important remnants of what they set up which still disadvantage most people with respect to land.

And even when someone's ancestors braved a long trek in a time of less infrastructure and little technology, does that entitle them to be treated differently today, paid for by their more newly arrived neighbors?

How should we honor such claims to our labor today? Wealthandwant contends that we must not, and that the way to correct the inequity — and iniquity — is by placing our primary tax load onto the value of our best land.

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

THE general subjection of the many to the few, which we meet with wherever society has reached a certain development, has resulted from the appropriation of land as individual property. It is the ownership of the soil that everywhere gives the ownership of the men that live upon it. It is slavery of this kind to which the enduring pyramids and the colossal monuments of Egypt yet bear witness, and of the institution of which we have, perhaps, a vague tradition in the biblical story of the famine during which the Pharaoh purchased up the lands of the people. It was slavery of this kind to which, in the twilight of history, the conquerors of Greece reduced the original inhabitants of that peninsula, transforming them into helots by making them pay rent for their lands. It was the growth of the latifundia, or great landed estates, which transmuted the population of ancient Italy from a race of hardy husbandmen, whose robust virtues conquered the world, into a race of cringing bondsmen; it was the appropriation of the land as the absolute property of their chieftains which gradually turned the descendants of free and equal Gallic, Teutonic and Hunnish warriors into colonii and villains, and which changed the independent burghers of Sclavonic village communities into the boors of Russia and the serfs of Poland; which instituted the feudalism of China and Japan, as well as that of Europe, and which made the High Chiefs of Polynesia the all but absolute masters of their fellows. How it came to pass that the Aryan shepherds and warriors who, as comparative philology tells us, descended from the common birth-place of the Indo-Germanic race into the lowlands of India, were turned into the suppliant and cringing Hindoo, the Sanscrit verse which I have before quoted gives us a hint. The white parasols and the elephants mad with pride of the Indian Rajah are the flowers of grants of land. — Progress & Poverty — Book VII, Chapter 1, Justice of the Remedy: Injustice of private property in land

TRACE to their root the causes that are thus producing want in the midst of plenty, ignorance in the midst of intelligence, aristocracy in democracy, weakness in strength — that are giving to our civilization a one-sided and unstable development, and you will find it something which this Hebrew statesman three thousand years ago perceived and guarded against. Moses saw that the real cause of the enslavement of the masses of Egypt was, what has everywhere produced enslavement, the possession by a class of the land upon which, and from which, the whole people must live. He saw that to permit in land the same unqualified private ownership that by natural right attaches to the things produced by labor, would be inevitably to separate the people into the very rich and the very poor, inevitably to enslave labor — to make the few the masters of. the many, no matter what the political forms, to bring vice and degradation, no matter what the religion.
 
And with the foresight of the philosophic statesman who legislates not for the need of a day, but for all the future, he sought, in ways suited to his times and conditions, to guard against this error. — Moses

THE women who by the thousands are bending over their needles or sewing machines, thirteen, fourteen, sixteen hours a day; these widows straining and striving to bring up the little ones deprived of their natural bread-winner; the children that are growing up in squalor and wretchedness, under-clothed, under-fed, under-educated, even in this city without any place to play — growing up under conditions in which only a miracle can keep them pure — under conditions which condemn them in advance to the penitentiary or the brothel — they suffer, they die, because we permit them to be robbed, robbed of their birthright, robbed by a system which disinherits the vast majority of the children that come into the world. There is enough and to spare for them. Had they the equal rights in the estate which their Creator has given them, there would be no young girls forced to unwomanly toil to eke out a mere existence, no widows finding it such a bitter, bitter struggle to put bread in the mouths of their little children; no such misery and squalor as we may see here in the greatest of American cities; misery and squalor that are deepest in the largest and richest centers of our civilization today. — Thou Shalt Not Steal

... go to "Gems from George"

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

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.

... read the book

Walter Rybeck: What Affordable Housing Problem?

Like all creatures — goldfinches, squirrels, butterflies, cicadas — we humans are squatters on this planet. We all need a part of earth for shelter, nourishment, a work site and a place to raise the next generation. Otherwise we perish. ...

In the 1980s, Washington, D.C., was concerned about its growing army of homeless. At that time I found there were 8,000 boarded-up dwelling units in our Nation's Capital — more than enough to accommodate some 5,000 street people. I also found there were 11,500 privately owned vacant lots in the District of Columbia, mostly zoned for and suitable for homes or apartments. Decent housing on these sites held in cold storage would have provided an alternative for the many low-income families squatting in places that were overcrowded, overpriced, overrun with vermin and overloaded with safety hazards.

These issues spurred my research described in a 1988 report, "Affordable Housing — A Missing Link." Evidence from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources over a 30-year period revealed the following average cost increases of items that go into the building and maintenance of housing:
  • Wages of general building construction workers rose 14 percent a year.
  • Wages of special trade construction workers rose 11 percent a year.
  • Construction material costs rose 11.5 percent a year.
  • Combined wage-materials-managerial costs for residential building rose 12.5 percent a year.
  • Fuel and utility costs for housing rose 13.8 percent a year. All of these costs closely tracked the Consumer Price Index which, over these same 30 years, rose by 12 percent a year. According to those figures, housing prices and housing rents apparently were held in check
Why do those statistics not seem to jibe with what you have been told, seen with your own eyes, and felt in your own pocketbooks?
  • How to explain that, during the last decade of my research period, U.S. households with serious housing problems increased from 19 to 24 millions?
  • What caused the portion of renters paying more than 35 percent of their income for housing doubled from 21 to 41 percent during the last two decades of the study period?
  • Why were over 2.4 million renters paying 60 percent or more of their income for rent?
The answers would be obvious except that, so far, I have not mentioned what happened to the price of the land that housing sits on. Many of those who talk and write about housing conveniently overlook the fact that housing does not exist in mid air but is attached to the land, and that the price of this land has gone through the stratosphere.

In contrast to those 11- to 14-percent annual increases in housing-related costs, residential land values nationwide rose almost 80 percent a year, or almost 2000 percent over those three decades.  ...

A close friend in Bethesda bought a house and lot there 40 years ago for $20,000. Two months ago he sold the property for a cool half million. That 2400 percent increase was entirely land value. The buyer immediately demolished the house to put up a larger one, so he clearly paid half a million for the location value — the land value — alone.

Officials, civic leaders and commentators who bemoan the lack of affordable housing nevertheless applaud each rise in real estate values as a sign of prosperity. Seeing their own assets multiply through no effort of their own apparently makes them forget the teachers, firemen, police and low-income people who are boxed out of a place to squat in their cities and neighborhoods. ...

Many of our Founding Fathers, George Washington included, had amassed huge estates. But the property tax induced them to sell off excess lands they were not using.  ...

One of the many virtues of a tax on land values is that it can be introduced gradually. Cities that take this incremental approach report that homeowners-voters-taxpayers hardly notice the change. What's important in modernizing your taxation is not the speed of change but the direction you choose. If you keep the present tax system with its disincentives for compact and wholesome growth, you will experience the treadmill effect that has been so familiar in so-called urban and housing "solutions." You will have to keep running faster and faster with patchwork remedies to keep from sliding backward.

A caution. Revising taxes as proposed here will not end the need for housing subsidies, at least not in the short run, but it will do three things that should greatly reduce subsidies.
  • One, by deflating land costs it will enable the private market to offer homes and sites at lower costs.
  • Two, this will shrink the number of families needing subsidies.
  • Three, it will stretch subsidy dollars farther because sites for publicly assisted housing can be acquired far more cheaply.
In Conclusion, I have tried to show that America has a housing land problem, not an affordable housing problem. This problem can be substantially alleviated by freeing the market of anti-enterprise taxes and by turning the property tax right side up -- that is, by dropping tax rates on housing and by raising them on publicly-created land values. Read the whole article

Fred E. Foldvary — The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent

Land value taxation was viewed favorably by the classical economists, starting with Adam Smith, who wrote, “Ground-rents, and the ordinary rent of land, are, therefore, perhaps, the species of revenue which can best bear to have a particular tax imposed upon them. Ground-rents seem, in this respect, a more proper subject of particular taxation than even the ordinary rent of land.”14

In the late 1700s, Thomas Spence proposed communities made up of leaseholds, thus financing community expenses from the rent, an idea advanced later by Ebenezer Howard, who influenced the design of residential associations in the twentieth century.

Thomas Jefferson believed “the Earth is given as a common stock for men to labour and live on.”15 In 1797, he suggested “a land tax supply the means by which the individual States were to contribute their quotas of revenue to the Federal Government.”16

From 1778 to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the United States was governed by the Articles of Confederation. Article VII stated the expenses of the Confederation shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several states, in proportion to the value of all land within each state, granted to or surveyed for any person, as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated according to such mode as the United States in Congress assembled, shall from time to time direct and appoint. The taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several states within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress assembled.17

Thus, the states would levy taxes and each would pass on a share of the federal budget based on its land value. Individuals would pay taxes only to their state and local governments.18

Thomas Paine, the eighteenth century political philosopher and activist known for his important role in the American Revolution, advocated in Agrarian Justice that land rent is the proper source of public revenue.19 Paine wrote, “it is the value of the improvements only, and not the Earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated land owes to the community a ground-rent, for I know no better term to express the idea by, for the land which he holds ...”20

An idea widely held, yet little known!... read the whole document


Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics

In the Georgist context a titleholder has the right to ownership of land in usufruct, but not in fee simple. As long as an owner uses land and other elements of nature in accord with the rules and laws of society, one retains a possessory interest. That interest extends to the privilege to use land for all purposes consistent with its proper maintenance and care. It extends even in some cases to the right to preclude others from any trespass at all. But what it typically does not include is the right to any speculative gain that would follow from title in freehold, or the right to use land beyond what it is capable of sustaining. Use implies that its quality is not diminished for the future availability of others, and that there is an obligation for the user to pay to society a just price in exchange for such use. One had no right, for example, to strip a forest of its trees. Enough is known now about the arrangements of land ownership and use in comparative perspective to assert with confidence that the historical practice of title in fee simple or freehold has been far more the exception than rule.20 Taking the long view of history, title in usufruct has been by far the more common pattern of ownership of natural resources, except where Roman jurisprudence and its offspring have spread throughout the world and come to dominate.

In the United States, the definition of real property as explicated in the legal Commentaries of Sir William Blackstone may have been pivotal in the adoption of freehold interpretations of ownership over leasehold.21 For several years after this nation was founded which system of title would prevail hung in the balance.22 Thomas Paine was certainly an advocate of the latter,23 as was Jefferson.24 Hamilton, on the other hand, was a defender of propertied interests and titles in fee simple, and especially to his in-laws, the landowning families of upstate New York known as the Patroons.25 Leaseholds were used in several of the colonies, with the fees paid to governors.26  ... read the whole article

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