As some wag said, capitalism is a fine system, and we really ought to try
it some time. What we live with now is land monopoly capitalism, and what Georgists
advocate is free market capitalism. The distinction is important: it can reduce
or eliminate poverty, sprawl, joblessness, our increasingly tilted distribution
of wealth and income. Isn't this enough to recommend it?
We're talking about capitalism on a level playing field. A fine goal!
Were we to implement Henry George's ideas about taxing land rent, we would
leave to capital its rightful return and to labor its rightful return, both
of which would be far greater than they receive today, gross or net! Today,
the owners of land collect the rent as their private treasure, and leave
a smaller pie for capital and labor to divide.
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
10. Effect of Remedy Upon Wealth Production (in the unabridged P&P: Part
IX — Effects of the Remedy: Chapter 1 — Of the effect upon the
production of wealth)
... To abolish the taxation which, acting and reacting, now hampers every
wheel of exchange and presses upon every form of industry, would be like
removing an immense weight from a powerful spring. Imbued with fresh energy,
would start into new life, and trade would receive a stimulus which would
be felt to the remotest arteries. The present method of taxation operates
exchange like artificial deserts and mountains;
- it costs more to get goods through a custom house than it does to carry
them around the world.
- It operates upon energy, and industry, and skill, and thrift, like a
fine upon those qualities.
- If I have worked harder and built myself a good house while you have
been contented to live in a hovel, the taxgatherer now comes annually to
me pay a penalty for my energy and industry, by taxing me more than
- If I have saved while you wasted, I am mulct, while you are exempt.
- If a man build a ship we make him pay for his temerity, as though he
had done an injury to the state;
- if a railroad be opened, down comes the tax collector upon it, as though
it were a public nuisance;
- if a manufactory be erected we levy upon it an annual sum which would
go far toward making a handsome profit.
- We say we want capital, but if any one accumulate it, or bring it among
us, we charge him for it as though we were giving him a privilege.
- We punish with a tax the man who covers barren fields with ripening
- we fine him who puts up machinery, and him who drains a swamp.
How heavily these taxes burden production only those realize who have attempted
to follow our system of taxation through its ramifications, for, as I have
before said, the heaviest part of taxation is that which falls in increased
prices. ... read the whole chapter
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
11 Effect of Remedy Upon the Sharing of Wealth (in the unabridged P&P: Part
IX Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 2: Of the Effect Upon Distribution
and Thence Upon Production
But great as they thus appear, the advantages of a transference of all public
burdens to a tax upon the value of land cannot be fully appreciated until we
consider the effect upon the distribution of wealth.
Tracing out the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth which appears
in all civilized countries, with a constant tendency to greater and greater
inequality as material progress goes on, we have found it in the fact that,
as civilization advances, the ownership of land, now in private hands, gives
a greater and greater power of appropriating the wealth produced by labor and
Thus, to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and indirect,
and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it went, to counteract
this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far as to take in taxation
the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would be totally destroyed. Rent,
instead of causing inequality, as now, would then promote equality. Labor and
capital would then receive the whole produce, minus that portion taken by the
state in the taxation of land values, which, being applied to public purposes,
would be equally distributed in public benefits.
That is to say, the wealth produced in every community would be divided into
- One part would be distributed in wages and interest between individual
producers, according to the part each had taken in the work of production;
- the other part would go to the community as a whole, to be distributed
in public benefits to all its members.
In this all would share equally — the weak with the strong, young children
and decrepit old men, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, as well as the vigorous.
And justly so — for while one part represents the result of individual
effort in production, the other represents the increased power with which
the community as a whole aids the individual.
Thus, as material progress tends to increase rent, were rent taken by the
community for common purposes the very cause which now tends to produce inequality
as material progress goes on would then tend to produce greater and greater
Who can say to what infinite powers the wealth-producing capacity of labor
may not be raised by social adjustments which will give to the producers of
wealth their fair proportion of its advantages and enjoyments! With present
processes the gain would be simply incalculable, but just as wages are high,
so do the invention and utilization of improved processes and machinery go
on with greater rapidity and ease.
But I shall not deny, and do not wish to lose sight of the fact, that while
thus preventing waste and thus adding to the efficiency of labor, the equalization
in the distribution of wealth that would result from the simple plan of
taxation that I propose, must lessen the intensity with which wealth is pursued.
seems to me that in a condition of society in which no one need fear poverty,
no one would desire great wealth — at least, no one would take the
trouble to strive and to strain for it as men do now. For, certainly, the
of men who have only a few years to live, slaving away their time for the
sake of dying rich, is in itself so unnatural and absurd, that in a state
where the abolition of the fear of want had dissipated the envious admiration
with which the masses of men now regard the possession of great riches,
whoever would toil to acquire more than he cared to use would be looked
upon as we
would now look on a man who would thatch his head with half a dozen hats.
And though this incentive to production be withdrawn, can we not spare it?
Whatever may have been its office in an earlier stage of development, it is
not needed now. The dangers that menace our civilization do not come from the
weakness of the springs of production. What it suffers from, and what, if a
remedy be not applied, it must die from, is unequal distribution!
Nor would the removal of this incentive, regarded only from the standpoint
of production, be an unmixed loss. For, that the aggregate of production is
greatly reduced by the greed with which riches are pursued, is one of the most
obtrusive facts of modern society. While, were this insane desire to get rich
at any cost lessened, mental activities now devoted to scraping together riches
would be translated into far higher spheres of usefulness. ... read the whole chapter
Bill Batt: The
Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
... Georgists today adhere to much
the same points of view, although there
are some significant differences. George himself was an ardent free
trader, mainly because he believed that the single tax should supplant
tariffs. After Ricardo, he accepted the idea of comparative advantage
that arose from trade, but only after land (resource) rents were
collected so as to preclude the raping of the natural environments of
countries rich in such resources. He also believed that population
growth was good — the more the better, and took special pains to refute
Malthus. But one should also recall that he was living at a time when
the expanse of the American continent was still open to any homesteader
who chose to do so. Population growth was not a problem at that time.
These elements of George’s thought are inconsequential to his
followers today. Yet it is important
to note that Georgists are not socialists; they do not
subscribe to the view that society should own the means of production.
These should remain privately owned by and large (except perhaps as
today’s economic theory would call for, i.e., natural monopolies,
public goods, and other government instruments). They are, rather,
free-marketers in the full sense of the world, even more ardently than
many contemporary American conservatives. He believed that
accretion of economic rent from landsites would restore self-regulating
equilibrium of the marketplace, thus obviating the need for the heavy
hand of government controls.
Restoring land sites to the arena and influence of market forces
collecting land rents eliminates the incentive to hold them for
speculative investment and thus expands the reach of the free market.
As much as that term has been now overused, Georgism constitutes a
“third way.” It is the distinction
between the right of real property
ownership for use versus real property ownership for gain that sets
Georgists apart from other free market capitalists.34...
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