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Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
Dan Sullivan: Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?
We call ourselves the "party of principle," and we base property rights on the principle that everyone is entitled to the fruits of his labor. Land, however, is not the fruit of anyone's labor, and our system of land tenure is based not on labor, but on decrees of privilege issued from the state, called titles. In fact, the term "real estate" is Middle English (originally French) for "royal state." The "title" to land is the essence of the title of nobility, and the root of noble privilege.
The royal free lunch
When the state granted land titles to a fraction of the population, it gave that fraction devices with which to levy, and pocket, tolls on the fruits of the labor of others. Those without land privileges must either buy or rent those privileges from the people who received the grants or from their assignees. Thus the state titles enable large landowners to collect a transfer payment, or "free lunch" from the actual land users.
The widow is gathering nettles for her children's dinner; a perfumed seigneur, delicately lounging in the Oeil de Boeuf, hath an alchemy whereby he will extract the third nettle and call it rent. --Carlyle
According to royal libertarians, land becomes private property when one mixes one's labor with it. And mixing what is yours with what is not yours in order to own the whole thing is considered great sport. But the notion is filled with problems. How much labor does it take to claim land, and how much land can one claim for that labor? And for how long can one make that claim?
According to classical liberals, land belonged to the user for as long as the land was being used, and no longer. But according to royal libertarians, land belongs to the first user, forever. So, do the oceans belong to the heirs of the first person to take a fish out or put a boat in? Does someone who plows the same field each year own only one field, while someone who plows a different field each year owns dozens of fields? Should the builder of the first transcontinental railroad own the continent? Shouldn't we at least have to pay a toll to cross the tracks? Are there no common rights to the earth at all? To royal libertarians there are not, but classical liberals recognized that unlimited ownership of land never flowed from use, but from the state:
A right of property in movable things is admitted before the establishment of government. A separate property in lands not till after that establishment.... He who plants a field keeps possession of it till he has gathered the produce, after which one has as good a right as another to occupy it. Government must be established and laws provided, before lands can be separately appropriated and their owner protected in his possession. Till then the property is in the body of the nation. --Thomas Jefferson
"But we're used to it"
A favorite excuse of royal libertarians is that the land has been divided up for so long that tracing the rightful owners would be pointless. But there can be no rightful owners if we all have an inalienable right of access to the earth. It is not some ancient injustice we seek to rectify, but an ongoing injustice. The piece of paper granting title might be ancient, but the tribute levied on the landless goes on and on.
One might as well have accepted monarchy under the excuse that whatever conquest led to monarchy occurred centuries ago, and that tracing the rightful monarchs would be pointless. Indeed, landed aristocracy is the last remnant of monarchy. ...
Who has the authority to collect land rent?
Many libertarians struggle with the legitimate question of how any governing body achieves rightful jurisdiction in a community, and we join them in opposing collection by such super-statist organizations as the United Nations, which is substantially a federation of tyrannies. However, royal libertarians raise the question selectively and rhetorically in regard to community collection of land rents. They acknowledge that there must be courts to settle, among other things, property disputes. It seems rather obvious that whatever entity has authority to rule on who gets the land also has authority to rule on who gets the land rent.
Fear of a funded government
There is also a well founded libertarian concern that land rent could provide funds enough to support a corrupt and oppressive government. Most libertarian supporters of the governmental collection of land rent therefore fall into two camps. One would give the people power to limit how much money the government can take, but would stipulate that all such money come entirely from ground rents and natural resource severance royalties. The other would take the full rent, but would stipulate that the government can still only spend what the citizens authorize it to spend. The rest would be distributed on a per-capita basis.
Ending excuses for big government
Much of the government spending to which libertarians strenuously object is made necessary by its taxing productivity instead of land values.
The property tax falls mostly on improvements, so less housing is built, giving the government an excuse to build public housing. Profits are taxed, leading to less employment and giving government an excuse to spend money on economic stimulus projects. Family income is taxed to the point that they have difficulty buying a house or sending their children to college, so government institutes subsidized mortgages and student loans.
Even the indirect effects are substantial. Land speculations gone sour chew up inner cities, so poor people turn to crime (if drug selling and prostitution be crimes) and the government gets an excuse to beef up the police state.
Politically connected real estate interests see that they can buy up land in the boondocks for a pittance and then get other taxpayers to build them a superhighway, increasing the value of their holdings by orders of magnitude. With land value tax they would have ultimately paid for their own highway or more likely would not have had it built in the first place.
Even welfare increases do not stay in the hands of welfare recipients, but are quickly greeted by higher rent demands from ghetto landlords. (The War on Poverty did little to end poverty, but it did a lot to enrich absentee owners of poor communities.)
All goes back to the land, and the land owner is enabled to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit, however important or however pitiful those benefits may be. --Winston Churchill ... Read the whole piece
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)
Nic Tideman: Peace, Justice and Economic Reform
There is a bumper sticker that says, "If you want peace, then work for justice." At a superficial level, this simple slogan contains an important half-truth. At a deeper level, it contains a more profound half-truth. To understand these half-truths and why they are only half true, we need to know what peace is, what justice is, and we need to understand the relationship between the two. So in this talk I want to explore the meanings of peace and justice, their relationship, and the role of economic reform in attaining both.
"If you want peace, then work for justice." The more obvious and superficial meaning of this slogan is that people who are treated unjustly will prevent the attainment of peace until the wrongs to which they are subject are righted. Demonstrators shout: "No justice. No peace." The apparent meaning of peace in this case is tranquility, the absence of strife. And if this meaning of peace is accepted, the slogan is true. You cannot expect to end strife as long as people have unresolved grievances. But the reason that this is only half true is that this meaning is only a shadow of what peace really is.
Peace is more than armistice, more than the cessation of violence. Peace is unity and harmony. In a peaceful world people are all pleased to cooperate with one another. When we have attained true peace, there will be no person who has any purpose that any other person seeks to thwart. In a peaceful world, everyone will feel the truth of John Donne's meditation,
Is it imaginable that we might ever attain a world where everyone felt so? And if we do so, what will be the role of justice in that world? What is justice?
There are so many conflicting, strident claims for different conceptions of justice that a person might reasonably despair of ever finding a meaning of justice that people would agree upon. Any conception of justice may seem to be no more than one person's opinion. And yet there are things that we all know about justice. ...
Even the utilitarian proposal that conflicting claims should be settled in the way that yields the greatest possible utility must be rejected as an elitist imposition of a particular goal on people who may have other plans. If I choose to pursue a life that can be guaranteed to lead to depression and despair, I have as much claim to the protection of justice in that pursuit as if I choose the path that leads to bliss. Justice must be neutral in its evaluation of people and their goals. ...
If we commit ourselves to neutrality, does that provide a unique definition of justice? No, it doesn't. There are a number of definitions of justice that might claim to satisfy neutrality, although the claims of some definitions are dubious, and other definitions can be rejected on other grounds.
Consider first the conservative claim that justice is defined by traditional rules. ...
Next, consider the claim that justice is defined by what the majority wants. The majoritarian says, "If you want to know who should prevail in a conflict, take a vote." As appealing as majoritarianism may be on the surface, it cannot provide a coherent theory of justice. ...
If voting cannot be used to define justice, one might entertain the possibility of using a contractarian formulation: What is just is the rules to which people would have agreed if they did not know their personal circumstances. ...
This is a reasonable recipe for implementing the Golden Rule and a fine idea for seeking agreement about the principles by which complaints shall be judged. If people were to follow this suggestion and achieve the agreement that is described, they would achieve fairness.
However, this does not make Rawls's suggestion a good way to identify justice. ...
Next, consider egalitarianism. The egalitarian says that justice is equality. There is a conceptual difficulty in specifying how beings as different from each other as humans are could ever be equal, unless we create a society where all humans are female clones of one another. (This should be technologically feasible within a few decades, if it is not already.) But I do not think that egalitarians want a society of clones. ...
John Rawls has proposed that the talents that individuals possess be regarded as a common pool, so that anyone who has more than his share has an obligation to compensate those who have less then their shares. ...
All of these suggestions should be rejected. Talents are not a common pool from which some persons have taken more then their shares. If we are all fishing in the same pond, the quantity of fish that you take will diminish the quantity that is available to me. But the quantity of talent that you have in no way diminishes the quantity that is available to me. Your talent is not acquired at my expense.
From the perspective of peace, no man is an island; each of us is a part of mankind. And any of us who has been graced with an extra measure of talent should recognize that, often, the best use of our talent is to provide for others. Nevertheless, from the perspective of justice, each of us must be allowed to act like an island if he wishes. .
Suppose that a bone-marrow transplant from me would save your life--or at least prolong it. ...
If you do not mind requiring a bone-marrow transplant of me, then what about a kidney? ...
If you do not mind requiring me to donate a kidney, then what about my heart? ...
A good egalitarian should require me to part with the one available heart after I have had my share of years.
But I don't think you would. I don't think anyone would. We are not egalitarians. We recognize the sanctity of the boundaries of the human body. In a peaceful world I will gladly give a spare kidney to anyone who needs it. But in a just world, no one will forcefully extract a kidney from me, even to save someone else's life. Justice is not egalitarianism.
Just as I own my kidneys, so do I own my talents. In a peaceful world I will use them for the benefit of all mankind. But the sword of justice should not be used to force me to compensate those with less talent. Nor should it be used to force me to abide by the insurance contract that you believe I would have signed, if I had had the chance, before I knew what talents I would have. ...
A proper definition of justice begins with the principles of classical liberalism. In a just world each person is permitted to determine the purposes to which his or her body is put--the hands and the brain no less than the kidneys. We each have rights of self-determination. This includes the right of ownership of what we produce, at least, as John Locke said, when we leave as much in natural opportunities for others as we appropriate for our own productive activities.
We have the right to co-operate with whom we choose for whatever mutually agreed purposes we choose. Thus we have the right to trade with others, without any artificial hindrances, and we have the right to keep any wages or interest that we receive from such trading.
These components of the classical liberal conception of justice are held by two groups that hold conflicting views on a companion issue of great importance: how are claims of exclusive access to natural opportunities to be established?
John Locke qualified his statement that we own what we produce with his famous "proviso" that there be "as much and as good left in common for others." A few pages later, writing in the last decade of the seventeenth century, he said that private appropriations of land are actually not restricted, because anyone who is dissatisfied with the land available to him in Europe can always go to America, where there is plenty of unclaimed land. Locke does not address the issue of rights to land when land is scarce. One tradition in classical liberalism concerning claims to land is that of the "homesteading libertarians" ...
The other tradition is that of the "geoists," as inspired if not exemplified by Henry George, who say that, whenever natural opportunities are scarce, each person has an obligation to ensure that the per capita value of the natural opportunities that he leaves for others is as great as the value of the natural opportunities that he claims for himself. Any excess in one's claim generates an obligation to compensate those who thereby have less. George actually proposed the nearly equivalent idea, that all or nearly all of the rental value of land should be collected in taxes, and all other taxes should be abolished. The geoist position as I have expressed it emphasizes the idea that, at least when value generated by public services is not an issue, rights to land are fundamentally rights of individuals, not rights of governments.
There are two fundamental problems with the position of homesteading libertarians on claims to land. ...
The second fundamental problem with the position of the homesteading libertarians is that, even if there were previously unsettled land to be allocated, say a new continent emerging from the ocean, first grabbing would make no sense as a criterion for allocating land.
It would be inefficient, for one thing, as people stampeded to do whatever was necessary to establish their claims. But that is not decisive because, if we are concerned with justice, it might be necessary for us to tolerate inefficiency. But the homesteading libertarian view makes no sense in terms of justice. "I get it all because I got here first," isn't justice.
Justice -- the balancing of the scales -- is the geoist position, "I get exclusive access to this natural opportunity because I have left natural opportunities of equal value for you." ...
Justice is thus a regime in which persons have the greatest possible individual liberty, and all acknowledge an obligation to share equally the value of natural opportunities. Justice is economic reform -- the abolition of all taxes on labor and capital, the acceptance of individual responsibility, the creation of institutions that will provide equal sharing the value of natural opportunities. ...
So if you want a peace for others, then work for justice. Work for freedom. Work for the elimination of all taxes on the productive things that people do. Work for equality in the right to benefit from natural opportunities. All these things will make it easier for people to make the leap to peace.
But if you want peace for yourself, simply have it. Read the entire articleNic Tideman: The Ethics of Coercion in Public Finance
Utilitarian and Contractarian theories of justice share the feature that they do not acknowledge self-ownership. Under Utilitarianism, persons are inputs into the generation of aggregate utility. Under Contractarianism, persons might have owned themselves in the contractual setting, but there they sold themselves. The rights of real people are gone. Theories in these classes can be contrasted with a class of theories that justify power with direct responses to those who question power, treating them as individuals who own themselves. There are two theories in this class: Liberalism and Libertarianism. The two theories share the idea of self-ownership, the idea that each person is free to decide the purpose of his or her life, provided that the rights of others to do the same are respected.
The fundamental difference between Libertarianism and Liberalism concerns the basis for claims to own things. The Libertarian axiom (Rothbard, 1982, pp. 29-43) is that everything in nature is the property of the first person who transforms it. This contrasts with the Liberal axiom (Ackerman, 1980, pp. 11, 31- 68) that the claims that people make on natural opportunities are respectable only if the person making the claim leaves as much for others as she takes for herself.
When a Libertarian is asked, "Why should you have that opportunity instead of me?" he can reply, within his own theory, "Because I got here first and did something." The Liberal says that any appropriation of natural opportunities that leaves less for those who come later fails to satisfy the condition of evenhandedness that is required for justice.
The Libertarian and Liberal theories both have limitations in terms of efficiency. Acceptance of the Libertarian theory promotes a land rush, in which people waste resources doing the minimal work necessary to establish claims to land, so that they can later sell it to others. (Whoever burns down the most rain forest gets the most land.) This first inefficiency is compounded by a continuing inefficient use of land, arising from the inability of people to manage all that they have claimed. If the Liberal theory is accepted, an opposite inefficiency occurs. There is no incentive for people to seek to discover opportunities hidden in nature, because whatever is discovered belongs equally to all.
While it may be difficult to avoid having these inefficiencies color our evaluations of the theories, we should remember that the pursuit of justice does not guarantee efficiency. It is possible that a commitment to justice will entail accepting some inefficiency.
The basic problem with the justice of Libertarian theory is that it allows the first arrivers to deprive those who come later of any natural opportunities that it suits the first arrivers to claim and transform. To permit this is inconsistent with the evenhandedness that justice requires.
A Libertarian might allege that it would never be possible for the first arrivers to leave as much for all later arrivers as they take for themselves, because there may be an endless stream of generations, and each person would be unable to claim even enough land to stand on. This objection presumes that any claims would be made on the stock of land, rather than on the flow of land services. Under Liberalism, each person may respectably claim the use of an amount of land during her lifetime that leaves as much land rent per person for others who are alive at the same time as the rent of the land that the claimant reserves for herself. People may also respectably reserve more for themselves, if they compensate those who therefore have less. There will be plenty of room for everyone to stand.
Libertarianism is an excellent framework for analyzing justice when there is no scarcity of natural opportunities. But when natural opportunities are scarce it denies the equal rights of those who come later. ... Read the whole article
Jeff Smith and Kris Nelson: Giving Life to the Property Tax Shift (PTS)
John Muir is right. "Tug on any one thing and find it connected to everything else in the universe." Tug on the property tax and find it connected to urban slums, farmland loss, political favoritism, and unearned equity with disrupted neighborhood tenure. Echoing Thoreau, the more familiar reforms have failed to address this many-headed hydra at its root. To think that the root could be chopped by a mere shift in the property tax base -- from buildings to land -- must seem like the epitome of unfounded faith. Yet the evidence shows that state and local tax activists do have a powerful, if subtle, tool at their disposal. The "stick" spurring efficient use of land is a higher tax rate upon land, up to even the site's full annual value. The "carrot" rewarding efficient use of land is a lower or zero tax rate upon improvements. ...
Libertarians rival greens as the most ready to hear the PTS message. The PTS is a plank in the platform of the state parties of Virginia and of Maryland (the home state of this writer whose friends are the party activists responsible for these planks). Why? Not only is it possible to draw public revenue from public values (instead of from private ones), it is also possible to collect this rent with fees rather than with taxes. For instance, land rent, the largest type of public value, could be collected not via a land tax but via a deed fee; that is, from a higher and periodic charge for registering and defending titles to sites and resources. These two potentials of the PTS -- exempting private values and eschewing taxation -- win support from the more socially-conscious libertarians.
A big problem needs a big solution which in turn needs a matching shift of our prevailing paradigm. Geonomics -- advocating that we share the social value of sites and natural resources and untax earnings -- does just that. Read the whole article
Jeff Smith Share Rent, Transform Society
If society decided to share among its members all the annual value of society's sites and resources and air space, what would happen? ... What other social relations might change? Increase land ownership participation in community and it benefits community, with town hall meetings and block parties. Those kinds of communities have less crime. Read the whole article
Jeff Smith: Subsidies at Their Worst: Privileges
Money is the mother's milk of politics. Yet the milk invested by lobbyists and those they represent is a drop in the bucket compared to the flow they get back from the public tit, thanks to the milkmaid state. Politicians grant well-connected big businesses:
a. direct cash outlays, such as cash to corporations for advertising overseas,
Land titles are the granddaddy of all privileges. Historically, titles preceded all others and created a class of elite owners with the power to win the six other indirect subsidies, along with the more direct ones – grants, contracts, and tax favors. To undo and reverse this history, it's necessary to collect and share the natural rents from all seven inconspicuous privileges.
For these pieces of paper, government should charge full market value. ...
Getting a Citizens Dividend would not only eliminate poverty, it'd also erase any rationale for subsidies - direct or indirect - to the poor or to the privileged. Repealing the free ride of privileges would be like repealing capitalism. Without those subtle detours imposed upon public revenue, owners would have to work to amass a fortune, and work is one of the worst ways known to strike it rich.
What you can do: Dry up the
milkmaid state. Dispense with the
notion that the state must meddle in enterprise. Dispense the notion
from others, too. Focus government on its lone raison d'etre - defend
rights. Demand your right to a fair share of natural revenue. ...
Read the whole article
Georgists today are also frequently very divided on the role of government in society. Many are vehemently anti-government and are subscribers to libertarian views;35 others are rather conventional progressives in their belief and confidence in the role of government to provide the full array of public services which are typically found in modern democratic societies. The axis of Georgist thought cuts completely across conventional political party lines as a consequence: one finds hardline conservatives and progressive “liberals” united only in the view that economic land rent should not be left in the hands of titleholders. Most would use such revenues to finance the support of government services, abolishing completely the wide array of income, sales, corporate franchise and other taxes that are currently used, keeping only environmental fees and user fees. ... read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production
Another thing libertarian philosophers must paper over is the rent-seeking that occurs in the creation of private tenures. They avidly push privatization as a grand Panacea, but ignore the process of privatization and its consequences. Private tenure is often granted under customs that make it a prize for occupying or fixing some capital on land, and continuing to operate it with "due diligence" ("use it or lose it"). Premature investment, settlement and development are frequent results, seriously distorting the allocation of land, labor and capital and contributing to the "Congested Frontier" problem (cf. B-2.)
Some assets that are privatized in this way, dejure or defacto, include
The tolerance of neo-classically-trained libertarian economists for such distortions knows no bounds nor shame. A current example in California is their push to convert conditional water licenses into permanent property rights. They would give the present licensees perpetual, alienable property not just in the water, but in past and ongoing government subsidies to build and operate the water distribution system.... read the whole article
The economic policy of liberty has four rules:
Poor folk are often labeled "underprivileged" and richer folk are called "privileged." For example, there is a book titled "One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All." But "privileged" and "underprivileged" are confused and misleading expressions. If you think the poor are "underprivileged," then you don't really understand poverty.
What is a "privilege?" The term originally meant "private law." A privilege is a special advantage or prerogative or immunity or benefit given only to some people only because they have power or are favored by those with power. If everyone is entitled to something, like freedom of expression, or if everyone may obtain an item such as a passport with the same rules applying to all, then it is not a privilege but a right.
So if a person is poor, it is not because he is lacking in special protections, subsidies, and other privileges. A person is usually poor because he has been deprived of the natural right to work. Governments world-wide impose barriers between labor and productive resources, keeping some workers deprived of labor and others who do work deprived of their earnings from labor. ...
Taxes on wages create a wedge between the cost of labor to employers and the take-home pay of the worker. More costly labor results in less employment. Taxes on the income from capital goods and on the sale of goods has the same effect. There are unemployment taxes, disability taxes, and payroll taxes that increase the tax wedge. On top of that, there are minimum-wage laws that prevent the least productive workers from getting hired. There are permits, zoning, and other rules and costs that also prevent some workers from becoming self-employed.
Deprived of the full natural right to peaceful enterprise and labor, and the natural right to fully keep one's earnings, the poor have little or no income, and depend on charity and governmental assistance. To call them "underprivileged" is a lie. The rights-deprived poor do not need privileges. They just need government to stop interfering with their right to work and save! ...
There has been confusion about what is a right and what is a privilege. ...
Some consider a patent a privilege, but it too is a right. ...
Some also consider a corporation to be a privilege, since the firm has a charter from a government. ...
Real privileges are favors arbitrarily given to some groups and not others. ...
The really underprivileged folks are all consumers, taxpayers and those who are restricted from peaceful and honest practices or have to pay extra to the government while others are unrestricted and non-taxed. These people lack privileges which others have. The proper remedy is not to expand privileges, but to eliminate all governmental privileges. That is why libertarians and geoists alike have the motto: "Equal rights for all; privileges for none!" Read the whole article
Fred E. Foldvary — The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper