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Henry George: Ode to Liberty (1877 speech)
WE HONOR LIBERTY in name and in form. We set up her statues and sound her praises. But we have not fully trusted her. And with our growth so grow her demands. She will have no half service! Liberty! it is a word to conjure with, not to vex the ear in empty boastings. For Liberty means Justice, and Justice is the natural law — the law of health and symmetry and strength, of fraternity and co-operation. ...
They who look upon Liberty as having accomplished her mission when she has abolished hereditary privileges and given men the ballot, who think of her as having no further relations to the everyday affairs of life, have not seen her real grandeur — to them the poets who have sung of her must seem rhapsodists, and her martyrs fools! ...
It is not for an abstraction that men have toiled and died; that in every age the witnesses of Liberty have stood forth, and the martyrs of Liberty have suffered.
We speak of Liberty as one thing, and of virtue, wealth, knowledge, invention, national strength and national independence as other things. But, of all these, Liberty is the source, the mother, the necessary condition. She is to virtue what light is to color; to wealth what sunshine is to grain; to knowledge what eyes are to sight. She is the genius of invention, the brawn of national strength, the spirit of national independence. Where Liberty rises, there virtue grows, wealth increases, knowledge expands, invention multiplies human powers, and in strength and spirit the freer nation rises among her neighbors as Saul amid his brethren — taller and fairer. Where Liberty sinks, there virtue fades, wealth diminishes, knowledge is forgotten, invention ceases, and empires once mighty in arms and arts become a helpless prey to freer barbarians! ...
In our time, as in times before, creep on the insidious forces that, producing inequality, destroy Liberty. On the horizon the clouds begin to lower. Liberty calls to us again. We must follow her further; we must trust her fully. Either we must wholly accept her or she will not stay. It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature. Either this, or Liberty withdraws her light! Either this, or darkness comes on, and the very forces that progress has evolved turn to powers that work destruction. This is the universal law. This is the lesson of the centuries. Unless its foundations be laid in justice the social structure cannot stand.
Our primary social adjustment is a denial of justice. In
allowing one man to own the land on which and from which other men
must live, we have made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases
as material progress goes on. This is the subtle alchemy that
ways they do not realize is extracting from the masses in every
civilized country the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting
a harder and more hopeless slavery in place of that which has been
destroyed; that is bringing political despotism out of political
freedom, and must soon transmute democratic institutions into
George: The Great
Single Tax vs Social Democracy (1889)
We would abolish all taxation that falls on industry, and raise public revenue by this means, and move to our end, the taking of the full rental value of land for the use of the community, in this way. This name, Single Tax, expresses our method; not our ideal. What we are really is liberty men; what we believe in is perfect freedom: What we wish to do is to give each individual in the community the liberty to exert his powers in any way he pleases, bounded only by the equal liberty of others. ... Read the entire article
Henry George: Concentrations of Wealth Harm America (excerpt from Social Problems) (1883)
There is a suggestive fact that must impress any one who thinks over the history of past eras and preceding civilizations. The great, wealthy and powerful nations have always lost their freedom; it is only in small, poor and isolated communities that Liberty has been maintained. So true is this that the poets have always sung that Liberty loves the rocks and tile mountains; that she shrinks from wealth and power and splendor, from the crowded city and the busy mart.... Read the entire article
Henry George: The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It (1890)
The right of property does not rest upon human laws; they have often ignored and violated it. It rests on natural laws -- that is to say, the law of God. It is clear and absolute, and every violation of it, whether committed by a man or a nation, is a violation of the command, "Thou shalt not steal."
The man who catches a fish, grows an apple, raises a calf, builds a house, makes a coat, paints a picture, constructs a machine, has, as to any such thing, an exclusive right of ownership which carries with it the right to give, to sell or bequeath that thing.
But who made the earth that any man can claim such ownership of it, or any part of it, or the right to give, sell or bequeath it? Since the earth was not made by us, but is only a temporary dwelling place on which one generation of men follow another; since we find ourselves here, are manifestly here with equal permission of the Creator, it is manifest that no one can have any exclusive right of ownership in land, and that the rights of all men to land must be equal and inalienable. There must be exclusive right of possession of land, for the man who uses it must have secure possession of land in order to reap the products of his labor. But his right of possession must be limited by the equal right of all, and should therefore be conditioned upon the payment to the community by the possessor of an equivalent for any special valuable privilege thus accorded him. ... read the whole article
Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
Nic Tideman: A Bill of Economic Rights and Obligations
Our nation was founded on the idea that we are all created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In living, expressing our liberty, and pursuing happiness we sometimes conflict with one another, so we need a shared understanding of the extent of the sphere of equal rights given to every person, and beyond that sphere our obligation to respect the rights of others. This Bill is concerned with the economic aspects of these rights and obligations. ... Read the entire articleNic Tideman: Peace, Justice and Economic Reform
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," as exemplified by Murray Rothbard, who say that there is really no need to be concerned with Locke's proviso. Natural opportunities belong to whoever first appropriates them, regardless of whether opportunities of equal value are available to others.
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 first problem is the incongruity with historical reality. Humans have emerged from an environment of violence. Those who now have titles to land can trace those titles back only so far, before they come to events where fiat backed by violence determined title. And the persons who were displaced at that time themselves had titles that originated in violence. If there ever were humans who acquired the use of land without forcibly displacing other humans, we have no way of knowing who they were or who their current descendants might be. There is, in practice, no way of assigning land to the legitimate successors of the persons who first claimed land. And to assign titles based on any fraction of history is to reward the last land seizures that are not rectified.
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." (How one compares, in practice, the value of different natural opportunities is a bit complex. If you really want to know, you can invite me back for another lecture.)
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. ... Read the entire article
Nic Tideman: The Structure of an Inquiry into the Attractiveness of A Social Order Inspired by the Ideas of Henry George
I. Ethical Principles
A. People own themselves and therefore own what they produce.II. Ethical Questions
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 (as embodied in the ethical principles) and community (or peace or harmony)?III. Efficiency Questions
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 shared equally?
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 communities?
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 they were regarded as the common heritage of humanity? Read the whole article
I see three ways in which one can define "well off."
First, one is better or worse off relative to the distribution of wealth or income in a particular society. ...
Secondly, being well off can be thought of as relative to the typical person in the economy. ...
Third, one can define "well off" in absolute terms. ...
Being absolutely well off means,
With liberty, one is free to establish whatever relationships one wishes, so long as others are also willing. With liberty and the ability to obtain wealth, one can obtain assurance of future wealth both because one is able to earn it and also because one is able to store wealth and insure oneself against risk.
My Dictionary of Free-Market Economics defines "well-being" as "The amount and degree to which individuals in an economy are able to pursue and attain their ends." The only requirement for absolute well being, for someone who is mentally and physically able to produce wealth, is liberty. With liberty, one can obtain wealth, friends, and future security, express oneself as one pleases, and enjoy life in accord with one's values and lifestyle preference.
Being absolutely well off does not involve any particular level of wealth beyond subsistence, since this depends on personal preference. An artist may prefer to live at subsistence and devote her time to art, and that person is absolutely well off because she is pursuing happiness in her own way. As with relative well being, one can be well off in the absolute sense without being happy, as for example a person who has much wealth but has lost love or has a serious illness.
What is required for there to be complete liberty? There must be a basic law such that any act that does not invade the domain of others is not prohibited or taxed. In liberty, there are only prohibitions if there are victims who are coercively harmed, and there is restitution for damages to others. In liberty, people have equal rights and no special legal privileges. In a free society, nobody starves, because one is able to save for the future, because on obtains one's equal share of natural and civic benefits, and because the sympathy of society will not let people starve.
The economic policy of liberty has four rules:
winstonchurchill.org: THE PEOPLE'S RIGHTS: OPPORTUNITY LOST?
Publisher's pamphlet, circa 1970:
Apart from Free Trade, the great economic and social issues were taxation and the alleviation of poverty. The Liberals were concerned to remove the basic cause of the problem -- not just to mitigate its undesirable effects.
It was the American economist Henry George who, towards the end of the 19th century, had examined the paradox of the age in his Progress and Poverty. His principles had a major impact, first upon the radicals of Scotland and Ireland, including Campbell Bannerman himself; and later upon the policy of the Liberal Party.
Henry George propounded that whilst people have the right to possess what they produce, or receive in exchange for their work, there is no such right to private ownership of the elements upon which all depend -- air, water, sunshine and land. Indeed, George held the right of access to these basic elements as strong and equal as the right to life itself, and that if private ownership of basic elements is permitted, suppression and exploitation of one class by another is inevitable. The consequent injustice must become more acute as the community develops.
Thus it became a major point of Liberal policy to shift taxation from production, and to raise taxation upon the value of land, on the basis that this value, as witnessed by the tremendously high prices even then demanded for commercial land, is created not by any individual but by the existence and work of the whole community. A natural source thus arises from which the community may meet its growing needs without discouraging production or inhibiting the growth of earnings.
The justice and practicality of this proposition can rarely if ever have enjoyed a more brilliant advocate than Winston Churchill, and today's reader is left to wonder how different might be the present state of Britain had the forces of social change pursued these principles to their enactment. ...
The People's Rights tells a very different story and comes now not as a document of historic interest but as a challenge to politicians, indeed to the entire electorate, to consider again the causes of poverty and the basic issues of social and economic justice. Perhaps current disillusionment with politics springs from a sense that if justice in the community can only be achieved at the expense of individual liberty, the price -- especially in terms of ever-increasing taxation and bureaucracy -- is too high to pay.
As a proposition that justice in the community and the freedom of the individual are complementary and that taxes may be raised without undermining either, The People's Rights comes as a major contribution to current political and economic thought. Indeed it deserves a place in the annals of Man's struggle for freedom and yearning for a society in which the genius of every person would be nurtured and the liberty of every person respected. ... Read the whole piece
Ted Gwartney: A Free Market Strategy to Reduce Sprawl
Thus, the claim that a community is short of capital is misleading. In fact, a community could become self-sufficient in the supply of capital from internal sources. But a precondition for this is the reduction of taxes on productive capital and labor. Examine, for example, what would happen as a result of the elimination of taxation of buildings. This decision, not to penalize people who invest their savings in new buildings, leads to the stimulation of a higher level of national income, higher saving, and the creation of new capital. According to the study made by Tideman and Plassmann (1998, The Losses of Nations, Fred Harrison, editor, Orthila Press), shifting taxes off buildings, production and distribution, and onto land and natural resources, could increase the gross national product by 25%, or one trillion 1998 dollars ($1,000,000,000,000).
The Land Value Tax Shift from labor and capital is not only a
to reversing suburban sprawl and protecting rural environments -- it
is a key to realizing the dream and fulfilling promises of a truly
free market -- with liberty, prosperity, and justice for all. ...
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper