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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)

MENTAL power is the motor of progress, and men tend to advance in proportion to the mental power expended in progression — the mental power which is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the improvement of methods, and the betterment of social conditions. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress

To compare society to a boat.  Her progress through the water will not depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force required for baling, or any expenditure of force in fighting among themselves or in pulling in different directions.

Now, as in a separated state the whole powers of man are required to maintain existence, and mental power is only set free for higher uses by the association of men in communities, which permits the division of labor and all the economies which come with the co-operation of increased numbers, association is the first essential of progress. Improvement becomes possible as men come together in peaceful association, and the wider and closer the association, the greater the possibilities of improvement. And as the wasteful expenditure of mental power in conflict becomes greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an equality of rights is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice) is the second essential of progress.

Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality (or justice, or freedom — for the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition of the moral law) prevents the dissipation of this power in fruitless struggles. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress ... go to "Gems from George"

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,

No man is an Island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent; a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, and well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.[1]

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. If I tell you that I stand before you as justice, you know that across my face you will find -- a blindfold. In my left hand I hold aloft -- a pair of scales. You know that in my right hand I have -- a sword that I will use if necessary. And my gender is female.

The blindfold, the scales, the sword, and the feminine gender. These features of the traditional symbol tell us much about justice. The blindfold might seem out of place, since it prevents justice from either seeing what the scales say or wielding the sword effectively. But we know that the blindfold has a distinct and essential meaning. The blindfold ensures that justice will not be swayed by any visible characteristics of those who plead before her. Justice is not concerned with whether you are black or white, short or tall, beautiful or ugly. Every person receives the same treatment from justice.

The scales have at least two possible interpretations. ...

And then the sword. The sword represents the fact that justice is prepared to use the threat of force, and force itself, to see that her decrees are carried out. ...

Thus if we know that justice is the blindfolded woman with the scales and the sword, then we know that justice is the principles of equality and evenhandedness that command and prohibit the use of force in resolving conflicts.

Consider what this tells us. It tells us first that if we wish to claim that justice authorizes the force we wish to use, or that justice forbids the force that others wish to use against us, then we must be able to show that our claim is consistent with equality and evenhandedness. ...

Second, the blindfold tells us that we are not in the realm of justice if the principles we offer to explain why our use of force is justified are of the form, "Because I am better than you," or Hitler's, "Because Aryans are better than Jews." Justice compels us to acknowledge the equality of all persons. Claims of individual or group supremacy cannot be accepted by justice.

Third, not only are all persons equal in the blindfolded eyes of justice, but their different goals in life all deserve equal respect. ...

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[14] 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. ...

Getting back to where we started, is it true that, "If you want peace-- real peace--you should work for justice?" and if so why? Well, it's half true. To see why, consider what peace is, and how one might create it.

Peace is unity and harmony. Peace is people recognizing that we are all parts of one another, that it is always for ourselves that the bell tolls.

What keeps us from attaining peace? One of the greatest hindrances to the attainment of peace -- real peace -- is that resistance that so many of us feel to tolerating oppression and injustice. When we know that we, or others we care for, have been treated unjustly, it is ever so difficult to attain a state of unity and harmony with others. The leap to peace is so much easier from a position of justice. So, even though peace and justice are very disparate things, and peace is much the more attractive one, still it make sense, if you want to help people reach peace, to work for justice.

But the reason that this is only half true is that, in fact, justice is not actually necessary to your attainment of peace. If you want peace for yourself, you can have it, at any time, in any circumstances in which you find yourself. Whether you are treated justly or not, you are a part of the being that is all humanity. Each person's joy is your joy. Each person's grief is your grief. You don't have to wait until you are treated justly to see this.

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 article
Nic Tideman:  Global Economic Justice, followed by Creating Global Economic Justice
I. The Functions of a Theory of Justice
II. Henry George's Principles of Justice
III. Applying the Theory of Justice to Land Rights Among Nations
IV. Applying the Theory of Justice to Other Connections among Nations
V. Differences in Ability and in Wealth
VI. Resources that Fluctuate over Time
VII. Justice and the Demographic Equation
VIII. Conclusion

Humanity is emerging from eons of development during which survival has been promoted both by the ability to grab resources from others and by the ability of groups to cooperate and share natural resources within communities that occupied territorial homelands. In recent centuries we have been developing a consensus that taking from the weak is wrong, and that we ought to have a social order that prevents all such behavior. But we have not yet worked out how to do it.

Some people think of preventing grabbing in terms of preserving the status quo. There are two difficulties with this.

  • First, the status quo incorporates extensive holdings that were acquired by indefensible means. A decision to preserve the status quo commits us to defending the indefensible.
  • Second, there is no magic to any particular date, before which unjust appropriations are incorporated into the status quo and after which they are reversed.

A practice of allowing an appropriation to be treated as just if it has survived long enough gives aggressors an incentive to see if they can grab and hold on long enough. The result is actions like Indonesia's seizure of East Timor and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Only if we have a standard of justice that is independent of history can we expect to end such actions.

Henry George's theory of economic justice--that every person has a right to his or her productive powers, and that all persons have equal rights to all natural opportunities--provides a simple formula around which opinion about the shape of a peaceful world can coalesce.

This may seem hopelessly optimistic. But no other theory that I have seen has anything like the clarity, coherence and power of this theory.   ...  Read the whole article

Nic Tideman:  
The Case for Taxing Land

I.  Taxing Land as Ethics and Efficiency
II.  What is Land?
III.  The simple efficiency argument for taxing land
IV.  Taxing Land is Better Than Neutral
V.  Measuring the Economic Gains from Shifting Taxes to Land
VI. The Ethical Case for Taxing Land
VII. Answer to Arguments against Taxing Land

The ethical case for taxing land ends with a discussion of the reasons why recognition of the equal rights of all to land may be essential for world peace. ...

An additional ethical reason for recognizing equal rights to natural opportunities is that it may be necessary to secure world peace.  Nations have arisen through violence.  While the world condemns violence among nations, it has persistently acquiesced to regimes established by violence.  The greater the natural resources of a nation, the greater is the attraction to potential tyrants of the possibility of taking over the nation.  If the world is able to establish an understanding, backed up by the threat of economic boycotts, that nations have an obligation to share the value of natural opportunities in proportion to population, and that people are free to leave nations that they find unacceptable, then the return to violent appropriation of power will be removed.  As long as we accept the continued exercise of disproportionate power over natural opportunities by those who acquired that power through violence, we will have difficulty persuading potential usurpers of power that we will not accept their conquests.  Read the whole 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.
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.
II. Ethical Questions
A. What is the relationship between justice (as embodied in the ethical principles) and community (or peace or harmony)?
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?
III. Efficiency Questions
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
Jeff Smith: How Sharing Earth Brought Peace
Since forever, humans have claimed and counter-claimed every square inch of this planet. Occasionally, these disputes have ended peacefully. What has worked in other times and places might work again in the Mideast. Delivering a double dividend, what settled land disputes also developed moribund economies and revived developed ones. Among others, New York, now aiming to rebuild, has used this policy before. Because it's growing popular among environmentalists, greens could lead the US to geonomics.

...  These cases involved different classes, not different cultures. Yet with a new twist the rent rebate that worked within society may work between societies. The Koran urges landlords to not gouge tenants but to consider land a trust. In Israel, admonished to not own land forever, since the land is Mine (Leviticus), the National Trust leases all the land to the occupants. These strictures could lead to geonomics.

Israel and Palestine would establish a steward to collect land dues and disburse rent dividends a la Alaska's oil dividend. Since land is more valuable in Israel than in Palestine, Jews would pay in more than Arabs, yet everyone would get back the same. And since Israelis prosper, they drive up land values; having Jews as co-owners developing land, raising its value, fattening everyone's Citizens Dividend Arabs might accept that. Profit does make for strange bedfellows. Two archrivals, China and Taiwan, recently agreed to explore for oil together.

While sharing rent may soothe hurt feelings, collecting it stimulates development.  ...

Using geonomics, people have turned some of the poorest lands into the richest economies. Hong Kong is a barren rock owned by the public. The city collects enough site-rent to keep taxes on effort way down. ...

Where to draw a line in the sand becomes a lot less contentious when land and oil are no longer spoils of war and when neighbors do not endure drastically different standards of living. Growing up, we learn to not fight over toys but to take turns. Societies need to learn this, too.

Early last century, Gifford Pinchot, first head of the US Forest Service, said: "The earth belongs of right to all its people and not to a minority, insignificant in numbers but tremendous in wealth and power. The people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country which belongs to us all with equal opportunity for all and special privileges for none." A man in a Republican administration could say that then. We need to hear it again now.    Read the whole article

Karl Williams:  Land Value Taxation: The Overlooked But Vital Eco-Tax

I. Historical overview
II. The problem of sprawl
III. Affordable and efficient public transport
IV. Agricultural benefits
V. Financial concerns
VI. Conclusion: A greater perspective
Appendix: "Natural Capitalism" -- A Case Study in Blindness to Land Value Taxation

... It should also be noted that the advantages of LVT extend far beyond the immediate and direct contribution to environmental solutions - they give rise to economic efficiency, social justice, individual liberty, world peace, effective third world aid and more. An understanding of the nature of economic rent and rent-seeking behaviour would assist the appreciation of some points made here, but an explanation of this extends beyond the immediate ambit of this paper. This succinct summary, however, may assist:
"For the failure to make people pay rent for access, or possession of, natural resources is at the heart of all major environmental problems, and is the cause of some of the most fractious geo-political problems .... There are no remedies for the ecocrises that do not include a heightened awareness of the value of economic rent and the process of the land market"... read the entire article

also: use http://www.askhenry.com/ to find Fred Foldvary's piece on Palestine.

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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper