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Property Rights

"The neoclassical economists' view of their proper role is rather like that in The Realtor's Oath, which includes a vow 'To protect the individual right of real estate ownership.' The word 'individual' is construed broadly to include corporations, estates, trusts, anonymous offshore funds, schools, government agencies, institutions, partnerships, cooperatives, the Duke of Westminster, the Sultan of Brunei, the Medellin Cartel, Saddam Hussein, congregations, Archbishops, families (including criminal families) and so on, but 'individual' sounds more all-American and subsumes them all. This is a potent chant that stirs people to extremes of self-righteousness and siege mentality when challenged."

Mason GaffneyEconomics in Support of Environmentalism

Seems to me that a “right” is something everyone should have, like life, liberty, free speech, rewards of working and saving. A privilege is something "A" can only have by depriving "B" et al. Those with privileges have sought to expand the meaning of “right” to include their privileges. — Mason Gaffney (May 2006 correspondence)

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)
Is it not but yesterday that in the freest and greatest republic on earth, among the people who boast that they lead the very van of civilization, this doctrine of vested rights was deemed a sufficient justification for all the cruel wrongs of human slavery? Is it not but yesterday when whoever dared to say that the rights of property did not justly attach to human beings; when whoever dared to deny that human beings could be rightfully bought and sold like cattle–the husband torn from the wife and the child from the mother; when whoever denied the right of whoever had paid his money for him to work or whip his own nigger was looked upon as a wicked assailant of the rights of property? Is it not but yesterday when in the South whoever whispered such a thought took his life in his hands; when in the North the abolitionist was held by the churches as worse than an infidel, was denounced by the politicians and rotten-egged by the mob? I was born in a Northern State, I have never lived in the South, I am not yet gray; but I well remember, as every American of middle age must remember, how over and over again I have heard all questionings of slavery silenced by the declaration that the negroes were the property of their masters, and that to take away a man's slave without payment was as much a crime as to take away his horse without payment. And whoever does not remember that far back, let him look over American literature previous to the war, and say whether, if the business of piracy had been a flourishing business, it would have lacked defenders? Let him say whether any proposal to stop the business of piracy without compensating the pirates would not have been denounced at first as a proposal to set aside vested rights? ... read the whole article

Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal  (1887 speech)
We propose to abolish poverty, to tear it up by the roots, to open free and abundant employment for every person. We propose to disturb no just right of property. We are defenders and upholders of the sacred right of property — that right of property which justly attaches to everything that is produced by labor; that right which gives to all people a just right of property in what they have produced — that makes it theirs to give, to sell, to bequeath, to do whatever they please with, as long as in using it they do not injure any one else. That right of property we insist upon; that, we would uphold against all the world.

To a house, a coat, a book — anything produced by labor — there is a clear individual title, which goes back to the person who made it. That is the foundation of the just, the sacred right of property. It rests on the right of people to the use of their own powers, on their right to profit by the exertion of their own labor; but who can carry the right of property in land that far?

Who can claim a title of absolute ownership in land? Until one who claims the exclusive ownership of a piece of this planet can show a title originating with the Maker of this planet; until that one can produce a decree from the Creator declaring that this city lot, or that great tract of agricultural or coal land, or that gas well, was made for that one person alone — until then we have a right to hold that the land was intended for all of us.

Natural religion and revealed religion alike tell us that God is no respecter of persons; that He did not make this planet for a few individuals; that He did not give it to one generation in preference to other generations, but that He made it for the use during their lives of all the people that His providence brings into the world. If this be true, the child that is born tonight in the humblest tenement in the most squalid quarter of New York, comes into life seized with as good a title to the land of this city as any Astor or Rhinelander. ...

People do not have a natural right to demand employment of another, but they have a natural right, an inalienable right, a right given by their Creator, to demand opportunity to employ themselves. And whenever that right is acknowledged, whenever the people who want to go to work can find natural opportunities to work upon, then there will be as much competition among employers who are anxious to get people to work for them, as there will be among people who are anxious to get work.

Wages will rise in every vocation to the true rate of wages — the full, honest earnings of labor. That done, with this ever increasing social fund to draw upon, poverty will be abolished, and in a little while will come to be looked upon — as we are now beginning to look upon slavery — as the relic of a darker and more ignorant age.

I remember — this man here remembers (turning to Mr. Redpath, who was on the platform) even better than I, for he was one of the men who brought the atrocities of human slavery home to the heart and conscience of the north — I well remember, as he well knows, and all the older men and women in this audience will remember, how property in human flesh and blood was defended just as private property in land is now defended; how the same charges were hurled upon the men and women who protested against human slavery as are now made against the men and women who are intending to abolish industrial slavery.

We remember how some dignitaries and rich members of the churches branded as a disturber, almost as a reviler of religion, any priest or any minister who dared to get up and assert God’s truth — that there never was and there never could be rightful property in human flesh and blood.

So, it is now said that people who protest against this system, which is simply another form of slavery, are people who propose robbery. Thus the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," they have made "Thou shalt not object to stealing." When we propose to resume our own again, when we propose to secure its natural right to every child that comes into being, such people talk of us as advocating confiscation — charge us with being deniers of the rights of property. The real truth is that we wish to assert the just rights of property, that we wish to prevent theft.

Chattel slavery was incarnate theft of the worst kind. That system which made property of human beings, which allowed one person to sell another, which allowed one person to take away the proceeds of another’s toil, which permitted the tearing of the child from the mother, and which permitted the so-called owner to hunt with bloodhounds the person who escaped from the owner’s tyranny — that form of slavery is abolished. To that extent, the command, "Thou shalt not steal," has been vindicated; but there is another form of slavery.  ...  read the whole article

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

As to the right of ownership, we hold: That —

Being created individuals, with individual wants and powers, men are individually entitled (subject of course to the moral obligations that arise from such relations as that of the family) to the use of their own powers and the enjoyment of the results. There thus arises, anterior to human law, and deriving its validity from the law of God, a right of private ownership in things produced by labor — a right that the possessor may transfer, but of which to deprive him without his will is theft.

This right of property, originating in the right of the individual to himself, is the only full and complete right of property. It attaches to things produced by labor, but cannot attach to things created by God.

Thus, if a man take a fish from the ocean he acquires a right of property in that fish, which exclusive right he may transfer by sale or gift. But he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the ocean, so that he may sell it or give it or forbid others to use it.

Or, if he set up a windmill he acquires a right of property in the things such use of wind enables him to produce. But he cannot claim a right of property in the wind itself, so that he may sell it or forbid others to use it.

Or, if he cultivate grain he acquires a right of property in the grain his labor brings forth. But he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the sun which ripened it or the soil on which it grew. For these things are of the continuing gifts of God to all generations of men, which all may use, but none may claim as his alone.

To attach to things created by God the same right of private ownership that justly attaches to things produced by labor is to impair and deny the true rights of property. For a man who out of the proceeds of his labor is obliged to pay another man for the use of ocean or air or sunshine or soil, all of which are to men involved in the single term land, is in this deprived of his rightful property and thus robbed.

As to the use of land, we hold: That —

While the right of ownership that justly attaches to things produced by labor cannot attach to land, there may attach to land a right of possession. As your Holiness says, “God has not granted the earth to mankind in general in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they please,” and regulations necessary for its best use may be fixed by human laws. But such regulations must conform to the moral law — must secure to all equal participation in the advantages of God’s general bounty. The principle is the same as where a human father leaves property equally to a number of children. Some of the things thus left may be incapable of common use or of specific division. Such things may properly be assigned to some of the children, but only under condition that the equality of benefit among them all be preserved.

In the rudest social state, while industry consists in hunting, fishing, and gathering the spontaneous fruits of the earth, private possession of land is not necessary. But as men begin to cultivate the ground and expend their labor in permanent works, private possession of the land on which labor is thus expended is needed to secure the right of property in the products of labor. For who would sow if not assured of the exclusive possession needed to enable him to reap? who would attach costly works to the soil without such exclusive possession of the soil as would enable him to secure the benefit?

This right of private possession in things created by God is however very different from the right of private ownership in things produced by labor. The one is limited, the other unlimited, save in cases when the dictate of self-preservation terminates all other rights. The purpose of the one, the exclusive possession of land, is merely to secure the other, the exclusive ownership of the products of labor; and it can never rightfully be carried so far as to impair or deny this. While any one may hold exclusive possession of land so far as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others, he can rightfully hold it no further.

Thus Cain and Abel, were there only two men on earth, might by agreement divide the earth between them. Under this compact each might claim exclusive right to his share as against the other. But neither could rightfully continue such claim against the next man born. For since no one comes into the world without God’s permission, his presence attests his equal right to the use of God’s bounty. For them to refuse him any use of the earth which they had divided between them would therefore be for them to commit murder. And for them to refuse him any use of the earth, unless by laboring for them or by giving them part of the products of his labor he bought it of them, would be for them to commit theft. ...

God’s laws do not change. Though their applications may alter with altering conditions, the same principles of right and wrong that hold when men are few and industry is rude also hold amid teeming populations and complex industries. In our cities of millions and our states of scores of millions, in a civilization where the division of labor has gone so far that large numbers are hardly conscious that they are land-users, it still remains true that we are all land animals and can live only on land, and that land is God’s bounty to all, of which no one can be deprived without being murdered, and for which no one can be compelled to pay another without being robbed. But even in a state of society where the elaboration of industry and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need for private possession of land wide-spread, there is no difficulty in conforming individual possession with the equal right to land. For as soon as any piece of land will yield to the possessor a larger return than is had by similar labor on other land a value attaches to it which is shown when it is sold or rented. Thus, the value of the land itself, irrespective of the value of any improvements in or on it, always indicates the precise value of the benefit to which all are entitled in its use, as distinguished from the value which, as producer or successor of a producer, belongs to the possessor in individual right.

To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common ownership it is only necessary therefore to take for common uses what value attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. The principle is the same as in the case referred to, where a human father leaves equally to his children things not susceptible of specific division or common use. In that case such things would be sold or rented and the value equally applied.

It is on this common-sense principle that we, who term ourselves single-tax men, would have the community act.

We do not propose to assert equal rights to land by keeping land common, letting any one use any part of it at any time. We do not propose the task, impossible in the present state of society, of dividing land in equal shares; still less the yet more impossible task of keeping it so divided.

We propose — leaving land in the private possession of individuals, with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it — simply to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public revenues, we would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes now levied on the products and processes of industry — which taxes, since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the right of property.

This we propose, not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a conforming of human regulations to the will of God.

God cannot contradict himself nor impose on his creatures laws that clash.

If it be God’s command to men that they should not steal — that is to say, that they should respect the right of property which each one has in the fruits of his labor;

And if he be also the Father of all men, who in his common bounty has intended all to have equal opportunities for sharing;

Then, in any possible stage of civilization, however elaborate, there must be some way in which the exclusive right to the products of industry may be reconciled with the equal right to land.

If the Almighty be consistent with himself, it cannot be, as say those socialists referred to by you, that in order to secure the equal participation of men in the opportunities of life and labor we must ignore the right of private property. Nor yet can it be, as you yourself in the Encyclical seem to argue, that to secure the right of private property we must ignore the equality of right in the opportunities of life and labor. To say the one thing or the other is equally to deny the harmony of God’s laws.

But, the private possession of land, subject to the payment to the community of the value of any special advantage thus given to the individual, satisfies both laws, securing to all equal participation in the bounty of the Creator and to each the full ownership of the products of his labor. ...

To your proposition that “Our first and most fundamental principle when we undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses must be the inviolability of private property” we would joyfully agree if we could only understand you to have in mind the moral element, and to mean rightful private property, as when you speak of marriage as ordained by God’s authority we may understand an implied exclusion of improper marriages. Unfortunately, however, other expressions show that you mean private property in general and have expressly in mind private property in land. This confusion of thought, this non-distribution of terms, runs through your whole argument, leading you to conclusions so unwarranted by your premises as to be utterly repugnant to them, as when from the moral sanction of private property in the things produced by labor you infer something entirely different and utterly opposed, a similar right of property in the land created by God.

Private property is not of one species, and moral sanction can no more be asserted universally of it than of marriage. That proper marriage conforms to the law of God does not justify the polygamic or polyandric or incestuous marriages that are in some countries permitted by the civil law. And as there may be immoral marriage so may there be immoral private property. Private property is that which may be held in ownership by an individual, or that which may be held in ownership by an individual with the sanction of the state. The mere lawyer, the mere servant of the state, may rest here, refusing to distinguish between what the state holds equally lawful. Your Holiness, however, is not a servant of the state, but a servant of God, a guardian of morals. You know, as said by St. Thomas of Aquin, that —

Human law is law only in virtue of its accordance with right reason and it is thus manifest that it flows from the eternal law. And in so far as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law. In such case it is not law at all, but rather a species of violence.

Thus, that any species of property is permitted by the state does not of itself give it moral sanction. The state has often made things property that are not justly property, but involve violence and robbery. For instance, the things of religion, the dignity and authority of offices of the church, the power of administering her sacraments and controlling her temporalities, have often by profligate princes been given as salable property to courtiers and concubines. At this very day in England an atheist or a heathen may buy in open market, and hold as legal property, to be sold, given or bequeathed as he pleases, the power of appointing to the cure of souls, and the value of these legal rights of presentation is said to be no less than £17,000,000.

Or again: Slaves were universally treated as property by the customs and laws of the classical nations, and were so acknowledged in Europe long after the acceptance of Christianity. At the beginning of this century there was no Christian nation that did not, in her colonies at least, recognize property in slaves, and slaveships crossed the seas under Christian flags. In the United States, little more than thirty years ago, to buy a man gave the same legal ownership as to buy a horse, and in Mohammedan countries law and custom yet make the slave the property of his captor or purchaser.

Yet your Holiness, one of the glories of whose pontificate is the attempt to break up slavery in its last strongholds, will not contend that the moral sanction that attaches to property in things produced by labor can, or ever could, apply to property in slaves.

Your use, in so many passages of your Encyclical, of the inclusive term “property” or “private” property, of which in morals nothing can be either affirmed or denied, makes your meaning, if we take isolated sentences, in many places ambiguous. But reading it as a whole, there can be no doubt of your intention that private property in land shall be understood when you speak merely of private property. With this interpretation, I find that the reasons you urge for private property in land are eight. Let us consider them in order of presentation. You urge:

1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (RN, paragraph 5) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of reason. (RN, paragraphs 6-7.) ...
3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (RN, paragraph 8.) ...
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (RN, paragraphs 9-10.) ...
5. That private property in land has the support of the common opinion of mankind, and has conduced to peace and tranquillity, and that it is sanctioned by Divine Law. (RN, paragraph 11.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private property in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (RN, paragraphs 14-17.) ...
7. That the private ownership of land stimulates industry, increases wealth, and attaches men to the soil and to their country. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
8. That the right to possess private property in land is from nature, not from man; that the state has no right to abolish it, and that to take the value of landownership in taxation would be unjust and cruel to the private owner. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...

... And in taking for the uses of society what we clearly see is the great fund intended for society in the divine order, we would not levy the slightest tax on the possessors of wealth, no matter how rich they might be. Not only do we deem such taxes a violation of the right of property, but we see that by virtue of beautiful adaptations in the economic laws of the Creator, it is impossible for any one honestly to acquire wealth, without at the same time adding to the wealth of the world.

To persist in a wrong, to refuse to undo it, is always to become involved in other wrongs. Those who defend private property in land, and thereby deny the first and most important of all human rights, the equal right to the material substratum of life, are compelled to one of two courses. Either they must, as do those whose gospel is “Devil take the hindermost,” deny the equal right to life, and by some theory like that to which the English clergyman Malthus has given his name, assert that nature (they do not venture to say God) brings into the world more men than there is provision for; or, they must, as do the socialists, assert as rights what in themselves are wrongs. ... read the whole letter

Henry George: The Wages of Labor

Being the equal creatures of the Creator, equally entitled under His providence to live their lives and satisfy their needs, men are equally entitled to the use of land, and any adjustment that denies this equal right to the use of land is morally wrong.

Being created individuals, with individual wants and powers, men are individually entitled (subject of course to the moral obligations that arise from such relations as that of the family) to the use of their own powers and the enjoyment of the results.

There thus arises, anterior to human law, and deriving its validity from the law of God, a right of private ownership in things produced by labor – a right that the possessor may transfer, but of which to deprive him without his will is theft.

This right of property, originating in the right of the individual to himself, is the only full and complete right of property. It attaches to things produced by labor, but cannot attach to things created by God. ...

To persist in a wrong, to refuse to undo it, is always to become involved in other wrongs!

Those who defend private property in land, and thereby deny the first and most important of all human rights, the equal right to the material substratum of life, are compelled to one of two courses. Either they must, as do those whose gospel is “Devil take the hindmost,” deny the equal right to life, and, by some theory like that to which Malthus has given his name, assert that Nature brings into the world more men than there is provision for; or, they must, as do the Socialists, assert as rights what in themselves are wrongs....  read the whole article

Henry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
NOW, as to the rights of ownership -- as to that principle which enables a man to say of any certain thing --"This is mine; it is my property" -- where does that come from? If you look you will see that it comes from the right of the producer to the thing which he produces. What a man makes he can justly claim to be his. Whatever any individual, by the exercise of his powers, takes from the reservoirs of nature, molds into shapes fitted to satisfy human needs, that is his; to that a just and sacred right of property attaches. That is a right based on the right of the individual to improvement, the right to the enjoyment of his own powers, to the possession of the fruits of his exertions. That is a sacred right, to violate which is to violate the sacred command, "Thou shalt not steal." There is the right of ownership. Now that right, which gives by natural and Divine laws, the thing produced to him whose exertion has produced it, which gives to the man who builds a house the right to that house, to the man who raises a crop the right to that crop, to the man who raises a domestic animal a right to that domestic animal -- how can that right attach to the reservoirs of nature? How can that right attach to the earth itself? 

WE start out with these two principles, which I think are clear and self-evident:
  • that which a man makes belongs to him and can by him be given or sold to anyone that he pleases
  • But that which existed before man came upon the earth, that which was not produced by man, but which was created by God -- that belongs equally to all men. As no man made the land, so no man can claim a right of ownership in the land. As God made the land, and as we know both from natural perception and from revealed religion, that God the Creator is no respecter of persons, that in His eyes all men are equal, so also do we know that He made this earth equally for all the human creatures that He has called to dwell upon it.
We start out with this clear principle that as all men are here by the equal permission of the Creator, as they are all here under His laws equally requiring the use of land, as they are all here with equal right to live, so they are all here with equal right to the enjoyment of His bounty. ... Read the whole speech

Henry George: Salutatory, from the first issue of The Standard (1887)

I begin the publication of this paper in response to many urgent requests, and because I believe that there is a field for a journal that shall serve as a focus for news and opinions relating to the great movement, now beginning, for the emancipation of labor by the restoration of natural rights.

The generation that abolished chattel slavery is passing away, and the political distinctions that grew out of that contest are becoming meaningless. The work now before us is the abolition of industrial slavery.

What God created for the use of all should be utilized for the benefit of all; what is produced by the individual belongs rightfully to the individual. The neglect of these simple principles has brought upon us the curse of widespread poverty and all the evils that flow from it. Their recognition will abolish poverty, will secure to the humblest independence and leisure, and will lay abroad and strong foundation on which all other reforms may be based. To secure the full recognition of these principles is the most important task to which any man can address himself today. It is in the hope of aiding in this work that I establish this paper.

I believe that the Declaration of Independence is not a mere string of glittering generalities. I believe that all men are really created equal, and that the securing of those equal natural rights is the true purpose and test of government. And against whatever law, custom or device that restrains men in the exercise of their natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness I shall raise my voice. ... read the whole column

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.

When we tax houses, crops, money, furniture, capital or wealth in any of its forms, we take from individuals what rightfully belongs to them. We violate the right of property, and in the name of the State commit robbery. But when we tax ground values, we take from individuals what does not belong to them, but belongs to the community, and which cannot be left to individuals without robbery of other individuals. ...  read the whole article

Henry George: This World is the Creation of God (1891) -- Appendix to The Condition of Labor: An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII
This right of private possession in things created by God is however very different from the right of private ownership in things produced by labor. The one is limited, the other unlimited, save in cases when the dictate of self-preservation terminates all other rights. The purpose of the one, the exclusive possession of land, is merely to secure the other, the exclusive ownership of the products of labor; and it can never rightfully be carried so far as to impair or deny this. While any one may hold exclusive possession of land so far as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others, he can rightfully hold it no further.

To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common ownership it is only necessarily therefore to take for common uses what value attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. ...

We propose -- leaving land in the private possession of individuals, with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it -- simply to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public revenues, we would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes new levied on the products and processes of industry -- which taxes, since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the right of property.   read the entire article

The Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881) 
...Human Slavery Once Generally Accepted.
Slavery is found to have existed, as a social institution, in almost all nations, civilised as well as barbarous, and in every age of the world, up almost to our own times. We hardly ever find it in the state of a merely passing phenomenon, or as a purely temporary result of conquest or of war, but always as a settled, established and recognised state of social existence, in which generation followed generation in unbroken succession, and in which thousands upon thousands of human beings lived and died. Hardly anyone had the public spirit to question its character or to denounce its excesses; it had no struggle to make for its existence, and the degradation in which it held its unhappy victims was universally regarded as nothing worse than a mere sentimental grievance.

On the other hand, the justice of the right of property which a master claimed in his slaves was universally accepted in the light of a first principle of morality. His slaves were either born on his estate, and he had to submit to the labour and the cost of rearing and maintaining them to manhood, or he acquired them by inheritance or by free gift, or, failing these, he acquired them by the right of purchase -- having paid in exchange for them what, according to the usages of society and the common estimation of his countrymen, was regarded as their full pecuniary value. Property, therefore, in slaves was regarded as sacred, and as inviolable as any other species of property.

Even Christians Recognised Slavery.
So deeply rooted and so universally received was this conviction that the Christian religion itself, though it recognised no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between slave or freeman, cautiously abstained from denouncing slavery itself as an injustice or a wrong. It prudently tolerated this crying evil, because in the state of public feeling then existing, and at the low standard of enlightenment and intelligence then prevailing, it was simply impossible to remedy it.

Thus then had slavery come down almost to our own time as an established social institution, carrying with it the practical sanction and approval of ages and nations, and surrounded with a prestige of standing and general acceptance well calculated to recommend it to men's feelings and sympathies. And yet it was the embodiment of the most odious and cruel injustice that ever afflicted humanity. To claim a right of property in man was to lower a rational creature to the level of the beast of the field; it was a revolting and an unnatural degradation of the nobility of human nature itself.

That thousands upon thousands of human beings who had committed no crime, who had violated no law, and who had done no wrong to anyone, should be wantonly robbed of their liberty and freedom; should be deprived of the sacred and inalienable moral rights, which they could not voluntarily abdicate themselves; should be bought and sold, like cattle in the markets; and should be worked to death, or allowed to live on at the whim or caprice of their owner, was the last and most galling injustice which human nature could be called on to endure.

The World's Approval Cannot Justify Injustice.
To arrest public attention, and fix its gaze effectively on the intrinsic character and constitution of slavery, was to seal its doom; and its death knell was sounded in the indignant cry of the great statesman who "denied that man could hold property in man." Twenty millions of British money were paid over to the slave owners as compensation for the loss of property to which they had no just title, and slavery was abolished forever.

The practical approval, therefore, which the world has bestowed on a social institution that has lasted for centuries is no proof that it ought to be allowed to live on longer, if, on close examination, it be found to be intrinsically unjust and cruel, and mischievous and injurious besides to the general good of mankind. No amount of sanction or approval that the world can give to a social institution can alter its intrinsic constitution and nature; and the fact of the world's having thus approved of an institution which was essentially unjust, cruel and degrading to human nature, only proves that the world was wrong: it furnishes no arguments or justification for allowing it to live on a moment longer. ...

Justice, Not Vested Right, Should Prevail.
Some wise and thoughtful men can see no longer objections to the abolition of Landlordism now than were alleged not so long ago against the abolition of slavery. If the public good demanded the summary dismissal of landlords from an important position of trust, which as a class, they have so grievously abused, and, on the other hand, that they had been compensated for the real or fictitious property which it is assumed they possess in their lands, the justice of such a course could not for a moment be questioned. Yet I am afraid that few prudent, practical and experienced men could be found who would advocate the policy of a measure of so sweeping and radical a character. Undoubtedly a universal or a general peasant proprietary; not, however, the result of a sudden, hasty and unnatural change, but the gradual and natural growth of years -- may probably be found to be the final settlement of the question of the land.

Hence the great majority of those who have thought the question out thoroughly regard the measure known as the "three F's," accompanied with largely increased facilities, and largely increased pecuniary encouragement, for the gradual establishment of a peasant proprietary, as the fullest measure of justice which the nation can just now expect from an Act of Parliament. But on whatever line the "new departure" may start, it is essential that the eternal and immutable principles of justice which determine the character of property in land shall in no instance be departed from by the people. Ours is a struggle for justice and for right, and we must not furnish our enemies even with a pretext to reproach us with dishonest or unfair dealing.

Justice of Private Property in the Results of Labour.
The following are the acknowledged principles of justice that have a practical bearing on the question: --

Every man (and woman, too) has a natural right to the free exercise of his mental and corporal faculties; and whatever useful thing anyone has produced by his toil and his labour, of that he is the rightful owner -- in that he has in strict justice a right of property. Any useful thing that satisfies any of our necessities, relieves any of our wants, ministers to our comforts or enjoyments, or increases our material happiness or contentment, may be an object of property, and the person whose toil and labour has produced that thing possesses in it a strict right of property.

The two essential characteristics of property therefore are:

  • First, the thing itself must be useful for some purpose; and,
  • secondly, it must be the product or the result of our labour.
Now, the effort or exertion demanded by labour is irksome, distasteful and repulsive to the indolence and self-indulgence that is natural to us and, therefore, no one will voluntarily subject himself to the painful inconvenience of labour who is not stimulated by the prospect of the remuneration and enjoyment which the fruit of his labour will return him.

Whoever, then, has voluntarily subjected himself to the painful operations of labour has, in strict justice, a right of property in the product or result of that labour; that is to say, he, and he alone, has a right to all the advantages, enjoyments, pleasures and comforts that are derivable from the results of his labour. Others cannot complain of having been excluded from the enjoyment of a thing whose production cost them nothing; which be was not bound to produce for their use, and which, were it not for his efforts, would not have existed at all.

Producer's Right of Disposal.
Use and exclusion are, therefore, the two essential peculiarities of the enjoyment of a right of property. The power to dispose of legitimate property is almost absolute. Property may be devoted by its owner to any purpose he pleases that is not inconsistent with the public good and does not interfere with the rights of others. He may keep it for his own use and enjoyment if he wishes, or he may exchange it by barter or sale for an equivalent in value of the property of others; he may alienate it by free gift when living, or bequeath it to anyone he pleases, as a voluntary legacy, when dying. He might even destroy it and do no wrong to anyone. ...
The Land of Every Country the Common Property of Its People.
God was perfectly free in the act by which He created us; but, having created us, He bound Himself by that act to provide us with the means necessary for our subsistence. The land is the only means of this kind now known to us.

The land, therefore, of every country is the Common Property of the people of that country, because its real owner, the Creator who made it, has transferred it as a voluntary gift to them. "Terram autem dedit filiis hominum."

Now, as every individual in that country is a creature and child of God, and as all His creatures are equal in His sight, any settlement of the land of a country that would exclude the humblest man in that country from his share of the common inheritance would be not only an injustice and a wrong to that man, but, moreover, would be an impious resistance to the benevolent intentions of his Creator.  Read the whole letter

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

Q32. Is not ownership of land necessary to induce its improvement? Does not history show that private ownership is a step in advance of common ownership?
A. No. Private use was doubtless a step in advance of common use. And because private use seems to us to have been brought about under the institution of private ownership, private ownership appears to the superficial to have been the real advance. But a little observation and reflection will remove that impression. Private ownership of land is not necessary to its private use. And so far from inducing improvement, private ownership retards it. When a man owns land he may accumulate wealth by doing nothing with the land, simply allowing the community to increase its value while he pays a merely nominal tax, upon the plea that he gets no income from the property. But when the possessor has to pay the value of his land every year, as he would have to under the single tax, and as ground renters do now, he must improve his holding in order to profit by it. Private possession of land, without profit except from use, promotes improvement; private ownership, with profit regardless of use, retards improvement. Every city in the world, in its vacant lots, offers proof of the statement. It is the lots that are owned, and not those that are held upon ground-lease, that remain vacant. ... read the book

Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism of Natural Taxation, from Principles of Natural Taxation (1917)

Q3. What is meant by economic rent?
A. Gross ground rent -- the annual site value of land -- what land, including any quality or content of the land itself, is worth annually for use -- what the land does or would command for use per annum if offered in open market -- the annual value of the exclusive use in control of a given area of land, involving the enjoyment of those "rights and privileges thereto pertaining" which are stipulated in every title deed, and which, enumerated specifically, are as follows: right and ease of access to

* water, and
* health inspection,
* sewerage,
* fire protection,
* police,
* schools,
* libraries,
* museums,
* parks,
* playgrounds,
* steam and electric railway service,
* gas and electric lighting,
* telegraph and telephone service,
* subways,
* ferries,
* churches,
* public schools,
* private schools,
* colleges,
* universities,
* public buildings --

utilities which depend for their efficiency and economy on the character of the government; which collectively constitute the economic and social advantages of the land which are due to the presence and activity of population, and are inseparable therefrom, including the benefit of proximity to, and command of, facilities for commerce and communication with the world -- an artificial value created primarily through public expenditure of taxes. For the sake of brevity, the substance of this definition may be conveniently expressed as the value of "proximity." It is ordinarily measured by interest on investment plus taxes.

Q13. What is meant by the right of property?
A. As to the grain a man raises, or the house that he builds, it means ownership full and complete. As to land, it means legal title, tenure, "estate in land," perpetual right of exclusive possession, a right not absolute, but superior to that of any other man.

Q46. Would it not be confiscation so to increase the tax on land?
A. What would be confiscated? No land would be taken, no right of occupancy, or use, or improvement, or sale, or devise; nothing would be taken that is conveyed or guaranteed by the title deed.

Q47. What is the distinction between taxation and confiscation?
A. The sovereign state may appropriate private property of its citizens in two ways: (1) by confiscation; (2) by taxation. When one particular man by treason or otherwise has forfeited his rights as a citizen, the land and houses and personalty of this one man may all be "forfeit to the crown," while the validity and sanctity of 9,999 other men's rights are in no way infringed. This is confiscation. On the other hand, when the state, in order to obtain the revenue to meet the expenses of government, levies tribute upon its 10,000 citizens impartially, this is taxation.

Q48. But would it not be an injustice to the landowner?
A. If it be an injustice to tax hard-earned incomes (wages) to maintain an unearned income (net economic rent) that bears no tax burden, how can it be an injustice to stop doing so? There can be no injustice in taking for the benefit of the community the value that is created by the community.

... read the whole article

Ted Gwartney:  Estimating Land Values

While land is the gift of nature, certain legal, political and social constraints have been imposed in most societies throughout the years. Every nation imposes certain public limitations on land ownership and use for the common good of all citizens. Four forms of governmental control include:
1. Taxation -- Power to tax the land to provide public revenue and to return to the community the costs incurred to pay for the various public benefits, services and environmental protection, which are provided by the government;
2. Eminent Domain -- Right to use, hold or take land for common public uses and benefits;
3. Police Power -- Right to regulate land use for the welfare of the public, in the areas of safety, health, morals, general welfare, zoning, building codes, traffic regulations and sanitary regulations;
4. Escheat -- Right to have land revert to the public's agent, the government, when taxes are not paid or when there are no legal heirs.
What are the factors that cause land to have market value and to whom does this market revenue advantage properly belong? Land has market value for three reasons:
  • the limited supply and "natural" productivity of the soil and natural resources,
  • the publicly provided services, including planning, improvements that increase the market value of land and
  • the growth of communities and peoples' competitive demand for the exclusive use of prime locations.
Land rent is the price that people and businesses are willing to pay for the exclusive right to possess and use a good land site for a period of time. For example, people prefer to use sites of good location because it gives them an advantage of spending less time in travel by being near what they choose to do and where they work. A businessman can sell more goods at a site where many people pass each day, compared to a site where only a few people would pass.

The collection of land rent should be used as revenue, by the community for supplying public needs. This returns the advantage an individual land possessor receives from the exclusive use of a land site, to the balance of the people who live within the community and have allowed the land possessor the exclusive use of the land site for the period of time. ... Read the whole article

Robert G. Ingersoll: A Lay Sermon (1886)
No man should be allowed to own any land that he does not use. Everybody knows that -- I do not care whether he has thousands or millions. I have owned a great deal of land, but I know just as well as I know I am living that I should not be allowed to have it unless I use it. And why? Don't you know that if people could bottle the air, they would? Don't you know that there would be an American Air-bottling Association? And don't you know that they would allow thousands and millions to die for want of breath, if they could not pay for air? I am not blaming anybody. I am just telling how it is. Now, the land belongs to the children of Nature. Nature invites into this world every babe that is born. And what would you think of me, for instance, tonight, if I had invited you here -- nobody had charged you anything, but you had been invited -- and when you got here you had found one man pretending to occupy a hundred seats, another fifty, and another seventy-five, and thereupon you were compelled to stand up -- what would you think of the invitation? It seems to me that every child of Nature is entitled to his share of the land, and that he should not be compelled to beg the privilege to work the soil, of a babe that happened to be born before him. And why do I say this? Because it is not to our interest to have a few landlords and millions of tenants. ... read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: The Taxable Capacity of Land
Those getting the cold shower, meantime, may resist it. In California, the land of extremes, we got Howard Jarvis and Prop. 13. This Constitutional Amendment capped the property tax rate at 1%, and virtually froze assessed values until land sold. Then the boom really went wild. I myself, after campaigning hard against Jarvis, unexpectedly made $200,000 in a few months after it passed. Buyers were chasing me around the block, just to buy a scrap of land I happened to have in the right place at the right time. It was blind luck, but the money was as good as though I had earned it honestly: better, in fact, because 60% of the gain was not even reportable as taxable income. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but buyers and sellers came to regard it as normal, and only fair. They saw regular annual increments as a divine right of property. For a few mad years, they were. ...   Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Bottling the Air

Times have caught up with Ingersoll. Ronald Coase, prominent Chicago economist, says polluters (whom he calls emitters, to avoid bias) have as much right to emit as victims (he says receptors) have to breathe clean air. It doesn’t matter, says Coase, how we assign property rights originally: as long as property is firm, the market will sort it all out. However, since emitters have invested in costly facilities, and property is sacred... you see whither this unbiased science is tending.

Was he laughed to scorn? Au contraire, he was raised on the shoulders of his adulatory peers and anointed a demi-god (which tells you something about his peers). Having risen on wings of theory the idea found its way into practice, and today The South Coast Air Quality Management District awards "offset rights" to those with worthy track records of emitting. New emitters must buy "property rights" from old ones.  ... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Economics in Support of Environmentalism

And yet, the urban price influence of Los Angeles extends over 89 miles east-south-east clear to Temecula and Murrieta and beyond, at which point, however, it meets demand pushing north from San Diego. Urban valuation fever thus affects much more land than can ever actually be developed for urban use. Regardless, most owners come to imagine they might cash in at a high price, with high zoning, at their own convenience, with public services supplied by "the public," meaning other taxpayers. This is the meaning of "floating value."

If their land is downzoned for farming, open space, or habitat, they regard it as a "taking," and plead the 14th Amendment. Once we buy into the Sanctity (Holiness, Sacredness) of private property, we owe them. If we think of the public's buying large quantities of it to preserve habitat or open space, the price is already high above its aggregate value, and the new demand will push the price higher yet.

Here is a case showing how this works. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) needed the old Union Station, northeast of downtown in a run-down neighborhood, as the centerpiece of its new, integrated mass transit system. With the decline of interurban passenger rail traffic, the old station was unused. The owners, mainly Southern Pacific, asked more than MTA offered, so MTA invoked its power of eminent domain and condemned the land. The case went to judgement, and in 1984 the court awarded SP an amount about twice the going price for land in the area. The court's reason was that the coming of mass transit would raise values around the new central station, and SP should be paid as much as neighboring landowners would be able to get after the station was built.

Thus, land originally granted to SP to help subsidize mass transit was used instead to obstruct and penalize mass transit. Private property had become an end in itself, Holy and Sacred, a welfare entitlement, rather than a means to an end. MTA (the taxpayers) had to pay a price for land based on the unearned increment that its own construction and operation was expected to create in the future.

Later, MTA was to stint on subway construction, resulting in subsidence on Hollywood Boulevard, but there was no stinting on paying off SP for doing nothing: the award came to $84.7 millions. This is how the 14th Amendment works in practice, making private property an end, sanctified for its own sake, rather than a means to a higher end. It makes landowners the spoiled children of the national family, inflating the cost of every program that entails acquiring land. It means there is no chance that the public, whether through government or the Nature Conservancy, can preserve more than token areas of habitat by buying it: it would bankrupt us.... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Nonpoint Pollution: Tractable Solutions to Intractable Problems

The Special Challenge to Economic Thinking
The Search for Surrogates
Sources of Nonpoint Pollution
What Problems are Created?
What Problems are Unsolved by Excise Taxes on Surrogates?
The Case of Forestry
The Case of Urban Settlement
The Case of Agriculture
The Common Theme from Forest, City and Farm
Brendan Hennigan: Comparison of George's Economic Theory of Justice with the Catholic Church's Social Teachings Concerning the Right to Private Property in Land

Lindy Davies:   The Top Ten Reasons Why Land is More Important than Ever
The Georgist economic proposal insists on the primary importance of land as a factor in the economy. Many people dismiss that as a quaint, agrarian notion. "Perhaps," they scoff, "land was that significant back when most people had to work the soil for a living, but modern agriculture has moved far past that! Nowadays we deal with modern issues of technology, global markets, information -- land is no longer a big deal."
10. There's no place to dump your trash for free. ...
9. Scratch a financial crisis, find a real estate bubble. ...
8. Information (like railroads) needs routes. ...
7. Cities can no longer afford to be inefficient. ...
6. Global climate change is too likely to ignore. ...
5. The loss of biological diversity cannot be reversed. ...
4. Two out of every five people lack a safe and dependable source of drinking water. ...
3. The myth of overpopulation causes cultural sickness. ...
2. We have forgotten what nations are. ...
1. "The land shall not be sold forever, for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me." ...

Nic Tideman: The Constitutional Conflict Between Protecting Expectations and Moral Evolution
Constitutions must be amendable, to allow for the possibility of incorporating new moral insights into them. This impinges on the protection of expectations, including those regarded as property. Protection of property rights is achieved by constitutional restrictions on the ability of voters and legislators to reduce the value of property by regulation, taxation or expropriation. But such restrictions also prevent voters and legislatures from reflecting new moral insights in legislation, if those insights would reduce the value of property. There have been times in the past when moral development has compelled societies to change laws in ways that reduced the value of property (e.g., elimination of slavery). We cannot guarantee that there will be no future advances in our moral evolution that would require similar changes in laws, reducing or eliminating the value of what we now consider property. Looking forward to the possibility of such moral advances, we should design constitutions that permit amendments to reflect new moral insights, while prohibiting legislators (or voters in referenda) from passing laws that redistribute in ways not explicitly sanctioned by the constitution.

1. The Possibility of New Moral Insights that Necessitate Redistribution
2. Assigning the Costs of Moral Accidents
3. The Possibility of a Right of Secession
4. The Complementary Right of Equal Access to Natural Opportunities
5. Power, Population and Process  ...  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. ...

The vanguard group for tax shifters, the broad environmental movement, conflicts with two American values: private property (altho' why absentee owners need privacy is unclear) and land speculation. The land tax in particular directly confronts these two values left over from the days of westward expansion. As the PTS wins adherents and looms as a threat to speculators, mortgagors, et al, the potential losers become vocal.

While the PTS may seem to pit land sellers versus land buyers, it need not. Coupled with an untaxing of homes, sales, and income, and with a Housing Voucher, the PTS could benefit both sellers and buyers. Sellers, usually of higher income, would benefit more from untaxing capital. Buyers, usually of lower income, would benefit more from a tax upon never-produced land, which would lower the price. ...

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?  ...

It doesn't matter who owns what. What matters is who gets the rent. We have millions of acres of forest we Americans own together, and we are losing rent on it. ...

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: Sharing Natural Rents to Sustain Human Society
To get rich, or more likely to stay rich, some of us can develop land, especially sprawling shopping centers, and extract resources, especially oil. While sprawl and oil depletion are not necessary, they are more profitable than a car-free functionally integrated city. Under the current rules of doing business, waste returns more than efficiency. We let a few privatize rent -- ground rent and resource rent -- although rent is a social surplus. As if rent were not profit enough, winners of rent have also won further state favors -- tax breaks, liability limits, subsidies, and a host of others designed to impel growth (20 major ones follow herein).

If we are to sustain our selves, our civilization, and our eco-system, we must make some hard choices about property. What we decide to do with rent, whether we let it reward our exploiting or our attaining eco-librium, matters. Imagine society waking up to the public nature of rent. Then it would collect and share its surplus that manifests as the market value of sites, resources, the spectrum, and government-granted privileges. Then we could forego taxing labor and capital. On such a level playing field, this freed market would favor efficiency -- the compact city -- not waste -- the mall and automobile. ...

Drawing their cue from the public, governments tolerate "rentention", the private retention of publicly-generated land values. Lacking this Rent, states turn to taxes. But to grow the economy, all governments -- left, right, or undecided -- hustle to stimulate development; they cut taxes and slop subsidies. Going beyond the call of duty, the state excuses producers' their routine pollution and limit liability, thereby cutting the cost of insurance. Companies that don't impose on nature, worker, or customer are not benefited at all but lose a competitive advantage. On this tilted playing field, one with the lumps of subsidies and the tilts of taxes, technologies lean and clean have a hard time competing as suppliers of materials, homes, food, rides, and energy.  ...

To sustain that which we love, we must transform our relationships to nature, to government, and to each other. We need to become geonomists in worldview, theory, discipline, and policy. Geonomics creates an economy that's not at war with but aligned with the natural world....  Read the whole article

Bill Batt: How Our Towns Got That Way   (1996 speech)

Just over a week from now, right here in Albany, the Property Rights Foundation of America will hold its second annual conference. These are the people who are the core of the so-called "wise use" movement, that is those who believe that the rights of ownership of real property stand above just about all other values in political negotiation, and that rights to private property are gravely threatened by a government that today seeks to encroach on the foundations of our forefathers' vision of society. In the American west it is better known as the "sagebrush rebellion." I won't talk much about whether or not these rights are soundly framed or well grounded. I will talk, however, about some changes that took place about a century ago that have had profound consequences for the directions of American society in the interim. Had those changes not taken place, it is doubtful whether the groundswell of anger over the place of private landownership would be as intense as it is today.

One must start by looking at how the meaning of the word property has changed over the course of centuries. In most societies of the world, as was true in classic western thought, property typically meant personal property - clothing, household goods, bodily adornments and armor, and similar such items. Land was typically owned by society in common, or perhaps belonged to God or nature. Roman law made some effort to allot land titles to private individuals and families, but it was honored more in theory than in fact. Indeed, it was not until the now well-documented "enclosure movement" in early Tudor England that land titles began their long transformation from what has been termed "leasehold" to "freehold." Against the will of the King and his Council, noblemen seized the land for themselves, marking it into defined units, fenced off in their names only, even when they had no use for it. Karl Polanyi noted that:

Enclosures have appropriately been called a revolution of the rich against the poor. ...

Rutgers Professor of Urban Planning Donald Krueckeberg more recently explained how real property became for the first time a "commodity," much as the market gives personal property exchange value. Native Americans tied the concept of property not to ownership but to use. "One used it, one moved on, and use was shared with others." But the colonists took their notion of real property from evolving British legal tradition, defined largely in terms of what its owners could subdue and control against challengers. John Locke's conception of property was, in one sense, more akin to the Indian notion in as much as one owned it only to the extent that one "mixed one's labor" with it.

Indeed the most widespread notion of property ownership, especially in realms where Roman law had left no legacy, was title in usufruct, meaning title to use. But that meaning has gradually given way to the prevailing conception of title in fee simple, even though legal constraints have grown to curtail abuses of such ownership and are even seen sometimes as assaults on it. Krueckeberg notes that as many as nine kinds of property rights have been distinguished:

  • possession,
  • use,
  • alienation (the power to give away),
  • consumption,
  • modification,
  • destruction,
  • management,
  • exchange, and
  • profit taking.
From the first application of the land law of the New England settlers there has been a gradual extension of private control over land titles first to simple use, then the right to benefit, and ultimately "to the idea of gain made by selling. Land speculation, which was to spread across the continent, radically transformed New England's democratic town pattern." Concurrent with this spreading application of titles in fee simple has come changes in the meaning of the word property, a term which, although employed in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, was amplified only during the second half of the 19th century. The notion of land as a commodity has had pernicious effects on the course of our whole civilization. ... read the whole article
Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
Georgists' assumptions about property ownership rest upon premises profoundly different from their conventional use in western society — indeed increasingly in world society. In the discourse of legal philosophy, the notion of property and ownership are better understood as a collection of legal rights and responsibilities among people; for example, the right to possess, to use, to capitalize, to manage, and to retain the income from such.18 If one disaggregates these rights, one has a far clearer understanding of the potential array of socio-economic arrangements that are possible. The primary distinction to Georgists is that between ownership for use and ownership for gain. More will be said about the merit of this division at a later point, but it should be noted even here that the distinction is ancient,19 and has had expression at various times in human history long before the appearance of Henry George. Two sets of contrasting terms are often employed to distinguish the separate notions of ownership:
  • leasehold versus freehold, or
  • usufruct title versus fee-simple title.
In fact compensation for land held in usufruct was far more often in kind than it was in money. Typically, in Middle Eastern as well as in Asian societies, a percentage of a crop or of other products gained from the land were accepted as just payment for its use, paid usually to a king or nobleman in exchange for services which they in turn were expected to provide. This usually meant the protection against ravaging bands, arbitration of disputes, provision of sustenance in times of emergency, and so on. The pattern of leasehold ownership with either in-kind services, goods, or later fees paid to lords and kings is the hallmark feature of feudalism, widely known not only in the European past but throughout Asia and prehistoric Central American civilizations.

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. ...

The authors would further impose the full costs, in the form of taxes, on the depletion of natural capital resources. This in turn would both discourage the improvident use of such materials and encourage their re-use and recycling beyond what economic arrangements now provide for. They also argue strongly for tariffs and trade barriers that would foster linkages between existing local community enterprises, since they view economic globalization as a “race to the bottom” with respect to the exploitation of both resources (land) and labor. These tariffs would apply not only to protect the viability of certain social and political units but to ecological systems generally, so that their protection would be better guaranteed against the ravages of market exploitation.

With respect to arrangement of property rights, their classifications follow more conventional thinking, distinguishing ownership according the degree of access and by the extent of public protection warranted. Here they fall back more on legal and regulatory approaches than upon pricing. They see a continuum that runs from individual property rights to common ownership, ignoring the fact that any title to property constitutes a “bundle of rights” which can in principle be disaggregated and charged for in various ways.

The theme of economic justice runs throughout Daly’s work, evident of course in the title For the Common Good.122 But the formulations of justice are not explicit. One looks in vain for a statement of what if any entitlements people should possess by virtue of being human, or what nature or posterity is due in turn. Absent is anything that Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon calls “rights talk.” 123 But it is clear that the ecological economists are struggling mightily with these questions.... read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: George's Economics of Abundance: Replacing dismal choices with practical resolutions and synergies
... Reconciles common rights to land with private tenure
Georgist policy harmonizes collectivism and individalism; government and the market; common rights and private tenure. It has been called "commons without tragedy," because it lets common-access resources like fisheries and open ranges be closed off, without destroying common rights. The principle is simple and basic. Common lands, with open access, become overcrowded. Optimal management calls for restricting entry and usage. Entry is limited by issuing licenses (or leases, permits, concessions, possessory interests, etc.). However, instead of giving these away gratis, as is the current practice, they are leased out annually to the highest bidder. Thus, those excluded are compensated, while those included get only what they pay for.

As to land already in private tenure, taxation asserts common rights to the income of that land, without impairing private tenure rights. Indeed, private tenure is strengthened when the owner can truly say "This is my land, I pay the taxes on it." Squatters, trespassers, and vandals may be evicted with a clear conscience: their common rights have been protected otherwise, through the tax system. Thus, the policy reconciles common rights and heavy taxation with the free market and strong private tenure rights.

In addition, taking tax revenues from land lets capital and labor go untaxed. Private property in labor - the basic right of a person to himself, as posited by John Locke - and private property in capital, the right of a person to the full value of what he saves, are strengthened. ... read the whole article

see also: Bill Batt: How the Railroads Got Us On the Wrong Economic Track

Mason Gaffney: 18 Fallacies
2. "Real Property is Sacred and Untouchable"

Wrong! Suppose this layman writer and the Oregon Chief Justice were in error, and water permits were real property. That is out of the frying pan, into the fire.

What does 'real' mean, applied to property or estate? It is not the opposite of 'imaginary.' No, 'real' is an elided English form of the French 'regal' taken into English when English kings spoke their native French. Real property is The King's.

We threw out kings in 1783, but not the royal powers. Rather, we transferred those powers to our State governments. By succession, real property means government property!

Every landowner is a tenant of the king or his successors in interest. The very word 'own' comes from 'owe.' An owner is one who owes. What he owed historically was fealty to his sovereign.

That used to mean bending the knee, kissing the royal foot, swearing allegiance, and showing up on demand to smite the enemy.

It has evolved into servitudes like eminent domain, police power, the public trust doctrine, and something else that our lawyers may have glided over, but economists underline: the tax power.

These concepts are basic to common law which has been brought into every U.S. state constitution (save Louisiana's). Moses was not just whistling Dixie when he quoted The Lord as saying "The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is mine, and ye are strangers and sojourners with me."

Chief Seattle would have approved. So would Brigham Young, who founded the once-independent nation of Deseret on that principle.

Moses was also speaking just as William the Norman spoke after conquered England, except that Moses was also a theocrat. "You hold title to this land from me; observe my rules."

That's the law we have inherited; that's how the system works. In one form or another it is found around the world, except in the minds abstract economic theorists like those of the Chicago School. ...

4. "If property falls, America falls"

Wrong, at least in my opinion. Property is not an end in itself; it is a means of getting resources put to their best use for the general good.

To secure that end, property rights are instituted among men, deriving their just standing from the consent of the unpropertied.

Whenever any form of property becomes destructive of that end, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new principles most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Consent of the unpropertied?

That means property must work for the benefit of all, not just those who own property.

But abolish property!?

That is a red flag indeed, but note I said alter or abolish, and it is our own Declaration of Independence I am paraphrasing.

Like Jefferson, I generally prefer alter to abolish: 'abolishing' something is nihilistic until we know what we want to replace it with.

The point is, we have many degrees of freedom as citizens; we are not bound body and soul by decisions made, or allegedly made, in the past. ...

6. "You can't stop a landowner from pumping on his own land"

Wrong! You can even control his hunting and fishing there, and apply police power. As to pumping, it depends on whether he owns what is under his land.

If it is oil, we all know mineral rights are routinely severed from surface rights by sale, reservation or lease. Water can be subject to constraints, too.

Limits on pumping water are not as common or severe as Huey Johnson and I think they should be, but they do exist. In coastal areas, pumping is limited and/or taxed to stop salt water intrusion.

Further inland, pumping can be stopped to control movement of toxic plumes that destroy valuable aquifers: this is done in the Bunker Hill aquifer under the Santa Ana River, threatened with fouling by toxins from Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino.

Pumping is routinely stopped to prevent 'export' of water from lands overlying an aquifer: California calls that the 'correlative rights' doctrine. It is not always well observed, and not often well-advised, but very well established.

If that does not suffice to stop overdraft, pumping is controlled to prorate water among surface owners, and shorten pump lifts.

Also, pumping wells near streams can be stopped to prevent the indirect diversion of surface water. This happens on the alluvial fans that are so common in the west.

A simple solution to half our tractable water problems would be a severance tax on water withdrawals. If you can regulate it you can tax it.

A tax can be viewed as nothing more than an economic price charged by the owner of water (the state) for using its property.

If Chicago-School (and Rand Corporation) economists were more consistent in their ardor for the price system, and less consistent in their anarchistic mistrust of legislatures, they would seize upon this obvious application of the price system and boost it with all the considerable influence they wield.

Whether one chooses taxation regulation, we must control pumping in some manner if any system of surface control is to work.

While California rations and conserves surface water, landowners in the arid San Joaquin Valley just punch more and more wells into the aquifers and pump up free water the State keeps recharging at high cost.

Thus they play out their destined role in The Great Water Treadmill: subsidized water supply followed by overdraft followed by State rescue projects followed by new overdrafts, etc. ad bankruptcy.

This treadmill got well started in 1913 when Los Angeles tapped the Owens Valley waters to supply free water in the San Fernando Valley.

The lands there were timely pre-purchased by insiders, giving a clue to the forces behind the premature seizures and diversion of water.

The episode was dramatized in the film Chinatown, so the scenario is often now labelled 'the Chinatown syndrome' although the key names like Mulholland, Otis and Chandler sound distinctly occidental.

It is not just history; it is the present and near future: the Great Treadmill keeps turning. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) now presides over our destinies.

The MWD presses for more water sources, preaches domestic conservation, imposes rationing on its old customers -- and annexes new desert lands to water.

In similar fashion, Kern County landowners keep irrigating desert lands and overdrafting, while petitioning the Sacramento legislature for 'emergency' aid. ... Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney:  Megabucks for Negabucks: Solving the Water Crisis

The California Constitution and Water Code, like those of most states, are explicit that “The waters of California belong to the people of California.” Water is not private property, evidenced by its not being taxed as such (except indirectly, as it adds to the value of fee simple land). Water is not, therefore, subject to the limits that Prop. 13 (and cognate laws in other states) impose on property tax rates. The State, as owner, can presumably charge whatever the legislature decides, without its being considered a tax at all. Water claimants would of course resist strenuously, with all the lawyers and pawns and media that money can buy, and social pressure sway, but the public has a strong case.

It’s not just water per se, but also the lands under what were originally shallow waters. Most coastal cities have increased their areas greatly by filling in shallow waters. The surface of San Francisco Bay is about half of what it was before filling began. Boston has doubled its area by filling. Just who owns the original seabed is a complex legal tangle, but in many areas the public has basic ownership rights for which it usually fails to claim market rents. The “Public Trust Doctrine” applies to some shallow waters. In 1983 the California Supreme Court resurrected it from the dead letter office (Mono Lake Case), and many cities, with a little positive thinking, could enhance their shriveled revenues greatly by moving aggressively on these rents.

There are four major ways that individuals and corporations acquire the use of waters. One is by riparian rights. To own the bank of a lake or stream is to have a right to the water, theoretically “undiminished and unpolluted,” that nature put there - subject to the equal rights of other riparians, but not of anyone else. When waters must be prorated it is in proportion to the area of backlying land in the smallest undivided parcel that has ever existed - a penalty for selling off any land. Some riparians have succeeded in dominating large areas by virtue of owning the banks of streams. The Miller and Lux empire on the lower San Joaquin River was a classic case of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Consiglieri for riparians encourage us to believe that these rights are “part and parcel” of the land title, hence untouchable, but in fact voters have breached and limited them severely when they became too obnoxious. In 1928 Californians amended their Constitution to limit riparians to “reasonable use” (now article 2 of section 10). Oh, yes, it was a big monopoly power company, Southern Cal Edison, that financed the amendment, to abet its own heist of a power drop, but still the legal point was made. When thieves fall out, the public has an entrée.

A second way to claim water is by owning land overlying ground water, and the aquifers that store it. For generations, overlying landowners could pump at will (usually with subsidized power). Most of them still may, and do, heedless of overdrafts and falling water tables. When pumping costs rise, the common answer has been to photograph a wilted field or dying grove for publicity, and get state or federal governments to pay for “rescue projects,” importing water to recharge the aquifers, as in the Coachella Valley and the southern San Joaquin Valley. These in turn lead to more pumping and another rescue project: a “treadmill effect” of long standing. It worked in the San Fernando Valley in 1913, and it keeps working. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC), its Board dominated by land speculators, is now a big agent.

In a leading case of 1949 (Pasadena v. Alhambra) the California Supreme Court did limit pumping from the Raymond Basin. It based allocations on histories of past use. This led to a statewide “race to the pump house” to establish histories of waste as bases for future prorationing. It is hard to devise anything so counterproductive, but that’s what the judges did (and then some people blame overpopulation and natural scarcity). The point is, though, that the State can manage aquifers, and what the State can manage it can tax.

With the current movement toward water marketing, landowners may now “export” water from lands overlying the basin being pumped. This has moved some giant speculators to buy up vast areas with a view to exporting the groundwater and renting out space in the aquifers. Some publicized examples are PG&E Properties in northern California, Peter Hensen and John Huston near Denver, BCE (Bell Canada), Cadiz Land in Riverside County, Tenneco in Kern County, a few major oil firms, and the Maurice Strong consortium in New Mexico. Where natural resources are on the auction block, and taxes are zero, big money rushes in.

A third way to claim water is by “prior appropriation.” The key rules are “first in time, first in right”; “due diligence”; “beneficial use”; and “history of use.” The precondition for putting water to “beneficial use” is owning land on which to spread it. The “beneficial” part is a joke. “Use” is what counts, and “use” in practice means “taking” (by withdrawing or diverting). The State charges nothing for taking its water, and often subsidizes the appropriators. So the scarce and priceless waters of the west have been allocated mainly in proportion to prior ownership of land.

Part of appropriating water is securing sites for dams and reservoirs and rights of way, either from public domain or from private owners by use of eminent domain. A major case is San Francisco’s seizure of the site of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir inside Yosemite National Park. This scenic site on the Tuolumne River once rivaled Yosemite Valley itself, on the neighboring Merced River. Rent has been $30,000 a year, fixed since the 1920s. The Administration is now proposing $8 million a year. However this case goes, the charge is for the site alone, not for the water or the power drop. San Francisco seized so much more than its own needs that it sells 2/3 of what it takes to other cities, for a fat profit that helps keep land values in San Francisco nearly the highest in the U.S.A., and its housing the least affordable.

A fourth way to claim water is by getting “sweetheart” contracts from large supply systems: Federal water from the Bureau of Reclamation; State water from the State Department of Water Resources; and mixed-source waters from the giant MWDSC. No sooner are these contracts inked than learned counselors go to work to convert them into perpetual obligations of the taxpayers and other ratepayers. The original 40-year contracts that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation executed on the 1950s at giveaway prices came up for renegotiation in the 1990s, and only a few old timers even remembered their origins. Meantime the once-surplus water had multiplied many times in value, and the contractors were busy securing rights to resell water that they buy for some $10 per acre-foot to coastal cities for $200-$500 per acre foot. A rather shocking decision by Senior Judge John Wiese, December 31, 2003, requires the Feds to compensate the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District for withholding some of “their” water to comply with the Endangered Species Act to save fish downstream. Said District is a front for the J.G. Boswell Company, owner of 200,000 (sic) acres in the Basin.

What’s the moral? We can turn “Negabucks into Megabucks” for state and Federal treasuries by charging water takers a market price for what they get, instead of subsidizing them to get it, as now. The stakes are huge; the barriers are surmountable. Besides raising revenues we would institute a regime of “demand management,” promoting water conservation in the most economical way. We would solve our factitious “water crisis” and “revenue crisis” in one stroke.  ... Read the whole article

Alanna Hartzok: Ethical Land Tenure

I want to tell you the story of Charles Avilla. A while back I came across a book called Ownership, Early Christian Teachings. Avilla was a divinity student in the Phillipines. One of his professors had a great concern about poverty conditions in the Phillipines, and was taking students out to prisons where the cooks were the land rights revolutionaries in the Phillipines. Because they kept pushing for land reform for the people, they had ended up in jail. So they were political prisoners who were reading the Bible and were asking the question, who did God give this earth to? Who does it belong to? It isn't in the Bible that so few should have so much and so many have so little. In the theological world in this upscale seminary he was trying to put this together about poverty and what the biblical teachings were. He had a thesis to write and he was thinking he would do something about economic justice. One of his professors thought there would be a wealth of information from the church's early history, the first 300 years after Jesus. So he actually went back to read the Latin and Greek about land ownership and found a wealth of information about the prophetic railings of the people in that early time on the rights of the land. ... The Talmudic rabinical discussion is of interest to Georgists because they tried to allocate the land according to the richness of the soil for agriculture. For better soil, richer for agriculture, maybe an acre of that would be allocated. On the poorer soil, these tribes could get five acres.

The other thing was some lands were closer to the market. Some land was closer to Jerusalem. That is an advantage over those who would have to travel a longer distance to get to the market. How do you have an equal rights distribution of land allocation with reference to the market problem? For those more advantageously situated, the adjustment was to be made by money. Those holding land nearer the city should pay in to the common treasury the estimated excess of value attaining to it by reason of superior situation. While those holding land of less value by reason of distance from the city would receive from the treasury a money compensation. On the more valuable holdings would be imposed a tax or a lease fee, the measure of which was the excess of their respective values over a given standard, and the fund thus created was to be paid out in due proportion to those whose holdings were in less favorable locations.

In this, then, we see affirmed the doctrine that natural advantages are common property and may not be diverted to private gain. Throughout the ages when wisdom is applied to land problems, we see this emerge. ... Read the whole article

Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)

To illustrate simply, let us suppose a state which has never parted with its natural income but is supported by its own economic rent. A farmer wishes to take up a tract or [sic] government land in this state and offers an economic rent of fifty cents per year per acre in its raw condition. The government (i.e., the community) accepts this rent, subject to re-adjustment every five years. The farmer then gets his deed without other cost than that of drawing and recording the instrument,
or a nominal price of, say, one dollar an acre.

He works his new property vigorously, clears, fences, drains and plants it, and puts up his buildings and stocks them. He has no taxes to pay, and at the end of his first five-year period he is making $10 per acre per year. Will his economic rent for the next five-year period be raised because he has prospered or because he has invested money in buildings and improvements? Not a penny. All the results of his own capital and labor belong to him and not to the community. If the neighborhood has not grown much, and fifty cents an acre is still all that is bid as economic rent for the same kind of raw ground as our farmer originally took, then his rent for the second five years will be the same as the first.

But suppose that during the second five years something of a boom has set in, and a community is growing up. Land is in demand, and for the lessening area in the hands of the government two dollars per acre is freely offered as economic rent. Now our typical farmer must come up to the market price and pay two dollars an acre for his third five years, irrespective of whether he is making more or less out of his place.

In his third five years the boom continues, and the community grows so fast that before the close of that period one corner of our friend's farm finds itself near the middle of a flourishing town. Five acres of it are needed for a public park, and five acres adjoining are wanted to cut up into building lots. As building lots, this part of the land will command a voluntary offer of a hundred dollars per year per acre of economic rent; and this fact establishes the land-value of the adjoining five acres needed for park purposes.

In this situation what shall our farmer do?

He has two courses open to him. If he doesn't want to relinquish his land, and can afford to withhold it from further improvement, he can pay the hundred dollars per acre per year of economic rent which these ten acres will now command, and keep his farm intact. If this appears to him too costly a luxury, he can signify his willingness to sell to the town the five acres wanted for the park, and the other five to individual builders.

Now, what price should he get for it? He did not pay the government much for his title deed, but he has worked on this land for fifteen years, and deserves some compensation when he transfers it. By his labor and also, in part, by reason of his clearing, draining and fencing, he has been able to make twelve dollars an acre from his ground, while his economic rent had not until now gone above five dollars an acre. Furthermore, he has built on these parcels a barn and two storehouses.

The method of computing the proper selling price under such circumstances would have to be the result of experience, but that price would certainly include the present value of the improvements and probably some lump sum besides, as compensation for loss of farming opportunity. But just as certainly it would not include, (as it would do under our present conditions), the increased location value which the town itself has created by its own growth and public works, and which in all justice belongs to the town or community and not to the individual.

This principle of economic rent applies to all the users of land, including mining, use of waterpower, and rights of way over or under its surface. Had this principle always been recognized, and the economic rent always been retained by the community, taxation would never have been heard of. When the economic rent is reclaimed by the community, the need of taxation will disappear.

Let us roughly restate the proposition: All members of the community having a joint right to the income which the social advantages of the land will command, they are all partners in this income.

Therefore, when one of their number wishes to take for his private use a parcel of this land, he should buy out his partners, i.e., the rest of the community, by paying regularly into the common treasury the economic rent of that parcel, instead of paying, as at present, the purchase price, i.e., the right to collect the economic rent, in a lump, to some other individual who has no more original right to it than himself.

But before this time the reader, unless he has given previous attention to the subject, is full of objections to the above doctrine: "How about the law?" he is asking. "Hasn't a man the right to buy a piece of land as cheaply as he can, to do what he pleases with it, and hold on to it till he gets ready to sell?" The answer is that at present he certainly has this statutory right, which has been so long and so universally recognized that most people suppose it to be not only a legal, but a real or equitable right. A shrewd man, foreseeing the direction of growth of population in a city, for example, can buy a well-located block at a moderate figure from some less far-seeing owner, can let it grow up to weeds, fence it off against all comers and give it no further attention except to pay the very small tax usually imposed upon vacant land.

Meantime the increasing community builds up all around it with homes, banks, stores, churches, schools, paving and lighting the streets, giving police and fire protection, etc., and at last comes to need this block so urgently that the owner is fairly begged to sell it, at three or ten or fifty times what it cost him. Quite often the purchaser at this enormous advance is the very community which has through its presence and the expenditure of its taxes created practically the whole value of the land in question!

It was said above that an individual has a statutory right to pursue this very common course. That was an error. The statement should have been that he has a statutory wrong; for no disinterested person can follow the course of land speculation as almost universally practiced, without feeling its rank injustice. ... read the whole article

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

NATURE acknowledges no ownership or control in man save as the result of exertion. In no other way can her treasures be drawn forth, her powers directed, or her forces utilized or controlled. She makes no discriminations among men, but is to all absolutely impartial. She knows no distinction between master and slave, king and subject, saint and sinner. All men to her stand upon an equal footing and have equal rights. She recognizes no claim but that of labor, and recognizes that without respect to the claimant. If a pirate spread his sails, the wind will fill them as well as it will fill those of a peaceful merchantman or missionary bark; if a king and a common man be thrown overboard, neither can keep his head above the water except by swimming; birds will not come to be shot by the proprietor of the soil any quicker than they will come to be shot by the poacher; fish will bite or will not bite at a hook in utter disregard as to whether it is offered them by a good little boy who goes to Sunday school, or a bad little boy who plays truant; grain will grow only as the ground is prepared and the seed is sown; it is only at the call of labor that ore can be raised from the mine; the sun shines and the rain falls alike upon just and unjust. The laws of nature are the decrees of the Creator. There is written in them no recognition of any right save that of labor; and in them is written broadly and clearly the equal right of all men to the use and enjoyment of nature; to apply to her by their exertions, and to receive and possess her reward. Hence, as nature gives only to labor, the exertion of labor in production is the only title to exclusive possession. — Progress & Poverty — Book VII, Chapter 1, Justice of the Remedy: Injustice of private property in land

PRIVATE property is not of one species, and moral sanction can no more be asserted universally of it than of marriage. That proper marriage conforms to the law of God does not justify the polygamic or polyandric or incestuous marriages that are in some countries permitted by the civil law. And as there may be immoral marriage, so may there be immoral private property. — The Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII 

THAT any species of property is permitted by the State, does not of itself give it moral sanction. The State has often made things property that are not justly property but involve violence and robbery. — The Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII

TO attach to things created by God the same right of private ownership that justly attaches to things produced by labor, is to impair and deny the true rights of property. For a man, who out of the proceeds of his labor is obliged to pay another man for the use of ocean or air or sunshine or soil, all of which are to men involved in the single term land, is in this deprived of his rightful property, and thus robbed. — The Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII 

HOW then is it that we are called deniers of the right of property? It is for the same reason that caused nine-tenths of the good people in the United States, north as well as south, to regard abolitionists as deniers of the right of property; the same reason that made even John Wesley look on a smuggler as a kind of robber, and on a custom-house seizer of other men's goods as a defender of law and order.  Where violations of the right of property have been long  sanctioned by custom and law, it is inevitable that those who really assert the right of property will at first be thought to deny it.  For under such circumstances the idea of property becomes confused, and that is thought to be property which is in reality a violation of property. — A Perplexed Philosopher (The Right Of Property And The Right Of Taxation)

LANDLORDS must elect to try their case either by human law or by moral law.  If they say that land is rightly property because made so by human law, they cannot charge those who would change that law with advocating robbery.  But if they charge that such change in human law would be robbery, then they must show that land is rightfully property irrespective of human law. — The Reduction to Iniquity (a reply to the Duke of Argyll), The Nineteenth Century, July, 1884

... go to "Gems from George"

Weld Carter: An Introduction to Henry George

The Ethics of Taxation
It was but a short step from the ethics of property to the ethics of taxation. George's position here was that as labor and capital rightfully and unconditionally own what they produce, no one can rightfully appropriate any of their earnings; nor can the State. On the other hand, land value is always a socially created value, never the result of action by the owner of the land. Therefore this is a value that must be taken by society; otherwise, those who comprise the social whole are deprived of what is rightfully theirs. Furthermore, to charge the owner for this value, in the form of taxation, is only to collect from him the precise value of the benefit he receives from society.

As to the justice of taxes on products, George spoke of "...all taxes now levied on the products and processes of industry -- which taxes, since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the right of property." 

Of the justice of taxes on land values, he said, "Adam Smith speaks of incomes as 'enjoyed under the protection of the state'; and this is the ground upon which the equal taxation of all species of property is commonly insisted upon -- that it is equally protected by the state. The basis of this idea is evidently that the enjoyment of property is made possible by the state -- that there is a value created and maintained by the community, which is justly called upon to meet community expenses. Now of what values is this true? Only of the value of land. This is a value that does not arise until a community is formed, and that, unlike other values, grows with the growth of the community. It exists only as the community exists. Scatter again the largest community, and land, now so valuable, would have no value at all. With every increase of population the value of land rises; with every decrease it falls. ...

"The tax upon land values is, therefore, the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, that value which is the creation of the community. It is the application the common property to common uses."  ...read the whole article

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 2: A Short History of Capitalism (pages 15-32)

About ten thousand years ago, human agriculture and permanent settlements arose, and with them came private property. Rulers granted ownership of land to heads of families (usually males). Often, military conquerors distributed land to their lieutenants. Titles could then be passed to heirs — typically, oldest sons got everything. ... read the whole chapter

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 5: Reinventing the Commons (pages 65-78)

Common Property Is Property Too

In Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, the eponymous character speaks for the trees, while his antagonist, the Once-ler, speaks for industry, jobs, and growth. Though both characters use clever language, it’s not an even match. The Once-ler has property rights, while the Lorax has only words. By the end of the story, the Once-ler has cut down all the truffula trees; the Lorax’s protests are eloquent but futile. The obvious moral is: trees need property rights too.

And why not? Property rights are useful human inventions. They’re legally enforceable agreements through which society grants specific privileges to owners. Among these are rights to use, exclude, sell, rent, lend, trade, or bequeath a particular asset. These assorted privileges can be bundled or unbundled almost any which way.

It’s largely through property rights that economies are shaped. Feudal economies were based on estates passed from lords to their eldest sons, alongside commons that sustained the commoners. Commoners were required, in one way or another, to labor for the lords, while the lords lived off that labor and the bounty of the land. The whole edifice was anchored by the so-called divine right of kings.

Similarly, capitalism is shaped by the property rights we create and honor today. Its greatest invention has been the web of property rights we call the joint stock corporation. This fictitious entity enjoys perpetual life, limited liability, and — like the feudal estate of yesteryear — almost total sovereignty. Its beneficial ownership has been fractionalized into tradeable shares, which themselves are a species of property.

There’s nothing about property rights, however, that requires them to be concentrated in profit-maximizing hands. You could, for example, set up a trust to own a forest, or certain forest rights, on behalf of future generations. These property rights would talk as loudly as shares of Pacific Lumber stock, but their purpose would be very different: to preserve the forest rather than to exploit it. If the Lorax had owned some of these rights, Dr. Seuss’s tale (and Pacific Lumber’s) would have ended more happily.

Imagine a whole set of property rights like this. Let’s call them, generically, common property rights. If such property rights didn’t exist, there’d be a strong case for inventing them. Fortunately, they do exist in a variety of forms — for example, land or easements held in perpetual trust, as by the Nature Conservancy, and corporate assets managed on behalf of a broad community, as by the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Some forms of common property include individual shares — again, the Alaska Permanent Fund is an example. These individual shares, however, differ from shares in private corporations. They’re not securities you can trade in a market; rather, they depend on your membership in the community. If you emigrate or die, you lose your share. Conversely, when you’re born into the community, your share is a birthright.

I recognize that, for some, turning common wealth into any kind of property is a sacrilege. As Chief Seattle of the Suquamish tribe put it, “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?” I empathize deeply with this sentiment. However, I’ve come to believe that it’s more disrespectful of the sky to pollute it without limit or payment than to turn it into common property held in trust for future generations. Hence, I favor propertization, but not privatization. ...


Modern democratic government is grounded on the principle of one person, one vote. In the same way, the modern commons sector would be grounded on the principle of one person, one share. In the case of scarce natural assets, it will be necessary to distinguish between usage rights and income rights. It’s impossible for everyone to use a limited commons equally, but everyone should receive equal shares of the income derived from selling limited usage rights.

Currently, private property owners enjoy a near-monopoly on the privilege of receiving property income. But as the Alaska Permanent Fund shows, it’s possible for common property co-owners to receive income too.

Income sharing would end private property’s monopoly not only on liquidity, but also on attention. People would notice common property if they got income from it. They’d care about it, think about it, and talk about it. Concern for invisible commons would soar.

Common property liquidity has to be designed carefully, though. Since common property rights are birthrights, they shouldn’t be tradeable the way corporate shares are. This means commons owners wouldn’t reap capital gains. Instead, they’d retain their shared income stakes throughout their lives, and through such stakes, share in rent, royalties, interest, and dividends. ... read the whole chapter

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 6: Trusteeship of Creation (pages 79-100)

The poor’s claim on commons rent is, of course, no different from the claim of middle-income households or the rich: commons rent rightfully belongs to everyone. But commons rent, if fully paid, would boost living standards for the poor much more than for anyone else. And unlike other forms of help for the poor, commons rent can’t be derided as welfare. It is, technically, unearned income, but no more so than dividends received by inheritors of private wealth. It’s property income, and should be a universal property right. That, I believe, is a winnable political strategy, as well as sound economic policy. ... read the whole chapter

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 10: What You Can Do (pages 155-166)

We come at last to the inescapable question: What can each of us do to help build Capitalism 3.0? ...

Second, we should demand more birthrights and property rights than we have now. Rights that belong to everyone. Rights built into our operating system. Rights that protect future generations as well as our own. The reason I stress property rights is that, in America, property rights are sacred. They’re guaranteed by the Constitution. Once you have them, they can’t be taken without fair compensation. These protections have greatly benefited those who own private property. They should also benefit those who share common wealth. ...


You are the architects and defenders of property rights. You’re well compensated by private property owners for your labors. Now is the time to lend more of your talents to the commons.

Your job is to design and defend inclusive forms of property that spread benefits to as many, rather than as few, as possible. To do this, you must play both defense and offense. On defense, be on high alert for “takings” from the commons — they happen all the time. I’m not talking about takings by government, but about takings by corporations, which occur far more frequently yet are much less noticed.

Pollution is a taking, noise is a taking, capturing nature’s scarcity rent is a taking. Your first job is to defend the commons against such enclosures.

Your second job — the offensive part — is to forge new property rights for the commons. These can be blends, like conservation easements. Be creative. Private and common property can often mesh together to the benefit of both. Making that happen is your gift. ... read the whole chapter


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