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Quaint Agrarian Idea? Quaint 19th Century Idea? Too late now?
Sometimes when one brings up Henry
George's name and ideas, the response one gets is something to the
effect that his ideas were and are only relevant in an agrarian
society, or that they would have been fine if we'd enacted his remedy at an
early stage of our development. On
the contrary! Land
values vary far more in cities than they do in rural areas, and the difference
land and marginal land is much greater in the city. The well
known three rules of real estate — location, location and location!
— speak exactly to that issue. What could be more current?
Mason Gaffney: Henry George 100 Years Later: The Great Reconciler
In 1879, George electrified the world by identifying one underlying cause for two great economic plagues:
These twin plagues arose from concentrated ownership of land, compounded by land speculation. Large landowners and speculators (often one and the same) held the best land idle or underused, forcing labor onto marginal land and driving down wages. Collapse of speculative land price bubbles caused periodic slumps.
(By "land" George meant exclusive rights to use natural resources in a specified territory. It included mining, water, fishing, and timber rights, road and rail rights-of way, and some patents. George emphasized the high value and productivity of urban land, which facilitated communication and trade. Today, we would add to "land" such items as taxi medallions, telecommunications licenses and pollution "rights".) ...
Neo-classical economists give us only a hard choice: we may have equity, or efficiency, but not both. By contrast, George's program reconciles equity and efficiency. Think of it! George takes two polar philosophies, collectivism and individualism, and composes them into one solution. He cuts the Gordian knot. Like Keynes after him, George inspires us by saying, "Forget the bitter tradeoffs; we can have it all!" read the whole article
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 5: The Basic Cause of Poverty (in the unabridged: Book V: The Problem Solved)
Henry George: The Crime of Poverty (1885 speech)
Do you know that I do not think that the average man realises what land is? I know a little girl who has been going to school for some time, studying geography, and all that sort of thing; and one day she said to me: "Here is something about the surface of the earth. I wonder what the surface of the earth looks like?" "Well," I said, "look out into the yard there. That is the surface of the earth." She said, "That the surface of the earth? Our yard the surface of the earth? Why, I never thought of it!" That is very much the case not only with grown men, but with such wise beings as newspaper editors. They seem to think, when you talk of land, that you always refer to farms; to think that the land question is a question that relates entirely to farmers, as though land had no other use than growing crops. Now, I should like to know how a man could even edit a newspaper without having the use of some land. He might swing himself by straps and go up in a balloon, but he could not even then get along without land. What supports the balloon in the air? Land; the surface of the earth. Let the earth drop, and what would become of the balloon? The air that supports the balloon is supported in turn by land. So it is with everything else men can do. Whether a man is working away three thousand feet under the surface of the earth or whether he is working up in the top of one of those immense buildings that they have in New York; whether he is ploughing the soil or sailing across the ocean, he is still using land.Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal (1887 speech)
Land! Why, in owning a piece of ground, what do you own ? The lawyers will tell you that you own from the centre of the earth right up to heaven; and, so far as all human purposes go, you do. In New York they are building houses thirteen and fourteen stories high. What are men, living in those upper stories, paying for? There is a friend of mine who has an office in one of them, and he estimates that he pays by the cubic foot for air. Well, the man who owns the surface of the land has the renting of the air up there, and would have if the buildings were carried up for miles.
This land question is the bottom question. Man is a land animal. Suppose you want to build a house; can you build it without a place to put it? What is it built of? Stone, or mortar, or wood, or iron — they all come from the earth. Think of any article of wealth you choose, any of those things which men struggle for, where do they come from? From the land. It is the bottom question. The land question is simply the labour question; and when some men own that element from which all wealth must be drawn, and upon which all must live, then they have the power of living without work, and, therefore, those who do work get less of the products of work. ... read the whole speech
Today the value of land in New York city is over a hundred million annually. Who has created that value? Is it because a few landowners are here that that land is worth a hundred million a year? Is it not because the whole population of New York is here? Is it not because this great city is the center of exchanges for a large portion of the continent? Does not every child that is born, every one that comes to settle in New York, does it not add to the value of this land? Ought it not, therefore, get some portion of the benefit? And is it not wronged when, instead of being used for that purpose, certain favored individuals are allowed to appropriate the fund of land values?
We might take this vast fund for common needs; we might with it make a city here such as the world has never seen before — a city spacious, clean, wholesome, beautiful — a city that should be full of parks; a city without tenement houses; and we could do this, not merely without imposing any tax upon production, without interfering with the just rights of property, but while at the same time securing far better than they are now the rights of property, and abolishing the taxes that now weigh on production.
We have but to throw off our taxes upon things of human production; to cease to fine a person who puts up a house or makes anything that adds to the wealth of the community; to cease collecting taxes from people who bring goods from abroad or make goods at home; and — in substitution for all these taxes — to collect that enormous revenue due to the growth of the community for the benefit of the community that produced it. ...
What we propose to do is to divide up the rent that comes from land; and that is a very easy thing.
We need not disturb anybody in possession, we need not interfere with anybody’s building or anybody’s improvement. We only need to remit taxes on all improvements, on all forms of wealth, and put the tax on the value of the land, exclusive of the improvements, so that the dog-in-the-manger who is holding a piece of vacant land will have to pay the same amount of tax for it as land of similar value with a building or other improvements upon it. In that way we would treat the whole land of such a community as being the common estate of the whole people of the community.
The people of New York could manage their estate just as well as any corporation, or any private family, for that matter. But for the people of New York to resume their estate and to treat it as their own, it is not necessary for them to go to any bother of management. It is not necessary for them to say to any landowner, this particular piece of land is ours, and no longer yours.
We can leave land titles just as they are. We can leave the owners of the land to call themselves its owners; all we want is the annual value of the land. Not, mark you, that value which the owner has created, that value which has been given to it by improvements; but simply that value which is given to the bare land by the fact that we are all here —that has attached to the land because of the growth of this great community. And, when we take that, then all inducement to monopolize the land will be gone — then these very worthy gentlemen who are holding one-half of the area of this city idle and vacant will find the taxes they have to pay so high that they will have to go to work and build houses or otherwise use the land, or give it away to somebody who will build upon it, or put it to other productive use. And so it will happen all over the country. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Wages of Labor
God’s laws do not change! Their applications may alter with altering conditions, but the same principles of right and wrong that hold when men are few and industry is rude hold amid teeming populations and complex industries.
In our cities of millions and countries of scores of millions, in a civilisation 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 man 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. And even in this state of society, where the elaboration of industry and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need for private possession of land widespread, there is no difficulty in conforming individual possession with the equal right to land. ... read the whole articleHenry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
The Land Question is not merely a question between farmers and the owners of agricultural land. It is a question that affects every man, every woman, and every child. The Land Question is simply another name for the great labor question, and the people who think of the Land Question as having importance simply for farmers forget what land is.
If you would realize what land is, think of what men would be without land. If there were no land, where would be the people? Land is not merely a place to graze cows or sheep upon, to raise corn or raise cabbage. It is the indispensable element necessary to the life of every human being. We are all land animals; our very bodies come from the land, and to the land they return again.
Whether a man dwells in the city or in the country, whether he be a farmer, a laborer, a mechanic, a manufacturer, or a soldier, land is absolutely necessary to his life. No matter what his occupation may by, if he is engaged in productive labor, that productive labor, if you analyze it, is simply the application of human exertion to land, the changing in place or in form of the matter of the universe. ... Read the whole speechHenry George: The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It (1890)
From the Single Tax we may expect these advantages:
1. It would dispense with a whole army of tax gatherers and other officials which present taxes require, and place in the treasury a much larger portion of what is taken from people, while by making government simpler and cheaper, it would tend to make it purer. ...
2. It would enormously increase the production of wealth--
(a) By the removal of the burdens that now weigh upon industry and thrift. If we tax houses, there will be fewer and poorer houses; if we tax machinery, there will be less machinery; if we tax trade, there will be less trade; if we tax capital, there will be less capital; if we tax savings, there will be less savings. All the taxes therefore that we would abolish are those that repress industry and lessen wealth. But if we tax land values, there will be no less land.Henry George: Justice the Object -- Taxation the Means (1890)
(b) On the contrary, the taxation of land values has the effect of making land more easily available by industry, since it makes it more difficult for owners of valuable land which they themselves do not care to use to hold it idle for a large future price. ...
(c) The taxation of the processes and products of labor on one hand, and the insufficient taxation of land values on the other, produce an unjust distribution of wealth which is building up in the hands of a few, fortunes more monstrous than the world has ever before seen, while the masses of our people are steadily becoming relatively poorer. ...
(d) The unjust distribution which is giving us the hundred-fold millionaire on the one side and the tramp and pauper on the other, generates thieves, gamblers, and social parasites of all kinds ...
(e) The taxes we would abolish fall most heavily on the poorer agricultural districts, and tend to drive population and wealth from them to the great cities. The tax we would increase would destroy that monopoly of land which is the great cause of that distribution of population which is crowding the people too closely together in some places and scattering them too far apart in other places. Families live on top of one another in cities because of the enormous speculative prices at which vacant lots are held. In the country they are scattered too far apart for social intercourse and convenience, because, instead of each taking what land he can use, every one who can grabs all he can get, in the hope of profiting by its increase in value, and the next man must pass farther on. Thus we have scores of families living under a single roof, and other families living in dugouts on the prairies afar from neighbors--some living too close to each other for moral, mental, or physical health, and others too far separated for the stimulating and refining influences of society. The wastes in health, in mental vigor, and in unnecessary transportation result in great economic losses which the Single Tax would save. ... read the whole article
Go to that great city of New York, where people are crowded together so closely, the great majority of them, that physical health and moral health are in many cases alike impossible. Where, in spite of the fact that the rich men of the whole country gravitate there, only four per cent of the families live in separate houses of their own, and sixty-five per cent of the families are crowded two or more to the single floor — crowded together layer on layer, in many places, like sardines in a box. Yet, why are there not more houses there? Not because there is not enough capital to build more houses, and yet not because there is not land enough on which to build more houses.
Today one half of the area of New York City is unbuilt upon — is absolutely unused. When there is such a pressure, why don't people go to these vacant lots and build there? Because though unused, the land is owned; because, speculating upon the future growth of the city, the owners of those vacant lots demand thousands of dollars before they will permit anyone to put a house upon them. What you see in New York, you may see everywhere. Come into the coalfields of Pennsylvania; there you will frequently find thousands and thousands of miners unable to work, either locked out by their employers, or striking as a last resource against their pitiful wages being cut down a little more. Read the entire article
Lindy Davies: Land and Justice
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." ...
The ‘real world’ in which human society exists is not confined to natural, physical phenomena. From earliest times, human beings have interacted socially and economically. As they do so, they have specialised and traded in goods and services which are the products of combinations of labour, capital, enterprise and the fourth – often forgotten but distinct – factor of all production: land.
Land comprises all natural resources, not just ‘terra firma.’ It is the universe minus man’s products. Even the simplest of human activities, sleep, requires each of us to occupy exclusively a space, a location, preferably a bed in a home of our own. But that word ‘own’ conjures emotions and political postures. ...
Property taxes have always been a major source of revenue for governments, especially local governments. Their relative importance declined around a hundred years ago, as classical economic theory was eclipsed by the still ruling neo-liberal or Washington orthodoxy and – for some seventy years – its formidable challenger Marxist socialism. Both Marxist and neo-liberal economists share the view that land is neither a factor distinct from capital nor important in an industrial age.
Land conjures up visions of rolling prairies or Constable landscapes, not skyscrapers or dark Satanic mills. Land reform was indeed characterised during the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century in much of the now developed world by massive increases in landless rural and urban poor, as economies switched from subsistence agriculture to industrialised farming and then manufacturing. It also invariably incorporated calls for registration, sub-division and taxation of land. Henry George’s book Progress and Poverty massively out-sold Marx’ Das Capital and policies based on his Single Tax (on land values) achieved remarkable results as far apart as China, Japan, Chile, Australia, Denmark and the USA (Andelson, 2000). Between 1915 and 1975 the use of LVT was generally in steep decline, although many local jurisdictions that were given the choice to adopt it continued to do so. Taxes based on land-and-buildings, typically like the British rating system, also declined in relative importance. Nevertheless the vast majority of developed countries continue to value property for tax purposes and many assess land/site values separately from building values, even where they do not levy a land tax at a separate rate. There is some evidence that, with the collapse of Communism and the globalisation of capitalism, the importance of land as a source of public revenue may be increasing. This is because most other taxable entities are mobile and can with increasing ease escape the grasp of national – let alone local – treasuries. Location is local: it cannot be moved, hence a tax on the economic rent of land and other fixed natural resources cannot be evaded. Nor can it be passed on, as are taxes on wages and profits, to the consumer via the supply chain, thus adding to inflation.
Rent will remain with the owner unless and until recovered for the community that created it, through taxation. On the other hand, economies competing for the active agents of production – capital and labour – are engaged in a ‘race to the bottom’ of lower tax rates on corporations and high-paid individuals. Governments wishing to invest in public services are finding the most secure source of revenue is the property tax. And within the range of possible property taxes, studies have shown that cities which shift taxes off buildings onto land values out-compete those who do not (Plassman & Tideman, 1999; Hartzok, 1997). ... Read the whole article
Henry George: The Land Question (1881)
... it is best that the truth be fully stated and clearly recognized. He who sees the truth, let him proclaim it, without asking who is for it or who is against it. This is not radicalism in the bad sense which so many attach to the word. This is conservatism in the true sense.
What gives to the Irish Land Question its supreme significance is that it brings into attention and discussion – nay, that it forces into attention and discussion, not a mere Irish question, but a question of world-wide importance.
What has brought the land question to the front in Ireland, what permits the relation between land and labor to be seen there with such distinctness – to be seen even by those who cannot in other places perceive them – is certain special conditions. Ireland is a country of dense population, so that competition for the use of land is so sharp and high as to produce marked effects upon the distribution of wealth. It is mainly an agricultural country so that production is concerned directly and unmistakably with the soil. Its industrial organization is largely that simple one in which an employing capitalist does not mind between laborer and landowner, so that the connection between rent and wages is not obscured. Ireland, moreover, was never conquered by the Romans, nor, until comparatively recently, by any people who had felt in their legal system the effect of Roman domination. It is the European country in which primitive ideas as to land tenures have longest held their sway, and the circumstances of its conquest, its cruel misgovernment, and the differences of race and religion between the masses of the people and those among whom the land was parceled, have tended to preserve old traditions and to direct the strength of Irish feeling and the fervor of Irish imagination against a system which forces the descendant of the ancient possessors of the soil to pay tribute for it to the representative of a hated stranger. It is for these reasons that the connection between Irish distress and Irish landlordism is so easily seen and readily realized.
But does not the same relation exist between English pauperism and English landlordism – between American tramps and the American land system? Essentially the same land system as that of Ireland exists elsewhere, and, wherever it exists, distress of essentially the same kind is to be seen. And elsewhere, just as certainly as in Ireland, is the connection between the two that of cause and effect.
When the agent of the Irish landlord takes from the Irish cottier for rent his pigs, his poultry, or his potatoes, or the money that he gains by the sale of these things, it is clear enough that this rent comes from the earnings of labor, and diminishes what the laborer gets. But is not this in reality just as clear when a dozen middlemen stand between laborer and landlord? Is it not just as clear when, instead of being paid monthly or quarterly or yearly, rent is paid in a lumped sum called purchase-money? Whence come the incomes which the owners of land in mining districts, in manufacturing districts, or in commercial districts, receive for the use of their land? Manifestly, they must come from the earnings of labor – there is no other source from which they can come. From what are the revenues of Trinity Church corporation drawn, if not from the earnings of labor? What is the source of the income of the Astors, if it is not the labor of laboring-men, women, and children? When a man makes a fortune by the rise of real estate, as in New York and elsewhere many men have done within the past few months, what does it mean? It means that he may have fine clothes, costly food, a grand house luxuriously furnished, etc. Now, these things are not the spontaneous fruits of the soil; neither do they fall from heaven, nor are they cast up by the sea. They are products of labor – can be produced only by labor. And hence, if men who do no labor get them, it must necessarily be at the expense of those who do labor.
It may seem as if I were needlessly dwelling upon a truth apparent by mere statement. Yet, simple as this truth is, it is persistently ignored. This is the reason that the true relation and true importance of the question which has come to the front in Ireland are so little realized. ...
... I merely wish to correct that impression which leads so many people to talk and write as though rent and land tenures related solely to agriculture and to agricultural communities. Nothing could be more erroneous. Land is necessary to all production, no matter what be the kind or form; land is the standing-place, the workshop, the storehouse of labor; it is to the human being the only means by which he can obtain access to the material universe or utilize its powers. Without land man cannot exist. To whom the ownership of land is given, to him is given the virtual ownership of the men who must live upon it. When this necessity is absolute, then does he necessarily become their absolute master. And just as this point is neared – that is to say, just as competition increases the demand for land – just in that degree does the power of taking a larger and larger share of the earnings of labor increase. It is this power that gives land its value; this is the power that enables the owner of valuable land to reap where he has not sown–to appropriate to himself wealth which he has had no share in producing. Rent is always the devourer of wages. The owner of city land takes, in the rents he receives for his land, the earnings of labor just as clearly as does the owner of farming land. And whether he be working in a garret ten stories above the street, or in a mining drift thousands of feet below the earth's surface, it is the competition for the use of land that ultimately determines what proportion of the produce of his labor the laborer will get for himself. This is the reason why modern progress does not tend to extirpate poverty; this is the reason why, with all the inventions and improvements and economies which so enormously increase productive power, wages everywhere tend to the minimum of a bare living. The cause that in Ireland produces poverty and distress – the ownership by some of the people of the land on which and from which the whole people must live – everywhere else produces the same results. It is this that produces the hideous squalor of London and Glasgow slums; it is this that makes want jostle luxury in the streets of rich New York, that forces little children to monotonous and stunting toil in Massachusetts mills, and that fills the highways of our newest States with tramps. ... read the whole article
Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
Rent becomes critically important in Georgist economics, because rent is the increment of market gain that accrues to choice land parcels. This insight arose originally in the context of agricultural societies, where differential qualities of land were recognized by varied payment in rent. An individual’s return on investment was represented by his labor — that was his and his alone to keep. So also were whatever capital goods he acquired through the efforts of his past labor. On the other hand, whenever land offered a higher yield separate from whatever the individual’s labor investment might represent, this constituted a windfall gain above and beyond what might be minimally expected. This is land rent, and it exists even if it isn’t collected. Today, as earlier noted, the greatest land rents derive from their location, grown out of nearby social investment.
The concept of rent needs further explication precisely because it is so foreign to 20th century students, even those who have been schooled in economics at it is currently taught. Land rent has no relationship to the word rent as it is used in contemporary vernacular, that is, when one rents a car or an apartment. Rather, rent is a surplus, defined as the return on investment above and beyond what is minimally required to bring a service into production. To take just an elementary example, consider that there are three parcels of land available for farming and three farmers of equal ability and enterprise. But suppose the parcels differ in their productive capacity, due perhaps to their fertility, access to water, and so on. If planted with similar quality seed, the three parcels will yield different quantities of harvest, the one with the highest quality land having the best return. The one with the lowest quality land would in like fashion have the lowest return. Economic rent is defined as the amount of surplus harvest qualitatively measured by the difference between the parcel with the highest return and that with the lowest return. ... read the whole article
... George was a mensch, like Holly Whyte or Jane Jacobs, seeing cities in intensely human, interactive terms. George saw cities as foci of communication, cooperation, socialization and exchange, and these as the basis of civilization. He saw cities as the new frontier, an endless series of new frontiers because the city as a whole enjoys increasing returns: the presence of people with good mutual access, associating on equal terms, expedites cooperation and specialization through the market. Multivariate interactions in cities are synergistic. Indeed, while each part -- each parcel of land -- is developed in the stage of decreasing returns, the composite city is generally in a stage of increasing returns, thanks to synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and increases to the whole yield more than the sum of increases to the parts. ... read the whole article
Michael Hudson: The Lies of the Land: How and why land gets undervalued
Turning land-value gains into capital gains
Hiding the free lunch
Two appraisal methods
How land gets a negative value!
Where did all the land value go?
A curious asymmetry
Site values as the economy's "credit sink"
Immortally aging buildings
Real estate industry's priorities
THE FREE LUNCH Its cost to citizens Its cost to the economy
Turning land-value gains into capital gains
YOU MAY THINK the largest category of assets in this countrly is industrial plant and machinery. In fact the US Federal Reserve Board's annual balance sheet shows real estate to be the economy's largest asset, two-thirds of America's wealth and more than 60 percent of that in land, depending on the assessment method.
Most capital gains are land-value gains. The big players do not want their profits in rent, which is taxed as ordinary income, but in capital gains, taxed at a lower rate. To benefit as much as possible from today's real estate bubble of fast rising land values they pledge a property's rent income to pay interest on the debt for as much property as they can buy with as little of their own money as possible. After paying off the mortgage lender they sell the property and get to keep the "capital gain".
This price appreciation is actually a "land gain", that is, it's not from providing start-up capital for new enterprises, but from sitting on a rising asset already in place, the land. Its value rises because neighbourhoods are upgraded, mortgage money is ample, and rezoning is favorable from farmland on the outskirts of cities to gentrification of the core to create high-income residential developments. The potential capital gain can be huge. That's why developers are willing to pay their mortgage lenders so much of their rent income, often all of it.
Of course, investing most surplus income and wealth in land has been going on ever since antiquity, and also pledging one's land for debt ("mortgaging the homestead") that often led to its forfeiture to creditors or to forced sale under distress conditions. Today borrowing against land is a path to getting rich -- before the land bubble bursts. As economies have grown richer, most of their surplus is still being spent acquiring real property, both for prestige and because its flow of rental income grows as society's prosperity grows. That's why lenders find real estate to be the collateral of choice.
Most new entries into the Forbes or Fortune lists of the richest men consist of real estate billionaires, or individuals coming from the fuels and minerals industries or natural monopolies. Those who have not inherited family fortunes have gained their wealth by borrowing money to buy assets that have soared in value. Land may not be a factor of production, but it enables its owners to assert claims of ownership and obligation, i.e., rentier income in the forms of rent and interest. ...
For hundreds of years property's value has been calculated by discounting its flow of rental income at the going rate of interest. The lower the interest rate, the higher the price a given rental stream will justify -- or as property owners express it, the more years' rent a property will bring. What is so striking about land values today is that they are rising for reasons independent of their earnings stream. The major new consideration is their prospect for future "capital" (that is, land-price) gains. In sum, the ultimate aim of real estate investors no longer is so much to seek income -- most of which is pledged to their bankers as interest payments on the property they acquire -- as much as to seek property gains. Politically opportunites abound. Merely changing zoning in New York City in the 1980s to allow using commercial loft spaces for residential purposes had the effect of multiplying asset values five or tenfold.
Whether the gains come from selling the property or from borrowing more money against it, the essential phenomenon is the rapid growth in asset values and real estate's uniquely favored tax treatment. That's why investors choose real estate instead of bonds or stocks, and much of the strategy underlying corporate takeovers has followed the strategies they developed over the past half century.
Nationwide the capital-gains dimension needs to be incorporated into the rental revenue statistics to measure real estate's total returns. This sector's nearly complete success in escaping the tax collector has placed an enormous tax burden on everyone else. Read the whole articleWeld Carter: An Introduction to Henry George
George is largely remembered for the single tax. But the single tax came at the end of a long trail as a means -- the means, he said -- by which to remedy ills previously identified and diagnosed. Behind the single tax lay a closely knit system of thought. To understand George, it is necessary to go behind the single tax and explore that system for its major characteristics.
Notable in George's work is the emphasis he laid on the relation of man to the earth. "The most important of all the material relations of man is his relation to the planet he inhabits."
George might well be called a land economist, indeed, the foremost land economist. For George, the basic fact of man's physical existence is that he is a land animal, "who can live only on and from land, and can use other elements, such as air, sunshine and water, only by the use of land." "Without either of the three elements, land, air and water, man could not exist; but he is peculiarly a land animal, living on its surface, and drawing from it his supplies."
So man not only lives off land, levying on it for its materials and forces, but he also lives on land. His very life depends on land. ". ..land is the habitation of man, the store-house upon which he must draw for all his needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for the supply of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be taken, the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized, without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from it we live, to it we return again - children of the soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all that belongs to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit."
Land and man, in that order! These two things are the fundamentals. They are, for instance, the fundamentals of production. It is said that without labor, certainly, there can be no production. Similarly, without land, clearly there can be no agricultural production or mining production. It was just as clear to George that there could be no production of any kind without land. There could be no factory production, no trade, no services rendered, and none of the multitudinous operations of town and city.
All these processes require land: a place, a spot, a site, a location, so many acres or square feet of the earth's surface on which to be performed. "In every form ...the exertion of human labor in the production of wealth requires space; not merely standing or resting space, but moving space -- space for the movements of the human body and its organs, space for the storage and changing in place of materials and tools and products. This is as true of the tailor, the carpenter, the machinist, the merchant or the clerk, as of the farmer or stock-grower, or of the fisherman or miner."
The office building, the store, the bank, as well as the factory, need land just as do the farm and mine. Land is needed as sites on which to build structures. Likewise, businesses need land as the locations on which to perform their subsequent operations.
George adds: "But it may be said, as I have often heard it said, 'We do not all want land! We cannot all become farmers!' To this I reply that we do all want land, though it may be in different ways and in varying degrees. Without land no human being can live; without land no human occupation can be carried on. Agriculture is not the only use of land. It is only one of many. And just as the uppermost story of the tallest building rests upon land as truly as the lowest, so is the operative as truly a user of land as is the farmer. As all wealth is in the last analysis the resultant of land and labor, so is all production in the last analysis the expenditure of labor upon land."
The railroad needs land, not just for its terminals and depots but for its very roadbeds; whoever uses the railroad uses the land that the railroad occupies, as well as the improvements the railroad affords. The State needs land not only for parks and reservoirs but for schools and courts, for hospitals and prisons, and for roads and highways with which to link its residents together.
Our homes require land, whether the home is a country estate, a city apartment, or a room in hotel or tenement. Our diversions require land, whether for a ride in the country, a round on the golf course, a seat at the theatre, or a chair in the library or before the television set. "Physically we are air-breathing, light-requiring land animals, who for our existence and all our production require place on the dry surface of our globe. And the fundamental perception of the concept land -- whether in the wider use of the word as that term of political economy signifying all that external nature offers to the use of man, or in the narrower sense which the word usually bears in common speech, where it signifies the solid surface of the earth -- is that of extension; that of affording standing-place or room."
In George's view, man's dependence on land is universal and endless, "...for land is the indispensible prerequisite to life." "What is inexplicable, if we lose sight of man's absolute and constant dependence upon land, is clear when we recognize it."
Here then is the main element, the distinctive characteristic, of George's work. In George's view, man's relation to the earth is his primary material relation. All other influences, therefore, must be appraised as to how they affect, or are affected by, this basic relation. It is perhaps this to which Soule refers when he says, of Progress and Poverty, "This book expounded a theory developed with superb logic." ... read the whole article
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper