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A.J.O. [probably Mark Twain]: Slavery
Suppose I am the owner of an estate and 100 slaves, all the land about being held in the same way by people of the same class as myself. ...
Suddenly a brilliant idea strikes me. I reflect that there is no unoccupied land in the neighbourhood, so that if my laborers were free they would still have to look to me for work somehow. ...
Most of them think they would like to have a piece of land and work it for themselves, and be their own masters. ...
"But," softly I observe, "you are going too fast. Your proposals about the tools and seed and your maintenance are all right enough, but the land, you remember, belongs to me. You cannot expect me to give you your liberty and my own land for nothing. That would not be reasonable, would it?" ...
Still I am ready to do what I promised — "to employ as many as I may require, on such terms as we may mutually and independently agree." ...
So they all set to at the old work at the old place, and on the old terms, only a little differently administered; that is, that whereas I formerly supplied them with food, clothes, etc., direct from my stores, I now give them a weekly wage representing the value of those articles, which they will henceforth have to buy for themselves. ...
Instead of being forced to keep my men in brutish ignorance, I find public schools established at other people's expense to stimulate their intelligence and improve their minds, to my great advantage, and their children compelled to attend these schools. The service I get, too, being now voluntarily rendered (or apparently so) is much improved in quality. In short, the arrangement pays me better in many ways.
But I gain in other ways besides pecuniary benefit. I have lost the stigma of being a slave driver, and have, acquired instead the character of a man of energy and enterprise, of justice and benevolence. I am a "large employer of labour," to whom the whole country, and the labourer especially, is greatly indebted, and people say, "See the power of capital! These poor labourers, having no capital, could not use the land if they had it, so this great and far-seeing man wisely refuses to let them have it, and keeps it all for himself, but by providing them with employment his capital saves them from pauperism, and enables him to build up the wealth of the country, and his own fortune together."
Whereas it is not my capital that does any of these things. ...
But now another thought strikes me. Instead of paying an overseer to work these men for me, I will make him pay me for the privilege of doing it. I will let the land as it stands to him or to another — to whomsoever will give the most for the billet. He shall be called my tenant instead of my overseer, but the things he shall do for me are essentially the same, only done by contract instead of for yearly pay. ....
For a moderate reduction in my profits, then — a reduction equal to the tenant's narrow margin of profit — I have all the toil and worry of management taken off my hands, and the risk too, for be the season good or bad, the rent is bound to be forthcoming, and I can sell him up to the last rag if he fails of the full amount, no matter for what reason; and my rent takes precedence of all other debts. ...
If wages are forced down it is not I that do it; it is that greedy and merciless man the employer (my tenant) who does it. I am a lofty and superior being, dwelling apart and above such sordid considerations. I would never dream of grinding these poor labourers, not I! I have nothing to do with them at all; I only want my rent -- and get it. Like the lillies of the field, I toil not, neither do I spin, and yet (so kind is Providence!) my daily bread (well buttered) comes to me of itself. Nay, people bid against each other for the privilege of finding it for me; and no one seems to realise that the comfortable income that falls to me like the refreshing dew is dew indeed; but it is the dew of sweat wrung from the labourers' toil. It is the fruit of their labour which they ought to have; which they would have if I did not take it from them.
This sketch illustrates the fact that chattel slavery is not the only nor even the worst form of bondage. When the use of the earth — the sole source of our daily bread — is denied unless one pays a fellow creature for permission to use it, people are bereft of economic freedom. The only way to regain that freedom is to collect the rent of land instead of taxes for the public domain.
Once upon a time, labour leaders in the USA, the UK and Australia understood these facts. The labour movements of those countries were filled with people who fought for the principles of 'the single tax' on land at the turn of the twentieth century. But since then, it has been ridiculed, and they have gradually yielded to the forces of privilege and power — captives of the current hegemony — daring no longer to come to grips with this fundamental question, lest they, too, become ridiculed.
And so the world continues to wallow in this particular ignorance — and in its ensuing poverty and debt. Read the whole essay
Edmund Vance Cooke: Uncivilized
An ancient ape, once on a time,
Disliked exceedingly to climb,
And so he picked him out a tree
And said, "Now this belongs to me.
I have a hunch that monks are mutts
And I can make them gather nuts
And bring the bulk of them to me,
By claiming title to this tree." ...
To gather nuts, he made his claim:
"All monkeys climbing on this tree
Must bring their gathered nuts to me,
Cracking the same on equal shares;
The meats are mine, the shells are theirs." .... Read the whole poem
Henry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
On this island that I have supposed we go and settle on, under the plan we have proposed each man should pay annually to the special fund in accordance with the special privilege the peculiar value of the piece of land he held, and those who had land of no peculiar value should pay nothing. That rent that would be payable by the individual to the community would only amount to the value of the special privilege that he enjoyed from the community. But if one man owned the island, and if we went there and you people were fools enough to allow me to lay claim to the ownership of the island and say it belonged to me, then I could charge a monopoly rent; I could make you pay me every penny that you earned, save just enough for you to live; and the reason I could not make you pay more is simply this, that if you would pay more you would die.
THE power to exact that monopoly rent comes from the power to hold land idle -- comes from the power to keep labor off the land. Tax up land to its full value and that power would be gone; the richest landowners could not afford to hold valuable land idle. Everywhere that simple plan would compel the landowner either to use his land or to sell out to some one who would; and the rent of land would then fall to its true economic rate--the value of the special privilege it gave would go not to individuals, but to the general community, to be used for the benefit of the whole community. Read the whole speech
Joseph Stiglitz: October, 2002, interview
Mason Gaffney: Full Employment, Growth And Progress On A Small Planet: Relieving Poverty While Healing The Earth
Weight of excess burden of most taxes. Many modern Georgists tend, oddly, to trivialize the power of tax bias to keep land from its best use. They have seized upon a conventional micro-economic device, now generally called the “Harberger Triangle,” in recognition of one Chicago-School expositor. It is based on supply and demand curves, with no reference to land markets at all. Perhaps these Georgists are hoping this will help them get through to ordinary economists; but this device has the effect, by accident or design, of minimizing estimates of the economic losses, or “excess burdens,” that bad taxes cause.
The power of tax bias to keep land from its best use is starkly obvious by analyzing the economics of using marginal land. Any tax at all will sterilize such land completely, unless the taxes are so universal that the mobile factors, labor and capital, cannot escape them by moving.
“Who cares about marginal land?”, some may say. The distorting power of taxes has been demonstrated inadvertently by Chicago-School economists Gale Johnson and Stephen Cheung. They have shown that sharecropping, as a private arrangement, creates a bias on the part of tenants to substitute land for labor and equipment, almost without limit. This is because extra land costs the cropper nothing, unless it adds to output, so the cropper’s interest is to substitute land, which is free to him, for his labor and capital, which he pays for.
Taxes based on gross output affect all landowners the same way the cropshare lease affects croppers. They make every landowner a cropper of the state, giving every landowner a motive to substitute land for labor and capital indefinitely. Private landlords overcome this by limiting how much land to allow each cropper; but the state has no such offsetting control. Thus, each landowner’s motive to acquire excess land runs wild.
In conjunction, consider that taxes (other than property taxes) are based solely on cash flows, thus entirely exempting all the imputed income from and imputed consumption of the service flows of land – the “amenities.” Government tells the landed gentry, “Hold land as a totem, an heirloom, a private hunting and riding park, a dream of future retirement, a speculation, a hedge against inflation, an entry into high society, a beach access, a protection against future neighbors, a shooting range, a golf course, a ski hideaway, a drinking club, a private landing strip … anything private and narcissistic or exclusionary or snobbish … and your pleasures are tax exempt. Produce goods and services for others, though, and we will treat you like a sharecropper – and tax your employees, too.”
Now hark back to George’s second force holding labor off the better lands (Item A,3,b): holding land as a totem. He noted that tendency in an age before we even had an income tax, or state sales taxes. Our present tax system magnifies the tendency beyond all reason, resulting in the relegation of much of our best land to the indulgences of the landed gentry, old and new. Read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Privatizing Land Without Giveaway
Mason Gaffney: Rent, Taxation, Dissipation and Federalism
I. The issue
II. Sources of rent
III. Dissipation of rent before the fisc takes it: what and how?
A. Dissipation means waste and destruction or suppression.
B. How rent is dissipated.
C. Open access followed by tenure: rent-seeking institutions.
IV. Dissipating rent via public spending
A. Taxes and lease provisions need not twist incentives.
B. Public spending of tax proceeds may dissipate rent.
C. History of recognition of this spending effect
D. Successful compromises with the principle.
1. Barriers to immigration or sharing.E. Less successful compromises with the principle
2. Selling voters on the benefits of immigration
1. Public works.
2. Subsidized public works in tandem with exclusionary zoning
3. Hocking the revenues
A. Socialize rent at the national level.
B. Limit benefits to citizens per se (not to landowners per se).
C. A social dividend to citizens is the obvious route.
D. Return rents to local school districts in inverse proportion to local tax base per capita (the Colin Clark principle).
E. Promote James Madison and Neville Chamberlain to elder statesmen emeritus. Read the whole article
Fred Foldvary: Geo-Rent: A Plea to Public Economists
Those who allege a relative difficulty in separating the value of land from the value of improvements lose sight of the main policy issue. The relative efficiency of tapping geo-rent is that doing so imposes no marginal cost on additional income, sales, or personal property. Condominiums assign to each unit a fixed percentage interest in the association, which is also its percentage of the assessments. This percentage interest is often based on the site value of the unit relative to the other units, i.e. its location and size, irrespective of any personal property inside the unit, let alone the owners’ income or spending.
Thousands of condominium associations are thus accomplishing what some claim is impractical. They tap the site value of a unit without reducing extra income or burdening extra spending or possessions. Residential associations, hotels, and other private communities do likewise with their rental charges and assessments. Some private communities such as shopping centers do practice modern sharecropping, basing some of their charges on the gross revenue of the tenant shops as a way of sharing risks, but this is not an essential feature of private-community financing.... Read the entire article
Henry George: The Land Question (1881)
The best measure of rent is, of course, its proportion to the produce. The only estimate of Irish rent as a proportion of which I know is that of Buckle, who puts it at one-fourth of the produce. In this country I am inclined to think one-fourth would generally be considered a moderate rent. Even in California there is considerable land rented for one-third the crop, and some that rents for one-half the crop; while, according to a writer in the Atlantic Monthly, the common rent in that great wheat-growing section of the New Northwest now being opened up is one-half the crop! ...
... In New York, in San Francisco, in Washington, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, live men who own large tracts of land which they seldom or never see. A resident of Rochester is said to own no less than four hundred farms in different States, one of which (I believe in Kentucky) comprises thirty-five thousand acres. Under the plantation system of farming and that of stock-raising on a grand scale, which are developing so rapidly in our new States, very much of the profits go to professional men and capitalists who live in distant cities. Corporations whose stock is held in the East or in Europe own much greater bodies of land, at much greater distances, than do the London corporations possessing landed estates in Ireland. To say nothing of the great land-grant railroad companies, the Standard Oil Company probably owns more acres of Western land than all the London companies put together own of Irish land. And, although landlordism in its grosser forms is only beginning in the United States, there is probably no American, wherever he may live, who cannot in his immediate vicinity see some instance of absentee landlordism. The tendency to concentration born of the new era ushered in by the application of steam shows itself in this way as in many others. To those who can live where they please, the great cities are becoming more and more attractive.
And it is further to be remarked that too much stress is laid upon absenteeism, and that it might be prevented without much of the evil often attributed to it being cured. That is to say, that to his tenantry and neighborhood the owner of land in Galway or Kilkenny would be as much an absentee if he lived in Dublin as if he lived in London, and that, if Irish landlords were compelled to live in Ireland, all that the Irish people would gain would be, metaphorically speaking, the crumbs that fell from the landlords' tables. For if the butter and eggs, the pigs and the poultry, of the Irish peasant must be taken from him and exported to pay for his landlord's wine and cigars, what difference does it make to him where the wine is drunk or the cigars are smoked? ... 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)
excerpt from The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters, by Diane Coyle, p. 151
Mason Gaffney: The Taxable Surplus of Land: Measuring, Guarding and Gathering It (for the Duma Hearings in Moscow, 1999)
Fisheries are another source of value. In the past most nations have let this rent be "dissipated" by overfishing. In recent years the U.S. and Canada have in effect "privatized" fishing in their offshore waters by limiting the number of licenses and boats. This limitation was needed and desirable, overall. It created large rents, where previously there were little or none, by preventing overfishing and the great waste of duplicate, triplicate, and even quintuplicate fishing effort. That is a good example of husbanding and guarding rent, which is necessary before you can collect it. It was not necessary or desirable, however, to give away this net benefit to private parties.
The government did not sell these licenses, but simply gave them away to owners of existing boats, and others with political influence. Each license now sells for something like a million dollars, creating a new class of instant millionaires and "parlor fishermen." This giveaway to the few, and takeaway from the many, created an instant class society where before there were equal access and equal opportunities.
These privileges are worth so much that there are now documented cases off Alaska where the parlor fisherman takes 70% of the total catch. The captain, the crew, and the owner of the boat, who do the work and bear the dangers and discomforts and financial risks of fishing, must get by with the other 30%. Parlor fishermen are simply leeches; these rents should be socialized, relieving the workers from taxes. ... Read the whole article
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper