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

Q3. In an interior or frontier town, where land has but little value, how would you raise enough money for schools, highways, and other public needs?

A. There is no town whose finances are reasonably managed in which the land values are insufficient for local needs. Schools, highways, and so forth, are not local but general, and should be maintained from the land values of the state at large.

Q4. What disposition would you make of the revenues that exceeded the needs of government?

A. The people who ask this question ought to settle it with those who want to know whether the single tax would yield revenue enough. I do not believe that public revenues under the single tax would exceed the just needs of economical government; in better highways, better sidewalks, better wharves, better schools, better public service of various kinds, we should find sufficient demand for all our revenues. But the question of deficiency or surplus is one to be met and disposed of when it arises. The present question is the wisdom and the justice of applying land values to common use, as far as they will go or as much of them as may be needed as the case may prove to be.

Q5. If the full rental value were taken would it not produce too much revenue and encourage official extravagance? If only what was needed for an economical administration of government, would not land still have a speculative value?

A. In the first part of your question you are thinking of a vast centralized government as administering public revenues. With the revenues raised locally, each locality being assessed for its contribution to the state and the nation, there would be no such danger. The possibility of this danger would be still further reduced by the fact that private business would then offer greater pecuniary prizes than would public office, wherefore public office would be sought for purer purposes than as money-making opportunities. As to the second part of your question, the speculative value of land would be wiped out as soon as the tax on land values was high enough and that on improvement values low enough to make production more profitable than speculation. And this point would be reached long before the whole rental value was absorbed in taxation.

... read the book

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)

... Men are compelled to compete with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot find a piece of God's world on which to work without paying some other human creature for the privilege.

I do not mean to say that even after you had set right this fundamental injustice, there would not be many things to do; but this I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the bottom of all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you please, reform as you may, you never can get rid of wide-spread poverty so long as the element on which and from which all men must live is made the private property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government — get taxes down to the minimum — build railroads; institute co-operative stores; divide profits, if you choose, between employers and employed — and what will be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value — that will be the result — that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not all improvements simply increase the value of land — the price that some must pay others for the privilege of living? ... read the whole speech

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

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. ...

Nor do we hesitate to say that this way of securing the equal right to the bounty of the Creator and the exclusive right to the products of labor is the way intended by God for raising public revenues. For we are not atheists, who deny God; nor semi-atheists, who deny that he has any concern in politics and legislation.

It is true as you say — a salutary truth too often forgotten — that “man is older than the state, and he holds the right of providing for the life of his body prior to the formation of any state.” Yet, as you too perceive, it is also true that the state is in the divinely appointed order. For He who foresaw all things and provided for all things, foresaw and provided that with the increase of population and the development of industry the organization of human society into states or governments would become both expedient and necessary.

No sooner does the state arise than, as we all know, it needs revenues. This need for revenues is small at first, while population is sparse, industry rude and the functions of the state few and simple. But with growth of population and advance of civilization the functions of the state increase and larger and larger revenues are needed.

Now, He that made the world and placed man in it, He that pre-ordained civilization as the means whereby man might rise to higher powers and become more and more conscious of the works of his Creator, must have foreseen this increasing need for state revenues and have made provision for it. That is to say: The increasing need for public revenues with social advance, being a natural, God-ordained need, there must be a right way of raising them — some way that we can truly say is the way intended by God. It is clear that this right way of raising public revenues must accord with the moral law.


  • It must not take from individuals what rightfully belongs to individuals.
  • It must not give some an advantage over others, as by increasing the prices of what some have to sell and others must buy.
  • It must not lead men into temptation, by requiring trivial oaths, by making it profitable to lie, to swear falsely, to bribe or to take bribes.
  • It must not confuse the distinctions of right and wrong, and weaken the sanctions of religion and the state by creating crimes that are not sins, and punishing men for doing what in itself they have an undoubted right to do.
  • It must not repress industry. It must not check commerce. It must not punish thrift. It must offer no impediment to the largest production and the fairest division of wealth.

Let me ask your Holiness to consider the taxes on the processes and products of industry by which through the civilized world public revenues are collected — the octroi duties that surround Italian cities with barriers; the monstrous customs duties that hamper intercourse between so-called Christian states; the taxes on occupations, on earnings, on investments, on the building of houses, on the cultivation of fields, on industry and thrift in all forms. Can these be the ways God has intended that governments should raise the means they need? Have any of them the characteristics indispensable in any plan we can deem a right one?

All these taxes violate the moral law. They take by force what belongs to the individual alone; they give to the unscrupulous an advantage over the scrupulous; they have the effect, nay are largely intended, to increase the price of what some have to sell and others must buy; they corrupt government; they make oaths a mockery; they shackle commerce; they fine industry and thrift; they lessen the wealth that men might enjoy, and enrich some by impoverishing others.

Yet what most strikingly shows how opposed to Christianity is this system of raising public revenues is its influence on thought.

Christianity teaches us that all men are brethren; that their true interests are harmonious, not antagonistic. It gives us, as the golden rule of life, that we should do to others as we would have others do to us. But out of the system of taxing the products and processes of labor, and out of its effects in increasing the price of what some have to sell and others must buy, has grown the theory of “protection,” which denies this gospel, which holds Christ ignorant of political economy and proclaims laws of national well-being utterly at variance with his teaching. This theory sanctifies national hatreds; it inculcates a universal war of hostile tariffs; it teaches peoples that their prosperity lies in imposing on the productions of other peoples restrictions they do not wish imposed on their own; and instead of the Christian doctrine of man’s brotherhood it makes injury of foreigners a civic virtue.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.” Can anything more clearly show that to tax the products and processes of industry is not the way God intended public revenues to be raised?

But to consider what we propose — the raising of public revenues by a single tax on the value of land irrespective of improvements — is to see that in all respects this does conform to the moral law.

Let me ask your Holiness to keep in mind that the value we propose to tax, the value of land irrespective of improvements, does not come from any exertion of labor or investment of capital on or in it — the values produced in this way being values of improvement which we would exempt. The value of land irrespective of improvement is the value that attaches to land by reason of increasing population and social progress. This is a value that always goes to the owner as owner, and never does and never can go to the user; for if the user be a different person from the owner he must always pay the owner for it in rent or in purchase-money; while if the user be also the owner, it is as owner, not as user, that he receives it, and by selling or renting the land he can, as owner, continue to receive it after he ceases to be a user.

Thus, taxes on land irrespective of improvement cannot lessen the rewards of industry, nor add to prices,* nor in any way take from the individual what belongs to the individual. They can take only the value that attaches to land by the growth of the community, and which therefore belongs to the community as a whole.

* As to this point it may be well to add that all economists are agreed that taxes on land values irrespective of improvement or use — or what in the terminology of political economy is styled rent, a term distinguished from the ordinary use of the word rent by being applied solely to payments for the use of land itself — must be paid by the owner and cannot be shifted by him on the user. To explain in another way the reason given in the text: Price is not determined by the will of the seller or the will of the buyer, but by the equation of demand and supply, and therefore as to things constantly demanded and constantly produced rests at a point determined by the cost of production — whatever tends to increase the cost of bringing fresh quantities of such articles to the consumer increasing price by checking supply, and whatever tends to reduce such cost decreasing price by increasing supply. Thus taxes on wheat or tobacco or cloth add to the price that the consumer must pay, and thus the cheapening in the cost of producing steel which improved processes have made in recent years has greatly reduced the price of steel. But land has no cost of production, since it is created by God, not produced by man. Its price therefore is fixed —

1 (monopoly rent), where land is held in close monopoly, by what the owners can extract from the users under penalty of deprivation and consequently of starvation, and amounts to all that common labor can earn on it beyond what is necessary to life;
2 (economic rent proper), where there is no special monopoly, by what the particular land will yield to common labor over and above what may be had by like expenditure and exertion on land having no special advantage and for which no rent is paid; and,
3 (speculative rent, which is a species of monopoly rent, telling particularly in selling price), by the expectation of future increase of value from social growth and improvement, which expectation causing landowners to withhold land at present prices has the same effect as combination.

Taxes on land values or economic rent can therefore never be shifted by the landowner to the land-user, since they in no wise increase the demand for land or enable landowners to check supply by withholding land from use. Where rent depends on mere monopolization, a case I mention because rent may in this way be demanded for the use of land even before economic or natural rent arises, the taking by taxation of what the landowners were able to extort from labor could not enable them to extort any more, since laborers, if not left enough to live on, will die. So, in the case of economic rent proper, to take from the landowners the premiums they receive, would in no way increase the superiority of their land and the demand for it. While, so far as price is affected by speculative rent, to compel the landowners to pay taxes on the value of land whether they were getting any income from it or not, would make it more difficult for them to withhold land from use; and to tax the full value would not merely destroy the power but the desire to do so.

To take land values for the state, abolishing all taxes on the products of labor, would therefore leave to the laborer the full produce of labor; to the individual all that rightfully belongs to the individual. It would impose no burden on industry, no check on commerce, no punishment on thrift; it would secure the largest production and the fairest distribution of wealth, by leaving men free to produce and to exchange as they please, without any artificial enhancement of prices; and by taking for public purposes a value that cannot be carried off, that cannot be hidden, that of all values is most easily ascertained and most certainly and cheaply collected, it would enormously lessen the number of officials, dispense with oaths, do away with temptations to bribery and evasion, and abolish man-made crimes in themselves innocent.

But, further: That God has intended the state to obtain the revenues it needs by the taxation of land values is shown by the same order and degree of evidence that shows that God has intended the milk of the mother for the nourishment of the babe.

See how close is the analogy. In that primitive condition ere the need for the state arises there are no land values. The products of labor have value, but in the sparsity of population no value as yet attaches to land itself. But as increasing density of population and increasing elaboration of industry necessitate the organization of the state, with its need for revenues, value begins to attach to land. As population still increases and industry grows more elaborate, so the needs for public revenues increase. And at the same time and from the same causes land values increase. The connection is invariable. The value of things produced by labor tends to decline with social development, since the larger scale of production and the improvement of processes tend steadily to reduce their cost. But the value of land on which population centers goes up and up. Take Rome or Paris or London or New York or Melbourne. Consider the enormous value of land in such cities as compared with the value of land in sparsely settled parts of the same countries. To what is this due? Is it not due to the density and activity of the populations of those cities — to the very causes that require great public expenditure for streets, drains, public buildings, and all the many things needed for the health, convenience and safety of such great cities? See how with the growth of such cities the one thing that steadily increases in value is land; how the opening of roads, the building of railways, the making of any public improvement, adds to the value of land. Is it not clear that here is a natural law — that is to say a tendency willed by the Creator? Can it mean anything else than that He who ordained the state with its needs has in the values which attach to land provided the means to meet those needs?

That it does mean this and nothing else is confirmed if we look deeper still, and inquire not merely as to the intent, but as to the purpose of the intent. If we do so we may see in this natural law by which land values increase with the growth of society not only such a perfectly adapted provision for the needs of society as gratifies our intellectual perceptions by showing us the wisdom of the Creator, but a purpose with regard to the individual that gratifies our moral perceptions by opening to us a glimpse of his beneficence.

Consider: Here is a natural law by which as society advances the one thing that increases in value is land — a natural law by virtue of which all growth of population, all advance of the arts, all general improvements of whatever kind, add to a fund that both the commands of justice and the dictates of expediency prompt us to take for the common uses of society. Now, since increase in the fund available for the common uses of society is increase in the gain that goes equally to each member of society, is it not clear that the law by which land values increase with social advance while the value of the products of labor does not increase, tends with the advance of civilization to make the share that goes equally to each member of society more and more important as compared with what goes to him from his individual earnings, and thus to make the advance of civilization lessen relatively the differences that in a ruder social state must exist between the strong and the weak, the fortunate and the unfortunate? Does it not show the purpose of the Creator to be that the advance of man in civilization should be an advance not merely to larger powers but to a greater and greater equality, instead of what we, by our ignoring of his intent, are making it, an advance toward a more and more monstrous inequality? ... read the whole letter

Henry 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. ...
(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. ...

It would get rid of taxes which necessarily promote fraud, perjury, bribery, and corruption, which lead men into temptation, and which tax what the nation can least afford to spare--honesty and conscience. Since land lies out-of-doors and cannot be removed, and its value is the most readily ascertained of all values, the tax to which we would resort can be collected with the minimum of cost and the least strain on public morals. ...

This unjust distribution of wealth develops on the one hand a class idle and wasteful because they are too rich, and on the other hand a class idle and wasteful because they are too poor. It deprives men of capital and opportunities which would make them more efficient producers. It thus greatly diminishes production.

(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, and requires large expenditure of money and energy in watchmen, policemen, courts, prisons, and other means of defense and repression. It kindles a greed of gain and a worship of wealth, and produces a bitter struggle for existence which fosters drunkenness, increases insanity, and causes men whose energies ought to be devoted to honest production to spend their time and strength in cheating and grabbing from each other. Besides the moral loss, all this involves an enormous economic loss which the Single Tax would save.

(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.  ... ...  read the whole article

Henry George: How to Help the Unemployed   (1894)

AN EPIDEMIC of what passes for charity is sweeping over the land. ...

Yet there has been no disaster of fire or flood, no convulsion of nature, no destruction by public enemies. The seasons have kept their order, we have had the former and the latter rain, and the earth has not refused her increase. Granaries are filled to overflowing, and commodities, even these we have tried to make dear by tariff, were never before so cheap.

The scarcity that is distressing and frightening the whole country is a scarcity of employment. It is the unemployed for whom charity is asked: not those who cannot or will not work, but those able to work and anxious to work, who, through no fault of their own, cannot find work. So clear, indeed, is it that of the great masses who are suffering in this country to-day, by far the greater part are honest, sober, and industrious, that the pharisees who preach that poverty is due to laziness and thriftlessness, and the fanatics who attribute it to drink, are for the moment silent.

Yet why is it that men able to work and willing to work cannot find work? It is not strange that the failure to work should bring want, for it is only by work that human wants are satisfied. But to say that widespread distress comes from widespread inability to find employment no more explains the distress than to say that the man died from want of breath explains a sudden death. The pressing question, the real question, is, What causes the want of employment? ...

What more unnatural than that alms should be asked, not for the maimed, the halt and the blind, the helpless widow and the tender orphan, but for grown men, strong men, skilful men, men able to work and anxious to work! What more unnatural than that labor -- the producer of all food, all clothing, all shelter -- should not be exchangeable for its full equivalent in food, clothing, and shelter; that while the things it produces have value, labor, the giver of all value, should seem valueless!

Here are men, having the natural wants of man, having the natural powers of man -- powers adapted and intended and more than sufficient to supply those wants. To say that they are willing to use their powers for the satisfaction of their wants, yet cannot do so, is to say that there is a wrong. If it is not their fault, whose fault is it? Wrong somewhere there must be. ...

Why should charity be offered the unemployed? It is not alms they ask. They are insulted and embittered and degraded by being forced to accept as paupers what they would gladly earn as workers. What they ask is not charity, but the opportunity to use their own labor in satisfying their own wants. Why can they not have that? It is their natural right. He who made food and clothing and shelter necessary to man's life has also given to man, in the power of labor, the means of maintaining that life; and when, without fault of their own, men cannot exert that power, there is somewhere a wrong of the same kind as denial of the right of property and denial of the right of life -- a wrong equivalent to robbery and murder on the grandest scale.

Charity can only palliate present suffering a little at the risk of fatal disease. For charity cannot right a wrong; only justice can do that.

Yet this is to be expected. For the question of the unemployed is but a more than usually acute phase of the great labor question -- a question of the distribution of wealth.  ...

What do we mean when we say that it is scarcity of employment from which the masses are suffering? Not what we mean when we say of the idle rich that they suffer from want of employment. There is no scarcity of the need for work when so many are suffering for the want of things that work produces, when all of us would like more, and all but a very few of us could advantageously use more, of those things. Nor do we mean that there is scarcity of ability to work or willingness to work. Nor yet do we mean that there is scarcity of the natural materials and forces necessary for work. 'They are as abundant as they ever were or ever will be until the energy radiated by the sun upon our globe loses its intensity. What we really mean by "scarcity of employment " is such scarcity as would be brought about were an ice sheet continued into the summer to shut out the farmer from the fertile field he was anxious to cultivate; such a scarcity as was brought about in Lancashire when our blockade of the Southern ports raised suddenly and enormously the price of the staple that English operatives were anxious to turn into cloth.

What answers to the ice sheet or the blockade? Need we ask? May it not be seen, from our greatest cities to our newest territories, in the speculation which has everywhere been driving up the price of land -- that is to say, the toll that the active factor in all production must pay for permission to use the indispensable passive factor.  ...

If there are any who do not see the relation of these facts, it is because they have become accustomed to think of labor as deriving employment from capital, instead of, which is the true and natural relation, capital being the product and tool of labor. ...

So that, whether we begin at the right or the wrong end, any analysis brings us at last to the conclusion that the opportunities of finding employment and the rate of all wages depend ultimately upon the freedom of access to land; the price that labor must pay for its use.

"Scarcity of employment" is a comparatively new complaint in the United States. In our earlier times it was never heard of or thought of. There was "scarcity of employment " in Europe, but on this side of the Atlantic the trouble -- so it was deemed by a certain class -- was "scarcity of labor." ...

Today, as the last census reports show, the majority of American farmers are rack-rented tenants, or hold under mortgage, the first form of tenancy; and the great majority of our people are landless men, without right to employ their own labor and without stake in the land they still foolishly speak of as their country. This is the reason why the army of the unemployed has appeared among us, why by pauperism has already become chronic, and why in the tramp we have in more dangerous type the proletarian of ancient Rome.

These recurring spasms of business stagnation; these long-drawn periods of industrial depression, common to the civilized world, do not come from our treatment of money; are not caused and are not to be cured by changes of tariffs. Protection is a robbery of labor, and what is called free trade would give some temporary relief, but speculation in land would only set in the stronger, and at last labor and capital would again resist, by partial cessation, the blackmail demanded for their employment in production, and the same round would be run again. There is but one remedy, and that is what is now known as the single-tax -- the abolition of all taxes upon labor and capital, and of all taxes upon their processes and products, and the taking of economic rent, the unearned increment which now goes to the mere appropriator, for the payment of public expenses. Charity can merely demoralize and pauperize, while that indirect form of charity, the attempt to artificially "make work" by increasing public expenses and by charity woodyards and sewing-rooms, is still more dangerous. If, in this sense, work is to be made, it can be made more quickly by dynamite and kerosene.

But there is no need for charity; no need for "making work." All that is needed is to remove the restrictions that prevent the natural demand for the products of work from availing itself of the natural supply. Remove them today, and every unemployed man in the country could find for himself employment tomorrow, and his "effective demand" for the things he desires would infuse new life into every subdivision of business and industry, even that of the dentist, the preacher, the magazine writer, or the actor.

The country is suffering from "scarcity of employment." But let anyone today attempt to employ his own labor or that of others, whether in making two blades of grass grow where one grew before, or in erecting a factory, and he will at once meet the speculator to demand of him an unnatural price for the land he must use, and the tax-gatherer to fine him for his act in employing labor as if he had committed a crime. The common-sense way to cure "scarcity of employment" is to take taxes off the products and processes of employment and to impose in their stead the tax that would end speculation in land.  ... Read the entire article

Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)

That is what we strive for — for the freedom of all, for self-government to all (hear, hear) — and for as little government as possible: (Laughter and cheers) We don't believe that tyranny is a thing alone of kings and monarchs; we know well that majorities can be as tyrannous as aristocracies (hear, hear); we know that mobs can persecute as well as crowned heads. (Hear, hear) What we ask for is freedom — that in each locality, large or small, the people of that locality shall be free to manage the affairs that pertain only to that locality (hear, hear, and cheers); that each individual shall be free to manage the affairs that relate to him; that government shall not presume to say of whom he shall buy or to whom he shall sell, shall not attempt to dictate to him in any way, but shall confine itself to its proper function of preserving the public peace, of preventing the strong from oppressing the weak, of utilizing for the public good all the revenues that belong of right to the public, and of managing those affairs that are best managed by the whole. (Cheers) Our doctrine is the doctrine of freedom, our gospel is the gospel of liberty, and we have faith in it, why should we not? (Cheers) ... read the whole speech

Henry George: Political Dangers (Chapter 2 of Social Problems, 1883)

[17] We do not get even cheap government. We might keep a royal family, house them in palaces like Versailles or Sans Souci, provide them with courts and guards, masters of robes and rangers of parks, let them give balls more costly than Mrs. Vanderbilt's, and build yachts finer than Jay Gould's, for much less than is wasted and stolen under our nominal government of the people. What a noble income would be that of a Duke of New York, a Marquis of Philadelphia, or a Count of San Francisco, who would administer the government of these municipalities for fifty per cent of present waste and stealage! Unless we got an esthetic Chinook, where could we get an absolute ruler who would erect such a monument of extravagant vulgarity as the new Capitol of the State of New York? While, as we saw in the Congress just adjourned, the benevolent gentlemen whose desire it is to protect us against the pauper labor of Europe quarrel over their respective shares of the spoil with as little regard for the taxpayer as a pirate crew would have for the consignees of a captured vessel. ... read the entire essay

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

18. Take for illustration two towns, one of excellent government and the other of inefficient government, but in all other respects alike. Suppose you are hunting for a place of residence and find a suitable site in the town of good government. For simplicity of illustration let us suppose that the land there is not sold outright but is let upon ground rent. You meet the owner of the lot you have selected and ask him his terms. He replies:

"Two hundred and fifty dollars a year."

"Two hundred and fifty dollars a year!" you exclaim. "Why, I can get just as good a site in that other town for a hundred dollars a year."

"Certainly you can," he will say. "But if you build a house there and it catches fire it will burn down; they have no fire department. If you go out after dark you will be 'held up' and robbed; they have no police force. If you ride out in the spring, your carriage will stick in the mud up to the hubs, and if you walk you may break your legs and will be lucky if you don t break your neck; they have no street pavements and their sidewalks are dangerously out of repair. When the moon doesn't shine the streets are in darkness, for they have no street lights. The water you need for your house you must get from a well; there is no water supply there. Now in our town it is different. We have a splendid fire department, and the best police force in the world. Our streets are macadamized, and lighted with electricity; our sidewalks are always in first class repair; we have a water system that equals that of New York; and in every way the public benefits in this town are unsurpassed. It is the best governed town in all this region. Isn't it worth a hundred and fifty dollars a year more for a building site here than over in that poorly governed town?"

You recognize the advantages and agree to the terms. But when your house is built and the assessor visits you officially, what would be the conversation if your sense of the fitness of things were not warped by familiarity with false systems of taxation? Would it not be something like what follows?

"How much do you regard this house as worth? " asks the assessor.

"What is that to you?" you inquire.

"I am the town assessor and am about to appraise your property for taxation."

"Am I to be taxed by this town? What for?"

"What for?" echoes the assessor in surprise. "What for? Is not your house protected from fire by our magnificent fire department? Are not you protected from robbery by the best police force in the world? Do not you have the use of macadamized pavements, and good sidewalks, and electric street lights, and a first class water supply? Don't you suppose these things cost something? And don't you think you ought to pay your share?"

"Yes," you answer, with more or less calmness; "I do have the benefit of these things, and I do think that I ought to pay my share toward supporting them. But I have already paid my share for this year. I have paid it to the owner of this lot. He charges me two hundred and fifty dollars a year -- one hundred and fifty dollars more than I should pay or he could get but for those very benefits. He has collected my share of this year's expense of maintaining town improvements; you go and collect from him. If you do not, but insist upon collecting from me, I shall be paying twice for these things, once to him and once to you; and he won't be paying at all, but will be making money out of them, although he derives the same benefits from them in all other respects that I do." ... read the book


Fred E. Foldvary — The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent

Even if land value taxation does not yield the revenue that is desired, this is no argument against shifting as much public revenue as possible to rent-based sources. Public revenue from land values is the most complete application of “supply-side” economic policy. Supply-side policy attempts to increase production and the supply of goods by decreasing costs, such as by lowering taxes and eliminating excessive regulations and barriers to trade. A complete tax shift, away from taxing production to taxing land values, is the ultimate supply-side policy, since it removes the excess economic burden of taxation. The public collection of land rent is thus the ultimate in tax reform.

Land value taxation would also result in a substantial reduction in the cost of government. The administrative cost of land value taxes would be less than that of existing property taxes (which require a greater inspection of buildings and improvements), and the cost of enforcing income and sales taxes would be eliminated. By improving economic growth and allowing workers to keep all the money they earn, land value taxation would result in higher incomes, reducing the demand for government welfare programs. Decentralization, privatization, and the elimination of wasteful government programs would further reduce the amount needed to fund government. ...

The United States is a federation of states (and Indian-nation reservations), with many government functions such as criminal law, education, and local services provided by the states. Since the federal income tax was enacted in 1913, taxation and authority have shifted increasingly to the federal government.

In 1902, federal taxes represented 37 percent of total revenue to governments at all levels.45 By 2002, federal taxes represented 67 percent of the government revenue pie.46 The share taken by state governments rose from 11.4 percent in 1902 to 21.5 percent in 1986. Local governments’ share fell from 51.3 percent in 1902 to 13.7 percent in 1986.

The change in the share of tax revenues taken by each level of government has occurred in large part because of the relative ease of increasing income taxes at the federal level, and the relative difficulty of increasing local and state taxes. Taxpayers find it much easier to respond to changes in state and local taxes, by moving to lower-tax communities. It is far more difficult to avoid taxes imposed by the federal government — especially since U.S. citizens are taxed even if they are abroad.

Revenue-sharing from the federal government to the states is, in effect, a tax cartel among the states, collusion to tax the population and then divide the funds among the states. Taxation at the federal level also encourages spending by the federal government instead of the states, so now we have federal departments and agencies for education, housing, health and welfare, energy, and other fields that once were local, state, or private-sector matters.

Local and state governments, once willing to go along with the federal government’s tax-and-revenue-sharing scheme, are beginning to realize centralized taxing brings with it centralized authority, dramatically reducing local control. Revenue-sharing comes with strings attached: Local and state governments must abide by federal government mandates in order to obtain the funds, taken from their residents in the first place. Revenue-sharing allows the federal government to sidestep the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved to the people and the states.

Land value taxation would shift economic power back to state and local governments. Land is suited to local taxation because — unlike enterprise, capital, and labor — it cannot be moved. Land is also the logical source of local public finance because it does not burden enterprise, so that entrepreneurs don’t even want to run from it. Indeed, entrepreneurs welcome a shift to land value taxation, not only because their economic profits are not taxed if all taxation is on land values, but also because land value taxation reduces the price of land, so they do not need to borrow so much when they invest funds in an enterprise.

When public finance is based on land value taxation, government revenues flow up, instead of trickling down from the federal government to the states and then to local governments. Real estate taxes today are assessed and collected primarily by county governments; under a system of land value taxation, funds raised would flow up from the counties to the states, and only then to the federal government.

Land value taxation would create a decentralizing force, shifting or “devolving” power down to local government in accord with the principle of subsidiarity: that which can be most efficiently done by individuals or smaller jurisdictions should not be done by larger or higher-level jurisdictions. Government functions would then come under more observation and control by the voters, who can monitor and alter local governments much more easily than remote federal agencies. ... read the whole document


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

Every community, whatever its political name and extent -- village, city, state or province or nation -- has its own normal, unfailing income, growing with the growth of the community and always adequate to meet necessary governmental expenditure.

To explain: Every community has an indefeasible original right to the land on which it exists, and to all the natural, unmodified properties and advantages of that particular area of the earth's surface. To this land in its natural state, undrained, unfenced, unfertilized, unplanted and unoccupied, including its waters, its contents and its location, every individual in the community (which may consist of any political unit selected) has an equal right, while all the individuals together have a joint right to the value for use which society has conferred upon these natural advantages.

This value for use is known as "Land Value," or by the not particularly descriptive but generally adopted name of "Economic Rent."

Briefly defined the land value or economic rent of any piece of ground is the largest annual amount voluntarily offered for the exclusive use of that ground, or of an equivalent parcel, independent of improvements thereon. Every holder or user of land pays economic rent, but he now pays most of it to the wrong party. The aggregate economic rent of the territory occupied by any political unit is, as has been stated above, always sufficient, usually more than sufficient, for the legitimate expenses of the government of that unit. As also stated above, the economic rent belongs to the community, and not to individual landowners. ... read the whole article


Jeff Smith: Share Rent, Transform Society

Now the public is paying for private parties. That is not fair. Look at the economy. Take taxes off homes, and they become more affordable. Have some kind of land charge, and housing stock increases as sites get developed. Affordable housing helps stabilize neighborhoods. In places that do have the land tax, i.e., Australia and New Zealand, they have fewer disputes with assessment. Assessors say their job is so much easier now. If land is less profitable and less of a political football, it is less tense in local politics. 

  • If you take taxes off labor and capital, more investment flows into jobs, and we would have close to full employment, so labor could demand full market value for services. We could double the income of the average worker with no loss in standard of living. 
  • If fewer demands are placed on government by citizens, it doesn't have to borrow so much.
  • If you reduce the amount of tax on the economy, and reduce the amount of redeemable notes, then we should be able to eliminate inflation. It is unmasked. You can see lower prices; the cost of living goes down. It will change social relationships.
  • Labor and capital make up, with higher wages for labor, lower taxes for capital, and more investment funds.
  • Labor can negotiate from a position of strength.
  • Capital might want to share management decisions and spread that risk of liability to workers. It tends to reduce hierarchy and increase equality in society. 

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. Pittsburgh has six times greater land tax than improvements, more affordable housing, and less crime.

The main indicator of economic health is called the GDP. A good measure would be leisure, the amount of time off from labor to maintain a comfortable standard of living. If we shift, it would shrink the work week, and help get rid of rush hour traffic.  ... read the whole article

Ted Gwartney:  Estimating Land Values

The economic market rental value of land should be sufficient to finance public services and to obviate the need for raising revenue from taxes, such as income or wage taxes; sales, commodity or value-added taxes; and taxes on buildings, machinery and industry. Public revenue should not be supplied by taxes on people and enterprise until after all of the available revenue has been first collected from the natural and community created value of land. Only if land rent were insufficient would it be necessary to collect any taxes.

The collection of land rent, by the public for supplying public needs, returns the advantage an individual receives from the exclusive use of a land site to the balance of the community, who along with nature, contributed to its value and allow its exclusive use. ...

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.

It is the responsibility of the local communities to insure that the market rent of land is collected for public purposes. When a major part of land rent is not collected, which is the case in most of the world today, land title holders obtain rights to sell the value of the public improvements which were made by the whole community. The community added to the market value of land by making improvements which increases demand and rent for the land. The longer the possessors hold the land out of use the greater will be the bonus they obtain.

By prohibiting people from using good land, the possessors force the premature use of other less desirable land, which is more distant from the city. This raises the cost of community improvements and the rental value of the unused, but better located, land. This precipitates the degradation of the rural environment by using city land inefficiently -- and creates huge unnecessary pressures on the natural environment.

A problem that we face is that cities throughout the world are spreading out and using land prematurely which is not needed and should not be used. That is because failure to collect land rent subsidizes the waste of natural resources and clutters the environment. Cities that collect the full rental value of land are more compact and provide greater and less costly amenities for their citizens.

Any moves to enact good government principles without collecting the full market rent of the land may result in a failure. People are guided by the profit motive. When people can make a larger profit by doing nothing, but keeping the land they possess out of use for a long period of time, they will do so. When the community collects the full market rent of land, they eliminate the motive for keeping land out of efficient use, because the unearned profit has been collected as public revenue.

Efficient land use appeals to all people because it surpasses the political constraints of most people. Everybody understands that the earth belongs equally to all people. They want a clean environment on earth and to leave a healthy inheritance to the future generations, regardless of their political viewpoints.

The major function of a competent city government is to provide good community services by collecting the land rent created within the community to ensure the efficient use of land and equal opportunities for all of its citizens. Transportation is an important function of government which would facilitate the creation of a compact city, where people can easily find the facilities they desire for education, commerce, religion and recreation. Good land use, with the freedom of individuals to achieve the highest and best use of land, would ensure a desirable community. A compact city would reduce the need to invade the wilderness and devastate the environment.

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, suggested that any "tax" should be a charge for services which benefit all people and are more efficiently performed by a single cooperative effort. He postulated four principles of taxation which any source of revenue should meet:
1. Light on the production of wealth, and does not impede or reduce production;
2. Cheap to collect, requiring few collectors, and easy to understand;
3. Certain; can't be avoided, little opportunity for corruption, and provides adequate revenue;
4. Equitable and fair, payment for benefits received, impartial, and just.

Collecting public revenue from land rent is the only revenue source, or "tax", that meets these criteria.

While the major argument for raising public revenue from land rent and natural resources is because it is equitable and fair, it is also the most efficient method of raising the revenue which is needed for public facilities and services. Land is visible, can't be hidden and its valuation is less intrusive than valuations of income and sales. Taxes on labor and capital cause people to consider alternative options, including working with less effort, which produces less real goods. For example, a tax on wages will reduce after-tax net wages and weaken the incentive to work. A person might be willing to work hard for a wage of $20 per hour, but decide to drop out if the taxes take $8 and the net wage is only $12 per hour. Economists claim that present taxes account for a 25% loss in production in the United States. Production and consumption would be greatly improved if public revenue came primarily from land rather than a wage tax. The same would occur when buildings and machinery are taxed. The tax on building reduces the quantity and quality of buildings produced. A tax on sales, commerce or value added reduces consumption, production and net wealth. Sales tax evasion in the United States has exceeded 30% in recent years.

As new inventions and more efficient ways of producing goods are discovered, people's economic well-being is not improved, because they have lost access to land and must pay both rent and taxes. (5) Instead of rent being used to provide community services, capital and wages must be depleted, which obstructs private enterprise.

When the rent of land is taken for public purposes production and distribution are not held back. This is because the same amount of rent would otherwise have been taken by some private individual. The rent would be the same, the difference is how it is utilized. There is evidence that communities who raise their revenue from land, rather than from labor and capital, are more prosperous, many increasing productivity by more than 25%. (6) 

In order to preserve the environment, it is necessary and possible to better utilize our communities. If the producers of the land market value (nature, government and people) don't utilize land rent, someone else will. This is why efficient land use fails under contemporary land systems in most countries. All countries collect some of the land rent, perhaps 10%, 20% or 30%, but none yet, collect all of the market rent of land.

Studies have been produced that demonstrate that communities prosper and succeed in proportion to the percentage of the land rent that they collect. The first communities that decide to collect all of the ground rent will have an enormous competitive advantage over all other communities. They will be able to reduce or eliminate regressive taxes on labor and capital. They will attract new business and industry and become prosperous.

To determine how much land rent the community should collect let's consider the alternatives. Whatever is not collected will be capitalized into market value by land owners. Buying land at inflated market prices is a block to new industry. Land owners sell the capitalized land rent (known as land value) which is uncollected by the community even though it is unearned income. This causes a disparity between landowners and non-landowners. In the United States 5% of the population, which does not include many homeowners or farmers, own 70% of the total national land and natural resource values.

People will come to a well run community because they will be better off than living by themselves or in an impoverished locale. A city must secure revenue in order to provide good quality services.

This revenue can best be procured when the community recaptures the value of the benefits and services that it provides. This is done by collecting the rental revenue from land that reflects the value of the services and facilities provided in that community. The land rent belongs equally to all people that live in the locale who helped to produce that value. In a well run community. there is sufficient land rent to provide adequate funding for the social purposes requested of, and provided by, the local city government

Cities which choose to collect land rent as their primary source of revenue have the advantage of not requiring burdensome taxes to be paid by workers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs or citizens. Individuals who work to create wealth should be allowed to keep what they produce. When labor is not taxed, greater production and consumption occurs. Investment capital is formed which is used to produce more wealth. New jobs are created and economic diversity results.

Each person has a right to keep what he or she produces, but no one has the right to waste what belongs to all people, the land which includes the natural environment. Each person should have an opportunity to use the best land for his business or personal needs, as long as they are willing to pay the land rent that other land users are willing to pay.

If the value of land rent exceeds the community's needs for public services a method of dispensing of the revenue can easily be found. To maintain an equitable society, where nobody has special benefits that they do not pay for, it is important to collect all of the land rent. The community should use what is needed for public services and improvements such as schools, hospitals, parks, police, roadways, utilities and defense -- and reserve a fund for emergencies.

An ethical proposal might be to then divide the excess revenue that is not needed for public facilities and services at the end of each year and send each citizen in that community an equal portion of the remaining revenue. This is similar to the method used in Alaska and Alberta. Equality of opportunity to be productive can only be accomplished by recapturing all of the market rent of land and ensuring that all people benefit from its value.

Not only is land rent potentially an important source of public revenue, collecting all of it would ensure that the equal opportunity to be productive would be available to all citizens. People could fund useful buildings, equipment and wages, rather than having to buy land at inflated prices. Many countries, including the United States, were started on the premise of using land rent to fund public services. Many countries suffer economic loss because they no longer collect the market rent of land.

The value of land can be estimated with an acceptable accuracy, at a cost which is very small compared to the revenue to be obtained. A proper system of assessment and taxation of land can provide for the proper economic use of the land. A land site should be available to the user who can make the highest and best use of the site and maximize the site benefits for all people. A land tax can provide a major source of public revenue which the local governing body could use for the benefit of all people. A land tax can prevent the dispossession of our children, the future producers in the society. Justice requires that land values, which are created by society and nature, be made available for public improvements. This is the responsibility of good government. Read the whole article

Robert V. Andelson  Henry George and the Reconstruction of Capitalism
Nobody, to my knowledge, advocates that it be instituted whole-hog overnight. But it could be phased in in easy stages so as to obviate the risk of shock and dislocation. And it is my considered opinion that, by the time the system were in full effect, the revenues produced by collecting land values alone would suffice to meet all legitimate public needs. This may not have been true during the Cold War, with its staggering burden of nuclear defense. But with that burden lifted, and with the need for welfare of all kinds evaporated because of the full employment and other social benefits that the system would naturally engender, and for other reasons, which time precludes my specifying here, I really think that we could dispense with taxes on incomes, improvements, sales, imports, and all the rest. If I am unduly optimistic in this belief, and the public appropriation of land-values were insufficient, this would be no argument against using it as far as it could go.  Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Sounding the Revenue Potential of Land: Fifteen Lost Elements
The revenue potential of land is greater than anyone thinks. This is a progress report on a study that finds, bares, and to some extent measures elements of enhanced revenue potential by using truer and more comprehensive measures of rent and land values. It should go without saying, but often does not, that the purpose of raising more land revenues is not to fatten vexatious bureaucrats. It is
  • to replace vexatious taxes,
  • to provide and maintain and operate needed public infrastructure and services (including a reasonable national defense),
  • to pay off old public debts and avoid new ones, and
  • to fund social dividends (including existing social dividends like Social Security and public schools).  ...   Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney:  George's Economics of Abundance: Replacing dismal choices with practical resolutions and synergies

Fostering economy in government in the very process of raising revenue

Anti-governmentalists often identify any tax policy with public extravagance. Georgist tax policies, on the contrary, help save public funds in at least two general ways.

a. Putting the unemployed to work saves many public costs, like welfare, obviously, crime-fighting, and, ultimately, putting down civil disturbances and insurrections.

b. Putting the unemployed to work also raises demand and, by so doing, helps make plain to all the desirability of unleashing supply. Now, supply in some industries is deliberately held down to support prices. U.S. agriculture is a good example: supply restraints are transparent because they are matters of public law. The U.S.D.A. pays landowners to fallow some 60 million acres each year, to raise food and clothing prices. Under Georgist policy those acres would go to work producing food and paying taxes, both.

c. Georgist policies obviate subeconomic extensions of public works, which now are pushed by the powerful combination of land speculators seeking increments, the jobless seeking work, and the homeless seeking shelter. Georgist policies open up the naturally better land to settlement, thus relieving the pressure to invade flood plains, steep erosive slopes, flammable brushlands, wetlands, and other places that soak up heavy public funds to reach, develop, service, and protect.

At the same time, these policies deflate the "rent-seeking" motivations of land speculators to sue for state and federal aid. Under George's scheme, the unearned increments secured by "rent-seeking" lobbying for public works would be taxed away.

In the longer run it seems reasonable to expect that more genuine productive job opportunities at home would reduce the pressures for military spending, at least those portions which are strictly boondoggling of a make-jobs nature. Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: How to Revive a Dying City
Georgist taxation tends to reduce the need for public spending in two obvious ways. One is to increase job opportunity, which in turn reduces welfare spending. More productive job opportunities should reduce pressure for military spending of a boondoggling, make-jobs nature as well. The other is to eliminate urban sprawl and its wasteful cross-subsidies.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. ...

Affordable housing is high on the list of urban advocates. President Bush's Commission on Housing endorsed the PTS, as did Jack Kemp in his book, American Renaissance. Given such support from conservatives, one might expect even more from liberals yet such has not been forthcoming. Housing advocates tend to eschew a deeper analysis in favor of demanding subsidies (not an unusual strategy in the political arena). However, as government costs rise (notably for prisons and medicare), subsidies for weaker constituencies do fall. Already, housing advocates are finding themselves in need of a substitute source of funds, which a Housing Voucher could provide. An alliance between cutting-edge urban advocates and environmentalists would realize the heretofore unattainable dream of progressives of left and green unity.

Youth crime and alienation, detritus in the wake of dead communities, are more attention-grabbing problems. Both are ameliorated by widespread and secure home ownership and more free time for working parents, two essentials for functional families and functional communities. A Housing Voucher offers hope along both these lines. Even without the voucher, the land taxing city of Pittsburgh enjoys by far the lowest crime rate of any major US city. ...

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

Dan Sullivan: Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?
Who has the authority to collect land rent?
Many libertarians struggle with the legitimate question of how any governing body achieves rightful jurisdiction in a community, and we join them in opposing collection by such super-statist organizations as the United Nations, which is substantially a federation of tyrannies. However, royal libertarians raise the question selectively and rhetorically in regard to community collection of land rents. They acknowledge that there must be courts to settle, among other things, property disputes. It seems rather obvious that whatever entity has authority to rule on who gets the land also has authority to rule on who gets the land rent.

Fear of a funded government
There is also a well founded libertarian concern that land rent could provide funds enough to support a corrupt and oppressive government. Most libertarian supporters of the governmental collection of land rent therefore fall into two camps. One would give the people power to limit how much money the government can take, but would stipulate that all such money come entirely from ground rents and natural resource severance royalties. The other would take the full rent, but would stipulate that the government can still only spend what the citizens authorize it to spend. The rest would be distributed on a per-capita basis.

Ending excuses for big government
Much of the government spending to which libertarians strenuously object is made necessary by its taxing productivity instead of land values.

The property tax falls mostly on improvements, so less housing is built, giving the government an excuse to build public housing. Profits are taxed, leading to less employment and giving government an excuse to spend money on economic stimulus projects. Family income is taxed to the point that they have difficulty buying a house or sending their children to college, so government institutes subsidized mortgages and student loans.

Even the indirect effects are substantial. Land speculations gone sour chew up inner cities, so poor people turn to crime (if drug selling and prostitution be crimes) and the government gets an excuse to beef up the police state.

Politically connected real estate interests see that they can buy up land in the boondocks for a pittance and then get other taxpayers to build them a superhighway, increasing the value of their holdings by orders of magnitude. With land value tax they would have ultimately paid for their own highway or more likely would not have had it built in the first place.

Even welfare increases do not stay in the hands of welfare recipients, but are quickly greeted by higher rent demands from ghetto landlords. (The War on Poverty did little to end poverty, but it did a lot to enrich absentee owners of poor communities.)

All goes back to the land, and the land owner is enabled to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit, however important or however pitiful those benefits may be. Winston Churchill   ... Read the whole piece

Fred E. Foldvary — The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent

Some may wonder why anyone would own land if most of the rent is taxed away. One would own land for the same reason people rent land: in order to use it. Ownership also gives the title holder rights of possession, the ability to control the use of the site indefinitely.

Today there is also a speculative motive for owning land, to profit from the increase in its price. With most of the geo-rent tapped for public revenue, the speculative motive would be dampened. That would benefit the economy, since with a lower price of land, funds that now go to buy land would instead go to build more capital goods, hire more labor, or provide better training.

The tax on the geo-rent would be borne by the owner, not the tenant. If a landlord, who was already charging what the market could bear, tried to pass on the tax, he would face vacancies. Some say that since the tax would be invisible to renters, the link between using public services and paying for them would be broken. But productive public services increase the geo-rent, so that link is there. If government revenue is wasted, then indeed this does not generate rent, and a land value tax without corresponding benefits would reduce land value. Pressure for a productive use of public revenue would come from the landowners more than from the tenants. But that is no different than the situation today; poor folks pay little or no income tax and no property tax, and typically they get government assistance. This is an argument not against the use of rent, but in favor of privatizing government programs. In the private sector, the link between ownership and control is stronger. ... read the whole document

"A. J. O."  (probably Mark Twain)  Slavery

...My men are now as eager as ever to come to me to work as they formerly were to run away from work. I have neither to buy or breed them; and if any suddenly leave me, instead of letting loose the bloodhounds, I have merely to hold up a finger or advertise, and I have plenty of others offering to take their place. I am saved the expense and worry of incessant watching and driving. I have no sick to attend, or worn-out pensioners to maintain. If a man falls ill there is nothing but my good nature to prevent my turning him off at once; the whole affair is a purely commercial transaction -- so much wages for so much work. The patriarchal relation of slave-owner and slave is gone, and no other has taken its place. When the man is worn out with long service I can turn him out with a clear business conscience, knowing that the State will see that he does not starve.

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. ... Read the whole piece

Publisher's pamphlet, circa 1970:
Apart from Free Trade, the great economic and social issues were taxation and the alleviation of poverty. The Liberals were concerned to remove the basic cause of the problem -- not just to mitigate its undesirable effects.

    It was the American economist Henry George who, towards the end of the 19th century, had examined the paradox of the age in his Progress and Poverty. His principles had a major impact, first upon the radicals of Scotland and Ireland, including Campbell Bannerman himself; and later upon the policy of the Liberal Party.

    Henry George propounded that whilst people have the right to possess what they produce, or receive in exchange for their work, there is no such right to private ownership of the elements upon which all depend -- air, water, sunshine and land. Indeed, George held the right of access to these basic elements as strong and equal as the right to life itself, and that if private ownership of basic elements is permitted, suppression and exploitation of one class by another is inevitable. The consequent injustice must become more acute as the community develops.

    Thus it became a major point of Liberal policy to shift taxation from production, and to raise taxation upon the value of land, on the basis that this value, as witnessed by the tremendously high prices even then demanded for commercial land, is created not by any individual but by the existence and work of the whole community. A natural source thus arises from which the community may meet its growing needs without discouraging production or inhibiting the growth of earnings.

    The justice and practicality of this proposition can rarely if ever have enjoyed a more brilliant advocate than Winston Churchill, and today's reader is left to wonder how different might be the present state of Britain had the forces of social change pursued these principles to their enactment. ...

    The People's Rights tells a very different story and comes now not as a document of historic interest but as a challenge to politicians, indeed to the entire electorate, to consider again the causes of poverty and the basic issues of social and economic justice. Perhaps current disillusionment with politics springs from a sense that if justice in the community can only be achieved at the expense of individual liberty, the price -- especially in terms of ever-increasing taxation and bureaucracy -- is too high to pay.

    As a proposition that justice in the community and the freedom of the individual are complementary and that taxes may be raised without undermining either, The People's Rights comes as a major contribution to current political and economic thought. Indeed it deserves a place in the annals of Man's struggle for freedom and yearning for a society in which the genius of every person would be nurtured and the liberty of every person respected. ... Read the whole piece

Bill Batt: How Our Towns Got That Way   (1996 speech)
There were many arguments to be made for the classical tradition, the result of which would be to rely upon payment of rent of land according to its value to society. George recognized that land value is largely a function of how society has elected to invest in any general neighborhood; there is no argument for any one titleholder to reap the reward of what others have invested. Gaffney points out that, from the standpoint of economic theory, the framework had the following virtues:
  • It reconciled common land rights with private tenure, free markets and modern capitalism, a growing and persistent problem as the industrial society took hold.
  • It enabled the lowering of taxes on labor without raising taxes on capital.
  • It reconciled equity and efficiency. It constituted a progressive tax because land is concentrated so much among the wealthy and because the tax cannot be shifted. It was efficient because it is neutral among different land-use options.
  • It constituted no disincentive to business location or population settlement. In this way it encouraged the most efficient land use and discouraged sprawl.
  • It created jobs without inflation, and raised government revenue without any penalty upon its base.
  • It strengthened public revenues and at the same time promotes economy in government.

Those economists who today still persistently hold to the view that there is something special about land that make it unwise to treat as a form of capital are known as Georgists. They represent a small minority of the economics profession, but, little known as they are, they are among its most esteemed members. ...

Jessica Matthews, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, recently wrote a syndicated piece observing that:

In a now familiar sequence, developers reach for the cheapest land, out in the cow pastures. Government is left to fill in behind with brand new infrastructure roads, sewerage systems and schools paid for in part by those whose existing roads and schools are left to decline. Property values rise in a ring that marches steadily outward from the city and fall in older suburbs inside the moving edge.

Because residential development can't meet the public bills, local governments compete for commercial investment with tax discounts that deplete their revenues still further. Property taxes then rise, providing an incentive for new development.

Years of such leap-frogging construction devours land at an astonishing pace. Now if the full social opportunity cost of land occupancy were charged to landholders, the reward of (and incentive for) speculation would be obliterated, and land now locked up by speculators would be transferred to users. Users would employ more labor and engender more capital development instead of seeing it locked up in wasted space.

Absent adequate taxation the regions at the periphery are the first developed, just as Ms. Matthews observes.

The economics profession is only now coming to recognize its responsibility for what it has wrought. Economists are coming to recognize the costs of sprawl, and studies show how astonishingly inefficient the suburban lifestyle is. One review of the literature on the subject of comparative development costs published by the Urban Land Institute revealed that "houses built in sprawling developments may cost 40 to 400 percent more to serve than if they were located close to major facilities, were clustered in contiguous areas, and incorporated a variety of housing types."  ... read the whole article

Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
Georgists today are also frequently very divided on the role of government in society. Many are vehemently anti-government and are subscribers to libertarian views;35 others are rather conventional progressives in their belief and confidence in the role of government to provide the full array of public services which are typically found in modern democratic societies. The axis of Georgist thought cuts completely across conventional political party lines as a consequence: one finds hardline conservatives and progressive “liberals” united only in the view that economic land rent should not be left in the hands of titleholders. Most would use such revenues to finance the support of government services, abolishing completely the wide array of income, sales, corporate franchise and other taxes that are currently used, keeping only environmental fees and user fees.

Adherents of minimalist government believe that any extra rent revenue collected from holders of land should be returned to people individually in the form of a “citizen’s dividend.” Given the choice of using the full amount of surplus rent to support government services or collecting only a portion, many libertarian Georgists would collect it all; leaving it otherwise in the hands of property holders, they believe, has more negative consequences than not collecting it. Not collecting the economic rent, so they argue, is worse than throwing it “into the sea” for all its distorting and destructive consequences. Others advocates would prefer to collect it not for financing the services of government but rather to distribute it as a “citizen’s dividend.” There is widespread recognition of the destructive consequences of the failure to collect land rent. Some Georgists would allow a token amount of rent to be retained by landholders so as to facilitate real estate markets above and beyond what might otherwise be realized. ...

Because a tax on land is essentially a flat rate percent levied on a base of assessed full market value, it is simple and easy for people to understand. On account of that attribute, a tax on land value is easily visible and is perceived by the public to be fair. Finally, now that applied computer technology can be used to accurately assess the value of land whether or not it is improved, one of the last traditional objections to the administrative feasibility to land value taxation has been allayed. All this enhances the legitimacy of government. The tax is therefore not simply efficient from the narrow measure of tax efficiency as described above. It is efficient also in the broader sense, by its ability to foster sounder government performance, better community relations, more livable community configurations, and enhanced social productivity.  It is not just from the standpoint of tax theory alone that a tax on land should be evaluated. ...

In the Georgist view, this economic rent is the public’s birthright, and the failure to collect it and to use it to pay for the general costs of government services is a moral as well as a public policy lapse. Georgists regard the private confiscation of public wealth as mistaken policy if not actually an immoral transgression — in a word, theft! He himself was an advocate of the public owning and protecting “the commons” and what is today often called “natural capital.” Studies have shown that if economic rent were collected in full as well as other appropriate revenues such as user fees and green taxes, the total income would likely be enough to pay not only the costs of all government services but provide a citizens’ dividend of significant amounts as well.48 Statistical data is difficult to compile, but what studies have been attempted to date indicate that economic rent in all its forms and from all its sources comprises approximately a third of the economy as it is currently calculated.49 Arrangements such as these are to the followers of Henry George a far more efficient and moral system of public finance.... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Neo-classical Economics as a Stratagem Against Henry George
Georgist policies let us strengthen public revenues while in the same process promoting economy in government.  

Anti-governmentalists often identify any tax policy with public extravagance. Georgist tax policy, on the contrary, saves public funds in many ways.

  • By making jobs it lowers welfare costs, unemployment compensation, doles, aid to families with dependent children, and all that.
  • It lowers jail and police costs, and all the enormous private expenditures, precautions, and deprivations now taken to guard against theft and other crime. Idle hands are not just wasted, they steal and destroy. 
  • Ultimately, Georgist policy saves the cost of civil disturbances and insurrections, and/or the cost of putting them down. In 1992 large parts of Los Angeles were torched, for the second time in a generation, pretty much as foreboded by Henry George in Progress and Poverty, Book X.21 Forestalling such colossal waste and barbarism is much more than merely a "free lunch."
George's program would abort other, less obvious wastes in government. It obviates much of the huge public cost now incurred to reach, develop, and safeguard lands that should be left in their natural submarginal condition.
  • Today, people occupy flood plains and require levees, flood control dams, and periodic rescue and recovery spending.
  • Others scatter their homes through highly flammable steep brushlands calling for expensive fire-fighting equipment and personnel, and raising everyone's fire insurance premiums.
  • Others build on fault lines; still others in the deserts, calling for expensive water imports.
  • Generically, people now scatter their homes and industries over hundreds of square miles in the "exurbs," or urban sprawl areas, imposing huge public costs for linking the scattered pieces with the center, and with each other.  

This wasteful, extravagant territorial overexpansion results from two pressures working togther.

  • One force is that of land speculators.  They manipulate politics by seeking public funds to upgrade their low-grade lands so they may peddle them at higher prices.
  • The other force is that of landless people, who seek land for homes and jobs, and public funds for "make-work" projects.  
Both these forces wither away when we tax land value and downtax wages and capital.This moves good land into full use, meeting the demand for land by using land that is good by Nature, without high development costs. It also creates legitimate jobs, abating the pressure for "make-work" spending.  Above all, it takes the private gain out of upvaluing marginal land at public cost. Such lands, if upvalued by public spending, will then have to pay for their own development through higher public revenues. ... read the whole essay

Mason Gaffney: Land Rent in a Tax-free Society  (Outline of remarks by Mason Gaffney, for use at Moscow Congress, 5/21/96) 
1. Rents are a taxable surplus. I estimate that this taxable surplus constitutes 35% or more of the national income in most nations with market economies, and more in resource-rich nations. ...
 2. The value of rent is huge. Every economy produces a large excess over wages. To be sure, not all of it is surplus. Some of it goes to replace capital that wears out each year. This is not part of the net surplus, nor income to the capitalist; it is a return of capital. ...
 3. Rent will become huger yet when you abate taxes presently levied on production and exchange, because these now depress the rent of land. That is, in a tax-free market economy, the benefit of abating present taxes will lodge mainly in land rents. The taxable surplus simply shifts from one form to another.
This is more than a simple shift of a fixed amount. When you substitute land revenues for existing taxes, the surplus actually grows, as if by synergy. You gain more revenue base than you lose, because existing taxes now suppress much latent production. Payroll taxes directly drive workers from taxable jobs to untaxed gains from crime. Abating those taxes will unleash suppressed economic giants, along with all the new surplus values their latent production will generate. "Monetarists" warn you that "there are no free lunches." In fact, however, good policy creates lots of "free lunches." It makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Imagine the benefits, alone, of turning people from destructive careers in crime to useful jobs producing goods.
4. Some of the benefit of abating existing taxes will lodge in higher after-tax wage rates, rather than higher rents. ...
 5. Many varieties of natural resources generate rents. City land is the greatest single source. For example, one city, Vancouver, contains half the value of taxable property in B.C. - a province of 934,000 sq. kilometers, or 70% larger than France. ... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Property Tax: Biases and Reforms
What happens when a state radically slashes its property tax? Michiganders are saying they must wait and see, but there is no need for that: California can show you 17 years of experience. To read your future, just study our past. Here is what has happened since California passed Proposition 13 in 1978.

The obvious direct results have been to cut public services, raise other taxes, and lose credit rating.

  • Our school support fell from #5, nationally, to #40 in 1985 when last seen, still falling.
  • County road maintenance is down to where my county (Riverside) is repaving its roads at an annual rate of once every 130 years. Once in 20 years is recommended here, and up north you generally need higher frequency. You can't just build infrastructure and then stop paying for it, it's a perpetual commitment. Thanks to urban sprawl, a high fraction of our population now depends on these county roads.
  • In 1978 we had a surplus in Sacramento. Since then we have raised business taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and gas taxes, but go broke every June. Now our State bond rating is last among the states. One of our richest counties (Orange) has gone bankrupt; Los Angeles is on the brink of it, saving itself by closing emergency rooms and hospitals that serve as a last resort for the uninsured poor.
  • The private sector is doing badly, too. Raising income taxes, business taxes, and sales taxes is no way to stimulate an economy; they are all a drag on work and enterprise.
    • Our income per capita was down from #7 to #12 among the states by 1992, then fell some more. From 1992-94, California was one of three states where median household income fell.
    • Our unemployment rate is 9%, 50% higher than the national mean of 6%.
    • Our poverty rate is 18%, compared to 14.5% nationally.
    • Not surprisingly, therefore, the only government function that grows now is building and operating prisons.
    • One of our few rebounding industries is cinema, the art of escaping from reality: we excel at that. Another thriving activity is that of auctioning off used machinery for export to the east.
  • In 1993 there was net outmigration (including international migration) from this state that has symbolized American growth since time immemorial. It is unheard of. 426,000 people were lost, nearly 2% of the population. This is a watershed change: imagine of all states California, America's trend-setter, our El Dorado, The Golden State, our Horn of Plenty, the safety-valve for job-seekers and retirees and entrepreneurs from everywhere, the end of the rainbow, losing population! It's almost enough to make a person click off the TV and think!

Our fall of income per capita is greater than appears from a purely monetary measure. Real pay (in contrast $) has fallen more because of the drastic rise in shelter prices. In San Francisco, shelter takes 50 percent of the median income, with many other cities, especially coastal ones, not far behind. It is unusual to find livable quarters for less than $600 per month. The median home price rose 163 percent during the 1980s to $258,000 (that is just the median - the mean is higher). These prices are part of the C.O.L. of all renters and new buyers, a part not fully incorporated in standard CPI measures.

Some cities are in desperate straits. In 1976 San Bernardino was chosen an "AllAmerican City, A City on the Go." Go it did: today 40 percent of its people are on welfare!

California is earthquake country. But it has always renewed itself. It was different after the Northridge quake in the San Fernando Valley, January 1994. This is the uppermiddle neighborhood of Los Angeles, but now large pockets of ruined buildings remain, unreconstructed, inhabited by vagrants and criminals: an instant Bronx West. These ominous blighted sections portend the spread of more blight.

It should give one pause. It is the expectable consequence of what the voters did. They rejected the concept of taxing inert wealth in favor of the alternative: taxing liquidity, cash flow, work, production and commerce. The predictable result has been to inhibit economic activity, and encourage holding wealth inert and stagnant. They turned property from a functional concept into a sacred one; from a commission to be enterprising, hire people, produce goods, and pay taxes into a welfare entitlement.

California had a construction boom in the late 1980s, but it was not healthy. It was marked by extreme scatter and instability. Downtown L.A. was to become a great new financial capital. But it now has nearly the highest office vacancy rate in the U.S., with of course a high rate of builder bankruptcies. Speculative builders were led on to over-build, in part by anticipated higher land rents and prices. This Lorelei effect was magnified by national income-tax provisions luring on speculative builders. But we have to ask why California fell harder than other states, even with the object-lessons of the oil states in clear view.

David Shulaman tersely summarized the distributive effects of Prop. 13 as he left us to become Chief Equity Strategist for Salamon Brothers in Manhattan: "it breached the social compact." Alienation is the result, and the results of alienation are the Rodney King riots, arson and looting. (The consistent leader in death rate from violent causes is New Mexico, with the lowest property tax in the nation.) The Watts riots, you may object, preceded Prop. 13, and you are right. However, the Watts riots were part of a national epidemic. By 1967 there were riots with arson and looting in 70 or more American cities. The Rodney King riots were endemic to California, and they spread over a much wider area of Los Angeles than the Watts riots did. The looters and arsonists were not all black, and the targets were not all white, but mainly Korean-Americans who just happened to be there minding their stores.

Conventional wisdom now blames our California bust on the end of the Cold War. Surely that is a factor, but as a casual explanation, it is too pat, too easy and too convenient. It shifts the load onto impersonal historical forces - the Marxist world view. Let us see if it can survive analysis.

Compare today with 1945. Los Angeles' economy depended much more on The Hot War, 1940-1945, than it every did on The Cold War. Los Angeles' wartime boom had swelled its population as no other great city, 1940-45. After 1945 the U.S. pulled the plug on defense spending, more than today. Jane Jacobs, in The Economy of Cities, tells us what happened to military spending in Los Angeles after 1945. It lost 3/4 of its aircraft workers, and 80 percent of its shipbuilders. It lost its military and naval overseas supply and replacement businesses. Troops stopped funneling through. It got worse: petroleum and cinema and citrus, its traditional exports, all declined.

Pundits then forecast a regional collapse, but Los Angeles boomed instead. The wartime immigrants stayed. They formed creative, innovative small businesses in large numbers, giving L.A. its deserved reputation for having the most dynamic, flexible, adaptable industrial base in the nation. Besides exporting goods, L.A. also became more self-contained, providing itself with more of the goods it previously imported. How could this be? Angelenos had access to land, the basis of all supply and demand in any economy.

Between 1945-50, one-eighth of all new businesses started in the U.S. were established in L.A. They were small, creative, flexible, miscellaneous, and too varied and dynamic to classify. No Linnaeus could sort them in static conventional boxes; they were the despair traditional economic geographers and base theorists who were at a loss to explain the region's thriving economy. The new Angelenos stayed and started producing everything for themselves, some things previously imported, and others never seen before.

Eastern firms established branch plants. Top eastern students came to California's great university system and stayed behind to take jobs and make careers here, then sent their children through California's excellent public schools. California became famous for supporting outstanding higher education, highways, water supplies, public health, public safety, and other public services, all without repelling business by taxation. There was a regional "El Dorado Effect" as demand and supply grew together. Growing local demand allowed for economies of scale serving local markets. Food and shelter were cheap and abundant. Land for business was accessible, providing a basis for the California self-contained phenomenon. A "continental tilt" developed in both interest rates and wage rates, drawing in eastern capital and labor. Why is that not continuing today?

The invisible, pervasive change is due to Proposition 13, which makes it possible to hold land at negligible tax cost. In 1945 land was taxed at 3 percent every year, building a fire under holdouts to turn their land to use. Today that same tax cost is well below 1 percent. Using Gwartney's Rule of Thumb (see below under #2, A, "Reassessing Land Frequently") it is about 1/8 of 1 percent: a rate of 1 percent applied to 1/8 of the true value.

Landowners are only taxed now if they use their land to hire people and produce something useful. Then they are confronted by the drag of our high business and employment and sales taxes, necessitated by the fall of property taxes. A handful of oligopolistic landowners control most of the market; small businesses are squeezed out. This helps us segue from being at the cutting edge of industrial progress to a third-world economy - from the NH model to the AL model - with little relief in sight.

What was different then? We had high property tax rates, but they were more focused on land than now, less on new buildings. Another obvious difference was the lower burdens of sales tax, business tax, and income tax. California was more hospitable to Georgist thinking than perhaps any other state, shown by its long run of Georgist political action in the prior thirty years. Most people today are totally ignnorant of this subject. It has been deleted from our history books. Here is a brief review.

Several states had "single-tax" movements and initiatives, 1910-14, but most of them petered out. In California they continued through 1924, and then popped up again in 1934-38. In 1934 the "EPIC" campaign of Upton Sinclair included a strong Georgist element - he proposed the establishment of new factories and farms on idle land. At the same time, Jackson Ralston was pursuing a pure land tax initiative, 1934-38.

Sinclair and Ralston lost. But the very existence of such political action in California, when the movement was torpid elsewhere, tells us a lot. It reveals a large matrix of supportive voters and workers, with effective leaders, to whom politicians (including elected County Assessors) would naturally respond by focusing on land assessments. Politicians survive by accommodating and absorbing dissident movements. Even while "losing," such campaigns raise consciousness of the issue. Thus, in California, 1917, land value constituted 72 percent of the assessment roll for property taxation.

This remained the California norm for years. California was different. Even into the 1960s, Sacramento County elected an avowed single-tax Assessor, Irene Hickman; San Diego County harbored an active movement for raising land assessments. The Henry George Schools of San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento were the most active such schools in the country: four in one state, when most had none. State Senator Al Rodd, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, held hearings and tried to push land tax legislation through his Committee in the 1960s and early 1970s. He assigned a staffer, Jack Massen, to spend a year working out the detailed effects on intergovernmentai relations. Assemblyman Dr. William Filante, from a base of Georgist support in Marin County, picked up the torch too.

California displayed amazing prosperity and growth up to 1978. It had the resilience to shrug off the loss of war industries after 1945 and still grow "explosively" (as Jane Jacobs put it). After 1978 we suffered a string of reverses. The timing, along with a priori causative analysis, plus direct observations too numerous to review support an hypothesis that the reverses were aggravated by Prop. 13. Michigan, be warned: "This Could Happen to You.  ... Read the whole article

Fred Foldvary:  See the Cat
... Those who see the cat have a clear picture of how the economy works. They can see why we have social problems, and what the remedy is. Those who don't see the cat keep trying treat the symptoms with welfare, but they never cure the economic disease. Others see the welfare as not curing anything, and think they can just get rid of the welfare. Only those who see the cat realize that the remedy is a shift of public revenue from labor to land so that we eliminate poverty and thus any need for the welfare state.Read the whole article

Ted Gwartney:  A Free Market Strategy to Reduce Sprawl
  • Unused land is far more abundant than we realize.
  • End the Public Subsidy of Land Speculation and Sprawl
  • Counterproductive growth limitations and regulations should be abolished.
  • A Strategy for Urban Renewal
  • A Strategy for Economic Development
  • Public Finance by Self-Financing
Most major cities have a substantial amount of fully serviced but unused or underused land sites. It is estimated that 38% of the land area in Los Angeles is unused, 30% in New York City and 25% in Washington, D.C. Intercity sites are bypassed because land speculators receive a greater benefit by ignoring the highest and best use of land sites. A greater profit is made when development is delayed and the land price increases to higher levels. But building within existing developed areas uses the existing and underused infrastructure, roads, transit, public facilities, and services. Sprawl requires new expenditures on public goods and services, more government, more taxes, more dislocation.  ... Read the whole article

Maurie Fabrikant: An Open Letter to Wayne Swan
Modern conventional wisdom is that increasing land price signifies a healthy economy. Exactly the reverse is true! Increasing land price demonstrates that much money is being invested in real estate and that necessarily means that less money is being invested in productive ventures. Increasing land price causes increasing rents ... because the land owner must derive sufficient income to pay the interest charged on the loan needed to buy the land and its improvements. This makes it increasingly difficult for businesses to trade profitably ... especially when there is a plethora of complicated taxes that cause extremely high compliance costs. It's no wonder that more and more goods are now imported as local manufacturers choose to close their operations. In many places in Australia, land lies relatively idle. For example, in Melbourne's CBD, several large blocks have been idle for years and in the suburbs, shops remain empty for months, even years. Yet government-released figures on unemployment - the reality may well be much worse! - admit that unemployment exceeds 6%. The old adage, "Idle lands cause idle hands" is clearly demonstrated in Australia ... and elsewhere.
The only possible "winners" in this "game" are those who presently own land; the more they own, the more they have the potential to "win". Land owners enjoy enormous increase in the price of land they own simply because they were able to purchase it when its price was comparatively low. They do not - in their role as owners - contribute in any way to the prosperity of the nation. Indeed, because they grow wealthier without producing, they are, in fact, parasites! That sounds incredible but it is true nonetheless. How so? Simply because those owners receive part of the wealth earned by all citizens; at least some of that wealth is used to push up land prices but only owners enjoy those increased prices. Tenants certainly do not! All who labour - and this includes land owners who perform labour! - are thereby effectively robbed of some of their earnings. (Please note that I do not blame landowners personally; most would - I'm certain - be horrified to think that they are parasites. The fault lies in the parliamentary enactments that permit such a situation to prevail.)

Difficult as the situation is now, it will be worse still in another two human generations' time. How so? Because the same forces that have been exerted in the past continue unabated. In fact, these forces appear to be intensifying! Taxation is continuing to escalate as pressure groups clamour ever louder for financial assistance. The average rate at which personal income tax is levied is increasing - even though the maximum rate levied is falling - and sales taxes and the like are being applied to a widening range of goods and services. The wealthy continue to derive benefit from the tax-minimisation experts they employ - because they save more tax than they pay to those experts - leaving the relatively poorly-paid employees to carry most of the burden. Unless, of course, steps are taken to change these tendencies, Australia will become an increasingly unpleasant country in which to live. That's definitely not the future I want for my 3 children and 7 grandchildren. And I'm sure you don't, either!

The solution to this conundrum is, perhaps amazingly, incredibly simple; namely, require all owners of land - in fact, all natural resources, including intangibles such as broadcast bands, to pay to all Australians, via the government, an annual rental in exchange for exclusive ownership rights to those natural resources. What could be fairer? If a citizen has exclusive ownership rights to a natural resource, that obviously means that all others have no rights to it whatsoever. Therefore, that citizen must pay compensation - in the form of a periodic rent - to all others. Now that's a perfect manifestation of "user pays." How big is this periodic rent? That's simply answered, too. It's what the citizens, generally, think that natural resource is worth! And that's easily - and accurately - determined by valuers, individuals who have great experience because they simply note the prices at which similar natural resources in the vicinity - both in space and in time - are sold then use those prices to predict that of a similar resource.

This would constitute real tax reform and - when implemented - would obviate the need for income taxes and sales taxes. How is this? When a continuing rent is charged for ownership rights to a natural resource, that natural resource will have little or no purchase price. Setting up a business or residence will be much cheaper first up as only the improvements must be paid for initially. Money that presently must be borrowed to pay for access to natural resources will become available for productive purposes. Because rents will be payable on all natural resources that are privately owned - whether or not they are in use - those natural resources will become used or will return to the nation as public land. Speculation in natural resources will be immediately terminated thus eliminating a major factor in escalating price. The converse of the old adage quoted earlier is apposite:- Far less idle land will translate into far fewer idle hands! That will translate into a reduced need for social security expenditure. Additionally, lower levels of unemployment will cause reduced anti-social and criminal activity with consequent savings in law enforcement, punishment and rehabilitation. And elimination of most of our taxation regulations will cause compliance costs to all but disappear. The brakes that presently retard Australia's productivity will not merely be released; they will be discarded! ... read the entire article


Joseph Malins: The Ambulance Down in the Valley

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant,
But over its terrible edge there had slipped,
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley." ...

"Oh he's a fanatic," the others rejoined,
"Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He'd dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We'll support them forever.
Aren't we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?"

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
"To rescue the fallen is good, but 'tis best
To prevent other people from falling."
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence 'round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley. ... Read the whole poem and commentary

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