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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 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)
Fred E. Foldvary — The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
Jeff Smith: Share Rent, Transform Society
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. ...
THE SOURCE OF PUBLIC REVENUE
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:
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.
EFFICIENCY OF PUBLIC REVENUE
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;
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)
HOW MUCH LAND RENT SHOULD THE COMMUNITY COLLECT?
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
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
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.
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
"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
winstonchurchill.org: THE PEOPLE'S RIGHTS: OPPORTUNITY LOST?
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.Bill Batt: How Our Towns Got That Way (1996 speech)
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
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:
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 articleMason 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.
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.
This wasteful, extravagant territorial overexpansion results from two pressures working togther.
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 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
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,
But the sensible few, who are practical
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