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Social Justice
Nic Tideman: The Case for Site Value Rating
The Social Justice of Site Value Rating
The Efficiency of Site Value Rating
How Valuations would be Made

Both for reasons of social justice and for reasons of economic efficiency, site value rating deserves a continued place in the programme of the Liberal Party.

The case for site value rating in terms of social justice is founded on two understandings: first, that the value of land in the absence of economic development is the common heritage of humanity, and second, that increases in the rental value of land arising from economic development and government expenditures should be collected by governments to finance those activities. What is meant by "land" is the unimproved value of sites and the value of extractable natural resources such as North Sea oil.

While there may someday be institutions capable of implementing a recognition of land as the heritage of all humanity on a worldwide basis, in the absence of such institutions each nation should implement a recognition that land within its boundaries is the common heritage of its citizens. This is accomplished not by making the nation a gigantic Common or by instituting government management of all land, but rather by requiring all persons and corporations that are granted the use of land to pay a fee or tax equal to what the rental value of the land they control would be if it were in an unimproved condition.

The case for site value rating in terms of economic efficiency is founded on the fact that a tax on resources that are not produced by human effort is one of the few sources of government revenue that does not reduce incentives for people to be productive. Two other revenue sources that have this virtue are taxes on other government-granted privileges such as exclusive use of radio frequencies and taxes on activities with harmful consequences, such as polluting the air. An economy will be more efficient if revenue sources that do not diminish productivity are employed to the greatest possible extent before any use is made of taxes that impede productivity.

What makes a tax efficient is that the amount of tax that is due cannot be reduced by reducing productive activities. When incomes are taxed, people can reduce the amount of taxes owed by working less. They do so, and the productivity of the economy falls. When houses are taxed, people can reduce the amount of taxes owed by building fewer house and smaller houses. They do so, and the housing shortage worsens. But when the unimproved value of land is taxed, there is no resulting diminution in the quantity of land. Thus taxes can be levied on land without diminishing the productivity of an economy. And shifting taxes from other, destructive bases to land will improve the productivity of an economy.

Subsequent sections explain in more detail these social justice and efficiency arguments for site value rating, describe procedures for implementing such a tax system, and explain why a variety of potential objections are without merit. ...

The Social Justice of Site Value Rating

In primitive societies, land is generally regarded as not ownable. No one made the land, so how can anyone own it? Ownership generally originates in conquest. In England, titles to land originated in the claim of William the Conqueror to own all the land because he was king. He granted to dukes, earls, etc. the right to collect rent from designated territories in exchange for their promises to fulfill various obligations to him. In the seventeenth century the nobility succeeded in removing all of their obligations to the crown, but they retained their rights to land. A substantial part of the great inequality in wealth in the United Kingdom can be traced to ancient patents of nobility that granted rights to collect rent.

One highly visible consequence of allowing land rents to be privately appropriated is that young people find it nearly impossible to buy houses. The price of a "house," in the Southeast of Britain at least, is primarily the price of land. If the rent of land were collected publicly, the price of land would be inconsequential, and the price of a house would be the cost of the materials and labour that went into building it. It should be recognized that if the site value of land were taxed, the payment of such taxes would make it more expensive to live in large cities than in small towns, but young people would be better able to afford it because other taxes would be reduced, and the mortgages to which people would need to commit themselves would not be nearly as great. ...

The general principle involved in all of these examples is that whenever a government grants a right to some and not to others, those who are granted such rights should pay annually, to the government, the value of those rights, measured by what others who do not have them would be willing to pay to have them.

Private appropriation of rent and other privileges makes it necessary for governments to look elsewhere for revenue, with the consequence that even persons with very low incomes are required to turn over part of what little they earn to the state. In justice we ought to allow everyone, but especially those whose earnings are lowest, to allocate what they produce as they themselves choose.

The three sources of land rent, the gift of nature, public services and community development, lead logically to the justice of three distinct taxes on land.  ...

One activity that is sometimes thought to be unfairly affected by site value rating is farming. To a substantial extent, this concern reflects a misperception of the relation between urban and rural rents. The vast preponderance of land rents are urban. Also, it is important to remember that the basis of site value rating is the unimproved value of land. Much of what farmers do increases the value of land in ways less obvious than buildings. Site value rating of agricultural land should be applied on the basis of what the rental value of the land would be in a completely overgrown condition.  ... Read the whole article

Karl Williams:  Social Justice In Australia: INTERMEDIATE KIT
"Solving the land question means the solving of all social questions… Possession of land by people who do not use it is immoral - just like the possession of slaves." - Leo Tolstoy, (1828 - 1910)

It was the power of the passion of George which led many of his supporters to believe he was somehow inspired and, in fact, George himself related an amazing inner experience he had when finishing his classic Progress and Poverty.


But you don't have to be at all religious to catch on to Geonomics, and we should stress that there's certainly no dogma in it, religious or economic. But, while we all inevitably delve into economic theory at one stage or another, what really puts fire into our bellies and keeps us going in the face of so many obstacles is the whole issue of social justice. It was this concern that fueled George's passionate mission more than anything else, and it rubs off on many of those who understand the fundamental economic principles he elucidated.

If you've read this far, you don't need to be told of the increasing disparities of wealth on this planet, both in developing and so-called developed nations. It's not the reality of social injustice that motivates most Georgists, but rather the conviction that it's all so unnecessary! Here's a very brief recap on why:
  • Speculators can sit on large parcels of land and wait for the community to build up its value. Land Value Taxation (LVT) would prevent speculation, induce the land to be put to its best possible use, and instead divert the increased land value to the community coffers. Valuable natural resources, which often fall into private hands, would again become part of the common wealth.
  • Current taxation is largely legalised robbery. But the rich, who often made their fortunes by misappropriating what should be the community's economic rent, have the means to set up tax shelters. LVT, in sharp contrast, is impossible to evade.
  • At the moment, whoever is lucky (or powerful) enough to own land earns greater and greater rent while the base earnings are forced down as population growth pushes the point of marginal land out further and further.
  • Our tax system rewards sloth and speculation while punishing industry, thrift, savings and honesty. Many public works, infrastructure and beautification projects are presently unaffordable because their value ends up in landowners' pockets rather than being recycled back to the community through LVT.
  • Land monopoly is the "mother of all monopolies". Those without land still need it, and have to work on the terms of those who have laid their hands on it first.
  • Involuntary unemployment is totally unnecessary. There are so many productive things that need to be done by those who presently are prevented from doing them. Additionally, many wage earners have their bargaining power and earning potential reduced by the threat of unemployment.
  • In the late 19th and early 20th century, a number of the most influential American plutocrats applied their considerable resources to stifle the work (and especially the ideas) of Henry George, and bankrolled the installation of neoclassical economics. In academic and professional circles today there's nothing much conspiratorial - only ignorance and an unwillingness to admit that their "dismal science" has consistently failed to deliver any viable alternative. George's economic analysis has never been seriously or scientifically challenged, let alone undermined - and still holds as true today as it did one hundred years ago.
  • The principles of our social justice proposals are radical and yet elegant: You don't get taxed on what you earn. What you rightly owe to society is based on what society does for you - in other words, on the physical and social infrastructure available to you. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • In the Third World, where land ownership is often concentrated in the hands of a few families, things are worse. Vast tracts of land remain unused because, without the pressure of LVT forcing site holders to turn their sites to productive use in order to cover the cost of the LVT, the landowning families can afford to wait until the desperately poor work on the terms dictated to them.
  • We'll have our birthrights restored! Geonomics effectively makes us co-owners of all the Global Commons. And land will be effectively free of a purchase price, as land price currently is the "capitalisation" of annual land values into private pockets. The great burden facing all entrants to this planet - having to save huge amounts to pay for what should be our inheritance - will no longer exist!
As the reader may have concluded, it is not possible to stick purely to social justice issues, keeping the economics out of it. The two issues are inextricably linked, so that understanding the solution to social injustice necessarily entails some more-than-basic knowledge of economics.


But economics, to many people, seems so dry, money-minded and mathematical as to be a real turn-off. Yet these same people will often rail against injustice. Maybe it's because the problem is obvious but the solution is hard to figure out. It is the same with a number of environmental activists - they won't hesitate to stand in front of a bulldozer, but much less often will they attempt to understand the underlying economics that has led to the pillaging of the Global Commons in the first place.

It's rather analogous to the tale of the guy who, blind drunk at night, is looking for his keys under a lamp post. A passer-by asks, "Are you sure you lost them here?" The drunk slurs a reply, "No - I lost them in the alley over the road, but there's no light there." The drunk is the environmental activist (or an ordinary citizen angered by injustice), his keys are the solution, the area under the street light is the easy-but-ineffectual answer (like hugging a tree or raising taxes on the rich), but the keys really lie in the difficult area of economics. ... Read the entire article

Karl Williams:  Land Value Taxation: The Overlooked But Vital Eco-Tax
I. Historical overview
II. The problem of sprawl
III. Affordable and efficient public transport
IV. Agricultural benefits
V. Financial concerns
VI. Conclusion: A greater perspective
Appendix: "Natural Capitalism" -- A Case Study in Blindness to Land Value Taxation

II. The problem of sprawl
While taxes on labour and capital act as a deterrent to production and employment, the unique qualities of land are such that a tax on land values encourages land to be put to its optimal use. Simply put, land holders cannot afford to hold land unused or underused, for they are compelled to pay the full LVT whether they use this scarce resource or not. The resulting compact cityscape would consume far less resources (in terms of land, infrastructure and ongoing energy costs) and would be more amenable to the provision of public transport, walking and riding.

Note that advocates of LVT, often nowadays called Geoists, call for the full collection of the LVT and not the partial and misapplied (with all manner of exemptions and thresholds) forms collected by some local, state and federal governments in Australia and elsewhere. When the land occupier is repaying his/her full dues (which is only just, as they represent the value of the amenities of the land), then land will have no market price. The improvements on the land (buildings etc.) retain their market value as they are not being taxed, so production is not penalised or discouraged. The social justice implications of having land with no market price (i.e. all humanity having their very birthright) are profound, but are again outside the domain of this paper. ...

LVT and its 19th-century champion, Henry George, achieved huge acclaim before being buried by the "purpose-built" body of neoclassical economics financed largely by rent-seeking American plutocrats.[18] In one form or another, Henry George's writings on the need to tax land values was preceded or endorsed by various biblical prophets, and by Carlyle, Churchill, Einstein, Franklin, Aldous Huxley, Jefferson, Lincoln, Locke, J.S. Mill, Paine, Penn, Rousseau, Bertrand Russell, Adam Smith, Spencer, Spinoza, Sun Yat Sen, James Tobin, Tolstoy, Twain, Voltaire, Winstanley, Frank Lloyd Wright and many more.[19] Just how this wisdom has been lost sight of is a long - too long for this paper - and tragic story.

Here, for this conference, is the quirk - environmental considerations played almost no part in the compelling endorsements lavished on LVT! The main bill, then and now, is its powerful explanation of the great causes of social injustice, with the second billing going to an exposure of a whole range of economic inefficiencies and deadweight losses of our present economic system, which should more accurately be termed land-monopoly capitalism. Support acts include libertarian ideals (non-intrusive tax systems), effective Third World Aid, an end to tax evasion, contributions to world peace, and an end to boom & bust cycles.

The appeal of LVT to some others is more its philosophical basis and how its implementation must turn the economy the right way up, such that the cause of the "madness" (because completely unnecessary) of involuntary unemployment is eliminated, which of necessity then leads to the range of benefits just mentioned.

This is not a meandering departure from the subject of this conference. No significant, effectual solutions can be made to our environment if the all-embracing economic system is only nibbled at, piecemeal, from the angle of taxation alone.

LVT is not a mere taxation solution, but an integrated economic solution, impacting on land management and cutting at the heart of privilege and injustice. Yes, environmental tax reformers must indeed address the looting of undervalued natural resources driven by bourgeois habits of overconsumption. Let us not, however, overlook the destruction resulting from short-term perspectives driven by poverty and desperation. LVT deals with both worlds. ... 
read the entire article

Mason Gaffney: Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production
Landownership imparts superior bargaining power Labor starves, in contests of endurance; land endures. 

A landowner is also a person with labor power.  He or she can earn income like any worker.  Landownership gives income above that, which gives discretionary spending or waiting power.

In contests with capital, land has the greater waiting power because over time capital depreciates, while land appreciates.  Thus landowners (when free of heavy taxation) are noted for their patience.  Patience is the essence of bargaining power.

Because land is fixed, more ownership by one person or group means less ownership by others.  To expand is to preempt, unavoidably.  Thus, the expanding agent necessarily weakens others by the same stroke that strengthens himself.  Landownership often gives market power in the sale of specific commodities and services. Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: How to Revive a Dying City
With all that talk of capital and efficiency, remember that we began with a quest for justice in sharing rent surplus. Justice and efficiency are not at odds; we can have both. The trade-off expounded by many economists is to enervate us so we won't do anything. Yet we have shown not just that we can have both, but more; we cannot have either without the other. If we do not share rents in the efficient Georgist manner, social and political pressures will cause inefficient sharing and eventual dissipation.

This is what economic policy can do. The basic impulses, however, the striving for justice and brotherhood, and the sense of personal ethics, come from within, and from family, community, schools, and religion. So does the sense of workmanship, the striving for excellence without which no system works.

There are city councilpersons who can corrupt the best system ever blueprinted. The Georgist program may even help to straighten them out. Lincoln Steffens taught us that the villain in Eden was neither Eve nor the serpent, but the apple! The apples of discord that corrupt city councils are unearned increments to land value, which they create or deny with every decision on extending sewers or changing zoning. Georgist tax dehydrates those apples by attaching higher tax to each unearned increment. Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Property Tax: Biases and Reforms

Mason Gaffney: Introduction: The Power of Neo-classical Economics  (Introduction to The Corruption of Economics, London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1994)
Georgist tax policy reconciles equity and efficiency. Taxing land is progressive because the ownership of land is so highly concentrated among the most wealthy,18 and because the tax may not be shifted. It is efficient because it is neutral among rival land-use options: the tax is fixed, regardless of land use. This is one favorable point on which many modern economists actually agree, although they keep struggling against it, as we will see.

George showed that a tax can be progressive and pro-incentive at the same time. Think of it! An army of neo-classicalists preach dourly we must sacrifice equity and social justice on the altar of "efficiency." They need that thought to stifle the demand for social justice that runs like a thread through The Bible, The Koran, and other great religious works. George cut that Gordian knot, and so he had to be put down.   ...   Read the whole article

Nic Tideman:  The Political Economy of the Gospels

The message of the Gospels is that our sins are forgivable, that death is not to be feared because our true lives are spiritual rather than physical, and that participation in the kingdom of God -- a new and better life in this world as well as the next -- is accessible to all who orient themselves to God.

Drawing on the Old Testament, Jesus taught that our first commandment is that we love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength, and that our second commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.1 When asked who our neighbor is, he replied with the parable of the good Samaritan, implying that anyone we encounter is our neighbor. 2 Jesus taught an ethic in which there are no bounds on our obligations to others:  ...

When asked by Peter, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Jesus replied, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."  In other words, we are to forgive indefinitely.

This unbounded obligation to others is reconciled with the need to survive through the introduction of the idea that it is not through our own anxious efforts, but through God's provision for us that we survive: ...

The message of the Gospels denies the validity of concern for material scarcity. This is made particularly clear in the accounts of the feeding of the multitudes with just a few loaves and fishes.

comprehending this counterintuitive idea, that material scarcity is not to concern us, is brought out by the accounts of how even Jesus' disciples did not understand the message: ...

Without a concept of material scarcity it is difficult to construct an economic theory, as material scarcity is central to economic theory. And yet, even without a concept of material scarcity there is an allocation problem to be solved--the allocation of our efforts.

In the parable of the talents we are told that we will be expected to accomplish something with the resources that are put into our hands. 8 This parable is followed in Matthew by a teaching that may be taken as an indication of what constitutes accomplishment: ...

In other words, every person is a manifestation of God, and anything that we can do to help anyone is to our credit.

There is thus an unlimited task for each of us. No one of us will ever be able to say, "I have done every last thing that might be required of me. I have no further obligations." But neither are we to be concerned that that which we have left undone might be held against us. For if we refrain from judging others, we ourselves will not be judged:  ...

With this message of the Gospels in mind, turn now to the problem of political economy, the problem of what principles ought to govern the organization of the production of goods and their distribution.

One might first ask whether the requirement that we abandon concern for scarcity would preclude production. The answer is no, it is not production that we are cautioned to avoid, but anxiety. There are any number of reasons why we might allocate some of our time to production, without being anxious about our own material requirements. We feel called to undertake a particular kind of work, so we do it, trusting that any material needs we may have will be satisfied. If we want to undertake our productive activities in conjunction with others, that's fine, too. Associating with others provides us with opportunities to be useful to them.

Among those who are close to us there is no need for prices and markets, because we can see easily enough how we can be of service to them. But human discernment is limited, and prices and markets help us to be aware of what is valued by people who are less close to us. ...

Refraining from the use of force is a recurring theme in the political economy of the Gospels. We are called to refrain from the use of force in defense of property. We are called to refrain from the use of force in financing public activities. We are called to refrain from the use of force in providing for those who might otherwise lack. And we show our love for those who do not wish to participate in our political economy by leaving for them the same per capita value of land and natural resources that we claim for ourselves.

Consider now how this framework bears on some traditional questions of economic ethics. Take first the problem of the just price. This simply is not an issue. If two people have the opportunity to trade--to cooperate--on terms that are mutually agreeable to the two of them, it is not for us to say that they ought to be trading on other terms. Between people who love one another, the problem of settling on the terms of trade is no more difficult than the problem when friends eat lunch together of deciding who will pick up the tab, or how it will be split.

That those outside a relationship are not called upon to prescribe its terms is supported by a passage from Luke: ...

Relations between employers and employees are a special case of relations between traders. ...
The problem of worker management is not a problem either. ...

Corporate responsibility may be more of an issue for a Gospel-based political economy. The corporate form of organization permits us to participate in the establishment and management of firms while knowing very little about the other people with whom we are involved or the actions that are taken on our behalf. If this leads us to support implicitly actions of managers in their concern for the bottom line that we could not in good conscience take ourselves, then there is something troubling about our participation in corporations. We need to find ways of managing the resources under our control that do not lead us to endorse implicitly and to profit from actions that we would not endorse directly or take ourselves.

The grand question of economic ethics, the question of whether capitalism or socialism is the more appropriate form of political economy, is another non-question from the perspective of the Gospels. Everyone who wants to live under socialism should be free to live under socialism, and everyone who wants to live under capitalism should be free to live under capitalism. In whichever group we fall, we will want to insure that those who want to organize their lives by different principles of political economy have their share of land and natural resources with which to do so.

A political economy based on the Gospels is a political economy based on love. As the First Epistle of John says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear."17 To construct a political economy of the Gospels we must be free of fear: free of fear that others may rob us; free of fear that others may not contribute to the provision of public goods or to provision for those who might otherwise lack; free of fear that our incomes will be too low or the prices we face too high; free of fear that if we don't do something, someone will be exploited. Only when love has replaced all fear in our hearts will we be able to construct the political economy of the Gospels. Read the whole article

Nic Tideman: The Shape of a World Inspired by Henry George
I. Social Justice as the Climax and Logical Foundation of Progress and Poverty
II. The Functions of a Theory of Justice
III. Applying George's Theory of Justice to Land Rights Among Nations
IV. Applying George's Theory of Justice to Some Other Connections Among Nations
V. Differences in Ability and in Wealth
VI. Resources that Fluctuate over Time
VII. Justice Among Nations with Respect to Population Growth
VIII. What to Do When Some Nations Fail to Fulfill Their Obligations
IX. Justice Within Nations
X. Conclusion
How would the world look if its political institutions were shaped by the conception of social justice advanced by Henry George?

Henry George was one of the most famous reformers of the late 19th century. Ever since the 1879 publication of his book, Progress and Poverty, his ideas have inspired people working for economic and social reform all around the world. He is most famous for proposing the abolition of all taxes except for a tax on the value of land. But I will argue that the single tax on land was not George's most important contribution, and that the power of his thinking can be best appreciated by focusing on the theory of social justice that he used to explain why a single tax on land is just.

First I will argue that George's theory of social justice provides the dramatic climax as well as the logical foundation of Progress and Poverty.

Next, I will discuss the functions of a theory of justice.

Then I will address the question of what George's theory of social justice implies for relations among nations.

Finally, I will ask what constitutes justice within nations, in a world where relations among nations are governed by George's theory of social justice. ...

I. Social Justice as the Climax and Logical Foundation of Progress and Poverty

While George wrote a number of books -- the precise number depends on how you count -- the most powerful statement of his ideas is Progress and Poverty, a volume that he divided into ten Books.

  • The work is in part a restatement of economic theory, (Books I, III and IV),
  • part an examination of the causes of and proposed cures for persistent widespread poverty (Books II, V, and VI),
  • part a brief for curing poverty and the unacceptable distribution of wealth by eliminating all taxes except a tax on the value of land (Books VII, VIII and IX), and
  • part a theory of human progress (Book X).

I believe that the most significant lasting impact of Progress and Poverty will come from the conception of justice in Chapter 1 of Book VII, a chapter titled "The Injustice of Private Property in Land." From a dramatic perspective, this chapter is the cenptral component of the climax of the work.

The climax begins with the second of the two chapters of Book VI. In the first chapter of Book VI, George analyzes six different proposed remedies for persistent poverty and explains why they are inadequate. In the second chapter, which consists of just three pages, he asserts that the only effective remedy for the relief of poverty and the unacceptable distribution of wealth is to "make land common property."

George's choice of words here may have been unnecessarily inflammatory.

When people see this phrase, they generally presume that George was proposing public ownership of land. In fact he rejected public ownership of land. What he actually meant was that we must recognize that land is everyone's common heritage, and we must develop institutions that reflect this. In any case, he recognized that his assertion would sound outrageous to many of his readers, and he promises to defend it:

The laws of the universe are harmonious. And if the remedy to which we have been led is the true one, it must be consistent with justice; it must be practical of application; it must accord with the tendencies of social development and must harmonize with other reforms.

All this I propose to show.

Accordingly, Book VII is concerned with the justice of making land common property, Book VIII deals with the method and practicality of making land common property -- not by public ownership of land, but by abolishing other taxes and financing government by public collection of the rent of land, and Book IX explores economic consequences of this remedy.

The first chapter of Book VII thus plays the crucial role of overcoming the reader's inclination toward knee-jerk rejection of George's startling idea. And George is prepared with a theory of justice in powerful language:

What constitutes the rightful basis of property? What is it that enables a man justly to say of a thing, "It is mine!" From what springs the sentiment which acknowledges his exclusive right against all the world? Is it not, primarily, the right of a man to himself, to the use of his own powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions? Is it not this individual right, which springs from and is testified to by the natural facts of individual organization --the fact that each particular pair of hands obey a particular brain and are related to a particular stomach; the fact that each man is a definite, coherent, independent whole--which alone justifies individual ownership? As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete form belongs to him.
George then argues that if ownership is derived from labor, then no one can own land, since no one produced it:
This right of ownership that springs from labor excludes the possibility of any other right of ownership. If a man be rightfully entitled to the produce of his own labor, then no one can be rightfully entitled to the ownership of anything which is not the produce of his labor, or the labor of someone else from whom the right has passed to him. If production give to the producer the right to exclusive possession and enjoyment, there can rightfully be no exclusive possession and enjoyment of anything not the production of labor, and the recognition of private property in land is a wrong.

If we are all here by the equal permission of the creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty -- with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers. This is a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others. There is in nature no such thing as a fee simple in land. There is on earth no power which can rightfully make a grant of exclusive ownership in land. If all existing men were to unite to grant away their equal rights, they could not grant away the right of those who follow them.

To summarize George's rights-based theory of justice: Each person has an exclusive right to his or her productive powers. We understand this intuitively, and on this basis accept the idea that people own what they produce. But if this is what ownership means, then no one can claim to own land, since no one produced it. People do have rights to the productive opportunities that nature offers, which are here for our use, but the rights of each person are limited by the equal rights of all other persons.

A careful analyst might object that there are some logical gaps in George's theory of justice. Logically, a right of ownership of things based on the right of each person to his or her productive powers does not preclude a right of ownership of natural opportunities on some other basis. We could mean by ownership only those rights that are derived from the right of each person to his or her productive powers, but we could also mean something broader and more complex.

The easiest way to repair this gap in George's theory is to specify that rather than having just one axiom, that each person has a right to his or her productive powers, he actually has two, the second one being that all persons have equal rights to natural opportunities.

A second logical gap occurs when George asserts that because people have rights to their productive powers, they own what they produce. This would follow only if they also had rights to the natural opportunities that they appropriate in the process of production. It is possible that the natural resources component of what a person produces is more than his share, considering the equal rights of everyone to all that nature offers. This caveat can be conceded without jeopardizing the two axioms, that each person has an exclusive right to his or her productive powers, and all persons have equal rights to the productive opportunities that nature offers.

This pair of axioms is the logical starting point of George's ideas. His proposal for the abolition of all taxes except a tax on land is a consequence that follows from them. Coercive taxes on the act of producing or on income from productive effort are unjust because people have rights to their productive powers. On the other hand, taxes on the rental value that land would have if it were not improved are not unjust, since this value is not produced by human effort. Support of government spending from this source is a convenient way of giving expression to the equal rights of all to natural opportunities. ...

V. Differences in Ability and in Wealth

Suppose that a nation appropriates only its share of natural opportunities but is richer than other nations because its citizens are, on average, more highly talented or harder working than the citizens of other nations. Does justice require the richer nation to compensate the others? By Henry George's theory of social justice, definitely not! Each person has an exclusive right to his or her productive powers. Therefore the nation as a whole has a right to the product of its citizens' talents, no matter how greatly this product exceeds that of the citizens of other nations. The citizens of a rich nation may feel compassion for those who are poorer than themselves, and therefore contribute to poor nations as a matter of charity, but justice does not compel them to do so.

What about a greater income that arise from greater wealth? This requires more elaborate analysis. When greater wealth is the result of greater saving from the product of talent or from the product of a nation's share of natural opportunities, then a nation with greater wealth is fully entitled to the greater income that comes from it. However, when greater wealth is the result of a history of theft or of unjustifiably large appropriations from the natural opportunities that are everyone's common heritage, then the nation that possesses that wealth cannot rightly claim either the income from the wealth or the wealth itself.

To achieve justice, the wrongful appropriations must be rectified. The unjustly acquired wealth must be restored from those from whom it was taken, or if that is not possible, shared among all nations. To the extent that persons who are still alive received past income from this wealth, that income must be disgorged.

When George addressed this issue in Progress and Poverty, he suggested that all such past misappropriations be forgiven, that the generation whom he addressed be content to receive their shares of future rent. But the desirability of such a policy is a matter that the dispossessed of any era must decide for themselves. Justice does not require them to forego such rectification. ...

Only if we have a standard of justice that is independent of history can we expect to end such actions. Henry George's theory of economic justice -- that every persons his a right to his or her productive powers, and that all persons have equal rights to all natural opportunities -- provides a simple formula around which opinion about the shape of a peaceful world can coalesce. This may seem hopelessly optimistic. But no other theory that I have seen has anything like the clarity, coherence and power of this theory.

The theory needs a simple name. I suggest calling this theory, this perspective on social justice the Geoliberal perspective. Liberal for its commitment to individual liberty. Geo- for its attention to land, for its planetary perspective, and for its reliance on the ideas of George. If you like these ideas, I invite you call yourself a geoliberal. I invite you to help me work out its implications, to explain geoliberalism to others, and develop a public dialogue about its value and implications. As Henry George said, "Until there be correct thought, there cannot be right action; and when there is correct thought, right action WILL follow."  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. ...

Not only is the PTS efficient, it is also fair. For ages, people have debated the just basis for taxation: ability to pay versus benefits received. The property tax shift settles the argument in favor of both sides.
  • First, land "dues" (taxes, fees, liturgy, or some combination of the forgoing), especially when coupled with an untaxing of homes, jobs, and enterprises, are inherently progressive.
  • Second, land dues are scaled according to site values. Site values measure not what an owner puts into the "common kitty" but what one takes out. A prime location has the most advantages; it's the one enjoying the best that society and nature have to offer. For owners to enjoy those locations exclusively, and to pay more for doing so, is exquisitely just. ...
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

a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
To recognize that "the earth is the Lord's" is to see that the same God who established communities has also in his providence ordained for them, through the land itself, a just source of revenue. Yet, in the Wasteland in which we live, this revenue goes mainly into the pockets of monopolists, while communities meet their needs by extorting individuals the fruits of their honest toil. If ever there were any doubt that structural sin exists, our present system of taxation is the proof. Everywhere we see governments penalizing individuals for their industry and creativity, while the socially produced value of land is reaped by speculators in exact proportion to the land which they withhold. The greater the Wasteland, the greater the reward. Does this comport with any divine plan, or notion of justice and human rights? Or does it not, rather, perpetuate the Wasteland and prevent the realization of the Promised Land?

This not meant to suggest that land monopolists and speculators have a corner on acquisitiveness or the "profit motive," which is a well-nigh universal fact of human nature. As a group, they are no more sinful than are people at large, except to the degree that they knowingly obstruct reforms aimed at removing the basis of exploitation. Many abide by the dictum: "If one has to live under a corrupt system, it is better to be a beneficiary than a victim of it."

But they do not have to live under a corrupt system; no one does. The profit motive can be channeled in ways that are socially desirable as well as in ways that are socially destructive. Let us give testimony to our faith that the earth is the Lord's by building a social order in which there are no victims. Read the whole synopsis

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related themes:



equal opportunity

tax justice


economic justice

on earth


is democracy enough?

created equal


natural opportunities

natural resources

land different from capital

equity for the landless

each child's rights



barriers to entry

Biblical ethics

change the system

Christian ethics



common good

Declaration of Independence


do justice


I was there first!



founding fathers and first families

, free lunches

unearned increment

social surplus


all benefits...


,geonomic life


he who produces


Judeo-Christian tradition

Christianity supporting privilege

justice among nations

justice changing

, ongoing justice

land common property

liberation theology

Lord's Prayer

new country

no victims


thou shalt not steal




philanthropy and charity

poverty and justice

polluter pays




intergenerational equity



promised land


purpose of living


Robinson Crusoe

ruling class

Ten Commandments

the least of these

taxes and moral law


a society with no victims

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