by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
There will be a big celebration of freedom in Las Vegas, May 13-15, 2004. Sponsored by Young America's Foundation, FreedomFest will gather freedom lovers of many stripes. Some are more interested in financial freedom, others more concerned with civil liberties or issues such as immigration. Some are libertarians, others are small-government conservatists.
The theme is "Great Ideas, Great Books, and Great Thinkers." It is promoted as an 'intellectual feast' where the world's best and brightest libertarian and conservative authors, students, business people, and think tanks will meet, learn, create, and network.
Why are 'libertarian' and 'conservative' linked together here? Because American conservatism comes in two brands. There is authoritarian conservatism where big government is advocated to enforce traditional values and power relationships. This big-G conservatism is nationalist. Big-G conservatism values the flag, the military, traditional religious creeds, and strict order.
Then there is small-government conservatism, where the emphasis is on reducing government intervention in economic affairs. Small-G conservatives want lower taxes, less regulation, and less government intrusion. They may value tradition in their personal lives, but if government is involved in upholding tradition, they want it to be decentralized and not imposed at the federal level. The conservative element in FreedomFest is the small-government brand. Small-G conservatives are big on liberty, freedom, and individualism.
Last year's FreedomFest had nearly 900 attendees and 60 exhibitors, and C-SPAN covered much of the event. This year's speakers are awesome. John Stossel, of ABC news magazine and '20/20" news anchor, will speak to the general session. Ben Stein and Charles Murray will keynote the Liberty Dinner Banquets. Other major speakers include Texas Congressman Ron Paul, economist Art Laffer, technology guru George Gilder, Steve Moore of Cato and the Club for Growth, and FreedomFest organizer Mark Skousen, who teaches at the Columbia Business School and writes a financial newsletter as well as economics books.
Also speaking are David Boaz of Cato, psychologist Nathaniel Branden, economist Gordon Tullock, Reason magazine founder Bob Poole, Jason Sorens (head of the Free State Project to get libertarians to move to New Hampshire), professor and author Ken Schoolland, Libertarian Party past presidential candidate Harry Browne, and myself, Fred Foldvary on 'Why We Don't Need Any Stinkin' Taxes.'
Freedom touches all areas of life and so attracts many people who have particular concerns but also support the liberty issues of others. But one group which is remarkably absent from FreedomFest is the movement founded by Henry George, the Georgists or geoists. Why is there no geoist booth or panel at FreedomFest? Why am I perhaps the only geolibertarian speaker?
The geoist movement has focused on justice rather than liberty. It emphasizes equality more than freedom. Geoists talk more about sharing earth's bounty than about free trade. Most geoists do not identify with libertarianism and the freedom movements. Some who call themselves 'Georgist' are even anti-libertarian, opposed to free trade, and hostile to free markets, contrary to George's own policy prescriptions.
This separation and even alienation of geoists from libertarians is tragic. Henry George himself praised liberty in Progress and Poverty, and indeed said we need complete liberty, not half liberty. George called for liberty in substance, in contrast to those who sing praises to liberty but do not support full liberty in all its particulars. Using rent for public revenue is inherently decentralist and freedom-promoting.
Most libertarians remain ignorant of rent. A few geolibertarians have promoted geoism within the Libertarian Party, but there is a gaping geoist absence in the freedom movement generally, which is much bigger than the libertarian movement. Geoists have missed the freedom train.
The freedomites will be influential in policy long-term because they have truth on their side. Liberty works, and long-term the logic of liberty has to win, because slavery is a loser. But freedomites need geoism to be complete. Libertarians have to go through contortions to figure out how to finance public goods, because they have no clue about rent. I'll do my part, but we need more geoist troops in the freedom movement.
But unfortunately many geoist scholars as well as activists don't fully trust liberty. They know land, but don't truly know liberty. This goes back to Henry George himself, who misunderstood the new Austrian economic school of thought and did not himself fully believe in freedom for goods such as money. So the Austrian school rather than the Georgist came to dominate the freedom movement, even though, ironically, it was Henry George who sparked the anti-tax and anti-statist viewpoint of modern libertarianism via followers such as Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov.
Today, too many geoists let George do their thinking on issues such as money, instead of following the prime Henry George directive, Think for Yourself!
So there I will be at FreedomFest, telling freedom lovers why they do not need to compromise with liberty when it comes to funding government. Many freedomites dislike taxes, but see a need for some governance, so they say, well, just keep taxes low and flat, and maybe switch from taxing income to taxing goods. I will tell them that we don't need any stinkin' taxes at all. We can get all the public revenue we need from land rent, and unlike sales and income taxes, rent does not stink. If you call it a tax, the land-value tax is sweet. LVT is not a stinking tax.
I prefer to call the use of rent a tap, like tapping water. Rent is a surplus flow that we can tap without any economic loss. Freedomites need to learn that tapping rent frees them from taxes that stink up the economy and makes folks slaves of the state. It's an easy lesson to teach.
But teaching some geoists to value liberty seems to be a difficult sell. It's curious, because geoism should be inherently liberating. If geoists do not get on board, the freedom train will eventually derail and there will be a tragic wreck. Maybe somebody here can explain to me why geoists have not gotten aboard the freedom train, because, frankly, I'm puzzled.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2004 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
Also see Foldvary's classic
Liberty as Determined by My Cat
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