When Politicians Were Statesmen, Too
US Presidents Who Endorsed Recovering Ground Rent
Historians tell you everything about political leaders except something fundamental -- where the leader stood on the issue of land. During this holiday falling between the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, check out what the venerables had to say.
by Jeffery J. Smith, 15 February 2013American public figures used to state their position on the crucial issue of owning land and owing for land -- not so much anymore. Since present day officials and academics and wanna-be reformers have fallen silent, having lost sight of the issue, we must turn to the past for the persuasive arguments of men of action.
1) Abraham Lincoln, president 1861-1865, decided, "The land, the earth God gave to man for his home, sustenance and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water if as much... an individual or company or enterprise requiring land should hold no more than is required for their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it creates an exclusive monopoly." (Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time, Browne, Dr. Robert)
2) Thomas Jefferson, president 1801-1809 and author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on." –- to James Madison at Fontainebleau, Oct. 28, 1785.
3) Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, president 1953-1961, who in 1950 voted for Henry George, the founder of the movement for a Single Tax on land, to enter into the Hall of Fame, wondered "why the world's resources could not be internationalized, since raw materials represented the world's basic needs, they should belong to and serve everybody." (Cook, Blanche; The De-classified Eisenhower; 1985, p. 229)
4) Rutherford B. Hayes, president 1877-1881, from his personal diary, year not provided (between 1881-1891) December 4 Sunday. “In church it occurred to me that it is time for the public to hear that the giant evil and danger in this country, the danger which transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a few persons. Money is power. In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, in the courts, in the political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles of the educated and the talented, its influence is growing greater and greater. Excessive wealth in the hands of the few means extreme poverty, ignorance, vice, and wretchedness as the lot of the many… Henry George is strong when he portrays the rottenness of the present system... We may reach and remove the difficulty by changes in the laws regulating corporations, descents of property, wills, trusts, taxation, and a host of other important interests, not omitting lands and other property.”
5) Grover Cleveland, president 1885-89 then again 1893-97, said about Henry George, Single Taxer and Cleveland's cohort on true free trade: "I have always regarded Henry George as a man of honest and sincere convictions and ever held a high opinion of him."
6) Woodrow Wilson, president 1913-1921 and founder of the League of Nations, said: "This country needs a new and sincere thought in politics, coherently, distinctly and boldly uttered by men who are sure of their ground. The power of men like Henry George seems to me to mean that." Wilson put Louis F. Post, an active Georgist, into the post of labor secretary.
Before George, founding father Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), who was not a president but an advisor to George Washington, noted that: "A small land tax will answer the purpose of the States, and will be their most simple and most fit resource." -- Federalist paper #36
George's proposal -- shifting all taxes from production of wealth to possession of Earth -- is a radical reform not easily won. Recognizing, perhaps, the difficulty of winning, many endorsed partial applications.
7) Teddy Roosevelt, president 1901-1909, and a loser against Henry George in the 1886 mayoral race for New York City, said: "The burden of taxation should be so shifted as to put the weight upon the unearned rise in the value of land itself, rather than improvements, the effect being to prevent the undue rise of rents."
8) Teddy's fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, president 1933-1945, said: "I believe that Henry George was one of the really great thinkers produced by our country.” About financing transportation, he wrote, 1939: “The man who, by good fortune, sells a narrow right-of-way for a new highway makes a handsome profit through the increase in value of all of the rest of his land. That represents an unearned increment of profit -– a profit which comes to a mere handful of lucky citizens and which is denied to the vast majority.” (“Corridor reservation: implications for recouping a portion of the ‘unearned increment’ arising from construction of transportation facilities: final report”, VTRC; 94-R15, Borhart, Robert J., 1994, Virginia Transportation Research Council)
Raymond Moley (1886-1975), one of the three economists of FDR's Brain Trust (which was so important that reputedly even the President himself had to have an appointment to meet with them), said: "The basic assumptions of Henry George are sound. Nothing could be more useful than to bring these fundamentals to the attention of perplexed Americans." Alas, politics prevailed and the Great Depression persisted.
To head up the Federal Reserve and to be the nation’s Economic Advisor, FDR appointed a Harvard man, the Canadian Lanklin Currie, who said: “Controlling land was the key to civilization... It is a striking example of our economic illiteracy that we have more or less quietly acquiesced in the private appropriation of socially created gains, letting fortunate owners and their heirs levy tribute or claim a share of the national income to which they have contributed nothing… The rise in land values (and, to a small extent, building) that results from growth in numbers and income of a community is a reflection of pure scarcity. It arises from the community and should belong to the community.” Ecistics, 244, March 1976, p 137-143.
Eight presidents and four advisors, but all long ago. By the time the next president or advisor endorses such a sound idea, it'll probably be after it has already been adopted!
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