Solving the Unsolvable: Mason Gaffney’s latest great book
|December 17, 2013||Posted by Staff under Book Reviews, The Obviologist Blog|
Most economists neither really understand their subject nor love its history. Mason Gaffney’s love of truth and the history of economics pervades what he has written. One of my few regrets in life is not having been closer than 7,650 miles away from Mason Gaffney to discuss in detail crucial derailments in economic thought and tax policy, such as John Bates Clark’s (absurdly successful) fraudulent attempt to pretend that land is merely man-made capital.
— Dr. Terry Dwyer, Economist, lawyer, Former Tax advisor to the Australian Prime Minister
If you have ever wondered why big cities have empty lots while development sprawls far into what was once farmland, Mason Gaffney’s essays will explain it all in clear and upbeat terms. For decades Gaffney has led the Georgist movement that seeks to tax land, but not buildings, to foster the best use of land while ending the subtle, and corrosive, redistribution of wealth to owners of real estate. Even if you disagree with Mase his insights will bring new clarity to economics.
— David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning tax journalist
Mason Gaffney is a national treasure. He boldly treads where few other economists even dare to peek: at the extraction of rent from the many by the few. Such rent extraction is now massive and threatens to destroy our democracy. To those who wonder how to stop it, my advice is simple: read Gaffney.
— Peter Barnes, author of Capitalism 3.0 and The Sky Trust
The scope, scale and quality of Prof. Mason Gaffney’s anthology are truly breathtaking. This little gem will be on my students’ required reading list with a note: “They don’t make economists this way anymore.” Yes, unfortunately, when they made Mase, they broke the mold.
— Steve H. Hanke, The Johns Hopkins University
Mason Gaffney is an ideal “liberal arts” economist: Question everything, especially your own views; use common sense; be open about your judgments, and encourage debate by stating your conclusions boldly. I don’t always agree with him, but I always learn from him.
— David Colander, Middlebury College
Mason Gaffney has taught generations of urban planners and economists to appreciate how taxing land can improve cities, the economy, and the environment. His rare combination of theoretical rigor, political passion, and clear writing impressed me early in my own academic career. This wonderful collection of his incisive essays will educate and entertain everyone who wants to know more about land and taxes.
— Donald Shoup, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning, UCLA
In 1970, I was an uppity Nader’s Raider, on the trail of giant California land barons. I stumbled on a hilarious account of California’s preposterous irrigation system with its crisscrossing canals. I just had to meet the author, so I tracked Mason down in Washington, DC, where he then worked for Resources for the Future. He invited me and my ex to dinner, fried us up hamburgers with soy sauce, sang Gilbert and Sullivan tunes with his own words, and sent us on our way with reprints and the dictum, “Tax capital and labor and you drive them away; tax land and you drive it into use!” That meeting led me to study economics in Mason’s old department at UC Berkeley, and into a lifetime of learning from him.
— Mary M. Cleveland, Columbia University
Mason Gaffney is the rare economist who looks for practical solutions. Gaffney explains how taxing land rather than buildings can generate local government revenue and promote urban infill development, greater employment, and overall urban revitalization — results urban planners have long advocated. Gaffney also lays out ways to counteract leapfrogging sprawl, the nation’s leading land use problem, through removing public subsidies. He shows why cities should also adopt land value taxation as an incentive to create more compact and economically robust communities.
— Thomas Daniels, University of Pennsylvania
While too much his own man to be a disciple, Mason Gaffney is widely known as the leading active Georgist economist. This selection of his extensive writings provides an excellent introduction to his body of thought. All apply economics to the design of a more productive economy and a fairer society, and most discuss how expanding land taxation can go far in achieving these goals. These stimulating and thought-provoking articles are written with flair, elegance, and erudition.
— Richard Arnott, University of California, Riverside
Mason Gaffney is the greatest economist the world has never heard of. Professor Gaffney supplies a theory of public finance that shows why Western economies overexploit natural resources, underemploy labor, lurch from crisis to crisis and are prone to ever-widening disparities of wealth. He explains why neither “liberal” demand-side stimulus nor “conservative” supply-side fiscal policies have suceeded. Mason Gaffney’s analysis has never been refuted; it has simply been ignored. Somehow, remarkably, he has maintained his cheery optimism and side-splitting humor, so evident in these essays.
— Kris Feder, Bard College
Mason Gaffney’s insightful writings on public finance, the structure of capital goods, and the business cycle are a bolt of enlightenment, in contrast to the dreary and almost useless mainstream thought that treats symptoms rather than causes. You cannot find better economic writing than that of Professor Mason Gaffney.
— Fred Foldvary, San Jose State University
Prof. Gaffney writes about important questions, with elegance, clarity and wit. I always enjoy reading his papers. When I refer to one of them to check on a point, I often find myself re-reading the whole paper, because I find it so engaging. When I read other economists I find errors in their thinking. That doesn’t seem to happen when I read Mason Gaffney’s work.
— Nicolaus Tideman, Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Here is an economist that the vast majority of our tribe is too defectively educated to understand. Economics is not the dismal science; it is we economists who are dismal, because we have lost our imagination. One need not agree with everything that Mason says to marvel at the depth of his mind and the reach of his wit. We have here marvelous observations and comments upon the timeless necessity of “getting and spending.”
— Daniel Bromley, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Editor, Land Economics
Gaffney’s instructive case histories brilliantly probe beneath the surface of economic phenomena to expose what modern economic analysis has lost by downplaying land values as the primary source of unearned riches. He reveals how current fiscal regimes increasingly privilege unearned income and wealth while penalizing production and harming the poor with regressive sales taxes.
— Roger Sandilands, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Gaffney is the preeminent scholar of what’s ailing our economy and how to revitalize it with job opportunities and decent living standards for all Americans.
— Walt Rybeck, Director, Center for Public Dialogue; author of Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle
If the Nobel Prize Committee ever returns to its original mission of awarding prizes for research that benefits society, they should give serious consideration to the life’s work of Mason Gaffney. He has shown how to create a peaceful, prosperous economy that does not depend on imperialism or exploitation.
— Clifford Cobb, author, historian
Mason Gaffney recently retired from active teaching at the University of California, Riverside, at age 90 — with his wits fully intact: three of the essays in this collection were written this year. Prior to Riverside, he was a Professor of Economics at several Universities, a journalist with TIME, Inc., a researcher with Resources for the Future, Inc., the head of the British Columbia Institute for Economic Policy Analysis, which he founded, and an economic consultant to several businesses and government agencies.
Given the radical insights that Gaffney has propounded throughout his career, it’s amazing that he rose as high in the profession as he did. Over the years he found that the subjects that most interested him were precisely the ones best left unexplored by young economists seeking advancement. In a recent essay he recalled being invited to join an Air Conservation Commission in the late 1950s. Hardly any economists at that time had any interest in air pollution; they dismissed it and like matters as “externalities,” outside their narrow realm of markets for “commodities.”
Mason Gaffney doesn’t accept error without complaint, but his (mostly) judicious corrections are offered without condescension. It’s a sort of unassailable, humble authority that comes from really, really knowing what one is talking about.
His essay “Europe’s Fatal Affair with the Value-Added Tax” is far more than an explanation of the economics of sales taxes. It becomes a meditation on the age-old question of what belongs to individuals, and what belongs to communities. He shows how the views of the Physiocrats, the French economistes of the 18th century, had far-reaching influence on the US’s founding fathers, and on the American economy to this day. Public, societal choices with regard to this question have consequences, and Gaffney’s long historical view shows that these consequences are more predictable than many (particularly modern economists) would have you believe.
His “Reverberations” is the best — bar none — brief exposition of the mechanics of macroeconomic cycles, and should be required reading for every econ major.
Mason Gaffney’s work as an economist is deeply important, but he gives you more: his work as a wordsmith, and as a whimsical, eclectic historian, is delightful. There’s deep wisdom here, snazzily expressed.
— Lindy Davies, June 2013