101 Famous Thinkers on Owning Earth
|September 14, 2013||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Classic Articles|
Geniuses often disagree. Yet regarding one of humanity’s thorniest problems – how to share land fairly – some of our best minds have come to a similar conclusion: users pay compensation to those they exclude. They reached this conclusion, reasoning from the uniqueness of land.
Owning Earth differs from owning wealth in four fundamental ways:
* Making something (investing our labor) lets us own the thing. Yet none of us made land.
* Buying something (investing our capital) from its maker or rightful owner establishes ownership. Yet who has a deed from God?
* When demand for goods or services rises, competing producers augment supply and price hovers in equilibrium. When demand for sites or resources rises, nobody can make more; what’s here is all there is. So prices tend to escalate. Waiting for higher future prices, some owners withhold sites, worsening the land price spiral.
* Whereas we want items of wealth, we need Earth, the source of life and wealth.
Hoarding goods, even a lot of them, does not prevent others from making theirs. But hoarding resources – the stuff of goods – and land – the sites under services – does prevent others from making their own.
Winston Churchill explained it: “Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed geographical position – land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.”
Thus excluding others from Earth is both necessary – in order to use some land without encroachment by others – and absurd. (1) Chief Seattle led the Pacific Northwest Indian tribe, the Dwamish, to adapt peacefully to the loss of their land to white settlers. In his 1855 concession speech to his tribe and recently arrived representatives of the US Government, he said, “How can you buy or sell the sky – the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us… Every part of this earth is sacred to us.”
To other tribes, land became divine. (2) Moses, says the Bible (Leviticus 25:23), heard Jehovah say circa BC 1400, “The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is mine.”
Without a title, even God would have a hard time proving his case to old landed families.
Roman statesman (3) Tiberius Gracchus (BC 162? -133): “the private soldiers fight and die to advance the wealthy and luxury of the great, and they are called masters of the world, while they have not a foot of ground in their possession.” (4) Pliny the Elder (23-79), Roman naturalist, concluded, “Land monopoly ruined Rome.” Later, land monopolists allied with the church and land speculators plied their trade with religious fervor. While Seattle found Earth sacred, moderns found property so.
(5) Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher, reminded them, “When the ‘sacredness’ of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.”
Yet now we do own land no differently than the things we do make. (6) Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) wrote, “Grimly the spirit of progress looks into the law of property and accuses men of driving a trade in the great, boundless providence which has given the air, the water, and the land to men to use and not to fence in and monopolize.”
Besides the spirit of progress, also taking a dim view is the present Roman Catholic Pope. (7) John Paul II said in Brazil in 1991, “The high concentration of land ownership demands a just agrarian reform. It has no justification whatsoever.” In Brussels in 1985 he said, “It is only fair to revise the distribution of income and to control the revenues from speculations and investments which do not proceed from labor.”
Land monopoly in America is not apparent due to her big middle class. Yet according to a 1978 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, less than 3% of the population owned more than 95% of the privately held land. A few owning more or better than others forces some to make do with too little or too inferior. Thus owners live off the work of others.
(8) Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the steel magnate, noted, “The most comfortable, but also the most unproductive way for a capitalist to increase his fortune, is to put all monies in sites and await that point in time when a society, hungering for land, has to pay his price.”
(9) Will Rogers (1879-1935), cowboy humorist, put it succinctly, “Invest in land; they ain’t makin’ it any more.” Landlords can exploit tenants as easily as masters can slaves.
(10) Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote that in the 7th century BC, “the whole land (of Attica) was in the hands of a few, and if the cultivators did not pay their rents, they became subject to bondage…”
(The Constitution of Athens) Two thousand years later, (11) Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), German philosopher, noted, “Whether it is the man or the earth I own, the bird or its food, it is essentially the same thing.”
12) Horace Greeley (1811-1872), the anti-slavery crusader, elaborated, “Whenever the ownership of the soil is so engrossed by a small part of the community that the far larger part are compelled to pay whatever the few may see fit to exact for the privilege of occupying and cultivating the Earth, there is something very much like slavery.”
Consider how some modern farm owners treat farm workers.
13) Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), Civil War hero and newspaper editor in San Francisco while Henry George (below) was there doing the same, penned in his Devil Dictionary (1906): “LAND, n. A part of the earth’s surface, considered as property. The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that if the whole area of terra firma is owned by A, B, and C, there will be no place for D, E, F, and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to exist.”
Besides this direct exploitation, there are indirect ones. As Winston Churchill noted, “land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but … it is the mother of all other … monopolies.”
14) Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), French journalist/anarchist, elaborated: “As long as land monopoly is maintained, the few can take possession of what Nature free of charge has granted to everyone, and usury will penetrate the whole society, and we will have banks, which instead of being servants for the exchange of goods will become powerful extorters.”
15) John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), the third great economist in the triumvirate with Smith and Marx, put this analysis in modern economese. “There have been times when it was probably the craving for the ownership of land, independently of its yield, which served to keep up the rate of interest… The high rates of interest from mortgages on land, often exceeding the probable net yield from cultivating the land, have been a familiar feature of many agricultural economies … The competition of a high interest-rate on mortgages may well have had the same effect in retarding the growth of wealth from current investment in newly produced capital-assets, as high interest rates on long-term debts have had in more recent times.” (The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936, pp. 250, 358, 241) Keynes also called rent unearned.
Thus have great minds addressed the problem. Others have spoken to the solution.
II. SOLUTION – COMMON GROUND
16) Abolitionist president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) 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)
Besides owning less, we could own jointly. (17) Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, wrote, “The whole soil should be public property.” (18) William Blackstone (1732-1780), British judge, wrote, “The earth, therefore, and all things therein, are the general property of all mankind, from the immediate gift of the Creator.” (Commentaries, II, Chap. I, page 3)
19) Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish historian who christened economics “the dismal science”, asked, “Who can or who could sell us the earth? Actually the earth belongs to these two: the almighty God and all his children who have ever worked on it or who will ever have worked on it or who will ever have to work on it. No generation of men can or could with even the highest solemnity and exertion sell the earth according to any other principle.”
Another concerned about future generations was (20) Karl Marx (1818-1883). “From the point of view of a higher economic form of society, the private ownership of the globe on the part of some individuals will appear as absurd as the private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, or even all societies together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its users, and they have to hand it down to the coming generations in an improved condition, like good fathers of families.” (Das Kapital, vol. III, p. 901-2)
21) Herbert Spencer (1820-1910), British philosopher and more famous than Marx at the time, said, “Equity does not permit property in land… The world is God’s bequest to mankind. All men are joint heirs to it.”
III. SOLUTION – SHARING EARTH RENT
While an obvious response, public ownership does not automatically get Earth shared equitably among residents. Some great minds shifted focus from Earth to her output.
(22) Wise Solomon (Eccles. 5:9) declared, “The profit of the earth is for all.” (23) Pope St. Gregory I (The Great) (540-604) said, “The earth of which they are born is common to all and, therefore, the fruit that the earth brings forth belongs without distinction to all.” (Belief Generally & Human Nature)
24) Voltaire (1694-1778), more than a millennium later in the Age of Enlightenment, had his character Candide say, “The fruits of the earth are a common heritage of all, to which each man has equal right.” His colleague, (25) Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), at the beginning of Part II of his Discourse on Inequality said, “You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to no one.”
Distinguishing between Earth and her fruits suggested a middle ground: private land with public rent. That is, don’t parcel out the planet’s surface – since land varies so much in quality, it’d be impossibly hard to partition her fairly – but share Earth’s worth. Thereby, communities would honor members’ claims, but charge everyone the parcel’s annual value. Society could collect this ground rent via a land tax, a deed fee, land dues, or some other means. Local government would then distribute these funds to the citizenry via social services (e.g. road repair, police, etc) and/or a citizen’s dividend.
26) Lord Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher and mathematician who received the highest score in history on the Cambridge University entrance exam, wrote, “The mere abolition of rent would not remove injustice, since it would confer a capricious advantage upon the occupiers of the best sites and the most fertile land. It is necessary that there should be rent, but it should be paid to the state or to some body which performs public services; or, if the total rental were more than is required for such purposes, it might be paid into a common fund and divided equally among the population.” – The basic writings of Bertrand Russell, 1903-1959. P 492.
A few combined sharing rent with ending taxes. (27) Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), author of the Declaration of Independence and with Ben Franklin the most inventive and intellectual of the Founding Fathers, wrote, “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property [which back then meant land more so than now] is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment, but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent.” – To James Madison at Fontainebleau, Oct. 28, 1785; at From Revolution to Reconstruction – an HTML project. Then, “Everyone may have land to labor for himself, if he chooses; or, preferring the exercise of any other industry, may exact for it such compensation as not only to afford a comfortable subsistence, but wherewith to provide for a cessation from labor in old age.” (Notes on Virginia, 1791)
(28) Tom Paine (1737-1809), who authored Common Sense which catalyzed the American Revolution and coined the phrase “the United States of America”, wrote, “Men did not make the earth … it is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property… Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds… from this ground-rent … I … propose … to create a National Fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person … (a) sum.” (Agrarian Justice, 1795-6)
29) Henry George (1839-1897), author of Progress and Poverty (1879) which outsold every book of its era but the Bible, distinguished between creation and production and urged us to “abolish all taxation save on the value of land.” George went on to become famous for the Single Tax. Among his other credits, he helped win for working people New York’s celebrated park, noted Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar in The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (1992), Winner of the 1993 Historic Preservation Book Award and the 1993 Urban History Association Prize for the Best Book on North American Urban History. He also wrote in The Land Question (p 84, 1881), when the government is corrupt, “We could divide this (rent) among the whole community.” He repeated this advice in a dialogue with David Dudley Field in The Century (1885).
IV. SOLUTION – TAXING LAND ONLY
George had his antecedents. Believing, perhaps, that there may not be enough rent to go around, most thinkers focused on the taking of it, via taxation, rather than the sharing of it, via entitlements.
30) Mencius, the philosopher and contemporary of Confuscius in ancient China, said: “In the market places, charge land-rent, but don’t tax the goods; or make concise regulations and don’t even charge rent. Do this, and all the merchants in the realm will be pleased and will want to set up shop in your markets. At the borders, make inspections but don’t charge tariffs, then all the travelers in the realm will be pleased and will want to traverse your highways.” 2A: 5. A new translation by Charles Muller. www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/contao/. (Tom Sherrard.)
31) William Bradford, skipper of The Mayflower, leader of the Pilgrims, and colonizer of Massachusetts, described how to fund their new theocracy in New England in his History of Plimoth Plantation, Book II (pp 358-60 of the original manuscript). Residents would pay Rent for their lot, not taxes on their output. A few colonies to the south, another religious colonizer had the same idea.
32) William Penn (1644-1718), Quaker founder of Pennsylvania and one of the few to actually compensate the Native American Indians for their land, was one of the first to recognize this attractive possibility. From his Fruits of Solitude: “If all men were so far tenants to the public that the superfluities of grain and expense were applied to the exigencies thereof, it would put an end to taxes”. Under his leadership, Philadelphia’s first levy was upon the value of land exclusively.
The next generation turned the idea into a whole new science based on natural law, physiocracy. The French physiocrats, (33) Dr. Francois Quesnay (1694-1774) and (34) Baron A. R. Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) simplified this thought and coined the phrase “l’impot unique” (“the single tax”). One of the Enlightenment’s wise men, (35) Mirabeau the Elder, held that their discovery would be a “social advance equal to the inventions of writing and money.” And the equal of fire, too? Innumerable intellectuals of the era advocated their proposal either in whole or in part, as did Benjamin Franklin, who was a part-time land speculator (bailed out by the US Government).
Believing, perhaps, that there may not be enough Rent for government, never mind a citizens dividend, many more thinkers focused on taxing land, not on un-taxing everything else, thereby shifting all taxes to land.
36) Adam Smith (1720-1790), the father of economics, wrote in his classic, The Wealth of Nations, that “Both ground rents and the ordinary rent of land are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own… Ground rents seem, in this respect, a more proper subject of peculiar taxation… Nothing can be more reasonable than that a fund which owes its existence to the good government of the state should be taxed peculiarly…” Vol 3, Book 5, Ch 2, Pt 2, Art 1, P 289 (Australia’s Progress, 2001 Sept/Oct) His tactful diction shows deference to the powerful landed class, a caution economists still take today.
37) Less tactfully, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), English philosopher and economist, wrote, “Landlords grow rich in their sleep without working, risking or economizing. The increase in the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community, should belong to the community and not the individual who might hold title.”
V. GEORGE’S CONCORDORS
38) Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913), British naturalist who independently of Charles Darwin deduced the theory of evolution and pushed him to finally publish: “In consequence of the wide circulation of Mr. Henry George’s well-known Progress and Poverty, examine carefully the proposals there advocated. The products of human labor become cheaper as population increases and civilization advances. When the reverse occurs it owes to exceptional conditions or some kind of monopoly. But with land the increase of value is due to the growth of society, and the fluctuations owe either to monopoly and speculation or to restrictions on its use. The products of a man’s labor should be private property; land, the first condition of man’s existence, should belong to society. The state will need only collect its quit-rent as it now collects the land-tax or house-tax. There will accrue a steadily-increasing income from quit-rents which will enable the more injurious taxes to be remitted and ultimately all taxation be abolished.” “The Why and the How of Land Nationalisation” (Macmillan’s Magazine, 1883 Sept/Oct; wku.edu/~smithch/wallace/S365.htm).
39) Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), who kept a photo of George on his desk and whose dying words to passengers on a train were to tax land alone, told the Russian Czar and the world that “people do not argue with the teachings of George, they simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.”
40) Mark Twain (1835-1910), the pseudonym for humorist Samuel Clemens, author of of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, wrote “Archimedes” which appeared in Henry George’s newspaper, THE STANDARD (1889 July 27), criticizing private individual ownership of land. While both were reporters in San Francisco, George sold tickets at Twain’s lectures. Twain said, “The earth belongs to the people. I believe in the gospel of the Single Tax.”
41) Emma Lazarus (1849-87), a famous poet in her day, authored the lines inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Addressed to the “wretched refuse” of the earth in 1883, she tried to welcome them as equals in the American dream. She was a strong supporter of Henry George and his single-tax. (Special Civil Liberties issue of The Nation, 2002 June 3, “Patriotism’s Secret History”, p. 40; thanks to Alanna Hartzok)
42) Daniel C. Beard (1850-1941), American naturalist who founded the Boy Scouts of America, said, “I believe in Henry George… I have long been a worker for the Single Tax cause.”
43) Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), founded the American Federation of Labor and who campaigned for George, said, “I believe in the Single Tax. I count it a great privilege to have been a friend of Henry George and to have been one of those who helped to make him understood in New York and elsewhere…”
44) Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941), Supreme Court Justice, said, “I find it very difficult to disagree with the principles of Henry George… I believe in the taxation of land values only.”
45) Clarence Darrow (1859-1938), lawyer of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, said while he was not as optimistic as Henry George about human nature, he “never belived that land should be reduced to private ownership, and I never felt that any important social readjustment could come while any one could claim the unconditional right to any part of the earth and ‘the fullness thereof’.” (Colliers Encyclopedia)
46) Silvio Gesell (1862-1930), German reformer, earned fame for the successful application of his monetary reform in Austria between the world wars. John Maynard Keynes and Irving Fisher cited his proposal of allowing local currencies and requiring savers to buy stamps for their savings, so people would spend instead, keeping bills circulating. In his main work, The Natural Economic Order through Free Land and Free Money, Gesell rejected the association of “blood” with “land”. The whole earth is an integral organ; everyone should be free to travel and settle anywhere. Gesell advocated an open world market without monopolies, customs frontiers, and colonial conquest. Inspired by Henry George, whose Single Tax on land value had become known in Germany, Gesell called upon government to buy land and lease it to the highest bidder and to forgo taxation. Since the amount of Rent depends on population density, Gesell would distribute Rent to mothers, freeing them from working fathers, letting the sexes relate for love. Gesell’s reform is a third way, “a market economy without capitalism”.
47) Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947), President of Columbia University, said, “Consider Georgist economics with a just sense of their permanent importance and with regard to the soundness of their underlying principles. Sound economists in every land accept and support economic opportunity as fundamental.” He won the Nobel in peace.
When revolution erupted around the globe, visionary leaders tried to resolve the conflicts with George’s reform. (48) Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), father of modern China, wrote, “The teachings of Henry George will be the basis of our program of reform… The (land tax) as the only means of supporting the government is an infinitely just, reasonable, and equitably distributed tax… The centuries of heavy and irregular taxation for the benefit of the manchus have shown China the injustice of any other system of taxation.” (49) Mexican President Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913) and (50) Russian President Alexandr F. Kerenski (1881-1970) leaned the same way.
The man who unseated Kerenski, (51) V. I. Lenin (1870-1924), who read Progress and Poverty and rejected it in favor of the gospel according to Karl Marx, complemented George by critiquing him: “George’s program was alright for individualist democracy – but collectivism was now forced by the machine age.” (LAND AND FREEDOM, 1942, July/August)
Both labor leaders and capitalists rallied around the Georgist banner. (52) Max Hirsch (1877-1968), banker, investor, and author, said, “Abolish special privileges and Government interference in industry. Give to all equal natural opportunities – equal rights to the inexhaustible storehouse of Nature – and wealth will distribute itself in exact accordance with justice. This, the ideal of Henry George, is what I would place before our people.”
53) Princess Alice of Greece (1885-1967), mother of Prince Philip, the consort to the Queen of England, wrote, “I have studied Henry George. The idea of a Single Tax could contribute to the economic restoration of our country.” (Athens daily paper, Proia, 22 May 1927)
VI. ACCOLADES TO GEORGE
Other notables did less for the movement yet admired George from afar. (54) George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish dramatist and Nobel laureate (1925), said in An Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928), “tho’ George impressed his generation with the outrageous misdistribution of income resulting from the apparently innocent institution of private property in land, he left untouched the positive problem of how else income was to be distributed… in this book I am doing no more than finishing Henry George’s job… all rents should be paid into a common stock and used for public purposes… George’s omission to consider what the State should do with the national rent after it had taken it into the public treasury stopped him on the threshold of Socialism; but most of the young men whom he had led up to it went through (like myself) into the Fabian Society and other Socialist bodies.” Later he added, “I went one night quite casually into a hall in London, and I heard a man deliver a speech which changed the whole current of my life. That man was an American – Henry George… Therefore, as that happened at the beginning of my life, I have thought it fitting that now at the end of my life… I might come and give here in America back a little of that shove that Henry George gave to me.”
55) Prof. John Dewey (1859-1952), philosopher and educator, wrote, “Henry George is one of the great names among the world’s social philosophers. It would require less than the fingers of the two hands to enumerate those who, from Plato down, rank with him… No man, no graduate of a higher educational institution, has a right to regard himself as educated in social thought unless he has some firsthand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of this great American thinker.” 56) Charles A. Beard (1874-1948), historian and author of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, wrote, “Of all the American economists since the early days of the republic, none treated as comprehensively the interfiliation of economy and civilization as George did.”
57) Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said, “Men like Henry George are rare, unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form, and fervent love of justice.”
Others had special praise for his classic work, P&P. (58) Rev. John Haynes Holmes (1879-1964), co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrote, “Progress and Poverty was the most closely knit, fascinating and convincing specimen of argumentation that, I believe, ever sprang from the mind of man.” 59) Helen Keller (1880-1968) wrote, “Who reads shall find in Henry George’s philosophy a rare beauty and power of inspiration, and a splendid faith in the essential nobility of human nature.” (In a letter to a Mr. Hennessy dated 1930 Jan 14)
60) John Kieran (1892-?), Depression Era radio broadcaster, advised that, “No one should be allowed to speak above a whisper or write more than ten words on the general subject (of economics) unless he has read and digested Progress and Poverty.” Yet many economists have read it and still whisper (trying to pass off their discipline as “value-free”?).
61) Dr. E. F. Goldman, Princeton historian, wrote, “For some years prior to 1952 I was working on a history of American reform and over and over again my research ran into this fact: an enormous number of men and women, strikingly different people, men and women who were to lead 20th century America in a dozen fields of humane activity, wrote or told someone that their whole thinking had been redirected by reading Progress and Poverty in their formative years. In this respect no other book came anywhere near comparable influence, and I would like to add this word of tribute to a volume which magically catalyzed the best yearnings of our fathers and grandfathers.”
A generation later, historians still acknowledged the impact of Progress and Poverty.
A generation later, historians still acknowledged the impact of Progress and Poverty. (62) AMERICAN HERITAGE published a list of “ten books that shaped the American character” (1985 April/May) compiled by Jonathan Yardley. With George’s classic were titles by writers who endorsed his idea, such as (63) Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936), author of The Shame of Cities, who said, “the good effects of the Single Tax can hardly be overstated.”
(64) Upton Sinclair (1878-1968), author of The Jungle, who wrote, “I no longer advocate the Single Tax. I advocate many taxes. I want to tax the rich man’s stocks and bonds, also his income, and his inheritances, and his wife’s jewels. In addition, I advocate a land tax, but one graduated like the income tax. If a man or a corporation owns a great deal of land, I want to tax him on the full rental value. If he owns only one little lot, I don’t want to tax him at all. Some day that measure will come before the voters of California, and then I should like to see the bankers and land speculators of the state persuade the poor man that the measure would not be to the poor man’s advantage!” (from “The Consequences of Land Speculation are Tenantry and Debt on the Farms, and Slums and Luxury in the Cities” in Enclaves of Economic Rent, C. W. Huntington, ed., Fiske Warren, Harvard Massachusetts, 1924) Note that ironically, the bankers and speculators were quite able to hoodwink the ordinary voters when land reformers were able to get their favorite tax on the ballot.
(65) Rutherford B. Hayes (19th U.S. President), 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 are, to say the least, not yet ready for his remedy. 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.” (Thanks to Ed Dodson via Richard Biddle) Politicians at least pay lip service to popular ideas and their purveyors (usually once safely buried). (66) Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), 22nd and 24th president of the US, whom George worked with on free trade, said, “I have always regarded Henry George as a man of honest and sincere convictions and ever held a high opinion of him.”
67) Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), 28th president of the US 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, a Georgist, into the post of labor secretary who founded Labor Day on the Monday closest to George’s birthday.
68) Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd president of the US 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) To head up the Federal Reserve and to be the nation’s Economic Advisor, FDR appointed a Harvard man, the Canadian (69) 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.
70) Raymond Moley (1886-?), one of the three economists of President Roosevelt’s Brain Trust (which was so important that reputedly even FDR 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.
VII. SOLUTION – PROPERTY TAX REFORM
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, especially down-taxing buildings and up-taxing locations. This milder version has found its way into law upon occasion (see our “Where Tax Reform Has Worked: 27 Case Summaries”.)
71) Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th president of the US 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.”
72) Henry Ford (1863-1947), said, “We ought to tax all idle land the way Henry George said – tax it heavily, so that its owners would have to make it productive.” (LIBERTY between world wars, article by Donald Wilheim)
Beyond U.S. borders, the UK even passed a land tax into law, but World War I intervened and the movement never recovered.
(73) David Lloyd George (1863-1945), British Prime Minister (1917-22) from the Liberal Party, said in a speech at New Castle (1903 Mar 4), “The land question in the towns bears upon (over-crowding). It is all very well to produce ‘Housing of Working Class’ bills. They will never be effective until you tackle the taxation of land values.”
74) Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) said, “I have made speeches by the yard on the subject of land value taxation, and you know what a supporter I am of that policy.”
75) Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), commander of the US occupation force in Japan after World War II, hired (76) Carl Shoup to help him reform land holding and thereby rebuild Japan. Their revision of the Japanese Constitution reversed the rent ratio between owners (whose portion dropped from 2/3 to 1/3) and tenants (whose rose from 1/3 to 2/3). Shoup also simplified Japan’s tax code, facilitating investment.
(77) James Michener in his novel Hawaii created a fictional version of Shoup who endorsed the single tax on land. The New York Times’ lengthy obit on Shoup quoted his colleague, C. Lowell Harris, emeritus Columbia and member of and Advisor to the Geonomy Society.
With the hawks on this issue was dove (78) Elizabeth Magie Phillips, a Quaker who created a board game, The Landlord’s Game, to teach Georgist principle. We know it today as Monopoly. In the 1980s, Parker Bros. sued in court, claiming their game was original; they lost.
79) Tom L. Johnson (1876-1934), millionaire industrialist and mayor of Cleveland, hired economists to disprove George. When none could, he concluded, “What the world needs is justice, not benevolence. To the extent the law grants special favors to some, do the people suffer. The greatest special privilege is land monopoly, made possible by the exemption from taxation of land values. So long as it is permitted to any man to take what doesn’t belong to him through monopolizing nature’s resources and the private ownership of public utilities, plenty of men of my kind will always be ready to jump in and do the stealing. My mission is to take what people are stupid enough to let me take, and to show them how they can put an end to the system which enriches me and impoverishes them.” (Christian Science Weekly, 1933)
Just as politicians had to bow before George’s popularity, so did economists have to admit, with more or less enthusiasm, that taxing land values is both fair and efficient.
Over a dozen prominent ones signed a letter Geonomy Society Advisor Nic Tideman, advising Gorbachev to tax land (’90 Nov 7) to smooth the transition to a market economy. He ignored the advice and the Soviet Union fell apart. Eight of the signers won the “Nobel” Prize, including: (80) James Buchanan (1986), (81) Franco Modigliani (1985), (82) Herbert Simon (1978), (83) Robert Solow (1987), (84) James Tobin (1981), and (85) William Vickrey (1996). Other winners were Shaw, Einstein, and N. M. Butler, bringing the total to 10 laureates.
VIII. ACCOLADES LEFT & RIGHT
This consensus among Nobel laureates spans the political spectrum. Two more to sign the letter to Gorbachev are: (86) leftist Paul Samuelson (1970) who said in his textbook which made him a millionaire, “Our ideal society finds it essential to put a rent on land as a way of maximizing the total consumption available to the society”, and (87) rightist Milton Friedman (1976) who said, “Land should be taxed as much as possible and improvements as little as possible.” (The Times Herald, Norristown, Pennsylvania; Friday, 1 December, 1978 Another prize-winner, Gary S. Becker (1992), credited George’s book (Progress and Poverty) at a Georgist-sponsored speech for making him into an economist, but later downplayed George’s tax, the single levy on land, as insufficient.
Just as support for George has continued to the present among economists, so has it among politicians of both major parties. Here are some former presidential candidates.
Among Democrats, (88) Senator Edmund Muskie read his support into the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD (1970 Dec 15). (89) Sen. Walter Mondale said, “The federal government could further the taxation of land values. It could levy such a federal tax itself and this would be much preferable to taxes on labor and capital investment.”
Among Republicans, former governor (90) George Romney was a supporter and (91) Jack Kemp wrote, “Property taxes could profitably be revised to fall more heavily on land, rather than, as at present, penalizing property improvements.” (American Renaissance, p 96)
Along with politicians and economists, the press, too, both left and right, on occasion notes George’s contribution.
92) FORTUNE MAGAZINE (’83 Aug 8) stated, “Higher land taxes, especially when accompanied by reduced taxes on structures, look like an idea businessmen ought to embrace and promote. The benefits in the form of more jobs and increasingly compact development are not only lasting, but flow to the whole community.” May the whole community go with the flow.
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT’s Chairman and Editor-in-Chief (93) Mortimer B. Zuckerman wrote, “Henry George, the great 19th-century economist, put it best: ‘What protection teaches us, is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.’” (1985 Dec 23)
94) A WALL STREET JOURNAL article (1987 Mar 5) stated, “As explained in the greatest economics treatise ever written by an American – Henry George’s Progress and Poverty (1879) – money diverted to pay for the use of natural resources is like a dead weight or tax on the productive factors in the economy, capital and labor.” Another article (’98 July 21) recommended the land tax for Russia’s transition economy.
95) William F. Buckley, the TV commentator, said, “Henry George told us this system would work a hundred years ago.”
96) THE FINANCIAL TIMES (2001 August 1): “It should surely have been possible to tax some of the very large gains that have been created by public policy. And this tax revenue could be used to finance the capital costs of Tube construction, leaving the passengers to pay for the running costs. A levy on windfall gains in land and property values would be a good way to tackle transport congestion.” (Samuel Brittain)
97) THE ECONOMIST (2002 Week of August 29th, via Joshua Vincent, Henry George Fdn): “Why should developers, landlords and tenants make untaxed windfall gains from transport improvements funded by general taxation? Why should the state not take a share? The idea of taxing increases in the price of land may sound dangerously radical but actually it is not. It has a history stretching back to the mists of fiscal time. The Treasury’s reassessment of land value taxes in the green paper is thus encouraging.”
Across the aisle, (98) THE NEW YORK TIMES stated, “Too bad that Henry George, the author of Progress and Poverty, is not around to advise New York State.” Other nationally syndicated columnists often note George and suggest collecting public rents for public purposes, as does (99) Michael Kinsley. Also, when FORBES annually lists the nation’s richest 400, he often follows with an article noting how a majority of them are owners of sizeable chunks of nature.
100) Alexander Cockburn wrote, “Windfall land value increases are created by government actions, roads, sewer lines, light rail, re-zoning, etc. The people should share in the ballooning in value of land.” (1994 Jan)
101) THE NATION (’90 Oct 29) stated, “A tax levied on land used for commercial purposes is the ideal tax. It would fall on the richest families and institutions, it can’t be shifted to consumers and owners can’t move their property to another state. Almost invariably, if you tax something the capitalists will produce less of it and charge you more for it. But land is different. Most of it was produced once and for all by God…”
102) THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER (2001 Oct 31) endorsed City Controller Jonathan Saidel, incumbent and promoter of the Property Tax Shift, noting, “Taxing solely the value of land, not of the buildings on it, might promote development on vacant or underused tracts and would stop punishing at tax time those residents who improve their homes.” Staff writer Nathan Gorenstein (Oct 22) supported “the brainchild of Henry George.” The paper also ran a favorable op-eds by Robert Inman, Prof, Finance and Economics, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (Nov 9) and by Mark Alan Hughes, a weekly contributor to the Daily Views and teacher at Penn’s Fox Leadership Program (Nov 27) who said “the Tax Structure Analysis Report by Saidel is the best policy statement from any city government in my 20 years of analysis and research.”
103) THE GUARDIAN’s George Monbiot: “Government needs to levy a land value tax on development land and a capital gains tax on main residences, then use the money for building the housing Britain needs.” (via The Progress Report website) Actually, were government to tax all land and resources (or lease them), that second tax on residences would be as superfluous as it is unfair
IX. RESOURCE REFORM
By being reticent about pursuing its due, society may be taking the correct tact.
(104) Jesus said, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” to which Jean Paul Getty, one of the original oil tycoons, appended, “but not the mineral rights.” Even before the growth of industry, natural resources other than soil have been important.
105) Confucius (BC 551-479), Chinese philosopher, said, “When the Great Way prevailed, natural resources were fully used for the benefit of all and not appropriated for selfish ends… This was the Age of the Great Commonwealth of peace and prosperity.”
106) Influential Washington, D.C. attorney Jackson H. Ralston (1857-1946) said, “Until the Single Tax makes all our mineral resources equally available to all the community, thus destroying the special profits now accruing to those able to hold land out of use, the most oppressive trusts in existence will find their way clear to retain their power, despite anti-trust laws, interstate commerce laws, and all the publicity we may by law give their operations.” Indeed, the power of resource corporations, such as oil companies, is probably greater than ever.
107) First Viscount Philip Snowden (1864-1937), British economist and politician, between the 20th century’s world wars modernized this thought. “There never was a time when the need was greater than it is today for the application of the philosophy and principles of Henry George to the economic and political conditions which are scourging the whole world. The root cause of the world’s economic distress is surely obvious to every man who has eyes to see and a brain to understand. So long as land is a monopoly, and men are denied free access to it to apply their labor to its uses, poverty and unemployment will exist. Permanent peace can only be established when men and nations have realized that natural resource should be a common heritage, and used for the good of all mankind… I am of the opinion that rent belongs to society and that no single person has the right to appropriate and enjoy what belongs to society.”
108) Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), ex-US president who in 1950 voted for Henry George 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)
109) Douglas Frazier, United Auto Workers President, said before the National Conference on Alternate State and Local Policies in 1979, July 3-5, “one day, we are going to ask ourselves, did anyone make the oil and minerals and then put them in the ground? We will then realize that they belong to all of us.”
In the past, sharing rent was proposed to promote prosperity, justice, and peace. Today, there may be an even more compelling reason – the pending ecollapse. Those thinkers trying to heal the planet are recapitulating the intellectual development of the past, the share-Earth idea.
110) Columnist James Reston wrote, “the economic approach to conservation is important: don’t reward but punish the destroyers. But this requires a much larger proportion of the American people to get a new philosophy of values about the land, property rights, and man as only one part of the living community.” (NEW YORK TIMES, 1970 August 9)
111) Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), architect who’d design structures to avoid removing trees, wrote in The Living City (c. 1958, p. 162), “Henry George showed us the only organic solution of the land problem.”
112) Columnist Molly Ivins wrote, “Henry George must be in his grave spinnin’ like a cyclotron. We, the people at large, make the land more desirable; and then the landowners want us to pay them because we won’t allow them to poison the air or to pollute the rivers.” (1995 March)
113) THE NEW REPUBLIC in 1979 ran an article by David Hapgood stating, “The land tax would encourage the more intensive use of less land, reduce suburban sprawl, revive our ailing cities, lower the cost of shelter and, if uniformly applied, end the senseless wars among communities caused by the property tax. (Here again many traditional economists agree with George.)”
114) Brookings Institution’s 2000 summer Review contains “Nothing left to Lose: Only Radical Strategies Can Help America’s Most Distressed Cities” by Edward Hill and Jeremy Nowak who say: “Cities should replace the business property tax with a tax on the market value of land (to) encourage businesses to place as much capital on property as is economically justifiable. … The land component of the residential property tax should be assessed on an equal basis with the business land tax, again providing incentives to develop in neighborhoods with low land values, as well as preventing speculative land banking.”
Lately, numerous environmental groups have signed on to this green tax shift. (See our “Greens On George: 133 Notable Environmentalists on Taxing Only Land”.)
X. WISTFUL THINKING
What keeps down such a sound idea? (115) Brand Whitlock (1869-1934), former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, said, “The Single Tax will wait, I fancy, for years, since it is so fundamental and mankind never attacks fundamental problems until it has exhausted all the superficial ones.”
It seems we must hit bottom first. Yet perhaps we can just imagine the worst, then work our way out. (116) Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) in the preface to his Brave New World Revisited (p. viii), wrote, “If I were now to rewrite the book, I would offer a third alternative … the possibility of sanity. Economics would be decentralist and Henry Georgian.” May this sane way out of our modern dilemma yet attract a critical mass of thoughtful reformers.