If Only Presidents Day = Leadership Day
|February 17, 2014||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Politics, Rent recovery or avoidance|
US Presidents, like presidents and prime ministers everywhere, are thought of as leaders. However, in one crucial arena, not one US President has yet been able to lead the nation, despite having the right idea.
It used to be that many people, including presidents and reformers, could see the role that land plays in creating prosperity and in fostering social justice. Back when, you had leaders like Abe Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th US President, say, “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.”
An efficient way to inhibit wannabe monopolizers is to make the value of land benefit society in general, and not just landlords, lenders, and speculators. Government could tax the value of locations. (It need not tax; it could charge a deed fee or lease public land at full market rental value or institute land dues, etc.) Then use the raised revenue in ways that’d benefit society at large.
The most famous proponents of this tax shift – tax land, not labor or capital – was the brilliant thinker Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty, which outsold every book of its era except the Bible (and the Holy Scriptures also mandated land reform). George showed how, when owners must pay a land levy, they leave more land available for others and they put their own land to good use. Both of these moves raise wages and eradicate poverty.
George’s thinking found favor with several US Presidents.
- Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th president: “Henry George is strong when he portrays the rottenness of the present system. We may 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.”
- Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), 22nd and 24th president, whom George worked with on free trade: “I have always regarded Henry George as a man of honest and sincere convictions and ever held a high opinion of him.”
- Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th president and a loser against Henry George in the 1886 mayoral race for New York City: “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.”
- Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), 28th president: “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.” Georgist Louis F. Post was the Assistant Secretary of Labor under Wilson.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd president: “I believe that Henry George was one of the really great thinkers produced by our country.” He also had Georgists high up in his administration: Chair of the Federal Reserve Lanklin Currie and economic advisor Raymond Moley.
- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th president, in 1950 voted for Henry George to enter into the Hall of Fame and 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.”
A century before George, America’s Founding Fathers were totally attuned to this better way. Back then, every educated person knew of France’s physiocrats and their l’impot unique (single tax on land). A Danish ruler implemented a land tax and Argentina’s first president, Bernardino Rivadavia, tried to (the army had other ideas). In early America …
- The first ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, was a land speculator in practice who lost big (bailed out by the US Government) and idealistically a physiocrat; the plaque at his tomb bears quotes from two famed physiocrats and one by George Washington.
- First President Washington’s right-hand man, Alexander Hamilton: “A small land tax will answer the purposes of the states, and will be their most simple and fit resource.”
- The US President with probably the highest IQ ever, Thomas Jefferson: “Exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise.”
- His friend, Tom Paine (1737-1809), who rescued the American Revolution, expressed this geonomic idea in its fullest: “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.”
So what kept this proven solution from being implemented? Actually, the first US constitution, the Articles of Confederation, did have a single tax on property which was mainly land in those days. But once the rebels became rulers, their second constitution – the one we know today – deleted land and Congress turned to tariffs.
America was born of land speculation and the fever has warped the national psyche of every generation ever since. Sure, colonial America had its Commonwealth of Massachusetts and of North Carolina and the first law passed by William Penn in Philadelphia was a tax on land. But America also had speculation as the major industry. Indeed, at the time of the Revolution, the colonies’ richest citizen was its biggest landholder, speculator, and former surveyor: Commander-in-Chief Gen. George Washington.
Political opposition is nigh universal. Mexican President Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913) and Russian President Alexandr F. Kerenski (1881-1970) both proposed taxing land. Madero was assassinated (by the US ally) and Kerenski fled for his life. Jose Marti (1853-1895), the hero of Cuban independence from Spain, described Henry George as “one of the most cogent and audacious. Only Darwin, in the natural sciences, left an impression comparable to that of George in the social sciences,” but that father of that nation could not get the reform adopted. Guatemala’s President Cerezo advocated a land tax but was deposed by the (US-backed) army.
How much has changed? Nothing. Remember Barak Obama’s shady real estate deals? Remember Ronald Reagan’s real estate tax-dodging embarrassment? The link between politics and profiteering off land is not a matter of isolated examples but the very nature of the system. It’s hard to see because it’s so poorly reported and it’s so poorly reported because even journalists are blinded to the powerful role that land plays in the economy and the body politic.
So, what can you do this 2014 Presidents Day? Don’t bother looking to any president for leadership. By the time that any major political figure speaks up, geonomic reform will already have become popular. Meanwhile, leadership is going to have to come from the grassroots, from knowledgeable and committed individuals forming active groups in their neighborhoods. Those advocates will win or influence local elections, and get geonomics adopted locally. Being a president of a local group or a chairman of a county council might not be the same as being president of the US of America but it could do humanity a lot more good.