I recently spoke with filmmaker Mike Bonner of City Point Films, the creator of Henry George and the Single Tax documentary. The 26 minute film presents a basic historical overview of the man and the movement. We also hear insights from active members in the movement, including Rodney Jester and Mike Curtis. The Arden, Delaware, community is highlighted, as are some of the relevant socio-political events influenced by the movement leading to the Progressive Era. Mike spoke with me about his thoughts and efforts in the Georgist movement. See our question and answer session below for his comments about Georgist ideas and contact information.
What was your inspiration to create the documentary?
First, as a filmmaker, I was just inspired by a fascinating story that I had never heard before. George’s prominence during his time, and his almost complete disappearance from history made his story a good candidate to spend my time learning about the man and then attempt to tell others what I gathered. Second, I was inspired by his motivations. He actually wanted to alleviate poverty, and then to do so in such a brilliant fashion captivated me.
How did you first come to learn about Henry George?
I discovered the name ‘Henry George’ while reading a book documenting the history of Protestantism in America (I don’t remember the title). For some reason the author mentioned this man without any explanation of who he was, so I did an Internet search. His story interested me so much that it led me down a rabbit hole to learn more and more about him and the movement.
Are you involved with any other related activities?
Researching HG has led to something unexpected; an interest in economics. In addition to supporting Georgist ideas, I am very interested in telling more stories that clarify how the control of financial resources shape the world and impact individuals.
What ideologies do you align with?
That’s a big question, but I am very sympathetic to the struggles of large portions of society being denied opportunities for obtaining a basic quality of life.
How do you think the ideas of Henry George can be implemented in today's political climate?
This is tough, as we have seen the acceptance of these ideas have been difficult, historically. I think one of the major ideologies that Georgism hinges on is the idea of land rights being common to all. Many are going to disagree with this strongly, and land ownership is so ingrained in America’s heritage. But, I think if political groups can start questioning the validity of this idea, then there is a chance to change attitudes, and the rest will fall into place.
What would you suggest for people wanting to implement the ideas of Henry George?
I guess I would suggest that Georgists be understanding of the deeply ingrained philosophies that most Americans have that will shut down any discussion about a land value tax. I think progress can only happen when we gently start chipping away at these presuppositions.
How can Georgist activism be improved?
As we have seen in the latest election, narrative is important. I think it is true that most people don’t know that it is even possible to do things differently than the way things are being done right now. We need to start telling a different story, and get that story out. Then we can focus on the details. I had plans to make a longer version of the documentary that included some ideas on how to advance George’s ideas today. I came to the conclusion that it would have to come from an energetic individual who could inspire the public to adopt these ideas. I don’t know if he or she is out there right now, but I think that’s Georgism’s best chance.
Are you familiar with the concept of a Georgist UBI called a Citizen's Dividend?
I don’t know much about UBI, but it seems there would be huge political and idealogical opposition to it, at least in America. But, I think The Single Tax attempted in theory to do the same by providing support for the poorest people in a society, and do so by keeping capitalism and industry well intact. I would think most Americans would be more receptive to that. I would be supportive of a UBI through a single tax, but I really doubt the political feasibility of imposing such a concept in America. Furthermore, I would hate to see discussions on a LVT silenced if it were linked to policies that would be seen by many as a "hand out". Yet, I think this is an aspect that could be implemented in some communities. I can imagine, for example, some states adopting the use of a portion of the LVT for a UBI, while other states only funding public works and government expenses via LVT.
Will advancing technology help us to be better equipped to support a Georgist economy? How so?
I’m not sure Georgists are better off now than they ever were. If anything, technology may be giving the advantage to those who intend to make personal gain off of others. However, I understand one of the most difficult aspects of The Single Tax would have been assessing land value. So, maybe with the advantage of computer technology, that would be a more feasible task.
What other areas of society do you see being affected by the ideas of Henry George (such as education, science, sociology)?
I think providing equal opportunity, not necessarily equality, is at the root of George’s ideas. This is a basic American tenant that seems to have been forgotten. A shift in ideology that at least guarantees opportunity will undoubtedly affect all aspects of society.
Any other comments you would like to share with the Geoist community?
Well, I still consider myself an amateur on the subject, so I think I can comment with an outsider’s perspective. I was surprised how long it took me to “get it”. Even after reading Progress and Progress cover to cover, as well as other research, it didn’t make immediate sense. Also, when I tried to explain it to others I was usually met with blank stares or confident statements on why it wouldn’t work. So, I think we need to think about different ways of selling the ideas in a way that most people can immediately wrap their heads around. I don’t pretend to have those answers, but one of the things that hooked me was the idea of fairness. Maybe, if we first talk about how unfair things are under the current tax system, we can begin to discuss doing it in a more just way.
Would you mind if people contact you with questions, comments, etc?
I would welcome questions and comments with the understanding that I am still a student of these ideas myself.
Do you have a website people can view or use to contact you?
I have a Facebook page dedicated to discussions on the film and Single Tax ideas at: https://www.facebook.com/henrygeorgeandthesingletax
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