Getting a share of the worth of Earth is old news if you’re an Alaskan. Each October, everyone in the state gets a check from the Heritage Fund. It’s their share of the profits from leasing the oil buried under the tundra.
Alaska is both a wilderness and a libertarian paradise for those who enjoy desolate spaces. Indeed, it was the Alaska Libertarian Party that introduced the bill to create the oil dividend. Those activists followed the lead of Jefferson and Paine, two icons to liberty lovers.
The two Toms proposed not only a payment to all citizens of an extra income apart from their labor. Those Founding Fathers also identified the proper source—the value of resources and locations, of land in general.
It’s not just because people need the extra income. It’s also because they generate it. The mere presence of a populace generates the value of the locations within the region. And increases it. While human population grows, land doesn’t. As Will Rogers suggested, “invest in land; they ain’t makin’ any more of it.”
Everyone has a right to life, and since we all need a place to live, we all have a right so some portion of the earth. Not just those who inherit land or those with enough money to buy more than one person could possibly need. Nobody made land. Everybody needs land. So we all have an equal right to some land—and to an equal share of “rent” (the money that society spends for the nature it uses).
Yet a growing population, creating a crowded planet, should not deprive anyone of their rights. Everyone has a right to life, and since we all need a place to live, we all have a right so some portion of the earth. Not just those who inherit land or those with enough money to buy more than one person could possibly need. Nobody made land. Everybody needs land. So we all have an equal right to some land—and to an equal share of “rent” (the money that society spends for the nature it uses).
Both Jefferson and Paine worked it out: mutual compensation. When you own or occupy land, you exclude everyone else. When others own or occupy land, they exclude you. The fairest way for each to compensate all is for everyone to pay “rent” to one’s community, then for the community to pay shares to the members of society. Land dues in, rent shares out. To own land, you wouldn’t pay the person leaving, you’d pay your new neighbors staying.
Presently, more prevalent than land dues (or land taxes) is the property tax. While this tax on one’s property tops the list of most hated taxes by everyone, libertarians actually should warm up to this close cousin of land dues. World Bank data show that the more “land rent” that a nation recovers (via its property tax), the freer it is.
Also, the Heritage Foundation publishes their freedom index. Topping their list of the freest jurisdictions on the planet is Singapore, which has a property tax and a land tax, both at rates higher than in most jurisdictions around the world. Better yet, Singapore pays its citizens a dividend.
For many years, Hong Kong, which exists on public land, topped the list. That world-class port-city collected enough rent to keep taxes on incomes and efforts quite low. Happily, that kept prices low.
The fair sharing of Earth goes by the name of geonomics. It’s not just Singapore and Alaska that’s geonomic. There’s also Aspen, CO.
And it’s not just Alaskan libertarians, Thomas Jefferson, and Tom Paine who were geonomic. There are other luminaries in the liberty-loving movement:
John Locke, the principal architect of libertarianism, said one’s property is legitimate as long as enough good land is “left in common for others.”Albert Jay Nock, author of Our Enemy, The State (which he opposed to government), has a chapter on the destructive results of the landlord's"monopoly of economic rent.”William F. Buckley, influential author and TV host, said, "Henry George [a proto-libertarian economist of the late 1800s] told us this system would work a hundred years ago." That is, eliminating all taxes while recovering the rent for land.Milton Friedman, in The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics (p. 790): "the least bad tax is the property tax on the unimproved value of land, the Henry George argument of many, many years ago.”David Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party and Editor-in-Chief of California Liberty, wrote “The Essence of Liberty”, frequently reprinted in a LP newspapers, in which he said: “What kind of taxation is least harmful? This is a topic still open for debate. My own preference is for a single tax on land.”
Public recovery of land values makes possible attaining the libertarian ideal of zero taxes. Society could replace taxes with fees and land dues for private land and leases of public land, including EM spectrum and ecosystem services.
Disbursing the recovered rents to everyone makes feasible another libertarian goal—zero subsidies. Society could replace them with the shares of rents. Charles Murray, former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, argued for an income supplement for everyone—a “basic income”, a quasi rent dividend.
The case for axing taxes and abolishing subsidies rests on solid, logical grounds. Presently we pay taxes to politicians to pay bureaucrats to pay providers to service citizens when we could simply pay citizens directly. The convoluted way has four intractable flaws. Both taxes and subsidies:
are costly to administer, requiring more bureaucracy than just dues cumdividends;violate quid pro quo; one’s tax burden only accidentally equals one’s benefits received, if then—unless you happen to make sufficient political contributions, ensuring yourself a handsome return;distort price; e.g., the property tax makes improvements to buildings not worth the bother in marginal areas, while agri-biz subsidies make some junk food too cheap; andreinforce the hierarchy of state over citizen—taxes cowing them while subsidies buy them off.
And that's not even considering that public revenue policy becomes law with grave amounts of political bias.
One of the greatest freedoms is free time. What good is any other freedom ifyou don’t have the time to practice them in? We all need liberation from labor, and an income apart from our labor grants us that.
Similarly, what good are freedoms if you don’t have any place to practice them on? In a geonomy, most people—owning land of average or lesser value—pay land dues much smaller than the rent shares they receive (from the rental value of sites, resources, EM spectrum, ecosystem services, etc—trillions annually). That ensures everyone can afford a private place where one can be one's unique self.
While some libertarians may be selfish and anti-social, most try to be intellectually consistent. Learning the logic of sharing Earth’s worth should make them adamant advocates of geonomics. Liberty lovers have won this basic principle of economic justice before. Hopefully they can help do so again. Then a free society becomes ours to enjoy.
It was the Alaska Libertarian Party that introduced the bill to create the oil dividend. Those activists followed the lead of Jefferson and Paine, two icons to liberty lovers.
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JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to Progress.org. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at Progress.org.