Geoist responds to a Royal Libertarian

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With great humility, an allodial ‘libertarian’ (that is, one who believes that land may be owned absolutely, without any annual rent or charge whatsoever for the privilege of exclusive ownership) wrote:

> You should not presume to speak on behalf of libertarians,
> since you are obviously in the position of not understanding.

> Instead you should ask for clarifications.

To which Dan Sullivan responded:

OK. Complete novice that I am, I will undoubtedly benefit from your erudition on what the following passages mean. Please do explain them. Feel free to interpret each sentence and go into detail, so that we might benefit from your intellectual prowess:


from Albert J. Nock, founder and first editor of The Freeman, and author of Our Enemy the State, which you can get from Laissez Faire Books:

“The only reformer abroad in the world in my time who interested me in the least was Henry George, because his project did not contemplate prescription, but, on the contrary, would reduce it to almost zero. He was the only one of the lot who believed in freedom, or (as far as I could see) had any approximation to an intelligent idea of what freedom is, and of the economic prerequisites to attaining it….One is immensely tickled to see how things are coming out nowadays with reference to his doctrine, for George was in fact the best friend the capitalist ever had. He built up the most complete and most impregnable defense of the rights of capital that was ever constructed, and if the capitalists of his day had had sense enough to dig in behind it, their successors would not now be squirming under the merciless exactions which collectivism is laying on them, and which George would have no scruples whatever about describing as sheer highwaymanry.”


from Nock, The God’s Lookout February 1934, p. 320-324

“So long as the State stands as an impersonal mechanism which can confer an economic advantage at the mere touch of a button, men will seek by all sorts of ways to get at the button, because law-made property is acquired with less exertion than labour-made property. It is easier to push the button and get some form of State-created monopoly like a land-title, a tarriff, concession or franchise, and pocket the proceeds, than it is to accumulate the same by work. Thus a political theory that admits any positive intervention by the State upon the individual has always this natural law to reckon with…”

The American state at the outset took over the British principle of giving landlords a monopoly of economic rent. That shifted the switch; it established the State’s character as a purveyor of privilege. Then financial speculators sought a privilege, and Hamilton, with his “corrupt squadron in Congress,” as Mr. Jefferson called them, arranged it. Then bankers, then industrialists; Hamilton also arranged that. Then, as the century went on, innumerable industrial subgroups, and subclasses of special interest, were heard from, and were accommodated. Then farmers, artisans, ex-soldiers, promoters of public utilities, began to accumulate political power with a view toward privilege. Now, since the advent of universal sufferage, we are seeing the curious spectacle of the “unemployed” automatically transformed into the strongest kind of pressure-group; their numerical strength and consequent voting-power compelled Mr. Roosevelt to embrace the extroadinary doctrine that the State owes its citizens a living–an expedient little noticed at the time, I believe, but profoundly interesting to the student of historical continuity.

Moreover,…when the State confers a privilege, natural law impels the beneficiary to work it for all it is worth; and therefore the State must at once initiate a whole series of positive interventions to safeguard, control, and regulate that privilege. A steady grist of “social” legislation must be ground; bureaus, boards and commissions must be set up, each with its eleborate mechanism; and thus bureaucracy comes into being. As the distribution of privilege goes on, the spawning of these regulative and supervisory agencies also goes on; and the result is a continuous enhancement of State power and a progressive weakening of social power, until, as in Rome after the Antonines, social power is quite extinguished–the invidual lives, moves, and has his being only for the governmental machine, and society exists only in the service of the State. Meanwhile, at every step in this process, natural law is pushing interested persons, groups and factions on to get clandestine control of these supervisory agencies and use them for their own advantage; and thus a rapid general corruption sets in, for which no cure has ever yet been found, and from which no recovery has ever yet been made.


James Buchanan (1986):

The landowner who withdraws land from productive use to a purely private use should be required to pay higher, not lower, taxes.

[I don’t know much about Mr. Buchanan. Is he a Marxist?]

Adam Smith Wealth of Nations

As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed.


Nicolai Lenin:

“Henry George is the capitalist’s last ditch.”

[Since you say Georgism is Marxist, and since Lenin is surely Marxist, then this must be some kind of cryptic endorsement. Perhaps you could decrypt it?]

Thomas Jefferson:

[Feel free to skip the first four paragraphs, which are undoubtedly due to Marx’s influence on Jefferson. I particularly would like to hear your analysis of the last and longest quote.]

“I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by any individual ceases to be his when he ceases to be, and reverts to the society…”

“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.

“In Europe the lands [that are not] cultivated are locked up against the cultivator. …This begets dependence, subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue and prepares fit tools for the design of ambition.

“I think our governments will remain virtuous..as long as there are vacant lands [available] in any part of America. When [Americans] get piled up on each other in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt, as in Europe.”

“That the lands within the limits assumed by a nation belong to the nation as a body has probably been the law of every people on earth at some period of their history. A right of property in movable things is admitted before the establishment of government. A separate property in lands not till after that establishment. The right to moveables is acknowledged by all the hordes of Indians surrounding us. Yet by no one of them has a separate property in lands been yeilded for individuals. He who plants a field keeps possession till he has gathered the produce, after which one has as good a right as another to occupy it. Government must be established and laws provided, before lands can be separately appropriated and their owner protected in his possession. Till then the property is in the body of the nation.”



[This intro is from The World’s Great Speeches, 1942, Garden City Publishing, Inc.]

“Richard Cobden [1804-1865], statesman and economist, has won world fame as a powerful advocate of free trade.”

“I hold that the Landed proprietors are the parties who are responsible if the laborers have not employment. You have absolute power; there is no doubt about that. You can, if you please, legislate for the laborers, or yourselves.”


Frank Choderov: Second editor of The Freeman, and author of One is a Crowd and Income Tax, Root of All Evil. This quote is out of From Christmas to Christmas Analysis, vol 1., No. 4:

“On earth as it is in Heaven.” Whatever Heaven connotes to the theologian, to the layman it sublimates the highest aspiration of the human spirit– which is Freedom. Can a Heaven which embraces slavery, economic or political, have any meaning? It is fantastic, blasphemous, if you will, to speak of Heaven-on-earth as a place where one man must pay another for the privilege of living. Surely, the Milky Way has not been reduced to private ownership, nor are the Elysian Fields preempted and for sale.

“Then again, are the standards of eternal life fixed by monopoly exactions? Is there a tax on immortality? Do soulbureaucrats hound the spirits into collectivized subjectivity? Or rather, do we not think of Heaven-on-earth as an existence wherein every man may do that which he will, provided he infringe not on the equal right of every other man?…”


[Perhaps you could not only interpret Herbert Spencer’s meaning, but answer his questions? Then he and I will both become enlightened by you.]

from Social Statics

“It can never be pretended that the existing titles to landed property are legitimate. The original deeds were written with the sword, soldiers were the conveyancers, blows were the current coin given in exchange, and for seals, blood. Those who say that ‘time is a great legalizer” must find satisfactory answers to such questions as — How long does it take for what was originally wrong to become right? At what rate per annum does an invalid claim become valid?”


Stephen Pearl Andrews is quoted here from Liberty and the Great Libertarians, which, according to Laissez Faire books, “offers choice selections from many of the greatest authors on liberty”

Andrews’ works include Comparison of the Common Law with the Roman, French or Spanish Civil Law, The Constitution of Government in the Sovereignty of the Individual, from which this quote is taken:

“The very foundation principles of the ownership of lands, as vested in individuals and protected by law, cannot escape much longer from a searching and radical investigation…. Land reform, in its present aspect, is merely the prologue to a thorough and unsparing, but philosophical and equitable agrarianism, by means of which either the land itself, or an equal participation in the benefits of the land, shall be secured to the whole people. Science, not human legislation, must finally govern the distribution of the soil.


Robert G. Ingersoll, as quoted in Liberty and the Great Libertarians, p. 189

“Now, the land belongs to the children of nature. Nature invites into this world every babe who is born. And what would you think of me, for instance, tonight, if I had invited you here — nobody had charged anything, but you had been invited — and when you got here you had found one man pretending to occupy a hundred seats, another fifty, another seventy five, and thereupon you were compelled to stand up — what would you think of the invitation? It seems to me that every child of nature is entitled to his share of land, and that he should not be compelled to beg the privilege to work the soil of a babe that happened to be born before him.”


Louis F. Post as quoted in Liberty and the Great Libertarians, p. 349, Land Liberty and Justice

“Since in justice rights are equal, there must in justice be equal rights to land. Without land man cannot sustain life. It is to him as water to the fish or air to the bird — his natural environment. And if to get land whereby to support life, any man is compelled to give his labor or the products of his labor to another, to that extent his liberty is denied him and his right to pursue happiness is obstructed. Enforced toil without pay is the essence of slavery, and permission to use land can be no pay for toil; he who give it parts with nothing that any man ever earned, and he who gets it acquires nothing that nature would not freely offer him but for the interference of land monopolists.”

[That last sentence deserves detailed analysis]

Edwin C. Walker, from Liberty and the Great Libertarians

The conception and the facts of liberty and slavery result from association, not isolation; and the sparseness or density of population, the simplicity or complexity of association, will create the customs, rules and laws governing human relations. Therefore, what the solitary man may rightfully do is no measure of what he may rightfully do when he comes into contact with another man. The liberty of one is conditioned upon the liberty of the other.


William Lloyd Garrison, as quoted in Liberty and the Great Libertarians, p.355

Men mistake when they imagine the Single Tax agitation to aim only at fiscal change, a new method of taxation. Its sole purpose is to secure the larger freedom of the race. It is not the method but the result that is precious. For it is idle to talk of the equal rights of men when the one thing essential to such equality is withheld. The Physiocrats of France grasped the central truth, and saw that freedom of natural opportunity, comprosed in the term land, was the foundation-stone of freedom and justice. Had the French Revolution proceeded along their line, it would have had a different ending. The succeeding spectre of Napoleon, devastating Europe and wading through the blood of his sacrificed countrymen to the throne, would not have affrighted mankind. The fruits of liberty would have been gathered.


Luke North (Editor of Everyman) as quoted in Liberty and the Great Libertarians, p. 356

The demand of the centuries, never so virile and insistent as today, is for equal freedom. The modern Everyman asks not for himself what all may not have. The asking were vain, indeed, for there is no freedom till all are free. Master and slave are bound by the same thong. Human solidarity is not a moral fancy but a stern fact.


Karl Hess, Sr., speechwriter for Barry Goldwater and creator and first editor of the Libertarian Party News:

“All taxes should be placed on land values until the state is abolished entirely.”

[Of course, Hess also said, “I loved education, which is why I spent as little time as possible in school.” This is suspiciously similar, if not as succinct, as the quote by George Bernard Shaw in my tagline. Perhaps, then, Karl Hess was also a Marxist Collectivist. There is one under every bed, you know.]

Dan Sullivan

“The only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school.” –George Bernard Shaw

Letter to Gorbachev

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* FOUR of the West’s top economists – Nobel prize-winners Franco Modigliani, James Tobin, Robert Solow and William Vickrey – were among the signatories to an open letter to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990/1991. The economists urged the Soviet President to retain land in public ownership, and to raise government revenue by charging rent for the use of land.

* Had he acted upon their advice Gorbachev may have strengthened his hand, but was unceremoniously dumped in favour of Boris Yeltsin. The Russian people have an especially deep feeling for their motherland, and socialising land rents for revenue and slashing all other taxes may well have struck a sympathethic chord. Yeltsin too, however, has been told by western powerbrokers that he must sell Russia’s patrimony – ‘freehold’ her land – as a pre-condition for western assistance.

* The proposal to raise the greater part of government revenue from the rent of land – is a policy most clearly associated with Henry George, the American economist whose Progress and Poverty (1879) continues to claim the attention of social reformers. Leo Tolstoy was the most ardent Russian advocate of Georgist economics – for more on Tolstoy.

RENT FOR REVENUE

Mikhail Gorbachev
President
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Dear Mr. Gorbachev,

The movement of the Soviet Union to a market economy will greatly enhance the prosperity of your citizens. Your economists have learned much from the experience of nations with economies based in varying degrees on free markets. Your plans for freely convertible currency, free trade, and enterprises undertaken and managed by individuals who receive the profit or bear the losses that result from their decisions are all highly commendable. But there is a danger that you will adopt features of our economies that keep us from being as prosperous as we might be. In particular, there is a danger that you may follow us in allowing most of the rent of land to be collected privately.

It is important that the rent of land be retained as a source of government revenue. While the governments of developed nations with market economies collect some of the rent of land in taxes, they do not collect nearly as much as they could, and they therefore make unnecessarily great use of taxes that impede their economies – taxes on such things as incomes, sales and the value of capital.

Social collection of the rent of land and natural resources serves three purposes:

* First, it guarantees that no one dispossesses fellow citizens by obtaining a disproportionate share of what nature provides for humanity.

* Second, it provides revenue with which governments can pay for socially valuable activities without discouraging capital formation or work effort, or interfering in other ways with the efficient allocation of resources.

* Third, the resulting revenue permits utility and other services that have marked economies of scale or density to be priced at levels conducive to their efficient use.

The rental value of land arises from three sources. The first is the inherent natural productivity of land, combined with the fact that land is limited. The second source of land value is the growth of communities; the third is the provision of public services. All citizens have equal claims on the component of land value that arises from nature. The component of land value that arises from community growth and provision of services is the most sensible source of revenue for financing public services that raise the rental value of surrounding land. These services include roads, urban transit networks, parks, and public utility networks for such services as electricity, telephones, water and sewers. A public revenue system should strive to collect as much of the rent of land as possible, allocating the part of rent derived from nature to all citizens equally, and the part derived from public services to the governmental units that provide those services. When governments collect the increase in land value that results from the provision of services, they are able to offer services at prices that represent the marginal social cost of these services, promoting efficient use of the services and enhancing the rental value of the land where the services are available. Government agencies that use land should be charged the same rentals as others for the land they use, or services will not be adequately financed and agencies will not have adequate incentive or guidance for economizing on their use of land.

Some economists might be tempted to suggest that the rent can be collected publicly simply by selling land outright at auction. There are a number of reasons why this is not a good idea.

* First, there is so much land to be turned over to private management that any effort to dispose of all of it in a short period would result in an extreme depression in prices offered.

* Second, some persons who could make excellent use of land would be unable to raise money for the purchase price. Collecting rent annually provides access to land for persons with limited access to credit.

* Third, subsequent resale of land would enable speculators to make large profits unrelated to any productive services they offer, resulting in needless inequity and dissatisfaction.

* Fourth, concern about future political conditions would tend to depress offers. Collecting rent annually permits the citizens of future years to capture the benefits of good future public policies.

* Fifth, because investors tend to be averse to risk, general uncertainty aboul the future will tend to depress offers. This risk aversion is sidestepped by allowing future rental payments to be determined by future conditions.

* Finally, the future rent of land can more justly be claimed by future generations than by today’s citizens. Requiring annual payments from the users of land allows each year’s population to claim that year’s rent. While the proceeds of sales could be invested for the benefit of future generations, not collecting the money in advance guarantees the heritage of the future against political excesses.

The attached Appendix provides a brief technical discussion of issues of the duration of rights to use land, the transfer of land, the assessment of land, social protection against the abuse and subsequent abandonment of run-down property, and redistribution among localities to adjust for differences in natural per capita endowments. While these issues need to be addressed, none of them present any insoluble problems.

A balance should be kept between allowing the managers of property to retain value derived from their own efforts to maintain and improve property, and securing for public use the naturally inherent and socially created value of land. Users of land should not be allowed to acquire rights of indefinite duration for single payments. For efficiency, for adequate revenue and for justice, every user of land should be required to make an annual payment to the local government, equal to the current rental value of the land that he or she prevents others from using.

Sincerely,

Nicolaus Tideman,
Professor of Economics,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

William Vickrey,
President for 1992,
American Economic Association.

Mason Gaffney,
Professor of Economics,
University of California, Riverside.

Lowell Harris,
Professor Emeritus of Economics,
Columbia University.

Jacques Thisse,
Professor of Economics,
Centre for Operations Research and Econometrics,
Universite Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

Charles Goetz,
Joseph M. Hartfield Professor of Law,
University of Virginia School of Law.

Gene Wunderlich,
Senior Agricultural Economist, Economic Research Service,
U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Daniel R Fusfeld,
Professor Emeritus of Economics,
University of Michigan.

Carl Kaysen,
Professor of Economics,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Elizabeth Clayton, Professor of Economics,
University of Missouri at St. Louis.

Rohert Dorfman
Professor Emeritus of Political Economy,
Harvard University.

Tibor Scitovsky,
Emeritus Eberle Professor of Economics,
Stanford University.

Richard Goode,
Washington, D.C.

Susan Rose-Ackerman,
Eli Professor of Law and Political Economy,
Yale Law School.

James Tobin,
Sterling Professor Emeritus of Economics,
Yale University.

Richard Musgrave,
Professor Emeritus of Political Economy,
Harvard University.

Franco Modigliani,
Professor Emeritus of Economics,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Warren J Samuels,
Professor of Economics,
Michigan State University.

Guy Orcutt
Professor Emeritus of Economics,
Yale University.

Eugene Smolensky,
Dean of the School of Public Policy,
University of California, Berkeley.

Ted Gwartney,
Real Estate Appraiser and Assessor,
Anaheim, California.

Oliver Oldman,
Learned Hand Professor of Law,
Harvard University.

Zvi Griliches,
Professor of Economics,
Harvard University.

William Baumol,
Professor of Economics,
Princeton University.

Gustav Ranis,
Frank Altschul Professor of International Economics,
Yale University.

John Helliwell,
Professor of Economics,
University of British Columbia.

Giulio Pontecorvo,
Professor of Economics and Banking,
Graduate School of Business,
Columbia University.

Robert Solow,
Institute Professor of Economics,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Alfred Kahn,
Ithaca, New York.

Harvey Levin,
Augustus B Weller Professor of Economics,
Hofstra University.

Tolstoy And George

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Victor Lebrun

Victor Lebrun was a personal friend and Secretary to Leo Tolstoy. This is a translation of his article published in the July 1956 issue of the French periodical, Contre-Courant, and reprinted in the July-September 1956 issue of the French Georgist magazine Terre et Liberte. Its historical interest, in view of the establishment of Communism in Russia in 1917, needs no emphasis.

In giving his extreme and sympathetic attention to other thinkers and writers, the great Tolstoy differed essentially from his colleagues – the geniuses of all countries and all centuries. But nothing shows the complete honesty and surprisng liberty of his spirit more than his attitude towards Henry George.

Conversion to Georgism

It was at the beginning of 1885 that he happened to lay his hands on the books of the great American sociologist. By then the moral and social doctrine of the thinker had been solidly and definitely established. Man’s supreme and unique duty was to perfect himself morally and not to co-operate with the wrong. Thus the social problem would be automatically solved when the majority has understood the true meaning of pure Christianity and when it has learned to abstain from all crimes which are frequently and commonly committed. All reasoning about the precise nature of the citizens’ rights, about laws, about the organisation of governmental compulsion for their protection is anathema to the great thinker.

But…hardly had Tolstoy had a glance at Social Problems and Progress and Poverty and he was completely captivated by George’s outstanding exposition. His strict daily routine is broken.

‘This morning I read George instead of writing’ ,Tolstoy confesses in a letter to his wife. Two days later he adds: ‘I read my George’. (He says ‘my’. He never said this of any other author). ‘This is a very important book. This is a step forward of equal importance to the liberation of our serfs. This is the liberation of the earth from private ownership.’

‘Their point of view in this matter is the control of men. And it is necessary to read George, who defined the problem with precision and definitively. After this there is no more debating, one has to take resolutely one side or the other. Personally I demand much more than he does: but his project is the first step of the ladder which I would like to climb.’

And the thinker does not hesitate any longer. From this encounter on he resolutely and enthusiastically takes George’s side, and to his last breath for a quarter of a century, he makes every effort without relaxation to make his discovery known. He publishes articles on George: he writes introductions to the remarkable translations of his works.

Letters to Stolypin

The correspondence of the Georgist Tolstoy with the Prime Minister of the time is also astonishing. Here the summits of the two camps clash, the two leading theories, those who ‘think right’ and the honest ones.

In 1907 the people were exasperated. The peasant revolt was in full swing. And the Minister made his soldiers fire at the crowds, hanged peasants almost daily, imprisoned and deported them by the thousands. The gallows had been named after him ‘Stolypin’s necktie’. Tolstoy suffered terribly from the crimes and the hatred he saw growing on both sides. Finally he lost his patience. On the 26th July, 1907, he sent word to the Prime Minister:

‘Peter Arcadievich, I write to you under the impulse of my best feelings towards the son of my friend.

‘You are on the wrong road. You have two possibilities in front of you: the one is to continue not only to take part in but direct all the deportations, forced labour, executions, and not having achieved your aim, leave behind you a sordid memory. Or, doing the opposite, advance the peoples of Europe by helping to destroy the old, enormous injustice of the appropriation of the soil. In the latter way you would truly accomplish a great and good task, and you would appease the people through the most efficient of processes by giving satisfaction to their most loyal demands.

‘This would stop these horrible crimes which are perpetrated on the side of the revolutionaries as well as on the side of the Government.

Leo Tolstoy’

It is after three months that the Minister decides to reply:

‘Leo Nicolaievich, don’t think that I have not given my attention to your letter. I couldn’t answer it because it touched me where it hurt. You consider to be wrong what I consider to be for the welfare of Russia…

‘I don’t deny the doctrine of Henry George but believe that the Single Tax could in time (sic) help in the struggle against the big estates. At present I don’t see any reason why we should, here in Russia, chase the owners from their lands, which they cultivate better than the peasants. Quite the contrary, I see the necessity of making it possible for the peasants to acquire a piece of land of their own…

‘How could I do anything else than what I consider to be right. And you write to me that I am on the road of bad repute, of cruel actions, and above all of sin. Believe me that, feeling the possibility of approaching death, one cannot avoid thinking of these questions, and my road seems straight to me. I understand that it is completely in vain that I write this letter.

‘Accept my apologies.

Yours, Stolypin.’

This is the Prime Minister’s answer. And he goes on with his countless crimes.

On the 28th January, 1908, Tolstoy loses patience:

‘Peter Arcadievich, why? Why are you losing yourself in going on with your erroneous action which can only lead to aggravation of the general situation and of your position in it? Courageous, honest and noble man, and I know you as such, should not persist with his errors, but should recognise them and direct his forces to correct their consequences…

‘Your two errors: the violent struggle against the irresistible force of the people, and the consolidation of the ownership of land can be corrected by a simple, clear and achievable reform. It has to be recognised that the territory of the country is the equal property of the entire population, and a land tax has to be established which would correspond exactly to the privilege enjoyed by each site. This rent would replace entirely all taxes.

‘Only this measure can appease the people … Only this measure can dispose of the horrible repression which those who revolt have to suffer …I repeat that I write this to you wishing you the best and loving you …

Leo Tolstoy.’

This second letter remained unanswered, but the terrible agony of the horrible regime remained.

Some time later the Prime Minister was assassinated by a revolutionary, and in 1918 the communists gained power. The hoarders of territory refused to pay the nation the economic rent. Now everything was taken from them. None escaped punishment.

It is terrifying to re-live this era, to re-read this correspondence.

The Economy of the Future

In thanking George for a present of his works, the master asks the intermediary to tell him that he is ‘ enchanted by the clarity, the mastery and conclusions of his expositions; that George was the first who had put down solid foundations for the economy of the future, and that his name would always be remembered with gratitude by mankind.’

Tolstoy wrote to his wife – at the time of George’s death: ‘Henry George is dead, it is strange to say but his death surprised me like the death of a very close friend. The newspapers announce his passing and do not even speak of his books, which are so remarkable and of such great importance.’

A fragment of Tolstoy’s introduction to Social Problems shows to what degree he appreciated his works. The great master wrote:

‘Henry George said: “To those who have never studied the subject, it will seem ridiculous to propose as the greatest and most far-reaching of all reforms a mere fiscal change. But whoever has followed the train of thought through which in preceding chapters I have endeavoured to lead, will see that in this simple proposition is involved the greatest of social revolutions – a revolution compared with which that which destroyed ancient monarchy in France, or that which destroyed chattel slavery in our Southern States were nothing”.

‘And see, this is just the enormous importance of the big and real reform proposed by George that has not been understood in the world until now.’ Tolstoy continues:

‘George’s idea which changes the way of living of the people, to the advantage of the big majority – at present downtrodden and silent, and to the detriment of the ruling minority–this idea is expressed so convincingly and effective- ly and above all so simply that it is impossible not to understand it. For this reason, there is only one way to fight against it, to falsify it and to keep silent about it. Both are practised with such pains that it is difficult to induce people to read George’s books attentively and to deepen his doctrine. In the whole world, among the majority of intellectuals the ideas of George continue to be misinterpreted, and the indifference towards them appears to grow.

‘But a precise, and consequently fertile thought, cannot be destroyed. However one tries to strangle it, it remains more alive than all the other doctrines which are vague and devoid of meaning and behind which one tries to force it. Sooner or later truth will pierce the veil by which it is hidden, and will throw light over the world.

Such is the thought of Henry George’.

Other Letters

To TM Bondaref, who had written from Siberia asking for information about the ‘Single Tax’. THIS IS Henry George’s plan:

The advantage and convenience of using land is not everywhere the same; there will always be many applicants for land that is fertile, well situated, or near a populous place; and the better and more profitable the land, the more people will wish to have it. All such land should, therefore, be valued according to its advantages: the more profitable – dearer; the less profitable – cheaper. Land for which there are few applicants should not be valued at all, but allotted gratuitously to those who wish to work it themselves.

With such a valuation of the land – here in the Toula Government, for instance – good arable land might be estimated at about 5 or 6 roubles the desyatina; kitchen-gardens in the villages, at about 10 roubles the desyatina; meadows that are fertilized by spring floods at about 16 roubles, and so on. In towns the valuation would be 100 to 500 roubles the desyatina, and in crowded parts of Moscow or Petersburg, or at the landing-places of navigable rivers, it would amount to several thousands or even tens of thousands of roubles the desyatina.

When all the land in the country has been valued in this way, Henry George proposes that a law should be made by which, after a certain date in a certain year, the land should no longer belong to any one individual, but to the whole nation – the whole people; and that everyone holding land should, therefore, pay to the nation (that is, to the whole people) the yearly value at which it has been assessed. This payment should be used to meet all public or national expenses, and should replace all other rates, taxes, or customs dues.

The result of this would be that a landed proprietor who now holds, say, 2,000 desyatina, might continue to hold them if he liked, but he would have to pay to the treasury – here in the Toula Government, for instance (as his hodling would include both meadow- land and homestead) 12,000 or 15,000 roubles a year; and, as no large landowners could stand such a pay- ment, they would all abandon their land. But it would mean that a Toula peasant, in the same district, would pay a couple of roubles per desyatina less than he pays now, and could have plenty of available land nearby, which he would take up at 5 or 6 roubles per desyatina. Besides, he would have no other rates or taxes to pay, and would be able to buy all the things he requires, foreign or Russian, free of dutv. In towns, the owners of houses and manufactories might continue to own them, but would have to pay to the public treasury the amount of the assessment on their land.

The advantages of such an arrangement would be:

1. That no one will be unable to get land for use.

2. That there will be no idle people owning land and making others work for them in return for permission to use that land.

3. That the land will be in the possession of those who use it, and not of those who do not use it

4. That as the land will be available for people who wish to work on it, they will cease to enslave themselves as hands in factories and works, or as servants in towns, and will settle in the country districts.

5. That there will be no more inspectors and collectors of taxes in mills, factories, refineries and workshops, but there will only be collectors of the tax on land which cannot be stolen, and from which a tax can be most easily collected.

6. (And chiefly) That the non-workers will he saved from the sin of exploiting other people’s labour (in doing which they are often not the guilty parties, for they have from childhood been educated in idleness, and do not know how to work), and from the yet greater sin of all kinds of shuffling and lying to justify themselves in commiting that sin; and the workers will be saved from the temptation and sin of envying, condemning and being exasperated with the non-workers, so that one cause of separation among men will be destroyed.

To a German Propagandist of Henry George’s Views.

It is with particular pleasure that I hasten to answer your letter, and say that I have known of Henry George since the appearance of his Social Problems. I read that book and was struck by the justice of his main thought – by the exceptional manner (unparalleled in scientific literature), clear, popular and forcible, in which he stated his cause – and especially by (what is also exceptional in scientific literature) the Christian spirit that permeates the whole work. After reading it I went back to his earlier Progress and Poverty, and still more deeply appreciated the importance of its author’s activity.

You ask what I think of Henry George’s activity, and of his Single Tax system. My opinion is the following:

Humanity constantly advances: on the one hand clearing its consciousness and conscience, and on the other hand rearranging its modes of life to suit this changing consciousness. Thus, at each period of the life of humanity, the double process goes on: the clearing up of conscience, and the incorporation into life of what has been made clear to conscience.

At the end of the eighteenth century and the commencement of the nineteenth, a clearing up of conscience took place in Christendom with reference to the labouring classes – who lived under various forms of slavery – and this was followed by a corresponding readjustment of the forms of social life, to suit this clearer consciousness: namely, the abolition of slavery, and the organization of free wage-labour in its place. At the present time an enlightenment of men’s consciences is going on in relation to the way land is used; and soon, it seems to me, a practical application of this new consciousness must follow.

And in this process (the enlightenment of conscience as to the utilization of land, and the practical application of that new consciousness), which is one of the chief problems of our time, the leader and organizer of the movement was and is Henry George. In this lies his immense, his pre-eminent, importance. He has helped by his excellent books, both to clear men’s minds and consciences on this question, and to place it on a practical footing.

But in relation to the abolition of the shameful right to own landed estates, something is occurring similar to what happened (within our own recollection) with reference to the abolition of serfdom. The Government and the governing classes – knowing that their position and privileges are bound up with the land question – pretend that they are preoccupied with the welfare of the people, organizing savings banks for workmen, factory inspection, income taxes, even eight-hours working days – and carefully ignore the land question, or even, aided by compliant science, which will demonstrate anything they like, declare that the expropriation of the land is useless, harmful, and impossible.

Just the same thing occurs, as occurred in connection with slavery. At the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the ninteenth centuries, men had long felt that slavery was a terrible anachronism, revolting to the human soul; but pseudo-religion and pseudo- science demonstrated that slavery was not wrong, that it was necessary, or at least that it was premature to abolish it. The same thing is now being repeated with reference to landed property. As before, pseudo- religion and pseudo-science demonstrate that there is nothing wrong in the private ownership of landed estates, and that there is no need to abolish the present system.

One would think it would be plain to every educated man of our time that an exclusive control of land by people who do not work on it, but who prevent hundreds and thousands of poor families from using it, is a thing as plainly bad and shameful as it was to own slaves; yet we see educated, refined aristocrats – English, Austrian, Prussian, and Russian – making use of this cruel and shameful right, and not only not feeling ashamed, but feeling proud of it.

Religion blesses such possessions, and the science of political economy demonstrates that the present state of things is the one that should exist for the greatest benefit of mankind.

The service rendered by Henry George is that he has not only mastered the sophistries with which religion and science try to justify private ownership of land, and simplified the question to the uttermost, so that it is impossible not to admit the wrongfulness of land-ownership – unless one simply stops one’s ears – but he was also the first to show how the question can be practically solved. He first gave a clear and direct reply to the excuses, used by the enemies of every reform, to the effect that the demands of progress are unpractical and inapplicable dreams.

Henry George’s plan destroys that excuse, by putting the question in such a form that a committee might be assembled tomorrow to discuss the project and to convert it into law. In Russia, for instance, the discussion of land purchase, or of nationalizing the land without compensation, could begin tomorrow; and the project might – after undergoing various vicissitudes – be carried into operation, as occurred thirty-three years ago* with the project for the emancipation of the serfs.

The need of altering the present system has been explained, and the possibility of the change has been shown (there may be alterations and amendments of the Single Tax system, but its fundamental idea is practicable); and, therefore, it will be impossible for people not to do what their reason demands. It is only necessary that this thought should become public opinion; and in order that it may become public opinion it must be spread abroad and explained – Which is just what you are doing, and is a work with which I sympathize with my whole soul, and in which I wish you success. [1897.]

* The Emancipation of the Serfs in Russla was decreed in 1861, and was accomplished during the following few years.

Tolstoy, Leo, Essays and Letters, Oxford University Press, 1911,

Chapter XV1 Letters on Henry George, pp 213 – 238

Upton Sinclair & Dan Sullivan’s Review

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The Consequences of Land Speculation are Tenantry and Debt on the Farms, and Slums and Luxury in the Cities

by Upton Sinclair

I know of a woman–I have never had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, because she lives in a lunatic asylum, which does not happen to be on my visiting list. This woman has been mentally incompetent from birth. She is well taken care of, because her father left her when he died the income of a large farm on the outskirts of a city. The city has since grown and the land is now worth, at conservative estimate, about twenty million dollars. It is covered with office buildings, and the greater part of the income, which cannot be spent by the woman, is piling up at compound interest. The woman enjoys good health, so she may be worth a hundred million dollars before she dies.

I choose this case because it is one about which there can be no disputing; this woman has never been able to do anything to earn that twenty million dollars. And if a visitor from Mars should come down to study the situation, which would he think was most insane, the unfortunate woman, or the society which compels thousands of people to wear themselves to death in order to pay her the income of twenty million dollars?

The fact that this woman is insane makes it easy to see that she is not entitled to the “unearned increment” of the land she owns. But how about all the other people who have bought up and are holding for speculation the most desirable land? The value of this land increases, not because of anything these owners do–not because of any useful service they render to the community–but purely because the community as a whole is crowding into that neighborhood and must have use of the land.

The speculator who bought this land thinks that he deserves the increase, because he guessed the fact that the city was going to grow that way. But it seems clear enough that his skill in guessing which way the community was going to grow, however useful that skill may be to himself, is not in any way useful to the community. The man may have planted trees, or built roads, and put in sidewalks and sewers; all that is useful work, and for that he should be paid. But should he be paid for guessing what the rest of us were going to need?

Before you answer, consider the consequences of this guessing game. The consequences of land speculation are tenantry and debt on the farms, and slums and luxury in the cities. A great part of the necessary land is held out of use, and so the value of all land continually increases, until the poor man can no longer own a home. The value of farm land also increases; so year by year more independent farmers are dispossessed, because they cannot pay interest on their mortgages. So the land becomes a place of serfdom, that land described by the poet, “where wealth accumulates and men decay.” The great cities fill up with festering slums, and a small class of idle parasites are provided with enormous fortunes, which they do not have to earn, and which they cannot intelligently spend.

This condition wrecked every empire in the history of mankind, and it is wrecking modern civilization. One of the first to perceive this was Henry George, and he worked out the program known as the Single Tax. Let society as a whole take the full rental value of land, so that no one would any longer be able to hold land out of use. So the value of land would decrease, and everyone could have land, and the community would have a great income to be spent for social ends.

A few years ago, out here in Southern California, a fine enthusiast by the name of Luke North started what he called the “Great Adventure” movement, to carry California for the Single Tax. I did what I could to help, and in the course of the campaign discovered what I believe is the weakness of the Single Tax movement. Our opponents, the great rich bankers and land speculators of California, persuaded the poor man that we were going to put all taxes on this poor man’s lot, and to let the rich man’s stocks and bonds, his inheritance, his wife’s jewels, and all his income, escape taxation. The poor man swallowed this argument, and the “Great Adventure” did not carry California.

So, 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!

…I have before me a little book entitled “Enclaves of Economic Rent,” by C. W. Huntington….This book is published by Mr. Fiske Warren, a millionaire paper manufacturer who lives at Harvard, Massachusetts, and believes in the Single Tax by way of enclaves….I sought to persuade Mr. Warren that a great crisis was impending; that the inequality of wealth in our society a thing continually growing worse, was bound to bring a smash-up long before mankind had been persuaded to live in enclaves. To this Mr. Warren answered, in substance: “You may be right; but if this civilization collapses, something else will have to be put in its place, and it may be useful to men to have a model of a better community.”

…How are these enclaves run? The principle is very simple. The community owns the land, and fixes the site value year by year, and those who occupy the land pay the full rental value of the land they occupy. Improvements of any kind are not taxed; you pay only for the use of what nature and the community have created. The community takes all this wealth and uses it, first to pay all the taxes on the land [and buildings -ds] the remaining money being expended for community purposes, by the democratic vote of all.

What this means in practice you can see from the town of Fairhope, Alabama. Fairhope began nearly thirty years ago, with three hundred and fifty acres, and now has nearly four thousand acres. Its land is estimated to be worth a million dollars. But instead of this wealth being distributed among private owners, in accordance with the guessing power or each individual, the whole rental value is the property of the community, and the whole community prospers by the labors of each one.

What this means in the way of moral values you may judge from one sentence in the little book: and I will follow the example of the book and quote this sentence in the same cold and unemotional fashion: “No resident of Fairhope has been defendent in a criminal case in county court.” Perhaps I should add that there is no place except the county court where anyone could be a defendent; there has never been a court or jail or anything of that sort in Fairhope.

Or take the colony of Arden, Delaware, which is just south of Philadelphia. I could not say that no resident of Arden has ever been a defendent in a court–I myself having been one of eleven men who were arrested by a constable from the city of Wilmington, and sent to prison for the crime of playing baseball and tennis on Sunday! It is that kind of humourous story which you read about Arden, and not the seriousefforts which are there being made to solve a great and pressing social problem.

In Philadelphia, as in all our great cities, are enormously wealthy families, living on hereditary incomes derived from crowded slums. Here and there among these rich men is one who realizes that he has not earned what he is consuming, and that it has not brought him happiness, and is bringing still less to his children. Such men are casting about for ways to invest their money without breeding idleness and parasitism. Some of them might be grateful to learn about this enclave plan, and to visit the lovely village of Arden, and see what its people are doing to make possible a peaceful and joyous life, even in this land of bootleggers and jazz orchestras.

The above essay by Upton Sinclair is from p3, Enclaves of Economic Rent, C. W. Huntington (ed), Fiske Warren, Harvard Massachusetts, 1924


Dan Sullivan

What I find particularly interesting is a passage that, to me, shows how class envy was used to shift us from the highly principled Georgist message to the “us-them” Marxist message. Here is the passage to which I refer:

“A few years ago, out here in Southern California, a fine enthusiast by the name of Luke North started what he called the “Great Adventure” movement, to carry California for the Single Tax. I did what I could to help, and in the course of the campaign discovered what I believe is the weakness of the Single Tax movement. Our opponents, the great rich bankers and land speculators of California, persuaded the poor man that we were going to put all taxes on this poor man’s lot, and to let the rich man’s stocks and bonds, his inheritance, his wife’s jewels, and all his income, escape taxation. The poor man swallowed this argument, and the “Great Adventure” did not carry California.

“So, 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!”

Of course, what happened when lefties like Upton Sinclair sold out to the expedient of class envy, was that the privileged classes strategically caved on these other taxes, so that now we do tax the rich man’s stocks and bonds (and also the poor man’s retirement funds) and his inheritances (if he is not rich enough to hold them overseas) and his wife’s jewels (which merely causes unemployment among jewelers). And since these various unprincipled measures have been disastrous, people are now suspicious of any tax that falls on the rich, including the one proper tax, for which Mr. Sinclair, had he not been impatient for cheap victories, would have held out.

It is often asserted that Henry George paved the way for the Progressive Movement, which in turn paved the way for the Socialist Movement. This passage, to me, is the *essential* description of how our own “allies” derailed us.

Thus I regard as critically important, the following passage from paragraph 18 of Tom Paine’s “Agrarian Justice”:

“While, therefore, I advocate the right, and interest myself in the hard case of all those who have been thrown out of their natural inheritance by the introduction of the system of landed property, I equally defend the right of the possessor to the part which is his.”

We must oppose those who would make public property private, but we must equally oppose those who would make private property public. In my opinion, Georgism was undone, not by its enemies, but by its shallower allies who were more enamored of victory than of principle.

The rest of the Upton Sinclair article is wonderful, but this passage is especially wonderful in its own perverse way, because it is a window into exactly where the movement went astray.

Dan Sullivan

Cobden and Rogers

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Richard Cobden

“Cheated, Robbed and Bamboozled”

“I warn ministers, and I warn landlords and the aristocracy of this country, against forcing on the attention of the middle and industrial classes, the subject of taxation ….. If you were to bring forward the history of taxation in this country for the last 150 years, you will find as black a record against the landowners as even in the Corn Law itself.

I warn them against ripping up the subject of taxation. If they want another league at the death of this one – if they want another organisation and a motive – then let them force the middle and industrial classes to understand how they have been cheated, robbed and bamboozled …..

For a period of 150 years after the conquest, the whole of the revenue of the country was derived from the land. During the next 150 years it yielded nineteen-twentieths of the revenue. For the next century down to the reign of Richard III it was nine-tenths. During the next 70 years to the time of Mary it fell to about three-fourths. From this time to the end of the Commonwealth, land appeared to have yielded one-half the revenue. Down to the reign of Anne it was one-fourth. In the reign of George III it was one-sixth. For the first thirty years of his reign the land yielded one-seventh of the revenue. From 1793 to 1816 (during the period of the land tax), land contributed one ninth. From which time to the present one twenty-fifth only of the revenue of the revenue had been derived directly from land.

Thus, the land, which anciently paid the whole of taxation, paid now only a fraction, or one twenty-fifth, notwithstanding the immense increase that had taken place in the value of the rentals. The people had fared better under despotic monarchs than when the powers of the state had fallen into the hands of a landed oligarchy who had first exempted themselves from taxation, and next claimed compensation for themselves by a corn law for their heavy and peculiar burdens.”

Richard Cobden: Parliamentary Corn Law debates [1845]


Professor Thorold Rogers

“I have stated more than once that the fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth were the golden age of the English labourer, if we are to interpret the wages which he earned by the cost of the necessaries of life. At no time were wages, relatively speaking, so high, and at no time was food so cheap. Attempts were constantly made to reduce these wages by Act of Parliament, the legislature frequently insisting that the Statute of Labourers should be kept. But these efforts were futile; the rate keeps steadily high, and finally becomes customary, and was recognised by parliament. It is possible, that as the distribution of land for terms of years became habitual, the phenomenon of which has often been noted of peasant proprietorship, a high rate of wages paid to the free labourer, may have been exhibited in the period on which I am commenting.”

James E Thorold Rogers: Six Centuries of Work and Wages: The History of English Labour, T Fisher Unwin, London 1912, Eleventh Edition, p.326