Proposition 13

Karl FitzgeraldInternational1 Comment

Mason Gaffney, Professor of Economics, University of California

What happens when a state radically slashes its property tax?

California can show you 17 years of experience. Here is what has happened since California passed Proposition 13 in 1978.

The obvious direct results have been to cut public services, raise other taxes, and lose credit rating.

Our school support fell from #5, nationally, to #40 in 1985 when last seen, still falling. County road maintenance is down to where my county (Riverside) is repaving its roads at an annual rate of once every 130 years. Once in 20 years is recommended here, and up north you generally need higher frequency. You can’t just build infrastructure and then stop paying for it, it’s a perpetual commitment. Thanks to urban scatter, a high fraction of our population now depends on these county roads.

In 1978 we had a surplus in Sacramento. Since then we have raised business taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and gas taxes, but go broke every June, even as other states are in the black again. Now our State bond rating is last among the states. One of our richest counties (Orange) has gone bankrupt; Los Angeles is on the brink of it, saving itself by closing emergency rooms and hospitals that serve as a last resort for the uninsured poor. We are ill-prepared for Congress’ current move (right or wrong) to shift more functions back to the states.

The private sector fares no better. Raising income taxes, business taxes, and sales taxes is no way to stimulate an economy; each is a drag on work and enterprise. Our income per capita was down from #7 to #12 among the states by 1992, then fell more: from 1992-94, California was one of three states where median household income fell. Our unemployment rate is 9%, 50% higher than the national mean of 6%. Our poverty rate is 18%, compared to 14.5% nationally. That helps explain why the only government function that grows now is building and operating prisons. One of our few rebounding industries is cinema. Another thriving trade is auctioning off used machinery for export to the east.

In 1993 there was net out-migration (including international migration) from this state that has symbolized American growth since time immemorial. It is unheard of: 426,000 people were lost, nearly 2% of the population. This is a watershed change: imagine, of all states California, America’s trend-setter, our El Dorado, The Golden State, our Horn of Plenty, the safety-valve for job-seekers and retirees and entrepreneurs from everywhere, the end of the rainbow, losing population! It’s enough to make a person ask “What are we doing wrong?”.

The fall of our income per capita is greater than appears from the purely monetary measure. Real pay (in constant $) has fallen more, because of the drastic rise of shelter prices. In San Francisco, shelter takes 50% of the median income, with many other cities, especially coastal ones, not far behind. It is unusual to find livable quarters for less than $600/month. The median home price rose 163% during the 1980s, to $258,000 (that is just the median – the mean is higher). These rises are part of the C.O.L. of all renters and new buyers, a part not fully incorporated in standard CPI measures (for various foolish reasons too technical to open up now).

Some cities are in desperate straits. San Bernardino in 1976 was chosen an “All-America City, a City on the Go.” Go it did: today, 40% of its people are on welfare.

California has always been earthquake country, but has always renewed itself, routinely. It was different after the Northridge quake in the San Fernando Valley, January, 1994. This is the upper-middle neighborhood of Los Angeles, but now large pockets of ruined buildings remain, unreconstructed, inhabited only by vagrants and criminals: an instant Bronx West. These blighted sections, ominous portents, spread more blight around them.

It should give one pause. It is, however, if you think about it, the expectable result of what the voters did. They turned property from a functional concept into a sacred one; from a commission to be enterprising, hire people, produce goods, and pay taxes into a welfare entitlement. They rejected the concept of taxing inert wealth in favor of the alternative: taxing liquidity, cash flow, work, production, and commerce. The predictable result is to inhibit economic activity, and encourage holding wealth inert and stagnant

We had a construction boom in the 1980s, but it was not healthy. It was marked by extreme scatter, and extreme instability. Downtown L.A. was to become a great new financial capital, but now has nearly the highest office vacancy rate in the U.S., with of course a high rate of builder bankruptcies. Speculative builders were led on to overbuild, in part, by anticipated higher land rents and prices. This Lorelei effect was magnified by national income-tax provisions, luring on speculative builders, but we have to ask why California fell harder than other states, even with the object-lessons of the oil states in clear view.

David Shulman tersely summarized the distributive effects of Prop. 13 as he left us to become Chief Equity Strategist for Salamon Brothers in Manhattan: “it breached the social compact.” Alienation is the result, and the results of alienation are the Rodney King riots, arson and looting. The Watts riots, you may object, preceded Prop. 13, and you are right.

However, the Watts riots were part of a national epidemic. By 1967 there were riots with arson and looting in 70 or more American cities. The Rodney King riots were endemic to California, and they spread over a much wider area of Los Angeles than the Watts riots did. The looters and arsonists were not all black, and the targets were not all white, but mainly Korean-Americans who just happened to be there minding their stores.

Conventional wisdom now blames our California bust on the end of the Cold War. Surely that is a factor, but as a causal explanation it is too pat, too easy, and too convenient. It shifts the load off ourselves onto impersonal historical forces – the Marxist world view. Let us see if it can survive analysis.

Compare today with 1945.

Los Angeles’ economy depended much more on The Hot War, 1940-1945, than it ever did on The Cold War. Los Angeles’ wartime boom had swelled its population as no other great city, 1940-45. After 1945 the U.S. pulled the plug on defense spending, more than today. Jane Jacobs, in The Economy of Cities, tells us what happened to military spending in Los Angeles after 1945. It lost 3/4 of its aircraft workers, and 80% of its shipbuilders. It lost its military and naval overseas supply and replacement businesses. Troops stopped funneling through. It got worse: petroleum and cinema and citrus, its traditional exports, all declined.

Pundits then forecast a regional collapse, but Los Angeles boomed, instead. The wartime immigrants stayed. They formed creative, innovative small businesses in large numbers, giving L.A. its deserved reputation for having the most dynamic, flexible, adaptable industrial base in the nation. Besides exporting goods, L.A. also became more self-contained, providing itself with more of the goods it previously imported. How could this be? Angelenos had access to land, the basis of all supply and demand in any economy.

1/8 of all new businesses started in the U.S. were in L.A., 1945-50. These were small, creative, flexible, miscellaneous, and too varied and dynamic to classify. No Linnaeus could sort them in static conventional boxes; they were the despair of traditional economic geographers and base theorists, who were at a loss to explain the region’s thriving economy. The new Angelenos stayed and started producing everything for themselves, some things previously imported, and others never seen before.

Eastern firms established branch plants here. Top eastern students came to California’s great university system, and stayed behind to make careers and jobs here, and send their children through California’s excellent public schools. California became famous for supporting outstanding higher education at three tiers, K-12 education, adult education, highways, water supplies, public health, public safety, and other public services, all without repelling business by taxation. There was a kind of regional “El Dorado Effect,” as demand and supply grew together, and growing local demand allowed for economies of scale serving local markets. Food and shelter were cheap and abundant. Land for business was accessible, providing a basis for the whole self-contained phenomenon. A “continental tilt” developed in both interest rates and wage rates, drawing in eastern capital and labor.

Why is that not happening today, 1995? An invisible, pervasive change is Proposition 13, which makes it possible to hold land at negligible tax cost.

In 1945 land was taxed at 3% every year, building a fire under holdouts to turn their land to use. Today that same tax cost is well below 1%. Using Gwartney’s Rule of Thumb (see below under #2,A, “Reassessing Land Frequently”) it is about 1/8 of 1%: a rate of 1% applied to 1/8 of the true value.

Landowners are only taxed now if they use their land to hire people and produce something useful. Then they meet the drag of our high business and employment and sales taxes, necessitated by the fall of property taxes. A handful of oligopolistic landowners control most of the market; small businesses are squeezed out.

This helps us segue from being at the cutting edge of industrial progress to a third-world economy – with little relief in sight.

What was different then? One obvious difference was the lower burdens of sales tax, business tax, and income tax. We had high property tax rates, but they were more focused on land than now, less on new buildings. California was more hospitable to Georgist thinking than perhaps any other state then, shown by its long run of Georgist political action in the prior thirty years. Most people today are totally numb on this subject, which has been blanked out of our history books.

A Brief Historical Review

Several states had “single-tax” movements and initiatives, 1910-14, but most of them petered out. In California they continued through 1924, and then popped up again in 1934-38. In 1934 the “EPIC” campaign of Upton Sinclair included a strong Georgist element – he proposed to set up new factories and farms on idle land. Meantime, Jackson Ralston was pushing a pure land tax initiative, 1934-38.

Sinclair and Ralston lost, but the mere existence of such political action in California, when the movement was torpid elsewhere, tells us a lot. It reveals a large matrix of supportive voters and workers, with effective leaders, to whom politicians (including elected County Assessors) would naturally respond by focusing on land assessments. Politicians survive by accommodating and absorbing dissident movements. Even while “losing,” such campaigns raise consciousness of the issue. Thus, in California, 1917, land value constituted 72% of the assessment roll for property taxation.

This remained the California tendency for years.

California was different. Even into the 1960s, Sacramento County elected an avowed single-tax Assessor, Irene Hickman; San Diego County harbored an active movement for raising land assessments. The Henry George Schools of San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Sacramento were the most active such schools in the country: four in one state, when most had none. State Senator Al Rodda, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, held hearings and tried to push land tax legislation through his Committee in the 1960s and early 1970s. He assigned a staffer, Jack Massen, to spend a year working out the detailed effects on intergovernmental relations. Assemblyman Dr. William Filante, from a base of Georgist support in Marin County, picked up the torch, too.

California displayed amazing prosperity and growth up to 1978. It had the resilience to shrug off the loss of war industries after 1945 and still grow “explosively” (as Jane Jacobs put it). After 1978 we have had, instead, a string of reverses. The timing, along with a priori causative analysis, plus various direct observations too numerous for this time-slot, support an hypothesis that the reverses were aggravated by Prop. 13.

Enforcing good laws we already have

A. Reassessing land frequently

It is important to assess land for tax purposes early and often, especially on a rising market. (Landowners will see to it you do so on a falling market.) Over time, land appreciates more years than not, while buildings depreciate physically every year. Lagging assessments therefore automatically overtax buildings relative to land.

New Hampshire Assemblyman Richard Noyes has circulated data on the effect of reassessment in NH.

The land fraction of assessed value rises each time there is a reassessment. Keene, NH, is in the lead, with frequent reassessments, a high fraction of land in the mix, and a strong track record attracting enterprise and jobs.

In California, where we used to have good assessment, we now have bad assessment legally mandated by Prop. 13. So long as land is unsold, and/or not newly improved, its assessment rise is capped at 2% a year, while market prices soar. Here is one example of the results. This year the Metro Water District of Southern California (MWD) condemned 410 acres for its new Domenigoni Reservoir to expand the system (to accommodate land speculators in the desert boonies). The jury hit them for $43 millions, which works out to about $1.95 a square foot.

The question occurred to me, how does that square with the assessed value for property taxation? I asked Ted Gwartney, a professional appraiser with the Bank of America, to check the assessed value. It is about 7 cents a square foot. The condemnation price, supposedly based on market value, is about 28 times the assessed value.

This is not the result of fractional assessment.

In California we assess property at 100% when land changes ownership, or there is new building. Rather, this is the result of Prop. 13 and its prohibition of market reassessment until land sells.

I thought that was startling, but Mr. Gwartney’s reaction was “Ho-hum, what else is new?” He, who works with such data every day, has a rule of thumb that market land value in California today is about 8 times assessed value. That is important enough to repeat: our assessed land values are routinely at 1/8 of true land value. I wouldn’t dare say that on my own authority, but Mr. Gwartney is here to confirm it. He is a veteran appraiser; for many years he was Director of Assessments for the entire Province of British Columbia.

Does this help you understand why California landowners are now so slow to adapt to new demands, and respond so slowly to the withdrawal of old military demands? In 1945 the assessors were building fires under them, so they sought new uses to meet new needs.

Today there remains a weak incentive to improve to improve property: tax collectors generally cost them money when they make improvements. Sit still, lie low, hire no one, hang on, produce nothing, and your holding costs are negligible.

A little of the old magic lingers. In October, 1995, a 225 acre parcel in Corona, the Chase Ranch, was sold to a builder, Coscan Davidson Homes, for building 967 units. The previous owners, “GGS,” including a Japanese insurance firm, were “seeking a way out. They were behind in tax payments, and GGS was losing its staying power …” quoth Stephen Doyle, spokesman for the buyer. It is that “staying power” that stifles land use and production. Coscan wants to build immediately. Even so, though, they plan to take 5 years to build out the project – if everything goes well. This is the new, post-Prop.13 meaning of “immediately.”

In spite of extreme under-assessment, the assessed value of taxable land in California is 40% of the total real estate value. Imagine what it would be if assessed values were real values, “marked-to-market,” as the law used to stipulate. It would be over 70%, as in 1917. “Staying power” would go down; land use, jobs and production would rise.

B. Using the building-residual method

It is equally important to use the “Building-Residual Method” of allocating value between land and buildings. This means you value the land first, as though it were vacant, based on highest and best use.

You subtract this land value from the total value of land-cum-building as currently improved: the residual, if any, is building value.

Valuing one lot or parcel this way, you have information needed for valuing neighboring and other comparable parcels. Using a map with value contours, you can value a whole city this way with surprising ease and speed.
Using this method, I valued Milwaukee land in 1963 and 1967. The building-residual method nearly tripled the land values reported by the City Assessor, who was using the assessor’s usual inconsistent mix of various other methods. How’s that again? Did I say tripled?

Yes, I really said “tripled.” By his methods, buildings on the eve of demolition were carrying values higher than their sites; by the building-residual method these old buildings had no value at all, which of course is why they were being torn down. Besides depreciation and technological obsolescence, many buildings suffered severe “locational obsolescence,” owing to shifting demand patterns. The land was re-usable, and had as much or more value without the extant buildings.

Using the building-residual method requires no change in present laws. It is within the latitude of assessing officials. These worthies, in turn, respond to public opinion. The conscientious citizens’ move is to raise consciousness and bring pressure, just as the old single-tax campaigners like Jackson Ralston did.

In the process of “losing” they won over half of what they sought, just by taking a stand and making the effort.

C. Federal income taxes

Assessors’ problem today is that the strongest pressures they feel are from owners wanting to allocate as much value as possible to buildings that they may depreciate for federal income tax purposes. Here is where we must study how the parts fit together to form the big picture in the Big Plan we are limning; here is where federal and local tax policies intersect. Some traditional Georgists have neglected or misunderstood the income-tax treatment of land income, to their great oblivion, myopia, insularity, and weakness. Let us see how this works.

Congress and the IRS let one depreciate buildings, but not land, for income tax. This important distinction harks back to when the income tax was new, and Georgist Congressmen like Warren Worth Bailey, from Johnstown, PA, and Henry George Jr., from Brooklyn, were instrumental in shaping it.

When a building is new, the depreciable value is limited to the cost of construction. The non- depreciable land is the bare land value before construction. So far, so good. Over time, however, building owners have converted this into a tax shelter scheme. Owner A, the builder, writes off the building in a few years, much less than its economic life, and sells it to B. “A” pays a tax on the excess of sales price over “basis.” The basis is reduced by all depreciation taken, so any excess depreciation is “recaptured” upon sale. It is defined by Congress as a “capital gain,” and given the corresponding package of tax preferences: deferral of tax, lower rate, step-up of basis at time of death, tax-free exchanges, etc.

Thus far, any tax preference goes to A, the builder, and may be seen as a well-considered building-incentive. Watch, however, what happens next. “A” sells to B, and B depreciates the building all over again, from his purchase price. To do so, B must allocate the new “basis” – i.e. his purchase price – between depreciable building and non-depreciable land.

How shall B allocate the new basis? Enter the local tax assessor. Here is where local assessment intersects with Federal income tax policy. The IRS does not try to assess land and buildings. Instead, IRS instructions tell taxpayers they may use locally assessed values to allocate basis between depreciable buildings and non-depreciable land. The IRS accepts this allocation as conclusive. As a result, local owners of income property press their assessors to allocate as much value as possible to buildings, and as little as possible to land. This does not affect their local taxes, but lowers their federal taxes. It lets them depreciate land.

Assessors don’t care as much as they should: local revenues are not immediately affected. Local assessors have little reason not to accommodate their constituents, local landowners, to help them depreciate land for federal and state income tax purposes. They have little reason to use the correct “building-residual” method of allocating value, and a compelling reason to use the wrong method that understates land value. Thus they convert non-depreciable land value into depreciable building value. It is modern version of “competitive underassessment.” In the process, they also convert the local property tax from a land tax into a building tax.

After a while B sells to C, who in turn sells to D, so each building is depreciated many times. So is a large part of the land under it, time after time, although it should not be depreciated at all. This is carried so far that real estate pays no federal or state income taxes at all, a matter developed by Michael Hudson in his paper for this conference.

The solution to this lies with the U.S. Congress.

The need is to limit depreciation to one cycle only.

It is a most urgent problem for both federal and local treasuries. We all have Congressmen. Write them and raise their consciousness. They are brokers who respond to public opinion, as they should. It is we who are derelict: get on their cases.

Rich and poor

There are rich jurisdictions, and poor. Professor Tideman’s paper in this conference alludes to this matter in passing. Let us support his point with some numbers.

In California, you might think that farm counties like Tulare have a lot more taxable value per capita than cities, but au contraire. Tulare County reports assessed values per capita of $38,100; the whole State averages $60,000 per capita. Suburban Marin County weighs in with $95,400; urban Los Angeles County has $59,000; Orange County has $74,000.

You might also think that Tulare, being rural, has a lot higher fraction of land value in its mix, but again, not so. The Land Share of Real Estate Value (LSREV) in Tulare County is 28%, compared to a statewide mean of 40%, and 47% in Orange County.

Grazing and mining counties like Inyo have high values of LSREV, but they are a small share of the farm economy. Major farm counties with intensive farms, like those of the San Joaquin Valley, have low values of LSREV.

Within counties, disparities among cities and school districts are much greater. In Tulare County, one pathetic little povertyville, the City of Parlier, has just $10,000 of assessed value per capita. Here are some assessed values per capita from different California cities in The County of Los Angeles: Lynwood, $21,500; Beverly Hills, $294,000 (14 times Lynwood); City of Industry, $5,533,000 (257 times Lynwood).

This is why some critics call the property tax “regressive.” It has given some plausibility to the otherwise bizarre claim that switching to a sales tax is less regressive than sticking with the property tax.

Within each city a property tax is progressive, but when your data meld cities like poor little Parlier and Lynwood with Beverly Hills you sometimes find poor people paying more of their income in property taxes than rich people, and getting less for it. Switching just the local property tax to land ex buildings will do little or nothing to correct such disparities, and therefore make little progress toward overall social justice, and the wide support that will evoke. There is, in fact, a natural cap on local property tax rates imposed by local particularism: the City Council of Beverly Hills will not raise taxes in Beverly Hills for the benefit of voters in Parlier.

To avoid such regressivity we must work out some formula for power equalization. The most straightforward formula is simply a statewide land tax.

The above was part of a paper:
Big Plans to Stir the Blood and Steer the Course
delivered by Professor Gaffney at a conference on Land, Wealth and Poverty
at the Jerome Levy Institute on 3 November 1995.

City Life and Country Life

Karl FitzgeraldInternationalLeave a Comment

by Emily Blyth

Early in 2005 I traveled as a volunteer to Thailand for a month to work on a project with students from Melbourne University. The Banana Project (now evolved into the Ripple Effect) has been running for over five years, it is connected with community development groups in Thailand and gives four students, (one student is the translator), the chance to really work within underprivileged communities. During the year, students spend their time fundraising around Victoria (rotary clubs are most helpful in this), then the students travel to Burriram Province in North Eastern Thailand to distribute the money to schools that have submitted development projects that need our funding to run.

The idea is to have the schools and community decide what they need most and how they can achieve this with our funding. Then once they receive funding, they need to keep the projects sustainable. Often to keep the projects running, the schools need to be self-sufficient. This often means making an income from the project that can be put back into it. For example, one school chose cloth weaving as a skill their students needed, we gave the money for the materials and tools while the school keeps the project running by allowing the children to sell what they make. Each year when University students return to fund more projects, they also check on the progress of past projects and keep in contact with the schools running these.

I was fortunate enough to be asked (not being a Melbourne University student!) to accompany this years group as the Thai translator (with the limited Thai I have!)

We received a variety of projects from schools for things they are in need of and for which their community and government cannot supply them with. This includes development initiatives that the school feels are important for skill building (the idea that by giving the students access to a wide range of ‘hands on’ work, they would be in a better position for employment in the future). We met community and school members, discussed the issues within those schools and received numerous projects, which we will fundraise for, this year. The other half of our time was spent teaching higher level secondary students English.

The students I taught all came from very poor backgrounds. Some had no known families, some had parents in jail or on drugs, some had parents who had left the area to find work and many came from even more severe and frightening circumstances. For those students that had parents, the one thing they would tell me when they talked of their future after finishing school is that they would grab at any job that came along that could provide support for their family. These children had all the dreams and aspirations as Australian children in normal circumstances but they had none of the opportunities. They all knew that their only chance at a life other than poverty was a good education (they were the easiest students I have ever taught – so willing to learn). Unfortunately, in Thailand, education after high school requires money and money is what these families don’t have. So they continue the vicious circle that life gives them little option to escape from. Some try to find work in the big cities but find themselves drawn into the underworld, on the street or in prostitution.

The particular area I worked in really drove home the affect of land and the absence of access to it that the people I worked with suffered from. There is no scarcity of land. On the contrary, land is abundant, not only land for living on but land that could be used for cultivating and producing. Unfortunately, from talking to the locals, I discovered that a lot of this land is owned by wealthy individuals who either lease it or higher men to work it, or in many cases let it sit idle. It is sad to go through areas that are almost people and houseless with open spaces everywhere and then to get to the town, thousands of people crowded into tiny one room homes. Funny, it is not as though there is a shortage of material to build homes, nor a shortage of labour to get the materials. Only a shortage of access to land from which to take the materials and build the houses. So the communities are compressed into these small areas, forced to survive on a day to day basis.

What really interested me in the communities, however, was their real sense of one another, their real sense of community. Almost every school we visited (around a dozen), were in communities that had become tired of waiting for the government to pitch in and had come together to build school buildings or managed to raise money for things like, yes believe it, clean water for the school. They also used what little resources they had to attempt development projects within the schools, such as vegetable gardens, sowing and cement tile making. These projects increase the skills of students and in turn should improve job opportunities and the financial situations of community members. However, the one thing the poor areas were missing was the one thing they could not do without – land. Land is everywhere but unfortunately most of it is completely inaccessible to the bulk of the community, being owned by small sections or by outside investors. Unable to do anything else, the majority of people are made to rely on the whims of the owners of the land, the choice of where and when to work is not theirs, necessity dictates they take what ever is handed them.

Although the communities in these areas appreciate the banana project funding their initiatives and although the work done in the area has benefited many children and families, I know that in reality little has been done and I know that for most their situation will not change regardless of what volunteer and aid groups try to do. We can teach these children every survival skill we know but where will they practise them? We can teach them as much English as possible and although this is a very important skill in modern Thailand, not much can be done with it without a university education to back it up (a cost none of these families can meet).

At the end of my time in the north east, I traveled back to Bangkok and begun to wonder how the land situation relates, there is poverty everywhere you look in Bangkok. There is also vacant land alongside the thousands of homeless. A city so congested and with such a big population, how can there be vacant land? So I begun to ask questions and discuss the situation with locals who knew about the land situation. They talked about numerous problems that they saw at the moment. Land of course is being speculated, particularly in the area where I spent my time (on the outskirts of Bangkok). This area is becoming more and more valuable as the population is continually increasing, even the Prime Minister of Thailand has seen the benefits and bought his share!

Along with allowing the land to sit useless while slum upon slum builds up on the little land left, the owners make profits while they wait for the land price to rise by allowing advertisements to be put up on the land. Of course this leads to the increasing ugliness of these areas.

There is currently no requirement or incentive for land owners to take care of their land and as I looked more and more around me, I saw that a big reason for Bangkok looking so ugly was the blocks that had turned into overgrown rubbish dumps. The public streets are cleaned daily by government employed street sweepers who sweep the rubbish onto these blocks. So often we are left with a situation where, without land, the homeless in Bangkok make these overgrown hideaways their homes but are soon branded trespassers on land that they were utalising better than the owners.

As I mentioned, the area I spend the most of my time in when I visit Bangkok is on the outskirts of Bangkok but continues to expand quite rapidly. The changes in the two years since I lived there are really quite astounding. Huge blocks of land have been changed into row upon row of brand new two story houses. Where there was once poor people living amongst the rubbish are neat gardens. I often wonder what has become of the poor people I used to see in these areas; moved further out?

An interesting predicament that has occurred with this sudden uprising of houses is that many owners have decided that the boom is upon them and so an enormous amount of bright modern homes have been built every few kilometers you walk and now they have realized that the boom is not quite widespread enough for them to be assured of success. As my friend said, “The poor are too poor to buy the houses and the rich already own their own house”. So what has this lead to? An abundance of houses that cannot be filled. So we have a situation of thousands of homeless as well as thousands of vacant and useless houses! Such an absurdity! Such a waste.

The situation in Thailand as in many third world countries cannot improve as long as the wealthy minority have control of the biggest natural resource – land. I would love to see all the development initiatives started in Thailand show an effect but until poor people have more opportunities to develop and use their skills, little can change. To change, these people need more access to the land which they were born on, more opportunity to change their situations.

With the application of LVT, these peoples lives would change enormously. With the land currently owned by the wealthy suddenly unprofitable when idle, so much more land would be freed. With a steady tax on that land and the wealth going to communities, so many more development projects could be initialized to improve education and to give children the extra opportunities they so rightly deserve.

With steady wealth in the communities, the chances of these people owning and using their own land would be much higher. The peoples ability to generate their own incomes through small businesses would in turn improve the current rate of employment. So much could be achieved!

for more of Emily’s great work see the Earthsharing Challenge
Visit the Ripple Effect NGO, soon to be working in E Timor too.

Orderly Progress & Fair Shares

Karl FitzgeraldInternationalLeave a Comment

‘Orderly progress & fair shares.’ Too good to be true?

by Fred Harrison

WILL Tony Blair, Britain’s reforming leader of New Labour, learn the “secret” of full employment? He emphasises the need to re-skill the workforce, but will that be enough in the 21st century?

There are large variations in the public money devoted to training people. Britain spends much more than the US, with poorer results. Sweden, which makes a point of the state supporting the education of employees, is suffering from an economic malaise every bit as intractable as countries that spend a great deal less of taxpayers’ money on training programs.

No-one denies that re-skilling is necessary with the advance of science and technology. But employees have always risen to that challenge. And the cyclical disruption in the economy, which renders people idle, has nothing to do with the redundancy of skills.

The problem starts and finishes with the persistence with which governments retain a system of public finance that is rigged to destroy jobs and incentives to work and invest. Although tax theorists devote a great deal of effort to defining what they perceive to be a “fair” and an “efficient” system of taxation, no-one can deny that:

(a) the depth of discontent against the tax system is profound, and that

(b) the ease with which some sectors such as farming, and multi-national corporations) can turn the payment of taxes into a voluntary exercise, is not consistent with efficiency – or justice.

For two centuries economists have grudgingly acknowledged the elements of the ideal system. Joseph Stiglitz, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and President Clinton’s chief economic adviser, reviewed that system in an article, in which he concluded:

Not only was Henry George correct that a tax on land is non-distortionary, but in an equalitarian society in which we could choose our population optimally, the tax on land raises just enough revenue to finance the (optimally chosen) level of government expenditures. *

In the same volume which published the analysis by Prof. Stiglitz – he gave a name to his formulations: the “Henry George Theorem”, after the l9th century American social reformer who popularised the policy in the 1880s – we find the following conclusion by William Vickrey, Professor Emeritus of Economics, Columbia University, who was President of the American Economic Association in 1992:

“Use of land rents, or, at least, of a major fraction of them, for public purposes is therefore not merely an ethical imperative, derived from categorisation of these rents as an unearned income derived from private appropriation of publicly created values, but is, even more importantly, a fundamental requirement for economic efficiency.

We might want to argue with Dr. Vickrey about whether economic efficiency is “even more important” than ethical imperatives, but there is no need to do so. For the policy simultaneously honours both these considerations, which cannot be said for any other form of taxation.

In one popular treatment of economics – John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society – we read a verdict that is expressed in precisely the same uncompromising terms:

… if a tax were imposed equal to the annual use value of real property ex its improvements, so that it would now have no net earnings and hence no capital value of its own – progress would be orderly and its fruits would be equitably shared.

Orderly progress….an equitable sharing of the fruits of production….are these not the ideals to which democratic governments ought to aspire?

Some politicians may pose as realists, by claiming that in the real world it is not possible to achieve an “ideal” system. That, too, is debatable. And the starting point would be that, far from moving industrial nations towards the ideal – in no matter how minimal a way – governments have actually shifted their economies further away from the fairest and most efficient system of raising finance to pay for public services.

This was most notable under the monetarist Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – one of her economic gurus was Milton Friedman – and President Ronald Reagan. So it is worth noting the admission by Prof. Friedman. He said:

. . in my opinion the least bad tax is the property lax on the unimproved value of land, the Henry George argument of many, many years ago.

The emphatic conclusion of the theory is that, if you want to liberate the labour market, governments have to reform the structure of public finance. So: will Tony Blair learn the “secret” of full employment? Or will he become known as the Prime Minister who spent a fortune of taxpayers money on reskilling the workforce for the dole queue?

Bulletin of the Land Policy Council Editor: Fred Harrison…………… April 1996 …….Vol 2 (3) Page 4

[* In: Feldstein & Inman, eds., The Economics of Public Services, London: Macmillan. 1977.] INSITE is published by the Land Policy Council
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Roots Revolution

Karl FitzgeraldInternational1 Comment

Steve Wall (UK)


For me, there are times when spreading the green gospel can seem like wading up to your nose in a sea of apathy and willful ignorance, buoyed up solely by a slowly deflating faith in human nature. Sometimes it seems as if nothing short of a major catastrophe will penetrate the thick-skulled silent majority’s complacency, upon which they will bestir their feeble minds and demand to know why they weren’t warned. Then again, learning of yet another ecological cock-up, I sometimes feel if only we could accidentally release one of our marvellous new lethal diseases that only affect humans, is virulent, incurable and unbelievably contagious, what a happy place this earth would be; but it passes.

Then I wonder why it should be so. As a child, I remember being taught how the daring explorer, newly stepping onto some distant shore, could lay claim to an entire country, merely by plunging a flagpole into the beach and saying, in effect, “I was here first.” It is quite possible to emerge from eleven years of compulsory education still believing in such fairy tales, which effectively mask the real process shaping the world we live in. History shows nearly all movements for change concentrated in active, vociferous minorities, usually aligned with economic factions, but not always so. (The frequent peasants’ revolts bore much of the character of riots rather than revolution).

To paraphrase, the apathetic are always with us. Yet this isn’t true when we travel further back into tribal society. Nineteenth century ethnological research is crammed with revealing accounts of tribal self-government, showing how we organised ourselves before we began to worship priests, politicians and princes. Greens are fond of buzzwords like decentralisation, responsibility for the earth, local democracy, community etc., yet very few seem to have any concrete ideas as to how to get there from here.

“Why don’t our politicians make the world a better place for us,” is the frequent pathetic bleat, heard all too often, both in and out of the movement. Is this not the self same leaders-and-led politics that greens claim to replace? This article is my attempt to cast off the sheep’s clothing.

Personally, I’ve learnt more about revolution from my garden than anywhere else. Watching and working the soil, the many parallels between the processes of birth, health, decay and inter- relationship taking place in the garden, and those in human society, have convinced me that the only true and lasting changes must come from the roots up. In human terms, not the politics of leaders, but the experience of each individual in the running and living of their own lives. If you have nothing to be responsible for, you have little interest in the organisation of your needs. That apathy allows others to gain power over you by their assuming responsibility for your needs, power and responsibility being the two inseparable faces of the same coin.

Today most people have abdicated all responsibility for even their most basic needs, such as finding their own work, food, building their own shelter, making their own clothes, maintaining their own health, educating their own children; then turn around and wonder why they are treated as a commodity, why they have no influence in modern society. Then too, there is the seemingly inescapable shadow-face of civilisation; alcoholism, child abuse, the abuse of women, vandalism, mugging, abuse of privilege, corporate greed, racial hatred; the desperate catalogue of a society unnaturally caged in, the human zoo plucking out its own fur in vicious fistfuls. The labyrinthine complexity of our society seems to defy understanding, leaving us at the mercy of a whole gamut of enthusiastic saviours, from the therapist to the jackboot, each trading on little more than their own prejudices. Yet as a healthy person arises from a healthy environment, so a healthy plant grows from a healthy soil; then a healthy society must arise from – what? Strangely simple though it may seem, the structure of any society arises from its patterns of use and access to land. We do not have a healthy pattern of land use.

This crucial position of land and its ownership in modern society is a peculiarly misunderstood one.

Today, the ownership of the earth, a concept once universally derided as ludicrous and immoral, is now not only honoured, but feverishly worshipped in every land. Billions grovel before tyrants who dispense morsels of the planet as rewards to their chosen servants, those deemed to serve both well and willingly. Any who are surplus to requirements, or unable to serve through age or disability are thrown aside, to perish in mind and body. The miserable few hundred square yards of earth that could support them, is denied them. The sacred and ‘just’ law of civilisation decrees that if we cannot pay for the earth, we must suffer the consequences, homelessness, hunger, sickness and death. A law obeyed in full by millions daily. The root cause of much of the world’ s misery, poverty, war, unemployment and famine, can be traced directly back to this same single abuse, i.e. the unlimited individual appropriation of the fixed resource of land, the sole source of all life. Any serious seeker of change, unless they first address this primary injustice, is a mere dilettante of revolution, and betrays all hope of achieving real freedom for anybody.

Harsh words, but sadly necessary. Even though these are brutally inescapable economic realities world-wide, they are so deeply entrenched in the fabric of every society, that we have become blinded to their true significance by that very familiarity. These are the simple facts: If you have no land to live from, you are dependent on money to purchase the products of the land; if you have no money to live from, you depend on employment; if you have no employment, then dependent on the State; if the State refuses you, you beg for the charity of the rich; no charity, you steal or die. Such is the chain which binds us to each other, and to the land. It is the entire spectrum of human economic existence, and none can escape it. A moment’s thought reveals it is the rich, who by rationing the land, humanity’s life-support system, actively create the helpless dependence in the rest of us on money, employment etc.

How has this come about?

Historically at sword point; now maintained by a simple legal fiction, masquerading as Mosaic Law.

No matter how far our technology removes us from it, and refines it’s products, everything from computers to satellites, cars, ICBMs and TV’s are all products of the land. Without exception, everything we use and consume either grows in the ground, or lies beneath it. In S. Africa the white minority own 86% of the land; in America (USA), 3% of the population own an incredible 95% of the land; in El Salvador 2% own 60% of the land; in Britain as a whole, 2% own 74% of the land whilst 52% of Scotland is owned by a mere 350 families and institutions. Whilst the land, the only true source of independence, remains thus imprisoned, money is a mirage, employment is slavery, democracy is privilege, charity is injustice. We may no longer be hanged for stealing loaves of bread in dire necessity, but that too is only a legal fiction, a paper privilege often withdrawn in times of war and scarcity.

The “impartial” law of this nation, and of the world, states that although no mortal created the earth, and although no individual creates the rental value of the soil, nevertheless we shall all pay our rents to whoever is rich enough to demand them from us. Rent in this sense is not the mere cost of a home, but the wealth gathered to him who can say “This is my land, or my oil-field, my gold-reef, my mineral deposit, my sea, and you must pay me if you wish to use them.” He will then effortlessly become richer, enabling him to purchase the legal right to demand further rents, making him yet richer still, so he can collect even more rents, making him……..the land monopolist. Simple isn’t it? Money isn’t power. It’s the legal right to purchase absolute ownership of natural resources, which is power. Ultimate power. Those who achieve wealth by the production of goods and services alone, are but the servants of those who own the earth, and are truly paupers by comparison. (Thus the financial might of the multinational conglomerate is due to their outright [land] ownership of the raw materials, together with lucrative land speculation, and massive up-market office space rentals, as much as actual production.)

Once started, this is a process which tends inevitably towards ever greater monopolies concentrated in the hands of ever fewer individual bodies, and since none of us can survive without making use of natural resources, we find ourselves increasingly powerless and insignificant beneath an ever more monolithic and anonymous tyrant. Why is there a dictatorial centralised government ruling in every nation? Why is there a world-wide movement towards ever larger economic units, entailing even the merger of sovereign states, as within the Common Market, and probably as the eventual fruit of East-West rapprochement? Whom does this really benefit? Why does famine-aid achieve nothing long-term; why is every wage increase met with a corresponding rise in the cost of living? Because the raw materials of life are controlled and priced by the tightest and most vicious monopoly known to history.

Because the land monopolist has ‘gotten in on the ground floor’, the cost of his demands are felt throughout the world economy. Every shop, every house, every factory and workplace stands on land which has to be bought or rented from the monopolist. Every manufactured item is made from raw materials whose cost incorporates the rental of the land they were produced from and/or extraction rights. Every service industry uses manufactured items and a workplace. All food is grown in the monopolist’s soil. Every single time money changes hands, it includes a handout for the monopolist. A society which allows the land to be kidnapped from under its feet in this way, cannot honestly claim to represent freedom, economic or political. Its people are a crop, harvested to the bone by the privileged few in every nation.

Uproot a tomato plant and it dies

Since the power of monopoly resides solely in his legal ability to collect the entire rental value of land to himself, to destroy it utterly it is only necessary for government to collect the rental value created by the bare land alone, wholly to the public purse. (This government MUST be decentralised, if we are not simply to exchange one monopoly for another, equally if not more dictatorial, as under State Communism). The greens have aptly christened this system of public finance, Community Ground Rent (CGR), proposing it as a replacement for the present system of taxing productive activity. Taxation as anciently conceived and currently practised, is the States infinitely flexible weapon for selectively oppressing its citizens, according to how it views its own priorities and objectives. Hardly a recipe for democracy or justice. In the rental value of unimproved (i.e. bare) land though, CGR has a finite, un-evadable and unique natural base, a value created by the democratic and self-adjusting demand of the whole community.

The first hurdle, in grasping the mechanics of this original system for equalising opportunity in life, is to realise that inhabited land acquires a distinct, measurable value entirely separate from the use made, or developed upon, that land. The most blatant evidence for this is the wide differential in housing prices across Britain, due entirely to unimproved land values, since the cost of construction varies but little from one place to another. Because this is a community created value, over which the monopolist can have no direct control, he is forced to resort to indirect manipulation. Since it is a demand-led value, the oldest trick in the book is to hoard supply, forcing prices up, a technique practised to obscenity with housing land today.

But Britain is overpopulated we are told

(by whom?). Try this: At a density of only eight dwellings, housing thirty two persons per acre (urban density is typically around two to three hundred per acre), the entire U.K. population could be housed within a 62 mile diameter circle, complete with 100 foot gardens in each dwelling and all service roads. We could all fit comfortably into N. Ireland three times over. It’s not the space we’re short of, it’s the land monopoly we’re needing shot of, and how.

Assuming you own it, think how much your home cost. Depending on where you live, up to 65% of that price is what you paid for the land underneath it. Think of a street full of houses, add up the value of the land under them all, then think of a whole city full of houses, factories, shops etc., add them up. Instead of being privately pocketed, creating poverty and inflation, imagine that money, as ground rents, funding hospitals, schools, welfare services, old age pensions. It could be done, CGR could replace all taxes. It can easily be locally administered, passing onto central executives only what the locality deemed necessary to fund those central functions. Revenue, and thus decision-making and accountability, would be turned on its head – decentralisation a reality, rather than an election ploy.

As CGR falls only on the unimproved land value, it must be paid for all land regardless of its use or development status. These more properly belong with local planning authorities, sensitive to local needs. By this means, universal liability, CGR would unlock the millions of acres fenced away as private estates, empty houses and factories, speculative holdings etc. Wastefully used, these will become an unbearable financial burden to their proprietors, instead of being the license to live at your neighbours expense, they now are. By abolishing income tax, and expensive farming subsidies, which are anyway almost entirely pocketed by landowners, not working farmers (the average British family pays £10.50 a week extra to support EEC food subsides), and by ending the inflated monopoly value of land: economic, sustainable farming would be brought within the reach of more people, reducing food prices and increasing quality. Similarly, housing costs and business overheads would be dramatically reduced, making self-employment a more attractive option, releasing the energy and potential millions in money of poor people now trapped and pigeon-holed as ‘not needed on voyage’ by out great western ‘democracy.’

Millions of people no longer caught in a treadmill, endlessly trying to keep ahead of the debt man, simply to live. Land freely available at its true cost to any who can make good use of it, or who just wish to live more directly from it. Local government actually able to decide local priorities AND possessing the funds to implement those decisions without dictatorship from Westminster. Central government totally dependent on hand ups from local authorities, no central treasury forking out billions on state censorship and surveillance, secret projects, status weapons systems etc. No income tax, VAT, CAP, rates, only one single public charge, liability limited to the amount of the earth you fence off to call your own. A land where freedom could take a firm root.

Like all practical radical proposals, the vested interests, by filibuster and ridicule, violently oppose even the discussion of CGR and its potential, having long known and feared in it their nemesis. Their tame economists dismiss it as irrelevant without examination, since examination could not but demonstrate its validity. The overwhelming majority would substantially gain from its implementation, so public ignorance is the only safeguard. A widespread information campaign, high-lighting CGR as a real alternative to the medieval poll-tax proposals, could find much support, sufficient to establish a basis in local government funding, as already exists in several countries which could later be expanded to fulfill its radical potential.

Remember, this is no new imposition, but a radical redistribution. Right now, with every single penny you spend, the community already pays its ground rent, straight into the well-lined pockets of the select band who, quite simply, are charging you the entrance fee to life on planet earth.

I hope this article has shown not only that our bodies, and all our possessions, are literally created of the soil, but that our laws and morals as to who should use the soil and how, also create, with equal finality, the skeletal framework around which our economic potential, and social tissue forms itself. Humanity may shake its technological fist in defiance, but the earth was, and will always, be here first. Land is still the root of all being; ignoring its realities can only lead to delusion and blind despair.

The tollbooths clustered beneath that ancient flag, barring the road up from the beach need dismantling, if humanity is ever going to advance beyond the discovery of slavery, and the consecration of greed, as the basis for civilisation.

Land! Peace! Freedom!

Karl FitzgeraldInternationalLeave a Comment

Christopher M. Hussey 1997

There are three inseparable components of a lasting settlement to Ulster’s and Ireland’s travail: land, peace, and freedom. Like interconnected chain links, these three come as a job lot, together or not at all.

All wars, fair or foul, are ultimately land wars, and, unless a stalemate ensues, all war settlements, fair or foul, involve land transfers. Ireland’s case is no exception. Indeed, everywhere on Ulster’s fraught socio-political landscape, past and present, you will see land.

Ascendancy and Descendancy

The plantation of Ulster involved the dispossession of the gaelic clans and the privatisation by planters of the previously free common lands. This was in a natural environment (rainy, uneven terrain, mild winters) that favoured a pastoralist economy and a mutualist tribalist civil society.

Because land values are publicly created privately appropriated wealth, privatised land entails a hierarchy of privilege. Because such land is assignable and because land values rise inexorably with economic development, this hierarchy persists over time.

In a true clan, land privileges are shared equally. But because Ulster’s land is not shared equally, protestant ascendancy and clan solidarity are maintained by rigidly enforced preferential employment of the protestant landless. Descendancy is maintained by the structural protestant land exaction on catholic labour and capital, and by the preferential exclusion of catholics from employment.

Should the land monopoly in Ulster shift to catholic ownership, as would most certainly be attempted, legally and illegally, in an attempted united Ireland, the relative positions of the two clans would thereby also invert.

Privatised land has thus created two roles for Irish people in their homeland – ascendancy or descendancy. Protestant ascendancy in Ulster, catholic ascendancy in a united Ireland. Privatised land has divided the people and the island of Ireland.

This english land monopoly system has made a devil’s brew of god’s creation in Ireland. With its land unfree, neither Ulster nor a united Ireland could ever be at peace for long.

Not an Inch

On the low value marginal lands and with the growth of the state, of course, this black and white picture shades into grey at the edges. Recent decades have also seen the emergence of a privileged state sector catholic middle class (‘fair employment’). But these recent changes have been imposed on Ulster in conditions of military occupation and generous cross channel exchequer transfers. If circumstances changed, this new shape of Ulster society would be rapidly recast into its traditional mould in the white heat of traditional pogrom.

This case hardened traditional mould has two facets – tribalism and hierarchy. The clan tribalism is a direct result of the natural environment, and is as Irish and as green as grass. The hierarchy is a result of the inheritable privilege concentration that accompanies the alien land monopoly.

All extant approaches support or ignore the facet that is alien, inappropriate and removable; and focus their critique on the facet that is local, natural and unalterable. So it is with sloganeering socialism, pious secularism, Wolfe Tone republicanism, liberal individualism and others.

The protestant marching pageants are vivid enactments of the situation. These marches explicitly celebrate the continuing Williamite land settlement, and, at least implicitly, the consequential continuing dispossession of the catholic proletariat. The respectable, virtuous, landed officer gentlemen lead in front, followed by their trusty enforcers – the proletarian liveried militaristic bandsmen. The drums play the same old simple tunes and convey the same old simple messages – no surrender, not an inch, what we have we hold.

The crucial point is that it is not an inborn malicious supremacism that causes protestant ascendancy. Rather is it an internal protestant egalitarianism and supportiveness that, in the context of land monopoly, necessitates catholic exclusion. Similarly it is a rage for justice that motivates catholic dissent and insurgency. But in the context of land monopoly, this insurgency must needs develop into an inverted ascendancy in any neo-colonialist united Ireland

1916 and Partition

Land and land tenure have always lain at the heart of the national question. The Act of Union of 1801 was enacted by the protestant landed proprietors to copperfasten cross channel military enforcement of their land titles against a developing catholic challenge. Following the Land War, c.1900, most land in the south was transferred to a new neo-colonialist class of catholic landed proprietors. Thereby ‘home rule’ secessionism for the south became essentially non contentious in Britain and throughout Ireland.

The 1916 Rising was thus prompted by a desire specifically to thwart the partition proposals. James Connolly and his colleagues correctly understood that partition would entrench catholic landed proprietorship in the south and protestant landed proprietorship in the north, and poverty and black reaction throughout Ireland. Indeed the future prostration of the Irish proletariat, catholic and protestant, was, at that moment, being presaged on the battlefields of the Great War.

That was why, with their life’s blood, they proclaimed “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland” as well as sovereignty and equal treatment in this, that and everything.

When the partition was enacted, c.1920, the border was drawn where it was, in order to balance the maximising of protestant land holdings against the minimising of possible catholic challenge

In brief, therefore, prior to partition, Irish unity and separatism would have entailed and guaranteed the restoration of the gaelic system of common land tenure. But the partition having been enacted, the subsequent achievement of Irish unity and separatism entailed the prior restoration of the gaelic system on both sides of the border.

The Spires of Ulster

The primary provisions of Bunreacht na hEireann are straightforward land claims. While the British state, in its inimitable way, shows a residual but abiding interest even in southern Irish land with territorial royal titles and insignia, and with a continuing all Ireland participation in its legislature by titled lords of conquered Irish land.

Thus the assertions of differing democratic and national rights and identities, the displaying of flags and emblems, the persistent conflicts over symbolic ‘turf’, the non existence of intercommunity transfers of unimproved land, all show that real land is the real issue at stake.

The religious labels and allegiances of the different clans are most illustrative. God or nature is the creator of all land, of the earth; and religion is the intermediary between god and man. Therefore the contending claims of divine orthodoxy and the competing spires of Ulster, competing to attract the precious spark of creation, re-echo the challenged legitimacy of rival land claims.

The present troubles started in Derry, initially in protest at the undue political influence of its protestant landowners. The electoral gerrymander ended but the troubles did not, suggesting a deeper resentment at the undue conquest derived economic privileges of the same landowners.

In summary therefore, every possible indicator, past or present, tells us that any Ulster settlement that ignores the land would be all at sea from the start, would drift helplessly and soon would sink without trace.

Axe to the Root

The situation in Ulster cries out for an axe to be applied to the root of the conquest. This can best be done by taxing land, urban and rural, until it is virtually free, by rolling back the taxes on labour and capital, by free markets and a minimal state, and by equal exchequer payments to all citizens.

These policies would guarantee permanently full employment, high living standards and an equal shareout of the socially created wealth – privilege – that would otherwise adhere to appropriated land and other monopolies.

This structural equality would minimise the areas of political discretion and control, and hence of political friction. It would root the peace in creation itself, in the indestructible life sustaining powers of the land.

Thus could be reinstituted the gaelic system of common land and result in free land, free markets, free and equal citizens enjoying equal natural rights. Thus could be reinstituted the egalitarian economic basis of clan tribalism. So that citizenship would replace both ascendancy and descendancy, both proletarianism and privilege.

Core of the Separatist Case

These proposals are tailored to fit the local political topography and specific requirements of Ulster. The very fact that Ulster has these specific requirements and topography, and that these are entirely different to Britain’s, is the core of the separatist case.

In the course of being implemented, they would entail a tax, revenue, monetary, economic, administrative and political system quite different and quite separate from Britain.

On both sides of the channel perceptions of the necessity and desirability of a continuing union could only decline. Meanwhile a breaking of the land monopoly in the south and a growing convergence of social systems would mean that, north and south, perceptions of the necessity and desirability of the border would decline.

Pie in the Sky?

Would those proposals gain widespread acceptance or remain pie in the sky? Let us tease out some hopeful points.

They can be introduced by a programme that is largely voluntary .

Those who have differentially borne the brunt of the suffering, the landless of both traditions, would differentially benefit from a general regaining of their natural inheritance.

From a republican point of view, they would initiate the realisation of the 1916 ideal, a realisation that, if the republicans boxed clever, would be inexorable and rapid.

From a protestant perspective, they would end suspicion of ‘concession creep’ and give a precision and a limit to catholic demands.

Quite unlike positive discrimination (‘fair employment’), more individual protestants would benefit than would individual catholics.

It should be recalled that not long into the present troubles, the then protestant political leadership of landed grandees was unceremoniously expropriated by more plebeian voices.

Both religious traditions have produced advocates of like proposals. Thomas Chalmers, a founder of the Free Kirk, was an advocate of free land. Patrick Edward Dove, a vindicator of Scots Presbyterianism, and, in a masterly exposition, Thomas Nulty, bishop of Meath, both put forward essentially identical proposals to those here.

Of course the pertinent question is why such voices have remained so much alone. After all, the ‘good news’ of the eponymous ‘ gospels’ is derived from the communistic Mosaic manifesto delivered by the messiah Jesus at his first public discourse. This was: “Good news to the poor”, “the prisoners”, “the oppressed” (the landless), “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (the equal restoration to all of any alienated land inheritance – the tradition of the jubilee year).

Who knows but that some highly peculiar land titles dating from the year dot may yet be located. Until then we can safely say that land monopoly is anti-god and antichrist and is the antithesis of ‘good news’.

Blind Alleys and Blatherskite

Some people entertain the notion that demographic changes will enable peaceful democratic evolution favourable to catholics to emerge. This notion is a delusion and an illusion.

Should the demographic balance tilt towards catholics there would be, without a shadow of doubt, an unofficial response in the form of an ethnic cleansing pogrom and an official response in the form of a redrawn border. Starting, lets say, with the River Foyle in Derry. ‘The people of Northern Ireland’ will decide matters, we are told. But who decides what Northern Ireland is? And who decides who the people in Northern Ireland are?

‘Pure’ nationalists and indeed ‘pure’ unionists are wont to argue that sovereignty alone is at issue. Were this the case, would the fact that all interests involved have somewhat pooled their sovereignty in the European Union, not have had some relevance on the conflict?

Were sovereignty the only issue, why then would all nationalist parties term themselves ‘socialist’? And why would all without exception exclude the fat of the land from their socialisation proposals? Is not this exclusion precisely the obverse of the objectives of the revered patriots?

Is this not a code for the retention of the conquest derived land monopoly and its transfer to catholic proprietorship? Is this not a ‘cute hoor’ formula for neo-colonialist secession rather than the communistic gaelic separatism of Fintan Lalor, the Fenians, Michael Davitt and the 1916 martyrs?

Nor will any increased application of state socialism help. Not only would such lead to a growing impoverishment as every elsewhere, but in Ulster, stretching the span of political control would entail extending the areas of political conflict. Combining total state monopoly with the autocracy and serfdom of the Russian steppes (leninism, stalinism, trotskyism) would merely combine maximum poverty and repression with maximum blatherskite.

Desperately seeking some enlightenment or involvement from the USA or Europe is another blind alley. Like Britain itself, these countries are individualist societies where land monopoly is king and who have long histories of bellicose land grabbing. So that a neutral and benevolent goodwill is the very best contribution they could ever make.

A New ‘New Departure’

All pressure from official circles on the republican insurgency is for an internal Ulster settlement – the ‘talks process’ being a proto Stormont. But a reconstituted Stormont with the protestant land monopoly intact leaves protestant ascendancy intact.

Apart from the dubious benefit of the right to marry the Prince of Wales, equal rights at law for catholics (‘civil rights’) have been in force since Catholic Emancipation in 1829. So that a settlement that merely guaranteed ‘civil rights’ and the proportionate allocation of ministerial appointments to catholics (‘power sharing’) would effect little change. And would render the heavy sacrifices made by the republican militants to have been unnecessary and valueless.

Meanwhile a second pressure, this time from the grass roots, is for a significant result and against the arriviste respectability of republican precedent. The published sympathy and solidarity notices tell the tale of people who most desperately want the sacrifice of life or liberty, made by their loved ones, not to have been wasted.

The only way these two pressures can be reconciled is by an orientation towards the land of Ireland – as with the ‘new departure ‘ of fenian times.

The previous politico military strategy of attempting to persuade or coerce the British into coercing the protestants into a united Ireland is a total and proven cul de sac. A clean break British withdrawal or indeed a British coerced united Ireland would lead, in the heel of the hunt, to a repartition and to a refreshed ‘carnival of reaction’, north and south. The no war no peace strategy – a recognition of stalemate – can only be an unstable interregnum.

However, a new ‘new departure’ modelled on the fenian precedent would yield a spectacular outcome for the republican insurgency, for Ulster and for Ireland. Another possible outcome, also with republican precedents aplenty, is an outbreak of recriminations, born of disappointment, and of feuding, born of bitterness.

Freedom and Separatism

But as well as an economic strategy, the separatist aim of a united gaelic Ireland needs a complementary political strategy. Just as there is no need to re-invent the wheel, so too the original Sinn Fein strategy of Arthur Griffith can be reworked to suit the situation. This tried and trusty policy was for the elected Irish parliamentarians to abstain from Westminster and participate in Dail Eireann.

The suspension or termination of this actual or projected nationalist participation in the present Dail ‘Eireann’ could then be used as a barter for the suspension or termination of unionist participation.