Review of the Book:

Henry George Reconsidered
by Rhoda Hellman

James Busey

[Reprinted from Intermountain Frontier, Summer, 1988]

A short review cannot do justice to a book so commendable in style and content and so debatable in terms of its critique and proposals. Rhoda Hellman is an excellent writer, with appealing style that holds the reader's attention almost throughout. She is a keen and independent thinker who has written her book on the basis of unusually thorough research.

Part I, over a third of the book, is devoted to the life of Henry George and early history of the movement he founded. Of course this has already been covered by numerous other writers, but rarely in a manner so lively or interesting, especially relative to both the personality and character of George and the individuals who surrounded him.

A second major section. Part II, traces the movement as it evolved after his death in 1897. Here Hellman's criticisms, later summarized in Part III, take form. Among others too numerous to catalog here, are these:

1. Among his contemporary followers, there is too much stress on the land question, to the exclusion of other monopolies, such as private utilities, immense financial complexes, and other combinations having nothing to do with land. Though George wrote about these in books other than Progress and Poverty (e.g., Social Problems, Protection or Free Trade, The Science of Political Economy), the whole thrust both of his thinking and that of his followers has been on the land factor, almost to exclusion of all others.

2. Even within the narrow parameters of the land problem, too much focus of the movement has been on the proposed shift of the urban property tax from improvements to land values, with very little said about mineral rights, oil depletion allowances, control over air waves, oceans and sea bottoms, capital gains taxes, and a host of other related issues.

3. There has been too much intrusion into the movement of a sort of rightwing, anti-political anarchism, inspired in part by the apparent anti-tax implications of the "single tax," as well by the early ro1es of Thomas Shearman, Frank Chodorov, and other Georgist or pseudo-Georgist rightwing followers.

4. The label "single tax," not especially favored by George himself, seems so arbitrarily exclude other acceptable taxes (windfall, capital gains, etc.), doesn't catch the profound implications of George's social message, and precludes the possibility of just adding land value taxation to other taxes, thus generating even more revenue for social purposes.

We would contend that though solution of the land question cannot possibly be all that is necessary for termination of socio-economic distresses around the world, it is the unique contribution offered by geocracy from the end of the eighteenth century to the present. Other individuals and groups are attempting to confront the many social problems that Hellman cites, and we among others are participants in many such efforts; but geocrats are kept busy enough trying to convince citizens and leaders that the single tax idea also has merit. For us to expand our efforts by trying to incorporate a host of other social issues into the geocratic movement would dilute our definition of purpose and introduce argumentation and friction into the ranks of people who at least agree on one thing, namely, that taxation should be shifted from productive elements to unearned land values.

The same is true about the tendency of geocrats to stress reform of the urban property tax. Of course its proponents are not forgetting that there are other kinds of land out there; but in this narrow sphere, at least, some successes have been achieved. With these examples in hand, we hope some day to broaden our efforts.

We agree with Hellman that no movement can be anti-political and also secure adoption of its proposals, whatever they are. How else except by the political process can anyone in a democracy hope to get anything set into law?

No brief label can possibly catch the whole meaning of any movement, and we are less unhappy than Hellman about the term "single tax" -- nor did she offer any very specific alternatives. Also, we note that part of Hellman's displeasure with the term is related to her readiness to just add land value taxation to most other taxes now in effect. With alarm, we sense that this point of view is shared by some other proponents around the world; and consider such to be a prescription for tyranny that if widespread among our colleagues would drive us out of the movement.

Our general reaction to the Hellman book coincides with that of all other reviews we have read to date- that is, that it is extremely well written, accurate and interesting; and its independent criticism only adds to its value for readers concerned about a movement that is much in need of advice and counsel. If we want to know how to get more effective results, one thing we don't need is slavish eulogy about how we got where we are already, which is almost nowhere.