Single Tax Advocacy Around the World

Charles O'Connor Hennessy

[An address delivered at the Henry George Congress, 12 September 1927, New York, New York.
Reprinted from Land and Freedom, September-October 1927]

I am happy to be able to bring you good tidings of the progress of the ideas and ideals of Henry George in countries across the sea. On the night before I boarded the ship which landed me in New York today, I was privileged to address a fine gathering of the Liverpool League for Land Value Taxation, which was to me a most inspiring culmination of a series of meetings that I had participated in during the last month. The significant thing about this Liverpool meeting in particular, as about others, was the presence of so many young men, and the speeches that some of them made; speeches not only informed with the whole philosophy and economics of Henry George, but filled with zeal and determination to go forward with the work. This fine spirit was especially illustrated to me by my contacts with the talented young vice-president of the League, J. H. Eastwood, who is blessed with a beautiful, charming, and highly intelligent young wife, who is as keen a Georgist as her husband. Mr. and Mrs. Eastwood, on their holidays and at other times, make bicycle and tramping journeys through the surrounding countryside, putting up on roadside rocks or other exposed places attractive posters advising the passerby to read Progress and Poverty by Henry George. As a result of a recent holiday trip through Wales by this young couple, many copies of a cheap edition of the book have been sold by the Liverpool League.

My journey to Europe this year was undertaken, as most of you may know, to consult at Copenhagen with members of the Advisory Committee of the International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade relative to our international work, and especially to determine the question of the time and place of the next international conference. I travelled from New York by a Scandinavian steamer that stopped for 18 hours at Oslo, the capital of Norway. There I was taken off the ship by a group of active Henry George men, some of whom had attended the Copenhagen conference of last year. I found them keen for the work of our Union, and they showed me with pride a copy of our Memorandum to the League of Nations Economic Conference at Geneva, which is now circulating in the Norwegian language as well as in seven other European languages. Since last year they have formed a Norwegian League for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade, and have undertaken the publication of a quarterly journal. Incidentally, they showed me with pride a really beautiful monument to Abraham Lincoln, erected in one of the City Parks. These Norse men are a liberty loving people, and we may hope that some day they will be able to point with pride to a public monument to that international democrat and lover of men, Henry George.

From Oslo I went to Copenhagen for the formal meeting of our committee, where were assembled the secretaries, Folke and Brink, with the leading men of the Danish movement, Madsen, of the British Secretariat, who is the linguist of our Union, Ashley Mitchell, the Treasurer, Dr. Otto Karutz, of Berlin, Dr. Paul Dane, of Melbourne, Australia, and representatives of Norway and Sweden. Two days were spent in discussions relative to the next International Conference. Letters of encouragement and advice were read from the French, Austrian, Spanish and Greek members of the committee, as well as from Louis F. Post, Mrs. deMille, Mr. Leubuscher, Dr. Milliken and Chester C. Platt of the Committee membership on this side of the ocean. After a full canvas of the views expressed, the decision as to the time for holding the next conference was all but unanimously settled. The Conference will be held during the last week in July, 1929. Great diversity of opinion developed as to the place for the Conference, finally ending in a sort of deadlock between Hamburg, Germany, and Edinburgh, in Scotland, The President was authorized, after consultation with prominent supporters of the Union in Germany, England and Scotland, to announce the place determined upon as soon as practicable after his return to America.

Well, I have talked with our friends in Germany and England and Scotland, since I left Denmark, and I have had talks with American members of the Committee and may now tell you that the next Conference of the International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade will be held in Edinburgh during the last week of July, 1929. Already I have reason to believe it will be, in point of numbers and of nationalities represented, the greatest gathering of the followers of Henry George ever assembled. I hope you all will determine here and now to be at that conference. Commence to plan for it tomorrow. I need hardly tell you that Edinburgh, which I visited only a few weeks ago, is one of the most beautiful and historically interesting cities in Europe. It is worth a visit for itself alone, aside from the happiness and inspiration you will get from four days of association with lovers of justice and liberty who will come there from all parts of the world.

But to get back to Copenhagen again. Besides our Committee meetings there last month, there were three interesting events. The first was a well-attended public meeting of the friends of Henry George, well reported by the press. A feature of this reporting was the publication verbatim to the extent of a whole page in the Politiken, the leading liberal daily paper of Denmark, of the address made by the President of our Union. This address dealt chiefly with the failure of the Economic Conference of the League of Nations to deal with the obvious causes of industrial depression and the unemployment of millions of people on the European continent. Before adjournment, the committee on motion of Mr. Folke, a Dane, seconded by Dr. Otto Karutz, a German, adopted a resolution which was published in the Danish press, of which this is a translation:

"Whereas the failure of the recent Economic Conference of the League of Nations at Geneva to offer any solution of the economic difficulties which are contributing to the misery of millions of European peoples through denial of free opportunities both for capital and labor, and which threaten the permanence of world peace.

"Be it resolved that, more than ever before in history, it is needed that all friends of peace and economic freedom throughout the world should be awakened to the dangers of the existing situation, which might easily lead, through the horrors of class war, to the approach of catastrophe to orderly social development in all civilized countries.

"We appeal, therefore, to our friends and associates in all parts of the world to renew their labors for the establishment of a social order that may insure peace and prosperity through the destruction of unjust private monopoly, wherever it exists. This, we believe, can only be brought about through the adoption by the nations of the policies advocated by this Union the Taxation of Land Values and Free Trade, as taught by Henry George."

Another interesting event was the demonstration made for us by the heads of the government land valuation department of the completeness and scientific accuracy of the system by which the land of Denmark, both urban and rural, is now being assessed for the purposes of taxation, both national and municipal. The governmental machinery in Denmark, in the shape of land value maps, for an application and exemplification of the theories of Henry George, appears now to be working on a scale of completeness unequalled anywhere else in the world.

The reflection that came forcibly to me in this connection was that if you want this sort of work done with intelligence and integrity you must put Henry George men on the job; for the two government officials most responsible for the perfection of the land valuation system of Denmark are K. J. Kristensen and Abel Brink, both of them disciples of our friend, Dr. Jakob Lange; both of them unblushing and undisguised Single Taxers. And it made me think how much we in this country are indebted to our own Lawson Purdy for the system inaugurated by him during his splendid public service in (his city, under which more land value is now collected for public purposes than anywhere else in the world.

The third most interesting event of my visit to Denmark this year was the public meeting at Aarhus, the second city of the country, which is sometimes called the Glasgow of Denmark, because of the devoted and militant group of Henry George people to be found there. It was a crowded meeting, full of vim and spirit, electric with enthusiasm for the cause of Free Trade and Land Value Taxation.

From Aarhus, we set out for Hamburg, and on the railroad train that took us toward Germany, ran into a happy incident of real significance. With me were travelling Madsen and Mitchell from England, and Dr. Dane from Australia. We were joined on the way by Dr. Karutz, of Berlin, who had been visiting Dr. Lange's home city of Odense. He told us that one of the passengers on the train was Mr. Bramsnaes, the late Finance Minister of Denmark, on his way to attend the Congress of the Inter-parliamentary Union at Paris. Mr. Bramsnaes, whom I met at Copenhagen last year, graciously accepted an invitation to join our party. He expressed a high opinion of our Memorandum to the League of Nations Economic Conference last May, and expressed a willing ness to see that it was distributed at the Inter-parliamentary Union meeting at Paris. Secretary Madsen immediately telegraphed to John Paul at London, and 300 copies of our Memorandum each in German, French and English were soon on their way to Paris.

At Hamburg we were greeted by an enthusiastic group of friends, and here also I was particularly impressed with the fact that the chief exponents of our policy, especially Paletta, Schar, Swartz and Karutz, are all young and intellectually able and scholarly men. Here, also, besides conferences, there was a good public meeting well reported in the local newspapers.

Our next journey was through Germany and Holland and across a stormy North Sea to England, where John Paul had assembled the veterans of the United Committee to meet us at London, including W. E. Jacobs, Charles E. Crompton, Rev. Mervyn Stewart, Fred Verinder, and F. C. R. Douglass, the able draftsman of our now classic Geneva Memorandum. The feeling unanimously expressed at this meeting was that the present circumstances of public and economic life in Great Britain are rapidly forcing our policies into the realm of practical politics in that country as never before. The unsolved problems of business depression, of unemployment, of housing, and of taxation, ate acutely visible all over the place, to use a British expression. The Tory government, despite its nominally large majority in parliament, is plainly losing ground, as a result of attacks from within as from without, and it seems entirely likely that a general election may be forced some time during the coming year.

There are active groups of our friends working within both the Liberal and the Labor parties. Each of these parties will contend for the control of the next Government. Each is now pledged to advances along the line of land value taxation, in a way that must inevitably force political discussion toward the very fundamentals taught by Henry George.

The only unsatisfactory aspect of the situation that I could discern was the sadly inadequate financial resources of the United Committee, due to the death of some generous supporters within recent years and the bad trade conditions in the country that have forced further reductions of the income of the headquarters of the movement at Tothill Street, which is now also the headquarters of our International Union. In organizing this international work at Copenhagen last year, I find that we built better than we knew, for it has brought to the office in England a burden of work and of correspondence in many languages with followers of our cause in all parts of the world that has greatly increased the difficulties of those able and devoted men, John Paul and Arthur Madsen, and their small staff. A close study of the situation moved me to make certain pledges of definite financial support for the International work during the coming year, which I will confidently rely upon our friends in this country to help me to redeem.

From London I went to Keighly in Yorkshire, where Ashley Mitchell, Charles Smithson, and Fred Skirrow had organized a splendid meeting at which again I was made happy by finding many young and able men engaged in the work of spreading the light.

Then I moved over the Scottish border into the country which, as it seems to me, holds some of the most loyal, determined and uncompromising followers of Henry George to be found anywhere on earth. After helpful conferences with a group of Edinburgh friends, I went on to Glasgow, to be greeted by a meeting which in point of numbers and enthusiasm exceeded anything experienced in Great Britain. It was presided over by Bailie Peter Burt, a highly respected and successful manufacturer of the city, who has been connected with its public life for many years. Mr. Burt, vigorous in mind and body, despite his 70 years, is one of the narrowing circle of men who enjoyed the confidence and friendship of Henry George during his life time, and has been loyal and faithful through out the years. He is one of the mainstays of the Scottish movement, a fine and respected figure in the business and public life of the city. Through his influence the President of the International Union was the luncheon guest of the Lord Provost of the City, a number of the prominent city councilmen being invited to meet me at that function. Among many fine speeches made at that public Glasgow meeting, to which I have referred, was one by that old veteran, Richard McGhee, ex-M. P. and old time friend of Henry George and his family, now in his 77th year and still active in the cause.

At Manchester, where I spoke on the evening following Glasgow, there was another fine gathering with much of the spirit of youth and vim in the proceedings. One of the best speeches made at this meeting was by another gentleman named Eastwood, a town councillor of Bolton, and official secretary and organizer of the Labor Party which has declared for Land Value Taxation. The Manchester Guardian, perhaps the most influential paper in Great Britain, in connection with this meeting, devoted a column to an interview with your speaker of this evening.

From Manchester, I went to Liverpool for the final meeting to which I have referred, before my departure on the steamer for New York. A feature of this meeting was an optimistic little speech by one of the veterans of the movement in our own country, James Malcolm, of Albany, who returned to this country on the same ship with me.

A warm hearted group of English people, led by John Paul, came down to the pier to wish us God Speed on the homeward journey, and to ask me to deliver messages of good cheer and affection to Mrs. deMille and other American friends. I thought as I left them what a fine lot of men and women are following the gospel of Henry George, not only in England and Scotland but every where in the world. I don't believe there is any other movement or mission in the world that can boast of so many fine and unselfish spirits; men and women who have been brought to see the vision of a better day for all human ity and who follow it loyally and unselfishly because they can't help themselves. This International Union of ours is now helping to seek them out in every civilized land, and to bind them together in common sympathy for common effort for the common good.

I have been greatly heartened by reading in our London office some of the letters that have come in during the last year, especially since the circulation of our Geneva Document. We have found new and helpful points of contact in Italy, in Switzerland, in Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere. From a long letter that came recently from Carl Marfels, a noted watch manufacturer of Heidelberg, let me quote this: "It would have been a great happiness to meet your leading men, for you have done me extraordinary pleasure by letting me see how actively and how rightly you take hold of our question. I was quite in despair when I saw how the German Land Reformers had gone in a wrong direction and were spending their forces on side issues. They seem to avoid Henry George's name deliberately. I began to give up hope of human progress and even to be bitter when I thought about the way in which the sublime thoughts of George had been so obscured and "Progress and Poverty" itself had seemingly been written in vain. I thank God that my faith has been restored, and you cannot imagine how happy it has made me to see what able, alert and devoted people you have to lead the movement. Now I am convinced that the great thoughts of Henry George can never be lost!"

I, too, have come to the conviction, my friends, not only that the great thoughts of Henry George can never be lost, but that they are destined in the near future to influence the thinking of the world and the action of governments as never before since Progress and Poverty was published 49 years ago. It is a sign of the times when a great educational leader like Prof. John Dewey (who, I find, is respected in Europe as he is here) should publicly rate Henry George as among the great social philosophers of all history, while commending his simple and practical plan for restoring justice and prosperity to a troubled world by liberating labor and capital from the shackles which now bind them. It is a sign of the times when the Economic Conference of the League of Nations last May should discover and declare, however timidly, that the misery of millions of people on the European continent was the result of the shackles that selfish and ignorant statesmanship had created to interfere with the production and distribution of wealth.

Plainly the world needs the wisdom and the sanity of the philosophy of Henry George. Philosophy has been defined as critical and reflective thinking. No other man in the world's history has ever produced a message relating to the constitution and maintenance of just social relations for the human family which has been marked by such critical and reflective thinking as that which Henry George has given us. In it, to quote the happy phrase of Prof. Dewey, we find "the analysis of the scientist combined with the sympathies and aspirations of a great lover of mankind."

It is the absence of this philosophy, in the minds of the leaders of men, or the unwillingness to apply it, that is responsible for the great social ills of the world today.

Let me illustrate this thought by a further reference to that Economic Conference of the League of Nations last May, to which our International Union submitted, without visible results, a respectful and dignified Memorandum demonstrating "The Interdependence of the Economic Causes of War and of Industrial Depression."

The Conference had been called into being by a resolution of the League Assembly to search out the economic ills of the world (and especially of Europe) and to offer recommendations for their cure. There was no difficulty about diagnosis. The sources of the troubles of Europe were plain enough. It was revealed that as a result of the new political nationalities set up by the Versailles Treaty, there are now 27 frontier obstructions to trade, where only 20 existed in 1914. There are 6000 more miles of traffic barriers than there used to be. One of the unanimous conclusions of the Conference was expressed in these words:

"The obstacles of all kinds placed on the circulation of goods and capital have had deplorable results, by hamper ing the normal play of competition and by imperilling both the essential supplies of some nations and the not less in dispensable markets of others."

Reviewing the proceedings of the Conference, the President, Mr. Theunis of Belgium, declared, in effect, that they had uncovered the fundamental source of Europe's economic misfortunes. He expressed it concretely in these words:

"The main trouble now is neither any material shortage of the resources of nature nor any inadequacy in man's power to exploit them. It is all, in one form or another, a mal-adjustment, not an insufficient production capacity, but a series of impediments to the full utilization of that capacity. The main obstacles to economic revival have been the hindrances opposed to the free flow of labor, capital and goods."

These statements helped to account for the facts stated at the Conference that there are ten million workers out of employment in Europe, and the governments, eight years after the War that was to end War, are raising by taxation and spending two and a quarter billion of dollars annually to maintain the machinery of war.

Well, the penalties that the world must continue to suffer from the guidance of leaders who cannot lead be cause they have no philosophy, were revealed by the action of the statesmen in concluding this Economic Conference. The social disease had been accurately diagnosed. The economic life of a continent was crippled and bound in shackles. The remedy, plainly, was Freedom. But all that the Conference felt moved to do about it was to feebly recommend that tariff barriers be made no higher.

In a word, the Economic Conference of the League of Nations was a failure, and Europe with its 27 hostile trade frontiers, is left to the policies that serve only to increase human misery, while sowing the seeds of new national animosities and new wars.

I think that one of the most significant events in international politics, although it may not have been noticed on this side of the ocean, was the recent resignation of Lord Robert Cecil from the British Cabinet, which involved his retirement from official connection with the League of Nations. He was, I believe, one of the authors of the Covenant, and a sincere and devoted champion of the League since its inception. In spite of his aristocratic lineage and Tory party affiliations, I believe he is respected in England by men of all parties for his patriotism, his sincerity and his constant efforts to find a basis for the establishment of permanent world peace. There is almost a note of despair in his letter of resignation which seems to have been precipitated by the failure of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva perhaps to some extent by the futility of the Economic Conference. In his letter to Premier Baldwin he strikes this solemn note:

I believe that a general reduction and limitation of armaments is essential to the peace of the world, and that on that peace depends not only the existence of the British Empire, but even that of European civilization itself."

To the followers of Henry George it must seem that the trouble with Lord Cecil and with other sincere men who are seeking the way to world peace, is the lack of a philosophy, the absence of the faculty for critical and reflective thinking. It seems to us the very height of futility to seek the road to disarmament through such a Conference as we have witnessed at Geneva; meticulous discussions by un informed and professional warriors relative to the number of battleships more or less, or the length and tonnage of the armed cruisers that this or that nation is to be permitted to maintain. It all seems like children playing a game of Peace or War, especially when we reflect that in all probability the next world war will be fought not by battle ships or massed armies, but out of the sky by death-dealing explosives and chemicals rained down upon helpless civilian populations.

That critical and reflective thinking which is philosophy would teach statesmen that wars will end only when the causes that lead to wars are ended and that these causes, as our International Union is seeking to make plain to the world, are economic in their character. We must seek disarmament in men's minds. We believe that if lasting peace between nations is to be maintained, if contentment and happiness are to come to the distressed peoples of the Earth, these ends are not to be attained by mere formulas, or by the most solemn of covenants and treaties that unenlightened statesmanship can bring about. So long as greed and selfishness and passion and ignorance are allowed to rule the nations of the world, covenants and treaties may be broken as easily as they are made. Gestures of worthy intention and goodwill like that of Locarno are not sufficient while the conditions that make for ill-will still remain to menace mankind with the shadows of new world wars.