Conference of Inquiry
[Conference Report. Reprinted from the Henry
George News, Fall 1974]
"The '74 School Conference was a gratifying experience and I
think we can expect new directions to emerge from the work we have
done here in Goleta," Henry George School president Arnold A.
Weinstein commented on leaving Southern California Sunday, July 14, to
return to New York.
Titled a "Conference of Inquiry" and hosted by the Henry
George Schools of California in Los Angeles, working sessions began
Wednesday morning, July 10, and were held morning, afternoon and
evening - with the exception of a Thursday afternoon sightseeing trip
in Santa Barbara - through to Sunday morning.
Goleta is a small town north of Santa Barbara where the mountains
shelter the area in the East and the Pacific Ocean on the West
provides natural air conditioning. The result is an idyllic atmosphere
for conference activities.
The Conference format, while new to the School, has long been used by
organizations serving the business community. Each session was given a
topic which, although not rigorously explored, served as a guide post
for discussions. After brief presentations by those who had submitted
papers, the assemblage was broken up into groups where discussion was
led by the speakers and other assigned to the task. Each group was
given two or three questions to consider. After something less than an
hour of such give-and-take, a "reporter" for each group
offered a summary of his confrerees deliberations.
This conference technique has several advantages. For one thing, and
perhaps the most important, the participants were enthusiastic about
being able to join in discussion, as contrasted with the usual
situation in which they must sit and be talked at. For another thing
it allows for the airing of widely diverse opinions with out
acrimonious arguments - people in small groups are more inclined to be
As used at Goleta, however, the format had some disadvantages. For
one, the papers that were presented never became the subjects of
discussion. For another, with the signal exception of the Saturday
afternoon session devoted to a demonstration of the high school
program the School is developing in public systems (see story
elsewhere in this issue) none of the sessions appeared to have done
any more than interest or entertain those present - perhaps an
accomplishment in itself. Tom Sanders, a retired industrialist, was
the author of nine papers in the Libertarian mode, bordering on the
anarchistic. Mr. Sanders never quite crosses the line, however, so
that his position seems to be in the shadow of Jefferson's famous
dictum: "That government is best which governs least."
For example, he offers the definition of a political system as a "group
of people who accept political action as a means for the protection
and enhancement of their own individual lives ... a contractual
relationship in which the political system performs various services
for the individual who, in turn, pays an agreed upon fee." Such a
view obviously leans heavily on the Jeffersonian "consent of the
governed" and Locke's "contract" to say nothing of
George's "cooperation in equality."
Perhaps the most interesting point Mr. Sanders develops relies on
another source, Jeremy Bentham's doctrine that humans will seek
pleasure and avoid pain, an approach that has recently been glorified
by professor B.F. Skinner in his explanation of the role of "reinforcement"
in human behavior. Mr. Sanders uses this view to point up the
disadvantages inherent in enlarged governmental activity. In essence
he complains that because government has police power, it can act
without regard to a profit-and-loss statement; that even if its
activities are rejected by the marketplace, they can continue for some
time. It is only in the long run, Mr. Sanders implies (and he doesn't
attempt a timetable) that the marketplace will reject these economic
activities and ultimately destroy the government that engages in them.
"An analysis of the contractual nature of the contemporary
political system," Mr. Sanders states, "demonstrates it is
an involuntary system which [because it is not reinforcing] the market
will ultimately reject." He asks us to "try to imagine what
institutions the market will raise to replace the political functions
for which there is a real economically viable alternative." This
climacteric could be something like a standoff between Ayn Rand's "Atlas
Shrugged" and George Orwell's "1984." It will be
remembered that Rand was more sanguine in that she denigrated the
efficiency of the collectivists in contrast with Orwell's grimly
competent Big Brother.
But at long last Mr. Sanders gets to the point: ". . . the key
issue is property ... what is the nature of property, how does it come
into existence, how is it 'owned' or employed, what is the contractual
nature of its exchange?"
Critical of the American business community, he blames businessmen
for support of the "political presence in the Market with massive
economic [he probably means financial] support of politicians
favorable to specific interests." Using Mr. Sanders' own
criterion that profitable exercises will be repeated, one can only
reflect that the businessmen have found collaboration with the
Quarreling with Mr. Sanders' pedestrian application of the "second
law of thermodynamics" (that heat will always travel from the
warmer material to the colder) would be profitless. His assertion that
there is no shortage of energy, but the shortage is in usable forms of
energy for our industrial plant, would seem well taken. Also he
perceptively calls attention to the global
device for financing
growth of the political mechanism. He is at once led to join the
prophets of doom, characterizing man as "master of technology and
immature in his philosophical understanding, brutal and aggressive in
his dealings with other men," and if his prospects are viewed in
present context, "man's future does not look promising."
Yet, Mr. Sanders sees hope: "the market is showing signs of
rejecting the involuntary political idea and reshaping our
socio-industrial complex around the voluntary contract."
Attacking the problem of pollution, Mr. Sanders sees recycling of
materials as the ultimate answer. He acknowledges that the cost of
recycling relative to that of processing new materials is a deterrent,
but he is confident that this relationship will be reversed in time by
the development of cheaper nuclear energy.
After summarily dismissing all our education systems with the thought
that "we are badly battered by this word [education] in the hands
of politicians," Mr. Sanders winds up his prolixity with a
vision. He visualizes major economic realignments on a global basis,
fed by rising "disillusionment" with political systems,
encompassing exponential technological growth, and fueled by
soon-to-be-realized "commercially practical fusion energy."
Finally, he says, "I believe it is man's destiny to explore and
colonize the solar systems, to mine deuterium on Uranus, Saturn and
Jupiter as fuel for the 21st and 22nd century terrestrial power
Morgan Harris, a former economics professor who now teaches writing,
using the United States experience as a model, he
advanced the oft-repeated suggestion to have the United Nations
General Assembly elected by popular vote (presumably in the manner of
our House of Representatives) instead of appointed by the member
governments. "The reason we have war," Mr. Harris assures
us, "is that good persons do not understand peace."
On the other side of the same plane, Robert LeFevre, former president
of Ramparts College, offered a series of notes on crime and criminals.
He suggested stronger reliance on private means of protection and less
dependence on government's delivering retribution as a deterrent on
the perpetrators of crimes after the fact. He makes the interesting,
if obvious assertion that "every new law creates new violators;
thus as government grows, the number of persons breaking the law
increases." And, he concludes, "it is becoming clear that if
we hope to have some measure of safety and protection in our lives, we
are going to have to turn to the market to provide it... the record
that government has run up in this and virtually all other areas is so
dismal that private protection remains a reasonable avenue of
procedure when government avenues fail." Mr. LeFevre's positions
seem quite reasonable until one realizes he is adamant in his desire
to abolish all government.
In some 750 words William B. Truehart, now teaching at San Diego
State College, treats "Human Evolution" and sums up with the
admonition that man's environment be changed by abolishing special
privileges and coercive government so that he may enjoy real freedom
and allow the better side of his nature to develop - "but time is
fast running out!"
Writer John Parish laudibly starts out to present George's analysis
somewhere between his "T" accounts
and his apotheosis of the late President Herbert Hoover and Bernard
Baruch he gets lost in mysticism, whereas he might better have paid
some attention to the roles of debt monetization and land value
speculation in cyclical behavior.
Proctor Thomson, professor of economics and administration at
Claremont Men's College, submitted a pamphlet, "Progress,
Pollution and the Dollar," subtitled Far as the Human Eye Can't
See. Written in his invariably engaging style, the tract raises some
interesting points. "Under modern conditions, unfortunately, the
optimum amount of pollution is not zero inasmuch as clean air or pure
water are scarce commodities that exact a handsome price in terms of
the other useful things that must be sacrificed to create them. The
fulcrum of the issue, therefore, lies in correctly balancing off the
demands for pollution control against the demands for everything else.
How is this to be achieved?
"The right way to strike the right balance between costs and
returns is to establish a price that the polluters must pay if they
produce a unit of pollution but can escape if they control it. .."
Citing the evils of corruption and ineffectiveness that accompany
direct controls, professor Thomson says if private "control
machinery costs less than the pollution price, prevention obviously
represents the best use of the company's and the community's
resources, and the firms have a clear incentive to undertake it. At
the point where control costs exceed the pollution price, pollution
obviously represents the best use of the company's and the community's
British barrister and historian Roy Douglas_warned that the
so-called_lessons of history
cause the recital of past events
will probably be selective, depending on the bias of the reporters, to
say nothing of the assessment of the past made to conform to the
American historian Steven Cord, a professor at Indiana University in
Pennsylvania, commented on the development of new towns using the
principle of land value taxation to provide local services. He
recommends the purchase of land by a state agency for a new town
(possibly using eminent domain) and the renting of individual sites to
private developers at the full market rent. The rent would first be
used to repay state indebtedness and the additional rent collected
could be used to reduce or take the place of taxes that would
otherwise have to be imposed on the population of the new town.
The Saturday afternoon session of this year's conference had the
excitement often generated by competition as close to 100 people
divided into ten teams to work their way, like high school students,
As Harry Pollard, director of the host School in Los Angeles,
explained in his paper: "Thirty years of teaching adults was
inadequate for a confrontation with high school students - as we found
when our Interstudent Program began in 1970." So at the
Conference Mr. Pollard called on Janet Terry, teacher in the Foothill
High School in Santa Ana, Calif., to assist in presenting the new
techniques developed. Miss Terry was the first to use the mini-course
in her classroom and had a large hand in its formulation.
The technique involves the use of written questions, the answers to
which are designed to lead students, step-by-step, toward a
conclusion. The series of questions are interspersed with test
questions that give the teacher a gauge to student progress. Working
in competing teams the students earn points on the accuracy of their
answers as well as their alacrity in completing the material. The
students are told, Mr. Pollard explains, "they can lie, cheat,
steal from each other and spy on each other." The ineffectiveness
of such devices is a lesson in practical morality.
The competition takes the first four days of a course, the fifth is
given over to debate of prepared material. At present there are six
mini-courses, each designed to progressively develop the philosophy of
freedom. At the conclusion of each course, each team must drop one of
its members. Those excluded then form a new team. Moreover, the
winning team is disbanded and the remaining teams, starting with the
poorest rated, choose one of from among the winners.
A room full of adults competing in teams was a fascinating sight.
Unfortunately too little time was made available for the demonstration
and the conferees were deprived of the experience of the fifth-day
debate. Considering the length of the Conference, more time might have
been better spent on further demonstration of the Interstudent
Program. As it stands this technique has accomplished a good deal in
having brought the School into the public and some private school
systems. It has great potential although much development and
refinement need be done.