Bondi's Law and George's Utopia
[Reprinted from Fragments, 1976-1979]
IN 1977, THE world scientific community was shaken by a mind-boggling
discovery, that of Sir Hermann Bondi, F. R. S. (co-formulator of the
Steady State Theory of the origin of the universe). Bondi's
achievement was a theory that scientific theories are, and must
necessarily be, incomplete. "Science is by its nature
inexhaustible," Sir Hermann argued. "Whenever new
technologies become available for experiment and observation, the
possibility, indeed the probability exists that something previously
not dreamt of is discovered."
Since, according to the Bondi theory, no principle could be
interpreted in a limited fashion, the basic theory of Henry George,
likewise, has to be visualized in a broader aspect, not only limited
narrowly, as some of his followers would do, but expanded to embrace
the entire cosmos.
A hundred years ago, George wrote a book that has since become a
classic, Progress and Poverty, in which he reported his
observations, noted that monopoly capitalism, with its dog-eat-dog
one-sided competition and its maldistribution of income and wealth,
seemed destined to develop into revolutionary chaos and a new
barbarism, and offered a solution.
In the language of the 19th century, he declared, "We must make
land common property." Translated into 21st century language,
what he meant was that the land question, the problem of the
ownership, possession and use of the land and all natural resources
and privileges, the problem of Man's absolute dependence on the
natural environment, the physical environment, was the bottom
question. The solution was we must establish the common right of every
person to the physical environment. This could be done by
appropriating for public purposes, in lieu of the most burdensome
taxes on labor and capital -- taxes which distorted the availability
and use of resources -- all or nearly all the economic rent of those
resources. This solution, he believed, would assure the most
economical and rational use of the total environment. George, by keen
study and logical reasoning, worked out a presentation of the idea of
the fundamental nature of the questions of the ownership, possession,
and use of the physical environment.
The term, "physical environment," means everything in the
universe except Man and his products; that is, Man and his wealth and
his capital. It includes a great variety of specialized environments:
urban and suburban areas, agricultural (rural) areas, mines of all
kinds, woodlands and forests, watersheds, waterways, seas, oceans, air
space, and outer space. It includes also such non-spatial monopoly
privileges as patents, copyrights, rights-of-way, and broadcast
George's principles were applied by later theorists to each of these
specialized environments to achieve a program designed to assure its
equitable, efficient, and rational exploitation in satisfying the
individual right to possess and use the resources of the cosmos while
satisfying also the common right to own it and to share equally in the
benefits of such ownership.
However, some of George's earliest supporters, among the old-time
single taxers, would reject this presentation of his basic ideas as
heretical because, they would say, it is complex and complicated. They
preferred what they thought was a simple statement: abolish all taxes
save a single tax on land values.
The effect of such simplistic reasoning was to reduce George's
philosophy to a reform of the local property tax. Now that is a reform
that is highly desirable, I grant, for practical reasons. But,
important as local property tax reform is, it is not a reform
calculated to stir people's hearts or minds or to produce a reform of
the total society.
Although the land question, the question of the physical environment,
is the bottom question, it isn't the only significant question. George
founded a social movement especially vital for the 21st century
because he was able to communicate to those who came after him a
Utopian vision, even though some do not recognize it as such. It was
the idea of a free society founded upon equal rights and equal
opportunities, upon association in equality to achieve, by
experimental means, the most effective forms of social cooperation.
George's aim was to preserve the benefits of individualism while
utilizing the benefits of group cooperative efforts.
George made very significant contributions to economics, sociology,
political science, and moral philosophy in Progress and Poverty
and in his later writings. But his greatest contribution, I repeat, is
to social philosophy, especially in his previously mentioned Utopian
George's philosophy must be interpreted in the light of Bondi's
theory -- universally; as, indeed, various thinkers are now engaged in
doing. They seek to apply George's principles to all space, waters,
It will be a difficult task to apply these principles to the entire
cosmos but the free society of men and women engaged in cooperation is
just over the horizon. In a little while, it must come into sight.