The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation's
George Studies Program
Will Lissner and Dorothy Burnham Lissner
[Reprinted from GroundSwell, March-April,
Sixty-odd years ago three Georgists formed an "open conspiracy."
They resolved to prove to the scientific community that Henry George
was one of the three most important economists in American history,
and one of the most original in world history, one of the leading
developers of the classical tradition in economic thought, a world
class social philosopher and an exponent of American democracy that
classed him with Paine and Jefferson in the ranks of American
The three were men of courage, considering that all the encyclopedias
but one characterized George as a panacea monger who had no influence
on the leaders and the public of his time, though he was, it was
granted, a highly skilled rabble-rouser.
They were Raymond Geiger, encouraged by his father to become a
graduate student of philosophy at Columbia University; Oscar H.
Geiger, a furrier and former rabbi who was to found the Henry George
School only a few years later; and John Dewey, world famous
philosopher. George Geiger agreed to do his Ph.D. dissertation on The
Philosophy of Henry George. Dewey was to be the dissertation
advisor. Rexford Guy Tugwell, later to become the New Deal's Secretary
of Agriculture, joined the committee as George Geiger's adviser on
economic aspects. And Oscar Geiger, the lone single taxer (the
others were land value taxers and tax reformers) became his son's
amanuensis. Several Columbia historians .and professional philosophers
completed the committee.
The result was a thesis that was a model of rigorous scholarship,
determined inquiry and comprehensive investigation. Like his several
books later on the philosophy of freedom, George Geiger's dissertation
was a pathbreaking work. But it needed a publisher. None was found
at first. Then a university press in North Dakota brought it out. The
reception accorded it led the Macmillan Company, then a leading
academic and trade publisher, to bring it out as a book for
specialists and serious readers, with a classic introduction by Dewey.
The book had an attractive blue cloth binding but it was a formidable
work - two inches thick.. Nevertheless, it changed forever the way
Georgism and land value taxation were regarded. But it was a fourth
member of this ''open conspiracy" who made all this possible: the
directors, officers and staff of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.
The foundation made a grant to assure the academic publisher against
loss. And it made other grants to promote the sale and reading of the
Geiger's book was one of the factors that inspired the founding of
the American Journal of Economics and Sociology. The minority
on the Schalkenbach board that opposed its funding, led by Charles
Johnson Post, could not prevail in the face of George Geiger's
demonstration that Henry George had not even gotten a fair hearing
from his own .followers. It also led to a definitive biography,
several other noteworthy biographies, several analyses, hundreds of
papers - a whole new literature.
Five years ago that literature, described by the American
Economic Review, the principal American scientific journal of
economics as "contemporary Henry George scholarship," was
reviewed by a specialist in the development of economic thought,
Martin Bronfenbrenner. Dr. Bronfenbrenner is professor of economics
at Duke University in the United States and at Aoyama Gakuin
University in Japan.
It must be remembered that Professor Bronfenbrenner is an
establishment in economics - he is a member of the neoclassical school
although a critic of it. He is a pupil of the celebrated University of
Chicago economist Frank Knight who, although a critic of the single
tax, was a valued supporter of the American Journal of Economics
and Sociology from its founding almost to the day of his death.
And Dr. Bronfenbrenner is a contributor to the Foundation's Journal.
On the plus side Dr. Bronfenbrenner found:
1) The Henry George scholarship has demonstrated, at least to his
satisfaction, .that George was indeed "a full-scale economic
theorist 'in the grand tradition'"
2) Scholars can extrapolate from George's writings his position on to
day's issues "perhaps more confidently than can be done for many
3) George was "more eager than Ricardo to spell out the policy
implications of Ricardian economics as he understood it." 4)
Other policy implications may surface in the course of discussion
during our grandchildren's time.
5) "George was more overtly sensitive than Ricardo to the
repressive effects of taxes on other factors than on economic
surpluses, the economic rent of land apart from improvement in or on
6) George provides justification for inequalities of income and
wealth in a free market for labor and capital and denounces taxation
of income and wealth in such a market.
George saw economic life as a class struggle between monopolists, the
privileged classes, and the rest of society; Ricardo did not.
George's 1886 platform, if implemented, would have helped NewYork
City lighten, if not forestall, many of the "urban problems,"
particularly lose of land use and housing, which have plagued it.
Quoting Henrik Ibsen's declaration ("The minority may be right;
the eminent dissenters,") during the formlative years of the
American Economics Association (1885-1917). Of the other four, Edward
Bellamy, Thorstein Veblen, John R. Commons and Lesley Clair Mitchell,
the last three were influenced by George. (I knew one, Mr. Mitchell; a
friend, whom I act through my association with Columbia, he was my
boss as director of research during the dozen years of my association
with the National Bureau of Economic Research. And Robert L. Duffus,
my friend and colleague at the New York Times, told me he
rented a room from Veblen when the social critic had a house in
Madison and Veblen told him his interest was aroused in economics when
he "holed up" one winter with George's classic.)
These bouquets for our institution, the Robert Schalkenbach
Foundation, demonstrate that we have had a certain measure of success
in our work of initiating and publishing books, monographs and
pamphlets as well as films by and about Henry George. But lest we
think our goals have been won, consider these brickbats - negative
comments - by Professor Bronfenbrenner.
1) Contemporary George scholarship has not shown George to be more,
much more, anyhow, than "a belated popularizer of essentially
Ricardian conomics." [We have many papers hat debate this point.]
2) George was indeed a single tax "monomaniac" although he
was much more. [Another debatable point.]
3) George scholarship has concentrated on demonstrating that George
was a wide-ranging theorist [Some of our papers have, others have
advanced beyond him as he hoped some would.]
4) Some of George's theoretical innovations were not of great
importance during his lifetime or consistent with his Ricardianism.
5) Without agreeing that George was a "demand-sider" or a "supply-sider,"
Dr. Bronfenbrenner" knows "of no evidence of supply-side
doctrines being credited to George by supply-eiders themselves."
[This would be amusing to Professors Laffer and Gilder and former
Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger.]
6) George did not contend successfully with the "marginalist
revolution." [George was a man of his time I and a man of future
times. On his own, he was an anticipator of marginalism. He also was
influenced by the anti-German bias of his period, making comments
about the language that are amusing to those of us who know it.]
7) One doubts whether George would have "stuck to his guns"
while the ratio of government receipts to GNP was rising as it has
ever since. (I think he wrote receipts when he meant expenditures.)
[Indeed! My guess is that he would have financed defense and other
costs of the cold war pay-as-you-go through taxes on gross income or
net wealth. The object of taxation in this case would be to curtail
consumer spending. Deficit financing in this case transferred income
from the public to the owners of and workers at defense plants, as
George would have pointed out.]
8) Alternative explanations for poverty other than monopoly come
readily to mind. [Indeed they do, since Lyndon Johnson's "War on
Poverty." Mental or physical illness, the culture of poverty,
lack of education, etc. But the major cause still is the one
popularized by Will Rogers: "People are poor because they don't
George Geiger once wrote, "In the academic world of political
economy the work of George has been received with little favor."
As the reader knows, some academics have changed that; the bouquets
show it. But a century's research was not enough to end the brickbats.
The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation's George Studies Program is badly
needed. Still. As well as its work of funding research to-discover
whether the balance of truth is on George's side or that of hostile
At the end of his classic, George asked a rhetorical question. Will
the truth prevail? His answer ultimately, yes. Now what a period that
"ultimately" spans is up to us.
- New York: Macmillan, 1933.
- Professor Tugwell wrote the accurate and sympathetic tabloid
biography of George that appeared in the Encyclopedia of the
Social Sciences, E.RA Seligman and Alvin S. Johnson, eds. (New
- Loc. cit., New York: Macmillan, 1933.
- Except by the Leninist Marxists, of course. Recent editions of
the encyclopedias usually have biographies and explanations of the
single tax written by George scholars. Other works that deserve
credit are by Teilbac, Cord, Andelson, Brown, Harriss, Schumpeter,
Oppenheimer, Rose, Madison, Gaffney, Oser and Hellman.
- M. Bronfenbrenner, "Early American Leaders - Institutional
and Cultural Traditions," American Economic Review,
December, 1985, pp. 13ff.
- These and other comments by Professor Bronfenbrenner can be
found on pp. 15-17 of his article.