The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation's
George Studies Program

Will Lissner and Dorothy Burnham Lissner

[Reprinted from GroundSwell, March-April, 1991]

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 immortals.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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 book.

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.[5] 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 other economists."[6]

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 it.

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 have money."]

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 critics."

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.


  1. New York: Macmillan, 1933.
  2. 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 York: 1926).
  3. Loc. cit., New York: Macmillan, 1933.
  4. 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.
  5. M. Bronfenbrenner, "Early American Leaders - Institutional and Cultural Traditions," American Economic Review, December, 1985, pp. 13ff.
  6. These and other comments by Professor Bronfenbrenner can be found on pp. 15-17 of his article.