The Road to Georgism
At the conference of the International Union
for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade, held at Brighton,
England, in 1998, I submitted a paper that gave some thoughts on
a political entity - and the advantages it could get from the
educators. Not a political party (I'm agin it) but an influencer
of opinion - a 'permeator'.
Here is part of it. I've taken out chunks, but I trust it reads
How do these 'educational things' help us politically? Well, I
earlier said we don't like exertion. This is one of the two
Assumptions of Classical Political Economy, the study we call in
California high schools - The Classical Analysis. You recall these
two from Progress and Poverty - though George separated them in the
We put them right at the beginning, because that's where Basic
Assumptions should be. We shouldn't cop out on these Assumptions.
They don't show a tendency among bunches of people to act this way.
Every person on the planet acts this way.
Natural scientists have a lot of trouble with their electrons. If
they know where they are, they don't know where they are going. If
they know where they're going, they don't know where they are.
We deal with very predictable people. We have an easy science.
The first axiomatic statement about people is that:
"People's desires are unlimited"
You see how politically correct I am.
Now, something we don't stress with regard to this Assumption is
that if it is true - there can be no such thing as unemployment.
If all of us work 24 hours a day we will not be able to satisfy
desires that by their nature are unsatisfiable.
Which leads directly to the next question, "Why is there
unemployment?" As Henry George said, 'Why are people looking
for jobs instead of jobs looking for people?'
This is the way to persuade people that unemployment isn't a
natural consequence that must be addressed, but something ridiculous
that shouldn't happen at all. There's a good political tack.
The second Assumption "that People seek to satisfy their
desires with the least exertion" is usually accepted without
argument. The second Assumption describes our path to all progress.
So, our 101 policies to "create jobs" are pretty silly.
They try to create jobs for people who don't want them. That's why
these policies mostly fail. I had an unemployed welder in a Toronto
class. He got a government job teaching the unemployed how to weld.
Had a good class with 23 students. I asked him what was the result.
He said "Twenty-four unemployed welders".
That second Assumption's also why welfare schemes don't work very
well. Why a national health service has trouble, and why many other
services that try to work outside the market go wrong.
Incidentally, for almost 50 years I've been asking students to
come up with two exceptions to the Assumptions. No-one ever has. I'm
now asking on the Internet - still not getting any valid exceptions.
Henry George said 'Justice the object - Taxation the Means'. Both
educators and activists ought to know what justice is.
We want justice. But that has at least a couple of dozen meanings.
"Justice means everyone gets a loving wage" "Justice
means eating 3 squares a day". So, our best political path is
to attack the opposite. As justice implies equal treatment under the
law, we simply attack unequal treatment under the law.
We call that 'Privilege'.
Privilege has two parts - 'privi' which is private, and 'lege'
which is law. So a privilege is a private law - a law that benefits
one at the expense of another. Bob Tideman, bless him, first set me
thinking in this direction.
Who gets a privilege? We've thought a lot about this. It must
describe the fortunate recipient of privilege - without being nasty,
which could turn people off. It must be eminently acceptable.
We've settled on 'fat cats', the suggestion of Lou Scott of
Indianapolis - one of our excellent American Georgist philosophers.
>From now on, those who get a privilege are fatcats, further
described as those who get a free ride.
So, let's attack privilege
And right away we run into a problem. In our modern corrupted
societies - pretty nearly everyone gets privileges. In the high
school course, we call many of them 'countervailing privileges' -
designed to keep quiet those who otherwise would protest the major
Of course, the most important privilege is the right to take
community created Rent, but here again we have to be careful.
Nowadays, most people have some ownership of a piece of land -
even if it's just the piece under the cottage. And, those who don't
have some, want some.
So, if you say, or imply, or suggest, indicate, or even allude to
your desire to 'share' land equally, or distribute land to the
landless, you'll be political dead meat. It's a lot easier to press
our equal right to Rent.
One Hundred Percent
I want a 100% collection of Rent. Now, we all know that the higher
the Rent collection the lower the sales price of land - that when
the collection is 100% - the sales-price of land drops to nothing.
Now, I don't think we should hide that fact - the opposition won't
let us, if they have any sense. What we have to do is defuse it. So,
we say simply that changing taxes from building to land reduces the
sales value of land - but increases the sales-price of the house.
So, they balance out, except for the fatcats who will suffer a
loss - and so they should. You let the opposition disprove this
statement, which is both correct and incorrect as you all know.
"Rent and Land-Value"
We all talk about Rent, but what is it? Georgists try to measure
it, but that isn't possible. George did not make clear that the
present day return to a location is not Rent. Wages, Interest and
Rent are market determined returns. Present land return is not Rent,
but (Rent + a speculative premium). It is outside the market
The process that controls the market is called the price
mechanism. The price-mechanism controls the supply of Labor and
Capital. It fails to control the supply of Land.
To emphasize the difference, we give the two concepts different
names. The price mechanism controlled market value of a location is
called Rent. The present speculative value of land we call
land-value. When we capitalize a land return we are capitalizing
Assessors, whose appraisals form the basis for a total count
simply don't measure Rent - because they can't.
However, we can measure land-value quite happily - and call it
Rent. In any event, our problem is that maybe half the population
owns homes with a value a goodly part of which is land-value. Prop
13 passed in California because people had a large runup in the
prices of their homes - in part from inflation, in part from
land-value increases. This they liked, but they didn't like the
re-assessments which were bankrupting them.
Money - Chalk and Cheese"
During my British Liberal Party days, our Free Traders always
linked "Free Trade" with "Sound Money". Activist
Georgists should have a Money policy - certainly, it should be part
of the general discussion.
We should stamp on neo-Malthusianism. We have perhaps allowed to
slip from our attention the 'overpopulation' alternative to
Georgism. We say that poverty and deprivation are the result of
unjust land tenure is that the world is overpopulated. That our
first duty is a reduction in the births that threaten to bury us in
It simply isn't true, but if we don't wallop it but good - less
attention will be directed to our plea that land tenure must be
This is a important consideration for us, for many of the larger
green and environmental organizations are redirecting their emphasis
to overpopulation as the problem that must be solved, if humanity is
to survive. If we accept that, we can throw in our chips. We've
Australian Georgists have for a long time advocated Proportional
Representation by the Single Transferable Vote. British Liberals
include this as an important part of their policy - and still
include Land Value Taxation as part of their economic statement.
An activist Georgist group should do the same. The method makes
sense, can be understood, and has acceptance around the world. San
Francisco is experimenting with replacement of their majority voting
system by a PR system.
The US advocates call it 'Preferential Voting'.
Why all these things - and perhaps others? We're Land-Value
Taxers, aren't we? Well, this depends on where we want to go - and
whether we are prepared to wait for success.
At the end of the last century, a battle was being fought among
British intellectual reformers. For a while they were torn between
the ideas of Das Kapital, and Progress & Poverty.
Das Kapital won - which set a pattern for politics in Britain
which has lead over the last century right to the present New Labor
These thinkers, who rejected Marxist revolution in favor of a
quieter approach to socialism, called themselves Fabians. Fabius was
a consul of Rome, known as the 'delayer'. He would annoy, harass,
pinprick, but avoid a full frontal battle.
The Fabians decided that education and 'permeation' of existing
political institutions, rather than direct confrontation, would
bring about socialism - and they were right. Anne Freemantle noted
that in 1945, after the Labor Party victory, the House of Commons
looked like a meeting of the Fabian Society.
It took them 50 years - but then they won.
I suggest that we halt our rush to change names and consider
looking at the successful Fabians. We need perhaps to make haste
slowly. To set ourselves on a course that will eventually win. We
should 'permeate'. To some extent, this is already being done in the
US and other areas.
However, this means that we do not compete with existing
organizations. If we are "Progressives" or "Land-Value
Taxers" - or even "Common Grounders", which I
consider to be perhaps the best of our names, we are competing - and
perhaps on too narrow a front.
I would suggest keeping ourselves as 'Georgists'. It's not a bad
name - it isn't particularly threatening. We have a body of
literature - from pre-George to post- Harrison. We have friends all
over the world.
Our main jobs are to educate and permeate. To increase our number
by involving others in our philosophy and happily to lose them to
the frenetics of any political party.
Eventually everyone will be a Georgist.
Then, what will we do?