The Road to Georgism

Harry Pollard


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 fairly coherently.

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 book.

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 privileges.

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 process.

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 land-value.

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 bodies.

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 handled first.

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 lost.


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'.

"The Fabians"

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 government.

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.

"The Georgists"

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?