Ralph Borsodi -- Practical Idealist

Jack Schwartzman

[Reprinted from Green Revolution, 1977]

Ralph Borsodi (1883-1977), America's "voice for decentralism", was a leader who lived and practiced his ideals. I remember him best in the 1960s when, in his eighties, with his wife, Clara, he persisted in "homesteading" at the edge of Exeter. New Hampshire. I had invited him to be guest speaker at one of Fragment's weekly seminars in New York City. Borsodi's letters revealed his forthright commitments:

"I'll be glad to meet your group in March. I'll be in New York arranging to assist Jayaprakash Narayan in his tour of the United States... I want to interest Fragments editors in a conference for the New Right. By the New Right I mean those of us who believe in a really free economy -- not the pseudo-free economy we now have, which is based upon a dishonest system of land tenure, a completely dishonest money system, and an equally dishonest system of social privileges of every conceivable kind."

In another of his spirited letters, he said:

"Some of us are discussing a second conference ... dealing with the land question. Our subject would be land reform in the underdeveloped nations. Different programs of land reform would be carefully examined. Some friends have helped me organize The International Foundation For Independence. The Foundation will operate on the principle that every large tract of land which it makes available to farmers and villagers in the underdeveloped nations should be organized into an enclave for economic rent."

Later, he invited our help:

"Our conference on money reform is developing well. I wonder if you would take the initiative in setting up a similar conference dealing with land reform. The subject would be establishing enclaves of economic rent as a means of abolishing landlordism in the undeveloped countries of the world...

"Specifically, we are interested in having the independence Foundation develop Vinoba Bhave's program of Gramdan, which tends to collectivize ownership in the village, into a program in which this collectivized land is then leased to individual holders in perpetuity.

"These holders would be paying ground rent to the village and would in effect be creating enclaves of economic rent such as warren described in his Annals. There are 18,000 of these Gramdan villages in India, most of which are ripe for this method of dealing with the Problem of land reform."

To my inquiry, Borsodi elaborated his proposal:

"We propose to organize enclaves of economic rent based on the indenture of possession of land which we used in our experiments during the depression (1933-1945) with the School of Living (Suffern, N.Y.) and the International Independence Foundation. Opportunity exists to organize the 18,000 villages in India which have opted for the Gramdan program. Enclaves of this sort would thus accord with the principles of Henry George -- and could be extended in every nation in which the International Foundation for Independence will operate."

All this resulted in a dinner in New York City on the night of December 2, 1966, and a later discussion at the New School for Social Research. Professor Nimbark of the New School faculty acted as the host. That night, Fragments editors -- Oscar Johannsen, Sydney Mayers, Leonard KIemfeld, Herbert Roseman, and I, together with the lovely ladies of our group -- picked up Ralph Borsodi at his hotel and took him as guest of honor to a restaurant. We had a delightful time, as did he.

Then came the Round Table Discussion. Others present Were Leonard Read, Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, Franz Pick, Gordon Lamayer, Robert Swann and others. Borsodi was excellent in his roles as Moderator and proponent of his currency plan. Borsodi startled us with, "Why have a central bank at all?" with its powerful control over economic decisions. His alternative is creation of currency by individual groups of financial institutions, backed by gold, commodities, commercial paper or other real wealth in existence. (The U.S. Treasury would be confined to setting standards and policing against misrepresentation). Borsodi convinced many that this could put an end to government manipulation of "debt" money that is inflating and disrupting the economy.

I remember partially opposing him by quoting Henry George that what is accomplished by money reform "is small as compared with what is accomplished by credit-reform". A lively discussion followed.

When he died, eleven years later, the world lost a dedicated idealist. I mourned the loss of a great leader, using the term as Ralph Borsodi used and defined it, "Leaders should consecrate themselves to the search for the realization of what is true, what is good and what is beautiful."

That was Ralph Borsodi's search. That was also his realization. What he did and what he accomplished could be justly described as "true" and "good" and "beautiful".