Review of the book

The Possibility of Progress
Mark Braund

Tony Vickers


In 1999, when I ran the British Henry George Foundation, a benefactor offered £10,000 to any well known author, new to the subject of land value taxation (LVT), who would write "the book that Henry George would have written if he'd been alive today". Although this is Mark Braund's first book, I believe he could have earned the prize. Unfortunately for him, the HGF benefactor and his offer died in 2002.

br> Copiously researched and crisply but elegantly written, Braund has put together a series of arguments addressing the modern conundrum of growing poverty alongside growing 'progress'. He leads us inevitably towards the conclusion that the path of neo-classical economics has been an unnecessary and potentially fatal cul-de-sac from which only a restoration of 'common wealth' (resource rents) to society as public revenue can save us. It is rare for any exposition of the case for LVT to be so thorough, unemotional and yet readable. Not until half-way through chapter ten, after 210 out of 284 pages, does Braund introduce Ricardo's classic law of rent (like the law of gravity, not a law that can be repealed). Henry George's role in the history of political economy briefly follows suit.

Most of the book is spent examining pieces of the puzzle of humanity's failure to achieve economic and social justice. Defining progress as "movement towards a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable global social order", he carefully dispels any notion that such progress is impossible, calling on a range of writing from such disciplines as: socio-biology; behavioural genetics; anthropology; economic history; ethics; ecology; global finance and debt re-structuring.

Braund shows that there is nothing inevitable about progress but that it is in our grasp if we collectively choose to challenge the conventional wisdom of establishment economists and rulers. No part of humanity is more - or less - well adapted biologically or culturally to achieve the kind of progress that we almost all aspire to: what he calls "universalism". This can be described as "when no human being should take action, or participate in group actions, which compromise the Golden Rule" of human behaviour: something like 'do as you would be done by'.

In his chapter "Moral Development" Braund points out that "in the modern world virtually all acts of spending and consumption have such a dimension" that makes it possible, given sufficient information, to decide whether to support or undermine this Rule. If, as he says, "ethics and politics are inseparable" and humanity has "now taken absolute conscious control over the means by which we provide for our physical survival, it follows that ethics can no longer be considered without reference to economics". Moreover "politics is the tool applied by society in its management of the economy" and "an economy which relies exclusively on competition can never provide for universal needs".