What is Georgism? Followed by a Refutation. PART I

June 12th, 2012   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

Anyone familiar with the Individualist tradition in America has encountered the Single Tax movement. It is sometimes called Georgism after its formulator and foremost advocate Henry George (1839-1897). Georgism links the poverty and injustice of society to the usurpation of land and advocates the imposition of a single tax on land (“economic rent”) as a solution. That is, land should be viewed as common property with payment for use — a single tax — going toward society. Several prominent individualists have championed the single tax, including Albert Jay Nock and Francis Neilson, founders of The Freeman. Yet the doctrine has attracted equally prominent critics both in the 19th century and now.

When George’s key work Progress and Poverty; An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth; The Remedy appeared in 1880, the veteran land-reformer Josuah K. Ingalls waged war against the book. His attack, “Henry George Examined. Should Land Be Nationalized or Individualized?” was published as a special supplement in Benjamin Tucker’s periodical Liberty. Ingalls accused George of trying to convert the State into a monopoly landlord by allowing it to collect “economic rent” from every landowner. Tucker himself wrote and published “Henry George, Traitor” (1896). Although the primary theme of Tucker’s pamphlet was not an assault upon the single tax, it reflected a deep antagonism between Tucker and George which dated back to the Single Tax. More recently, the 20th century Austrian economist Murray N. Rothbard excoriated Georgism.

Nevertheless, Georgism should command attention for several reasons. It is one of the few 19th century individualist movements to have survived into the 20th and 21st centuries with its basic theory intact. Moreover, Progress and Poverty was a best-selling sensation of its day, which remains well read despite being a 19th century political tract. As a result of the book, George became an internationally acclaimed lecturer. Moreover, his 1886 run for mayor of New York City was probably the most successful ‘libertarian’ political campaign in American history. (Some would quarrel with using the word ‘libertarian.’)

What is the attraction of Georgism? Why has opposition to it been so bitter? An answer to these questions must include an analysis of Henry George, the man.


Henry George (1839-1897) was born in Philadelphia into a middle class family. Although he briefly attended school and had some private tutoring, he was largely self-taught and independently minded. At 16, he shipped out on a vessel bound for Melbourne and Calcutta. Australia was a booming, productive nation. India was heart wrenchingly poor, with the bloated bodies of the poor floating in the rivers his ship navigated. George filed the contrast away.

After returning home, he became a typesetter and went West to seek his fortune in California. Eventually, George came to edit his own paper, the San Francisco Daily Evening Post. There, he wrote of the land speculations and monopolies that tightened the grip of the already powerful upon California real estate. He vigorously criticized railroad and mining interests, as well as corrupt politicians.

The brutal depression of 1873 caused George to ask himself, “why do depressions happen?” If depressions were not inevitable in an economic cycle, then what was their cause…and cure?

George wrote about what he called “the ultimate paradox”: modern society brought increased prosperity and progress, as well as increased poverty. The more wealthy society became, the more poverty it contained. George asked two additional questions: “What caused poverty?”; and, “Was there a solution?” He concluded that the economic problems of the poor stemmed from their inability to access land. The growth of population increased the value of land, thus working people had to pay more to use it. Large landowners who did not work their own property became wealthy at the expense of those who did.

He became convinced that there were only three valid factors involved in producing wealth: natural resources, labor (wages), and capital (interest). Since natural resources had been created by no one, they could be exclusively claimed by no one. If natural resources were unappropriated — that is, equally free to all — then production would be divided between labor and capital. If natural resources were appropriated, however, then a producer should pay ‘rent’ for those resources. After all, such use denied equal access to others.

His theory was more than this, however. The value of land and, so, of the economic rent was largely determined by social factors, such as the number of people who wanted land and the transportation system that offered access. George went so far as to say that the value of land was created by the community. Thus, the rent should go to the community and not to any individual.

George first worked out these principles in his pamphlet “Our Land and Land Policy, National and State” (1871). They became fully developed in Progress and Poverty (1880). The first edition was self-published, with George issuing five hundred copies. When Appleton issued the next edition, the book became a best seller, translated into several languages. George became famous overnight, especially as an international lecturer. In America, the popular press welcomed his columns and articles on political and social problems.


Progress and Poverty concludes with the statement that good men are corrupted by contact with government. Nevertheless, George may have viewed politics as a necessary evil. He ran as a 1886 mayoral candidate in New York City for the United Labor Party. Surprisingly, George obtained a large vote total, coming in second. But attacks during the vicious election campaign had severely damaged his reputation. Albert Jay Nock considered George’s candidacy to be his downfall. In his book Snoring As A Fine Art, Nock explained, “With this, whatever credit he may have had in America as an economist and philosopher vanished forever, leaving him only the uncertain and momentary prestige of a political demagogue, an agitator, and a crank.”(p.81)

Nevertheless, Single Tax clubs sprang up across America, encouraged by George’s paper, the New York Standard (1887-1892). By 1897, George agreed to run again as mayor as an independent Democrat. In poor health and blatantly disregarding his doctor’s orders, George died on October 29, 1897, near the end of his campaign; his son completed the campaign but did poorly. More than a hundred thousand people turned out at George’s funeral.

Georgism began to decline. For example, an ambitious state campaign occurred in Delaware (1896) where Single Taxers attempted to elect a governor and take over the state legislature. After proving the ‘single tax’ could work in one state, the radicals intended to carry the theory to a federal level. They received only 3% of the vote.

Some people believe Georgism faltered because it depended too strongly upon the dynamic personality of its leader and could not survive his passing. Others point to the economic times in which the philosophy arose. Progress and Poverty was written during a period when vast fortunes were being made from natural resources and, so, powerful political forces opposed the single tax. The Single Taxers were outgunned.

A common explanation of Georgism’s failure is that the philosophy itself is flawed and, ultimately, would strengthen collectivism and the state, not individualism. In this vein Tucker asked a fundamental question: How can a collective like society own land if such ownership is improper for individuals? Either land could be owned by an individual — and, thus, sold or transferred to another individual — or it was not subject to ownership at all. He considered collective ownership to be a contradiction in terms. Or, as Tucker might ask, “Can I sell my share? No? Then I don’t own it either individually or as part of a collective.”

It is to such critiques of Georgism that Part II of this article will turn.

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81 Responses to “What is Georgism? Followed by a Refutation. PART I”

  1. John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a disciple of Nock, and therefore describe myself, as Nock described himself, as both an anarchist and a “single taxer.” Nock was right that George did himself in by his hope that he could change things, a hope that Nock himself disavowed. It’s amazing how many famous and smart people besides Nock (e.g., Tolstoy, Einstein, Twain, etc.) supported George’s ideas. Among them was Clarence Darrow, who nevertheless became disillusioned with and critical of George when he failed to condemn in his newspaper the planned execution of several anarchists, out of what Darrow believed to be political cowardice. (It may have been the Haymarket anarchists. I don’t recall. I read about this in a recent biography of Darrow.)

    So George, while a genius, wasn’t a saint. It’s important to note that George’s essential idea was prefigured by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Agrarian Justice and by John Woolman’s A Plea for the Poor, among others. So the idea doesn’t stand or fall with George.

    Let me take a stab at preliminarily answering the criticism mentioned in the last paragraph of your post, which I assume from the title of this post you will explain further and adopt in your next post. I would say that neither the individual nor the collective have a natural right to own land itself (as distinguished from the improvements thereon that are the fruits of someone’s labor, and the right to possession of land needed to secure the right to the fruit of one’s labor). Both the individual in the collective and the collective itself theoretically owe rent for the right to exclusive possession of land to those excluded. A couple things to note: First, Two neighboring individuals or two neighboring collectives possessing land of equal value wouldn’t owe each other rent, as the rent they owe to each other would cancel each other out. But this notion that neither the individual nor the collective can own land itself admittedly points in the direction of potential “aggression” by collectives occupying poor land excluded without compensation from rich lands against the collectives occupying them, and in the direction of a one world government. (See Nock’s distinction between what he denominated “government” and what he denominated the “State,” and his recognition, despite his anarchism, that the former is necessary and not necessarily evil.) Second, It’s a fair but facile criticism of Georgism to ask whether the man claiming exclusive possession of land in Indiana owes rent to a random poor man in India. For this reason, I don’t believe as do some modern-day Georgists in distributing from collected rent a so-called Citizen’s Dividend, as they apparently do in Alaska. It’s impossible to determine to whom such Citizen’s Dividends should be paid. I do believe, however, than even in a Stateless Society it would still be necessary for collectives to provide for the common defense of land rights, and that the single tax would be the only fair and equitable way of doing so. And as Nock argued, it would also gut the very essence of the exploitation at the heart of the State.

    • George’s idea was predated by Antiquity (Leviticus, Eccelesiates), the classical liberals (Mill, Paine, Jefferson, Smith, Locke, Blackstone), the Physiocrats, and David Ricardo. George just happened to develop the idea and argued effectively for it, refuting Malthus in the process.

      The thing lacking from George’s solution was recognizing the equal importance of government providing it’s own legal tender, free of usury. The only legal tender compatible with the free market is a legal tender provided by the government, where monetary origination benefits the public, with whom it properly belongs, rather than the usurer. For the government to select a legal tender is a corruption and intervention in the free market. State-granted privilege to collect usury upon the money supply is also theft and places too much control over the general economy in the hands of a few, which is a form collectivism, leading to things like banker bailouts, privatized profits and socialized losses, where banks collect usury upon the monetary expansion and collect real assets and social bailouts when the compound interest collapses the expansion. And we haven’t even touched on the usury on the national debt, which the tax payer is obligated to pay to private holders of national debt.

      George was right about money, unlike Nock whose treatment of money was quite a let down, he just didn’t develop the idea and recognize the importance.

      The George solution also only created almost free land. George’s second flaw was not proposing the funding of a citizen dividend to distribute the profit of the land to all in their fair and equal share to create effectively free land, as Paine had attempted, just not in a continuous way..

      • Hello John: Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’m a huge fan of Nock myself, especially his theories on education which are quite original and almost unexplored by modern libertarianism.
        Your comment about Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Agrarian Justice” and John Woolman’s “A Plea for the Poor” presaging Georgism stood out for me because I once traced the roots of agrarianism (including the single tax) back through the 18th century French economists The Physiocrats whom Keith mentioned in his post. If you are interested in the article that resulted from my research, it is here http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd1012d.asp
        Yes, it was the Haymarket anarchists to whom George not only refused to give the most passing of support but also against whom he made statements. I remember this because of the blasts of fury that came from Benjamin Tucker, writing in Liberty. And Tucker was not particularly a fan of the Haymarket anarchists; he merely recognized the injustice that was their prosecution. He, too, ascribed George’s positions to political cowardice and ambition.
        Interesting point about Darrow. I didn’t know he had flirted with Georgism.

        • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

          I have often said that there are two kinds of anarchists. One kind, embodied by the likes of Kropotkin, contemplates all the intricacies of what keeps the state in power and seeks out peaceful ways to eliminate excuses for the state. The other kind, embodied by the Haymarket anarchists, seem to be stuck in the “terrible twos,” and just want to shake their fists in the air and shout, “No!”

          The Haymarket court transcripts are online, and one who thinks them perfectly innocent can get an eye-opener by just searching on the word “dynamite.” It should also be noted that George opposed capital punishment and also called for Governor Altgeld to commute the sentences of those who had not been hanged. He merely did not buy that they were innocent.

          It is also notable that these anarchists were marching “in support” of a strike called by the Knights of Labor, even though the Knights wanted nothing of their support. Their disrespect for property extended to a disrespect for those they were pretending to support. Powderly, the head of the KoL and an ally of George was far more vitriolic in his condemnation of the Haymarket anarchists, whom he credited with destroying the early labor movement.

          As for Darrow, he was a Georgist when it was trendy to be a Georgist, a socialist when it was trendy to be a socialist, and a corporate lawyer when both Georgism and socialism had fallen out of favor.

          In any case, Tucker seems to swing wildly between philosophy and anger, and that seems to undercut his analysis. of George. George, on the other hand, had many good things to say about anarchism, and even about Russian nihilism.

      • Hello Keith: If you read my response to John, then you will find a link to an article I wrote on the Physiocrats, which acknowledges them as precursors to George. They also influenced Jefferson’s agarianism, especially Dupont who immigrated to America and set up the Dumont business empire.
        George was correct about many issues, including my favorite….patents. But I’ve always backed away from his theories and position as much I’ve been impressed by them. For example, after rejecting patents, he embraced copyright. So I would disagree that the only thing lacking from George’s solution was a recognition of the importance of usury in currency.
        BTW, Part II of the article will deal with responses to the sort of issues you are raising and, in developing those responses, I was deeply influenced by the contemporary British Individualist Auberon Herbert of whom you may be aware. I’m not sure whether Herberts anti-Georgist arguments are well known, however, because I accessed them through microfilm copies of his periodical The Free Life. I think you will find the arguments interesting.
        To be continued…

        • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

          I am sure there is a chapter on Herbert in one of the volumes of Critics of Henry George, but I don’t have it at my disposal. I bet Mark Sullivan at the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation would photocopy that chapter and send it to you. Drop my name.

      • Keith…Just a quick note as I run out the door. I should be logging back into the discussion later today. The note: I was a bit obtuse in my earlier response to you. You are correct in explaining that Georgism embraces far more than the Single Tax and, so, my title was unintentionally misleading because I was using the two as synonyms. A better title would have been “What is the Single Tax?” because that is really all I intended to discuss.

        • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

          It is certainly forgivable to equate Georgism with the land value tax as a single issue, for the Georgist movement (between the 1930s and the 1980s) had become preoccupied with that aspect to the near exclusion of other considerations, and had also focused on George to the extent of losing much of the context. This has been gradually changing over the past 20 years.

          George fought against licensed monopolies (particularly railroad, streetcar and telegraph lines), against militarism, against crackdowns on unions, and against unnecessary state and federal spending. He was also an early feminist, going so far as to suggest that, as the Senate is composed of two people from each state, it would be improved by requiring one of those two people to be female.

          He even lost the support of labor unions and of the left by subordinating his tax proposals to the promotion of free trade for several years. Still, the thing that sets him apart from other classical progressives is the idea of land value tax as the only tax. George disliked the term “single tax,” although he grudgingly came to use it in the context of discussing internecine politics.

  2. The causes of poverty: taxation of labor and capital goods produced by labor, usury upon the public’s money supply, and the privatization of land rents. George was a Greenbacker and recognized all of these things, but he probably didn’t see the significant importance of usury upon the money.

    Modern geolibertarians believe fixing the money, tax, and land issue are all equally important. They also believe a public legal tender and land rents should fund a citizen dividend, placing more control in the hands of individuals over their share of ownership of the public money supply and land. This would create effectively free land and address the concerns of the author.

    • Bob RobertsonNo Gravatar says:

      I have a bit of difficulty with the idea of “usury on the public money supply”.

      Why make a legal tender at all? Remove legal tender, and the money supply cannot be dominated by anyone.

      • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

        I thought the language was ambiguous, and geolibertarians have a variety of views on money. Some believe in competing private currencies, and some argue that any community that collects rent has to issue currencies in which rent can be paid, or else it forces people to come to terms with private money issuers. In any case, the money question is a side issue.

  3. StormNo Gravatar says:

    Wendy, a wonderful article. I look forward to the future parts.

    John, I fear that you have fallen into the “nifty scheme” trap. Yes your answers seem to be internally consistent, but notice that the assumptions and conclusions both are not compared against reality to determine whether or not they are true. Far too often in political philosophy, and more so in moral philosophy, a nifty scheme is created and where it conflicts with reality, or merely fails to match reality, it is reality that is denied.

    Instead of presuming that the nifty scheme is accurate because it is nifty, we have to be careful to always compare the assumptions as well as the conclusions against reality to determine whether or not each is true. Failing to do this means that we are merely preaching a religion, not describing reality. Or put another way, we are trying to dictate the form that reality (including morality) OUGHT to take, rather than describing it accurately.

    With that in mind, can you demonstrate that there is a moral prohibition to ownership? Or more specifically one that arbitrarily excludes “land?”

    • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

      I came to be a “single taxer” through a relatively pragmatic route. I noted firsthand the injustice of taxing people who don’t have much money to begin with, such as those just starting out in life and trying to achieve a measure of financial independence. At that time I hadn’t yet become a full-blown anarchist, and believed some form of public revenue was needed, so I started to think about alternatives. The first thing that came to mind was inheritance taxes. It seems self-evident to me that inheritance taxes are more American and more just than income taxes. If you think about it, a dead person can’t own money and therefore can’t transfer it to his beneficiaries. The fact that society does generally transfer money from the decedent’s estate to his beneficiaries is more an artifice of government and custom than a matter of natural right. But inheritance taxes can generally be gotten around by gifting property during one’s lifetime, unless you close that loophole by gift taxes, and living people do have a right to make a gift of their property. (It still remains an interesting question though whether the rest of society has an absolute obligation to honor fully and without reservation or “taxation” the claimed property rights of the person who received the gift, when he arguably didn’t do anything to earn the property. In any event, both inheritance taxes and gift taxes entail much the same intrusion into privacy as income taxes, an intrusion that is very much eliminated in the case of land value taxation.)

      Around this time I became aware of Georgism. If public revenue is necessary, as I still think it is, despite my anarchism, the single tax struck and strikes me as far and away the best and most equitable way to go about it. And in the society in which we live, in which taxation in fact exists, it’s nice to have a concrete “tax plan” to offer to anarchists and non-anarchists alike as an alternative and to highlight the injustice of the tax regime under which we live and of other plans like the so-called “flat tax.” Nock believed, and argued in “Our Enemy, the State,” that if the single tax were enacted it would intrinsically spell the end of the State, because the principle behind the single tax is diametrically opposed to the principle behind the State.

      And yes, I do think there is in reality a moral prohibition to the exclusive “ownership” of land itself. A kid just graduating high school, whose parents aren’t rich and who is on his own and who has nothing, and who is trying to make his way in the world and establish a measure of financial independence, shouldn’t have to pay someone else for a space in which to sleep and a space in which to work. Those who claim exclusive possession of the land on which he would like to sleep and work should pay for the privilege of excluding him.

      • in terms of privacy, inflation is the best tax. no forms. the government prints money in excess of population growth, export of dollars, and monetary velocity. inflation also encourages savings, loans, investment, and consequently, job creation. if the government ends frb (fractional and fictional), the government can print a lot of money and pay off the national debt to bring the money supply to reserves. that would end the need for income taxation in itself. inflation is equivalent to interest charged for money kept idle in your pocket. a 3% inflation rate on a $1K average daily balance is only $30. the government can make it progressive by the issuance of a $30 yearly citizen dividend so it doesn’t hurt the poor. it makes me cringe when ron paul rails against inflation when the real danger, theft, and destruction is deflation. and i’ll shut up now before i start typing what i really think of ron paul.

        • i should add that paying off the national debt in such a way would also free up a lot of financial capital in the public sector and make it available for investment in the private sector.

    • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

      Are you under the impression that shifts to land value tax have not been tried or that there is no data? If you name the countries that score highest on the most popular indices of economic freedom, or if you can name the state chosen by the Free State Project as the freest state in the US, you will also be naming the countries and the state that get the highest share of revenue from land rents.

      And that is just the tip of the empirical data. It also does not begin to scratch the surface of endorsements, from ancient philosophers to modern economists.

  4. Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

    I guess the refutation comes in part 2. I will only note that there are many refutations of George, and even more refutations of those refutations. Invariably, the refutations are based on (sometimes innocent) misinterpretations of what George actually wrote.

    In the above essay, I would first agree that George’s political decisions were misguided, as was his notion that a mass movement and a national or international revolution was necessary. I would also note that, although he was a greenbacker, he downplayed the importance of banking privilege, which is every bit as problematic as land monopoly.

    However, his economic analysis with regard to land was brilliant. With that in mind, I would like to correct a few errors. First of all, George did not argue against the ownership of land, but only against the privatization of rent. Rent arises naturally from the advantages of some parcels over other parcels.

    The statement, “Since natural resources had been created by no one, they could be exclusively claimed by no one,” as an absolute misinterpretation of what George wrote. To the contrary, George wrote that the rights to land are not joint rights, but individual rights that are common to all individuals.

    “The right of each to the use of land is still a direct, original right, which he holds of himself, and not by the gift or consent of the others; but it has become limited by the similar rights of the others, and is therefore an equal right. His right to use the earth still continues; but it has become, by reason of this limitation, not an absolute right to use any part of the earth, but (1) an absolute right to use any part of the earth as to which his use does not conflict with the equal rights of others (i.e., which no one else wants to use at the same time), and (2) a coequal right to the use of any part of the earth which he and others may want to use at the same time.”

    from “A Perplexed Philosopher,” cited in “Common Rights vs. Collective Rights.” http://geolib.com/sullivan.dan/commonrights.html#spencer

    Anyhow, the Georgist publisher, The Robert Schalchenbach Foundation, has published a few volumes of “Critics of Henry George,” and it is worth reading by anyone who wants to offer another refutation. It would be good to go beyond what has been resolved and not just rehash misinformation.

    • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

      I hear ya, and I think I’ve read some things of yours before that have been very helpful. But I’m pretty sure George did emphasize the fact that land was not created by anyone other than God as distinguishing it from labor and capital and as supporting his theory. Your quotation is helpful, but I don’t think the sentence you quoted from Wendy’s post is so far off the mark as to warrant calling it an “absolute misinterpretation.” I note that the paragraph you quote speaks repeatedly of the right to USE the earth, which does indeed appear to be different than the right to OWN the earth.

      • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

        Well, there is a confusion among neolibertarians caused by confounding a right to exclusively claim and a right to own, and by an extreme interpretation of ownership. Had Wendy denied a right to own, it would not be an absolute misinterpretation, and I would have started with a discussion of what ownership entails, which I will do below. However, she denied a right to lay exclusive claim to parts of the earth, which is just pure nonsense. To those who see everything in absolutist terms, either one owns a thing or one has no claim to it at all. However, ownership doesn’t work that way.

        As David Friedman has sometimes pointed out, ownership is a bundle of rights. If one person claims exclusive access, it may or may not be a claim of ownership. For example, if I sit on a bus, I have exclusive access to that seat. If the bus is empty, I might put my belongings on other seats, and so I have exclusive access to those seats as well. So long as there are unoccupied seats, I am secure in my exclusive access. However, when others are standing, it is customary for people like me to remove our possessions and allow them to sit. My exclusive access, in that case, was not ownership.

        John Locke granted exclusive access, “so long as there is enough and as good left to others,” and George very pointedly and explicitly reaffirmed Locke, along with his two provisos. So, Wendy’s statement, while undoubtedly innocent, is an absolute misconstruction of George. It is a misconstruction commonly made by the right, who attacked George as some kind of socialist. Marx, on the other hand, dismissed George as “the capitalist’s last ditch.”

        Rent naturally arises with exclusive possession, and economists long before George determined that rent was the economic measure of the advantage of a rentable piece of land over the best land that can be had for free. Thus, when someone pays rent into the community for the better land, that land and the free land have equal market value.

        Austrians also tend to confound market value with personal utility, and come up with all sorts of confused arguments based on that mistake. The person who can make particularly good use of the better land will gladly pay the rent, and the person who cannot do so will gladly take up the poorer land, especially if he is to get a share of the rent.

        In any case, the idea that George denied a right of exclusive access is a fundamental error that leads to all sorts of other errors. I would not have made much of it if it were not critically important to understanding George.

        • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

          Hi, Dan. I’m specifically replying to this particular post to counter the bus analogy you offered. You said: “For example, if I sit on a bus, I have exclusive access to that seat. If the bus is empty, I might put my belongings on other seats, and so I have exclusive access to those seats as well. So long as there are unoccupied seats, I am secure in my exclusive access. However, when others are standing, it is customary for people like me to remove our possessions and allow them to sit. My exclusive access, in that case, was not ownership.” However, I argue that you only have access to unoccupied seats on the bus by permission of its owner, or his/her delegate (the driver). An owner of the bus, or his/her delegate, in the form of the driver, if the owner delegates such authority, can institute a policy of assigned seating, and/or specify certain rules regarding partial or single occupancy. While this argument may seem utterly banal on the surface (what bus driver and/or owner would care what you did if you were the only passenger?) it speaks to the larger issue of property rights, which I will get into in another post on this article.

    • Good to see you here, Dan. I’ve read your work. As I mentioned to Keith, many of the arguments in Part II are derived from Auberon Herbert whom I believe to be the most overlooked libertarian figure from the 19th century. The discussion here should be lively.

  5. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    I’m highly enjoying these history lessons! It’s nice to learn more about the ancestry of our movement.

  6. Bill GreenNo Gravatar says:

    It is quite obvious to me that, like a lot of people still today, both Tucker and Ingalls were confused over the difference between collective ownership and common ownership.

    One (collective/nationalized) is joint ownership – while the other (in common) is individual equal rights.

    Not the same!

    • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

      Marx intentionally confounded common rights with collective rights, and reactionary anti-Marxists, in saying the opposite of whatever Marx said, embraced the underlying confusion. Also, privileged interests found Marx a very convenient distraction from criticisms they could not answer, and took sides with both the Marxists and the anti-Marxists.

      The classical liberals, the American abolitionists and the first progressives, the 1960s left and the early Greens all rejected the Marxist paradigm and made strides toward getting at the truth, but they were always infiltrated by either Marxists or anti-Marxists, and always attacked by whichever side failed to infiltrate. This polarized dynamic prevents a coming together against privilege.

  7. Kevin CarsonNo Gravatar says:

    I think the theoretical basis for George’s analysis — the Ricardian law of rent based on fertility or location — was entirely valid, as was George’s analysis of the economic effect. IMO marginalism’s attempt to subsume land/rent under the category of capital was wrong-headed. It obscures an important and useful distinction.

    Where George went wrong was in seeing land value taxation as the primary remedy, and failing to see the ways which differential rents are increased by state actions like positive externalities, zoning, etc.

    The smaller and more-mixed use the community, the less the differential rent — simple matter of geometry. And the state’s policies promote development in almost the exact opposite direction.

    It’s also worth considering how much less differential rent would be without absentee control of vacant and unimproved land and the resulting leapfrog pattern of development.

    • Hey Kevin: I agree. The one point I stumble over and cannot overcome is land value taxation — the “economic rent.” Who will collect it, who will administer and enforce it? I believe it would lead inevitable to an expanding government with expanding taxes and authority..I far prefer George Henry Evans solution which was, admittedly, government created. But government got out of the way of occupying empty land rather than entrench its authority over it. True, the Homestead Act was a Civil War measure enabled by a Northern government that got out of people’s way in order to flood free land with those who were basically anti-slavery (Northerners) and, so, would vote to ban the “peculiar institution” from the ensuing territories and states. But, you know, I’ll take what I can get.

      • Bill GreenNo Gravatar says:

        As a Nockian scholar Wendy – do you draw a distinction between:

        1. the “state” – set-up specifically by rentier classes via the state granting of privilege to extract labor-based wealth from those excluded by the privilege

        2. local “governance” as legitimate delegated authority to insure “negative liberty” which has to include the protection of labor-based wealth (see above re: privilege) and sharing of economic rent.

      • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

        Per Nock, I think if Thomas Jefferson’s proposal late in life that the counties be divided into ward republics, or “hundreds,” were carried out, this kind of what Bookchin called “face-to-face democracy,” combined with confederalism, starting from the ground up with these ward republics, would be tantamount to anarchism. I disagree with Bookchin’s “rejection” of “anarchism” a few years before his death on the grounds that anarchism demands governance by consensus, and Bookchin’s belief that governance by consensus is impractical relative to governance by majority rule. Hundreds were anciently divided into “tithings” of ten persons. Perhaps a tithing rather than a hundred should be the smallest and most fundamental republic, and a hundred a mere confederation of ten tithings, having only those powers delegated to it from the tithings. Perhaps 9 out of 10 in the tithing should count as a “consensus,” and 9 out of 10 tithings should count as a consensus in the hundred. (“Where two or three are gathered . . .,” that should be enough to defeat the finding of a consensus.)

        • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

          I agree about extremely decentralized government being the ideal. (I’m a big fan of the Articles of Confederation.) I also agree that some of George’s political beliefs were naive. I am solidly behind his economic beliefs.

          The rent can be collected and shared locally, with no further obligation, as long as the localities allow for open immigration. I often make the point to Georgists that the obligation to pay rent does not derive from using land, but from excluding others from using that land. If there are no barriers to immigration, there is no moral obligation to externalize the rent sharing.

          In deference to Kevin Carson’s observations, I will also add that zoning is often used as a de facto barrier against immigration. That is, zoning laws are often designed to exclude those who are poorer than the current occupants. Rarely do I see zoning provisions that lack this attribute.

        • anarchism itself has a left/right spectrum. on the far left you have tribalism. on the far right you have feudalism or colonialism. it is still fascism on either end of the spectrum. the difference is in the treatment of rights by the local tribal leader or land baron. the voluntary nature of such contracts are in question when it comes to a serf signing an agreement with the land baron to pay tributes for protection and the right to build a home and to farm on his land, especially if all land is already legally claimed. the voluntary oral agreement of the tribesman with the chief has the same question as does the agreement between jim jones and his flock. the intended original design of our republic was the right idea to try to secure individual rights at the top and decentralize the rest.

          • I must disagree with your analysis of what you probably call “far right anarchism” involving feudalism of colonialism; I may well be in category of anarchists you consider far right and I roundly reject both social systems and I do not know of any individualist anarchist, past or present, who does not do the same. Indeed, I do not know how feudalism or colonialism could exist without force or favor. Individualist anarchism is nothing more than a society by contract and might closely resemble the best of the society that exists today, especially when the use of force or favor (privilege) has been removed. BTW, a term I often use is Voluntaryism or Voluntaryist and I consider those to be synonyms for individualist anarchism.

            I don’t mean to lecture on something you may well be aware of already but your statement struck me as quite wrong.

          • chuck martelNo Gravatar says:

            You exhibit the common misconception of the tribe, which is the societal extension of the family and a voluntary affiliation of like-minded individuals, unlike the nation/state which is a coercive abstract construct meant to benefit a select few. Tribal leaders attain their position through consensus and retain it by successfully solving the problems of their fellows. Failure to do so can mean loss of rank or worse. Casually accepting the fallacy that a tribe is somehow societally inferior to later, artificial forms of organization is a curious modern phenomenon.

    • Bill GreenNo Gravatar says:

      As I have discussed before with you Kevin…

      In a mutualist land ownership system (occupy and use standard – thus no landlordism), there would be a heck of a lot of free land to occupy and not much economic rent to collect.

      In a geoist system (exclusive use requires sharing economic rent that attaches as a result), there would be a heck of a lot of economic rent to collect and distribute, but not much free land to occupy.

      But let’s face it – any land ownership system one choices has a calculation/judgement problem:

      1. how much mixing of labor is required.
      2. what defines “occupation & use”
      3. how to calculate the economic rent

      • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

        I disagree. I believe that, under a Georgist system, land prices would fall precipitously as those holding the most valuable land found it profitable to do more with less land. This would draw development inward. There would then be plenty of land to hold for free, or for the nominal cost of filing a deed – more even than under occupancy and use, because the Georgist system does not encourage gross under-use, while the occupancy-and-use system is satisfied with token use.

        Also, most geolibertarians believe that this experiment should be conducted *locally*. (In this regard we depart from what George seems to have implied.) Some communities can experiment with occupancy and use, while others experiment with rent-sharing. My the best town win.

      • Bill….you bring up the “judgment problem” and it is one to which I’ve given real thought. I am not sure my answer(s) will satisfy you but let me give you an indication of it. In theory, at least, the Lockean idea of mixing your labor with the land to claim ownership could result in my planting a row of beets every 5 miles for 500 miles and claiming all that land. The fact that this does not happen is, perhaps, a legacy of common law or just common sense. Even in anarchy, community standards and other non-violent forms of resolving such matters would and do evolve. So, even though I cannot give you a definitive answer about how far away I should plant by beets but I am confident that traditions or common law standards of planting beets would evolve. (BTW, does it show that I’ve been weeding beets today?”)

        BTW, the Single Tax does not escape the “judgment problem.” For example, how much should the Single Tax be? To say “proportionate to value of the land” does not answer the question. Should it be 5% of the value, 50%? Rather than the theory of “mixing your labor” being uniquely rift with the “judgment problem”, I think it haunts every theory of rights, ownership, justice, etc. But I don’t think it is as huge a problem as you may.

      • cyndi shisara feigenbaumNo Gravatar says:

        Mixing labor with the land is mot precise enough.. Land ownership should not be an issue. It is impossible to own land! How can I say this? I suppose you will argue that land means real-estate property that you can buy or sell. Okay then it is just a geographic area that is claimed. So mixing labor with it would help little in making it owned. To me this comes down to territorialism or might makes right. If that is meant by land geographic territory yea there are complex philosophical issues arguments to be made. Leaving this definition alone for a minute lets move on.
        With ownership of any object (any other) there is tort law behind it. Logically speaking if you come on my land I would never be able to say You injured my mud. But if you came on my ornamental garden then you can bring me to justice concerning your damages. So mud is undifferentiated property. Mud is territory or land. You can not damage it (of course you can alter it chemical structure) for sake of argument.
        By land do you include the geological resources in it? I argue again by land you are only talking about longitude and latitude. The things in the land on the land are not part of the land. How can you really own something you have no knowledge about? Something you never had any clue existed? You can never defend such a claim against a future discovery. I submit that there are to types of property. Transformed and discovered property on the hand which the key is not labor but knowledge or a description of the object and Territory. Locke by adding labor in the equation never answers the deeper questions of Land. See you yourself did discover that resource (titanium) or transformed that unit (garden, house) that unit can be owned- rented sold or transformed without hinderance or kept for future use without tax. In his sense the issue of land seems to evaporate. You can trespass on it all day long as long as you do not damage it! You can discover new objects in it as they have not already been described or claimed.
        One might argue that a part from the past my arguments have little use for today. Yes, but it is useful from the stand point of clarity. Most claims are superficial though if we replace mud with grass! Ownership reduces down to an argument about territory. Other forms of territory are water. I do not have insights that easily solve all the questions that will give a satisfactory answer to all questions here.

    • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

      I fully agree with your disdain for zoning and other government interventions, but these mostly came into play after George’s time, leaving your argument a bit anachronistic.

      Eliminating absentee ownership of vacant lots is indeed another approach, and one favored by Tucker, et. al, but it begs many questions. For example, what (or who) prevents someone from putting land to a token use and thereby preventing a fuller use? For example, turning some cattle loose on a range in Wyoming is clearly putting that land to use, but doing the same thing in Manhattan would clearly be gaming the system. The problem arises in places that are in between Wyoming and Manhattan. We see that often where special “farm use assessments” are granted to people who are not farmers at all, but merely speculators with a cow.

      With no revenue for any sort of government, who is going to pay a jury to arbitrate such questions as may endlessly arise? Land value tax takes care of that, because it costs less to rent land under such a system than to buy land today, and we may safely assume that anyone willing to pay the rent is using the land to his own satisfaction. Why should anyone have to convince others that whatever he is doing constitutes a legitimate use?

      • i vote for dan sullivan over the rockefeller foundation’s ludwig von mises or bilderberg’s ron paul as the chief educator on libertarian principles.

        • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

          I am flattered, but mostly amused by the idea of an official chief educator on liberty, to be chosen by majority rule – the established anti-establishement as it were.

  8. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    The crux of land ownership, to me, has always been origination. Assuming 1 million acres of virgin land, how does one take possession of even one acre of it, let alone 10,000? Frankly, the Georgian view fails to answer this question just as much as other arguments do. If the bottom line of it (assuming what I’ve gotten from the posts I’ve read here are accurate) is that ownership is possible, but rent is required because of the deprivation of access to others, there’s still no reasonable answer to original ownership. I personally have purchased land, and thus consider it mine to utilize in the most advantageous way possible. But to be realistic about it, I bought it from someone who bought it from someone else, who bought it from someone before them, etc, etc. The issue here is that if property rights are to be fully recognized, the person in possession of a certain plot of land is in control of it – that is, he or she determines its use as her or she sees fit. This is where the bus analogy I refuted earlier comes in: I may decide to extract resources from my land, or place a bar or hotel on it, or just simply occupy it as my place of residence, but any of those would be a matter of my personal decision of use, which I’m entitled to by possession of the land through proper contractual transfer. Hence, if I established a place open to the “public,” I have every right to determine what the public may or may not do on my land. Any forced deviation from my right of contract in this manner is, in its own sense, a tax, because at its heart, a tax is nothing but a deprivation of ones use of their private property to serve the needs of others. So, I have no issue arguing against ANY tax, rent, or usury, but still cannot come up with an answer to the question of origination. And no, the land belongs to everyone doesn’t cut it. If something belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one.

    • Land is fundamentally different from a bus.

      “It is quite true that the land monopoly is not the only monopoly which exists, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly. It is quite true that unearned increments in land are not the only form of unearned or undeserved profit which individuals are able to secure; but it is the principal form of unearned increment which is derived from processes which are not merely not beneficial, but which are positively detrimental to the general public. Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed in geographical position — land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.” — Winston Churchill, “The People’s Land,” 1909

      “But the state had intervened; that was the whole trouble. The State had established one monopoly — the landlord’s monopoly of economic rent — thereby shutting off great hordes of people from free access to the only source of human subsistence, and driving them into factories to work for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bottles chose to give them. The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied; and this State-created monopoly enabled landlords to satisfy their needs and desires with little exertion or none, but it also removed the land from competition with industry in the labor market, thus creating a huge, constant and exigent labour-surplus.” — Albert J. Nock, “The Gods’ Lookout,” 1934

      “Wherever, in any country, there are idle lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.” — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison, 1785

      “When the ‘sacredness of property’ is talked about it should always be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property. No man made the land. It is the general inheritance of the whole species.” — J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848

      • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

        Again, taking possession is fundamentally different from ownership, and all anarchist or “pre-imperial” societies acknowledged a tenure in lands that had been improved or put to use.

        “A right of property in moveable things is admitted before the establishment of government. A separate property in lands, not till after that establishment. The right to moveables is acknowledged by all the hordes of Indians surrounding us. Yet by no one of them has a separate property in lands been yielded to individuals. He who plants a field keeps possession till he has gathered the produce, after which one has as good a right as another to occupy it. Government must be established and laws provided, before lands can be separately appropriated, and their owner protected in his possession. Till then, the property is in the body of the nation, and they, or their chief as trustee, must grant them to individuals, and determine the conditions of the grant.” –Thomas Jefferson: Batture at New Orleans, 1812. ME 18:45

        As for the idea of ownership by virtue of contract, I have found that, in all of these arguments, I could substitute the word “slave” for “land,” and “master” for “landlord,” without the argument suffering one iota.

        In his 1851 edition of *Social Statics*, Herbert Spencer wrote,

        “‘But Time,’ say some, ‘is a great legaliser. Immemorial possession must be taken to constitute a legitimate claim. That which has been held from age to age as private property, and has been bought and sold as such, must now be considered as irrevocably belonging to individuals.’ To which proposition a willing assent shall be given when its propounders can assign it a definite meaning. To do this, however, they must find satisfactory answers to such questions as—How long does it take for what was originally a wrong to grow into a right? At what rate per annum do invalid claims become valid? If a title gets perfect in a thousand years, how much more than perfect will it be in two thousand years?—and so forth. For the solution of which they will require a new calculus.”

        http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.p hp%3Ftitle=273&chapter=6246&layout=html&Itemid=27

        • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

          Or, after the first Indian is done with it, I’ll just come and dump my industrial waste on it. I’m allowed to because no one is using it, right?

          • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

            No, that is not the least bit right.

            You are responding to an example of how the American Indians treated land, and they treated it as sacred, not something to be defiled. Rather, the supposed right to dump industrial waste is part of the supposed right to absolutely own land in the first place. If it is yours to own, in an absolute sense, then it is yours to defile, future generations be damned.

            Rather, the right to use the earth was held by Jefferson, and by the Indians he had observed, to be a usufruct right. (Look it up.)

            • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

              Ah, so what then do I do with all my industrial waste, then? (Don’t reply to that, that whole bit was only to make a point.)

              While the concept of Georgism and/or perpetual usufruct to which you refer may sound good in principle, it suffers the same inherant problems any social style system does: someone has to determine proper use, and the “correct” amount of rent (or tax) to collect, and use force should anyone disagree. Since force runs contrary to liberty, the system fails.

              • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

                Maybe your understanding of it fails. Quoting Spencer again (the part immediately preceding my prior quoting of him)

                “It can never be pretended that the existing titles to such property are legitimate. Should any one think so, let him look in the chronicles. Violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, the claims of superior cunning—these are the sources to which those titles may be traced. The original deeds were written with the sword, rather than with the pen: not lawyers, but soldiers, were the conveyancers: blows were the current coin given in payment; and for seals, blood was used in preference to wax. Could valid claims be thus constituted? Hardly. And if not; what becomes of the pretensions of all subsequent holders of estates so obtained?”

                The initiation of force occurs in the appropriation and the exclusion of others. Rent sharing is merely compensation to those excluded. Yes, someone must judge what that compensation must be, just as one must judge what any compensation must be when some have injured others.

                Also, there is no arbitrary micromanaging of what is a correct use, except in the rare and extreme case of someone wanting to poison land that is not his to poison, and there is no “deciding” what the rental value is, but rather a deducing value from market statistics, subject to appeals, including appeals to juries. Such is the law even now, before the arrival of libertopia.

                • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

                  I don’t see a way in which I fail to understand you. You keep posting quotes (not sure why) which only argue what I said in the beginning that I have been having difficulty with – the question of original ownership. And I also would not argue that vitually all land in possession today was taken from someone else at some point. But I can’t agree that that in some way invalidates my claim to my land when it was my exchange of my own labor that entitled me to it. To say I have an obligation to share it or some sort of rent on it with the rest of society is to assert a positive right, and positve rights require force. Furthermore, exclusion is not force. Any individual or group of indivduals can choose not to associate with me, up to and including not allowing my use of ANY of their property, including land. Your obvious premise is that land could never be owned to begin with (which is apparently what you think me too stupid to understand – that’s offensive, by the way) but in reality, since force is required to create a “proper sharing of public land,” it is a priori invalid.

    • Shawn…there are two totally separate conditions of land that raise two entirely different questions about the basis on which an individual’s can claim to own land. To be clear, by individual ownership I mean the standard definition of a person determining “use and control” of a thing with no one else having a claim except through contract. You put your finger on those two conditions when you distinguished between original ownership and land that has been purchased over a long period of time. BTW, living in Canada — the 2nd largest country in the world with a population of 30M — then you’d know that there are vast areas of land on which a human foot has never stepped, especially up North. So the question of original ownership is not theoretical.

      Instead let me comment briefly on “marketable land.” George argues that there are 3 sources of wealth: natural resources, labor, and interest — only two of which grant me an individual claim of ownership. Natural resources is the odd man out, of course. One argument supporting the Single Tax or common ownership is that I have not produced the land through my own labor, my own faculties and, so, I have no right to take it out of circulation (so to speak) without compensating society for the removal of access.

      I don’t think this argument bears upon “marketable land.” I bought my farm through the proceeds of writing; my husband bought it through computer programming and design. The wealth we traded would be recognized as individually owned by Georgists. If the land you purchase is pre-owned — that is, on the market — then I believe it is reasonable to view it as representing wealth produced by your labor as much as anything else you trade for, yet, have not produced yourself. In other words, with marketable land you are not making the claim of ownership due to mixing your labor; you are trading the products of your faculties for it.This seems to me to be a non-trivial distinction.

      I know there is the “stolen property” argument, and I have not addressed the perceived origination problem…but I am loathe to write Part II in Part I of the comments section.

      • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

        I commented elsewhere that arguments of ownership through purchase are equally logical (or equally illogical) with regard to slaves as with regard to land. Let’s give that a try with a passage Wendy wrote, with the changes in CAPSe:

        One argument supporting ABOLITION or NON-ownership is that I have not produced the SLAVE through my own labor, my own faculties and, so, I have no right to take it out of circulation (so to speak) without compensating society for the removal of access.

        I don’t think this argument bears upon “marketable SLAVES.” I bought my farm SLAVE through the proceeds of writing; my husband bought it through computer programming and design. The wealth we traded would be recognized as individually owned by ABOLITIONISTS. If the SLAVE you purchase is pre-owned — that is, on the market — then I believe it is reasonable to view it as representing wealth produced by your labor as much as anything else you trade for, yet, have not produced yourself. In other words, with marketable SLAVES you are not making the claim of ownership due to mixing your labor; you are trading the products of your faculties for it.This seems to me to be a non-trivial distinction.

        Certainly, one can argue that owning slaves is different from owning land, but one cannot deny that the argument you are using to justify owning land can be (and was) put forward to justify owning slaves.

        Shawn asked me why I was quoting Spencer. It is because Spencer said it better than I, and I do not like to plagiarize. How many transfers does it take to convert what was a wrong into a right? Am I any less excluded from land because you bought it from someone who had enclosed it than if you had enclosed it yourself?

        • Dan…I think should refrain from discussing the “refutation” aspect of my 2-part article because the refutation comes in Part II. I must say, however, that I respectfully disagree with about everything you say in the above post. Just one example before breaking off….you draw an analogy between land ownership and black slavery in the 19th century. You grant a ‘right’ of occupation and use of land if a fee is paid to society for doing so. Unless you grant a similar ‘right’ to claim and use a slave as long as a fee is paid to others, then there is no validity whatsoever to your analogy. It evokes emotion but disintegrates upon examination.

          • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

            The analogy holds in terms of what is theft. Each person has a fundamental right to access land, and has a fundamental right to humanity.

            Your rightful share of land is the share that would pay as much rent as you would collect in a dividend. Your share of humanity is you.

            The mechanisms differ because slaves are, in fact, different from land. Still, the private ownership of land is a command of other people’s labor. This is not an analogy I concocted. Tolstoy wrote that “Possession of land by people who do not use it is immoral, just like possession of slaves.”

            England did not ship slaves to its own country, nor to Ireland and Scotland, because land monopoly gave English landlords as much power over English, Scottish and Irish labor as they could have gotten from making them slaves. William Lloyd Garrison, America’s leading abolitionist, called “for the repeal of the union between England and Ireland, because it is not founded in equity, because it is not a blessing, but a visible curse… on the same ground, and for the same reason, I am for the repeal of the union between the North and the South.”

            Jefferson often noted that the working classes of Europe were worse off than America’s slave, noting “our only blot is becoming less offensive by the great improvement in the condition and civilization of that race, who can now more advantageously compare their situation with that of the laborers of Europe. Still, it is a hideous blot…”

            This was a common observation among abolitionists.

            So, while the mechanism for creating equality with regard to land differs from the mechanism with regard to slaves, it is no stretch to make an analogy between property in land and property in slaves. Both are mechanisms that give the owners power to enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor.

            I assume you have written Part II. I think it is time to post it.

            • John KindleyNo Gravatar says:

              Dan, I must say, although I may be a little biased (by our shared recognition of the Truth!), that you’re killing it left and right. Your point above about open immigration obviating the obligation of a locality to externalize the sharing of rent is just one of your points from which I’ve learned. It doesn’t look like you have a blog unfortunately, but is there a place on the Internet where your writings are collected? As for the problem of people like Wendy and her husband having already traded their labor for land they supposed the would hold free of the obligation to pay rent to those excluded: They conducted such transactions under conditions in which they assumed the obligation to pay property taxes to the State, and it is the State which recognizes and enforces their title to the land. It would be a bonanza to such title holders were the State to disappear overnight and were they to then hold the land free of all conditions whatsoever. Were the State to disappear overnight and the single tax enacted, it seems to me that virtually everyone, landholders included, would pay less than they had before in total taxes, and therefore the landholders would have little room to complain about the single tax. The hard case would be the person who invested his life savings in a plot of unimproved land, the value of which would be gutted after the transition to the single tax. If a society becomes just enough to enact the single tax, I am sure it would be just enough to deal equitably with such hard cases.

          • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

            “Men mistake when they imagine the Single Tax agitation to aim only at fiscal change, a new method of taxation. Its sole purpose is to secure the larger freedom of the race. It is not the method but the result that is precious. For it is idle to talk of the equal rights of men when the one thing essential to such equality is withheld.”

            – William Lloyd Garrison, jr., in *Liberty and the Great Libertarians*, p.355

  9. dLNo Gravatar says:

    Is the refutation in part II, because it is not in part I.

    I would ask a simple question: if you taxed land and capital each at 100% of it’s opportunity cost, would you observe the same result? A simple question with plenty of counter-factual examples that demonstrate ground rents closely approximate a shift of producer surplus to public surplus without any deadweight loss or loss of consumer surplus. I would challenge anyone to produce the counter-factuals of taxing the opportunity cost of capital not being distortionary.

    It is also inaccurate to portray Georgism as “collectivist.” The exclusive use of land is treated as a privilege but that is not the same as land collectivism. On the contrary, you are essentially “buying” your way out of the collectivism, unlike every other enforcement model of private property that seems irretrievably riddled with collectivist enforcement.

    More here: A critique of Bryan Caplan’s Entrepreneurial Case Against Georgism
    http://rulingclass.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/caplans-entrepreneuri al-critique-of-georgism/

    • Hi dL: Yes. At the very end of Part I, I offer a criticism of Georgism by Benjamin Tucker and state “It is to such critiques of Georgism that Part II of this article will turn.”

  10. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    Anyway, it’s been fun, but let’s see what Wendy has to say in Part II. Perhaps she will provide another angle with her refutation.

  11. I must say I am overwhelmed by the level of debate on Part I, which I thought would be the uncontroversial Part. Please excuse me if I do not reply to everyone as I only set aside about 1/2 hour tonight. Well…let me dig in.

  12. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the article. i have never been in favor of Georgism. I have at times refered to myself as an anti-Georgist. If one is obligated to pay a tax or “rent” on land they don’t own it.


    • Adam Smith FanNo Gravatar says:

      Mr Rearden, if you pay me to admit your right to own the land, then I will admit that right and keep off it. If you do not pay me then you will have to pay for courts and a security force to keep me off (or at the least for ammunition). Land ownership leads to costs and benefits. The payment whether to me or to the government is merely a cost of land ownership. It does not compromise your ownership. Indeed it only arises because of your ownership.

      • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

        You sound like the state or Mafia. The vast majority of people respect property rights. It is those who do not that is the reason why some claim a state in necessary. I would rather pay for security than pay bad people to leave me alone. It is a matter of principle. It is a matter of what is right.


        • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

          I see the ad hominems have begun.

          • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

            I made observations not ad hominems. If you don’t believe those observations are accurate I would like to know why you believe they are not accurate.


            A song about people who did not respect the property rights of others.


            • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

              “You sound like the state or Mafia” is ad hominem, meaning directed at the person. It has nothing to do with whether you think your attack is accurate or not.

              Similarly, if I were to look at your excuse for this ad hominem and reply, “You sound like an idiot,” that would also be ad hominem, no matter how accurate it was. So, I will not say it.

              • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

                I don’t sound like an idiot. Thus that statement would be inaccurate. I don’t consider truth an attack. For example if one says that Noam Chomsky is a Socialist that is not an ad hominem attack. It is the truth. To call someone what thy are even if they find it objectionable is not an ad hominem attack because it is true. George Wallace was a bigot is not an ad hominem because George Wallace actually was a bigot.


                • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

                  I never doubted that you genuinely think the other person sounds like the Mafia. Also, I never doubted that you don’t think you sound like an idiot. I just doubt that you know the definition of ad hominem.

                  That is unfortunate, as your ad hominem style degrades the conversation. I suggest you go to http://dictionary.com and look up the meaning of the term.

                  • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

                    I know what it means. It is ironic that you are perhaps hurling an ad hominem at me by claiming I don’t know what it means. What you are not taking into consideration is that an ad hominem can be a matter of opinion. I doubt for example that Eichman would have considered it an ad hominem if one called him a National Socialist. This is because he axtually was a Nazi and was proud to be so. I make it a point to not engage in ad hominems but if someone is a bigot for example I see nothing wrong with saying so. I see no reason to continue this discussion.If someone finds pointing out the truth insulting then so be it.


                    • Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

                      Well, the conversation degrades when people assume that what they assume the truth as they see it to be the actual truth, and when they respond, not to what other people actually said, but what they “sound like.”

                      The Georgist perspective “sounds like” capitalism to dogmatic socialists and “sounds like” socialism to dogmatic capitalists. This says as much about the biases of the two dogmas as about the Georgist perspective.

                      Declaring what something “sounds like” is a very poor kind of analysis, especially if one rushes to judgement and fails to entertain the possibility of error. For example, I could tell you about a person who gets paid to enter rooms with unconscious people in them and cut those people open with knives. One might then make the snap judgement that this person sounds like a Mafia hit man, only to find out that he is actually a surgeon.

                      To me, “Adam Smith Fan” sounds more like an American Indian than like the Mafia. He made no threats, but merely stated his case that he and others had all been using that land, without enclosing it, long before you arrived. He was perfectly willing to share the land in such a way that you could enclose it and get a large benefit, and only have to compensate others for their smaller loss. This was, in fact, the policy of the Iroquois Nation, which was funded from modest rents from each tribe.

                      In any case, if you live in North America, the land you hold was almost certainly taken by force or the threat of force, and either without compensation or after “making an offer they can’t refuse.” How is that less Mafia-like than what Adam Smith Fan is saying?

        • Adam Smith FanNo Gravatar says:

          Not at all, young man. I was here for several years before you arrived and told me that you were taking possession of that piece of land from which I used to collect apples. Now I never claimed ownership of it so I respect your right to do so. However your decision is causing me an economic loss since I will no longer be able to collect apples and I think it perfectly reasonable that you should compensate me for that loss since it has come about as a result of your decision to take sole possession of the land containing the apple trees.

          In fact I quite like this sole possession idea and will be claiming ownership of the land through which the local creek runs. As a good anarcho-capitalist I will be quite happy to sign a contract with you paying you to keep off it. If you do likewise for your land our mutual payments will cancel each other out. You can then sell me apples and I can sell you water. Those payments will also cancel each other out. Excellent!

          But if you think it better that we both employ security forces (even though we will both then be paying $50 to third parties rather than paying $50 to each other) so be it. We can blaze away at each other content in our righteousness, though rather poorer, thirstier and hungrier.

  13. Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

    You captured the fundamental error of neolibertarianism. The positive intervention, the initiation of force, is the exclusion of people from land in the first place. Rent sharing is merely compensation. It is no different from compensating someone whose rights were violated in other ways. Where there is no exclusion, there is no rent to share.

    Thus, there is no rent in nomadic societies until some scoundrel decides to fence in an oasis and charge others for access to water. If we suppose that water should be intelligently rationed to prevent the oasis from going dry, does that mean that the person fencing in the oasis has a right to lay tribute on everyone else? Isn’t justice better served if the revenue from water rationing be distributed among all of the nomads who depend on the oasis?

  14. chuck martelNo Gravatar says:

    While it doesn’t appear to be available on-line, William Cobbett’s letter of 6 February, 1819 to Thomas Malthus, from Cobbett’s England, The Folio Society, London, 1968, pg.85, gives his opinion on land ownership in the context of the English subjugation of Ireland. Like much of what Cobbett wrote, it’s a great read and real food for thought.

    “The land, the trees, the fruits, the herbage, the roots, are, by the law of nature, the common possession of all the people. The social compact, entered into for their mutual benefit and protection ; . . . gives rise, at once, to the words mine and thine. Men exert their skill and strength upon particular spots of land. These become their own. And when laws come to be made, these spots are called the property of the owners. But still the property, in land especially, can never be so complete and absolute as to give to the proprietors the right of withholding the means of existence, or of animal enjoyment, from any portion of the people; seeing that the very foundation of the compact was, the protection and benefit of the whole.”

  15. Deprived NinjaNo Gravatar says:

    Never take advice from someone with two first names (Henry George). Or two last names (Anderson Cooper). It’s like eating at a place called “Mom’s” -it just ain’t right.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      What about a French name like Voltairine de Cleyre? She passsed away on June 20, 1912 at age 45.


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  16. Dan SullivanNo Gravatar says:

    I just noticed that there was no announcement here of Part II. It was posted several days ago, and appears at:

    http://dailyanarchist.com/2012/06/21/the-single-tax-a-refutation/ comment-page-1/