Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why have you never heard of Henry George?

Okay, maybe you have heard of him, but until very recently, I had not. Not while earning my bachelor's degree in business administration (major in accounting) from Arizona State. Not from labor leaders, though I was a member of the United Telegraph Workers in the 1970s; nor from AFSCME, though I was a member in the 1990s.

George first published Progress and Poverty, subtitled "an inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth... The Remedy," in 1879.

Wikipedia's article on George starts:
Henry George (September 2, 1839 – October 29, 1897) was an American writer, politician and political economist, who was the most influential proponent of the land value tax, also known as the "single tax" on land. He inspired the economic philosophy known as Georgism, whose main tenet is that people should own what they create, but that everything found in nature, most importantly the value of land, belongs equally to all humanity. His most famous work, Progress and Poverty (1879), is a treatise on inequality, the cyclic nature of industrialized economies, and the use of the land value tax as a remedy.
Albert Einstein is quoted (on the back cover of my copy of Progress and Poverty) as saying:
Men like Henry George are rare, unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form, and fervent love of justice.
American philosopher and education reform advocate John Dewey is quoted (also on the back cover):
No man, no graduate of a higher educational institution, has a right to regard himself as an educated man in social thought unless he has some first-hand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of this great American thinker.
So, WHY have we never heard of Henry George until now?

Perhaps what Leo Tolstoy had to say is instructive:
People do not argue with the teaching of George, the simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.
People will freak out in fear of Marxism and many WILL argue against it. We know the pitfalls of communism and that as a system of government and economics, it is not sustainable. But the best they can do with Georgism is to ignore it and hope it will go away.

Georgism does NOT advocate government ownership of the means of production. It does not disavow capitalism. But it DOES revolve around concepts that, when enacted in a community, an economy, a government, naturally remedies the now grossly widening gap between the .001 percent and the rest of us.

George's granddaughter, Agnes George de Mille wrote in a preface to the Centennial edition of Progress and Poverty (1979):
Inevitably he was reviled as well as idolized. The men who believed in what he advocated called themselves disciples, and they were in fact nothing less: working to the death, proclaiming, advocating, haranguing, and proselytizing the idea, and even, when lacking inspired leadership, becoming fanatically foolish so that the movement which touched greatness began to founder. It was not implemented by blood, as was communism, and so was not forced on people's attention. Shortly after George's death, it dropped out of the political field. Once a badge of honor, the title, "Single Taxer," came into general disuse. Except in Alberta (the richest and most prosperous province of Canada) and in Australia and New Zealand, his plan of social action has been neglected while those of Marx, Keynes, Galbraith and Friedman have won great attention, and Marx's has been given partial implementation, for a time, at least, in large areas of the globe.
But nothing that has been tried satisfies. We, the people, the whole people, are locked in a death grapple and nothing our leaders offer, or are willing to offer, mitigates our troubles. George said, "The people must think because the people alone can act."
We should note that Milton Friedman was the architect of the structural economic changes ushered in at the beginning of Ronald Reagan's first administration, notably deregulation and the doctrine that all government services should be privatized. We know with tremendous certainty that it was Friedman's ideas that widened the gulf between the haves and the have-nots to the obscene proportions we have now.

In Arizona, going back almost 25 years now, state government has decreased its reliance on a state property tax. Without knowing anything about Georgist economic theory, even I could see that what replaced it -- reliance on sales taxes -- put undue burden on lower income families. It was and is incredibly regressive.

So, really, what needs to happen now? Well, Progress and Poverty is 565 pages long, so there's obviously quite a bit of insight to be gleaned and it will take more than a couple of hours reading to get there. It seems reasonable, at this stage of the game, that reinstituting a statewide property tax is probably something that should be put on the drawing board. But to develop a platform that can sway the electorate to put lawmakers in office who will be willing to move in that direction will take some time and a good bit of effort. It can be done in time to begin defining the issue for the 2014 election season.

American journalist and author John Kieran said,
No one should be allowed to speak above a whisper or write more than ten words on the general subject (economics) unless he has read and digested Progress and Poverty.
As difficult as this last week was for America and Americans, the power of social media was on display in a big way, in identifying and ultimately locating the Boston Marathon bombers. But more than that, activism via social media has pretty much become a force of nature, as demonstrated by outrage regarding the US Senate vote on closing the gun show loophole for background checks, and about the President Obama's budget proposal including Social Security cuts in the name of Chained-CPI.


The fact of the matter is that Georgist economic theory has not really gone away. There are Henry George Schools of Social Sciences in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago and maybe elsewhere.
At the Henry George School you will discover the true cause of problems such as low incomes, poverty and unemployment. You will understand why so few are so wealthy, while others go without basic necessities.
Discover How the Economy Really works by participating in our tuition-free courses and seminars.
But it is unclear whether or to what extent, Henry George Schools of Social Sciences have grasped or are planning to implement online courses and seminars (webinars).

And as bloggers and Occupy activists learn about George's remedies, those bloggers and activists will obviously be able to help spread the vision of what CAN be done to level the playing field so that the promise of a job providing a living wage can reach every American family.

Let's make it so.

WE are the leaders we've been waiting for!


  1. Hear! Hear!

    The Henry George Institute, at, offers online courses and correspondence courses, and includes an excellent modern abridgment of Progress and Poverty (Bob Drake did a thought-by-thought updating into modern language, which you can find there and at has some great material in its online library.

    I commend to your attention a recent book by Walter Rybeck entitled Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle.

    By 1902, a follower of Henry George named Elizabeth Magie had created The Landlord's Game to teach his ideas. A derivative game is known today as Monopoly. See Wikipedia for more on this.

    Among the scholars whose work one might look into are Mason Gaffney, Fred Foldvary, Nic Tideman, Kris Feder, Michael Hudson, Polly Cleveland, Francis Peddle.

    Georgists gather annually; this year the meeting is in Pittsburg in early August. See

    Finally, you might find of interest, both for its videos and its other documents.

  2. A colleague suggested I might add something to your blog regarding Henry George, as I am a long-time teacher at the Philadelphia extension of the Henry George School and have developed course materials using Powerpoint-based modules I provide at no cost to teachers. The Henry George Institute offers online courses that qualify for college credit.

    The contribution of Henry George is as a moral philosopher. His principles were those of cooperative individualism, which if followed would forge societies characterized by true liberty and equality of opportunity. In 1997 I established an online project, the School of Cooperative Individualism (SCI) to introduce these principles to thoughtful people everywhere. I invite you and others to visit SCI's website and make use of the resources provided.

  3. Just out of curiosity, how did you end up hearing about Henry George?

    1. I'm currently reading Chrystia Freeland's book, Plutocrats. She mentions George several times.

  4. I would also commend to your attention the Earth Rights Institute:

  5. George has also been badly mis-understood. Today many Georgists claim that Land-Value Taxation is a good tax as compared to income tax or any tax on the results of production. There is no such thing as a good tax, but since a tax is necessary for a government to run a country it should be one that does the least amount of damage to its progress.
    It is the secondary effects that are beneficial in that LTV causes the land to be used in a more efficient manner and reduces the cost of the produce due to reduced amount of rent that the land holder can (competitively) claim. This means that the demand for consumer and durable goods will rise and that more perople will find employment that when LTV is absent. It also (incidently) stops the land owner from exploiting the raised land values, after the tax payers money has been spent by the government in improving the infrastructure.

  6. Many Georgists would disagree about there being no such thing as a good tax. LVT has important positive effects, as well as being free of the negative effects that make other taxes damaging.

    It is sometimes said that it is better to collect the economic rent and throw it in the sea than to leave it in private pockets.

    1. LVT is not am tax. It is "reclaiming" common wealth that has fallen into then hands of private individuals and organizations.

  7. Currently we penalized production and trade by levying a tax on Income and sales respectively. That is exactly what we do not need to do to create economic growth and stable just economic system.

    The prime aim is to reclaim commonly created wealth to pay for common services, eliminating Income tax (penalizing production) & Sale taxes (penalizes trade), etc. Very simple so far.

    "economic rent", is where there is NO enterprise and NO cost of production). The surplus is created by others, public and private, and can fall into many categories. The biggest form is the values of land. Land value are created by the economic activity of a community not by the landowners, so this is rife to be reclaimed and used instead of Income tax (penalizes production) & Sales taxes (penalizes trade).

    This community created value is termed "unearned income" and "economic rent", or more easy to understand when appropriated by private individuals or organisations, "economic freeloading".

    Henry George focused only on LAND, Marx on CAPITAL. Both failed. One never got off the ground as George pedalled the Single Tax, which few thought would work, and Marx failed in practice. Marx never advocated violence to enact his revolution. Geonomics focuses on all unearned income and "economic rent" and reclaims all.

    In The USA the top 1% own more wealth than the bottom 90%. This indicates an economic system that is not working. Look at how the top 1% got most of their wealth. By appropriating common wealth - wealth others worked for. Stop this plundering and economic justice will ensue. Wealth will not accumulate with the wealthy.

    Well is this just a theory? No. There are elements of Land value taxation around the world that work to great effect. The most dynamic economies in the world have decent levels of LVT: Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan. When Denmark had LVT at a national level in the early 1960s the economy took off like a rocket. There are also some elements of capturing "unearned income" around the world.

    Many view that Capitalism has failed, with some justification with two world-wide crashes inside 80 years. Marx analysed Capitalism very well (95% of his writing were about the failures of Capitalism). He was complimentary of the advances of Capitalism, but was light on an alternative solution to plug the holes of Capitalism. Marx advocated eliminating Capitalism.

    Geonomics identifies the root problems, which Marx never saw, and fills the holes, keeping the positive aspects of Capitalism.

    Currently we:
    1. Socialize private wealth via income tax.
    2. Privatize social wealth by those who appropriate "economic rent"

    We should be:

    a) Socializing social wealth - by reclaiming "economic rents"
    b) Keeping private wealth private - by eliminating Income & Sales taxes.

    Currently we steal of those who work and allow robbers to go scot-free.

  8. My 1981 college textbook, now available on-line for free reading, linking, etc., devoted a major portion of one chapter (chapter 15, "Beyond Utopia,") to the ideas of Henry George. Access it at my website, .

    My take is that George was not only ahead of his time, but he is also ahead of OUR time. But I think he was wrong to argue that captured economic rents of natural resources (using his very broad and correct definition of "land,") should be used to support the operations of government. There is no reason to assume that the captured "rents" will equal the amount government should be spending, which might be more or less than the captured rent. Instead, the money should be placed in a trust fund and disbursed periodically to every member of the public (everyone subject to the jurisdiction of that government) as an equal social dividend.

    This analysis is expanded and the logic of the social dividend is explained further in a later work, The Metaconstitutional Manifesto: A Bourgeois Vision of the Classless Society, which is also freely available via my website.

    Paul deLespinasse
    Corvallis, Oregon

  9. You don't need to read 565 pages! The Drake abridgment is about half that. And there are several synopses, including one of just 39 pages which is linked from