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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Henry George Perspective by Mike Curtis

Mike Curtis conducted a one-day workshop at Ahimsa Village on Oct. 18, 2009 on the economic philosophy of Henry George. Below is a summary of that workshop. Mike can be reached at You can learn more about George by taking Mike's mini-course at

There are many robbers in our midst: governments that steal with unjust taxes, inflation that robs those who have saved, and bankers that consume without having to produce. There are a myriad of other monopolists that rob the hard earned wealth from those who have worked and produced it. But, no matter how little or how much each of these other robbers take, there is one robber that takes all that is left, save just enough to create the incentives needed for production. And for those with the least education and skill all is taken, but a bare subsistence. The robber that takes all that is left is private property in land.

All the natural opportunities on which, and from which, we live — even the electromagnetic spectrum — is part of the land. And because there is no longer any free land place where people can live and employ themselves, wages tend toward those of chattel slavery.

Some workers are able to buy land and enjoy an advantage, even become robbers themselves — just as chattel slaves could sometimes buy their freedom and even buy other slaves; but private property in land, as slavery in the past, is none-the-less the ultimate robber of those who work and produce.

The income from land takes all the benefits of the general increase in the level of education, the infrastructure, invention, and the progress of technologies while wages tend to remain constant. That is why the increase in productivity never increases labor's standard of living nor eliminates the need for a Minimum Wage.

As the income of land continues to rise, the selling price of land is bid higher and higher by expectations of even greater incomes in the future.

The more the owners of unused land are offered, the greater the expectation of future offers and the less likely they are to sell. As machines replace workers more land is needed. Whether it is a farm worker who is replaced by a tractor that can plow more land or a factory worker who is replaced by automation each of those workers must have some other place to work. However, when those who are holding idle land as an investment refuse to sell, those who has been replaced by machinery cannot be reemployed.

The unemployed workers don’t buy as many of the products of other people’s labor, so factories lay off some of their workers. The more workers that are laid off the less demand for goods and services so more workers are laid off. Only after enough land becomes affordable that producers (workers) can access it does a recession or depression be end.

The Henry George Proposal

Eliminate all taxes that are levied on things produced or incomes from production and, instead, fund all public expenditures from the rental value of land. We must have exclusive use of land, for who would plant a crop or build a house — much less a modern factory — if they couldn't put up a fence and lock the door? By making the title to land conditional upon a payment of its rental value, the equal rights of every other member of the community to that same parcel of land would be satisfied.

As the holders land were only renting, the incentive would be to use the least possible amount of land and produce as much as possible on it; that is, within the limits of health, safety, and environmental sustainability, for the Earth belongs equally to all future generations as well.

As people would no longer hold land as an appreciating asset, there would be a much more intense development of the urban and suburban areas. As people migrated toward the centers of population, the demand and value of rural areas would fall. Large areas of the wilderness would remain natural and uninhabited. Somewhere between the edge of suburbia and the wilderness would emerge a free land alternative --- a place where land could be used, lived, and worked on without the payment of rent. Perhaps only a minute fraction of the population would actually live and work on the free land, but no one would work for some one else unless they were offered a higher standard of living than they could produce working for themselves.

Because no one could afford to hold unused land there would always be a free land alternative insuring high wages that would increase with the advance of material progress. The return to buildings, machinery, and products in the making would also increase as wages increase.

Because most new technologies increase productivity more where population is dense, the rental value of land from these areas would provide an increasing fund for the increasing needs of social growth. Not only would we see full employment, wages and the return to savings increase, but society would have increasing resources to pay for national healthcare and the development of appropriate energy. It is even likely that there would soon be resources to dispense a cash dividend equally to all our residents, who, by their cooperative presence, have created the value which attaches to land.

Businesses in which there can not reasonably be competition — like the roads and utilities — must be operated by the government. All other monopolies should be abolished.

The best mechanism to decide who produces what will then be the rewards of free people exchanging their labor for the products of other people's labor in the free market — a market that decides not only the value of everything else, but the rental value of land, which belongs to the community and society as a whole.