The ups and downs of Henry George.
Henry George's Progress and Poverty (1879) was one of the most widely circulated books in the world in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Through this and his other writings, and by the charismatic nature of his public lectures in America, England and Australia, his ideas attracted a vast number of devoted supporters. But, since then, his influence has waned, despite the support of Georgists and Georgist organisations actively involved in promoting his ideas, as in the book under review here. There seems now to be a reawakening of interest in Georgism, or at least in a line of Neo-Georgist thought that is seeking, not a doctrinaire and literal restatement of the words of the master, but a reinterpretation that identifies the essential and enduring principles, and attempts to show their relevance to the world's current economic and environmental problems. Laurence S. Moss, editor of this collection, asks whether this renewal of interest in George--a new up in the cycle of Georgist ups and downs--signifies the age of a 'Georgist revival in economic reform and the proverbial quest for social justice' (p. x).
The book is a republication of seven papers that originally appeared in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 67(1), January 2008. Five of the seven papers had been presented at the conference of the Eastern Economic Association in New York City in March 2005, and the other two at the meeting of the History of Economics Society at Grinnell College in June 2006. This book is the latest offering in a series entitled 'Studies in Economic Reform and Social Justice', edited by Laurence S. Moss--a series conceived as elaborations of the ideas of Henry George. The compact and inexpensive format of the book will make its contents available to a wider public who might not normally subscribe to, or read, the AJES. The book is dedicated to the memory of Robert V. Andelson--who died on 8 November 2003--in recognition of his contributions to the study of the ideas of George. The final item in the book is a commentary from Mark Perlman, also recently deceased (3 May 2006), on the five Georgist papers presented at the 2005 conference of the Eastern Economic Association.
A small but interesting contribution to the book is an article by Jerome F. Heavey, of Lafayette College, on 'Henry George, Emile de Laveleye, and the Issue of Peasant Proprietorship'. De Laveleye (1822-1892) was professor of political economy at the University of Liege. His main work (published in French in 1873 and translated as Primitive Property in 1878) was known to George; and Laveleye published commentaries on Progress and Poverty. Heavey shows how the two reformers had similar views on the importance of an equal sharing of rental income; but also shows how de Laveleye's critique of George suggests two tasks for Georgists today: to explain in detail the role that government would play in a land-tax regime; and to develop policies to cope with the poverty that would persist due to the monopolisation of capital, even after land-value taxation is introduced.
Another brief item is a four-page article by Ross B. Emmet, of Michigan State University, on 'Frank H. Knight's Criticism of Henry George'. He argues that although Knight rebuked George in strong language, he did not reject George's appeal to ethical principles. For Knight, 'social problems are ultimately ethical in character' (Emmet, p. 64). The basis of Knight's disagreement with George was his view that unearned increases are not peculiar to land, but occur also with labour and capital.
Mason Gaffney, formerly Professor of Economics at the University of a German California, Riverside, has contributed an article on 'Keeping Land in Capital Theory: Ricardo, Faustmann, Wicksell, and George' (pp. 119-41). He argued that economists such as J. B. Clark and Frank Knight 'aimed to wipe out any bright line, or any line at all, between land and capital' (p. 122), but that Martin Faustmann, forest economist in the middle of the nineteenth century, and a pioneer in the development of the technique of discounted cash flow, distinguished between forestry land and forestry capital, and showed how irregular costs and revenues could be converted into a regular flow, thus finding the optimal time to harvest and replace forests. The same technique can be used in deciding the optimal time to redevelop an urban site, by distinguishing between the current and expected values of the site and the improvements. The implication therefore is that the distinction made by the classical economists and by George between land and capital needs to be retained, despite the tendency of neoclassical economics to conflate them.
This argument for maintaining a clear conceptual distinction between land and capital is also pursued by Fred E. Foldvary, of Santa Clara University, in an article entitled 'The marginalists who confronted land', which examines the attitude of neoclassical economists to the distinction between land and capital. Although the neoclassical school generally regards land simply as a form of capital, Foldvary argues that a number of famous neoclassicals maintained that land is a distinct factor of production. The neoclassicals he identifies are Hermann Heinrich Gossen, Friedrich von Wieser, Leon Walras, Vilfredo Pareto and Alfred Marshall. He finds Georgist-type ideas in each of them.
Gossen proposed that the state buy land and rent it out (Foldvary, p. 92). Wieser did not advocate that public finance should be based entirely on land rent, but he did treat land and rent as distinct from capital and property (Foldvary, pp. 92-4). Walras argued that 'to leave lands to individuals, instead of reserving them for the state, implies allowing a parasitical class taking advantage of the enrichment that should instead satisfy the always growing demand for public services' (Walras 1896, p. 324; quoted by Foldvary, p. 65). Like Gossen, Walras proposed that the state should purchase land and lease it out to the highest bidder, using the land rents to fund the purchase, and then as a source of income, instead of other taxes. Foldvary recognises that Walras differed from George in proposing that the state should purchase the land and that the landowners should be compensated at full market value, but nevertheless argues that there is a remarkable similarity between Walras and George on the land question and on free trade (Foldvary, pp. 94-100).
Foldvary (pp. 100-112) also regards Pareto as a neoclassical economist who 'confronted land', but here the argument is less convincing. Although Pareto recognised that private appropriation of land creates a privileged and exploitative class, he did not regard land nationalisation as a feasible option for settled countries, and did not advocate a land-value tax along Georgist lines. Moreover, by using the term 'territorial capital' to refer to land, he seems to have adopted the neoclassical view of land as a form of capital.
The fifth neoclassical economist included by Foldvary in his list of those who 'confronted land' is Marshall. The discussion of Marshall's view is rather brief (pp. 112-14), given his importance in the neoclassical world; and the conclusion that Marshall lacked 'a clear distinction between land and capital goods' (p. 114) seems to contradict his inclusion in the list. There are indeed some statements by Marshall that suggest a special status for land, distinct from capital. For example, even in a new country, 'land must be regarded as a thing by itself from the economic as well as from the ethical point of view'. Marshall also said that he regarded the incomes from urban land as 'true rents for all practical purposes'; that 'a special tax on these would not much affect production directly'; and that the rent of land can differ from normal profits 'for a long time together, or in some cases even permanently' (quoted by Foldvary, pp. 113, 114). But Marshall's introduction of the term quasi-rents to describe above-normal returns on capital and labour waters down the distinctive character of land, as does Marshall's statement that 'the rent of land appears to differ in degree rather than in kind from the net income yielded by other agents of production' (quoted by Foldvary, p. 113).
Foldvary's conclusion that 'Marshall's thought on land is fundamentally consistent with that of Henry George' (p. 114) does not appear to be substantiated by the all-too-brief treatment contained in this article, and does not take into consideration the sharp criticisms made by Marshall at George's lecture at Oxford University in 1884 (see Stigler 1969). Marshall's wife, Mary Paley Marshall, recorded in her What I Remember that when Marshall lectured on George at Bristol University, one listener described Marshall as 'a boa constrictor which slobbers its victim before swallowing it' (quoted by Keynes 1944, p. 277).
The importance of Foldvary's article, in my opinion, is that it deals with the similarities between Walras and George. As Foldvary notes (p. 115), if George had been aware of Walras' views on land, he might not have been so derogatory in his remarks about neoclassical economists, and they might then have treated him with more respect and given his ideas more serious consideration.
Foldvary also notes (p. 115) that Walras represents a far from insignificant exception to the general neoclassical views (a) that land is just another form of capital and (b) that the ownership and taxation of land should be no different from the ownership and taxation of capital.
In an article entitled 'Apprehending the Social Philosophy of Henry George' (pp. 67-88), Charles R. McCann Jr (Research Associate, Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh) looks at three questions that he believes have not until now received sufficient attention, namely, George's views on the nationalisation of land, on socialism and on individualism. After an introductory outline of George's theory and policy, the author presents textual evidence for and against the views that George advocated the nationalisation of land, and was, to that extent, a socialist.
As is well known, the textual evidence is confusing. George stated in various places that we must make land common property; that 'we must therefore substitute for the individual ownership of land a common ownership'; and that 'the only remedy for the unjust distribution of wealth is in making land common property' (George 1879, pp. 328, 329; quoted by McCann, p. 73). Such statements would seem to indicate clearly that George was advocating the socialisation or nationalisation of land.
But elsewhere George appears to have said that the private ownership of land would be retained under his reform; for example, 'the private ownership of land would remain just as now' (George 1929, p. 406; quoted by McCann, p. 75). And in his lectures in Australia he was reported as saying that individuals would retain the fee simple in the land.
The problem of interpreting George's precise position on the ownership of land is rendered more difficult by his introduction of the somewhat tendentious distinction between private property and private possession. By 'private possession' of land he appears to have meant a title that gives security of possession and the right to sell, lease, or bequeath, but subject to a land tax that would take for the community, and/or distribute equally, the value of the land and any 'unearned' increment in the value of the land. Whether such a title is, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to private ownership, or whether it should be described as conditional or limited private ownership, or whether it does or does not satisfy the legal requirements of private ownership--these are debatable questions that George left unanswered. Was he confused and contradictory on the exact nature of the land title he was proposing? Under his system, who would be the real owner--the state or the individual? To deploy his analogy, who would have the shell and who would have the kernel?
George seemed to think that the essence of property in land was ownership of land value; so that, by nationalising land value, we would be taking property in land from private persons and conferring it upon the state, that is, making it common property, leaving private persons with private possession rather than private property. As I have argued elsewhere (Pullen 2001), there is, in my opinion, no legal or ethical reason for the title attaching to land not to be called private property, even if the land value is fully taxed; and hence no justification for describing the Single Tax policy as one which makes land common property. George's often-quoted statement: 'we must make land common property', if taken literally, sounds like a clarion call for socialism. But it is much less socialist than it at first appears, if we recognise George's idiosyncratic distinction between private property and private possession.
McCann neatly summarises the textual dilemma with which George left us; but McCann is not alone in not being able to provide a completely satisfactory resolution. As far as I am aware, no other commentator has so far succeeded in offering a resolution. Perhaps a resolution will never be found; and those who seek to reform the laws relating to the ownership of the value of natural resources will continue to apply their political ideologies in deciding whether to describe their policies either as state ownership or private ownership of land.
The five articles, briefly referred to already, are valuable contributions to the Georgist literature. The sixth article will be discussed at greater length, as it happens to coincide with aspects of George's work I have been currently researching.
The sixth article, entitled 'Henry George's Political Critics', is by Professor Michael Hudson, Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of Missouri (Kansas City). The author lists the following twelve criticisms that have been made of George's political positions and strategies:
(1) 'George's Refusal to Link His Proposals with Those of Other Reformers' (p. 8)
Hudson shows how this alienated supporters such as Karl Marx, Edward Bellamy and members of the Labor Party, as well as socialists and other reformers in general. He compares George's 'aloof', 'sectarian', and 'inward-looking' attitude to that of Marx 'who spent much of his time with associates organizing groups to create a following' (p. 9).
There is undoubtedly a large element of truth in what Hudson says, but perhaps the words 'aloof' and 'sectarian' are rather too strong. After all, authors cannot reasonably be expected to combine or cooperate with those who hold antithetical views. Marxists and socialists can reasonably invite land reformers to join them, even if the land reformers do not wish to support a full-blown socialism that aimed for the nationalisation of all the means of production. For Marxists, such land reformers would be a useful ally in the wider struggle. But for George, who was doctrinally opposed to full-blown socialism, any form of cooperation or union with Marxists or socialists would have been, not a means to a larger end, but a contradiction, and a dereliction of intellectual integrity. Whether Henry George was right or wrong, he was no more 'sectarian' than Karl Marx. Each believed sincerely in his own system; each promoted his own sect.
On numerous occasions George declared that he was not a socialist; but his anti-socialism should not be exaggerated. As Hudson notes, George advocated government ownership of railroads and the telegraph--in itself, a significant socialist policy. And of course his Single Tax policy meant in effect the nationalisation of land values. Hudson states: 'Land remains the largest asset even in today's industrial and high-technology economies. Most "capital" gains are still land-price gains, which substantially exceed corporate profits' (p. 3). Any country that nationalises the main portion of its corporate profits must surely be regarded as mainly socialist.
(2) 'George's Single-Minded Focus on Land Rent Rather than Other Forms of Exploitation' (p. 9)
Hudson argues that another reason for the failure of Georgism to gain long-term popular support is the fact that, although he proposed to abolish private monopolisation of railroads and the telegraph by nationalising them, he did not pursue a policy for abolishing monopolies in other industries. George's view was that, after the Single Tax and free trade are introduced, the forces of competition would cause other monopolies to disappear.
Georgists would have to admit, with Hudson, that this was a brave assumption on George's part, for which no empirical evidence was available at the time. Nor will any empirical evidence become available until such time as a free trade and Single Tax experiment is conducted. It may be that George's assumption will prove to be correct; but a more sceptical view of human nature would suggest that other ingenious methods for the exploitation of man by man would soon be devised, even in a world of free trade and the Single Tax.
(3) 'George's support of Capital Against Labour'
Hudson refers to George's 'almost unconditional support of capital, even against labour' (Abstract, p. 1)--although for the present reader it is not clear whether this is Hudson's own view, or whether he is merely reporting a view held by some of George's critics. The latter would seem to be the correct interpretation, as Hudson later notes that 'George often supported labour' (p. 14). Certainly, it would be quite unwarranted to say that George almost unconditionally supported capital against labour. In addition to the instances cited by Hudson (p. 14), one could cite several instances in the reports of George's Australian lectures where he congratulated the trade unions on the success of their strikes. But, unlike Marx, he did not regard capital and capitalists as the enemy of labour. Under his Single Tax plan, there would be no tax on the profits of capitalists except insofar as they included gains from land and other natural resources. He believed, perhaps naively, that capital and labour could live and work in harmony, after the removal of the injustices and inequalities due to an unequal distribution of the value of natural resources.
(4) 'George's Individualism Rejecting a Regulatory or Planning Role for Government' (p. 16)
Hudson believes that another reason for the political criticism levelled at George was his 'economic individualism' and his rejection of 'a strong role for government' (p. 1). According to Hudson, Single Taxers had 'a highly negative view of government', and George 'sided with free-enterprise advocates whose major objective was to minimize the role of government' (p. 18).
As stated above, George's policy for the taxation of the full value of all land and other natural resources represents a very considerable incursion of government into what is now regarded as the domain of
free enterprise. Hudson appears to have neatly summarised George's overall political position as 'economic individualism', and as a rejection of a 'strong role for government'. In his lecture tour in Australia, he several times chided Australians for relying too much on the government, and not doing enough for themselves, as individuals, to improve their towns and cities. If government needs to play a role, George expressed a preference for local rather than state or national government; but he could not be correctly described as anti-government or anarchist on principle. When asked in Australia whether a land-value tax, by deterring the withholding of land, would encourage overdevelopment of some cities or an inefficient dispersal of development, he replied that such things could be prevented by appropriate regulation--which suggests that he recognised the need for some measure of regulation by means of town planning.
(5) 'George's Opposition to Public Ownership of Land'
Although George said we must make land common property, and although his followers often formed societies with names such as Land Nationalisation Leagues, he repeatedly asserted that he did not advocate land nationalisation. As Hudson notes (p. 18), George recognised that nationalisation of land, even if compensation is paid, would involve political trauma and widespread opposition. A further reason for his rejecting nationalisation was that the leasing of publicly owned land would increase the inefficiency and corruption that he had witnessed in government administration. Yet another reason was that a formal act of nationalisation would have strengthened the case for compensation, thus offsetting or nullifying the public revenue to the derived from the lease rents.
(6) 'George's Refusal to Address the Problem of Interest-Bearing Debt'
Hudson provides (pp. 20-4) a fascinating account, based on quotations from a variety of unusual sources, of the opposition to George's failure to recognise that interest on debt is as much a rentier income as rent on land, and as much a form of exploitation. George believed that the Single Tax would solve the debt problem, because, by removing the speculative element in the price of land and removing other taxes, it would make most individuals and businesses more wealthy and abolish the conditions that pushed people into debt. George was unwilling to accept proposals for credit creation by government, partly because he thought it was unnecessary, and partly because, as already noted, he feared the possibilities for corruption and maladministration in big government.
(7) 'George's Ricardian Emphasis on Rural Land' (p. 24)
If George was criticised for placing scant emphasis on urban land, then, on this score at least, his critics were clearly wrong. He repeatedly declaimed against the unearned increments of urban land, and his emotional accounts of life in the slums of great cities show his deep concern for the urban land problem.
It is certainly true, however, as Hudson points out, that George did not seem to realise, or did not give sufficient attention to, the fact that private ownership of home sites was becoming increasingly widespread, and that home owners would combine with real estate agents and developers in political opposition to a land-value tax. As Hudson observes, 'Rent was becoming democratised rather than being an economic gain restricted to a distinct class' (p. 29).
However, although the ownership of land and the enjoyment of its 'unearned increments' have become more widespread than in George's day, at least in Westernised countries, there are signs that the trend is now reversing. The increasing cost of urban land has meant that an increasing proportion of the population--especially among the younger generation--are forced to become renters rather than owners of urban land. The main class conflict in the future is likely to be not between capital and labour, or between aristocrats and serfs, but between the land-rich and the land-poor, between the urban landed and the urban landless, between the urban land-possessed and the urban land-dispossessed.
It is often said, with some truth, that if the majority of voters in a democratic country are landowners, it would be politically impossible for any government to implement a Georgist land-value tax in the fullest sense. But if the majority became landless tenants, and are aware of the tax-free increments in land value enjoyed by the landowning minority, the reverse may be true. It may then be politically impossible not to implement a wider sharing of the value of land and other natural resources.
(8) 'George's Free-Trade Stance' (p. 26)
George believed that protectionism fosters monopolies, but Hudson cites critics who argued that monopolies also occur in free-trade countries, like England, and that some monopolies like the sugar trust in America, have campaigned for free trade. Hudson also points to the environmental costs, such as soil degradation, that have resulted from over-production for export markets under free trade.
During George's lecture tour of Australia in 1890, it was reported that his opposition to protection alienated many who would otherwise have supported his land-tax proposals. In his lectures he invariably linked land-tax policy with free-trade policy, as if it was intellectually and morally impossible to have one without the other.
(9) 'George's Rejection of an Academic Platform to Elaborate Rent Theory and Taxation' (p. 27)
When George was invited to address the University of California at Berkeley, he destroyed any prospect of being considered for a chair of political economy by abusing the economic profession in general. Hudson believes that this anti-academic stance has persisted among Georgists, and has resulted in the disappearance of Georgist ideas from the academic curriculum. In economics textbooks 'land' has become subsumed as a form of 'capital', and rent has ceased to be regarded as an unearned increment, or as essentially different from profit on capital.
(10) 'The Narrowing of George's Theorizing Beyond the Land Question as Such' (p. 30)
Although George deplored poor working conditions, substandard urban housing, and the exploitation inflicted by the private owners of natural monopolies, it is true, as Hudson states, that his political programme did not contain policies that specifically targeted those problems. He did not regard land reform as the only necessary reform, but he believed it was the most fundamental reform, without which all others would be ineffectual. This has meant that he and his followers have not often been at the forefront in articulating policies in areas other than land reform. In particular, they have not developed policies to deal with the creation of credit, and have therefore lost support from those who see the socialisation or social control of credit creation as another necessary and fundamental reform. As Hudson says (pp. 31, 35), there is a direct connection between credit creation and land prices, and between the banking industry and the real-estate industry. Banks regard land as the best collateral for their loans, and their credit creation fuels the land-price spiral--thus prompting the financial sector to give political support to the real-estate industry and to any other organisation that opposes land-value taxation.
(11) 'George's Alliance with the Right Wing of the Political Spectrum' (p. 31)
Hudson recounts how Georgism has become associated over time with different colours of the political spectrum. For property owners and financial interests, Georgism has been seen as socialist. But many socialists have rejected it, because of George's refusal to support the nationalisation of capital. Others see it as anti-socialist and pro-individualist, because of its plan to remove all income tax, even on the wealthy, and because of its glorification of small government.
The history of Georgism thus seems to show that every conceivable political party can find some aspect of Georgism that pleases it, and some aspect that does not.
I would, however, need to have further evidence before accepting Hudson's statements that George's followers lacked 'a quantitative explanation of how government would collect and distribute the flow of rent', and that 'it would take until the end of the 20th century for some of George's followers to propose paying a "citizen's dividend" out of public collection of land and resource rent' (pp. 32-3). It seems to me that George and most Georgists have always been quite clear on these issues. The revenue from their land-value tax would be used to remove all other taxes, and any surplus would be available for free rail transport, or for welfare payments to widows, orphans and the elderly, or as a grant to each citizen. The term 'citizen's dividend' did not appear in Georgist literature until recent times, but the concept is clearly there in 1879 or earlier. Rather than Georgists catching up at the end of the twentieth century with the 'citizen's dividend' concept of the 'libertarian movement', it would be more correct to say that the latter finally caught up with the Georgist vision. This is not to say that the Georgist plan to have all taxation on land value is necessarily convincing or practical; but the plan itself has been given a reasonably clear explanation, even if not with econometric precision.
(12) 'George's Hope that the Single Tax Could be Enacted Gradually Without Radical Confrontation' (p. 33)
Hudson makes the telling point that, of all the major reforms discussed in George's day, the Single Tax was the only one not to succeed. One reason is that it was the most radical reform, 'given the embedded character of land tenure in society's wealthiest and most politically powerful families, and the fact that mortgage lending was becoming the banking industry's major business' (p. 34). Another reason, according to Hudson, is that George and his followers hoped that land-value taxation could be introduced gradually, 'as a merely technical reform with minimum political confrontation' (p. 34).
Hudson largely attributes the political failure of Georgism to George's personal failings--'his self-centered personality', 'his spirit of martyrdom', his sectarianism, and 'his encouragement of increasingly cultish followers'. He describes George as a 'tragic figure', because of 'his self-destructive political strategy'; the 'tragedy of Henry George' was that 'George the politician turned out to be the worst enemy of George the economic journalist and reformer' (pp. 37-9). In Hudson's view:
Rarely has so well argued a tax reform with so wide an early following been handled with such political ineptitude. (p. 39)
The political and personal causes suggested by Hudson would go a long way towards explaining the decline in popularity of George's ideas and policies in the period following his death. But I am not convinced that they are the principal reasons for the lack of acceptance and implementation of his policies today. The ideas of George remain the same even after his personal characteristics, and even his name, are long forgotten. Is it possible that the lack of acceptance of the policies is due, not merely or mainly to the vested interests and ideology of the critics, or to his political ineptitude, but to some defects in the theoretical structure behind the policies?
In my opinion, as argued elsewhere (Pullen 2005), there are several aspects of George's theoretical system that need to be reconsidered. One is the fact, rarely adverted to in the pro-Georgist literature, that his proposed annual tax on the land values of owner-occupied residential land is a tax on an unrealised value or unrealised gain, and therefore is likely to cause widespread hardship and political opposition because of inability to pay. Deferment or postponement of the tax until the owner reaches or regains a sufficient income stream, or dies, is not a politically acceptable solution in a society where home ownership is widely dispersed. A capital-gains tax, as normally imposed, is not levied until after a capital gain is realised. George's annual land-value tax is a land-gains tax that would be levied before the land gains on residential land are reached. Both the morality and the feasibility of such a tax must be questionable.
A second questionable aspect of George's theory is the argument that land-value tax is the only morally justified tax, because all other taxes are taxes on labour or capital; and because the products of work or saving should belong totally to the producer. In asserting this theoretical principle, George seems to have carried his economic and political individualism to an unwarranted extreme position. He understates the role played by others in the life and work of the individual. The labourer's product is produced by the labourer, but is not produced by the labourer alone. It is produced by the individual labourer supported by all the hereditary, educational, social, cultural and environmental influences that have contributed to his or her productivity. Since others have contributed to the productivity of the individual, it would seem perfectly logical and justifiable, on the Lockean or labour theory of property employed by George, for others (or society in general) to claim through income tax a portion of the labourer's output.
A third questionable aspect of George's theory is his belief that, where the land value of private landowners is taken away by the state, their legal title to their land is transformed from 'private property' to 'private possession'. As argued above, this would seem to be a totally unnecessary theoretical distinction. It is surely one which alienated, and continues to alienate, all for whom the institution of private ownership of land is an aspiration, and for whom 'land hunger' is a normal and desirable emotion. There seems to be no reason for declaring that privately owned land that is subject to land-value tax should not still be described as privately owned.
I suggest that theoretical issues such as these need to be addressed before the Georgist policy of land-value taxation can achieve feasibility and political acceptance. George held that if a theory is correct, the policy that it leads to must be feasible. The reverse is also true; if there are flaws in the theory, the policies that flow from it cannot be feasible.
The informed and fascinating survey in this book of criticisms that have been levelled at George covers as much as any reader could reasonably expect within one book. Two further Georgist themes that could be considered in a more extensive survey are: the principle of equal rights to natural resources conceived as a moral issue, and the principle of equal sharing or distribution of the value of natural resources considered in its macroeconomic and utilitarian implications. These two principles are, in my opinion, the most essential and most enduring aspects of George's system. Other aspects of his system--such as the singleness of the Single Tax, the legitimacy or otherwise of taxes on income, and the distinction between private possession and private property--have unfortunately occupied the dominant position in both the pro-Georgist and anti-Georgist debates in the past, and will no doubt continue to engender vigorous debate. But even if an unlikely consensus were ever agreed that George was mistaken on all of these other issues, there remains the fundamental question: would a nation be better off or worse off if the value of all its natural resources was shared equally amongst all its members? Many critics have rejected the moral principle that we all have equal natural rights to land, mainly because they deny the existence of natural rights of any kind; but it would be interesting to learn from Professor Hudson, or from any other reliable source, whether any critics have ever proved conclusively that society would become better off, or worse off, by an equal distribution of the value of its natural resources. Disproof of George's other theories and policies does not in any way disprove that an equal sharing of the value of a nation's natural resources would promote the economic well-being of its members, jointly and severally.
Hudson concludes his well-researched and challenging article with a statement, which the present reviewer would heartily endorse:
The failure to place land rent and other forms of economic rent in its macroeconomic setting has blocked a serious discussion of land-value taxation from academia and congressional law making. (p. 40)
George, H. 1879 . Progress and Poverty. New York: Modern Library.
Keynes, J.M. 1944. 'Obituary of Mary Paley Marshall 1850-1944', Economic Journal, 54(214), pp. 268-84.
Pullen, J. 2001. 'Henry George's land reform: the distinction between private ownership and private possession', American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 60(2), pp. 547-56.
Pullen, J. 2005. 'The philosophy and feasibility of Henry George's land-value tax: criticisms and defenses, with particular reference to the problem of the land-rich-and-income-poor', in J. Laurent (ed.) Henry George's Legacy in Economic Thought, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, pp. 177-95.
Stigler, G.J. 1969. 'Alfred Marshall's lectures on Progress and Poverty', Journal of Law and Economics, 12(1), pp. 181-4.
John Pullen, Honorary Fellow, School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, University of New England, Armidale NSW 2351, Australia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||Henry George: Political Ideologue, Social Philosopher and Economic Theorist|
|Publication:||History of Economics Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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