The pretty little girl wore pink overalls and matching pink shoes. She was standing behind a chain-fink fence in the asphalt yard of the urban day care center I was visiting, and she had been crying for several minutes. The other children were clustered around a teacher who was seated and leading a cheerful round of "Old MacDonald." She stopped for a minute and said to the girl in pink, "I'm sorry but you just CAN'T have the potato chips now." She wasn't unkind, but she wasn't kind, either, and, while I could see that she couldn't leave her eight to go help the one, still, the little girl couldn't reason like that, and she started to cry harder. Her tears gushed from her eyes. She cried not of anger but of pure unhappiness, and no one comforted her. I felt helpless, and became aware of several other adults standing near the fence in the April sunshine, on their lunch break. Evidently they were used to seeing similar scenes every day. Across the yard two other teachers were chatting with each other as if they were on another planet. I wondered what it must feel like to the little girl to be crying desperately in the close presence of seven adults who were ignoring her. Finally another teacher managed to move her to a different section of the yard. The little girl continued to cry, only more quietly.
I mentally wished her at home in the arms of her mother. Then I multiplied that scene by the thousands of newly-sprung-up child care centers around our country, and got very depressed. Where is the justice that more and more lovable children like her are sentenced to emotionally bleak environments on a daily basis, while fewer children get to enjoy the care and presence of their own parents?
From what I could observe about this center's demographic, I guessed that this girl's mother had to work. Even if the two parents are together, two incomes are generally needed to raise a family, and a one-income family is frequently living right on the brink of poverty. This phenomenon is understood and discussed over and over in the media. People generally also know that this is a relatively new situation, that only a few decades ago, one "typical" income could support a family quite comfortably, and those families often had more children than is common today! What gets me is: why don't more people question the causes of this massive economic shift?
It has such huge social implications in terms of latch-key children, parents working two jobs and being too tired to interact with their kids when they come home, not being able to read to them, to supervise them, to inculcate values, to help with homework. Parents being unavailable to help with Sunday school or cub scouts, etc. the way they used to, so the decline of that social fabric. More economic stress on spouses, more fatigue, more anxiety, more arguments, more abuse. What is going on? What changed in the last decades to bring about this extremely unhealthy economic situation?
What changed are land values. They are the "silent factor" in the economy. They must have bad breath or body odor, because people, even economists, generally ignore land values. Read any publication about economics and count the references to labor, management, unions, capital, finances, stocks, bonds, etc. vs. the discussion of land or land values. Yet it is the land on which all economic activity takes place! This strange silence about land is well worth noting.
Anyway, the same years that have seen the decline of the one-income family have also seen the dramatic increase in land values around the country, peaking here and ebbing there, but always at much higher relative levels than in previous decades. At the same time real wages have gradually fallen. Thus, housing costs, whether rents or mortgages, are a much larger proportion of paychecks today than in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Poverty and homelessness have increased at the same time. This scenario of land values going up while wages go down is exactly the model outlined in Progress and Poverty by America's eminent economist, Henry George. And it was George who insisted that ending poverty and having a better distribution of income required acknowledging the commonality of land. George even figured out how to do this while preserving people's rights to their own back yards, private industry, freedom and market incentives!
Perhaps people need to go back to this economics best-seller, translated into fourteen languages, and acclaimed by thinkers like Leo Tolstoy, John Dewey, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and William F. Buckley. Perhaps if we did, we could reverse current trends and get parents and their precious kids reunited for more hours. It would be well worth the effort, and maybe the millions of children symbolized by the little girl in pink could do less crying and more laughing.
Catherine Orloff -- May 14, 1998
What Folks Have Been Saying
This is a fantastic article. It's moving. This is the kind of piece that really gets to me, fires me up, reminds me of all the pointless suffering of innocents going on and makes me want to make things happen. Sometimes, all the numbers, percentages and statistics in the world don't have the power of a simple image like that little girl in pink crying over a bag of potato chips. I really appreciate this article. Thank you for writing it, Ms. Orloff and thank you, HGI for putting it on your site.
Adam Monroe, Jr. <[email protected]>
- Monday, May 18, 1998 at 16:35:12 (EDT)
I think you've hit the nail on the head! This is the cause of almost ALL of our problems today. We DON'T have it better today than our parents did. It takes 2 incomes to live. My husband and I have no kids, so we should have a lot of money. No way! We are renting. I have problems finding a job where I live that will pay me enough to live on. I don't see us ever owning a home of our own. The other problem is, kids are shooting each other more and more. HELLO?! When I was young, no one even THOUGHT of doing that! (I'm 30.) Parents aren't home. They feel guilty for being gone all day, and they don't spank their children anymore. Therefore, kids don't live in fear of consequences like we did when I was young. No, it is NOT abuse!! It kept me and a whole generation of kids from getting into a lot of trouble. I know that we weren't perfect, but we feared getting punished! Now, kids just get a "time-out" (What is that? Life is not a football game!!) or a slap on the wrist. Who would be scared of that? Anyway, all of this has to do with the other. We need to have our economy down, in order to solve ALL of these problems.
Stephanie <[email protected]>
Sherman, TX USA - Tuesday, May 19, 1998 at 18:31:15 (EDT)
Hear, hear! My parents spanked me, and I bring in six figures.
Max Schmoo <[email protected]>
Brooklyn, USA - Wednesday, May 20, 1998 at 10:59:38 (EDT)
Thank you for your Girl in Pink story. It is an effective way to make the point of the transfer of wealth. Ross Perot made the same point in a different way. He mentioned that individual wages had begun to decline in 1973. He mentioned that family wages had begun to decline in 1989. Maybe when people are forced to put their ten year old children to work, they will finally see what has happened. By then they may look with nostalgia on those carefree days when the Little Girl in Pink was on the playground. Yours, Dan Fritz
Dan Fritz <[email protected]>
- Thursday, May 21, 1998 at 21:57:58 (EDT)
Mr. Schmoo tells us that his parents spanked him, and today he brings in six figures. I'd be more impressed with the benefits of corporal punishment if it could be said that Mr. Schmoo is a gem of a human being, but given his responses to earlier land rants, that is not the impression I get. He not only disagrees, as an honest man might well do; he speaks only of his selfish motives for opposing LVT, and calls a Georgist snotty when she politely answers the points raised by a non-Georgist. I do hope I'm wrong in my preliminary judgment of Mr.Schmoo's character.
Nicholas Rosen <[email protected]>
Wellesley, MA U.S.A. - Thursday, June 04, 1998 at 23:48:55 (EDT)
You have a really screwed up notion of how kids were raised in the past. I wish I had been able to go to day care, to be able to play with other kids, to have several adults around whose job was to look after you. Instead, I was stuck at home, with no other kids to play with, my only company a depressed, deeply bored woman, and a rarely seen man who had to work all the time to be able to support us.
USA - Monday, June 08, 1998 at 18:39:44 (EDT)
It is extremely difficult to underestimate the negative effect of land values on the social fabric that ties society together. My wife and I have frequently discussed how lucky we are to have her mostly stay home to raise our kids while I go off to work. And it hasn't escaped our attention that the effect of a planned move to the San Francisco bay area could easily have some unpleasant effects on our ability to raise our kids the way we want. Thus, we would caution any other parents who are considering a similar move to a high priced real estate area to take into account the tradeoffs. We don't want the special moments created by our kids to be witnessed by the day care provider instead of Mom, and we'll do a lot to keep day care out of the picture for us. In watching the national political agenda that supports day care for all kinds of families, we have to ask whether the federal and state government would be as willing to change tax laws or wage regulations to allow families to spend more time together, rather than subsidizing human parking lots for kids. Admittedly, day care centers are interactive human parking lots, but I don't hear anyone making the point that they are a poor substitution for the social, emotional, and intellectual wellspring that a 24-hr. loving family provides. Thanks for the heads up regarding the not often discussed effect of land values on family stress.
Ron Lopez <[email protected]>
San Francisco, CA US - Tuesday, June 09, 1998 at 10:44:57 (EDT)
Two incomes might not be needed if so many unfit people didn't have too many kids, no matter what the land's value is. I'm darned tired of supporting others' sexual choices, be it unwed parenthood, or disease from homosexuality.
Wendie Loshbaugh <[email protected]>
Nampa, ID US - Friday, June 12, 1998 at 15:22:45 (EDT)
I can sympathize with not wanting to support freeloaders, Wendie, but I really think you should count the zeros -- and then you would see that "sexual choices" as you put it aren't making your life any harder. Do you have any idea how much of your federal tax dollar is going to bloated, needless military hardware? For preparing to fight two fullscale wars at the same time? To maintaining a nuclear arsenal?
And one more minor point: I don't condone irresponsible parenthood. But no matter how irresponsible the parents might have been, it is never the kid's fault. Never.
Lindy Davies <[email protected]>
Very thought provoking. I was fortunate enough (?) to have both parents at home while growing up; my father a retired logger and my mother quit her job to stay home with me. Both were in their 40's when I was born. Now that I am crossing the threshold to start a family of my own (I am 19 and engaged - no immediate plans for children though!), I wonder how my husband and I will "make it" if I stay at home with our children, which I want desperately to do. I work at a bank now, hence the thirst for more knowledge which led me to this web site. I can't afford even on-line classes at $100 a pop, much less four years of college. My fiance and I have a hard enough time paying our bills now. I hope your class will provide a start to the information gathering I hope to obtain in my quest for low-budget education. Please e-mail me with anything new. Thank you, Lori
Lorena Thomas <[email protected]>
Anniston, AL U.S.A. - Tuesday, June 23, 1998 at 21:22:03 (EDT)
Now that I have read, understood and share the concept of land values according to Catherine O., what can one person do to alleviate or attempt to correct this travesty. I can't imagine where we begin?
Bob Fonock <[email protected]>
Cape Coral, FL USA` - Saturday, June 27, 1998 at 23:00:43 (EDT)
This online course has a few things to offer there, Bob. The first step, of course, is to understand how this works: the covered-up role of land and its value in our economy. It's quite a detective story! And then, there are people working to actualize these goals. Our links page is a place to start checking out their various efforts.
Lindy Davies <[email protected]>
- Tuesday, June 30, 1998 at 07:12:25 (EDT)
I have two little boys and quit working. I tell you: I felt guilty when I was working and my babies were with a nanny. Now I feel guilty because I was raised to be an independent business woman and I quit. People ask me what do I do in my life and I tell them I take care ofmy kids and house and they get so surprised. "You stay at home all day long doing nothing?!". Is it fair? It wasn't an easy decision but I thoutgh I'd fell better about it. I wish I could raise my kids with no guilt but very proudly.
Luciana Clauss <[email protected]>
Sao Paulo, SP Brazil - Tuesday, June 30, 1998 at 13:26:30 (EDT)
I agree that more parents should be able to stay home with their children. Can this situation ever be reversed?
Wareham, MA 02571 - Thursday, July 02, 1998 at 19:08:19 (EDT)
As a family therapist, but more lately a public health researcher, the effects of economics in relation to belonging to land that is secure, have become THE structural issue for freeing families from the stress of fear of failure to provide. The ripples of one girl crying are enormous - thanks to Lindy and Catherine for this space. The cost of asthma drugs makes my hair curl. Jessika
Jessika Willis <[email protected]>
Melbourne, Vic Australia - Saturday, July 04, 1998 at 05:44:54 (EDT)
Admittedly. housing costs have increased dramatically in 80's and 90's while middle class incomes have generally declined with results you describe. I had thought this was a product of land scarcity and increasing costs of development of that which is available
Ronald M. Thomas <[email protected]>
Toronto, On Canada - Monday, July 06, 1998 at 13:31:44 (EDT)
Interesting, Ronald. And that's what many in the economics profession would like us to think. But a casual look at most modern inner cities will show that there is NO scarcity of land -- per se. What's scarce is available land. Huge amounts are held for speculative purposes, denying all people their right to the use of nature's gifts, and making every community harder to govern and provide for. This course has a lot to say on these issues!
Lindy Davies <[email protected]>
Waldo County, Maine - Monday, July 06, 1998 at 17:18:53 (EDT)
I'd just like to chime into the reply to Mr. Thomas. There is land available: vacant lots, lots with decaying old buildings in poor repair that might be demolished to make room for taller structures, or just repaired. (But repairs would add to the property tax under our current system.) It's also true that costs of development have risen, and a large part of this is due to governments. In order to please current residents, we have zoning laws which forbid too many unrelated people to share a place, require only low density housing, etc. We also have governments charging impact fees for new housing, to cover the costs of roads, sewers, schools, and any frills that the local politicians want to provide, like libraries, senior citizen centers, etc. If we had proper taxation of the land, which would be worth much less without these amenities, we wouldn't need impact fees.
Nicholas Rosen <[email protected]>
Wellesley, MA U.S.A. - Thursday, July 09, 1998 at 22:05:48 (EDT)
In academic economics they taught us to make correlations... if Max Schmoo of Brooklyn says, "Hear, hear! My parents spanked me, and I bring in six figures.", I take my notes. I'm from Brooklyn too, and thus... ........... Hmmm. The six figures come in and go out just as quickly. High Taxes and High Rent. The government withhold about 50% directly and since about half of what I spend (the remainder) is taxes anyway, where would that put my effective tax rate? 75%? Makes sense. Combined government consume a bit over 50% of GNP, and most people pay less than I do, because I'm in the highest tax bracket. Isn't anyone else tired of being productive and then having to fork over most of it for social programs and subsidies to ailing industries?
Rob Wagner <[email protected]>
Brooklyn, NY us - Saturday, July 11, 1998 at 12:42:59 (EDT)
Ronald M. Thomas said: 'housing costs have increased dramatically in 80's and 90's while middle class incomes have generally declined ... I had thought this was a product of land scarcity and increasing costs of development' Bad Rob said: I'll take the developer's point of view and say, why parctice infilling in cities where they will tax the returns on my investement at an increasing rate? Why not just keep my urban land vacant? I can keep borrowing on its increasing speculative value, and sink the money into my suburban strip development projects, where the taxpayer will foot the bill for the infrastructure costs, and I will get every tax break for 'stimulating the economy' !!
Rob Wagner <[email protected]>
Brooklyn, NY open 9-5, Tokyo time. - Saturday, July 11, 1998 at 12:49:50 (EDT)
Has anyone factored in the increase in population in a given locality and the ability of the land to support this increase? Here in the bay area of California, as the economy has improved, so has the number of people needed to do the work. Unfortunately the availability of usable land for housing has not increased. As a result, housing costs have gone sky high and the wages needed have not. Thus we have a higher incidence of homelessness and a necessity of two income families. What does Mr. Georges theory hold to help reverse this trend?
Ben Lear <[email protected]>
Concord, CA USA - Saturday, July 11, 1998 at 21:19:15 (EDT)
John, the situation you describe only happens when developers are freshly sprawling onto marginal land. As soon as other construction follows, so will public infrastructure and the resultant leap in land values (on which those first developers were betting, or they'd never have made the investment).
Ben, Mr. George's theory speaks eloquently and specifically
to the point you raise. You can see how in this free course.
I haven't read the comments of other people so I don't know if I'm repeating them, but I was really interested by your essay about the Little Girl in Pink. As the world population continues to expand, land becomes more and more scarce, and as a result, prices rise. I don't think this trend will ever stop unless we colonize the moon or the bottoms of the oceans. However, I think another reason why more and more families have two parents in the work force is that the women's liberation movement, although not completely successful in terms of wages and harrassment, started a staggering new trend: women were convinced that their lives were not "full" if they didn't have a carreer. Being a stay-at-home mom became a insult to the female race and was a sign of a woman's resignation to the superiority of her husband as a bread-winner. Many women do find their jobs highly rewarding, and should continue to work since it makes them feel more a part of the world and more active. All I'm saying is that this social change in the status of women is most likely another reason for more two-income families. Perhaps two-income families are needed today not only because of housing costs but also the costs of technology. It is getting to be important for a middle-class family to have, not only a telephone, television, and microwave, but also a computer with internet access. It is not cheap to live in the information age and many families are finding that the one-income approach of generations ago is not sufficient to buy the items they feel their family need. Thanks. Please let me know what you think. Katie
Katie Morzinski <[email protected]>
Los Alamos, NM USA - Monday, July 20, 1998 at 18:39:25 (EDT)
Ms. Orloff, Thank you SO much for 'The Little Girl In Pink'. I recently have resigned from a customer service position with a large corporation because I didn't want my child to be "the little boy in blue". However, instead of being applauded by family and friends, I have been criticized for not contributing to my household financially. I was beginning to think that making sure I do my best to raise a happy and successful child is apparently looked upon as being lazy and unproductive. I have explained and apologized for not being able to be a 'supermom'. It got to the point that I couldn't display my child's picture on my desk without glancing at it and wondering if he was okay. I came home and told my husband that I just couldn't do it anymore, I felt like I had given my child up for adoption, but had visitation rights every so often. Like I had said, "Here, if you raise my kid, I'll give you a couple of bucks an hour, but I'll come and get him when he's ready for bed and then bring him back to you in the morning." I am so grateful to hear that someone else cares about a child's emotional welfare not just their physical welfare as I do. It does all boil down to land values. Soon, this country will be reduced to the state of 19th century Ireland, when no one will be able to afford to own land except for the extremely wealthy and the rest of us won't be able to afford the rent, and then where will our children live? Which brings me back to my original comment, because of today's economy, children are viewed as a burden, an extra expense in our ledger, when they should be viewed as an opportunity to contribute to the grand scheme of things, evidence of our greatest accomplishment : life. Thank you once again for the reassurance that I've done the right thing.
Chelsea Garcia <[email protected]>
San Luis, AZ USA - Friday, July 31, 1998 at 04:55:43 (EDT)
It's too bad many of us are living according to someone else's standards, which is usually guilt being thrust upon us by family and friends. We don't need to be rich to be happy, as a matter of fact many overworked people are not happy (they don't have time to be!
Traci Dean [email protected]
Lebanon, OR U.S. - Friday, July 31, 1998 at 18:48:31 (EDT)
I'd just like to comment on a couple of points raised to do with world population. This really is a misnomer from the start. The population of the world could all stand together on the Isle of Wight (small island off UK coast). There is no danger of overpopulation IF the world's economic strategy (especially the West's) is ok. When you think of all the dumping of wheat and other food stuffs in the world to maintain artificial markets it's plain that there's EASILY enough to go round - if heads can be banged together at intergovernmental level! The same applies with land values - because a certain few are able to speculate by withholding land from supply (and don't forget as we can't MAKE more land it exacerbates the problem) it makes the few wealth while everyone else pays more. PS. I'm interested in joining or setting up a group in Edinburgh, Scotland to discuss these issues. The more I think about it the more it makes me mad!!!
Tony Barry [email protected]
Edinburgh, UK - Monday, August 03, 1998 at 20:40:30 (EDT)
Have I finally found my vocation?! I have always wondered in the back of my mind how it is that house prices keep rising and rising and rising when nothing else does. Surely the consequence of rising land price is that those who own it today will become richer and richer as they own a bigger and bigger proportion of the entire wealth? And with the rest of the wealth fixed, pretty much in value, doesn't that mean that those that don't own land, or don't own as much will have to work harder and harder to respond to the major land-owner's wealth. After all, what is it that rich people really buy with their money: other people's time. The value of the workers' time will not increase in line with land prices, so they will have to work more hours to get the same small share of the wealth. What is it that makes land prices rise??????
Duncan Macmillan [email protected]
Oxford, United Kingdom - Wednesday, August 05, 1998 at 23:05:27 (EDT)
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