Why Georgist Policies Languish... the Remedy

by Neil Meyer -- August 26, 2002

Between college semesters, I used to spend summer days in large, diesel-powered machines, driving back and forth through mile-long, Midwestern, monoculture corn fields. Air-conditioned and dust-free, I had many hours to think.

There, among other things, I realized that few people get paid to do something that gives them open-ended thinking time. Further, it seemed few have the ability to sit and think in an entertainment-free environment for long periods of time. Lastly, it seemed that the public behaved as if taking time to think is an irresponsible act except in times of illness, bereavement, incarceration, or (questionably) higher education.

For those who have benefited from detached thinking time, it appears as if many of the world's people live in automated reaction mode. Life could be described as an automatic reaction to events based upon a set of mostly unexamined beliefs. One of the current beliefs seems to be: With hard work or luck, an individual can attain riches that will elevate the individual above others -- the individual can thereby attain more freedom from life's bad things and more power to bring about one's will.

People whose life experience proves to them that individuals are more powerful than groups usually hold the belief I just described. This is understandable. Among heterogeneous groups, life experience usually does demonstrate the superiority of the individual (Tower of Babel). The rise of monotheistic religions both mirrors and compensates for the rise of individualism that occurred as peoples and cultures migrated and intermingled. Individualism was mirrored in monotheism as a single, defiant, jealous, omnipotent deity replaced casts of interacting deities with specific roles. Simultaneously, monotheism compensated for the loss of a unifying culture by becoming the substitute unchanging, unifying force.

Contrary to this experience, I think that in order for people to comprehend and accept the ideas Henry George outlined in Progress and Poverty, an individual must: 1) believe that an organized group can more effectively provide individuals with the "freedom from" and "power to" than individuals can provide that for themselves, and 2) believe that it is possible and desirable to form a cohesive group around principles or ideas which are counter to the status quo.

This is probably why Henry George's ideas seem cult-like to some or communistic and unpatriotic to others. George's ideas are based first upon a sense of common property and universal morality and second, upon individual creativity and work.

So, which comes first? The landed community or the landed individual? With just a little time to think about it, the answer comes easily: no person is an island. An individual cannot survive without the benefits of the creative efforts of many people upon the land.

Common sense would dictate that a city, state, nation or world that consciously recognizes the primacy of the landed community would carefully construct itself so that its commerce recognizes this fact.

But this is not happening for at least four reasons: 1) people do not have time to examine their beliefs and the consequences of living them, 2) Powerful individuals and institutions have successfully blocked municipal and state efforts to implement Georgist policies, 3) reputable institutions of higher education have apparently abandoned serious scholarship that examines the ethics of taxation and rights to unearned income, and 4) news and entertainment media have also ignore the ethics and consequences of poorly constructed economic rules and tax policies.

So, what's the fastest way to get past all these barriers?

A contest between two cities!

Just as the transcontinental railroad sped into existence upon a federally sanctioned challenge, we can hasten the adoption or rejection of Georgist policies by creating a contest between two similar cities. The contest will last for a predetermined number of years. Quality of life measures will be assessed before and after the contest. One city will enact laws that prohibit taxation of unearned income and allow all other forms of taxes. The other city will enact laws that prohibit all taxes except those levied upon unearned income. Both cities and their citizens would be exempt from State and Federal taxes for the duration of the contest. Annual immigration would be competitive, and limited to a predetermined percentage of the city's total population, selected by a panel of the city's citizens. Land area would not be allowed to expand. Any programs within the cities that currently received State or Federal funding would have that funding incrementally reduced to zero by the end of the contest period. All cities would be eligible to apply for the contest, but they must apply in pairs. Federal and State laws would be created or amended to allow competition to proceed between the two most closely matched cities selected by committee. Business between individuals and entities of the contest cities and external entities would be exempt from all taxation for the duration of the contest. Cash or in-kind gifts from outsiders would be considered graft. Either city would have the option to drop out and be declared the loser. If both cities remain in the contest to the end, the city with the largest gain in quality of life would be declared the winner. Georgist policies will at least have had their day in the sun, if not perhaps have changed the world.

Want to find some answers?

Progress & Poverty - Definitions - Capital - Law of Rent - Booms & Busts - The Remedy - Links