Reaching out to "Greens"

by Jeffery Smith
Arden, Delaware
July, 1999

In my outreach efforts, I practice both competing strategies, the shotgun approach of scattering seed everywhere and hoping for the best, and the rifle approach of concentrating on those most likely to convert. I don’t have the time or energy to do both approaches well, but I do have the compulsion to spend my life geonomizing. More than motivated, I am sufficiently obsessed. When I take the rifle approach, I set my sights on environmentalists.

For me, communicating with green types is not outreach so much as rubbing shoulders, since I’m already, and have been for decades, active in the environmental movement. There, I’m known and if not respected, at least accepted. Given this standing, proselytizing them may be easier for me, but it should be a goal of every Georgist.

Greens are the movement closest to ours. We want to share Earth by sharing her worth. They want to spare Earth by inhibiting we Earthlings. Yet their traditional strategy of “just say no” to consumption, to population, is yielding to economic rationality. In every issue of The Geonomist I list an ever-growing roster of notable environmentalists who now endorse the tax shift, even the property tax shift, and the subsidy shift. No other movement comes close to embracing Georgist policy so thoroughly.

To win over environmentalists, who en masse are about as close to seeing the cat as one can get and still only see branches, it does help to be a member of an environmental group. But membership is not a requisite, especially if geoists follow the advice I’m about to give.

To discuss our reform with greens, or with anyone unfamiliar with the concepts, the first step is to establish a shared frame of reference. Pick an issue important to the other person. One of the main concerns of greens is sustainable development in both the North and South, an issue that provides an excellent arena for discussing Georgist reforms.

Show lots of tact (unlike me), even when frustrated by the other person’s evident imbicility. It wasn’t with greens but with fellow Georgists that I may have slipped. I kept missing important letters and messages because one group, the New York School, would not change my address in their mailing list, even after I had requested in writing that they do so at least three separate times. Finally, on my last request, I appended, “is anyone alive there?” I figure they must have received my postcard shortly after the passing of Ms. Connie Weinstein. That lack of tact did not stand me in good stead. It’s an example of how not to behave.

Don’t be afraid, use my unusual coinages like “geonomics”. Most environmentalists are not in love with economics. In fact, most critique the discipline rather harshly. They’re happy to see it re-christined out of existence, transformed into a field far more Earth-friendly.

Rather than lead off with taxes, try starting with subsidies. There everyone can come to substantial agreement. And subsidies provide a perfectly logical entry to what feeds them: taxes. Tho’ many environmentalists don’t yet know it, their cutting-edge thinkers have already come up for a name for our proposal: “the sprawl tax”, coined by Alan Durning of Northwest Environment Watch. Speak their own language, and mine, too. Another effective coinage with green tax-shifters is “Property Tax Shift”.

Resist the temptation, but don’t disagree. Every chance you get, agree with the other. Even when they’re wrong, find something about their worldview that makes sense. Use that overlap in outlooks as a platform, an anchor, for forging links to the geoist message.

Since our reform is usually boiled down to a land tax, it makes sense to talk land use. Note how getting the rent drives efficient use of land. Note how best use also includes non-use, how cities don’t over-build but recycle the sites again and again, taking the pressure off pristine farmland. Don’t fight zoning. Just note how newly efficient land use makes zoning much easier to apply.

Some greens are into nature as a model for society. The notion of self-regulation, which is how the eco-system operates, appeals to them. These greens like to hear how getting the rent ends speculation, making it possible to get the price of land right. Paul Hawken is the big name to drop here.

Give environmentalists credit. They deserve it. Their leading thinkers have come to George from a totally different direction. They may not be devout like us, but we need them. There’s far more of them than there is of us. Drop all the names of notable greens who endorse the tax shift. Give them a copy of The Geonomist. Try to sign them up.

Eventho’ we Georgists are more addict than activist, it is very disarming if we can take ourselves and our message a bit less seriously -- if we can find something to laugh at, other than the other person’s obtuseness. While difficult, if you can crack a smile, even a joke if it’s within your competence, by all means, do so. George will forgive you.

Finally, stoop to bribery. We’re a rich movement. We can afford it. But alas, like the unpopular kid trying to buy friends, it does not work. Instead, just enjoy having a fine meal with your would-be recruit guests and stoically pick up the tab.

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