Henry George & Global Inequality
March 17, 2018Posted by on
This week on Facebook: Has been given over mostly to Henry George, in his heyday Henry George was very popular, with his ideas inspiring passionate debate among young intellectuals. After George published Progress and Poverty in 1879, a political movement grew in the United States around his work. The notion that Henry George promoted of a Land Value Tax (LVT) has now become a global issue, with the Henry George Foundation having offices in many countries.
When Americans looked beneath the surface of progress, they saw the darker consequences of industrialisation, especially the immense power accrued by large corporations and the men who ran them, the growing number of workers living in squalid slums, and the frequent episodes of labor-capital violence (the period 1880-1900 witnessed nearly 37,000 strikes). If these were the trends of the future warned an ageing Walt Whitman in 1879, then “our republican experiment, notwithstanding all its surface-successes, is at heart an unhealthy failure.” Edward T. O’Donnell — Henry George and The Crisis of Inequality
If the United States, like the countries of the Old World, are also to grow vast crops of poor, desperate, dissatisfied, nomadic, miserably-waged populations, such as we see looming upon us of late years—steadily, even if slowly, eating into them like a cancer of lungs or stomach—then our republican experiment, notwithstanding all its surface-successes, is at heart an unhealthy failure. Walt Whitman — The Tramp and Strike Questions
The world has moved on, certainly since the time of Henry George and Walt Whitman, if the media now obsesses over ‘global inequality’ and the views propagated by Edward O’Donnell¹, the trending election of politicians on a ‘populist agenda’ would seem contrary to such views. It may be that voters in an already developed country are more concerned with their own perceived inequality² rather than those of any global inequalities³.
The Singular Henry George — Insights and Influence (Libertarianism.Org — October 2014): A committed advocate of free trade and a narrowly tailored, limited government, George was a genuine and principled libertarian, energetically opposing government interventions in the economy such as, for example, subsidised railroads. Yet given today’s political vernacular, George’s distinctive thought may seem to present a kind of paradox. To the extent that most Americans now wrongly associate support for free enterprise and limited government with the defense of big business, George’s economic populism, his backing of labor and hostility toward powerful monopolies may seem an odd fit with his essentially libertarian philosophy.
Why Henry George had a point (The Economist — April 2015): Most taxes do not just depress economic activity; they also displace it—for example to offshore financial centres. The faster that tax collectors crack down on loopholes, the more clever accountants find new ones. Land-value taxes, on the other hand, lack these perverse effects. They cannot reduce the supply of land, or distort decisionmaking. Instead they may even stimulate economic activity, by penalising those who hoard land and keep it idle (a big plus in desolate post-industrial cities where much land is vacant). The tax drives the land price down by the capitalised value of the future levies—theoretically even to zero—until someone finds a use for the land. Collection is cheap. Unlike profit, you cannot massage land away or move it to Luxembourg. If you do not pay, it can be seized and sold. Though nobody likes extra taxes, new land-value levies could be matched by cuts in other taxes, especially those paid by poor people.
The Obscure Economist Silicon Valley Billionaires Should Dump Ayn Rand For (Vanity Fair — September 2017): George’s masterwork, published in 1879, was Progress and Poverty, which set forth to explain how “increase of want” could go hand in hand with “increase of wealth.” Thus George took on precisely the question we face today: not the general question of poverty or inequity, but why specifically are middle-class incomes stagnating, and incomes of people at the bottom falling, while those at the top continue to rise? George was no vulgar Marxist. You might call him a “supply-side socialist.” All products of the economy, he reasoned, are ultimately derived from three sources: labor, capital, and land. What else is there?
²The Long Read (courtesy of Global Economic Equality) — click image
³Our world’s deepest pockets — click Image