Alive and Well in the USA
So, that’s our little note about who the Single Taxers were, whose name we borrow, in tribute – and a little about the early Single Taxer period in America. We’re going to make country-by-country notes on Georgist ideas around the world, because there really is a story; this was the USA bit.
This link is to a Biographical History of the Georgist Movement, organised by nation.
This note is really a brief skim and many examples of the remedy’s clear influence have been omitted, like Kansas City in the 1930s through the 50s. And there are many other interesting examples of its continued appearance, little outbreaks of wisdom all over America here and there.
We might have visited other places and times for threads and influences, or expanded on the Single Taxer battle for Oregon in U’Ren’s day, visited San Diego in the 60s and its pueblo (public land) arrangements, Hawaii in the 60s, Vermont in the 70s, Aspen, Colorado, in the 90s, Alberta and Alaska to this day. Other than the resource taxes of the latter two, all examples of where legitimate taxation was experimented with, successfully, and then snuffed out.
We’re coming to Pennsylvania, but our enquiries leave us with a feeling that Georgism, true liberty of the human spirit, is still rooted in the USA somehow, still in its blood and soul. The great idea, the central realisation, even a century before Henry George, was centrally present at the birth of the USA, and was lofted high.
English writer, thinker and revolutionary,Thomas Paine, for many the Father of the American Revolution, proclaimed, in Agrarian Justice, in 1797:
There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should issue.
And now a century and so after Henry George and the Single Taxer era, nowhere more than in Henry George’s home state, Pennsylvania, which is officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is found the most active memory and understanding of the remedy and its efficacy.
Pennsylvania has had an unbroken experience with legitimate taxation for the last century, and for some time the only state granting cities the option to use Georgist arrangements. Pittsburgh had 20 years of these arrangements with great success, including, in 1985 and 1986, winning the title of America’s Most Liveable City. But Pittsburgh changed its arrangements after succumbing to pressure from the forces of neoliberalism, construction activity dropped and it doesn’t win that fine sounding accolade anymore.
Many Pennsylvanian cities have used elements of the remedy, and it has shown in the development of downtown areas, job growth, wage increases and a reduction of urban sprawl. There’s really a lot of data and evidence collectable in America as to what effects are produced by the remedy.
In 1997, a century after George’s death, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed statewide Georgist reform by a decisive vote of 198-2, having earlier passed the Senate 50-0. The legislation had been proposed by Alanna Hartzok, United Nations NGO Representative for the International Union for Land Value Taxation and State Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Fair Tax Coalition and it was passed into law in 1998. Alanna Hartzok has the experience of improving the health of several Pennsylvanian cities by helping them institute just taxation arrangements.
The whole issue is much, much more alive than we ever imagined. Henry George’s name definitely lives on in America despite all.
Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001, is definitely someone who has read Progress and Poverty, for the purposes of this piece we feel we can call him a single taxer though he doesn’t call himself that. But in 1977 he produced work to show, in what was called the Henry George Theorem, how government spending on public goods increased aggregated land rents by an equal amount, and he represented a situation where land tax is the only tax, the single tax, necessary to finance public expenditures. Here’s his own site.
Stiglitz was Chief Economist at the World Bank at the turn of the century, then they sacked him because he was critical of their policies. And here he is, in 2010, in a working paper on Principles and Guidelines on Deficit Reduction, drawing again the efficacy of the remedy.
Joseph Stiglitz has said:
The main underlying idea of Henry George … is an argument that makes an awful lot of sense.
It makes absolutely perfect and uncompromising sense! And much more than sense, it’s what is right. More about people who have kept the dream of justice alive for the last century in our notes on The Persistence of Hope
We don’t know how to go about making nominations for the Nobel Prize for Economics, but Staneb would like to nominate Professor Mason Gaffney for the prize. We’ll give the last word to him:
To most modern readers, probably George seems too minor a figure to have warranted such an extreme reaction. This impression is a measure of the neo-classicals' success: it is what they sought to make of him. It took a generation, but by 1930 they had succeeded in reducing him in the public mind. In the process of succeeding, however, they emasculated the discipline, impoverished economic thought, muddled the minds of countless students, rationalized free-riding by landowners, took dignity from labor, rationalized chronic unemployment, hobbled us with today's counterproductive tax tangle, marginalized the obvious alternative system of public finance, shattered our sense of community, subverted a rising economic democracy for the benefit of rent-takers, and led us into becoming an increasingly nasty and dangerously divided plutocracy.
That’s how important what the Single Taxers were saying was and is. And that’s half of why we’re The Single Tax and Natural Energy Band, and now we’ll discuss the other half. We’re gonna try, as we can, to keep on lobbing pebbles into the pool of public knowledge.