Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

[Analysis] 1791 Declaration of the United Irishmen

Meán Fómhair 7, 2008

My comments and quotes of other material are in italics; Declaration of the United Irishmen is indented; bolded emphasis is mine. I am not aware of anyone else who has tried to analyse the intellectual parallels between the US Declaration of Independence and the United Irishmen Declaration – If you are aware of any such material, please let me know:

In the present great era of reform, when unjust Governments are falling in every quarter of Europe;

This was during what is now referred to as the “Age of Revolution“: from the last decades of the 18th Century, to the first decades of the 19th, revolts, revolutions and national independence movements occurred in the Americas and in Europe – often prompted by Enlightenment ideas – and challenging monarchical, aristocratic, and imperial states and institutions – including slavery, and state-enforced religious discrimination.

when religious persecution is compelled to abjure her tyranny over conscience;

when the rights of man are ascertained in theory, and that theory substantiated by practice;

The “Rights of Man” was a treatise written in 1791 by American founding father and patriot, Thomas Paine, in response to Edmund Burke‘s attack on the French Revolution of 1789 – “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (it was also in the later 1793 title of a 1775 pamphlet – “The Real Rights of Man” – by British radical, Thomas Spense).

Paine was the Paris roommate of (Declaration author) Wolfe Tone‘s fellow patriot and confidante, “Citizen” Lord Edward Fitzgerald (himself a veteran of the British Army in North America); Paine was also declared an honorary United Irishman as a result of his influence and esteem – consider also the parallel between “United States of America” (a phrase coined by Paine) and the “Society of United Irishmen“;

Paine was – as were other prominent US Founding Fathers such as Jefferson and Franklin – a Deist, who promoted freedom of conscience and religious tolerance in his other great work: “The Age of Reason”.

when antiquity can no longer defend absurd and oppressive forms against the common sense and common interests of mankind;

Common Sense” was one the titles of a series of pamphlets written by Paine, that George Washington acknowledged as helping inspire many Americans into open revolution. “Common interest” may also be a synonym for the latin “res publica“, which can be translated or read as “the public thing”, “the public matter”, and is further developed as “the public interest”, common good”, “commonwealth”, or as a form of government: “republic”;

when all Government is acknowledged to originate from the people, and to be so far only obligatory as it protects their rights and promotes their welfare;

Consider the parallel with the US version:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

“Government by the people, for the people, and of the people” is the famous American dictum; the American Declaration of Independence bases its moral and philosophical force on what might be regarded as the breach of social-contract (a theory of political legitimacy propounded by John Locke, and which influenced American Founding Fathers) by the British Crown.

The United States’ Declaration was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson, who would later (while the second President under the US Constitution) make very important and influential allies of Irish radicals who had escaped after the 1798 and 1803 rebellions, in a major political realignment known as “the Second American Revolution” of the 1800 election (see “United Irishmen, United States: Immigrant Radicals in the Early Republic” by Donald A. Wilson, Cornell University Press (May 1998), ISBN-10: 0801431751, ISBN-13: 978-0801431753);

we think it our duty, as Irishmen, to come forward, and state what we feel to be our heavy grievance, and what we know to be its effectual remedy.

This parallels the American Declaration, which also laid out a schedule of grievances (as justification for total popular revocation of unjust rule – whereas the Irish at the time were not yet declaring complete independence, but rather a schedule of necessary remedies); Consider:

…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security…

…Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world…

We have no national Government— we are ruled by Englishmen, and the servants of Englishmen whose object is the interest of another country, whose instrument is corruption, and whose strength is the weakness of Ireland; and these men have the whole of the power and patronage of the country as means to seduce and subdue the honesty and spirit of her representatives in the legislature.

Such an extreme power, acting with uniform force, in a direction too frequently opposite to the true line of our obvious interests, can be resisted with effect solely by unanimity, decision and spirit in the people — qualities which may be exerted most legally, constitutionally, and efficaciously by that great measure essential to the prosperity, and freedom of Ireland — an equal representation of all the people in Parliament. We do not here mention as grievances the rejection of a place-bill, of a pension bill, of a responsibility-bill, the sale of peerages in one house, the corruption publicly avowed in the other, nor the notorious infamy of borough traffic between both, not that we are insensible to their enormity, but that we consider them as but symptoms of that mortal disease which corrodes the vitals of our constitution, and leaves to the people in their own government but the shadow of a name.

Impressed with these sentiments, we have agreed to form an association to be called “The Society of United Irishmen,” and we do pledge ourselves to our country, and mutually to each other, that we will steadily support and endeavour, by all due means, to carry into effect the following resolutions:

FIRST RESOLVED: That the weight of English influence on the Government of this country is so great as to require a cordial union among all the people of Ireland to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce.

SECOND: That the sole constitutional mode by which this influence can be opposed is by a complete and radical reform of the representation of the people in Parliament.

THIRD: That no reform is practicable, efficacious, or just, which shall not include Irishmen of every religious persuasion. Satisfied, as we are, that the intestine divisions among Irishmen have too often given encouragement and impunity to profligate, audacious and corrupt administrations, in measure which, but for these divisions, they durst not have attempted, we submit our resolutions to the nation as the basis of our political faith. We have gone to what we conceive to be the root of the evil. We have stated what we conceive to be the remedy. With a Parliament thus reformed, everything is easy; without it, nothing can be done. And we do call on, and most earnestly exhort, our countrymen in general to follow our example, and to form similar societies in every quarter of the kingdom for the promotion of constitutional knowledge, the abolition of bigotry in religion and politics, and the equal distribution of the rights of men through all sects and denominations of Irishmen. The people, when thus collected, will feel their own weight, and secure that power which theory has already admitted to be their portion, and to which, if they be not aroused by their present provocation to vindicate it, they deserve to forfeit their pretensions for ever.

[Critique] Murray Rothbard & Land

Lúnasa 31, 2008

My criticism of Rothbard here, is that:

a) he misrepresents the Georgist position so as to build straw men to attack;

b) he neglects his one good criticism: the necessity of accurate price-generators in what I call locational and demographic (L.AN.D.) values, in order to allocate resources efficiently;

c) he neglects the beauty of the Georgist idea – the manner in which site value can be tapped fairly and efficiently to finance shared infrastructure and public goods which add value to that site – solely because of an unfounded prejudice that it must be exclusively statist;

d) he assumes that the annualised collection of capitalised site-values (economic rent) due to externalities such as infrasturcture investment, can only be accomplished under an exclusively statist system, when there are many models (land-trusts, infrastructual co-ops, proprietary communities e.g. condos, hotels and malls) that could conceivably operate under an exclusively anarchist system);

Rothbard’s writing indented, my comments in italics:

Man, Economy & State, with Power & Market

Murray Rothbard

Chapter 4—Binary Intervention: Taxation (continued)

6. The Incidence and Effects of Taxation

Part IV: The “Single Tax” on Ground Rent

We have refuted elsewhere the various arguments that form part of the Henry Georgist edifice: the idea that “society” owns the land originally and that every new baby has a “right” to an aliquot part;

Two separate arguments to be dealt with separately later; suffice to say that:

a) Even in an anarcho-capitalist world, in privately-provided communities, public goods would naturally lend themselves to being financed by living-space rental charges – along the hotel model propounded by free-market friendly libertarians such as Fred Foldvary, and Spencer Heath McCallum – without violation of Mr. Rothbard’s fundamental principles of self-ownership;

b) Even in an anarcho-capitalist world, there would be a market demand for different bundles of communalistic goods and services; and a market demand for communities that prioritised values such as solidarity and fraternity among the “club” members – many would just assume this is self evidently a widely-held desire e.g. credit unions, fraternal organisations;

the moral argument that an increase in the value of ground land is an “unearned increment” due to external causes;

Even in proprietary communities, a la Spencer McCallum, the increment would be earned but by providing public goods…

and the doctrine that “speculation” in sites wickedly withholds productive land from use.

…the problem is the current disconnect between privatised profits that come from the socialised costs of infrastructure or “externalised causes” (through taxation) of public investment which actually make the sites more productive;

Here we shall analyze the famous Georgist proposal itself: the “single tax,” or the 100-percent expropriation of ground rent.[41]

This was George’s proposal in 19th century USA; it is not the unilateral solution of all Georgists today, worldwide;

One of the first things to be said about the Georgist theory is that it calls attention to an important problem—the land question. Current economics tends to treat land as part of capital and to deny the existence of a separate land category at all. In such an environment, the Georgist thesis serves to call attention to a neglected problem, even though every one of its doctrines is fallacious.

Thanks, sort of;

Much of the discussion of ground-rent taxation has been confused by the undoubted stimulus to production that would result, not from this tax, but from the elimination of all other forms of taxation.

Much is made of that by some, but not all Georgists, and the emphasis can vary greatly – some would see moral considerations, others efficiency as being selling points;

George waxed eloquent over the harmful effect taxation has upon production and exchange. However, these effects can as easily be removed by eliminating taxation altogether as by shifting all taxes onto ground rent.[42] In fact, it will here be demonstrated that taxation of ground rent also hampers and distorts production. Whatever beneficial effects the single tax might have on production would flow only from the elimination of other taxes, not from the imposition of this one. The two acts must be kept conceptually distinct.

A tax on ground rent would have the effect of a property tax as described above, i.e., it could not be shifted, and it would be “capitalized,” with the initial burden falling on the original owner, and later owners escaping any burden because of the fall in the capital value of the ground land. The Georgists propose to place a 100-percent annual tax on ground rents alone.

There’s a lot going on here: he’s pushing two simultaneous assumptions that lead down dead ends – he is constructing straw-men to attack, in other words; it doesn’t follow that other owners will escape the fee, and the manner in which he describes the levy being implemented (confusing economic rent and ground rent) contains an inbuilt fallacy which he will present as the natural result of Georgism, rather than his presentation (and don’t forget that not all Georgists favour George’s exact methods);

One critical problem that the single tax could not meet is the difficulty of estimating ground rents. The essence of the single tax scheme is to tax ground rent only and to leave all capital goods free from tax. But it is impossible to make this division.

This must have come as a surprise to Mr. Rothbard’s Home Insurance company, when he was paying premiums on his house: insurance companies have surely been estimating house- and site-value differentials for centuries; are we to understand that they can’t tell the difference between a site-with-house and the charred remains of the house on the same site?

Georgists have dismissed this difficulty as merely a practical one; but it is a theoretical flaw as well. As is true of any property tax, it is impossible accurately to assess value, because the property has not been actually sold on the market during the period.

Here is the actual crux of this point, and he has the foundations of what should be his main critique – the necessity of a “price generator” – but which gets muddled in with his weaker points;

Ground-land taxation faces a further problem that cannot be solved: how to distinguish quantitatively between that portion of the gross rent of a land area which goes to ground land and that portion which goes to interest and to wages. Since land in use is often amalgamated with capital investment and the two are bought and sold together, this distinction between them cannot be made.

Nonsense! There are entire industries and financial disciplines and departments (not limited to insurance – think of corporate acquisitions, bank lending, auditor’s reports, financial news and media) that have incentives to separate these factors accurately as a matter of serving their customers and doing business profitably; Again, are we to understand that an insurance company can’t figure out how much the loss was on a site that has a burned factory? Can a farmer-buyer or the local auctioneer not tell the difference between a marsh and a reclaimed field?

But the Georgist theory faces even graver difficulties. For its proponents contend that the positive virtue of the tax consists in spurring production. They point out to hostile critics that the single tax (if it could be accurately levied) would not discourage capital improvements and maintenance of landed property; but then they proceed to argue that the single tax would force idle land into use. This is supposed to be one of the great merits of the tax. Yet if land is idle, it earns no gross rent whatever; if it earns no gross rent, then obviously it earns no net rent as ground land. Idle land earns no rent, and therefore earns no ground rent that could be taxed. It would bear no taxes under a consistent operation of the Georgist scheme! Since it would not be taxed, it could not be forced into use.

Ah now, come on: this is an understandable question that many people have when first introduced to Georgist ideas, and is useful for defining the difference between the common understanding of rent as the fee you pay for hiring something, and the economic rent which George was very, very careful to define – it’s disappointing to see Rothbard ignore this and to play word-games; this is the straw-man argument – attacking something which has not been claimed. Economic rent is not simply an idiosyncracy of George; broadly, it is the difference in value between locations that is not due to improvements by the owner/occupier/user. There is also another confusion between site idleness because of it’s actual sub-marginal value, or idleness because of what Austrians like Rothbard would call malinvestment, in this case because of structural and institutional distortions in the market due to state-enforced property patterns. The difference in locational value remains – sites are limited. Limited, locational and demographic (L.AN.D.) values – including infrastrucure, market access, and security – will be bid upon by competing users, regardless of where the money goes (title-holder, state, land-trust, infrastructural co-op).

The only logical explanation for this error by the Georgists is that they concentrate on the fact that much idle land has a capital value, that it sells for a price on the market, even though it earns no rents in current use. From the fact that idle land has a capital value, the Georgists apparently deduce that it must have some sort of “true” annual ground rent.

Again: the difference in locational value remains – sites are limited. Limited, locational and necessary demographic (L.AN.D.) values – including infrastrucure, market access, and security – will be bid upon by competing users, regardless of where the money goes.

This assumption is incorrect, however, and rests on one of the weakest parts of the Georgists’ system: its deficient attention to the role of time.[43] The fact that currently idle land has a capital value means simply that the market expects it to earn rent in the future.

This market expectation of “rent” (not economic rent, per se)  as actual future returns (ground rent, increased land prices, increase of mortgage payments qua “sliced and diced” securitized debt investments etc.) is primarily what Georgists decry as the bad form of “speculation”; reducing this to zero does not annihilate the differential in locational values, or the effective demand for such – nor does it actually harm productive society to remove/reduce such state-created and -sanctioned malinvestment;

The capital value of ground land, as of anything else, is equal to and determined by the sum of expected future rents, discounted by the rate of interest. But these are not presently earned rents! Therefore, any taxation of idle land violates the Georgists’ own principle of a single tax on ground rent; it goes beyond this limit to penalize land ownership further and to tax accumulated capital, which has to be drawn down in order to pay the tax.

This is just a non-sequitor, given the previous rejoinders; the idea of a penalty might arise in a strictly anarchist context, but even then infrastructure etc. will still need to be paid for, for which locational rent is ideal;

Any increase in the capital value of idle land, then, does not reflect a current rent; it merely reflects an upgrading of people’s expectations about future rents.

This deliberately compounds three understandings of the word “rent”: rent-as-hiring-fee, rent-as-speculative-super-profit, and economic rent which while it can change, yet remains even absent the speculative margin made possible by malinvestment, itself made possible by ownership structures mandated by the state;

Suppose, for example, that  future rents from an idle site are such that, if known to all, the present capital value of the site would be $10,000. Suppose further that these facts are not generally known and, therefore, that the ruling price is $8,000. Jones, being a farsighted entrepreneur, correctly judges the situation and purchases the site for $8,000. If everyone soon realizes what Jones has foreseen, the market price will now rise to $10,000. Jones’ capital gain of $2,000 is the profit to his superior judgment, not earnings from current rate.

The Georgist bogey is idle land. The fact that land is idle, they assert, is caused by “land speculation,” and to this land speculation they attribute almost all the ills of civilization, including business-cycle depressions. The Georgists do not realize that, since labor is scarce in relation to land, submarginal land must remain idle.

The issue is sites that are submarginal because of state-sanctioned malinvestment only, not all unused sites everywhere and for all time; in actual fact, it is a Georgist argument that what should be submarginal land is forced into production precisely because of the market distortions resultant;

The sight of idle land enrages the Georgist, who sees productive capacity being wasted and living standards reduced. Idle land should, however, be recognized as beneficial, for, if land were ever fully used this would mean that labor had become abundant in relation to land and that the world had at last entered on the terrible overpopulation stage in which some labor has to remain idle because no employment is available.

Again, another non-sequitor, this time based on the straw-man argument immediately above;

The present writer used to wonder about the curious Georgist preoccupation with idle, or “withheld,” ground land as the cause of most economic ills until he found a clue in a revealing passage of a Georgist work:

“Poor” Countries Do Not Lack Capital.

Most of us have learned to believe that the people of India, China, Mexico, and other so-called backward nations are poor because they lack capital. Since, as we have seen, capital is nothing more than wealth, and wealth nothing more than human energy combined with land in one form or another,

Note: George – as is proper in an economic context – defines “Land” in the classical economic terms of the material universe absent humans and their products – this includes all natural resources;

the absence of capital too often suggests that there is a shortage of land or of labor in backward countries like India and China. But that isn’t true. For these “poor” countries have many times more land and labor than they use. . . . Undeniably, they have everything it takes—both land and labor—to produce as much capital as people anywhere.[44]

And so, since these poor countries have plenty of land and labor, it follows that landlords must be withholding land from use. Only this could explain the low living standards.

Here a crucial Georgist fallacy is exposed clearly: ignorance of the true role of time in production.

And here, unfortunately, a crucial Austrian tactic is exposed clearly: to ignore the actual arguments of Georgists, to argue instead with what has not been said, and then to reach non-sequitorial conclusions;

It takes time to save and invest and build up capital goods, and these capital goods embody a shortening of the ultimate time period needed to acquire consumers’ goods. India and China are short of capital because they are short of time. They start from a low level of capital, and therefore it would take them a long time to reach a high capital level through their own savings.

This could all be true, but wouldn’t diminish (would actually strengthen through structural feed-back magnification of malinvestments) the Georgist argument that limited, locational and natural/ demographic values (L.A.N.D. values) when in total possession of any sub-group, act as a bottleneck and drain on productive society;

Once again, the Georgist difficulty stems from the fact that their theory was formulated before the rise of “Austrian” economics and that the Georgists have never reevaluated their doctrine in the light of this development.[45]

Professor Fred Foldvary has actually quite successfully married both the Austrian and Georgist theories of business cycles (The Business Cycle: A Geo-Austrian synthesis);

As we have indicated earlier, land speculation performs a useful social function. It puts land into the hands of the most knowledgeable and develops land at the rate desired by the consumers. And good sites will not be kept idle—thus incurring a loss of ground rent to the site owner—unless the owner expects a better use to be imminently available. The allocation of sites to their most value-productive uses, therefore, requires all the virtues of any type of entrepreneurship on the market.[46]

This is actually builds on his firmer foundation put down earlier, in terms of price-generation, and it’s efficient allocation of resources; this ought to be his main point, and ought to be a major point of discussion of Georgists: can we expect bureaucrats – either state or privately employed – to value and price, and therby allocate efficiently, an important factor such as land as well as a private individual who has the incentive to do so, in the form of profits?

One of the most surprising deficiencies in the literature of economics is the lack of effective criticism of the Georgist theory. Economists have either temporized, misconceived the problem, or, in many cases, granted the economic merit of the theory but cavilled at its political implications or its practical difficulties. Such gentle treatment has contributed greatly to the persistent longevity of the Georgist movement. One reason for this weakness in the criticism of the doctrine is that most economists have conceded a crucial point of the Georgists, namely, that a tax on ground rent would not discourage production and would have no harmful or distorting economic effects. Granting the economic merits of the tax, criticism of it must fall back on other political or practical considerations. Many writers, while balking at the difficulties in the full single-tax program, have advocated the 100-percent taxation of future increments in ground rent. Georgists have properly treated such halfway measures with scorn. Once the opposition concedes the economic harmlessness of a ground-rent tax, its other doubts must seem relatively minor.

The crucial economic problem of the single tax, then, is this: Will a tax on ground rent have distortive and hampering effects? Is it true that the owner of ground land performs no productive service and, therefore, that a tax upon him does not hamper and distort production? Ground rent has been called “economic surplus,” which would be taxed up to any amount with no side effects. Many economists have tacitly agreed with this conclusion and have agreed that a landowner can perform a productive service only as an improver, i.e., as a producer of capital goods on land.

Yet this central Georgist contention overlooks the realities. The owner of ground land performs a very important productive service. He brings sites into use

A weak point – he holds the sites out of use too!

and allocates them to the most value-productive bidders.

This is the crux of the matter: efficient allocation through accurate price-generation;

We must not be misled by the fact that the physical stock of land is fixed at any given time. In the case of land, as of other goods, it is not just the physical good that is sold, but a whole bundle of services along with it—

Among which are positive externalities such as site-specific infrastructural values, which he did not pay for;

among which is the service of transferring ownership from seller to buyer.

Ok, but is he providing the law-courts or the police enforcement, or the social mores and norms respecting property lines, that enable ownership? What is the point?

Ground land does not simply exist;

Actually, yes it does, without anyone’s help – this is the point;

it must be served to the user by the owner. (One man can perform both functions when the land is “vertically integrated.”)[47]

Not sure what he means by this, unless the following:

The landowner earns the highest ground rents by allocating land sites to their most value-productive uses, i.e., to those uses most desired by consumers. In particular, we must not overlook the importance of location and the productive service of the site owner in insuring the most productive locations for each particular use.

The view that bringing sites into use and deciding on their location is not really “productive” is a vestige of the old classical view that a service which does not tangibly “create” something physical is not “really” productive.[48] Actually, this function is just as productive as any other, and a particularly vital function it is. To hamper and destroy this function would have grave effects on the economy.

This is a fair point – actually, the best;

Suppose that the government did in fact levy a 100-percent tax on ground rent. What would be the economic effects? The current owners of ground land would be expropriated, and the capital value of ground land would fall to zero.

No, the capitalised value of speculative super-profits would fall to zero; the locational value would remain;

Since site owners could not obtain rents, the sites would become valueless on the market. From then on, sites would be free, and the site owner would have to pay his annual ground rent into the Treasury.

But since all ground rent is siphoned off to the government, there is no reason for owners to charge any rent. Ground rent will fall to zero as well, and rentals will thus be free. So, one economic effect of the single tax is that, far from supplying all the revenue of government, it would yield no revenue at all!

Ah no, not this again…

…the difference in locational value remains – sites are limited. Limited, locational and necessary demographic (L.A.N.D.) values – including infrastrucure, market access, and security – will be bid upon by competing users, regardless of where the money goes.

The single tax, then, makes sites free when they are actually not free and unlimited, but scarce.

And they will remain scarce, which means…

…the difference in locational value remains – sites are limited. Limited, locational and necessary demographic (L.A.N.D.) values – including infrastrucure, market access, and security – will be bid upon by competing users, regardless of where the money goes.

Any good is always scarce and therefore must always command a price in accordance with the demand for it and the supply available.

Now he’s copying what I said 😀

The only “free goods” on the market are not goods at all, but abundant conditions of human welfare that are not the subject of human action.

However, the capitalised value of infrastrucure, market access, security and increased demographic energy in situ are made “free goods” to the site owner;

The effect of this tax, then, is to fool the market into believing that sites are free when they are decidedly not.

Ach, no it isn’t a chara;

The result will be the same as any case of maximum price control. Instead of commanding a high price and therefore being allocated to the highest bidders, the most value-productive sites will be grabbed by first comers and wasted, since there will be no pressure for the best sites to go into their most efficient uses. People will rush in to demand and use the best sites, while no one will wish to use the less productive ones.

So let’s get this straight:

a) Everyone wants the best, but there isn’t enough to go around, and yet absolutely no one will be willing to pay for them? Why in heaven’s name not? They will become and stay free despite everyone clambering for them? Really?

b) Why on earth would all owners just give up their sites to begin with? Why the presumption that the only people on planet earth who would actually want to own a site, would axiomatically not be people who would actually use it for anything other than collecting money (for, em, bringing the already existing land to the market)? The market for what? Is the entire economy based on landowners eternally selling/renting land to one another (hello Celtic Tiger!). Could there not actually be some people in the universe who want to own land to use it, to produce other things, to live there? Would they not be willing to pay for it?

On the free market, the less productive sites cost less to the tenant; if they cost no less than the best sites (i.e., if they are free), then no one will want to use them.

True, but irrelevant in this context;

Thus, in a city, the best, or most potentially value-productive, sites are in the “downtown” areas, and these consequently earn and charge higher rents than the less productive but still useful sites in the outlying areas. If the Henry George scheme went into effect, there would not only be complete misallocation of sites to less productive uses, but there would also be great overcrowding in the downtown areas, as well as underpopulation and underuse of the outlying areas. If Georgists believe that the single tax would end overcrowding of the downtown areas, they are gravely mistaken, for the reverse would occur.

This doesn’t follow, does it?

Furthermore, suppose the government imposed a tax of more than 100 percent on ground rents, as the Georgists really envision,


so as to force “idle” land into use. The result would be aggravated wasteful misapplication of labor and capital. Since labor is scarce relative to land, the compulsory use of idle land would wastefully misallocate labor and capital and force more work on poorer land, and therefore less on better land.

So, let’s get this straight, the Georgist system would:

a) overuse central areas and undeuse outlying areas; but it would really

b) overuse poorer land, and underuse better land;

At any rate, the result of the single tax would be locational chaos, with waste and misallocation everywhere; overcrowding would prevail; and poorer sites would either be overused or underused and abandoned altogether. The general tendency would be toward underuse of the poorer sites because of the tax-induced rush to the better ones. As under conditions of price control, the use of the better sites would be decided by favoritism, queuing, etc., instead of economic ability.

Unless, for example, someone were actually willing to bid for the use of sites?

Since location enters into the production of every good, locational chaos would introduce an element of chaos into every area of production and perhaps ruin economic calculation as well, for an important element to be calculated—location—would be removed from the sphere of the market.

Again, he introduces a very good point, but compounded with a non-sequitor – location is not removed from the sphere of the market, simply because a fee for the use of that location’s externally added value goes to the people or institutions that add the value. “[L]ocation enters into the production of every good” is a point touched upon by George, Von Thunen, Alonso, Reilly, Zipf, and Stewart.

To this contention, the Georgists would reply that the owners would not be allowed to charge no rents, because the government’s army of assessors would set the proper rents. But this would hardly alleviate the problem; in fact, it would aggravate matters in many ways. It might bring in revenue and check some of the excess demand of land users, but it would still provide no reason and no incentive for the landowners to perform their proper function of allocating land sites efficiently. In addition, if assessment is difficult and arbitrary at any time, how very much more chaotic would it be when the government must blindly estimate, in the absence of any rent market, the rent for every piece of ground land! This would be a hopeless and impossible task, and the resulting deviations from free-market rents would compound the chaos, with over- and underuse, and wrong locations. With no vestige of market left, not only would the landowners be deprived of any incentive for efficient allocation of sites; they would have no way of finding out whether their allocations were efficient or not.

Leaving aside the running-gag about there being no market, the issue of accurate price generation and thus efficient allocation, is important – it could be handled by several options, e.g.:

a) incentivising private title-holders to collect economic rent by allowing them to retain a proportion as a fee;

b) owner-occupiers could be incentivised by disallowing annual payments in lieu of transfer (e.g. “stamp duty”) fees, or vice versa – this might be a politically astute remedy in some circmstances;

b) holding public bid-rent auctions (e.g. for delinquent sites, or for industrial zones);

c) these could be applied seperately in different zoning districts;

d) an extra incentive in a phasing-in stage, would be to grant transferable tax credits (e.g. against income tax) as a way to encourage adoption;

Finally, this all-around fixing of rents by the government would be tantamount to virtual nationalization of the land, with all the enormous wastes and chaos that afflict any government ownership of business—all the greater in a business that would permeate every nook and cranny of the economy. The Georgists contend that they do not advocate the nationalization of land, since ownership would remain de jure in the hands of private individuals. The returns from this ownership, however, would all accrue to the State.

Only if:

a) the only reason for owning sites is to charge other people for their use;

b) there was absolutely no proportion for incentive left, e.g. a processing fee or commission;

c) no libertarian alternative existed, e.g. citizen’s dividends, land-trust, proprietary community, mutualist land-bank, rent-union or infrastructural co-op;

George himself admitted that the single tax would “accomplish the same thing [as the land nationalization] in a simpler, easier, and quieter way.”[49] George’s method, however, would, as we have seen, be neither simple, easy, nor quiet. The single tax would leave de jure ownership in private hands while completely destroying its point,

Not actually proven; and the only point of ownership is to charge others for the use of a thing? Not to secure the fruits of one’s own labours?

so that the single tax is hardly an improvement upon, or differs much from, outright nationalization.[50] Of course, as we shall see further below, the State has no incentive or means for efficient allocation either. At any rate, land sites, like any other resources, must be owned and controlled by someone, either a private owner or the government. Sites can be allocated either by voluntary contract or by governmental coercion, and the latter is what is attempted by the single tax or by land nationalization.[51][52]

The Georgists believe that ownership or control by the State means that “society” will own or command the land or its rent. But this is fallacious. Society or the public cannot own anything; only an individual or a set of individuals can do so. (This will be discussed below.)

But individuals can surely act in a Trust, on behalf of others, whether those others be an individual, or a community of indviduals;

At any rate, in the Georgist scheme, it would not be society, but the State that would own the land.

Individuals could potentially act in a Trust on behalf of the society of individuals it was supposed to represent; even in an anarcho-capitalist world, this could work – and even in the world-as-it-exists, Alaska holds it’s oil royalties in trust for it’s resident citizens, who receive a dividend cheque each year.

Caught in an inescapable dilemma are a group of antistatist Georgists, who wish to statize ground rent yet abolish taxation at the same time. Frank Chodorov, a leader of this group, could offer only the lame suggestion that ground land be municipalized rather than nationalized—to avoid the prospect that all of a nation’s land might be owned by a central government monopoly. Yet the difference is one of degree, not of kind; the effects of government ownership and regional land monopoly still appear, albeit in a number of small regions instead of one big region.[53]

No dilemma: collecting e.g. a site-specific added value/externality recapture (Site-SAVER) fee is not only possible but wise under either a state or anarchist system, as a way to finance public services and infrastructure fairly and efficiently. Chodorov’s suggestion is wise for those who believe that local governance or management has some advantages over larger, centralised bureaucracies – why is that lame? Mises himself wrote that very large private enterprises start to resemble bloated state departments (both self-interested and economically irrational) in terms of inefficient allocation of resources.