At the above link Wendy McElroy displays her mastery of the art of bashing straw men of one's own making and then pretending to have "refuted" the viewpoints in place of which one knowingly erected those straw men.
Excerpted from the comments section of that article is the following response by long-time geolibertarian activist, Dan Sullivan
-----------------------------The Single Tax: A Refutation of Wendy McElroy's "Refutation"
by Dan Sullivan
June 21, 2012
The problem with the question and answer format is that it implies false “straw man” positions that are not actually Georgist positions at all, answering questions that are not Georgist questions, but questions that are wrongly assumed to be Georgist.
This probably stems from promising a refutation without having actually written one, and publishing a refutation without first privately running it past some actual Georgists to see if the refutation actually addresses the Georgist position or just addresses misconceptions about that position, and to see if it brings up anything new or unasnwerable, or just rehashes refutations that have themselves been refuted, over and over again.
There is also the problem of throwing a lot of arguments against the wall to see if any of them stick. I am inclined, therefore, to take each assertion, one at a time, in a separate thread.False Georgist Question:“How can someone justify claiming property by the ‘right of first occupation’ when everyone else has a similar claim to the same property?”
As I wrote in reply to the first half of this article, people at the extreme ends of the political spectrum tend to think in simplistic absolutist terms that prevent them from understanding people who set out to reconcile conflicting claims. To both Marxists and Miseans, something is either absolutely owned by the individual or absolutely owned by the collective, each denying any legitimacy in the other.
Wendy alludes to Locke’s idea of claiming a property by mixing one’s labor with it, not realizing that George repeatedly and enthusiastically endorsed Locke’s views on property, exactly and precisely as Locke wrote them.http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtreat.htm
Neolibertarians, on the other hand, jump at Locke’s endorsement of property through “mixing one’s labor” (a term Wendy used above), while pretending not to notice the qualifications Locke put on his endorsement. This is like being a Christian except for the parts about the poor being blessed and the rich man having to pass through the eye of a needle (which need not be so hard, because it actually means humbling himself). Just as the religious right contain many a la carte Christians, so does the neolibertarian right contain many a la carte Lockeans. Here is Locke’s essential statement, from Chapter 5, “On Property”:
Sec. 27: Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, AT LEAST WHERE THERE IS ENOUGH, AND AS GOOD, LEFT IN COMMON TO OTHERS [emphasis added].
This emphasized text is called “The Lockean Proviso,” and Locke makes reference to it no less than 15 times in 28 paragraphs. (It is actually one of two provisos, the other being that taking up land and wasting it makes one a “spoiler of the commons” and vitiates his claim. Some neolibertarians do recognize this lesser proviso, which got far less attention from Locke.)
Most neolibertarians who cite Locke are oblivious to his main proviso, and those who begrudgingly acknowledge it try to reduce it to a meaningless absurdity by saying there must only be enough left to others at the time of the claiming.
Well, of course there is enough left to others at that time, or else someone else would have already claimed it. If that is all that Locke had meant, then he was dwelling on a meaningless triviality. However, an honest reading of Locke shows that he meant that his proviso continues to apply long after the claim, and Locke gives an example that clarifies this.
Sec. 34. God gave the world to men in common; but since he gave it them for their benefit, and the greatest conveniencies of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational, (and labour was to be his title to it;) not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious. He that had as good left for his improvement, AS WAS ALREADY TAKEN UP, needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another’s labour: if he did, it is plain he desired the benefit of another’s pains, which he had no right to, and not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labour on, and whereof there was as good left, as that ALREADY possessed, and more than he knew what to do with, or his industry could reach to.
Here Locke clearly applies his proviso to land that has already been taken up, and says that the rival claimant should be denied because “there was [still] as good left, as that already possessed.”
In Sections 45-51, Locke acknowledges that this system (which was, in fact, the prevailing system under ancient Common Law) worked well enough until population growth made land scarce, and the use of money taught people that they could hold land in order that others would pay them to use that land, or would work on that land for the landholder’s benefit, which amounts to the same thing.
“[Prior to the use of money] what reason could any one have there to enlarge his possessions beyond the use of his family, and a plentiful supply to its consumption, either in what their own industry produced, or they could barter for like perishable, useful commodities, with others? Where there is not some thing, both lasting and scarce, and so valuable to be hoarded up, there men will not be apt to enlarge their possessions of land, were it never so rich, never so free for them to take:…”
That is, the homestead principle works fine prior to money, because nobody would rush to take up land in order charge others to work that land. However, with money, or what we would call a monetary economy, people will naturally take up more land and better land than they need, in order that someone else will pay them to let go of it. This is precisely where the Lockean Proviso becomes violated, and is also precisely where rent arises.
This is also where Locke precisely agrees with George, for it is at this point, says Locke,
“the several communities settled the bounds of their distinct territories, and by laws within themselves regulated the properties of the private men of their society, and so, by compact and agreement, settled the property which labour and industry began; and the leagues that have been made between several states and kingdoms, either expresly or tacitly disowning all claim and right to the land in the others possession, have, by common consent, given up their pretences to their natural common right, which originally they had to those countries, and so have, by positive agreement, settled a property amongst themselves, in distinct parts and parcels of the earth….”
Note that Locke endorses, neither of the tacit agreement nor the loss of a common right to land. He is just saying that people tacitly consented to whatever arrangements the state made, not that the consent was without duress. But rent arises at precisely the point where good land becomes scarce and money is in circulation, and arises all the same whether under an egalitarian system of governance or under a state.
That rent is also a precise economic measure of the difference between the desirability of the rentable land and the best land that can still be taken up for free. When the community, under whatever mechanism, collects that rent, the Lockean proviso is still in force. That is, the rentable land, after rent is paid to the community, has no greater market value than the best free land. The newcomer who has access to the free land has no valid claim on the occupied rentable land because, once the rent is deducted, the free land is as good.
This put’s George foresquare in alignment with Locke, for “mixing one’s labor” with land is essentially the same as improving the land, and George would exempt all improvements, all exchanges, and all non-harmful activity from any tax, restriction or prohibition.
Now, you might say that Locke did not actually endorse George’s single tax on land, and indeed he didn’t – in this particular treatise. However, Locke did write,
“It is in vain in a Country whose great Fund is Land, to hope to lay the publick charge of the Government on any thing else; there at last it will terminate. The Merchant (do what you can) will not bear it, the Labourer cannot, and therefore the Landholder must: And whether he were best do it, by laying it directly, where it will at last settle, or by letting it come to him by the sinking of his Rents, which when they are once fallen every one knows are not easily raised again, let him consider.”http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=LocCons.xml&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=all
The essential point is that George never denied a right of first occupancy. To the contrary, he explicitly endorsed it.
“Were there only one man on earth, he would have a right to the use of the whole earth or any part of the earth.
“When there is more than one man on earth, the right to the use of land that any one of them would have, were he alone, is not abrogated: it is only limited. The right of each to the use of land is still a direct, original right, which he holds of himself, and not by the gift or consent of the others; but it has become limited by the similar rights of the others, and is therefore an equal right. His right to use the earth still continues; but it has become, by reason of this limitation, not an absolute right to use any part of the earth, but (1) an absolute right to use any part of the earth as to which his use does not conflict with the equal rights of others (i.e., which no one else wants to use at the same time), and (2) a coequal right to the use of any part of the earth which he and others may want to use at the same time.
“It is, thus, only where two or more men want to use the same land at the same time that equal rights to the use of land come in conflict, and the adjustment of society becomes necessary.
“If we keep this idea of equal rights in mind — the idea, namely, that the rights are the first thing, and the equality merely their limitation — we shall have no difficulty.”
-- George, Henry, *A Perplexed Philosopher* [referring to Herbert Spencer] cited in “Common Rights vs. Collective Rights”http://geolib.com/sullivan.dan/commonrights.html#collectiveproperty
Locke also had two general provisos to people who undertook to discuss his book in an honest fashion, and I hope they will prevail here:
“If any one, concerned really for truth, undertake the confutation of my Hypothesis, I promise him either to recant my mistake, upon fair conviction; or to answer his difficulties. But he must remember two things.
“First, That cavilling here and there, at some expression, or little incident of my discourse, is not an answer to my book.
“Secondly, That I shall not take railing for arguments, nor think either of these worth my notice, though I shall always look on myself as bound to give satisfaction to any one, who shall appear to be conscientiously scrupulous in the point, and shall shew any just grounds for his scruples.”Wendy’s Socialist Gambit:
Putting incorrect words in George’s mouth….“As a matter of principle, you cannot claim a right to something you do not own – land – simply because you mix it with something you do own – your labor.”
As I already showed, George stated just the opposite, that you can indeed claim a right to something you do not own. You just cannot claim OWNERSHIP of something you do not own. This is hard for neolibertarians to grasp, because they are so absolutist about property that they have fallen into the trap of thinking that liberty flows from property, when in fact property flows from liberty.
For example, there are countless examples of saying a person must have liberty “because he owns himself.” No, he IS himself, and is not subject to ownership at all. His liberty and his rights derive from the fact of his existence, not from some self-ownership construct. Rather, any system of property must derive from liberty, limited only by the equal liberty of others.
In any case, George never said what Wendy claims he said, but now she uses an argument invented by socialists to muddy the waters:“If this is true, then it proves more than I believe Georgists wish to accept. If I can make no rightful claim to the riches of nature with which I must mix my labor in order to produce bread, clothing, shelter, and the other necessities of life then I can never claim to ‘own’ the loaf I am baking, the dress on my back, the chair in which I sit, the roof over my head. I am in possession of these goods only because I deprived others of their equal claim to the raw materials consumed in their production.”
This is obviously false. Whether I rent space from a private landlord or from the government, what I produce is mine and mine alone. Does Wendy suppose that, because she made a cotton dress from material she acquired at Joanne Fabrics, that Joanne owns part of her dress? No, she paid for the material, and what she did with it is her own business.
Similarly, does she suppose that her dress and the Joanne Fabrics store are both partly the property of the cotton farmers from whose produce the dress was made? Or that all three are partly the property of the landlord on whose land the cotton farmers grew the cotton? No, I am confident that she does not believe any of that, because, when she is not in refutation mode, common sense surely prevails. Yet, mysteriously, if the cotton farmer owed rent to the community, and not to some private landlord, then somehow the cotton farmer, Joanne Fabrics, and her hand made dress are all property of that community. She does not really believe that, but she thinks that, but she says her misinterpretation of George “proves” it to be true, and she quotes Auberon Herbert basing the same argument on the same fundamental misconception.
However, the government has no greater moral right to the fruits of a person’s labor, provided he pays his rent, than the right of a private landlord to the fruits of a tenant’s labor, provided that the tenant pays his rent.
It is true that socialists tried to claim that everything is state property because everything is made from land, but this is just the flip side of misconstruing the labor-mixing argument. George and Georgists vehemently opposed socialism, and rebuked this nonsense, saying that labor owns all it produces:
“Our friend on the other [socialist] side says that the coercion is the monopoly of machinery, the monopoly of capital. Monopoly of what? Monopoly of capital? Well, let us stop a moment and see what is meant by capital. Is a factory capital? I suppose it is, with all its equipment of buildings and machinery. Is the ground on which it stands capital? If it is, then you are speaking of two entirely different things under the same name, and may be charging to capitalism evils that result from landlordism. Now, capital – machinery and all such things – is produced by labor itself, by laborers. How does it get away from them? It is not a question of the history of the past; It is a question of the present hour, because all the capital that exists today would last but a little while if labor ceased utilizing and maintaining it. Labor is producing it all the time. How does it slip away? It is not enough to say that it slips away because somebody has got it monopolized. You have to go deeper and inquire what are the conditions under which it is produced.
“We know that labor produces all that is produced. We also know that labor cannot create it. Then how can it produce it? Only by getting access to the natural source from which it must come. You have got to go to the land.”
-- Louis F. Post, Single Taxers Debate Socialists, 1903http://savingcommunities.org/docs/post.louisf/debatesocialists1903.html#producing
So, yes, Wendy, those who produce anything should own it, and that is the Georgist position (and the reason George would abolish all taxes on productivity). Yet we see that those who have monopolized land (and those who have used banking privilege to monopolize money) collect rents (and debt interest) that do not rightly belong to them. In this way, they monopolize labor. Socialists would take the fruits of the laborer, and neolibertarians would allow landlords to take the fruits of the laborer. It’s just two roads to the same serfdom.
(My parenthetical comments about banking are just an acknowledgement that there is more than one fundamental injustice.)The inseparability gambit:“In Free Life (1898) Auberon Herbert commented on the adverse impact of such a tax. ‘The community is entitled to all values arising from land…that are not due to labor. But…it would surpass the skill of men to disentangle these intermixed values. It could only be done by guess work of a very coarse kind. If the principle were just in itself, it would still be used as a mask for taking from others….All taking of so-called unearned increment would be a farce—and a very mean farce.’”
This is simply not true. Assessing is a refined science, and easily can reach such a quality that disparities between the assessed value an the subsequent selling price can be traced to errors or lopsided pressures on the two parties. For example, it is well known that estates tend to liquidate properties for about 30% less their market value, and that out-of-town buyers tend to pay between 10-15% above market value. Yet good assessors predict future sales with a median variation of less than 10%. Were assessing is bad, it can be traced to political pressures and corrupting influences from large landlords – the same people who insist that taxes must not fall on real estate.
Moreover, the standard assessment practice is to assess land and buildings separately, even when they are only taxed in the aggregate. This is because the only way to get “comparables” in a complex community is to use matrix equations that separate variables. Unless one building is misplaced, meaning located where there is an inadequate market for such a building, the building values should be similar for similar buildings in different neighborhoods. By the same token, adjacent land values should be nearly equal regardless of the structures on them.
There are complications that need explaining to novices, but they pose no great problems to assessors. Market value is rather easily deduced, not arbitrarily imposed, in any community that has a genuine commitment to taxing real estate. There are also multiple appeals processes and other protections for the landholders.
Again, any arbitrary quality comes from the land monopolists themselves. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and the price of absolute property in land is eternal cynicism, followed by a landlord class and a tenant class.A “Key Question” that misses the whole point:“Herbert then asks a key question – do Georgists advocate making good the losses that occur as well as profiting from the gains? ‘A site falls in value owing to the movement of population—will the believers in unearned increment compensate the owner?’”
After a few paragraphs, I will show why the question is based on a misunderstanding of what Georgists actually propose, because, the landholder does not suffer when land values drop in a Georgist system. He only suffers from such a fate in a non-Georgist system.
But first I want to note the circular reasoning that occurs when apologists for unlimited property in land refer to the landholder as the “owner,” as Auberon Herbert does here. Isn’t the very question whether the landholder is a rightful owner, or just a claimant with rights that are limited by the rights of others?
Marx defined Capital as a device that exploits labor. So, of course, any argument that Capital does not exploit labor is incomprehensible to a dogmatic Marxist. By the same token, if we define the land holder as the owner, then any argument that he must pay rent on “his OWN land” becomes incomprehensible to a dogmatic defender of landlordism.
This kind of circular reasoning abounds whenever an institution is presumed to be just. Anyone who questions that institution is violating the sacred rights of property. In replies to the first half of this presentation, I noted several comparisons between land monopoly and slavery by famous abolitionists, libertarians and others. This same circular reasoning was also used to defend slavery. The defense was satirized by a little-known Georgist named Mark Twain, in Huckleberry Finn:
“Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them.
“It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, ‘Give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.’ Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children — children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm.
“I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him. My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, ‘Let up on me — it ain’t too late yet — I’ll paddle ashore at the first light and tell.’”
When people asked Mark Twain what Huckleberry Finn was about, he said, “superstition.” Circular reasoning is just superstition pretending to be logical.
Now, as to compensating the land “owner” if land values fall:
As soon as you start taxing land, the speculative values pretty much disappear, and after that, there is a lot less of a loss to compensate. Don’t take my word for it, though. Look at California, the state that gets the smallest percentage of its tax burden from real estate of any state in the nation, thanks to Prop 13. They had the most unaffordable housing of any state at the peak of the bubble in 2005, and they have had the most foreclosures of any state since that time, and the greatest drop in real estate values.http://savingcommunities.org/issues/taxes/property/affordabilityrank.html
All across the nation, within population categories, the higher the property tax the greater the affordability (and the fewer the foreclosures):http://savingcommunities.org/issues/taxes/property/affordabilitycharts.html
So, if taxes had been falling heavily on land, the landholder would not have had to pay as much to acquire land in the first place, and has less land value to lose. If the full rental value were being assessed and collected, then landholders would have been acquiring land (and the tax obligation) for free, paying only for the value of the previous landholder’s improvements. There is nothing to compensate. Also, where the land value falls, so falls the assessment on which his taxes are based. So, yes, he is automatically compensated if his land value falls. If Auberon Herbert thought otherwise, it is because he did not understand the proposal.The World Government Gambit:“But the point remains that natural resources belong equally to everyone.”
Yes, we actually do believe that.“Again, I doubt that Georgists wish to follow this argument to its logically conclusion because it would necessitate impartially dividing the benefits of all land among all human beings.”
No it would not, for several reasons but let us continue with what Wendy imagines to be the “logical” application of our perspective.“If one area of the world was gifted with rich soil and abundant water, then it would owe a debt to areas of barren sand and drought. Any line drawn to include some people in the rich area’s advantages while excluding others would violate the Georgists’ own principle that the earth equally belongs to all. Thus, a single tax that benefits a small portion of the global community reveals itself as being inherently and manifestly ‘unfair’. And, yet, a globally ‘fair’ distribution of value would be nigh well impossible to achieve; it cannot even be envisioned without a sprawling global authority that collects data, assesses and taxes far beyond what libertarian-style Georgists would tolerate. Like absurdity, the impossibility of implementing a principle should make you reconsider it.”
First of all, one does not pay rent for using land, but for excluding others from using land. If rent is shared within a community, and there are no barriers preventing outsiders from migrating into that community, then the obligation is satisfied. As a matter of fact, the only barriers to migration into a particular US community are zoning laws, which most Georgists (and all geolibertarians) oppose.
As for international sharing, we would similarly owe nothing to residents of other countries if we allowed those residents to freely migrate to the United States, for we would not be excluding them.
At a deeper, metaphysical level, justice is a congruent relationship between individuals, whether organized into associations, municipalites, states, countries or planets. To say that we cannot be just with each other until the whole world is just with each other is like saying to my family that I should not have to stop beating my wife until all husbands have to stop beating their wives.
Even if global sharing of land and resources were an ultimate goal, it would be unreachable until we had a mechanism of global government that was something other than a federation of tyrannies. But does this mean that the cities of Aliquippa, Altoona, and Clairton PA, which all tax land and have little or no tax on buildings, have to stop being more internally just than other cities?
To the contrary, local reform is the only reform that is consistent with the decentralist principles of Jefferson and Paine (who both advocated taxing land to prevent monopoly, quite apart from its ability to raise revenue).
Stepping away from land and using the slavery example again, the question of what is just is quite separate from some notion that one community, state or country must impose its sense of justice on another. William Lloyd Garrison, the most famous abolitionist in American History, not only opposed talk of a Civil War, but led the draft resistance. Was slavery wrong? Absolutely. Did Garrison suppose that he had a right to forcibly impose his opposition to slavery on the people of the South? Absolutely not.
“Just in proportion as this spirit [of war fever in the North] prevails, I feel that our moral power is departing and will depart. I say this not so much as an Abolitionist as a man. I believe in the spirit of peace, and in sole and absolute reliance on truth and the application of it to the hearts and consciences of the people. I do not believe that the weapons of liberty ever have been, or ever can be, the weapons of despotism. I know that those of despotism are the sword, the revolver, the cannon, the bomb shell; and, therefore, the weapons to which tyrants cling, and upon which they depend, are not the weapons for me, as a friend of liberty. I will not trust the war spirit anywhere in the universe of God, because the experience of six thousand years proves it not to be at all reliable in such a struggle as ours….
“I pray you, abolitionists, still to adhere to that truth. Do not get impatient; do not become exasperated; do not attempt any new political organization; do not make yourselves familiar with the idea that blood must flow. Perhaps blood will flow – God knows, I do not; but it shall not flow through any counsel of mine. Much as I detest the oppression exercised by the Southern slaveholder, he is a man sacred, before me. He is a man, not to be harmed by my hand nor with my consent. He is a man, who is grievously and wickedly trampling upon the rights of his fellow-man; but all I have to do with him, is to rebuke his sin, to call him to repentance, to leave him without excuse for his tyranny."
-- Liberator 1858, cited in “Liberty and the Great Libertarians”
The key point that Wendy misses is that the argument for rent sharing not only requires no global government, but requires no government at all. Wendy is confounding the moral question of what is right with the political question of how (or even whether) such rightness is to be enforced.
Let us suppose an anarchist society where people are governed only by manners, a sense of mutual respect, and a desire to be respected by others. If, by pure reason, these anarchists agree that those who occupy the most desirable land, have a moral obligation to compensate those who are relegated to the most undesirable land. We will even suppose that, through voluntary subscription, they hire an expert to determine what that compensation should be.
Now, to be consistent with anarchist principles, let us further suppose that someone refuses to pay what the members of the anarchist community believe he should pay. There is no state eviction, no “land-assessing, tax-collecting authority [cemented] into the very concept of property.” There is just a shared belief that this person is behaving badly and is unworthy of the respect and esteem that other members freely accord one another.
If the community is truly functioning on these principles, I would expect this person to either make his case to them that he should not have to pay this assessment for whatever reason he has, to go ahead and pay the assessment, or to take some other action to put himself back in the good graces of his peers.
But suppose he does none of these things, and operates in contempt for the mores of the community. Being an anarchist community, it enforces no sanctions against him. But, neither does it enforce sanctions against others who might refuse to deal with him, might trespass on “his” land, or might even set about to take that land. Again, people might informally rebuke those who set about this person, just as others might rebuke the person himself.
The point is that even anarchist communities are not without laws and customs, but are merely without an enforcement hierarchy. People who hold more and better land either have a *moral* obligation to the community and/or the dispossessed members of that community, or they do not. How and whether that obligation is enforced is a separate question from what that obligation is.The Majority Rule diverson:
Wendy quotes a ranting passage of rhetorical questions by Auberon Herbert, beginning with “Who decides…?
As an ad hominem criticism of Henry George, it has some merit, because George had what seems to be an unwarranted faith in the ability of the people to rise above various political influences and exercise what he considered to be good judgment.
Yet, in addressing the actual proposal, the question of “who decides” is something of a tangent. Whatever the proposal, someone decides, whether or not that someone *ought* to be deciding. John Locke and Adam Smith wrote within a monarchy, and so they made the case that it was in the interests of the landed aristocracy to pay taxes on land. (And, of course, Marx railed against him for doing so.) George, regardless of his unwarranted faith in electoral democracy, had no choice but to appeal to the voters. The golf metaphor for this is “playing the ball where it lies,” and making an economic or moral argument to those in power is not an endorsement of those in power, whether they be kings or the masses.
I happen to share a sense of hopelessness about majority rule, especially when the electorate is too large in number to deliberate with one another, and so are subjected to bombardments of propaganda and the finesse of political machinations. Often the elected candidate was not put in office by a majority at all, but by a majority sub-faction of a majority faction of a majority party, who had only risen enough to be considered through finessing majorities of majorities of majorities at lower offices. It is not the people who are stupid, but the process that is stupid.
Personally, my ideal process is to submit questions to a jury of randomly selected citizens or residents, to give them complete freedom to consider the question and to accept documents and interview experts as they see fit. But, if I must submit to elected officials, or to opinion makers, etc., then I will try to reason with them as I try to reason with anyone. That would certainly be more productive than trying to reason with powerless anarchists, except that I believe in the underlying principles of genuine anarchism, and have a special affinity for the most reasonable, most non-violent, and most non-blustery anarchists. My own sense of justice is enriched by them.
Still, when nasty old elected officials are about to make a decision about taxation, I am not too holy to attempt to reason with them. If we do not make an attempt to show them what we think is the right thing, where do we get moral standing to condemn them for doing the wrong thing?In Conclusion, the most fundamental error of all:
Wendy’s concluding thought is as follows:“Claiming a person owns his labor but not the material upon which it is expended is tantamount to denying the person’s ownership of his labor. Or, at the very least, to deny him the benefit of labor. With the exception of purely intellectual endeavor, work is always expended on something; a good is produced out of material that reduces to a natural resource. To say a worker owns the hands that fashion a wooden chair but he does not own the chair because he has no exclusive claim to that natural resource is to make a mockery or a semantic game of anyone ‘owning their labor’. Where is the advantage to owning your labor when you cannot control what it produces in order to feed yourself?”
Wow! Wendy nailed it! She could not have said it any better (or any differently) if she had copied George’s own writings word for word. Indeed, “To each the fruits of his labor” is almost a Georgist anthem. It’s the whole point of the single tax on land values.
For one example among many, Here is what George wrote in *Social Problems*, Chapter 10, “The Rights of Man.”
“Let us consider the matter. The equal, natural and unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, does it not involve the right of each to the free use of his powers in making a living for himself and his family, limited only by the equal right of all others? Does it not require that each shall be free to make, to save and to enjoy what wealth he may, without interference with the equal rights of others; that no one shall be compelled to give forced labor to another, or to yield up his earnings to another; that no one shall be permitted to extort from another labor or earnings? All this goes without the saying. Any recognition of the equal right to life and liberty which would deny the right to property – the right of a man to his labor and to the full fruits of his labor – would be mockery.
“But that is just what we do. Our so-called recognition of the equal and natural rights of man is to large classes of our people nothing but a mockery, and as social pressure increases, is becoming a more bitter mockery to larger classes, because our institutions fail to secure the rights of men to their labor and the fruits of their labor.”
But, amazingly, Wendy writes, “Georgism is not merely a Single Tax but an assault upon the concept of ownership itself.”
Her is the Doublethink that makes such a conclusion possible. She rightly says that a person who does not own the material on which he expends his labor does not own his labor. Yet she says nothing about the fact that, where land is treated as absolute property, the overwhelming majority of laborers do not own the materials on which they labor, nor the facilities in which they labor. She fails to see that her own words are an indictment against unlimited property in land, which inevitably leads to a situation where those who labor pay tribute to those who do own the materials without which they cannot labor.
She supposes that a community that collects the rent and disperses it on a per capita basis is robbing the laborer, but that the landlord who collects the same rent and pockets it is not robbing the laborer. Even if we tie ownership to the homesteading principle, and even if we somehow determine that those who are relegated to poor land can take land back that other people have stopped using, we are left with the fact that two equally talented, equally energetic merchants can have very different returns, or “fruits of their labor”if one happens to hold a prime location while the other is relegated to a marginal location.
But as soon as we concede that a person may continue to acquire more land, so long as he (or his employees) put that land to use, we see that he may collect rent through the differential between what his workers produce and what they are paid. Either that, or we prohibit employers from holding land worked by employees, making such ventures as steel mills impossible without resorting to syndicalism or other artificial socialistic constructs.
As Albert Jay Nock, founding editor of The Freeman and author of Our Enemy, The State, noted,
“The only reformer abroad in the world in my time who interested me in the least was Henry George, because his project did not contemplate prescription, but, on the contrary, would reduce it to almost zero. He was the only one of the lot who believed in freedom, or (as far as I could see) had any approximation to an intelligent idea of what freedom is, and of the economic prerequisites to attaining it…. One is immensely tickled to see how things are coming out nowadays with reference to his doctrine, for George was in fact the best friend the capitalist ever had. He built up the most complete and most impregnable defense of the rights of capital that was ever constructed, and if the capitalists of his day had had sense enough to dig in behind it, their successors would not now be squirming under the merciless exactions which collectivism is laying on them, and which George would have no scruples whatever about describing as sheer highwaymanry.”
-- “Free Speech and Plain Language,” February 1935, p. 159
Nock is not only a giant among libertarians; he is a giant who had read Henry George’s works voraciously and even wrote a biographical essay (a full book, really) about him. I find myself wondering which of George’s books Wendy had read before writing this refuation.