Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

An Address by a Georgist Sympathizer: Practical Issues in Georgist Thought

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

An Address by a Georgist Sympathizer: Practical Issues in Georgist Thought

Article excerpt

Do you remember the tabletops they used to have in Wendy's hamburger restaurants? You know, the ones in beautiful 19th century prose, straight from the pages of the old Sears catalogue, that made all those marvelous claims: World's Best Sheep Shearing Machine - cannot be clogged, cannot cut your sheep, guaranteed to add $60 to your profits; Dr. Hammond's Nerve and Brain Tablets - a great remedy for weak men; will build up the former strength and endurance without having a disturbing effect on the nervous system - strengthen the heart action, and tone up the stomach, liver, and kidneys; Dr. McBain's Blood Pills - enrich the blood and give excellent results with pale complexion, pain in the back, facial eruptions, nervous headaches, and sores; the magic corset - we guarantee that it will take ten inches off your waistline, will add ten inches to your bust line, and will keep your marriage happy.

Follow my plan and it will raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, lessen crime, elevate morals, and taste, and intelligence, purify government and carry civilization to yet nobler heights. (George, Progress and Poverty 405-06).

This last is a quotation from Progress and Poverty and is absolutely beautiful prose. I could read this over and over. I enjoy the exquisiteness of the writing, the energy, and the emotion underlying Henry George's zeal for his beloved solution to the ills of society. But like the old Sears catalog, he oversold his case - there are no panaceas. Now, would the world be a better place if we adopted more of George's ideas? I firmly believe it would.

I have become increasingly convinced of the fundamental justice and soundness of George's attitudes toward the taxation of land rents. As a graduate student majoring in urban economics and public finance, I was introduced to George's ideas, which are still generally favorably received in these subdisciplines of economics. And since 1986, I have had the privilege of teaching an economics course for the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation; this has allowed me to read further and to contemplate the benefits of George's scheme. However, it is probably fair to say that I am not a "Georgist" any more than I am a disciple of any economist. I fully agree with George that:

We must abandon prejudice, and make our reckoning with free minds. The sailor, who, no matter how the wind might change, should persist in keeping his vessel under the same sail and on the same tack, would never reach his haven. (Social Problems 19).

So, please, be patient with me, while I outline some of the wind changes I believe Georgists need to consider. Imagine that the year is 2004, and national elections have just concluded. Georgist candidates have been swept into office - there is a new Georgist President, and Georgists have captured a majority in Congress, in state houses, and in local city councils. This is your big chance. You've won! How long will it be before you can claim you are able to . . .

raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, lessen crime, elevate morals, and taste, and intelligence, purify government and carry civilization to yet nobler heights?

I honestly do not believe you can do all these things. But you can move us in that direction. Perhaps a good starting point will be to ban Roseanne Arnold from television -. That would undoubtedly help us elevate morals and taste and intelligence. Whoops - pardon my slip - that would be a very anti-free-market thing to do!

What follows is the advice of a friend, not a true believer. These are my readings of wind shifts and my suggestions for you to consider as you prepare for your electoral landslide.

First, concentrate on the underlying theme of Henry George's work, and that theme is not that we all have the right to become filthy rich, as long as we do it through the fruits of our labor and our accumulation of capital. …

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