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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 11

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This is the grave of Henry George.

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Henry George was the man behind the idea of the single tax. This was his solution to the inequality dominating the United States during the Gilded Age. In 1879, he wrote Progress and Poverty, his discussion of how to fix America’s gaping inequality. The single tax was a basic property tax. At its core was the idea that people earned the value of own their own labor, but that land was a common resource for all and should essentially be quasi-socialized with very high taxes on large landowners. George‚Äôs ideas quickly spread beyond the U.S. and were especially popular with the English and Scottish working classes, as well as the Irish resisting British domination.

He came to this realization while in California. In 1871, he recalled:

I asked a passing teamster, for want of something better to say, what land was worth there. He pointed to some cows grazing so far off that they looked like mice, and said, ‘I don’t know exactly, but there is a man over there who will sell some land for a thousand dollars an acre.’ Like a flash it came over me that there was the reason of advancing poverty with advancing wealth. With the growth of population, land grows in value, and the men who work it must pay more for the privilege.

This developed into Progress and Poverty, which sold an astounding 3 million copies over the years.

In 1886, Henry George ran for mayor of New York City on a 3rd party ticket. He came in 2nd, ahead of the Republicans who had nominated a whipper snapper named Theodore Roosevelt. He had a stroke in 1890 while on a global tour speaking against poverty. He slowly recovered and ran for mayor again in 1897, but had a second stroke and died four days before the election.

Among the many things inspired by Henry George is the game of Monopoly, whose inventor was a follower of his.

Not everyone agreed with the single tax. But we all agree that there is a single end uniting everyone.

Henry George is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

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  • Turkle

    I am actually friends with a Georgeist – a very smart person (not, obviously, an economist or anything) that truly believes that a land tax is the solution to pretty much any of our problems. (E.g. eliminate business taxes entirely and only tax landed property, etc.)

    It’s actually sort of charming even if it’s ridiculous.

  • slothrop

    Tolstoy admired George. That’s a little strange. William F Buckley and Milton Freeman were Georgeists, which is a little less strange. Marx thought George was a knucklehead, which seems spot on.

    • Otherwise he is a talented writer (with a talent for Yankee advertisement too) as his article on California in the Atlantic proves, for instance. He also has the repulsive presumption and arrogance which is displayed by all panacea-mongers without exception.

      – Marx

      • Gregor Sansa

        There are no panaceas, but plenty of things that have been called panaceas are good medicine.

        Georgist taxes on land, IP, and other monopolies (Facebook)
        Approval voting and proportional representation
        Campaign finance vouchers
        Pigovian taxes (CO2, etc.)
        Democracy itself
        …. etc.

        • Brian Schmidt

          Exactly this. Georgeists oversold an otherwise good idea of a tax on the speculative value given to land unrelated to improvements that the owner provides.

          It’s really too bad so many people still can’t get past this overselling issue, including the few Georgeists that are still around and still oversell it.

          We could still use the idea here in Silicon Valley, and I’m speaking as a homeowner.

      • Lt. Fred

        Arrogance? Jeez, Marx can talk!

  • Richard Gadsden

    Sound the call for freedom boys, and sound it far and wide,
    March along to victory, for God is on our side,
    While the voice of nature thunders o’er the rising tide:
    “God gave the land to the people.”

    Chorus

    The land, the land,
    ’twas God who made the land,
    The land, the land,
    The ground on which we stand,
    Why should we be beggars
    With the ballot in our hand?
    God gave the land to the people.

    Hark! The sound is spreading from the east and from the west!
    Why should we work hard and let the landlords take the best?
    Make them pay their taxes on the land just like the rest!
    The land was meant for the people.

    Chorus

    Clear the way for liberty, the land must all be free,
    None of us shall falter from the fight tho’ stern shall be.
    ‘Til the flag we love so well shall fly from sea to sea,
    O’er the land that is free for the people.

    Chorus

    The army now is marching on, the battle to begin,
    The standard now is raised on high to face the battle din,
    We’ll never cease from fighting ’til the victory we win,
    And the land is free for the people.

    Chorus

  • Origami Isopod

    I used to know a libertarian who was a Georgist. A very nice man, but… well. Also an engineer.

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