Sunday, May 30, 2004

International Georgist Union: Declaration of Human Rights: "The economic, the political and, consequently, the intellectual and moral conditions of any people are ultimately determined by the system of land tenure under which they live;

Since everyone has an equal right to live it follows necessarily that everyone has an equal right to the use of land by which alone life can be sustained;

The private appropriation of the rent or value of land constitutes a violation of those equal rights, and its consequences are that holders of privilege exact a monopoly price for access to land, the community is deprived of its natural revenue, taxation is heaped upon trade and industry, production is harassed and arrested, and industrial depressions inevitably occur;

The more completely the land is thus monopolised, the greater is the insecurity of employment and the nearer are wages driven down to mere subsistence level. This is true of all countries, no matter how they may differ in their forms of government, in the nature or development of their industries, in their tariff policies, monetary systems, internal or external public debts, or in any other way.

We therefore advocate:

That the equal right to land be secured by requiring of all landholders an annual payment to society approximating the full rental value of the land held, whether it be used or not, and excluding the value of the improvements thereon; and that such payment, at all levels of government, be based on a valuation showing the true rental value of the land, this valuation being made public and being kept up to date by periodical revision;

That such payment be construed to be the rightful and sufficient public revenue for all levels of government;

That imposts on earnings and consumption, taxes on improvements, customs tariffs, exchange controls and other burdens and barriers that restrict sustainable production and obstruct the free movement of men and goods be concurrently abolished;

And we maintain that:

The public collection of the annual value of land and the abolition of taxes that are repressive on industry and commerce would enable the producer to enjoy the full fruits of his labour, make the withholding of land from use unprofitable, put an end to the monopoly of land, and, by freeing the channels of trade, remove the main causes of international strife;

The wide field of enterprise being thus thrown open, illimitable except for provisos to protect human life, health and the environment, involuntary poverty would be banished; "over-production" would be inconceivable until all human wants were satisfied; labour-saving inventions would be rendered a blessing to all; and there would be such production and distribution of wealth as would enable all to achieve comfort and leisure and to participate in the advantages of a progressing civilisation.

We condemn, as infringing personal liberties and menacing the general welfare, all plans - except for provisos to protect the citizens lives, health and the environment - that involve regimentation of the individual by the State; invoke the arbitrary powers of Government to control or prohibit import and export trade; profess the need for maintaining tariffs in one country because of their existence in others; imply the retention and mere management of monopolies instead of their abolition; use the proceeds of taxes and loans or the manipulation of money to put goods on the market at fictitious prices; or contemplate the unbalancing of budgets and the expansion of public debts on the pretext that spreading purchasing power by these methods will have beneficial social effects.

Individual and Common Rights in Land

The Earth is the common heritage of all people and all have natural and equal rights in land.

Subject always to these natural and equal rights in land and to this common ownership, there are certain specific rights that the individual can and must enjoy.

These rights properly enjoyed by individuals are:

1. The right to secure exclusive occupation of land.

2. The right to the exclusive use of land occupied.

3. The right to the free transfer of land according to the laws of the country.

4. The right to transmit land by inheritance.

These individual rights do not include any right to:

1. Use land in a manner contrary to the common good of all, e.g. in such a manner as to destroy or impair the common heritage.

2. Appropriate what economists call the Economic Rent of land.

The Economic Rent is the annual value attaching to the land alone, apart from any improvements thereon created by labour. This value is created by the existence of and the functioning of the whole community wherein the individual lives, and is in justice the property of the community. To allow this value to be appropriated by individuals enables land to be used not only for the production of goods and services, but also as an instrument of oppression leading to the gravest social consequences that are everywhere evident.

All people have natural and equal rights in land. Those rights may be exercised in two ways:

1. By holding land as individuals and/or

2. Sharing in the common use of the economic rent of land.

This community created economic rent (the annual value of land) can be collected for the use of the community by the same machinery as that by which taxes are now collected. This is what we mean by the policy of Land Value Taxation. Were this community-created land value collected by the community, taxation that now penalises industry, thrift and enterprise and stifles production could be abolished for the benefit of all.

We assert that the exercise of both common and individual rights in land is essential to society based on justice. But the rights of individuals in natural resources are limited by the just rights of the community. Those who begin by denying the existence of common rights in land end by creating a condition of society wherein the exercise of individual rights becomes impossible for the great mass of the people.


This statement is a concise declaration of Georgist philosophy, following quite closely the thought of Henry George himself as articulated in his speeches and writings. As such it shows both the strengths and weaknesses of that philosophy. The main strength and the central concept is the statement of natural and equal rights in land; and the social collection of economic rent to achieve in a practical and efficient manner justice and equality with respect to land and natural resources.

The weaknesses are characteristic of George: an emphasis on the abolition of tariffs, in my opinion a minor matter which has served as a distraction for the movement; the concept that the rent would consist of the entirety of public revenue ('single tax') - a utopian concept that may not be practically achievable but if not achieved does not diminish the main thrust of the proposal; the utopian concept that the single tax alone would abolish poverty and unemployment - one might hope it would make a substantial contribution but if it does not the validity of the concept is not thereby nullified; the rejection of tariffs or imposts on certain goods for social reasons, eg, drugs; the rejection of public borrowing, even for social infrastructure projects; and the lack of appreciation of the existence of monopoly rents in other industries, eg, broadcasting spectrum, software patents etc - although George could hardly be faulted for not foreseeing such developments. And of course the environmental insights need extensive development.

The principal failing of the Georgist movement, in my opinion, has been the failure to embed the valid ethical and economic insights into the progressive/left political mainstream. Instead for the longest time the movement has been attracted to a fallacious notion that, politically speaking, the reform is 'neither left nor right'. (not to mention the obvious tactical error of mongering the single tax as a panacea). A consequence has been that the left has come to be dominated by either socialism and/or Marxism, with georgist insights left by the wayside. The future of Georgism can only be in synergistic alliance with progressive, liberal, left, peace, antiwar, non-violent, socialist, anarchist and environmentalist movements.

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