5. (2013 March) Research: The Road Not Taken — An Old Proposal and Its Implications

The Road Not Taken — An Old Proposal and Its Implications
Introduction by Cliff Cobb (edited for The Georgist News)

In 1996, John Bodley, professor of anthropology and author of the widely used text, Victims of Progress, asked the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation (RSF) for support to write articles on “elite power and land ownership.” At the time, he had recently discovered Progress and Poverty and saw its significance for political theory. Although the proposal was not approved, I requested and obtained permission from John Bodley and from RSF to submit it to The Georgist News.

Bodley proposed to apply the Georgist paradigm to the concentration of political power, as mediated by concentrated ownership of land. Already in 1995 Bodley had been conducting empirical research on this topic in Spokane, Washington. The project promised to make a major contribution to studies of local power structure, which were once a standard feature of sociological analysis, but which largely disappeared with the rise of the constructivist view in the social sciences that everything is a function of language and meaning. To my knowledge, none of the earlier studies of local power structure focused on land ownership, so Bodley might have started a new trend in research.

Bodley continued to conduct research on the topic and write papers, but without an empirical foundation, his work did not address the issues central to a nascent Georgist political theory. You can download two articles that grew out of his research on questions of power here: http://libarts.wsu.edu/anthro/faculty/bodley.html

  • 2001 Growth, Scale, and Power in Washington State. Human Organization. 60(4):367-379
  • 1999 Socioeconomic Growth, Culture Scale, and Household Well-Being: A Test of the Power-Elite Hypothesis. Current Anthropology. 40(5):595-620

Bodley’s work, if it were to be pursued, offers a Georgist counterweight to research on the power elite by the Marxist William Domhoff and by theorists of corporate power such as David Korten, Thomas Dye, and George Gonzalez. At a minimum, Bodley’s empirical Research, if continued, could inject the importance of land into contemporary politics. The role of land in urban politics has been discussed by Marxists such as Harvey Molotch, Michael Logan, and David Harvey, but their ideological emphasis on “capital” prevents them from appreciating the centrality of land in the drama of urban politics.

In the absence of any formal theory of politics, Georgists have implicitly adopted a “pluralist” model of political power, which assumes 1) that power is widely distributed in society, 2) that social mobility is a characteristic of industrial societies, and 3) that democratic structures are open and porous. In fact, since Georgists have not addressed theories of political power, these issues do not arise. Henry George alludes to the failures of democracy in Book X of Progress and Poverty, but it seems there has been little elaboration of this theme by subsequent Georgists.

Perhaps there is someone who might still pick up where Bodley left off by conducting the research necessary to develop a Georgist theory of urban politics.

Click below to see the original proposal:

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