8. (2014 July-August) Movement Progress: Clifford Cobb

A lesson for Georgists from the politics of land reform
Georgists seldom discuss the political constituencies that might support the public collection of economic rent.  Yet identifying supportive constituencies is a necessary part of political success.
There are no political issues that are comparable in scope with the comprehensive character of Georgist reform.   Nevertheless, traditional land reform shares the scope and scale of Georgist reform to some extent. The transfer of land from large estates into smaller holdings is intended to transform agrarian society comprehensively.Leaving aside the question of whether land reform will achieve its own objectives, we can learn from the politics of land reform why success is so elusive.  There are insights here that some Georgists might find valuable.  Why, for example, have autocratic regimes been more successful in achieving land reform than democracies?  That is one of the three “puzzles” of land reform discussed by Alain de Janvry and Elisabeth Sadoulet in “The three puzzles of land reform.” 

Logically, they suggest, one would expect democracies, with a majority of landless and small-holding peasants, to vote for land redistribution.  But, in fact, that has seldom happened because democratic constitutions are invariably set up with checks and balances that prevent redistributive coalitions from developing any stability.

The second puzzle they identify is “Why do land reforms grant incomplete property rights?”  It has been understood for centuries that limited land titles, which restrict rights of use and transfer, will reduce the productivity of the soil. To understand why land reforms that break up large estates and distribute land to peasants founder on the shoals of only partial titling, the authors turn to a political explanation: partial titling makes the recipients dependent on particular political parties for ongoing credit and marketing services provided by the state.

This second explanation also largely answers their third question: “Why are complete land reforms politically risky?”  Regimes that keep the carrot of full ownership in front of peasants can stay in power forever.  Well almost.  Suppose a new party comes along and promises the peasants to grant them full title to their land, as PAN did in Mexico in the 1990s?  (PAN is a mostly Catholic, free market oriented political party, which overturned the century-long control of the PRI in Mexico.  The PRI originally redistributed land through the ejido system, a system of incomplete property rights and low productivity.)  To win the presidency of Mexico in 1999, PAN got millions of votes by promising land title reform.  But after a decade, the reforms were largely completed.  Now the peasants no longer need PAN to sustain them economically.  The fortunes of PAN have begun to wane, and the PRI, which fully understands the politics of patronage, is making a come-back.  Thus, as the authors of the article conclude, one-time rights transfers may not correspond with continuing political loyalty.

What does this mean for the politics of public rent collection?  The reforms sought by Georgists are similar in one way to the titling reforms achieved by PAN.  In both cases, the reform has a very limited political shelf-life.  PAN at least had the advantage of offering an immediate, one-time benefit to a defined constituency.  That enabled them to gain the presidency and a legislative majority, even though it was tenuous.  

Georgism lacks the capacity to offer any sort of targeted benefits.  Instead, we offer long-term benefits to a diffuse constituency.  We propose to benefit everyone, but at the same time, we cannot promise any individual or group a special and immediate benefit, which is the currency of politics.  So, we are left at the starting gate.  (The two-rate tax does benefit owners of fully-developed property and pinches the owner of underused land, but even that modest reform still has not developed an identifiable constituency after half a century.)  

If Georgists ever succeeded on a large scale–at the national or state level–would we be able to sustain the constituency that initially supported the change?  Or would we end up like PAN, deserted by our supporters the moment victory was in hand?

2. (2013 July) Good Press: The Economist Magazine’s Pro-Land Tax Article

“A pure land tax, one without regard to how land is used or what is built on it, is the best sort.”

An article published late last month in The Economist praised the land tax. Even though the term “land tax” was used, land value tax was implicit as part of a more general discussion on ad valorem property taxes. Such an endorsement in the most popular economics magazine in the world is an exciting development. Click here to read the full article.


2. (2012 December) Movement Progress: A Call to Collaborative Action

A Call to Collaborative Action
By Jacob Shwartz-Lucas

In the first ever televised presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960, Kennedy appeared rested, clean-shaven, tan; he even wore makeup. Nixon looked tired, unshaven, and refused makeup. His gray suit compared poorly on screen with Kennedy’s dark suit. Radio listeners believed that Nixon had more substantial things to say, and clearly won the debate. TV viewers felt Kennedy was the clear winner.

Georgists have more substantial things to say than any of the heterodox politico-economic groups on the Internet. These groups have invested a great deal of time, effort, and money in their sites. Georgists websites however tend to parallel Nixon’s appearance during that first TV debate.

It’s time to dust ourselves off and get to the task of cleaning up our Internet presence.

The immediate question on most people’s minds surrounding election season is jobs and the general state of the economy. The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation has recently created this site to promote the Georgist perspective on the issue of creating jobs — and aims to make this site its test for effective use of online media. Please contact me if you’d like to submit articles for the website. We’ve created a Facebook page for it as well, a social media portal to the website itself. Many have clicked the “like” button, and informed me that the website looks great. They feel proud to share links to it with those they are introducing to LVT.

Some readers might be wondering about the sudden enthusiasm for social media. What’s all the fuss about?

Here’s a fact that will get your attention: as of October 2012, Facebook has a billion users! That’s “billion” with a “b.” Not all of those “users” are active, but the majority are. Still more use other social media tools, such as blogs, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Over half of social media users are under thirty and less set in their political views. Many are actively searching Facebook for an economic system that meets their moral aspirations. It’s a vast and fertile ground for outreach. Alas, our movement’s utilization of such Internet tools lags far behind many other groups who have far less substantial things to say.

By this point, you should be raring to explore this site and to register an account on Facebook, if you haven’t already done so. Go ahead, do it

Start by visiting the LVT Facebook group. This discussion group has 336 members. I haven’t yet accepted the 5 requests from people who have asked to join the group since I started writing this article. These are people making formal requests to join our Georgist conversations. If you’ve spent years trying to engage people with awkward elevator pitches, you know how good it feels when people actually seek out your opinion! That happens daily on the Facebook LVT group.

The LVT group is for discussion. For specific action plans, there is also a Facebook group called “LVT Task Force” which requires users to post immediately actionable items such as emailing public representatives, editing specific Wikipedia pages, design jobs, and obtaining help with technical issues, among other things. It is a collaborative crowdsourcing tool for our movement.

In addition to Facebook, a small group of us have been meeting weekly via Google Hangouts. We’ve developed a weekly agenda, set up plans for creating a non-profit and applying for foundation grants. We are working with designers to create branding tools and constituent parts of websites such as video organizers, carousels, 3D text imagers, and other tools that we can transplant to various Georgist websites. We’re hoping to be the technological Johnny Appleseeds of the Georgist movement.

I believe we must invest more effort in developing our web presence. It’s the best way to pull in new activists, skills, and funds.

The great power of the Internet, and particularly of social media, is illustrated by an economic concept called the “network effect.” A network can create a positive externality in which the more users a network has, the more valuable it is to every single user. I really want to make sure my Georgist colleagues understand this — so they can stop feeling isolated in their lonely work! The network effect demonstrates that if we use social media collaboratively, our individual contributions to the movement’s progress can be orders of magnitude greater than the sum of our individual efforts.

Perhaps this flood of new technology feels overwhelming to you. That is what people like Edward Miller, Daniel Syddall, Martin Adams and I are here for. We are eager to provide you with the latest communications tools, to help you! Alanna Hartzok and I recently did a teleseminar on the basics of using Facebook. Alanna has video recorded this, and will soon make it available for all. We plan to have more seminars on using Google docs, which allows you to collaboratively work together using many generic though nearly identical programs to Word, Power Point, and Excel among others.

Make sure to email me — jacobshwartzlucas@gmail.com — with any questions or concerns. Ah yes, “email” I tend to forget about its importance now that there are all these other important tools. Remember when we were wondering if email did all that much to help us collaborate? This process of revamping our internet image requires trial and error, and the patience on your part to become proficient in all these seemingly newfangled technologies. Learning is what life’s about though, right? Less tech savvy Georgists, you’ve really got to trust us on this one. We need you to fully join us in this space so that you can pass down your invaluable knowledge.

3. (2012 December) Movement Progress: UK LVT Poll

Georgists worldwide might be interested in the news that a coalition of like-minded groups based in the UK has recently commissioned a poll by IPSOS MORI on attitudes to LVT – and related subjects. It was very much limited by available funds and by the methods used (face-to-face in-home computer-aided time-limited questionnaire) but it was professionally done by people with no axe to grind. Nearly 1000 people in all parts of UK, of all ages and tenures of housing were interviewed.

I have to say that results won’t please all of us – but will form a baseline to work from, especially in terms of public education. What stood out (for MORI as well as us) was that when people know even a little about LVT they are much more likely to support it – and to support it more than other property taxes.

The sponsors of the poll have not yet decided what (if anything) will (ever) be published regarding detailed findings. However it is already public knowledge here that the polling was under way. We managed just to raise the funding for it – but further donations to PLRG via http://www.landvaluescape.org/who.html (scroll down to ‘donate’) are welcome, to pay for follow-up research.

Meanwhile a Bill calling for LVT Research has been published by the UK Parliament and is due to have its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 25th January. The same coalition of Georgist organisations here is supporting this.

Dr Tony Vickers
Hon Sec PLRG
(Professional Land Reform Group)
01635 230046 / 07950 202640


4a. (June 2012) Movement Progress: Africa Pipeline Summit

Africa Pipeline Summit by Dave Wetzel, General Secretary, The International Union February 14, 2012 I am speaking at the 2012 Africa Pipeline Summit in South Africa [ed. note: Dave’s headlining!] www.iqpc.com/Event.aspx?id=611716 . Reviewing how pipelines offer a viable and environmental alternative to the use of lorries and trucks for the transportation of oil & gas . Increasing land values with productivity and environmental improvements arising from greater use of pipelines . Understanding how an annual Land Value Tax would be an efficient way to harmonise social justice with economic efficiency My first speech couldn’t have been all bad as the organizers from Bahrein have invited to make a similar presentation at their Pipelines India Conference in June. I make my second contribution this afternoon. In the evening, dinner with Stephen Meintjes, a Georgist member of the School of Economic Science, and his wife Simone. I’m speaking to students at the school on Saturday morning. It’s not all work – spent time yesterday to visit a lion park and play with lion cubs trying to eat my shoes and shirt! (The cubs were not interested in LVT.)