The Wealth and Want Website

Wyn Achenbaum



[Reprinted from GroundSwell, May-June 2006]


wealthandwant.com went online in October, 2005, after being in development for about 4 years. The name came to me about 2 years into the process. I was looking for a title that would appeal to an audience that knew nothing about our ideas, and would be recognizeable to those with some acquaintance with Henry George. The website is still a work in process: two layers are reasonably complete, but the portion that I think will attract the curious googler is only beginning to be show up.

1. What's There

The website has three layers, two of which are fairly complete. The first layer is a collection of about 200 documents, gathered mostly from other websites, and mostly with the generous permission of the authors. A few people have sent me additional material to round out their collections there. (I have another dozen or so articles I currently intend to include.) A few of the articles are things I've found in hardcopy and scanned in: an article of HG's on how to help the unemployed, found on ebay; some things my Georgist grandparents wrote; two versions of Harry Gunnison Brown's Significant Paragraphs from Progress and Poverty, one in html and the other as a PDF, which runs to 35 pages printed out; and a cross-referenced hyperlinked table of contents for the various versions of P&P, which I hope might encourage people who have been intrigued by something in a synopsis to go explore in a longer version. I'll be adding Bob Drake's updating of P&P to that when it becomes available.

The second layer is a collection of themes which serve as an index to the 200 or so documents. At first, the themes were my way of finding my way back to material that had caught my attention in some way. Searching my folders on remembered key words wasn't working well enough for me. When I first started creating the website, I thought the indexing might require about 25 themes. Well, the count currently stands around 630, and I have another 100 or so that I will post after my next pass through the documents!

About 30 of the themes show up on the front page as a sort of teaser. These include such things as poverty, pork, charity, justice, equality, monopoly, all benefits ..., and a few questions: "Is democracy enough?" "Is this socialism?" "Is this just a quaint agrarian idea?" On the longer list are such things as boom-bust cycle, land includes, land different from capital, land share of real estate value, usufruct, wealth concentration, absentee ownership and externalities.

2. Design Principle

I've designated about 25 of the documents as "Essential Documents" -- that is, pieces I hope the reader will eventually read, once they discover the overall quality of the material! (And yes, I know that is much too much to hope for, given the quantity!)

My goal for the themes structure is to provide a way for each user to find their own way through the website, and for Georgists to share the website with their non-Georgist friends based on their knowledge of each friend's interests and concerns. I see the themes as a huge geodesic dome, with each panel serving as someone's door into the website. Once through that initial door, one finds extended excerpts from the documents which pertain to that topic, with links to the documents themselves; a list of related themes; and a list of the "essential documents" which pertain to that theme. My own repeated experience in trying to use search engines when starting out with an unfamiliar body of knowledge led me to design this structure. Any starting point will do; it will provide you a way in, and open doors to related topics.

I hope that each reader will quickly find the theme that most interests them, even if the first theme they click on was only sort of close. From there, they will find their way to one to 20 or more articles that are relevant to that topic. By zigzagging back and forth between themes and documents (each document has a sidebar of related themes, too), the reader can satisfy his own curiosity and create his own path around the website.

3. How I Use the Website to Share These Ideas

I find that these themes are useful when I write letters to the editor or to journalists. I don't always intend the LTE for publication, so I don't always write to keep it to the 250 or so words that are more likely to get published. Rather, my goal is to alert the editor and/or journalist to ideas that they may not have thought about, and provide a credibility for the ideas. On two occasions, this has resulted in a request that I provide an 800-word version which has been published. I've also had LTE's published in newspapers in towns and cities far from my home.

I also make liberal use of opportunities to post comments to local newspapers' online articles and discussion boards. I become aware of such articles via a collection of about 25 standing "google alerts" on such phrases as "land value," "Proposition 13," "working poor," "teardown," "Henry George," and "split-rate," which I receive daily if those words appear in an article. (I also have an alert on "wealthandwant.") After I post, I may keep the article or comments window open on my computer for a few hours to see if there are other comments which call for a response.

More recently, I've dipped a toe into the world of blogging. I haven't gotten to the point of writing my own blog yet. Blogging, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, is the online publication of one's thoughts in a web log. Most blogs will accept comments, and that's where I've been experimenting a bit. I respond to points others have made, and include the URLs of the documents and themes that pertain to the topic. Frequently the weblog includes the capability for providing hyperlinks, and even for bolding them. When I discover a blog or other website to which one can post comments, I register my preferred name so that I have the right to post when something calls out to me. I post under the name LVTfan. Generally, when one registers, one is asked to provide an email address and given the option of providing a URL; posting name; otherwise, one's email may appear there.

4. How You Might Use the WealthandWant Website in Your Georgist Outreach

Get to know the list of themes on the website. Print out the themes index if that would help; it is linked from the "themes" link at the top of each page. You might also want to print out the list of documents as well. When you see a news article that merits a comment, put together your response, and then see whether your argument would be strengthened by a reference to one of more of the themes.

In general, I try to make my point without reference to the themes, and simply list the pertinent ones, with hyperlinks to the appropriate theme pages, in the final paragraph, along with my willingness to explore the ideas further with them if they're interested. If it seems relevant, I also encourage them to pass along the email to others in their organization who might be interested in these ideas.

You might also think about using a selected theme or two as a way to share our ideas with individuals you know socially. Based on their particular interests, pick a couple of themes, and tell them why you think each might appeal to them, via an email with the hyperlinks built in.

Finding the URL's for the Themes: In order to minimize my use of my bandwidth (that is, the service that the webhost provides me), I've saved a copy of the themes page to my desktop. When I want to include the URL for a theme in something I'm writing, I open that page, right-click on the name of the theme and select "copy link location" or "copy shortcut". Then I paste that URL into the email or blog entry.

If your conversations include academics, you might share with them the existence of the Significant Paragraphs from P&P document, with the comment that it is of a length that would fit well into a college packet.

There is a page on the website for P&P, and another to introduce Henry George to those who don't know more than his name. I generally encourage people who don't know his ideas to read Al Katzenberger's synopsis and Chapter 3 of Significant Paragraphs (the Savannah), or I send them to Thou Shalt Not Steal and Thy Kingdom Come. All these are linked from the front page of wealthandwant.

5. How to Get Started

If you're shy about your primary email address appearing online (so far it hasn't been a problem for me), create a new email address for yourself, perhaps based on the name under which you plan to post (e.g., CTgeoist), either at your current ISP or at gmail, yahoo or hotmail. Then start registering this username and email at the various places that you might want to post. DailyKos might be one; you can't post there until a week after registering, so pre-registering will allow you to jump in when inspiration strikes.

Finding the Blogs: Google has a fairly new "blog search" capability. You might try it out with key words like Henry George, or sprawl, or peak oil, or poverty, or whatever interests you, and see what turns up. You'll find out where the conversations that interest you are taking place. Some will be current ones; more will be completed conversations, where something you post is less likely to be read. But they will still give you a sense of the venues.

When you see a good conversation going on at a website you visit, alert your Georgist friends. Matt Stillman passed along a DailyKos posting he'd seen (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/6/22/102510/361), and within a couple of days there were nearly 200 posts there, of which about 40 were from two of us, one of whom is a Georgist, Jamie Reynolds, I had met a few weeks earlier through his blog, http://thehenrygeorgeblog.blogspot.com/.

From time to time, you might search on your blogging name to see what you get. (They call this a vanity search, and sometimes it yields interesting results.) Blogs tend to stay online for a long time, and as more people get into searching them, you may reach people beyond the original conversation participants.

6. What's Next?

Part of my plan for this website is to write to journalists and others who write or talk about issues related to poverty, economic growth, justice, liberty, cities, tax reform and topics we care about. I want to be able to address each one based on something they care about. For each of them, I plan to pick out one, two or three existing "theme" pages that I think might capture their interest and lead them to look further into the website. Ideally, I may be able to point them to a particular document on the website, too, that speaks to something they've already explored. But I suspect that I will only have one shot at each of them, and I want to get the third layer of the website more complete before I do that.

The third layer of the website is currently planned to contain 6 modules. This layer is intended to attract people searching on topics for which we have answers. The modules are these:

  • poverty, and the perverse ways our country defines it;
  • income distribution;
  • wealth distribution;
  • asset poverty;
  • California's Proposition 13; and
  • immigration.

In addition, there is to be a section for Wealth and Want Issues in the News. My planned discipline of putting up one module at a time fell apart shortly after I started, as new and intriguing studies came out that just begged to be included. But I've been using the wealth distribution tables, which come out of the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances and include what I think are some original calculations I've done, on some blog comments. For each section, I plan to generate a "questions" section, which will lead people into what I think is the most interesting data on the site. My intention is to make these modules data-heavy, with lots of tables.

I'd like to index P&P into the themes system. If you're handy with copy-and-paste, and you get comfortable with the list of themes, you might take on indexing a favorite chapter. I'd welcome your help with that. Email me if you'd be interested, and I can tell you how to go about it. I'm also perfectly willing to create additional "theme" pages for specific audiences -- audiences as narrow as a single individual, if that happens to be relevant, though I'm not sure I want to make it obvious that I've designed specifically for them, and I might or might not that page from elsewhere on the website. What I'm trying to do is throw out baited hooks that I hope will attract folks based on what they're already interested in. Your suggestions -- link of individuals or groups, and of how to approach them -- would be very welcome. I'm not shy about writing to them, as long as I've got an email address.

I have dreams of being able to provide audio versions of some of the documents, as MP3's that users can download and listen to at their leisure, perhaps away from their computer, while they commute or exercise. If you can help with that, I'd like to hear from you!

A couple of months ago, I claimed a second website name, whatwouldjesustax.com (and its .org sibling, for good measure). I see it as a much less complex site than wealthandwant. It will have some of the same documents, and perhaps have its own themes structure. I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, I welcome your suggestions for both sites, and will be glad to help you get started using the wealthandwant website as a resource for your web postings.


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