Forum on Fair Share of the Common Wealth
Herbert Barry, III
GroundSwell, March-April 2004]
John Watkins, founder of The Simple Society's Alliance for Human
Empowerment, has organized email forums relevant to Henry George's
proposals. A forum on "Taxes Without Tears," 10-16 October
2003, was summarized by me in The November-December 2003 issue of
Groundswell. I contributed one of eight opening statements for "Common
Wealth: a fair share for everyone" on 9-13 April 2004. Three of
the other opening statements were by Edward J. Dodson, Fred E.
Foldvary, and Jeffrey Smith, who are among the leading Georgists.
The other opening stataements were by Julian J. Edney, Jan Narveson,
Daniel Pink, and Steven Shafarman. Most of the communications in the
forum were by these eight participants. The timing of the forum,
beginning on Easter weekend, might have limited the participation.
Opening statements by Jeff Smith and Steve Shafarman suggested
that sufficient taxation of land and other natural resources would
enable a substantial, universal, uniform citizen's dividend.
Agreement with this proposal was expressed by John Watkins, Fred
Foldvary, and Ed Dodson. An additional participant, SusMita Barua,
stated that it would alleviate the debt and interest payments that
impoverish many people. Other comments were that a universal assured
income would greatly enhance human happiness, and that it would
provide an equal and thereby fair share of the common wealth.
I argued repeatedly against the citizen's dividend. Harry
Pollard, in numerous comments on the Land Theory email discussion
group, has declared that the funds for a citizen's dividend would be
meager because full government collection of rent from land would
drastically decrease the purchase and rental value of land. I also
believe that a citizen's dividend would prevent the government from
abolishing all taxes on products of human labor and enterprise and
would curtail creation of facilities that increase prosperity for
all residents. The only support for my opinions came from two
participants who did not make opening statements. James Manousos
commented that a uniform citizen's dividend is inconsistent with
greatly different individual needs. He also suggested that
government assistance of the less able should not be regarded as
charity. Instead, it is needed to preserve civilized life. David
Stallman stated that societal- government distributions and
transfers of wealth would de-motivate individuals. I believe that
Henry George, who advocated abolition of taxes on each person's
earnings, would have opposed a uniform, universal, unearned
citizen's dividend. I do not agree with him on every issue. I
suggested during the forum that taxation of less than 100% of the
rental value of land would be beneficial because it would encourage
people to accept the risk and responsibility of owning land.
The participants expressed general agreement that a minority of
the population own and keep too much of the wealth from land and
other natural resources. Proposed remedies varied. Jan Narveson
advocated maximal individual liberty. Daniel Pink condemned the
power of large corporations. Julian Edney emphasized the need for
governments to counteract greed and inequities. Several participants
complained that governments do not adequately represent the
citizens. John Watkins advocated an emphasis on user's fees. For
example, school taxes should be replaced by fees from the parents of
the school children. Fred Foldvary urged a change from mass
democracy to small-group democracy. I suggested that local
governments should obtain most of the tax revenues and make most of
the funding decisions.
Nadine Stoner and I are members of the Simple Society's Alliance
for Human Empowerment. We hope and expect that John Watkins will
sponsor further forums relevant to Henry George's proposals. They
provide a useful medium for Georgists to communicate and discuss our
remedies for the obvious deficiencies in government policies. The
next forum, beginning on Friday, 7 May, is on the role of mentoring.
Students and novices benefit greatly from individual guidance by
experienced and sympathetic mentors. For information on this and
other programs, the email address of John Watkins is
Following is the text of my opening statement for the forum on
A small minority of individuals and corporations control most of
the wealth and obtain most of the income. Socialist and Communist
doctrines of communal ownership fail to remedy the problem because
they grant privileges to the government officials, whether they
are elected or seize power. A saying by government employees in
the Soviet Union was "We pretend to work and they pretend to
pay us." An effective remedy needs to expand incentives and
opportunities for constructive and remunerative activities.
Equality should not be obtained at the expense of individual
liberty and the free market. Accordingly, Winston Churchill stated
"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of
blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing
of miseries." Henry George, in his book "Progress and
Poverty" and subsequent writings, advocated individual
liberty and also a fair share of natural resources for everyone.
He therefore proposed that individuals and corporations should be
free to buy, use or neglect, and sell land and other natural
resources but that governments should tax the full rental value of
these properties. Taxation of the products of labor and enterprise
therefore can be abolished or greatly reduced. Assessed valuations
and tax rates on land and other natural resources are prevalently
too low. Instead, governments should obtain maximal revenues by
taxing owners of natural resources. Abolition of taxes on
buildings, sales, and earned income will stimulate constructive
activity. Taxes on unearned income, capital gains, and inheritance
should be reduced to the greatest extent feasible. Philanthropic
aid for underprivileged and disabled people will be expanded
greatly by the larger number of wealthy people.
With the exception of the broadcast spectrum, most natural
resources are permanently located in a limited geographical area.
Most tax revenues accordingly should be collected and spent by
local governments. The community is the source of improved
facilities, such as roads, reservoirs of water, sewers, and public
transportation, which increase the value of the land and thereby
augment the communal wealth and future tax revenues. Individual
citizens have more influence if the local community controls
schools, allocates help for needy people, protects the free market
from monopolistic controls, and performs other social services.
States or provinces, nations, and the United Nations also have
responsibilities to protect the rights of property owners,
preserve free markets, and help needy people. A fair share for
everyone must not become a victim of the doctrines of Libertarians
and Anarchists. If each person recognizes the need for a fair
share for everyone together with the need for individual liberty,
all levels of government will protect both paramount values.