The economic reforms Henry George popularized in the late 1800’s, known as “Georgism,” are enjoying an upsurge of interest, exhibited in a proliferation of both online groups (Facebook, Reddit) and on-the-ground schools, non-profits, and think tanks, like the Geo-Tinyism Institute.
It’s wonderful George’s books, essays and speeches are perused and discussed by “armchair philosophers” but the best tribute, by far, would be the actual implementation of his policies.
How can Georgists insert his progressive ideas into the real world, sliding them past the multimillionaire landlords and bankers that halted Georgism 100+ years ago?
Below are 12 strategies that can and do work; many are currently being used with success. Redditors at r/Georgism and other online commentators hugely assisted me; I’ve added their suggestions throughout, occasionally crediting their chosen pseudonyms.
1. Name Recognition
mount_fugee from Reddit believes, “the most important thing… is name recognition. You can’t build support for LVT when the vast majority have never heard of it. The first stage has to be an advertising campaign to raise name awareness. This costs money, but can also be done by volunteers. Leafleting, putting up posters, spamming ‘Land Value Tax would fix this’ on reddit can all be done for free, with mixed results. It would be hard (to impossible) to achieve anything else on this list without at least some groundswell of grassroots support.”
Rick Rybeck from Facebook believes Georgists should change the terminology of “Land Value Tax” to “Land Value Return” because many people just don’t like taxes and use of that word should be avoided.
2. Get your local government to adopt LVT
This strategy was most frequently mentioned, and no wonder: it directly installs the most impactful change advocated by Henry George. Free_Reserve9336 at Reddit advises Georgists to make the transition gradually, suggesting via advice from the Center for Economic Policy Research, “instead of advocating a massive shift, shift property taxes to LVT over time… [this] makes it more palatable for cities who don’t want to implement massive change.”
Tim C. (the name he uses on the Common Ground discord) reiterates this caution: “lobby municipal governments to convert property tax into LVT in a revenue neutral way — advocate for Land Value Taxes that are revenue equivalent to current property taxes. 100% LVT is… a regime change type of policy but [Georgists can] tinker at the margins to increase the amount of tax that falls on land and decrease the amount of tax that falls on buildings.”
How can local governments be convinced to adopt LVT? StrongTowns.org has an excellent article, packed with tips.
3. Get local government to change zoning to form-based or no-zone
Legallytylerthompson at Reddit admits this approach is “not necessarily Georgism,” but he reasons, “one of the larger but feasible goals we can have at the local level is winning zoning concessions from local governments through relaxed codes and districts. These are helpful test beds for the Georgist endgame of no or minimal zoning.”
Free_Reserve9336 is another (in his words) “advocate for fixing zoning, specifically SFZ on a local level [and] parking mandates,“ and Brad Belschner (from Reddit) also supports this plan of action.
4. Get local government to shift construction taxes and other taxes to land taxes
Tim C. believes Georgists should, “aim for the gradual shifting of construction taxes into land taxes… Many popular cities try and minimize the charge to current residents by putting excessive taxes on new construction and forcing new residents to pay those taxes. For example in Toronto, they recently raised these taxes by over 50% in a single year to the point that a 1 Bedroom condo pays over $80,000 in taxes just to be built… Ideally we can be smart about how to do this so that we get new construction and lower costs rather than all of the reduced taxation being captured by the builders of units.”
ASKMEABOUTGEORGISM from Reddit agrees, but he also wants land taxes to, “replace [all] other taxes,” listing additional costs in their area (Ontario, Canada) for municipal land transfer tax, development charges, building permit fees, application forms fees, etc., etc., etc., etc., PLUS “sales tax on new homes (13%), taxation of rental income (highest marginal rate of 53.5%), and capital gains from property sales…And more.”
5. Establish a Powerful Political Constituency
Mitchel Chanelis from Facebook sent this advice. He says, “In every state… there are professional associations of institutions, businesses, and individuals directly or indirectly involved in the building trades and general economic development: home builders, construction compsnies, chambers of commerce, trades unions, architects, engineers, etc. — these are our natural allies and the ideal members of on ongoing, expanding constituency for LVT.”
6. Get “A Win We Can Show Off And Crow About”
LyleSY from Reddit provides the idea above; he believes, “we need another Vancouver or Pittsburgh” (two cities where LVT was implemented with success). He advises, “CA is broken but the state may be receptive. Philadelphia would be huge.” Personally, I think the best choice might be Minneapolis; a 2020 article claims the mid-sized Minnesota capital is ripe for Georgism.
7. 501(c)4s to lobby and draft Georgist legislation.
A 501(c)4 is classified as a “social welfare organization” that is allowed to lobby, i.e., “actively support or oppose specific legislation, and they can even take part in limited political campaign activism.”
Dan Sullivan, a Pennsylvania resident and Administrator of Effective Georgism notes, “there are five registered lobbyists for every member of the US Congress, and most of those lobbyists would oppose LVT. There are fewer lobbyists for each state, and fewer still for large cities. Many small cities and boroughs have never seen a lobbyist other than someone trying to sell them a commercial service, such as trash collection or street paving.”
Knowing this, it’s obvious that Georgist activists should focus on the municipal level.
8. Start a Land Trust, either Non-Profit or For-Profit
The small town of Arden, Delaware, was founded in 1900 as a “radical Georgist single-tax community” — its success was expanded by establishing two neighboring villages with similar Georgist principles, Ardentown, in 1922, and Ardencroft, in 1950. All the land is owned by the Arden Trust and leased to individuals for their homes. A “trust” is an a relationship in which one entity holds title to property, subject to an obligation to keep or use the property for the benefit of others.
Many more Arden-ish communities could be established by can-do Georgists, using either same model, or, as Brad Belschner recommends, utilizing a “start up private, for-profit” scheme, similar to Arden, “but with a minority of the land rent going to investors, which ensures that the full market land rent is actually collected long term instead of decaying like the non-profit Arden model.”
9. Support Georgist Political Parties
Georgist ideas can be advanced via the ballot box, through support for political parties that espouse LVT ideals.
In the USA, the American Solidarity Party appears pro-LVT. On twitter they posted: “If we were instead to tax the unimproved value of land in a particular area, we would incentivize the most productive use of real estate. This is often known as a land value tax, or LVT.”
The Libertarian Party includes many Georgists and of course its ideal for Geo-Libertarians. The New Physiocratic League makes political recommendations.
The Opportunities Party in New Zealand supports LVT.
In Denmark, the Justice Party was launched in 1919 and successfully elected representatives until 1981. Other past political parties that promoted Georgism include Commonwealth Land Party (UK), Henry George Justice Party (Victoria, Australia), Single Tax League (South Australia), Independent Labour Party (UK), Futurist Political Party (Italy), Highland Land League (Scotland), and Scottish Land Restoration League.
10. Get universities to hire Georgist economics professors
Mason Gaffney taught at Reed College and Fred Foldvary lectured at San Jose State University and Santa Clara University, but these prominent Georgists both recently died.
Nicolaus Tideman (Virginia Tech) and Polly Cleveland (Columbia University) are active Georgist professors, but many more are needed. (Free_Reserve9336 provided this suggestion.)
11. Publicize Georgism with a major motion picture
FuturisticSounds at Reddit says a blockbuster film with Georgist content could provide “a huge opportunity to introduce LVT to the mainstream.”
He works in the Canadian film industry. He’s currently developing a comedy script in which LVT plays a role; its “kinda like how The Big Short took a complicated subject like the housing crisis and made it entertaining.”
12. Advertise Georgism via YouTube channels
Fried_out_Kombi from Reddit believes Georgists should “contact youtube channels with large followings that might be interested in putting out a video about Georgism or LVT… [this] might help get more momentum going. There are educational, environmentalist, or urbanist channels whose audiences would likely be receptive to Georgist ideas.”
Each small victory, if used properly, can inspire and inform campaigns for greater victories. Moreover, each municipality’s success inspires other municipalities to try the same thing — Dan Sullivan
Small-town media outlets are more likely to publicize our efforts. — Dan Sullivan
[the best place to start on the local level is] probably Boards of Supervisors, or other such policy-making organizations. — Nicolaus Tideman (Virginia Tech)
It’s tax reform, not revolution. Focus on practical benefits and go easy on “radical” sounding rhetoric about common ownership of the earth… present ourselves as moderates. — Fred Singer