International Union Conference

H. William Batt

[A report on the conference held in London, England. Reprinted from GroundSwell, July-August 2006]

The conference of the International Union for Land Value Taxation – and Free Trade was held in London, July 3rd through 7th. Three days were devoted to the presentation of formal papers, another day for exploratory visits, and a final day for the IU business meeting. The theme of the conference was “The Economics of Abundance,” and the website will remain online for those who may wish to take a look.

: I attended less for the formal papers than to get to know Georgists beyond our borders that give us the identity as a worldwide movement. Most of us stayed at a dormitory right across the street of the meeting site at Kings College, and the entire venue took place in one room on that site. All the proceedings of the conference itself were videotaped, and may be very useful to us pending their editing. They're already taking orders for them.

The conference was attended by about seventy, roughly half being members of the IU the others largely from the School of Economic Science in London. Broken down by nationality, there were (besides the Brits) seven Americans, four Danes, five Australians, one Canadian, and a few others in the UK beyond England itself. Current IU president, Tatiana Roshkoshnaya, having returned from the Vancouver Habitat conference to her post in Kenya, still had the stamina to fly back from Nairobi to London for three of the five days.

On the first day, Monday, the broad themes were put forth under the conference title. Fred Harrison offered a short opening address, followed by papers by Rana Roy and Michael Hudson. They offered contrasting views of historical progress and wealth creation in the present era. The afternoon heard two papers: one by Leslie Blake, a barrister and a director of the Land Research Trust, on “Beyond Utopia: Plato & Thomas More,” and a second by Alan Spence, an urban planner instrumental in preserving London's Covent Garden when it was threatened with replacement. His paper was on “Marx and the Dialectic of Urban Rent. Although both morning and afternoon sessions were followed by discussions, only the morning session had any real sparks. The afternoon papers were very esoteric and read verbatim, with deadening impact. Frank Peddle moderated the session and offered remarks that were well-framed and lucid.

The second day was devoted to “The Transitional Arrangements,” how we can get from here to there. Chaired and led by Transport for London's Dave Wetzel, a name familiar to most American Georgists, there were five papers in the course of the day. Australian Phil Anderson began with a discussion of capital markets, offering an apology for using his own understanding of economics to speculate in ways that support his Georgist advocacy. His own forecasting ability is based on clear and demonstrable understanding of economic cycles, typically about eighteen years' duration. The next one will occur after 2008, of this you can be absolutely certain. . . . It is now too late to avoid the recession forthcoming. His forecasts are available on his company's EIS website, not finished as I write this, but sure to be worth looking at when it's done. Three more papers, culminating with one by Nic Tideman, continued and formed the basis of late afternoon discussions, and evening was free for us to wander about London or sit and visit with one another.

Three choices were offered us on Wednesday – the break coming mid-week so that we wouldn't be “conferenced out.” I don’t know of anyone that went to see choice one – a visit to Letchworth Garden City, Ebenezer Howard’s first creation, established at the turn of the 20th century. Frank Peddle was the only one who opted for the second venue – a trip over to Paris for the day on the Eurostar “chunnel.” I think the sign said it was a two hours and forty minute trip with speeds up to 300 miles per hour. It left from Waterloo station adjacent to our conference site, so it was easy to see the volume of people coming and going. This certainly must account in good part for the development in that area, and the pivotal Jubilee Line tube serving that station was proposed as a site for value capture finance.

It was the third option that most of us signed up for: a set of three presentations about transportation services that had been arranged by Dave Wetzel. Dave saw to it that we not only got an extensive packet of information, but also a lunch and a great picture of the revitalized services. First came “The London Bus Success Story” by a woman with the delightful title of “Director of Performance.” (If I ever take a salaried job again, I think that’s the title I’d like!) Then came a presentation on the London Underground’s progress and plans. Lastly was an account of the success of London’s congestion charging scheme, now after three years of successful operation. Indeed it will be expanded to almost double the area in a few months. What was for me doubly good was the powerpoint presentations were given to me afterwards for the asking – wonderful charts and graphics that will make it easy for us to recall the stories should we so wish.

Thursday was back to the conference, part three titled, “Getting the Measure of Abundance.” Bryan Kavanagh began with an excellent graphic presentation of the relationship between land sales and prices as they related to the overall Australian economy. It was a very compelling story. By this time also IU President Tatiana Roshkoshnaya had arrived and related the promise and the limitations of the current Russian economy. Two final morning presentations were given about the prospects of Chinese interest in LVT, given by past IU president Fernando Scornik Gerstein and Michael Hudson. Long-time Georgist author Ron Banks began the afternoon session by contemplating a repeat of what was known as the “People’s Budget” almost a century ago. A “People’s Budget 2009,” is not beyond possibility, he argued, one where LVT might be central, as there is a revived interest in land taxation as other revenue designs reveal their failings.

The time between the formal sessions, never enough of course, offered us a chance to get to know one another, and appreciate the varying perspectives. The British invoke the tradition of natural law as a foundation of Georgist thought more often than I’ve heard said here in the States, and the focus seems to be more on national reforms than on any local initiatives. And there is a profound sense of the history of the Georgist movement there, with all its efforts and near misses. I felt particularly privileged to meet the foremost historian of British Georgism, Roy Douglas, whose books I’ve read and which are the basis of most of the references. He is a gracious man with an easy broad smile and a voice that (I’m told) that can carry the distance of Hyde Park with no difficulty at all. The Australians are wonderfully astute, and easy to work with. They too certainly know their Georgism both philosophically and empirically. The Danes – there were four of them in attendance, though Ole Lefmann is now an English resident – seem to be regulars at every conference, reliable for their presence and conversation, although now getting on in years. The reinforcing presence of kindred spirits is important for our movement’s enervation and vitality; and is the real reason for our meeting.

IU Executive officer Peter Gibb concluded the formal part of the conference with an outline of “The Agenda for the 21st Century.” It included seven concerns, quickly summarized here, and organized in three parts: where are we, where are we going, and how do we get there?

  1. What should constitute state and corporate structures,and how much right should they have to extract rent?
  2. How should nature and humanity relate (from an economic point of view)?
  3. How will international law and rights over resources evolve and mature – and will it come close to natural law?
  4. How will new technologies change structure and reality as applied to common resources?
  5. How will intergenerational relationships evolve – the equity rich older class and the younger generation, which can’t afford to get started?
  6. How can we manage resource depletion, especially as regards energy?
  7. How will societal benefits be secured – education, health care, transportation, and other services that we think of as public goods?

And with this, the formal part of the conference was concluded. There remained, of course, the business meeting of the IU on Friday, and a final dinner trip by boat down and up the Thames lasting until 11 PM that evening. We were reminded during that trip how hot it had been all week – a spell of weather that London has seldom seen. And it recalled for us the other aspects of London that were troubling if not ominous. There has been a drastic water shortage due to the lack of rain this past spring, and video-cameras are now so ubiquitous that it is said that the average person is captured on film about 375 times daily!

I came away in the confident belief that the Georgist movement is healthy. There are new people coming to meetings, new books being published, more attention being given to our ideas, and a renewed confidence in our message. I am glad that I attended; I now know a dimension of our network and movement that I hadn’t appreciated before. We missed certain people to be sure – their names came up often, especially Alanna Hartzok’s. And although London is clearly the accepted site for IU conferences for the immediate future, there was talk of its moving perhaps to South America, and even to Asia for a change. With discussion of rent collection in all its forms directing our attention to the spectrum, to air and water, and especially to energy resources, the Georgist movement cannot help but be worldwide in its scope and purview.

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