International Union Conference
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 15-18 May, 2012

[Reprinted from GroundSwell, May 2012]

But for the awesome skill and untiring work of two simultaneous translators, the just past 28th conference of the International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade would not have been the success it was. All sessions were completely comprehensible -- Spanish presentations were audible in English, and English ones were accessible in Spanish; we needed only to put on our earphones as called for. The two translators were just fantastic, ably swapping off their responsibilities every twenty minutes for the duration, every day. We are told that all the sessions, which have been recorded in video and audio, will soon be available online at, and may be so when this is printed. For now one needs to go to the website, and then to Eventos > Seminarios Internacionales > Leer m?s…. Most of the papers and powerpoint presentations are already available.

Thanks to Hector Sandler for making this conference possible by introducing three organizations based in the City of Buenos Aires as joint host with The IU and arranging for the Faculty of Law, Buenos Aires University, kindly providing the conference venue. The IU itself was able to enjoy a passive role this time because the Argentine Association of Budget and Public Financial Administration (ASAP) and the Institute of Economic Training (ICE) were co-sponsors. ASAP is the Argentine affiliate of the International Association of Public Budgeting (ASIP), which also collaborated in the conference’s planning.

The May 15 to 18 conference theme was “Housing, Land and Social Inclusion: A Taxation System to Achieve it.” Some 91 people were registered for the three-day-long sessions held at the University of Buenos Aires School of Law. Thirteen attendees were non-Latin-Americans, some well known to Common Ground members. They were Peter Meakin (South Africa), Fred Harrison (UK), Dave and Heather Wetzel (UK), Roger Sandilands (UK), Frank Peddle and his son Liam (Canada), Jacob Schwartz-Lucas (US), Jesper Raundall Christensen (Denmark) and yours truly, Bill Batt (US). Three others are dual citizens: Wendy Rockwell, an American in Costa Rica, Quizia Gonzales, Honduran in New York, and IU President Fernando Skornik-Gerstein, Argentine, but now in Madrid. Every one of them made a presentation except me. Argentines presentations were also of good quality and showed possibilities for adoption of LVT there.

Materials sent prior to our arrival made clear that Argentina once had a very strong Georgist movement, and in fact was able to enact a land value tax for a short time. It failed to take hold, however, due to changes in government administrations and lack of popular understanding, proving that essential to a policy’s success is education and support of the public. Credit should go especially to Dr./ Professor Hector Sandler, Argentina’s venerable and even charismatic Georgist, who was responsible for arranging the program, chairing many of the panels, and bringing our philosophy to his countrymen. Now well into his 80s, he was nonetheless always unfailingly clear and persuasive. His younger brother Guillermo, his son Ernesto, and granddaughters, Georgists all, were recruited for presentations in what was at times a family affair. Ernesto’s book, Toward an Economy Without Barriers, might soon be published in English, and the summary we were privileged to receive suggests that it is well warranted.

Guillermo Sandler, an economist in his own right, directs a Program for the Study of Economics of the Public Sector in Argentina. Grandaughters Natalia Arbelo and Patricia Abelenda offered compelling graphical presentations that demonstrated how much empirical data exists in support of Georgist claims. Websites showing the land value maps for all the provinces in the country are completed, an impressive achievement that offers a real prospect for LVT. These land value maps and economic rent estimates all support solid simulations. It was a highlight of the conference, to my thinking worthy of their presenting at a CGO conference. Ernesto’s other obligations meant his paper was read for him.

Two of the Argentine presenters were American-trained economists. Raul Cuello studied years ago at Columbia with Georgists Carl Shoup, Lowell Harriss, and Bill Vickrey. His paper emphasized the importance of William Petty, a British economist, scientist and philosopher in the time of Cromwell. Petty’s ideas, argued Professor Cuello, were influenced by Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon, and antedated Adam Smith by half a century. In my post conference correspondence with him, he again urged me to look at the work of Petty more closely. Claudio Lutzky, the second American trained economist at the conference, received his graduate education at George Mason University. Lutzky’s talk was on climate change solutions, particularly a carbon tax, and would be attending the Rio conference on Sustainable Development a month later. I was able to refer him to Peter Barnes’ book, Who Owns the Sky (1991), a book he hadn’t known, and which provides the most elegant Georgist solution of any: auction rent of the air-pollution sink for what revenue it can provide. Since he was to attend the UN Rio Environmental Conference a week later, I was glad to have mentioned this.

It was perhaps most gratifying that the conference expenses on my part were so manageable. My round-trip limo from Albany to JFK was $150, and the flight to Buenos Aires was less than US$800. The hotel for five nights was US$370. There was no registration fee, so with all the other incidentals, my total cost was about US$1,500. All and all, it was an event well worth attending.

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