Conference on Innovation at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Jeffery J. Smith
GroundSwell, May-June 2007]
The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis drew over 200 people to
their conference on "Innovation" the first week of May
from almost all states, a couple other countries, and from 10 of the
12 Reserve branch banks. Co-sponsored by Freddie Mac and others,
they hosted this author and Tom Gihring in the Chase Park Plaza, the
most luxurious hotel in the city, at the end of a mile long row of
enormous mansions, provided all but one bountiful meal (most
participants left 10 pounds heavier), and paid for the hospitality
with money that may have never existed until being spent. Our hosts
were friendly, and most participants in high spirits.
Common Ground-USA and Marion Sapiro covered the other costs of air
travel and preparation. Every presenter was asked to submit in
advance a CD Powerpoint of their talk. Each meeting room was
equipped with computer, projector, and screen. The St Louis branch
bank also comped Al Katzenberger, a stalwart Georgist who picked us
up and dropped us off at the airport, gave us tours of his town,
manned the PREC table along with Don Killoren where they distributed
literature from the Henry George Foundation and others, collaborated
in our presentation, and generated interest among others throughout
The theme innovation rests on the assumption that organizations
must change with the times. Although such advice is followed by
organizations that get results, it does not apply to Georgists,
since our movement lacks what was meant by "organization"
-- people united by both end and means who pay dues or receive pay
as staff, with boards -- smaller than their membership -- who have
stature in community, with a physical address, regular and frequent
meetings, presence in a geophysical community, with projects and
events pulling in public participation, etc. Rather than
organizations, we're soloists and perhaps suffer for it.
Some keynoters included:
- William Poole, president of the St Louis branch, and Sandra
Braustein, Board of Governors of the Fed, who welcomed us warmly.
- Andrew Hargadon of UC Davis noted invention comes not from
great men but from a confluence of contributions and that networks
need to be exercised and enriched by the one using them.
- Langdon Morris of Innovation Labs was able to divide our large
group into many small ones where we could each pitch our slant on
innovative community development then to bring us together again.
- Keith Sawyer of Washington U. led several entertaining
exercises, one being the whole group clapping randomly until in
- Doris Koo, CEO, Enterprise Community Partners, told how their
goal was the eradication of poverty in their lifetime but how
their proud achievement was a bit more units of affordable
- Thomas Dorr, Undersecretary of Agriculture, promised broadband
subsidies for rural communities and invited speculators to be
ready for the resultant rise in rural land values; after hearing
Gene Wunderlich's calculation that less than 3% own more than 95%
of the privately held land, he paused, performed his own rough
calculation, and concurred.
- Paul Light, author of "The Four Pillars of Social Change",
noted solving social problems takes social entrepreneurship, the
work of nonprofits ushering in social change while not losing
One session on TIFs was presented by an advocacy group for that
tax wrinkle which receives funding from existing TIF districts,
enough to qualify as a real organization with budget and staff. One
wonders if the existing LVT jurisdictions would fund a similar
organization to advocate LVT. Another session showed a PBS
documentary on the history of East St Louis which exposed the
corruption and exploitation -- if any place needed LVT ...
This author, co-presenter Tom Gihring, and local liason Al
Katzenberger took time off to visit the Show Me Institute, with whom
this author had been in email contact. Show Me, funded by a retired
multi-millionaire banker, had released a study arguing for taxing
land in St Louis and Kansas City that garnered good press. Their
staff -- Vice President of Operations Jason Hannasch and
researchers/writers David Stokes and Tim Lee -- gave us nearly two
hours of their time, in which we discussed collaborating on a
conference and other ideas.
As many came to our session as most other break-out sessions, and
that was at 9 AM of the last day of the conference. About 15 people,
including from the Fed, local government, and small towns around the
US, engaged in the lively discussion and asked the usual questions.
What astounded them the most was that such a sound idea could be so
little used. Partly that's due to having to persuade people of the
potency of a mere tax shift and partly because most people --
homeowners -- don't want to hear about paying taxes on their land
(or property), their only equity since our savings rate is negative.
If anyone wants to further reach out, please contact this author for
the attendance roster.