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Henry George whose writings form the basis for Georgism.

Georgism (also called Geoism) is an economic philosophy and ideology that holds that people own what they create, but that things found in nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all.[1] The Georgist philosophy is based on the writings of the economist, Henry George(1839-1897), and is usually associated with the idea of a single tax on the value of land. Georgists argue that a tax on land value iseconomically efficientfair and equitable; and that it can generate sufficient revenue so that other taxes, which are less fair and efficient (such as taxes on production, sales and income), can be reduced or eliminated. A tax on land value has been described by many as aprogressive tax, since it would be paid primarily by the wealthy, and would reduce income inequality.[2]

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[edit]Main tenets

See also: Land value tax

According to Henry George, political economy proceeds from the simple axiom“People seek to satisfy their desires with the least exertion.”[3]George believed that although scientific experiments could not be carried out in political economy, theories could be tested by comparing different societies with different conditions and through thought experiments about the effects of various factors.[3] Applying this method, George concluded that many of the problems that beset society, such as poverty, inequality, and economic booms and busts, could be attributed to the private ownership of the necessary resource, land.

Henry George is best known for his argument that the economic rent of land should be shared equally by the people of a society rather than being owned privately. George held that people own what they create, but that things found in nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all.[1] In his publication Progress and Poverty George argued that: “We must make land common property.”[4] Although this could be done by nationalizing land and then leasing it to private parties, George preferred taxing unimproved land value, in part because this would be less disruptive and controversial in a country where land titles have already been granted to individuals.

supply and demand diagram showing the effects of land value taxation. Note that the burden of the tax is entirely on the land owner, and there is nodeadweight loss.

It was Adam Smith who first noted the properties of a land value tax in his book, The Wealth of Nations:[5]

Ground-rents are a still more proper subject of taxation than the rent of houses. A tax upon ground-rents would not raise the rents of houses. It would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent, who acts always as a monopolist, and exacts the greatest rent which can be got for the use of his ground. More or less can be got for it according as the competitors happen to be richer or poorer, or can afford to gratify their fancy for a particular spot of ground at a greater or smaller expense.

In every country the greatest number of rich competitors is in the capital, and it is there accordingly that the highest ground-rents are always to be found. As the wealth of those competitors would in no respect be increased by a tax upon ground-rents, they would not probably be disposed to pay more for the use of the ground. Whether the tax was to be advanced by the inhabitant, or by the owner of the ground, would be of little importance. The more the inhabitant was obliged to pay for the tax, the less he would incline to pay for the ground; so that the final payment of the tax would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent.

Standard economic theory suggests that a land value tax would be extremely efficient – unlike other taxes, it does not reduce economic productivity.[2] Nobel laureate Milton Friedman agreed that Henry George’s land value tax is potentially beneficial for society since, unlike other taxes, it would not impose an excess burden on economic activity (leading to “deadweight loss“). A replacement of other more distortionary taxes with a land value tax would thus improve economic welfare.[6]

Georgists suggest two uses for the revenue from a land value tax. The revenue can be used to fund the state, or it can be redistributed to citizens as a pension or basic income (or it can be divided between these two options). If the first option were to be chosen, the state could avoid having to tax any other type of income or economic activity. In practice, the elimination of all other taxes implies a very high land value tax, higher than any currently existing land tax. Introducing a high land value tax would cause the price of land titles to decrease correspondingly, but George did not believe landowners should be compensated, and described the issue as being analogous to compensation for former slave owners. Additionally, a land value tax would be a tax of wealth, and so would be a form of progressive taxation and tend to reduce income inequality. As such, a defining argument for Georgism is that it taxes wealth in a progressive manner, reducing inequality, and yet it also reduces the strain on businesses and productivity.

Georgists also argue that all economic rent (i.e., unearned income) collected from natural resources (land, mineral extraction, the broadcast spectrum, tradable emission permits,fishing quotas, airway corridor use, space orbits, etc.) and extraordinary returns from natural monopolies should accrue to the community rather than a private owner, and that no other taxes or burdensome economic regulations should be levied. Modern environmentalists find the idea of the earth as the common property of humanity appealing, and some have endorsed the idea of ecological tax reform as a replacement for command and control regulation. This would entail substantial taxes or fees for pollution, waste disposal and resource exploitation, or equivalently a “cap and trade” system where permits are auctioned to the highest bidder, and also include taxes for the use of land and other natural resources.[citation needed]

[edit]Synonyms and variants

Most early advocacy groups described themselves as Single Taxers, and George endorsed this as being an accurate description of the philosophy’s main political goal – the replacement of all taxes with a land value tax. During the modern era, some groups inspired by Henry George emphasize environmentalism more than other aspects, while others emphasize his ideas concerning economics.

Some devotees are not entirely satisfied with the name Georgist. While Henry George was well-known throughout his life, he has been largely forgotten by the public and the idea of a single tax of land predates him. Some people now use the term “Geoism”, with the meaning of “Geo” deliberately ambiguous. “Earth Sharing”[7]Geoism“,[8] “Geonomics” [9] and “Geolibertarianism[10] (see libertarianism) are also preferred by some Georgists; “Geoanarchism” is another one.[11] These terms represent a difference of emphasis, and sometimes real differences about how land rent should be spent (citizen’s dividend or just replacing other taxes); but all agree that land rent should be recovered from its private recipients.


Georgist ideas heavily influenced the politics of the early 1900s, during its heyday. Political parties that were formed based on Georgist ideas include the Commonwealth Land Party, the Justice Party of Denmark, and the Single Tax League.

In the UK during 1909, the Liberal Government included a land tax as part of several taxes in the People’s Budget aimed at redistributing wealth (including a progressively graded income tax and an increase of inheritance tax). This caused a crisis which resulted indirectly in reform of the House of Lords. The budget was passed eventually – but without the land tax. In 1931 the minority Labour Government passed a land value tax as part III of the 1931 Finance act. However this was repealed in 1934 by the National Governmentbefore it could be implemented. In Denmark, the Georgist Justice Party has previously been represented in Folketinget. It formed part of a centre-left government 1957-60 and was also represented in the European Parliament 1978-79. The influence of Henry George has waned over time, but Georgist ideas still occasionally emerge in politics. In the 2004 Presidential campaignRalph Nader mentioned Henry George in his policy statements.[12]


Several communities were also initiated with Georgist principles during the height of the philosophy’s popularity. Two such communities that still exist are Arden, Delaware, which was founded during 1900 by Frank Stephens and Will Price, and Fairhope, Alabama, which was founded during 1894 by the auspices of the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation.

The German protectorate of Jiaozhou Bay (also known as Kiaochow) in China fully implemented Georgist policy. Its sole source of government revenue was the land value tax of six percent which it levied on its territory. The German government had previously had economic problems with its African colonies caused by land speculation. One of the main aims in using the land value tax in Jiaozhou Bay was to eliminate such speculation, an aim which was entirely achieved.[13] The colony existed as a German protectorate from 1898 until 1914 when it was seized by Japan. In 1922 it was returned to China.

Georgist ideas were also adopted to some degree in AustraliaHong KongSingaporeSouth AfricaSouth Korea, and Taiwan. In these countries, governments still levy some type of land value tax, albeit with exemptions.[14] Many municipal governments of the USA depend on real property tax as their main source of revenue, although such taxes are not “Georgist” as they generally include the value of buildings and other improvements, one exception being the town of Altoona, Pennsylvania, which only taxes land value.

[edit]Institutes and organizations

Various organizations still exist that continue to promote the ideas of Henry George. According to the The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, the periodicalLand&Liberty, established in 1894, is the “the longest-lived Georgist project in history”.[15] Also in the U.S., the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy was established in 1974 founded based on the writings of Henry George, and “seeks to improve the dialogue about urban development, the built environment, and tax policy in the United States and abroad”.[16] TheHenry George Foundation continues to promote the ideas of Henry George in the UK.[17] The IU, is an international umbrella organisation that brings together organizations worldwide that seek land value tax reform.[18]


Although both advocated workers’ rights, Henry George and Karl Marx were antagonists. Marx saw the Single Tax platform as a step backwards from the transition to communism. He argued that, “The whole thing is… simply an attempt, decked out with socialism, to save capitalist domination and indeed to establish it afresh on an even wider basis than its present one.”[19] Marx also criticized the way land value tax theory emphasizes the value of land, arguing that, “His fundamental dogma is that everything would be all right if ground rent were paid to the state.”[19]

On his part, Henry George predicted that if Marx’s ideas were tried the likely result would be a dictatorship.[20][21][page needed] Fred Harrison provides a full treatment of Marxist objections to land value taxation and Henry George in “Gronlund and other Marxists – Part III: nineteenth-century Americas critics”, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, (Nov 2003).[22]

George has also been accused of exaggerating the importance of his “all-devouring rent thesis” in claiming that it is the primary cause of poverty and injustice in society.[23] More recent critics have claimed that increasing government spending has rendered a land tax insufficient to fund government.[citation needed] Georgists have responded by citing a multitude of sources showing that the total land value of nations like the US is enormous, and more than sufficient to fund government.[24]

[edit]Notable people influenced by Georgism

[edit]See also


  1. a b Heavey, Jerome F. (07 2003). “Comments on Warren Samuels’ “Why the Georgist movement has not succeeded””American Journal of Economics and Sociology 62(3): 593-599. Retrieved 29 July 2011. “human beings have an inalienable right to the product of their own labor”.
  2. a b Land Value Taxation: An Applied Analysis, William J. McCluskey, Riël C. D. Franzsen
  3. a b Progress and Poverty – “Introduction: The Problem of Poverty Amid Progress
  4. ^ George, Henry (1879). “2”Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of WealthVI. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
  5. ^ The Wealth of Nations Book V, Chapter 2, Article I: Taxes upon the Rent of Houses.
  6. ^ Foldvary, Fred E. “Geo-Rent: A Plea to Public Economists”. Econ Journal Watch (April 2005)[1]
  7. ^ Introduction to Earth Sharing,
  8. ^ Socialism, Capitalism, and Geoism – by Lindy Davies
  9. ^ Geonomics in a Nutshell
  10. ^ Geoism and Libertarianism by Fred Foldvary
  11. ^ Geoanarchism: A short summary of geoism and its relation to libertarianism – by Fred Foldvary
  12. a b
  13. ^ Silagi, Michael and Faulkner, Susan N., , Land Reform in Kiaochow, China: From 1898 to 1914 the Menace of Disastrous Land Speculation was Averted by TaxationThe American Journal of Economics and Sociology, volume 43, Issue 2, pages 167-177
  14. ^ Gaffney, M. Mason. “Henry George 100 Years Later”. Association for Georgist Studies Board. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
  15. ^ The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 62, 2003, p. 615
  16. ^
  17. ^ “The Henry George Foundation”. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
  18. ^ The IU. “The IU”. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
  19. a b Karl Marx – Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge in Hoboken
  20. ^
  21. ^ Henry George’s Thought [1878822810] – $49.95 : Zen Cart!, The Art of E-commerce
  22. ^ 14 Gronlund and other Marxists – Part III: nineteenth-century Americas critics | American Journal of Economics and Sociology, The | Find Articles at BNET
  23. ^ Critics of Henry George
  24. ^ Looking For Rents In All the Right Places
  25. ^ Muse return with new album The ResistanceSure, he has already launched into a passionate soliloquy about Geoism (the land-tax movement inspired by the 19th-century political economist Henry George)“.
  26. ^ Carlson, Allan. The New Agrarian Mind: The Movement Toward Decentralist Thought in Twentieth-Century America Transaction Publishers, 2004 (pg 51).
  27. ^ William F. Buckley, Jr. Transcript of an interview with Brian Lamb, CSpan Book Notes, April 2–3, 2000
  28. a b People’s Budget
  29. ^ Transcript of a speech by Darrow on taxation
  30. ^ Lane, Fintan. The Origins of Modern Irish Socialism, 1881-1896.Cork University Press, 1997 (pgs.79,81).
  31. ^ Two lettrs written in 1934 to Henry George’s daughter, Anna George De Mille. In one letter Einstein writes, “Men like Henry George are rare unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice.
  32. ^ Fred Foldvary’s website
  33. ^ Transcript of 1942 interview with Henry Ford in which he says, “The time will come when not an inch of the soil, not a single crop, not even weeds, will be wasted. Then every American family can have a piece of land. We ought to tax all idle land the way Henry George said — tax it heavily, so that its owners would have to make it productive“.
  34. ^ Mason Gaffney’s homepage
  35. ^ The Life of Henry George, Part 3 Chapter X1
  36. ^ Co-founder of the Henry George Club, Australia.
  37. ^ Leubuscher, F. C. (1939). Bolton HallThe Freeman. January issue.
  38. ^ Fred Harrison’s website
  39. ^ “Hughes, William Morris (Billy) (1862 – 1952)”Australian Dictionary of Biography: Online Edition.
  40. ^
  41. ^ Harrison, F. (1989). Aldous Huxley on ‘the Land Question’Land & Liberty. May – June issue.
  42. ^ Arcas Cubero, Fernando: El movimiento georgista y los orígenes del Andalucismo : análisis del periódico “El impuesto único” (1911-1923). Málaga : Editorial Confederación Española de Cajas de Ahorros, 1980. ISBN 8450037840
  43. ^ Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal
  44. ^ “Single Taxers Dine Johnson”New York Times May 31, 1910.
  45. ^ “Henry George”Ohio History Central: An Online History of Ohio History.
  46. ^ Andelson Robert V. (2000). Land-Value Taxation Around the World: Studies in Economic Reform and Social Justice Malden. MA:Blackwell Publishers, Inc. Page 359.
  47. ^ Suzanne La Follette: The Freewoman
  48. ^ Magie invented The Landlord’s Game, predecessor to Monopoly
  49. ^ “Henry George, The Scholar” – A Commencement Address Delivered by Francis Neilson at the Henry George School of Social Science, June 3, 1940.
  50. ^ Henry George: Unorthodox American by Albert Jay Nock
  51. ^ Quotes from Nobel Prize Winners Herbert Simon stated in 1978: “Assuming that a tax increase is necessary, it is clearly preferable to impose the additional cost on land by increasing the land tax, rather than to increase the wage tax — the two alternatives open to the City (of Pittsburgh). It is the use and occupancy of property that creates the need for the municipal services that appear as the largest item in the budget — fire and police protection, waste removal, and public works. The average increase in tax bills of city residents will be about twice as great with wage tax increase than with a land tax increase.
  52. ^ Thomas B. Buell (1974). The Quiet Warrior. Boston: Little, Brown.
  53. ^ December 2010 video, in which Stiglitz calls Henry George a “great progressive” and advocates for the land tax
  54. ^ .Article on Tolstoy, Proudhon and George. Count Tolstoy once said of George, “People do not argue with the teaching of George, they simply do not know it“.
  55. ^ “Oregon Biographies: William S. U’Ren”Oregon History Project. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society. 2002. Archived from the original on 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  56. ^ Bill Vickrey – In Memoriam
  57. ^
  58. ^ Trescott, P. B. (1994). Henry George, Sun Yat-sen and China: more than land policy was involvedThe American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 53, 363-375.


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