A little knowledge goes a long way
I spent 3 years in the 8th grade, before I finally quit and ended up climbing trees for a living. Several years later I was invited to take a free non-credit discussion course in political economy. It was based on the classic, Progress & Poverty by Henry George. At first we looked at the factors, making a distinction between, the workers, the products used to make more products, and everything except people and their products, which are the opportunities that exists in nature.
Then we explored the dilemmas. That’s when they got my attention. How could wages remain static when technology is constantly increasing production? How could there be unemployment among people are willing and able to work. It seemed like a paradox. I studied the laws of distribution: how much of each product went to the workers, the people that owned the buildings and machines, and the people that owned the natural resources on which and from which the products were made and services performed.
That’s when I saw it. We had made private property out of the surface of the Earth. We did it so people could keep what they produced; the farmer who sowed could also reap; the person who built a house could reserve it for his family. But, as people come together in communities the greater results of cooperation attach themselves to the land. And because it gives the landholders an increasing advantage, land is often held like gold for the increase in its price, resulting in a shortage of places to live and work.
I kept thinking, people without land have no way to employ themselves.
Of course the least productive workers can barely earn subsistence — no wonder all wages tend to a point below which there would be a shortage of each different level of skill and knowledge, no matter how much they produced.
I agreed with Henry George’s simple solution: condition the title to land upon a payment of its rental value. That way, people would have security to the improvements upon the land, but would only hold title to the land they actually needed. There would be plenty of land for everyone. And by collecting the potential rent from land, society rather than landholders would share the benefits of cooperation. Everyone would be employed, and wages would rise with the march of invention.
In the 40 years since, I have listened carefully to the candidates for elected office, and to a person, they seem oblivious to the basic functions of society. They think of the Earth as private property and they want to confiscate the fruits of people’s labor in the income, sales, and property taxes. If a high school flunk out can understand these basic concepts, then our dilemmas must remain from a commitment to private property in land rather than any inability to create jobs and raise wages. The fundamental solution is to collect the rental value from land, this I believe.
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