Old Idea Lacks Wise Elders, by Jeffery J. Smith
Some reformers can present their ideas to the public without much financial support. You have heard of Basic Income and the Tobin Tax on Foreign Exchange. But an overwhelming majority of humanity has never heard of geoism – the public recovery of social surplus – despite the foundations tasked with pushing forward the proposal totaling over half a billion dollars. Imagine what the American Lung Association could do with this endowment. Smog is said to be a problem of the past.
Voluntary foundations could invest in what works. Sociologists have explained how paradigms change. However, geoist foundations do not. Somehow, this idea of capturing socially generated values for the benefit of society attracts ideologues (which all humans are) who:
* denigrate activism and bow to academia,
* act as soloists, indifferent to collaborating in an affinity group, and …
* Price housing the billions they control – by law for the public good – rather than investing in success.
It’s like you have to be a bookish, autistic miser to belong. Tough, but half a billion dollars is going to be wasted.
Peter Buffett, Warren’s son, argues that all nonprofit charities should be required to spend all of their funds within a limited number of years. That way, they’ll either solve the problem they were created for, or they’ll close their doors and give another group the opportunity to be successful. But they would be nothing more than a self-sustaining tax shelter.
The intransigence of the geoist depositories is all the more painful as geoism could do so much good, could even save civilization. Weird? Consider how much harm not the recovery of the annual rental value of nature and privilege does so.
OOH, take advantage of land lure companies – the largest are controlled by the wealthiest families (see Blackrock) – to deplete resources and pollute the ecosystem. OTOH, he erects and then exaggerates the class hierarchy (see Bill Gates, America’s Biggest Farmer). Technological advancement cannot solve any of the problems as it also inflates location value (see Silicon Valley Bay Area) and widens the gap between rich and poor, costing too many people their happiness, their self-esteem and their willingness to participate in social change (see participation rates in poor neighborhoods).
The climax, then the fall
As little known as this reform is today, it is just how popular it was over a century ago. His most famous lawyer, Henry George, was the third most popular American after Thomas Edison and Mark Twain, and Twain sold tickets to George’s conferences. All famous people have commented on George’s huge bestseller, Progress and Poverty, including Albert Einstein and many presidents.
Local politicians enacted George’s “one-off tax” on land values (they didn’t exactly repeal other taxes), and it worked. California has divided huge fiefdoms into family farms, as have Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan. Taiwan has also produced the fastest rate of development in history. New Zealand had zero unemployment. Some Australian cities prospered during a national recession. Denmark has stopped inflation. Pittsburgh has renewed its downtown penniless subsidy. Again and again.
After a while, all of these successes came to a sad end. The reform worked, people prospered, and speculators wanted higher site values for themselves. They got governments to repeal the tax transfer because the public forgot how their good times came about. Instead of learning from their losses, administrators let every learning moment slip by. They acted as if the company hadn’t changed over the years, that the same old tactics and arguments would work.
When they didn’t, the directors doubled down, proving Einstein was right: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” Apart from the fascists, the mad do not attract the followers but lose them. The once popular movement has grown into an obscure sect, albeit with millions that have turned into hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Georgists blamed the others: the density of the masses, the political power of the rentiers, ignoring that the others were making their ideas known. They closed ranks, repeating the litany of apologies to each other. Trustees justify their existence by funding programs you’ve never heard of, getting mired in failure. They light up anyone with a fresh approach and don’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for newcomers. Some administrators live comfortably with funds earmarked for movement building, or feel a certain prestige in controlling millions of dollars. Their personal interest outweighs their social interest.
Full disclosure. I have spent decades working with Georgists. I have founded more groups than any other advocate. Most have never founded one. Mine were real groups, groups that survived my leadership. One group brought in a hundred new people from the general public, which is not much by the standards of true political movements, but a resounding success by Georgist standards. The Georgian bar is so low that if someone prints a letter to the editor, or if a journalist writes a reference in an article, the Georgists collapse. To faint is not to win.
At the beginning of the last century, defenders demonstrated the public recovery of land rent with The owner’s game who showed how to bring prosperity. He was so popular that a player sold his version – which glorified speculation – to Parker Brothers. They paid the original inventor a pittance and renamed his game MONOPOLY. So I designed a computer game that players earn by collecting rent for everyone— WONKS—to motivate more people to take action.
Georgists are nice, everyday people you would like to dine with. But none are agents of change. No long to be. No one wants to use what works to change society. No one wants to know what these strategies are. Some even deny that such tactics exist, despite the success of advocates of, say, same-sex marriage, or endangered species conservation, or tobacco control, or… you name it. No wonderful idea has ever had worse supporters.
Ouch. But you can’t do nothing with half a billion dollars and pretend you’re the right people for the job, which no other human being on earth could do better. It goes against the grain to say that the Emperor doesn’t wear clothes, so being a whistleblower is controversial. But geoism is such a powerful antidote to what afflicts humanity, I had to cite these incongruities – great treasures, no results.
In sports, a fan may say, “Throw out the tramps!” ” and no one thinks the worst of him. But when it comes to ideology, people ignore the message and attack the messenger. While others may agree that a changing of the guard is needed in private, they will not support you in public. Silence is complicity.
Try science and focus
If administrators couldn’t just sit on endowment but were losing money by not meeting their goals, as happens in the business world, how could they change? They would find out what works.
Most reformers do not study the science of social change (Kuhn, et al). In all my decades of activism, I have never met another reformer who has done so. Funny. People who want to change the world don’t know – and don’t care – how the world is changing.
For most aspiring reformers, no problem, since their cause is obvious: clean air, voting rights, reduced bureaucracy, fair wages. These requests do not need to be explained. But the public recovery of socially generated values is too esoteric. He needs stronger and different medicine.
Geologists could research what would change the dominant paradigm from society to the earth. Or they could save themselves the trouble and use the conclusions of sociologists. They do neither. Georgists know what is good economically, but not what is good psychologically. They need to be as serious about marketing as they have been about the markets. Georgists do not reach the right brain with stories, they only annoy the left brain with unassailable logic.
Directors do not identify an audience of potential supporters and do not use their language. Why insist on disgusting taxes when neutral – and more accurate – terms like fees, leases, dues, fines, etc., are available? “Tax” immediately shifts attention from rent, from social surplus, to government, to extortion. It sounds like a penalty for the middle class, most of whom own homes with land. And their single tax means taking all the rent in the world and giving it to politicians and bureaucrats. Puh-bail.
Administrators could spend the few dollars it takes to ask the public how to write their public service announcement on a way to make the savings work for everyone. That is, hire one of those teams that conducts focus groups to survey a representative sample of early adopters or projected supporters. Learn which buttons to press, which to avoid.
To understand better, Georgists might have to ditch taxes and embrace dividends. Watch how long Georgists have languished, and how quickly Basic Income has become the talk of the town. How Californians Passed Prop 13 Limiting Property Taxes While Alaskans Passed Their Oil Dividend. How British Columbia Passed Its Carbon Tax After Adding A Dividend To The Revenue Generated.
Instead of trying to teach the masses basic economics or economic history, run a real political campaign with pictures, stories, real world examples, celebrities. Create a meme that goes viral. Recruit members by the hundreds of thousands. Spend it all and raise money in small amounts from large numbers. Finally, pass laws. Trustees, take note. This is the only measure of the success of the movement.
© Text Copyright Jeffery J. Smith All Rights Reserved.