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The Justification Hypothesis (JH) is a proposal in Gregg’s Tree of Knowledge (ToK) System that conceptualizes the process of “justification” as a link between the Mind and Culture levels of complexity and as a foundation for a scientific theory of culture. The JH is described on the ToK website as follows:

The evolution of language gave rise to the problem of justification, and this evolutionary pressure ultimately resulted in the human self-consciousness system and human culture. The JH carries with it three fundamental postulates. The first is that the evolution of language must have created the problem of justification, which is the problem of explaining one’s self to others in a justifiable manner. The second postulate is that the human self-consciousness system can be understood as a “justification filter”. This second claim links the evolutionary analysis with key insights from psychodynamic theory. Specifically, psychodynamic theory posits that socially unjustifiable impulses are inhibited and socially justifiable reasons are given for actions taken. The third postulate is that culture can be understood as large scale justification systems that coordinate the behavior of human populations. (Emphasis mine)

The focus of this post will be on the third postulate of the JH. Put simply, the beliefs, values, and behavioral norms of a society, along with the social institutions that emerge from those beliefs, values, and behavioral norms, can be conceptualized as “justification systems”.

However, this seems to be only half of the “cultural picture”, for a basic sociological distinction can be made between material culture on the one hand, and nonmaterial culture on the other. As the name suggests, “material culture” basically refers to all those things that people make and use, such as technology and agricultural products. Clearly, conceptualizing culture as “justification systems” is more precisely referring only to nonmaterial culture. For a complete foundation for a theory of culture, not only would something fundamental about material culture need to be incorporated  into that foundation, but “that something” would need to be effectively synthesized with the Justification Hypothesis.

The solution to this problem, I suggest, lies in the thought of 19th century political economist and social philosopher, Henry George.

Who was Henry George?

Henry George (1839 – 1897) was a self-taught economist and social philosopher of the late nineteenth century. As a young man, George was a printer in San Francisco. Future grandaughter, Agnes de Mille, wrote:

George was endowed for his job. He was curious and he was alertly attentive to all that went on around him. He had that rarest of all attributes in the scholar and historian that gift without which all education is useless. He had mother wit. He read what he needed to read, and he understood what he read. And he was fortunate; he lived and worked in a rapidly developing society. George had the unique opportunity of studying the formation of a civilization — the change of an encampment into a thriving metropolis. He saw a city of tents and mud change into a fine town of paved streets and decent housing, with tramways and buses. And as he saw the beginning of wealth, he noted the first appearance of pauperism. He saw degradation forming as he saw the advent of leisure and affluence, and he felt compelled to discover why they arose concurrently.

In 1879, George wrote Progress and Poverty where he explored this vexing issue as to why greater poverty emerged simultaneously with greater progress.

Land and Natural Resources, Material Culture, & the ToK

Near the very beginning of Progress and Poverty, (chapter 2), George found it prudent to “…define our terms so that each meaning remains consistent. Otherwise, our reasoning will be vague and ambiguous.” Three important terms that he defined were the three classical factors of production: land, labor, and capital. Basically, they can be summed up as follows:

  1. Labor – all human exertion in the production of wealth
  2. Land – all material factors of production that are not a product of human labor, (this would include all natural resources)
  3. Capital – all material factors of production that are a product of human labor, (e.g., tools, machines, buildings, agricultural products, etc.)

Here, we can already begin to see excellent consistency in these definitions with the four levels of complexity in the ToK. With only a slight rewording of these definitions, such consistency comes into sharp focus:

  1. Labor – all human behavioral investments in the production of wealth, (consistent with Level 3 of the ToK)
  2. Land (including natural resources)- all the physical, (e.g., raw land, minerals, the electromagnetic spectrum) and biological (e.g., natural growth forests, wild animals, etc.), factors of production that are not a product of human labor, (consistent with Levels 1 and 2 of the ToK, respectively, moving from the “bottom-up”)
  3. Capital – all the physical, (e.g., technology), and biological, (e.g., domesticated plants and animals), factors of production that are a product of human labor, (consistent with Levels 1 and 2 of the ToK, respectively, moving from the “top-down”)

Thus, a “crisp” distinction can be made between “land and natural resources” and “material culture” consistent with the ToK, that is contingent upon a functional relationship with the human behavioral investment of “labor” on the one hand, and the physical and biological levels of complexity on the other. “Land and natural resources” refers to the physical and biological levels of complexity that are not a product of human labor, while “material culture” refers to the physical and biological levels of complexity that are a product of human labor.

In other words, we can now say in a manner consistent with the ToK  that we have both a conceptualization of nonmaterial culture grounded in the human behavioral investment of “justification” AND a conceptualization of material culture grounded in the human behavioral investment of “labor” as it relates to the physical and biological levels of complexity. 

The challenge now is to tie these two separate conceptual foundations for material culture and nonmaterial culture into a coherent whole for a complete conceptual foundation of culture. For the answer, we need to turn again to Henry George — specifically, the answer is found in the fundamental reason as to why poverty exists in the midst of progress.

It All Boils Down to Land

To say that no human being made land and natural resources is pure tautology. Furthermore, it is an obvious truism that all human beings need land in order to live and make a living. It also equally true and obvious that, ultimately, land and natural resources are a necessary prerequisite for there to even be any material culture, for one clearly cannot make something from nothing. Even a hunter-gatherer needs raw material such as flint in order to make a stone tool.

Also, land is in “fixed-supply”. That is, there’s only “so much of it”. Indeed, as population rises, then the demand for land will rise, and thus so will its value.

This is one way in which the value of land is a socially created value, but not the only way. For as a community emerges and develops, the value of any parcel of land in that community will rise, as well, simply by virtue of its location

But then there is the issue of land ownership and its distribution. If land is owned by some to the exclusion of others, then the owners have a clear, (and indeed, tremendous) fundamental advantage in terms of powerGeorge puts it succinctly:

Land is required for the exertion of labor in the production of wealth. Therefore, to control the land is to command all the fruits of labor, except only enough to enable labor to continue to exist.

And to this, George adds in the same chapter of Progress and Poverty:

The great cause of inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land.

Ownership of land is the great fundamental fact that ultimately determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral condition of a people. And it must be so.

For land is the home of humans, the storehouse we must draw upon for all our needs. Land is the material to which we must apply our labor to supply all our desires. Even the products of the sea cannot be taken, or the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized, without the use of land or its products.

On land we are born, from it we live, to it we return again. We are children of the soil as truly as a blade of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from people all that belongs to land, and they are but disembodied spirits. Material progress cannot rid us of our dependence on land; it can only add to our power to produce wealth from land.

Hence, when land is monopolized, progress might go on to infinity without increasing wages or improving the condition of those who have only their labor. It can only add to the value of land and the power its possession gives.

Everywhere, in all times, among all peoples, possession of land is the base of aristocracy, the foundation of great fortunes, the source of power.

By directing our focus to the fundamental issue of land and natural resource ownership, so many sociological and anthropological issues surely, and intuitively, come into sharp focus — issues such as inequality, power, social stratification, social class, and so forth.

Take hunter-gather bands, for example. It is common knowledge that hunter-gatherer societies are relatively egalitarian, and that such societies hold the land in common. Is not the relationship between these two social facts obvious?

Or let’s say we take the specific example of gender inequality. What if we lived in a world where only men were allowed to own land, but women were not? In such a world, any woman would have to stay in “good standing” with some man in order to even have a place to live, would she not? Certainly, such a state of affairs would hardly be conducive to any chance of gender equality.

(Here, it is particularly worth noting something about Carrie Chapman Catt, who was a major leader in the movement for establishing the Nineteenth Amendment that gave women the legal right to vote. Catt was also the 1920 Presidential candidate for the Commonwealth Land Party — a U.S. political party established on Georgist principles.)

Or we could look at racial inequality in the same manner as we look at gender inequality above. If all the land in the world were, for example, owned by caucasians to the exclusion of non-caucasians, would not a world of tremendous racial inequality be difficult to imagine?

And if ownership of land is the fundamental source of power in any society, then would not the particular system of land ownership co-vary with the “large-scale justification systems” of such a society? If women were excluded from land, would we not expect to see justification systems of “women’s inferiority” that ultimately function to reinforce that particular justification system of land ownership? Could we not expect the same thing in a society in which people of a particular race or ethnicity were excluded from land? Would not that society’s religion function to “divinely” justify such a state of affairs?

Perhaps, one might wonder the possibility, would even our academic justification systems function to justify such a state of affairs of power and privilege, even if implicitly and unwittingly? If this is even a possibility, then the need — indeed the moral obligation— for the academy to direct a critical eye back towards itself cannot be understated.

Synthesizing Material Culture and Nonmaterial Culture 

At this point, it is probably becoming clear as to an appropriate conceptual foundation for culture that fundamentally accomodates both material and nonmaterial culture in a coherent way. Furthermore, such a synthesis provides a logical starting point for investigation of any society and its culture, regardless of time or place:

Justification systems of land and natural resource ownership

 Indeed, such a conceptual foundation is commensurate with Gregg’s view of society having four components:

  1. Culture (the language based beliefs and values networked together into systems of justification
  2. Behavioral investment patterns (activities that humans are engaging in)
  3. Technology (materials humans develop to coordinate the flow of resources)
  4. The biophysical ecology in which the human population lives

Furthermore, a link between facts and values can be made here, as well. It is  factual, for example, that no human beings made the earth, though all human beings need the earth to live and make a living. It is also a fact that land and natural resources are ultimately a neccessary prerequiste for there to even be any material culture, (or even “culture” in general!)

It is also a question of fact, in regards to a particular socio-historical context, as to what kind of justification system of land and natural resource ownership any particular society has, past or present. But it is a moral question as to what kind of system of land and natural resource a scoiety ought to have. George’s position was quite clear.

Henry George’s Position and His “Remedy”

George was explicit in what he saw as the “true” remedy for poverty in the midst of progress, along with the unequal distribution of power that came with this:

Deduction and induction have brought us to the same truth: Unequal ownership of land causes unequal distribution of wealth. And because unequal ownership of land is inseperable from the recognition of individual property in land, it necessarily follows that there is only one remedy for the unjust distribution of wealth:

We must make land common property.

And as a practical application of such an end in a modern society, George’s solution was both simple and elegant:

If rent were taken by the state in taxes, then land would really be common property — no matter in whose name or in what parcels it was held. Every member of the community would participate in the advantages of its ownership.

Land values increase as population grows and progress advances. In any civilized country, this is enough to bear all government expenses. In better developed countries, it is much more than enough. In fact, when rent exceeds current government revenues, it will be necessary to actually increase the land tax to absorb excess rent. Taxation of rent would increase as we abolish other taxes. So, we may put our proposition into practical form by proposing:

To abolish all taxes — except on land values.

George’s “remedy” sparked an international movement that lasted for over a generation. Progress and Poverty sold 3 million copies in the U.S. when the population was under 50 million. Perhaps, one might even call such a movement a “useful” mass movement. It had notable advocates, including Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, John Dewey, and Albert Einstein. Indeed, this movement could even make for an interesting sociological case-study in social movements, considering its phenomenal rise and then steady decline a generation or so after George’s death.


In Henry George’s thought, I have attempted to find a way to synthesize nonmaterial culture, (expressed as “justification systems”), and material culture in a manner consistent with the ToK System. Furthermore, such a synthesis could perhaps help accomodate greater synthesis amongst the various social sciences, such as economics, sociology, political science, and anthropology within the context of the ToK.

But perhaps even more importantly, Henry George’s thought and Gregg’s ToK capture the same spirit in which “…we might actually be able to make a systematic difference in society that gives individuals…a chance to reach their full potential as human beings.”

Perhaps that could be Henry George’s most important ccontribution of all to the Tree of Knowledge System and indeed, to the academy as a whole.


Comments on: "The Justification Hypothesis as a Theory for Nonmaterial Culture, but not Material Culture: A Georgist Solution" (9)

  1. Fascinating post, Jason.

    I was not expecting to see Henry George on this blog!

    A few questions:

    Take hunter-gather bands, for example. It is common knowledge that hunter-gatherer societies are relatively egalitarian, and that such societies hold the land in common. Is not the relationship between these two social facts obvious?

    Is it common knowledge? I’m not so sure. Is the history on hunter-gatherer societies clear on this? Have there been hunter gatherer societies ruled by brutal men where might makes right? If it is true that these societies are more egalitarian, are you certain this is because land is held in common? Could it be because the societies are smaller, for example? I’m not certain of a correlation, I’m less certain of causation.

    Also, land is in “fixed-supply”. That is, there’s only “so much of it”. Indeed, as population rises, then the demand for land will rise, and thus so will its value.
    Is this certain? Suppose a population grows by 10% over 50 years. During that same 50 years agricultural production increases by 50% per acre. Are you certain that the value of land will increase?

    My more fundamental problem with George is the idea that one’s economic value to society is tied to land. Steve Jobs needed a place to live and work. He needed food. But was his value to society tied to land? I should probably have brushed up on my George before posting, but I believe he thought wages were essentially controlled by land owners. I don’t see how Steve Jobs could have been held down by landlords. Yes, he needed a place to live, space for an office, factories, etc… but landlords would (and certainly did!) compete for his business. He could have created one of the greatest companies in history without owning a single acre of land.

    I feel strongly that private ownership of land is a critical element of a healthy society. Resource poor nations like Singapore have thrived while resource rich countries like Saudi Arabia have failed. I think there is a very important lesson there. I hope to have more time to get into it if you are interested.

    Also, the elephant in the room is government. A government will inevitably be tasked with administering the public property system (rent/taxes, etc…). Once you have a group of individuals in control of the system, they will without question game that system to favor themselves and their political supporters (for examples see every government in history).
    My final point for now: what is more likely to be well taken care of: land you own, or land no one owns?

    I enjoyed your post.


  2. jasonbessey said:

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your comments.

    In regards to your first comment:

    As I understand it, (and an anthropologist’s opinion would be nice here!), hunter-gatherer societies are typically quite egalitarian, (at least compared to other societies!). Certainly, their small size plays a role. But I suspect that their small size relative to the amount of available land and natural resources probably plays a fundamental key role here. (And here, I’m thinking of the fact that humans, for the vast majority of our existence, lived in this sort of system). If the sort of conflict arises that you describe, (or even conflict of a lesser nature) arises that is unresolvable, then members certainly have the option of simply going somewhere else. And again as I understand it, this is fairly typical even today amongst the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies.

    In regards to your “increase in agricultural production” example:

    I should have been more clear in my statement by saying that land values increase as population increases “all else being equal”. Your example adds another variable. Looking at your example, less land would be needed to produce the same amount of food…indeed, it would seem more food relative to the population than 50 years before. So this scenario could very well leave more available land relative to the population from 50 years before, thus lowering its value, (again, all else being equal).

    You stated: “My more fundamental problem with George is the idea that one’s economic value to society is tied to land.”

    But this was not George’s position. His position was that land’s value is tied to society, (and by “land” I mean “raw land”/ “spatial-locations”). As population increases, (all else being equal!) land’s value will increase. But more importantly, as communities grow and develop, location values increase, as well. (Certainly, an acre of land on Wall St. is far more valuable than an acre of land in the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska by virtue of location!) For example, as a town develops from private investments, (such as businesses) and public investments (such as infrastructure) any parcel of land in that area will increase in value by virtue of its location. Here lies the problem with land speculation, for land speculators simply buy a parcel of land, hold it out of use, sit back, let everyone around that parcel of land do all the work (which has the effect of increasing that parcel’s location value), then sell it at a higher price, and pocket the difference that was created by the productive activities of the community as a whole. (This is precisely why we see things like urban blight.) By capturing the spatial-location value for public use in the form of LVT, the community is effectively being reimbursed for a value that the community created while simultaneously incentivisizing people to use as little land as efficiently as possible, (which means wiping out land speculation), leaving more land available on the market, thus keeping its price down to natural market levels, and therefore making it more affordable for more people. Furthermore, a local government would have the incentive to optimally invest that revenue in such a way as to maximize future location values, therefore increasing future revenues. And a local government would increase future location values through the optimal allocation of such a revenue by investing in things like roads, bridges, water utilities, police departments, fire departments, schools, and so forth, which all contribute to increases in location values in that community and are simultaneously the very things that people in a community typically expect from their local governemnt.

    In regards to “the elephant in the room”, George essentially agreed with what your saying. He rejected the idea of handing title to land over to a government for precisely the reasons you mentioned. The way I interpret this sort system, “common ownership” refers to “common ownership” of the land as a whole in a community, but a private ownership of its parts contingent upon individuals paying for exclusive use of “the part” back to the community. Thus, as George noted, land would EFFECTIVELY be held in common under such a system in a modern society in a practical way. This would also fulfill the Lockean Proviso of “leaving enough good land for others” while avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons.

    Could such a system have the potential for abuse by government? Of course! Isn’t there always such a potential? But I think there is something to be said for people in a community to take responsibility for their community and hold their public officials accountable. If people in a community act like sheep, don’t be surprised when they are treated accordingly. In other words, don’t let the tail wag the dog!

    Whew! I guess that’s enough for now!

    Again, thanks for your thoughts, 🙂

  3. Hunter-gatherer societies in our observable history have *tended* to be more egalitarian, but have not been universally so. There have been some such societies, like the native Hawaiians, who were very repressive toward those who displeased the monarchs. However, they were all *economically* egalitarian, except that a small number of rulers ate for free, so to speak.

    Note that, even within tribes of gorillas, apes and especially baboons, the subculture of dominating males can be terribly repressive toward other members (of both sexes).

    Getting back to humans, there is a strong case that agriculture requires a division of labor between those who work the fields and those who guard the crops. This, then, is the genesis of the first division of labor, as well as the genesis of property in land. (Indeed, it has been suggested that the Genesis story (ejection from the Garden of Eden) is itself a metaphor for the discovery of agriculture.)

    In 1908, Franz Oppenheimer wrote Der Staat (The State), postulating that government-sanctioned oppression was a product of the vulnerability of farmers to raids from herdsmen, who enjoyed superior mobility. He also postulated that herdsmen were probably the first merchants and the originators of primitive capitalism. Note that the next Genesis story was of Cain and Able, in which the evil farmer is cursed for killing his herdsman brother. I will only note that this bible story was handed down by herdsmen, and is perhaps the earliest example of “spin” in our western cultural history.

    As to Henry George’s views on land, it is important to note that land value is a very different thing from land acreage. To illustrate that point, I used to note that a square yard of land next to the World Trade Center (when we had a World Trade Center) was worth more than a typical acre of New York State farmland. To own enough land for a parking space in the Lower West Side of Manhattan is to necessarily be a millionaire, because such land is worth well over a million dollars.

    As to Steve Jobs, his fortune derives more from patent rights than from land titles, patent rights being a more temporary privilege with some degree of justification (but none the less subject to abuse and therefore to criticism). Each generation has its new crop of exceedingly rich people whose fortunes are tied to invention and patent privileges, but if you go back a generation or two, you see that the family fortions are now tied to more permanent privileges, such as land titles or monopoly franchises. Thus Thomas Edison’s heirs live off of Con Edison, Ted Turner is one of the biggest landowners in the world, and Bill Gates has people buying up land for him. You don’t buy land to *get* rich so much as to *stay* rich. It takes a real genius to do what Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs did, but anyone can cash a rent check every month, or have someone deposit all the rent checks so the landed aristocrat can draw on the balance at will.

    That doesn’t make land monopoly the sine qua non of injustice. The banking privilege of lending money they do not actually have ranks right up there, along with various smaller oppressions. Land monopoly is just the oldest injustice other than chattel slavery which has all but been abolished. If the Genesis story really is a metaphor for the birth of agriculture, land monopoly could be the Original Sin that went with it. Tom Paine certainly thought so:

    “To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North America. There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the towns and streets in Europe.

    “Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, science and manufactures.

    “The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich. Civilization, therefore, or that which is so-called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.

    “It is always possible to go from the natural to the civilized state, but it is never possible to go from the civilized to the natural state. The reason is that man in a natural state, subsisting by hunting, requires ten times the quantity of land to range over to procure himself sustenance, than would support him in a civilized state, where the earth is cultivated….

    “Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.”


    I would also note, as per justification theory, that these ideas were long repressed until European colonists came came face-to-face with American Indians. The Spanish were not so lucky, as they found gold and were motivated to quickly enslave the indigenous people, but the English and French traded with them for some time before stealing their lands. Thus, classical liberalism was largely an English and French phenomenon, and you see frequent reference to American Indians among the works of English and French philosophers.

    • jasonbessey said:

      Very interesting stuff, Dan! Thanks for commenting.

      In regards to your comments on native Hawaiin culture — if I’m not mistaken, those cultures were not *band* societies, but *chiefdoms*. When I mentioned “hunter-gatherer bands”, my intent was to not only draw attention to their economic system, but their political system, as well.

      Anthropologists traditionally categorize four types of political systems: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. It would be interesting to see if their are any strong correlations between the type of political system on the one hand, and the type of land ownership system on the other. If there are such correlations, I suspect that would say a lot theoretically about culture and society in a very fundamental way.


  4. Good stuff, Jason and Dan. I still come back to this point: under any system certain people will come to dominate control of land (call it ownership or administration or whatever you want) over time. I see strong private ownership rights as the best way to combat the strong taking land from the weak (in our system we call it eminent domain). Land traded on the free market is the only way to set the value of land. And speculators are key (as they are in all markets) to keeping the market fluid.

    It’s worth keeping in mind that government has controlled (and still does control) access to land ownership. Government “signs off” on who can and can’t own land, and they take land by force whenever they want it. Without a true free market and equal rights to land ownership I am skeptical about linking land ownership with poverty. I believe the answer lies in corrupt government policy in land use and management. One of government’s key roles throughout history has been monopoly enforcement (i.e., only a handful of politically connected farmers can produce wheat). There is no question that monopolies create poverty when compared with open markets. Monopolies in agriculture, lumber, housing, etc… may appear to be a “land ownership” problem, but is more likely a government enforced monopoly problem.

    Dan – if you have a chance can you elaborate on your final paragraph? I am a little unclear on which ideas were repressed etc…

    • jasonbessey said:

      Hi Matt,

      Yes, “land traded on the free market is the only way to set the value of land” — or more precisely, the TITLE to land. Under George’s proposal, title to land stays in the hands of individuals which can be traded in order to insure such a pricing mechanism. So you and George are actually in agreement here.

      However, a distinction needs to be made between land’s “market value” and its “rental value”, (i.e., the annual fee individuals are willing to pay for the exclusive right to use a land site for a period of time). A formula from Connecticut assessor, Ted Gwartney, might be helpful here: http://www.henrygeorge.org/ted.htm

      Land Market Value = (Land Rental Value – Land Taxes) / Capitalization Rate

      As you can see from this formula, the more of the rental value that is collected in the form of a land tax, the lower the market value. If all of the rental value is collected, the market value would drop to zero. So the key would be to collect a little less than the full rental value in order to maintain some market value to land, therefore fascilitating the pricing mechanism. I believe George suggested collecting between 90 to 95% of the rental value in his “single tax” proposal.

      Now in regards to speculation keeping the market fluid, this is simply not the case with “land” speculation. For when rental value is privatized, (and again, it’s important to distinguish between “privatization of rent” and “privatization of title”), land speculators have an incentive to hold land out of use. Since land is in “fixed supply”, this necessarily leaves less land on the market, therefore inflating its price via the Law of Supply and Demand — in this case, supply goes down, price goes up. Land speculation actually DISTORTS land’s market value and causes the land market to be LESS fluid.

      This makes land less affordable for more people. Furthermore, entrepeneurs have to dump more of their finite resources into land, (because of its inflated price via speculation), which means less of their resources goes into actual productive investments, like capital.

      Furthermore, land’s rental value is a community created value. As a community develops around a particular parcel of land, its location value increases. For example, as private businesses develop and grow around a particular parcel, that parcel becomes more attractive to investors by virtue of its location. (As business owners say, “Location, location, location!”) So the rental value is created by the “private” investments of the surrounding community. But the land speculator is pocketing that value for him/herself.

      To add injury to insult, local governments tax the actual productivity of those entrepeneurs, and then use that money for public works projects. If those public works projects are around that parcel of land that is being speculated upon, that will increase its rental value, as well. So the rental value is also created by “public” investments of the local government, which got much of that money from the productive behavior of those surrounding entrepeneurs. So that’s a double slap in the face to actual producers!

      What we have with land speculators is actually a subtle form of welfare for the land speculator. The land speculator is actually “sponging off” the community. And since it’s wealthier people which would more likely be able to do this (since they have more disposable income), land speculation, in effect, is really a subtle, indirect form of welfare for the wealthy that is fascilititated by poor government taxation policy!

      So by allowing individuals to privatize “rent”, government is actually fascilitating the conditions by which land monopoly can emerge.

      By publically collecting most of the rental value, there is no incentive to speculate on land. Combine this with the removal of taxing productivity, and the incentive is to use as little land as efficiently as possible, (for example., entrepeneurs would have very clear market signals). This would maximize the amount of land left on the market, thus keeping its price low, and making it affordable for everyone, (even if that means the poorest could only afford some land on the outskirts of a community).

      So if you put together what I wrote above, your concerns are actually met:
      (1) A market for land
      (2) Equal rights to land
      (3) Disincentivizing land monopoly

      Have a good one,

  5. My final paragraph referred more to a “rediscovery” of common-law land rights, as enjoyed by North American Indians, that had been repressed during the rise and degeneration of feudalism. It was much easier to repress arguments against a landed aristocracy before people saw the American Indians who, despite their technological backwardness, were far more prosperous than the working classes of Europe.

    These rights were still enjoyed, to some degree, in Ireland prior to Cromwell, and had been enjoyed in most of the common-law societies that arose where the Roman empire fell.

    Blackstone’s “Chronicles” (of English common law) documents this ancient practice. John Locke, Adam Smith and other “enlightenment” economists referred to American Indians to make their case that land value should be taxed. William Godwin complained that land taxes had fallen while taxes on productive activities had grown. Similarly, the French (laissez fair) physiocrats, particularly Turgot and Quesney, took examples from the Indians of Quebec. They are the originators of the term “Single Tax” (Impot Unique).

    Still, ancient rights to land had not taken root in France as they had in the British Isles, for Britain and Ireland had enjoyed a long period of freedom from the Roman and Holy Roman empires. The French had less of a tradition to fall back upon. Hence, Rousseau might not have realized how much he was talking about himself when he wrote, “It is not for slaves to discuss freedom.” His own view of freedom involved a great deal of paternalistic government which the English, Irish and American liberals found to be unnecessary.

    Germany never experienced this freedom at all, having no colonies in the Americas, and having no break from the Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire, headquarted in Germany, simply replaced the Roman Empire, leaving all the statist structure in place. This might explain why modern socialism was born in Germany and has always been more popular there than in England, Ireland and, especially, the US. (The experiences of Canada, Australia and New Zealand were similar to those of the US, and have led to similar poltical and economic approaches.)

  6. Very interesting, Dan. What is your ideal system of taxation?

  7. […] Perhaps, one might wonder the possibility, would even our academic justification systems function to justify such a state of affairs of power and privilege, even if implicitly and unwittingly? If this is even a possibility, then the need — indeed the moral obligation— for the academy to direct a critical eye back towards itself cannot be understated.https://unifiedtheoryofpsychology.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/the-justification-hypothesis-as-a-theory-f… […]

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