Saturday, July 04, 2009

Four Papers On Henry George

I have never been enamored of Henry George. But for those who like him, the recent History of Economics Society Annual Conference (Denver, CO, 26-29 June 2009) had a session on "Henry George and the Concept of the Commons", with four papers:I guess one can get the following from George: Many do not legitimately contribute to production, but merely charge those who do work a toll for access to the property with which they work. I can get the same idea, however, from P. J. Proudhon's What is Property?; Karl Marx's idea of the worker's "double freedom" (in chapter VI of Capital, Volume 1) to sell his labor power and of ownership of other commodities for sale; and of Thorstein Veblen's concept of business as sabotage, in contrast to industry. What do I need Henry George for, at least with respect to this idea?


Edward J. Dodson said...

Henry George's writings were recommended to me back in the mid- 1970s by a city planner who supported the concept to a land-based property tax as a tool for effective and comprehensive land use planning. We business majors got our economics from Samuelson. Proudhon's name never came up, and we were not asked to read any of Marx. Henry George might have been mentioned in passing during my undergraduate courses, but I do not recall that he was.

As someone whose livelihood depended on a firm understanding of how property markets functioned, I found Henry George's presentation of rent theory to be eye-opening. After reading George and moving on to more current economists' treatment of the subject, I finally understood what makes land speculation such a fixed element in our boom-to-bust property market cycles. More importantly, a thorough absorption of the literature convinced me that George's proposed remedy was necessary and equitable.

Subsequently, I have gone back and read Proudhon and Marx, as well as many other writers on the subject, including Locke, Smith and Ricardo. They were engaged in the most important and fundamental debates over the nature of private versus social property, debates that few economists today even consider. Why this is the case is very well expressed in the first few pages of the basic economics textbook written in the 1940s by Harry Gunnison Brown. His first chapter is an amazing acknowledgment of the institutional challenges to objective analysis imposed on economics professors then, and now.

Anonymous said...

George had no critique of wage labour -- he limited his analysis purely to landlordism, not to the master-servant (a more traditional, and better, term for the worker-boss) social relationship.

As such, he is far behind Proudhon and Marx. He was, I would say, developing themes associated with Smith and Ricardo, both of whom viewed landlordism as parasitical on the producing classes (workers and capitalists). So, he was in favour of private property when it was used rather than just owned.

He still has his loyal followers, though...

An Anarchist FAQ

Robert Vienneau said...

Last I looked, Samuelson's text contained a chapter on the history of economic thought. As I understand it, however, mainstream economists have abandoned teaching history.

Some of the Georgists I have seen in cyberspace surprise me with their pro-capitalism enthusiasm. I guess that attitude follows from the lack of critique of wage labor that Iain observes.