Our Bright Georgist Future
The first annual Progress & Poverty Essay Contest, and a brief hiatus
As orator of the day in San Francisco, July 4th, 1877, Henry George gave a speech titled Ode to Liberty (which we’re republishing as a standalone here). Later the speech was incorporated into Progress and Poverty as part of the chapter ‘The Central Truth’. For George, liberty was a fundamental necessity to human flourishing; all of mankind’s greatest advancements had come under the light of liberty. All the rhetorical appeals to liberty and justice that accompanied the founding of the United States however, amounted in practice to a half measure.
“In our time, as in times before, creep on the insidious forces that, producing inequality, destroy Liberty… Either we must wholly accept her or she will not stay. It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature. Either this, or Liberty withdraws her light… Unless its foundations be laid in justice, the social structure cannot stand.”
For all the progress that the Enlightenment made in progressing human liberty, furthering democracy, and combating aristocratic feudalism, it failed to secure equal access to the bounty of nature. We’ve written previously about the high water mark of Georgism, which was most influential outside of the United States where the problems of a closed frontier were most evident. In George's own country however, the movement seemed to die on the vine after the 1910's (aside from moderate success in Pennsylvania and a few experiments here and there, mostly after George’s death).
So, where do we stand today, nearly 250 years after the initiation of the “Great Experiment” and 150 years after George declared it incomplete? As with the whole world, the United States has seen massive advances in quality of life and material wealth, lifting millions out of poverty both at home and abroad. As a global leader, the United States has helped lead a world that has become less violent, more wealthy, and happier. But, as George noted, advancing wealth is accompanied by increasing poverty. Not all Americans have enjoyed the benefits of a more prosperous nation.
As Fred Harrison wrote here, increasing income inequality has given rise to the perception that our institutions, and democracy itself, is incapable of solving our biggest challenges. Trust in our government and democracy as an institution is declining significantly. As Noah Smith notes, there are indications the American public may be adopting more of a “scarcity” or “zero-sum” mindset; this is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around and that your neighbor achieving a better life puts one’s self at risk of having a lower one. And of course this makes people more selfish, less trusting, more anti-immigration, and more tribal, which is directly in line with the rise of populism in the United States.
There are many parallels between today and previous periods in American history, but each time we managed to punch through, threading the needle between “Liberty withdrawing her light” and “fully trusting her”. The future is cloudy and I’m not the type of person to prognosticate about what might come - I humbly accept my inherent myopia, in the grand scale of human events. But there are signs that we might be entering into a New Age of Georgism.
Perhaps it’s too early to suggest such a thing; we certainly are in no position to rest on our laurels. But there seems to be significant interest in the public consciousness about Georgism. First, the four-part review of Georgism by Lars on ACX gave Georgism a semi-viral kickstart to the year. Following, we’ve seen high profile endorsements of land value tax by the famous crypto entrepreneur Vitalik Buterin and Redfin’s chief economist Daryl Fairweather. The founding of Young Georgists of America, a college student organization. A renewed call for rethinking public finance in the wake of the pandemic by leading economists, including Michael Hudson. Will Jarvis’s Narratives Podcast Housing Podcast Arch. A piece by the excellent policy reporter Jerusalem Demsas, where she describes how land value tax could solve this. Most recently, a video by the popular history Youtuber Mr. Beat. And of course, the founding of this substack, which has been far more successful than we ever imagined.
As we celebrate the 246th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we hope that we can play a part in ultimately securing the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that the founders wrote were self-evident - but this time, in foundations that are truly laid in justice.
A Bright Georgist Future
Announcing the first Progress & Poverty Essay Contest
We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us through the first half of the year, through readership, through advertising, and even financially. As a result of the financial contributions, we’ve raised enough money to achieve the first (monetary) goal we set for ourselves: an essay competition!
We’re happy to announce the First Annual Progress and Poverty Substack Summer Essay Contest. The topic of this year’s essay is:
“A Bright Georgist Future: How Georgism Can Transform Our Society and Culture”
Georgists have written at length about the economic benefits of our policies, but economics is simply a tool to be used for creating a culture more conducive to human well-being. What would that society look like in practice? How would it change the way we live, work, and socialize with one another for the better? If we want to win the hearts and minds of the people, we must present more than simply a package of reforms. We must present a new vision of what our society can become.
Example topics might include how Georgism can contribute to:
Creating healthy, beautiful cities and towns
Nurturing a creative culture of economic independence, small businesses, and artisanship
Creating a more sustainable and ecologically integrated economy
Promoting community and stable family formation
Essays should be approximately 2500 words and focus on the societal and cultural impacts that widespread implementation of Georgist policy might have. All submissions have a chance to be published on the SubStack, but the top 3 will be awarded prize money as follows:
1st Place: $300
2nd Place: $200
3rd Place: $100
Honorable Mentions will receive $50.
Submissions are due by 12am ET on August 12th. Essays should be sent to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll Be Back
And lastly, we’re also announcing a brief summer hiatus. We set a goal for ourselves to attempt to publish weekly and we’ve done an okay job at hitting that mark. However, all of our writers and editors are volunteers, many with newly found summer jobs (Congratulations to Joseph on his Internship at RSF), other projects in the Georgist movement, kids out of school, and all the other various things life throws at us! So, rather than try to trundle through all of this and let our quality or publishing frequency slip, we’re going to go on a bit of a break, recharge our backlog a bit more, and come back ready to hit the ground running for the second half of the year, starting with the winner of our writing competition in mid August.
Thanks again for supporting us and we hope to see you back soon!
Progress and Poverty is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.