What Is Geolibertarianism?
Geolibertarians are simply libertarians who take the principle of self-ownership to its logical conclusion:  Just as the right to one's self implies the right to the fruit of one's labor (i.e., the right to property), the right to the fruit of one's labor implies the right to labor, and the right to labor implies the right to labor -- somewhere.  Hence John Locke's proviso that one has "property" in land only to the extent that there is "enough, and as good left in common for others."  When there is not, land begins to have rental value. Thus, the rental value of land reflects the extent to which Locke's proviso has been violated, thereby making community-collection of rent, or CCR, a just and necessary means of upholding the Lockean principle of private property.  In the late 19th century CCR was known as the "Single Tax" -- a term that was (and is) used to denote Henry George's proposal to abolish all taxes save for a single "tax" on the value of land, irrespective of the value of improvements in or on it.  

"When we tax houses, crops, money, furniture, capital or wealth in any of its forms, we take from individuals what rightfully belongs to them.  We violate the right of property, and in the name of the State commit robbery. But when we tax ground values, we take from individuals what does not belong to them, but belongs to the community, and which cannot be left to individuals without robbery of other individuals" (George, The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It, p. 6).

But Doesn't A "Tax" on Land Value Violate The Right to Property?

No.  Private property derives its moral justification from the right of the individual to the fruits of his or her labor; but unlike houses, machinery, clothes, etc., land is (1) not the fruit of anyone's labor, (2) in fixed supply, and (3) the literal foundation upon which any exercise of individual liberty must take place. Thus, while there is a right to private possession of land, the right to possession must be limited by the equal right of others.

Consider the alternative. If only some individuals "own" the earth, then only some have a right to live upon it. Consequently, those who do not own land do not have a right to the fruits of their own labor, since they are obligated at birth to pay title-holders a certain percentage of their earnings for mere access to the planet, as if title-holders are responsible for the earth's very existence. It is thus private collection of rent, or PCR, that violates the right to property.

PCR is made possible when the State grants land-titles to a fraction of the population, thereby giving that fraction devices with which to levy tolls on the fruits of everyone else's labor. Since these tolls are levied in exchange for a "service" (access to valuable land) that said fraction did nothing to provide, PCR is literally an entitlement scheme, i.e., a State-sanctioned transfer payment from those who produce to those who do not produce. In his essay, "The God's Lookout," Albert Jay Nock (author of Our Enemy, the State) explains how this particular form of welfare conflicts with the principles of laissez faire capitalism:

"This imperfect policy of non-intervention, or laissez-faire, led straight to a most hideous and dreadful economic exploitation; starvation wages, slum dwelling, killing hours, pauperism, coffin-ships, child-labour -- nothing like it had ever been seen in modern times....People began to say, perhaps naturally, if this is what state absentation comes to, let us have some State intervention.

"But the State had intervened; that was the whole trouble.  The State had established one monopoly, -- the landlord's monopoly of economic rent, -- thereby shutting off great hordes of people from free access to the only source of human subsistence, and driving them into the factories to work for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bottles chose to give them. The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied; and this State-created monopoly enabled landlords to satisfy their needs and desires with little exertion or none, but it also removed the land from competition with industry in the labour market, thus creating a huge, constant and exigent labour-surplus."  [Emphasis Nock's]

This is why merely reducing the size of government is not enough. In the late 19th century we had virtually everything that most libertarians of today claim they are fighting for -- a tax and regulatory burden much lower than what we have now. Yet despite that fact, there was still an alarming rate of poverty amidst vast concentrations of wealth and privilege. And as Nock pointed out, this was due not to natural causes, but to the concentrated ownership of "economic rent."  

Thus, to secure a truly free and prosperous society, we must recognize and uphold both the exclusive right of each individual to the fruits of his or her labor, and the equal right of all individuals to the use of land. Abolishing taxes on production will uphold the former, while CCR will uphold the latter. Both Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, in whose names the Libertarian Party bestows awards, held essentially the same view:

"Men did not make the earth.... It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.... Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds." (Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, paragraphs 11 to 15)

"Another means of silently lessening the inequality of [landed] property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.  Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as common stock for man to labour and live on.  If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation.  If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed" (Thomas Jefferson, The Republic of Letters, p. 390).

But Doesn't a Tax on Land Value Drive Up the Price of Land?

No, just the reverse. In order for a tax to drive up the price of something, it must either decrease supply or increase demand. Does the land value tax (LVT) decrease the supply of land? No, because the supply of land is fixed. Thus, the only way it can increase the price is by increasing demand. Yet not even those who oppose the LVT argue that it increases demand, so it follows that the LVT does not increase the price of land, since it neither decreases supply nor increases demand. 

In fact, it actually lowers the price of land by reducing the amount of rent that can be capitalized into a sale price. Expressed in mathematical terms, the price of land p equals the annual rent r divided by the interest rate i, or:

p = r / i  

If there is a tax rate t on the price of land p, then p equals the rent divided by the sum of the interest rate and the offsetting tax rate, or:

p = r / (i + t)

Thus, if the rent is $1,000, the interest rate is 10%, and the tax rate 40%, then the price would be 1,000/(.10 + .40), or $2,000. Without the tax, the price would be 80% higher -- $10,000 This is why there is no long term benefit to cutting the LVT, because people in general, and the working poor in particular, end up paying back in higher rents and land prices what they presumably get from the tax cut. (Click here to see a recent example of this.)

Unfortunately, because the "property" tax fuses the tax on land value with the tax on improvements, people have a tendency to equate one with the other, and thus falsely assume that a lower tax on land value yields the same benefits as a lower tax on improvements. It in fact has the opposite effect. A lower tax on improvements rewards people for putting land to productive use, which means more jobs and higher wages; a lower tax on land value rewards people for holding land out of use, which means less jobs and lower wages. 

Where Do Other Libertarians Stand On The Taxation of Land Value?

Some support the LVT, others oppose it, while still others remain undecided. In terms of divisiveness, the only issue that rivals this one is abortion. What Libertarians for Life is to the abortion issue, the Thomas Paine Caucus (TPC) is to the land issue. Click here to see the TPC's latest proposal to the platform committee of the Libertarian Party (LP).

While those within the libertarian movement (of which the LP is a part) who support the LVT are not in the majority, they are, nevertheless, a considerable minority that appears to be growing. Among those who support the LVT -- either as an instrument of justice or as the "least harmful" tax -- are:

  • Debbie Clark, life member, LP;

  • Fred Foldvary, professor of economics, author, and LP candidate for U.S. Congress, 2000;

  • Milton Friedman, Nobel laureate economist;

  • Paul E. Gagnon, founder, LP of Fairfax County, Virginia, and LP candidate for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, 1999;

  • Lorenzo Gaztanaga, former chair, LP of Maryland, LP candidate for Baltimore City Council, 1999, and current member, Libertarian National Committee (LNC);

  • Lois Kaneshiki, former chair, LP of Pennsylvania (PA), and former At-Large member, LNC; 
    Harold Kyriazi, author, LP candidate for PA Senate, 1998, and current vice chair, LP of Pittsburgh;

  • Russell Means, American Indian activist, author, actor, and speaker at the 2000 LP national convention;

  • Brian Mulholland, member, LP of California (CA);

  • David Nolan, LP founder, and LP candidate for U.S. Congress, 2000;

  • Wayne Parker, former chair, LP of Louisiana, former chair, LP of Mississippi, and LP candidate for U.S. Congress, 2000 & 2002;

  • Ron Rosenberger, LP candidate for PA Senate, 1998;

  • Dan Sullivan, former chair, LP of Pittsburgh, PA, and successful lobbyist for "split rate" property tax reform in various localities throughout PA;

  • Chris Toto, former chair, LP of Mercer County, NJ; and

  • Todd Altman, life member, LP, and author of this web site.

What Does "Geo" Mean?

In the term, geolibertarian, the prefix "geo" has a dual meaning.  In one sense it signifies an emphasis on the earth as it does in the term, geography. In another sense, it signifies a general belief in Henry George's system of economic thought.

In short, the terms "neolibertarian" and "geolibertarian" mean to libertarianism what the terms "Baptist" and "Methodist" mean to Christianity.  Both terms denote the same set of core beliefs, and simply call attention to a particular way in which those beliefs are interpreted, prioritized, and applied.

To learn more, here are some hyperlinks to geolibertarian web sites:

Slavery
A Geolibertarian FAQ
Who Was Max Hirsch?
Quotes by Henry George
Editorials by Fred Foldvary
Land Value Taxation Campaign
American Indians on landed property
Dan Sullivan's Geolibertarian Home Page
"Social Problems" (by Henry George)
"Progress and Poverty" (by Henry George)
"The People's Rights" (by Winston S. Churchill)
"Libertarian Party at Sea on Land" (by Harold Kyriazi)
Excerpt from "The Losses of Nations" (Fred Harrison, editor)

Return to Todd's Home Page

Send questions or comments to TMA68@aol.com

 


Henry George
"Abolish all taxation save that upon land values."



John Locke
"God gave the world to men in common....He that leaves as much [land] for another to make use of does as good as take nothing at all."



Thomas Jefferson
"
Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right."



Thomas Paine
"Every proprietor owes to the community a ground-rent for the land which he holds."



Adam Smith
"A tax upon ground-rents would not raise the rents of houses. It would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent."


David Ricardo
"A tax on rent...would fall wholly on landlords, and could not be shifted to any class of consumers."



John Stuart Mill
"
A tax on rent falls wholly on the landlord. There are no means by which he can shift the burden upon any one else."



Albert Jay Nock
"
The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied."



Henry Hazlitt
"A certain amount of taxes is of course indispensable to carry on essential government functions. Reasonable taxes for this purpose need not hurt production much."



Milton Friedman
"In my opinion, the least bad tax is the property tax on the unimproved value of land, the Henry George argument..."



David Nolan
"What kind of taxation is least harmful?....My own preference is for a single tax on land, with landholders doing their own valuation."



Stephen Moore
"One of the greatest economists and social philosophers of the past two centuries was Henry George.  The world would be a vastly better place if those in Congress and the media...became familiar with George's writings."