CGO Conference Explores Tools, Strategies, Partnerships

While the 30th annual conference of the Council of Georgist Organizations accomplished no “outreach” on its own, it did achieve a substantial sharing of the various tools and techniques we use in our year-round outreach work. Although our indefatigable local host, Bill Batt, sent out hundreds of invitations, a special LVT seminar failed to materialize. However, the accomplished cohort of local speakers on the program demonstrated that Bill’s decades of advocacy have borne fruit.

On Monday evening, after sessions for Common Ground-USA and the Henry George Schools, CGO President Ed Dodson joined Bill Batt in welcoming the gang to Albany.

We hit the ground running on Tuesday, with sessions looking at the Land Question from many angles. Bill Batt told the story of Albany’s Gilbert Tucker, whose 1946 book The Self-Supporting City anticipated the insight that today’s economists call the “Henry George Theorem” – that because a city’s spending on public infrastructure is effectively a capital investment, the return on that investment, in the form of land rent, is always sufficient for the city’s revenue needs. Alas, this insight has been pretty much lost on the property tax system in New York State, which, as explained by Jim Dunne, Policy Director of Real Property Services, is bound by law and seemingly unbreakable custom not to properly assess or collect land values for public revenue.

But, rent comes in many forms, and there are many ways for society to use it. Prof. John Polimeni and Erich Jacoby-Hawkins explained how the rent concept can inform an effective carbon-trading regime. Alfredo de Romafla, in a wide-ranging talk, showed how the policy of a rent-funded citizens’ dividend could bring Georgist reform to many countries that struggle with extreme inequality.

An informative video on Tuesday evening set the scene for the next day’s interesting, but somewhat strenuous tour of that great engine of development (and rent!) of the early 19th century, the Erie Canal. We checked out the Watervliet Army Arsenal Museum (the arsenal was built to take advantage of the canal’s transportation and water power), and the Waterford Canal Museum. Then on Wednesday evening, Ray Bromley, Vice Provost at SUNY-Albany, gave a thought-provoking presentation on the trends that shape the shifting rural/urban balance and the looming decisions society faces regarding sustainability and community.

Thursday sessions were devoted in various ways to what we say – as Georgist advocates and educators – and how we say it, to various audiences. Lindy Davies, Kris Feder and Cay Hehner explored how some tweaks in our use of economic terms can help us reach conventionally-taught students. Josh Vincent offered a fascinating presentation on how new software tools can make busy officials really see arcane public- revenue realities. Dan Sullivan gave a seminar on “the Georgist theory of (Zero) Interest.” Finally Cay and Lindy came back up to debate whether it makes more sense to frame Henry George’s economic theory as the culmination of classical theory, or as the early promise of neoclassical economics, from which the field turned away. Thursday afternoon saw a roundtable on movement-building, and a brainstorming session, featuring Polly Cleveland, Kris Feder, Drew Harris, Bill Peirce and Nic Tideman, on strengthening our presence in academia. It was generally agreed that one fruitful area might be to help satisfy econ grad students’ voracious hunger for data. Because public data on land and assessment is often confusing and hard to use, there is actually a market out there for our efforts to make sense of it.

At Thursday’s Gala Banquet, Ted Gwartney artfully introduced the winner of the 2010 Henry George Economic Justice award, keeping the most-deserving recipient in suspense: Al Katzenberger, the longtime St. Louis campaigner and veteran of many years of manning a booth at the National Conference of State Legislators. Then, Lindy Davies offered the gathering a few gentle admonitions, and a catalogue of some of the many, many roles that resource rents play in our lives in a well-received speech called “Thirteen Ways of Seeing the Cat” (which will be published in the current issue of Groundswell).

On Friday morning we brainstormed some more, on best practices for getting our message across to different audiences, such as progressives/liberals, conservatives/libertarians and religious groups. Then at last, we toasted friends near and far at the annual Farewell Brunch.

All of the conference sessions were recorded on video, and will soon be available on DVD, and the Internet. Two cities are in the running for next year’s gathering: Minneapolis/St. Paul, or Wilmington, Delaware, right next door to the charming & excellent Georgist land trust, Arden. Check for details on this at – the CGO website.

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