Are We Disreputable?

 by Lindy Davies

Should we be concentrating on the B region, or the A region, of that glass of water? Ah, well — psychologically, motivationally, we know the answer, but at times it’s a little hard to keep the faith. Recently I’ve gotten three rather telling signals of how much traction Georgism, or the Single Tax, is getting in today’s marketplace of ideas, and the news isn’t good.

First we have “the new Schalkenbach film,” which is discussed herein by Richard Giles, and which we will have an opportunity to see at the upcoming CGO conference in Kansas City. We have heard that Henry George’s Remedy (by that or any other name) will not be mentioned in the film. The reason for that is more practical than perfidious. The film-maker, Philippe Diaz, is an accomplished, award-winning professional, who knows that moviegoers have no interest in being educated about political economy. He is fashioning a potential hit in the burgeoning “Ain’t It Awful” market.

Last year, Frances Moore Lappé published a (useful, worthwhile) book titled Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad. In it she made frequent mention of Lizzie Magie Phillips, the original inventor, as we know, of Monopoly (a.k.a. The Landlord’s Game). Lizzie’s work is extolled as an example of a creative contribution to making things better by crafting a popular, accessible way to teach people about economic injustice. All true and good — except that Lappé did not see fit to mention, anywhere (not even in a footnote) what ideas Magie sought to teach in her game!

Then we have John Médaille, an author who, like Lappé, is well worth reading, with many good and thoughtful things to say. Yet in response to my review, which took him to task for seeming to write as though Henry George’s books had never actually existed, he bluntly replies “I know well that texts with too much of George are regarded as Georgist texts, and placed in the Georgist file, a round file which most publishers keep near their desks. I was not, at this stage, willing to fight that battle….”

Does it not seem, friends, that Georgists, Single Taxers, Rent-as-Revenue Freaks, are a bit — shall we say — disreputable? What do you suppose ought to be done about this?

We seem to have two options. On the one hand, we could be well-behaved. We could accept the fact of suburban sprawl and analyze of its social ramifications. When we’re feeling especially brave, we could mention that the property tax might not actually be so bad. We’ll carefully examine what various groups want to hear, and craft a series of supportive messages. Most important, we’ll never, ever, utter the name “Henry George” or betray any fellow-traveling with “normative economics.”

Or? We could embrace our dangerous, smoking-under-the-bleachers status; we could be rebels with a cause. Every rebellious notion isn’t, after all, automatically wrong. We could look our critics in the eye — with a slouch and a sneer, maybe, why not? — and say, “Yeah, there is a moral basis of ownership. The rent of land does belong to the community. You wanna make something of it?”

It’s not like we have so terribly much to lose. We have The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, and a handful of tenured professors. That’s about as much mainstream respectability as we’re likely to get anytime soon. Meanwhile, people in US prisons, and people on the street in places like Nicaragua, Nigeria, Ghana and India, get excited about what we have to say. Georgism is disreputable? Cool!

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