In the interview posted at the bottom of this article Jonty Williams and Tal Lesham of the HGSD shoot the breeze with Carl Munson of the Access All Aerials Hannah Time Radio Show about land fundamentals and the Land Conference being held in Totnes this Saturday. Carl makes a very good point when he says that to many peoples ears the concept of sharing land value sounds like communism. After centuries of conditioning, the idea of private land ownership is so deeply ingrained in our culture that to question it is anathema. The notion that one owes a duty to society for the privelege of exclusive title sounds very alien indeed.
The typical bloke in the pub will say “you buy land, you own land – simple, what’s the problem?”
I’ll do my best to provide a brief answer here. One of the problems is that under our current system – one of private ownership of land without obligation – title to land automatically means the land owner will gouge some of the wealth created by all those who work. This is simply the way the economy is hardwired regardless of the intention of the landowner herself.
It is true that those who work extra hard, are in possession of acumen, are single minded and/or super talented, can indeed pull themselves up by their bootstraps, overcome all obstacles and buy into landownership thus attaining the position of net wealth gouger. However it is a zero sum game which means that for every winner there is a loser. This is the “great wedge driven horizontally through society” of which George wrote. Fierce competition in the race to the top of the pile (or the top half of the pile) does indeed boost the overall sum of wealth created by society, but there will always be a group that lose the race, leaving them in a vulnerable, exposed position “up to their neck” in the obligation to pay rent and bereft of disposable income, no ability to save or get ahead. If all those living on benefits were to wake up one morning as tireless never say die ultra-hardworking entrepreneurs, a multitude of Elon Musks not resting until they had “made it” then the sum result of their effort would be to displace the comfortable middle class of today, superseding them in the pecking order and forcing the weakest or unluckiest members of the current middle class down to the position of vulnerability from which the newly self-made had risen.
If the “man in the pub” were to understand this he might not be so quick to condemn so-called benefit scroungers because under our current system the more “feckless” people there are the more comfortable the position of the person of middling talents. It is this realisation, among others, that makes the thesis of Henry George so compelling, especially as his solution is a comprehensive one that would provide not only security for all but a prosperity that really would float all boats.