Vic H. Blundell
[A paper delivered at the eighth International
Conference on Land Value Taxation
and Free Trde, Odense, Denmark, 28
July to 4 August, 1952]
The case for collecting the rent of land for public purposes, for the
freeing of trade and for the institution of equal rights, is.
essentially a moral one. It is, therefore, not surprising that it can
stand up to the test of economic argument as to its practicability.
But fortunately most students are highly critical. They are not
prepared merely to accept the argument that what is morally right must
be economically sound. They will not accept Henry George1 s proposals
until they have been satisfied of the validity of his economic
arguments, and in view of the weight of orthodox economic teaching
this is perhaps not unreasonable.
Often when involved in intricate economic discussion we long for the
simplicities of the fundamental moral issues. Here we are perhaps more
at home; we cannot be confused by professors, deflated by "experts",
blinded by figures, nor intimidated by graphs and charts. But the
economic case must be made; it is the "how" of our whole
argument. Not to answer it is to stamp ourselves in the eyes of many
as amiable but unpractical visionaries. What is the most effective way
of presenting the economic arguments of George? The Henry George
School in Great Britain has no easy answer to this question; it has no
perfected technique and it is still learning. Nevertheless, the
experience gained in the many classes conducted every year may be of
some interest and help to those engaged in this work whether in the
classroom, on the public platform or in other ways.
Reliance upon Progress & Poverty and the arguments
contained therein is not sufficient. Written as it was three-quarters
of a century ago it has not the same impact or effectiveness that it
had in its own day. The book is dated, and this can be a handicap. But
this handicap can be offset by the teacher. Henry George in Progress
& Poverty and more particularly in The Science of
Political Economy hits out at the then current economists and
quotes them sometimes at great length. The effect of this devastating
logic when taking his contemporaries to task is spoiled "by the
fact that the student new to the subject believes that modern
economists must have got well beyond the errors pointed out by George.
He needs to be disillusioned. There is no greater weapon in the
armoury of the instructor than a selection of books on modern
economics. In them one can find sufficient evidence not only to show
how old fallacies have persisted since George's day but how a fresh
crop have sprung up. The presence of the books on the teacher's desk
in itself dispels the idea that the School is living in the past; and
as part of the class equipment they are second only to the blackboard
and easel. Of particular value are they for showing the confusion of
thought exemplified by loose and contradictory definitions.
In Economics for Everyman (Arthur Coe, 1948) we find this: "There
are three kinds of capital or means of production. The first order of
capital is labour; the second, land and minerals; and the third,
machinery, tools and tackle."
In Everyday Economics (R.B. Martin, 1950) the student is
told: "Demand is the first factor in the production of goods.
...Labour is the second factor and Capital is the third factor".
And in Teach Yourself Economics (S.E. Thomas, 1947) -- the
contradiction cannot fail to be noticed: "If we examine the
various agencies involved in the production of any product, we find
that they can be divided into four groups, which the Economists call
the Agents of Production or the factors of Production, viz. Land,
Labour, Capital and Enterprise. ...The agent of production known as
'Labour' includes all manual and mental effort undertaken other than
Instances similar to those abound among current writings, and the
disagreement which exists between one writer and another serves to
strengthen the charges made by George against those who would lead the
world in economic thought.
When teaching economics it is not sufficient merely to state our own
definitions. We have got to show why we choose particular words to
express our ideas. It is a mistake to assert that our definitions are
"right" and all others "wrong". Our approach
should be not so much that our terms are the right ones but that they
are good ones because they are consistent and unambiguous. A student
once made this statement to a tutor: "It's all very well for you
to insist upon the use of your definitions - once you have got us to
agree with them, you can prove anything". A teacher who insists
that his terms are the right ones and all the others wrong leaves
himself open to this charge, although unjustified. For this reason our
method is to start with ideas and not words. Get students to agree to
distinguish between "the ideas involved and the rest is easy.
Thus instead of beginning with the terms and trying to "prove"
what they mean, get agreement that the Universe, Man and his Products
are separate ideas in the mind. That done, it remains only to give
them names conforming where possible to current usage.
I I remember an uneasy half-hour in my early days of teaching, when I
insisted that a singer's voice was not wealth. All I wanted to say was
that a singer's voice was a different thing from a material object --
but I went the wrong way about it!
Sound advice for all who undertake the teaching of economics is the
dictum of Dale Carnegie who said: "Never tell the other fellow he
is wrong". It has to he remembered that you are asking more than
the acceptance of what are to many new thoughts; you are asking also
for the rejection of long-established ideas. Your prospective convert
will not find it any easier to abandon previously accepted notions if
his ego is so clumsily attacked. The growth of the seed you sow will
depend not only upon how well you do the weeding but also upon the
manner in which this is done.
You can lose the sympathy and goodwill of your audience if you are
always so maddeningly and pretentiously right, if you statements leave
no opening for testing the students completely new to the subject.
Give an opportunity for justified opposition. It will make your case
more convincing and students will enjoy themselves hitting back at
you. This method used by some at Westminster, I to "prove"
George wrong! Such a challenge is eagerly accepted; the placid
students vie with the more argumentative ones to show the tutor the
fallacy of his case. Familiar objections can be met by putting them p
as Aunt Sallys. The class will knock them down. The experienced teach
can use this with great effect. To quote one example dealing with the
Wage Fund Theory. A manufacturer has £50,000. He spends £25,000
on timber etc. and leaves £25,000 in the bank. At the end of a
month after paying out £1,000 in wages, his capital is now only £49,000
(represented by timber £25,000 and bank balance £24,000).
Wages have therefore diminished capital. Tell the students that they
cannot argue against figures and that George is wrong? The reaction is
quick and the tutor must use any fool argument he can think of to
maintain his point. It compels students to do their own thinking, and
soon the realization that the timber has been worked up into something
more valuable than mere timber, compels them to acknowledge that
capital is not diminished by the payment of wages.
"Proving" Malthus right is a favourite pastime of confident
The student who loves to split hairs -- who insists that there are no
natural laws in economics and no absolutes, that the shortest distance
between two points is not a straight line and that two plumb lines
dropped from a height some distance apart are not parallel, can be a
real worry. You've met him! He believes in nothing and insists that
nothing can be proved about anything. He will even contradict himself
by trying to prove that two and two do not make four -- if you let
him. The tutor does not always wait for these points to be brought up.
When he sees the danger signals he introduces them himself. Waste of
time? Not at all. Not only does he forestall the "Smart Alecs"
but he actually saves time in the long run. The tutor parodies the
type of person he is up against. He "proves" that the table
in front of him is not really there. He says: "take away its
colour, its size, its shape, taste, sight and smell - (all
abstractions) - and what have you left? Nothing!" He tells his
students what happened to the man who stopped two bricklayers and told
them they were not being strictly scientific because their plumb lines
were not strictly parallel! A student's assertion that mind, matter
and energy were really one and the same thing (Science of
Political Economy) was countered by the tutor: "So are ice,
water, and steam".
The experienced tutor knows the value of anecdotes and apt
illustrations in class work. He knows that a pointed three-minute
story is often worth a half-an-hour's theory. He knows the art and
value of defending where possible the student who makes blundering
remarks and earns the censure of the rest of the class. He helps to
restore his confidence without concession to what is false.
We should not be content with condemning erroneous statements; we
should try to find out the reasoning behind them. Take the statement
that land has no value until labour is applied -- and therefore there
is nothing to tax. Absurd as this may sound -- and absurd as it is --
nevertheless the point can be put very plausibly. Pointing to a vacant
site and asking if the owner would be prepared to give you it for
nothing does not dispose of the argument. It will be insisted that
land as land has no value -- it is the labour which produces the
value. The best thing to do is to agree! Then extend the argument to
typewriters and point out that they too have no value until labour is
applied; that a suit in the wardrobe has no value until worn. Show up
this argument for what it is worth and then gently point out the
difference between value in use and value in exchange. (See Henry
George's Science of Political Economy for full exposition).
There is a saying among our tutors that the tutor who gets through
all the questions on Book 10 of Progress and Poverty is
falling down on his job! This is of course an overstatement but it
acknowledges the great field covered by George in his last chapters of
Progress & Poverty. Such philosophy, such depth of thought
and breadth of vision cannot be disposed of in two hours. Our tutors
know better than to get dogmatic on answers in this last session, and
many points are left open for further development which the later
The tutor-student relationship is essentially a personal one and
arbitrary rules of conduct have no place in the classroom. Many there
well may be who will find no use for some of the ideas contained in
this Paper. But they will develop their own methods which may well
prove of use to others.
Many of us who in the course of teaching have had to read Progress
& Poverty again and again, have come to realise its
incompleteness as a textbook on economics. Students are often
conscious of this too and we must be prepared to conede the point; we
can do so without surrendering an inch of ground on George's
fundamental principles. We must be honest with our students no matter
how great our anxiety to obtain and maintain their goodwill.
Very soon a special Student's Edition of Progress & Poverty
being prepared by Mr .A. W. Madsen and his colleagues, will be
published in London by the Land & Liberty Press. This abridged
edition will have the chapters rearranged so that the economic
argument can more quickly be developed. The abridgment will make the
reading assignment much smaller without the loss of essential reading
matter, and much which has a specific reference to America and to
certain domestic matters of George's day, will be deleted.
The first and last nights of a Course are exciting and important
occasions. The tutor must gain the confidence of the class at its
first meeting. There are those who rely on quoting from testimonials
to Henry George and his work paid by famous people. But most tutors
doubt the value of such advertisement. Instead of that, they emphasise
the necessity of completely independent judgment. They tell their
students: "If you are the kind of people who can be persuaded to
use a certain brand of toothpaste because Bing Crosby uses it, then
you are not likely to gain the maximum benefit from the discussion
class". One can, with a little practice, use a mixture of both
At the end of the Basic Course students are left with no doubt as to
the purpose of the School. It is not someone's hobby; it is not
somewhere to come to on a dull evening; the School is not an end in
itself. Students are told flatly that the School is the educational
department of an organisation that is seeking to promote legislation
along the lines laid down by Henry George. They have gained
instruction from the School -- and perhaps some little entertainment
and good fellowship, but that is not the end -- it is only the
beginning. We know they will want to learn more before they finally
commit themselves to unconditional acceptance of George's philosophy
and practical proposals. Our advanced courses provide the opportunity.
Students must not expect us to tie up the answers to the whole of the
social problems of our day and have them presented on a plate. They
must continue to think for themselves. There is no sitting back at the
Henry George School; when the fundamentals are accepted the real
activity starts. Many are the ways that are open. More tutors need to
be trained, financial help is needed, lecturers are required for
outside work, and clerical assistance for inside work.
Finally, they are told that we are not teaching just a new method of
taxation; we are teaching a whole philosophy with ramifications which
cover the whole of social life.
Until: they have understood the teaching of Henry George they will
have learned the real meaning of that much abused word "Liberty".