Review of the Book:
Henry George Reconsidered
by Rhoda Hellman
[Reprinted from Intermountain Frontier,
A short review cannot do justice to a book so commendable in style
and content and so debatable in terms of its critique and proposals.
Rhoda Hellman is an excellent writer, with appealing style that holds
the reader's attention almost throughout. She is a keen and
independent thinker who has written her book on the basis of unusually
Part I, over a third of the book, is devoted to the life of Henry
George and early history of the movement he founded. Of course this
has already been covered by numerous other writers, but rarely in a
manner so lively or interesting, especially relative to both the
personality and character of George and the individuals who surrounded
A second major section. Part II, traces the movement as it evolved
after his death in 1897. Here Hellman's criticisms, later summarized
in Part III, take form. Among others too numerous to catalog here, are
1. Among his contemporary followers, there is too much stress on the
land question, to the exclusion of other monopolies, such as private
utilities, immense financial complexes, and other combinations having
nothing to do with land. Though George wrote about these in books
other than Progress and Poverty (e.g., Social Problems,
Protection or Free Trade, The Science of Political Economy),
the whole thrust both of his thinking and that of his followers has
been on the land factor, almost to exclusion of all others.
2. Even within the narrow parameters of the land problem, too much
focus of the movement has been on the proposed shift of the urban
property tax from improvements to land values, with very little said
about mineral rights, oil depletion allowances, control over air
waves, oceans and sea bottoms, capital gains taxes, and a host of
other related issues.
3. There has been too much intrusion into the movement of a sort of
rightwing, anti-political anarchism, inspired in part by the apparent
anti-tax implications of the "single tax," as well by the
early ro1es of Thomas Shearman, Frank Chodorov, and other Georgist or
pseudo-Georgist rightwing followers.
4. The label "single tax," not especially favored by George
himself, seems so arbitrarily exclude other acceptable taxes
(windfall, capital gains, etc.), doesn't catch the profound
implications of George's social message, and precludes the possibility
of just adding land value taxation to other taxes, thus generating
even more revenue for social purposes.
We would contend that though solution of the land question cannot
possibly be all that is necessary for termination of socio-economic
distresses around the world, it is the unique contribution offered by
geocracy from the end of the eighteenth century to the present. Other
individuals and groups are attempting to confront the many social
problems that Hellman cites, and we among others are participants in
many such efforts; but geocrats are kept busy enough trying to
convince citizens and leaders that the single tax idea also has merit.
For us to expand our efforts by trying to incorporate a host of other
social issues into the geocratic movement would dilute our definition
of purpose and introduce argumentation and friction into the ranks of
people who at least agree on one thing, namely, that taxation should
be shifted from productive elements to unearned land values.
The same is true about the tendency of geocrats to stress reform of
the urban property tax. Of course its proponents are not forgetting
that there are other kinds of land out there; but in this narrow
sphere, at least, some successes have been achieved. With these
examples in hand, we hope some day to broaden our efforts.
We agree with Hellman that no movement can be anti-political and also
secure adoption of its proposals, whatever they are. How else except
by the political process can anyone in a democracy hope to get
anything set into law?
No brief label can possibly catch the whole meaning of any movement,
and we are less unhappy than Hellman about the term "single tax"
-- nor did she offer any very specific alternatives. Also, we note
that part of Hellman's displeasure with the term is related to her
readiness to just add land value taxation to most other taxes now in
effect. With alarm, we sense that this point of view is shared by some
other proponents around the world; and consider such to be a
prescription for tyranny that if widespread among our colleagues would
drive us out of the movement.
Our general reaction to the Hellman book coincides with that of all
other reviews we have read to date- that is, that it is extremely well
written, accurate and interesting; and its independent criticism only
adds to its value for readers concerned about a movement that is much
in need of advice and counsel. If we want to know how to get more
effective results, one thing we don't need is slavish eulogy about how
we got where we are already, which is almost nowhere.