Review of the Book
Henry George's Legacy in Economic Thought
edited by John Laurent
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty, 2006]
This overview of Henry George's significant contribution to modern
economics is in the form of eleven essays, each dealing with a
particular aspect of the topic. The book is divided into three parts:
historical background, theoretical issues and current debates.
Of the contributors -- twelve members of faculty of economics
departments around the world -- seven are based in Australia. Compared
with England, Scotland or Ireland countries that Henry George visited
several limes, giving numerous speeches, yet having little immediate
or lasting impact on policy -- in Australia, the georgist message was
accepted early on, and stuck.
The book's editor John Laurent describes how Henry George and his
Australian-born wife, Annie, were warmly received in Australia on a
lecture tour in 1890. Many leading Australians at the time were
influenced by George's views, which chimed with national economic
concerns -- such as the need for agricultural efficiency. Land value
taxes based on what George advocated were introduced in Australia. Up
until 1952 such taxes were charged at all federal, state and local
levels. However, the rates at which they were charged were relatively
The last chapter of the book, by Philip D Day, reviews the current
situation in Australia and shows how, even now, the Australian lax
system is influenced by georgist views. He remarks, however, that this
fact is not well known. Day reflects on the problem which faces anyone
who has been persuaded of georgist views. "For reformers."
he says, "the essential practical target is the pervasive
mindset, inadequately confronted by the Georgist movement, which so
obdurately resists implementation of the logically irrefutable."
In the historical part of the book, Erin McLaughlin-Jenkins discusses
the person of one particularly obdurate opponent of Henry George --
Thomas Henry Huxley, 'Darwin's Dragon'. John Laurent shows how Henry
George's ideas were influenced by the evolutionary theories of his
times. These theories, with their emphasis on the struggle for
survival, had been inspired by the writings of Malthus. George,
however, did not agree with Malthus over his concern about the limits
of human population. George argued that human beings could use their
intelligence to produce as much food as was needed. Lawrence S Moss's
examination of the 'Henry George Theorem' will repay careful reading.
The Theorem was the work not of Henry George but of academic
economists, from the 1970s onwards, who were influenced by georgist
ideas. The Theorem shows how, to put it simply, given a suitable land
value tax, infrastructure improvements can be paid for out of the
enhanced land values that arise directly from those improvements.
The chapter by Terry Dwycr also considers infrastructure investment,
It shows how georgist ideas can be used to counter the view, widely
held at the present time, that the privatisation of natural monopolies
is justifiable, even in the absence of firm regulation. Dwyer shows
how the private sector can be encouraged to provide infrastructure
even if it docs not enjoy monopoly benefits.
What land ownership would mean if land values were to be taxed is
dealt with by John Pullen: in effect, he argues, the result would be a
kind of restricted ownership. Elsewhere Pullen sets out how to deal
with objections to land value taxation. For instance, the problem of
the 'land-rich-and-income-poor', which he deals with, is nearly always
raised in any discussion of georgist ideas. (One might imagine that
all land is owned by poverty-stricken elderly widows!) His subject is
well-worthy of the attention he gives it.
Those two contributions by John Pullen are particularly useful. The
breadth of coverage in this book is impressive. It ranges from a
chapter by Rob Knowles on Leo Tolstoy's response to the writings of
Henry George; through a chapter by Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan
on land taxes in Australia (which provides fascinating statistics on
land values and on revenues from land taxes): to an equally
interesting chapter (particularly from this reviewer's Scottish
viewpoint) by Warren J Samuels, Kirk D Johnson and Marianne E Johnson,
on the response by the Duke of Argyll to the arguments of Henry
A useful feature of this book is the provision of extensive
bibliographies by the authors. Even someone well versed in this
literature will find useful the lists provided here of material
published on georgist themes.
John Laurent and his contributors have chartered the essential and
enduring gift that is Henry George's legacy in economic thought.