The Decentralist Movement
William W. Newcomb
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, July-August
Where is Rurban Corners? Rurban is that kind of community that is
established outside the speculative greenbelt area of our cities by a
dozen or more families who have bought their land at farmland prices
because they tired of paying high urban rent to landlords. Rurban is
the community created by an ever-growing decentralization movement on
the part of people who no longer want to live in over-crowded cities.
The adult male members of this community will keep one foot in the
city, taking from its sustenance that which is necessary to build
houses, buy cars, and the other mass production goods that today can
only be secured from monopoly. But beyond that, these people will not
contribute one iota of money or population to monopoly land values.
They will produce the primary necessities of life of their individual
one or two-acre plots, and produce them at less cost (labor cost, mark
you) than in the exchange market.
Consider the outgo of the average $1500 to $3000 family income. A
fourth of it goes for shelter (and in New York this factor comes
closer to being a third of a man's income). Food and raiment take most
of the rest, leaving possibly fifteen per cent for transportation,
luxuries, health requirements, insurance, and gratuities. In order to
satisfy the desires of the average family it has become commonplace
for the wife to take a job in industry or commerce. Startling
repercussions to our social life have resulted.
Ralph Borsodi, who conducts the School of Living, at Suffern, N.Y.,
in the realization that most $1500 to $3000 families living in big
cities either do not own their homes, or spend a life-time paying for
them, asked the question: Why not encourage a way of life that
promotes home-owning without sacrifice to other needs? Why not make it
possible for the young housewife to produce at home for direct
consumption what she was producing for exchange in the office or the
store or the factory? Why not find a means whereby children will be
considered an asset, as of old, and not a liability, as they are
Mr. Borsodi realized that so long as Georgeists continued to aid
landlordism by supplying urban centers with their population, just so
long would they be nurturing the condition we are trying to rectify.
Consequently, he removed his own family from the city to set up its
Rurban productive homestead. He established the School of Living in
the first productive homestead community that was developed from his
researches and instruction.
Here is Rurban Corners, a hypothetical homestead community started
outside any city in America. This community, let us say, was created
out of the endeavors of a couple of families who discussed the
possibilities of collectively improving their economic status in a
strangulated economy of exchange. When there are a half dozen couples
in this group, a credit union is formed, and incorporated. This little
banking institution creates a credit backlog on which money can be
borrowed from a bank or loan association for the purchase of land at
farmland prices within commuting distance of the city.
With this land as equity the first group of prospective homesteaders
takes the plunge. An architect, possibly one who has joined the
decentralized group, draws plans for the houses. Perhaps some of the
homesteaders will use basic plans that can be procured from the School
of Living, because these plans embody the experience of homestead
Each family, as it pays off its loan from the credit union,
replenishes the banking fountain with funds for the development of new
homes, by the enlarging group of urbanites who will be following the
Throughout all this program of Rurban preparation and Rurban living,
it is valuable for every homesteader to seek the services of the
School of Living. Bulletins have been prepared showing the contrast in
the cost of direct production of foodstuff and raiment against the
cost of these needs in the exchange labor market. It is conservatively
estimated (based on five years of homestead statistics compiled by the
School of Living) that the average housewife who plans her work as she
would have to do in the city job will spend less hours of labor a day.
Her productive effort should average about a thousand dollars a year.
But have not most economists argued for an extreme division of labor?
Yes, but Henry George himself has pointed out that there is a point of
diminishing return in that division (Progress and Poverty,
Book I, ch. 5). I propose to show that decentralist homesteading not
only offsets the so-called economies of mass production, but serves as
a powerful factor in bringing socially-minded people into the
Georgeist fold, and bringing Georgeism into our economy.
The price of an article in mass production has always been
established at its point of manufacture. This is usually about
one-fifth to one-third of what the consumer pays for it. Warehousing,
cross-country transportation, refrigeration, vast accounting
structures, advertising and retailing have brought the price of goods
far beyond the cost of initial production. Granted that distribution
is a part of production; still, if I can produce my primary needs at a
lower cost than I can exchange my services for these needs, is it not
better that I produce them? If by cooperative action, men in a
homestead community can produce goods at a lower cost than they can
buy in the world market against their services, is it not better to
achieve that reward in a community of low economic rent? Is it not
better to let urban landlords find their properties deserted as a
result of denying capital and labor opportunity to secure a fair
return for services?
I am of the opinion that there is nothing so challenging to vested
landlordism as the de-urbanization of our cities. A coordinated
decentralist program that embraces a limited exchange brings us nearer
to the goal of Georgeism. Five million families in as many years
removing themselves from urban centers, and telling municipal
government and landlords why they are homesteading, will create some
mental disturbances among the status quo powers' that will be salutary
to correct thought. Right action will follow.
It takes imaginativeness, stamina, vision and a spirit of adventure
to make a move like this. These homesteads will be peopled with
twentieth century pioneers, analogous, to a degree, to those who left
the habits of a life-time to explore and settle America two centuries
ago. With five million families removed from the food and part of the
clothing exchange in our wealth production, many of the husbands in
this group will lose their jobs. But these same men will be developing
cooperative factories, stores and services in the homestead
communities with far better cooperative opportunities than ever
existed in modern urban exchange.
Under the auspices of the School of Living, every family that joins
an urban forum group to make preparations for Rurban living is
indoctrinated with Georgeist views immediately. The forum member
becomes a prospect for the Henry George School of Social Science, and
a possible subscriber to one of the Georgeist publications. The first
factor made clear to those joining decentralist forums is that the
private collection of the economic rent is driving them more forcibly
to insecurity so long as they maintain urban residence.
Every piece of literature coming out of the School of Living has in
its bibliography a listing of Progress and Poverty. The
School's library and book store is replete with Georgeist literature
for student use. An extension class of Henry George School is
conducted at the School of Living, and the forums in various cities
will undoubtedly augment the decentralist discussion with the regular
ten-week course offered by the Henry George School.
The productive homestead communities are a group of Georgeists within
a township population of only modest density, and the collective
Georgeist voice is heard in each local Town Hall, so you can well
imagine what effect this has on the politicians. You can well realize
that a township in which several rurban communities are settled soon
becomes overwhelmingly Georgeist in complexion.
Can you foresee what effect such township (and later, county)
strongholds in Georgeism have on State legislative representatives of
those areas? Can you see what effect a solid body of Georgeists has on
villagers and farmers, when the latter folk realize that the taxes on
their improvements are subsidizing urban landlords?
Yes, we have too long worked in the city. We have proselytized; we
have been Davids in the midst of Goliaths, and our insecurity has
frequently committed us to silence for fear of reprisals from
employer-monopolists. There is real opportunity in the homestead
movement for quicker understanding to fellow citizens of what
constitutes a natural economic order.