DLT: Henry George Foundation

Duncan Brack and Ed Randall, authors of the Dictionary of Liberal Thought, have kindly agreed to let us publish extracts on Lib Dem Voice. Last month Henry George; this month in follow-up, the Henry George Foundation. The entire book is available on Amazon here and can also be bought at the Westminster Bookshop.

Henry George Foundation

A charity that promotes the theories of Henry George, the Foundation is the principal supporter in the UK of taxes on the value of land (and other natural resources) as a means to promote social justice, alleviate poverty and increase economic efficiency.

Concerned about urban overcrowding and the plight of the poor, in February 1884 the British followers of Henry George (q.v.) established the Scottish Land Restoration League in Glasgow, with 1,800 members. Three months later they captured the London-based Land Reform Union (LRU) and renamed it the English Land Restoration League.

The Georgeite leagues were soon strongly connected with the Radical (q.v.) wing of the Liberal Party, and in 1894, the now-renamed United Committee for the Taxation of Ground Rents and Values started a journal, The Single Tax (later renamed Land Values and still extant as Land and Liberty), which by 1896 had a circulation of 5,000.

Most supporters of land value taxation saw it as a mildly progressive way to redistribute land-owners’ wealth. At the core of the movement, however, were the Single-Taxers, who in the years before 1914 included the MPs Josiah Wedgwood, Philip Morrell and Charles Trevelyan, the Scottish Lord Advocate Alexander Ure, and the American soap millionaire Joseph Fels, along with several thousand activists nationwide – mostly in the large cities – who, enthused by George’s mixture of simple economics and pseudo-religious moral certainty, wanted a radical reformation of economics, politics and morality.

A combination of the House of Lords’ recalcitrance, the reform’s inherent complexity and the advent of the First World War, however, meant that attempts to introduce taxes on land values were frustrated before 1914. And while the minority Labour government did enact rating based on site values in 1931, that government’s prompt fall, and the general Conservative dominance of inter-war politics, meant that land value taxes were never actually implemented.

Perhaps more significantly, the land-taxers were never again the force they had been before 1914, both because their aristocratic bête noire had lost much of its potency and because their own activists had splintered along with the Liberal Party. After 1945, collectivism – not least in the form of subsidised council housing – seemed to relegate George’s ideas to a historical footnote, where they stayed even when more libertarian (q.v.) economic views were revived by British governments after 1979.

The Henry George Foundation (the name it adopted in 1920) mirrored the decline of wider support for George’s ideas. It still survives, but its supporters now number in the hundreds, while its funds have declined until it can no longer afford any full-time staff. And yet it continues to keep the message of Henry George alive, at least on the internet, encouraged by the occasional support that taxes on land and other ‘common resources’ receive from academia or economic commentators, and a recent revival in political interest in land value taxation, including the Liberal Democrat proposal to base local business taxes on site value.

Further reading

• Roy Douglas, Land, People and Politics (Allison & Busby, 1976)

• Dominic Maxwell & Anthony Vigor (eds.), Time For A Land Value Tax? (IPPR, 2005)

• Paul Mulvey, The British Liberal Party and the Taxation of Land Values, 1906–1914 (www.schalkenbach.org/scholars-forum/Radicalisms-Last-Gasp.html, 2006)

Paul Mulvey

The Dictionary of Liberal Thought is one of the many titles available from the Liberal Democrat History Group. Find out more about them on their website.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Dictionary of Liberal Thought.
Bookmark the web address for this page or use the short url http://ldv.org.uk/4460 for Twitter and emails.

2 Comments

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?




Recent Comments

  • User AvatarStephen Donnelly 25th Jul - 11:59pm
    Very difficult job, mastering a brief and trying to deliver something half way through parliament. Not sure anyone could have done better, but still, there...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 25th Jul - 11:47pm
    The problem is Joe that the right do not prefer the Centre Van, they think the vendor is stopping the right van from selling his...
  • User AvatarPeter 25th Jul - 11:46pm
    Anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions contribute a very modest increase to global temperature. The exaggerated alarmist scare is almost entirely a consequence of the incorrect assumptions...
  • User AvatarDavid Pollard 25th Jul - 11:03pm
    Oops. The Government has just relaxed the target on homes with Zero Energy use being compulsory from 2016 so that it seems OK to reduce...
  • User AvatarPeter Watson 25th Jul - 10:41pm
    "I write this while on a visit to India. A few weeks ago I was in the US, and I’ve just left China." I hope...
  • User AvatarTpfkar 25th Jul - 10:17pm
    Well done to the teams in Maidstone and Northumberland - great results there. For info the UkIP win in Doncaster was in Rosie Winterton's Doncaster...