The Futility of the Practical Approach
[Reprinted from The Gargoyle, April 1977]
I do not know what kind of approach Henry George used to convert
people to the Single Tax doctrine but the fact of his success proves
that it was a good one, especially because his converts became active
workers and the movement made progress.
In the short span of 17 years 1880-1897, the Single Tax movement was
established not only through the United States and Canada but in South
America; Europe and as far as Australia.
How come that after Henry George died, the movement started to
steadily decline and by 1930 it had practically ceased to exist? I
think the answer is "The Practical Approach."
What is the Practical Approach?' in the case of a Single Tax campaign
it was to remove certain obstacles or it was to pass certain measures
which, while they were not the Single Tax, were, so to speak, steps in
Accordingly, from 1897 to 1915 in Colorado; Missouri; Oregon; Rhode
Island; California and Texas, as the record shows, all our efforts
were devoted to campaigning for such measures as: home rule in
taxation; charter amendments; tax exemptions; local option; initiative
and referendum; etc. so-called steps in the right direction, but,
actually steps leading into a blind alley.
In the end all these measures were either voted down or adopted and
repealed later. Much time (18 years) much effort and much, money had
been wasted. The voters had learned nothing.
In 1915 a Single Tax Party was formed in Philadelphia with a full
ticket in a Mayoralty election. Shortly after New York and New Jersey
came in and we had candidates on the official ballot until 1924. A
National Party had been formed in 1920 and a national convention was
held in Chicago. Our motto was: "THE EARTH IS THE BIRTHRIGHT OF
ALL MANKIND -- The Rent of Land Belongs to the People and the First
Duty of Government is to Collect It." Our last campaign was the
national campaign of 1924 under our new name THE COMMONWEALTH LAND
PARTY. At that time we had National Committees in 37 States but the
Party began to lose momentum and ceased to exist in the 1929
Why the Party did not survive we shall never know. For one thing we
lacked money; 2 -- Most Single Taxers including the rich ones, were
not in favor of political action; 3 -- many who preferred the
practical approach; 4 -- World War I and its aftermath did not help us
and the 1929 depression killed us.
Then the year 1932 marked the beginning of a new era in the Georgist
movement. The Henry George School of Social Science was founded in New
York City by Oscar H. Geiger. It was a success and in spite of the
untimely death of its founder in 1934, the School prospered and
extensions were established in several States.
Now after 45 years during which thousands of students have graduated,
we still remain practically unknown. Why? Because what the School
needed to fulfill its real purpose, but did not have, was a political
organization to enroll its graduates to put to use the knowledge they
had acquired. This lacking, the graduates took their diplomas home as
souvenirs and that was that. The time and money was wasted as it was
wasted in campaigning for the "Practical Approach."
Just 6 years ago, my good friend, Bob Clancy, in the International
News Letter wrote: "Our ideas have been preached for 90 years and
here we are, for the most part, unhonored and unsung." How true
that was! And whose fault was it? Ours! Henry George had warned us: "For
every social wrong there must be a remedy. But the remedy can be
nothing less than the abolition of the wrong. Half-way measures, mere
ameliorations and secondary reforms, can at any time accomplish little
and can in the long run avail nothing."
Had the Single Taxers heeded this warning, we might be, today, living
in a much happier world. We knew that a remedy to abolish a great
social wrong will not find easy acceptance. Henry George had told us
that also. But to advocate a partial remedy may not find acceptance
either, and even if it should find acceptance, nothing is gained, for
wrong is not abolished and further effort to abolish it may find a
much increased resistance.
After a century of costly efforts to bring about a sound system of
land tenure, we must admit that we have failed. Yet we know that our
principles were right, hence the fault must be ours. So what shall we
The first thing would be to get together in an effort to find out
what mistakes we may have made, and that must include Henry George. He
made some mistakes we know about and there may be others.
The history of the movement has beer recorded in books; magazines;
pamphlets; private letters etc. and it is up to us to search the
records and try to pick out the mistakes. This is a task to which
every Georgist could contribute.
Once all this has been done we should call a Convention to found a
national political organization and draft a political platform.
The new organization should first seek to reform the land system by
means of amendments to the Federal Constitution. Secondly, reform the
tax system; thirdly, the money system and fourthly the political
system. Other needed reforms to follow. This would in no way interfere
with the existence of State and Local organizations with less
The land reform is too vital and too fundamental to tolerate any
compromise whatsoever. Moreover, in order to succeed it must be
established and function in all the States at the same time.
This whole program calls for the one and only approach that can
succeed and that is to tell the naked truth on a take it or leave it
basis. Only by doing this can we be credited with having the courage
of our convictions.