A Blueprint for Freedom?
Archibald C. Matteson, Jr.
[Reprinted from The Freeman, September, 1942]
The author of the following rejoinder to Mr.
Thomas P. Woodlock, whose views and questions concerning
Georgist doctrine appeared in recent issue of The Freeman,
is a teacher in the Henry George School of Social Science in
both New York and New Jersey, and a writer and lecturer on
social and economic subjects. Mr. Matteson was graduated from
Brown University in 1933 and his scholastic background includes
a year at the Sorbonne in Paris. Since finishing college he has
been connected with a New York credit reporting agency servicing
banks and other lending institutions. -- The Editors)
Readers of The Freeman will recall tie questions posed by Mr.
Thomas F. Woodlock of The Wall Street Journal in the June
issue of The Freeman. Since then he has written two more
columns inquiring about Georgist doctrine. Of these, the first was a
logical analysis of the Georgist position on community rights in land.
The second, which was reprinted in the August Freeman, asks
what Georgists propose to "do about it."
This, of course, is one of the classic questions asked of Georgists,
not alone by those who dwell in outer darkness, but as well by those
who, accepting the principles of economic freedom as enunciated by
George, ask themselves how those principles ought to be legislated
I am glad to say that there is no discernible agreement among the
followers of Henry George. There have been the arguments between the
Single Taxers, Unlimited, and Single Taxers, Limited, like Thomas G.
Sherman and Charles Fillebrown, as to the desirability of the full
economic rent going to society. And there have been those who, like
Spencer Heath and Raymond McNally, envision a society in which all
social services are provided by landowners. From the side of practical
politics, there has been schism after schism. One group espoused the
Initiative, Referendum and Recall as an "entering wedge," to
the disgruntlement of another group. There was the split between those
who, in the United Committee in England, advocated "a penny in
the pound" as a slogan calculated to dispel uneasiness among
middle-class listeners, and those who, in the Commonwealth Land Party,
said they weren't interested in how much rent there was, so long as
they got all of it.
There has been no change at all in this state of affairs, as far as
this writer knows. There are "step-by-steppers" like Will
Lissner, and "9 o'clock tomorrow morning" people like
Margery Warriner. There are respectable Georgists and ungentlemanly
ones, socialistic ones and anarchistic ones, temporizing ones,
unreasonable ones, nationalistic ones, internationalistic ones,
universalist ones. The war issue divides many of us today, as did the
first world war.
In the absence of control from the top, or a directing mind of some
sort, is there cause to expect anything different? I for one should be
most uncomfortable if I belonged to a movement in which I might not
change my opinion. And, as my views are strictly any own, and I
consider myself a Georgist, I dislike exceedingly to read sentences
which begin: "The Georgist calls for ..., the Georgist would
approach full social appropriation gradually ...," et cetera,
because I do not like people to speak for me, however thoroughly their
views may accord with mine.
I trust that I have made sufficiently clear the fact that the ideas
which appear in this paper are my own. Anything I say, dear reader,
will not be held against you. And if, on the other hand, you recognize
as your own some illustration or development of thought, please
consider these lines sufficient acknowledgment, for they are all you
will get from me. This particular Georgist believes in the free
exchange of goods, services, and ideas.
* * *
"What this writer would like to know is the series of steps
which the believers in the (George) gospel have in mind to transfer
land ownership from the individual to the community," writes Mr.
Woodlock. If I were king, I should administer all sites used for
farming, manufacturing, commercial and residential purposes in
accordance with a system of bidding. Stability of tenure would be
assured by requiring bidders to post bonds, and an appraisal system
would be set up to protect the right of the occupant to his
improvement in the event a site changed hands. Bidding would be
required annually or less often, depending on its apparent necessity.
No householder would have to pay any more rent than was bid by others
for his site; and if no bid were made for his site, he would occupy it
Funds received by the community as rent would be administered locally
for the most part; such amounts as were deemed fitting would be
allocated for State or Federal use. Not I, but the people would decide
these matters. The powers and functions of the central government
would be inconsiderable. As there would be neither indirect taxation
nor public debt, the central government would not require a coast
guard or time over the radio. Certain very large public utilities, in
my view, might operate under Federal charter as co-operative
authorities, and any nationwide subsidies which might be deemed
worthwhile would be administered nationally. (I am dubious about these
last, but they might include encouragement to artists, inventors,
To get to the series of steps by which I should bring tills state of
affairs about, here they are: 1) 1 should persuade everybody that I
had the right idea; 2) We should frame an enabling amendment to the
Federal Constitution, by which the several states would be encouraged
to pass uniform legislation covering the method of setting up and
administering rent-bidding, and abolishing all taxation; 3) We should
pass our laws and put them into effect.
The foregoing may hardly be expected to satisfy Mr. Woodlock; indeed,
the procedure I have outlined can doubtless be torn to shreds by any
competent person with administrative experience. Still, they are my
ideas on the subject. I refuse to be drawn into an argument in support
of them, for at the present time they are not of the slightest
* * *
To Mr. Woodlock I will state my opinion that there is no principle
available other than what the 19th century called "the higgling
of the market" to determine rent; that I believe in taking the
whole rent for society just as soon as I can get permission from the
majority; and that the disturbance to existing conditions would be
tremendous and at the same time relatively unimportant.
The nature of this disturbance would not be simply that of the
landowning class being bereft of revenue. Institutions have replaced
classes to a large extent, and the institutions would be hit, although
not too hard. Savings banks and insurance companies would find it
difficult to invest their funds along previous lines, for I should
soon make it impossible for them to buy government bonds. The physical
nature of such a city as New York would undergo tremendous changes as
the speculation was squeezed out of the land values and taxation was
removed from improvements.
Little people who had built small houses in far Queens would turn
them back to the mortgagee and move nearer to the center of things.
Manhattan would lose that drab and down-at-heel look; land use would
become an art by virtue of economic necessity. Brooklyn would be
shaken by severe paroxysms as her outlying sections reverted to
pastoral and agricultural pursuits. At the same time, downtown
Brooklyn would boom.
All of this would be nothing more or less than people discovering
that there were easier ways to do things than they'd realized, and
that there was nothing to prevent them from changing over to the
* * *
Finally Mr. Woodlock confesses to a good deal of skepticism. He
doubts that the problem of poverty is susceptible of quite so simple a
solution as the collection of ground-rent by society. Equally skeptic
concerning each and every other anti-poverty panacea that have ever
come his way, he asks "Is this claim really part of the George
'deposit of faith'?"
Asked once whether he considered the single tax a panacea, Henry
George said no, he did not; but that freedom was, and that his
proposal seemed to him a prerequisite to economic freedom. I believe
this is true. Furthermore, I do not believe that the problem of
poverty is complicated at all. At no time in the past has it ever been
found except in conjunction with stoppage of production and exchange.
At one time men believed Nature was niggardly, but it has been pretty
well established that she is not; the stoppage is, then, a creature of
Private property in land is the most fundamental of these antisocial
arrangements, which constitute a large family; others are "protective"
tariffs and other indirect taxes, national debt, and a host of "health
regulations," ill-mannered restrictions, quotas, edicts, and
They all have this in common: that they enrich one group by taking
from another; they are essentially political or distributive. This
function of government it is my will to destroy. I do not consider
myself primarily a land reformer. I want justice in freedom for all
men, a condition which, I am convinced, will completely eliminate
Henry George formulated what he termed the Law of Human Progress,
that Association and Equality are thee factors of Civilization. To the
degree to which men realize the ideal of the untrammeled marketplace,
will they achieve liberty and justice.
I am, personally, very much obsessed with ideas of individual rights
and individual freedom, and do not think a person can be much of a
Georgist who does not share them. Furthermore, free will being what it
is, I do not think that one person can do very much in the way of
working up a blueprint for the freedom of another. This would be rank
moralism, in my opinion.
I am afraid that Mr. Woodlock must make his own plans for a free
society. And immediately fear gives way to delight at the thought --
will he not be persuaded to do this?