In Poverty and Progress, Henry George develops two basic concepts. One is the notion of a Land Value Tax (LVT), in which land is taxed at a rate based upon its current value. I’ve commented and developed this notion in different directions at length in earlier notes. The second concept was the redistribution of the monies collected in this fashion on a per individual basis to all those within a certain (unspecified) bounding set – be that a locality, regional area, state or nation.
In George’s conception, it was the return to each individual of the value that they forbore by allowing other individuals monopoly use of land. As such, it was inherently tied to LVT and the collection of that rent. Being tied to that collection, it was also thus constrained by it, and thus self-limiting. So, as a pair of measures, they had the capacity to work reasonably well together.
Note: George, being eminently practical had a habit of simplifying complex matters down to a workable core. Just as the notion that private efforts do not contribute to public value is useful fallacy in constructing LVT, on the distribution side we find the useful fallacy that all individuals forebear the same amount by allowing others the monopoly use of land. These are both self-evident fallacies, but without obvious ‘correct’ answers, some simplification is necessary, and it is then a matter of choosing one.
This concept of distribution has become largely dissociated from its source and partner these days, and is referred to as Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI, quite distinct from its conception in George’s epistle, is probably better referred these days as Uninhibited Basic Income. Rather than George’s subtle, self limiting simplification, it has devolved into simplistic trope that ‘some people don’t has as much money as others, and the current system of assessing how much to give them so that I don’t feel bad for them has become too unwieldy has become to complex, so lets just give everybody some arbitrary amount that makes us all feel good.’.
While this is a fair summary of the decline in thought and governance over the past 130 odd years, it leaves us with facing a now fashionable concept that, in order to become fashionable, has been stripped of all the components that made it eucivic — of benefit to society. As it stands, UBI is almost a reverse minimum wage; whereas a minimum wage functions to set a lower limit to the capacity required to be part of a society and thus arranges a society such that the systems strive to bring all members up to that point, a UBI provides uninhibited access to the resource required to be part of a society regardless of capacity. In doing so, it completely obviates the need for society to strive to lift those who are struggling up to a level of performance. Uninhibited Basic Income is the manifestation of society giving up on improving the individual capacity of the least able, and simply placing them on palliative care. In an absolute sense, Uninhibited Basic Income is immoral.
Henry George wrote Progress and Poverty on the back of a singular realisation, that access to land in and of itself functioned to rid society of poverty. That vision is utterly lost in UBI. No more the implementation of a system that ensures each individual has access to the land required to live with a degree of integrity in their own society. No, this modern perversion now simply offers them the money required to survive without lack within a society that has deemed them worthy only of terminal care. Lost completely is that Land itself is only a means to an end, and that the provision of a means is not the same as a mean provision.
Land does not provide value save that it is put to work. To fix UBI — to return it to a notion that serves to improve society rather than bear it, medicated, to its utter collapse — the connection between UBI and the land must be restored. First, the tie to LVT must be restored. Second, the return from the monopoly must be absolutely limited to Land. A Universal Basic Allocation, of a certain value of land, never a certain sum of money. An Allocation of Land that allows both the opportunity, and the means, by which any able individual can not just persist within society, but form an integral part of it, on their own terms.
The Bounty of the Land goes to waste save that it is Harvested.
Thus they who do not participate in the Harvest, forfeit all right to the Bounty.