In the first part of this series on anarchism, I addressed the common understanding of it, what it isn’t, and a brief history. It’s not a prerequisite for this article, but it’ll help remove some of your prejudice towards anarchism before going forward.
First of all, let’s re-state again what anarchism actually is. Rather than being a form of government, it’s a philosophical ideology that condemns authoritarian structures like government, church, police and anything that takes the power and freedom of one individual and transfers it to another. This seems simple, but there are some subtle implications that aren’t interpreted well and need clarification.
1. Humans Can’t Operate Without Authority
Let’s first clarify what authority and your right to self-governance means. Authority happens when someone imposes their will on you at the expense of your own free will and obligates you to obey. That obligation can be enforced directly through the use of force or punishment, or indirectly by withholding your means of living. Nearly all types of authority in the eyes of an anarchist are bad and not worth having.
Not having authority doesn’t mean that people can’t organize, assign tasks, or obey others. What it does mean is that you shouldn’t force someone against their will to do these things. It needs to be consensual. Luckily, most people realize that cooperation and following proper social customs will get themselves much further. However, if you really disagree, you can say “no.” You should always be able to say “no” and have that respected. If that’s not the case, than your humanity is being raped. The phrase “no means no!” should be applicable to more than just sexual domination.
There are obviously a few very clear exceptions that should briefly be mentioned. For example, If time prohibits and you have to make a split second act to save someone from harm using physical, or otherwise, force without their consent, yes this is authoritarian; and yes, it’s acceptable. Common sense is common for a reason, we don’t have to agree on things like this.
You may be thinking, “OK, so authority isn’t always good and it may take away freedoms, but it’s a necessary evil in order for us to live better and ultimately freeer lives.” Touche, Mr. Common Argument. It certainly seems this way. But how do you know? Have you ever experienced non-authoritarian structures to come to this conclusion? Chances are you haven’t, and so this argument is mostly an assumption when approached on a personal level. So to address this properly, we have to resort to our friends: history and science.
Historically, as mentioned in An Intro to Anarchism, authority often arises to a certain level. It’s only natural. Does that mean it should be the cornerstone of humanity? Absolutely not. It’s a primitive urge that demonstrates lack of maturity in a social environment.
Let’s go back to where authoritarianism was minimal and examine whether an authoritarian system was necessary or beneficial. Today, we are mostly governed by official governments put in place by democracy, dictatorship, revolution, socialism, or through empires. How they got there doesn’t really matter – it’s all authoritarian nowadays. So let’s go back further. The Middle Ages, Roman Era and even Ancient Greece all had authoritarian governments. It may be thought that Ancient Greece was governed through direct democracy with little authoritarian structures, but this isn’t accurate. It had many governments and a class dominated attitude. Even if the Aristocrats overtook local Kings, it was still dictatorship for the people who often didn’t get a say. Later on, Athens invented democracy which gave some say to citizens (except women, children, slaves, and foreigners). Still pretty authoritative. To see truly liberal societies, we need to look at indigenous cultures. There’s obviously a lot of variance within different tribes, so I’ll be making generalized statements here.
A tribe is just another word for community. In these communities, life is simple. There is no organized structure for government. People cooperate, help each other and exist happily in their environment. Still, decisions have to be made on a communal level, and in this respect, tribes are often aristocratic. The wisest, Chief, makes the final decision. However, on such a small scale, opinions are actually heard. So it looks like there’s authority. But here’s the kicker, if you don’t like the decision that was made, you’re free to leave. The consequence is that your communal support is cut off and you have a harder time living. However, unlike today, each individual had the means of survival due to being intimately familiar with their environment. They weren’t a slave to their tribe. There’s no reason to impose any authority in a system like this. And it works just fine. Humanity is preserved and flourishes.
Hobbes once said, life in the state of nature would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That isn’t necessarily the case if you own the means of survival, as you should, like we saw in the tribal example. But what Hobbes was actually referring to by “a state of nature” is life without societal constructs. What he failed to realize, is that societal constructs are built into nature! Humans are inherently social animals. It is to our benefit, on an individual level and evolutionary level, to help each other. In a state of nature, unlike the solitary existence we live in today, humans operate as a group, not as competing individuals.
As social animals that naturally want to coordinate to help further the existence of the community, an external authoritative force that makes sure we do such is redundant and dangerous. At a very fundamental, biological level, we don’t need authority to survive, or to write social contracts, nor to enforce consequences of being anti-social.
If we are social by nature, a solitary existence would be punished by the laws of nature. Just as we saw with the rebellious tribesman that didn’t like the chief’s decision, he retained his freedom but was punished to a solitary existence. Maybe he made his own tribe and found his communal ways again, or maybe a lion ate him. The point is that without an external authority, order arose through nature. Since when has order necessitated a maker?
2. How can there be order without authority?
Order is not manufactured. This is another one of those egotistical human attitudes that thinks, “I order things in the world around me, therefore any order that arises must’ve been ordered by something else.” It’s the same reason we have those burning questions like “what made the Big Bang?” There’s this urge to know what made something so we can connect it with our own existence. So we tend to disregard anything that self assembles. We hate chaos, yet from chaos comes order. So we look for something else, because chaos isn’t a good enough answer.
Tell me something, who puts together atoms and molecules? How, from all of this chaos do they miraculously come together and make chemicals and cells and us? We keep looking for that guiding hand and come up with answers like, “well, there’s this strong and weak nuclear force that holds the atoms together and their consequent polarity attracts other atoms to make molecules and so on.” But that’s still kind of chaotic, there must be a reason for that behaviour? So we ask where these forces come from, and we get stumped. It’s that curiosity to know where order comes from that blinds us from the reality in front of us. I’m not saying it’s bad, it fuels scientific progress. But it also makes us forget that nature is chaos and the more chaotic something is the more chance we have for order to arise from the simplest random directives, or possibly no directives at all.
Atoms and molecules order themselves to form chemicals which order themselves to form the miracle of life. At any given moment we are alive due to an immensely complicated network of communication between different cells in our body, the majority of which don’t contain our own DNA – the supposed code for building who we are. Still we sit and think of where this order must’ve came from while we hurtle through the ordered chaos that is our solar system within a universe that knows no bounds. Chaotic order is not an oxymoron, it’s the mutually dependent parents of nature.
Whether or not we understand the simple rules that emerge from chaotic patterns, it’s been shown time and time again that you only need very simple rulesets to create incredibly complex and evolutionary products. Ever wonder how flocks of birds navigate so eloquently and coordinated without any one leading bird? Well it was replicated in 1986 by Craig Reynolds with only three simple rules. The same goes for our social evolution. Through very simple naturally occurring rules, we coordinate in all of our best interests to form societies. A society is not made by authority, it’s formed through its own internal mechanisms.
Look at where that attitude of not accepting the existence of self-order has brought us. We couldn’t figure out where we came from or what our purpose is and so that burning curiosity evoked ideas in people of Gods that filled the role of puzzle makers instead of the etherial chaotic order of the natural world. These Gods soothed the questions at the expense of reality. Then men (yes, explicitly men) came together to solidify this answer in the form of religion. By the nature of its conception, religion was the authoritarian excuse for the order around us. With the advancements of science, many of the original questions were answered and many of us have come to realize the inutility of religion and counter-productivity of these authoritarian structures dictating our lives. And yet, that attitude hasn’t seeped into the opinion on government even though it’s the natural extension to religion.
Religion became embodied by certain crafty individuals who “interpreted” and distributed the word of God. This is how Kings arose. They were people that provided the certainty of religion to others who ate it up to fill that curious void with a false fantasy. Kings eventually formed monarchies which accumulated wealth and resources due to their “divine right” as King, or God’s interpreter. Religion and government has always been closely tied and are basically the same thing. The attitude of a top down order of things, this false belief stemming from our active imagination, is what allows us to give up our natural self-ordered existence for a more concrete story. Our imagination creates these magical things like Gods, Mythical Creatures, and Good Government because it’s a nicer answer to why things have order.
One of the simple rules that has helped order society has been that all powerful term “self-interest.” It’s in our self-interest to form societies. This does not make us selfish, on the contrary it means we’re naturally altruistic. Unfortunately, religion and government arose from the very same self-interest principle in order to fill the gap we felt due to our overactive imagination. Ironically, it’s the same principle that means there can never be a Good Government since it exists to serve its own self-interest not ours. It will continually grow at the expense of the people that gave it life and power.
I guess you can say government was inevitable, but that’s why we exist. To learn from our mistakes and evolve as people. We seem to have figured it out with religion. There are growing numbers of atheists and anti-theists that realize its origin is in a false belief that limits our growth as humans. The same is true for government. The necessity of government is a false belief. Scientific advancement has discredited most of the need for religion by answering many of its previously unanswerable questions. So then it is with government that our realization in our natural ability to self-order should trump the need for top down order through government.
3. Justice in Anarchism is Impossible Because it’s Authoritative
No, justice is not inherently authoritative. You don’t need someone else to impose a punishment for there to be justice. Karma is one means for justice that is not authoritative. Here’s a practical example: There’s no law against being mean. So, presumably, there’s no reason why everyone isn’t mean, since our justice system is the only thing keeping people in order, right? Then how come very few people are out-right mean to your face? It’s because there are social consequences to being an asshole. If you’re mean to everyone, no one will want to associate with you, and you’ll be lonely. Humans don’t like being lonely and disliked and so that’s enough incentive for most of our population to be civil and amicable.
Being apart of a community is a privilege we all need (with the exception of psychopaths) and for which we should be thankful. Meaning, it can also be revoked without being authoritative. This type of karmic social justice can be very effectively used. In fact, there are tons of studies backing up its effectiveness versus our traditional prison and fining system. Social inclusion is a prime motivator for life and revoking some of its privileges are a powerful form of anti-authoritarian justice.
Justice consists of so many scenarios it would be impractical to address most of them here. However, I have a certain amount of trust in the anarchism’s self-regulation that stems from analyzing a few extreme cases. Just like our current justice system, it’s assumed that if it works for the extreme cases it can be applied down to the little things. These cases will be addressed in detail in future articles. Again, trust is necessary, because it would be naive to think that any system could produce perfect justice. It’s an impossibility, because people do not act rationally and/or predictably. The best we can do is find justice in a system that beneficially addresses as many scenarios as possible while not imposing justice through injustice and maintaining the humanity it’s there to support.
“Liberty can and must defend itself only through liberty.”
4. Anarchism Doesn’t Account for the “Bad Apples”
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that there are bad apples in any society. People who take advantage of good will, who don’t pull their share, or commit crimes. How do we address that in anarchism?
One must realize there will always be bad apples in a society. There are two ways of addressing them: control them through the use of authority and/or prevent them. What must be realized too is that we’re a product of the system in which we’re raised. Capitalism, for example, actually breeds people to be selfish and criminal. It quite literally rewards people for taking advantage of others and emphasizes individualistic competition rather than community. Therefore capitalism must resort to mostly physical and psychological control in order to keep the bad apples in line. The bad apples are not natural, they’re a product of the dirty cesspool of a system we call capitalism. The numbers are clear: more capitalism equals more crime.
This is not building humanity, it’s tearing it down. When people are subject to social anarchism where cooperation and community are rewarded, where property doesn’t exist and resources are common, its people are raised to reflect these same attitudes. People don’t take advantage of each other because it would be a form of masochism when you synonymously associate yourself with your community. Hurting your community would be hurting yourself. Stealing isn’t even a concept since ownership doesn’t exist in anarchism.
Of course there are extreme exceptions like psychopaths, who by definition don’t have a concept of socialism or empathy. This is inevitable, but we mustn’t sacrifice the freedom of everyone else for the exceptions. Psychopaths are sick people. Putting them in prison does nothing for them or the community. If an attempt at helping them adapt to society doesn’t work and they can’t live among the rest of us without causing harm, exile would be an appropriate punishment. It isn’t authoritative, it simply revokes the privilege of societal living from those who don’t really want it to begin with.
“Bad apples” can also refer to the argument that, some people just aren’t bright enough to govern themselves. The argument that we need some sort of aristocracy to keep society advancing, or else stupid people will tear it down. The problem with this train of thought is that no one ever makes this argument against their self, because it’s not in their own self-interest. Meaning, nobody ever categorizes themselves as one of the stupid ones. No one ever says, “I’m too stupid to make my own decisions, please make them for me.” Nobody should be the judge of who is to determine who’s inadequate, no matter how short the bus they ride on is.
Another reason why this isn’t a valid concern is that people in a social anarchist society live in community. Community is an integral part of anarchism and consists of all sorts of skills, abilities and intelligence that ranges from both ends of the spectrum. As such, shortcomings in one area are made up for by strengths in another. The less logical decisions can be dissuaded by the better logic of another.
In the next part of this series, we’ll look at the more important question of why anarchism is essential to a good life.
22 thoughts on “Anarchism: The 4 Most Common Misconceptions”
The only reason tribes function properly is because they are on a small scale. Because of this, they don’t evolve and progress like other societies. Since there are so few people, there are very few different points of view thus less opportunities to evolve. I’m no anthropologist but there’s a reason tribes die out and democracies prosper. I’m not saying you can’t live well and be happy under a system like this but you definitely won’t evolve at the pace of a governed society.
What do you mean by “evolve”? What is progress to you?
I am slightly confused with the Anarchist obsession over authority, that it is somehow the object of their internal and external discontent. By focusing so heavily on bringing down the state and creating these communities where people live and work for the good of the community, I fail to see how the Anarchist program can achieve these aims sensibly, or if they are even worth striving for. I cannot think of any shining examples of successful Anarchist communities that “lived by their principles.” Their program is far too radical, too violent, and too negative to persuade the people that it requires to become an effective political force. I think some of the criticisms of capitalism are valid, but few of those are new criticisms. Many originated in the mid to late 19th century when there was serious intellectual consideration for alternatives to capitalism. The society envisioned by Anarchists does not arise out of consideration for human social capacities nor does it realistically consider the long historical past that arrived at this point where we can consider Anarchism in a society that permits this discussion.
I think a better, more productive approach is, given that we’ve “endured” 160 odd years of capitalism in various forms, what can citizens do to change the system, in a way that promotes happiness and health? Canada is one of the happiest countries in the world. Is it right that, by many studies on happiness, we should abandon everything that has been accomplished in order to create some intellectual utopia and new political approach to human life? Will such an upheaval improve our personal happiness? How are Anarchists “experts” in predicting their success story for the future?
I think Anarchism is thoroughly engaged in a struggle versus this often invisible powerful boot smashing on its adherents, that oh, “that bank over there is the absolute worst, most horrible creation that is sucking the life out of me.” It is not a positive philosophy, in the sense that Liberalism, accepting the need for a government but maximising freedoms, is.
That is why Anarchism will never be popular, never gain support, and never appeal to the hearts of those wishing to live a happy life, fulfill dreams, and create a better future.
To be fair the reason most tribes have died out is because of the greed
and ruthlessness of emperialist societies who exterminated or enslaved
them in order to take advantage of their land or resources. Also reverting to a tribal society doesn’t have to be a step backwards, I think what would be best is if we
lived in small communities that maintained communication with
eachother, perhaps through the technology that our time in the current
system has brought us. This way we can have more personalised systems by
which we live and yet still benefit from the advances made by people
elsewhere. We shouldn’t look upon our current industrial and empirical
society as simply a mistake that we should forget about, but rather a
stepping stone, one that has furthered our collective knowledge and
understanding massively and has connected us on a global scale, but one
that is none the less cripplingly flawed and must be moved on from if we are to continue to evolve.
Hey Greg. It’s the other Greg. From Facebook. I actually love political philosophy, so I hope you’ll forgive the essay!
This article is well-written, but I have to say, I personally disagree with most of it (sorry).
Firstly, you yourself intimate that it is at least SOMETIMES justifiable to act against someone’s consent for their own benefit. The problem is that there is no clear line. Is coercive authority over very young children justifiable? How about coercive authority over those under the influence of drugs, or severe emotional distress? How far does one allow rationality to be compromised before we throw in the towel and say “nobody should be allowing them to do this to themselves”? The great authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century, you’ll surely know, used a “greater good” mentality to justify their own radical violation of those over whom they themselves have granted authority. But on the other hand, so does virtually every parent or friend that we consider at least semi-sensible in many situations.
Secondly, you contrast “nature” with “authority”; it seems to me that you have missed the contractualist point (though not necessarily the Hobbesian picture in particular) that authority HAS risen in accordance with nature. Many inborn tendencies, not all of them irrational, to seek solutions to various game-theoretic and organisational paradoxes seem to readily invite impartial authority as a natural solvent for social problems. It’s not as if human beings exist in a utopian state UNTIL authority arises: authority arises as a matter
of fact pertaining to the necessity of balancing and co-ordinating conflicting interests. It is inevitable, in states of radical value disparity and scarce resources (both social and physical), many agents will contract (and have contracted) with other agents to grant a third group power over a fourth, where the activity of the fourth group conflicts with the interests or the desires of the initial contractors. Which groups gain superiority is, arguably, the story of all human social life since we were intelligent enough to communicate effectively.
When challenging the validity of the assumption that social situations without authority would collapse or destroy us, it seems as absurd as challenging the validity of a person’s assumption that their seatbelt will protect them. It is not by abstracting from societies (1) with and (2) without authority that we discover the respective benefits of both, but by observing the concrete functions of authority in our lives that we understand what would occur were it not to exist. This is apparent to anybody who has dined in the no-smoking zone of a restaurant, obeyed traffic regulations or watched a report on an assault or a
murder on the news. There must be protective measures against violators of contracts (who don’t consider “social disapproval” as sufficient impetus for them to curb their desires), and how serious a violation is allowed is a matter of purely arbitrary consideration (in our restaurant, do we allow burping? How about farting? How about vomiting? How about vomiting and then loudly slurping it back up etc. etc. all the way up to murderous rampaging).
Thirdly and lastly, you propose anarchism as a model for SOCIETY by relating its benefits
as applied to COMMUNITIES. However, the former is a very different phenomenon from the latter. The former, as a matter of fact, can only function by adjudicating and balancing the interests of individual communities in a manner somewhat analogous to the way in which communities adjudicate and balance the interests of individual persons. Communities, however, by their nature are essentially exclusive in precisely the opposite way in which individuals are essentially inclusive. That is, communities identify themselves partially by what they are NOT: as unlikely as it is that two communities while be completely value-transparent and yet still maintain robust identities, when looking at the demands of a modern pluralistic society, it becomes virtually unimaginable. So the successful functioning of community cohesion simply cannot be compared reasonably with how to establish an enormous social commonwealth over an extended period of time (unless you conflate “society” with “community” as nationalists and religionists tend to do).
“…two communities WILL be.” not “two communities WHILE be”. God that reads HORRIBLY.
there should be an edit button if you want to change it
Wow, thanks for the lengthy reply! And I get many of your points. I’ll have to find the time to reply to this though.
“No one ever says, “I’m too stupid to make my own decisions, please make them for me.”
Ha! I take it you’ve never spoken to a dentist/mechanic/doctor/lawyer/teacher/professor/chemist/retailer…. :P
The difference is that once you choose your dentist you don’t say, “Okay, now you have complete unquestionable control over the well-being of my teeth until I die.” I’m not saying we shouldn’t consult or willingly obey the recommendations of people with better knowledge of a subject. I’m saying that it should remain an option to do so… as it is with your dentist/mechanic/doctor/etc
Well yeah, the joke really was a manifestation of a more underlying scepticism regarding the effectiveness of the argument in that passage. The vast majority of activities I am involved in rely on deference to authority, either present or not. Whenever one takes up a skill, one generally finds that it’s in one’s best interests to at least consult, if not commit to, the advice of an authority, or the work or efforts of other more highly trained or experienced individuals.
But of course, the thrust of the argument is its application to our lives IN GENERAL, regarding what we choose to value and cherish, why to live, not just how. It’s certainly true that people can independently develop their own conceptions of what’s worth doing, or worth believing, but this is only true to a point. The development of these conceptions heavily relies on our gaining experience from things that occur to us or shape us emotionally, and most of these experiences are social. Our concepts are framed heavily before we are capable of real autonomy, so we are essentially reliant from the start on various forms of authority, and I would certainly say (and I believe we would disagree on this) that when we defer, for the most part, to a modern, 21st-century liberal law, we aren’t just blindly accepting a form of coercion that has no rationale or justification, but rather the result of literally thousands of years of slow, sometimes harsh political and socio-economic development on the part of millions of brilliant individuals.
I agree with most of these statements, but I disagree that religion is a limiter or a false belief, or at least, specifically that the idea of God or Gods and other spiritual entities are false beliefs that only serve to control. When put in a historical perspective it’s true that religion has been used as a means to control people, but I feel that shutting off the possibility that there are forces or existences greater than what science can explain is limiting in a way as well. In many ways, I think a lack of spirituality also has its role in creating negative aspects of our current society. Governments have often done things, terrible things, in the name of religion, but rarely have they actually followed the doctrine of said religion.
Spirituality and the belief in an all powerful God/Gods can be two very very different things though.
To me spirituality is the connectedness to nature. I have no belief in a God, other than to me, nature is God.
Any organized religion on the other hand, is just not needed, and largely used to control.
The one problem I have with anarchy is they do a great job with pointing out the problem but not so good at giving a solution. Mostly everyone (especially in urban areas) are dependent on a third party for resources, this dependence is done quite naively and in return for peoples blind faith in corporations has led to what we have now; our food being injected and ‘enhanced’ with chemicals for efficiency and selfish gain, the process of getting meat has turned cruel and inhumane. Noticing that this is a problem is the first thing people have to do, then to revolutionize there needs to be another solution people can resort to. And this is why I find Valhalla so valuable and beautiful, it shows that there is a way to do all of this. Communities need to be rebuilt, people need to get together and mend the separation thats been created between people and our planet.
You made some great observations about how order can be kept with less force as the nature of most people is unity, people seek social acceptance. Doing the right thing can be done without strict and harsh laws with punishment. As you said there’s definitely an exception to this, psychopaths and others who don’t feel such empathy or moral obligation do exist, but no species is flawless, and I do think there can be other solutions other than throwing people in cages. I think getting a further understanding of these issues will help.
Its great reading an article written by one who see’s things from the same view I do. thank you for being you, great work. :) I’d love to talk more with you on these issues, as well as other topics that seem to be of mutual interest. Peace :)
Ps I loved your little bits of humor “touche, Mr.Common Argument”
made me smile :)
Psychopaths are usually nurtured by the enviroment they grow up in though. I wouldnt say it´s a birth defect. Our society today breeds sociopaths and psychopaths.
sorry,but the Venus project allready showed a solution.
I just realized I’m an anarchist!
HEY this was really good! a couple of grand and unprovable generalisations, but we’re all guilty of those. you made a very convincing argument. i especially liked the rebuttal of Hobbesian contract theory.
I don’t necessarily agree with all the points you made, but I love the articles’ general direction and I think that it takes some serious balls to advocate for a new societal structure as you did.
Thanks for taking the lead and propose something new.
To really go forward to an Anarchist State would be to help smaller communities develop to show it can happen. We all would have to have a huge mindset change. Because of the misconceptions of Anarchism it seems an impossible dream.
However the more it could be discussed the better. I am looking for an alternative to our present system.
A thought came to mind. I wonder if the ideas and thoughts and experiments etc were still undertaken but the value of them was taken away would that mean that we would share our ideas more freely enabling others to help grow the ideas. Hence progress would still continue.
And the value of everything would increase. Each person would be valued equally. We would not need lawyers and accountants etc as we would be able to work out things using common sense. And every job would be of equal value.
Sorry for the waffle, just happy to find this article.
At the turn of the last century, Henry George and the “Single Tax”
movement he inspired were household names. George’s 1879 book Progress
and Poverty captured the imagination of millions in the United States
and elsewhere, who found in his ideas a blueprint for an economic system
that would retain capitalism’s productive dynamism and distribute its
fruits more fairly.
See also Repopulating New Orleans in this issue.
To summarize George’s political-economy: George began from the
premise that the land, along with all other natural resources, is the
common inheritance of all. No persons or firms should own land; they
should only be able to rent it. Furthermore, that rent should be paid to
the public, as the rightful collective owner of all land.
Individuals and firms should own entirely whatever results from their
efforts to make the land productive, however, whether by farming it or
building a factory on it. They should also own entirely whatever profit
they can create through the investment of accumulated capital. (In other
words, George was not a socialist.)
The single-tax program was George’s plan for implementing this view.
The “single tax” was to be a property tax, on land but not on
improvements, at a rate high enough to provide adequate revenue to the
government. These tax payments would represent the “rent” those who use
the land owe to the public. At the same time, taxes on labor income and
on capital earnings would be eliminated.
George argued that the single-tax program would boost the economy. A
sound economic system encourages both work and capital investment, so
governments should avoid taxing labor income or returns on capital. At
the same time, a productive system discourages rentier behaviorÑholding
onto resources like land, living off of rents or waiting for speculation
to raise land prices. With a high property tax, he believed, land will
tend to end up in the hands of those who can make it most productive.
Echoes of George’s ideas can be found in many strains of progressive
economic thought today. For example, activists have proposed creating a
so-called Sky Trust that would collect fees from firms that emit carbon
dioxide. These firms are using up our common inheritance of a low-CO2
atmosphere, Sky Trust proponents argue, so they owe the public a “rent”
that would serve as both an incentive to clean up their emissions and a
source of funds for environmental protection efforts or “dividend”
payments to the public.