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Mason Gaffney
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Such dismal dilemmas economists pose for us these days! We're told that to attract business we must lower taxes, shut the libraries and starve the schools; to prevent inflation we must have millions of people unemployed; to make jobs we must chew up land and pollute the world; to motivate workers we must have unequal wealth; to raise productivity we must fire people. Mason Gaffney has devoted his career to demonstrating the viability of reconciliation and synthesis in economic policy. In these 21 wide-ranging essays, he shows how we can find "win-win-win" solutions to many of society's seemingly "unsolvable" problems.

"One of the most important but underappreciated ideas in economics is the Henry George principle of taxing the economic rent of land, and more generally, natural resources. This wonderful set of essays, written over a long and productive scholarly career, should be compulsory reading. An inveterate optimist, Mason Gaffney makes an excellent case that, by applying the Henry George principle, we can reduce inequality, and raise ample public revenues to be directed at any one of a multitude of society's ills. Gaffney also offers plausible solutions to problems of urban renewal and finance, environmental protection, the cycle of boom and bust, and conflict generated by rent-seeking multinational corporations." — JOSEPH STIGLITZ

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Going My Way?
Winding Through the Stumbling Blocks
Between Georgism and Catholicism

Professor of Economics, Mason Gaffney
University of California, Riverside.

A presentation made at the annual conference of the Council of Georgist Organizations,
held at the University of Scranton, and cosponsored by the University
in a program entitled Rerum Novarum.
Reprinted in GroundSwell, print edition July-August 2007


This essay surveys the issues between Georgists and Roman Catholics in three classes: issues that are not peculiarly Roman Catholic (RC) but play out across faiths and denominations, issues that are peculiarly RC, and points of similarity and agreement. Addressed in this fashion are the tensions that arise between the social gospel and individual salvation, between specifics and glittering generalities, between noblesse oblige and governmental reform, between the doctrine of original sin and tabula rasa, between the rich and the poor, between the dignity of labor and the honor of predation, between democracy and authority, between the regulatory emphasis rooted in the philosophy of Aquinas and free markets, and between plain talk and gobbledegook.


There have been and are many Georgist Catholics, and Catholic Georgists. The divisions inside each group are perhaps as deep as the divisions between them. This bodes well for future cooperation between at least some Georgists and some Catholics.

Some outstanding Catholic Georgists or fellow-travelers in politics have been Edward McGlynn, Al Smith, Edward Dunne, Daniel Hoan, Margaret Haley, Joseph Tumulty, Mrs. Henry George, and Mark Fagan. Some current Georgist/Catholics are John Kelly of Peoria, Terry Dwyer of Canberra, and David Kromkowski of Maryland. Some of them, like McGlynn and Smith, met stiff resistance from upper echelons of the RCC hierarchy, but that is one of the internal divisions we will explore. Some, like Patrick Ford and Terence Powderly, submitted to the pressure.

As to McGlynn, this writer has researched his case and published his findings in Henry George, Father Edward McGlynn, and Pope Leo XIII. (NY: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 2000). Here I simply take “judicial notice” of that monograph, rather than repeat it. Copies are available from the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Catholic land reformers of other stripes have also met hierarchical repression: the Worker Priests of France; the Liberation Theologists of Brazil; etc. The knee-jerk reaction has been to cry “Marxism”, and clamp down. (Now that the Al-Qaeda bogey has displaced the Soviet one, some new approach may be needed.) In turn, some Catholic land reformers in power have suppressed the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and confiscated its lands, as in Mexico. Catholic King Louis XV of France expelled the Jesuits, who did not return until 1814, under aegis of The Holy Alliance. Either way there has been considerable hostility. The hierarchy has generally allied with big landowners, while many priests, like France's Abbe Pierre, have identified with the landless.

This paper surveys the issues in three classes: A, Issues that are not peculiarly Catholic; B, Issues that are peculiarly Catholic; C, Points of similarity and agreement. I have not come here to reopen the Thirty Years’ War. My hope and intent is to foster constructive rapprochement.

A. Issues that are not peculiarly Catholic

A-1. The Social Gospel vs. Individual Salvation

With the ascendancy of altar-calling evangelist Billy Graham, Protestant Christianity leaped far away from the Social Gospel of, say, Walter Rauschenbusch and Washington Gladden of the Progressive Era. The Elmer Gantry phenomenon was of course well known before that, as was the “Monkey Trial” culture of Dayton, Tennessee, but they were on the downswing until the Cold War era. Then, Protestant Americans responded en masse and without much discretion, leading to caricatures of Graham like Jim and Tammy Bakker, Paul Crouch, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and the like. Like Graham, they attacked the social gospel at the same time they preached individual salvation.

Recently, in heavily churched protestant Alabama, Professor Susan Pace Hamill, a committed southern Methodist allied with a Baptist school, sought to mobilize the churches to a progressive tax reform. She focused on raising the trivial property taxes levied on giant holders of timberlands. She did convert a popular politician, Gov. Bob Riley. They enlisted a substantial minority of the churches, but a majority, with most of the money, turned against them. The majority of church leaders argued that a progressive tax system would undercut their role as charity-givers.

Nothing in Georgism makes one oppose individual salvation, or embrace sin. George himself was floridly religious, and many clergy of all faiths took his part, while many anti-Georgist academicians sneered at his effusiveness as “emotionalism”. But most Georgists would give priority to some kind of social gospel.

Note, though, that some leading anti-Georgists were leaders of the social gospel movement. Professors John B. Clark and Richard T. Ely were highly visible, but their social gospel entailed privatizing all lands, protecting them from property taxation, and traducing Henry George and his ideas and allies.

One Catholic position on this, expressed by Brian Benestad, is that overcoming “evil” deserves priority over improving human institutions. It is more than just “priority”, but virtual exclusion of any social gospel. Benestad holds that Georgism (and other worldly reforms) may do more harm than good, by misleading people into thinking the world may be saved without overcoming personal sin.

There may be some truth in that. Many Georgists are too flippant about their personal behavior, using their underlying Georgism as an excuse. Some speculate in land, saying that institutional wrongs are not cured by individual rights. The problem is, they forget that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. The older they get the tighter they cling to that treasure. If they don’t, their wives and children do. I could name names, but so could you.

The point here, however, is that this issue is not peculiarly Catholic.

Some Catholics may believe that it is: that the RCC has the only pathway to salvation. Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said as much in 2000, and as Benedict XVI repeated it in July 2007. Here we have the problem of Evil within the RCC itself. Even if one believes that the sacraments are divine, and that experiencing them will purify one from Evil, the moral authority of the RCC and its officers has dropped severely in the last few years, following a long series of sex scandals, cover-ups, and heartless hardball litigation against complaining victims, from coast to coast. The Diocese of San Diego pleaded bankruptcy, and apparently lied to cover up the true value of its assets, according to Federal Bankuptcy Judge Louise De Carl Adler. In one ploy, they listed their landholdings at assessed values, far below market values.

The Diocese of Los Angeles just agreed to pay out $600,000,000 to victims of abuse. Articulate critics, including the L.A. Times, freely allege that this payment is being made to protect Cardinal Roger Mahony from being cross-examined under oath. The profit-centered Times cannot afford to be careless about this, for its market base includes the 4.2 million Catholics in Mahony’s Diocese. Mahony’s critics include many local Catholics, while Mahony himself commutes to Rome for validation and instruction. Protecting the Institution and its hierarchs has taken priority over serving the flock and healing the victims – a case of “goal displacement” parallel to what we see in secular institutions.

This is not the time or place to rub salt in these wounds. We seek reconciliation, and appreciate the many good works of the RCC and its communicants. Neither, however, is it the time for RCC spokesmen to preach “Holier than Thou”. Denial and coverup have been tried, and failed: it is time for disclosure and reform, a modern “counterreformation”, if you will. We know the RCC can do it, for they did it before. If allying with Georgists will help, many of us are ready to cooperate.

A-2. Specifics vs. Glittering Generalities

Georgists are specific – some think TOO specific – about reform. Many of the religious, at the other extreme, expound glittering generalities but resist getting down to brass tacks. These religious are of all faiths, not just Catholic. It’s important to see the stars above, but I submit we must also keep our feet on the ground, though the ground be muddy.

Rerum Novarum (1891) and its followup, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), were more specific than most religions are at most times. Quadragesimo Anno (Q.A.) especially came at a critical time when nations everywhere sought radical reforms, and Q.A. pointed a way. The problem was, many of these specifics did not turn out well.

In the U.S.A. Fr. Charles Coughlin, pioneer radio priest, popularized both the Encyclicals as never before. Irish Catholic laymen like Raymond Moley, James Farley, Joseph Kennedy, and James Byrnes gained great power in the early New Deal, as did also Msgr. John A. Ryan of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC). Their best-known product was the National Recovery Act (N.R.A), also known by its logo, The Blue Eagle. NRA was a cartelization of American industry supposedly modeled on Aquinas’ ideas of guilds, elaborated in Q.A. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (A.A.A.) was the farm counterpart. Both programs died, although A.A.A. survives under other names.

Social insurance also fitted with Q.A., although Francis Townsend, a dentist from Pasadena, led the movement, then considered far-out and radical. Joe Kennedy led the new Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.), although it was understood his rule would be mild. Generally, President Roosevelt (FDR) depended on votes from big city machines, many of them run by Irish Catholics, and wove their views into his policies. After Louis Howe died in 1936, Ed Flynn of the Bronx became FDR’s chief strategist, urging FDR to the left, but still following advice from Q.A. The Moley “Brains Trust” had pushed business cartels, modeled on Aquinas’ merchant guilds (but also drawing on earlier work by Charles Van Hise and Herbert Hoover). Flynn pushed the Wagner Act, empowering labor unions, modeled roughly on Aquinas’ craft guilds. Senator Robert F. Wagner, of Germanic ethnicity, was also a Roman Catholic.

In the postwar period some of the New Deal social safeguards have been dismantled, with at least the tacit approval of the postwar “American Pope”, Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York. Spellman’s mantra was anti-Marxism; his financial angels were Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Brady.

In Europe, the history of Q.A. was unfortunately bound up with the growth of Fascism. Mussolini’s “corporate state” supported and was supported by Q.A. Worse, most of the fascist dictators of Europe were cradle Catholics, and weaned on R.N. and later, on its sequel, Q.A.: Antonio Salazar in Portugal, Francisco Franco in Spain, Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy, Arthur Seyss-Inquart in Austria, Msgr. Jozef Tiso in Slovakia, Ante Pavelic in Croatia, Admiral Miklos Horthy in Hungary, Marshal Philippe Petain in France … it is a long list, unrelieved by many exceptions.

There is an extensive literature on the cases above, and more. Some of it is cited in my monograph on Fr. McGlynn; more is in the appendix available on request.

A-3. Noblesse oblige in lieu of taxation

We saw above how the Alabama Baptist churches put down Bob Riley and Susan Pace Hamill by arguing that an egalitarian tax system would weaken their character as individual voluntary donors to the poor. They also worried that the poor would regard welfare as an entitlement, instead of charity, and not be properly grateful.

In European history, of course, the Catholic Church was the welfare system of the middle ages, handling charity, medicine, education, etc. These were to be financed by voluntary contributions, and/or from the rents of church lands, which were extensive and, since the church never sold, growing indefinitely. Private landowners have ever preferred voluntary donations to mandatory ones, since they may stop voluntary ones at any time.

The Catholic welfare system was perhaps workable when there was just one church. Everyone belonged, everyone feared damnation, everyone kicked in. Today, however, Catholics are a minority of the population, with personal wealth and income below the average and falling, as Catholic Latino’s enter at the bottom of the ladder. Besides Protestants and Jews there are now members of every Asian faith, with higher incomes and better prospects than the Latinos’. Half the population of Beverly Hills, for example, is now of Iranian extraction, along with the current Mayor. Conditions are not right to replicate the Medieval system of Europe. Rerum Novarum (R.N.) speaks of worker associations to provide welfare for other workers, with no reference to property owners.

Our social security system works on that basis, too, which is why it is so egregiously regressive. How about property owners?

A-4. Genetic differences

James Madison wrote as follows:

"The diversity in the faculties of men from which the rights of property originate, is not less an obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of Government. ...

"The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; ... the most common and durable source of factions, has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold, and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. ...

"To secure the public good, and private rights, against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our enquiries are directed: ..." – Federalist Paper #10

Leo XIII puts the same idea in Rerum Novarum, that differences in wealth arise from differences in ability. The (mostly) protestant champions of Eugenics believed the same.

In the French Revolution, likewise, the anti-clerical leaders of the 3rd Estate used the “Theory of previous accumulation”, meaning we all started free and equal, and then some saved more, accounting for their wealth – for the 3rd Estate represented successful merchants, not proletarians. This idea harks back at least to the Stoics and Epicureans, who saw it as an ahistorical assumption. It evolved later into a self-evident axiom, requiring no proof. "Rationalism is essentially unhistoric, even anti-historic", said sociologist Franz Oppenheimer.

Since then social scientists have found that differences in wealth are much too great to be explained that way. Marginal differences in height, strength, speed, or intelligence cannot explain quantum differences in wealth.

Academic Eugenics is rising again, in works like Murray and Herrnstein, The Bell Curve; and Greg Clark’s forthcoming A Farewell to Alms. Georgist Robert Andelson, a Professor of Philosophy and an ordained Protestant minister, also preached Eugenics. The point here is that this issue is not peculiarly Catholic. It may not be Catholic at all, any more, for it is not clear that Leo’s rationale for inequality represents either a majority or an “official” Catholic view today.

A-5. The doctrines of discovery and conquest

Europeans of all faiths used religion, among other things, to rationalize their invasion and seizure of heathen and “empty” lands around the globe. In 1095 Pope Urban II called for the Crusades: "Wrest the land from the wicked race” quoth he, “and subject it to yourselves." We are paying the price today. In 1208 Pope Innocent III blessed Simon de Montfort’s genocidal internal crusade against the highly cultured but heretical Albigensians and Waldensians of Toulouse and Languedoc. This paved the way for Louis IX to annex southern France, and be sainted. Pope Gregory IX then assigned to Dominicans the long task of mopping up remaining heretics, beginning The Papal Inquisition. It took 100 years or more. In 1486 Pope Innocent VIII confirmed the act of his predecessor Sixtus IV appointing Tomas Torquemada grand inquisitor of several kingdoms of Spain which quickly spread into the entire nation, routing out Moors, Jews, and various egalitarian heretics, and of course seizing their lands.

In 1494 Pope Alexander VI (Roderigo Borgia) rather immodestly divided the western hemisphere in two, between his native Spain and Portugal, pole to pole. The indigenes were not consulted – heathens were a nullity. This presumption, however, was not peculiarly Catholic. Soon Dutch, French and English empire-builders (and a few Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Belgian, and Russian brethren) sent their missionaries to convert the heathen they had “discovered”. Protestant England built the widest empire of all, “bearing the white man’s burden” of civilizing savages and spreading English versions of The Bible. Among other conquered victims were the Catholics of Ireland, whose lands were divided among the “Protestant Ascendancy”.

A-6. Doctrine of Original Sin

Original Sin is not a peculiarly Catholic doctrine. It is prominently associated with John Calvin of The Reformation. New England Puritans followed it. James Madison of Virginia was a Calvinist: he believed in original sin, and set up checks and balances to hold it and the popular will in check. The “sin” he most guarded against was the sin of dividing landholdings among all the people. He also tried to guard against an imperial presidency, an issue that hangs in the balance today in spite of all his efforts.

John Locke, whom most Georgists revere, did not believe in Original Sin. In his classic Essay Concerning Human Understanding he pictured the newborn’s mind as a blank slate, or tabula rasa, to be filled up with experience and reflection, unblemished by either sin or virtue. Locke also disputed the divine right of kings, who at that time in England were the Catholic Stuarts, but that does not make him anti-Catholic today – unless modern Catholics uphold the divine right of kings, which I doubt. It is from this presumption of a free, self-authored mind that the Lockean doctrine of "natural" rights derives, and Locke’s idea of property. The idea is that we own ourselves, and therefore own what we produce with our own labor. (Here we will find a distinct issue between Catholics and Georgists, treated later.)

The tabula rasa idea does seem to rule out original sin, but here we must reckon with St. Thomas Aquinas, whose ideas Leo XIII elevated as official Catholic doctrine. Aquinas expounded tabula rasa long before Locke revived it. Aristotle (disputing Plato) published it even longer ago, and of course Aristotle influenced most of the early churchmen or “scholastics”.

George had a more optimistic view of human nature, hence his faith in democracy, as direct as possible. This, however, is not a peculiarly Catholic issue, since Calvin et al. shared the Catholic belief in original sin, and the Catholic seer Aquinas expounded tabula rasa.

Rousseau believed we are born good; Rome banned his works. Machiavelli apparently believed people are born bad, and Rome also banned HIS works. Perhaps there is some kind of consistency behind that, but without more evidence it is not clear what the common principle is.

B. Issues that are peculiarly Catholic

B-1. Democracy vs. Authority

The word “authority” resounds through much Catholic teaching, usually with a good ring. To many democrats and libertarians and creative thinkers and scientists the ring is bad. It evokes repression and tyranny and corruption of power and backwardness. It calls up Crusades, persecutions, inquisitions, Falangists, suppression of science, male chauvinism, tortures, burnings, stonings, massacres of Anabaptists and Cathars and Albigensians and witches, superstition, worship of relics and graven images … a panoply of evils sponsored by “authority”. It sounds un-American and, well, authoritarian.

On the other hand, it is true that democracy can degenerate into plutocracy, as we observe today. Citizens are so easily bamboozled into voting against their own interests, witness our … well, you fill in the blanks. The Age of Enlightenment, supposedly democratic, actually fruited in the Age of Benevolent Despotism. A philosopher and statesman like A.R.J. Turgot could see and speak the truth more plainly and directly than “democratic” writers like Locke and Adam Smith, for in England one needed a rich patron whose personal interests were adverse to most other citizens.

Smith’s patron, the Duke of Buccleuch, was England’s biggest landowner. Smith had to tiptoe around His Grace to lay it between the lines. He also had to reckon with his friend Charles “Champagne Charlie” Townsend, author of the Townsend Acts, excise taxes that helped trigger the American Revolution. Today, extension of our “democracy” into unwilling foreign nations is widely regarded as a sham, a cover for plutocratic imperialism, petrolocracy, and kleptocracy.

Modern public schools, originally so promising, come increasingly under the sway of small-minded petty bourgeoisie who suppress any teaching about economic justice, and instead are reviving the anti-scientific spirit of Dayton, Tennessee.

Turgot and the Physiocrats, some of the clearest economic thinkers of all time, were part of the French monarchy. Turgot championed, among other things, a school system where sound economic studies (like his) would be required of all students. Napoleon, the autocrat, probably did more to spread ideas of economic justice around Europe than any democrat.

The ancient Jews set up a separate class of Levites who owned little land, and whose job was to teach The Covenant to others who did.

Thus it is conceivable that the Catholic school system might become a vay-hicle (as my Irish grandfather said it) for conveying ideas of justice to a new generation of students. If so, however, it would call for a different set of directives from the new Pope Benedict XVI than we have seen so far.

B-2. Laissez-faire vs. Aquinas

Aquinas, endorsed by Leo XIII and all of his successors, believed in substantial regulation of free markets, without much or any confiscation or taxation of land rents. This belief was applied with religious zeal in the 1930’s in FDR’s New Deal, and, with a fascist twist, in Mediterranean and Central European nations. Following the Great War it was reapplied, in more humane and pacific fashion, in the social democracies, where leaders like Schumann, De Gasperi, Adenauer, and others had learned their Encyclicals early on. (English and Scandinavian socialism had other roots.)

Modern Georgists lean more towards laissez-faire, free markets, and the price system. They count on taxing land values to achieve social justice and economic security, free of vexing regulations and bureaucratic intrusions. This remains a rather sharp difference that we should jointly address and resolve.

It is worth remembering that the original Henry George, married to a Catholic, allied with socialists in the election of 1886. Following that, the extremists on both sides set to feuding until their alliance exploded in faction. (One suspects the work of agents provocateurs stirring up excitables, paranoids and fanatics on both sides.) It is not that modern Thomists would accept the “socialist” label, which to them carries baggage they reject. However, with a little semantic sophistication on both sides, a little distinguishing of the essential from the incidental, it should be possible to unite on a common core of beliefs.

It is also worth remembering that the Mayors of Milwaukee from 1910-12, and again 1916-50, were nominal “socialists” who implemented a good deal of Henry George’s program. Hard-core socialists of New York dismissed them with the sneer of “sewer socialists”. Daniel Hoan was also a Catholic. Socialist Norman Thomas always included a Georgist plank in his platform. Upton Sinclair fused Georgism with quasi-socialist programs.

Aquinas believed in “just price”, enforced by controls if need be. Georgists who believe in the price system preach against such controls. My advice is, leave that to ordinary neo-classical economists, who do it every Sunday anyway, it is their main stock in trade. Georgist time is too precious and our task is harder. Remember, also, the reaction against Turgot when he suddenly decontrolled the price of grain, 1774-76. Sometimes a good idea must be sneaked in gradually. There are always ignorant and excitable spirits out there, studiously stirred by calculating ones, to make trouble for good leaders.

Aquinas would also cap interest rates, and Rerum Novarum and Q.A. echo that. This is a tougher nut to crack. My first hope is that most Catholics have moved on from this position. My greater hope is that more people will realize that land speculators, above all men, love low interest rates, because they push up land prices. This is a point that ordinary neo-classical economists do NOT preach on every Sunday; they are remarkably obtuse about it. All I can offer here is that I will continue working on it, as I have for the last several decades.

B-3. Protecting the Environment

“In a pronouncement that political and church leaders called an unprecedented religious defense of the environment, His All Holiness Bartholomew I declared here Saturday that the degradation of the natural world is "sin." The remarks of the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians were believed to be the first time that a major international religious leader has explicitly linked environmental problems with sinful behavior.” – Bryan Stammer, L.A. Times, July 20 1997

Fancy that, it was “the first time” a major religious figure called spoiling the environment a “sin”. In the Vatican, “crimes against nature” has a different meaning, one that the leaders obsess over while saying little about the environment.

Georgists occupy an unique cockpit among economists because we alone have insisted that land, the natural world, is different from other assets, and must be husbanded and cherished. Malthusians have also seen that land is limited, but they see only natural scarcity, not the artificial scarcity that George highlighted, so Malthusians focus on limiting population and immigration. Georgists are like Catholics in refusing to endorse limiting population as the panacea that Malthusians call it.

Georgists, however, are divided between old-line Georgists, whose sole focus is on a land-value tax that encourages production without stint; and new-line Georgists who see a role for user charges based on such things as extracting exhaustible resources like groundwater, congesting highways, and polluting the air. Based on the relative ages of people involved, it is fair to predict that in a few more years Georgism will have evolved into a more pro-environmental and pro-conservation stance.

Meantime it is past time the Vatican redirected its energies from damning homosexuality to damning rape of the Earth and pedophilia among its own shepherds. Ivan Strenski, the Holstein Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, states that the rate of AIDS among priests is four times the national average. I say nothing about abortion because there is no clear “Georgist” position on that tortured question, nor have I authority to declare one.

B-4. Ownership of the person and property

Georgists follow John Locke, who posited that we own ourselves and therefore the things we make. That is the basis of property rights, said Locke. In time it was fused with the labor theory of value, and ran into trouble as said value theory did, but that is another story.

Catholics, in contrast, do not believe we own ourselves, Brian Benestad writes. That makes suicide a sin, but suicide is rare so that is hardly the main point. What it does is rationalize all forms of taxation that take from labor. It would appear to rationalize military drafts (although the levee en masse was introduced by anti-clericals in the French Revolution). It would seem to rationalize the old corvees and robots of continental Europe.

More recently, the idea we do not own ourselves helped rationalize the payroll tax introduced in the peak of Catholic influence on The New Deal. (Francis Townsend, who instigated the system, had wanted a sales tax, which is bad enough, but at least raised money from spenders other than workers.) Then it rationalized withholding of taxes from payrolls (Beardsley Ruml, a Czech-American Catholic and Rockefeller man, and Milton Friedman, supposedly a guru of low taxes, teamed to introduce withholding). Note that Friedman and Ruml subjected only wage income to withholding. Property income soon evolved into the major tax shelter.

I am temporarily at a loss to wend my way through those stumbling blocks, but I promise to keep trying. I hope my opposite number will do the same. As a Georgist I abandon the notion that labor alone creates wealth and capital. I attach no conditions, but what am I offered in return?

C. Points of similarity and agreement

C-1. Natural Law and Rights; Justice

Both Catholics and Georgists give great weight to natural law and rights. These ideas have been rejected by most of the intellectual world, leaving Catholics and Georgists as natural allies to defend them.

Ironically, the Enlightenment philosophers, who are thought to have undermined Catholicism with their Deism, also generally believed in Natural Law and Rights. The world is wonderfully tangled and complex, and in that complexity we can probably find ways to support each other.

C-2. Mechano-mysticism in modern economics

Both Georgists and Catholics view much modern economic literature as pretentious trash, and alas, the view is mutual, for most professional economists today see us as “outside the mainstream” – mainstream meaning themselves. Our reasons for distaste are nothing new, and were expressed long ago by Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, by Spinoza, and by the very John Locke we have been discussing. Here is Locke:

“It is ambition enough to be employed as an under-labourer in … removing some of the rubbish been much more that lies in the way to knowledge which certainly had advanced in the world if the endeavors of ingenious and industrious men had not been much cumbered with the learned but frivolous use of uncouth, affected, or unintelligible terms … . Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, have so long passed for mysteries of science … that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them that they are but the covers of ignorance, and hindrance of true knowledge.” – Essay Concerning Human Understanding, “The Epistle to the Reader”.

Open almost any modern economics journal and you will see how little the world has changed since 1690, in spite of Locke’s efforts. If the intellectuals ever heeded him, they have regressed. It’s a massive herd behavior, hard to stem.

The Catholic Journal of Social Economics is one of the few journals that maintains some readability, and Notre Dame has long been a haven for “heterodox” economists who strayed from the flock. Alas, its administration finally caved under the pressure of methodological correctness and reined in its heterodox Department – much as the U.C. Riverside Administration did 15 years ago.

The Georgist-inspired American Journal of Economics and Sociology is another haven for independent individualistic writers. Perhaps the editors of these two journals should get together and explore their common interests.

C-3. Population Policy

Georgists and Catholics both deny that population control is the panacea for apparent resource scarcity. The Georgist position is perhaps better rationalized. It goes way back to George’s long campaign to get good lands used better, with the corollary of constraining settlement sprawl: not just urban, but also rural, sylvan, extractive, hydraulic, and what have you. As noted above, it needs tweaking today to incorporate the role of taxes based on extraction and pollution.

I will let others articulate the Catholic position. To an outsider it looks like a tradition too single-mindedly based on the sanctity of the individual human life, without much thought for the aggregate and long-term effects on human or non-human life. I hope there is more to it, and some learned Catholic will supply the missing information.


I was pleasantly surprised, as I worked along, how few of the stumbling blocks I had listed are peculiar to Catholicism; and how many are passable. The ones listed in “B” may remain, but I am optimistic that with good will on both sides we may find pathways through them, or over or around or even under them, to work together towards our common goals. I have not minced words to avoid tough problems, but tried to define issues clearly as a prelude to resolving them. Catholics of good will will not take offense, but detect the search for reconciliation beneath my frank words. I look to Catholic Georgists like Kelly, Kromkowski, and Dwyer to carry this resolution further.

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