One of the great things about Georgism is how it cuts across political lines. Libertarians and socialists, conservatives and progressives, ruralites and urbanists, and more can all work together in a giant Georgist potpourri. Unfortunately, the flipside of this is that we also get savaged from all corners as well. Practically every type of Georgist has its anti-Georgist counterpart and dealing with them all can be overwhelming. Having fried my brain from constantly wading into the trenches of online discourse, I’ve also become fairly familiar with these groups and what makes them tick. In the manner of classic articles like Darrell Owens’ "Who's Who: The Dictionary of '-In My Backyard'", I’d like to help delineate them for the benefit of the unacquainted reader. While a fully comprehensive exploration and listing would take dozens of articles at least, I hope the brief and incomplete sketch that follows can serve as a useful starting point.
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Best summed up by the slogan "I will not eat the bugs and I will not live in a pod", these anti-Georgists are less of a robust ideology and more of a vibe. Their ideal is to be the lord of a suburban estate, free and independent with no masters chaining them down. It’s easy to be sympathetic to this. Who wants to be crammed in a cage and forced to eat whatever the authorities want? It’s the grillpilled mindset that lives in the bosom of American suburbia ("you want to take away the autonomy of Owning My Own Damn Land? No thanks!").
The issue is that this impulse can often turn downright anti-social. "Don’t tell me what to do" becomes "subsidize my lifestyle at the expense of everyone else". You’ll often hear anti-bugmen rail against Agenda 21 and its attempts to get people to stop destroying the environment. Georgists policy proposals like pricing congestion, water usage, and land ownership get a very poor reception as well. There just isn’t much recognition that autonomy can’t mean a free pass to harm others.
In essence, what’s going on is a LARP of being an independent frontiersman at a time when the frontier is long gone. Anti-bugman can often try to appear like rugged preppers and survivalists but of course this doesn’t quite gel with their suburban lifestyle. To the extent that anti-bugman are reachable, it’s through focusing on how Georgism can provide true autonomy for everyone. After all, Henry George was an American who wrote Progress and Poverty around the time the frontier was declining. Georgism was not meant to take away a Man’s Castle, but instead prevent the mass of humanity from becoming bugmen serfs. By giving everyone an equal right to the land, every individual could become an equal owner of the commonwealth. This would enable people to escape the enslavement caused by land monopoly, even when no frontier remained.
Capital-A anarcho-capitalists, and by far one of the loudest and most strident groups of anti-Georgists. If you were to encounter anybody ranting about Georgism online with no other context, odds are that you’ve got one of these. What they can’t stand is the Georgist stance on equal rights to the free gifts of nature. Modern-day feudalists worship private property as the highest good. They see no limit to its application and despise any suggestion to the contrary. Accordingly, Georgists are "LAND COMMUNISTS" and little dialogue is possible.
Unlike the anti-bugman, modern-day feudalists are strictly ideological. Their system is simply the logical conclusion of royal libertarian principles. By rigorously adhering to ideas like absolute "freedom of contract", this type of anti-Georgist effectively recreates feudalism in the modern day. The only real difference is the lack of medieval accouterments and a total absence of the social obligations and responsibilities that feudal lords were at least supposed to practice on behalf of their lessers. The modern-day feudalist world is one where there are no common rights to nature at all. Like in historical feudalism, the world is divided up among private owners bound together through private contract. That unlucky segment of the population without property or with less property faces a bleak existence. Modern-day feudalists don’t envision themselves as the landless serfs forced to grovel before landlords of course. Without that pesky government intrusion, they believe they’d enjoy an expansive, luxurious, and allodial title to lands.
These guys are anti-Georgists from a practical perspective. Their basic critique is that the reward of rent serves to incentivize good things. For example, Gochenour and Caplans paper on how resource rent is needed to incentivize discovery in natural resources is frequently brought up in online arguments. The same reasoning is applied to the incentivizing role of intellectual property rents, the use of land rent as a way to reward land reclamation, and the way in which owners of very large land parcels can internalize positive externalities enough to raise their own land values through developing them.
One of the most famous rent-seeking enthusiasts is the billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel. His book Zero to One is a love letter to a certain type of monopoly. He argues not for monopolies formed through state favors or contracts but instead ones that are able to dominate the market on their own. An example he gives is Google which dominates the search engine market and reaps massive profits through it. In his telling, the pursuit of monopoly rents is a powerful driver of innovation and conditions of truly competitive profit are a recipe for stagnation and anti-social behavior.
Overall, rent-seeking enthusiasts are somewhat divided between two sub-groups. The first is those who make a distinction between productive (roughly Schumpeterian) rentiers and passive rentiers. Thiel for example will go on at length about the conflict between Silicon Valley VCs and Silicon Valley landowners. The other sub-group is composed of those who believe that all rents are beautiful, and to rectify any is a slippery slope (despite the rather dubious notion that any "innovation" is being rewarded by allowing rents to flow to century-old land deeds today). Both of these sub-groups could benefit from reading Lars Doucets excellent previous article for this Substack on how Norways Georgist oil policy maintains incentives while still taxing most rent.
Folks who take an honest skepticism to its extreme, at least as far as state capacity goes. A reasonable distrust that land assessment can be enacted as well as we may wish is transformed into an almost unfalsifiable belief that it’s impossible. Typically these types drown themselves in the oceans of theory, arguing that it’s literally impossible to accurately value land. In particular, they fixate on the supposed impossibility of correctly separating the values of land itself and the improvements affixed to it. That multiple jurisdictions around the world and across history have managed to assess land just fine is quietly ignored. What works in practice must work in theory and an implementation with few to no ill effects and many beneficial ones does work.
Oddly, they tend to be otherwise relatively friendly to Georgist ideas. As annoying as it can be to argue with them, sometimes a conversion can seem tantalizingly close. They do not have the kneejerk opposition to all public government that modern-day feudalists have for example, yet still maintain a strong appreciation for markets and private enterprise. Occasionally you see them teetering over the brink, trying desperately to prevent themselves from falling into the Georgist pit. The denial of accurate assessment remains the single thin rope keeping them from the plummet. Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel Laureate economist beloved of libertarians is someone who demonstrated this in his own assessment denial argument. As he put it, the Georgist
"scheme for the socialization of land is, in its logic, probably the most seductive and plausible of all socialist schemes. If the factual assumptions on which it is based were correct, i.e., if it were possible to distinguish clearly between the value of "the permanent and indestructible powers of the soil," on the one hand, and, on the other, the value due to the two different kinds of improvements-that due to communal efforts and that due to the efforts of the individual owner-the argument for its adoption would bevery strong. Almost all the difficulties we have mentioned, however, stem from the fact that no such distinction can be drawn with any degree of certainty." (The Constitution of Liberty, p.305).
Marxian Subtype 1: "You Picked the Wrong 19th Century Bearded Guy"
People whose attitude towards ideology is strictly "epic rap battles of history": pick the most epic personality, and make them your north star. Actually reading (much less understanding) their work is purely optional. People who respect Marx as an interesting thinker but not an infallible prophet are distinct (and generally worth engaging with). In the minds of Marxian Subtype 1, what’s most important with respect to Georgism is that it (like all other "reformist" ideologies), must be swept aside for the one true faith. This is likely the immortal science of Marxism-Leninism, though Maoists or even Hoxhaists are a possibility. All heretics must therefore be identified and shunned with extreme prejudice.
These people are obsessed with the one letter Marx wrote about Henry George, a common example of the many rather low-substance but extremely bitchy communiques by Karl. That almost the entire brief letter is composed of assertions instead of arguments doesn’t matter because the content is less important than the author. Accordingly, they also frequently cite Engle’s "The Housing Question" while often having not actually read it. Attempting to engage in discourse with these types is as useless as doing so with any other fandom.
As opposed to above, the Marxists who actually did the reading. Accordingly, their anti-Georgism is shaped by the study of Marxist theory. A big move here is to undermine the role of landowners, who are almost never to be conflated with the class enemy (Capitalists). Landowning being "personal property" (a term never used by Marx) sometimes enters the equation, but the more rigorous thinkers are apt to stay in the realm of condemning the tyranny of Exchange Value in the face of Use Value. Asset holding, in this framework, is not a problem, just so long as we don’t quantify it. Ultimately this is at the heart of this mindset: that quantification of the things of life is the great evil. It is thus very clear why the entire field of identifying "land value" (a flattening of an ineffable thing into the tawdry realm of money) and "assessing" it is so deeply antagonistic to these types.
Finally, it’s worth noting that this tendency seems to fly in the face of actual Marxian Historical Materialism, where the crisis of capitalism will usher in a more humane communist age. If land-rent sharing is capitalism’s "last ditch" as Marx is said to have put it, why not simply allow this process to be attempted and subsequently fail? To instead work towards preservation of living for Use-Value within a capitalist framework seems distinctly counterproductive.
Their name derives from a succinct description of land value taxation by Henry George: "We may safely leave them the shell, if we take the kernel. It is not necessary to confiscate land; it is only necessary to confiscate rent." (Progress and Poverty, p.405). A weird sort of tendency I see occasionally, which can be reduced to "land redistribution is good, but land rent redistribution is worthless" (and in fact may make landowners more powerful). The actual mechanism for how a land tax makes landowners more powerful is never explained. It’s more of a vibes thing: taxes are controlled by the rich, and any system will be manipulated by them until it works only to their benefit.
These types generally have a difficult time explaining why the taxing of rents is inferior to carving up and handing out physical pieces of land. Their support for the latter seems to come from the notion that taxing land rent is a "halfway" measure. It is unclear how they square this with the reality that many landlords prefer to take the kernel of rent while leaving use of the shell to tenants. Furthermore, their perspective is outright impractical when it comes to cities, the locations with the greatest concentrations of modern land value. Ultimately, this group of anti-Georgists really just seems to be the result of not thinking things through properly
While many YIMBY’s are quite receptive to Georgists (and vice-versa), there’s also a certain subset that are more inclined to dismiss us. Their basic argument is that Georgism is not needed because fixing zoning and other land-use restrictions will solve everything. That Henry George himself was trying to fix a housing crisis at a time before the vast majority of modern land-use regulations existed is usually ignored. Occasionally you’ll get the explanation that skyscrapers made Georgism obsolete because we can just keep building upwards to get as much housing as we want.
In terms of discourse, one tactic could be to point towards places where the YIMBY dream is much closer to fruition like Tokyo. While it’s certainly much better off than places with severely restrictive zoning systems, it’s not exactly a paradise either. Most Georgists agree that current land-use restrictions are severely burdening the economy; we just recognize the need for a holistic and broad solution, not a narrow focus on silver bullets.
Most people are not ideological. Do not hold this against them.
The instinctive reactions against Georgism from normies is generally of four forms:
"I don’t like property tax, I just want to own a home and be done with it" (a watered-down version of the Anti-Bugmen category above)
"It seems unfair to change the tax system"
"Buying land and seeing it rise in value is actually extremely important for middle-class wealth-building" (A very common position for do-gooder libs, especially those of a certain age, who don’t realize the difficulties of getting onto the "homeownership ladder" that these policies have themselves created)
"Your system will kick poor old widows out of their homes!!"
Unless these people truly bug out and develop a dense outer structure of ideology to protect these kneejerk instincts, they should not be considered enemies, but rather a reflection that some of the Georgist conclusions are counter-intuitive. Keep faith that these people can be reached. Each can be addressed through the standard ethical and efficiency arguments for Georgism.
Not-Quite-An-Enemy Subtype 2: "Georgism Is Just A Corollary Of …"
Annoying to Georgists but in actuality allies. There are many people, from Keynesians to market socialists to liberals to pragmatists who seem to condescend. They say things like "the focus on rent is rather misplaced. The conclusions are obviously true, yes, but the primacy that Georgists place on rent and especially land is mistaken."
My recommendation is not to get offended, and simply let the data do the talking
For other critiques of traditional land reform, see the subsection in book VI of Progress and Poverty titled "From a More General Distribution of Land" wherein George describes why it is an insufficient remedy.
The kind of person who think that Georgism can only be understood as the specific 100% LVT Single-Tax maximalist position, and then they set out to prove why they think this is unworkable. And then having done this in their minds, they summarily conclude that all the more moderate Georgist position s and/or incrementalist compromise positions are all equally unworkable, without actually doing any work to demonstrate how or why.