Georgism of the Jungle

Tyler Cowen provides a much more persuasive argument than David Bernstein for why prospective students should favor George Mason University over higher-ranked schools. And that is so that we can ask Bryan Caplan in person exactly what are his objections to Georgism and not have to suffer through Cowen's obfuscations and misdirections. (And I say that in the nicest of ways!) I can't stand being told about an interesting argument but then not told what that argument consists of. I want to know NOW! Don't make me shiver in antici... pation.

I have been thinking a lot about Georgism lately while reading about some of the 19th century radical libertarians who rejected land ownership but embraced other forms of property. I'm open to good arguments for that position; after all, I did become an IP skeptic, and so maybe land is somehow different from other forms of property in the same way ideas are. But I have yet to hear very many convincing arguments for Georgism, and the critiques are pretty strong. Cowen offers a few conventional and surprising ones.

Paul Birch, who is known for writing lots of very long articles I bookmark with the intent to read but never seem to get a round to it, has perhaps the most thorough critique of Georgism available online. I especially like section 4:

What is the Natural Value of Land?

The natural value of land is identically zero.

This is so important I shall say it again. The natural value of land is zero. Even the most fertile soil or the most staggering mountain vista is utterly worthless if nobody has ever seen it and nobody knows it's there.

Remember, natural land is land that is unimproved by any human activity whatsoever. And once the value of land has been enhanced by human activities such as discovery and exploration, it is no longer natural land, but affected land. Nature has not created the added value; human beings have; and it is to human beings that the benefits should flow.

To state the same thing another way. Value is the market price human beings will pay for ownership of land. But by definition natural land cannot be brought to market, since bringing to market is a human activity. Thus natural land has no value.

What if one were to purchase rights in a newly-discovered but unexplored continent as a speculation? The ownership of the tallest or most spectacular waterfalls, for example, even though no waterfalls are yet known to exist there. Or the highest peak, though no land more than six inches above sea level has yet been seen. Is that not to place a value on natural land? In fact it is not, because that speculation is itself a human activity based upon knowledge derived from previous human activity — the efforts of geologists and geographers to understand what a new continent is likely to be like, the efforts of historians and economists and businessmen to understand how new discoveries and new continents affect markets, and so on and so on. The speculative value of new land has thus been created, not by nature, but by human beings.

Site value is not natural value, for the site value includes the externalities created by human activities on other land in the vicinity. Nor, in general, is the site value created equally or in common by all and therefore could not justifiably be held to be owned in common in the way that natural value (were it not non-existent) conceivably could.

I wait with bated breath to learn what wonderful and surprising arguments Bryan Caplan has up his sleeve. The suspense is killing me.

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If he natural value of land

If he natural value of land is zero, is the natural value of ideas (IP) infinite?

Half my life ago I was very

Half my life ago I was very interested in these questions. Georgist single-tax doesn't have to be perfect, just better than any other system out there. The single-tax offers at least a potential answer to the problem of how to ethically fund a minimal state.
Part of my interest is sentimental - my first libertarian girlfriend, a heinlein heroine archetype, was from the single tax village of arden delaware, which is a relative utopia compared to the boring suburbs that surround it.
It allows for an ethical system which has liberty as a primary value, and then has equality as a secondary value - structure things to promote equality, to the extent that doing so doesn't intrude on liberty.
Such a system might be a form of libertarianism more acceptable to liberal types, who are especially interested in equality and this 'fairness' thing of theirs.
They either are operating from faulty galbraithian economics, thinking that capitalism means bill gates ends up owning everything, or tend to view capitalism as a myth promoted by republicans fronting for an aristocracy which obtains land monopoly via conquest.
Is there some flaw in Georgist Libertarianism? Oh, there might be.
I never fully worked through it myself. The Birch article at least takes it seriously. I would be interested in your (Misha's) take, as you are one of the few people I respect as able and interested in thinking about this sort of thing.