2017-07-22 04:34 pm
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Georgist Conference in Orlando, Part Thirty-Three

To continue with the panel discussion on August 18, Joshua Vincent talked about splitting the opposition. The Connecticut Business and Industry Association used to oppose land value taxation. Here's the twentieth story if their building, looking down on a parking lot, formerly a Hilton. They will no longer oppose LVT, although they don't support it. Presumably, Josh pointed out to them that LVT would cut their property taxes, and raise those of the parking lot owner.

Bill Batt mentioned Costa Rica as having the best land maps. Thailand has introduced a property tax; would it be land-only or land and buildings? They went with land and buildings, but there are problems, and this may change. In Korea, the Georgists are closely linked with the Christians, now one third of the population. We should support them.

And that is the end of my notes on that discussion.
2017-07-22 04:38 am
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Georgist Conference in Orlando, Part Thirty-Two

To continue with the afternoon of Thursday, August 18, there various comments at the Tactical Response Panel. Ted Gwartney said that we should go after the low-hanging fruit first. Simply obeying the law, and accurately assessing land would be substantial progress. Years ago, he was in Russia, trying to push Georgism. Russian politicians liked the idea, but the opposition got to them.

Dr. Herbert Barry said that the Sixteenth Amendment (authorizing the income tax) is bad, and he repeated his proposed alternative.

Lindy Davies said that some taxes are less bad than others, and we should have our answers ready, for example, say, "The property tax is not regressive," and be able to explain and defend that view.

Dan Sullivan said that Steven Cord was not a very good salesman, but he persisted, which is how he got real-world victories. Joshua Vincent commented that Dr. Cord kept coming back. 90% is just showing up.

Alan Riddley said that to make housing in California affordable, it is necessary to repeal Proposition Thirteen, but not this election cycle. Joshua Vincent said that the left has inadvertently supported Proposition 13, and mentioned libertarians and others, who, he said, have done more harm than Howard Jarvis.

Brendan Hennigan said something about a follow-up on Catholics.

To be continued.
2017-07-21 11:00 pm

The Red Queen's Race

I got one regular amendment this week, and took quick action on it, so I'm back to two Special Amended cases (actually Board of Appeals affirmances) and one regular Amended case, all three of them paused for now.

I also did a first action on my oldest non-RCE new case, and an action on my oldest Request for Continued Examination case, so it was a pretty productive week.
2017-07-21 12:07 am
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Georgist Conference in Orlando, Part Thirty-One

To continue with the afternoon of Thursday, August 18, we next had a panel discussion, the Tactical Focus Panel, with Lindy Davies. Joshua Vincent, and Professor Frank Peddle. There was a handout from Josh, on the Unconference, with some advice: Find allies! Maybe a newspaper, Google Alerts, find Georgist solutions to local problems. Hartford and Philadelphia. Get Altoona to keep its land tax. Affect good assessments, as Ted Gwartney did in Greenwich, Connecticut, and elsewhere. Philadelphia has a new mayor and staff, and they're interested in fixing assessments.

As a postscript on that, Altoona went back to taxing both land and buildings, after taxing only land for a few years.

At the national level, grazing fees and other charges for the use of land. Testimony in tax committees. Regulatory agencies can be nudged to support land value taxation, HUD, for example.

Then Frank Peddle talked about the Panama Papers, showing international tax dodging. Governments try to tax mobile factors, not land. It's hard to untangle things and get money from tax havens, although politicians want to try. LVT makes it all so much easier.

Lindy Davies said that he didn't have much to add. He mentioned a carbon dioxide tax accompanied by a citizens' dividend. We're a radical movement seeking fundamental reform. Our efforts should inform each other.

To be continued.
2017-07-18 09:30 pm
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Food and Food

At the farmers' market two days ago, I found a stand that had some sweet plums, and eagerly bought a quart. They're much better than the plums you can find in the supermarket, and I eagerly packed some in my lunch bags yesterday and this morning.

In Yemen, and in South Sudan, Somalia, Niger, and other parts of Africa, millions of people face starvation, and a number of charitable groups have united to solicit donations as https://www.globalemergencyresponse.org, and some major corporations are matching donations. I offer to do the same: If you leave a reply to this post that you have donated, or pledge to do so, I will match your pledge or pledges, up to a total of $250.
2017-07-17 12:35 am

Maryam Mirzakhani, R.I.P.

I saw an obituary in the paper the other day; the mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani has died of breast cancer. I hadn't known she was ill, and now I feel that the world is diminished by the loss of a thinker whom I never met and whose work I am not qualified to appreciate.

Her death may not ultimately matter more than the similar death of a sales clerk in Tulsa or a peasant in Bangladesh, but it troubles me that the first woman to win the Fields medal is no longer with us. It seems a sad commentary on humankind that vast numbers of people read tabloids about shallow people famous for being famous, and probably not one American in a thousand could have identified this great mathematician. Most likely, Professor Mirzakhani would not have wanted to be followed by paparazzi, or to have her illness extensively and inaccurately reported in the yellow press; still, I could wish for some dignified acknowledgment of a person of true accomplishment.
2017-07-16 07:18 pm
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Georgist Conference in Orlando, Part Thirty

To continue with Thursday, August 18, there was a Council of Georgist Organizations business meeting in the afternoon, and as president of two Georgist organizations, I was there. There was a problem with one hotel in Saint Louis, Missouri, so we authorized our conference organizer to cancel with them, and find another hotel. We will meet in the St. Louis area in 2017 (not too long from now), and our 2018 meeting is expected to be in Baltimore.

Discussion went on and on, partly about matters like CGO finances, partly about things we might do aside from the annual formal conference (hold an unconference?), and partly about what to call ourselves. Ideas include Georgists, Geoists, and Earthsharers. I'm willing to use any of those terms, or the phrase "single taxers", if the rebranding would just have the practical effect of making our ideas well known and widely accepted. It seems, though, that things are more difficult than that.
2017-07-14 10:26 pm

The Red Queen's Race

I got one After Final amendment with a Terminal Disclaimer this week, showing up in my Expedited docket, and I dealt with it swiftly; I was able to allow it. "terminal Disclaimer" means that the applicant agreed that the patent granted on this application would not extend beyond the term of a related patent.

I had two regular amendments, and I dealt with one of them earlier this week. The other turned out not to be the usual kind of amendment, but an election. This means that I had sent the applicant a written Restriction Requirement, saying "There are two ormre inventions here, so decide which one you want me to examine." The one which the applicant elected to have examined was not really in my area, so I did a Transfer Inquiry, asking another unit in the Patent Office to take it. For now, the amendment is still on my docket, but paused, so I don't have to work on it. This means that I have two Special Amendments (actually Board of Appeals decisions) and one regular Amended case, all paused for now.

And I've been doing searching for my oldest non-RCE Regular New case.
2017-07-14 10:20 pm

Power on the Brain

It seems that science has confirmed Lord Acton, and power corrupts -- or is it that corrupt sociopaths seek and obtain power, or perhaps some of each? Anyway, people who have power are reported to be less empathic than those who do not, and this at least may be traceable to specific neurons in the brain.

This is one reason, in my view, to keep government limited, and power divided, not that that's a perfect solution to all problems.
2017-07-13 12:15 am
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The news about Donald Junior meeting with a Russian in the hope that she would provide dirt on Hillary, combined with various other news about the Trump administration, does not give us any guarantee that the Narcissistic Personality Disorder poster boy will become the first U.S. President to be impeached by the House of Representatives, convicted by the Senate, and dragged kicking and screaming from the Oval Office by the Marine guards. It merely lets us hope.

I'm afraid, though, that even if Trump goes, there will be a very messy political situation. I do not like the Democratic agenda, which is liable to turn us into another Venezuela, one small step at a time, and I'm not happy with the kind of Republicans who hastened to become Trump bootlickers. Furthermore, there are a lot of people who will dismiss whatever they hear against Trump as fake news, while they put their trust in Alex Jones or the National Enquirer. I can't predict just where all of this will end up, but I can imagine some ugly scenarios.
2017-07-11 12:40 am
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Georgist Conference in Orlando, Part Twenty-Nine

On the morning of Thursday, August 18, we went on a bus tour, and saw the Osceola County Historical Society's Pioneer Village. There was a small -- very small -- house which had been the home (or was a reconstruction of the home; I forget which) of a whole large family of crackers. There are different derivations of the term "cracker" for Southern whites, but the story were told then was because they were cattlemen who cracked their whips. Yes, there were cowboys in Florida.

Later, orange groves become more important, and we saw the larger house of the Cadmans, an English family who came to Florida in the late nineteenth century, and grew oranges for export to Britain; we learned a bit about how oranges were waxed and packed for shipment. Oh, and the family brought along a couple of their servants as well multiple children.

Then there was a museum tour, where I saw the only alligators I actually saw during my visit to Florida; they were small ones in a terrarium, and the museum guide explained that if you keep alligators on short rations, they don't grow big. We went to lunch, at a restaurant that will never make the Guide Michelin, but did provide some edible food; after that, we toured Disney's model intentional community of Celebration.
2017-07-09 08:31 pm
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Letter from My Friend Walter Rybeck

On Friday, the Washington Post published a letter from my friend Walter Rybeck, who served in the Army in World War Two, and must be well into his tenth decade, but still has all his marbles. Here is the letter:

It's the land, not the houses

The July 2 Metro article "Poll: District gentrifiers blame themselves for driving up costs" implied that gentrification is the cause of the shortage of affordable housing. People thinking that doesn't make it so.

The first error was calling it a "housing" crisis. Similar to cars that lose value from the moment buyers drive away from the dealer, houses also decline in value over time, even when they're well taken care of. Of course, escalating prices and rents are genuine and serious. This is not because of the cost of the house but rather the cost of what the house sits on: the land. Land prices keep rising because of pressure from population growth. People also pay extra for locations that are made more desirable by improved public facilities and services.

However, a major cause of escalating prices is land speculation that creates artificial shortages of building sites. The crisis will persist until we stop fixating on housing and address ways to attain affordable housing sites.

Two hints to policymakers: Land speculation is fostered when land values are assessed and taxed too lightly. Land prices are deflated when robust land taxes are imposed.

Walter Rybeck, Silver Spring
2017-07-08 06:14 pm

Resisting the Opioids Panic

The DEA has long made it difficult and risky for physicians to prescribe sufficient opioids to patients who may be in real and severe pain. One of my friends, an elderly widow, told me about how a friend of hers, another elderly woman, committed suicide because of severe arthritic pain for which she could not get adequate relief, as the doctors were afraid of possible prosecution.

This is not to deny, of course, that opioids can have ill effects, and that one should not take them for frivolous reason, or in excessive doses.

Reason TV has a story about a physician who nevertheless insists on helping patients in severe pain.
2017-07-08 02:56 am

The Red Queen's Race

I didn't get any amendments this week, and I didn't finish any amendments already on my docket, so I'm still at two regular Amendments, and two Board of Appeals decisions on my Special Amended docket.

I did finish a first action on my oldest Regular New application, and then I started work on one of my amendments.
2017-07-06 11:41 pm
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Georgist Conference in Orlando, Part Twenty-Eight

To continue with the late afternoon of Wednesday, August 17, we heard from Jacob Shwartz-Lucas and maybe Mark Sullivan (I remember Jacob speaking; Mark is also listed in the program, but I don't remember whether he actually spoke at this session or not).

Mr. Shwartz-Lucas said that he's a microbiologist by training, and was interested in bacteria to help clean polluted rivers like the Ganges. He saw that it was necessary to change the rules, not just apply technology. He emailed a thousand people asking what to do, how to solve poverty, and the Henry George solution seemed best.

Now the Georgist movement has a bunch of young people. Recession Generation was a young Georgist event, a skill-sharing conference. 70% of those attending were under forty-five years old.

He described his marketing campaign, with 14,000 subscribers and growing. It gets free advertising from Google. There's lots of date from people who take our surveys. He mentioned Kaiser Fung, the survey consultant for Earthsharing.

There are socialist Georgists, anarchist Georgists, and libertarian Georgists, with the percentages varying by age. The people in this room, he said, were mostly older people, since younger people are mostly poor, and can't afford to fly to conferences and pay for hotels. He presented more survey results.

Christine Peterson, who coined the term "open source," was at the latest conference (I presume that that means at the Georgist youth gathering in California).

Michael Burton, Ph.D., a political strategist at the office of VP Al Gore (1993-1998), said, "You're doing all of the right things, Jake: building a large newsletter, surveys, and statistical analysis."

Then Alodia Arnold, another young Georgist, spoke up to recommend going into real estate appraising. Most appraisers are fiftyish or older. It's a well-paying career, a long career, and can advance Georgism.

After that, we had the evening off for informal socializing and dinner on our own. My next installment will be about Thursday the 18th.
2017-07-06 12:02 am

Criticizing Adam Smith for the Wrong Reasons

There is a transcription of a debate on the Reason blog with Mark Skousen propounding and Gene Epstein opposing the resolution that Adam Smith should be honored as the father of modern economics and free market capitalism. The case against comes down to two points: that other people had had similar ideas before Smith; and that Smith was not actually that pure an advocate of free enterprise.

As an example of the second point: "I also remind Mark again that Marx quoted Smith and was impressed by Smith's beginning of an exploitation theory, because Smith thought landowners were predators and deducted against labor."

It's not clear from the Wealth of Nations how far Smith actually thought that, or how far prudence prevented him from fully expressing whatever subversive ideas he held, but the germ of the idea is there. I remember someone (it may have been Mason Gaffney) saying or writing that whatever differences there were between Karl Marx and Henry George, both saw the revolutionary potential of classical political economy; this led the neoclassical economists to change their terminology and avoid talking about land rent.

This did not, by the way, make all the neoclassicals heroes of free enterprise; some of them favored government interference of the right sort. However, they generally opposed radical reform of taxation along Georgist lines, and tried to either confute Georgists or ignore them.

Neither participant in the debate mentioned Henry George.
2017-07-04 11:44 pm

Cherries and Fireworks

I'm not a big fan of cherries, but I do eat them sometimes. This summer, I have enjoyed a couple of pints of cherries from the farmers' market. I didn't see any sweet cherries at the farmers' market this weekend, so I bought a couple of pounds of cherries from the Pacific Northwest at Giant Food, where they were on sale, and ate some of them with my lunch today. The Fourth of July should be a good time to eat cherries, a fruit that's in season. Sadly, they weren't nearly as good as the cherries from a farm in Pennsylvania.

I saw several Muslim women in headscarves among the many people headed off to watch the fireworks. That's something to smile about. And, to be sure, I liked the fireworks themselves.
2017-07-04 01:36 am

Independence Day

Happy Birthday, o my country.

You have had flawed presidents before, but never, I think, anyone quite so unqualified and intemperate as the current occupant of the White House. And yet, studying history gives one a certain perspective. Andrew Johnson sought to undo progress to racial equality, and did considerable harm, and yet the country did survive, although there were rumors at the time that thousands of Confederate Army veterans would march on Washington to overthrow the government. Constitutional government may yet outlast Trump's tweets, and even his ignorance of public affairs; his ignorance may even enable subordinates to do some good which would not be possible if we had an intelligent and hardworking fascist in the Oval Office.

I plan to celebrate your birthday by rereading the Constitution and watching the fireworks. Come what may, at least we have time that can be lived in.
2017-07-02 08:46 pm
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Georgist Conference in Orlando, Part Twenty-Seven

At around 3:00 PM on Wednesday, August 17, the panel discussion resumed.

Brendan Hennigan talked about George's The Irish Land Question, later published as The Land Question, with other works included. Hennigan has an Irish background, and said that the Potato Famine was not a real famine: enough food was produced, but it was exported. He discussed the Irish Land League, some of whose members were Georgists.

Fred Foldvary talked about the Duke of Argyll, author of The Reign of Law, and of "The Prophet of San Francisco," an attack on Henry George, who replied with "The Reduction to Iniquity." Dr. Foldvary said that the Duke misunderstood George. Dr. Foldvary said that we should say, "The land rent belongs to all equally." We support individual possession of land, with payment to the community.

Then Bill Peirce, a retired professor of economics, talked about Progress and Poverty. A short biography gave the impression that Henry George didn't know much about economics, but in fact he had read Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill. Would that economists today knew Smith, Ricardo, and Mill.

Around 1870, Walras in France, Menger in Austria, and Jevons in England began the Marginal Revolution. (George's Progress and Poverty dates to 1879.) The marginal revolution meant that economics provided much more precise and rigorous answers to much less important questions than the classical political economists. George was not really behind the times, because in 1879, most other economists were not up on the marginal revolution.

George saw the power of human ingenuity and cooperation. He was an anti-Malthusian, which was needed at the time. There was biological Darwinism, and there was Social Darwinism, the latter of which, at least, George rejected. Reviewers of his work criticized him for this, e.g., William Graham Sumner. George was called a preacher, a poet, and worse things, but he was in fact a real economist.

Progress and Poverty reads better today than it did in 1900 or 1920. Henry George wasn't just a mathematician; he understood the real world, how real firms, real bureaucrats, and real lobbyists influencing government operate. He was a public choice economist avant la lettre.

Early marginalists (not so much Alfred Marshall, who had it in the footnotes) sometimes just used math, and didn't properly grasp the real world.
2017-07-02 08:38 pm

Canine Encounters

As I was walking home from the farmers' market earlier today, I spotted a couple at an outdoor table with a pair of dogs more or less beneath the man's chair: there was small dog whose breed I didn't recognize, and a beagle. I stopped and tried to make friends, but the beagle barked at me loudly. I assured her that I had petted plenty of beagles, but she wasn't persuaded of my good intentions.

A little later, I met an older man walking a schnauzer; the dog jumped up and enthusiastically schnauzed me, nibbling lightly on my hand.