A BIG CHANGE IN MY LIFE

 

 

A CHANGE IN MY LIFE

In the 1950s I got most of my news from the newspaper.   I read speeches, opinions, declarations, and both obituaries and great promises about our economy, most of them conflicting with the other.  I had studied some economics in college, but I felt the need to upgrade my knowledge, so when I saw an ad in a local newspaper for an economics course, little did I know that this class would give me a whole new perspective and understanding on how our system should work.

 

 

I enrolled in the class, which was held in Sequoia High School in Redwood City.  The class was presented by a teacher from the Henry George School of Social Science inSan Francisco.  The course used a text written by Henry George around 1879 and was presented in the Socratic Method.  Questions were tossed out and discussion by the students ensued, but the teacher entered in only to keep the discussion going. My reaction to the first several classes was to quit, but because the philosophy was so foreign to my beliefs, I wanted to stick it out and argue my opinions. This was a ten week, once a week evening class, and against my prejudices, I began to see some light by the seventh week.

 Henry George was born in Pennsylvaniain 1839, and after some traveling around on land and on sea, settled for a while in San Francisco.  There, his thoughts on economics solidified, and he wrote his treatise, Progress and Poverty. In brief, he argued, and explained in great and painful detail, that man’s labor and capital belonged to himself, while the things of nature belonged to all society.  Where natures’ supplies were limited, the user should pay rent to the community for the right to use it.  This, he proposed, should be accomplished through collecting the major portion of the rent of that land, or privilege, by a land tax, and the elimination of the tax on improvements. 

His philosophy was affirmed by many world leaders: Leo Tolstoy,  Dr. Sun Yat Sen,  Charles Dow of the Dow-Jones firm, and Winston Churchill, who once declared:  Land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies –it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly

I followed up this course by another in San Francisco, stopping once a week on my way home from work in Oakland.  Then, other courses using George’s texts: Social Problems, Protection or Free Trades, and Science of Political Economy.  Joining the school around this time was a new proponent of this philosophy, Robert de Fremery, a delightful gentleman, who had arrived at similar economic conclusions on his own before coming to the School.  He brought with him his (and many others’) conclusion that our banks should operate on a one-hundred percent reserve system.  His book, Money and Freedom, covered the history of money and how the banking system evolved, and how to correct it.  He had many tales to tell, including one where he asked the president of the California Banking Association (or similar name) to have one of the bank presidents debate with him on several questions.  The Association President told him that couldn’t be done, because the older presidents came up through the loan department, and didn’t know anything about the theories of banking, and the younger ones had studied banking in college, and would have to agree with him.

Enough of the subject matter.  Anyone can research it on their own.   This story is how I entered into a whole new phase of life, meeting new people, discussing and arguing with them, socializing and learning new concepts of economics.  These new friends included sympathetic university professors, members of the school in other cities, students and proponents around the Bay Area.

One of the founders of the San Francisco School in the twenties was a Joseph Thompson.  As a youth he worked for Pacific Gas and Electric, and lost an arm in an industrial accident.  He took his workman’s compensation benefit and founded a company building electrical transformers, and fared very well financially.  He and other believers founded the school, and he continued to attend our functions for many years.  He enjoyed being master of ceremonies, and repeated many times that he had been the only president of  The Bohemian Club, whose father had also been president of the Club. He once had to leave one of our meetings and scurry over to the “Grove” to introduce President Hoover. I last remember him when he was recovering from a stroke.  At a cocktail party he told me his best test of his recovery was to “box the compass”, which he proceeded to do perfectly, a recitation I find quite taxing.

I was president of the San Francisco School for one year, but the real work was done by the Executive Secretary, Bob Tideman, who was thoroughly devoted to his work.  His son, Nick Tideman, is a professor at Virginia Tech University of Economics, and I enjoyed a visit by him four years ago, while we reminisced about our activities some fifty years before, when he was just a lad being indoctrinated in Georgism. 

In the late fifties I began leading some of the classes inSan Francisco, and later inSan Mateo.  I read in a news letter of a Frank Haylock and Mary deLong living in San Mateo.  They had studied in the New York Henry George School.  They were responsible for my joining the choir at the San Mateo Congregational Church, and Frank and I began teaching together. We had a program of inviting recent high school graduates interested in economics to a summer class held at the Coyote Point campus of the College of San Mateo. I recall a mother of one of these students phoning the vice-president of the College, William Goss, complaining that we were promoting communism.  Goss turned the complaint over to Tideman, who satisfactorily explained to the mother that George believed that labor and capital belonged to the individual, and land value was created by the community, thus subject to it collecting some of its rent. The philosophy was definitely not communism.

Many of the adherents of George lived in Marin, and a number of them were medical doctors.  We often had seminars (and parties) over there, frequently with Dr. Bud Weedon and his Japanese wife June, whose father had been in the vicinity of Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped, but survived for some time. Another friend in Marin was Lillian Lincoln  Howell, whose father founded Lincoln Electric Company and later the family established the Lincoln  Institute of  Land Policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, devoted to the study of the best use of land.  A local economist friend of mine told me he had recently been to one of their seminars inWashington, D.C.  Lillian and I dated a bit, and she once took my son, George, and her son, Lincoln, to DisneyLand, but we eventually went our separate ways. I checked on a 2006 San Francisco Chronicle story on Lillian, and how she founded the TV station KTSF in San Francisco, devoted to Asian cultures.

Another interesting woman with our philosophy was Irene Hickman, who moved from the Bay Area to Sacramento. She was elected CountyAssessor of Sacramento County in 1966 on the platform of assessing in accordance with the California State constitution, which said that land and improvements will be assessed separately and at one-hundred percent of cash value.

At this time, in the State, land was generally assessed at ten percent and improvements at twenty-five percent of cash value.  Her reassessment caused such uproar, though the tax rate was reduced proportionally, that the governor called a special session of the legislature, and the constitution was modified so both land and improvements were assessed at twenty-five percent of actual value, which didn’t make much sense.  Irene was not long at the job, though, as I remember, she made public her belief in reincarnation (I never knew who she thought she had been), and she was hounded out of office.

Another adherent was Bill Filante, an ophthalmologist inMarinCounty who served for fourteen years in the State Assembly and died, unexpectedly in 1992,  and a Bay Area reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, Harlan Trot, often reported stories favorable to taxing land, but his editor told him to cool it a bit. There are many others studying and arguing land value taxation: legislators, educators, laborers, and philosophers.  What do we have in common, other than seeking justice, and improving the economic life of everyone?  Then in 1975, I remarried, and lost my involvement in the movement and the school which, I believed, had closed.

I have kept in touch with some of the present activists.  Nick Tideman, in 1995 wrote me that both he and Steven Cord, President of The Henry George Foundation of America, had made many trips to Russiaand and adjoining countries, at the invitation of interested groups there, to advise them on the value of land taxation. Many economists felt that during this period, when The Soviet was breaking up and converting from communism to capitalism, was the right time that the natural assets of the country, which, theoretically, belonged to all the residents, should continue to benefit all of them.. Such tax laws were never passed, and today there are seventy seven billionaires in Russia controlling the natural wealth of the country.

So, this was the intellectual and social life of mine during the late fifties and the sixties, philosophies that took me beyond my own personal interests.  Thinking back, it was sort of like belonging to a cult.  These are not popular opinions with people who don’t care to study the subjects, and adherents are hard to come by.  We were enthused when working together, but it was lonely when alone. Since California’s Proposition Thirteen, and the partial freezing of assessments, the School’s influence here is moot.  However, adherents are active in the eastern United States, influencing many taxing jurisdictions to assess land at a higher rate than improvements. I have a different life now, but still follow the land and banking arguments, and am happy that there are still proponents for our beliefs.

  Remember these great economic principles: Man seeks to satisfy his desires with the least effort, and man’s desires are never satisfied!

 

George Parker

March 2010

Addendum, July 2012:I

Wanting to up-date this treatise, I decided to try again to contact Lillian Lincoln Howell.  A year ago when I phoned her residence, I was told she was unable speak with me. I had lost her phone number, but had her address, so there I was, standing at her gate, wondering if I would be admitted.

Admitted I was, to a welcoming family: two small dogs, a pretty girl, Addie, relaxing after her graduation from U.C. Berkeley, her mother, Betty, equally pretty, whose family is a long-time friend of The Lincolns, and now manages the house and is personally dedicated to Lillian, and a Philippine woman who takes personal care of Lillian, who at that time was asleep. I explained my mission was to renew old ties and see if she remembered me. While the caretaker was bathing and dressing Lillian, Addie, Betty, and I spent an enjoyable hour talking.  Then Lillian appeared, decked out in fine clothes and looking radiant.  She was beautiful.

She didn’t remember me, but kept smiling, and seemed pleased to see me as I told her about the years in Marin County when we were activists, and how she had taken my son, George, and her son, Lincoln to Disney Land. Then Lincoln, who had been in the  mansion, La Dolphin, across the street, arrived, a handsome, rugged looking man with a short beard. We chatted some more, photos were taken, and they all escorted me to the street and waved as I drove away.  It was an exciting and satisfying morning.

II 

I had seen on the internet a while back that The Henry George School of Social Science inSan Francisco was now back in operation.  I dialed the advertized number, and explained to a David Giesen my former involvement with the school. He is very anxious to visit with me and hear of the past. I will invite him soon for I, too, am anxious to talk about those stimulating and interesting days.

George W. Parker

July 2012



This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 at 3:34 pm and is filed under Economics, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Your comment