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Basic Information

Georgism (aka Geoism) is a philosophy and economic system centered around the concept that land belongs to the people collectively.

As an economic system, a Georgist nation would impose a single large tax on the value of land. This tax would then be the sole means of income and funding for the government, goods and labor would not be taxed. Only property-holders would pay for the functions of the governing body, the poor and landless would be exempt from taxation of any sort.

There are of course a few major variations on how that could be done in practice:

  • A large portion of the tax might simply be reapportioned to all the people of the nation. Everyone who owns land pays for the right to do so (via an annual tax), and the value of the land, and that money is then evenly distributed amongst all the people sort of like a "dividend" or "national salary".
  • The government might actually own the land, and merely lease it out. This is effectively very similar to private ownership and a large tax, for most purposes, but carries with it the idea that the government might be able to choose who gets lease the land.

The main benefits of Georgism are similar to those of Socialism, but with a smaller and less intrusive government. In the ideal Georgist nation, the common welfare of the people is assured, and financial power is less likely to be concentrated in the hands of a few important land-owners or corporations. The lower class would be largely freed from the high cost of rent, as landlord-ism would no longer be a viable way to get rich. You wouldn't have huge manor-homes for the rich, or large undeveloped areas, instead land would become readily available to those who had ideas on how to use it. Land speculation would not be a viable way to make money, removing much of the "gamble" out of the economy, and eliminating the boom and bust cycles.

How a georgist system deals with issues such as varying land values1, subtenancy2 and transfer of holdings3 will have a massive effect on its results.

Ideologically, however, Georgism is much closer to Libertarianism (and is more a variation upon Capitalism than an alternative to it). Government would be kept smaller, especially in the version of Georgism where the tax is redistributed as a dividend to the populace. While the cost (the tax) to maintain a house year-after-year would go up, land speculation would cease to be a means of wealth. This would drop the high initial barrier towards building or owning a house or shop, and lower the barrier to starting a new business. Those who do own or lease large tracts of land would be motivated to develop it towards getting the most efficient and valuable use out of it, which should result in improvements in technology and technique.

Georgist policies would seem to make most sense where land ownership and production are closely correlated - in a pre-industrial society, for example, agricultural land is the primary means of production and renting it is an easily understood source of income. In this context, georgism varies little in principle from historical systems (for example feudalism was based around


1. Website: Wikipedia
2. Website: School of Cooperative Individualism - explaining how Georgism is like Liberatarianism
3. Website: Georgist Studies - has a solid overview of the history and key concepts of Georgism

Game and Story Use

  • Though in the real world the concept of Georgism didn't come around till the 1800s, it could actually fit in well in your typical medieval fantasy kingdom. In such a case, the tax might be paid in men-at-arms provided for the common defense, instead of / in addition to money to the crown. The big difference here is that the concept of nobility would be absent. Money and land wouldn't be owned by some prestigious family that passes down the title over the generations. Instead, anyone who could figure out a way to make some money off the land could step forward and do so with a relatively low bar to entry. In a setting with magic, buried treasure, and the like, all sorts of new business opportunities would open up.
    • There's an old dungeon or ruin out there in the wilderness. In a Georgist system, the PCs could easily acquire exclusive rights to the dungeon and whatever treasure they pulled out of it, but only if they first pay the crown 1 year's tax on it.
    • Opportunities may abound in a Georgist nation for the PCs to buy a castle, fortress or temple, if the previous owner/builder can no longer afford the taxes.
  • During a major economic crisis along the lines of the Great Depression, a lone Georgist nation remains stable and solvent where the bubbles burst in nearby nations.
    • This instability could lead to war.
  • A nation undergoes a Georgist revolution or transformation mid-campaign. Suddenly, the economic strata are overturned. Those who had been wealthy land owners are suddenly impoverished.
    • A Cattle Baron, Rail Baron, Nobleman, Millionaire, Corrupt Corporate Executive, etc style of character could be set up as an "untouchable" opponent for the first leg of the campaign. Then, after you've established them as a major threat to the PCs, you tear out the financial empire that made them so powerful and untouchable, giving the PCs a sudden window of opportunity to strike at the NPC while they are vulnerable.
    • The wealthy probably won't go down without a fight. They may figure "use it or lose it" in regards to their fortune, and hire a force of foreign mercenaries to start an insurgency / counter-revolution.
  • "Georgism gone wrong" could fit in a dystopia. Instead of providing any services to the citizenry, the gov't just cuts you a check once a year. To overcome the huge tax per square foot of land, landlords build cramped tenement-style apartment buildings, and pack in as many people into as small a space as possible. Huge towering skyscraper arcologies become the norm, with most of the populace living more than 30-stories up. Landlords may eject tenants with impunity. A person may find themselves an exile-in-all-but-name for the tiniest infraction. The same thing, on a larger scale, is the government's only means of punishment when the megacorporations default on tax or otherwise violate the law, but when a landlord is ejected, so are his hundreds of thousands of tenants. The government is choked of funds by this, and has to strip down to a barely functioning skeleton. The "Bureau of Land Management" is the only gov't agency with sufficient funding… and it has it's own secret police.
  • Let's not beat around the bush. The main point of this entry is to round out the "economic system" section of our random nation generator.
  • Reasonably expect a georgist nation not to be famous for the quality of its architecture - building requires tenure, lack of tenure will tend to lead to the minimum practicable investment in structures.
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