“Geoism and Libertarianism” by Fred Foldvary

Libertarianism is the philosophy of live and let live. Its ethic is that it is morally wrong to coercively harm others, and not morally wrong to do what is not harmful to others. This ethic is a natural law, due to human nature as beings that can choose their actions. We therefore have a natural right to do whatever is peaceful and honest.

In libertarian political philosophy, government should not be imposed on people by force. The proper role of government is to protect our natural rights. To the extent that government instead violates our rights, government is morally illegitimate. Where government is imposed, it should have the limited role of protecting the territory from outside attack and providing for internal justice. Otherwise, government should let people be themselves.

Libertarian government policy therefore consists of these elements: 1) No intervention in the affairs of other countries; 2) A pure free market with no restrictions on peaceful and honest production, exchange, and consumption; 3) full civil liberties, with no crimes unless there are victims who have been invaded; 4) Public finance from user fees, pollution charges, and very limited taxation, if any.

Geoism is the philosophy of sharing the benefits of the land (geo), while respecting the equal self-ownership of persons. Self-ownership implies that one owns one’s body and life, and therefore one’s labor and wages and the products of labor. These should be unrestricted and untaxed, and traded without taxation or restriction. The benefits of land have their economic manifestation as rent, which can be shared either as public revenues, community financing, or as dividends to the members of a community. Geoism draws much of its inspiration from the thought of the economist and social reformer, Henry George. It is thus often called “Georgism,” although the basic ideas were present long before George.

We can see that the two movements and philosophies have much in common and have no inherent conflicts between them. There are adherents to both movements, geolibertarians who identify with both geoism and libertarianism. But for the most part, these have remained distinct movements with different cultures. Libertarians stress individualism, while many geoists emphasize community.

Many libertarians have little knowledge about the economics of land and rent. Those who favor minimal taxation think of limited income or sales taxes and are not aware of the option of using land rent. Libertarians think all taxes are bad, and do not consider the economic reality that different types of taxes have quite different effects.

Geoists are focused on land, rent, and taxes, and mostly ignore other freedom issues such as victimless crimes, regulations, excessive litigation, and free-market schooling. Many geoists don’t fully understand free trade, or that regulation is a type of tax, so that true free trade would deregulate as well as untax.

Libertarianism and geoism are complements. Geoism fills the lack of an adequate view of public finance in conventional libertarianism, while libertarianism provides a more complete view of the geoist aim of free trade.

It is mostly ignorance and separate historical traditions that keep the two movements apart. But there are geolibertarians who strive to bring the two movements together. As the intersection grows, it will indeed create a more powerful and appealing philosophy and policy.

If you do a web search on “geolibertarian” or “geo-libertarian” you will already find many entries. The term “geolibertarian” has been around since the early 1980s. Now the “geolib” movement has taken off, and efforts to join together both movements are growing worldwide. May the day come when “geoism” and “libertarianism” are synonyms, meaning the same thing!

Originally appeared in The Progress Report.

  • Andrew Rex

    Amen. I agree wholeheartedly, and I appreciate Fred making the connection between the two movements. Without land value taxation, libertarian ideology becomes propaganda for corporatocracy, as de-regulation clears the path for well-endowed entities to exploit markets with poor information (or sophistication in how to use it). With the land value taxation of georgism, libertarian ideology actually becomes a viable alternative to the corporatocracy – and, I suspect, could out-compete it as individuals choose to reject the coercions of membership in corporate life. Poverty and mis-education might still draw people into corporate consumerism and servitude, but if the alternative is viable, I suspect that it will flourish.