How the parties of labour became mainstream

Supporters of the ideas of Henry George were behind the founding of labour parties in Australia and the UK, and Andrew Fisher and Keir Hardie became early leaders of those parties.

Despite the Asquith Liberal Party government having introduced the land tax in the UK “People’s Budget” of 1909—only to have it defeated in the House of Lords—the fact that the Labour Party also favoured the introduction of a land tax began to diminish the popularity of the longer-established Liberal Party. Whilst a land tax remains a plank in the UK Liberal Party platform, in the Labour Party’s wish for respectability [hello, Tony Blair!] a land tax has disappeared from its aspirations altogether. That suits banking and speculative interests down to the ground (so to speak).

It’s now the same in Australia.

Andrew Fisher’s first Australian Labor Party government introduced a federal land tax in 1910. This had the effect of breaking up enormous estates and, along with municipal rates, played a strong part in the development of Australia’s regional areas (see 6.1).

Although land taxes had worked well at all three levels of government in Australia, Liberal Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies abolished the federal land tax in 1952, leaving it the province of the states and municipalities only.

But in a 33 minute parliamentary speech on 24 February 1953 Labor leader Arthur Calwell, vehemently attacked the decision: “We of the Australian Labour Party have always believed that the land is the patrimony of the people, and that nobody has a complete and absolute title to it …. The land belongs to the people, and its use must be safeguarded and protected at all times …. We have always believed in the land tax, and when happy days come again we shall restore the measure, imposing the tax to the statute book of this country.

But, no. Apparently Calwell and others in favour of a federal land tax were misguided and delusional; they’d become an embarrassment. So, in 1963 Cyril Wyndham, the new Labor Party national secretary decided to simply write the land tax out of the ALP’s 1964 policy platform altogether – without the mandatory party vote. [!]

Even in successfully capitalist America, property taxes had played a more significant role than the taxing of earnings until 1933. It’s been largely downhill ever since, especially after the undue influence of “voices for freedom” (sic) Ayn Rand, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, America’s Heritage Foundation, and Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs had taken control of public policy. These bodies, supported by all political parties because they have serious money backing them, have wrongly decided that extractive rent-seeking by banking and speculative interests should be treated no differently from those earned incomes which actually create wealth.

Private rent-seeking in natural resources has superseded productivity, generating impossible levels of public and private debt, and bringing down world economies. But the situation remains a mystery to the many supporters of progressive democratic parties who’ve forgotten their roots.

That, unfortunately, is why the world is where it is now, folks!