February 12, 2018

"They held a town pageant in Arden, Delaware, on September 5, 1910... One Ardenite, an anarchist shoemaker named George Brown, played a beggar."

"This annoyed some of the other players, because no such role had actually been written. But Brown decided to add it to the program anyway, so he dressed in rags, caked himself with mud, and invaded the proceedings, taunting the other characters and demanding alms from the audience. Many 'onlookers needed assurance,' The Single Tax Review reported, that Brown 'was only "part of the show."' This was a pattern: Brown liked to talk, and not everyone liked to listen to him. According to the novelist Upton Sinclair, who lived at the time in a little Arden house that his neighbors had dubbed the Jungalow, Brown insisted on 'discussing sex questions' at the Arden Economic Club. When the club asked him to cut it out, Brown declared his free-speech right to continue and kept talking until he'd broken up the meeting. He broke up the next meeting too, and finally, Sinclair wrote, 'declared it his intention to break up all future meetings.' At this point some of the locals wanted to have him arrested for disturbing the peace. But that required outside help, because the town of Arden did not have a police force. In fact, the town of Arden didn't have a government at all.... [E]veryone involved in the George Brown caper of 1911 is long dead. Yet Arden is still here, a little shire surrounded by an otherwise ordinary suburban landscape...."

I'm reading "Delaware's Odd, Beautiful, Contentious, Private Utopia/Arden is a suburb, an artist's colony, and a radical political experiment" by Jesse Walker at Reason.com.

I'm reading about Arden — here, in pre-dawn Madison, Wisconsin — because Meade and I were talking about growing up in the early 1960s, when you saw lots of kids outside playing all the time. I was thinking about the Arden store, where I blew my allowance every week on penny candy....



... which I ate all at once on that porch. The Arden Store, on the edge of Arden, was about 3 blocks from where I lived, in what Reason called the "ordinary suburban landscape." We thought of Arden as a strange place, where the artists lived and where taxation was very different.
The Single Taxers were followers of Henry George, a 19th century economist who argued that government should be financed solely by a tax on land values. No income tax, no sales tax, no tax on the improvements to a property—just one tax on land. The campaigners crisscrossed the state in armbands, knapsacks, and Union Army uniforms, delivering streetcorner speeches and singing Single Tax songs ("Get the landlords off your backs/With our little Single Tax/And there's lots of fun ahead for Delaware!").... The invasion was a flop.... 

39 comments:

John Lynch said...

Trolls before the internet.

Wilbur said...

He'd fit in very well with the Occupy crowd.

TerriW said...

Ancient Greece had a guy like that. They took care of the problem a little differently.

surfed said...

Photographs of your past childhood haunts. My parapatetic wandering with my naval aviator dather has me going back to my various childhood scenes and homes. I have photographs much the same as your candy store porch. My favorite was our little RC Cola and a Moonpie corner store (still there) where if you had collected enough pop bottles for the deposit you could afford a small bag of peanuts to pour into the bottle of cola. Ever so wonderful on a hot summer day...

Hagar said...

Henry George defined "land" with everything on it and under it - trees, oil, iron, whatever.

Humperdink said...

My mother would give me a dime after school and I would walk two blocks to the corner store for a large cold one - a bottle of Hires root beer. What a treat. I drank it at the store to avoid the 2 cent deposit.

David Begley said...

Did young Althouse know that Upton Sinclair was a former neighbor?

My kids used to walk to Mike’s tiny corner store from their grade school. Fab selection of candy. But the school required that they be a certain age. The kids all loved it! It was a big deal when they were old enough to go to Mike’s.

Mike lived above the store. He closed it after he got tired of being robbed at gunpoint. The store is now a co-working space.

Mark said...

The last straw with George Brown was when he loudly began to interrogate the pageant director and head of the economic club why they refused to talk about how awful Trump was, and accuse the townspeople of being Trumpists, while also whining that they folks were unfairly ganging up on him when they told him to cut it out.

MountainMan said...

Henry George - haven’t thought about him in years. I remember learning about him in 7th grade American history.

dustbunny said...

I’m sure that is a photograph but it looks like a painting. Was althouse the photographer?

Ann Althouse said...

"Did young Althouse know that Upton Sinclair was a former neighbor?"

Sinclair lived in Arden from 1910 to 1912, so it would have been only a little factoid about the place and I can't remember if I knew.

I lived next to Arden when I was 10 to 12 years old, and I don't think I'd heard of Upton Sinclair. My ideas about what Arden was were very fuzzy, similar to my ideas about what beatniks were.

Ann Althouse said...

When I live there (in a new development called Holiday Hills), different kinds of people lived in different places, and I was too young to think much about why. It was just a mystery. Most notably, at that time, the black people lived in an area we called "the slum," and I didn't know why. I didn't have adults around me who explained everything. You were supposed to observe, maybe read Life Magazine, and come up with your own questions and search for answers on your own.

Kylos said...

My first thought on that tax plan is that it would make it so much more cost-effective to be a landlord. Tenements in particular would be extremely profitable.

Ann Althouse said...

"I’m sure that is a photograph but it looks like a painting. Was althouse the photographer?"

It's a screen grab from Google street view. I chose the angle and the frame, but oddly enough, I did it mostly so I could enlarge the engraved portion and read the date on it. It's the Star of Bethel Lodge, 1859. The sign on the front says Star of Bethel Hall. I think it was a fraternal organization, but it was an old-timey grocery store when I lived there. I believe the owner-operators were an old Japanese couple. I certainly don't know their story. I can see that the building was also, later, a record shop.

The place looks old in that picture, but it also was old — the oldest thing around — when I lived there in the early 60s. It was already over 100 years old. The inside was very old, with what must have been the original wood floors. The practice of buying penny candy was a thing of the past that our parents had done and that was strange to be able to do at the time. The candy was behind the counter and the one of the owners would put your items in a little bag for you. I think there are probably more places today that do penny candy than there were back then. It was odd. And Arden, of course, was odd.

But we were over in Holiday Hills in a split-level house, living in "the space age."

Ann Althouse said...

"My first thought on that tax plan is that it would make it so much more cost-effective to be a landlord. Tenements in particular would be extremely profitable."

Why? A big part of the plan is that you are not assessed on the improvements to the property, only on the value of the land. Wouldn't that be an incentive to build a very nice building on which you could collect high rents?

Kylos said...

Or a very shoddy building on which you could collect high rents. It would incentivize the maximal space utilization. Maybe not slums, but would definitely encourage renting vs owning your own place.

Bruce Hayden said...

“The Single Taxers were followers of Henry George, a 19th century economist who argued that government should be financed solely by a tax on land values. No income tax, no sales tax, no tax on the improvements to a property—just one tax on land. The campaigners crisscrossed the state in armbands, knapsacks, and Union Army uniforms, delivering streetcorner speeches and singing Single Tax songs ("Get the landlords off your backs/With our little Single Tax/And there's lots of fun ahead for Delaware!").... The invasion was a flop.... ”

One problem, in my mind, with such a Single Tax is that it would be harder to hide one big enough to support modern government. We put up with a higher net tax rate because some of it is assessed here, some there, etc. You pay some tax on your income, some on your purchases, some on the real property you own, some on the business related personal property, etc. Add it all up, and it can be substantial.

Property taxes have their ow problems. What happens if you have rapid inflation, and a fixed income? Push up the value of the property should push up the tax on it. But that means that you could easily find yourself forced to sell due to the increase in taxes due to the increased value of the property. You could go the CA route, where assessment appreciation is limited until a property sells, but that makes selling that much onerous, locking a lot of people into their properties.

Another problem with limiting taxation to real property is that it is classist - making the upper and upper middle classes pay all the taxes, and letting the working class, and the poor off from paying taxes, despite often being bigger users of govt services. My guess is that this was probably part of why they liked it - it likely came out of the Marxian distinction between capital and labor, taxing the one, and not taxing the other, because the one is owned by the evil capitalists, and the other provided by the glorious proletariat.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Where are the Anarchist shoemakers of yesteryear? I miss those crazy bastards.

Libertarians are so ensnared in the contradictions of their own good intentions and their own pained insistence that they’re not like the other guys, that they either end up Statist Lite or Boobytraps in the Woods. Drill down on the ideology of the average Libertarian/Anarchist and you soon find they’re anything but.

Richard Dillman said...

Is that like the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare? Sound a bit like it.

Richard Dillman said...

Is that like the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare? Sounds a bit like it.

Typo correction.

Matthew Sablan said...

I'd never heard of there before, and I'm from Delaware.

Maybe I'll pa ya visit. I bet the geocaching is awesome around there.

John Scott said...

If that store where you bought the candy is on the corner of Marsh and Grubb they made a pretty good sub. The actor Will Geer is from Arden.

Go Bluehens!!

Birkel said...

I cannot understand why threats of great bodily harm, followed by acting on the threats if they were ignored, did not solve the problem. Did those people think themselves too sophisticated to demand what was theirs?

He should have been removed, bodily, and with great prejudice.

Herb Bitman said...

This interested me as I live on a street called Arden Place. Sadly it resides in an ordinary suburban landscape.

lgv said...

I couldn't help but notice the weird roofline of the porch. It looks like a bad photoshop, but since it was Google grab, it is likely just an odd turn or cutout.

I'm pretty sure Sinclair would have avoided the anarchist as much as possible.

Edward Bo said...

I grew up a mile from Arden in the 60s and 70s. Because the Arden school only went to 8th grade, the Arden kids went to my high school (Mt. Pleasant). I still keep in touch with a few of them.

I always knew that Arden was different, but I just thought of it as an artists' colony. Even back then, its politics skewed way left. My old Arden friends on Facebook like to call themselves Ardenistas (with some sense of irony).

lgv said...

"Why? A big part of the plan is that you are not assessed on the improvements to the property, only on the value of the land. Wouldn't that be an incentive to build a very nice building on which you could collect high rents?"

You would maximize rents, which may or may not end up being a very nice building.

Matthew Sablan said...

A lot more Delaware folks here than I thought there'd be.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Assuming your single-taxing government succeeds in separating out the unimproved value of the land, your tax will be exactly the same no matter what you do with it-- therefore the tax doesn't give you incentive to do or not to do any particular thing with it. To the extent that there's any justification for the idea, it lies precisely in that: the tax, unlike most other taxes, doesn't distort anyone's behavior. (It also doesn't raise anywhere near as much money as governments spend nowadays, but that's a different issue.)

Ann Althouse said...

"If that store where you bought the candy is on the corner of Marsh and Grubb they made a pretty good sub."

There was a sub shop at that corner, diagonally across the street from this place. That was a great sub shop.

Ann Althouse said...

The sub shop looks like it's still there. It see it in Google street view. No idea if it's really the same people or the same subs. How could it be? That was 50 years ago! But the corner looks about the same. So does my old neighborhood, except that the windows on my old house are a little changed. We bought the house new, and now it's over 50 years old. Much newer though than the house we live in now, which is getting close to 100 years old (in the old part). And we still a have the original floors there. They are fine. They don't look ancient, like the floors I remember in the Arden Store.

John Simmons said...

Ann,

I live about 4 miles from Arden and grew up in Windybush, off Silverside Rd. This should be known to you since you grew up nearby. The Arden Sub shop is no longer a sub shop (seems like it's a pawn shop type gold buying store, but the building is still there. Arden hasn't changed that much over the years and many of the surrounding neighborhoods have aged well. I
m soon to be 62 years old so I remember the sub shop well. North Wilmington has grown a lot but Arden remains somewhat constant. And it's still full of some odd-ball characters.

John Simmons

Anthony said...

I grew up in Wynnwood, just near Holiday Hills, though the houses there weren't finished until 1971-2. But out local swooning pop was the one in Holiday Hills. As an right-year-old, I'd ride my bike through the park area to the pool. But my corner store we by the Acme at Naamans and Foulk.

Arden was separately incorporated by then. My mom tells me they looked there, but chose to buy a new house instead.

Anthony said...

Swimming pool, not swooning pop. DYAC!

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

I've twice performed at the tiny theater in Arden! A strange little place with enthusiastic crowds!

Kylos said...

Paul, the tax would incentivize maximally efficient usage of space because a property owner would seek to reduce their fixed costs relative to profit. A landlord would benefit by packing as many units as possible (or renting high priced units). The effectiveness of such a scheme would obviously be balanced against the total cost of ownership of land.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Umm... what do property owners do now, instead of trying to reduce their costs?

John Kindley said...

As an anarchist, a single taxer, and a former student of Professor Althouse, I dig this post.

Danno said...

I fondly remember penny candy. And free-range children, of which I was one.