Mason Gaffney

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Such dismal dilemmas economists pose for us these days! We're told that to attract business we must lower taxes, shut the libraries and starve the schools; to prevent inflation we must have millions of people unemployed; to make jobs we must chew up land and pollute the world; to motivate workers we must have unequal wealth; to raise productivity we must fire people. Mason Gaffney has devoted his career to demonstrating the viability of reconciliation and synthesis in economic policy. In these 21 wide-ranging essays, he shows how we can find "win-win-win" solutions to many of society's seemingly "unsolvable" problems.

"One of the most important but underappreciated ideas in economics is the Henry George principle of taxing the economic rent of land, and more generally, natural resources. This wonderful set of essays, written over a long and productive scholarly career, should be compulsory reading. An inveterate optimist, Mason Gaffney makes an excellent case that, by applying the Henry George principle, we can reduce inequality, and raise ample public revenues to be directed at any one of a multitude of society's ills. Gaffney also offers plausible solutions to problems of urban renewal and finance, environmental protection, the cycle of boom and bust, and conflict generated by rent-seeking multinational corporations." — JOSEPH STIGLITZ

"A crisp cocktail of geography, history and economics, chilled by crackling-clear prose. In these sparkling essays on rent, land and taxes, Mason Gaffney gives us Henry George in his time and for our own." — JAMES GALBRAITH

Mason Gaffney is a national treasure. He boldly treads where few other economists even dare to peek: at the extraction of rent from the many by the few. Such rent extraction is now massive and threatens to destroy our democracy. To those who wonder how to stop it, my advice is simple: read Gaffney.—PETER BARNES

Comments delivered to the Council of Georgist Organizations Annual Economic Justice & Unsung Hero Awards, July 28, 2020,
by Stuart Gaffney

When I was little, the man you know as Mase or Mason to me was just my dad, and then as I grew up he was my dad the professor and economist.

Many years passed before I realized he was also my dad the activist, dedicating his life to creating a better, more just, more equitable world. Dad liked to get into what we might call "good trouble."

But thinking back over our lives together, I have many memories of his fights for social and economic justice: I vividly remember when I was younger, and he brought me along to hear him speak before a hostile crowd regarding the peripheral canal proposed to bring more Northern California water to Southern California. As far as I could tell, the entire room was against him, and some were quite hostile. My own mind turned to eyeing the exits and thinking we should have a plan for escape. But Dad grabbed the microphone and calmly answered every question, looked every questioner in the eye, and never wavered. Even though growing up it's natural to think of our parents as heroes, even superheroes, this was the first time I saw him as BRAVE. This was better than leaping tall buildings in a single bound!

This was also the first time I realized the water use and resource allocation -- things Dad talked about all the time until my sister and I cried out in unison, "Dad, you're overexplaining again!" -- were hot topics that excited passionate debate. And my father was in the middle of it all!

There were many other signposts along the way that told me Dad was an activist, ranging from the way he raised us listening to folk music and protest songs, to the sign on the bicycle he rode to work every day in Washington DC that said "Pollution Solution." He railed against motorcycles and introduced me to the term "noise pollution" at a very early age. He introduced us as kids to his friends like Weld Carter and Arthur Becker -- and they always had an air about them like they might be plotting to take over the world -- as a kid I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

And then years later when I had started to find my own way as an activist, when I met all of you for Dad's CGO Award in Albuquerque in 2003, I realized something Dad had never told me -- you are all activists. You are all making good trouble here together. You were all dedicating yourselves to creating a better and more just world -- just like Dad was, just like Dad raised us to do.

Dad did not immediately embrace the news when I came out to him, but over the years he and I talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked -- and occasionally we listened -- and as a result came to a better and closer understanding of each other than ever before. And then the most unexpected thing happened -- when John and I became active in the marriage equality movement, it was the first time that I truly felt he recognized me as a chip off the old block -- so much so that he began to follow our activism with an enthusiasm that was equal parts proud parent and rabid fan. After the reception following a marriage equality film screening in which a short film I made showed before a feature on Gavin Newsom, Dad wrote: "We loved it all! Never before have I seen so much embracing and congratulating and general euphoria following a presentation."

He was so excited for us to speak to all of you all about the lessons learned from the marriage equality movement at the CGO annual meeting in Newport Beach in 2014. He felt that our movements shared common values of social justice and fairness, and that we could learn from each other lessons on what he called "moving from the margins to the mainstream."

Now I've spoken today about how I came to understand Dad, and all of you, as activists. But I want to say now that I now understand something even more fundamental. All of you were like family to Dad. When I look back over years and years of emails from him -- so many emails! -- I also see how much he loved all of you. We are often copied on the same infinite reply-to-all emails chains that he so loved to send out -- and coming from him I see this as the ultimate proof that he saw us all as extended family together. Your life work, is his life work. Mi familia, es tu familia.

I would just want to say briefly that nothing about life during the pandemic is normal -- and nothing about the end of life during the pandemic is normal. I've come to say the pandemic giveth, and the pandemic taketh away. Because in the final months we all endured a painful separation from Dad, the inability to visit him, see him, hold his hand, and so much more. But there also gifts of the pandemic, including daily Zoom calls in the final weeks when we got to see him and be in touch with him in a way that would not have possible otherwise. On those Zoom calls he would often sing to us. While this program is for unsung heroes -- Dad was definitely not unsung, in the sense that he always had a song in his heart, singing was one of his favorite things in the world.

The last song he sang us on Zoom just a few weeks ago was "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha. The opening lines of that song are now a beautiful and haunting memory, an ode to a life well lived: "To dream the impossible dream." After that line he started humming the rest, but I hear those lyrics as if he were singing them to us right now:

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause

Thank you all for continuing the quest, this is the best tribute to our father's life work. Thank you for being like family to our dear Dad, and now to us.

Mason Gaffney

Mason Gaffney

October 18,1923
- July 16, 2020

New York Times Obituary

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