Miracle of Mata Ortiz

Here are some YouTube pictures of my involvement, 1976-present, with the village of Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico. They were put together for the occasion of the University of Juárez recognizing my promotion of tourism in the region. But the story has to do with the village itself, which in 1976 was desperately poor and fast becoming a ghost town. At best, the villagers raised some beans and corn, and grazed some animals on unfenced mountain range. It was remote, without even a graded road to it and, because of this, had no effective government and no taxation. In this anarchic setting, the chance collaboration of two individuals, myself and one of the villagers, Juan Quezada, led to what’s been called the “miracle of Mata Ortiz.” Juan was a totally self-taught artist whom I had discovered and felt had world-class potential. Before I met him, through sixteen years of experimenting alone, inspired by prehistoric pottery shards and with no inputs from the outside, he had developed a complete ceramic technology. I gave him economic freedom to develop his art in any direction of his choosing and devoted seven-and-a-half years, full time, to promoting it in the United States, opening a dedicated gallery in Los Angeles, arranging museum exhibitions and demonstrations tours, and thus gradually introducing him to the art world. For his part, he taught the rest of his village, until today there are more than 450 potters in a village of less than 3,000 souls, perhaps one of the densest concentrations of artists the world has known. Juan is a natural anarchist, and from the beginning we both avoided as far as possible any involvement with government.
Today, following three decades of laissez-faire economy, the village has gained a world reputation for its hand built pottery which is technically unmatched anywhere. The villagers are winning competitions all over Mexico and the United States, exhibitions are being held this summer in Brazil and Europe, a traveling exhibition in the united States was partly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Juan was awarded the Premio Nacional de los Artes, Mexico’s highest honor to a living artist, a younger artist, Diego Valles won a similar award, the Premio Nacional de la Juventud in the category of art, Mexico’s highest honor to an artist under thirty. Many families are giving their children a university education; Diego himself completed an engineering degree including a year’s scholarship to Australia, before finally devoting himself to art. Dozens of books have now been written about Mata Ortiz. Until now, northern Mexico had never been known for its art. It was a rough country of miners, cowboys, revolutionaries, its two chief histories being Chronicles of a Barbaric Land and Chihuahua: Storehouse of Storm. It was too far removed from central and southern Mexico to be able to relate to mainstream Mexican art; that art, so heavily influenced by Aztec and Maya themes, is not seen in the north. But now its rough norteño energy is being channeled into art inspired by themes from the very earth of Chihuahua.
Conditions were right for the miracle of Mata Ortiz. There was Juan’s superb experimental mind, artistic talent, and generosity as a teacher, and there was my obsession, aided by a modest independent income, with seeing it blossom and come to the attention of the art world. But an essential condition was the total freedom we experienced to do what we chose, free of any kind of governmental supervision, regulation, or taxation. The latter is beginning to change. Attracted by the affluence of the village, the State of Chihuahua is finding ways to take credit for its success, has built a highway to the village and promised a park and extravagant improvements, and in other ways begun to insinuate itself into a position of taxing the artists. But the momentum is there. The future of Mata Ortiz, whatever direction it may now take, is assured.
The following YouTube presentation was done by Raechel Running, artist-in-residence at our Center for Casas Grandes Studies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbCP-aQfpqM
Spencer and Emalie MacCallum
Casas Grandes, Chihuahua
August 21, 2011

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Enterprise of Community

Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1901), part 1. The Enterprise of Community


Here is one of my most important papers, originally published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies (Vol. 17 No. 4 / Fall 2003). Inspired by the work of Spencer Heath, it explains the close relationship between land and environmental concerns. But it addresses a further question: whether common, community needs might not be handled entrepreneurially just as our private and individual needs are today.


This idea that communities as such might be operated entrepreneurially is uncomfortable for many libertarians, and I was long puzzled as to why. The reason, I think, is the inherent conflict of interest in politics—which is all about some people administering other people’s property ostensibly for the public good. In order for such a system to work, the generality of people must believe (public choice theory to the contrary) that individuals in public office can be altruistic and put aside or even work against their own private interests to best serve the public. Hence politicians project above all their altruist image. When one is caught with his hand in the till, it can be blamed on him as a bad individual and not on the system. He must be replaced, of course, with someone whose altruism is beyond reproach. Where to look for a replacement? Least likely would be the world of commerce, where people are openly and avowedly pursuing self interest—even if their method of doing so is to serve the interests of their clientele. Jane Jacobs beautifully described the sharp division between the ethos of the “guardian class” and that of those involved in commerce in her book, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics.


That individuals are wired to be able to put aside and even work against their own interests when attending to the common welfare is a premise that serves everywhere, across all cultures, to legitimize politics. It distracts from and so conceals the inherent conflict of interest that would make politics intolerable if it were recognized. It is the unspoken, basic, absolutely indispensable support of the state mystique.


Not even the free market’s staunchest defenders are immune. Having absorbed this unspoken premise with their mother’s milk, as it were, many are queasy with the idea of entrepreneurial administration of a city (which for Jane Jacobs is the the natural social unit rather than nation). They are more comfortable with voting, which is not a proprietary process but simply people ganging up on one another. This essay works from the opposite assumption, that proprietors administering their own property in a free and competitive society can best be depended upon to serve the interests others—not as subjects but as clientele.



The Enterprise of Community:

Social and Environmental Implications of

Administering Land as Productive Capital


We hear a lot of expressed concern about conserving the environment. But no one talks much about producing it. Why not manufacture it competitively and sell it in the free market like other goods and services—and even bundle it with product support? As a matter of fact, exactly that is being done. Designer environment is relatively new on the market, but its manufacturers stand behind it, and we’ll doubtless see lots more of it in the future.

To explain this proposition, let me first identify an incentive structure that’s of rather recent origin and only now gaining explicit recognition in commercial real estate. Then I’ll identify a two-hundred-year, empirical trend in land use. In the light of the emerging incentive structure, this historic trend has far-reaching and unexpected social implications.

It doesn’t matter that the incentive structure I’m about to describe is in its infancy, since in matters of social progress it is always the trend, and not any particular stage of development that is significant. But before tracing out the logic of the incentive structure, a key term I’ll be using calls for definition. For a moment let’s talk abstractly about land.


Land as an Economic Concept


We’re accustomed to thinking of land as something physical; we describe it as clear, rocky, fertile, barren. But those who deal in land say its value is determined by three factors: location, location, and location. It makes sense from an economics standpoint, therefore, to look at land not as anything physical, but as location—and moreover a special kind of location that has to do only incidentally with geophysical coordinates. Defined in this way, land is intangible, always changing, never fixed in supply.

We are talking about location with respect to all of the things in the environs of a site, near or far, present or anticipated, having any relevance for its intended use. This excludes features of the site itself, such as the presence or absence of valuable minerals, soil, water, or built improvements. We are interested in what surrounds the site, not what is on it. Admittedly, having said that, the physical attributes of a site can influence the uses of surrounding land and so in that way and to that extent its environment and hence its value. But except for that, the physical features just named can be bought, sold, altered, or removed from a site without affecting its location as here understood. 

From this perspective, what landowners actually sell—that which commands value—is location with respect to a specific environment at the moment of consideration or anticipated for the future. A site merely defined by geophysical coordinates without reference to its surroundings has no ascertainable value; it comes into demand only as its environs have relevance for an activity that is to take place there. A prospective home site for a young family gains in desirability if there is a school nearby, or a mine site if there is a railroad accessible to transport its ores, or a retail site if there are residences nearby, not to mention parking spaces, utility grids, and many other things. When we buy or sell land, therefore, we are trading in what might be called positioning rights—rights to position ourselves and our activities strategically relative to other people and activities we consider significant.

For this discussion, therefore, “land” will mean economic location, or location that is potentially of use to somebody so that it commands a market value. It should be noted that “location” in this sense and “environment” are correlative terms, each implying the other and alone having no meaning. While it is practical to define a parcel of land in terms of “metes and bounds,” or geophysical coordinates, because these are constant, its economic location and hence its value is fluid, reflecting the changing location/environment of the site and the subjectivity and situation of the actors. Paul Birch (2002) puts it succinctly in economic terms: “The site value of a property is simply the sum of the externalities directed to that property from all other properties.”


Administering Land as Productive Capital


         The immediate advantage an owner can take of his parcel of land is to use it himself, directly, as a farmer might or a homeowner. But that is of no interest to us here. Our concern is with the incentives a landowner acquires on bringing his land into the market—that is to say, on selling or letting out its use to another or to others. If he sells it, then of course he will be out of the picture and of no further interest for this particular discussion. But if he opts to lease it to others while retaining its ownership, he may be in the picture for a very long time. He will no longer be using the property himself but will have made a specialty of its ownership and administration. Ownership and use will have separated. That is the situation we want to study—and the more so if he has multiple tenants. In the case of a single tenant, the discussion that follows may have little relevance. But with multiple tenants it begins to be consequential, because a multi-tenant property begins to approach a community.

When ownership and use have parted and the owner no longer has the direct use of his land, what is his incentive with respect to it? How can he maximize his advantage from it over the long term? The only way he can do so is by making the site more valuable to its present or prospective tenants/users so that it will bring more rent. What does that entail?

As suggested above, the use anyone makes of a site is facilitated—indeed made possible—by the suitability of the site for the activity in question. That suitability depends on what people are doing elsewhere, and the proposed activity, or lack of one, in turn affects the value of sites elsewhere, creating a systemic process constantly changing with changing culture, individuals, and technology. By modifying the environment of a site (and thereby its economic location) in ways that make the site better suited for its intended range of uses, landowners make it more valuable to present or prospective tenants—who are then willing and able to bid more for it.

         What is significant in the broad social picture is that landlords singly and collectively—persons specialized in the ownership and administration of sites rather than in their use—have incentive to optimize the environment for present and prospective site users, in the process creating land value and helping to harmonize land uses community-wide. They are, collectively, the natural free-market agency of community land-use coordination and planning. They have an economic incentive to become environmental entrepreneurs.

         The owner of a regional shopping mall, for example, is concerned about all of the things he has any control over within that mall that are environmentally significant for the individual leased sites, such as there being the right combination of stores to create maximum draw from the market area served—taking into account the income level, culture and special needs of that particular market. He is also concerned that the managers of those stores make an effective retailing team, each ready to cooperate in a hundred different ways, such as participating in joint promotions, referring customers, maintaining a good appearance, keeping regular hours, or alerting one another promptly in security matters. He is equally concerned about having adequate parking and attractive landscaping of common areas.

         But as a competent environmentalist, he is also concerned with a wide range of things outside his mall that affect each and every one of the sites he offers for lease within. He is of course concerned about the more obvious things, like convenient freeways and other transportation to the mall from his market area. But he also wants the community itself to be affluent, since that means a prosperous customer base for his mall merchants.

As within the mall itself, so in the surrounding community: one of the things most affecting the utility and value of the land and thereby the affluence of the inhabitants is the presence or absence of common services such as the provision and maintenance of parks and well-placed streets, water and power and other utilities, sewerage, security, justice services, and the like. Just as a mall owner, therefore, is concerned with the quality of management within his mall, so also is he concerned with the quality of management in the community surrounding the mall, which is to say, the quality of local government. He is not alone in this concern. He is one among a growing constituency of commercial property owners, all of them concerned to see that municipal services are performed well and at least cost to the constituency, whether that means monitoring, informally supervising, subsidizing, or actually providing the services themselves—alone or in collaboration.

         Now a small landlord, leasing or renting to perhaps one tenant, has little hope of improving or rearranging the environment of that small parcel to make it more valuable to the tenant. He is almost as helpless as an individual owner who uses the land directly. He lets it for whatever use and level of use the existing surroundings permit and has little control over how community infrastructure is provided. If he looks for any improvement at all, it is for municipal government to intervene on his behalf.

But as he enlarges his holding or combines with others to achieve a holding of more practical size, and begins to lease not to one but to multiple tenants, he gains leverage over the environment. He may now find it economically feasible to build substantial physical infrastructure for tenants in his multi-tenant property. But even before that, he finds that he creates environment in the very act of leasing to multiple tenants, since each tenant becomes a factor in the environment of every other. This has been carried to high levels of sophistication in the selection and arrangement of tenants in shopping malls.

Returning to the example of the shopping mall landlord, he goes well beyond merely selecting and arranging particular land users for optimal synergy and then building physical infrastructure for them. By providing proactive leadership and by creating in the terms of his leases rules that facilitate community living, he builds effective social infrastructure as well. He brings focused attention to the myriad environmental factors affecting land users in that place in order to facilitate a highly complex, interactive community of landlord and merchant tenants.

Just as environment is blind to property lines, so is the landlord’s concern on his tenants’ behalf. As he achieves success in building land value, he becomes economically more able to influence environmental factors beyond his property boundaries, both directly and in cooperation with other landlords, each of whom has similar environmental concerns.

         By virtue of this incentive, a distinctive entrepreneurial role for landowners in the market place has been building for more than two centuries. Instead of continuing like everyone else on his own plot as an environmental consumer, some owners have specialized and differentiated by administering their land to benefit others, who are now their customers. In so doing, these owners are administering their land as productive capital in the market. Their enterprise consists in the production and marketing of optimal human environment. As this enterprise has grown, so has the accompanying know-how.

However unconscious and unplanned, the spread of this enterprise reveals the general outline of a new paradigm of incentives governing the production and distribution of community goods. Ever so quietly, little remarked by social commentators but with the seeming inevitability of a sea change, this paradigm has increasingly manifested with the advent and growth of multi-tenant income properties in every area of commercial real estate.


Growth of Multi-Tenant Income Properties


The multi-tenant income property is the application in an urban setting of a form of land tenure that for millennia characterized agrarian societies. It consists in holding the overall land title intact while parceling sites among land users by leasing. On-site improvements, on the other hand, may be owned by anyone, depending on the particular circumstances. Multi-tenant income properties are thus the antithesis of real-estate subdivisions, such as condominiums and planned unit developments, in which a tract of land or a building is fragmented into many separate ownerships. Developments so fragmented can never become commercial properties.

Although the principle is ancient and widespread, modern multi-tenant income properties stand out as an American phenomenon. From their first appearance in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, they grew along a rising trend line that steepened after World War II, when they expanded dramatically in number, kind, size, and complexity.[1] Entrepreneurs in this new line of business created myriad environments reflecting the specialized needs of a seemingly endless variety of clientele—merchants, travelers, manufacturers, residents, and professionals of every variety. Each new class of environment that met with success in the market defined an economic niche. In rapid succession, we saw the debut of hotels, apartment buildings, office buildings or “skyscrapers,” luxury liners, camping grounds, commercial airports, shopping centers, recreational vehicle (RV) parks, mobile-home parks, coliseums, small-craft marinas, research parks, professional parks, medical clinics, theme parks, leasehold manufactured-home communities, life-style centers, as well as, increasingly, integrations and combinations of these and others to form properties larger, more complex and, significantly, less narrowly specialized.

As these properties become more generalized through mixed and complementary uses, they begin to approach what we are accustomed to think of as communities. Some hotels today, for example, compare with a small but complex city. The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, for example, includes shopping areas, professional offices, convention facilities, eating places, chapels, theaters and art galleries, medical services, a security force, and the list goes on. In terms of population size, counting registered guests, visitors, and service personnel, it is several times larger on any given day than the city of Boston at the time of the revolutionary war.[2]

As entrepreneurial landlords learned to build land value by optimizing environment for their customers, the greater part of the retail and professional community in the United States abandoned the atomistic pattern of subdivided lots along Main Street, devoid of a unifying proprietary interest, and moved into larger landholdings under integrated ownership. Here the organized landowners, of whom there can be unlimited numbers through the use of stock and other undivided interests, offer many of the services that once only governments provided, including streets and parking, sewerage, storm drainage, power distribution, security, and landscaped public places. Indeed, the level of sophistication of common goods routinely provided in large multi-tenant income properties far surpasses that of municipalities.

The rapidity of growth of such environmental enterprise in the free market has been extraordinary. The shopping center at the close of World War II was small and experimental. Fewer than a dozen existed in the United States, and even the name had yet to be coined. Today, shopping centers and malls in the United States number  nearly 50,000 and accommodate three-quarters of the non-automotive retail activity of the nation (ICSC 2008).[3]

The growth in size of properties and number and diversity of tenants has led landlords to far transcend their stereotypical role. From being passive recipients of rents, they have become entrepreneurs. For each specialized type of multi-tenant property, they tailor their management style to the needs of their clients. A large mall, for example, requires a serious commitment to leadership on the part of management to forge a collection of merchant tenants into an effective retailing team. Teams need a coach, and the mall manager is it. His coaching role calls for keeping peace and building morale among many highly competitive merchants. The merchants recognize that his concentrated entrepreneurial interest in the land confers on him a potential for leadership that is his and his alone, to be found nowhere else in the mall. Unlike the tenants he serves, who are naturally partisan and inclined to exploit the mall as a commons, his interest is in the success of the center as a whole and that of each and every proprietor on the team. It’s not that he has no store, because he does; the center is his store and the tenants are his customers. Consequently, he is at once interested and disinterested, concerned yet impartial. His leadership presence is a major environmental asset for the community of merchants. Commentators in the retail trade literature have called it the whole premise of the shopping center.


Rationale of the Multi-tenant Income Property


The business rationale of the multi-tenant income property is straightforward. As environmental entrepreneurs in the economic niche defined by their type of property compete to lower their asking rents, a field of prospective tenants, similarly competing, bid up the rents they are willing to pay. For owners and managers who succeed in offering both physically and socially attractive environment in this competitive market, land revenues return the costs and a profit besides.

With the continuing trend toward mixed-use development, it becomes increasingly obvious that multi-tenant income properties are communities. As such, however, they stand out against the spotted record of traditional, subdivided communities, which can only be run politically. Subdivisions are not market phenomena, because they do not sell a product and consequently have no customers. Not generating an income, they must subsist on assessments, or tax levies. Multi-tenant income properties, on the other hand, are business enterprises. Because they serve customers, they earn an income. Their market revenue makes them self-supporting and thereby sustainable. Market revenue not only finances the current operation, it enables the accumulation of reserve funds from which to renovate as needed or even to completely rebuild to the same or another use in that or another location to stay competitive with other locations being similarly administered in the market. Here we see illustrated the immortality of productive capital.


Then why is subdivision still the norm

in residential housing?


         A question naturally arises regarding the growth and spread of multi-tenant income properties. Why, with the major exception of apartments and hotels, has nothing comparable happened in the housing field? Instead, we have subdivisions with homeowners’ associations, which David Friedman (1987,506) describes as government like any other.[4] The anomaly may be due to a combination of factors. One may be that novelty tends first to appear in the business market where competition drives innovation and efficiency and only later makes its debut in the consumer market. So land leasing was taken up first by retailers and may yet be adopted for residential development. Indeed, we may see the beginning of this in lifestyle centers. A different factor is cultural—the longstanding American ideology favoring home ownership on one’s own piece of land, an ideology that traces to colonial times and the repudiation of the last vestiges of feudalism in Europe.

         Still another factor is public policy. For 80 years, detached, single-family subdivision housing has been aggressively promoted by a collaboration of the federal government with the corporate building industry.[5] Further, federal income tax policy discriminates against renting or leasing for residential use. The government also directly subsidizes homeownership through its various federal mortgage insurance programs. This insurance only covers homes in a subdivision with a qualifying homeowners’ association, which in effect mandates subdivision housing, since most builders feel their product must qualify for federal insurance if they are to remain competitive in the industry. Finally, the taxing of dividends at substantially higher rates than capital gains encourages short-term venturing, as in subdivision housing, over conservative, long-term investment for income. At the local level, moreover, many municipalities require residential developers to adhere to the formula of subdivision with a mandatory-membership homeowners’ association.

Certainly all of these factors play a role, but how they weigh one against another awaits empirical and historical study. The public policy factor is so great as to suggest that the ubiquity of subdivision over land leasing in residential housing is a matter of market distortion more than of consumer preference. To the extent the explanation is cultural and psychological, we know that change is possible and can happen rapidly, as evidenced by the abrupt shift of New York City apartment living from disrepute to respectability virtually overnight in the mid-nineteenth century (Cromley 1990).


Social Implications


However they may be provided, it is important to recognize that common services and amenities like streets, utilities, parks, and public safety pertain to sites rather than to persons as such. Individuals derive benefit from them only as occupants of a place. Thus when landowners sell or lease sites for price or rent, they are in fact acting as the market purveyor of the public services and other environmental amenities attaching to that place.

With that in mind, let us imagine a scenario forecast by Spencer Heath in 1936. Pointing out that communities have owners, albeit unorganized, he forecast that growing numbers of entrepreneurial landlords and their investors would organize and begin to monitor the provision of public services. They would come to realize that what they are merchandising are the environmental amenities of their sites, prominent among which are the public services of the host community. If indeed they are merchandisers of the public services, Heath argued, then in a strict sense public employees are their agents, even if not fully paid or supervised by them.

Today, Heath continued, the unorganized community owners might be likened to the owners of a hotel who allow their staff to be chosen by public shout and, without supervision or salary, to finance themselves and the operation as they see fit by picking the pockets of the guests. But as enterprising landowners become aware of their broad, potential role in the provision and marketing of public goods—how they fit into the large societal picture—it will only remain for a sufficient number of them to organize and assume full responsibility for providing public services to the host community. Thus would its public services become a free-market enterprise. Their first step would be to voluntarily assume full fiscal responsibility, realizing in a practical way the Georgist dream of the “single tax,” followed in due course by administrative responsibility. This, Heath forecast, would all come about as a matter of good business, as commercial landowners saw their opportunity to enhance land values dramatically by providing effective community services while relieving site users of the harassment and burden on their productivity that taxation and bureaucratic regulation entail.[6] (6) The provision of common goods would then become a truly competitive, free-market enterprise.


Cooperating through realty associations


Assuming only that the historic trend toward a business-like administration of land as productive capital will continue, then it seems inevitable from the logic of the situation that the growing numbers of environmental entrepreneurs will associate to further their common interests. Near the top of the list will be the desire to enhance community-wide services while relieving land users of taxation and its abuses and limiting or doing away with bureaucratic regulation. Historically, being small and divided, landowners had little power to effect any significant improvements outside their own small parcel. The increase in the number and size of multi-tenant income properties, however, is changing the picture.

As trade associations develop, their membership will come to include not only the larger landowning interests, but owners of small multi-tenant and single-tenant properties and even owner-occupiers, as the trade associations are seen to offer a more promising avenue to improvements than city hall. For the first time ever, we will see major trade groups endowed with substantial resources dedicated to promoting the public interest. For the special interest of their founding member firms will be the prosperity and well being of their tenants and properties, which they will see as interconnected with and dependent upon that of the host community.

As local real estate associations grow and develop and communities prosper, the environmental industry will inevitably organize on state and regional levels and take on correspondingly broader responsibilities for the physical and social environment. Associations will concern themselves with regional security, public parklands, and communications, even as shopping malls today on a small scale are known to build public roads and other common facilities, pro-rating the costs between them.


Adam Smith


         Fully half-a-century before modern multi-tenant income properties appeared in the United States, Adam Smith (1901,365) described the congruence he saw between the landed interest and the general public interest. In ways he could not have foreseen, the present discussion bears out his statement of broad principle:


The interest [of landowners] is strictly and inseparably connected with the general interests of the society. Whatever either promotes or obstructs the one, necessarily promotes or obstructs the other. When the public deliberates concerning any regulation of commerce or police, the proprietors of land never can mislead it, with a view to promote the interest of their own particular order; at least, if they have any tolerable knowledge of that interest.


This alignment of the landed interests with the interests of land users, the latter embracing the whole of society, is explained by the fact that land utility and value is a function of environment. As an economy becomes more specialized, this concert of interests becomes ever more marked. When an individual gives up the direct use of his land and instead administers it as productive capital by letting its use to others, he acquires an economic interest in creating environments conducive to the well being of those others. His concern extends, albeit indirectly, to the total population, since its well being or adversity in turn affects his tenants.

It is noteworthy that Spencer Heath more than half-a-century ago was not so much proposing a social reform as he was merely predicting a future course of events, extrapolating from the free-market process as he knew it from what he saw happening around him. If the scenario he forecast is correct, the commercial real estate industry will find it in its business interest to voluntarily assume the full provision of public services, both locally and regionally. Not the least of these services will be to untax land users and relieve them of the manifold burdens of political government. In this way will the industry promote the general prosperity while building land values for its investors throughout the population. Through local and regional realty associations, neighborhood will compete with neighborhood, community with community, and region with region. On all of these levels, the competitive provision of common goods will be among the most highly profitable of all enterprises.




At the beginning of this paper, I set out to get the reader’s attention by stating an unlikely sounding proposition. I said that human environment, both social and physical, resembles any other good or service in that it is amenable to being manufactured, marketed and maintained through the freely competitive processes of the free market. I then did three things. I analyzed how this works in theory; described how it has evolved in practice, and showed the unexpected and significant result toward which the practice must logically lead.

That is to say, I first analyzed an incentive structure that was not present so long as land was mainly owned for consumption or speculation, but that came about with the emergence of land ownership as a capital enterprise. Second, I showed how that pattern has unfolded historically in the emergence and proliferation of modern multi-tenant income properties. Finally, from that trend in real estate, I extrapolated to the future.

The unexpected result logically implied by the continuation of this trend in real estate is nothing less than the qualitative transformation of government from, to follow Oppenheimer’s distinction set out in The State, a political process to one purely economic. It seems especially fitting that this transformation will come about not by taxation, the marching and marshalling of armies, or the deliberations of legislative bodies, but by the quiet emergence of the enterprise of community as an almost incidental consequence of the continued normal development of the free-market process.




Paul Birch, “A critique of Georgism,” 29 August 2002.  www.paulbirch.net  


Elizabeth Cromley, Alone Together: A History of New York’s Early Apartments (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).


David Friedman, “Comment: Problems in the provision of public goods,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 10 (1987).


Spencer Heath, Citadel, Market & Altar (Baltimore: Science of Society Foundation 1957).


Spencer Heath, Politics versus Proprietorship (Elkridge, MD: Privately printed, 1936).


International Council of Shopping Centers (www.ICSC.org), ScopeUSA, 2008.


Spencer H. MacCallum, “Residential politics: How democracy erodes community,” Critical Review Vol.17 Nos.3-4 (Fall/Winter 2005), pp. 393-425.


Spencer H. MacCallum, “Jural behavior in American shopping centers: Initial views of the proprietary community,” Human Organization: Journal of the Society for Applied Anthropology 30:1 (spring 1971).


Spencer H. MacCallum, The Art of Community (Menlo Park, CA: Institute for Humane Studies, 1970).


Evan McKenzie. Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (Yale University Press, 1994).



[1] For an early history of the multi-tenant income property, see MacCallum (1970,7-48).

[2] Boston Public Library, Reference. Boston had 15,520 inhabitants in 1765. By the time of the United States Census of 1790, this had grown to 18,038–freemen only. Counting room guests, service staff and visitors, the population of the  MGM Grand ranges between 35,000 and 70,000 persons daily (MGM Grand public relations department 1998).

[3] Automotive retail trade includes dealers and service stations.

[4] “Is not the residents’ association, with compulsory membership, compulsory dues, and democratic voting rules, simply a local government under a different name?” For a discussion of homeowners’ associations, see MacCallum 2005.

[5] For a detailed historical account, see McKenzie 1994.

[6] Spencer Heath (1876-1963), was an engineer, lawyer, poet, philosopher of science and social philosopher, as well as a pioneer in early aviation, developing the first machine mass production of airplane propellers in 1912 and ten years later demonstrating at Boling Field the first engine powered and controlled variable and reversible pitch propeller. He was awakened to social issues as a young man by the widely influential novel, Looking Backward, in which Edward Bellamy set forth compellingly a socialist vision of the future. Rejecting that after six months and looking for something more workable, he found himself attracted to Henry George’s emphasis on free trade. This began a 35-year active involvement in the Georgist movement, which focused his attention on land. Studying George’s proposal that government collect and disburse all land rents, he came to recognize the importance of the private administration of land as productive capital. This new perspective he outlined in 1936 in a self-published monograph, Politics versus Proprietorship, and elaborated in 1957 in his main work on society, Citadel, Market and Altar. Spencer Heath’s literary estate is administered by the Heather Foundation, 713 W. Spruce Street, PMB 48, Deming, NM 88030. <sm@look.net>

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Spencer Heath Archive

When my grandfather, Spencer Heath, died in 1963, now almost fifty years ago, I had the good sense to gather up all of his writings, a good bushel basket full of mostly penciled notes, jottings in tablets and on the back of envelopes. Gradually over a period of months I transcribed them uniformly by typewriter, in no particular order, numbering each as I went. The final tally was just over 2,000 items, now called the Spencer Heath Archive.

Subsequently, at the suggestion of Donald H. Allen, Alvin Lowi studied and annotated several hundred items, pulled more or less randomly since there was no organization to the cartons of typed sheets, looking for ones relating to the philosophy of science. For although Heath had never published on that subject, he valued his discoveries in the philosophy of science more highly, even, than his contributions to voluntaryist social organization. Years later, in 1998, Lowi authored “The Legacy of Spencer Heath,” intended as a forward for a contemplated new edition of Heath’s Citadel, Market and Altar. In the Summary of that essay, he wrote,

 “Spencer Heath is remembered here for his work to establish a realistic basis for science. His theory of reality upholding observable events per se as the foundation of natural science suggests a reformulation of physics in terms of action (instead of the more abstract energy) and has far-reaching implications. A rational measure of quality, or value, in human terms is found in the dimensions of action. Heath’s reasoning is followed into the domain of social phenomena where an action concept of population provides a quantitative measure of social performance and a humane rationale for human progress.”

Except for Alvin Lowi’s work, the Archive lay fallow until this year, 2011, when Emalie and I undertook to scan it to make it accessible to the public. It is now about one-fifth scanned, and I am amazed and humbled at how much richer the content is, now that I come to it with greater understanding than in my callow years half-a-century ago. When Item 456 came up this week, Emalie suggested posting it on this site as a taste of what we are finding. (While I thought it a bit technical for a beginning piece, Emi won out.) Because Heath published little, and never had students, his ideas are little known. An accessible Archive may go some ways toward remedying that.

If this interests you, please send us some feed-back!


Spencer Heath Archive Item 456


When a physical scientist discourses upon the great modern discoveries in atomic organization and as to mass and motion, space and time he very frequently makes off-hand reference to the real subject matter of physical science as being energy or action, happenings or events. In doing this, he virtually concedes that all his previous discussion has had reference only to various and partial elements or aspects of the actual reality with which he deals. No longer speaking of matter and energy, matter and particles as ultimates, he unconsciously lets them fall into a unified conception as actions, happenings or events. He thus by implication acknowledges that his prior conceptions have been but particular abstractions out of that total reality of which mankind is a part and with which alone, as action or actuality man can interact and thereby have experience.

Physical science is rational. That is to say its method is measurement in terms of definite dimensional units and numerical quantities. It is in the ratios between such quantities that its rationality consists and on which its facility of mathematical description and analysis depends.

Physical science shows how there are three measurable aspects in which exterior objects or events impinge upon the interior consciousness in the following order:  First, as mere mass, force or inertia, pressure or impact. Second, as motion or rate of motion through distance, direction or space, and Third, as repetition, rhythm or time, — the intermittency or discontinuity of motion into periods of duration. This is the order in which the three aspects, elements or ingredients of objects or events enter into the human consciousness and, taken together, constitute the three-fold concrete reality of any action or event of whatever magnitude or kind.

By means of standardized units of measurement such as dyne (unit of inertial mass or force), the centimeter (unit of linear motion through distance or space), and lastly, the second (the unit for a period of time or duration, the inverse of frequency of an event), events can be measured, their dimensions ascertained. These three dimensional units are called the “fundamental units of physical science” because other physical units are secondary, derived from or compounded of these.

Notwithstanding that an event does not come into concrete experience otherwise than in the full unity of its three component aspects or elements, it is nevertheless possible to measure any one of them or each of them in turn by the simple expedient of taking no account of the presence or persistence of the other two. Through this device these components may be and often are regarded as independent entities or actions instead of mere abstractions that cannot separately, or otherwise than in their threefold unity, play any part in concrete experience. Nor can any two together be experienced except in composition with the third. For some purposes, it may be convenient to treat force times units of motion separately as energy or work, without regard to time, or motion per unit of time as velocity, without regard to force or mass. But energy as work, or as a rate of work, without specific duration, cannot be experienced; nor can motion or rate of motion, apart from mass or force and time.

When employing the fundamental units, the numerical magnitude of any mass is taken always as the number of mass, force or inertia units per each unit of motion (ratio of mass to motion). Hence the quantity of mass-motion units taken together, such as dyne-centimeters (called ergs), is expressed by the product of the ascertained number of mass units into the number of motion units ascertained or contemplated as associated with them. These two aspects or elements thus taken together are designated as energy or work. When the motion is in contemplation only, and not actual, the “energy” is said to be “potential” and refers not to any actual energy as action or work but only to a hypothetical capacity of doing work and while “potential” only cannot, of course, be any part of objective experience. In like manner, so many ergs of energy or work, being merely a product of force times a number of motion units without reference to time, does not describe any specific action or event unless the rate of energy is stated as the number of ergs that act through or are associated with a single unit of time.

A great deal has been written and reasoned about “three-dimensional” space, but it is plain that in this only one measuring unit is involved, namely, the linear unit, in whatever number of directions it may be employed.

Now there is a fine and precise correspondence between the three-fold kinetic magnitudes that can be experienced and those three-directional merely static and formal magnitudes that can only be conceived. For the three elements or aspects of any action or event taken together constitute its over-all magnitude just as the three right-linear dimensions of any merely spatial or volumetric magnitude taken similarly together constitute our abstract conceptions of volume or space. And in like manner as these linear abstractions may be variously composed so as to include equal volumes in manifold varieties as to form, so equal magnitudes (volumes, as it were) of kinetic energy or action are manifested objectively to experience in similar great variety according to the numerical ratios of mass (inertial), motion and time which taken together constitute the various otherwise and over-all equal actions or events.

Differences between events arising from differences in their internal composition — in the ratios or proportions subsisting among their constituent elements — may be regarded as purely qualitative differences. These ratios determine the different kinds of events, and these ratios or unit quantities of action or events, as related to a single unit of time, when multiplied by the total time involved give the over-all magnitude or dimension of any particular event or succession of events of a given composition or kind. It is the ratios that determine the kind, the repetitions the quantity, dimension or magnitude. And it is to be noted that the former, the kind, is abstract and subjective and incomplete whereas the latter, the quantity, which includes the ratios of mass to motion and of motion to time, is the conception which alone can represent and come, into objective experience. It is owing to their differences of composition or kind that it is possible for internally differentiated events to enter into vast reciprocal and complex organizational and organic interrelationships among themselves whereby new events as new entities and new modes of operation are evolved and new and complex functions achieved. This capacity of energy as action and events to organize itself in ever higher structures and events may be identified as the principle of transcendence whereby the Universe is an evolving cosmos. And this tendency of future organizations of energy to transcend the past is ineluctable and not to be denied. For among similar organizational forms, whether organic or inorganic, those so organized within themselves that the time component or duration between organization and disorganization shall be greatest will be continuing and extant when those of lesser temporal organization shall have ceased and passed away. It is in this inherent determination towards higher and more enduring organizational forms that the cosmos exhibits its transcendent nature, its ever-advancing and its all-enduring Reality.

Physical scientists are increasingly agreed that all matter, all structures as such, are none of them fundamental entities but, rather, organizations of energy as action or events, having always a three-fold composition of mass or particle, motion or velocity, and duration or period of time, which last is stated usually as the frequency. Under this conception, action or events is seen as being of two varieties: One called radiation, the other called material structures, particles, atoms, molecules or cells and including cellular organisms, all basically the same as radiant waves. They occur in linear succession but their frequency is relatively low, their period of duration exceedingly long as compared with the duration of a radiant wave. These two kinds of organization, those having a high frequency as waves with their mass or particle aspect barely if at all perceptible, and those of low frequency of succession, having palpable mass and inertia, are now regarded as inter-convertible and mutually equivalent without loss. The one may be called free, the other bound energy or action. It springs from the disintegration of bound energy and tends towards indefinite motion and extension in all directions, just as gas molecules tend to occupy all space and the universe as a whole seems indefinitely to expand. Bound energy exhibits higher organization, condensation and concentration and gravitational aggregation towards rotational and polar organization with mutual repulsion and attraction, depending on likeness or unlikeness of rotation and consequent dissimilarity of polarity and poles. Bound energy tends to integrate free energy and free energy tends to liberate bound energy. There are constant transformations, but those organizations, otherwise similar, in which the third element, the durational, is in highest proportion, these by an inherent necessity tend progressively to abide. The principle of transcendence ineluctably prevails.

In all that has gone before, no limitations have been ascribed to the capability of the human organism to experience any and all kinds of action or events; we have tacitly assumed that our general capacity for experience is without limitations. We do know that we have no capacity for direct experience of any vibratory motion except within a very narrow zone of frequency within a possibly infinite gamut or range, whether of light or of sound. Yet we naively assume that since we are under no limitations or restrictions as to the magnitudes we can abstractly imagine or conceive there are likewise no quantitative limitations, no maxima and minima to our capacity for experience in the concrete. We assume that in the whole cosmic complex there are no proceedings or events either so great or so small as to transcend our capacity to know of them or in any manner to experience or understand. We know nevertheless that we are not infinite, that we are limited in all our experiential powers, however unlimited our imaginations and abstract conceptions may be. We have no warrant to assume that the cosmos, even our little physical world, is subject to any such limitations as we. Yet we are prone to rely on abstract symbols that by our own definition lie beyond the scope of all objective experience.

Employment of the symbols for zero and infinity rests on assumptions that any concrete quantity of energy or action can be infinitely divided or compounded to the nth or to an infinite degree. About the year 1900, however, Professor Max Planck broke from this assumption so far as to establish that under the principle of discontinuity an erg-second of work or action is not objectively divisible into any smaller amount than that represented by the exceedingly small fraction 6.60 x 10-27, that any smaller fraction of an erg-second does not act or exist in nature, at least not within the range of objective, as contrasted with imaginary or conceptual human experience. This quantum principle as it is called, in its facts and their implications, is having a profound, even a revolutionary effect upon physical theory and understanding, and this despite many theoretical complications growing out of the persistence of traditional and purely formal abstract conceptions.

These individual granules of events, the smallest realizable portions of an erg-second, the limiting units of action at the border line between abstract conception and concrete experience, are called quanta of action, sometimes “atoms of action” — the “building blocks” of our objective universe. All the higher organizations of energy, whether explosive and centrifugal intermittently as waves or organized in centripetally bound long-term atomic structures, may be regarded all as integrations of basic quanta in their various proportions and forms. Thus all integrations of quanta into structures and organizations resemble in all their fundamentals the basic quanta, those “atoms of action” of which they are composed.

The quantum of action is defined as that very small division of an erg-second that results from multiplying it by the decimal fraction 6.60 x 10-27 (see among others Eddington, Nature of the Physical World, Chapter IX). Like its corresponding erg-second of which each quantum is a very small fractional part, each quantum, in its three-fold composition, has a particle, mass or force element, a rate of motion or velocity element, and an element of frequency as its period of duration or time. And the various interior ratios or proportions in which these elements unite into their quantum magnitude give rise doubtless to the various types of wave formation and the virtually endless variety of atomic structures, processes and operations.

Any composition of mass (inertial mass), motion (per second) and time whose product is unity or one is an erg-second. It may be composed of just one unit each or  it may be variously proportioned, so only that the product remain the same. Now, just as there is a minimum magnitude to which it is possible to reduce the whole erg-second, so there should be a minimum magnitude for each of its constituent parts — unless we are able to take it that the parts are more divisible than the whole. If, then, the dyne, the centimeter and the second are not more divisible than the erg-second itself, it follows that there is a basic unit for each of them, a least magnitude below which it will not unite in composition with the other two, We do not know precisely what these basic units are or in

/Note:  The above copy breaks off at this point, the remainder having been lost or never completed. What follows is from an earlier draft without benefit of amendment or revision./

An erg-second having the unitary one-to-one composition of one dyne (or gram) per each centimeter of motion, one centimeter of motion, per each second of time. It may be indicated thus:

1 dyne  x  1 centimeter  x  1 second  =  1 erg-second

A corresponding quantum of action (h being the customary symbol for the exceedingly small fraction 6.60 x 10-27 of an erg-second) would be,  x  1 dyne  x  1 centimeter  x  1 second  =  h erg-seconds.

It is obvious that the fraction h may affect any one of the unitary factors without affecting either of the other two, but no smaller fraction than h can, by the quantum definition, be employed.

By definition, a quantum of action is an exceedingly small fraction of an erg-second, the customary symbol for which is h. This is the basic unit or atom of action or kinetic energy. Under the same principle of discontinuity there is a basic unit for each of its component parts. These three basic units taken together constitute the unit of energy or action, just as the three customary single units of mass, motion and time constitute the customary single unit of energy or action, the erg-second. Now since the ratio of h to the erg-second is the same as h is to one, so the ratio between the indivisible unit of mass and the customary dyne or gram, between the indivisible unit of motion and the customary centimeter, and between the indivisible unit of time and the customary second should be the same. Under this hypothesis a quantum of action in erg-seconds can be represented as

h dynes  x  1 centimeter per second  x  1 second


1 dyne  x  h centimeters per second


1 dyne x 1 centimeter per second  x  h seconds.

The product in each case is one single unit of action. But there is the extremest difference in the respective qualities or compositions. In case number 1, the least possible element of particle or mass is involved. Case number 2 represents the unit of action in which the lowest rate of motion or velocity is involved. In case number 3 the least possible amount or period of time is involved.

Case number 1 may be taken to represent the basic unit in a wave series or wave propagation in which the particle aspect is at its irreducible minimum, on the border line between imagination and experience. The presence of the particle being equivocal makes each single quantum integration equivocal and thus, like the differentials in the calculus, susceptible of being disregarded in small numbers without impairing the practical or statistical accuracy of any experiment or calculation. The employment of h as the true differential might well diminish or remove the logical difficulty often encountered in the application of the calculus. Furthermore, it is quite possible that the quantum of action h could with profit be substituted for the theoretical point that is said to have position but to be without dimensions, in the whole system of lines, surfaces and solids in the Euclidean geometry.

Case number 2 suggests the kind of quanta that may well be involved in those physical processes and events that take place under conditions of atomic or molecular velocities and temperatures at or most nearly approaching the theoretical zero. Such quanta also may be importantly involved in the reintegration of radiant energy into atomic or sub-atomic structures of lower frequencies of disintegration and less transient organizational forms.

Case number 3 presents example of the kind of quanta that may be of most importance in the disintegration of relatively stable organizations or structures. It is the quantum composition in which the force and velocity elements together are necessarily at their maximum because of the irreducible minimum of time being involved — highest rate of energy acting through the least instant of time. The action is explosive. Such quanta acting statistically in very large numbers seem to account for the extreme violence and velocity of atomic or nuclear explosions and the disintegration of mass into predominantly radiant energy having mass, motion and time in such proportions as in case number 1.

In accordance with the generally accepted principle of discontinuity all energy, all action, all quanta are intermittent. They occur as events in succession. Those that occur in like composition have equal periods of time. Their succession is rhythmic. Whole numbers, being thus fundamental in nature, the Cosmos is not Chaos. It is by reason of the whole numbers of discrete units both in their composition and in the organization of quanta and of the ratios between these whole numbers that we have a rational Cosmos. Never any loose ends, no splitting of hairs.

Rhythm and rationality, whether perceptible or not, universally prevail, not only in the short periods and high frequencies of radiant energies but in bound or integrated energy no less, from the nuclei of atoms to biological cells, from amoeba to man and the organized generations of men. In all there is rhythmic succession and a rationality, order and rationale. All are compounds of quanta in compositions of mass, motion and time. In any type or form of organization those best compounded have the lowest frequencies of integration into higher and disintegration into lower and less enduring forms. Thus the higher types and forms ever more prevail. Organization dominates disorganization because the better ordered the better endures. The future cannot but transcend the present as the present transcends the past.

All kinds of events happen and they pass away. But a creative Cosmic Consciousness and will seems to pervade all. When bound energy disintegrates, whether from insufficient order and duration within or by impact of collision from without, the freed energy propagates itself not in disorder but organized in the form of waves in rhythmic cycles that speed outwards with every radial motion while ___(words missing)___ with all tangential motions, resolvable into two right-angular, in addition to that of propagation in all radial ways. Thus each preceding wave has three special dimensions as well as dynamic. It occupies successive increments of spherical volume having uniform radial depth and increasing as the square of the distance with a dynamic intensity inverse to its increase of volume.*


*Note: This diminution of intensity over the whole spherical surface of a wave may result in the single-wave energy of any small spherical area being of sub-quantum magnitude. This could account for the requirement of a “train” of waves cumulatively to constitute at least a single quantum.


This phenomenon of active energy disintegrating not into random disorder but into a rational system of wave, spherical in form except as it may interact and merge with other or similar systems and thereby assume more complex and more enduring forms gives evidence of an all-pervading Cosmic Consciousness or Will to organize and create.

Every integration of waves, whether into atom or cell, animal or man, man or the slowly evolving organic society of men, has an internal rhythm. And each has its cycle or term from integration to disintegration followed by reintegration into either similar or more enduring forms. The inorganic resists change. It is self-contained and so far as it is stable can react to external energy only by disintegration or by unifying in less stable compounds. The organic is so constituted that it depends on change. It must receive, transform and discharge external energy or perish back into the inorganic whence it came. Its purposive return of transformed energy to its environment is its functioning whereby alone it continues to live. The organic alone can impress its environment with change without itself disintegrating in the process. This depletes environment as the organization thrives. But in its higher forms, as in the organic and reciprocal, the contractual, relations among men, they come into a new form of life, the social organization, in which alone they can progressively create new and happier environment and thereby living better they can live ever longer lives. For the generations of men united in the practice and the freedom of contract, no less than the cyclic successions in all other integrations of energy into action, may be regarded as a succession of energy waves in which as elsewhere the Cosmic Purpose tends to lower frequencies and thereby more stable and enduring yet no less functioning forms.

Science best serves as it is simplest founded, as it yields most answers from fewest premises. The single simple generalization of Professor Max Planck contains within itself much ground for an objective rationale uniting consistently the three diverse absolutes, so called, the absolute velocity of light, the absolute zero of temperature and the absolute explosion of nuclear disintegration. Between the three extremes of quantum composition there are, of course, practically endless intermediate proportions. It is to be hoped that competent investigators, if they have not already done so, will give concentrated attention to the profound implications that seem to inhere in the Planckian hypothesis, not only as to the limiting extremes of quantum phenomena but also the vast field of intermediate proportions in which it may be found possible to unify under one general principle, perhaps all the variant processes and manifestations, organic as well as inorganic, within the Cosmic Complex.

As men seek reverently more and more to understand the creative nature of the Cosmic Mind, so do they come to share the Cosmic Dream.



In the whole universal energy, with its action and reaction, organization and disorganization, there is a durational factor under which there falls to the changing types and varieties of organization unequal endowments of particle, motion and time. By an intrinsic necessity those variant forms least charged with duration or time, other things being comparable, will recede and pass away, while those most endowed will abide and prevail. The balance is not static but dynamic towards the eternal. The lesser endowed must ever be transformed; the more endowed ever more transcend. All action is reaction, all energy is interfused. The inorganic atoms resist change by insulation against external action. The living cell reaches out for external energy which it transforms to its own use and thereby endures. Cells in the reciprocal relations that constitute higher organizations transform and exchange energy. The highest organisms, by their contractual relationships transform and exchange the elements of environment each for many others and many others for each. Men practicing contract employ the golden rule. By this they are re-born into a new life of power and peace. The iron rule of force thereby, and thereby alone, recedes. In their richer realm of contract and exchange men live finer and thereby longer lives. Thus they become creators. In freedom they inherit the earth and in plenty march forward to achieve more and more the abundant and the eternal life.


Spencer MacCallum will speak at Libertopia

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Redefining God as Creativity


The Big Question:

Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete












Stuart Kauffman


No, but only if…


we continue to develop new notions of God, such as a fully natural God that is the creativity in the cosmos.

Humans have been worshipping gods for thousands of years. Our sense of God in the Western world has evolved from Abraham’s jealous God Yahweh to the God of love of the New Testament. Science and faith have split modern societies just as some form of global civilization is emerging. One result is a retreat into religious fundamentalisms, often bitterly hostile. The schism between science and religion can be healed, but it will require a slow evolution from a supernatural, theistic God to a new sense of a fully natural God as our chosen symbol for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe. This healing may also require a transformation of science to a new scientific worldview with a place for the ceaseless creativity in the universe that we can call God.

We must “reinvent the sacred,” but it is dangerous: it implies that the sacred is invented. For billions of believers this is Godless heresy. Yet how many gods have we worshiped down the eons? It is we who have told our gods what is sacred, not they who have told us. This does not mean that what we deem sacred is not sacred. It means something wonderful: what we deem sacred is our own choice. At this stage in the evolution of humanity, are we ready to take responsibility for what we will claim as sacred, including all of life and the planet? If so, we must also avoid a dangerous moral hegemony and find ways to allow our sense of the sacred to evolve wisely as well. Reinventing the sacred is also likely to anger many who, like myself, do not believe in a supernatural God. For many of us, the very words “God” and “sacred” have become profoundly suspect. We think of Galileo forced to recant his heliocentric views by the Inquisition. We do not want to return to any form of religion that demands that we abandon the truth of the real world. We think of the millions killed in the name of God. We often ignore the solace, union with God, and the orientation for living that religion brings.

I believe that reinventing the sacred is a global cultural imperative. A global race is under way, between the retreat into fundamentalisms and the construction of a safe, shared space for our spirituality that might also ease those fundamentalist fears.

The new scientific worldview is just beginning to become visible. It goes beyond the reductionism of Descartes, Galileo, and Laplace in which all that occurs in the universe is ultimately to be described by physical law. In its place, this new scientific vision includes the emergence of life, and with life, of agency, meaning, value, doing, hence of “ought” and ultimately our moral reasoning. The rudiments of morality are already seen in the higher primates. Evolution, despite the fears of some faithful, is the first source of morality. While no law of physics is broken, the emergence of all this in the natural evolution of the biosphere cannot be deduced by physics alone.

What we think of as natural law may not suffice to explain nature. We now know, for example, that evolution includes Darwinian pre-adaptations—unused features of organisms that may become useful in a different environment and thus emerge as novel functionalities, such as our middle ear bones, which arose from the jaw bones of an early fish. Could we prestate all the possible Darwinian preadaptations even for humans, let alone predict them? It would seem unlikely. And if not, the evolution of the biosphere, the economy, and civilization are partially beyond natural law.

If this view holds, then we will undergo a major transformation in our understanding of science. Partially beyond law, we are in a co-constructing, ceaselessly creative universe whose detailed unfolding cannot be predicted. Therefore, we truly cannot know all that will happen. In that case, reason, the highest virtue of our beloved Enlightenment, is an insufficient guide to living our lives. We must reunite reason with our entire humanity. And in the face of what can only be called Mystery, we need a means to orient our lives. That we do, in reality, live in the face of an unknown is one root of humanity’s age old need for a supernatural God.

Yet our Abrahamic God is too narrow a stage for our full human spirituality. In the Old Testament, this God created the world and all its creatures for the benefit of humanity. How self-serving and limiting a vision of God. How much vaster are our lives understood as part of the unfolding of the entire universe? We are invited to awe, gratitude, and stewardship. This planet and this life are God’s work, not ours. If God is the creativity in the universe, we are not made in God’s image. We too are God. We can now choose to assume responsibility for ourselves and our world, to the best of our limited wisdom, together with our most powerful symbol: God, as the creativity in the natural universe.


Stuart Kauffman is the director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. His most recent book is Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion.


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We’ve chosen to call our first offering on this blogsite “Voluntaria,” inspired by Princess Nirvana Goes to Voluntaria, the most recent in the “Princess Nirvana” book series by James L. Payne. An excerpt from the book will appear in Carl Watner’s [www.voluntaryist.com] forthcoming anthology, Taxation: Essays in Opposition (Apple Valley, CA: Cobden Press [www.fr33.com]). With permission from Carl  and Jim, the excerpt appears here as our first-ever blog. Though written for adults, children stand to benefit from this exercise as well. Princess Nirvana goes to Voluntaria would seem ideally suited to explain to children, before they are completely indoctrinated in public schools, what a voluntary city would be like.


Future blogs will touch briefly on a variety of topics, some of them taken from the following list. If you’ve a preference, let us know.


  • The quickening of  social evolution.
  • A proposed means of contractually structuring a free city.
  • Foreign relations for a free city.
  • A skeptic’s view of the presumed ‘right’ to use defensive force.
  • A scenario for establishing a free country on a fictitious, populated Caribbean isle.
  • A close approximation to natural law in traditional Somalia.
  • The changing perception of land with the rise of a market economy.
  • The business opportunity for successfully creating and marketing environment.
  • Spencer Heath’s novel extrapolation of the Golden Rule.
  • E.C. Riegel’s pioneering ideas on the separation of money and state.



A World WithoutTaxation


COUNT ZINN ASKED A QUESTION: “How do you raise money for these neighborhood associations?”

“Why through voluntary donations, of course,” replied Reade. “Just this morning I sent our association a cheque for 100 mintos to put up some hanging flower baskets. It’s all voluntary donations – is there any other way?”

There was a pause, as the count hesitated to answer what seemed so obvious a question. Finally he spoke. “In Pancratica we use taxation.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that word, sir.”

“Well,” said the count, “it’s a system where the government asks people for money.”

“Then it’s the same as here,” said Mr. Reade, “because our neighborhood associations, indeed all our associations, ask people for money.”

The baron entered the conversation. “Ah, but what happens if people choose not to give it?”

Mr. Reade looked perplexed. “Nothing, nothing at all,” he replied.

“Well, there’s the difference. You see, with taxation as we have it in Pancratica, you’re forced to give up the money. If you don’t, we put you in jail!”

Mr. and Mrs. Reade looked at each other in alarm. The lad Phillipe looked to his parents as if some dangerous beast had entered the room.

“Perhaps we are not understanding you,” said Mrs. Reade. “You ask a person for money, he declines to give, so you lay hands on him and drag him away?”


“And what if he resists?”

“Then we would subdue him.”

“Strike him with a club, for example?”


“Or run him through with a sword, and slay him?”

“Well, we wouldn’t like to see that, but, yes, it might come to that. No one must be permitted to contradict the authority of the government tax collectors.”

Mr. and Mrs. Reade again exchanged significant glances. To end the awkward pause, Mrs. Reade said, “We have heard about that in, what was the country? Nueva Mandaat, or somewhere? They have a custom called mobbery.”

“Oh, it’s nothing like that,” said the baron. “Mobbery is an arbitrary seizure of funds. Taxation, as we practice it in Pancratica, is governed by regulations. The rules say how much money each person in each situation is forced to pay to the government.”

“But it seems to me,” said Mr. Reade, “that to cover all the different situations that must arise, these rules would have to be very extensive, would they not?”

“Oh, indeed they are. There are fifteen thousand pages of regulations.”

“And to apply and enforce all these regulations, you would need hundreds of clerks and agents, would you not?”

“Actually, it takes scores of thousands,” said the baron with some pride. “In fact, our Pancreatic Intensive Revenue Service has 107,000 employees this year.”

“Why that’s practically an army!” exclaimed Mr. Reade. “Wouldn’t the people of the country fear this agency, and resent it. And wouldn’t they always be trying to cheat it?”

“Well, there’s quite a bit of that,” answered the baron. “That’s why we put people in jail, to try to stop the cheating. Last year, we sent over 2,500 people to prison for disobeying the tax laws.”

“It seems incredible,” said Mr. Reade, “that such a barbaric system could exist. But if you say it does, then I must accept your testimony. It just goes to show how adaptable human beings are. If they are determined enough, they can make any social arrangement work, even a highly offensive and burdensome one.”


We disagree about the need for taxation


“But sir,” said the baron, somewhat nettled, “how else can you possibly raise funds for public services? Why, one has to force people to give. They won’t contribute just out of wanting to help the community. It’s against human nature.”

“Well then, Baron,” said Mr. Reade, “you and your colleagues must not belong to the human race, for just a few moments ago, I observed you giving donations to the Voluntaria Cosmopolitan Society!”

The baron looked confused. “Well, that’s different. Very different.” He paused. “The. . . the welcome society is an activity we approve of–we can see its value. Naturally we want to support it. Taxation is necessary to support activities when people don’t want to support them.”

Phillipe spoke up. “But–begging your pardon, sir–why carry out an activity people don’t believe in?”

“Because, because. . . .” The baron looked around. “Count Zinn, perhaps you can explain it to the boy.”

“Yes, well,” the count began boldly. He pressed his fingertips together. He spoke slowly and carefully. “There are certain things, certain services, which a decent society must have, but the people, being selfish, are unwilling to support.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but, like what?” asked Phillipe.

“Well, er, like parks, for example.”

The boy looked at his father in puzzlement. “We have those in abundance,” said Mr. Reade. “Some are donated by wealthy citizens, others have been created by voluntary associations for special purposes. In fact, you can see one of them from this window here, at the end of the street. That’s a sculpture garden operated by the Clevelle Society.”

“But just a moment,” said Count Zinn. “Some people may contribute to the common good under your voluntary system, but surely not everybody does so?”

“That is correct,” replied Mr. Reade. “There are always some who don’t donate for one reason or another. For example, I’m pretty sure our next-door neighbor, Mr. Flint, did not contribute to the hanging baskets. He would probably say the baskets weren’t quite right in some respect or another, but we all know he just likes to watch his pennies. If I were collecting money for some good cause, he would not be the first I would approach.” Mrs. Reade and Phillipe joined him in laughing at what was obviously an understatement.

“Doesn’t this make you angry?” replied Count Zinn. “Here you are helping make the town look beautiful and your stingy neighbor does nothing. Don’t you want to force him to contribute to the public good?”

“But if I did that, Count, I would be acting out of resentment,” replied Mr. Reade. “Surely you’re not saying that resentment is a sound basis for public policy?”

An awkward pause ensued, and Mrs. Reade wisely turned the conversation into other channels. “Customs differ, of course, and everyone’s right in his own way, isn’t that so, Baron? So, tell us, what are your plans for tomorrow?”           

“Well,” the baron replied, “we still face the problem of finding the equivalent of government here in Voluntaria.”

“If there is one,” Harry quickly put in.

The baron ignored the remark and continued. “Everywhere, education is a task of government, so perhaps we should look to this field. I think it very likely that we shall find that the agency behind education here, called by whatever name, is the government.”

“If it’s education you are interested in,” said Mr. Reade, “then our daughter Genna is the one to show you about all that. She’s preparing herself as a teacher, you see, and I’m sure she would be happy to take you to her school tomorrow.”

“I’d love to see it,” said the princess.

“Another thing government does,” said the baron, “is care for the poor and needy. Mr. Reade, is there any agency that does this here in Voluntaria?”

“Oh, indeed, there are dozens. Perhaps the most important is a group known as Craftmasters. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you visit them.”

“Very well,” said the baron. “Count Zinn, why don’t you and Count Harry pursue that subject tomorrow.” The men exchanged wary glances, then nodded in acceptance of the assignment. “The Princess will look into education, and, for my part, I will see who really is behind the streets and public works. One way or another, we are going to find a government in Voluntaria!”


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Spencer MacCallum will be speaking at Libertopia Festival 2011 in San Diego
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