Honoring a Friend and Colleague: Carl Shaw

By: Walter Rybeck

Carl F. Shaw, a devoted Georgist, died on October 20, 2019, a month after turning 90.

Born in Detroit, Carl F Shaw graduated from that city’s own Wayne State University with BA and MA degrees in Music Education.  He taught music in public schools in Pontiac, Michigan and Breckenridge, Colorado.

Carl was deeply concerned about poverty and urban decline, and, motivated by this concern, he took an adult economics class that addressed these issues.  His teacher was Robert Benton, head of the Henry George School in Detroit.  Through his studies, Carl became convinced that a distorted land value system was at the center of the social problems with which he was concerned.  He was Benton’s star pupil and became Benton’s lifelong friend.

For 20 years, Carl continued to pursue his music career as a clarinetist in military bands.  He served with the 49th Army Band in Salzburg, Austria, the U.S. Military Academy Band at West Point, New York, and the Army Field Band at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Fort Meade is located near Washington, DC. During his decade there, Carl joined the D.C. Georgist group named the League for Urban Land Conservation.  Besides testifying about tax reform before the D.C. City Council, Carl and this group met with many organizations–– housing activists, realtors, religious social action groups, board of trade and others to educate them about land value taxation. Carl would have been pleased to learn that a Washington, DC housing proposal issued, the month he died, by a coalition of prominent D.C. groups, urged land value taxation as one strategy for attaining more affordable housing.

Carl retired as a musician in 1983 and settled in rural West Virginia, determined to devote the next years to advancing economic justice. Not satisfied with only understanding land policies in general, he studied appraising to master tax law, tax rate setting, and techniques of assigning value to land and buildings. After completing these studies, he gained employment as an appraiser for the West Virginia Tax Department, which he worked at for several years. 

With this professional and educational background, Carl became a frequent writer of letters to the editor of West Virginia newspapers. He wrote detailed proposals for property tax reform which he distributed to state legislators. He joined MUST!, Mountaineers United for Sane Taxation!, an organization also working to promote land value taxation. Carl was a strong supporter of Common Ground and he attended many of its annual conferences.   

Carl had plans to establish a land trust on his acreage but was not successful in doing so. Though he did not succeed with this, or with his efforts to win LVT laws, he was never discouraged in his sustained efforts on behalf of his favorite cause.  He was a soft spoken, patient, but strong advocate of shifting property taxes from buildings and onto land values.

“Land Taxation in Calhoun County West Virginia:  How it is…How it will be,” is title typical of the scores of pamphlets Shaw authored and distributed to legislators, local officials and residents. The pamphlet includes detailed data about land values and tax rates in the county’s six taxing districts. Carl describes step by step how public collection of a large share of the site value could transform a poverty-stricken county into a prosperous one.

Carl was married to Helen Shaw for 41 years until her death in 1998. He is survived by three sons, Dale, David and Greg, seven grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. 

Condolences and memories of Carl may be sent to David Shaw, 33 Downing St., Concord, NH 03301, who will share them with the family.

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