Howard Jarvis

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Howard Arnold Jarvis (September 22, 1903 – August 12, 1986) was an American businessman, lobbyist, and politician. He was a tax policy activist responsible for passage of California's Proposition 13 in 1978.


  • The people who wrote the constitution ... didn't say life, liberty and welfare or life, liberty and food stamps.
  • The most important thing in this country is not the school system, nor the police department nor the fire department. The right to have property in this country, the right to have a home in this country, that’s important.
    • Conor Friedersdorf, “Op-Ed: After 40 years, Proposition 13’s failures are evident,” Los Angeles Times , (June 4, 2018)
  • I didn't comprehend this during the 15 years we worked on 13. I didn't comprehend the size it was going to be. I was running around the track like a horse with blinders on. If I had known it was going to take 15 years, if I had known it was going to take 100,000 bucks out of my pocket, then I might have been too chicken to have gone on.
    • Jack Fox, “Jarvis reveals shrewd mind and ambitions,” Newark Star Ledger (October 15, 1978).

I’ Mad As Hell: The Exclusive Story of the Tax Revolt and its Leader (1979)[edit]

Times Books, Three Park Avenue, New York, 1979

  • For me, the words ‘I’m mad as hell’ are more than a national saying, more than the title of this book; they express exactly how I feel and exactly how I felt about the woman who died at the County building, as well as countless other victims of exorbitant taxes. I can tell you, there have been thousands of people who’ve had heart attacks—some fatal—or suffer severe emotional distress as they saw their lives drastically worsened by intolerable, unproductive, and unfair taxes made all the worse by inflation and an energy crisis that the politicians and bureaucrats have not been willing to face up to.
    • p. 4
  • Many people don’t understand that property taxes have absolutely no relation to a property owner’s ability to pay—unlike the two other major forms of taxation, income tax and sales tax. From that very first meeting back in 1962, those of us in the tax movement decided that our efforts must be directed toward bringing all taxes— but especially property taxes—down to a level where most people could pay them without undue hardship.
    • pp. 6-7
  • We did know that the American dream of home ownership for everyone was being sabotaged by exploding property taxes. The entire basis of free government in America was being destroyed by virtually unlimited taxation, which can only lead first to bankruptcy and then to dictatorship.
    • p. 7
  • In California thousands of acres are off the tax rolls because they are owned on the face by something like 64,000 tax-exempt corporations and 18,000 charitable trusts. It’s an unfair system. A pays taxes, but B doesn’t pay on the same type of property. Much of this property belongs to organizations that are listed as religions, but they’re not really religious. They’re just a fake to get a tax break. It’s nothing less and nothing more than revenue racketeering.
    • pp. 19-20
  • An oppressive legislature could drive the people to refuse to pay their taxes and to revolt with guns. We didn’t want that, so we were trying to create a revolution with fountain pens, rather than with rifles, clubs, or a confrontation between the people and the government.
    • p. 22
  • The people in the United States—or at least some of the states—have two basic rights, the right to vote and the right to legally petition. I think the right to petition is more important than the right to vote because the right to petition means that the people can group together to stand up to the politicians and the bureaucrats.
    • p. 30
  • Don’t misunderstand me: the politicians don’t petitions, as long as they have no legal effect. As long as they mean as much as writing a letter to Santa Claus. They don’t read the mail anyway. They don’t want the people to have the legal authority to take control of their government. Government controls people by putting up barriers that reduce the people’s right to participate in government, so legislators generally don’t like the right to petition. It frightens them, as it should, and they fight it every step of the way. As long as the people don’t have the right to petition, the politicians can sit up on their thrones and say, ‘We don’t give a damn what the people say.’ They can do that because they know the people have no way of fighting back.
    • pp. 30-31
  • Over the years one of the main ploys by our politicians has been to make government so complicated that people can’t understand it. What the people can’t understand, they’re afraid of and walk away from. That leaves the politicians with a free hand.
    • p. 31
  • I didn’t think Communists should be allowed to hold office for the same reason that I don’t think you should give Al Capone the key to your safe-deposit box.
    • p. 27
  • In Los Angeles County alone, 400,000 people did not pay their property tax this year because they didn’t have the money. They run the risk of being forced out of their homes, which I personally believe is un-American, indecent, and criminal. There is nothing more sacred than the place where a man lives.
    • p. 37
  • Actually, the politicians had to bend the law to keep us off the ballot that time. I don’t know if they did it on purpose or through sheer incompetence. We filed more than 650,000 signatures before the deadline, but then more than 200,000 of them were arbitrarily discarded by temporary help: boobs who were hired off the streets by county registrars’ offices throughout the state.
    • p. 38
  • I think the fact that so many people are forced to live in apartments is bad for the country. The solution is more building, but the politicians have made it impossible to build. People don’t have as much interest in keeping an eye on government and politicians when they rent, instead of owning their own home.
    • p. 66
  • I tell off reporters when I think they’re asking me a stupid question or an irrelevant one. I compare their business to everyone else’s. I say they’re not a privileged class. They have no right to ask me what color toilet paper I use any more than I have a right to ask them how many times they had sex last week. And when they suggest that the apartment business should be under rent control, I say, ‘How would you like it if you were under censorship?’ That always stops them.
    • p. 100
  • Most of the politicians and the press were wrong about 13, so it’s no surprise that most of the pollsters were, too. The first time a California poll was conducted on 13 by the ‘impartial,’ ‘scientific’ Field organization in February 1978 the result was 20% in favor of 13 and 10% opposed. The opposition had no trouble rationalizing that poll by pointing out that 70% of the voters were undecided, and that it was only natural for the people who had signed the petitions to be strongly in favor of 13, which they said distorted the poll… I do think a lot of polls are fixed.
    • p. 121
  • I was out there and I knew how the people felt. During the campaign, I debated a school superintendent in Southern California. He said, ‘Why if you pass 13, we’ll have to shut the schools down.’ And everybody stood up and clapped. They wanted the damn schools shut down. Even Richard Reeves wrote in that Esquire article of his that Paul Priolo, the Republican leader in the Assembly, said ‘Whenever I tell an audience that Jarvis will bring local government to a halt, all I see is smiling faces.’
    • p. 123
  • After all, a government is supposed to be run by the people. We’ve developed in this country an apathetic philosophy that says: ‘I’m only one person. I can’t do anything—why should I take my time?’ The lack of interest means the people have lost faith in their elected officials. They have lost faith in their capacity to be part of government. They have lost sight of the fact that if this system continues as it has, it’s going to change American citizens into subjects.
    • p. 128
  • I think the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor voted for 13 because I think people from every class resented the fact that government was stealing too much of their money. I think the general idea in California and all over the country, with rich and poor alike, is that the government is too invasive; it has too much control; it passes too many laws; it curbs too many freedoms.
    • p. 129
  • I guess nobody chose me to lead the parade. I guess I chose myself. If I hadn't done it, I don't think anybody else in California would have done it. Nobody.
    • p. 129
  • My taxes don’t worry me. I’m worried about the guy who can’t pay his taxes. That was one of the big advantages I had over anybody in politics. I had no axes to grind. I went up before an audience of 200 or 50 or 2,500 and I told ‘em just what I felt. If they didn’t like it, the hell with ‘em. I wasn’t running for a damn thing… What all these people were doing—if they did what I asked them to—was helping themselves. Whatever they did, they didn’t do it for me, because I’m not going to get a penny out of it. All I was doing was showing them how to help themselves. But politicians are afraid to tell the truth, because they’re afraid they’ll lose votes. I don’t care whether I lose 4 votes or 4 million. If the people were not smart enough to save their own necks after I told them how, what else could I do?
    • pp. 129-130
  • One of the worst scare tactics used against us during the campaign was the dire prediction—based on the phony UCLA study that Governor Brown and other politicians cited—that hordes of public employees, perhaps as many as 451,000, would be laid off if 13 passed. Well, 13 did pass. And what happened?... There have been no massive layoffs of public employees or drastic cutbacks in governmental services in California… only 19,000 employees of local governments and school districts had lost their jobs because of 13. That’s less than 2% of the 1.1 million people who work for local governments and school districts in the state.
    • p. 166
  • My heart doesn’t bleed any more for public workers who get fired than it does for employees of private business who lose their jobs; much less, in fact. I’m not saying all public workers are bad, but I think there are too many of them who never do anything. A lot of them are cynical and arrogant and give lousy service. They have no investment in their jobs, no responsibility, and for many of them their sole objective is to avoid doing anything until they become eligible for a pension.
    • p. 168
  • Also, I want to reduce the capital gains tax from its current level of up to 40% to a flat 15%. This would free investment capital and result in increased productivity and a decline in unemployment… Japan and Germany, for instance, have virtually no capital gains tax at all, and they have two of the strongest economies in the Western world.
    • p. 173
  • Elected officials have a responsibility to represent their constituents to the best of their ability. But there is hardly a better example of a conflict of interest than the difference between the best interest of the politician and the best interest of the people he has the duty to represent. The more taxes, the more money government has to spend, the more public employees the politician can put on the public payroll, the more power the politician has.
    • p. 184
  • The best way to convince the state legislature to give people the legal right to petition to change the law is by circulating petitions and collecting the name of as many voters as possible. That’s what keeps the politicians honest, or at least more honest than they would otherwise be: the knowledge that the people are interested in their government and that if they don’t do the job, the people will reclaim their rights. That’s why the initiative and referendum are important.
    • p. 185
  • There’s no question about it: My father was the most important influence on my life. He was a very stern, righteous, but fair guy who had a set of principles by which he lived. Those principles were: you never lied to anybody, you never took anybody’s money unless you had earned it, and education is essential. He would tell us that education was just like the cans on the market shelf: all you have to do is go take it off. But if you don’t take it off, you’re not going to get it. Nobody’s going to hand it to you.
    • p. 197
  • I never smoked a cigarette or had a drink or saw a pregnant girl either in grade school, or high school, or college. Never. When I was in high school, the coach would write on a piece of paper. ‘These are the rules,’ and hang it on the wall. And believe me, those were the rules. You had to go to bed at 9:00. You couldn’t eat ice cream or pie. You had to report for practice at 3:35 every afternoon, for all sports. And of course we could not drink coffee or tea or Coca Cola or soda pop. It never occurred to us to disobey the rules.
    • pp. 199-200

Quotes About Jarvis[edit]

  • Proposition 13 was a multipronged attack designed by businessman-activist Howard Jarvis and his supporters to do two things: ease the overall tax burden and protect a stable culture of homeownership. To that end, it set tax rates at 1% of a property’s sale price and capped annual increases at no more than 2%.
    • Conor Friedersdorf, “Op-Ed: After 40 years, Proposition 13’s failures are evident,” Los Angeles Times (June 4, 2018)
  • Without a doubt, Jarvis grasped and articulated for many Californians their concerns regarding higher property taxes and unresponsive governments. Whether the tax revolt should be understood as a populist movement in the traditional sense, though, is questionable. Notwithstanding his efforts following the passage of Prop.13, Jarvis did not create a long-lasting political movement.
    • Daniel A. Smithy, “Howard Jarvis, Populist Entrepreneur: Reevaluating the Causes of Proposition 13,” prepared for delivering speech at the 1997 Annual Meeting of the WesternPolitical Science Association, Tucson, Arizona, (March 13-15, 1997)
  • The citizenry thumbed its nose at government because of burdensome taxes, and Howard Jarvis and his Proposition 13 epistle were prophetic.
    • Anthony Lewis, New York Times (Nov. 24, 1978)
  • The vote for Proposition 13 was to the tax revolt what Bastille day was to the French Revolution.
    • James Ring Adams, Secrets of the Tax Revolt, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1984) p. 166

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