Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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Keywords: economic fairness, ordinary Americans people, wealth concentration, income concentration, poverty, tax reform, wealth distribution, income distribution, justice, land, equality, Henry George, land value taxation, Progress and Poverty
A democratic republic alone is not enough to produce general prosperity ...
Wealth and Want
in 21st Century America

an inquiry into the cause
of the increase of poverty
with the increase of wealth
... the Remedy

New on the site:

What can we do to turn our economy around? Georgists will tell you that there is a great deal left undone and many opportunities to unburden the economy and correct the perverse incentives inherent in our current structure. Here are some resources:

As we consider investments in infrastructure, we might want to consider the effects of improved infrastructure and new technologies in an economy, and how and whether we leverage that for the common good, or are content to permit the gains to be privatized — Henry George: What the Railroad Will Bring Us

And, as we consider simplifying and improving our tax code, you might appreciate this: Charles Root: Not a Single Tax!

Four speeches that move me —

In several different places, I've found myself wanting to share four of Henry George's speeches, because they are very moving, and provide both a sense of George's ideas and a distillation of much longer works. So I'm going to link to them right up front, and hope that if you haven't had the pleasure of reading them, you will take a look. If your orientation is not theological, don't be put off by the titles: the topic is the universal one of how we might order ourselves so as to create a just and prosperous society — for all! (Would that our worship communities devote themselves to that goal!) Is poverty necessary? Is poverty natural?

Here are some excerpts from Moses, The Crime of Poverty, Thy Kingdom Come and Thou Shalt Not Steal:

MosesTrace to its roots the cause that is producing want in the midst of plenty, ignorance in the midst of intelligence, aristocracy in democracy, weakness in strength – that is giving to our civilisation a one-sided and unstable development – and you will find it something which this Hebrew statesman three thousand years ago perceived and guarded against. ...

Everywhere in the Mosaic institutions is the land treated as the gift of the Creator to His common creatures, which no one has the right to monopolise. Everywhere it is, not your estate, or your property, not the land which you bought, or the land which you conquered, but "the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" – "the land which the Lord lendeth thee".

The Crime of PovertyWhose fault is it that social conditions are such that men have to make that terrible choice between what conscience tells them is right, and the necessity of earning a living? I hold that it is the fault of society; that it is the fault of us all. ...

If poverty is appointed by the power which is above us all, then it is no crime; but if poverty is unnecessary, then it is a crime for which society is responsible and for which society must suffer. I hold, and I think no one who looks at the facts can fail to see, that poverty is utterly unnecessary. It is not by the decree of the Almighty, but it is because of our own injustice, our own selfishness, our own ignorance, that this scourge, worse than any pestilence, ravages our civilisation, bringing want and suffering and degradation, destroying souls as well as bodies. ...

Why, today, while over the civilised world there is so much distress, so much want, what is the cry that goes up? What is the current explanation of the hard times? Overproduction! There are so many clothes that men must go ragged, so much coal that in the bitter winters people have to shiver, such over-filled granaries that people actually die by starvation! Want due to over-production! Was a greater absurdity ever uttered? How can there be over-production till all have enough? It is not over-production; it is unjust distribution. ...

I say that all this poverty and the ignorance that flows from it is unnecessary; I say that there is no natural reason why we should not all be rich, in the sense, not of having more than each other, but in the sense of all having enough to completely satisfy all physical wants; of all having enough to get such an easy living that we could develop the better part of humanity. ...

There is a cause for this poverty; and, if you trace it down, you will find its root in a primary injustice. Look over the world today—poverty everywhere. The cause must be a common one. You cannot attribute it to the tariff, or to the form of government, or to this thing or to that in which nations differ; because, as deep poverty is common to them all the cause that produces it must be a common cause. What is that common cause? There is one sufficient cause that is common to all nations; and that is the appropriation as the property of some of that natural element on which and from which all must live. ...

Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore he who holds the land on which and from which another man must live, is that man's master; and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing slavery — we have not abolished slavery; we have only abolished one rude form of it, chattel slavery. There is a deeper and a more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him with the name of freedom. ...

Think of any article of wealth you choose, any of those things which men struggle for, where do they come from? From the land. It is the bottom question. The land question is simply the labor question; and when some men own that element from which all wealth must be drawn, and upon which all must live, then they have the power of living without work, and, therefore, those who do work get less of the products of work. ...

Nature gives to labor, and to labor alone; there must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the workingman as a poor man. ...

... you never can get rid of wide-spread poverty so long as the element on which and from which all men must live is made the private property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government — get taxes down to the minimum — build railroads; institute co-operative stores; divide profits, if you choose, between employers and employed -- and what will be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value — that will be the result — that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not all improvements simply increase the value of land — the price that some must pay others for the privilege of living?

Thy Kingdom Come “Our Father!” “Our Father!” Whose? Not my Father — that is not the prayer. “Our Father” — not the father of any sect, or any class, but the Father of all humanity. The All-Father, the equal Father, the loving Father. He it is we ask to bring the kingdom. Aye, we ask it with our lips! We call Him “Our Father,” the All, the Universal Father, when we kneel down to pray to Him.

But that He is the All-Father — that He is all people’s Father — we deny by our institutions. The All-Father who made the world, the All-Father who created us in His image, and put us upon the earth to draw subsistence from its bosom; to find in the earth all the materials that satisfy our wants, waiting only to be worked up by our labor! If He is the All-Father, then are not all human beings, all children of the Creator, equally entitled to the use of His bounty? And, yet, our laws say that this God’s earth is not here for the use of all His children, but only for the use of a privileged few! ...

What God gives are the natural elements that are indispensable to labor. He gives them, not to one, not to some, not to one generation, but to all. They are His gifts, His bounty to the whole human race. And yet in all our civilized countries what do we see? That a few people have appropriated these bounties, claiming them as theirs alone, while the great majority have no legal right to apply their labor to the reservoirs of Nature and draw from the Creator’s bounty.

Thus it happens that all over the civilized world that class that is called peculiarly ‘the laboring class’ is the poor class, and that people who do no labor, who pride themselves on never having done honest labor, and on being descended from fathers and grandfathers who never did a stroke of honest labor in their lives, revel in a superabundance of the things that labor brings forth. ...

“Thy kingdom come.” No one can think of the kingdom for which the prayer asks without feeling that it must be a kingdom of justice and equality — not necessarily of equality in condition, but of equality in opportunity. And no one can think of it without seeing that a very kingdom of God might be brought on this earth if people would but seek to do justice — if people would but acknowledge the essential principle of Christianity, that of doing to others as we would have others do to us, and of recognising that we are all here equally the children of the one Father, equally entitled to share His bounty, equally entitled to live our lives and develop our faculties, and to apply our labor to the raw material that He has provided. ...

There is a way of securing the equal rights of all, not by dividing land up into equal pieces, but by taking for the use of all that value which attaches to land, not as the result of individual labor upon it, but as the result of the increase in population, and the improvement of society. ...

Thou Shalt Not StealWe are told, in the first place, by the newspapers, that you cannot abolish poverty because there is not wealth enough to go around. We are told that if all the wealth of the United States were divided up there would only be some eight hundred dollars apiece. Well, if that is the case, all the more monstrous is the injustice which today gives some people millions and tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions. If there really is so little, then the more injustice in these great fortunes.

But we do not propose to abolish poverty by dividing up wealth. We propose to abolish poverty by setting at work that vast army of men — estimated last year to amount in this country alone to one million — that vast army of men only anxious to create wealth, but who are now, by a system which permits dogs-in-the-manger to monopolize God’s bounty, deprived of the opportunity to toil.

And then, you might be interested in either reading or hearing read Bob Drake's recent abridgment of Henry George's most famous book, Progress & Poverty. You can read the book online at henrygeorge.org, download the MP3 version from hgchicago.org, and order hardcopy from Amazon or Schalkenbach. (Check the Amazon reviews for a novel sequence for reading this one!)

Henry George's book of essays: "Social Problems." I've been rereading this book, with great pleasure, and want to share it here. The process of adding links to the hundreds of themes takes time — it is a very rich resource — so I am putting the chapters up now, and will add sidebar links as time permits. The topics are very 2009, though the book was written in 1883. The new administration — and America as a whole — would benefit from a reading of this one. Read the essays in any order.

  • First Principlesdistribution of wealth; child poverty; workers, beggars & thieves; equal freedom; justice; charity
  • The Rights of Man natural rights, social organization, self-evident truths, blessings of liberty, earning a living, raw materials, permission to live, inequality in distribution of wealth
  • Dumping Garbage immigration, making a living, poverty, landlordism, land tenure, producing wealth, opportunity
  • Over-Productionreally? supply, demand, interconnectedness, trade, unemployment, Adam Smith, incentives, urban land value, hard times
  • Unemployed laborwhy we work; scarcity of work?, man a land creature; land, labor and capital, distribution of wealth, the supply of labor and demand for labor
  • The Effects of Machinerynegative and positive, necessary and optional; civilization, interdependence; productivity; who benefits? monopoly; wages
  • Slavery and SlaveryRobinson Crusoe, chattel slavery, landlordism, private property in land; robbery of labor; sharecropping; a bare living; equal and inalienable rights
  • Public Debts and Indirect Taxationnatural rights, tyrannies, monopoly in land, great-grandfathers' debts, intergenerational equity; borrowing from the future; infrastructure; wars, wasteful expenditure; Jefferson and usufruct; indirect taxes unjust and corrupting; vicious taxation
  • The Functions of GovernmentDeclaration of Independence, unalienable rights, equal right to land, military, English precedents, classes, institutions must adapt to social progress; civilization, concentration, infrastructure, special interests, public schools, libraries, civilization, concentration
  • What We Must Dodistribution of wealth, effects of private property in land, progress, new country, landowners grow richer, monopolies, unnatural inequality
  • The First Great Reformthe land question, private property in land, speculation, leased land, security of possession, ground rents to public treasury, equal right to land, sharing an inheritance, not a mere fiscal change, growing the pie, natural opportunities, smaller government, natural laws
  • The American Farmerland users; absentee ownership, landlordism, land value taxation favorable, concentration of landownership, labor cheap
  • City and Countryman is social, tenements, population density, sprawl, land monopoly
  • Conclusioncivilization, adapting institutions, social reform, education, progress, man a social being, loving one's neighbor as oneself, civilization

 

And then explore Fred Foldvary's paper The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent (pdf version)

 

Still on the Mountaintop: Economically Rational Racism

Gavin Putland wrote an article entitled Still on the Mountaintop: Economically Rational Racism, which was picked up by OpEd News. The article is available here both as a 6-page PDF file and in html, with links to the themes on this website which speak to related issues. I found it moving and thought provoking. Not only does it speak to issues of race, but it makes some important points with respect to immigration. It speaks to infrastructure spending, schools, bubbles and bursts, Old Testament land laws...

In the Promised Land of the Old Testament, there was no land speculation and no possibility of speculative bubbles, because you couldn’t sell land in perpetuity. According to the 25th chapter of Leviticus, every 50th year was to be a Jubilee, and you could only sell a lease on the land up to the next Jubilee. As the time remaining on the lease was always getting shorter, the lease was always falling in value, so you couldn’t make a capital gain on it. Nowadays, if we somehow don’t consider ourselves bound by the commandment that “The land shall not be sold for ever” (Leviticus 25:23), we need another method of preventing speculation. Land-value taxation not only discourages speculation, but also reduces inflationary pressure, allowing a reduction in the natural rate of unemployment, so that members of the dominant ethnic group face little risk of unemployment and have little to gain by trying to offload that risk onto some minority.

Alternatively, America can retain the present inflationary taxes, and the Fed can fight the inflationary pressure by creating unemployment, the burden of which will continue to fall disproportionately on Blacks. Meanwhile the opportunity to make capital gains on land, together with the lack of pressure to earn income from it, will maintain a permanent artificial demand for land, exacerbated by periodic speculative bubbles. The artificial demand will inflate rents and prices of residential land, which is a necessity of life, and for which workers will have to pay out of wages that have been depressed by the competition for scarce jobs, eroded by income tax, and devalued by indirect taxes. This is the Ownership Society, the caricature of the Promised Land offered by those who call themselves conservatives.

But let’s conclude on a more conciliatory note. In the present recession, which has been triggered by a collapse in land prices, land-value taxation would reverse the collapse — not by re-inflating a temporary speculative bubble, but by inducing investment in infrastructure that permanently enhances the utility of the land. So maybe it takes a recession to induce a conservative appreciation of land-value taxation as a substitute for existing taxes. Maybe that’s one way in which “only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

Check out the sibling to this website, the LVTfan blog! There are over 150 posts there -- both timely and timeless.

Another YouTube video for your viewing pleasure: Fred Harrison has put together a video describing the premise of his new book, Ricardo's Law: House Prices and the Great Tax Clawback Scam. The video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZkfmY1PMng. For more about some of the topics he brings up, check here. If you want to understand why we have wealth concentration and why we have poverty, this is a quick way to get started.

Something to think about: Exxon-Mobil set a new quarterly profit record of $39 billion. How much did they pay in royalties for the oil they drilled within the boundaries of the US? And to whom did they pay it? How much did they pay in corporate income taxes? Which is a fairer way to raise the revenue we need?

Wealthandwant is not enthusiastic about corporate — or individual — income taxes, but thinks we should be considering who is entitled to the royalties on our natural resources, and how those royalties should be calculated. Should individuals be entitled to royalties on natural resources? Tribal groups? States? The federal government? Corporate shareholders? Or all of us, as Alaska sees it?

Should we tax profits, or would we be smarter and more just to simply collect royalties on the natural resources that are removed from under our soil?

Check out Henry George's ideas on YouTube ... eight films, each from 8 to 10 minutes ... if you care about poverty, taxation, local services, wealth distribution, privilege, privatization, justice, sprawl, long commutes, conserving energy, reducing GG, public transportation ...

Progress & Poverty 1Progress & Poverty 2Progress & Poverty 3"Housing Bubble" is Really a Land BubbleExclusive Use of Land, the Law of the ConquerorValue of Land is Created by the CommunityLand Value and Free Lunch, Part 1Land Value and Free Lunch, Part 2

These come from the Henry George School of San Francisco, and succinctly explain many of the ideas on which this website provides detail.

And if you've arrived here because you googled "Henry George" after watching those videos, you might start with the links here. There's also a link to a page for printing out hardcopy bookmarks, if you're inclined to share the videos with others.

Boortz's "FairTax" proposes to get rid of income taxes, wage taxes, estate taxes and other federal taxes. Wealthandwant agrees with that goal — but we see a very different means to get there, a far more fair, just and desirable approach, which will lead to a very different society from what the "FairTax" would produce.

What's wrong with the so-called FairTax? Start here, and follow the links.

What's the better alternative? Taxes which meet the canons of taxation; taxes which are direct. Taxes on finite and scarce resources, whose efficient and effective use benefits all of us (and those taxes won't fall on the users). Land value taxation. Land includes a lot of things which currently aren't taxed at all — and which are held by corporations who didn't create them, and whose benefits therefore largely accrue to a small class of large shareholders. User fees.

Untax wages! Untax buildings! Untax sales! Create a just society and an economy in which all of us can prosper, without free lunches, without windfalls, without privilege. Reverse the perverse incentives inherent in our current system, and inherent in the FairTax. Wealthandwant points to a better way.

 

25 Years After the Mianus Bridge on I-95 Went Down: Where do we get the money required to build, maintain and upgrade America's infrastructure? The answer is under our feet. The logical source — largely untapped in some of its richest lodes — is in the value of our best land and our natural resources. Is it sufficient? It will go a long way to funding this very necessary spending, without burdening the economy — and without depriving anyone of something they are morally entitled to. See infrastructure, financing infrastructure, land includes, natural resources, privatization for some starting points.

Property tax caps — why intelligent states and communities should avoid them. Reform the property tax, by all means, but don't cap it. See the reform that shifts us from perverse incentives to logical, desirable ones. ... read more

 

Wealthandwant themes relating to issues of the day ... Iraq ... foreclosures ... homeownership ... income inequality ... wealth inequality ... environment and pollution ... ending poverty ... walkable, affordable, compact cities ... taxes — and they're all connected — find the common thread!

 

The Essential Documents
that is, the ones which move me! I offer these first because they are informative, inspiring and relatively short. Even if your own orientation is not theological, I think you might find little to disagree with in those pieces whose titles are Biblical references. You'll notice that some of these pieces are 100 or more years old — and that they describe clearly phenomena we see today, which we tend to think of as new problems. Read them in whatever order you like — I hope you'll get to most or all of them. The first version may be marked up and cross-referenced; the PDF version will be a clean copy for printing, if you choose.

Peace, Justice and Economic Reform — Nic Tideman • pdf
How to Revive a Dying City — Mason Gaffney
Land and Justice — Lindy Davies
An Introduction to Henry George — Weld Carter
Economics in Support of Environmentalism — Mason Gaffney

The Lies of the Land: How and Why Land Gets Undervalued — Michael Hudson • pdf
Real Estate and the Capital Gains Debate — Michael Hudson and Kris Feder
Estimating Land Value — Ted Gwartney • pdf
Are You a Real Libertarian, or a Royal Libertarian? — Dan Sullivan • pdf
Henry George and the Reconstruction of Capitalism — Robert Andelson • pdf

For Want of a Landlord: A Thanksgiving Parable — Mason Gaffney • pdf
The Uncertain Future of the Metropolis — Walter Rybeck • pdf
The Fallacy of the "Three-Legged Stool" Metaphor — Bill Batt • pdf

The People's Land — Winston Churchill • pdf
Land Price as a Cause of Poverty — Winston Churchill • pdf
Slavery — A.J.O. • pdf

A Synopsis of Henry George's Progress and PovertyAl Katzenberger
Thou Shalt Not Steal — Henry George • pdf
Thy Kingdom Come — Henry George • pdf
How to Help the Unemployed — Henry George • pdf
Property Tax - Cause of Unemployment — Herbert Bab • pdf
This World is the Creation of God — Henry George • pdf
True Christianity and My Own Religious Beliefs — Joseph Fels • pdf

The Earth is the Lord's — Robert Andelson • pdf
From Wasteland to Promised Land (synopsis) — Robert Andelson and James Dawsey • pdf
On Earth as it is in Heaven — Mason Gaffney and others, writing about Bill Vickrey

News and Notes:

Milton Friedman (1912-2006)

“The free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy.” — quote in NYT obituary, online November 16, 2006.

"Yes, there are taxes I like. For example, the gasoline tax, which pays for highways. You have a user tax. The property tax is one of the least bad taxes, because it's levied on something that cannot be produced — that part that is levied on the land. So some taxes are worse than others, but all taxes are bad." — interview, San Jose Mercury News, Nov 5, 2006

Wealthandwant.com disagrees with that last statement (praising with faint damns): land value taxation is not merely the least-bad tax, it is also the best tax. why?

21st Century Issues —

Tag, and other children's games — Tag doesn't worry me, but musical chairs does. see why!

300 million population — is population increase a problem, or a good thing? Who benefits? Does anyone lose? Why? How might it be changed into a win-win situation? see how!

Wealth, Poverty, Asset Poverty, Income Distribution, the Cost of Living — updated to include 2006 data for Virginia and Pennsylvania

How much does it cost a young family to live at the "all one's basic needs met" level?

Wealthandwant has answers — and, more important, we have questions!


The Wealth Questions — This is a work-in-progress, but there's enough in place to explore already. Check back for updates!


Detailed data on Wealth Distribution — or, if you will, Wealth Concentration — from the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances (Currents and Undercurrents: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth, 1989–2004), with some additional calculations that shed more light on the underlying dynamics. There is detail here you won't find anywhere else! (See Table 7 in both of the next two links.)

Go directly to the aggregated tables | detailed tables | introduction | guided tour | Currents and Undercurrents in html | Currents and Undercurrents PDF (original) | SCF Definitions | wealth: median, mean and wobegon

Rent, Wealth and Want in the News ...

 


He who sees the truth, let him proclaim it, without asking who is for it or who is against it. This is not radicalism in the bad sense which so many attach to the word. This is conservatism in the true sense.
-- Henry George, The Land Question

Who's Henry George? click here to learn more.
Themes

These pages started as my own way of organizing information as I collected the documents I wanted to share; I wanted to be able to quckly re-find articles I only half remembered. Some of the themes were concepts that I struggled with; others were for unfamiliar terms. Here are some of the most important themes; a full list is available here. Start with one of these themes, and then follow the "see also" links in its sidebar. Keep in mind that the theme pages contain extended excerpts, not the entire article, but each excerpt comes with links to the full article — which I commend to your attention.

Poverty Equality Charity
All benefits . . . Urban land values relative to rural Sprawl
Barriers to entry Working poor Pollution
Under-used land Special interests

Land different from capital

Is this socialism? Quaint agrarian idea? Is democracy enough?
Housing affordability Location, location, location Wealth concentration
Incentives Property tax is two taxes Natural resources
Wages Tax reform Monopoly
Land includes . . . Rent Justice
About Henry George


Lighter Stuff and Background Material

Poetry: Luke North: Songs of the Great Adventure an eloquent 1917 book of poetry, with a lot to say about justice, land monopoly, war, poverty, the death penalty, virtue, hatred, privilege, journalism, and a lot of other very current topics
Uncivilized
Georgist nursery rhymes


Some Georgist Websites
The Henry George School on the Web: The Henry George School of Social Science — locations in the US

Search Engine:  http://www.askhenry.com (use google or the themes system to explore this site; wealthandwant is not yet on askhenry.)
The Progress Report http://www.progress.org - updated daily
Earth Rights Institute http://www.earthrights.net Alanna Hartzok
Center for the Study of Economics  http://www.urbantools.org/  Josh Vincent
Common Ground USA. www.progress.org/cg
Council of Georgist Organizations (CGO) http://www.progress.org/cgo
The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation http://www.schalkenbach.org — check both the library & the bookstore
Prosper Australia http://www.prosper.org.au/
Earthsharing Australia http://www.earthsharing.org.au/  (see particularly The Cause of Poverty)
The Land Values Research Group http://lvrg.org.au/
The Geonomy Society   http://www.progress.org/geonomy  Jeff Smith
Commonwealth1234 http://commonwealth1234.org/
The Earth Imperative http://www.landreform.org/
UK's Labour Land Campaign http://www.labourland.org/  Dave Wetzel
The School of Cooperative Individualism http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/  Ed Dodson
Land Rent Will Save the World http://www.answersanswers.com/  Chris Tolworthy
Saving Communities http://www.savingcommunities.org/  Dan Sullivan
Mason Gaffney's writings: http://www.masongaffney.org/ — See particularly "Repopulating New Orleans;" "New Life in Old Cities;" "What's the Matter with Michigan? The Rise and Collapse of an Economic Wonder;" "The Great Crash of 2008;" and "How to Thaw Credit, Now and Forever"
LVTfan's blog — http://lvtfan.typepad.com/ — land value taxation is the only tax that deserves a fan club!

Where online can you go to "see the cat?"  http://www.henrygeorge.org

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil
to one who is striking at the root.
— Henry David Thoreau

Further Reading [get radical: go to the root of the matter!]

Henry George dedicated Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy, "to those who, seeing the vice and misery that spring from the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege, feel the possibility of a higher social state and would strive for its attainment."
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Since the (otherwise excellent) search engine askhenry doesn't index this site, you might use this option.

A Note to ReadersA Note to my Georgist Friends

 

 

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... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper