Wealth and Want
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Have you ever wondered how "capital" got its name? It is from the idea that one's wealth could be measured in the number of head of cattle one owned. (The Latin for head is "capita.")

Through what some regard as careless, imprecise thinking (and others see as conscious conflating of two unlike factors of production), many Americans, even those with first-rate advanced educations in economics, have never been exposed to the logic of economic thought which recognizes that land and capital are completely separate — non-overlapping — categories. As my mother used to put it, "our education has been neglected." Read on! You have nothing to lose but your imprecise ideas — and the fallacies that can be built on them!

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 8: Why a Land-Value Tax is Better than an Equal Tax on All Property (in the unabridged P&P: Book VIII: Application of the Remedy — Chapter 3: The proposition tried by the canons of taxation)

The ground upon which the equal taxation of all species of property is commonly insisted upon is that it is equally protected by the state. The basis of this idea is evidently that the enjoyment of property is made possible by the state — that there is a value created and maintained by the community, which is justly called upon to meet community expenses. Now, of what values is this true? Only of the value of land. This is a value that does not arise until a community is formed, and that, unlike other values, grows with the growth of the community. It exists only as the community exists. Scatter again the largest community, and land, now so valuable, would have no value at all. With every increase of population the value of land rises; with every decrease it falls. This is true of nothing else save of things which, like the ownership of land, are in their nature monopolies.

The tax upon land values is, therefore, the most just and equal of all taxes.

  • It falls only upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive.
  • It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, of that value which is the creation of the community.
  • It is the application of the common property to common uses.

When all rent is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will the equality ordained by Nature be attained. No citizen will have an advantage over any other citizen save as is given by his industry, skill, and intelligence; and each will obtain what he fairly earns. Then, but not till then, will labor get its full reward, and capital its natural return. ... read the whole chapter

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 10. Effect of Remedy Upon Wealth Production (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX — Effects of the Remedy: Chapter 1 — Of the effect upon the production of wealth)

The elder Mirabeau, we are told, ranked the proposition of Quesnay, to substitute one single tax on rent (the impôt unique) for all other taxes, as a discovery equal in utility to the invention of writing or the substitution of the use of money for barter.

To whosoever will think over the matter, this saying will appear an evidence of penetration rather than of extravagance. The advantages which would be gained by substituting for the numerous taxes by which the public revenues are now raised, a single tax levied upon the value of land, will appear more and more important the more they are considered. ...

... Consider the effect upon the production of wealth.

To abolish the taxation which, acting and reacting, now hampers every wheel of exchange and presses upon every form of industry, would be like removing an immense weight from a powerful spring. Imbued with fresh energy, production would start into new life, and trade would receive a stimulus which would be felt to the remotest arteries. The present method of taxation operates upon exchange like artificial deserts and mountains;

  • it costs more to get goods through a custom house than it does to carry them around the world.
  • It operates upon energy, and industry, and skill, and thrift, like a fine upon those qualities.
  • If I have worked harder and built myself a good house while you have been contented to live in a hovel, the taxgatherer now comes annually to make me pay a penalty for my energy and industry, by taxing me more than you.
  • If I have saved while you wasted, I am mulct, while you are exempt.
  • If a man build a ship we make him pay for his temerity, as though he had done an injury to the state;
  • if a railroad be opened, down comes the tax collector upon it, as though it were a public nuisance;
  • if a manufactory be erected we levy upon it an annual sum which would go far toward making a handsome profit.
  • We say we want capital, but if any one accumulate it, or bring it among us, we charge him for it as though we were giving him a privilege.
  • We punish with a tax the man who covers barren fields with ripening grain,
  • we fine him who puts up machinery, and him who drains a swamp.

How heavily these taxes burden production only those realize who have attempted to follow our system of taxation through its ramifications, for, as I have before said, the heaviest part of taxation is that which falls in increased prices. ... read the whole chapter

Henry George: The Great Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy  (1889)

Capital does not come first. Land and labour are the only two absolutely necessary factors to the production of wealth. (Hear, hear.) Capital is the child of labour exerted upon land. (Cheers.) Give labour access to land and it will produce capital. Give labour access to land and the power of the capitalists to grind the masses must disappear. (Hear, hear.) What does that power came from? Merely from the fact that men are unable to employ themselves upon the land. It is the poverty of the labourers, not the wealth of the capitalist, that is the evil to be removed. ...

Capital is wealth produced by labour from land, used again in increasing the production of wealth. And not only will it not hurt labour to leave to capital its full reward but we must leave to capital its full natural reward, if we would have a progressive community – (cheers) – and if we would give each what is his due. (Hear, hear.) What the labourers have to fight against is not competition – (hear hear and “Yes”) – but the restriction of production to their injury. Let there be competition all around from the highest to the lowest, fencing in no class against competition. Abolish monopoly everywhere, put all men on an equal footing and then trust to freedom. In that way we would have the most delicate system of co-operation that can possibly be devised by the wit of man.

The fight of labour is not against capital; it is against monopoly. Why just think of that state of things. when all the means of production belong to the community and all production is regulated by the State, when every individual would have, his work, his time of work, and everything else prescribed for him; when it would be utterly impossible for men to employ themselves! To abolish competition you must have restriction; you must call on the coercive powers of the State. How else are you going to do it? Supposing you organise industry in the way our friends dream of, if any individuals go outside of this organization and propose to compete with it, how are you going to stop their competition but by coming in with the strong arm of the law, and putting an end to it? Why such a state of society, instead of being the ideal to which the Anglo-Saxon community ought to aspire, would be going back to a worse despotism than, that of ancient, Egypt. (Applause and cries of “No, no.”)  ... Read the entire article

Henry George: Concentrations of Wealth Harm America (excerpt from Social Problems)  (1883)

Capital is a good; the capitalist is a helper, if he is not also a monopolist. We can safely let any one get as rich as he can if he will not despoil others in doing so.

There are deep wrongs in the present constitution of society, but they are not wrongs inherent in the constitution of man nor in those social laws which are as truly the laws of the Creator as are the laws of the physical universe.  They are wrongs resulting from bad adjustments which it is within our power to amend. The ideal social state is not that in which each gets an equal amount of wealth, but in which each gets in proportion to his contribution to the general stock. And in such a social state there would not be less incentive to exertion than now; there would be far more incentive. Men will be more industrious and more moral, better workmen and better citizens, if each takes his earnings and carries them home to his family, than where they put their earnings in a "pot" and gamble for them until some have far more than they could have earned, and others have little or nothing.  ...   Read the entire article

Henry George: Progress & Poverty: Wages & Capital: The Meaning of the Terms (Book I, Chapter 2)

"That part of a man's stock," says Adam Smith (Book II, Chap. 1), "which he expects to afford him a revenue, is called his capital," and the capital of a country or society, he goes on to say, consists of

(1) machines and instruments of trade which facilitate and abridge labor;
(2) buildings, not mere dwellings, but which may be considered instruments of trade -- such as shops, farmhouses, etc.;
(3) improvements of land which better fit it for tillage or culture;
(4) the acquired and useful abilities of all the inhabitants;
(5) money;
(6) provisions in the hands of producers and dealers, from the sale of which they expect to derive a profit;
(7) the material of, or partially completed, manufactured articles still in the hands of producers or dealers;
(8) completed articles still in the hands of producers or dealers.

The first four of these be styles fixed capital, and the last four circulating capital, a distinction of which it is not necessary to our purpose to take any note. ... read the entire chapter

Henry George: Progress & Poverty: Wages & Capital: The Meaning of the Terms (Book I, Chapter 2)

But it is more difficult to clear away from the idea of capital the ambiguities that beset it, and to fix the scientific use of the term. In general discourse, all sorts of things that have a value or will yield a return are vaguely spoken of as capital, while economic writers vary so widely that the term can hardly be said to have a fixed meaning. Let us compare with each other the definitions of a few representative writers: ...

... This common sense of the term is that of wealth devoted to procuring more wealth. Dr. Adam Smith correctly expresses this common idea when he says: "That part of a man's stock which he expects to afford him revenue is called his capital." ...

Land, labor, and capital are the three factors of production. If we remember that capital is thus a term used in contradistinction to land and labor, we at once see that nothing properly included under either one of these terms can be properly classed as capital. The term land necessarily includes, not merely the surface of the earth as distinguished from the water and the air, but the whole material universe outside of man himself, for it is only by having access to land, from which his very body is drawn, that man can come in contact with or use nature. The term land embraces, in short, all natural materials, forces, and opportunities, and, therefore, nothing that is freely supplied by nature can be properly classed as capital. A fertile field, a rich vein of ore, a falling stream which supplies power, may give to the possessor advantages equivalent to the possession of capital, but to class such things as capital would be to put an end to the distinction between land and capital, and, so far as they relate to each other, to make the two terms meaningless. The term labor, in like manner, includes all human exertion, and hence human powers whether natural or acquired can never properly be classed as capital. In common parlance we often speak of a man's knowledge, skill, or industry as constituting his capital; but this is evidently a metaphorical use of language that must be eschewed in reasoning that aims at exactness. Superiority in such qualities may augment the income of an individual just as capital would, and an increase in the knowledge, skill, or industry of a community may have the same effect in increasing its production as would an increase of capital; but this effect is due to the increased power of labor and not to capital. Increased velocity may give to the impact of a cannon ball the same effect as increased weight, yet, nevertheless, weight is one thing and velocity another.

[26] Thus we must exclude from the category of capital everything that may be included either as land or labor. Doing so, there remain only things which are neither land nor labor, but which have resulted from the union of these two original factors of production. Nothing can be properly capital that does not consist of these that is to say, nothing can be capital that is not wealth. ... read the entire chapter

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)

Note 49: The primary error in all forms of socialism consists in ignoring the fact that Capital is but a product of labor and land; or what in effect is the same thing, in disregarding the necessary inference that land is the only implement of labor. Intelligent socialists insist that they do not ignore it; but that, while acknowledging land to be the primary implement of labor, they see in this only an abstract formula, having at the present stage of civilization no practical importance. Society, they urge, is impossible without Capital; and he who would live in society must have Capital, or be the slave of those who do have it. Therefore, they, argue, Capital is in the social state as indispensable as land. Their reasoning hinges upon the mistaken assumption that Capital is an accumulation of the past instead of being a product of the present. As one socialistic author puts it, "Though labor may originally have preceded Capital, yet it is now as absurd to place one before the other as it is to attempt to say whether the hen originates the egg or the egg the hen." The explanation of division of labor and trade. the effect of which is overlooked by socialistic philosophies, affords a better opportunity than the present for considering this elementary error of socialism, and a brief discussion of the subject will be given in that connection. See post, note 81. ...

Q49. Would the single tax abolish interest?
A. I do not think so. Interest properly understood is a form of wages, and so far from abolishing it, the single tax, which would tend to increase all forms of wages, would tend to increase interest. But monopoly profits are often confounded with interest, and by force of association have given to interest a bad name; these would be minimized if not wholly abolished by the single tax. It is impossible to answer this question intelligibly to everyone who asks it, without requiring him to be specific; for it is seldom that two persons agree as to what they mean by interest. The Western farmer thinks of the high rate that he pays, partly for risk, partly from his ignorance of the modus operandi of banking, and partly because legitimate banking facilities are scarce in his Community; the Wall Street operator thinks of the premiums that he pays for currency in times of stress to tide him over from day to day; others think of "interest" on government bonds, and others of dividends of companies with valuable land rights. None of these payments are really interest, and the single tax would tend to rid society of them. But that advantage which the workmen enjoy whose implements and materials are already gathered, over those who have yet to devote time to gathering implements and materials, an advantage which is expressed in money and as interest upon capital, will not, I should think, be abolished by anything that man can do. The value of such an advantage is part of the wages of the labor that creates it. ... read the book

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

CAPITAL, which is not in itself a distinguishable element, but which it must always be kept in mind consists of wealth applied to the aid of labor in further production, is not a primary factor. There can be production without it, and there must have been production without it, or it could not in the first place have appeared. It is a secondary and compound factor, coming after and resulting from the union of labor and land in the production of wealth. It is in essence labor raised by a second union with land to a third or higher power. But it is to civilized life so necessary and important as to be rightfully accorded in political economy the place of a third factor in production. — The Science of Political Economy unabridged: Book III, Chapter 17, The Production of Wealth: The Third Factor of Production — Capital abridged: Part III, Chapter 10: Order of the Three Factors of Production

IT is to be observed that capital of itself can do nothing. It is always a subsidiary, never an initiatory, factor. The initiatory factor is always labor. That is to say, in the production of wealth labor always uses capital, is never used by capital. This is not merely literally true, when by the term capital we mean the thing capital. It is also true when we personify the term and mean by it not the thing capital, but the men who are possessed of capital. The capitalist pure and simple, the man who merely controls capital, has in his hands the power of assisting labor to produce. But purely as capitalist he cannot exercise that power. It can be exercised only by labor. To utilize it he must himself exercise at least some of the functions of labor, or he must put his capital, on some terms, at the use of those who do. — The Science of Political Economy unabridged: Book III, Chapter 17, The Production of Wealth: The Third Factor of Production — Capital abridged: Part III, Chapter 10: Order of the Three Factors of Production

THUS we must exclude from the category of capital everything that may be included either as land or labor. Doing so, there remain only things which are neither land nor labor, but which have resulted from the union of these two original factors of production. Nothing can be properly capital that does not consist of these — that is to say, nothing can be capital that is not wealth. — Progress & Poverty — Book I, Chapter 2: Wages and Capital: The Meaning of the Terms

THUS, a government bond is not capital, nor yet is it the representative of capital. The capital that was once received for it by the government has been consumed unproductively — blown away from the mouths of cannon, used up in war ships, expended in keeping men marching and drilling, killing and destroying. The bond cannot represent capital that has been destroyed. It does not represent capital at all. It is simply a solemn declaration that the government will, some time or other, take by taxation from the then existing stock of the people, so much wealth, which it will turn over to the holder of the bond; and that, in the meanwhile, it will, from time to time, take, in the same way, enough to make up to the holder the increase which so much capital as it some day promises to give him would yield him were it actually in his possession. The immense sums which are thus taken from the produce of every modern country to pay interest on public debts are not the earnings or increase of capital — are not really interest in the strict sense of the term, but are taxes levied on the produce of labor and capital, leaving so much less for wages and so much less for real interest. — Progress & Poverty — Book III, Chapter 4: The Laws of Distribution: Of Spurious Capital and of Profits Often Mistaken For Interest

CAPITAL, as we have seen, consists of wealth used for the procurement of more wealth, as distinguished from wealth used for the direct satisfaction of desire; or, as I think it may be defined, of wealth in the course of exchange.

Capital, therefore, increases the power of labor to produce wealth: (1) By enabling labor to apply itself in more effective ways, as by digging up clams with a spade instead of the hand, or moving a vessel by shoveling coal into a furnace, instead of tugging at an oar. (2) By enabling labor to avail itself of the reproductive forces of nature, as to obtain corn by sowing it, or animals by breeding them. (3) By permitting the division of labor, and thus, on the one hand, increasing the efficiency of the human factor of wealth, by the utilization of special capabilities, the acquisition of skill, and the reduction of waste; and, on the other, calling in the powers of the natural factor at their highest, by taking advantage of the diversities of soil, climate and situation, so as to obtain each particular species of wealth where nature is most favorable to its production.

Capital does not supply the materials which labor works up into wealth, as is erroneously taught; the materials of wealth are supplied by nature. But such materials partially worked up and in the course of exchange are capital. — Progress & Poverty — Book I, Chapter 5: Wages and Capital: The Real Functions of Capital

... go to "Gems from George"

Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism of Natural Taxation, from Principles of Natural Taxation (1917)

Q22. What is privilege?
A. Strictly defined, privilege is, according to the Century Dictionary, "a special and exclusive power conferred by law on particular persons or classes of persons and ordinarily in derogation of the common right."

Q23. What is today the popular conception of privilege?
A. That it is the law-given power of one man to profit at another man's expense.

Q24. What are the principal forms of privilege?
A. The appropriation by individuals, or by public service corporations, of the net rent of land created by the growth and activity of the community without payment for the same. Also, the less important privileges connected with patents, tariff, and the currency.

Q25. Where in does privilege differ from capital?
A. Capital is a material thing, a product of labor, stored-up wages; an instrument of production paid for in human labor, and destined to wear out. Capital is the natural ally of labor, and is harmless except as allied to privilege. Privilege is none of these, but is an intangible statutory power, an unpaid-for and perpetual lien upon the future labor of this and succeeding generations. Capital is paid for and ephemeral. Privilege is unpaid for and eternal. A man accumulated in his profession $5,000 capital, which he invested in land in Canada. Ten years later he sold the same land for $200,000. Here is an instance of $5,000 capital allied with $195,000 privilege. This illustrates that privilege and not capital is the real enemy of labor.

Q26. How may franchises be treated?
A. Franchise privileges may be abated, or gradually abolished by lower rates, or by taxation, or by both, in the interest of the community.

Q27. Why should privilege be especially taxed?
A. Because such payment is fairly due from grantee to the grantor of privilege and also because a tax upon privilege can never be a burden upon industry or commerce, nor can it ever operate to reduce the wages of labor or increase prices to the consumer.

Q28. How are landlords privileged?
A. Because, in so far as their land tax is an "old" tax, it is a burdenless tax, and because their buildings' tax is shifted upon their tenants; most landlords who let land and also the tenement houses and business blocks thereon avoid all share in the tax burden.

Q29. How does privilege affect the distribution of wealth?
A. Wealth as produced is now distributed substantially in but two channels, privilege and wages. The abolition of privilege would leave but the one proper channel, viz., wages of capital, hand, and brain.

Q25. Where in does privilege differ from capital?
A. Capital is a material thing, a product of labor, stored-up wages; an instrument of production paid for in human labor, and destined to wear out. Capital is the natural ally of labor, and is harmless except as allied to privilege. Privilege is none of these, but is an intangible statutory power, an unpaid-for and perpetual lien upon the future labor of this and succeeding generations. Capital is paid for and ephemeral. Privilege is unpaid for and eternal. A man accumulated in his profession $5,000 capital, which he invested in land in Canada. Ten years later he sold the same land for $200,000. Here is an instance of $5,000 capital allied with $195,000 privilege. This illustrates that privilege and not capital is the real enemy of labor.

... read the whole article

Nic Tideman: Basic Tenets of the Incentive Taxation Philosophy

The Proper Disposition of Returns to Different Factors of Production
The idea that the rent of land is properly collected by governments is an example of the more general idea that it is important to distinguish the different "factors of production" identified by classical political economy. The return to each factor has a proper destination.
  • The contributions of human abilities to productive efforts are called "labor," the return to labor is called "wages," and the appropriate recipients of wages are those whose labor contributes to productive activities.
  • The contributions of past human products to productive efforts are called "capital," the return to capital is called "interest," and the appropriate recipients of interest are those who past saving made the creation of capital possible.
  • The contributions of government-assigned opportunities to the productive process are called "land," the return to land is called "rent," and the appropriate recipient of rent is the public treasury.

Replacing Existing Taxes

When we say that the appropriate recipient of rent is the public treasury, it should be understood that this is not in addition to existing sources of public revenue, but rather instead of existing sources of public revenue.

  • Those who contribute labor to productive processes should be allowed to keep the wages that result from their labor.
  • Those whose saving makes the creation of capital possible should be allowed to keep the interest that accrues from the use of capital.
  • But there is no one who has a corresponding claim to the return to land. This is the reason that fees for the use of land and other opportunities assigned by government ought to be the primary source of government revenue.
While one might call such fees "taxes," we consider that designation inappropriate, because the word "tax" connotes an exaction from someone of something to which he or she has a just claim, and we deny that there are such just claims with respect to land. We expect that the collection of fees for the full value of opportunities assigned by governments would provide adequate revenue for all necessary government expenditures. ...  Read the whole article

Winston Churchill: The People's Land  
Now let the Manchester Ship Canal tell its tale about the land. It has a story to tell which is just as simple and just as pregnant as its story about Free Trade. When it was resolved to build the Canal, the first thing that had to be done was to buy the land. Before the resolution to build the Canal was taken, the land on which the Canal flows -- or perhaps I should say 'stands' -- was, in the main, agricultural land, paying rates on an assessment from 30s. to L2 an acre. I am told that 4,495 acres of land purchased fell within that description out of something under 5,000 purchased altogether. Immediately after the decision, the 4,495 acres were sold for L777,000 sterling -- or an average of L172 an acre -- that is to say, five or six times the agricultural value of the land and the value on which it had been rated for public purposes.

Now what had the landowner done for the community; what enterprise had he shown; what service had he rendered; what capital had he risked in order that he should gain this enormous multiplication of the value of his property! I will tell you in one word what he had done. Can you guess it! Nothing.

But it was not only the owners of the land that was needed for making the Canal, who were automatically enriched. All the surrounding land either having a frontage on the Canal or access to it rose and rose rapidly, and splendidly, in value. By the stroke of a fairy wand, without toil, without risk, without even a half-hour's thought many landowners in Salford, Eccles, Stretford, Irlam, Warrington Runcorn, etc., found themselves in possession of property which had trebled, quadrupled, quintupled in value.

Apart from the high prices which were paid, there was a heavy bill for compensation, severance, disturbance, and injurious affection where no land was taken -- injurious affection, namely, raising the land not taken many times in value -- all this was added to the dead-weight cost of construction. All this was a burden on those whose labour skill, and capital created this great public work. Much of this land today is still rated at ordinary agricultural value, and in order to make sure that no injustice is done, in order to make quite certain that these landowners are not injured by our system of government, half their rates are, under the Agricultural Rates Act, paid back to them. The balance is made up by you. The land is still rising in value, and with every day's work that every man in this neighbourhood does and with every addition to the prosperity of Manchester and improvement of this great city, the land is further enhanced in vaIue.

The shareholders and the ratepayers I have told you what happened to the landowners. Let us see what happened to the shareholders and the ratepayers who found the money. The ordinary shareholders, who subscribed eight millions, have had no dividend yet. The Corporation loan of five millions interest on which is borne on the rates each year, had, until 1907, no return upon its capital. A return has come at last, and no doubt the future prospects are good; but there was a long interval -- even for the corporation. These are the men who did the work. These are the men who put up the money. I want to ask you a question. Do you think it would be very unfair if the owners of all this automatically created land value due to the growth of the city, to the enterprise of the community, and to the sacrifices made by the shareholders -- do you think it would have been very unfair, if they had been made to pay a proportion, at any rate, of the unearned increment which they secured, back to the city and the community? ... Read the whole piece

Michael Hudson and Kris Feder: Real Estate and the Capital Gains Debate
On the other hand, the Fed statistics37 understate land values for methodological reasons. Starting with estimates for overall real estate market prices, Fed statisticians subtract estimated replacement prices for existing buildings and capital improvements to derive land values as a residual. These replacement prices are based on the Commerce Department’s index of construction costs. Thus, building values are estimated to increase steadily over time, on the implicit assumption that all such property is worth reproducing at today’s rising costs.
37 Balance Sheets for the U.S. Economy, 1945-94, Tables B. 11, B. 12 and R 11.

However, the value of any building tends eventually to decline, until finally it is scrapped and replaced. It is the value of land which tends to rise as population and income grow (over the long run, with cyclical swings), precisely because no more land can be produced. Thus, capital gains in real estate result mainly from land appreciation.

Building values fall because of physical deterioration, but also because buildings undergo locational obsolescence as neighborhood land uses change over time, so market prices tend to fall below replacement costs. It would not be economical to rebuild many types of structures on the same site if they were suddenly destroyed.38 In particular, where land use is intensifying over the long run, rising land values effectively drain the capital value out of old buildings. This is because the salvage value of land (its worth upon renewal) tends to rise, while the scrap or salvage value of most immovable improvements is negligible. Where land has alternative uses, rent is not its current net income but its opportunity cost -- the minimum yield required by the market to warrant keeping the land in its present use instead of converting it to the best alternative use. As the land value rises, a rising share of the property income must be imputed to the land and a falling share remains to be imputed to the improvements. Read the whole article

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