William Sloan Coffin: "Charity is a matter
of personal attribute, justice a matter of public policy. Never can
the first be a substitute
for the second."
Susan Pace Hamill, law professor at the University of Alabama:
"I'm going to assume for argument that, in the state of Alabama, we
get an A+ for beneficence and charity, that we are really good at it, with
our 8,000-plus churches." Some people say that's not a valid assumption,
that we've got too many building campaigns. But I say, "Just assume
that for a minute. Does that somehow excuse an F in justice, excuse that
the poor on wages into poverty, excuse that the public schools, especially
in the rural areas, are substandard? Can we use an A+ in charity to say we
don't have to be concerned about this injustice? No. The Bible commands both.
They are separate. They are equally important, and one cannot replace the
the Christian Coalition is doing is confusing the two. If charity could
establish justice, if they didn't have to be separate, then don't you
think with our
8,000-plus churches and all the Christians we would be the shining
light of the nation, instead of at the bottom in this area? Think about
at Alabama is proof that charity cannot replace justice.
Joseph Malins: The Ambulance
Down in the Valley
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant,
But over its terrible edge there had slipped,
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley." ...
"Oh he's a fanatic," the others
"Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He'd dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We'll support them forever.
Aren't we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?"
But the sensible few, who are
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.
Better guide well the young than
reclaim them when old,
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
"To rescue the fallen is good, but 'tis best
To prevent other people from falling."
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence 'round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley. ... Read
the whole poem — and the Wealthandwant.com commentary
“Thy kingdom come!” When Christ
taught that prayer He
did not mean that humans should idly phrase these words, but that for
the coming of that kingdom humanity must work as well as pray!
Prayer! Consider what prayer is. How true is the old fable!
wagoner whose wagon was stuck in the rut knelt down and prayed to
Jove to get it out. He might have prayed till the crack of doom, and
the wagon would have stood there. This world — God’s world
— is not a world in which the repeating of words will get wagons
out of mire or poverty out of slums. We who would pray with effect
must work! ...
Think of what Christianity
teaches us; think of the life and
death of Him who came to die for us! Think of His teachings, that we
are all the equal children of an Almighty Father, who is no respecter
of persons, and then think of this legalised injustice — this
denial of the most important, most fundamental rights of the children
of God, which so many of the very men who teach Christianity uphold;
nay, which they blasphemously assert is the design and the intent of
the Creator Himself.
Better to me, higher to me, is
the atheist, who says there is no
God, than the professed Christian who, prating of the goodness and
the Fatherhood of God, tells us in words as some do, or tells us
indirectly as others do, that millions and millions of human
creatures — [at this point a child was heard crying]
— don’t take the little thing out — that millions and
millions of human beings, like that little baby, are being brought
into the world daily by the creative fiat, and no place in this world
provided for them.
Aye! Tells us that, by the laws
of God, the poor are created in
order that the rich may have the unctuous satisfaction of dealing out
charity to them, and attributes to the laws of God the state of
things which exists in this city of Glasgow, as in other great cities
on both sides of the Atlantic, where little children are dying every
day, dying by hundreds of thousands, because having come into this
world — those children of God, with His fiat, by His decree
— they find that there is not space on the earth sufficient for
them to live; and are driven out of God’s world because they
cannot get room enough, cannot get air enough, cannot get sustenance
enough. ... Read the whole speech
Henry George: Ode to
Liberty (1877 speech)
Our primary social adjustment is
a denial of justice. In allowing one man to own the land on which and
from which other men must live, we have made them his bondsmen in a
degree which increases as material progress goes on. This is the subtle
alchemy that in ways they do not realize is extracting from the masses
in every civilized country the fruits of their weary toil; that is
instituting a harder and more hopeless slavery in place of that which
has been destroyed; that is bringing political despotism out of
political freedom, and must soon transmute democratic institutions into
It is this that turns the blessings of material progress into a
curse. It is this that crowds human beings into noisome cellars and
squalid tenement houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that goads
men with want and consumes them with greed; that robs women of the
grace and beauty of perfect womanhood; that takes from little children
the joy and innocence of life’s morning.
Civilization so based cannot continue. The eternal laws of the
universe forbid it. Ruins of dead empires testify, and the witness that
is in every soul answers, that it cannot be. It is something grander than Benevolence,
something more august than Charity — it is Justice herself that demands
of us to right this wrong. Justice that will not be denied; that cannot
be put off — Justice that with the scales carries the sword. Shall we
ward the stroke with liturgies and prayers? Shall we avert the
decrees of immutable law by raising churches when hungry infants moan
and weary mothers weep?
Though it may take the language
of prayer, it is blasphemy that attributes to the inscrutable decrees
of Providence the suffering and brutishness that come of poverty; that
turns with folded hands to the All-Father and lays on Him the
responsibility for the want and crime of our great cities. We
degrade the Everlasting. We slander the Just One. A merciful man would
have better ordered the world; a just man would crush with his foot
such an ulcerous ant-hill! It is not the Almighty, but we who are
responsible for the vice and misery that fester amid our civilization.
The Creator showers upon us his gifts — more than enough for all. But
like swine scrambling for food, we tread them in the mire — tread them
in the mire, while we tear and rend each other! ... read
the whole speech and H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
14 Liberty, and Equality of Opportunity (in the unabridged P&P: Part
X: The Law of Human Progress — Chapter 5: The Central Truth)
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
13 Effect of Remedy Upon Social Ideals (in the unabridged P&P: Part
IX: Effects of the Remedy — 4. Of the changes that would be wrought
in social organization and social life)
From whence springs this lust for gain, to gratify which men tread everything
pure and noble under their feet; to which they sacrifice all the higher possibilities
of life; which converts civility into a hollow pretense, patriotism into a
sham, and religion into hypocrisy; which makes so much of civilized existence
an Ishmaelitish warfare, of which the weapons are cunning and fraud?
Does it not spring from the existence of want? Carlyle somewhere says that
poverty is the hell of which the modern Englishman is most afraid. And he is
right. Poverty is the openmouthed, relentless hell which yawns beneath civilized
society. And it is hell enough. The Vedas declare no truer thing than when
the wise crow Bushanda tells the eagle-bearer of Vishnu that the keenest pain
is in poverty. For poverty is not merely deprivation; it means shame, degradation;
the searing of the most sensitive parts of our moral and mental nature as with
hot irons; the denial of the strongest impulses and the sweetest affections;
the wrenching of the most vital nerves. You love your wife, you love your children;
but would it not be easier to see them die than to see them reduced to the
pinch of want in which large classes in every highly civilized community live?
The strongest of animal passions is that with which we cling to life, but it
is an everyday occurrence in civilized societies for men to put poison to their
mouths or pistols to their heads from fear of poverty, and for one who does
this there are probably a hundred who have the desire, but are restrained by
instinctive shrinking, by religious considerations, or by family ties.
From this hell of poverty, it is but natural that men should make every effort
to escape. With the impulse to self-preservation and self-gratification combine
nobler feelings, and love as well as fear urges in the struggle. Many a man
does a mean thing, a dishonest thing, a greedy and grasping and unjust thing,
in the effort to place above want, or the fear of want, mother or wife or children.
And out of this condition of things arises a public opinion which enlists,
as an impelling power in the struggle to grasp and to keep, one of the strongest
perhaps with many men the very strongest springs of human action. The desire
for approbation, the feeling that urges us to win the respect, admiration,
or sympathy of our fellows, is instinctive and universal. Distorted sometimes
into the most abnormal manifestations, it may yet be everywhere perceived.
It is potent with the veriest savage, as with the most highly cultivated member
of the most polished society; it shows itself with the first gleam of intelligence,
and persists to the last breath. It triumphs over the love of ease, over the
sense of pain, over the dread of death. It dictates the most trivial and the
most important actions.
Now, men admire what they desire. How sweet to the storm-stricken seems
the safe harbor; food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, warmth to the
rest to the weary, power to the weak, knowledge to him in whom the intellectual
yearnings of the soul have been aroused. And thus the sting of want and
the fear of want make men admire above all things the possession of riches,
to become wealthy is to become respected, and admired, and influential.
Get money — honestly, if you can, but at any rate get money! This is
the lesson that society is daily and hourly dinning in the ears of its members.
Men instinctively admire virtue and truth, but the sting of want and the
of want make them even more strongly admire the rich and sympathize with
the fortunate. It is well to be honest and just, and men will commend it;
who by fraud and injustice gets him a million dollars will have more respect,
and admiration, and influence, more eye service and lip service, if not
heart service, than he who refuses it. The one may have his reward in the
he may know that his name is writ in the Book of Life, and that for him
is the white robe and the palm branch of the victor against temptation; but
other has his reward in the present.
- His name is writ in the list of "our substantial citizens";
- he has the courtship of men and the flattery of women;
- the best pew in the church and the personal regard of the eloquent clergyman
who in the name of Christ preaches the Gospel of Dives, and tones down
into a meaningless flower of Eastern speech the stern metaphor of the camel
the needle's eye.
- He may be a patron of arts, a Mæcenas to men of letters;
- may profit by the converse of the intelligent, and
- be polished by the attrition of the refined.
- His alms may feed the poor, and help the struggling, and bring sunshine
into desolate places;
- and noble public institutions commemorate, after he is gone, his name
and his fame.
- It is not in the guise of a hideous monster, with horns and tail, that
Satan tempts the children of men, but as an angel of light. His promises
are not alone of the kingdoms of the world, but of mental and moral
principalities and powers. He appeals not only to the animal appetites,
but to the cravings
that stir in man because he is more than an animal. ... read the whole chapter
Henry George: The
Increasing Importance of Social Questions (Chapter 1 of Social
 In a "journal of civilization" a professed teacher declares
the saving word for society to be that each shall mind his own business.
This is the gospel of selfishness, soothing as soft flutes to those who,
having fared well themselves, think everybody should be satisfied. But the
salvation of society, the hope for the free, full development of humanity,
is in the gospel of brotherhood — the gospel of Christ. Social progress
makes the well-being of all more and more the business of each; it binds
all closer and closer together in bonds from which none can escape. He who
observes the law and the proprieties, and cares for his family, yet takes
no interest in the general weal, and gives no thought to those who are trodden
under foot, save now and then to bestow aims, is not a true Christian. Nor
is he a good citizen. The duty of the citizen is more and harder than this.
 The intelligence required for the solving of social problems is not
a thing of the mere intellect. It must be animated with the religious sentiment
and warm with sympathy for human suffering. It must stretch out beyond self-interest,
whether it be the self-interest of the few or of the many. It must seek justice.
For at the bottom of every social problem we will find a social wrong. ...
read the entire essay
Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal (1887
There are not charitable
institutions enough to supply the
demand for charity; that demand seems incapable of being
supplied. But there are enough, at least, to show every thinking
woman and every thinking man that it is utterly impossible to
eradicate poverty by charity; to show everyone who will trace to its
root the cause of the disease that what is needed is not charity, but
justice — the conforming of human institutions to the eternal
laws of right. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Wages of
Even the philanthropy which,
recognising the evil of trying to
help labor by alms, seeks to help men to help themselves by finding
them work, becomes aggressive in the blind and bitter struggle that
private property in land entails, and in helping one set of men injures
Thus, to minimise the bitter
complaints of taking work from
others and lessening the wages of others in providing their own
beneficiaries with work and wages, benevolent societies are forced to
devices akin to the digging of holes and filling them up again.
Those who know of it, I am sure,
honour the princely
generosity of Baron Hirsch towards his suffering co-religionists. But,
as I write, the daily newspapers contain accounts of an immense meeting
held in Cooper Union, New York City, at which a number of Hebrew trades
unions protested in the strongest manner against the loss of work and
reduction of wages that is being effected by Baron Hirsch’s generosity
in bringing their own countrymen here and teaching them to work.
The resolution unanimously adopted
at this great meeting thus
concludes: “We now demand of Baron Hirsch himself that he release us
from his ‘charity’ and take back the millions, which, instead of a
blessing, have proved a curse and a source of misery.”
Nor does this show that the
members of these Hebrew labor
unions; who are themselves immigrants of the same class as those Baron
Hirsch is striving to help – are a whit less generous than other men.
Nor is it asking justice when
employers are asked to pay their
working-men more than they are compelled to pay – more than they could
get others to do the work for. It is asking charity. For the surplus
that the employer thus gives is not in reality wages, it is essentially
Among measures suggested for the
improvement of the condition
of labor much stress is sometimes laid upon charity. But there is
nothing practical in such recommendations as a cure for poverty. If it
were possible for the giving of alms to abolish poverty, there would be
no poverty in Christendom!
Charity is indeed a noble and
beautiful virtue, grateful to
man and approved by God. But charity must be built on justice. It
cannot supersede justice.
What is wrong with the condition
of labor is that labor is
robbed. And while the continuance of that robbery is sanctioned it is
idle to urge charity.
All that charity can do where
injustice exists is here and
there to mollify the effects of injustice. It cannot cure them.
Nor is even what little it can do
to mollify the effects of
injustice without evil. For what may be called the super-imposed, and,
in this sense, secondary virtues, work evil where the fundamental or
primary virtues are absent.
Thus sobriety is a virtue and
diligence is a virtue. But a
sober and diligent thief is all the more dangerous. Thus patience is a
virtue. But patience under wrong is the condoning of wrong. Thus it is
a virtue to seek knowledge and to endeavour to cultivate the mental
powers. But the wicked man becomes more capable of evil by reason of
his intelligence. Devils we always think of as intelligent.
Charity based upon injustice works
That pseudo charity that discards
and denies justice works
On the one side, it demoralises
its recipients, outraging
human dignity, and turning into beggars and paupers men who, to become
self-supporting, self-respecting citizens, only need the restitution of
what God has given them.
On the other side, it acts as an anodyne
to the consciences of those who are living on the robbery of their
fellows, and fosters that moral delusion and spiritual pride that
Christ doubtless had in mind when He said it was easier for a camel to
pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
Kingdom of Heaven! For it leads men steeped in injustice, and using
their money and their influence to bolster up injustice, to think that
in giving alms they are doing something more than their duty towards
man and deserve to be very well thought of by God.
Worse perhaps than all else is the
way in which the
substituting of injunctions to charity for the clear-cut demands of
justice opens an easy means for professed teachers of the Christian
religion of all branches and communions to placate Mammon while
persuading themselves that they are serving God!
Had the English clergy not
subordinated the teaching of
justice to the teaching of charity – to go no further in illustrating a
principle of which the whole history of Christendom from Constantine’s
time to our own is witness – the Tudor tyranny would never have arisen;
had the clergy of France never substituted charity for justice, the
monstrous iniquities of the ancient regime would never have brought the
horrors of the Great Revolution; and in my own country, had those who
should have preached justice not satisfy themselves with preaching
kindness, chattel slavery could never have demanded the
holocaust of our civil war.
No; as faith
without works is dead, as men cannot give to God
His due while denying to their fellows the rights He gave them, so
charity, unsupported by justice, can do nothing to solve the problem of
the existing condition of labor.
Though the rich were to “bestow
all their goods to feed the
poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would continue while
property in land continued.
Take the case of the rich man today
who is honestly desirous of devoting his wealth to the improvement of
the condition of labor. What can he do?
- Bestow his wealth on
those who need it? He may help some who deserve it,
but he will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may
do will be the danger of doing harm.
- Build churches?
Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the vice that is born
of it breeds!
- Build schools and
colleges? Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity of
private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for
mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink!
- Establish hospitals?
Why, already it seems to laborers that there
are too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to
- Build model tenements?
Unless he cheapens house accommodation he but drives further the class
he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodation he brings more
to seek employment, and cheapens wages!
- Institute laboratories,
scientific schools, workshops far physical experiments?
He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting
on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as
between the upper and the nether millstone!
- Promote emigration from
places where wages are low to places where they are somewhat higher?
If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate will soon
turn on him and demand that such emigration shall be stopped as
reducing their wages!
- Give away what land he
may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let it at lower rents than
the market price? He will simply make new landowners or
partial landowners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he
will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
- Or, bethinking himself of
those public-spirited citizens of classic times who spent great sums in
improving their native cities, shall he try to beautify the city of his
birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten narrow and
crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let him open
tramways and bring in railways, or in any way make beautiful and
attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not be
that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will it not
be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of his
benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to
landowners? Why, even the mere
announcement that he is going to do such things will start speculation
and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.
What, then, can the rich man do to
improve the condition of labor?
He can do nothing at all
except to use his strength for the abolition of the great primary wrong
that robs men of their birthright.
The justice of God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything
else for it!... read the whole article
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
Hence, short of what wages may be earned when all restrictions on labor
are removed and access to natural opportunities on equal terms secured to
all, it is impossible to fix any rate of wages that will be deemed just,
or any rate of wages that can prevent working-men striving to get more. So
far from it making working-men more contented to improve their condition
a little, it is certain to make them more discontented.
Nor are you asking justice when you ask employers to pay their working-men
more than they are compelled to pay — more than they could get others
to do the work for. You are asking charity. For the surplus that the rich
employer thus gives is not in reality wages, it is essentially alms.
In speaking of the practical measures for the improvement of the condition
of labor which your Holiness suggests, I have not mentioned what you place
much stress upon — charity. But there is nothing practical in such
recommendations as a cure for poverty, nor will any one so consider them.
If it were possible for the giving of alms to abolish poverty there would
be no poverty in Christendom.
Charity is indeed a noble and beautiful virtue, grateful to man and approved
by God. But charity must be built on justice. It cannot supersede justice.
What is wrong with the condition of labor through the Christian world is
that labor is robbed. And while you justify the continuance of that robbery
it is idle to urge charity. To do so — to commend charity as a substitute
for justice, is indeed something akin in essence to those heresies, condemned
by your predecessors, that taught that the gospel had superseded the law,
and that the love of God exempted men from moral obligations.
All that charity can do where injustice exists is here and there to mollify
somewhat the effects of injustice. It cannot cure them. Nor is even what
little it can do to mollify the effects of injustice without evil. For what
may be called the superimposed, and in this sense, secondary virtues, work
evil where the fundamental or primary virtues are absent. Thus sobriety is
a virtue and diligence is a virtue. But a sober and diligent thief is all
the more dangerous. Thus patience is a virtue. But patience under wrong is
the condoning of wrong. Thus it is a virtue to seek knowledge and to endeavor
to cultivate the mental powers. But the wicked man becomes more capable of
evil by reason of his intelligence. Devils we always think of as intelligent.
And thus that pseudo-charity that discards and denies justice works evil.
On the one side, it demoralizes its recipients, outraging that human dignity
which as you say “God himself treats with reverence,” and turning
into beggars and paupers men who to become self-supporting, self-respecting
citizens need only the restitution of what God has given them. On the other
side, it acts as an anodyne to the consciences of those who are living on
the robbery of their fellows, and fosters that moral delusion and spiritual
pride that Christ doubtless had in mind when he said it was easier for a
camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
Kingdom of Heaven. For it leads men steeped in injustice, and using their
money and their influence to bolster up injustice, to think that in giving
alms they are doing something more than their duty toward man and deserve
to be very well thought of by God, and in a vague way to attribute to their
own goodness what really belongs to God’s goodness. For consider: Who
is the All-Provider? Who is it that as you say, “owes to man a storehouse
that shall never fail,” and which “he finds only in the inexhaustible
fertility of the earth.” Is it not God? And when, therefore, men, deprived
of the bounty of their God, are made dependent on the bounty of their fellow-creatures,
are not these creatures, as it were, put in the place of God, to take credit
to themselves for paying obligations that you yourself say God owes?
But worse perhaps than all else is the way in which this substituting of
vague injunctions to charity for the clear-cut demands of justice opens an
easy means for the professed teachers of the Christian religion of all branches
and communions to placate Mammon while persuading themselves that they are
serving God. Had the English clergy not subordinated the teaching of justice
to the teaching of charity — to go no further in illustrating a principle
of which the whole history of Christendom from Constantine’s time to
our own is witness — the Tudor tyranny would never have arisen, and
the separation of the church been averted; had the clergy of France never
substituted charity for justice, the monstrous iniquities of the ancient
régime would never have brought the horrors of the Great Revolution;
and in my own country had those who should have preached justice not satisfied
themselves with preaching kindness, chattel slavery could never have demanded
the holocaust of our civil war.
No, your Holiness; as faith without works is dead, as men cannot give to
God his due while denying to their fellows the rights be gave them, so charity
unsupported by justice can do nothing to solve the problem of the existing
condition of labor. Though the rich were to “bestow all their goods
to feed the poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would
continue while property in land continues.
Take the case of the rich man today who is honestly desirous of devoting
his wealth to the improvement of the condition of labor. What can he do?
- Bestow his wealth on those who need it? He may help some who deserve
it, but will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may
do will be the danger of doing harm.
- Build churches? Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the
vice that is born of it breeds.
- Build schools and colleges? Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity
of private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for
mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink.
- Establish hospitals? Why, already it seems to laborers that there are
too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure.
- Build model tenements? Unless he cheapens house accommodations he but
drives further the class he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodations
he brings more to seek employment and cheapens wages.
- Institute laboratories, scientific schools, workshops for physical experiments?
He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting
on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as between
the upper and the nether millstone.
- Promote emigration from places where wages are low to places where they
are somewhat higher? If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate
will soon turn on him to demand that such emigration shall be stopped as
reducing their wages.
- Give away what land he may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let
it at lower rents than the market price? He will simply make new landowners
or partial landowners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he
will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
- Or, bethinking himself of those public-spirited citizens of classic
times who spent great sums in improving their native cities, shall he try
to beautify the city of his birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten
narrow and crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let
him open tramways and bring in railroads, or in any way make beautiful
and attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not
be that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will
it not be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of
his benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to landowners?
Why, even the mere announcement that he is going to do such things will
start speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.
What, then, can the rich man do to improve the condition of labor?
He can do nothing at all except to use his strength for the abolition of
the great primary wrong that robs men of their birthright. The justice of
God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything else for it. ... read the whole letter
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a
themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
THE tax upon land values is the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls
only upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit,
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. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VIII, Chapter 3, Application of the Remedy: The Proposition Tried by the Canons
HERE is a provision made by natural law for the increasing needs of social growth;
here is an adaptation of nature by virtue of which the natural progress of society
is a progress toward equality not toward inequality; a centripetal force tending
to unity growing out of and ever balancing a centrifugal force tending to diversity.
Here is a fund belonging to society as a whole, from which without the degradation
of alms, private or public, provision can be made for the weak, the helpless,
the aged; from which provision can be made for the common wants of all as a matter
of common right to each. — Social
Problems — Chapter
19, The First Great Reform
NOT only do all economic considerations point to a tax on land values as
the proper source of public revenues; but so do all British traditions. A
land tax of four shillings in the pound of rental value is still nominally
enforced in England, but being levied on a valuation made in the reign of
William III, it amounts in reality to not much over a penny in the pound.
With the abolition of indirect taxation this is the tax to which men would
naturally turn. The resistance of landholders would bring up the question
of title, and thus any movement which went so far as to propose the substitution
of direct for indirect taxation must inevitably end in a demand for the restoration
to the British people of their birthright. — Protection or Free
Trade— Chapter 27: The Lion in the Way - econlib
THE feudal system, which is not peculiar to Europe but seems to be the natural
result of the conquest of a settled country by a race among whom equality and
individuality are yet strong, clearly recognized, in theory at least, that
the land belongs to society at large, not to the individual. Rude outcome of
an age in which might stood for right as nearly as it ever can (for the idea
of right is ineradicable from the human mind, and must in some shape show itself
even in the association of pirates and robbers), the feudal system yet admitted
in no one the uncontrolled and exclusive right to land. A fief was essentially
a a trust, and to enjoyment was annexed obligation. The sovereign, theoretically
the representative of the collective power and rights of the whole people,
was in feudal view the only absolute owner of land. And though land was granted
to individual possession, yet in its possession were involved duties, by which
the enjoyer of its revenues was supposed to render back to the commonwealth
an equivalent for the benefits which from the delegation of the common right
he received. — Progress &Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically
THE abolition of the military tenures in England by the Long Parliament,
ratified after the accession of Charles II, though simply an appropriation
of public revenues by the feudal landowners, who thus got rid of the consideration
on which they held the common property of the nation, and saddled it on the
people at large in the taxation of all consumers, has been long characterized,
and is still held up in the law books, as a triumph of the spirit of freedom.
Yet here is the source of the immense debt and heavy taxation of England.
Had the form of these feudal dues been simply changed into one better adapted
to the changed times, English wars need never have occasioned the incurring
of debt to the amount of a single pound, and the labor and capital of England
need not have been taxed a single farthing for the maintenance of a military
establishment. All this would have come from rent, which the landholders
since that time have appropriated to themselves — from the tax which
land ownership levies on the earnings of labor and capital. The landholders
of England got their land on terms which required them even in the sparse
population of Norman days to put in the field, upon call, sixty thousand
perfectly equipped horsemen, and on the further condition of various fines
and incidents which amounted to a considerable part of the rent. It would
probably be a low estimate to put the pecuniary value of these various services
and dues at one-half the rental value of the land. Had the landholders been
kept to this contract and no land been permitted to be inclosed except upon
similar terms, the income accruing to the nation from English land would
today be greater by many millions than the entire public revenues of the
United Kingdom. England today might have enjoyed absolute free trade. There
need not have been a customs duty, an excise, license or income tax, yet
all the present expenditures could be met, and a large surplus remain to
be devoted to any purpose which would conduce to the comfort or well-being
of the whole people. — Progress &Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically
THAT justice is the highest quality in the moral hierarchy I do not say;
but that it is the first. That which is above justice must be based on justice,
and include justice, and be reached through justice. It is not by accident
that, in the Hebraic religious development which through Christianity we
have inherited, the declaration, "The Lord thy God is a just God," precedes
the sweeter revelation of a God of Love. Until the eternal justice is perceived,
the eternal love must be hidden. As the individual must be just before he
can be truly generous, so must human society be based upon justice before
it can be based on benevolence. — Social
Problems — Chapter
9, First Principles
It is, something grander than Benevolence, something more august than Charity — it
is Justice herself that demands of us to right this wrong. Justice that will
not be denied; that cannot be put off — Justice that with the scales carries
the sword. Shall we ward the stroke with liturgies and prayers? Shall we avert
the decrees of immutable law by raising churches when hungry infants moan and
weary mothers weep?
Though it may take the language of prayer, it is blasphemy that attributes to
the inscrutable decrees of Providence the suffering and brutishness that come
of poverty; that turns with folded hands to the All-Father and lays on Him the
responsibility for the want and crime of our great cities. We degrade the Everlasting.
We slander the Just One. — Progress & Poverty — Book
X, Chapter 5, The Law of Human Progress: The Central Truth
WE see that God in His dealings with men has not been a bungler or a niggard;
that He has not brought too many men into the world; that He has not neglected
abundantly to supply them; that He has not intended that bitter competition of
the masses for a mere animal existence, and that monstrous aggregation of wealth
which characterizes our civilization; but that these evils, which lead so many
to say there is no God, or yet more impiously to say that they are of God's ordering,
are due to our denial of His moral law. We see that the law of justice, the law
of the Golden Rule, is not a mere counsel of perfection, but indeed the law of
social life. We see that, if we were only to observe it, there would be work
for all, leisure for all, abundance for all; and that civilization would tend
to give to the poorest not only necessaries, but all comforts and reasonable
luxuries as well. We see that Christ was not a mere dreamer when He told men
that, if they would seek the kingdom of God and its right doing, they might no
more worry about material things than do the lilies of the field about their
raiment; but that He was only declaring what political economy, in the light
of modern discovery, shows to be a sober truth. — The
Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII ... go
to "Gems from George"
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
Poverty is widespread and pitiable. This we know. Its general manifestations
are so common that even good men look upon it as a providential provision
for enabling the rich to drive camels through needles' eyes by exercising
the modern virtue of organized giving.32 Its occasional manifestations in
recurring periods of "hard times"33 are like epidemics of a virulent
disease, which excite even the most contented to ask if they may not be the
next victims. Its spasms of violence threaten society with anarchy on the
one hand, and, through panic-stricken efforts at restraint, with loss of
liberty on the other. And it persists and deepens despite the continuous
increase of wealth producing power.34
32. Not all charity is contemptible. Those charitable people, who, knowing
that individuals suffer, hasten to their relief, deserve the respect and
affection they receive. That kind of charity is neighborliness; it is love.
And perhaps in modern circumstances organization is necessary to make it
effective. But organized charity as a cherished social institution is a different
thing. It is not love, nor is it inspired by love; it is simply sanctified
selfishness, at the bottom of which will be found the blasphemous notion
that in the economy of God the poor are to be forever with us that the rich
may gain heaven by alms-giving.
Suppose a hole in the sidewalk into which passers-by continually
fall, breaking their arms, their legs, and sometimes their necks. We
people who, without thought of themselves, went to the relief of the
sufferers, binding the broken limbs of the living, and decently burying
the dead. But
what should we say of those who, when some one proposed to fill up the
hole to prevent further suffering, should say, "Oh, you mustn't fill
up that hole! Whatever in the world should we charitable people do to be
we had no broken legs and arms to bind, and no broken-necked people to
Of some kinds of charity it has been well said that they
form of self-righteousness which makes us give to others the things that
already belong to them." They suggest the old nursery rhyme:
"There was once a considerate crocodile,
Which lay on a bank of the river Nile.
And he swallowed a fish, with a face of woe,
While his tears flowed fast to the stream below.
'I am mourning,' said he. 'the untimely fate
Of the dear little fish which I just now ate.'"
Read Chapter viii of "Social Problems," by Henry George, entitled, "That
We All Might Be Rich."... read
Kris Feder: Progress and Poverty
To George, the Malthusian
analysis was abhorrent: It asserted that
no institutional reform could fundamentally alter the pattern of
income distribution, and that
charitable support for the needy only
compounded the problem - by lowering death rates and raising birth
rates. Fortunately, he found this theory of wages to be
flawed on several grounds. He also found it to be incompatible with
empirical facts, based on historical case studies from Ireland,
China, India, the United States and elsewhere. Today, most
development economists agree with George that famine and mass poverty
have more to do with faulty human institutions than with the
limitations of nature. Read
the whole article
Henry George: How
to Help the Unemployed
AN EPIDEMIC of what passes for
charity is sweeping over the land.
... One of the chiefs of New
York's "400" calls on each pupil of the public schools for a daily
contribution of a cold potato and a slice of bread for the organized
feeding of the hungry; and to complete the parallel with the "bread
and circuses" of the dying Roman republic, he also asks that the
churches be opened and their organs played every afternoon, so that
to free food may be added free music!
Yet there has been no disaster of
fire or flood, no convulsion of
nature, no destruction by public enemies. The seasons have kept their
order, we have had the former and the latter rain, and the earth has
not refused her increase. Granaries are filled to overflowing, and
commodities, even these we have tried to make dear by tariff, were
never before so cheap.
The scarcity that is distressing
and frightening the whole country
is a scarcity of employment. It is the unemployed for whom charity is
asked: not those who cannot or will not work, but those able to work
and anxious to work, who, through no fault of their own, cannot find
work. So clear, indeed, is it that of the great masses who are
suffering in this country to-day, by far the greater part are honest,
sober, and industrious, that the pharisees who preach that poverty is
due to laziness and thriftlessness, and the fanatics who attribute it
to drink, are for the moment silent.
Yet why is it that men able to work and willing to work cannot
find work? It is not strange that the failure to work should bring
want, for it is only by work that human wants are satisfied. But to
say that widespread distress comes from widespread inability to find
employment no more explains the distress than to say that the man
died from want of breath explains a sudden death. The pressing
question, the real question, is, What causes the want of
This, however, is the question
that the men of light and leading,
the preachers, teachers, philanthropists, business men and editors of
great newspapers, who all over the country are speaking and writing
about the distress and raising funds for the unemployed, show no
anxiety to discover. Indeed, they seem averse to such inquiry. "The
cause of the want of employment," they say, tacitly or openly, "is
not to be considered now. The present duty is to keep people from
starving and freezing, or being driven to break in and steal. This is
no time for theories. It is a time for alms."
This attitude, if one considers
it, seems something more than
What more unnatural than that alms should be asked, not for the
maimed, the halt and the blind, the helpless widow and the tender
orphan, but for grown men, strong men, skilful men, men able to work
and anxious to work! What more unnatural than that labor -- the
producer of all food, all clothing, all shelter -- should not be
exchangeable for its full equivalent in food, clothing, and shelter;
that while the things it produces have value, labor, the giver of all
value, should seem valueless! ...
... Organize charity as we may, men who cannot
find work go hungry, and men who do not want to find work are fed,
and men willing to work are converted into men unwilling to work.
For willingness to work depends on what can be had by work and
what can be had without work, and the personal and social estimate of
the relation. ...
Why should charity be offered the unemployed? It is not alms
ask. They are insulted and embittered and degraded by being forced to
accept as paupers what they would gladly earn as workers. ...
... For the question of the unemployed is
but a more than usually acute phase of the great labor question -- a
question of the distribution of wealth. Now, given any wrong, no
matter what, that affects the distribution of wealth, and it follows
that the leading class must be averse to any examination or question
of it. For, since wealth is power, the leading class is necessarily
dominated by those who profit or imagine they profit by injustice in
the distribution of wealth. Hence, the very indisposition to ask the
cause of evils so great as to arouse and startle the whole community
is but proof that they spring from some wide and deep injustice.
What that injustice is may be seen
by whoever will really look. We
have only to ask to find. ...
These recurring spasms of business
stagnation; these long-drawn
periods of industrial depression, common to the civilized world, do
not come from our treatment of money; are not caused and are not to
be cured by changes of tariffs. Protection is a robbery of labor, and
what is called free trade would give some temporary relief, but
speculation in land would only set in the stronger, and at last labor
and capital would again resist, by partial cessation, the blackmail
demanded for their employment in production, and the same round would
be run again. There is but
one remedy, and that is what is now known
as the single-tax -- the abolition of all taxes upon labor and
capital, and of all taxes upon their processes and products, and the
taking of economic rent, the unearned increment which now goes to the
mere appropriator, for the payment of public expenses. Charity can
merely demoralize and pauperize, while that indirect form of
the attempt to artificially "make work" by increasing public expenses
and by charity woodyards and sewing-rooms, is still more dangerous.
If, in this sense, work is to be made, it can be made more quickly by
dynamite and kerosene.
there is no need for charity; no need
for "making work." All
that is needed is to remove the restrictions that prevent the natural
demand for the products of work from availing itself of the natural
supply. Remove them today, and every unemployed man in the country
could find for himself employment tomorrow, and his "effective
demand" for the things he desires would infuse new life into every
subdivision of business and industry, even that of the dentist, the
preacher, the magazine writer, or the actor. Read the entire
Henry George: Causes of
Business Depression (1894)
... seasons of business
are seasons of bitter want on the part of large numbers -- of want so
intense and general that charity is called on to prevent actual
starvation from need of things that manufacturers and merchants have
Socialists, Populists and charity mongers -- the people who
apply little remedies for a great evil are all "barking up
the wrong tree." The upas of our civilization
is our treatment
of land. It is that which is converting even the march of invention
into a blight.
Charity and the giving of "charity work" may do a little to alleviate
suffering, but they cannot cure business depression. For they merely
transfer existing purchasing power. They do not increase the sum of
"effective demand." There is but one cure for recurring business
depression. There is no other. That is the Single Tax -- the abolition
of all taxes on the employment and products of labor and the taking of
economic or ground rent for the use of the community by taxes levied on
the value of land, irrespective of improvement. For that would make
land speculation unprofitable, land monopoly impossible, and so open to
the possessors of the power to labor the ability of converting it by
exertion into wealth or purchasing power that the very idea of a man
able to work and yet suffering from want of the things that work
produces would seem as preposterous on earth as it must seem in
heaven. Read the entire article
Winston Churchill: The
absorbs a share of almost every public and private benefit
Bill Batt: The
Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
- Some years ago in London there was a tollbar on a bridge
Thames, and all the working people who lived on the south side of the
river had to pay a daily toll of one penny for going and returning from
their work. The spectacle of these poor people thus mulcted on so large
a proportion of their earnings appealed to the public conscience, an
agitation was set on foot, municipal authorities were roused, and at
the cost of the ratepayers the bridge was freed and the toll removed.
All those people who used the bridge were saved sixpence a week. Within
a very short period from that time the rents on the south side of the
river were found to have advanced by about sixpence a week, or the
amount of the toll which had been remitted.
- And a friend of mine was
telling me the other day that in the parish of Southwark about L350 a
year, roughly speaking, was given away in doles of bread by charitable
people in connection with one of the churches, and as a consequence of
this the competition for small houses, but more particularly for
single-roomed tenements, is, we are told, so great that rents are
considerably higher than in the neighbouring district. All goes back to
the land, and the landowner, who in many cases, in most cases, is a
worthy person utterly unconscious of the character of the methods by
which he is enriched, is enabled with resistless strength to absorb to
himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit,
however important or however pitiful those benefits may be....
Read the whole piece
... Herman Daly appears
by one of his most recent papers134 to
be ever more closely drawn to the Georgist position that the “from
the point of view of equity it matters a great deal who receives the
prize for nature’s increasingly scarce services. Such payment is the
ideal source of funds with which to fight poverty and finance public
Professor Daly goes on to say that
Value added belongs to whoever
it. But the original value of that to which further value is added by
labor and capital should belong to everyone. Scarcity rents to natural
services, nature's value added, should be the focus of redistributive
efforts. Rent is by definition a payment in excess of necessary supply
price, and from the point of market efficiency is the least distorting
source of public revenue.
to the generosity of those who
have added much value by their labor and capital are more legitimate as
private charity than as a foundation for fairness in public policy.
Taxation of value added by labor and capital is certainly legitimate.
But it is both more legitimate and less necessary after we have, as
much as possible, captured natural resource rents for public revenue.
The above reasoning reflects the basic insight of Henry George,
extending it from land to natural resources in general. Neoclassical
economists have greatly obfuscated this simple insight by their refusal
to recognize the productive contribution of nature in providing "that
to which value is added". In their defense it could be argued that this
was so because in the past economists considered nature to be
non-scarce, but now they are beginning to reckon the scarcity of nature
and enclose it in the market. Let us be glad of this, and encourage it
I am not advocating
expropriation of all private property in land and resources. If we
could start from a blank slate I would be tempted to keep land and
minerals as public property. But for many environmental goods,
previously free but increasingly scarce, we still do have a blank slate
as far as ownership is concerned. We must bring increasingly scarce yet
unowned environmental services under the discipline of the price
system, because these are truly rival goods the use of which by one
person imposes opportunity costs on others. But for efficiency it
matters only that a price be charged for the resource, not who gets the
price. The necessary price or scarcity rent that we collect on newly
scarce environmental public goods (e.g. atmospheric absorption
capacity, the electromagnetic spectrum) should be used to alleviate
poverty and finance the provision of other public goods.
The modern form of the Georgist
is to tax the resources and services of nature (those scarce things
left out of both the production function and GDP accounts) -- and to
use these funds for fighting poverty and for financing public goods. Or
we could simply disburse to the general public the earnings from a
trust fund created by these rents, as in the Alaska Permanent Fund,
which is perhaps the best existing institutionalization of the Georgist
principle. Taking away by taxation the value added by individuals from
applying their own labor and capital creates resentment. Taxing away
value that no one added, scarcity rents on nature's contribution, does
not create resentment. In fact, failing to tax away the scarcity rents
to nature and letting them accrue as unearned income to favored
individuals has long been a primary source of resentment and social
The justice in the Georgist
tradition grows out of the premise that one
is entitled to what one makes with one’s own hands or mind, but one is
not personally entitled to the gains that grow out of communal efforts.
Those are owed to and should be returned to the community. The justice
inherent in ecological economics, to the extent that it has solidified,
involves a recognition that preservation of natural capital is in the
interest of everyone. Both recognize and value the preservation of a
world commons in nature. Both appreciate the diversity preserved in
local community institutions and cultures. Both accept models based on
self-regulating assumptions — in one case using the phrase “steady
state” economics, in the other case the recovery of land rent in the
pursuit of open and stable markets over monopoly control. There is
great promise in the confluence of the two perspectives: they offer a
solution to the age-old challenge of resolving what in the world ought
to be public and common, and what else ought to be individual and
private. It remains now for proponents of each perspective to continue
exploring commonalities. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Land Question
BUT it will be asked: If the land system which prevails in Ireland is essentially
the same as that which prevails elsewhere, how is it that it does not produce
the same results elsewhere?
I answer that it does everywhere produce the same kind of results. As there
is nothing essentially peculiar in the Irish land system, so is there nothing
essentially peculiar in Irish distress. Between the distress in Ireland and
the distress in other countries there may be differences in degree and differences
in manifestation; but that is all.
The truth is, that as there is nothing peculiar in the Irish land system,
so is there nothing peculiar in the distress which that land system causes.
We hear a great deal of Irish emigration, of the millions of sons and daughters
of Erin who have been compelled to leave their native soil. But have not
the Scottish Highlands been all but depopulated? Do not the English emigrate
the same way, and for the same reasons? Do not the Germans and Italians
and Scandinavians also emigrate? Is there not a constant emigration from
States of the Union to the Western – an emigration impelled by the same
motives as that which sets across the Atlantic? Nor am I sure that this is
not in some respects a more demoralizing emigration than the Irish, for I do
not think there is any such monstrous disproportion of the sexes in Ireland
as in Massachusetts. If French and Belgian peasants do not emigrate as do the
Irish, is it not simply because they do not have such "long families"?
There has recently been deep and wide-spread distress in Ireland, and but
for the contributions of charity many would have perished for want of food.
But, to say nothing of such countries as India, China, Persia, and Syria,
is it not true that within the last few years there have been similar spasms
distress in the most highly civilized countries – not merely in Russia
and in Poland, but in Germany and England? Yes, even in the United States.
Have there not been, are there not constantly occurring, in all these countries,
times when the poorest classes are reduced to the direst straits, and large
numbers are saved from starvation only by charity?
When there is famine among savages it is because food enough is not to be
had. But this was not the case in Ireland. In any part of Ireland, during the
height of what was called the famine, there was food enough for whoever had
means to pay for it. The trouble was not in the scarcity of food. There was,
as a matter of fact, no real scarcity of food, and the proof of it is that
food did not command scarcity prices. During all the so-called famine, food
was constantly exported from Ireland to England, which would not have been
the case had there been true famine in one country any more than in the other.
During all the so-called famine a practically unlimited supply of American
meat and grain could have been poured into Ireland, through the existing mechanism
of exchange, so quickly that the relief would have been felt instantaneously.
Our sending of supplies in a national war-ship was a piece of vulgar ostentation,
fitly paralleled by their ostentatious distribution in British gunboats under
the nominal superintendence of a royal prince. Had we been bent on relief,
not display, we might have saved our government the expense of fitting up its
antiquated warship, the British gunboats their coal, the Lord Mayor his dinner,
and the Royal Prince his valuable time. A cable draft, turned in Dublin into
postal orders, would have afforded the relief, not merely much more easily
and cheaply, but in less time than it took our war-ship to get ready to receive
her cargo; for the reason that so many of the Irish people were starving was,
not that the food was not to be had, but that they had not the means to buy
it. Had the Irish people had money or its equivalent, the bad seasons might
have come and gone without stinting any one of a full meal. Their effect would
merely have been to determine toward Ireland the flow of more abundant harvests.
I wish clearly to bring to view this point. The Irish famine was not a true
famine arising from scarcity of food. It was what an English writer styled
the Indian famine – a "financial famine," arising not from scarcity
of food but from the poverty of the people. The effect of the short crops
distress was not so much in raising the price of food as in cutting off
the accustomed incomes of the people. The masses of the Irish people get
in ordinary times that they are barely able to live, and when anything
occurs to interrupt their accustomed incomes they have nothing to fall
back on. ... read the whole article
Henry Ford Talks About War and
Your Future - 1942 interview