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Henry George: The Land Question (1881)
What is involved in this Irish Land Question is not a mere local matter between Irish landlords and Irish tenants, but the great social problem of modern civilization. What is arraigned in the arraignment of the claims of Irish landlords is nothing less than the wide-spread institution of private property in land. In the assertion of the natural rights of the Irish people is the assertion of the natural rights that, by virtue of his existence, pertain everywhere to man. ...
... it is best that the truth be fully stated and clearly recognized. He who sees the truth, let him proclaim it, without asking who is for it or who is against it. This is not radicalism in the bad sense which so many attach to the word. This is conservatism in the true sense.
What gives to the Irish Land Question its supreme significance is that it brings into attention and discussion – nay, that it forces into attention and discussion, not a mere Irish question, but a question of world-wide importance. ...
This is a most Christian city. There are churches and churches. All sorts of churches, where are preached all sorts of religions, save that which once in Galilee taught the arrant socialistic doctrine that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God; all save that which once in Jerusalem drove the money-changers from the temple. Churches of brown and gray and yellow stone, lifting toward heaven in such noble symmetry that architecture seems invocation and benison; where, on stained-glass windows, glow angel and apostle, and the entering light is dimmed to a soft glory; where such music throbs and supplicates and bursts in joy as once in St. Sophia ravished the souls of heathen Northmen; churches where richly cushioned pews let for the very highest prices, and the auctioneer determines who shall sit in the foremost seats; churches outside of which on Sunday stand long lines of carriages, on each carriage a coachman. And there are white marble churches, so pure and shapely that the stone seems to have bloomed and flowered – the concrete expression of a grand, sweet thought. Churches restful to the very eye, and into which the weary and heavy-laden can enter and join in the worship of their Creator for no larger an admission fee than it costs on the Bowery to see the bearded lady or the Zulu giant eight feet high. And then there are mission churches, run expressly for poor people, where it does not cost a cent. There is no lack of churches. There are, in fact, more churches than there are people who care to attend them. And there are likewise Sunday-schools, and big religious "book concerns," and tract societies, and societies for spreading the light of the gospel among the heathen in foreign parts.
Yet, land a heathen on the Battery with money in his pocket, and he will be robbed of the last cent of it before he is a day older. "By their fruits ye shall know them." I wonder whether they who send missionaries to the heathen ever read the daily papers. I think I could take a file of these newspapers, and from their daily chroniclings match anything that could be told in the same period of any heathen community – at least, of any heathen community in a like state of peace and prosperity. I think I could take a file of these papers, and match, horror for horror, all that returning missionaries have to tell-even to the car of Juggernaut or infants tossed from mothers' arms into the sacred river; even to Ashantee "customs" or cannibalistic feasts.
do not say that such things are
because of civilization, or
because of Christianity. On the contrary, I point to them as
inconsistent with civilization, as incompatible with Christianity.
They show that our civilization is one-sided and cannot last as at
present based; they show that our so-called Christian communities are
not Christian at all. I believe a civilization is possible in
all could be civilized – in which such things would be impossible.
But it must be a civilization based on
justice and acknowledging the
equal rights of all to natural opportunities. I believe that there is
in true Christianity a power to regenerate the world. But it must be
a Christianity that attacks vested wrongs, not that spurious thing
that defends them. The religion which allies itself with injustice to
preach down the natural aspirations of the masses is worse than
atheism. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Crime of Poverty (1885 speech)
I say that all this poverty and the ignorance that flows from it is unnecessary; I say that there is no natural reason why we should not all be rich, in the sense, not of having more than each other, but in the sense of all having enough to completely satisfy all physical wants; of all having enough to get such an easy living that we could develop the better part of humanity. There is no reason why wealth should not be so abundant, that no one should think of such a thing as little children at work, or a woman compelled to a toil that nature never intended her to perform; wealth so abundant that there would be no cause for that harassing fear that sometimes paralyses even those who are not considered "the poor," the fear that every man of us has probably felt, that if sickness should smite him, or if he should be taken away, those whom he loves better than his life would become charges upon charity. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin." I believe that in a really Christian community, in a society that honoured not with the lips but with the act, the doctrines of Jesus, no one would have occasion to worry about physical needs any more than do the lilies of the field. There is enough and to spare. The trouble is that, in this mad struggle, we trample in the mire what has been provided in sufficiency for us all; trample it in the mire while we tear and rend each other.
There is a cause for this
poverty; and, if you trace it down,
you will find its root in a primary injustice. Look over the world
today—poverty everywhere. The cause must be a common one. You
cannot attribute it to the tariff, or to the form of government, or
to this thing or to that in which nations differ; because, as deep
poverty is common to them all the cause that produces it must be a
common cause. What is that common cause? There is one sufficient
cause that is common to all nations; and that is the appropriation as
the property of some of that natural element on which and from which
all must live. ... read the whole speech
Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal (1887 speech)
"Thou shalt not steal." That
means, of course, that we ourselves must not steal. But does it not
also mean that we must not suffer anybody else to steal if we can help
The Christianity that ignores this social responsibility has
really forgotten the teachings of Christ. Where He in the Gospels
speaks of the judgment, the question which is put to the people is
never, "Did you praise me?" "Did you pray to me?" "Did you believe this
or did you believe that?" It is only this: "What did you do to relieve
distress; to abolish poverty?" To those who are condemned, the Judge is
represented as saying: "I was ahungered and ye gave me no meat, I was
athirst and ye gave me no drink, I was sick and in prison and ye
visited me not." Then they say, "Lord, Lord, when did we fail to do
these things to thee?" The answer is: "Inasmuch as ye failed to do it
to the least of these, so also did ye fail to do it unto me; depart
into the place prepared for the devil and his angels."
Now imagine, when we men and women of today go before that awful bar, that there we should behold the spirits of those who in our time under this accursed social system were driven into crime; of those who were starved in body and mind; of those little children who, in this city of New York, are being sent out of the world by thousands when they have scarcely entered it — because they do not get food enough, nor air enough; because they are crowded together in these tenement districts under conditions in which all diseases rage and destroy.
Supposing we are confronted with those souls, what will it avail us to say that we individually were not responsible for their earthly conditions? What, in the spirit of the parable of Matthew, would be the reply from the Judgment seat? Would it not be: "I provided for them all. The earth that I made was broad enough to give them room. The materials that are placed in it were abundant enough for all their needs. Did you or did you not lift up your voice against the wrong that robbed them of their fair share in the provision made for all?" ...
People do not have a natural right to demand employment of another, but they have a natural right, an inalienable right, a right given by their Creator, to demand opportunity to employ themselves. And whenever that right is acknowledged, whenever the people who want to go to work can find natural opportunities to work upon, then there will be as much competition among employers who are anxious to get people to work for them, as there will be among people who are anxious to get work.
Wages will rise in every vocation to the true rate of wages — the full, honest earnings of labor. That done, with this ever increasing social fund to draw upon, poverty will be abolished, and in a little while will come to be looked upon — as we are now beginning to look upon slavery — as the relic of a darker and more ignorant age.
I remember — this man here remembers (turning to Mr. Redpath, who was on the platform) even better than I, for he was one of the men who brought the atrocities of human slavery home to the heart and conscience of the north — I well remember, as he well knows, and all the older men and women in this audience will remember, how property in human flesh and blood was defended just as private property in land is now defended; how the same charges were hurled upon the men and women who protested against human slavery as are now made against the men and women who are intending to abolish industrial slavery.
We remember how some dignitaries and rich members of the churches branded as a disturber, almost as a reviler of religion, any priest or any minister who dared to get up and assert God’s truth — that there never was and there never could be rightful property in human flesh and blood.
So, it is now said that people who protest against this system, which is simply another form of slavery, are people who propose robbery. Thus the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," they have made "Thou shalt not object to stealing." When we propose to resume our own again, when we propose to secure its natural right to every child that comes into being, such people talk of us as advocating confiscation — charge us with being deniers of the rights of property. The real truth is that we wish to assert the just rights of property, that we wish to prevent theft.
Chattel slavery was incarnate theft of the worst kind. That system which made property of human beings, which allowed one person to sell another, which allowed one person to take away the proceeds of another’s toil, which permitted the tearing of the child from the mother, and which permitted the so-called owner to hunt with bloodhounds the person who escaped from the owner’s tyranny — that form of slavery is abolished. To that extent, the command, "Thou shalt not steal," has been vindicated; but there is another form of slavery. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Wages of Labor
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 ail, leisure for all, abundance for all; and that civilisation would tend to give to the poorest not only necessaries, but all reasonable comforts and luxuries.
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 that 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. ...
Labor associations of the nature of Trade Guilds or Unions are necessarily selfish. By the law of their being they must fight for their own hand, regardless of who is hurt; they ignore and must ignore the teaching of Christ that we should do to others as we would have them do to us, which a true political economy shows is the only way to the full emancipation of the masses; they must do their best to starve workmen who do not join them; they must by all means in their power force back the “blackleg” – as the soldier in battle must shoot down his mother’s son if in the opposing ranks!
And who is the blackleg? A fellow-creature seeking work – a fellow creature in all probability more pressed and starved than those who so bitterly denounce him, and often with the hungry, pleading faces of wife and child behind him. ...
The worst evil of poverty is not in the want of material things, but in the stunting and distortion of the higher qualities. So, in another way, the possession of unearned wealth stunts and distorts what is noblest in man.
The evil is not in wealth itself – in its command over material things: it is in the possession of wealth while others are steeped in poverty; in being raised above touch with the life of humanity; from its work and its struggles, its hopes and its fears, and the kind sympathies and generous acts that strengthen faith in man and trust in God!
God’s commands cannot be evaded with impunity. If it be His command that men shall earn their bread by labor, the idle rich must suffer. And they do!
See the utter vacancy of the lives of those who live for pleasure; see the vices bred in a class who, surrounded by poverty, are sated with wealth; see the pessimism that grows among them; see that terrible punishment of ennui, of which the poor know so little that they cannot understand it!
When Christ told the rich young man who sought Him to sell all he had and to give it to the poor, He was not thinking of the poor, but of the young man. And I doubt not that among the rich, and especially among the self made rich, there are many who, at times at least, feel keenly the folly of the riches and fear for the dangers and temptations to which these expose their children. ...
As the unduly rich are the corollary of the unduly poor, so is the soul-destroying quality of riches but the reflex of the want that embrutes and degrades. The real evil lies in the injustice from which unnatural possession and unnatural deprivation both spring.
This injustice can hardly be charged on individuals or classes. The existence of private property in land is a great social wrong from which society at large suffers, and of which the very rich and the very poor are alike victims, though at the opposite extremes. Seeing this, if seems like a violation of Christian charity to speak of the rich as though they individually were responsible for the sufferings of the poor. Yet many do this while at the same time insisting that land monopoly, the cause of monstrous wealth and degrading poverty, shall not be touched. ...
A fugitive slave with the bloodhounds of his pursuers baying at his heels would in true Christian morals be held blameless if he seized the first horse he came across, even though to take it he had to knock down the rider, But this is not to justify horse-stealing as an ordinary means of traveling.
When His disciples were hungry Christ permitted them to pluck corn on the Sabbath day. But He never denied the sanctity of the Sabbath by asserting that it was, under ordinary circumstances, a proper time to gather corn.
He justified David, who when pressed by hunger committed what ordinarily would be sacrilege, by taking from the temple the loaves of proposition. But in this He was far from saying that the robbing of temples was a proper way of getting a living.
The natural right which each man has is not that of demanding employment or wages from another man, but that of employing himself! That of applying his own labor to the inexhaustible storehouse which the Creator has in the land provided far all men!
Were that storehouse open – as we would open it – the demand for labor would keep pace with the supply, the man who sold labor and the man who bought it would become free exchangers for mutual advantage, and all cause for dispute between workman and employer would be gone.
Then, all being free to employ themselves, the mere opportunity to labor would cease to seem a boon; and since no one would work for another for less, all things considered; than he could earn by working for himself, wages would necessarily rise to their full value, and the relations of workman and employer be regulated by mutual interest and convenience.
This is the only way in which they can be satisfactorily regulated! ...
Now, consider the moral aspect of the present condition of labor.
What is “the question of the hour,” the question that is filling minds with painful apprehension? Reduced to its lowest expression it is the poverty of men willing to work. And what is the lowest expression of this phrase? It is that they lack bread – for in that one word we most concisely and strongly express all the manifold material satisfactions needed by humanity, the absence of which constitutes poverty.
Now, what is the prayer of Christendom – the universal prayer; the prayer that goes up daily and hourly wherever the name of Christ is honoured; that ascends from the high altar of St. Peter’s at Rome, and that is repeated by the youngest child that the poorest Christian mother has taught to lisp a request to her Father in Heaven? It is: “Give us this day our daily bread!” Yet, where this prayer goes up, daily and hourly, men lack bread! Why?
Here is the answer, the only true answer! If men lack bread, it is not that God has not done His part in providing it. If men willing to labor are cursed with poverty, it is not that the storehouse has failed, that the supply He has promised for the daily wants of His children is not here in abundance.
is, that, “impiously violating the benevolent intentions
of their Creator,” men have made land private property, and thus have
given into the exclusive ownership of the few the provision that a
bountiful Father has made for all! ... read
the whole article
Henry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
IN 1881, before I had ever been in Ireland or Dr. Nulty had ever heard of me, he wrote a letter on the Land Question to the clergy and laity of the diocese of Meath. Dr. Nulty lays down precisely the principle that I have endeavored to lay down here before you briefly, that there is a right of ownership that comes from work, from production; that it is the law of nature, the law of God,
Dr. Nulty goes on to say what
every man who has studied this
subject will cordially endorse, that the natural law of rent -- that
law by which population increases the value of land in certain places
and makes it grow higher and higher -- that principle by which, as
the city grows, land becomes more valuable -- that that is to his
mind the clearest and best proof, not
merely of the intelligence but
of the beneficence of the Creator. For he shows clearly that
the natural provision by virtue of which, if men would only obey
God's law of justice, if men would
only obey the fundamental maxim of
Christianity to do to others as they would be done to them: that by
virtue of that provision, as the advance of civilization went on, it
would be towards a greater and greater equality among men -- not a nod
to a more and more monstrous inequality. Read the whole speech
Henry George: Concentrations of Wealth Harm America (excerpt from Social Problems) (1883)
A civilization which tends to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a fortunate few, and to make of others mere human machines, must inevitably evolve anarchy and bring destruction. But a civilization is possible in which the poorest could have all the comforts and conveniences now enjoyed by the rich; in which prisons and almshouses would be needless, and charitable societies unthought of. Such a civilization waits only for the social intelligence that will adapt means to ends. Powers that might give plenty to all are already in our hands. Though there is poverty and want, there is, yet, seeming embarrassment from the very excess of wealth-producing forces. "Give us but a market," say manufacturers, "and we will supply goods without end!" "Give us but work!" cry idle men. ...
The progress of civilization requires that more and more intelligence be devoted to social affairs, and this not the intelligence of the few, but that of the many. We cannot safely leave politics to politicians, or political economy to college professors. The people themselves must think, because the people alone can act.
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 alms, is not a true Christian. Nor is he a good citizen. The duty of the citizen is more and harder than this. . . . ... Read the entire articleHenry George: The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It (1890)
From the Single Tax we may expect these advantages:
1. It would dispense with a whole army of tax gatherers and other officials which present taxes require, and place in the treasury a much larger portion of what is taken from people, while by making government simpler and cheaper, it would tend to make it purer. It would get rid of taxes which necessarily promote fraud, perjury, bribery, and corruption, which lead men into temptation, and which tax what the nation can least afford to spare--honesty and conscience. Since land lies out-of-doors and cannot be removed, and its value is the most readily ascertained of all values, the tax to which we would resort can be collected with the minimum of cost and the least strain on public morals. ...
... These are the fundamental reasons for which we urge the Single Tax, believing it to be the greatest and most fundamental of all reforms. We do not think it will change human nature. That, man can never do; but it will bring about conditions in which human nature can develop what is best, instead of, as now in so many cases, what is worst.
It will thus, so we reverently believe, clear the way for the coming of that kingdom of right and justice, and consequently of abundance and peace and happiness, for which the Master told His disciples to pray and work. It is not that it is a promising invention or cunning device that we look for the Single Tax to do all this; but it is because it involves a conforming of the most important and fundamental adjustments of society to the supreme law of justice, because it involves the basing of the most important of our laws on the principle that we should do to others as we would be done by.
The readers of this article, I may fairly presume, believe, as I believe, that there is a world for us beyond this. The limit of space has prevented me from putting before them more than some hints for thought. Let me in conclusion present two more:
1. What would be the result in heaven itself if those who get there first instituted private property in the surface of heaven, and parceled it out in absolute ownership among themselves, as we parcel out the surface of the earth?
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
The Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881)
On the other hand, the justice of the right of property which a master claimed in his slaves was universally accepted in the light of a first principle of morality. His slaves were either born on his estate, and he had to submit to the labour and the cost of rearing and maintaining them to manhood, or he acquired them by inheritance or by free gift, or, failing these, he acquired them by the right of purchase -- having paid in exchange for them what, according to the usages of society and the common estimation of his countrymen, was regarded as their full pecuniary value. Property, therefore, in slaves was regarded as sacred, and as inviolable as any other species of property.
Even Christians Recognised Slavery.
So deeply rooted and so universally received was this conviction that the Christian religion itself, though it recognised no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between slave or freeman, cautiously abstained from denouncing slavery itself as an injustice or a wrong. It prudently tolerated this crying evil, because in the state of public feeling then existing, and at the low standard of enlightenment and intelligence then prevailing, it was simply impossible to remedy it.
Thus then had slavery come down almost to our own time as an established social institution, carrying with it the practical sanction and approval of ages and nations, and surrounded with a prestige of standing and general acceptance well calculated to recommend it to men's feelings and sympathies. And yet it was the embodiment of the most odious and cruel injustice that ever afflicted humanity. To claim a right of property in man was to lower a rational creature to the level of the beast of the field; it was a revolting and an unnatural degradation of the nobility of human nature itself.
That thousands upon thousands of human beings who had committed no crime, who had violated no law, and who had done no wrong to anyone, should be wantonly robbed of their liberty and freedom; should be deprived of the sacred and inalienable moral rights, which they could not voluntarily abdicate themselves; should be bought and sold, like cattle in the markets; and should be worked to death, or allowed to live on at the whim or caprice of their owner, was the last and most galling injustice which human nature could be called on to endure.
The World's Approval Cannot Justify Injustice.
To arrest public attention, and fix its gaze effectively on the intrinsic character and constitution of slavery, was to seal its doom; and its death knell was sounded in the indignant cry of the great statesman who "denied that man could hold property in man." Twenty millions of British money were paid over to the slave owners as compensation for the loss of property to which they had no just title, and slavery was abolished forever. ...
The Land of Every Country the Common Property of Its People.
God was perfectly free in the act by which He created us; but, having created us, He bound Himself by that act to provide us with the means necessary for our subsistence. The land is the only means of this kind now known to us.
The land, therefore, of every country is the Common Property of the people of that country, because its real owner, the Creator who made it, has transferred it as a voluntary gift to them. "Terram autem dedit filiis hominum."
Now, as every individual in that country is a creature and child of God, and as all His creatures are equal in His sight, any settlement of the land of a country that would exclude the humblest man in that country from his share of the common inheritance would be not only an injustice and a wrong to that man, but, moreover, would be an impious resistance to the benevolent intentions of his Creator. Read the whole letter
a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
Turning to their religious heritage for answers to severe injustice and suffering due to land monopoly seems natural to liberation theologians and their followers. In the Bible, the Promised Land is characterized by the "eminent domain" of God. The abundance of the land comes with the recognition that the earth is the Lord's. Otherwise, we continue in the Wasteland. ...
To recognize that "the earth is the Lord's" is to see that the same God who established communities has also in his providence ordained for them, through the land itself, a just source of revenue. Yet, in the Wasteland in which we live, this revenue goes mainly into the pockets of monopolists, while communities meet their needs by extorting individuals the fruits of their honest toil. If ever there were any doubt that structural sin exists, our present system of taxation is the proof. Everywhere we see governments penalizing individuals for their industry and creativity, while the socially produced value of land is reaped by speculators in exact proportion to the land which they withhold. The greater the Wasteland, the greater the reward. Does this comport with any divine plan, or notion of justice and human rights? Or does it not, rather, perpetuate the Wasteland and prevent the realization of the Promised Land?
This not meant to suggest that land monopolists and speculators have a corner on acquisitiveness or the "profit motive," which is a well-nigh universal fact of human nature. As a group, they are no more sinful than are people at large, except to the degree that they knowingly obstruct reforms aimed at removing the basis of exploitation. Many abide by the dictum: "If one has to live under a corrupt system, it is better to be a beneficiary than a victim of it."
But they do not have to live under a corrupt system; no one does. The profit motive can be channeled in ways that are socially desirable as well as in ways that are socially destructive. Let us give testimony to our faith that the earth is the Lord's by building a social order in which there are no victims. Read the whole synopsis
Joseph Fels: True Christianity and My Own Religious Beliefs
... I believe the community-made value of land belongs to the community, just as the wealth produced by you belongs to you. Do you agree to that?
Therefore, I believe that the fundamental evil, the great God-denying crime of society, is the iniquitous system under which men are permitted to put into their pocket, confiscate, in fact, the community-made values of land, while organized society confiscates for public purposes a part of the wealth created by individuals. Do you agree to that?
Using a concrete illustration: I own in the city of Philadelphia 11-1/2 acres of land, for which I paid 32,500 dollars a few years ago. On account of increase of population and industry in Philadelphia, that land is now worth about 125,000 dollars. I have expended no labor or money upon it. So I have done nothing to cause that increase of 92,500 dollars in a few years. My fellow-citizens in Philadelphia created it, and I believe it therefore belongs to them, not to me. I believe that the man-made law which gives to me and other landlords values we have not created is a violation of the divine law. I believe that Justice demands that these community-made values be taken by the community for common purposes instead of taxing enterprise and industry. Do you agree?
That is my creed, my faith, my religion. Do you teach that, or anything like it, in your theological school? If not, why not? I have a right to ask, since you have asked me for money. If you agree to my propositions, but do not teach them, tell me why. If I am in error, show me in what respect.
I am using all the money I have to teach my creed, my faith, my religion, as best I can. I am using it as best I know how to abolish the Hell of civilization, which is want and fear of want. I am using it to bring in the will of our Father, to establish the Brotherhood of Man by giving each of my brothers an equal opportunity to have and use the gifts of our Father. Am I misusing that money? If so, why, and how?
If my teaching is wrong and contrary to true religion, I want to know it. I take it that if you are not teaching religion to its fulness, you wish to know it. Am I correct?
What I teach may be criticized as mixing politics with religion, but can I be successfully attacked on that ground? Politics, in its true meaning, is the science of government. Is government a thing entirely apart from religion or from righteousness? Is not just government founded upon right doing?
If my religion is true, if it accords with the basic principles of morality taught by Jesus, how is it possible for your school to teach Christianity when it ignores the science of government? Or is your school so different from other theological schools that it does not teach the fundamental moral principles upon which men associate themselves in organised government?... read the whole letter
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper