despair, desperate, desperation, de-spero
Desperate — literally, without hope.
On earth as it is in heaven, or hell on earth for
a significant portion of our society and our planet-mates? Which will
it be? And what are you and I to do about it? (see also: serenity prayer,
courage, wisdom to know the difference, radical, young martyrs.)
This theme comes out of a dance performance I saw at a CGO
the Eagles' song Desperado
. While interpretive
doesn't normally "speak" to me, I found this quite moving. And
set me to thinking about the day-to-day realities of what our severely
field does to individual human beings. Some of us are
from it, some benefit from it, but many more are at its mercy. Some
self-medicate legally with alcohol or nicotine; others self-medicate with
so-called "recreational" drugs (the trade in which produces undesirable
results); and still others
receive prescribed medications (some with the cost shared by all their
tax deductibility). The
and effects of some of these forms of self-medication drive people
Some of us are homeless, some lack food. But many more
not having enough income to be full participants in our society,
despite working full time and beyond full time.
will argue that since many of the poor in America have cell phones, color
TV's, ipods and air conditioners, and some years back
only the wealthiest had such things, they must not really be poor. Henry
George anticipated this argument as follows (in a footnote quoted further
It is true that the poorest may now in certain
ways enjoy what the richest a century ago could not have commanded, but
not show improvement of condition so long as the ability to obtain the
necessaries of life is not increased. The beggar in a great city may
enjoy many things from which the backwoods farmer is debarred, but that
not prove the condition of the city beggar better than that of the independent
Our tilted playing field is the direct result of specific traditions
and policies, and no amount of charity can make up for the injustice those
and policies produce.
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" (Henry David
Walden). While Thoreau was observing the scene a few years before
George was, perhaps he was speaking of the same phenomena that George was
writing about, without having seen the systemic causes of much of that desperation.
Can we agree that if there is something we can do to relieve
the underlying causes of
desperation — remedying
system — that to do so is our responsibility as human beings?
Thoreau also said, "There are thousands hacking at the
branches of evil to one who
root." Let's strike at the root of land monopoly, which seems to me to
be at the root not only of many of our poverty and socio-economic justice problems,
but also at the root of sprawl, pollution, long commutes, housing affordability,
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. ... read the whole chapter
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)
The truth to which we were led in the politico-economic branch of our inquiry
is as clearly apparent in the rise and fall of nations and the growth and decay
of civilizations, and it accords with those deep-seated recognitions of relation
and sequence that we denominate moral perceptions. Thus are given to our conclusions
the greatest certitude and highest sanction.
This truth involves both a menace and a promise. It shows that the evils arising
from the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth, which are becoming more
and more apparent as modern civilization goes on, are not incidents of progress,
but tendencies which must bring progress to a halt; that they will not cure
themselves, but, on the contrary, must, unless their cause is removed, grow
greater and greater, until they sweep us back into barbarism by the road every
previous civilization has trod. But it also shows that these evils are not
imposed by natural laws; that they spring solely from social maladjustments
which ignore natural laws, and that in removing their cause we shall be giving
an enormous impetus to progress.
The poverty which in the midst of abundance pinches and embrutes men,
and all the manifold evils which flow from it, spring from a denial of justice.
In permitting the monopolization of the opportunities which nature freely offers
to all, we have ignored the fundamental law of justice — for, so far
as we can see, when we view things upon a large scale, justice seems to be
the supreme law of the universe. But by sweeping away this injustice
and asserting the rights of all men to natural opportunities, we shall
to the law —
- we shall remove the great cause of unnatural inequality in the distribution
of wealth and power;
- we shall abolish poverty;
- tame the ruthless passions of greed;
- dry up the springs of vice and misery;
- light in dark places the lamp of knowledge;
- give new vigor to invention and a fresh impulse to discovery;
- substitute political strength for political weakness; and
- make tyranny and anarchy impossible. ...
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 subtile 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 anarchy.
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
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
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
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!
In the very centers of our civilization today are want and suffering enough
to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves.
Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer
were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there
should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor
the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up,
and the seed that now increases fiftyfold should increase a hundredfold! Would
poverty be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would accrue
would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the material universe
could be utilized only through land.
This is not merely a deduction of political economy; it is a fact of experience.
We know it because we have seen it. Within our own times, under our very eyes,
that Power which is above all, and in all, and through all; that Power of which
the whole universe is but the manifestation; that Power which maketh all things,
and without which is not anything made that is made, has increased the bounty
which men may enjoy, as truly as though the fertility of nature had been increased.
Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the service
of mankind. To the inner ear of another was whispered the secret that compels
the lightning to bear a message round the globe. In every direction have the
laws of matter been revealed; in every department of industry have arisen arms
of iron and fingers of steel, whose effect upon the production of wealth has
been precisely the same as an increase in the fertility of nature. What has
been the result? Simply that landowners get all the gain. ... read the whole
Henry George: The
Land Question (1881)
Distress and Famine
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
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 in 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 the Eastern
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"?
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 of 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
direct straits, and large numbers are saved from starvation only by
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 in producing 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 so little 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.
Yet is this not
true of large classes in all countries? And are
not all countries subject to just such famines as this Irish famine?
Good seasons and bad seasons are in the order of nature, just as the
day of sunshine and the day of rain, the summer's warmth and the
winter's snow. But agriculture is, on the whole, as certain as any
other pursuit, for even those industries which may be carried en
regardless of weather are subject to alternations as marked as those
to which agriculture is liable. There are good seasons and bad
seasons even in fishing and hunting, while the alternations are very
marked in mining and in manufacturing. In fact, the more highly
differentiated branches of industry which advancing civilization
tends to develop, though less directly dependent upon rain and
sunshine, heat and cold, seem increasingly subject to alternations
more frequent and intense. Though in a country of more diversified
industry the failure of a crop or two could not have such wide-spread
effects as in Ireland, yet the countries of more complex industries
are liable to a greater variety of disasters. A war on another
continent produces famine in Lancashire; Parisian milliners decree a
change of fashion, and Coventry operatives are saved from starvation
only by public alms; a railroad combination decides to raise the
price of coal, and Pennsylvania miners find their earnings diminished
by half or totally cut off; a bank breaks in New York, and in all the
large American cities soup-houses must be opened!
In this Irish
famine which provoked the land agitation, there is
nothing that is peculiar. Such famines on a smaller or a larger scale
are constantly occurring. Nay, more! the fact is, that famine, just
such famine as this Irish famine, constantly exists in the richest
and most highly civilized lands. It persists even in "good times"
'when trade is "booming;" it spreads and rages whenever from any
cause industrial depression comes. It is kept under, or at least kept
from showing its worst phases, by poor-rates and almshouses, by
private benevolence and by vast organized charities, but it still
exists, gnawing in secret when it does not openly rage. In the very
centers of civilization, where the machinery of production and
exchange is at the highest point of efficiency, where bankvaults hold
millions, and show-windows flash with more than a prince's ransom,
where elevators and warehouses are gorged with grain, and markets are
piled with all things succulent and toothsome, where the dinners of
Lucullus are eaten every day, and, if it be but cool, the very
greyhounds wear dainty blankets–in these centers in wealth and
power and refinement, there are always hungry men and women and
little children. Never the sun goes down but on human beings prowling
like wolves far food, or huddling together like vermin for shelter
and warmth. "Always with You" is the significant heading under which
a New York paper, in these most prosperous times, publishes daily the
tales of chronic famine; and in the greatest and richest city in the
world – in that very London where the plenty of meat in the
butchers' shops seemed to some savages the most wondrous of all its
wonderful sights – in that very London, the mortuary reports have
a standing column for deaths by starvation.
But no more in
its chronic than in its spasmodic forms is famine
to be measured by the deaths from starvation. Perfect, indeed, in all
its parts must be the human machine if it can run till the last bit
of available tissue be drawn to feed its fires. It is under the guise
of disease to which physicians can give less shocking names, that
famine – especially the chronic famine of civilization – kills.
And the statistics of mortality, especially of infant mortality, show
that in the richest communities famine is constantly at its work.
Insufficient nourishment, inadequate warmth and clothing, and
unwholesome surroundings, constantly, in the very centers of plenty,
swell the death-rates. What is this but famine – just such famine
as the Irish famine? It is not that the needed things are really
scarce; but that those whose need is direst have not the means to get
them, and, when not relieved by charity, want kills them in its
various ways. When, in the hot midsummer, little children die like
flies in the New York tenement wards, what is that but famine? And
those barges crowded with such children that a noble and tender
charity sends down New York Harbor to catch the fresh salt breath of
the Antlantic – are they not fighting famine as truly as were our
food-laden war-ship and the Royal Prince's gunboats? Alas! to find
famine one has not to cross the sea.
There was bitter
satire in the cartoon that one of our illustrated
papers published when subscriptions to the Irish famine fund were
being made – a cartoon that represented James Gordon Bennett
sailing away for Ireland in a boat loaded down with provisions, while
a sad-eyed, hungry-looking, tattered group gazed wistfully on them
from the pier. The bite and the bitterness of it, the humiliating
sting and satire of it, were in its truth.
This is "the
home of freedom," and "the asylum of the oppressed;"
our population is yet sparse, our public domain yet wide; we are the
greatest of food producers, yet even here there are beggars, tramps,
paupers, men torn by anxiety for the support of their families, women
who know not which way to turn, little children growing up in such
poverty and squalor that only a miracle can keep them pure. "Always
with you," even here. What is the week or the day of the week that
our papers do not tell of man or woman who, to escape the tortures of
want, has stepped out of life unbidden? What is this but famine?...read the whole article
Henry George: The
Increasing Importance of Social Questions (Chapter 1 of Social
 And that the rapid changes now going on are bringing up problems that
demand most earnest attention may be seen on every hand. Symptoms of danger,
premonitions of violence, are appearing all over the civilized world. Creeds
are dying, beliefs are changing; the old forces of conservatism are melting
away. Political institutions are failing, as clearly in democratic America
as in monarchical Europe. There is growing unrest and bitterness among the
masses, whatever be the form of government, a blind groping for escape from
conditions becoming intolerable. To attribute all this to the teachings of
demagogues is like attributing the fever to the quickened pulse. It is the
new wine beginning to ferment in old bottles. To put into a sailing-ship
the powerful engines of a first-class ocean steamer would be to tear her
to pieces with their play. So the new powers rapidly changing all the relations
of society must shatter social and political organizations not adapted to
meet their strain.
 To adjust our institutions to growing needs and changing conditions
is the task which devolves upon us. Prudence, patriotism, human sympathy,
and religious sentiment, alike call upon us to undertake it. There is danger
in reckless change; but greater danger in blind conservatism. The problems
beginning to confront us are grave — so grave that there is fear they
may not be solved in time to prevent great catastrophes. But their gravity
comes from indisposition to recognize frankly and grapple boldly with them.
 These dangers, which menace not one country alone, but modern civilization
itself, do but show that a higher civilization is struggling to be born — that
the needs and the aspirations of men have outgrown conditions and institutions
that before sufficed.
 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 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: The Crime
of Poverty (1885 speech)
Poverty is the mother of
ignorance, the breeder of crime. I
walked down one of your streets this morning, and I saw three men
going along with their hands chained together. I knew for certain
that those men were not rich men; and, although I do not know the
offence for which they were carried in chains through your streets,
this I think I can safely say, that, if you trace it up you will find
it in some way to spring from poverty. Nine tenths of human misery, I
think you will find, if you look, to be due to poverty. ... And
it seems to me clear that the great majority of those who
suffer from poverty are poor not from their own particular faults,
but because of conditions imposed by society at large. Therefore I
hold that poverty is a crime – not an individual crime, but a
social crime, a crime for which we all, poor as well as rich, are
responsible. ... read the whole speech
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
Note 14: Land values are lower in all countries of poor
government than in any country of better government, other things being
are lower in cities of poor government, other things being equal, than
in cities of better government. Land values are lower, for example, in
Juarez, on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, where government is bad,
than in El Paso, the neighboring city on the American side, where government
is better. They are lower in the same city under bad government than under
improved government. When Seth Low, after a reform campaign, was elected
mayor of Brooklyn, N.Y., rents advanced before he took the oath of office,
upon the bare expectation that he would eradicate municipal abuses. Let
the city authorities anywhere pave a street, put water through it and sewer
it, or do any of these things, and lots in the neighborhood rise in value.
Everywhere that the "good roads" agitation of wheel men has borne
fruit in better highways, the value of adjacent land has increased. Instances
of this effect as results of public improvements might be collected in
abundance. Every man must be able to recall some within his own experience.
And it is perfectly reasonable that it should be so. Land
and not other property must rise in value with desired improvements in
government, because, while any tendency on the part of other kinds of property
to rise in value is checked by greater production, land can not be reproduced.
Imagine an utterly lawless place, where life and property
are constantly threatened by desperadoes. He must be either a very bold
man or a very avaricious one who will build a store in such a community
and stock it with goods; but suppose such a man should appear. His store
costs him more than the same building would cost in a civilized community;
mechanics are not plentiful in such a place, and materials are hard to
get. The building is finally erected, however, and stocked. And now what
about this merchant's prices for goods? Competition is weak, because there
are few men who will take the chances he has taken, and he charges all
that his customers will pay. A hundred per cent, five hundred per cent,
perhaps one or two thousand per cent profit rewards him for his pains and
risk. His goods are dear, enormously dear — dear enough to satisfy
the most contemptuous enemy of cheapness; and if any one should wish to
buy his store that would be dear too, for the difficulties in the way of
building continue. But land is cheap! This is the type of community
in which may be found that land, so often mentioned and so seldom seen,
which "the owners actually can't give away, you know!"
But suppose that government improves. An efficient administration
of justice rids the place of desperadoes, and life and property are safe.
What about prices then? It would no longer require a bold or desperately
avaricious man to engage in selling goods in that community, and competition
would set in. High profits would soon come down. Goods would be cheap — as
cheap as anywhere in the world, the cost of transportation considered.
Builders and building materials could be had without difficulty, and stores
would be cheap, too. But land would be dear! Improvement in government
increases the value of that, and of that alone.
... read the book
John Dewey: Steps to Economic Recovery
I do not claim that George's remedy is a panacea that will cure by itself
all our ailments. But I do claim that we cannot get rid of our basic troubles
without it. I would make exactly the same concession and same claim that Henry
George himself made:
"I do not say that in the recognition of the equal
and unalienable right of each human being to the natural elements from
which life must be supported and wants satisfied, lies the solution of all
problems. I fully recognize that even after we do this, much will remain
to do. We might recognize the equal right to land, and yet tyranny and spoilation
be continued. But whatever else we do, as along as we fail to recognize
equal right to the elements of nature, nothing will avail to remedy that
unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth which is fraught with
so much evil
and danger. Reform as we may, until we make this fundamental reform,
our material progress can but tend to differentiate our people into the monstrously
and frightfully poor. Whatever be the increase of wealth, the masses
will still be ground toward the point of bare subsistence -- we must still
have our great
criminal classes, our paupers and our tramps, men and women driven to
degradation and desperation from inability to make an honest living." ... read the whole speech
Walter Rybeck: What Affordable
Like all creatures — goldfinches,
squirrels, butterflies, cicadas — we humans are squatters on this
planet. We all need a part of earth for
shelter, nourishment, a work site and a place to raise the next
generation. Otherwise we perish. ...
In the 1980s, Washington, D.C., was concerned about its growing army of
homeless. At that time I found there were 8,000 boarded-up dwelling
units in our Nation's Capital — more than enough to accommodate some
5,000 street people. I also found there were 11,500 privately owned
vacant lots in the District of Columbia, mostly zoned for and suitable
for homes or apartments. Decent housing on these sites held in cold
storage would have provided an alternative for the many low-income
families squatting in places that were overcrowded, overpriced, overrun
with vermin and overloaded with safety hazards.
These issues spurred my research described in a 1988 report, "Affordable Housing — A Missing Link."
Evidence from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other
sources over a 30-year period revealed the following average cost
increases of items that go into the building and maintenance of housing:
- Wages of general building construction workers rose 14
percent a year.
- Wages of special trade construction workers rose 11
percent a year.
- Construction material costs rose 11.5 percent a year.
- Combined wage-materials-managerial costs for residential
building rose 12.5 percent a year.
- Fuel and utility costs for housing rose 13.8 percent a
of these costs closely tracked the Consumer Price Index which, over
these same 30 years, rose by 12 percent a year. According to those
figures, housing prices and housing rents apparently were held in check
Why do those statistics not seem to jibe with what you have been told,
seen with your own eyes, and felt in your own pocketbooks?
- How to explain that, during the last decade of my research
households with serious housing problems increased from 19 to 24
- What caused the portion of renters paying more than 35
percent of their
income for housing doubled from 21 to 41 percent during the last two
decades of the study period?
- Why were over 2.4 million renters paying 60 percent or
more of their income for rent?
answers would be obvious except that, so far, I have not mentioned
what happened to the price of the land that housing sits on. Many of
those who talk and write about housing conveniently overlook the fact
that housing does not exist in mid air but is attached to the land, and
that the price of this land has gone through the stratosphere.
In contrast to those 11- to 14-percent annual increases in
housing-related costs, residential land values nationwide rose almost
80 percent a year, or almost 2000 percent over those three
A close friend in
Bethesda bought a house and lot there 40 years ago
for $20,000. Two months ago he sold the property for a cool half
million. That 2400 percent increase was entirely land value. The buyer
immediately demolished the house to put up a larger one, so he clearly
paid half a million for the location value -- the land value -- alone.
Officials, civic leaders and commentators who bemoan the lack of
affordable housing nevertheless applaud each rise in real estate values
as a sign of prosperity. Seeing their own assets multiply through no
effort of their own apparently makes them forget the teachers, firemen,
police and low-income people who are boxed out of a place to squat in
their cities and neighborhoods. ...
Many of our
Founding Fathers, George Washington included, had amassed huge estates.
But the property tax induced them to sell off excess lands they were
not using. ...
of the many virtues of a tax on land values is that it can be
introduced gradually. Cities that take this incremental approach report
that homeowners-voters-taxpayers hardly notice the change. What's important in modernizing
your taxation is not the speed of change but the direction you choose.
If you keep the present tax system with its disincentives for compact
and wholesome growth, you will experience the treadmill effect that has
been so familiar in so-called urban and housing "solutions." You will
have to keep running faster and faster with patchwork remedies to keep
from sliding backward.
A caution. Revising taxes as proposed
here will not end the need for
housing subsidies, at least not in the short run, but it will do three
things that should greatly reduce subsidies.
- One, by deflating land costs it will enable the private
market to offer homes and sites at lower costs.
- Two, this will shrink the number of families needing
- Three, it will stretch subsidy dollars farther because
sites for publicly assisted housing can be acquired far more cheaply.
In Conclusion, I have tried to show that America has a housing land
problem, not an affordable housing problem. This problem can be
substantially alleviated by freeing the market of anti-enterprise taxes
and by turning the property tax right
side up -- that is, by dropping
tax rates on housing and by raising them on publicly-created land
values. Read the whole article
Henry George: How
to Help the Unemployed
Henry George: Justice
the Object -- Taxation the Means (1890)
Now see, take it in its lowest
aspect — take it as a mere
fiscal change, and see how in accord with every dictate of
expediency, with every principle of justice, is the Single Tax. We
have invented and invented, improved and improved, yet the great fact
is, that today we have not wealth enough. There are in the United
States some few men richer than it is wholesome for men to be. But
the great masses of our people are not so rich as civilised Americans
at the close of the nineteenth century ought to be. The great
our people only manage by hard work to live. The great mass of our
people don't get the comforts, the refinements, the luxuries that in
the present age of the world everyone ought to have. All over this
country there is a fierce struggle for existence. Read the entire article
Henry George: Progress & Poverty: Introductory:
Now, however, we are coming into collision with facts which there can be
no mistaking. From all parts of the civilized world come
- of industrial depression;
- of labor condemned to involuntary idleness;
- of capital massed and wasting;
- of pecuniary distress among business men;
- of want and suffering and anxiety among the working classes.
All the dull, deadening pain, all the keen, maddening anguish, that to great
masses of men are involved in the words "hard times," afflict the world today. This
state of things, common to communities differing so widely in situation, in
political institutions, in fiscal and financial systems, in density of population
and in social organization can hardly be accounted for by local causes.
- There is distress where large standing armies are maintained, but there
is also distress where the standing armies are nominal;
- there is distress where protective tariffs stupidly and wastefully hamper
trade, but there is also distress where trade is nearly free;
- there is distress where autocratic government yet prevails, but there
is also distress where political power is wholly in the hands of the people;
- in countries where paper is money, and
- in countries where gold and silver are the only currency.
Evidently, beneath all such things as these, we must infer a common cause.
That there is a common cause, and that it is either what we call material
progress or something closely connected with material progress, becomes more
than an inference when it is noted that the phenomena we class together and
speak of as industrial depression, are but intensifications of phenomena
which always accompany material progress, and which show themselves more
clearly and strongly as material progress goes on. Where the conditions
to which material progress everywhere tends are most fully realized--that
is to say, where population is densest, wealth greatest, and the machinery
of production and exchange most highly developed--we find the deepest poverty,
the sharpest struggle for existence, and the most enforced idleness.
It is to the newer countries — that is, to the countries where material
progress is yet in its earlier stages — that laborers emigrate in
search of higher wages,
and capital flows in search of higher interest. It is in the older countries
— that is to say, the countries where material progress has reached
later stages — that
widespread destitution is found in the midst of the greatest abundance. Go
into one of the new communities where Anglo-Saxon vigor is just beginning
the race of progress;
- where the machinery of production and exchange is yet rude and inefficient;
- where the increment of wealth is not yet great enough to enable any class
to live in ease and luxury;
- where the best house is but a cabin of logs or a cloth and paper shanty,
and the richest man is forced to daily work
and though you will find an absence of wealth and all its concomitants, you
will find no beggars. There is no luxury, but there is no destitution. No one
makes an easy living, nor a very good living; but every one can make a living,
and no one able and willing to work is oppressed by the fear of want.
But just as such a community realizes the conditions which all civilized
communities are striving for, and advances in the scale of material progress — just
as closer settlement and a more intimate connection with the rest of the
world, and greater utilization of labor-saving machinery, make possible
greater economies in production and exchange, and wealth in consequence
not merely in the aggregate, but in proportion to population— so
does poverty take a darker aspect. Some get an infinitely better
and easier living, but others find it hard to get a living at. The "tramp" comes
with the locomotive, and alms houses and prisons areas surely the marks
progress" as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses, and magnificent churches.
Upon streets lighted with gas and controlled by uniformed policemen, beggars
wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow of college, and library, and
museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom
This fact — the great fact that poverty and all its concomitants
show themselves in communities just as they develop into the conditions
progress tends — proves that the social difficulties existing
wherever a certain stage of progress has been reached, do not arise from
but are, in some way or another, engendered by progress itself.
And, unpleasant as it may be to admit it, it is at last becoming evident that the
enormous increase in productive power which has marked the present century
and is still going on with accelerating ratio, has no tendency to extirpate
poverty or to lighten the burdens of those compelled to toil. It simply
widens the gulf between Dives
and Lazarus, and makes the struggle for existence more intense. The march
of invention has clothed mankind with powers of which a century ago the boldest
imagination could not have dreamed. But
- in factories where labor-saving machinery has reached its most wonderful
development, little children are at work;
- wherever the new forces are anything like fully utilized, large classes
are maintained by charity or live on the verge of recourse to it;
- amid the greatest accumulations of wealth, men die of starvation, and
puny infant suckle dry breasts;
- while everywhere the greed of gain, the worship of wealth, shows the
force of the fear of want.
The promised land flies before us like the mirage. The fruit of the tree of
knowledge turn as we grasp them to apples of Sodom that crumble at the touch.
It is true that wealth has been greatly increased, and that the average of
comfort, leisure, and refinement has been raised; but these gains are not general. In
them the lowest class do not share.* I do not mean that the condition of the
lowest class has nowhere nor in anything been improved; but that there is nowhere
any improvement which can be credited to increased productive power. I mean
that the tendency of what we call material progress is in no wise to improve
the condition of the lowest class in the essentials of healthy, happy human
life. Nay, more, that it is to still further depress the condition of the
lowest class. The new forces, elevating in their nature though they be,
do not act upon the social fabric from underneath, as was for a long time hoped
and believed, but strike it at a point intermediate between top and bottom. It
is as though an immense wedge were being forced, not underneath society, but
through society. Those who are above the point of separation are elevated,
but those who are below are crushed down.
[* It is true that the poorest may now in certain
ways enjoy what the richest a century ago could not have commanded, but
this does not show improvement of condition so long as the ability to obtain
the necessaries of life is not increased. The beggar in a great city may
enjoy many things from which the backwoods farmer is debarred, but that
does not prove the condition of the city beggar better than that of the
This depressing effect is not generally realized, for it is not apparent where
there has long existed a class just able to live. Where the lowest class barely
lives, as has been the case for a long time in many parts of Europe, it is
impossible for it to get any lower, for the next lowest step is out of existence,
and no tendency to further depression can readily show itself. But in the
progress of new settlements to the conditions of older communities it may clearly
be seen that material progress does not merely fail to relieve poverty--it
actually produces it. In the United States it is clear that squalor and misery,
and the vices and crimes that spring from them, everywhere increase as the
village grows to the city, and the march of development brings the advantages
of the improved methods of production and exchange. It is in the older
and richer sections of the Union that pauperism and distress among the working
classes are becoming most painfully apparent. If there is less deep poverty
in San Francisco than in New York, is it not because San Francisco is yet behind
New York in all that both cities are striving for? When San Francisco reaches
the point where New York now is, who can doubt that there will also be ragged
and barefooted children on her streets? ... read the entire chapter
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
That the value attaching to land with social growth is intended for social
needs is shown by the final proof. God is indeed a jealous God in the sense
that nothing but injury and disaster can attend the effort of men to do things
other than in the way he has intended; in the sense that where the blessings
he proffers to men are refused or misused they turn to evils that scourge
us. And just as for the mother to withhold the provision that fills her breast
with the birth of the child is to endanger physical health, so for society
to refuse to take for social uses the provision intended for them is to breed
For refusal to take for public purposes the increasing values that attach
to land with social growth is to necessitate the getting of public revenues
by taxes that lessen production, distort distribution and corrupt society.
It is to leave some to take what justly belongs to all; it is to forego the
only means by which it is possible in an advanced civilization to combine
the security of possession that is necessary to improvement with the equality
of natural opportunity that is the most important of all natural rights.
It is thus at the basis of all social life to set up an unjust inequality
between man and man, compelling some to pay others for the privilege of living,
for the chance of working, for the advantages of civilization, for the gifts
of their God. But it is even more than this. The very robbery that the masses
of men thus suffer gives rise in advancing communities to a new robbery.
For the value that with the increase of population and social advance attaches
to land being suffered to go to individuals who have secured ownership of
the land, it prompts to a forestalling of and speculation in land wherever
there is any prospect of advancing population or of coming improvement, thus
producing an artificial scarcity of the natural elements of life and labor,
and a strangulation of production that shows itself in recurring spasms of
industrial depression as disastrous to the world as destructive wars. It
is this that is driving men from the old countries to the new countries,
only to bring there the same curses. It is this that causes our material
advance not merely to fail to improve the condition of the mere worker, but
to make the condition of large classes positively worse. It is this that
in our richest Christian countries is giving us a large population whose
lives are harder, more hopeless, more degraded than those of the veriest
savages. It is this that leads so many men to think that God is
a bungler and is constantly bringing more people into his world than he has
for; or that there is no God, and that belief in him is a superstition which
the facts of life and the advance of science are dispelling.
The darkness in light, the weakness in strength, the poverty amid
wealth, the seething discontent foreboding civil strife, that characterize
of today, are the natural, the inevitable results of our rejection of God’s
beneficence, of our ignoring of his intent. Were we on the other
hand to follow his clear, simple rule of right, leaving scrupulously to the
all that individual labor produces, and taking for the community the value
that attaches to land by the growth of the community itself, not merely could
evil modes of raising public revenues be dispensed with, but all men would
be placed on an equal level of opportunity with regard to the bounty of their
Creator, on an equal level of opportunity to exert their labor and to enjoy
its fruits. And then, without drastic or restrictive measures the forestalling
of land would cease. For then the possession of land would mean only security
for the permanence of its use, and there would be no object for any one to
get land or to keep land except for use; nor would his possession of better
land than others had confer any unjust advantage on him, or unjust deprivation
on them, since the equivalent of the advantage would be taken by the state
for the benefit of all. ...
Your use, in so many passages of your Encyclical, of the inclusive term “property” or “private” property,
of which in morals nothing can be either affirmed or denied, makes your meaning,
if we take isolated sentences, in many places ambiguous. But reading it as
a whole, there can be no doubt of your intention that private property in
land shall be understood when you speak merely of private property. With
this interpretation, I find that the reasons you urge for private property
in land are eight. Let us consider them in order of presentation. You urge:
1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (RN,
paragraph 5) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of reason.
(RN, paragraphs 6-7.) ...
3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (RN,
paragraph 8.) ...
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (RN,
paragraphs 9-10.) ...
5. That private property in land has the support of the common opinion of
mankind, and has conduced to peace and tranquillity, and that it is sanctioned
by Divine Law. (RN, paragraph 11.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private property
in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (RN, paragraphs 14-17.) ...
7. That the private ownership of land stimulates industry, increases wealth,
and attaches men to the soil and to their country. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
8. That the right to possess private property in land is from nature, not
from man; that the state has no right to abolish it, and that to take the
value of landownership in taxation would be unjust and cruel to the private
owner. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private
property in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (14-17.)
With all that your Holiness has to say of the sacredness of the family relation
we are in full accord. But how the obligation of the father to the child
can justify private property in land we cannot see. You reason that private
property in land is necessary to the discharge of the duty of the father,
and is therefore requisite and just, because —
It is a most sacred law of nature that a father must provide food and all
necessaries for those whom he has begotten; and, similarly, nature dictates
that a man’s children, who carry on, as it were, and continue his own
personality, should be provided by him with all that is needful to enable
them honorably to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties
of this mortal life. Now, in no other way can a father effect this except
by the ownership of profitable property, which he can transmit to his children
by inheritance. (14.)
Thanks to Him who has bound the generations of men together by a provision
that brings the tenderest love to greet our entrance into the world and soothes
our exit with filial piety, it is both the duty and the joy of the father
to care for the child till its powers mature, and afterwards in the natural
order it becomes the duty and privilege of the child to be the stay of the
parent. This is the natural reason for that relation of marriage, the groundwork
of the sweetest, tenderest and purest of human joys, which the Catholic Church
has guarded with such unremitting vigilance.
We do, for a few years, need the providence of our fathers after the flesh.
But how small, how transient, how narrow is this need, as compared with our
constant need for the providence of Him in whom we live, move and have our
being — Our Father who art in Heaven! It is to him, “the giver
of every good and perfect gift,” and not to our fathers after the flesh,
that Christ taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And
how true it is that it is through him that the generations of men exist!
Let the mean temperature of the earth rise or fall a few degrees, an amount
as nothing compared with differences produced in our laboratories, and mankind
would disappear as ice disappears under a tropical sun, would fall as the
leaves fall at the touch of frost. Or, let for two or three seasons the earth
refuse her increase, and how many of our millions would remain alive?
The duty of fathers to transmit to their children profitable property that
will enable them to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties
of this mortal life! What is not possible cannot be a duty. And how is it
possible for fathers to do that? Your Holiness has not considered
how mankind really lives from hand to mouth, getting each day its daily bread;
one generation does or can leave another. It is doubtful if the wealth of
the civilized world all told amounts to anything like as much as one year’s
labor, while it is certain that if labor were to stop and men had to rely
on existing accumulation, it would be only a few days ere in the richest
countries pestilence and famine would stalk.
The profitable property your Holiness refers to, is private property in
land. Now profitable land, as all economists will agree, is land superior
land that the ordinary man can get. It is land that will yield an income
to the owner as owner, and therefore that will permit the owner to appropriate
the products of labor without doing labor, its profitableness to the individual
involving the robbery of other individuals. It is therefore possible only
for some fathers to leave their children profitable land. What therefore
your Holiness practically declares is, that it is the duty of all fathers
to struggle to leave their children what only the few peculiarly strong,
lucky or unscrupulous can leave; and that, a something that involves the
robbery of others — their deprivation of the material gifts of God.
This anti-Christian doctrine has been long in practice throughout the Christian
world. What are its results?
Are they not the very evils set forth in your Encyclical? Are they not,
so far from enabling men to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties
of this mortal life, to condemn the great masses of men to want and misery
that the natural conditions of our mortal life do not entail; to want and
misery deeper and more wide-spread than exist among heathen savages? Under
the régime of private property in land and in the richest countries
not five per cent of fathers are able at their death to leave anything substantial
to their children, and probably a large majority do not leave enough to bury
them! Some few children are left by their fathers richer than it is good
for them to be, but the vast majority not only are left nothing by their
fathers, but by the system that makes land private property are deprived
of the bounty of their Heavenly Father; are compelled to sue others for permission
to live and to work, and to toil all their lives for a pittance that often
does not enable them to escape starvation and pauperism.
What your Holiness is actually, though of course inadvertently, urging,
is that earthly fathers should assume the functions of the Heavenly Father.
It is not the business of one generation to provide the succeeding generation “with
all that is needful to enable them honorably to keep themselves from want
and misery.” That is God’s business. We no more create our children
than we create our fathers. It is God who is the Creator of each succeeding
generation as fully as of the one that preceded it. And, to recall your own
words (7), “Nature [God], therefore, owes to man a storehouse that
shall never fail, the daily supply of his daily wants. And this he finds
only in the inexhaustible fertility of the earth.” What you are now
assuming is, that it is the duty of men to provide for the wants of their
children by appropriating this storehouse and depriving other men’s
children of the unfailing supply that God has provided for all.
The duty of the father to the child — the duty possible to all fathers!
Is it not so to conduct himself, so to nurture and teach it, that it shall
come to manhood with a sound body, well-developed mind, habits of virtue,
piety and industry, and in a state of society that shall give it and all
others free access to the bounty of God, the providence of the All-Father?
In doing this the father would be doing more to secure his children from
want and misery than is possible now to the richest of fathers — as
much more as the providence of God surpasses that of man. For the justice
of God laughs at the efforts of men to circumvent it, and the subtle law
that binds humanity together poisons the rich in the sufferings of the poor.
Even the few who are able in the general struggle to leave their children
wealth that they fondly think will keep them from want and misery in the
uncertainties of this mortal life — do they succeed? Does experience
show that it is a benefit to a child to place him above his fellows and enable
him to think God’s law of labor is not for him? Is not such wealth
oftener a curse than a blessing, and does not its expectation often destroy
filial love and bring dissensions and heartburnings into families? And how
far and how long are even the richest and strongest able to exempt their
children from the common lot? Nothing is more certain than that the blood
of the masters of the world flows today in lazzaroni and that the descendants
of kings and princes tenant slums and workhouses.
But in the state of society we strive for, where the monopoly and waste
of God’s bounty would be done away with and the fruits of labor would
go to the laborer, it would be within the ability of all to make more than
a comfortable living with reasonable labor. And for those who might be crippled
or incapacitated, or deprived of their natural protectors and breadwinners,
the most ample provision could be made out of that great and increasing fund
with which God in his law of rent has provided society — not as a matter
of niggardly and degrading alms, but as a matter of right, as the assurance
which in a Christian state society owes to all its members.
Thus it is that the duty of the father, the obligation to the child, instead
of giving any support to private property in land, utterly condemns it, urging
us by the most powerful considerations to abolish it in the simple and efficacious
way of the single tax.
This duty of the father, this obligation to children, is not confined to
those who have actually children of their own, but rests on all of us who
have come to the powers and responsibilities of manhood.
For did not Christ set a little child in the midst of the disciples, saying
to them that the angels of such little ones always behold the face of his
Father; saying to them that it were better for a man to hang a millstone
about his neck and plunge into the uttermost depths of the sea than to injure
such a little one?
And what today is the result of private property in land in the richest
of so-called Christian countries? Is it not that young people fear to marry;
that married people fear to have children; that children are driven out of
life from sheer want of proper nourishment and care, or compelled to toil
when they ought to be at school or at play; that great numbers of those who
attain maturity enter it with under-nourished bodies, overstrained nerves,
undeveloped minds — under conditions that foredoom them, not merely
to suffering, but to crime; that fit them in advance for the prison and the
If your Holiness will consider these things we are confident that instead
of defending private property in land you will condemn it with anathema! ...
Your Holiness will remember the great London dock strike of two years ago,
which, with that of other influential men, received the moral support of
that Prince of the Church whom we of the English speech hold higher and dearer
than any prelate has been held by us since the blood of Thomas à Becket
stained the Canterbury altar.
In a volume called “The Story of the Dockers’ Strike,” written
by Messrs. H. Llewellyn Smith and Vaughan Nash, with an introduction by Sydney
Buxton, M.P., which advocates trades-unionism as the solution of the labor
question, and of which a large number were sent to Australia as a sort of
official recognition of the generous aid received from there by the strikers,
I find in the summing up, on pages 164-165, the following:
If the settlement lasts, work at the docks will be more regular, better
paid, and carried on under better conditions than ever before. All this
will be an unqualified gain to those who get the benefit from it. But another
result will undoubtedly be to contract the field of employment and lessen
the number of those for whom work can be found. The lower-class
in the end, find his position more precarious than ever before, in proportion
to the increased regularity of work which the “fitter” of the
laborers will secure. The effect of the organization of dock labor, as of
all classes of labor, will be to squeeze out the residuum. The loafer, the
cadger, the failure in the industrial race — the members of “Class
B” of Mr. Charles Booth’s hierarchy of social classes — will
be no gainers by the change, but will rather find another door closed
against them, and this in many cases the last door to employment.
I am far from wishing that your Holiness should join in that pharisaical
denunciation of trades-unions common among those who, while quick to point
out the injustice of trades-unions in denying to others the equal right to
work, are themselves supporters of that more primary injustice that denies
the equal right to the standing-place and natural material necessary to work.
What I wish to point out is that trades-unionism, while it may be a partial
palliative, is not a remedy; that it has not that moral character which could
alone justify one in the position of your Holiness in urging it as good in
itself. Yet, so long as you insist on private property in land what better
can you do?
the whole letter
Weld Carter: A Clarion Call to Sanity, to Honesty, to
George has described this world
as a "well-provisioned ship" and when one considers the increasingly
huge daily withdrawals of such provisions as coal and petroleum as have
occurred say over the past one hundred years, one must but agree with
this writer. But this is only a static view. Consider the suggestion of
some ten years ago that it would require the conversion of less than
20% the of the current annual growth of wood into alcohol to fuel all
the motors then being fueled by the then-conventional means. The
dynamic picture of the future is indeed awesome, and there is every
indication that that characteristic has the potential of endless
expansion. So how is it that on so richly endowed a Garden of Eden as
this world of ours we have only been able to make of it a hell on earth
for vast numbers of people? ... read the whole essay