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Do Justice

What does God ask of us? According to the book of Micah,

Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)

... The story goes on to describe how the roads of heaven, the streets of the New Jerusalem, were filled with disconsolate tramp angels, who had pawned their wings, and were outcasts in Heaven itself.

You laugh, and it is ridiculous. But there is a moral in it that is worth serious thought. Is it not ridiculous to imagine the application to God’s heaven of the same rules of division that we apply to God’s earth, even while we pray that His will may be done on earth as it is done in Heaven?

Really, if we could imagine it, it is impossible to think of heaven treated as we treat this earth, without seeing that, no matter how salubrious were its air, no matter how bright the light that filled it, no matter how magnificent its vegetable growth, there would be poverty, and suffering, and a division of classes in heaven itself, if heaven were parcelled out as we have parceled out the earth. And, conversely, if people were to act towards each other as we must suppose the inhabitants of heaven to do, would not this earth be a very heaven?

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

a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
The church's "preferential option for the poor" must be seen as an application of the injunction to do justice and love mercy. As Gustavo Gutierrez has always insisted, we must maintain "both the universality of God's love and God's predilection for those on the lowest rung of the ladder of history. To focus exclusively on the one or the other is to mutilate the Christian message."   ...

The Promised Land and the Kingdom of God
The Promised Land, like Eden, is a place of unhindered scope in which to glorify God and manifest his will. But it is not the Kingdom of God. It represents liberation from external bondage -- from oppression and restricted access to material opportunity. It is the temporal matrix within which the Kingdom may find full expression. But it is not itself the Kingdom. Although it is a heresy that locates this Kingdom exclusively in the afterlife or an ethereal paradise, Jesus declared it to be "not of this world" (John 18:36) but "within" (Luke 17:21). It is no reproach to Henry George that he lost sight of this distinction between the Promised Land and the Kingdom of God, enraptured by his vision of a just society:
With want destroyed; with greed changed to noble passions; with the fraternity that is born of equality taking the place of jealousy and fear that now array men against each other; with mental power loosed by conditions that give to the humblest comfort and leisure; and who shall measure the heights to which our civilization may soar? Words fail the thought! It is the Golden Age.... It is the culmination of Christianity -- the City of God on earth, with walls of jasper and gates of pearl! It is the reign of the Prince of Peace!

By equalizing opportunity, political and economic liberation tend to draw both poor and rich into the middle class. As an expression of social justice, this constitutes a genuine advance, ethical as well as material. But it is no easy guarantee of spiritual gain. Middle-class traits include virtues such as industry, thrift, restraint, commercial and professional rectitude, but, on the other hand, low prudentialism, self-satisfaction, and an inclination to regard material well-being as a sign of righteousness. Hence, even in the Promised Land, what Paulo Freire calls "conscientization" (roughly, consciousness-raising through social commitment), emphasized and refined by liberation theology, must continue although in a different vein. The Kingdom of God will flourish only when outward liberation gives rise to inward liberation, a victory over the limitations of the bourgeois ethos.

"The Earth Is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1). This statement tells us something about God. He is attached to the land and loves it. He is not a spiritual abstraction oblivious to the Wasteland in which we live. God is the maker of the world of eating and sleeping, working and begetting. It also tells us something of our place in this world. With God as the true owner of the earth, every person has a right to the produce which equitable usufruct yields to his or her efforts.

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

Lindy Davies: Land and Justice

The theme of this week’s program is Land and Justice. Those are two words that we use so often that we tend to take their meanings for granted. It might be helpful to stop and think about what they truly mean.

Justice is often seen as the fair retribution for something done wrong, as in "justice was done" when a criminal is sent to jail. George W. Bush vowed, for example, to bring the 9-11 terrorists to justice.

However, that conception of justice — in which one does good, in order to avoid the consequences of not doing good — is actually an immature one. In the stages of moral development identified by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, this is called the "conventional" stage. Maturity comes in the "post-conventional" stage, when we come to value doing good so as to contribute to our community, or, even, doing good for its own sake.

Jesus was hip to that, in his scorn for the loudly-praying pharisees on the street corners. They already have their reward, he said. He set much greater store by good deeds done without thought of reward: "whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you to do me also." And, even more to the point, the prophet Micah enjoins us to "Do justice and love mercy."

So, what is "doing justice," in this positive sense? If I do something nice for the least of my brothers and sisters, have I done justice? If I send them a handmade quilt?

Not really. I think the least of my brothers and sisters, cold though they might be, would resent my presuming to know exactly how to handle their problem; perhaps they'd rather make their own quilt, or build a fireplace, or move to a warmer place.

Justice must have to do with freedom. To do justice, then, is to secure, in Thomas Jefferson's words, people's inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The most basic of those rights is life. (In this day and age, though, even that is controversial... There's a great deal of passionate contention about the troubling special cases of the very beginning, or the very end of life — but it seems to me that we ought to pay more attention to every single human being's right to live!)

Be that as it may: we all pretty much understand basically what human life is, and what its basic requirements are: food, clothing and shelter.

In heaven, there is no beer... And in heaven, one does not need to work for a living. Heaven is usually seen as an entirely spiritual place, where we are freed from earthly suffering, aches and pains, and in fact, from all material needs.

(I've always thought Satan was a bit of a nut. I mean, why rebel in heaven? But, to each his own.)

Here on earth, anyway, we have material needs. (That's why we drink the beer here).

Our food, clothing and shelter have to come from somewhere — and so the question of justice inevitably leads to the question of land.

Now, what do we mean by "land"? The land... it usually brings to mind scenes of nature's bounty: fields of whispering wheat... the mighty river... the rainforest... the good earth... the untamed savannah. ... read the whole speech


Henry George: The Savannah (excerpt from Progress & Poverty, Book IV: Chapter 2: The Effect of Increase of Population upon the Distribution of Wealth; also found in Significant Paragraphs from Progress & Poverty, Chapter 3: Land Rent Grows as Community Develops)

Here, let us imagine, is an unbounded savannah, stretching off in unbroken sameness of grass and flower, tree and rill, till the traveler tires of the monotony. Along comes the wagon of the first immigrant. Where to settle he cannot tell — every acre seems as good as every other acre. As to wood, as to water, as to fertility, as to situation, there is absolutely no choice, and he is perplexed by the embarrassment of richness. Tired out with the search for one place that is better than another, he stops — somewhere, anywhere — and starts to make himself a home. The soil is virgin and rich, game is abundant, the streams flash with the finest trout. Nature is at her very best. He has what, were he in a populous district, would make him rich; but he is very poor. To say nothing of the mental craving, which would lead him to welcome the sorriest stranger, he labors under all the material disadvantages of solitude. He can get no temporary assistance for any work that requires a greater union of strength than that afforded by his own family, or by such help as he can permanently keep. Though he has cattle, he cannot often have fresh meat, for to get a beefsteak he must kill a bullock. He must be his own blacksmith, wagonmaker, carpenter, and cobbler — in short, a "jack of all trades and master of none." He cannot have his children schooled, for, to do so, he must himself pay and maintain a teacher. Such things as he cannot produce himself, he must buy in quantities and keep on hand, or else go without, for he cannot be constantly leaving his work and making a long journey to the verge of civilization; and when forced to do so, the getting of a vial of medicine or the replacement of a broken auger may cost him the labor of himself and horses for days. Under such circumstances, though nature is prolific, the man is poor. It is an easy matter for him to get enough to eat; but beyond this, his labor will suffice to satisfy only the simplest wants in the rudest way.

Soon there comes another immigrant. Although every quarter section* of the boundless plain is as good as every other quarter section, he is not beset by any embarrassment as to where to settle. Though the land is the same, there is one place that is clearly better for him than any other place, and that is where there is already a settler and he may have a neighbor. He settles by the side of the first comer, whose condition is at once greatly improved, and to whom many things are now possible that were before impossible, for two men may help each other to do things that one man could never do.

*The public prairie lands of the United States were surveyed into sections of one mile square, and a quarter section (160 acres) was the usual government allotment to a settler under the Homestead Act.

Another immigrant comes, and, guided by the same attraction, settles where there are already two. Another, and another, until around our first comer there are a score of neighbors. Labor has now an effectiveness which, in the solitary state, it could not approach. If heavy work is to be done, the settlers have a logrolling, and together accomplish in a day what singly would require years. When one kills a bullock, the others take part of it, returning when they kill, and thus they have fresh meat all the time. Together they hire a schoolmaster, and the children of each are taught for a fractional part of what similar teaching would have cost the first settler. It becomes a comparatively easy matter to send to the nearest town, for some one is always going. But there is less need for such journeys. A blacksmith and a wheelwright soon set up shops, and our settler can have his tools repaired for a small part of the labor it formerly cost him. A store is opened and he can get what he wants as he wants it; a postoffice, soon added, gives him regular communication with the rest of the world. Then come a cobbler, a carpenter, a harness maker, a doctor; and a little church soon arises. Satisfactions become possible that in the solitary state were impossible. There are gratifications for the social and the intellectual nature — for that part of the man that rises above the animal. The power of sympathy, the sense of companionship, the emulation of comparison and contrast, open a wider, and fuller, and more varied life. In rejoicing, there are others to rejoice; in sorrow, the mourners do not mourn alone. There are husking bees, and apple parings, and quilting parties. Though the ballroom be unplastered and the orchestra but a fiddle, the notes of the magician are yet in the strain, and Cupid dances with the dancers. At the wedding, there are others to admire and enjoy; in the house of death, there are watchers; by the open grave, stands human sympathy to sustain the mourners. Occasionally, comes a straggling lecturer to open up glimpses of the world of science, of literature, or of art; in election times, come stump speakers, and the citizen rises to a sense of dignity and power, as the cause of empires is tried before him in the struggle of John Doe and Richard Roe for his support and vote. And, by and by, comes the circus, talked of months before, and opening to children whose horizon has been the prairie, all the realms of the imagination — princes and princesses of fairy tale, mailclad crusaders and turbaned Moors, Cinderella's fairy coach, and the giants of nursery lore; lions such as crouched before Daniel, or in circling Roman amphitheater tore the saints of God; ostriches who recall the sandy deserts; camels such as stood around when the wicked brethren raised Joseph from the well and sold him into bondage; elephants such as crossed the Alps with Hannibal, or felt the sword of the Maccabees; and glorious music that thrills and builds in the chambers of the mind as rose the sunny dome of Kubla Khan.

Go to our settler now, and say to him: "You have so many fruit trees which you planted; so much fencing, such a well, a barn, a house — in short, you have by your labor added so much value to this farm. Your land itself is not quite so good. You have been cropping it, and by and by it will need manure. I will give you the full value of all your improvements if you will give it to me, and go again with your family beyond the verge of settlement." He would laugh at you. His land yields no more wheat or potatoes than before, but it does yield far more of all the necessaries and comforts of life. His labor upon it will bring no heavier crops, and, we will suppose, no more valuable crops, but it will bring far more of all the other things for which men work. The presence of other settlers — the increase of population — has added to the productiveness, in these things, of labor bestowed upon it, and this added productiveness gives it a superiority over land of equal natural quality where there are as yet no settlers. If no land remains to be taken up, except such as is as far removed from population as was our settler's land when he first went upon it, the value or rent of this land will be measured by the whole of this added capability. If, however, as we have supposed, there is a continuous stretch of equal land, over which population is now spreading, it will not be necessary for the new settler to go into the wilderness, as did the first. He will settle just beyond the other settlers, and will get the advantage of proximity to them. The value or rent of our settler's land will thus depend on the advantage which it has, from being at the center of population, over that on the verge. In the one case, the margin of production will remain as before; in the other, the margin of production will be raised.

Population still continues to increase, and as it increases so do the economies which its increase permits, and which in effect add to the productiveness of the land. Our first settler's land, being the center of population, the store, the blacksmith's forge, the wheelwright's shop, are set up on it, or on its margin, where soon arises a village, which rapidly grows into a town, the center of exchanges for the people of the whole district. With no greater agricultural productiveness than it had at first, this land now begins to develop a productiveness of a higher kind. To labor expended in raising corn, or wheat, or potatoes, it will yield no more of those things than at first; but to labor expended in the subdivided branches of production which require proximity to other producers, and, especially, to labor expended in that final part of production, which consists in distribution, it will yield much larger returns. The wheatgrower may go further on, and find land on which his labor will produce as much wheat, and nearly as much wealth; but the artisan, the manufacturer, the storekeeper, the professional man, find that their labor expended here, at the center of exchanges, will yield them much more than if expended even at a little distance away from it; and this excess of productiveness for such purposes the landowner can claim just as he could an excess in its wheat-producing power. And so our settler is able to sell in building lots a few of his acres for prices which it would not bring for wheatgrowing if its fertility had been multiplied many times. With the proceeds, he builds himself a fine house, and furnishes it handsomely. That is to say, to reduce the transaction to its lowest terms, the people who wish to use the land build and furnish the house for him, on condition that he will let them avail themselves of the superior productiveness which the increase of population has given the land.

Population still keeps on increasing, giving greater and greater utility to the land, and more and more wealth to its owner. The town has grown into a city — a St. Louis, a Chicago or a San Francisco — and still it grows. Production is here carried on upon a great scale, with the best machinery and the most favorable facilities; the division of labor becomes extremely minute, wonderfully multiplying efficiency; exchanges are of such volume and rapidity that they are made with the minimum of friction and loss. Here is the heart, the brain, of the vast social organism that has grown up from the germ of the first settlement; here has developed one of the great ganglia of the human world. Hither run all roads, hither set all currents, through all the vast regions round about. Here, if you have anything to sell, is the market; here, if you have anything to buy, is the largest and the choicest stock. Here intellectual activity is gathered into a focus, and here springs that stimulus which is born of the collision of mind with mind. Here are the great libraries, the storehouses and granaries of knowledge, the learned professors, the famous specialists. Here are museums and art galleries, collections of philosophical apparatus, and all things rare, and valuable, and best of their kind. Here come great actors, and orators, and singers, from all over the world. Here, in short, is a center of human life, in all its varied manifestations.

So enormous are the advantages which this land now offers for the application of labor, that instead of one man — with a span of horses scratching over acres, you may count in places thousands of workers to the acre, working tier on tier, on floors raised one above the other, five, six, seven and eight stories from the ground, while underneath the surface of the earth engines are throbbing with pulsations that exert the force of thousands of horses.

All these advantages attach to the land; it is on this land and no other that they can be utilized, for here is the center of population — the focus of exchanges, the market place and workshop of the highest forms of industry. The productive powers which density of population has attached to this land are equivalent to the multiplication of its original fertility by the hundredfold and the thousandfold. And rent, which measures the difference between this added productiveness and that of the least productive land in use, has increased accordingly. Our settler, or whoever has succeeded to his right to the land, is now a millionaire. Like another Rip Van Winkle, he may have lain down and slept; still he is rich — not from anything he has done, but from the increase of population. There are lots from which for every foot of frontage the owner may draw more than an average mechanic can earn; there are lots that will sell for more than would suffice to pave them with gold coin. In the principal streets are towering buildings, of granite, marble, iron, and plate glass, finished in the most expensive style, replete with every convenience. Yet they are not worth as much as the land upon which they rest — the same land, in nothing changed, which when our first settler came upon it had no value at all.

That this is the way in which the increase of population powerfully acts in increasing rent, whoever, in a progressive country, will look around him, may see for himself. The process is going on under his eyes. The increasing difference in the productiveness of the land in use, which causes an increasing rise in rent, results not so much from the necessities of increased population compelling the resort to inferior land, as from the increased productiveness which increased population gives to the lands already in use. The most valuable lands on the globe, the lands which yield the highest rent, are not lands of surpassing natural fertility, but lands to which a surpassing utility has been given by the increase of population.

The increase of productiveness or utility which increase of population gives to certain lands, in the way to which I have been calling attention, attaches, as it were, to the mere quality of extension. The valuable quality of land that has become a center of population is its superficial capacity — it makes no difference whether it is fertile, alluvial soil like that of Philadelphia, rich bottom land like that of New Orleans; a filled-in marsh like that of St. Petersburg, or a sandy waste like the greater part of San Francisco.

And where value seems to arise from superior natural qualities, such as deep water and good anchorage, rich deposits of coal and iron, or heavy timber, observation also shows that these superior qualities are brought out, rendered tangible, by population. The coal and iron fields of Pennsylvania, that today [1879] are worth enormous sums, were fifty years ago valueless. What is the efficient cause of the difference? Simply the difference in population. The coal and iron beds of Wyoming and Montana, which today are valueless, will, in fifty years from now, be worth millions on millions, simply because, in the meantime, population will have greatly increased.

It is a well-provisioned ship, this on which we sail through space. If the bread and beef above decks seem to grow scarce, we but open a hatch and there is a new supply, of which before we never dreamed. And very great command over the services of others comes to those who as the hatches are opened are permitted to say, "This is mine!" ... read the whole chapter of Significant Paragraphs


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related themes:




all benefits...

in one's sleep

social surplus


unearned increment



absentee ownership



effects of taxing land value

effects of not collecting site rent

rent as God's provisioning




each child's rights


on earth


citizens' dividend

basic income

Biblical ethics

tax justice

burdening the poor

Cain and Abel

change the system

Christianity reinforcing privilege


natural opportunities


natural resources



created equal

Declaration of Independence

is democracy enough?

equal opportunity

barriers to entry

equity for landless

fences and bandages

financing education


gospel of justice



justice among nations

justice changing

intergenerational equity

liberation theology


Lord's Prayer

no victims

pay for what you take

polluter pays


Proposition 13


taxes and moral law

Ten Commandments

The Land Question

the remedy


thou shalt not steal


special interests

warping economics

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