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The Earth is the Lord's

Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal  (1887 speech)
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?" ...  read the whole article

Henry George: The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It (1890)
The right of property does not rest upon human laws; they have often ignored and violated it. It rests on natural laws -- that is to say, the law of God. It is clear and absolute, and every violation of it, whether committed by a man or a nation, is a violation of the command, "Thou shalt not steal."

The man who catches a fish, grows an apple, raises a calf, builds a house, makes a coat, paints a picture, constructs a machine, has, as to any such thing, an exclusive right of ownership which carries with it the right to give, to sell or bequeath that thing.

But who made the earth that any man can claim such ownership of it, or any part of it, or the right to give, sell or bequeath it? Since the earth was not made by us, but is only a temporary dwelling place on which one generation of men follow another; since we find ourselves here, are manifestly here with equal permission of the Creator, it is manifest that no one can have any exclusive right of ownership in land, and that the rights of all men to land must be equal and inalienable. There must be exclusive right of possession of land, for the man who uses it must have secure possession of land in order to reap the products of his labor. But his right of possession must be limited by the equal right of all, and should therefore be conditioned upon the payment to the community by the possessor of an equivalent for any special valuable privilege thus accorded him.  ...  read the whole article

a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
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

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

c. Significance of the Upward Tendency of Rent

Now, what is the meaning of this tendency of Rent to rise with social progress, while Wages tend to fall? Is it not a plain promise that if Rent be treated as common property, advances in productive power shall be steps in the direction of realizing through orderly and natural growth those grand conceptions of both the socialist and the individualist, which in the present condition of society are justly ranked as Utopian? Is it not likewise a plain warning that if Rent be treated as private property, advances in productive power will be steps in the direction of making slaves of the many laborers, and masters of a few land-owners? Does it not mean that common ownership of Rent is in harmony with natural law, and that its private appropriation is disorderly and degrading? When the cause of Rent and the tendency illustrated in the preceding chart are considered in connection with the self-evident truth that God made the earth for common use and not for private monopoly, how can a contrary inference hold? Caused and increased by social growth, 97 the benefits of which should be common, and attaching to land, the just right to which is equal, Rent must be the natural fund for public expenses. 98

97. Here, far away from civilization, is a solitary settler. Getting no benefits from government, he needs no public revenues, and none of the land about him has any value. Another settler comes, and another, until a village appears. Some public revenue is then required. Not much, but some. And the land has a little value, only a little; perhaps just enough to equal the need for public revenue. The village becomes a town. More revenues are needed, and land values are higher. It becomes a city. The public revenues required are enormous, and so are the land values.

98. Society, and society alone, causes Rent. Rising with the rise, advancing with the growth, and receding with the decline of society, it measures the earning power of society as a whole as distinguished from that of the individuals. Wages, on the other hand, measure the earning power of the individuals as distinguished from that of society as a whole. We have distinguished the parts into which Wealth is distributed as Wages and Rent; but it would be correct, indeed it is the same thing, to regard all wealth as earnings, and to distinguish the two kinds as Communal Earnings and Individual Earnings. How, then, can there be any question as to the fund from which society should be supported? How can it be justly supported in any other way than out of its own earnings?

If there be at all such a thing as design in the universe — and who can doubt it? — then has it been designed that Rent, the earnings of the community, shall be retained for the support of the community, and that Wages, the earnings of the individual, shall be left to the individual in proportion to the value of his service. This is the divine law, whether we trace it through complex moral and economic relations, or find it in the eighth commandment.

... read the book

Alanna Hartzok: Ethical Land Tenure

I want to tell you the story of Charles Avilla. A while back I came across a book called Ownership, Early Christian Teachings. Avilla was a divinity student in the Phillipines. One of his professors had a great concern about poverty conditions in the Phillipines, and was taking students out to prisons where the cooks were the land rights revolutionaries in the Phillipines. Because they kept pushing for land reform for the people, they had ended up in jail. So they were political prisoners who were reading the Bible and were asking the question, who did God give this earth to? Who does it belong to? It isn't in the Bible that so few should have so much and so many have so little. In the theological world in this upscale seminary he was trying to put this together about poverty and what the biblical teachings were. He had a thesis to write and he was thinking he would do something about economic justice. One of his professors thought there would be a wealth of information from the church's early history, the first 300 years after Jesus. So he actually went back to read the Latin and Greek about land ownership and found a wealth of information about the prophetic railings of the people in that early time on the rights of the land.

Let me give you a few quotes from that early period.

Nehemiah 5:11, "Restore, I pray you, to them this day their lands, their vineyards, their olive yards, and their houses."

Ezekiel 33:24, "The land is given us as an inheritance."

Ecclesiastes 5:9, "The profit of the earth is for all."

And Isaiah 5:8, "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field til there be no place ..." Leviticus 25:23, "The land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me." ... read the whole article



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