Henry George: The Crime
of Poverty (1885 speech)
Talk about improvement in the
condition of the working classes,
when the facts are that a larger and larger proportion of women and
children are forced to toil. Why, I am told that, even here in your
own city, there are children of thirteen and fourteen working in
factories. In Detroit, according to the report of the Michigan Bureau
of Labour Statistics, one half of the children of school age do not
go to school. In New Jersey, the report made to the legislature
discloses an amount of misery and ignorance that is appalling.
Children are growing up there,
compelled to monotonous toil when they
ought to be at play, children who do not know how to play; children
who have been so long accustomed to work that they have become used
to it; children growing up in such ignorance that they do not know
what country New Jersey is in, that they never heard of George
Washington, that some of them think Europe is in New York. Such facts
are appalling; they mean that the very foundations of the Republic
are being sapped. The dangerous man is not the man who tries to
excite discontent; the dangerous man is the man who says that all is
as it ought to be. Such a state of things cannot continue; such
tendencies as we see at work here cannot go on without bringing at
last an overwhelming crash.
I say that all this
poverty and the ignorance that flows from
it is unnecessary; I say that there is no natural reason why we
should not all be rich, in the sense, not of having more than each
other, but in the sense of all having enough to completely satisfy
all physical wants; of all having enough to get such an easy living
that we could develop the better part of humanity. There is no
reason why wealth should not be so abundant, that no one should think
of such a thing as little children at work, or a woman compelled to a
toil that nature never intended her to perform; wealth so abundant
that there would be no cause for that harassing fear that sometimes
paralyses even those who are not considered "the poor," the
fear that every man of us has probably felt, that if sickness should
smite him, or if he should be taken away, those whom he loves better
than his life would become charges upon charity. "Consider the
lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they
spin." I believe that in a really Christian community, in a
society that honoured not with the lips but with the act, the
doctrines of Jesus, no one would have occasion to worry about
physical needs any more than do the lilies of the field. There is
enough and to spare. The trouble is that, in this mad struggle, we
trample in the mire what has been provided in sufficiency for us all;
trample it in the mire while we tear and rend each other. ... read the whole speech
Henry George: Moses,
Apostle of Freedom (1878 speech)
We boast of equality before the
law; yet notoriously justice is
deaf to the call of those who have no gold and blind to the sin of
those who have.
We pride ourselves upon our
common schools; yet after our boys
and girls are educated we vainly ask: "What shall we do with them?"
And about our colleges children are growing up in vice and crime,
because from their homes poverty has driven all refining influences.
We pin our faith to universal suffrage; yet with all power in the
hands of the people, the control of public affairs is passing into
the hands of a class of professional politicians, and our governments
are, in many cases, becoming but a means for robbery of the people.
We have prohibited hereditary
distinctions, we have forbidden
titles of nobility; yet there is growing up an aristocracy of wealth
as powerful and merciless as any that ever held sway. ... read the whole speech
Henry George: The Wages
The organisation of man is such,
relations to the world in which he is placed are such – that is to say,
the immutable laws of God are such that it is beyond the power of human
ingenuity to devise any way by which the evils born of the injustice
that robs men of their birthright can be removed otherwise than by
opening to all the bounty that God has provided for all!
Since man can live only on land
and from land since land is
the reservoir of matter and force from which man’s body itself is
taken, and on which he must draw for all that he can produce – does it
not irresistibly follow that to give the land in ownership to some men
and to deny to others all right to it is to divide mankind into the
rich and the poor, the privileged and the helpless?
Does it not follow that those
who have no rights to the use of
land can live only by selling their labor to those who own the land?
Does it not follow that what the
Socialists call “the iron law
of wages,” what the political economists term “the tendency of wages to
a minimum,” must take from the landless mass of mere laborers – who of
themselves have no power to use their labor – the benefits of any
advance or improvement that does not alter this unjust division of land?
no Power to employ themselves, they must, either as labor-sellers or
land-renters, compete with one another for permission
to labor; and this competition with
one another of men shut out from
God’s inexhaustible storehouse, must ultimately force wages to their
lowest point, the point at which life can just be maintained.
This is not to say that all
wages must fall to this point, but
that the wages of that necessarily largest stratum of laborers who
have only ordinary knowledge, skill, and aptitude, must so fall. The
wages of special classes, who are fenced off from the pressure of
competition by peculiar knowledge, skill, or other causes, may remain
above that ordinary level.
where the ability to read and write is rare its
possession enables a man to obtain higher wages than the ordinary
laborer. But as the diffusion of education makes the ability to
and write general, this advantage is lost. So, when a vocation requires
special training or skill, or is made difficult of access by artificial
restrictions, the checking of competition tends to keep wages in it at
a higher level. But as the progress of invention dispenses with
peculiar skill, or artificial restrictions are broken dawn, these
higher wages sink to the ordinary level. And so, it is only so long as
they are special that such qualities as industry, prudence, and thrift
can enable the ordinary laborer to maintain a condition above that
which gives a mere living. Where they become general, the law of
competition must eventually reduce the earnings or savings of such
qualities to the general level. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
Since man can live only on land and from land, since land is the reservoir
of matter and force from which man’s body itself is taken, and on which
he must draw for all that he can produce, does it not irresistibly follow
that to give the land in ownership to some men and to deny to others all
right to it is to divide mankind into the rich and the poor, the privileged
and the helpless? Does it not follow that those who have no rights to the
use of land can live only by selling their power to labor to those who own
the land? Does it not follow that what the socialists call “the iron
law of wages,” what the political economists term “the tendency
of wages to a minimum,” must take from the landless masses — the
mere laborers, who of themselves have no power to use their labor — all
the benefits of any possible advance or improvement that does not alter this
unjust division of land? For having no power to employ themselves, they must,
either as labor-sellers or as land-renters, compete with one another for
permission to labor. This competition with one another of men shut out from
God’s inexhaustible storehouse has no limit but starvation, and must
ultimately force wages to their lowest point, the point at which life can
just be maintained and reproduction carried on.
This is not to say that all wages must fall to this point, but that the
wages of that necessarily largest stratum of laborers who have only ordinary
knowledge, skill and aptitude must so fall. The wages of special classes,
who are fenced off from the pressure of competition by peculiar knowledge,
skill or other causes, may remain above that ordinary level. Thus,
where the ability to read and write is rare its possession enables a man
higher wages than the ordinary laborer. But as the diffusion of education
makes the ability to read and write general this advantage is lost. So when
a vocation requires special training or skill, or is made difficult of access
by artificial restrictions, the checking of competition tends to keep wages
in it at a higher level. But as the progress of invention dispenses
with peculiar skill, or artificial restrictions are broken down, these higher
wages sink to the ordinary level. And so, it is only so long as they are
special that such qualities as industry, prudence and thrift can enable the
ordinary laborer to maintain a condition above that which gives a mere living.
Where they become general, the law of competition must reduce the earnings
or savings of such qualities to the general level — which, land being
monopolized and labor helpless, can be only that at which the next lowest
point is the cessation of life. ...
But worse perhaps than all else is the way in which this substituting of
vague injunctions to charity for the clear-cut demands of justice opens an
easy means for the professed teachers of the Christian religion of all branches
and communions to placate Mammon while persuading themselves that they are
serving God. Had the English clergy not subordinated the teaching of justice
to the teaching of charity — to go no further in illustrating a principle
of which the whole history of Christendom from Constantine’s time to
our own is witness — the Tudor tyranny would never have arisen, and
the separation of the church been averted; had the clergy of France never
substituted charity for justice, the monstrous iniquities of the ancient
régime would never have brought the horrors of the Great Revolution;
and in my own country had those who should have preached justice not satisfied
themselves with preaching kindness, chattel slavery could never have demanded
the holocaust of our civil war.
No, your Holiness; as faith without works is dead, as men cannot give to
God his due while denying to their fellows the rights be gave them, so charity
unsupported by justice can do nothing to solve the problem of the existing
condition of labor. Though the rich were to “bestow all their goods
to feed the poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would
continue while property in land continues.
Take the case of the rich man today who is honestly desirous of devoting
his wealth to the improvement of the condition of labor. What can he do?
- Bestow his wealth on those who need it? He may help some who deserve
it, but will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may
do will be the danger of doing harm.
- Build churches? Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the
vice that is born of it breeds.
- Build schools and colleges? Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity
of private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for
mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink.
- Establish hospitals? Why, already it seems to laborers that there are
too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure.
- Build model tenements? Unless he cheapens house accommodations he but
drives further the class he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodations
he brings more to seek employment and cheapens wages.
- Institute laboratories, scientific schools, workshops for physical experiments?
He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting
on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as between
the upper and the nether millstone.
- Promote emigration from places where wages are low to places where they
are somewhat higher? If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate
will soon turn on him to demand that such emigration shall be stopped as
reducing their wages.
- Give away what land he may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let
it at lower rents than the market price? He will simply make new landowners
or partial landowners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he
will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
- Or, bethinking himself of those public-spirited citizens of classic
times who spent great sums in improving their native cities, shall he try
to beautify the city of his birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten
narrow and crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let
him open tramways and bring in railroads, or in any way make beautiful
and attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not
be that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will
it not be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of
his benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to landowners?
Why, even the mere announcement that he is going to do such things will
start speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.
What, then, can the rich man do to improve the condition of labor?
He can do nothing at all except to use his strength for the abolition of
the great primary wrong that robs men of their birthright. The justice of
God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything else for it. ... read the whole letter
Henry George: Progress & Poverty: Introductory:
So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but
to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast
between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and
cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans from its
foundations, and every new story but hastens the final catastrophe. To educate
men who must be condemned to poverty, is but to make them restive; to base
on a state of most glaring social inequality political institutions under
men are not fully equal, is to stand a pyramid on its apex. ... read the entire 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
the supreme law of the universe. But by sweeping away this injustice and
asserting the rights of all men to natural opportunities, we shall conform
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.
The reform I have proposed accords with all that is politically, socially,
or morally desirable. It has the qualities of a true reform, for it will
make all other reforms easier. What is it but the carrying out in letter
of the truth enunciated in the Declaration of Independence — the "self-evident" truth
that is the heart and soul of the Declaration —"That all men
are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"
These rights are denied when the equal right to land — on which and
by which men alone can live — is denied. Equality of political rights
will not compensate for the denial of the equal right to the bounty of
nature. Political liberty, when the equal right to land is denied, becomes,
increases and invention goes on, merely the liberty to compete for employment
at starvation wages. This is the truth that we have ignored. And so
- there come beggars in our streets and tramps on our roads; and
- poverty enslaves men who we boast are political sovereigns; and
- want breeds ignorance that our schools cannot enlighten; and
- citizens vote as their masters dictate; and
- the demagogue usurps the part of the statesman; and
- gold weighs in the scales of justice; and
- in high places sit those who do not pay to civic virtue even the compliment
of hypocrisy; and
- the pillars of the republic that we thought so strong already bend under
an increasing strain. ...
Our primary social adjustment is a denial of justice. In allowing one man
to own the land on which and from which other men must live, we have made them
his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on. This
is the subtle alchemy that in ways they do not realize is extracting from the
masses in every civilized country the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting
a harder and more hopeless slavery in place of that which has been destroyed;
that is bringing political despotism out of political freedom, and must soon
transmute democratic institutions into 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. ...
The fiat has gone forth! With steam and electricity, and the new powers born
of progress, forces have entered the world that will either compel us to a
higher plane or overwhelm us, as nation after nation, as civilization after
civilization, have been overwhelmed before. It is the delusion which precedes
destruction that sees in the popular unrest with which the civilized world
is feverishly pulsing only the passing effect of ephemeral causes. Between
democratic ideas and the aristocratic adjustments of society there is an irreconcilable
conflict. Here in the United States, as there in Europe, it may be seen arising.
- We cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to tramp.
- We cannot go on educating boys and girls in our public schools and then
refusing them the right to earn an honest living.
- We cannot go on prating of the inalienable rights of man and then denying
the inalienable right to the bounty of the Creator. ... read
the whole chapter
"A. J. O." (probably Mark Twain) Slavery
... Instead of being forced to
keep my men in brutish ignorance, I
find public schools established at other people’s expense to
stimulate their intelligence and improve their minds, to my great
advantage, and their children compelled to attend these schools. The
service I get, too, being now voluntarily rendered (or apparently so)
is much improved in quality. In short, the arrangement pays me better
in many ways. ... Read the whole piece
Winston Churchill: The
enterprise only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the
cream off for himself It does not matter where you
look or what examples you select, you will
see that every form of enterprise, every step in material progress, is
only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for
himself, and everywhere today the man or the public body who wishes to
put land to its highest use is forced to pay a preliminary fine in land
values to the man who is putting it to an inferior use, and in some
cases to no use at all. All comes back to the land value, and its owner
for the time being is able to levy his toll upon all other forms of
wealth and upon every form of industry. A portion, in some cases the whole, of
every benefit which is laboriously acquired by the community is
represented in the land value, and finds its way automatically into the
landlord's pocket. If there is a rise in wages, rents are able
to move forward, because the workers can afford to pay a little more.
If the opening of a new railway or a new tramway or the institution of
an improved service of workmen's trains or a lowering of fares or a new
invention or any other public convenience affords a benefit to the
workers in any particular district, it becomes easier for them to live,
and therefore the landlord and the
ground landlord, one on top of the
other, are able to charge them more for the privilege of living there....
Read the whole piece
Everett Gross: Explaining Rent
Sometimes it's difficult for people to understand the meaning of "rent" as
an economic concept. One way I have of explaining it doesn't use the
word rent. I just use a little analogy.
I'm from Crete, Nebraska. It's a small town of 5,000 people.
Suppose a man comes to Crete, and he wants to start a business. He needs
a building, but first he needs a piece of ground to build this new building
on. So he looks up a real estate agent, describes what he wants, and the
real estate agent shows him a parcel that's just right for his needs. The
man asks the agent, "All right, now how much money do you want for this
land?" The agent says, "It's worth $50,000." The man says, "Why is it worth
$50,000?" And the real estate agent points out that "The school is good,
the roads are good, the police department is good, the rescue crew is good
and very fast, and business is good here."
So the man says "Yeah, I believe that $50,0000 is a fair price. I'll
take it. How do I pay the $50,000 to the school people, and the road people,
and the police department? To whom do I pay the $50,000?" And the real
estate agent says, "Oh no. You don't pay it to them. You pay it to the
person who owned the land before."
The man says, "But who supports the schools, and the roads, and the police,
and the other good things?" And the real estate agent says, "If you
build, then you'll pay for them again."
The buyer then asks, "And what will the previous owner do for me
for my $50,000?" The real estate man answers, "Nothing! Nothing
Now I don't need to use the word "rent" in that explanation.