How do we live together peaceably and justly? How do we create a society
with no victims?
Most of us, if asked, would say that we
generally live by the Golden Rule (the one that says "Do unto others as
you would have them do unto you," not the one that says "he who has the
most gold rules").
We teach it to our children. We look to it to help us respond to
day to day situations. We explain our behavior with reference to
it. But if you've read widely on this website, you may reach the
conclusion that many of us operate with a rather superficial version of
the Golden Rule.
If you are familiar with the phrase "cognitive dissonance," you may be
finding that you are experiencing some of that.
If your primary perspective is Christian, you may relate this idea to
the two commandments: Love God with all your heart, and love your
neighbor as yourself. How does loving our neighbor as ourselves
relate to our individual and shared theories of justice, and then to
our constitution and laws and social and economic system?
Henry George's ideas about taxing land values seem to me to be the political
economy implementation of the golden rule.
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come
... 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
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
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
Nor do we hesitate to say that this way of securing the equal right to the
bounty of the Creator and the exclusive right to the products of labor is
the way intended by God for raising public revenues. For we are not atheists,
who deny God; nor semi-atheists, who deny that he has any concern in politics
It is true as you say — a salutary truth too often forgotten — that “man
is older than the state, and he holds the right of providing for the life
of his body prior to the formation of any state.” Yet, as you too perceive,
it is also true that the state is in the divinely appointed order. For He
who foresaw all things and provided for all things, foresaw and provided
that with the increase of population and the development of industry the
organization of human society into states or governments would become both
expedient and necessary.
No sooner does the state arise than, as we all know, it needs revenues.
This need for revenues is small at first, while population is sparse, industry
rude and the functions of the state few and simple. But with growth of population
and advance of civilization the functions of the state increase and larger
and larger revenues are needed.
Now, He that made the world and placed man in it, He that pre-ordained civilization
as the means whereby man might rise to higher powers and become more and
more conscious of the works of his Creator, must have foreseen this increasing
need for state revenues and have made provision for it. That is to say: The
increasing need for public revenues with social advance, being a natural,
God-ordained need, there must be a right way of raising them — some
way that we can truly say is the way intended by God. It is clear that this
right way of raising public revenues must accord with the moral law.
It must not take from individuals what rightfully belongs to individuals.
It must not give some an advantage over others, as by increasing the prices
of what some have to sell and others must buy.
It must not lead men into temptation, by requiring trivial oaths, by making
it profitable to lie, to swear falsely, to bribe or to take bribes.
It must not confuse the distinctions of right and wrong, and weaken the
sanctions of religion and the state by creating crimes that are not sins,
and punishing men for doing what in itself they have an undoubted right to
It must not repress industry. It must not check commerce. It must not punish
thrift. It must offer no impediment to the largest production and the fairest
division of wealth.
Let me ask your Holiness to consider the taxes on the processes and products
of industry by which through the civilized world public revenues are collected — the
octroi duties that surround Italian cities with barriers; the monstrous customs
duties that hamper intercourse between so-called Christian states; the taxes
on occupations, on earnings, on investments, on the building of houses, on
the cultivation of fields, on industry and thrift in all forms. Can these
be the ways God has intended that governments should raise the means they
need? Have any of them the characteristics indispensable in any plan we can
deem a right one?
All these taxes violate the moral law. They take by force what belongs to
the individual alone; they give to the unscrupulous an advantage over the
scrupulous; they have the effect, nay are largely intended, to increase the
price of what some have to sell and others must buy; they corrupt government;
they make oaths a mockery; they shackle commerce; they fine industry and
thrift; they lessen the wealth that men might enjoy, and enrich some by impoverishing
Yet what most strikingly shows how opposed to Christianity is this system
of raising public revenues is its influence on thought.
Christianity teaches us that all men are brethren; that their true
interests are harmonious, not antagonistic. It gives us, as the golden
rule of life,
that we should do to others as we would have others do to us. But out of
the system of taxing the products and processes of labor, and out of its
effects in increasing the price of what some have to sell and others must
buy, has grown the theory of “protection,” which denies this
gospel, which holds Christ ignorant of political economy and proclaims laws
of national well-being utterly at variance with his teaching. This
theory sanctifies national hatreds; it inculcates a universal war of hostile
it teaches peoples that their prosperity lies in imposing on the productions
of other peoples restrictions they do not wish imposed on their own; and
instead of the Christian doctrine of man’s brotherhood it makes injury
of foreigners a civic virtue.
“By their fruits ye shall know them.” Can anything more clearly
show that to tax the products and processes of industry is not the way God
intended public revenues to be raised?
But to consider what we propose — the raising of public revenues by
a single tax on the value of land irrespective of improvements — is
to see that in all respects this does conform to the moral law.
Let me ask your Holiness to keep in mind that the value we propose to tax,
the value of land irrespective of improvements, does not come from any exertion
of labor or investment of capital on or in it — the values produced
in this way being values of improvement which we would exempt. The value
of land irrespective of improvement is the value that attaches to land by
reason of increasing population and social progress. This is a value that
always goes to the owner as owner, and never does and never can go to the
user; for if the user be a different person from the owner he must always
pay the owner for it in rent or in purchase-money; while if the user be also
the owner, it is as owner, not as user, that he receives it, and by selling
or renting the land he can, as owner, continue to receive it after he ceases
to be a user.
Thus, taxes on land irrespective of improvement cannot lessen the rewards
of industry, nor add to prices,* nor in any way take from the individual
what belongs to the individual. They can take only the value that attaches
to land by the growth of the community, and which therefore belongs to the
community as a whole.
* As to this point it may be well to add that all economists
are agreed that taxes on land values irrespective of improvement or use — or
what in the terminology of political economy is styled rent, a term distinguished
from the ordinary use of the word rent by being applied solely to payments
for the use of land itself — must be paid by the owner and cannot
be shifted by him on the user. To explain in another way the reason given
in the text: Price is not determined by the will of the seller or the
will of the buyer, but by the equation of demand and supply, and therefore
as to things constantly demanded and constantly produced rests at a point
determined by the cost of production — whatever tends to increase
the cost of bringing fresh quantities of such articles to the consumer
increasing price by checking supply, and whatever tends to reduce such
cost decreasing price by increasing supply. Thus taxes on wheat or tobacco
or cloth add to the price that the consumer must pay, and thus the cheapening
in the cost of producing steel which improved processes have made in
recent years has greatly reduced the price of steel. But land has no
cost of production, since it is created by God, not produced by man.
Its price therefore is fixed —
1 (monopoly rent), where land is held in close monopoly,
by what the owners can extract from the users under penalty of deprivation
and consequently of starvation, and amounts to all that common labor
can earn on it beyond what is necessary to life;
2 (economic rent proper), where there is no special monopoly, by what
the particular land will yield to common labor over and above what may
be had by like expenditure and exertion on land having no special advantage
and for which no rent is paid; and,
3 (speculative rent, which is a species of monopoly rent, telling particularly
in selling price), by the expectation of future increase of value from
social growth and improvement, which expectation causing landowners to
withhold land at present prices has the same effect as combination.
Taxes on land values or economic rent can therefore never
be shifted by the landowner to the land-user, since they in no wise increase
the demand for land or enable landowners to check supply by withholding
land from use. Where rent depends on mere monopolization, a case I mention
because rent may in this way be demanded for the use of land even before
economic or natural rent arises, the taking by taxation of what the landowners
were able to extort from labor could not enable them to extort any more,
since laborers, if not left enough to live on, will die. So, in the case
of economic rent proper, to take from the landowners the premiums they
receive, would in no way increase the superiority of their land and the
demand for it. While, so far as price is affected by speculative rent,
to compel the landowners to pay taxes on the value of land whether they
were getting any income from it or not, would make it more difficult
for them to withhold land from use; and to tax the full value would not
merely destroy the power but the desire to do so.
To take land values for the state, abolishing all taxes on the products
of labor, would therefore leave to the laborer the full produce of labor;
to the individual all that rightfully belongs to the individual. It would
impose no burden on industry, no check on commerce, no punishment on thrift;
it would secure the largest production and the fairest distribution of wealth,
by leaving men free to produce and to exchange as they please, without any
artificial enhancement of prices; and by taking for public purposes a value
that cannot be carried off, that cannot be hidden, that of all values is
most easily ascertained and most certainly and cheaply collected, it would
enormously lessen the number of officials, dispense with oaths, do away with
temptations to bribery and evasion, and abolish man-made crimes in themselves
But, further: That God has intended the state to obtain the revenues it
needs by the taxation of land values is shown by the same order and degree
of evidence that shows that God has intended the milk of the mother for the
nourishment of the babe.
See how close is the analogy. In that primitive condition ere the need for
the state arises there are no land values. The products of labor have value,
but in the sparsity of population no value as yet attaches to land itself.
But as increasing density of population and increasing elaboration of industry
necessitate the organization of the state, with its need for revenues, value
begins to attach to land. As population still increases and industry grows
more elaborate, so the needs for public revenues increase. And at the same
time and from the same causes land values increase. The connection is invariable.
The value of things produced by labor tends to decline with social development,
since the larger scale of production and the improvement of processes tend
steadily to reduce their cost. But the value of land on which population
centers goes up and up. Take Rome or Paris or London or New York or Melbourne.
Consider the enormous value of land in such cities as compared with the value
of land in sparsely settled parts of the same countries. To what is this
due? Is it not due to the density and activity of the populations of those
cities — to the very causes that require great public expenditure for
streets, drains, public buildings, and all the many things needed for the
health, convenience and safety of such great cities? See how with the growth
of such cities the one thing that steadily increases in value is land; how
the opening of roads, the building of railways, the making of any public
improvement, adds to the value of land. Is it not clear that here is a natural
law — that is to say a tendency willed by the Creator? Can it mean
anything else than that He who ordained the state with its needs has in the
values which attach to land provided the means to meet those needs?
That it does mean this and nothing else is confirmed if we look deeper still,
and inquire not merely as to the intent, but as to the purpose of the intent.
If we do so we may see in this natural law by which land values increase
with the growth of society not only such a perfectly adapted provision for
the needs of society as gratifies our intellectual perceptions by showing
us the wisdom of the Creator, but a purpose with regard to the individual
that gratifies our moral perceptions by opening to us a glimpse of his beneficence.
Consider: Here is a natural law by which as society advances the one thing
that increases in value is land — a natural law by virtue of which
all growth of population, all advance of the arts, all general improvements
of whatever kind, add to a fund that both the commands of justice and the
dictates of expediency prompt us to take for the common uses of society.
Now, since increase in the fund available for the common uses of society
is increase in the gain that goes equally to each member of society, is it
not clear that the law by which land values increase with social advance
while the value of the products of labor does not increase, tends with the
advance of civilization to make the share that goes equally to each member
of society more and more important as compared with what goes to him from
his individual earnings, and thus to make the advance of civilization lessen
relatively the differences that in a ruder social state must exist between
the strong and the weak, the fortunate and the unfortunate? Does it not show
the purpose of the Creator to be that the advance of man in civilization
should be an advance not merely to larger powers but to a greater and greater
equality, instead of what we, by our ignoring of his intent, are making it,
an advance toward a more and more monstrous inequality? ...
For in this beautiful provision made by natural law for the social needs
of civilization we see that God has intended civilization; that all our discoveries
and inventions do not and cannot outrun his forethought, and that steam,
electricity and labor-saving appliances only make the great moral laws clearer
and more important. In the growth of this great fund, increasing with social
advance — a fund that accrues from the growth of the community and
belongs therefore to the community — we see not only that there is
no need for the taxes that lessen wealth, that engender corruption, that
promote inequality and teach men to deny the gospel; but that to take this
fund for the purpose for which it was evidently intended would in the highest
civilization secure to all the equal enjoyment of God’s bounty, the
abundant opportunity to satisfy their wants, and would provide amply for
every legitimate need of the state. We see that God in his dealings with
men has not been a bungler or a niggard; that he has not brought too many
men into the world; that he has not neglected abundantly to supply them;
that he has not intended that bitter competition of the masses for a mere
animal existence and that monstrous aggregation of wealth which characterize
our civilization; but that these evils which lead so many to say there is
no God, or yet more impiously to say that they are of God’s ordering,
are due to our denial of his moral law. We see that the law of justice,
the law of the Golden Rule, is not a mere counsel of perfection, but indeed
law of social life. We see that if we were only to observe it there
would be work for all, leisure for all, abundance for all; and that civilization
would tend to give to the poorest not only necessities, but all comforts
and reasonable luxuries as well. We see that Christ was not a mere dreamer
when he told men that if they would seek the kingdom of God and its right-doing
they might no more worry about material things than do the lilies of the
field about their raiment; but that he was only declaring what political
economy in the light of modern discovery shows to be a sober truth. ... read
the whole letter
Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal (1887
The laws of this universe are the laws of God, the social laws as
well as the physical laws, and He, the Creator of all, has given us
room for all, work for all, plenty for all.
- If today people are in
places so crowded that it seems as though there were too many people
in the world;
- if today thousands of men who would gladly be at work
do not find the opportunity to go to work;
- if today the competition
for employment crowds wages down to starvation rates;
- if today,
amidst abounding wealth, there are in the centers of our civilization
human beings who are worse off than savages in any normal times, it
is not because the Creator has been niggardly; it is simply
of our own injustice — simply because we have not carried the
idea of doing to others as we would have them do unto us into the
making of our statutes.
The Anti-Poverty Society has no
patent remedy for poverty. We propose no new thing. What we propose is
simply to do justice. The principle that we propose to carry into our
laws is neither more nor less than the golden rule. We propose to
abolish poverty by the sovereign remedy of doing to others as we would
have others do to us, by giving to all their just rights. And we propose to begin by assuring to
every child of God who, in our country, comes into this world, its full
and equal share of the common heritage.... read the whole article
Henry George: The Wages of
What most strikingly shows how
opposed to Christianity is the
existing system of raising public revenue is its influence on thought.
Christianity teaches us that all
men are brethren; that their
true interests are harmonious, not antagonistic. It gives us, as the
golden rule of life, that we should do to others as we would have
others do to us. But, out of the system of taxing the products
processes of labor, and out of its effects in increasing the price of
what some have to sell and others must buy, has grown the theory of
“Protection,” which denies this
gospel, which holds Christ ignorant of
political economy, and proclaims laws for the nation utterly at
variance with His teaching.
This theory sanctifies national
hatreds; it inculcates a
universal war of hostile tariffs; it teaches peoples that their
prosperity lies in imposing on the productions of other peoples
restrictions they do not wish imposed, on their own; and, instead of
the Christian doctrine of man’s brotherhood, it makes injury of
foreigners a civic virtue. ...
We see that the law of justice,
the law of the Golden Rule, is not a mere counsel of perfection, but
indeed the law of social life. We see that, if we were only to observe
it, there would be work for ail, leisure for all, abundance for all;
and that civilisation would tend to give to the poorest not only
necessaries, but all reasonable comforts and luxuries.
We see that Christ was not a mere dreamer when He told men that
if they would seek the kingdom of God and its right doing they might no
more worry about material things that do the lilies of the field about
their raiment; but that He was only declaring what political economy in
the light of modern discovery shows to be a sober truth. ...
To persist in a
wrong, to refuse to undo it, is always to
become involved in other wrongs!
Those who defend private property
in land, and thereby deny
the first and most important of all human rights, the equal right to
the material substratum of life, are compelled to one of two courses.
Either they must, as do those whose
gospel is “Devil take the
hindmost,” deny the equal right to life, and, by some theory
to which Malthus has given his name, assert that Nature brings into the
world more men than there is provision for; or, they must, as do the
Socialists, assert as rights what in themselves are wrongs. ... read
the whole article
Nic Tideman: Global
Economic Justice, followed by Creating
Global Economic Justice
of a Theory of Justice
What is the use of a theory of justice? A theory is an
abstraction. By itself, it can't make anything happen. But when a
theory of justice takes root in us, it modulates our emotional
responses to distributive outcomes. If you should come to realize
that the theory of justice to which you subscribe says that something
you thought you wanted to do is unjust, you will find that course of
action no longer so appealing. If you come to a new realization
justice is on your side, you are likely to feel emboldened and ready
to persist despite obstructions.
you should come to the realization that justice requires of you
a course of action that you had not planned on, you will feel a pull
in that direction, and if you do not follow through, you are likely
to feel guilty. If your theory of justice informs you that
person is treated unjustly, even a stranger, you are likely to feel
compassion for that person, and you may also feel a chivalrous
impulse to take up that person's cause and seek redress of the
injustice. It was because of feelings of injustice that slavery was
abolished and women were granted the right to vote.
As the world shrinks, nations
impinge upon one another in more and
more ways, providing applications for a theory of justice among
nations.... Read the whole article