Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
Home Essential Documents Themes All Documents Authors Glossary Links Contact Us



Emma Goldman

Henry George: Coming Increase of Social Pressure (Chapter 3 of Social Problems, 1883)

[01] THE trees, as I write, have not yet begun to leaf, nor even the blossoms to appear; yet, passing down the lower part of Broadway these early days of spring, one breasts a steady current of uncouthly dressed men and women, carrying bundles and boxes and all manner of baggage. As the season advances, the human current will increase; even in winter it will not wholly cease its flow. It is the great gulf-stream of humanity which sets from Europe upon America — the greatest migration of peoples since the world began. Other minor branches has the stream. Into Boston and Philadelphia, into Portland, Quebec and Montreal, into New Orleans, Galveston, San Francisco and Victoria, come offshoots of the same current; and as it flows it draws increasing volume from wider sources. Emigration to America has, since 1848, reduced the population of Ireland by more than a third; but as Irish ability to feed the stream declines, English emigration increases; the German outpour becomes so vast as to assume the first proportions, and the millions of Italy, pressed by want as severe as that of Ireland, begin to turn to the emigrant ship as did the Irish. In Castle Garden one may see the garb and hear the speech of all European peoples. From the fiords of Norway, from the plains of Russia and Hungary, from the mountains of Wallachia, and from Mediterranean shores and islands, once the center of classic civilization, the great current is fed. Every year increases the facility of its flow. Year by year improvements in steam navigation are practically reducing the distance between the two continents; year by year European railroads are making it easier for interior populations to reach the seaboard, and the telegraph, the newspaper, the schoolmaster and the cheap post are lessening those objections of ignorance and sentiment to removal that are so strong with people long rooted in one place. Yet, in spite of this great exodus, the population of Europe, as a whole, is steadily increasing.

[02] And across the continent, from east to west, from the older to the newer States, an even greater migration is going on. Our people emigrate more readily than those of Europe, and increasing as European immigration is, it is yet becoming a less and less important factor of our growth, as compared with the natural increase of our population. At Chicago and St. Paul, Omaha and Kansas City, the volume of the westward-moving current has increased, not diminished. From what, so short a time ago, was the new West of unbroken prairie and native forest, goes on, as children grow up, a constant migration to a newer West.

[03] This westward expansion of population has gone on steadily since the first settlement of the Eastern shore. It has been the great distinguishing feature in the conditions of our people. Without its possibility we would have been in nothing what we are. Our higher standard of wages and of comfort and of average intelligence, our superior self-reliance, energy, inventiveness, adaptability and assimilative power, spring as directly from this possibility of expansion as does our unprecedented growth. All that we are proud of in national life and national character comes primarily from our background of unused land. We are but transplanted Europeans, and, for that matter mostly of the "inferior classes." It is not usually those whose position is comfortable and whose prospects are bright who emigrate; it is those who are pinched and dissatisfied, those to whom no prospect seems open. There are heralds' colleges in Europe that drive a good business in providing a certain class of Americans with pedigrees and coats of arms; but it is probably well for this sort of self-esteem that the majority of us cannot truly trace our ancestry very far. We had some Pilgrim Fathers, it is true; likewise some Quaker fathers, and other sorts of fathers; yet the majority even of the early settlers did not come to America for "freedom to worship God," but because they were poor, dissatisfied, unsuccessful, or recklessly adventurous — many because they were evicted, many to escape imprisonment, many because they were kidnapped, many as self-sold bondsmen, as indentured apprentices, or mercenary soldiers. It is the virtue of new soil, the freedom of opportunity given by the possibility of expansion, that has here transmuted into wholesome human growth material that, had it remained in Europe, might have been degraded and dangerous, just as in Australia the same conditions have made respected and self-respecting citizens out of the descendants of convicts, and even out of convicts themselves.

... read the entire essay

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

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.) ...

3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (8.)

Your own statement that land is the inexhaustible storehouse that God owes to man must have aroused in your Holiness’s mind an uneasy questioning of its appropriation as private property, for, as though to reassure yourself, you proceed to argue that its ownership by some will not injure others. You say in substance, that even though divided among private owners the earth does not cease to minister to the needs of all, since those who do not possess the soil can by selling their labor obtain in payment the produce of the land.

Suppose that to your Holiness as a judge of morals one should put this case of conscience:

I am one of several children to whom our father left a field abundant for our support. As he assigned no part of it to any one of us in particular, leaving the limits of our separate possession to be fixed by ourselves, I being the eldest took the whole field in exclusive ownership. But in doing so I have not deprived my brothers of their support from it, for I have let them work for me on it, paying them from the produce as much wages as I would have had to pay strangers. Is there any reason why my conscience should not be clear?

What would be your answer? Would you not tell him that he was in mortal sin, and that his excuse added to his guilt? Would you not call on him to make restitution and to do penance?

Or, suppose that as a temporal prince your Holiness were ruler of a rainless land, such as Egypt, where there were no springs or brooks, their want being supplied by a bountiful river like the Nile. Supposing that having sent a number of your subjects to make fruitful this land, bidding them do justly and prosper, you were told that some of them had set up a claim of ownership in the river, refusing the others a drop of water, except as they bought it of them; and that thus they had become rich without work, while the others, though working hard, were so impoverished by paying for water as to be hardly able to exist?

Would not your indignation wax hot when this was told?

Suppose that then the river-owners should send to you and thus excuse their action:

The river, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all, for there is no one who drinks who does not drink of the water of the river. Those who do not possess the water of the river contribute their labor to get it; so that it may be truly said that all water is supplied either from one’s own river, or from some laborious industry which is paid for either in the water, or in that which is exchanged for the water.

Would the indignation of your Holiness be abated? Would it not wax fiercer yet for the insult to your intelligence of this excuse?

I do not need more formally to show your Holiness that between utterly depriving a man of God’s gifts and depriving him of God’s gifts unless he will buy them, is merely the difference between the robber who leaves his victim to die and the robber who puts him to ransom. But I would like to point out how your statement that “the earth, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all” overlooks the largest facts.

From your palace of the Vatican the eye may rest on the expanse of the Campagna, where the pious toil of religious congregations and the efforts of the state are only now beginning to make it possible for men to live. Once that expanse was tilled by thriving husbandmen and dotted with smiling hamlets. What for centuries has condemned it to desertion? History tells us. It was private property in land; the growth of the great estates of which Pliny saw that ancient Italy was perishing; the cause that, by bringing failure to the crop of men, let in the Goths and Vandals, gave Roman Britain to the worship of Odin and Thor, and in what were once the rich and populous provinces of the East shivered the thinned ranks and palsied arms of the legions on the simitars of Mohammedan hordes, and in the sepulcher of our Lord and in the Church of St. Sophia trampled the cross to rear the crescent!

If you will go to Scotland, you may see great tracts that under the Gaelic tenure, which recognized the right of each to a foothold in the soil, bred sturdy men, but that now, under the recognition of private property in land, are given up to wild animals. If you go to Ireland, your Bishops will show you, on lands where now only beasts graze, the traces of hamlets that, when they were young priests, were filled with honest, kindly, religious people.*

* Let any one who wishes visit this diocese and see with his own eyes the vast and boundless extent of the fairest land in Europe that has been ruthlessly depopulated since the commencement of the present century, and which is now abandoned to a loneliness and solitude more depressing than that of the prairie or the wilderness. Thus has this land system actually exercised the power of life and death on a vast scale, for which there is no parallel even in the dark records of slavery. — Bishop Nulty’s Letter to the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Meath.

If you will come to the United States, you will find in a land wide enough and rich enough to support in comfort the whole population of Europe, the growth of a sentiment that looks with evil eye on immigration, because the artificial scarcity that results from private property in land makes it seem as if there is not room enough and work enough for those already here.

Or go to the Antipodes, and in Australia, as in England, you may see that private property in land is operating to leave the land barren and to crowd the bulk of the population into great cities. Go wherever you please where the forces loosed by modern invention are beginning to be felt and you may see that private property in land is the curse, denounced by the prophet, that prompts men to lay field to field till they “alone dwell in the midst of the earth.

To the mere materialist this is sin and shame. Shall we to whom this world is God’s world — we who hold that man is called to this life only as a prelude to a higher life — shall we defend it? ...

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

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

Q30. What effect would the single tax have on immigration? Would it cause an influx of foreigners from different nations?
A. If adopted in one country of great natural opportunities, and not in others, its tendency would not only be to cause an influx of foreigners, but also to make their coming highly desirable. Our own experience in the United States, when we had an abundance of free land and were begging the populations of the world to come to us, offers a faint suggestion of what might be expected.

... read the book

Nic Tideman:  Global Economic Justice, followed by Creating Global Economic Justice

SUPPOSE THAT a nation accepted the principles that every person has a right to himself or herself, and that all persons have equal rights to natural opportunities. What would be implied for economic arrangements and the rights of citizens within that country?

As an acknowledgement of the right of every person to himself or herself, such a nation would allow any citizen who wished to emigrate to do so. Whenever someone exercised this right, the claim of his former fellow citizens on natural opportunities would be reduced, and the claim of his new fellow citizens would be increased. This fact would tend to make nations more welcoming toward immigrants.

The freedom of individuals to move, and the fact that those who moved would carry with them their claims to equal rights to natural opportunities, would tend to permit a political majority in a nation to justify its adoption of policies that were opposed by minorities, not by a claim that because they were a majority they were right-a nonsensical claim-but rather with the explanation that they were simply seeking to express, with their shares of everyone's common heritage, their conception of what a nation ought to be....  Read the whole article

Nic Tideman: The Shape of a World Inspired by Henry George
How would the world look if its political institutions were shaped by the conception of social justice advanced by Henry George?

Nic Tideman:  The Ethics of Coercion in Public Finance

To share this page with a friend: right click, choose "send," and add your comments.

Red links have not been visited; .
Green links are pages you've seen

Essential Documents pertinent to this theme:

Top of page
Essential Documents
to email this page to a friend: right click, choose "send"
Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper