Henry George: Coming Increase of Social Pressure (Chapter 3 of Social Problems, 1883)
 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.
 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.
 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
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
Suppose that to your Holiness as a judge of morals one should put this case
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
Nic Tideman: The
Ethics of Coercion in Public Finance