|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|
"The Irish Famine of '46 is example and proof. The corn crops were sufficient to feed the island. But the landlords would have their rents in spite of famine and in defiance of fever. They took the whole harvest and left hunger to those who raised it. Had the people of Ireland been the landlords of Ireland, not a human creature would have died of hunger, nor the failure of the potato been considered a matter of any consequence." - James Fintan Lalor (1807-49) Irish patriot
Henry George: The Irish Land Question (1881)
Poverty! Can there be any doubt of its cause? Go, into the old countries — go into western Ireland, into the highlands of Scotland — these are purely primitive communities. There you will find people as poor as poor can be — living year after year on oatmeal or on potatoes, and often going hungry. I could tell you many a pathetic story. Speaking to a Scottish physician who was telling me how this diet was inducing among these people a disease similar to that which from the same cause is ravaging Italy (the Pellagra), I said to him: "There is plenty of fish; why don't they catch fish? There is plenty of game; I know the laws are against it, but cannot they take it on the sly?" "That," he said, "never enters their heads. Why, if a man was even suspected of having a taste for trout or grouse he would have to leave at once."
There is no difficulty in discovering what makes those people poor. They have no right to anything that nature gives them. All they can make above a living they must pay to the landlord. They not only have to pay for the land that they use, but they have to pay for the seaweed that comes ashore and for the turf they dig from the bogs. They dare not improve, for any improvements they make are made an excuse for putting up the rent. These people who work hard live in hovels, and the landlords, who do not work at all—oh! they live in luxury in London or Paris. If they have hunting boxes there, why they are magnificent castles as compared with the hovels in which the men live who do the work. Is there any question as to the cause of poverty there? ... read the whole speech
Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)
How is labour to get the land? How has labour got the land when it was much further off? Irish labourers have gone some 3,000 miles across the sea; and then in many cases 1,000 miles further west, by saving or by borrowing some member of the family has gone across, and their earnings have constituted an emigration fund for the rest of the family. That great emigration has been going on all these years, not by capital supplied by the Government, but by capital earned by the strong arm of labour. (Applause.) The whole development of the United States, the whole development of every new country, proves the fallacy of this assertion that labour cannot employ itself without capital, and proves the fallacy of the assertion, that the opening of land to labour would do nothing to improve wages. Go into a new country where land is free; go into a country where the price of land is not yet high, and there, you will find no such thing as an unemployed man; there you will find no such thing as a man begging for employment as though it were a boon. (Hear, hear.) ... Read the entire article
The Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881)
... The people of Ireland are now keenly alive to the important fact that if they are loyal and true to themselves, and that they set their faces against every form of violence and crime, they have the power to compel the landlords to surrender all their just rights in their entirety.
If the tenant farmers refuse to pay more than a just rent for their farms, and no one takes a farm from which a tenant has been evicted for the non-payment of an unjust or exorbitant rent, then our cause is practically gained. The landlords may, no doubt, wreak their vengeance on a few, whom they may regard as the leaders of the movement; but the patriotism and generosity of their countrymen will compensate these abundantly for their losses, and superabundantly reward them for the essential and important services they have rendered to their country at the critical period of its history.
You know but too well, and perhaps to your cost, that there are bad landlords in Meath, and worse still in Westmeath, and perhaps also in the other Counties of this Diocese. We are, unfortunately, too familiar with all forms of extermination, from the eviction of a Parish Priest, who was willing to pay his rent, to the wholesale clearance of the honest, industrious people of an entire district. But we have, thank God, a few good landlords, too. Some of these, like the Earl of Fingal, belong to our own faith; some, like the late Lord Athlumny, are Protestants; and some among the very best are Tories of the highest type of conservatism.
You have always cherished feelings of the deepest gratitude and affection for every landlord, irrespective of his politics or his creed, who treated you with justice, consideration and kindness. I have always heartily commended you for these feelings.
For my own part, I can assure you, I entertain no unfriendly feelings for any landlord living, and in this Essay I write of them not as individuals, but as a class, and further, I freely admit that there are individual landlords who are highly honourable exceptions to the class to which they belong. But that I heartily dislike the existing system of Land Tenure, and the frightful extent to which it has been abused, by the vast majority of landlords, will be evident to anyone who reads this Essay through. ...
Human Slavery Once Generally Accepted.
Slavery is found to have existed, as a social institution, in almost all nations, civilised as well as barbarous, and in every age of the world, up almost to our own times. We hardly ever find it in the state of a merely passing phenomenon, or as a purely temporary result of conquest or of war, but always as a settled, established and recognised state of social existence, in which generation followed generation in unbroken succession, and in which thousands upon thousands of human beings lived and died. Hardly anyone had the public spirit to question its character or to denounce its excesses; it had no struggle to make for its existence, and the degradation in which it held its unhappy victims was universally regarded as nothing worse than a mere sentimental grievance.
On the other hand, the justice of the right of property which a master claimed in his slaves was universally accepted in the light of a first principle of morality. His slaves were either born on his estate, and he had to submit to the labour and the cost of rearing and maintaining them to manhood, or he acquired them by inheritance or by free gift, or, failing these, he acquired them by the right of purchase -- having paid in exchange for them what, according to the usages of society and the common estimation of his countrymen, was regarded as their full pecuniary value. Property, therefore, in slaves was regarded as sacred, and as inviolable as any other species of property.
Even Christians Recognised Slavery.
So deeply rooted and so universally received was this conviction that the Christian religion itself, though it recognised no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between slave or freeman, cautiously abstained from denouncing slavery itself as an injustice or a wrong. It prudently tolerated this crying evil, because in the state of public feeling then existing, and at the low standard of enlightenment and intelligence then prevailing, it was simply impossible to remedy it.
Thus then had slavery come down almost to our own time as an established social institution, carrying with it the practical sanction and approval of ages and nations, and surrounded with a prestige of standing and general acceptance well calculated to recommend it to men's feelings and sympathies. And yet it was the embodiment of the most odious and cruel injustice that ever afflicted humanity. To claim a right of property in man was to lower a rational creature to the level of the beast of the field; it was a revolting and an unnatural degradation of the nobility of human nature itself.
That thousands upon thousands of human beings who had committed no crime, who had violated no law, and who had done no wrong to anyone, should be wantonly robbed of their liberty and freedom; should be deprived of the sacred and inalienable moral rights, which they could not voluntarily abdicate themselves; should be bought and sold, like cattle in the markets; and should be worked to death, or allowed to live on at the whim or caprice of their owner, was the last and most galling injustice which human nature could be called on to endure.
The World's Approval Cannot
The practical approval, therefore, which the world has bestowed
a social institution that has lasted for centuries is no proof that
it ought to be allowed to live on longer, if, on close examination,
it be found to be intrinsically unjust and cruel, and mischievous and
injurious besides to the general good of mankind. No amount of
sanction or approval that the world can give to a social institution
can alter its intrinsic constitution and nature; and the fact of the
world's having thus approved of an institution which was essentially
unjust, cruel and degrading to human nature, only proves that the
world was wrong: it furnishes no arguments or justification for
allowing it to live on a moment longer.
Abject, absolute and degrading dependence of this kind involves the very essence, and is, in fact, the definition of slavery. They toil like galley slaves in the cultivation of their farms from the opening to the close of the year, only to see substantially the whole produce of their labour and capital appropriated by others who have not toiled at all, and who even leave them not what would be allowed for the maintenance of slaves who would be expected to work, but what hardly suffices to keep them from dying of want.
When grazing on land had been found more remunerative than tillage, and the people consequently became too numerous, the superfluous multitudes, who were now no longer wanted under the new state of things, were mercilessly cleared off the lands by wholesale evictions to make room for the brute beast, which paid better. Such of the evicted as had the means left to take themselves away were forced to fly for refuge as exiles into almost every land; and the thousands who could not leave were coolly passed on through hunger and starvation to premature graves.
Let anyone 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.
But the attention of the civilised world is now steadily fixed on the cruel and degrading bondage in which it still holds a nation enslaved, and therefore its doom is inevitably sealed. ...
The Landlord the Greatest
Burden on the Land.
Mr. Mill, who is the highest of all authorities on this subject,
thus writes on the letting of land as it is actually carried out in
Ireland: "With individual exceptions (some of them very honourable
ones) the owners of Irish estates do nothing for the land but drain
it of its produce. What has been epigrammatically said in the
discussions on 'peculiar burdens' is literally true when applied to
them, that the greatest 'burden' on the land is the landlords.
Returning nothing to the soil, they consume its whole produce, minus
the potatoes strictly necessary to keep the inhabitants from dying of
famine." ... Read the whole letter
We claim that the land of Ireland, like the land of every country, cannot justly belong to any class, whether that class be large or small; but that the land of Ireland, like the land of every other country, justly belongs in usufruct to the whole people of that country equally, and that no man and no class of men can have any just right in the land that is not equally shared by all others.
We say that all the social difficulties we see here, all the social difficulties that exist in England or Scotland, all the social difficulties that are growing up in the United States--
--are all due to one great primary wrong, that wrong which makes the natural element necessary to all, the natural element that was made by the Creator for the use of all, the property of some of the people, that great wrong that in every civilized country disinherited the mass of men of the bounty of their Creator. What we aim at is not the increase in the number of a privileged class, not making some thousands of earth owners into some more thousands. No, no; what we aim at is to secure the natural and God-given right to the humblest in the community--to secure to every child born in Ireland, or in any other country, his natural right to the equal use of his native land. Read the whole speech
Albert Jay Nock — Henry George: Unorthodox American
HISTORY: THE RISE AND FALL OF FEUDALISM
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child, for what is man's lifetime without the memory of past events woven with those of earlier times?" - Cicero (106 - 43 BC), Roman orator, statesman and man of letters
One of the main reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was economic. It had been eaten from within by that very malaise that curses us today: the appropriation of the land on the part of a powerful, politically empowered elite to the exclusion of the rest. The result was inevitable. Who wants to fight for land he does not own? Certainly not the slaves who were doing the donkey work to support the landowners of the decaying Roman Empire.
When the barbarian tribes began to turn into civilised nations, they realised that the privilege of controlling land had to be counterweighted by extra duties like the costs of administration, defence and the social services (education, health, hostelry etc.).
BALANCED FEUDALISM - GIVING AND TAKING
Hence Feudalism. This social system, which lasted about seven centuries (far longer than either capitalism or socialism) consisted in an exchange of services between king, nobility, the Church and the people. Who did what?
The king was the nominal owner of the land. This provided him with an independent income, which allowed him (occasionally her) to govern. The nobility were the actual occupiers of the various duchies, counties etc. They controlled the land by taking part of the rent as personal/family income and spending the rest in the services of defence, administration and justice. The Church also occupied large tracts of land, taking part of the rent for the upkeep of its monasteries and spending the rest in the social services: education, health, hostelry etc.
The people supported the system by working, mostly agriculturally. ...
NOT SO NOBLE!
What broke the equilibrium was the nobility. Conventional history books gloat over the English barons demanding "freedom" from king John by forcing him to append his seal to the famous Magna Charta. What they don't explain is the type of freedom demanded. It was freedom from duty, i.e. from spending the excess rent on administration and defence.
In time, the nobility of other countries followed suit, but administration and defence costs remained, gradually becoming the responsibility of the king. Increasingly it was the people who had to pay for such, by means of increasing taxation.
Things deteriorated, but not too much while the social services remained in the hands of Church bureaucracy. A dramatic slide for the worse occurred when the king, unable to get sufficient income, had to start selling his land to the nobility, the only people who had the money to buy it.
THE GREAT LAND GRAB
The trend continued. Henry VIII of England having run out of land of his own, confiscated Church lands while the nobility began the process of enclosing more and more common land which forced the people either to work in the large estates for bare subsistence or to starve outside them.
Slavery, shown the door during the first millennium, re-entered through the window during the second. There exist in fact two ways of unjustly appropriating the work of others: either considering a human being as private property, or preventing him from accessing land and its natural resources, forcing the landless to work for whatever conditions dictated to them by the exclusive holders of land. Philosophically it is possible to distinguish between the two forms of slavery. For those at the receiving end it makes little difference.
The process of enclosure was completed towards the end of the 18th century. The landless, expelled from the commons where they had sought refuge, had no choice but to pour into the cities, which at the time were experiencing the Industrial Revolution.
Conventional historians are only too ready to blame the Industrial Revolution for the appalling social conditions of the workers, but keep silent about the more plausible interpretation that it was the Industrial Revolution which had actually saved those poor wretches from starvation, however unwittingly.
"None ought to be lords or landlords over another, but the earth is free for every son and daughter of mankind to live free upon." - Gerard Winstanley, (1609? - 1660?) A leader of the 17th century Diggers movement
HISTORY: THE NEW SLAVERY
"The Irish Famine of '46 is example and proof. The corn crops were sufficient to feed the island. But the landlords would have their rents in spite of famine and in defiance of fever. They took the whole harvest and left hunger to those who raised it. Had the people of Ireland been the landlords of Ireland, not a human creature would have died of hunger, nor the failure of the potato been considered a matter of any consequence." - James Fintan Lalor, (1807 - 49), Irish patriot
The accursed social conditions of workers during the Industrial Revolution naturally prompted many inquiries - in those days, the connection between the enclosures and the Dickensian conditions in the cities was much more apparent. ...
Europe had serfdom. America, a younger land, saw traditional slavery instituted afresh. Why were the African slaves not sent to Europe? - because Europe was already full of such! H.M. Government indeed began enthusiastically to transport its "surplus" population to Australia. The land there was "free" in the sense that the militarily weak Aborigines could be rendered landless with a few musket shots, much as the American Indians would a few decades later.
NO LAND = NO HOPE
At the time when Don Bosco was gathering his stray waifs thrown onto the streets of Turin by the same policy of forced landlessness, the blight struck the Irish potato, sole crop of the landless there. Eight million of them, expelled from their ancestral lands for the benefit of a couple of a hundred absentee landlords, were being rack-rented to the point of either starvation or emigration. Meanwhile, Ireland remained a net food exporter!
The Irish and later the Italians, both militarily weak, crossed the Atlantic. The British, militarily strong, and thrown out of America three generations earlier, found their opportunity in Africa. They enclosed the land and forced the indigenous people to work for them exactly along the same pattern as their English and Scottish landowner forebears had done before. But they had another problem: a surplus industrial production that the impoverished Britons could not buy for lack of purchasing power. So what did they do? They went to "open up" China, Korea and Japan, which reacted with Oriental swiftness and cunning deception, filibuster and well-struck murderous blows.
The American Civil War of 1861-65 dramatically exposed the difference between the two forms of slavery. The economic victors were the militarily defeated Confederates, who found that hired labour was a great deal cheaper than having to feed, clothe, shelter and cure slaves. ... Read the entire article
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