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Mason Gaffney on Bill Vickrey ...
The evening of the day Bill Vickrey won his Nobel I impulsively, hesitantly dialed his home. His phone surprised me by ringing unbusy, and Bill surprised me more by answering, and sounding unhurried. After congratulations, I asked "Bill, was this for a lifetime of achievement, or some specific work?" "I don't know," he replied. "Well," I persisted, "Is there a citation? What does it say?" "Yes," he said, "there is one, but I can't understand it." If you and I find it a puzzle, we have good company. ...
The last thing he asked me before hanging up was, "Will I see you at the TRED meeting?" Bill never missed.
Bill died, as you know by now, en route to that meeting. He drove at night, true to his principle of easing peak-hour congestion. Had he arrived, I know he would have raised his head from the doze he affected and told some unwary journeyman, "This paper would benefit from an application of Henry George's idea of taxing land values." How do I know? Because he always did. I imagine by now he has mentioned it to God, too; and God has said "Actually, Bill, that's how we've always done it here; but thank you for urging folks to have my will done on earth as it is in Heaven."
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)
We have just joined in the most solemn, the most sacred, the most catholic of all prayers: “Our Father which art in Heaven!” To all of us who have learned it in our infancy, it oft calls up the sweetest and most tender emotions. Sometimes with feeling, sometimes as a matter of course, how often have we repeated it? For centuries, daily, hourly, has that prayer gone up.
“Thy kingdom come!” Has it come? Let this Christian city of Glasgow answer — Glasgow, that was to “Flourish by the preaching of the word”.
“Thy kingdom come!” Day after day, Sunday after Sunday, week after week, century after century, has that prayer gone up; and today, in this so-called Christian city of Glasgow, 125,000 human beings — so your medical officer says — 125,000 children of God are living whole families in a single room.
“Thy kingdom come!” We have been praying for it and praying for it, yet it has not come. So long has it tarried that many think it will never come. Here is the vital point in which what we are accustomed to call the Christianity of the present day differs so much from that Christianity which overran the ancient world — that Christianity which, beneath a rotten old civilisation, planted the seeds of a newer and a higher.
We have become accustomed to think that God’s kingdom, is not intended for this world; that, virtually, this is the devil’s world, and that God’s kingdom is in some other sphere, to which He is to take good people when they die — as good Americans are said when they die to go to Paris. If that be so, what is the use of praying for the coming of the kingdom? Is God the loving Father of whom Christ told — is He a God of that kind; a God who looks on this world, sees its sufferings and its miseries, sees high faculties aborted, lives stunted, innocence turned to vice and crime, and heartstrings strained and broken, yet, having it in His power, will not bring that kingdom of peace, and love, and plenty and happiness? Is God indeed a self-willed despot, whom we must coax to do the good He might?
Think of it. The Almighty — and I say it with reverence — the Almighty could not bring that kingdom of Himself. For, what is the kingdom of God; the kingdom that Christ taught us to pray for? Is it not in the doing of God’s will, not by automata, not by animals who are compelled, but by intelligent beings clothed with free will, intelligent beings knowing good from evil? ...
“Our Father!” “Our Father!” Whose? Not my Father — that is not the prayer. “Our Father” — not the father of any sect, or any class, but the Father of all humanity. The All-Father, the equal Father, the loving Father. He it is we ask to bring the kingdom. Aye, we ask it with our lips! We call Him “Our Father,” the All, the Universal Father, when we kneel down to pray to Him.
But that He is the All-Father — that He is all people’s Father — we deny by our institutions. The All-Father who made the world, the All-Father who created us in His image, and put us upon the earth to draw subsistence from its bosom; to find in the earth all the materials that satisfy our wants, waiting only to be worked up by our labour! If He is the All-Father, then are not all human beings, all children of the Creator, equally entitled to the use of His bounty? And, yet, our laws say that this God’s earth is not here for the use of all His children, but only for the use of a privileged few! ...
Think of what Christianity teaches us; think of the life and death of Him who came to die for us! Think of His teachings, that we are all the equal children of an Almighty Father, who is no respecter of persons, and then think of this legalised injustice — this denial of the most important, most fundamental rights of the children of God, which so many of the very men who teach Christianity uphold; nay, which they blasphemously assert is the design and the intent of the Creator Himself. ...
Mr Abner Thomas, of New York, a strict orthodox Presbyterian — and the son of Rev Dr Thomas, author of a commentary on the bible —wrote a little while ago an allegory. Dozing off in his chair, he dreamt that he was ferried over the River of Death, and, taking the straight and narrow way, came at last within sight of the Golden City. A fine-looking old gentleman angel opened the wicket, inquired his name, and let him in; warning him, at the same time, that it would be better if he chose his company in heaven, and did not associate with disreputable angels.
“What!” said the newcomer, in astonishment: “Is not this heaven?” ...
“You can’t do that,” said the warden. “That property belongs to one of our most far-sighted angels who has got very rich by the advance of land values, and who is holding that piece for a rise. You will have to buy it or rent it before you can work on it, and you can’t do that yet.”
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 itself.
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.
Aye! When a person sees that, then there arises that hope of the coming of the kingdom that carried the gospel through the streets of Rome, that carried it into pagan lands, that made it, against the most ferocious persecution, the dominant religion of the world. ...
And, instead of preaching the essential Fatherhood of God, the essential brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, its high priests grafted onto the pure truths of the gospel the blasphemous doctrine that the All-Father is a respecter of persons, and that by His will and on His mandate is founded that monstrous injustice which condemns the great mass of humanity to unrequited hard toil. There has been no failure of Christianity. The failure has been in the sort of Christianity that has been preached.
Nothing is clearer than that if we are all children of the universal Father, we are all entitled to the use of His bounty. No one dare deny that proposition. But the people who set their faces against its carrying out say, virtually: “Oh, yes! that is true; but it is impracticable to carry it into effect!” Just think of what this means. This is God’s world, and yet such people say that it is a world in which God’s justice, God’s will, cannot be carried into effect. What a monstrous absurdity, what a monstrous blasphemy!
If the loving God does reign, if His laws are the laws not merely of the physical, but of the moral universe, there must be a way of carrying His will into effect, there must be a way of doing equal justice to all of His creatures.
There is. The people who deny that there is any practical way of carrying into effect the perception that all human beings are equally children of the Creator shut their eyes to the plain and obvious way. It is, of course, impossible in a civilisation like this of ours to divide land up into equal pieces. Such a system might have done in a primitive state of society. We have progressed in civilisation beyond such rude devices, but we have not, nor can we, progress beyond God’s providence.
There is a way of securing the equal rights of all, not by dividing land up into equal pieces, but by taking for the use of all that value which attaches to land, not as the result of individual labour upon it, but as the result of the increase in population, and the improvement of society. In that way everyone would be equally interested in the land of one’s native country. Here is the simple way. It is a way that impresses the person who really sees its beauty with a more vivid idea of the beneficence of the providence of the All-Father than, it seems to me, does anything else.
One cannot look, it seems to me, through nature — whether one looks at the stars through a telescope, or have the microscope reveal to one those worlds that we find in drops of water. Whether one considers the human frame, the adjustments of the animal kingdom, or any department of physical nature, one must see that there has been a contriver and adjuster, that there has been an intent. So strong is that feeling, so natural is it to our minds, that even people who deny the Creative Intelligence are forced, in spite of themselves, to talk of intent; the claws on one animal were intended, we say, to climb with, the fins of another to propel it through the water.
Yet, while in looking through the laws of physical nature, we find intelligence we do not so clearly find beneficence. But in the great social fact that as population increases, and improvements are made, and men progress in civilisation, the one thing that rises everywhere in value is land, and in this we may see a proof of the beneficence of the Creator.
Why, consider what it means! It means that the social laws are adapted to progressive humanity! In a rude state of society where there is no need for common expenditure, there is no value attaching to land. The only value which attaches there is to things produced by labour. But as civilisation goes on, as a division of labour takes place, as people come into centres, so do the common wants increase, and so does the necessity for public revenue arise. And so in that value which attaches to land, not by reason of anything the individual does, but by reason of the growth of the community, is a provision intended — we may safely say intended — to meet that social want.
Just as society grows, so do the common needs grow, and so grows this value attaching to land — the provided fund from which they can be supplied. Here is a value that may be taken, without impairing the right of property, without taking anything from the producer, without lessening the natural rewards of industry and thrift. Nay, here is a value that must be taken if we would prevent the most monstrous of all monopolies. What does all this mean? It means that in the creative plan, the natural advance in civilisation is an advance to a greater and greater equality instead of to a more and more monstrous inequality.
“Thy kingdom come!” It may be that we shall never see it. But to those people who realise that it may come, to those who realise that it is given to them to work for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, there is for them, though they never see that kingdom here, an exceedingly great reward — the reward of feeling that they, little and insignificant though they may be, are doing something to help the coming of that kingdom, doing something on the side of that Good Power that shows all through the universe, doing something to tear this world from the devil’s grasp and make it the kingdom of righteousness.
Aye, and though it should never come, yet those who struggle for it know in the depths of their hearts that it must exist somewhere — they know that, somewhere, sometime, those who strive their best for the coming of the kingdom will be welcomed into the kingdom, and that to them, even to them, sometime, somewhere, the King shall say: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Read the whole speech
Henry George: Ode to Liberty (1877 speech)
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. ...
Though it may take the language of prayer, it is blasphemy that attributes to the inscrutable decrees of Providence the suffering and brutishness that come of poverty; that turns with folded hands to the All-Father and lays on Him the responsibility for the want and crime of our great cities. We degrade the Everlasting. We slander the Just One. A merciful man would have better ordered the world; a just man would crush with his foot such an ulcerous ant-hill! It is not the Almighty, but we who are responsible for the vice and misery that fester amid our civilization. The Creator showers upon us his gifts — more than enough for all. But like swine scrambling for food, we tread them in the mire — tread them in the mire, while we tear and rend each other!
In the very centers of our civilization today are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundredfold! Would poverty be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would accrue would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the material universe could be utilized only through land. And land, being private property, the classes that now monopolize the bounty of the Creator would monopolize all the new bounty. Land owners would alone be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend to the starvation point! ...
But if, while there is yet time, we turn to Justice and obey her, if we trust Liberty and follow her, the dangers that now threaten must disappear, the forces that now menace will turn to agencies of elevation. Think of the powers now wasted; of the infinite fields of knowledge yet to be explored; of the possibilities of which the wondrous inventions of this century give us but a hint. With want destroyed; with greed changed to noble passions; with the fraternity that is born of equality taking the place of the jealousy and fear that now array men against each other; with mental power loosed by conditions that give to the humblest comfort and leisure; and who shall measure the heights to which our civilization may soar? Words fail the thought! It is the Golden Age of which poets have sung and high-raised seers have told in metaphor! It is the glorious vision which has always haunted man with gleams of fitful splendor. It is what he saw whose eyes at Patmos were closed in a trance. It is the culmination of Christianity — the City of God on earth, with its walls of jasper and its gates of pearl! It is the reign of the Prince of Peace! ... read the whole speech
D. C. MacDonald: Preface (1891?) to Ogilvie's Essay (circa 1782)
Professor Ogilvie’s Essay is a pastoral prose poem, through which we can realise this beautiful world, with its ample provision for satisfying man's instinctive and rational faculties of enjoyment. The “Sovereign Power” from which all blessings flow is manifested as a wise, just, and impartial Creator, who invites us to make His laws our laws, and who in these latter days has delegated to us some wonderful powers, by which -- with equality of rights and freedom of labour -- the comforts of this life, and the products of the world, may be multiplied more than a thousand fold, purposely (shall we not say?) to increase the happiness and virtue of mankind. ... Read the entire prefaceHenry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal (1887 speech)
Chattel slavery was incarnate theft of the worst kind. That system which made property of human beings, which allowed one person to sell another, which allowed one person to take away the proceeds of another’s toil, which permitted the tearing of the child from the mother, and which permitted the so-called owner to hunt with bloodhounds the person who escaped from the owner’s tyranny — that form of slavery is abolished. To that extent, the command, "Thou shalt not steal," has been vindicated; but there is another form of slavery.
We are selling land now in large quantities to certain English lords, who are coming over here and buying greater estates than the greatest in Great Britain or Ireland. We are selling them land; they are buying land. Did it ever occur to you that they do not want that land? They have no use whatever for American land; they do not propose to come over here and live on it. They cannot carry it over there to where they do live.
It is not the land that they want. What they want is the income from it. They are buying it not because they themselves want to use it, but because by and by, as population increases, numbers of American citizens will want to use it, and then they can say to these American citizens: "You can use this land provided you pay us one-half of all you make upon it." What we are selling those foreign lords is not really land; we are selling them the labor of American citizens; we are selling them the privilege of taking, without any return for it, the proceeds of the toil of our children.
So, here in New York, you will read in the papers every day that the price of land is going up. John Jones or Robert Brown has made a hundred thousand dollars within a year in the increase in the value of land in New York. What does that mean? It means he has the power of getting many more coats, many more cigars, dry goods, horses and carriages, houses or much more food and wine. He has gained the power of taking for his own a great number of these products of human labor.
But what has he done? He has not done anything. He may have been off in Europe or out west, or he may have been sitting at home taking it easy. If he has done nothing to get this increased income, where does it come from? The things I speak of are all products of human labor — someone has to work for them. When a man who does no work can get them, necessarily the people who do work to produce them must have less of the products of human labor than they ought to have.
This is the system that the Anti-Poverty Society has banded together to war against, and it invites you to come and swell its ranks. It is the noblest cause in which any human being can possibly engage. What, after all, is there in life as compared with a struggle like this? One thing, and only one thing, is absolutely certain for every man and woman in this hall, as it is to all else of humankind — that is death.
What will it profit us in a few years how much we have left? Is not the noblest and the best use we can make of life to do something to make better and happier the condition of those who come after us — by warring against injustice, by the enlightenment of public opinion, by the doing of all that we possibly can do to break up the accursed system that degrades and embitters the lot of so many?
We have a long fight and a hard fight before us. Possibly, probably, for many of us, we may never see it come to success. But what of that? It is a privilege to be engaged in such a struggle. This we may know, that it is but a part of that great worldwide, long-continued struggle in which the just and the good of every age have been engaged; and that we, in taking part in it, are doing something in our humble way to help bring about on earth the kingdom of God, to make the conditions of life for those who come afterward alike to those which prevail in heaven. ... read the whole article
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper