|Wealth and Want|
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One Underlying Problem
I say that all this poverty and the ignorance that flows from it is unnecessary; I say that there is no natural reason why we should not all be rich, in the sense, not of having more than each other, but in the sense of all having enough to completely satisfy all physical wants; of all having enough to get such an easy living that we could develop the better part of humanity. There is no reason why wealth should not be so abundant, that no one should think of such a thing as little children at work, or a woman compelled to a toil that nature never intended her to perform; wealth so abundant that there would be no cause for that harassing fear that sometimes paralyses even those who are not considered "the poor," the fear that every man of us has probably felt, that if sickness should smite him, or if he should be taken away, those whom he loves better than his life would become charges upon charity. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin." I believe that in a really Christian community, in a society that honoured not with the lips but with the act, the doctrines of Jesus, no one would have occasion to worry about physical needs any more than do the lilies of the field. There is enough and to spare. The trouble is that, in this mad struggle, we trample in the mire what has been provided in sufficiency for us all; trample it in the mire while we tear and rend each other.
There is a cause for this poverty; and, if you trace it down, you will find its root in a primary injustice. Look over the world today—poverty everywhere. The cause must be a common one. You cannot attribute it to the tariff, or to the form of government, or to this thing or to that in which nations differ; because, as deep poverty is common to them all the cause that produces it must be a common cause. What is that common cause? There is one sufficient cause that is common to all nations; and that is the appropriation as the property of some of that natural element on which and from which all must live. ...
Did you ever think of the utter absurdity and strangeness of the fact that, all over the civilised world, the working classes are the poor classes? Go into any city in the world, and get into a cab and ask the man to drive you where the working people live. He won't take you to where the fine houses are. He will take you, on the contrary, into the squalid quarters, the poorer quarters. Did you ever think how curious that is? Think for a moment how it would strike a rational being who had never been on the earth before, if such an intelligence could come down, and you were to explain to him how we live on earth, how houses and food and clothing, and all the many things we need were all produced by work, would he not think that the working people would be the people who lived in the finest houses and had most of everything that work produces? Yet, whether you took him to London or Paris or New York, or even to Burlington, he would find that those called the working people were the people who live in the poorest houses.
All this is strange — just think of it. We naturally despise poverty; and it is reasonable that we should. I do not say — I distinctly repudiate it — that the people who are poor are poor always from their own fault, or even in most cases; but it ought to be so. If any good man or woman could create a world, it would be a sort of a world in which no one would be poor unless he was lazy or vicious. But that is just precisely the kind of a world this is; that is just precisely the kind of a world the Creator has made. Nature gives to labour, and to labour alone; there must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the workingman as a poor man.
And if you trace it out I believe you will see that the primary cause of this is that we compel those who work to pay others for permission to do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house; there you are paying the seller for labour exerted, for something that he has produced, or that he has got from the man who did produce it; but when you pay a man for land, what are you paying him for? You are paying for something that no man has produced; you pay him for something that was here before man was, or for a value that was created, not by him individually, but by the community of which you are a part. What is the reason that the land here, where we stand tonight, is worth more than it was twenty-five years ago? What is the reason that land in the centre of New York, that once could be bought by the mile for a jug of whiskey, is now worth so much that, though you were to cover it with gold, you would not have its value? Is it not because of the increase of population? Take away that population, and where would the value of the land be? Look at it in any way you please.
We talk about over-production. How can there be such a thing as over-production while people want? All these things that are said to be over-produced are desired by many people. Why do they not get them? They do not get them because they have not the means to buy them; not that they do not want them. Why have not they the means to buy them? They earn too little. When the great masses of men have to work for an average of $1.40 a day, it is no wonder that great quantities of goods cannot be sold.
Now why is it that men have to work for such low wages? Because if they were to demand higher wages there are plenty of unemployed men ready to step into their places. It is this mass of unemployed men who compel that fierce competition that drives wages down to the point of bare subsistence. Why is it that there are men who cannot get employment? Did you ever think what a strange thing it is that men cannot find employment? Adam had no difficulty in finding employment; neither had Robinson Crusoe; the finding of employment was the last thing that troubled them.
If men cannot find an employer, why cannot they employ themselves? Simply because they are shut out from the element on which human labour can alone be exerted. Men are compelled to compete with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot find a piece of God's world on which to work without paving some other human creature for the privilege.
I do not mean to say that even
after you had set right this
fundamental injustice, there would not be many things to do; but this
I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the bottom of
all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you
please, reform as you may, you never can get rid of wide-spread
poverty so long as the element on which and from which all men must
live is made the private property of some men. It is utterly
impossible. Reform government — get taxes down to the
minimum — build railroads; institute co-operative stores; divide
profits, if you choose, between employers and employed-and what will
be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in
value — that will be the result — that and nothing else.
Experience shows this. Do not all improvements simply increase the
value of land — the price that some must pay others for the
privilege of living? ... read the whole speech
Crowded! Is it any wonder that people are crowded together as they are in this city, when we see other people taking up far more land than they can by any possibility use, and holding it for enormous prices? Why, what would have happened if, when these doors were opened, the first people who came in had claimed all the seats around them, and demanded a price of others who afterwards came in by the same equal right? Yet that is precisely the way we are treating this continent.
That is the reason why people are huddled together in tenement houses; that is the reason why work is difficult to get; the reason that there seems, even in good times, a surplus of labor, and that in those times that we call bad, the times of industrial depression, there are all over the country thousands and hundreds of thousands of men tramping from place to place, unable to find employment.
Not work enough! Why, what is work? Productive work is simply the application of human labor to land, it is simply the transforming, into shapes adapted to gratify human desires, of the raw material that the Creator has placed here. Is there not opportunity enough for work in this country? Supposing that, when thousands of men are unemployed and there are hard times everywhere, we could send a committee up to the high court of heaven to represent the misery and the poverty of the people here, consequent on their not being able to find employment.
What answer would we get? "Are your lands all in use? Are your mines all worked out? Are there no natural opportunities for the employment of labor?" What could we ask the Creator to furnish us with that is not already here in abundance? He has given us the globe amply stocked with raw materials for our needs. He has given us the power of working up this raw material.
If there seems scarcity, if there is want, if there are people starving in the midst of plenty, is it not simply because what the Creator intended for all has been made the property of the few? And in moving against this giant wrong, which denies to labor access to the natural opportunities for the employment of labor, we move against the cause of poverty. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Wages of Labor
... All such remedies begin at the wrong end. They are like putting on brake and bit to hold in quietness horses that are being lashed into frenzy; like trying to stop a locomotive by holding its wheels, instead of shutting off steam.
Men do not overwork themselves because they like it; it is not in the nature of the mother’s heart to send children to work when they ought to be at play; not of choice will laborers work in dangerous and insanitary conditions.
These things, like overcrowding, come from the sting of poverty. And so long as the poverty of which they are an expression is left untouched, such restrictions can have only partial and evanescent results. The cause remaining, repression in one place can only bring out its effects in other places, and the task assigned to the State is as hopeless as to ask it to lower the level of the ocean by bailing out the sea. ... read the whole article
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 14 Liberty, and Equality of Opportunity (in the unabridged P&P: Part X: The Law of Human Progress — Chapter 5: The Central Truth)
Weld Carter: A Clarion Call to Sanity, to Honesty, to Justice
There are times when this problem is lesser. We call these "booms." There are also times when the problem is greatly exacerbated. These are called "busts." But, as the Bible says, "the poor have ye always with ye."
The purpose of this paper is to explore the core of the problem. It is not the position that there is only one single error afoot in our social organizations. There may be several, there may be only a few things to remedy. The position is, as stated earlier, that there is one basic cause of the problem. Therefore, the removal of this one basic error is the first, the primary step, for the simple reason that, until this basic social evil is eradicated, no other reform will avail. We will simply continue the boom and bust cycles until the economies of the whole world are wrecked by inflation or by a nuclear war triggered by the ongoing economic disaster.
Let us begin this study of the likely causes of our troubles by asking two questions:
In our economy, land is a ready object of speculation, and its value is constantly reflecting this evil. What happens in a rising market, the up side of a business cycle, is that investors see rising prices in land as indicative of a boom. Thereupon, they try to increase their holdings in such land, only to discover that their present returns will not pay for the present costs of land; the current price of land is not based on what the yield of that land is today, but on what it is projected to be two or three years from now. The difference tends to increase until a point is reached where the imarginal buyer of land suddenly finds himself unable to meet the rising costs to which he has subjected himself. With bankruptcy threatening him or having already been forced upon him, the land passes from his hands, and the market temporarily becomes overpriced. The bankruptcies increase, and ultimately land values are brought back to levels which represent current productivity, at which point the new boom will have started.
The wringing out of land speculation from the dynamics of economics will remove that unacknowledged offence which has so labored the economic profession and the public at large. As Henry George discovered and as Homer Hoyt so brilliantly depicted speculative land prices as the cause of this bitter cycle, so will its removal rid society of this hitherto hidden defect. It will put the land market on a current value basis and eliminate the terrible risks to which that market has always been subject in the past.
The reason for such speculation under the present practices is obvious. All products of labor are subject to increases or decreases depending on supply and demand. When an oversupply of any commodity begins to rear its ugly head, prices tend downward and production is thereby lessened until there is a contrary swing upward. Land, on the other hand, is of fixed supply. Nothing man does can increase or decrease the amount of land, and therefore that brake that operates in the field of production does not apply to land values and prices.
Just think of the social benefits that would accrue to a society that could, at a stroke, rid itself of the potential hazards to which all prior societies have been so subject. Production will then occur on a steadily rising level, demand increases as the well-being of society improves, new techniques develop, new inventions are made, and all these will be benefits to the community as a whole, and not just to the land-owners as in the past.
This occurs every day in this country. A new road is built, or a superhighway is constructed, which makes access to a particular site much easier. We tell ourselves that we justify this as an expenditure of public funds by the benefits that accrue to the traveling public; but the benefits go, in the form of higher land prices and rents, to the owners of the sites that are served by this new road. If you doubt this, consider the jockeying for the insider information or for influence over the selection.
... Any reader will recognize this chain of events and set of economic relationships as being the course of everyday life and business at the local, state and national level. The cynic would say that a primary motivation for entering local or even national politics would be the opportunity for personal gain offered daily by publicly financed improvements.
Thus, the benefits of a tax-supported public work accrued once more not to the benefit of the public at large, but to that of a very limited and narrowly defined class, those who were rich enough to own land in that location.
There are undoubtedly many other problems to be resolved before the ills of our society are cured; but what many do not recognize and understand is the primacy of the adoption of land value taxation over all these other corrections. The reason for that can be very simply stated: If any of these other measures already adopted have no merit and have only added to the burden of our problems, then they are disqualified at the outset. On the other hand, if they are of themselves beneficial, any benefit from them will be immediately capitalized into land values and will therefore exacerbate the very problems which otherwise might be helped toward a cure. Thus it is that our first step toward any possible remedy for the awesome plight into which we have been led increasingly over the recent years must be the adoption of land value taxation.... read the whole essayWeld Carter: An Introduction to Henry George
What is the law of human progress?
George saw ours alone among the civilizations of the world as still progressing; all others had either petrified or had vanished. And in our civilization he had already detected alarming evidences of corruption and decay. So he sought out the forces that create civilization and the forces that destroy it.
He found the incentives to progress to be the desires inherent in human nature, and the motor of progress to be what he called mental power. But the mental power that is available for progress is only what remains after nonprogressive demands have been met. These demands George listed as maintenance and conflict.
In his isolated state, primitive man's powers are required simply to maintain existence; only as he begins to associate in communities and to enjoy the resultant economies is mental power set free for higher uses. Hence, association is the first essential of progress:
And as the wasteful expenditure of mental power in conflict becomes greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an equality of rights is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice) is the second essential of progress.
Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality, or justice, or freedom -- for the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition of the moral law -- prevents the dissipation of this power in fruitless struggles.
He concluded this phase of his analysis of civilization in these words: "The law of human progress, what is it but the moral law? Just as social adjustments promote justice, just as they acknowledge the equality of right between man and man, just as they insure to each the perfect liberty which is bounded only by the equal liberty of every other, must civilization advance. Just as they fail in this, must advancing civilization come to a halt and recede..."
However, as the primary relation of man is to the earth, so must the primary social adjustment concern the relation of man to the earth. Only that social adjustment which affords all mankind equal access to nature and which insures labor its full earnings will promote justice, acknowledge equality of right between man and man, and insure perfect liberty to each.
This, according to George, was
what the single tax would do. It
was why he saw the single tax as not merely a fiscal reform but as
the basic reform without which no other reform could, in the long
run, avail. This is why he said, "What is inexplicable, if we lose
sight of man's absolute and constant dependence upon land, is clear
when we recognize it."... 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