H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 5: The Basic
Cause of Poverty (in the unabridged: Book
V: The Problem Solved)
... The truth is self-evident. Put to any one capable of consecutive thought
"Suppose there should arise from the English Channel or the German
Ocean a no man's land on which common labor to an unlimited amount should
to make thirty shillings a day and which should remain unappropriated and
of free access, like the commons which once comprised so large a part of
soil. What would be the effect upon wages in England?"
He would at once tell you that common wages throughout England must soon increase
to thirty shillings a day.
And in response to another question, "What would be the effect on rents?" he
would at a moment's reflection say that rents must necessarily fall; and
if he thought out the next step he would tell you that all this would happen
any very large part of English labor being diverted to the new natural
opportunities, or the forms and direction of industry being much changed;
only that kind of
production being abandoned which now yields to labor and to landlord together
less than labor could secure on the new opportunities. The great rise in
wages would be at the expense of rent.
Take now the same man or another — some hardheaded business man, who
has no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him: "Here is a little
village; in ten years it will be a great city — in ten years the railroad
will have taken the place of the stage coach, the electric light of the candle;
it will abound with all the machinery and improvements that so enormously multiply
the effective power of labor. Will, in ten years, interest be any higher?"
He will tell you, "No!"
"Will the wages of common labor be any higher; will it be easier for
a man who has nothing but his labor to make an independent living?"
He will tell you, "No; the wages of common labor will not be any higher;
on the contrary, all the chances are that they will be lower; it will not
be easier for the mere laborer to make an independent living; the chances
that it will be harder."
"What, then, will be higher?"
"Rent; the value of land. Go, get yourself a piece of ground, and hold
And if, under such circumstances, you take his advice, you need do nothing
more. You may sit down and smoke your pipe; you may lie around like the lazzaroni
of Naples or the leperos of Mexico; you may go up in a balloon, or down a hole
in the ground; and without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota
to the wealth of the community, in ten years you will be rich! In the new city
you may have a luxurious mansion; but among its public buildings will be an
For land is the habitation of man, the storehouse upon which he must draw
for all his needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for
the supply of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be
the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized,
without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from it
to it we return again — children of the soil as truly as is the blade
of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all that belongs
to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit. Material progress cannot
rid us of our dependence upon land; it can but add to the power of producing
land; and hence, when land is monopolized, it might go on to infinity without
increasing wages or improving the condition of those who have but their labor.
It can but add to the value of land and the power which its possession gives. Everywhere,
in all times, among all peoples, the possession of land is the base of aristocracy,
the foundation of great fortunes, the source of power. ... read the whole chapter
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
11 Effect of Remedy Upon the Sharing of Wealth (in the unabridged P&P: Part
IX Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 2: Of the Effect Upon Distribution
and Thence Upon Production
But great as they thus appear, the advantages of a transference of all public
burdens to a tax upon the value of land cannot be fully appreciated until we
consider the effect upon the distribution of wealth.
Tracing out the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth which appears
in all civilized countries, with a constant tendency to greater and greater
inequality as material progress goes on, we have found it in the fact that,
as civilization advances, the ownership of land, now in private hands, gives
a greater and greater power of appropriating the wealth produced by labor and
Thus, to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and indirect,
and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it went, to counteract
this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far as to take in taxation
the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would be totally destroyed. Rent,
instead of causing inequality, as now, would then promote equality. Labor and
capital would then receive the whole produce, minus that portion taken by the
state in the taxation of land values, which, being applied to public purposes,
would be equally distributed in public benefits.
That is to say, the wealth produced in every community would be divided into
- One part would be distributed in wages and interest between individual
producers, according to the part each had taken in the work of production;
- the other part would go to the community as a whole, to be distributed
in public benefits to all its members.
In this all would share equally — the weak with the strong, young children
and decrepit old men, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, as well as the vigorous.
And justly so — for while one part represents the result of individual
effort in production, the other represents the increased power with which
the community as a whole aids the individual.
Thus, as material progress tends to increase rent, were rent taken by the
community for common purposes the very cause which now tends to produce inequality
as material progress goes on would then tend to produce greater and greater
equality. ... read the whole chapter
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
13 Effect of Remedy Upon Social Ideals (in the unabridged P&P: Part
IX: Effects of the Remedy — 4. Of the changes that would be wrought
in social organization and social life)
To remove want and the fear of want, to give to all classes leisure, and
comfort, and independence, the decencies and refinements of life, the opportunities
of mental and moral development, would be like turning water into a desert.
The sterile waste would clothe itself with verdure, and the barren places
life seemed banned would ere long be dappled with the shade of trees and
musical with the song of birds. Talents now hidden, virtues unsuspected,
forth to make human life richer, fuller, happier, nobler. For
- in these round men who are stuck into three-cornered holes, and three-cornered
men who are jammed into round holes;
- in these men who are wasting their energies in the scramble to be rich;
- in these who in factories are turned into machines, or are chained by
necessity to bench or plow;
- in these children who are growing up in squalor, and vice, and ignorance,
are powers of the highest order, talents the most splendid.
They need but the opportunity to bring them forth.
Consider the possibilities of a state of society that gave that opportunity
to all. Let imagination fill out the picture; its colors grow too bright for
words to paint.
- Consider the moral elevation, the intellectual activity, the social
- Consider how by a thousand actions and interactions the members of every
community are linked together, and how in the present condition of
things even the fortunate few who stand upon the apex of the social pyramid
suffer, though they know it not, from the want, ignorance, and degradation
that are underneath.
- * Consider these things and then say whether the change I propose would
not be for the benefit of every one — even the greatest landholder?
... read the whole chapter
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)
The truth to which we were led in the politico-economic branch of our inquiry
is as clearly apparent in the rise and fall of nations and the growth and decay
of civilizations, and it accords with those deep-seated recognitions of relation
and sequence that we denominate moral perceptions. Thus are given to our conclusions
the greatest certitude and highest sanction.
This truth involves both a menace and a promise. It shows that the
evils arising from the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth, which are
and more apparent as modern civilization goes on, are not incidents of
but tendencies which must bring progress to a halt; that they will not cure
themselves, but, on the contrary, must, unless their cause is removed, grow
greater and greater, until they sweep us back into barbarism by the road every
previous civilization has trod. But it also shows that these evils are not
imposed by natural laws; that they spring solely from social maladjustments
which ignore natural laws, and that in removing their cause we shall be giving
an enormous impetus to progress.
The poverty which in the midst of abundance pinches and embrutes men, and
all the manifold evils which flow from it, spring from a denial of justice.
In permitting the monopolization of the opportunities which nature freely
offers to all, we have ignored the fundamental law of justice — for,
so far as we can see, when we view things upon a large scale, justice seems
the supreme law of the universe. But by sweeping away this injustice and
asserting the rights of all men to natural opportunities, we shall conform
to the law —
- we shall remove the great cause of unnatural inequality in the distribution
of wealth and power;
- we shall abolish poverty;
- tame the ruthless passions of greed;
- dry up the springs of vice and misery;
- light in dark places the lamp of knowledge;
- give new vigor to invention and a fresh impulse to discovery;
- substitute political strength for political weakness; and
- make tyranny and anarchy impossible.
The reform I have proposed accords with all that is politically, socially,
or morally desirable. It has the qualities of a true reform, for it will
make all other reforms easier. What is it but the carrying out in letter
of the truth enunciated in the Declaration of Independence — the "self-evident" truth
that is the heart and soul of the Declaration —"That all men are
created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable
rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!" ...
We honor Liberty in name and in form. We set up her statues and sound her
praises. But we have not fully trusted her. And with our growth so grow her
demands. She will have no half service!
Liberty! it is a word to conjure with, not to vex the ear in empty boastings.
For Liberty means Justice, and Justice is the natural law — the law
of health and symmetry and strength, of fraternity and co-operation.
They who look upon Liberty as having accomplished her mission when she has
abolished hereditary privileges and given men the ballot, who think of
her as having no further relations to the everyday affairs of life, have
her real grandeur — to them the poets who have sung of her must seem
rhapsodists, and her martyrs fools! As the sun is the lord of life, as
well as of light; as his beams not merely pierce the clouds, but support
supply all motion, and call forth from what would otherwise be a cold and
inert mass all the infinite diversities of being and beauty, so is liberty
It is not for an abstraction that men have toiled and died; that in every
age the witnesses of Liberty have stood forth, and the martyrs of Liberty
We speak of Liberty as one thing, and of virtue, wealth, knowledge, invention,
national strength, and national independence as other things. But, of all these,
Liberty is the source, the mother, the necessary condition. ...
Only in broken gleams and partial light has the sun of Liberty yet beamed
among men, but all progress hath she called forth. ...
Shall we not trust her?
In our time, as in times before, creep on the insidious forces that, producing
inequality, destroy Liberty. On the horizon the clouds begin to lower. Liberty
calls to us again. We must follow her further; we must trust her fully. Either
we must wholly accept her or she will not stay. It is not enough that men should
vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law.
They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of
life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature.
Either this, or Liberty withdraws her light! Either this, or darkness comes
on, and the very forces that progress has evolved turn to powers that work
destruction. This is the universal law. This is the lesson of the centuries.
Unless its foundations be laid in justice the social structure cannot stand.
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
his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on. This
is the subtile 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.
It is this that turns the blessings of material progress into a curse. It
is this that crowds human beings into noisome cellars and squalid tenement
houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that goads men with want and consumes
them with greed; that robs women of the grace and beauty of perfect womanhood;
that takes from little children the joy and innocence of life's morning.
Civilization so based cannot continue. The eternal laws of the universe
forbid it. Ruins of dead empires testify, and the witness that is in every
that it cannot be. It is something grander than Benevolence, something
more august than Charity — it is Justice herself that demands of us to right
this wrong. Justice that will not be denied; that cannot be put off — Justice
that with the scales carries the sword. Shall we ward the stroke with liturgies
and prayers? Shall we avert the decrees of immutable law by raising churches
when hungry infants moan and weary mothers weep?
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
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
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 fiftyfold 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.
This is not merely a deduction of political economy; it is a fact of experience. We
know it because we have seen it. Within our own times, under our
very eyes, that Power which is above all, and in all, and through all; that
Power of which the whole universe is but the manifestation; that Power which
maketh all things, and without which is not anything made that is made, has
increased the bounty which men may enjoy, as truly as though the fertility
of nature had been increased.
- Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the service
- To the inner ear of another was whispered the secret that compels the
lightning to bear a message round the globe.
- In every direction have the laws of matter been revealed;
- in every department of industry have arisen arms of iron and fingers
of steel, whose effect upon the production of wealth has been precisely
same as an increase in the fertility of nature.
What has been the result? Simply that landowners get all the gain.
Can it be that the gifts of the Creator may be thus misappropriated
with impunity? Is it a light thing that labor should be robbed of its earnings
while greed rolls in wealth — that the many should want while the few
are surfeited? Turn to history, and on every page may be read
the lesson that such wrong never goes unpunished; that the Nemesis that
injustice never falters nor sleeps! Look around today. Can this state
of things continue? May we even say, "After us the deluge!" Nay;
the pillars of the State are trembling even now, and the very foundations
society begin to quiver with pent-up forces that glow underneath. The
struggle that must either revivify, or convulse in ruin, is near at hand,
if it be
not already begun.
The fiat has gone forth! With steam and electricity, and the new powers born
of progress, forces have entered the world that will either compel us to a
higher plane or overwhelm us, as nation after nation, as civilization after
civilization, have been overwhelmed before. ...
- We cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to tramp.
- We cannot go on educating boys and girls in our public schools and then
refusing them the right to earn an honest living.
- We cannot go on prating of the inalienable rights of man and then denying
the inalienable right to the bounty of the Creator.
Even now, in old bottles the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental forces
gather for the strife!
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
Henry George: Moses, Apostle of Freedom (1878
Over ocean wastes far wider than the Syrian
desert we have sought our promised land – no narrow strip between the
mountains and the sea, but a wide and virgin continent. Here, in greater
freedom, with vaster knowledge and fuller experience, we are building up
a nation that leads the van of modern progress. And yet while we prate of
the rights of humanity there are already many among us thousands who find
it difficult to assert the first of natural rights – the right to earn
an honest living; thousands who from time to time must accept of degrading
charity or starve.
We boast of equality before the law; yet
notoriously justice is deaf to the call of those who have no gold and blind
to the sin of those who have.
We pride ourselves upon our common schools;
yet after our boys and girls are educated we vainly ask: "What shall we do
with them?" And about our colleges children are growing up in vice and crime,
because from their homes poverty has driven all refining influences. We pin
our faith to universal suffrage; yet with all power in the hands of the people,
the control of public affairs is passing into the hands of a class of professional
politicians, and our governments are, in many cases, becoming but a means
for robbery of the people.
We have prohibited hereditary distinctions,
we have forbidden titles of nobility; yet there is growing up an aristocracy
of wealth as powerful and merciless as any that ever held sway.
We progress and we progress; we girdle
continents with iron roads and knit cities together with the mesh of telegraph
wires; each day brings some new invention, each year marks a fresh advance – the
power of production increased, and the avenues of exchange cleared and broadened.
Yet the complaint of "hard times" is louder and louder; everywhere are people
harassed by care, and haunted by the fear of want. With swift, steady strides
and prodigious leaps, the power of human hands to satisfy human wants advances
and advances, is multiplied and multiplied. Yet the struggle for mere existence
is more and more intense, and human labour is becoming the cheapest of commodities.
Beside glutted warehouses human beings grow faint with hunger and shiver
with cold; under the shadow of churches festers the vice that is born of
Trace to its roots the cause that is producing
want in the midst of plenty, ignorance in the midst of intelligence, aristocracy
in democracy, weakness in strength – that is giving to our civilisation
a one-sided and unstable development – and you will find it something
which this Hebrew statesman three thousand years ago perceived and guarded
Moses saw that the real cause of the enslavement of the masses of
Egypt was – what has everywhere produced enslavement – the
possession by a class of land upon which and from which the whole people
must live. He saw that to permit in land the same unqualified private ownership
that by natural right attaches to the things produced by labour, would
be inevitably to separate the people into the very rich and the very poor,
inevitably to enslave labour – to make the few the masters of the
many, no matter what the political forms, to bring vice and degradation
no matter what the religion. ... read the whole speech
Henry George: Progress & Poverty: Introductory:
The present century has been marked by a prodigious increase in wealth-producing
power. The utilization of steam and electricity, the introduction of improved
processes and labor-saving machinery, the greater subdivision and grander scale
of production, the wonderful facilitation of exchanges, have multiplied enormously
effectiveness of labor.
At the beginning of this marvelous era it was natural to expect, and it was
expected, that labor-saving inventions would lighten the toil and improve the
condition of the laborer; that the enormous increase in the power of producing
wealth would make real poverty a thing of the past.
- Could a man of the last century--a Franklin or a Priestley--have seen,
in a vision of the future, the steamship taking the place of the sailing
vessel, the railroad train of the wagon, the reaping machine of the
scythe, the threshing machine of the flail;
- could he have heard the throb of the engines that in obedience to human
will, and for the satisfaction of human desire, exert a power greater
than that of all the men and all the beasts of burden of the earth combined;
- could he have seen the forest tree transformed into finished lumber--into
doors, sashes, blinds, boxes or barrels, with hardly the touch of a
human hand; the great workshops where boots and shoes are turned out by
with less labor than the old-fashioned cobbler could have put on a
sole; the factories where, under the eye of a girl, cotton becomes cloth
than hundreds of stalwart weavers could have turned it out with their
- could he have seen steam hammers shaping mammoth shafts and mighty anchors,
and delicate machinery making tiny watches; the diamond drill cutting
through the heart of the rocks, and coal oil sparing the whale;
- could he have realized the enormous saving of labor resulting from improved
facilities of exchange and communication--sheep killed in Australia
eaten fresh in England and the order given by the London banker in the
executed in San Francisco in the morning of the same day;
- could he have conceived of the hundred thousand improvements which
these only suggest, what would he have inferred as to the social condition
It would not have seemed like an inference; further than the vision went,
it would have seemed as though he saw; and his heart would have leaped and
his nerves would have thrilled, as one who from a height beholds just ahead
of the thirst-stricken caravan the living gleam of rustling woods and the glint
of laughing waters. Plainly, in the sight of the imagination, he would have
beheld these new forces elevating society from its very foundations, lifting
the very poorest above the possibility of want, exempting the very lowest from
anxiety for the material needs of life; he would have seen these slaves of
the lamp of knowledge taking on themselves the traditional curse, these muscles
of iron and sinews of steel making the poorest laborer's life a holiday, in
which every high quality and noble impulse could have scope to grow.
And out of these bounteous material conditions he would have seen arising,
as necessary sequences, moral conditions realizing the golden age of which
mankind have always dreamed.
- Youth no longer stunted and starved;
- age no longer harried by avarice;
- the child at play with the tiger;
- the man with the muck-rake drinking in the glory of the stars!
- Foul things fled, fierce things tame;
- discord turned to harmony!
For how could there be greed where all had enough? How could the vice, the
crime, the ignorance, the brutality, that spring from poverty and the fear
of poverty, exist where poverty had vanished? Who should crouch where all were
freemen; who oppress where all were peers?
More or less vague or clear, these have been the hopes, these the dreams born
of the improvements which give this wonderful century its preeminence. They
have sunk so deeply into the popular mind as to radically change the currents
of thought, to recast creeds and displace the most fundamental conceptions.
The haunting visions of higher possibilities have not merely gathered splendor
and vividness, but their direction has changed--instead of seeing behind the
faint tinges of an expiring sunset, all the glory of the daybreak has decked
the skies before.
It is true that disappointment has followed disappointment, and that discovery
upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither lessened the toil
of those who most need respite, nor brought plenty to the poor. But there have
been so many things to which it seemed this failure could be laid, that up
to our time the new faith has hardly weakened. We have better appreciated the
difficulties to be overcome; but not the less trusted that the tendency of
the times was to overcome them.
Now, however, we are coming into collision with facts which there can be no
mistaking. From all parts of the civilized world come complaints;
- of industrial depression;
- of labor condemned to involuntary idleness;
- of capital massed and wasting;
- of pecuniary distress among business men;
- of want and suffering and anxiety among the working classes.
All the dull, deadening pain, all the keen, maddening anguish, that to great
masses of men are involved in the words "hard times," afflict the world today. This
state of things, common to communities differing so widely in situation, in
political institutions, in fiscal and financial systems, in density of population
and in social organization can hardly be accounted for by local causes.
- There is distress where large standing armies are maintained, but there
is also distress where the standing armies are nominal;
- there is distress where protective tariffs stupidly and wastefully hamper
trade, but there is also distress where trade is nearly free;
- there is distress where autocratic government yet prevails, but there
is also distress where political power is wholly in the hands of the people;
- in countries where paper is money, and
- in countries where gold and silver are the only currency.
Evidently, beneath all such things as these, we must infer a common cause.
That there is a common cause, and that it is either what we call material
progress or something closely connected with material progress, becomes more
than an inference when it is noted that the phenomena we class together and
speak of as industrial depression, are but intensifications of phenomena
which always accompany material progress, and which show themselves more
clearly and strongly as material progress goes on. Where the conditions
to which material progress everywhere tends are most fully realized--that
is to say, where population is densest, wealth greatest, and the machinery
of production and exchange most highly developed--we find the deepest poverty,
the sharpest struggle for existence, and the most enforced idleness.
It is to the newer countries--that is, to the countries where material progress
is yet in its earlier stages--that laborers emigrate in search of higher wages,
and capital flows in search of higher interest. It is in the older countries--that
is to say, the countries where material progress has reached later stages--that
widespread destitution is found in the midst of the greatest abundance. Go
into one of the new communities where Anglo-Saxon vigor is just beginning the
race of progress;
- where the machinery of production and exchange is yet rude and inefficient;
- where the increment of wealth is not yet great enough to enable any class
to live in ease and luxury;
- where the best house is but a cabin of logs or a cloth and paper shanty,
and the richest man is forced to daily work
and though you will find an absence of wealth and all its concomitants, you
will find no beggars. There is no luxury, but there is no destitution. No one
makes an easy living, nor a very good living; but every one can make a living,
and no one able and willing to work is oppressed by the fear of want.
But just as such a community realizes the conditions which all civilized
communities are striving for, and advances in the scale of material progress--just
as closer settlement and a more intimate connection with the rest of the
world, and greater utilization of labor-saving machinery, make possible
greater economies in production and exchange, and wealth in consequence
not merely in the aggregate, but in proportion to population — so
does poverty take a darker aspect. Some get an infinitely better
and easier living, but others find it hard to get a living at. The "tramp" comes
with the locomotive, and alms houses and prisons areas surely the marks
progress" as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses, and magnificent churches.
Upon streets lighted with gas and controlled by uniformed policemen, beggars
wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow of college, and library, and
museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom
This fact — the great fact that poverty and all its concomitants
show themselves in communities just as they develop into the conditions
towards which material
progress tends--proves that the social difficulties existing wherever
a certain stage of progress has been reached, do not arise from local circumstances,
but are, in some way or another, engendered by progress itself.
And, unpleasant as it may be to admit it, it is at last becoming evident that the
enormous increase in productive power which has marked the present century
and is still going on with accelerating ratio, has no tendency to extirpate
poverty or to lighten the burdens of those compelled to toil. It simply
widens the gulf between Dives
and Lazarus, and makes the struggle for existence more intense. The march
of invention has clothed mankind with powers of which a century ago the boldest
imagination could not have dreamed. But
- in factories where labor-saving machinery has reached its most wonderful
development, little children are at work;
- wherever the new forces are anything like fully utilized, large classes
are maintained by charity or live on the verge of recourse to it;
- amid the greatest accumulations of wealth, men die of starvation, and
puny infant suckle dry breasts;
- while everywhere the greed of gain, the worship of wealth, shows the
force of the fear of want.
The promised land flies before us like the mirage. The fruit of the tree of
knowledge turn as we grasp them to apples of Sodom that crumble at the touch.
It is true that wealth has been greatly increased, and that the average of
comfort, leisure, and refinement has been raised; but these gains are not general. In
them the lowest class do not share.* I do not mean that the condition of the
lowest class has nowhere nor in anything been improved; but that there is nowhere
any improvement which can be credited to increased productive power. I mean
that the tendency of what we call material progress is in no wise to improve
the condition of the lowest class in the essentials of healthy, happy human
life. Nay, more, that it is to still further depress the condition of the
lowest class. The new forces, elevating in their nature though they be,
do not act upon the social fabric from underneath, as was for a long time hoped
and believed, but strike it at a point intermediate between top and bottom. It
is as though an immense wedge were being forced, not underneath society, but
through society. Those who are above the point of separation are elevated,
but those who are below are crushed down.
[* It is true that the poorest may now in certain
ways enjoy what the richest a century ago could not have commanded, but
this does not show improvement of condition so long as the ability to obtain
the necessaries of life is not increased. The beggar in a great city may
enjoy many things from which the backwoods farmer is debarred, but that
does not prove the condition of the city beggar better than that of the
This depressing effect is not generally realized, for it is not apparent where
there has long existed a class just able to live. Where the lowest class barely
lives, as has been the case for a long time in many parts of Europe, it is
impossible for it to get any lower, for the next lowest step is out of existence,
and no tendency to further depression can readily show itself. But in the
progress of new settlements to the conditions of older communities it may clearly
be seen that material progress does not merely fail to relieve poverty--it
actually produces it. In the United States it is clear that squalor and misery,
and the vices and crimes that spring from them, everywhere increase as the
village grows to the city, and the march of development brings the advantages
of the improved methods of production and exchange. It is in the older
and richer sections of the Union that pauperism and distress among the working
classes are becoming most painfully apparent. If there is less deep poverty
in San Francisco than in New York, is it not because San Francisco is yet behind
New York in all that both cities are striving for? When San Francisco reaches
the point where New York now is, who can doubt that there will also be ragged
and barefooted children on her streets?
This association of poverty
with progress is the great enigma of our times.
- It is the central fact from which spring industrial, social, and political
difficulties that perplex the world, and with which statesmanship and
philanthropy and education grapple in vain.
- From it come the clouds that overhang the future of the most progressive
and self-reliant nations.
- It is the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts to our civilization,
and which not to answer is to be destroyed.
So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but
to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast
between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and
cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans from its
foundations, and every new story but hastens the final catastrophe. To educate
men who must be condemned to poverty, is but to make them restive; to base
on a state of most glaring social inequality political institutions under
which men are not fully equal, is to stand a pyramid on its apex.
All-important as this question is, pressing itself from every quarter painfully
upon attention, it has not yet received a solution which accounts for all the
facts and points to any clear and simple remedy. This is shown by the widely
varying attempts to account for the prevailing depression. They exhibit not
merely a divergence between vulgar notions and scientific theories, but also
show that the concurrence which should exist between those who avow the same
general theories breaks up upon practical questions into an anarchy of opinion.
- Upon high economic authority we have been told that the prevailing
depression is due to over-consumption;
- upon equally high authority, that it is due to over-production; while
- the wastes of war,
- the extension of railroads,
- the attempts of workmen to keep up wages,
- the demonetization of silver,
- the issues of paper money,
- the increase of labor-saving machinery,
- the opening of shorter avenues to trade, etc., etc.,
are separately pointed out as the cause, by writers of reputation.
And while professors thus disagree, the ideas
- that there is a necessary conflict between capital and labor,
- that machinery is an evil,
- that competition must be restrained and interest abolished,
- that wealth may be created by the issue of money,
- that it is the duty of government to furnish capital or to furnish
are rapidly making way among the great body of the people, who keenly feel
a hurt and are sharply conscious of a wrong. Such ideas, which bring great
masses of men, the repositories of ultimate political power, under the leadership
of charlatans and demagogues, are fraught with danger; but they cannot be successfully
combated until political economy shall give some answer to the great question
which shall be consistent with all her teachings, and which shall commend itself
to the perceptions of the great masses of men.
It must be within the province of political economy to give such an answer.
For political economy is not a set of dogmas. It is the explanation of a certain
set of facts. It is the science which, in the sequence of certain phenomena,
seeks to trace mutual relations and to identify cause and effect, just as the
physical sciences seek to do in other sets of phenomena. It lays its foundations
upon firm ground. The premises from which it makes its deductions are truths
which have the highest sanction; axioms which we all recognize; upon which
we safely base the reasoning and actions of every-day life, and which may be
reduced to the metaphysical expression of the physical law that motion seeks
the line of least resistance--viz., that
men seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion. Proceeding
from a basis thus assured, its processes, which consist simply in identification
and separation, have the same certainty. In this sense it is as exact a science
as geometry, which, from similar truths relative to space, obtains its conclusions
by similar means, and its conclusions when valid should be as self-apparent.
And although in the domain of political economy we cannot test our theories
by artificially produced combinations or conditions, as may be done in some
of the other sciences, yet we can apply tests no less conclusive, by comparing
societies in which different conditions exist, or by, in imagination, separating,
combining, adding or eliminating forces or factors of known direction.
I propose in the following pages to attempt to solve by the methods of political
economy the great problem I have outlined. I propose to seek the law which
associates poverty with progress, and increases want with advancing wealth;
and I believe that in the explanation of this paradox we shall find the explanation
of those recurring seasons of industrial and commercial paralysis which, viewed
independent of their relations to more general phenomena, seem so inexplicable. Properly
commenced and carefully pursued, such an investigation must yield a conclusion
that will stand every test, and as truth will correlate with all other truth.
For in the sequence of phenomena there is no accident. Every effect has a cause,
and every fact implies a preceding fact.
That political economy, as at present taught, does not explain the persistence
of poverty amid advancing wealth in a manner which accords with the deep-seated
perceptions of men;
- that the unquestionable truths which it does teach are unrelated and
- that it has failed to make the progress in popular thought that truth,
even when unpleasant, must make;
- that, on the contrary, after a century of cultivation, during which
it has engrossed the attention some of the most subtle and powerful intellects,
it should be spurned by the statesman, scouted by the masses, relegated
the opinion of many educated and thinking men to the rank of a pseudo-science
in which nothing fixed or can be fixed--must, it seems to me, be due
not to any inability of the science when properly pursued, but some false
in its premises, or overlooked factor in its estimates. And as such
mistakes are generally concealed the respect paid to authority, I propose
inquiry take nothing for granted, but to bring even accepted theories
to the test of first principles, and should they not stand the test,
interrogate facts in the endeavor to discover their law.
I propose to beg no question, to shrink from no conclusion, but to follow
truth wherever it may lead. Upon us the responsibility of seeking the law,
for in the very heart of our civilization to-day women faint and little children
moan. But what that law may prove to be is not our affair. If the conclusions
that we reach run counter to our prejudices, let us not flinch; if they challenge
institutions that have long been deemed wise and natural, let us not turn back. ... read
the entire chapter
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 4: Land Speculation
Causes Reduced Wages
There is a cause, not yet adverted to, which must be taken into consideration
fully to explain the influence of material progress upon the distribution of
That cause is the confident expectation of the future enhancement of land
values, which arises in all progressive countries from the steady increase
of rent, and which leads to speculation, or the holding of land for a higher
price than it would then otherwise bring.
We have hitherto assumed, as is generally assumed in elucidations of the
theory of rent, that the actual margin of cultivation always coincides with
be termed the necessary margin of cultivation — that is to say, we
have assumed that cultivation extends to less productive points only as
necessary from the fact that natural opportunities are at the more productive
points fully utilized.
This, probably, is the case in stationary or very slowly progressing communities,
but in rapidly progressing communities, where the swift and steady increase
of rent gives confidence to calculations of further increase, it is not the
case. In such communities, the confident expectation of increased prices produces,
to a greater or less extent, the effects of a combination among landholders,
and tends to the withholding of land from use, in expectation of higher prices,
thus forcing the margin of cultivation farther than required by the necessities
of production. ...
Whether we formulate it as an extension of the margin of production, or
as a carrying of the rent line beyond the margin of production, the influence
of speculation in land in increasing rent is a great fact which cannot
in any complete theory of the distribution of wealth in progressive countries.
It is the force, evolved by material progress, which tends constantly to
increase rent in a greater ratio than progress increases production, and
tends, as material progress goes on and productive power increases, to
reduce wages, not merely relatively, but absolutely. ... read the whole chapter
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
In respect of the fourth maxim the single tax bears more equally— that
is to say, more justly — than any other tax. It is the only tax that
falls upon the taxpayer in proportion to the pecuniary benefits he receives
from the public; 29 and its tendency, accelerating with the increase of the
tax, is to leave every one the full fruit of his own productive enterprise
and effort. 30
29 The benefits of government are not the only
public benefits whose value attaches exclusively to land. Communal
development from whatever cause produces the same effect. But as it
is under the protection of government that land-owners are able to
maintain ownership of land and through that to enjoy the pecuniary
benefits of advancing social conditions, government confers upon them
as a class not only the pecuniary benefits of good government but also
the pecuniary benefits of progress in general.
30. "Here are two men of equal incomes — that
of the one derived from the exertion of his labor, that of the other
from the rent of land. Is it just that they should equally contribute
to the expenses of the state? Evidently not. The income of the one represents
wealth he creates and adds to the general wealth of the state; the income
of the other represents merely wealth that he takes from the general
stock, returning nothing." — Progress and Poverty, book
viii, ch. iii, subd. 4. ...
Q41. Why does land tend to concentrate in the hands of the few?
A. Because material progress tends to increase its value, and under existing
conditions valuable things tend to concentrate in the hands of the few. ... read the book
Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism
of Natural Taxation, from Principles of
Natural Taxation (1917)
Q17. You would not say that land is a product of industry?
A. No; but the annual site value of land is a product of the growth and industry
of the community.
... read the whole article
Weld Carter: An Introduction to Henry
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
Albert Jay Nock — Henry George: Unorthodox
While he was working at the case, too, there
happened one of those trivial incidents that turn out to be important
in setting the course of one’s life. He heard an old printer say that
in a new country wages are always high, while in an old country they are
always low. George was struck by this remark and on thinking it over, he
saw that it was true. Wages were certainly higher in the United States
than in Europe, and he remembered that they were higher in Australia than
in England. More than this, they were higher in the newer parts than in
the older parts of the same country — higher in Oregon and
California, for instance, than in New York and Pennsylvania.
George used to say that this was the first
little puzzle in political economy that ever came his way. He did not
give it any thought until long after; in fact, he says he did not begin
intently on any economic subject until conditions in California turned
his mind that way. When finally he did so, however, the old printer’s
words came back to him as a roadmark in his search for the cause of
industrial depressions, and the cause of inequality in the distribution
So it went. Every turn of public affairs brought
up the old haunting questions. Even here in California he was now seeing
symptoms of the same inequality that had oppressed him in New York. “Bonanza
kings” were coming to the front, and four ex-shopkeepers of Sacramento,
Stanford, Crocker, Huntington, and Hopkins, were laying up immense
fortunes out of the Central Pacific. The railway was
bringing in population and commodities, which everybody thought was a good
thing all round, yet wages were going down, exactly as the old printer
in Philadelphia had said, and the masses were growing worse off instead
About this matter of wages, George had had
other testimony besides the old printer’s. On his way to Oregon a
dozen years before, he fell in with a lot of miners who were talking about
the Chinese, and ventured to ask what harm the Chinese were doing as long
as they worked only the cheap diggings. “No harm now,” one
of the miners said, “but wages will not always be as high as
they are today in California. As the country
grows, as people come in, wages will go down, and some day or other
white people will be glad to get those diggings that the Chinamen are
said that this idea, coming on top of what the printer had said, made a
great impression on him — the idea that “as
the country grew in all that we are hoping that it might grow,
the condition of those who had to work for their living must become,
but worse.” Yet in the short space of a dozen years this was
precisely what was taking place before his own eyes.
Still, though his two great questions became
more and more pressing, he could not answer them. His thought was still
inchoate. He went around and around his ultimate answer, like somebody
fumbling after something on a table in the dark, often actually touching
it without being aware that it was what he was after. Finally it came to
him in a burst of true Cromwellian or Pauline drama out of “the commonplace
reply of a passing teamster to a commonplace question.” One day in
1871 he went for a horseback ride, and as he stopped to rest his horse
on a rise overlooking San Francisco Bay —
“I asked a passing teamster, for want
of something better to say, what land was worth there. He pointed to
some cows grazing so far off that they looked like mice, and said, ’I
don’t know exactly, but there is a man over there who will sell
some land for a thousand dollars an acre.’ Like a flash it came
over me that there was the reason of advancing poverty with advancing
wealth. With the growth of population
land grows in value, and the men who work it must pay more for the privilege.”
Yes, there it was. Why had wages suddenly
shot up so high in California in 1849 that cooks in the restaurants of
San Francisco got $500 a month? The reason now was simple and clear. It
was because the placer mines were found on land
that did not belong to anybody
. Any one could go to them and work them
without having to pay an owner for the privilege. If the lands had been
owned by somebody, it would have been land-values instead of wages that
would have so suddenly shot up.
Exactly this was what had taken place on these
grazing lands overlooking San Francisco Bay. The Central Pacific meant
to make its terminus at Oakland, the increased population would need
the land around Oakland to settle on, and land values had jumped up
to a thousand
dollars an acre. Naturally, then, George reasoned, the more public
improvements there were, the better the transportation facilities,
the larger the population,
the more industry and commerce — the more of everything that makes
for “prosperity” — the more would land values tend
to rise, and the more would wages and interest tend to fall.
George rode home thoughtful, translating the
teamster’s commonplace reply into the technical terms of economics.
He reasoned that there are three
factors in the production of wealth, and only three: natural resources,
labor, and capital. When natural resources are unappropriated, obviously
the whole yield of production is divided into wages, which go to labor,
and interest, which goes to capital. But when they are appropriated,
production has to carry a third charge — rent.
Moreover, wages and interest, when there is no rent, are regulated
strictly by free competition; but rent is a monopoly-charge, and hence
is always “all
the traffic will bear.”
Well, then, since natural
are purely social in their origin, created by the
community, should not rent go to the community rather than to the Individual? Why
tax industry and enterprise at all
— why not just charge rent?
There would be no need to interfere with the private ownership of natural
resources. Let a man own all of them he can get his hands on, and make
as much out of them as he may, untaxed; but let him pay the community
their annual rental value, determined simply by what other people would
be willing to pay for the use of the same holdings. George could see
justification for wages and interest, on the ground of natural right;
and for private ownership of natural resources, on the ground of public
policy; but he could see none for the private appropriation of economic
rent. In his view it was sheer theft
. If he
was right, then it also followed that as long as economic rent remains
unconfiscated, the taxation of industry and enterprise
is pure highwaymanry
, especially tariff
for this virtually delegates the government’s taxing power to private
persons. ...read the whole article