Can we have prosperity for all? What stands between us and widely shared
prosperity? Henry George begins Progress
& Poverty by asking what America's finest men of science at
its founding would have imagined America would look like after its first
100 years, if they
were told of the broad range of technological advances that would
that span. Could they have imagined that after that 100 years, there would
be poverty, deep and widespread poverty? George sought — and
discovered — the mechanism that creates poverty, and provides — as
P&P's sub-title promises — the remedy.
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter
1: The Problem
Could 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 afternoon executed in San Francisco in the morning of the same
- 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 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? ... read the whole chapter of Significant
Henry George: The
Increasing Importance of Social Questions (Chapter 1 of Social
 A civilization which tends to concentrate wealth and power in the hands
of a fortunate few, and to make of others mere human machines, must inevitably
evolve anarchy and bring destruction. But a civilization is possible in which
the poorest could have all the comforts and conveniences now enjoyed by the
rich; in which prisons and almshouses would be needless, and charitable societies
unthought of. Such a civilization waits only for the social intelligence
that will adapt means to ends. Powers that might give plenty to all are already
in our hands. Though there is poverty and want, there is, yet, seeming embarrassment
from the very excess of wealth-producing forces. "Give us but a market," say
manufacturers, "and we will supply goods without end!" "Give
us but work!" cry idle men.
 The evils that begin to appear spring from the fact that the application
of intelligence to social affairs has not kept pace with the application
of intelligence to individual needs and material ends. Natural science strides
forward, but political science lags. With all our progress in the arts which
produce wealth, we have made no progress in securing its equitable distribution.
Knowledge has vastly increased; industry and commerce have been revolutionized;
but whether free trade or protection is best for a nation we are not yet
agreed. We have brought machinery to a pitch of perfection that, fifty years
ago, could not have been imagined; but, in the presence of political corruption,
we seem as helpless as idiots. The East River bridge is a crowning triumph
of mechanical skill; but to get it built a leading citizen of Brooklyn had
to carry to New York sixty thousand dollars in a carpet bag to bribe New
York aldermen. The human soul that thought out the great bridge is prisoned
in a crazed and broken body that lies bedfast, and could watch it grow only
by peering through a telescope. Nevertheless, the weight of the immense mass
is estimated and adjusted for every inch. But the skill of the engineer could
not prevent condemned wire being smuggled into the cable.
 The progress of civilization requires that more and more intelligence
be devoted to social affairs, and this not the intelligence of the few, but
that of the many. We cannot safely leave politics to politicians, or political
economy to college professors. The people themselves must think, because
the people alone can act.
 In a "journal of civilization" a professed teacher declares
the saving word for society to be that each shall mind his own business.
This is the gospel of selfishness, soothing as soft flutes to those who,
having fared well themselves, think everybody should be satisfied. But the
salvation of society, the hope for the free, full development of humanity,
is in the gospel of brotherhood — the gospel of Christ. Social progress
makes the well-being of all more and more the business of each; it binds
all closer and closer together in bonds from which none can escape. He who
observes the law and the proprieties, and cares for his family, yet takes
no interest in the general weal, and gives no thought to those who are trodden
under foot, save now and then to bestow aims, is not a true Christian. Nor
is he a good citizen. The duty of the citizen is more and harder than this.
 The intelligence required for the solving of social problems is not
a thing of the mere intellect. It must be animated with the religious sentiment
and warm with sympathy for human suffering. It must stretch out beyond self-interest,
whether it be the self-interest of the few or of the many. It must seek justice.
For at the bottom of every social problem we will find a social wrong. ...
read the entire essay
Henry George: Political Dangers (Chapter 2 of Social Problems, 1883)
 It is difficult for any one to turn from the history of the past to think of the incomparable greatness promised by the rapid growth of the United States without something of awe — something of that feeling which induced Amasis of Egypt to dissolve his alliance with the successful Polycrates, because "the gods do not permit to mortals such prosperity." Of this, at least, we may be certain: the rapidity of our development brings dangers that can be guarded against only by alert intelligence and earnest patriotism. ...
read the entire essay
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
Your use, in so many passages of your Encyclical, of the inclusive term “property” or “private” property,
of which in morals nothing can be either affirmed or denied, makes your meaning,
if we take isolated sentences, in many places ambiguous. But reading it as
a whole, there can be no doubt of your intention that private property in
land shall be understood when you speak merely of private property. With
this interpretation, I find that the reasons you urge for private property
in land are eight. Let us consider them in order of presentation. You urge:
1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (RN,
paragraph 5) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of reason.
(RN, paragraphs 6-7.) ...
3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (RN,
paragraph 8.) ...
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (RN,
paragraphs 9-10.) ...
5. That private property in land has the support of the common opinion of
mankind, and has conduced to peace and tranquillity, and that it is sanctioned
by Divine Law. (RN, paragraph 11.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private property
in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (RN, paragraphs 14-17.) ...
7. That the private ownership of land stimulates industry, increases wealth,
and attaches men to the soil and to their country. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
8. That the right to possess private property in land is from nature, not
from man; that the state has no right to abolish it, and that to take the
value of landownership in taxation would be unjust and cruel to the private
owner. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private
property in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (14-17.)
With all that your Holiness has to say of the sacredness of the family relation
we are in full accord. But how the obligation of the father to the child
can justify private property in land we cannot see. You reason that private
property in land is necessary to the discharge of the duty of the father,
and is therefore requisite and just, because —
It is a most sacred law of nature that a father must provide food and
all necessaries for those whom he has begotten; and, similarly, nature
that a man’s children, who carry on, as it were, and continue his
own personality, should be provided by him with all that is needful to
them honorably to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties
of this mortal life. Now, in no other way can a father effect this except
by the ownership of profitable property, which he can transmit to his
children by inheritance. (14.)
Thanks to Him who has bound the generations of men together by a provision
that brings the tenderest love to greet our entrance into the world and soothes
our exit with filial piety, it is both the duty and the joy of the father
to care for the child till its powers mature, and afterwards in the natural
order it becomes the duty and privilege of the child to be the stay of the
parent. This is the natural reason for that relation of marriage, the groundwork
of the sweetest, tenderest and purest of human joys, which the Catholic Church
has guarded with such unremitting vigilance.
We do, for a few years, need the providence of our fathers after the flesh.
But how small, how transient, how narrow is this need, as compared with our
constant need for the providence of Him in whom we live, move and have our
being — Our Father who art in Heaven! It is to him, “the giver
of every good and perfect gift,” and not to our fathers after the flesh,
that Christ taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And
how true it is that it is through him that the generations of men exist!
Let the mean temperature of the earth rise or fall a few degrees, an amount
as nothing compared with differences produced in our laboratories, and mankind
would disappear as ice disappears under a tropical sun, would fall as the
leaves fall at the touch of frost. Or, let for two or three seasons the earth
refuse her increase, and how many of our millions would remain alive?
The duty of fathers to transmit to their children profitable property that
will enable them to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties
of this mortal life! What is not possible cannot be a duty. And how is it
possible for fathers to do that? Your Holiness has not considered how mankind
really lives from hand to mouth, getting each day its daily bread; how little
one generation does or can leave another. It is doubtful if the wealth of
the civilized world all told amounts to anything like as much as one year’s
labor, while it is certain that if labor were to stop and men had to rely
on existing accumulation, it would be only a few days ere in the richest
countries pestilence and famine would stalk.
The profitable property your Holiness refers to, is private property in
land. Now profitable land, as all economists will agree, is land superior
land that the ordinary man can get. It is land that will yield an income
to the owner as owner, and therefore that will permit the owner to appropriate
the products of labor without doing labor, its profitableness to the individual
involving the robbery of other individuals. It is therefore possible only
for some fathers to leave their children profitable land. What therefore
your Holiness practically declares is, that it is the duty of all fathers
to struggle to leave their children what only the few peculiarly strong,
lucky or unscrupulous can leave; and that, a something that involves the
robbery of others — their deprivation of the material gifts of God.
This anti-Christian doctrine has been long in practice throughout the Christian
world. What are its results?
Are they not the very evils set forth in your Encyclical? Are they not,
so far from enabling men to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties
of this mortal life, to condemn the great masses of men to want and misery
that the natural conditions of our mortal life do not entail; to want and
misery deeper and more wide-spread than exist among heathen savages? Under
the régime of private property in land and in the richest countries
not five per cent of fathers are able at their death to leave anything substantial
to their children, and probably a large majority do not leave enough to bury
them! Some few children are left by their fathers richer than it is good
for them to be, but the vast majority not only are left nothing by their
fathers, but by the system that makes land private property are deprived
of the bounty of their Heavenly Father; are compelled to sue others for permission
to live and to work, and to toil all their lives for a pittance that often
does not enable them to escape starvation and pauperism.
What your Holiness is actually, though of course inadvertently, urging,
is that earthly fathers should assume the functions of the Heavenly Father.
It is not the business of one generation to provide the succeeding generation “with
all that is needful to enable them honorably to keep themselves from want
and misery.” That is God’s business. We no more create our children
than we create our fathers. It is God who is the Creator of each succeeding
generation as fully as of the one that preceded it. And, to recall your own
words (7), “Nature [God], therefore, owes to man a storehouse that
shall never fail, the daily supply of his daily wants. And this he finds
only in the inexhaustible fertility of the earth.” What you are now
assuming is, that it is the duty of men to provide for the wants of their
children by appropriating this storehouse and depriving other men’s
children of the unfailing supply that God has provided for all.
The duty of the father to the child — the duty possible to all fathers!
Is it not so to conduct himself, so to nurture and teach it, that it shall
come to manhood with a sound body, well-developed mind, habits of virtue,
piety and industry, and in a state of society that shall give it and all
others free access to the bounty of God, the providence of the All-Father?
In doing this the father would be doing more to secure his children from
want and misery than is possible now to the richest of fathers — as
much more as the providence of God surpasses that of man. For the justice
of God laughs at the efforts of men to circumvent it, and the subtle law
that binds humanity together poisons the rich in the sufferings of the poor.
Even the few who are able in the general struggle to leave their children
wealth that they fondly think will keep them from want and misery in the
uncertainties of this mortal life — do they succeed? Does experience
show that it is a benefit to a child to place him above his fellows and enable
him to think God’s law of labor is not for him? Is not such wealth
oftener a curse than a blessing, and does not its expectation often destroy
filial love and bring dissensions and heartburnings into families? And how
far and how long are even the richest and strongest able to exempt their
children from the common lot? Nothing is more certain than that the blood
of the masters of the world flows today in lazzaroni and that the descendants
of kings and princes tenant slums and workhouses.
But in the state of society we strive for, where the monopoly and waste
of God’s bounty would be done away with and the fruits of labor would
go to the laborer, it would be within the ability of all to make more than
a comfortable living with reasonable labor. And for those who might be crippled
or incapacitated, or deprived of their natural protectors and breadwinners,
the most ample provision could be made out of that great and increasing fund
with which God in his law of rent has provided society — not as a matter
of niggardly and degrading alms, but as a matter of right, as the assurance
which in a Christian state society owes to all its members.
Thus it is that the duty of the father, the obligation to the child, instead
of giving any support to private property in land, utterly condemns it, urging
us by the most powerful considerations to abolish it in the simple and efficacious
way of the single tax.
This duty of the father, this obligation to children, is not confined to
those who have actually children of their own, but rests on all of us who
have come to the powers and responsibilities of manhood.
For did not Christ set a little child in the midst of the disciples, saying
to them that the angels of such little ones always behold the face of his
Father; saying to them that it were better for a man to hang a millstone
about his neck and plunge into the uttermost depths of the sea than to injure
such a little one?
And what today is the result of private property in land in the richest
of so-called Christian countries? Is it not that young people fear to marry;
that married people fear to have children; that children are driven out of
life from sheer want of proper nourishment and care, or compelled to toil
when they ought to be at school or at play; that great numbers of those who
attain maturity enter it with under-nourished bodies, overstrained nerves,
undeveloped minds — under conditions that foredoom them, not merely
to suffering, but to crime; that fit them in advance for the prison and the
If your Holiness will consider these things we are confident that instead
of defending private property in land you will condemn it with anathema!
... read the whole letter
Ted Gwartney: Estimating
HOW MUCH LAND RENT
SHOULD THE COMMUNITY COLLECT?
In order to preserve the environment, it is necessary and
to better utilize our communities. If the producers of the land
market value (nature, government and people) don't utilize land rent,
someone else will. This is why efficient land use fails under
contemporary land systems in most countries. All countries collect
some of the land rent, perhaps 10%, 20% or 30%, but none yet, collect
all of the market rent of land.
Studies have been produced that
demonstrate that communities
prosper and succeed in proportion to the percentage of the land rent
that they collect. The first communities that decide to collect all
of the ground rent will have an enormous competitive advantage over
all other communities. They will be able to reduce or eliminate
regressive taxes on labor and capital. They will attract new business
and industry and become prosperous.
To determine how much land rent
the community should collect
let's consider the alternatives. Whatever is not collected will be
capitalized into market value by land owners. Buying land at inflated
market prices is a block to new industry. Land owners sell the
capitalized land rent (known as land value) which is uncollected by
the community even though it is unearned income. This causes a
disparity between landowners and non-landowners. In the United States
5% of the population, which does not include many homeowners or
farmers, own 70% of the total national land and natural resource
People will come to a well run
community because they will be
better off than living by themselves or in an impoverished locale. A
city must secure revenue in order to provide good quality
This revenue can best be procured
when the community recaptures
the value of the benefits and services that it provides. This is done
by collecting the rental revenue from land that reflects the value of
the services and facilities provided in that community. The land rent
belongs equally to all people that live in the locale who helped to
produce that value. In a well run community. there is sufficient land
rent to provide adequate funding for the social purposes requested
of, and provided by, the local city government.
Cities which choose to collect
land rent as their primary source
of revenue have the advantage of not requiring burdensome taxes to be
paid by workers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs or citizens.
Individuals who work to create wealth should be allowed to keep what
they produce. When labor is not taxed, greater production and
consumption occurs. Investment capital is formed which is used to
produce more wealth. New jobs are created and economic diversity
Each person has a right to keep
what he or she produces, but no
one has the right to waste what belongs to all people, the land which
includes the natural environment. Each person should have an
opportunity to use the best land for his business or personal needs,
as long as they are willing to pay the land rent that other land
users are willing to pay.
If the value of land rent exceeds
the community's needs for public
services a method of dispensing of the surplus revenue can easily be
found. To maintain an equitable society, where nobody has special
benefits that they do not pay for, it is important to collect all of
the land rent. The community should use what is needed for public
services and improvements such as schools, hospitals, parks, police,
roadways, utilities and defense -- and reserve a fund for
An ethical proposal might be to
then divide the excess revenue
that is not needed for public facilities and services at the end of
each year and send each citizen in that community an equal portion of
the remaining revenue. This is similar to the method used in Alaska
and Alberta. Equality of opportunity to be productive can only be
accomplished by recapturing all of the market rent of land and
ensuring that all people benefit from its value.
Not only is land rent potentially
an important source of public
revenue, collecting all of it would ensure that the equal opportunity
to be productive would be available to all citizens. People could
fund useful buildings, equipment and wages, rather than having to buy
land at inflated prices. Many countries, including the United States,
were started on the premise of using land rent to fund public
services. Many countries suffer economic loss because they no longer
collect the market rent of land.
The value of land can be estimated with an acceptable accuracy,
a cost which is very small compared to the revenue to be obtained. A
proper system of assessment and taxation of land can provide for the
proper economic use of the land. A land site should be available to
the user who can make the highest and best use of the site and
maximize the site benefits for all people. A land tax can provide a
major source of public revenue which the local governing body could
use for the benefit of all people. A land tax can prevent the
dispossession of our children, the future producers in the society.
Justice requires that land values, which are created by society and
nature, be made available for public improvements. This is the
responsibility of good government. Read
the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Interview:
Is There a Conspiracy in the Teaching of Economics and History
within the American Education System?
Explain exactly what would
happen if America
began shifting taxes off of everything else and onto land value.
MG - Exactly? The
effects are too great, too
pervasive to predict exactly.
- It would unleash massive forces of production, exchange,
formation, and building, forces now trapped and frustrated in the coils
of our complex, counterproductive tax mess.
- It would enhance the supply of goods and services while
simultaneously lowering taxes on the poor and the workers, thus
reconciling the needs of both efficiency and equity, in one stroke.
- It would raise taxes on the richest Americans, and alien
landowners, too, without diluting in the least their incentives to
work, to create capital, or to hire workers: it would actually fortify
- It would spring people loose to renew large parts of our
cities, and rehab what they do not re place.
- It would let local school districts support education at
higher levels than now, without fear of driving away business.
- It would satisfy the demand for housing on land that
suited for housing, without invading flood plains, steep slopes, remote
deserts, and other places that cost society dearly to serve and rescue.
- It would raise the demand for labor, taking people off
and keeping them out of jails.
One could go on at length, but Henry George summed it up in three
words: "Association in Equality." Civilization advances when
those conditions are met, and declines when they are denied. America
has been denying them; we are all paying the price. ... read the whole article
Ethical Land Tenure
I want to tell you the story of
Charles Avilla. A while back I came
across a book called Ownership, Early
Christian Teachings. Avilla was a divinity student in the
Phillipines. One of his professors had a great concern about poverty
conditions in the Phillipines, and was taking students out to prisons
where the cooks were the land rights revolutionaries in the
Phillipines. Because they kept pushing for land reform for the people,
they had ended up in jail. So they were political prisoners who were
reading the Bible and were asking the question, who did God give this earth to? Who does it
belong to? It isn't
in the Bible that so few should have so much and so many have so little.
In the theological world in this upscale seminary he was trying to put
this together about poverty and what the biblical teachings were. He
had a thesis to write and he was thinking he would do something about
economic justice. One of his professors thought there would be a wealth
of information from the church's early history, the first 300 years
after Jesus. So he actually went back to read the Latin and Greek about
land ownership and found a wealth of information about the prophetic
railings of the people in that early time on the rights of the land. ...
In the Judaic tradition, and the Talmudic tradition, how much of
Jubilee justice was actually implemented is a subject of discussion.
Some say it was a good idea but not put in place. Others say it was
substantially put into place.
The Talmudic rabinical discussion is of interest to Georgists
they tried to allocate the land according to the richness of the soil
for agriculture. For better soil,
richer for agriculture, maybe an acre
of that would be allocated. On the poorer soil, these tribes could get
The other thing was some lands
were closer to the market. Some land was
closer to Jerusalem. That is an advantage over those who would have to
travel a longer distance to get to the market. How do you have
rights distribution of land allocation with reference to the market
problem? For those more advantageously situated, the adjustment was to
be made by money. Those holding land nearer the city should pay in to
the common treasury the estimated excess of value attaining to it by
reason of superior situation. While those holding land of less value by
reason of distance from the city would receive from the treasury a
money compensation. On the more valuable holdings would be imposed a
tax or a lease fee, the measure of which was the excess of their
respective values over a given standard, and the fund thus created was
to be paid out in due proportion to those whose holdings were in less
this, then, we see affirmed the doctrine that natural advantages are
common property and may not be diverted to private gain. Throughout the
ages when wisdom is applied to land problems, we see this emerge..
Read the whole article