Is it, as the t-shirt in the 90s put it, that he who has the most toys wins,
or is there some other purpose to life?
Henry George: The
Crime of Poverty (1885 speech)
Think of it, you who believe
that there is only one life for man — what a fool at the very best is a
man to pass his life in this struggle to merely live? And you who
believe, as I believe, that this is not the last of man, that this is a
life that opens but another life, think how nine tenths, aye, I do not
know but ninety-nine-hundredths of all our vital powers are spent in a
mere effort to get a living; or to heap together that which we cannot
by any possibility take away. Take the life of the average workingman.
Is that the life for which the human brain was intended and the human
heart was made? Look at the factories scattered through our country.
They are little better than penitentiaries. ...
But take the cases of those even
who are comparatively
independent and well off. Here is a man working hour after hour, day
after day, week after week, in doing one thing over and over again,
and for what? Just to live! He is working ten hours a day in order
that he may sleep eight and may have two or three hours for himself
when he is tired out and all his faculties are exhausted. That is not
a reasonable life; that is not a life for a being possessed of the
powers that are in man, and I think every man must have felt it for
himself. I know that when I first went to my trade I thought to
myself that it was incredible that a man was created to work all day
long just to live. I used to read the "Scientific
American," and as invention after invention was heralded in that
paper I used to think to myself that when I became a man it would not
be necessary to work so hard. But on the contrary, the struggle for
existence has become more and more intense. People who want to prove
the contrary get up masses of statistics to show that the condition
of the working classes is improving. Improvement that you have to
take a statistical microscope to discover does not amount to
anything. But there is not improvement.
Improvement! Why, according to
the last report of the Michigan
Bureau of Labour Statistics, as I read yesterday in a Detroit paper,
taking all the trades, including some of the very high priced ones,
where the wages are from $6 to $7 a day, the average earnings amount
to $1.77, and, taking out waste time, to $1.40. Now, when you
consider how a man can live and bring up a family on $1.40 a day,
even in Michigan, I do not think you will conclude that the condition
of the working classes can have very much improved. ...
Talk about improvement in the
condition of the working classes,
when the facts are that a larger and larger proportion of women and
children are forced to toil. Why, I am told that, even here in your
own city, there are children of thirteen and fourteen working in
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. ... read the whole speech
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
15 The Cross of a New Crusade (in the unabridged P&P: Conclusion:
The Problem of Individual Life)
My task is done.
Yet the thought still mounts. The problems we have been considering lead into
a problem higher and deeper still. Behind the problems of social life lies
the problem of individual life. I have found it impossible to think of the
one without thinking of the other, and so, I imagine, will it be with those
who, reading this book, go with me in thought; for, whatever be its fate, it
will be read by some who in their heart of hearts have taken the cross of a
new crusade. This thought will come to them without my suggestion; but we are
surer that we see a star when we know that others also see it.
The truth that I have tried to make clear will not find easy acceptance.
If that could be, it would have been accepted long ago. If that could be,
never have been obscured. But it will find friends — those who will
toil for it; suffer for it; if need be, die for it. This is the power of
Will it at length prevail? Ultimately, yes. But in our own times, or in times
of which any memory of us remains, who shall say?
For the man who, seeing the want and misery, the ignorance and brutishness
caused by unjust social institutions, sets himself, in so far as he has
strength, to right them, there is disappointment and bitterness. So it has
been of old
time. So is it even now. But the bitterest thought — and it sometimes
comes to the best and bravest — is that of the hopelessness of the
effort, the futility of the sacrifice. To how few of those who sow the
seed is it given
to see it grow, or even with certainty to know that it will grow.
Let us not disguise it. Over and over again has the standard of Truth and
Justice been raised in this world. Over and over again has it been trampled
down — oftentimes in blood. If they are weak forces that are opposed
to Truth, how should Error so long prevail? If Justice has but to raise
her head to have Injustice flee before her, how should the wail of the
so long go up?
But for those who see Truth and would follow her; for those who recognize
Justice and would stand for her, success is not the only thing. Success!
Why, Falsehood has often that to give; and Injustice often has that to give.
not Truth and Justice have something to give that is their own by proper
right — theirs
in essence, and not by accident?
That they have, and that here and now, every one who has felt their exaltation
knows. But sometimes the clouds sweep down. It is sad, sad reading, the lives
of the men who would have done something for their fellows. To Socrates they
gave the hemlock; Gracchus they killed with sticks and stones; and One, greatest
and purest of all, they crucified. And in penury and want, in neglect and contempt,
destitute even of the sympathy that would have been so sweet, how many in every
country have closed their eyes? This we see.
But do we see it all?
I have in this inquiry followed the course of my own thought. When, in mind,
I set out on it I had no theory to support, no conclusions to prove. Only,
when I first realized the squalid misery of a great city, it appalled and tormented
me, and would not let me rest, for thinking of what caused it and how it could
Political Economy has been called the dismal science, and as currently
taught, is hopeless and despairing. But this, as we have seen, is solely
has been degraded and shackled; her truths dislocated; her harmonies ignored;
the word she would utter gagged in her mouth, and her protest against wrong
turned into an indorsement of injustice. Freed, as I have tried to free
her — in
her own proper symmetry, Political Economy is radiant with hope.
For properly understood, the laws which govern the production and distribution
of wealth show that the want and injustice of the present social state are
not necessary; but that, on the contrary, a social state is possible in which
poverty would be unknown, and all the better qualities and higher powers of
human nature would have opportunity for full development.
And, further than this,
- when we see that social development is governed neither by a Special
Providence nor by a merciless fate, but by law, at once unchangeable and
when we see that human will is the great factor, and that taking men
in the aggregate, their condition is as they make it;
- when we see that economic law and moral law are essentially one, and
that the truth which the intellect grasps after toilsome effort is but
the moral sense reaches by a quick intuition, a flood of light breaks
in upon the problem of individual life.
These countless millions like ourselves, who on this earth of ours have
passed and still are passing, with their joys and sorrows, their toil and
their aspirations and their fears, their strong perceptions of things deeper
than sense, their common feelings which form the basis even of the most
divergent creeds — their little lives do not seem so much like meaningless
The scriptures of the men who have been and gone — the Bibles, the Zend
Avestas, the Vedas, the Dhammapadas, and the Korans; the esoteric doctrines
of old philosophies, the inner meaning of grotesque religions, the dogmatic
constitutions of Ecumenical Councils, the preachings of Foxes, and Wesleys,
and Savonarolas, the traditions of red Indians, and beliefs of black savages,
have a heart and core in which they agree — a something which seems like
the variously distorted apprehensions of a primary truth. And out of the chain
of thought we have been following there seems vaguely to rise a glimpse of
what they vaguely saw — a shadowy gleam of ultimate relations, the
endeavor to express which inevitably falls into type and allegory.
- A garden in which are set the trees of good and evil.
- A vineyard in which there is the Master's work to do.
- A passage — from life behind to life beyond.
- A trial and a struggle, of which we cannot see the end.
Look around today.
Lo! here, now, in our civilized society, the old allegories yet have a meaning,
the old myths are still true. Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death yet
often leads the path of duty, through the streets of Vanity Fair walk Christian
Faithful, and on Greatheart's armor ring the clanging blows. Ormuzd still
fights with Ahriman — the Prince of Light with the Powers of Darkness.
He who will hear, to him the clarions of the battle call.
How they call, and call, and call, till the heart swells that hears them!
Strong soul and high endeavor, the world needs them now. Beauty still lies
imprisoned, and iron wheels go over the good and true and beautiful that might
spring from human lives. ... read the whole chapter
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a
themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
THAT the masses now festering in the tenement houses of our cities, under
conditions which breed disease and death, and vice and crime, should each
family have its healthful home, set in its garden; that the working farmer
should be able to make a living with a daily average of two or three hours'
work, which more resembled healthy recreation than toil; that his home should
be replete with all the conveniences yet esteemed luxuries; that it should
be supplied with light and heat, and power if needed, and connected with
those of his neighbors by the telephone; that his family should be free to
libraries, and lectures, and scientific apparatus and instruction; that they
should be able to visit the theater, or concert, or opera, as often as they
cared to do so, and occasionally to make trips to other parts of the country
or to Europe; that, in short, not merely the successful man, the one in a
thousand, but the man of ordinary parts and ordinary foresight and prudence,
should enjoy all that advancing civilization can bring to elevate and expand
human life, seems, in the light of existing facts, as wild a dream as ever
entered the brain of hasheesh eater. Yet the powers already within the grasp
of man make it easily possible. — Social
Problems — Chapter 21: City and Country.
GIVE labor a free field and its full earnings; take for the benefit of the whole
community that fund which the growth of the community creates, and want and the
fear of want would be gone. The springs of production would be set free, and
the enormous increase of wealth would give the poorest ample comfort. Men would
no more worry about finding employment than they worry about finding air to breathe;
they need have no more care about physical necessities than do the lilies of
the field. The progress of science, the march of invention, the diffusion of
knowledge, would bring their benefits to all.
With this abolition of want and the fear of want, the admiration of riches would
decay, and men would seek the respect and approbation of their fellows in other
modes than by the acquisition and display of wealth. In this way there would
be brought to the management of public affairs and the administration of common
funds the skill, the attention, the fidelity and integrity, that can now only
be secured for private interests, and a railroad or gas works might be operated
on public account, not only more economically and efficiently than, as at present,
under joint stock management, but as economically and efficiently as would be
possible under a single ownership. The prize of the Olympian games, that called
forth the most strenuous exertions of all Greece, was but a wreath of wild olive;
for a bit of ribbon men have over and over again performed services no money
could have bought. — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 4— Effects of the Remedy: Of the Changes that Would be Wrought
in Social Organization and Social Life
SHORT-SIGHTED is the philosophy which counts on selfishness as the master
motive of human action. It is blind to facts of which the world is full.
It sees not the present, and reads not the past aright. If you would move
men to action, to what shall you appeal? Not to their pockets, but to their
patriotism; not to selfishness but to sympathy. Self-interest is, as it were,
a mechanical force — potent, it is true; capable of large and wide
results. But there is in human nature what may be likened to a chemical force;
which melts and fuses and overwhelms; to which nothing seems impossible. "All
that a man hath will he give for his life" — that is self-interest.
But in loyalty to higher impulses men will give even life.
It is not selfishness that enriches the annals of every people with heroes and
saints. It is not selfishness that on every page of the world's history; bursts
out in sudden splendor of noble deeds or sheds the soft radiance of benignant
lives. It was not selfishness that turned Gautama's back to his royal home or
bade the Maid of Orleans lift the sword from the altar; that held the Three Hundred
in the Pass of Thermopylae, or gathered into Winkelried's bosom the sheaf of
spears; that chained Vincent de Paul to the bench of the galley, or brought little
starving children during the Indian famine tottering to the relief stations with
yet weaker starvelings in their arms! Call it religion, patriotism, sympathy,
the enthusiasm for humanity, or the love of God — give it what name you
will; there is yet a force which overcomes and drives out selfishness; a force
which is the electricity of the moral universe; a force beside which all others
are weak. Everywhere that men have lived it has shown its power, and today, as
ever, the world is full of it. To be pitied is the man who has never seen and
never felt it. Look around! among common men and women, amid the care and the
struggle of daily life in the jar of the noisy street and amid the squalor where
want hides — everywhere, and there is the darkness lighted with the tremulous
play of its lambent flames. He who has not seen it has walked with shut eyes.
He who looks may see, as says Plutarch, that "the soul has a principle of kindness
in itself, and is born to love, as well as to perceive, think, or remember."
And this force of forces — that now goes to waste or assumes perverted
forms — we may use for the strengthening and building up and ennobling
of society, if we but will, just as we now use physical forces that once seemed
but powers of destruction. All we have to do is but to give it freedom and scope. — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 4— Effects of the Remedy: Of the Changes that Would be Wrought
in Social Organization and Social Life
THE efficiency of labor always increases with the habitual wages of labor — for
high wages mean increased self-respect, intelligence, hope and energy. Man is
not a machine, that will do so much and no more; he is not an animal, whose powers
may reach thus far and no further. It is mind, not muscle, which is the great
agent of production. The physical power evolved in the human frame is one of
the weakest of forces, but for the human intelligence the resistless currents
of nature flow, and matter becomes plastic to the human will. To increase the
comforts, and leisure, and independence of the masses is to increase their intelligence;
it is to bring the brain to the aid of the hand; it is to engage in the common
work of life the faculty which measures the animalcule and traces the orbits
of the stars! — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 2: Effects of the Remedy, upon distribution and thence on production
OUT upon nature, in upon him himself, back through the mists that shroud
the past, forward into the darkness that overhangs the future, turns the
restless desire that arises when the animal wants slumber in satisfaction.
Beneath things he seeks the law; he would know how the globe was forged,
and the stars were hung, and trace to their sources the springs of life.
And then, as the man develops his nobler nature, there arises the desire
higher yet — the passion of passions, the hope of hopes — the
desire that he, even he, may somehow aid in making life better and brighter,
in destroying want and sin, sorrow and shame. He masters and curbs the animal;
he turns his back upon the feast and renounces the place of power; he leaves
it to others to accumulate wealth, to gratify pleasant tastes, to bask themselves
in the warm sunshine of the brief day. He works for those he never saw and
never can see; for a fame, or it may be but for a scant justice, that can
only come long after the clods have rattled upon his coffin lid. He toils
in the advance, where it is cold, and there is little cheer from men, and
the stones are sharp and the brambles thick.
Amid the scoffs of the present and the sneers that stab like knives, he builds
for the future; he cuts the trail that progressive humanity may hereafter broaden
into a highroad. Into higher, grander spheres desire mounts and beckons, and
a star that rises in the east leads him on. Lo! the pulses of the man throb
with the yearnings of the god — he would aid in the process of the suns! — Progress & Poverty — Book
II, Chapter 3, Population and Subsistence: Inferences from Analogy
IT is the noblest cause in which any human being can possibly engage. What,
after all, is there in life as compared with a struggle like this? One thing,
and only one thing, is absolutely certain for every man and woman in this
hall, as it is to all else of human kind — that is death. What will
it profit us in a few years how much we have left? Is not the noblest and
the best use we can make of life to do something to make better and happier
the condition of those who come after us — by warning against injustice,
by the enlightenment of public opinion, by the doing all that we possibly
can do to break up the accursed system that degrades and embitters the lot
of so many?
We have a long fight and a hard fight before us. Possibly, probably, for many
of us, we may never see it come to success. But what of that? It is a privilege
to be engaged in such a struggle. This we may know, that it is but a part of
that great, world-wide, long-continued struggle in which the just and the good
of every age have been engaged; and that we, in taking part in it, are doing
something in our humble way to bring on earth the kingdom of God, to make the
conditions of life for those who come afterward, those which we trust will prevail
in heaven. — Thou Shalt Not Steal
WHAT, when our time comes, does it matter whether we have fared daintily or not,
whether we have worn soft raiment or not, whether we leave a great fortune or
nothing at all, whether we shall have reaped honors or been despised, have been
counted learned or ignorant — as compared with how we may have used that
talent which has been entrusted to us for the Master's service? What shall it
matter; when eyeballs glaze and ears grow dull, if out of the darkness may stretch
a hand, and into the silence may come a voice: —
to "Gems from George"
Henry Ford Talks About War and
Your Future - 1942 interview