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Robinson Crusoe

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)
Robinson Crusoe, as you know, when he rescued Friday from the cannibals, made him his slave. Friday had to serve Crusoe. But, supposing Crusoe had said, "O man and brother, I am very glad to see you, and I welcome you to this island, and you shall be a free and independent citizen, with just as much to say as I have except that this island is mine, and of course, as I can do as I please with my own property, you must not use it save upon my terms." Friday would have been just as much Crusoe's slave as though he had called him one. Friday was not a fish, he could not swim off through the sea; he was not a bird, and could not fly off through the air; if he lived at all, he had to live on that island. And if that island was Crusoe's, Crusoe was his master through life to death.... read the whole speech

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

PRIVATE property in land, no less than private property in slaves, is the violation of the true rights of property. They are different forms of the same robbery — twin devices, by which the perverted ingenuity of man has sought to enable the strong and the cunning to escape God's requirement of labor by forcing it on others. — The Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII 

ROBINSON CRUSOE, as we all know, took Friday as his slave. Suppose, however, that instead of taking Friday as his slave, Robinson Crusoe had welcomed him as a man and a brother; had read him a Declaration of Independence, an Emancipation Proclamation and a Fifteenth Amendment, and informed him that he was a free and independent citizen, entitled to vote and hold office; but had at the same time also informed him that that particular island was his (Robinson Crusoe's) private and exclusive property. What would have been the difference? Since Friday could not fly up into the air nor swim off through the sea, since if he lived at all he must live on the island, he would have been in one case as much a slave as in the other. Crusoe's ownership of the island would be equivalent of his ownership of Friday. — Social Problems — Chapter 15, Slavery and Slavery

THEY no longer have to drive their slaves to work; want and the fear of want do that more effectually than the lash. They no longer have the trouble of looking out for their employment or hiring out their labor, or the expense of keeping them when they cannot work. That is thrown upon the slaves. The tribute that they still wring from labor seems like voluntary payment. In fact, they take it as their honest share of the rewards of production — since they furnish the land! And they find so-called political economists, to say nothing of so-called preachers of Christianity, to tell them so. — Social Problems — Chapter 15, Slavery and Slavery

IF the two young Englishmen I have spoken of had come over here and bought so many American citizens, they could not have got from them so much of the produce of labor as they now get by having bought land which American citizens are glad to be allowed to till for half the crop. And so, even if our laws permitted, it would be foolish for an English duke or marquis to come over here and contract for ten thousand American babies, born or to be born, in the expectation that when able to work he could get out of them a large return. For by purchasing or fencing in a million acres of land that cannot run away and do not need to be fed, clothed or educated, he can, in twenty or thirty years, have ten thousand full-grown Americans, ready to give him half of all that their labor can produce on his land for the privilege of supporting themselves and their families out of the other half. This gives him more of the produce of labor than he could exact from so many chattel slaves. — Protection or Free Trade — Chapter 25: The Robber That Takes All That Is Left - econlib 

OF the two systems of slavery, I think there can be no doubt that upon the same moral level, that which makes property of persons is more humane than that which results from making private property of land. The cruelties which are perpetrated under the system of chattel slavery are more striking and arouse more indignation because they are the conscious acts of individuals. But for the suffering of the poor under the more refined system no one in particular seems responsible. . . . But this very fact permits cruelties that would not be tolerated under the one system to pass almost unnoticed under the other. Human beings are overworked, are starved, are robbed of all the light and sweetness of life, are condemned to ignorance and brutishness, and to the infection of physical and moral disease; are driven to crime and suicide, not by other individuals, but by iron necessities for which it seems that no one in particular is responsible.

To match from the annals of chattel slavery the horrors that day after day transpire unnoticed in the heart of Christian civilization, it would be necessary to go back to ancient slavery, to the chronicles of Spanish conquest in the New World, or to stories of the Middle passage. — Social Problems — Chapter 15, Slavery and Slavery

... go to "Gems from George"

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)

Note 56: The ownership of the land is essentially the ownership of the men who must use it.

"Let the circumstances be what they may — the ownership of land will always give the ownership of men to a degree measured by the necessity (real or artificial) for the use of land. Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them." — Progress and Poverty, book vii, ch. ii.

Let us imagine a shipwrecked sailor who, after battling with the waves, touches land upon an uninhabited but fertile island. Though hungry and naked and shelterless, he soon has food and clothing and a house — all of them rude, to be sure, but comfortable. How does he get them? By applying his Labor to the Land of the island. In a little while he lives as comfortably as an isolated man can.

Now let another shipwrecked sailor be washed ashore. As he is about to step out of the water the first man accosts him:

"Hello, there! If you want to come ashore you must agree to be my slave."

The second replies: "I can't. I come from the United States, where they don't believe in slavery."

"Oh, I beg your pardon. I didn't know you came from the United States. I had no intention of hurting your feelings, you know. But say, they believe in owning land in the United States, don't they?"


"Very well; you just agree that this island is mine, and you may come ashore a free man."

"But how does the island happen to be yours? Did you make it?"

"No, I didn't make it."

"Have you a title from its maker?"

"No, I haven't any title from its maker."

"Well, what is your title, anyhow?"

"Oh, my title is good enough. I got here first."

Of course he got there first. But he didn't mean to, and he wouldn't have done it if he could have helped it. But the newcomer is satisfied, and says:

"Well, that's a good United States title, so I guess I'll recognize it and come ashore. But remember, I am to be a free man."

"Certainly you are. Come right along up to my cabin."

For a time the two get along well enough together. But on some fine morning the proprietor concludes that he would rather lie abed than scurry around for his breakfast and not being in a good humor, perhaps, he somewhat roughly commands his "brother man" to cook him a bird.

"What?" exclaims the brother.

"I tell you to go and kill a bird and cook it for my breakfast."

"That sounds big," sneers the second free and equal member of the little community; "but what am I to get for doing this?"

"Oh," the first replies languidly, "if you kill me a fat bird and cook it nicely, then after I have had my breakfast off the bird you may cook the gizzard for your own breakfast. That's pay enough. The work is easy."

"But I want you to understand that I am not your slave, and I won't do that work for that pay. I'll do as much work for you as you do for me, and no more."

"Then, sir," the first comer shouts in virtuous wrath, "I want you to understand that my charity is at an end. I have treated you better than you deserved in the past, and this is your gratitude. Now I don't propose to have any loafers on my property. You will work for the wages I offer or get off my land! You are perfectly free. Take the wages or leave them. Do the work or let it alone. There is no slavery here. But if you are not satisfied with my terms, leave my island!"

The second man, if accustomed to the usages of the labor unions, would probably go out and, to the music of his own violent language about the "greed of capital," destroy as many bows and arrows as he could, so as to paralyze the bird-shooting industry; and this proceeding he would call a strike for honest wages and the dignity of labor. If he were accustomed to social reform notions of the namby-pamby variety, he would propose an arbitration, and be mildly indignant when told that there was nothing to arbitrate — that he had only to accept the other's offer or get off his property. But if a sensible man, he would notify his comrade that the privilege of owning islands in that latitude had expired. ...

c. The Law of Division of Labor and Trade

Now, what is it that leads men to conform their conduct to the principle illustrated by the last chart? Why do they divide their labor, and trade its products? A simple, universal and familiar law of human nature moves them. Whether men be isolated, or be living in primitive communities, or in advanced states of civilization, their demand for consumption determines the direction of Labor in production.67 That is the law. Considered in connection with a solitary individual, like Robinson Crusoe upon his island, it is obvious. What he demanded for consumption he was obliged to produce. Even as to the goods he collected from stranded ships — desiring to consume them, he was obliged to labor to produce them to places of safety. His demand for consumption always determined the direction of his labor in production.68 And when we remember that what Robinson Crusoe was to his island in the sea, civilized man as a whole is to this island in space, we may readily understand the application of the same simple law to the great body of labor in the civilized world.69 Nevertheless, the complexities of civilized life are so likely to obscure its operation and disguise its relations to social questions like that of the persistence of poverty as to make illustration desirable.

68. It is highly significant that while Robinson Crusoe had unsatisfied wants he was never out of a job.... read the book

Karl Williams:  Social Justice In Australia: INTERMEDIATE KIT

We've just seen how returns from land are, by nature, monopolistic and, by rights, should be returned to the community. But how do we calculate this amount?

It's perhaps best illustrated by the Robinson Crusoe scenario, where he finds himself alone on a desert island. Rob naturally settles on the best available land which, for argument's sake, can produce 20 coconuts per acre per month. Along comes Man Friday, who gets the second-best land producing 18 coconuts per acre. This best, freely-available land of Friday is called the marginal land and, as we'll see, determines both the level of wages and that of rent.

For how much could Rob rent out his land - 2 coconuts or 20 coconuts per acre? Friday would only be prepared to pay 2, because he can already get 18 from his. So here's our first definition, that of the Law of Rent: The application of labour and capital equipment being equal, the rent of land is determined by the difference between the value of its produce and that of the least productive land in use. So if Man Saturday comes along (the next day?!) and finds that the best available land can only produce 15 coconuts per acre, Rob could rent his land out to Saturday for 5 coconuts per acre, and Friday for 2.

What then determines the level of wages? When Friday came along and could work land yielding 18 coconuts per acre in a month, then he wouldn't accept wages offered by Rob for less than 18 coconuts. But when Saturday arrived, suddenly Friday could only command 15 per month, because Rob knows that the going rate (that applicable to Saturday at the margin) is only 15. So here we have the Law of Wages, which is the corollary of the law of rent: Wages are the reward that labour can obtain on marginal land, i.e. the most productive land available to it without paying rent.

Of course it all gets more complicated by technology, trade unions, immigration, the existence of a pool of unemployed, personal preferences, levels of education etc., but these strong underlying laws always hold. But let's now tie up the factors of production. Rent is the return to land, wages are the return to labour, and interest is the return to capital. The law of interest can be stated thus: Interest is the return that the use of capital equipment can obtain on marginal land, i.e. the most productive land available to it without paying rent.

So here's the alarming paradox of progress marching side by side with poverty. Those who have grabbed the best land get richer and richer (from increasing rent) while the tenants and wage-earners get poorer and poorer for having to accept lower and lower wages as the margin is pushed out to less productive land). Henry George, in his classic Progress and Poverty drove home this point, but took about 600 pages to deal with all the complications and fine details not examined here. It's no wonder that the unmasking of this great paradox - the title of his book - hit the 19th century world like a great revelation. And it's no wonder that vested interests, through the neoclassical economics that they fostered, knew they had to shut him up. And, by successfully silencing him, it's no wonder that, despite all efforts, increasing and ever more alarming disparities of wealth are the norm world-wide.

But, anyway, how many coconut-basketsful of LVT should we collect? Chuck away all those calculators, guys, for the answer is simple: Collect the rent, the whole rent, and nothing but the rent. Assuming that everyone has to do the same amount of work to produce their differing yields of coconuts, when Friday came along then we'd collect 2 coconuts per acre from Rob. This would leave 18 coconuts in each of their hands, and 2 coconuts of rent or LVT collected. When Saturday arrived we'd collect 5 from Rob and 3 from Friday, which would leave 15 coconuts in everyone's hands and 8 coconuts of rent collected. Result: everybody effectively shares equally in the bounty of Our One Earth, and we have a natural, non-punitive form of revenue raising with which to fund infrastructure.

We've already seen how speculators can presently hold on to idle parcels of land, waiting for unearned increases in their value to accrue to them. But here's another curse of land speculation: by locking up productive land, it forces newcomers out to less productive land. By "pushing back the margin", the evil of speculation simultaneously raises rents and lowers wages. LVT makes it impossible for speculators to enjoy unearned income.  Read the entire article


Fred Foldvary: A Geoist Robinson Crusoe Story

Once upon a time, Robinson G. Crusoe was the only survivor of a ship that sunk. He floated on a piece of wood to an unpopulated island. Robinson was an absolute geoist. He believed with his mind, heart, and soul that everyone should have an equal share of land rent.

Since he was the only person on this island, it was all his. He surveyed the island and found that the only crop available for cultivation was alfalfa sprouts. The land was divided into 5 grades that could grow 8, 6, 4, 2, and zero bushels of alfalfa sprouts per month. There was one acre each for 8, 6, and 4, and 100 acres of 2-bushel land. For 8 hours per day of labor, he could work 4 acres. So he could grow, per month, 8+6+4+2 = 20 bushels of alfalfa sprouts, much more than enough to feed on.

One day another survivor of a sunken ship floated to the island. His name was Friday George.  ...  Read the whole piece

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Wealth and Want
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