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,
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
"That sounds big," sneers the second free and
equal member of the little community; "but what am I to get for
"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
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?
WHO GETS THE COCONUTS?
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.
PROGRESS AND POVERTY, SIDE BY SIDE
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
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