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Parallels to Slavery

Robert H. Browne: Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time

“Christ knew better than we that 'No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God;' nor is many man doing his duty who shrinks and is faithless to his fellow-men. Now a word more about Abolitionists and new ideas in Government, whatever they may be: We are all called Abolitionists now who desire any restriction of slavery or believe that the system is wrong, as I have declared for years. We are called so, not to help out a peaceful solution, but in derision, to abase us, and enable the defamers to make successful combinations against us. I never was much annoyed by these, less now than ever. I favor the best plan to restrict the extension of slavery peacefully, and fully believe that we must reach some plan that will do it, and provide for some method of final extinction of the evil, before we can have permanent peace on the subject. On other questions there is ample room for reform when the time comes; but now it would be folly to think that we could undertake more than we have on hand. But when slavery is over with and settled, men should never rest content while oppressions, wrongs, and iniquities are in force against them.

“The land, the earth that God gave to man for his home, his sustenance, and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly Government, any more than the air or the water, if as much. An individual company or enterprise requiring land should hold no more in their own right than is needed for their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it creates an exclusive monopoly. All that is not so used should be held for the free use of every family to make homesteads, and to hold them as long as they are so occupied.

“A reform like this will be worked out some time in the future. The idle talk of foolish men, that is so common now, on 'Abolitionists, agitators, and disturbers of the peace,' will find its way against it, with whatever force it may possess, and as strongly promoted and carried on as it can be by land monopolists, grasping landlords, and the titled and untitled senseless enemies of mankind everywhere.” ... read extended excerpts

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

Either the land of Ireland rightfully belongs to the Irish landlords, or it rightfully belongs to the Irish people; there can be no middle ground. If it rightfully belongs to the landlords, then is the whole agitation wrong, and every scheme for interfering in any way with the landlords is condemned. If the land rightfully belongs to the landlords, then it is nobody else's business what they do with it, or what rent they charge for it, or where or how they spend the money they draw from it, and whoever does not want to live upon it on the landlords' terms is at perfect liberty to starve or emigrate. But if, on the contrary, the land of Ireland rightfully belongs to the Irish people, then the only logical demand is, not that the tenants shall be made joint owners with the landlords, not that it be bought from a smaller class and sold to a larger class, but that it be resumed by the whole people. To propose to pay the landlords for it is to deny the right of the people to it. The real fight for Irish rights must he made outside of Ireland; and, above all things, the Irish agitators ought to take a logical position, based upon a broad, clear principle which can be everywhere understood and appreciated. To ask for tenant-right or peasant proprietorship is not to take such a position; to concede that the landlords ought to be paid is utterly to abandon the principle that the land belongs rightfully to the people.

To admit, as even the most radical of the Irish agitators seem to admit, that the landlords should be paid the value of their lands, is to deny the rights of the people. It is an admission that the agitation is an interference with the just rights of property. It is to ignore the only principle on which the agitation can be justified, and on which it can gather strength for the accomplishment of anything real and permanent. To admit this is to admit that the Irish people have no more right to the soil of Ireland than any outsider. For, any outsider can go to Ireland and buy land, if he will give its market value. To propose to buy out the landlords is to propose to continue the present injustice in another form. They would get in interest on the debt created what they now get in rent. They would still have a lien upon Irish labor.

And why should the landlords be paid? If the land of Ireland belongs of natural right to the Irish people, what valid claim for payment can be set up by the landlords? No one will contend that the land is theirs of natural right, for the day has gone by when men could be told that the Creator of the universe intended his bounty for the exclusive use and benefit of a privileged class of his creatures – that he intended a few to roll in luxury while their fellows toiled and starved for them. The claim of the landlords to the land rests not on natural right, but merely on municipal law – on municipal law which contravenes natural right. And, whenever the sovereign power changes municipal law so as to conform to natural right, what claim can they assert to compensation? Some of them bought their lands, it is true; but they got no better title than the seller had to give. And what are these titles? Titles based on murder and robbery, on blood and rapine – titles which rest on the most atrocious and wholesale crimes. Created by force and maintained by force, they have not behind them the first shadow of right. That Henry II and James I and Cromwell and the Long Parliament had the power to give and grant Irish lands is true; but will any one contend they had the right? Will any one contend that in all the past generations there has existed on the British Isles or anywhere else any human being, or any number of human beings, who had the right to say that in the year 1881 the great mass of Irishmen should be compelled to pay – in many cases to residents of England, France, or the United States – for the privilege of living in their native country and making a living from their native soil? Even if it be said that might makes right; even if it be contended that in the twelfth, or seventeenth, or eighteenth century lived men who, having the power, had therefore the right, to give away the soil of Ireland, it cannot be contended that their right went further than their power, or that their gifts and grants are binding on the men of the present generation. No one can urge such a preposterous doctrine. And, if might makes right, then the moment the people get power to take the land the rights of the present landholders utterly cease, and any proposal to compensate them is a proposal to do a fresh wrong.  ... read the whole article

Henry George: Salutatory, from the first issue of The Standard (1887)

I begin the publication of this paper in response to many urgent requests, and because I believe that there is a field for a journal that shall serve as a focus for news and opinions relating to the great movement, now beginning, for the emancipation of labor by the restoration of natural rights.

The generation that abolished chattel slavery is passing away, and the political distinctions that grew out of that contest are becoming meaningless. The work now before us is the abolition of industrial slavery.

What God created for the use of all should be utilized for the benefit of all; what is produced by the individual belongs rightfully to the individual. The neglect of these simple principles has brought upon us the curse of widespread poverty and all the evils that flow from it. Their recognition will abolish poverty, will secure to the humblest independence and leisure, and will lay abroad and strong foundation on which all other reforms may be based. To secure the full recognition of these principles is the most important task to which any man can address himself today. It is in the hope of aiding in this work that I establish this paper.

I believe that the Declaration of Independence is not a mere string of glittering generalities. I believe that all men are really created equal, and that the securing of those equal natural rights is the true purpose and test of government. And against whatever law, custom or device that restrains men in the exercise of their natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness I shall raise my voice. ... read the whole column

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)

In all our long investigation we have been advancing to this simple truth: That as land is necessary to the exertion of labor in the production of wealth, to command the land which is necessary to labor, is to command all the fruits of labor save enough to enable labor to exist. ...

... 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 taken, 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 we live, 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 wealth from 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

Mark Twain   Archimedes

I know of a mechanical force more powerful than anything the vaunting engineer of Syracuse ever dreamed of. It is the force of land monopoly; it is a screw and lever all in one; it will screw the last penny out of a man's pocket, and bend everything on earth to its own despotic will. Give me the private ownership of all the land, and will I move the earth? No; but I will do more. I will undertake to make slaves of all the human beings on the face of it. Not chattel slaves exactly, but slaves nevertheless. What an idiot I would be to make chattel slaves of them. I would have to find them salts and senna when they were sick, and whip them to work when they were lazy.

No, it is not good enough. Under the system I propose the fools would imagine they were all free. I would get a maximum of results, and have no responsibility whatever. They would cultivate the soil; they would dive into the bowels of the earth for its hidden treasures; they would build cities and construct railways and telegraphs; their ships would navigate the ocean; they would work and work, and invent and contrive; their warehouses would be full, their markets glutted, and:

The beauty of the whole concern would be
That everything they made would belong to me.

It would be this way, you see: As I owned all the land, they would of course, have to pay me rent. They could not reasonably expect me to allow them the use of the land for nothing. I am not a hard man, and in fixing the rent I would be very liberal with them. I would allow them, in fact, to fix it themselves. What could be fairer? Here is a piece of land, let us say, it might be a farm, it might be a building site, or it might be something else - if there was only one man who wanted it, of course he would not offer me much, but if the land be really worth anything such a circumstance is not likely to happen. On the contrary, there would be a number who would want it, and they would go on bidding and bidding one against the other, in order to get it. I should accept the highest offer - what could be fairer? Every increase of population, extension of trade, every advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know, increase the value of land, and the competition that would naturally arise would continue to force rents upward, so much so, that in many cases the tenants would have little or nothing left for themselves.  ... Read the whole piece

Mason Gaffney: The Partiality of Indexing Capital Gains

Land value, like slaves and government bonds, meets the security need of asset-holders without their having actually to create capital. High land values doubly check saving.

First, by rising they look like individual income and encourage more drafts on the flow of consumer goods, without adding to supply.

Second, once risen, they satisfy portfolio demands in lieu of real capital.  ... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production

Existence of land value actually lowers saving rates.
i)      Land value substitutes for real capital in portfolios and thus lowers the need to create real capital.  This is the same effect that historians have noted about the negative effect of slavery on capital formation. It is part of the “wealth effect.”  (The other part is lowering incentives to work, and raising incentives to allocate both land and capital to personal pleasure instead of earning cash by serving others.)

 High land values may also affect interest rates indirectly by reducing saving and the supply of capital.  The existence of high land rents and values, like the ownership of slaves, tends to satisfy the need for accumulation of assets without any actual capital formation.

ii)     Rising land prices are net income to individuals.  Most of net income is normally consumed.  "Equity withdrawal" is a common form that this takes.  Another form is letting land appreciation substitute for a capital consumption allowance as capital depreciates. ... read the whole article

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

Thus, that any species of property is permitted by the state does not of itself give it moral sanction. The state has often made things property that are not justly property, but involve violence and robbery. For instance, the things of religion, the dignity and authority of offices of the church, the power of administering her sacraments and controlling her temporalities, have often by profligate princes been given as salable property to courtiers and concubines. At this very day in England an atheist or a heathen may buy in open market, and hold as legal property, to be sold, given or bequeathed as he pleases, the power of appointing to the cure of souls, and the value of these legal rights of presentation is said to be no less than £17,000,000.

Or again: Slaves were universally treated as property by the customs and laws of the classical nations, and were so acknowledged in Europe long after the acceptance of Christianity. At the beginning of this century there was no Christian nation that did not, in her colonies at least, recognize property in slaves, and slaveships crossed the seas under Christian flags. In the United States, little more than thirty years ago, to buy a man gave the same legal ownership as to buy a horse, and in Mohammedan countries law and custom yet make the slave the property of his captor or purchaser.

Yet your Holiness, one of the glories of whose pontificate is the attempt to break up slavery in its last strongholds, will not contend that the moral sanction that attaches to property in things produced by labor can, or ever could, apply to property in slaves.

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.) ... read the whole letter


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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper