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The Role of Technological Progress
and its unintended — and avoidable — consequences

This, along with social progress, is the "progress" in "Progress & Poverty." If increases in productivity don't go to the producers, but to the landholders, it is not surprising that wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in a relative few of us.

If the concept of "technological progress" being related to land values doesn't come naturally to you, let me suggest a few technological innovations which have had particularly important effects on the value of the land holdings of various groups of people:

  • the steam engine: made far-off ports and railroad depots much closer to major markets for goods, extended the commuting range for major cities
  • the elevator: made possible taller buildings, allowing for more density in cities' central business districts
  • air conditioning: made much of the American south far more hospitable during the summer months
  • fiberglass boats: made waterfront living far more appealing, by reducing the work involved in boat ownership
  • jet airplanes: made urban centers more accessible to each other, delivering people and goods quickly
  • earthmoving equipment: technology developed during World War II made affordable the development of difficult sites that previously would have been very expensive
  • increasingly long bridges: make parcels of land on both sides of a bridge more valuable; consider the George Washington, Golden Gate, Tappan Zee, Verrazano Narrows and PEI bridges
  • the cotton gin: made both southern land and slaves more valuable

Who benefitted from each of these technological advances? Those with land to sell or rent. (And others who profit from those transactions — brokers, lenders, etc. — the FIRE sector.) At whose expense? The expense of all of us who depend on land: all of us! We pay them more, for value they didn't create — couldn't create! And then we still have to pay taxes, based on our wages and our purchases! (See paying twice.)

Is the alternative to attempt to slow progress? Of course not! That would be silly! Rather, the alternative is to collect that increase in land value as our common treasure, instead of relying on taxing productive activity in order to fund our common spending. Don't even think of taxing wages — or sales, or buildings — until we've exhausted the current taxable capacity of land.

Henry George: Progress & Poverty: Introductory: The Problem

The present century has been marked by a prodigious increase in wealth-producing power. The utilization of steam and electricity, the introduction of improved processes and labor-saving machinery, the greater subdivision and grander scale of production, the wonderful facilitation of exchanges, have multiplied enormously the effectiveness of labor.

At the beginning of this marvelous era it was natural to expect, and it was expected, that labor-saving inventions would lighten the toil and improve the condition of the laborer; that the enormous increase in the power of producing wealth would make real poverty a thing of the past.

  • Could a man of the last century — 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 the case 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 faster than hundreds of stalwart weavers could have turned it out with their hand-looms;
  • 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 day;
  • could he have conceived of the hundred thousand improvements which these only suggest, what would he have inferred as to the social condition of mankind? ... read the entire chapter

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 4: Land Speculation Causes Reduced Wages

There is a cause, not yet adverted to, which must be taken into consideration fully to explain the influence of material progress upon the distribution of wealth.

That cause is the confident expectation of the future enhancement of land values, which arises in all progressive countries from the steady increase of rent, and which leads to speculation, or the holding of land for a higher price than it would then otherwise bring.

We have hitherto assumed, as is generally assumed in elucidations of the theory of rent, that the actual margin of cultivation always coincides with what may be termed the necessary margin of cultivation — that is to say, we have assumed that cultivation extends to less productive points only as it becomes necessary from the fact that natural opportunities are at the more productive points fully utilized.

This, probably, is the case in stationary or very slowly progressing communities, but in rapidly progressing communities, where the swift and steady increase of rent gives confidence to calculations of further increase, it is not the case. In such communities, the confident expectation of increased prices produces, to a greater or less extent, the effects of a combination among landholders, and tends to the withholding of land from use, in expectation of higher prices, thus forcing the margin of cultivation farther than required by the necessities of production.

In communities like the United States, where the user of land generally prefers, if he can, to own it, and where there is a great extent of land to overrun, this cause operated with enormous power. ... read the whole chapter

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)

The truth is self-evident. Put to any one capable of consecutive thought this question:

"Suppose there should arise from the English Channel or the German Ocean a no man's land on which common labor to an unlimited amount should be able to make thirty shillings a day and which should remain unappropriated and of free access, like the commons which once comprised so large a part of English soil. What would be the effect upon wages in England?"

He would at once tell you that common wages throughout England must soon increase to thirty shillings a day.

And in response to another question, "What would be the effect on rents?" he would at a moment's reflection say that rents must necessarily fall; and if he thought out the next step he would tell you that all this would happen without any very large part of English labor being diverted to the new natural opportunities, or the forms and direction of industry being much changed; only that kind of production being abandoned which now yields to labor and to landlord together less than labor could secure on the new opportunities. The great rise in wages would be at the expense of rent.

Take now the same man or another — some hardheaded business man, who has no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him: "Here is a little village; in ten years it will be a great city — in ten years the railroad will have taken the place of the stage coach, the electric light of the candle; it will abound with all the machinery and improvements that so enormously multiply the effective power of labor. Will, in ten years, interest be any higher?"

He will tell you, "No!"

"Will the wages of common labor be any higher; will it be easier for a man who has nothing but his labor to make an independent living?"

He will tell you, "No; the wages of common labor will not be any higher; on the contrary, all the chances are that they will be lower; it will not be easier for the mere laborer to make an independent living; the chances are that it will be harder."

"What, then, will be higher?"

"Rent; the value of land. Go, get yourself a piece of ground, and hold possession."

And if, under such circumstances, you take his advice, you need do nothing more. You may sit down and smoke your pipe; you may lie around like the lazzaroni of Naples or the leperos of Mexico; you may go up in a balloon, or down a hole in the ground; and without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota to the wealth of the community, in ten years you will be rich! In the new city you may have a luxurious mansion; but among its public buildings will be an almshouse. ...

... 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

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 11 Effect of Remedy Upon the Sharing of Wealth (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 2: Of the Effect Upon Distribution and Thence Upon Production

But great as they thus appear, the advantages of a transference of all public burdens to a tax upon the value of land cannot be fully appreciated until we consider the effect upon the distribution of wealth.

Tracing out the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth which appears in all civilized countries, with a constant tendency to greater and greater inequality as material progress goes on, we have found it in the fact that, as civilization advances, the ownership of land, now in private hands, gives a greater and greater power of appropriating the wealth produced by labor and capital.

Thus, to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and indirect, and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it went, to counteract this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far as to take in taxation the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would be totally destroyed. Rent, instead of causing inequality, as now, would then promote equality. Labor and capital would then receive the whole produce, minus that portion taken by the state in the taxation of land values, which, being applied to public purposes, would be equally distributed in public benefits.

That is to say, the wealth produced in every community would be divided into two portions.

  • One part would be distributed in wages and interest between individual producers, according to the part each had taken in the work of production;
  • the other part would go to the community as a whole, to be distributed in public benefits to all its members.

In this all would share equally — the weak with the strong, young children and decrepit old men, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, as well as the vigorous. And justly so — for while one part represents the result of individual effort in production, the other represents the increased power with which the community as a whole aids the individual.

Thus, as material progress tends to increase rent, were rent taken by the community for common purposes the very cause which now tends to produce inequality as material progress goes on would then tend to produce greater and greater equality. ... read the whole chapter

Henry George: Political Dangers (Chapter 2 of Social Problems, 1883)

[01] THE American Republic is today unquestionably foremost of the nations — the van leader of modern civilization. Of all the great peoples of the European family, her people are the most homogeneous, the most active and most assimilative. Their average standard of intelligence and comfort is higher; they have most fully adopted modern industrial improvements, and are quickest to utilize discovery and invention; their political institutions are most in accordance with modern ideas, their position exempts them from dangers and difficulties besetting the European nations, and a vast area of unoccupied land gives them room to grow.

[02] At the rate of increase so far maintained, the English-speaking people of America will, by the close of the century, number nearly one hundred million — a population as large as owned the sway of Rome in her palmiest days. By the middle of the next century — a time which children now born will live to see — they will, at the same rate, number more than the present population of Europe; and by its close nearly equal the population which, at the beginning of this century, the whole earth was believed to contain.

[03] But the increase of power is more rapid than the increase of population, and goes on in accelerating progression. Discovery and invention stimulate discovery and invention; and it is only when we consider that the industrial progress of the last fifty years bids fair to pale before the achievements of the next that we can vaguely imagine the future that seems opening before the American people. The center of wealth, of art, of luxury and learning, must pass to this side of the Atlantic even before the center of population. It seems as if this continent had been reserved — shrouded for ages from the rest of the world — as the field upon which European civilization might freely bloom. And for the very reason that our growth is so rapid and our progress so swift; for the very reason that all the tendencies of modern civilization assert themselves here more quickly and strongly than anywhere else, the problems which modern civilization must meet, will here first fully present themselves, and will most imperiously demand to be thought out or fought out.

[04] 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.

[08] But to the changes produced by growth are, with us, added the changes brought about by improved industrial methods. The tendency of steam and of machinery is to the division of labor, to the concentration of wealth and power. Workmen are becoming massed by hundreds and thousands in the employ of single individuals and firms; small storekeepers and merchants are becoming the clerks and salesmen of great business houses; we have already corporations whose revenues and pay-rolls belittle those of the greatest States. And with this concentration grows the facility of combination among these great business interests. How readily the railroad companies, the coal operators, the steel producers, even the match manufacturers, combine, either to regulate prices or to use the powers of government! The tendency in all branches of industry is to the formation of rings against which the individual is helpless, and which exert their power upon government whenever their interests may thus be served. ... read the entire essay

Henry George: Coming Increase of Social Pressure (Chapter 3 of Social Problems, 1883)

[01] THE trees, as I write, have not yet begun to leaf, nor even the blossoms to appear; yet, passing down the lower part of Broadway these early days of spring, one breasts a steady current of uncouthly dressed men and women, carrying bundles and boxes and all manner of baggage. As the season advances, the human current will increase; even in winter it will not wholly cease its flow. It is the great gulf-stream of humanity which sets from Europe upon America — the greatest migration of peoples since the world began. Other minor branches has the stream. Into Boston and Philadelphia, into Portland, Quebec and Montreal, into New Orleans, Galveston, San Francisco and Victoria, come offshoots of the same current; and as it flows it draws increasing volume from wider sources. Emigration to America has, since 1848, reduced the population of Ireland by more than a third; but as Irish ability to feed the stream declines, English emigration increases; the German outpour becomes so vast as to assume the first proportions, and the millions of Italy, pressed by want as severe as that of Ireland, begin to turn to the emigrant ship as did the Irish. In Castle Garden one may see the garb and hear the speech of all European peoples. From the fiords of Norway, from the plains of Russia and Hungary, from the mountains of Wallachia, and from Mediterranean shores and islands, once the center of classic civilization, the great current is fed. Every year increases the facility of its flow. Year by year improvements in steam navigation are practically reducing the distance between the two continents; year by year European railroads are making it easier for interior populations to reach the seaboard, and the telegraph, the newspaper, the schoolmaster and the cheap post are lessening those objections of ignorance and sentiment to removal that are so strong with people long rooted in one place. Yet, in spite of this great exodus, the population of Europe, as a whole, is steadily increasing.

... read the entire essay

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

God’s laws do not change. Though their applications may alter with altering conditions, the same principles of right and wrong that hold when men are few and industry is rude also hold amid teeming populations and complex industries. In our cities of millions and our states of scores of millions, in a civilization where the division of labor has gone so far that large numbers are hardly conscious that they are land-users, it still remains true that we are all land animals and can live only on land, and that land is God’s bounty to all, of which no one can be deprived without being murdered, and for which no one can be compelled to pay another without being robbed. But even in a state of society where the elaboration of industry and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need for private possession of land wide-spread, there is no difficulty in conforming individual possession with the equal right to land. For as soon as any piece of land will yield to the possessor a larger return than is had by similar labor on other land a value attaches to it which is shown when it is sold or rented. Thus, the value of the land itself, irrespective of the value of any improvements in or on it, always indicates the precise value of the benefit to which all are entitled in its use, as distinguished from the value which, as producer or successor of a producer, belongs to the possessor in individual right.

To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common ownership it is only necessary therefore to take for common uses what value attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. The principle is the same as in the case referred to, where a human father leaves equally to his children things not susceptible of specific division or common use. In that case such things would be sold or rented and the value equally applied.

It is on this common-sense principle that we, who term ourselves single-tax men, would have the community act.

We do not propose to assert equal rights to land by keeping land common, letting any one use any part of it at any time. We do not propose the task, impossible in the present state of society, of dividing land in equal shares; still less the yet more impossible task of keeping it so divided.

We propose — leaving land in the private possession of individuals, with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it — simply to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public revenues, we would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes now levied on the products and processes of industry — which taxes, since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the right of property.

This we propose, not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a conforming of human regulations to the will of God.

God cannot contradict himself nor impose on his creatures laws that clash.

If it be God’s command to men that they should not steal — that is to say, that they should respect the right of property which each one has in the fruits of his labor;

And if he be also the Father of all men, who in his common bounty has intended all to have equal opportunities for sharing;

Then, in any possible stage of civilization, however elaborate, there must be some way in which the exclusive right to the products of industry may be reconciled with the equal right to land.

If the Almighty be consistent with himself, it cannot be, as say those socialists referred to by you, that in order to secure the equal participation of men in the opportunities of life and labor we must ignore the right of private property. Nor yet can it be, as you yourself in the Encyclical seem to argue, that to secure the right of private property we must ignore the equality of right in the opportunities of life and labor. To say the one thing or the other is equally to deny the harmony of God’s laws.

But, the private possession of land, subject to the payment to the community of the value of any special advantage thus given to the individual, satisfies both laws, securing to all equal participation in the bounty of the Creator and to each the full ownership of the products of his labor. ...

That it does mean this and nothing else is confirmed if we look deeper still, and inquire not merely as to the intent, but as to the purpose of the intent. If we do so we may see in this natural law by which land values increase with the growth of society not only such a perfectly adapted provision for the needs of society as gratifies our intellectual perceptions by showing us the wisdom of the Creator, but a purpose with regard to the individual that gratifies our moral perceptions by opening to us a glimpse of his beneficence.

Consider: Here is a natural law by which as society advances the one thing that increases in value is land — a natural law by virtue of which all growth of population, all advance of the arts, all general improvements of whatever kind, add to a fund that both the commands of justice and the dictates of expediency prompt us to take for the common uses of society. Now, since increase in the fund available for the common uses of society is increase in the gain that goes equally to each member of society, is it not clear that the law by which land values increase with social advance while the value of the products of labor does not increase, tends with the advance of civilization to make the share that goes equally to each member of society more and more important as compared with what goes to him from his individual earnings, and thus to make the advance of civilization lessen relatively the differences that in a ruder social state must exist between the strong and the weak, the fortunate and the unfortunate? Does it not show the purpose of the Creator to be that the advance of man in civilization should be an advance not merely to larger powers but to a greater and greater equality, instead of what we, by our ignoring of his intent, are making it, an advance toward a more and more monstrous inequality? ...

For in this beautiful provision made by natural law for the social needs of civilization we see that God has intended civilization; that all our discoveries and inventions do not and cannot outrun his forethought, and that steam, electricity and labor-saving appliances only make the great moral laws clearer and more important. In the growth of this great fund, increasing with social advance — a fund that accrues from the growth of the community and belongs therefore to the community — we see not only that there is no need for the taxes that lessen wealth, that engender corruption, that promote inequality and teach men to deny the gospel; but that to take this fund for the purpose for which it was evidently intended would in the highest civilization secure to all the equal enjoyment of God’s bounty, the abundant opportunity to satisfy their wants, and would provide amply for every legitimate need of the state. We see that God in his dealings with men has not been a bungler or a niggard; that he has not brought too many men into the world; that he has not neglected abundantly to supply them; that he has not intended that bitter competition of the masses for a mere animal existence and that monstrous aggregation of wealth which characterize our civilization; but that these evils which lead so many to say there is no God, or yet more impiously to say that they are of God’s ordering, are due to our denial of his moral law. We see that the law of justice, the law of the Golden Rule, is not a mere counsel of perfection, but indeed the law of social life. We see that if we were only to observe it there would be work for all, leisure for all, abundance for all; and that civilization would tend to give to the poorest not only necessities, but all comforts and reasonable luxuries as well. We see that Christ was not a mere dreamer when he told men that if they would seek the kingdom of God and its right-doing they might no more worry about material things than do the lilies of the field about their raiment; but that he was only declaring what political economy in the light of modern discovery shows to be a sober truth. ...

Since man can live only on land and from land, since land is the reservoir of matter and force from which man’s body itself is taken, and on which he must draw for all that he can produce, does it not irresistibly follow that to give the land in ownership to some men and to deny to others all right to it is to divide mankind into the rich and the poor, the privileged and the helpless? Does it not follow that those who have no rights to the use of land can live only by selling their power to labor to those who own the land? Does it not follow that what the socialists call “the iron law of wages,” what the political economists term “the tendency of wages to a minimum,” must take from the landless masses — the mere laborers, who of themselves have no power to use their labor — all the benefits of any possible advance or improvement that does not alter this unjust division of land? For having no power to employ themselves, they must, either as labor-sellers or as land-renters, compete with one another for permission to labor. This competition with one another of men shut out from God’s inexhaustible storehouse has no limit but starvation, and must ultimately force wages to their lowest point, the point at which life can just be maintained and reproduction carried on.

This is not to say that all wages must fall to this point, but that the wages of that necessarily largest stratum of laborers who have only ordinary knowledge, skill and aptitude must so fall. The wages of special classes, who are fenced off from the pressure of competition by peculiar knowledge, skill or other causes, may remain above that ordinary level. Thus, where the ability to read and write is rare its possession enables a man to obtain higher wages than the ordinary laborer. But as the diffusion of education makes the ability to read and write general this advantage is lost. So when a vocation requires special training or skill, or is made difficult of access by artificial restrictions, the checking of competition tends to keep wages in it at a higher level. But as the progress of invention dispenses with peculiar skill, or artificial restrictions are broken down, these higher wages sink to the ordinary level. And so, it is only so long as they are special that such qualities as industry, prudence and thrift can enable the ordinary laborer to maintain a condition above that which gives a mere living. Where they become general, the law of competition must reduce the earnings or savings of such qualities to the general level — which, land being monopolized and labor helpless, can be only that at which the next lowest point is the cessation of life. ...

What is producing throughout the civilized world that condition of things you rightly describe as intolerable is not this and that local error or minor mistake. It is nothing less than the progress of civilization itself; nothing less than the intellectual advance and the material growth in which our century has been so preeminent, acting in a state of society based on private property in land; nothing less than the new gifts that in our time God has been showering on man, but which are being turned into scourges by man’s “impious resistance to the benevolent intentions of his Creator.”

The discoveries of science, the gains of invention, have given to us in this wonderful century more than has been given to men in any time before; and, in a degree so rapidly accelerating as to suggest geometrical progression, are placing in our hands new material powers. But with the benefit comes the obligation. In a civilization beginning to pulse with steam and electricity, where the sun paints pictures and the phonograph stores speech, it will not do to be merely as just as were our fathers. Intellectual advance and material advance require corresponding moral advance. Knowledge and power are neither good nor evil. They are not ends but means — evolving forces that if not controlled in orderly relations must take disorderly and destructive forms. The deepening pain, the increasing perplexity, the growing discontent for which, as you truly say, some remedy must be found and quickly found, mean nothing less than that forces of destruction swifter and more terrible than those that have shattered every preceding civilization are already menacing ours — that if it does not quickly rise to a higher moral level; if it does not become in deed as in word a Christian civilization, on the wall of its splendor must flame the doom of Babylon: “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting!” ...

But worse perhaps than all else is the way in which this substituting of vague injunctions to charity for the clear-cut demands of justice opens an easy means for the professed teachers of the Christian religion of all branches and communions to placate Mammon while persuading themselves that they are serving God. Had the English clergy not subordinated the teaching of justice to the teaching of charity — to go no further in illustrating a principle of which the whole history of Christendom from Constantine’s time to our own is witness — the Tudor tyranny would never have arisen, and the separation of the church been averted; had the clergy of France never substituted charity for justice, the monstrous iniquities of the ancient régime would never have brought the horrors of the Great Revolution; and in my own country had those who should have preached justice not satisfied themselves with preaching kindness, chattel slavery could never have demanded the holocaust of our civil war.

No, your Holiness; as faith without works is dead, as men cannot give to God his due while denying to their fellows the rights be gave them, so charity unsupported by justice can do nothing to solve the problem of the existing condition of labor. Though the rich were to “bestow all their goods to feed the poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would continue while property in land continues.

Take the case of the rich man today who is honestly desirous of devoting his wealth to the improvement of the condition of labor. What can he do?

  • Bestow his wealth on those who need it? He may help some who deserve it, but will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may do will be the danger of doing harm.
  • Build churches? Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the vice that is born of it breeds.
  • Build schools and colleges? Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity of private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink.
  • Establish hospitals? Why, already it seems to laborers that there are too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure.
  • Build model tenements? Unless he cheapens house accommodations he but drives further the class he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodations he brings more to seek employment and cheapens wages.
  • Institute laboratories, scientific schools, workshops for physical experiments? He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as between the upper and the nether millstone.
  • Promote emigration from places where wages are low to places where they are somewhat higher? If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate will soon turn on him to demand that such emigration shall be stopped as reducing their wages.
  • Give away what land he may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let it at lower rents than the market price? He will simply make new landowners or partial landowners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
  • Or, bethinking himself of those public-spirited citizens of classic times who spent great sums in improving their native cities, shall he try to beautify the city of his birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten narrow and crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let him open tramways and bring in railroads, or in any way make beautiful and attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not be that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will it not be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of his benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to landowners? Why, even the mere announcement that he is going to do such things will start speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.

What, then, can the rich man do to improve the condition of labor?

He can do nothing at all except to use his strength for the abolition of the great primary wrong that robs men of their birthright. The justice of God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything else for it. ... read the whole letter

Henry George: The Increasing Importance of Social Questions (Chapter 1 of Social Problems, 1883)

[08] In the rude beginning, each family produces its own food, makes its own clothes, builds its own house, and, when it moves, furnishes its own transportation. Compare with this independence the intricate interdependence of the denizens of a modern city. They may supply themselves with greater certainty, and in much greater variety and abundance, than the savage; but it is by the cooperation of thousands. Even the water they drink, and the artificial light they use, are brought to them by elaborate machinery, requiring the constant labor and watchfulness of many men. They may travel at a speed incredible to the savage; but in doing so resign life and limb to the care of others. A broken rail, a drunken engineer, a careless switchman, may hurl them to eternity. And the power of applying labor to the satisfaction of desire passes, in the same way, beyond the direct control of the individual. The laborer becomes but part of a great machine, which may at any time be paralyzed by causes beyond his power, or even his foresight. Thus does the well-being of each become more and more dependent upon the well-being of all — the individual more and more subordinate to society.

[09] And so come new dangers. The rude society resembles the creatures that though cut into pieces will live; the highly civilized society is like a highly organized animal: a stab in a vital part, the suppression of a single function, is death. A savage village may be burned and its people driven off — but, used to direct recourse to nature, they can maintain themselves. Highly civilized man, however, accustomed to capital, to machinery, to the minute division of labor, becomes helpless when suddenly deprived of these and thrown upon nature. Under the factory system, some sixty persons, with the aid of much costly machinery, cooperate to the making of a pair of shoes. But, of the sixty, not one could make a whole shoe. This is the tendency in all branches of production, even in agriculture. How many farmers of the new generation can use the flail? How many farmers' wives can now make a coat from the wool? Many of our farmers do not even make their own butter or raise their own vegetables! There is an enormous gain in productive power from this division of labor, which assigns to the individual the production of but a few of the things, or even but a small part of one of the things, he needs, and makes each dependent upon others with whom he never comes in contact; but the social organization becomes more sensitive. A primitive village community may pursue the even tenor of its life without feeling disasters which overtake other villages but a few miles off; but in the closely knit civilization to which we have attained, a war, a scarcity, a commercial crisis, in one hemisphere produces powerful effects in the other, while shocks and jars from which a primitive community easily recovers would to a highly civilized community mean wreck.

[13] There is in all the past nothing to compare with the rapid changes now going on in the civilized world. It seems as though in the European race, and in the nineteenth century, man was just beginning to live — just grasping his tools and becoming conscious of his powers. The snail's pace of crawling ages has suddenly become the headlong rush of the locomotive, speeding faster and faster. This rapid progress is primarily in industrial methods and material powers. But industrial changes imply social changes and necessitate political changes. Progressive societies outgrow institutions as children outgrow clothes. Social progress always requires greater intelligence in the management of public affairs; but this the more as progress is rapid and change quicker.

[14] And that the rapid changes now going on are bringing up problems that demand most earnest attention may be seen on every hand. Symptoms of danger, premonitions of violence, are appearing all over the civilized world. Creeds are dying, beliefs are changing; the old forces of conservatism are melting away. Political institutions are failing, as clearly in democratic America as in monarchical Europe. There is growing unrest and bitterness among the masses, whatever be the form of government, a blind groping for escape from conditions becoming intolerable. To attribute all this to the teachings of demagogues is like attributing the fever to the quickened pulse. It is the new wine beginning to ferment in old bottles. To put into a sailing-ship the powerful engines of a first-class ocean steamer would be to tear her to pieces with their play. So the new powers rapidly changing all the relations of society must shatter social and political organizations not adapted to meet their strain.

[17] 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.

[18] 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. ... read the entire essay

Mark Twain   Archimedes

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
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)
Yes; we are His children. We in some sort have that power of adapting things which we know must have been exerted to bring this universe into being. Consider those great ships for which this port of Glasgow is famous all over the world. Consider one of those great ocean steamers, such as the Umbria, or the Etruria, or the City of New York, or the City of Paris. There, in the ocean which such ships cleave, are the porpoises, there are the whales, there are the dolphins, there are all manner of fish. They are today just as they were when Caesar crossed to this island, just as they were before the first ancient Briton launched his leather-covered boat.

Humanity today can swim no better than humanity could swim then, but consider how, by our intelligence, we have advanced higher and higher, how our power of making things has developed, until now we cross the great ocean quicker than any fish. Consider one of these great steamers forcing her way across the Atlantic Ocean, 400 miles a day, against a living gale. Is she not in some sort a product of a God-like power — a machine of some sort like the very fishes that swim underneath.

Here is the distinguishing thing between humankind and the animals; here is the broad and impassable gulf. We among all the animals are the only maker; we among all the animals are the only ones that possess that God-like power of adapting means to ends. And is it possible that we who possess the power of so adapting means to ends that we can cross the Atlantic in six days do not possess the power of abolishing the conditions that crowd thousands of families into houses of one room?

When we consider the achievements of humanity and then look upon the misery that exists today in the very centres of wealth; upon the ignorance, the weakness, the injustice, that characterise our highest civilisation, we may know of a surety that it is not the fault of God; it is the fault of humanity. May we not know that in that very power that God has given to His children here, in that power of rising higher, there is involved — and necessarily involved — the power of falling lower. ...

There is a way of securing the equal rights of all, not by dividing land up into equal pieces, but by taking for the use of all that value which attaches to land, not as the result of individual labour upon it, but as the result of the increase in population, and the improvement of society. In that way everyone would be equally interested in the land of one’s native country. Here is the simple way. It is a way that impresses the person who really sees its beauty with a more vivid idea of the beneficence of the providence of the All-Father than, it seems to me, does anything else.

One cannot look, it seems to me, through nature — whether one looks at the stars through a telescope, or have the microscope reveal to one those worlds that we find in drops of water. Whether one considers the human frame, the adjustments of the animal kingdom, or any department of physical nature, one must see that there has been a contriver and adjuster, that there has been an intent. So strong is that feeling, so natural is it to our minds, that even people who deny the Creative Intelligence are forced, in spite of themselves, to talk of intent; the claws on one animal were intended, we say, to climb with, the fins of another to propel it through the water.

Yet, while in looking through the laws of physical nature, we find intelligence we do not so clearly find beneficence. But in the great social fact that as population increases, and improvements are made, and men progress in civilisation, the one thing that rises everywhere in value is land, and in this we may see a proof of the beneficence of the Creator.

Why, consider what it means! It means that the social laws are adapted to progressive humanity! In a rude state of society where there is no need for common expenditure, there is no value attaching to land. The only value which attaches there is to things produced by labour. But as civilisation goes on, as a division of labour takes place, as people come into centres, so do the common wants increase, and so does the necessity for public revenue arise. And so in that value which attaches to land, not by reason of anything the individual does, but by reason of the growth of the community, is a provision intended — we may safely say intended — to meet that social want.

Just as society grows, so do the common needs grow, and so grows this value attaching to land — the provided fund from which they can be supplied. Here is a value that may be taken, without impairing the right of property, without taking anything from the producer, without lessening the natural rewards of industry and thrift. Nay, here is a value that must be taken if we would prevent the most monstrous of all monopolies. What does all this mean? It means that in the creative plan, the natural advance in civilisation is an advance to a greater and greater equality instead of to a more and more monstrous inequality.  ... Read the whole speech

Henry George: Ode to Liberty  (1877 speech)
Our primary social adjustment is a denial of justice. In allowing one man to own the land on which and from which other men must live, we have made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on. This is the subtle alchemy that in ways they do not realize is extracting from the masses in every civilized country the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting a harder and more hopeless slavery in place of that which has been destroyed; that is bringing political despotism out of political freedom, and must soon transmute democratic institutions into anarchy.

It is this that turns the blessings of material progress into a curse. It is this that crowds human beings into noisome cellars and squalid tenement houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that goads men with want and consumes them with greed; that robs women of the grace and beauty of perfect womanhood; that takes from little children the joy and innocence of life’s morning.  ...

In the very centers of our civilization today are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundredfold! Would poverty be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would accrue would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the material universe could be utilized only through land. And land, being private property, the classes that now monopolize the bounty of the Creator would monopolize all the new bounty. Land owners would alone be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend to the starvation point!

This is not merely a deduction of political economy; it is a fact of experience. We know it because we have seen it. Within our own times, under our very eyes, that Power which is above all, and in all, and through all; that Power of which the whole universe is but the manifestation; that Power which maketh all things, and without which is not anything made that is made, has increased the bounty which men may enjoy, as truly as though the fertility of nature had been increased.
  • Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the service of mankind.
  • To the inner ear of another was whispered the secret that compels the lightning to bear a message around the globe.
  • In every direction have the laws of matter been revealed; in every department of industry have arisen arms of iron and fingers of steel, whose effect upon the production of wealth has been precisely the same as an increase in the fertility of nature.
What has been the result? Simply that land owners get all the gain. The wonderful discoveries and inventions of our century have neither increased wages nor lightened toil. The effect has simply been to make the few richer; the many more helpless! Can it be that the gifts of the Creator may be thus misappropriated with impunity? Is it a light thing that labor should be robbed of its earnings while greed rolls in wealth — that the many should want while the few are surfeited? Turn to history, and on every page may be read the lesson that such wrong never goes unpunished; that the Nemesis that follows injustice never falters nor sleeps! Look around today. Can this state of things continue? May we even say, “After us the deluge!” Nay; the pillars of the state are trembling even now, and the very foundations of society begin to quiver with pent-up forces that glow underneath. The struggle that must either revivify, or convulse in ruin, is near at hand, if it be not already begun. The fiat has gone forth! With steam and electricity, and the new powers born of progress, forces have entered the world that will either compel us to a higher plane or overwhelm us, as nation after nation, as civilization after civilization, have been overwhelmed before. It is the delusion which precedes destruction that sees in the popular unrest with which the civilized world is feverishly pulsing only the passing effect of ephemeral causes. Between democratic ideas and the aristocratic adjustments of society there is an irreconcilable conflict. Here in the United States, as there in Europe, it may be seen arising.
  • We cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to tramp.
  • We cannot go on educating boys and girls in our public schools and then refusing them the right to earn an honest living.
  • We cannot go on prating of the inalienable rights of man and then denying the inalienable right to the bounty of the Creator.
Even now, in old bottles the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental forces gather for the strife! ... read the whole speech
Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)

Poverty necessary! Why, think of the enormous powers that are latent in the human brain! Think how invention enables us to do with the power of one man what not long ago could not be done by the power of a thousand. Think that in England alone the steam machinery in operation is said to exert a productive force greater than the physical force of the population of the world, were they all adults. And yet we have only begun to invent and discover. We have not yet utilised all that has already been invented and discovered. And look at the powers of the earth. They have hardly been touched. In every direction as we look new resources seem to open. Man's ability to produce wealth seems almost infinite—we can set no bounds to it. Look at the power that is flowing by your city in the current of the Mississippi that might be set at work for you. So in every direction energy that we might utilise goes to waste; resources that we might draw upon are untouched. Yet men are delving and straining to satisfy mere animal wants; women are working, working, working their lives away, and too frequently turning in despair from that hard struggle to cast away all that makes the charm of woman.

If the animals can reason what must they think of us? Look at one of those great ocean steamers ploughing her way across the Atlantic, against wind, against wave, absolutely setting at defiance the utmost power of the elements. If the gulls that hover over her were thinking beings could they imagine that the animal that could create such a structure as that could actually want for enough to eat? Yet, so it is. How many even of those of us who find life easiest are there who really live a rational life? 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. ... read the whole speech

Henry George: The Wages of Labor
The organisation of man is such, his relations to the world in which he is placed are such – that is to say, the immutable laws of God are such that it is beyond the power of human ingenuity to devise any way by which the evils born of the injustice that robs men of their birthright can be removed otherwise than by opening to all the bounty that God has provided for all!

Since man can live only on land and from land since land is the reservoir of matter and force from which man’s body itself is taken, and on which he must draw for all that he can produce – does it not irresistibly follow that to give the land in ownership to some men and to deny to others all right to it is to divide mankind into the rich and the poor, the privileged and the helpless?

Does it not follow that those who have no rights to the use of land can live only by selling their labor to those who own the land?

Does it not follow that what the Socialists call “the iron law of wages,” what the political economists term “the tendency of wages to a minimum,” must take from the landless mass of mere laborers – who of themselves have no power to use their labor – the benefits of any advance or improvement that does not alter this unjust division of land?

Having no Power to employ themselves, they must, either as labor-sellers or land-renters, compete with one another for permission to labor; and this competition with one another of men shut out from God’s inexhaustible storehouse, must ultimately force wages to their lowest point, the point at which life can just be maintained.

This is not to say that all wages must fall to this point, but that the wages of that necessarily largest stratum of laborers who have only ordinary knowledge, skill, and aptitude, must so fall. The wages of special classes, who are fenced off from the pressure of competition by peculiar knowledge, skill, or other causes, may remain above that ordinary level.

Thus, where the ability to read and write is rare its possession enables a man to obtain higher wages than the ordinary laborer. But as the diffusion of education makes the ability to read and write general, this advantage is lost. So, when a vocation requires special training or skill, or is made difficult of access by artificial restrictions, the checking of competition tends to keep wages in it at a higher level. But as the progress of invention dispenses with peculiar skill, or artificial restrictions are broken dawn, these higher wages sink to the ordinary level. And so, it is only so long as they are special that such qualities as industry, prudence, and thrift can enable the ordinary laborer to maintain a condition above that which gives a mere living. Where they become general, the law of competition must eventually reduce the earnings or savings of such qualities to the general level.

Land being necessary to life and labor, where private property in land has divided society into a landowning class and a landless class, there is no possible invention or improvement, whether it be industrial, social, or moral, which, so long as it does not affect the ownership of land can prevent poverty or relieve the general conditions of mere laborers.

For, whether the effect of any invention or improvement be to increase what labor can produce or to decrease what is required to support the laborer, it can, so soon as it becomes general, result only in increasing the income of the owners of land, without benefiting the mere laborers.

How true this is we may see in the facts of today. In our own time invention and discovery have enormously increased the productive power of labor, and at the same time greatly reduced the cost of many things necessary to the support of the laborer.

Have not the benefits of these improvements mainly gone to the owners of land – enormously increased land values?

I say mainly, for some part of the benefit has gone to the cost of monstrous standing armies and warlike preparations; to the payment of interest on great public debts; and, largely disguised as interest on fictitious capital, to the owners of monopolies other than that of land. ...

The effect of all inventions and improvements that increase productive power that save waste and economise effort, is to lessen the labor required for a given result, and thus to save labor, so that we speak of them as labor-saving inventions or improvements.

Now, in a natural state of society, where the rights of all to the use of the earth are acknowledged, labor-saving improvements might go to the very utmost that can be imagined without lessening the demand for men, since in such natural conditions the demand for men lies in their own enjoyment of life and the strong instincts that the Creator has implanted in the human breast.

But, in that unnatural state of society where the masses of men are disinherited of all but the power to labor when opportunity to labor is given them by others, there the demand for them becomes simply the demand for their services by those who hold this opportunity – and man himself becomes a commodity. Hence, although the natural effect of labor-saving improvements is to increase wages, yet in the unnatural condition which private ownership of the land begets, the effect, even of such moral improvements as the disbandment of armies, is, by lessening the commercial demand, to lower wages.

If labor-saving inventions and improvements could be carried, to the very abolition of the necessity for labor, what would be the result? Would it not be that landowners could then get all the wealth that the land was capable of producing, and would have no need at all for laborers, who must then either starve or live as pensioners on the bounty of the landowners? ...

What is producing throughout the civilised world the present condition of things is not this and that local error or minor mistake. It is nothing less than the progress of civilisation itself; nothing less than the intellectual advance and the material growth in which our century has been so pre-eminent, acting in a state of society based on private property in land.

It is nothing less than the newer gifts that in our time have been showered on man, being turned into scourges by man’s impious resistance to the benevolent intentions of his Creator.

The discoveries of science, the gains of invention, have given to us in this wonderful century more than has been given to men in any time before, and, in a degree so rapidly accelerating as to suggest geometrical progression, are placing in our hands new material wonders.

But with the benefit comes the obligation: In a civilisation beginning to pulse with steam and electricity, where the sun paints pictures and the phonograph stores speech, it will not do to be merely as just as were our fathers. Intellectual advance and material advance require corresponding moral advance. Knowledge and power are neither good nor evil. They are not ends but means evolving forces that if not controlled in orderly relations must take disorderly and destructive forms.

The increasing perplexity, the growing discontent, mean nothing less than that forces of destruction swifter and more terrible than those that have shattered every preceding civilisation are already menacing ours; that if it does not quickly rise to a higher moral level; if it does not become in deed as in word a Christian civilisation on the wall of its splendour must share the doom of Babylon: “Thou are weighed in the balance and found wanting!” ...

The principle is clear and irresistible. Material progress makes land more valuable, and when this increasing value is left to private owners land must pass from the ownership of the poor into the ownership of the rich, just as diamonds so pass when poor men find them.

There is one way, and only one way, in which working people in our civilisation may be secured a share in the land of their country, and that is the way that we propose – the taking of the profits of land ownership for the community!  ...  read the whole article

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

IMAGINE an island girt with ocean; imagine a little world swimming in space. Put on it, in imagination, human beings. Let them divide the land, share and share alike, as individual property. At first, while population is sparse and industrial processes rude and primitive, this will work well enough.

Turn away the eyes of the mind for a moment, let time pass, and look again. Some families will have died out, some have greatly multiplied; on the whole, population will have largely increased, and even supposing there have been no important inventions or improvements in the productive arts, the increase in population, by causing the division of labor, will have made industry more complex. During this time some of these people will have been careless, generous, improvident; some will have been thrifty and grasping. Some of them will have devoted much of their powers to thinking of how they themselves and the things they see around them came to be, to inquiries and speculations as to what there is in the universe beyond their little island or their little world, to making poems, painting pictures, or writing books; to noting the differences in rocks and trees and shrubs and grasses; to classifying beasts and birds and fishes and insects – to the doing, in short, of all the many things which add so largely to the sum of human knowledge and human happiness, without much or any gain of wealth to the doer. Others again will have devoted all their energies to the extending of their possessions. What, then, shall we see, land having been all this time treated as private property? Clearly, we shall see that the primitive equality has given way to inequality. Some will have very much more than one of the original shares into which the land was divided; very many will have no land at all. Suppose that, in all things save this, our little island or our little world is Utopia – that there are no wars or robberies; that the government is absolutely pure and taxes nominal; suppose, if you want to, any sort of a currency; imagine, if you can imagine such a world or island, that interest is utterly abolished; yet inequality in the ownership of land will have produced poverty and virtual slavery.

For the people we have supposed are human beings – that is to say, in their physical natures at least, they are animals who can live only on land and by the aid of the products of land. They may make machines which will enable them to float on the sea, or perhaps to fly in the air, but to build and equip these machines they must have land and the products of land, and must constantly come back to land. Therefore those who own the land must be the masters of the rest. Thus, if one man has come to own all the land, he is their absolute master even to life or death. If they can live on the land only on his terms, then they can live only on his terms, for without land they cannot live. They are his absolute slaves, and so long as his ownership is acknowledged, if they want to live, they must do in everything as he wills.

If, however, the concentration of landownership has not gone so far as to make one or a very few men the owners of all the land – if there are still so many landowners that there is competition between them as well as between those who have only their labor – then the terms on which these non-landholders can live will seem more like free contract. But it will not be free contract. Land can yield no wealth without the application of labor; labor can produce no wealth without land. These are the two equally necessary factors of production. Yet, to say that they are equally necessary factors of production is not to say that, in the making of contracts as to how the results of production are divided, the possessors of these two meet on equal terms. For the nature of these two factors is very different. Land is a natural element; the human being must have his stomach filled every few hours. Land can exist without labor, but labor cannot exist without land. If I own a piece of land, I can let it lie idle for a year or for years, and it will eat nothing. But the laborer must eat every day, and his family must eat. And so, in the making of terms between them, the landowner has an immense advantage over the laborer. It is on the side of the laborer that the intense pressure of competition comes, for in his case it is competition urged by hunger. And, further than this: As population increases, as the competition for the use of land becomes more and more intense, so are the owners of land enabled to get for the use of their land a larger and larger part of the wealth which labor exerted upon it produces. That is to say, the value of land steadily rises. Now, this steady rise in the value of land brings about a confident expectation of future increase of value, which produces among landowners all the effects of a combination to hold for higher prices. Thus there is a constant tendency to force mere laborers to take less and less or to give more and more (put it which way you please, it amounts to the same thing) of the products of their work for the opportunity to work. And thus, in the very nature of things, we should see on our little island or our little world that, after a time had passed, some of the people would be able to take and enjoy a superabundance of all the fruits of labor without doing any labor at all, while others would be forced to work the livelong day for a pitiful living.

But let us introduce another element into the supposition. Let us suppose great discoveries and inventions – such as the steam-engine, the power-loom, the Bessemer process, the reaping-machine, and the thousand and one labor-saving devices that are such a marked feature of our era. What would be the result?

Manifestly, the effect of all such discoveries and inventions is to increase the power of labor in producing wealth – to enable the same amount of wealth to be produced by less labor, or a greater amount with the same labor. But none of them lessen, or can lessen the necessity for land. Until we can discover some way of making something out of nothing – and that is so far beyond our powers as to be absolutely unthinkable – there is no possible discovery or invention which can lessen the dependence of labor upon land. And, this being the case, the effect of these labor-saving devices, land being the private property of some, would simply be to increase the proportion of the wealth produced that landowners could demand for the use of their land. The ultimate effect of these discoveries and inventions would be not to benefit the laborer, but to make him more dependent.

And, since we are imagining conditions, imagine laborsaving inventions to go to the farthest imaginable point, that is to say, to perfection. What then? Why then, the necessity for labor being done away with, all the wealth that the land could produce would go entire to the landowners. None of it whatever could be claimed by any one else. For the laborers there would be no use at all. If they continued to exist, it would be merely as paupers on the bounty of the landowners! ... read the whole article

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

Poverty is widespread and pitiable. This we know. Its general manifestations are so common that even good men look upon it as a providential provision for enabling the rich to drive camels through needles' eyes by exercising the modern virtue of organized giving.32 Its occasional manifestations in recurring periods of "hard times"33 are like epidemics of a virulent disease, which excite even the most contented to ask if they may not be the next victims. Its spasms of violence threaten society with anarchy on the one hand, and, through panic-stricken efforts at restraint, with loss of liberty on the other. And it persists and deepens despite the continuous increase of wealth producing power.34 ...

c. Significance of the Upward Tendency of Rent

Now, what is the meaning of this tendency of Rent to rise with social progress, while Wages tend to fall? Is it not a plain promise that if Rent be treated as common property, advances in productive power shall be steps in the direction of realizing through orderly and natural growth those grand conceptions of both the socialist and the individualist, which in the present condition of society are justly ranked as Utopian? Is it not likewise a plain warning that if Rent be treated as private property, advances in productive power will be steps in the direction of making slaves of the many laborers, and masters of a few land-owners? Does it not mean that common ownership of Rent is in harmony with natural law, and that its private appropriation is disorderly and degrading? When the cause of Rent and the tendency illustrated in the preceding chart are considered in connection with the self-evident truth that God made the earth for common use and not for private monopoly, how can a contrary inference hold? Caused and increased by social growth, 97 the benefits of which should be common, and attaching to land, the just right to which is equal, Rent must be the natural fund for public expenses. 98

97. Here, far away from civilization, is a solitary settler. Getting no benefits from government, he needs no public revenues, and none of the land about him has any value. Another settler comes, and another, until a village appears. Some public revenue is then required. Not much, but some. And the land has a little value, only a little; perhaps just enough to equal the need for public revenue. The village becomes a town. More revenues are needed, and land values are higher. It becomes a city. The public revenues required are enormous, and so are the land values.

98. Society, and society alone, causes Rent. Rising with the rise, advancing with the growth, and receding with the decline of society, it measures the earning power of society as a whole as distinguished from that of the individuals. Wages, on the other hand, measure the earning power of the individuals as distinguished from that of society as a whole. We have distinguished the parts into which Wealth is distributed as Wages and Rent; but it would be correct, indeed it is the same thing, to regard all wealth as earnings, and to distinguish the two kinds as Communal Earnings and Individual Earnings. How, then, can there be any question as to the fund from which society should be supported? How can it be justly supported in any other way than out of its own earnings?

If there be at all such a thing as design in the universe — and who can doubt it? — then has it been designed that Rent, the earnings of the community, shall be retained for the support of the community, and that Wages, the earnings of the individual, shall be left to the individual in proportion to the value of his service. This is the divine law, whether we trace it through complex moral and economic relations, or find it in the eighth commandment. ...

Q39. Why does not labor-saving machinery benefit laborers?
A. Suppose labor-saving machinery to be ideally perfect — so perfect that no more labor is needed. Could that benefit laborers, so long as land was owned? Would it not rather make landowners completely independent of laborers? Of course it would. Well, the labor-saving machinery that falls short of being ideally perfect has the same tendency. The reason that it does not benefit laborers is because by enhancing the value of land it restricts opportunities for employment. ... read the book

John Dewey: Steps to Economic Recovery

I do not claim that George's remedy is a panacea that will cure by itself all our ailments. But I do claim that we cannot get rid of our basic troubles without it. I would make exactly the same concession and same claim that Henry George himself made:

"I do not say that in the recognition of the equal and unalienable right of each human being to the natural elements from which life must be supported and wants satisfied, lies the solution of all social problems. I fully recognize that even after we do this, much will remain to do. We might recognize the equal right to land, and yet tyranny and spoilation be continued. But whatever else we do, as along as we fail to recognize the equal right to the elements of nature, nothing will avail to remedy that unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth which is fraught with so much evil and danger. Reform as we may, until we make this fundamental reform, our material progress can but tend to differentiate our people into the monstrously rich and frightfully poor. Whatever be the increase of wealth, the masses will still be ground toward the point of bare subsistence -- we must still have our great criminal classes, our paupers and our tramps, men and women driven to degradation and desperation from inability to make an honest living." ... read the whole speech

William Ogilvie: An Essay on the Right of Property in Land (Scotland, 1782)

There are districts in which the landholder's rents have been doubled within fifty years, in consequence of a branch of manufacture being introduced and flourishing, without any improvement in the mode of agriculture, or any considerable increase of the produce of the soil. Here, therefore, the landlords are great gainers, but by what industry or attention have they earned their profits? How have they contributed to the progress of this manufacture, unless by forbearing to obstruct it? And yet from the necessity under which the manufacturing poor lived, of resorting to these landholders to purchase from them the use of houses and land, for the residence of their families, they have been enabled to tax their humble industry at a very high rate, and to rob them of perhaps more than one-half of its reward.

Had the manufacturers of such districts possessed what every citizen seems entitled to have, a secure home of their own - had they enjoyed full property in their lands; would not then the reward of their industrious labour have remained entire in their own hands?... Read the entire essay
Ted Gwartney:  Estimating Land Values

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, suggested that any "tax" should be a charge for services which benefit all people and are more efficiently preformed by a single cooperative effort. He postulated four principles of taxation which any source of revenue should meet:

1. Light on the production of wealth, and does not impede or reduce production;

2. Cheap to collect, requiring few collectors, and easy to understand;

3. Certain; can't be avoided, little opportunity for corruption, and provides adequate revenue;

4. Equitable and fair, payment for benefits received, impartial, and just.

Collecting public revenue from land rent is the only revenue source, or "tax", that meets these criteria.

While the major argument for raising public revenue from land rent and natural resources is because it is equitable and fair, it is also the most efficient method of raising the revenue which is needed for public facilities and services. Land is visible, can't be hidden and its valuation is less intrusive than valuations of income and sales. Taxes on labor and capital cause people to consider alternative options, including working with less effort, which produces less real goods. For example, a tax on wages will reduce after-tax net wages and weaken the incentive to work. A person might be willing to work hard for a wage of $20 per hour, but decide to drop out if the taxes take $8 and the net wage is only $12 per hour. Economists claim that present taxes account for a 25% loss in production in the United States. Production and consumption would be greatly improved if public revenue came primarily from land rather than a wage tax. The same would occur when buildings and machinery are taxed. The tax on building reduces the quantity and quality of buildings produced. A tax on sales, commerce or value added reduces consumption, production and net wealth. Sales tax evasion in the United States has exceeded 30% in recent years.

As new inventions and more efficient ways of producing goods are discovered, people's economic well-being is not improved, because they have lost access to land and must pay both rent and taxes. (5) Instead of rent being used to provide community services, capital and wages must be depleted, which obstructs private enterprise.

When the rent of land is taken for public purposes production and distribution are not held back. This is because the same amount of rent would otherwise have been taken by some private individual. The rent would be the same, the difference is how it is utilized. There is evidence that communities who raise their revenue from land, rather than from labor and capital, are more prosperous, many increasing productivity by more than 25% (6) ... Read the whole article

Kris Feder: Progress and Poverty Today

As this book was written, the Industrial Revolution was transforming America and Europe at a breathless pace. In just a century, an economy that worked on wind, water, and muscular effort had become supercharged by steam, coal, and electricity. Canals, railroads, steamships and the telegraph were linking regional economies into a national and global network of exchange. The United States had stretched from coast to coast; the western frontier was evaporating.

American journalist and editor Henry George marveled at the stunning advance of technology, yet was alarmed by ominous trends. Why had not this unprecedented increase in productivity banished want and starvation from civilized countries, and lifted the working classes from poverty to prosperity? Instead, George saw that the division of labor, the widening of markets, and rapid urbanization had increased the dependence of the working poor upon forces beyond their control. The working poor were always, of course, the most vulnerable in depressions, and last to recover from them. Unemployment and pauperism had appeared in America, and indeed, were more prevalent in the developed East than in the aspiring West. It was "as though a great wedge were being forced, not underneath society, but through society. Those who are above the point of separation are elevated, but those who are below are crushed down." This, the "great enigma of our times," was the problem George set out to solve in Progress and Poverty.  ...  Read the whole article
Henry George: Concentrations of Wealth Harm America (excerpt from Social Problems)  (1883)
There is in all the past nothing to compare with the rapid changes now going on in the civilized world. It seems as though in the European race, and in the nineteenth century, man was just beginning to live -- just grasping his tools and becoming conscious of his powers. The snails pace of crawling ages has suddenly become the headlong rush of the locomotive, speeding faster and faster. This rapid progress is primarily in industrial methods and material powers. But industrial changes imply social changes and necessitate politic changes. Progressive societies outgrow institutions as children outgrow clothes. Social progress always requires greater intelligence in the management of public affairs; but this the more as progress is rapid and change quicker... 

The mere growth of society involves danger of the gradual conversion of government into something independent of and beyond the people, and the gradual seizure of its powers by a ruling class -- though not necessarily a class marked off by personal titles and a hereditary status, for, as history shows, personal titles and hereditary status do not accompany the concentration of power, but follow it. The same methods which, in a little town where each knows his neighbor and matters of common interest are under the common eye, enable the citizens freely to govern themselves, may, in a great city, as we have in many cases seen, enable an organized ring of plunderers to gain and hold the government. So, too, as we see in Congress, and even in our State legislatures, the growth of the country and the greater number of interests make the proportion of the votes of a representative, of which his constituents know or care to know, less and less. And so, too, the executive and judicial departments tend constantly to pass beyond the scrutiny of the people.

But to the changes produced by growth are, with us, added the changes brought about by improved industrial methods. The tendency of steam and of machinery is to the division of labor, to the concentration of wealth and power. Workmen are becoming massed by hundreds and thousands in the employ of single individuals and firms; small storekeepers and merchants are becoming the clerks and salesmen of great business houses; we have already corporations whose revenues and pay rolls belittle those of the greatest States. And with this concentration grows the facility of combination among these great business interests. How readily the railroad companies, the coal operators, the steel producers, even the match manufacturers, combine, either to regulate prices or to use the powers of government! The tendency in all branches of industry is to the formation of rings against which the individual is helpless, and which exert their power upon government whenever their interests may thus be served.  ...  Read the entire article

Nic Tideman:  Applications of Land Value Taxation to Problems of Environmental Protection, Congestion, Efficient Resource Use, Population, and Economic Growth
With resources such as oil, which are depleted over time, new issues of efficiency and justice arise. Depletable resources ought to be regarded as part of the heritage to which everyone has equal rights, though some provision must then be made to provide incentives for discovery. Equal rights are expressed by requiring everyone who uses a depletable resource to pay for the resulting depletion. Efficiency requires that a resource that is to be depleted over time be sold in such a pattern over time as will maximize the present value of receipts. This generally means using a lot in early years, then less and less as time goes by, with the price of resources in the ground rising at the interest rate. If the receipts were spent as they were received, more would go to early generations than to later generations. A principle of equal rights to natural opportunities means that the receipts should be put into a fund, from which equal payments are made to all persons in all years. Furthermore, later generations are disadvantaged by the higher price of oil that they face. A principle of equal rights for all persons would allocate additional payments to later generations to compensate them for the higher price of oil they faced, though this could be offset by later generations having access to technology that earlier generations did not have. Thus a nation that provides the rest of the world with technology that eases the task of providing for future generations should receive a credit for this, although there will be difficulty in estimating the contribution of any innovation. (If one person had not discovered something, the chances are that eventually some else would have.)... Read the entire article
Nic Tideman:  Global Economic Justice, followed by Creating Global Economic Justice
Resources that Fluctuate over Time

The natural opportunities that have been considered to this point are ones that, to a first approximation, yield constant returns over time. A new set of issues arises when this theory of social justice is applied to resources that yield returns that necessarily vary over time. Now the issue of intergenerational justice arises along with that of international justice.

Consider first the issue of intergenerational justice without the complication of international concerns. The efficient use of depletable natural opportunities requires that they be allocated over time in such a way as to maximize the present value of net revenue from sales. As economists have long known, this requires that prices charged for resources that are being depleted rise at the rate of interest. But this is just efficiency. It says nothing about who should get the money.

The axiom that all persons have equal rights to natural opportunities suggests that when we deplete a resource such as oil, there are two steps that must be taken to achieve intergenerational equity. In the first step, when oil is sold we must share the proceeds over generations in such a way that every person in every generation can receive a payment of the same real value every year. To satisfy this obligation when the number of people alive in different years is not proportional to the amount of oil used in those years, we need to invest the proceeds of oil sales in a fund that would make annual payments to all persons of a size that could be maintained for all generations.

This first step provides intergenerational equity with respect to oil revenue, but it does nothing about the fact that, if oil is allocated efficiently over time, later generations will face a higher price of oil than early generations. To provide equity with respect to the changing price of access to natural opportunities, there must be a second step that redistributes money among generations to offset the changing price.

This second step implicitly assumes a world with no change in technology. If an early generation provides later generations with improved technology, then the later generations are treated justly if the combination of prices of commodities, technology and money received from the earlier generation permits them to attain the same overall level of satisfaction as the earlier generation. This specification of justice presumes that everyone has the same tastes. When tastes differ, an improvement in technology that more than compensates some persons for a greater scarcity of some natural resources will provide inadequate compensation for others. Such inequality cannot be avoided. All that can be expected is that those who use exhaustible resources will, by limiting their use and providing endowments for future generations, make it possible for the typical member of every future generation to attain the same level of well-being as the typical members of the earlier generations of resource users. Success in such an effort cannot be guaranteed. We don't know the tastes of future generations. We don't know the rate at which technology will advance. We don't know the rate at which new resources will be discovered. Estimates of all these things must be made to determine the proper rate of resource use and the proper endowments of future generations. The most that can be asked for is a good-faith effort to achieve the standard required by justice.

Now consider the international dimension of intergenerational equity. What one nation owes to others with respect to intergenerational equity is compensation for making it more difficult for the other nations to provide adequately for their future generations. If all nations are using the same amount of oil per capita, then no nation can complain about what the others are doing. But if one nation is using more oil per capita than the others, then it owes compensation to the others for making it harder for the others to provide all of their future generations with equal rights to natural opportunities. If oil is being allocated efficiently and equitably among generations, the amount of compensation that an excessively consuming nation owes will be the market value of its excess oil consumption, valued in terms of the price of oil in the ground. The same result is obtained if all nations include the resource value of all oil that they consume, and all other depletable resources, in the calculation of what they appropriate for themselves from everyone's common heritage.

One of the ways that a nation can compensate other nations for disproportionate use of natural opportunities is by creating technology that other nations can use to compensate their future generations for scarcer natural resources. If gasoline costs twice as much but cars are twice as efficient, people are not, on net, disadvantaged by the higher price of gasoline. This line of reasoning requires contestable judgements about the value of new technology and how long it would have taken before someone else would have made the same discovery. Nevertheless, technological improvements are a valid form of compensation for resource scarcity.

One issue that arises when technological improvements are used as compensation is that not all nations place the same value on technology. If some island nation wishes to maintain a way of life that does not involve cars, then that nation is not compensated for an increased scarcity of fish by increased efficiency of car engines. What compensates a particular nation must reflect the typical preferences of that nation.

Another troublesome issue with respect to natural opportunities is that people have different ideas about which creatures are properly treated simply as resources and which deserve a higher level of respect. When creatures are non-migratory, the right to control them can simply go with the land they occupy, and bids for the land will reflect values with respect to the creatures that occupy the land. However, with migratory creatures such as whales and songbirds, a different mechanism must be created to deal with desires to protect. If nations representing 80% of the world's population want to protect whales, then they should be able to protect 80% of whales. How such a rule would be implemented in practice is a problem that I leave for others to wrestle with.  ...  Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: Property Tax: Biases and Reforms
Priority #1. Safeguarding the property tax
Priority #2: Enforce Good Laws
  • Reassess Land Frequently
  • Use the Building-Residual Method of Allocating Value
  • Federal Income Taxes
Priority #3. De-Balkanize Tax Enclaves
  • A. Rich and Poor
  • B. Timber and Timberland
  • The Role of Timber and Timberland
  • Two More Areas Deserving Attention
    • Offshore Oil
    • Tax All Natural Resources Uniformly and Comprehensively

Priority #4. What Tax to Fight First?
Priority #5: Make Landowners Pay Their Taxes

Tax All Natural Resources Uniformly and Comprehensively

Advances in the arts and sciences keep disclosing new values in old resources. Owing to institutional lag, these values can grow huge without finding their way onto the tax rolls. A thoughtless reaction is, "Bureaucrats want to tax everything!" The point is to tax all natural resources uniformly and comprehensively, to end the lowering taxes on incomes, productive business, and sales! Land taxation will not win wide support, nor will it deserve to, if it is perceived as a tax focusing on median homeowners, farmers, and merchants, while exempting oilmen, media tycoons, and timber barons.

In addition to newly awakened resources, many resources long known (like water) are held in odd tenures that have not been recognized as taxable property, although they should be. Any comprehensive move toward using resource rents for public revenue must include these varied resources and tenures. I have a list of 30 or so, too many to treat here. To give a sampling, they include

  • pollution easements over air and water;
  • aircraft landing time-slots and gates;
  • aquifers;
  • benefits from covenants;
  • access easements;
  • power drops;
  • concessions;
  • fisheries;
  • franchises;
  • the gene pool;
  • grazing licenses;
  • minerals;
  • orbits;
  • soils;
  • radio spectrum;
  • rights-of-way;
  • shipping lanes;
  • standing to sue;
  • strata titles;
  • use of the streets;
  • wildlife;
  • wind; and
  • zoning.

In tapping these many varieties of resources and tenures for public revenues, citizens and their representatives may have to set priorities. Two practical criteria rise to the top:

Jeff Smith: What the Left Must Do: Share the Surplus

In An Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928), George Bernard Shaw told how he began his political career as a Georgist but left to found the Fabians in order to promote a social salary. HG Wells likewise faulted George for not faulting the state’s misspending and focusing squarely on taxation. While more famous for his tax shift, Henry George did endorse the idea of a dividend. Martin Luther King in his own "Where Do We Go From Here?" cited George then proposed an extra income that would be dynamic, that would “automatically increase as the total social income grows.” This is precisely what a Citizens Dividend does; as progress pushes up site values, one’s share of the resultant Rent rises, too. The stratospheric land costs in Silicon Valley, Silicon Forest, and silicon anywhere exemplify how the advances in machines show up in the costs of locations. Read the whole article
Herbert J. G. Bab:  Property Tax — Cause of Unemployment
Ricardo believed that ground rents and the value of land have a tendency to rise continuously and that this benefits solely the landowners. The progress of industrialization and urbanization in the second half of the 19th century resulted in a rapid increase in the value of urban land and the owners of such land reaped tremendous profits. This led John Stuart Mill to observe, that "Only the landowners grow richer, as it were in their sleep without working, risking and economizing". He called for the taxation of land in order to recapture the unearned increment accruing to the land owners.

The apostle of land taxation is Henry George. In his famous book Progress and Poverty he develops his single tax theory. He tries to show that poverty and unemployment and other evils are caused by the land monopolists. Henry George's theory is similar to that developed by John Stuart Mill. Land values are based on ground rents which are created by the community and not by the land owners. Therefore the community is justified in recapturing these rents by a single tax on land. ...

If John Stuart Mill or Henry George would be alive today, they would be disappointed that the taxation of the unearned increment in land values has not made more progress. They would be surprised that the rise in urban land values has not been as steep as they had expected. Yet the universal use of automobiles has in an unforeseeable way multiplied the land available for residential use. It has made possible the exodus of a large part of the middle class out of our towns into suburban areas. Thus the invention of the automobile has upset the dire predictions and expectations of the economists who advocated the taxation of land.  Read the whole article

Fred Foldvary:  See the Cat
Picture an unpopulated island where we're going to produce one good, corn, and there are eleven grades of land. On the best land, we can grow ten bushels of corn per week; the second land grows nine bushels, and so on to the worst land that grows zero bushels. We'll ignore capital goods at first. The first settlers go the best land. While there is free ten-bushel land, rent is zero, so wages are 10. When the 10-bushel land is all settled, immigrants go to the 9-bushel land.

Wages in the 9-bushel land equal 9 while free land is available. What then are wages in the 10-bushel land? They must also be 9, since labor is mobile. If you offer less, nobody will come, and if you offer a bit more than 9, everybody in the 9-bushel land will want to work for you. Competition among workers makes wages the same all over (we assume all workers are alike). So that extra bushel in the 10-bushel land, after paying 9 for labor, is rent.

That border line where the best free land is being settled is called the "margin of production." When the margin moves to the 8-bushel land, wages drop to 8. Rent is now 1 on the 9-bushel land and 2 on the 10-bushel land. Do you see what the trend is? As the margin moves to less productive lands, wages are going down and rent is going up. We can also now see that wages are determined at the margin of production. That is the "law of wages." The wage at the margin sets the wage for all lands. The production in the better lands left after paying wages goes to rent. That is the "law of rent." If you understand the law of wages and the law of rent, you see the cat! To complete our cat story, suppose folks can get land to rent and sell for higher prices later rather than using it now. This land speculation will hog up lands and make the margin move further out than without speculation, lowering wages and raising rent even more.

Now we have good news and bad news. The good news is that when we put in the capital goodsThe bad news is that the technology enables us to extend the margin to less productive land, which lowers wages again. So there is this constant race between technology raising wages and lower margins reducing wages. ... we first left out from the example above, the tools and technology increase the productivity of all the lands. If production doubles, rent doubles, and wages go up. Wages won't double, because workers have to pay for the tools, but even if wages go up 50 percent, that's good news, and why industrialized economies have a high standard of living. Also, high skills enable educated workers to have a wage premium above the basic wage level. Read the whole article

Henry Ford Talks About War and Your Future - 1942 interview

Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

FIVE centuries ago the wealth-producing power of England, man for man, was small indeed compared with what it is now. Not merely were all the great inventions and discoveries which since the Introduction of steam have revolutionized mechanical industry then undreamed of, but even agriculture was far ruder and less productive. Artificial grasses had not been discovered. The potato, the carrot, the turnip, the beet, and many other plants and vegetables which the farmer now finds most prolific, had not been introduced. The advantages which ensue from rotation of crops were unknown. Agricultural implements consisted of the spade, the sickle, the flail, the rude plow and the harrow. Cattle had not been bred to more than one-half the size they average now, and sheep did not yield half the fleece. Roads, where there were roads, were extremely bad, wheel vehicles scarce and rude, and places a hundred miles from each other were, in difficulties of transportation, practically as far apart as London and Hong Kong, or San Francisco and New York, are now.

Yet patient students of those times tell us that the condition of the English laborer was not only relatively, but absolutely better in those rude times than it is in England today, after five centuries of advance in the productive arts. They tell us that the workingman did not work so hard as he does now, and lived better; that he was exempt from the harassing dread of being forced by loss of employment to want and beggary, or of leaving a family that must apply to charity to avoid I starvation. Pauperism as it prevails in the rich England of the nineteenth century was in the far poorer England of the fourteenth century absolutely unknown. Medicine was empirical and superstitious, sanitary regulations and precautions were all but unknown. There were frequently plague and occasionally famine, for, owing to the difficulties of transportation, the scarcity of one district could not "be relieved by the plenty of another. But men did not as they do now, starve in the midst of abundance; and what is perhaps the most significant fact of all is that not only were women and children not worked as they are today, but the eight-hour system, which even the working classes of the United States, with all the profusion of labor-saving machinery and appliances have not yet attained, was then the common system! — Protection or Free Trade — Chapter 22: The Real Weakness of Free Trade.

MENTAL power is the motor of progress, and men tend to advance in proportion to the mental power expended in progression — the mental power which is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the improvement of methods, and the betterment of social conditions. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress

To compare society to a boat. Her progress through the water will not depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force required for baling, or any expenditure of force in fighting among themselves or in pulling in different directions.

Now, as in a separated state the whole powers of man are required to maintain existence, and mental power is only set free for higher uses by the association of men in communities, which permits the division of labor and all the economies which come with the co-operation of increased numbers, association is the first essential of progress. Improvement becomes possible as men come together in peaceful association, and the wider and closer the association, the greater the possibilities of improvement. And as the wasteful expenditure of mental power in conflict becomes greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an equality of rights is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice) is the second essential of progress.

Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality (or justice, or freedom — for the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition of the moral law) prevents the dissipation of this power in fruitless struggles. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress ... go to "Gems from George"


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