Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal  (1887 speech)
Crowded! Is it any wonder that people are crowded together as they are in this city, when we see other people taking up far more land than they can by any possibility use, and holding it for enormous prices? Why, what would have happened if, when these doors were opened, the first people who came in had claimed all the seats around them, and demanded a price of others who afterwards came in by the same equal right? Yet that is precisely the way we are treating this continent.

That is the reason why people are huddled together in tenement houses; that is the reason why work is difficult to get; the reason that there seems, even in good times, a surplus of labor, and that in those times that we call bad, the times of industrial depression, there are all over the country thousands and hundreds of thousands of men tramping from place to place, unable to find employment.

Not work enough! Why, what is work? Productive work is simply the application of human labor to land, it is simply the transforming, into shapes adapted to gratify human desires, of the raw material that the Creator has placed here. Is there not opportunity enough for work in this country? Supposing that, when thousands of men are unemployed and there are hard times everywhere, we could send a committee up to the high court of heaven to represent the misery and the poverty of the people here, consequent on their not being able to find employment.

What answer would we get? "Are your lands all in use? Are your mines all worked out? Are there no natural opportunities for the employment of labor?" What could we ask the Creator to furnish us with that is not already here in abundance? He has given us the globe amply stocked with raw materials for our needs. He has given us the power of working up this raw material.

If there seems scarcity, if there is want, if there are people starving in the midst of plenty, is it not simply because what the Creator intended for all has been made the property of the few? And in moving against this giant wrong, which denies to labor access to the natural opportunities for the employment of labor, we move against the cause of poverty. ...  read the whole article
(c) The taxation of the processes and products of labor on one hand, and the insufficient taxation of land values on the other, produce an unjust distribution of wealth which is building up in the hands of a few, fortunes more monstrous than the world has ever before seen, while the masses of our people are steadily becoming relatively poorer. These taxes necessarily fall on the poor more heavily than on the rich; by increasing prices, they necessitate a larger capital in all businesses, and consequently give an advantage to large capitals; and they give, and in some cases are designed to give, special advantage and monopolies to combinations and trusts. On the other hand, the insufficient taxation of land values enables men to make large fortunes by land speculation and the increase of ground values — fortunes which do not represent any addition by them to the general wealth of the community, but merely the appropriation by some of what the labor of others creates.

This unjust distribution of wealth develops on the one hand a class idle and wasteful because they are too rich, and on the other hand a class idle and wasteful because they are too poor. It deprives men of capital and opportunities which would make them more efficient producers. It thus greatly diminishes production.  ...  read the whole article

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

It seems to us that your Holiness misses its real significance in intimating that Christ, in becoming the son of a carpenter and himself working as a carpenter, showed merely that “there is nothing to be ashamed of in seeking one’s bread by labor.” To say that is almost like saying that by not robbing people he showed that there is nothing to be ashamed of in honesty. If you will consider how true in any large view is the classification of all men into working-men, beggar-men and thieves, you will see that it was morally impossible that Christ during his stay on earth should have been anything else than a working-man, since he who came to fulfil the law must by deed as well as word obey God’s law of labor.

See how fully and how beautifully Christ’s life on earth illustrated this law. Entering our earthly life in the weakness of infancy, as it is appointed that all should enter it, he lovingly took what in the natural order is lovingly rendered, the sustenance, secured by labor, that one generation owes to its immediate successors. Arrived at maturity, he earned his own subsistence by that common labor in which the majority of men must and do earn it. Then passing to a higher — to the very highest — sphere of labor, he earned his subsistence by the teaching of moral and spiritual truths, receiving its material wages in the love-offerings of grateful hearers, and not refusing the costly spikenard with which Mary anointed his feet. So, when he chose his disciples, he did not go to landowners or other monopolists who live on the labor of others, but to common laboring-men. And when he called them to a higher sphere of labor and sent them out to teach moral and spiritual truths, he told them to take, without condescension on the one hand or sense of degradation on the other, the loving return for such labor, saying to them that “the laborer is worthy of his hire,” thus showing, what we hold, that all labor does not consist in what is called manual labor, but that whoever helps to add to the material, intellectual, moral or spiritual fullness of life is also a laborer.*

* Nor should it be forgotten that the investigator, the philosopher, the teacher, the artist, the poet, the priest, though not engaged in the production of wealth, are not only engaged in the production of utilities and satisfactions to which the production of wealth is only a means, but by acquiring and diffusing knowledge, stimulating mental powers and elevating the moral sense, may greatly increase the ability to produce wealth. For man does not live by bread alone. . . . He who by any exertion of mind or body adds to the aggregate of enjoyable wealth, increases the sum of human knowledge, or gives to human life higher elevation or greater fullness — he is, in the large meaning of the words, a “producer,” a “working-man,” a “laborer,” and is honestly earning honest wages. But he who without doing aught to make mankind richer, wiser, better, happier, lives on the toil of others — he, no matter by what name of honor he may be called, or how lustily the priests of Mammon may swing their censers before him, is in the last analysis but a beggar-man or a thief. — Protection or Free Trade, pp. 74-75.

In assuming that laborers, even ordinary manual laborers, are naturally poor, you ignore the fact that labor is the producer of wealth, and attribute to the natural law of the Creator an injustice that comes from man’s impious violation of his benevolent intention. In the rudest stage of the arts it is possible, where justice prevails, for all well men to earn a living. With the labor-saving appliances of our time, it should be possible for all to earn much more. And so, in saying that poverty is no disgrace, you convey an unreasonable implication. For poverty ought to be a disgrace, since in a condition of social justice, it would, where unsought from religious motives or unimposed by unavoidable misfortune, imply recklessness or laziness.


... read the whole letter



Henry George: How to Help the Unemployed   (1894)

AN EPIDEMIC of what passes for charity is sweeping over the land. ...

Yet there has been no disaster of fire or flood, no convulsion of nature, no destruction by public enemies. The seasons have kept their order, we have had the former and the latter rain, and the earth has not refused her increase. Granaries are filled to overflowing, and commodities, even these we have tried to make dear by tariff, were never before so cheap.

The scarcity that is distressing and frightening the whole country is a scarcity of employment. ...

Yet why is it that men able to work and willing to work cannot find work? ...

What more unnatural than that alms should be asked, not for the maimed, the halt and the blind, the helpless widow and the tender orphan, but for grown men, strong men, skilful men, men able to work and anxious to work! What more unnatural than that labor -- the producer of all food, all clothing, all shelter -- should not be exchangeable for its full equivalent in food, clothing, and shelter; that while the things it produces have value, labor, the giver of all value, should seem valueless!  ...

or the question of the unemployed is but a more than usually acute phase of the great labor question -- a question of the distribution of wealth. Now, given any wrong, no matter what, that affects the distribution of wealth, and it follows that the leading class must be averse to any examination or question of it. For, since wealth is power, the leading class is necessarily dominated by those who profit or imagine they profit by injustice in the distribution of wealth. Hence, the very indisposition to ask the cause of evils so great as to arouse and startle the whole community is but proof that they spring from some wide and deep injustice.

What that injustice is may be seen by whoever will really look. We have only to ask to find. ...

But there is no need for charity; no need for "making work." All that is needed is to remove the restrictions that prevent the natural demand for the products of work from availing itself of the natural supply. Remove them today, and every unemployed man in the country could find for himself employment tomorrow, and his "effective demand" for the things he desires would infuse new life into every subdivision of business and industry, even that of the dentist, the preacher, the magazine writer, or the actor.

The country is suffering from "scarcity of employment." But let anyone today attempt to employ his own labor or that of others, whether in making two blades of grass grow where one grew before, or in erecting a factory, and he will at once meet the speculator to demand of him an unnatural price for the land he must use, and the tax-gatherer to fine him for his act in employing labor as if he had committed a crime. The common-sense way to cure "scarcity of employment" is to take taxes off the products and processes of employment and to impose in their stead the tax that would end speculation in land. ...  Read the entire article


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