Millions of Americans work full-time year-round at jobs that don't provide
enough to support themselves much less a family. Millions of parents of young
children are both employed full-time outside the home at wages that barely
cover the costs of child care. Thousands of childcare workers aren't paid enough
to live decently or further their own educations.
Is there a way out of this? Henry George saw one. He describes where all the
money is going, and prescribes the remedy for this. His remedy will create
jobs, improve wages, reduce the concentrations of wealth and income, and lower
the barriers to entry for those who dream of opening their own businesses.
Henry George: The Crime
of Poverty (1885 speech)
Did you ever think of the utter absurdity and strangeness of the fact
that, all over the civilised world, the working classes are the poor
classes? Go into any city in the world, and get into a cab and ask the
man to drive you where the working people live. He won't take you to
where the fine houses are. He will take you, on the contrary, into the
squalid quarters, the poorer quarters. Did you ever think how curious
that is? Think for a moment how it would strike a rational being who
had never been on the earth before, if such an intelligence could come
down, and you were to explain to him how we live on earth, how houses
and food and clothing, and all the many things we need were all
produced by work, would he not think that the working people would be
the people who lived in the finest houses and had most of everything
that work produces? Yet, whether you took him to London or Paris or New
York, or even to Burlington, he would find that those called the
working people were the people who live in the poorest houses.
All this is strange — just think of it. We naturally despise
poverty; and it is reasonable that we should. I do not say — I
distinctly repudiate it — that the people who are poor are poor always
from their own fault, or even in most cases; but it ought to be so. If any good man or woman could create a
world, it would be a sort of a world in which no one would be poor
unless he was lazy or vicious. But that is just precisely the kind of a
world this is; that is just precisely the kind of a world the Creator
has made. Nature gives to labour, and to labour alone; there
must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in
the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would
be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so
reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the
workingman as a poor man. ... read the whole speech
Henry George: The Crime of Poverty (1885 speech)
... Nature gives to labour, and to
labour alone; there must be human work before any article of wealth can
be produced; and in the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly
and well would be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor.
We have so reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think
of the workingman as a poor man.
And if you trace it out I believe you will
see that the primary cause of this is that we compel those who work to pay
others for permission to do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house; there
you are paying the seller for labour exerted, for something that he has produced,
or that he has got from the man who did produce it; but when you pay a man
for land, what are you paying him for? You are paying for something that
no man has produced; you pay him for something that was here before man was,
or for a value that was created, not by him individually, but by the community
of which you are a part. What is the reason
that the land here, where we stand tonight, is worth more than it was twenty-five
years ago? What is the reason that land in the centre of New York, that once
could be bought by the mile for a jug of whiskey, is now worth so much that,
though you were to cover it with gold, you would not have its value? Is it
not because of the increase of population? Take away that population,
and where would the value of the land be? Look at it in any way you please. ...
Now, supposing we should abolish all other
taxes direct and indirect, substituting for them a tax upon land values,
what would be the effect?
Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal
- In the first place it would be to kill speculative values. It would
be to remove from the newer parts of the country the bulk of the taxation
and put it on the richer parts. It would be to exempt the pioneer from
taxation and make the larger cities pay more of it. It would be to relieve
energy and enterprise, capital and labour, from all those burdens that
now bear upon them. What a start that would give to production!
- In the second place we could, from the value of the land, not merely
pay all the present expenses of the government, but we could do infinitely
more. In the city of San Francisco James Lick left a few
blocks of ground to be used for public purposes there, and
the rent amounts to so much, that out of it will be built the largest telescope
in the world, large public baths and other public buildings, and various
costly works. If, instead of these few blocks, the whole value of
the land upon which the city is built had accrued to San Francisco what
could she not do? ... read the whole speech
Natural religion and revealed
religion alike tell us that God is no
respecter of persons; that He did not make this planet for a few
individuals; that He did not give it to one generation in preference to
other generations, but that He made it for the use during their lives
of all the people that His providence brings into the world. If this be
true, the child that is born tonight in the humblest tenement in the
most squalid quarter of New York, comes into life seized with as good a
title to the land of this city as any Astor or Rhinelander.
How do we know that the Almighty is against poverty? That it is
accordance with His decree that poverty exists? We know it because we
know this, that the Almighty has declared: "Thou shalt not steal." And
we know for a truth that the poverty that exists today in the midst of
abounding wealth is the result of a system that legalizes theft.
The women who by the thousands are bending over their needles or
machines, thirteen, fourteen, sixteen hours a day; these widows
straining and striving to bring up the little ones deprived of their
natural breadwinner; the children that are growing up in squalor and
wretchedness, underclothed, underfed, undereducated, even in this city,
without any place to play — growing up under conditions in which only a
miracle can keep them pure — under conditions which condemn them in
advance to the penitentiary or the brothel — they suffer, they die,
because we permit them to be robbed, robbed of their birthright, robbed
by a system which disinherits the vast majority of the children that
come into the world.
There is enough and to spare for them. Had they the equal rights
estate which their Creator has given them, there would be no young
girls forced to unwomanly toil to eke out a mere existence; no widows
finding it such a bitter, bitter struggle to put bread into the mouths
of their little children; no such misery and squalor as we may see here
in the greatest of American cities; misery and squalor that are deepest
in the largest and richest centers of our civilization today.
These things are the results of legalized theft, the fruit of a
of that commandment that says: "Thou shalt not steal." How is this
great commandment interpreted today, even by men who preach the Gospel?
"Thou shalt not steal." Well, according to some of them, it means:
"Thou shalt not get into the penitentiary." Not much more than that
with some. You may steal, provided you steal enough, and you do not get
caught. Do not steal a few dollars — that may be dangerous, but if you
steal millions and get away with it, you become one of our first
citizens. ... read the whole speech
Clarence Darrow: How to Abolish
Unfair Taxation (1913)
Everybody nowadays is anxious to help do something for the poor, especially
they who are on the backs of the poor; they will do anything that is not
fundamental. Nobody ever dreams of giving the poor a chance to help themselves.
in this state have passed a law prohibiting women from working more than
eight hours in one day in certain industries — so much do women love
to work that they must be stopped by law. If any benevolent heathen see fit
here and do work, we send them to gaol or send them back where they came
All these prohibitory laws are froth. You can only cure effects by curing
the cause. Every sin and every wrong that exists in the world is the product
of law, and you cannot cure it without curing the cause. Lawyers, as a class,
are very stupid. What would you think of a doctor, who, finding a case of malaria,
instead of draining the swamp, would send the patient to gaol, and leave the
swamp where it is? We are seeking to improve conditions of life by improving
No man created the earth, but to a large extent all take from the earth
a portion of it and mould it into useful things for the use of man. Without
man cannot live; without access to it man cannot labor. First of all, he
must have the earth, and this he cannot have access to until the single tax
It has been proven by the history of the human race that the single tax
does work, and that it will work as its advocates claim. For instance, man
from Europe, filled with a population of the poor, and discovered the great
continent of America. Here, when he could not get profitable employment,
he went on the free land and worked for himself, and in those early days
were no problems of poverty, no wonderfully rich and no extremely poor — because
there was cheap land. Men could go to work for themselves, and thus take the
surplus off the labor market. There were no beggars in the early days. It was
only when the landlord got in his work — when the earth monopoly was
complete — that the great mass of men had to look to a boss for a
All the remedial laws on earth can scarcely help the poor when the earth
is monopolized. Men must live from the earth, they must till the soil, dig
coal and iron and cut down the forest. Wise men know it, and cunning men
know it, and so a few have reached out their hands and grasped the earth;
say, "These mines of coal and iron, which it took nature ages and ages
to store, belong to me; and no man can touch them until he sees fit to pay
the tribute I demand." ...
Fundamentally, all law recognizes the right to eminent domain, to take the
portion of any human being for the welfare of the public — that no
man's claim to any portion of the earth shall stand in the way of the common
This is a common law, but in practice it only applies where a rich railroad
wants to get the land of some poor widow.
Everybody who works is poor; nobody would work if they were not poor, and
nobody can get rich working. I never tried it, but I have seen others try
it. The land boomer comes along and gets good car service to this poor man's
and then charges him ten dollars per month instead of five. A lot of reformers
are trying to get parks laid out in the slums, which only make the poor
move, for they cannot pay the increased rent. The greater the population,
the worker gets. As the land becomes valuable, more and more goes to rent.
The bigger the city, the deeper the poverty; the bigger the city the more
degradation, there are the almshouses and gaols filled to overflowing. It
is better for
the men who own the earth to have big cities — but for no one else.
Every man, woman, and child adds to the wealth of the land owner; the others
secure land upon which to live, and they must bid with each other for the
right to live. ... read the whole speech
Walter Rybeck: What Affordable
Like all creatures --
goldfinches, squirrels, butterflies, cicadas --
we humans are squatters on this planet. We all need a part of earth for
shelter, nourishment, a work site and a place to raise the next
generation. Otherwise we perish. ...
In the 1980s, Washington, D.C., was concerned about its growing army of
homeless. At that time I found there were 8,000 boarded-up dwelling
units in our Nation's Capital -- more than enough to accommodate some
5,000 street people. I also found there were 11,500 privately owned
vacant lots in the District of Columbia, mostly zoned for and suitable
for homes or apartments. Decent housing on these sites held in cold
storage would have provided an alternative for the many low-income
families squatting in places that were overcrowded, overpriced, overrun
with vermin and overloaded with safety hazards.
These issues spurred my research described in a 1988 report, "Affordable Housing -- A Missing Link."
Evidence from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other
sources over a 30-year period revealed the following average cost
increases of items that go into the building and maintenance of housing:
- Wages of general building construction workers rose 14
percent a year.
- Wages of special trade construction workers rose 11
percent a year.
- Construction material costs rose 11.5 percent a year.
- Combined wage-materials-managerial costs for residential
building rose 12.5 percent a year.
- Fuel and utility costs for housing rose 13.8 percent a
of these costs closely tracked the Consumer Price Index which, over
these same 30 years, rose by 12 percent a year. According to those
figures, housing prices and housing rents apparently were held in check
Why do those statistics not seem to jibe with what you have been told,
seen with your own eyes, and felt in your own pocketbooks?
- How to explain that, during the last decade of my research
households with serious housing problems increased from 19 to 24
- What caused the portion of renters paying more than 35
percent of their
income for housing doubled from 21 to 41 percent during the last two
decades of the study period?
- Why were over 2.4 million renters paying 60 percent or
more of their income for rent?
answers would be obvious except that, so far, I have not mentioned
what happened to the price of the land that housing sits on. Many of
those who talk and write about housing conveniently overlook the fact
that housing does not exist in mid air but is attached to the land, and
that the price of this land has gone through the stratosphere.
In contrast to those 11- to 14-percent annual increases in
housing-related costs, residential land values nationwide rose almost
80 percent a year, or almost 2000 percent over those three
A close friend in
Bethesda bought a house and lot there 40 years ago
for $20,000. Two months ago he sold the property for a cool half
million. That 2400 percent increase was entirely land value. The buyer
immediately demolished the house to put up a larger one, so he clearly
paid half a million for the location value -- the land value -- alone.
Officials, civic leaders and commentators who bemoan the lack of
affordable housing nevertheless applaud each rise in real estate values
as a sign of prosperity. Seeing their own assets multiply through no
effort of their own apparently makes them forget the teachers, firemen,
police and low-income people who are boxed out of a place to squat in
their cities and neighborhoods. ...
Many of our
Founding Fathers, George Washington included, had amassed huge estates.
But the property tax induced them to sell off excess lands they were
not using. ...
of the many virtues of a tax on land values is that it can be
introduced gradually. Cities that take this incremental approach report
that homeowners-voters-taxpayers hardly notice the change. What's important in modernizing
your taxation is not the speed of change but the direction you choose.
If you keep the present tax system with its disincentives for compact
and wholesome growth, you will experience the treadmill effect that has
been so familiar in so-called urban and housing "solutions." You will
have to keep running faster and faster with patchwork remedies to keep
from sliding backward.
A caution. Revising taxes as proposed
here will not end the need for
housing subsidies, at least not in the short run, but it will do three
things that should greatly reduce subsidies.
- One, by deflating land costs it will enable the private
market to offer homes and sites at lower costs.
- Two, this will shrink the number of families needing
- Three, it will stretch subsidy dollars farther because
sites for publicly assisted housing can be acquired far more cheaply.
In Conclusion, I have tried to show that America has a housing land
problem, not an affordable housing problem. This problem can be
substantially alleviated by freeing the market of anti-enterprise taxes
and by turning the property tax right
side up -- that is, by dropping
tax rates on housing and by raising them on publicly-created land
values. Read the whole article
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.
THE aggregate produce of the labor of a savage tribe is small, but each
member is capable of an independent life. He can build his own habitation,
hew out or stitch together his own canoe, make his own clothing, manufacture
his own weapons, snares, tools and ornaments. He has all the knowledge of
nature possessed by his tribe — knows what vegetable productions are
fit for food, and where they maybe found; knows the habits and resorts of
beasts, birds, fishes and insects; can pilot himself by the sun or the stars,
by the turning of blossoms or the mosses on the trees; is, in short, capable
of supplying all his wants. He may be cut off from his fellows and still
live; and thus possesses an independent power which makes him a free contracting
party in his relations to the community of which he is a member.
Compare with this savage the laborer in the lowest ranks of civilized society,
whose life is spent in producing but one thing, or oftener but the infinitesimal
part of one thing, out of the multiplicity of things that constitute the
wealth of society and go to supply even the most primitive wants; who not
only cannot make even the tools required for his work, but often works with
tools that he does not own, and can never hope to own. Compelled to even
closer and more continuous labor than the savage, and gaining by it no more
than the savage gets — the mere necessaries of life — he loses
the independence of the savage. He is not only unable to apply his own powers
to the direct satisfaction of his own wants, but, without the concurrence
of many others, he is unable to apply them indirectly to the satisfaction
of his wants. He is a mere link in an enormous chain of producers and consumers,
helpless to separate himself, and helpless to move, except as they move.
The worse his position in society, the more dependent is he on society; the
more utterly unable does he become to do anything for himself. The very power
of exerting his labor for the satisfaction of his wants passes from his own
control, and may be taken away or restored by the actions of others, or by
general causes over which he has no more influence than he has over the motions
of the solar system. The primeval curse comes to be looked upon as a boon,
and men think, and talk, and clamor, and legislate as though monotonous manual
labor in itself were a good and not an evil, an end and not a means. Under
such circumstances, the man loses the essential quality of manhood — the
godlike power of modifying and controlling conditions. He becomes a slave,
a machine, a commodity — a thing, in some respects, lower than the
I am no sentimental admirer of the savage state. I do not get my ideas of
the untutored children of nature from Rousseau, or Chateaubriand, or Cooper.
I am conscious of its material and mental poverty, and its low and narrow
range. I believe that civilization is not only the natural destiny of man,
but the enfranchisement, elevation, and refinement of all his powers, and
think that it is only in such moods as may lead him to envy the cud-chewing
cattle, that a man who is free to the advantages of civilization could look
with regret upon the savage state. But, nevertheless, I think no one who
will open his eyes to the facts, can resist the conclusion that there are
in the heart of our civilization large classes with whom the veriest savage
could not afford to exchange. It is my deliberate opinion that if, standing
on the threshold of being, one were given the choice of entering life as
a Terra del Fuegan, a black fellow of Australia, an Esquimaux in the Arctic
Circle, or among the lowest classes in such a highly civilized country as
Great Britain, he would make infinitely the better choice in selecting the
lot of the savage. For those classes who in the midst of wealth are condemned
to want, suffer all the privations of the savage, without his sense of personal
freedom; they are condemned to more than his narrowness and littleness, without
opportunity for the growth of his rude virtues; if their horizon is wider,
it is but to reveal blessings that they cannot enjoy. — Progress & Poverty — Book
V, Chapter 2: The Problem Solved: The Persistence of Poverty Amid Advancing
"THE poor ye have always with you." If ever a scripture has been
wrested to the devil's service, this is that scripture. How often have these
words been distorted from their obvious meaning to soothe conscience into
acquiescence in human misery and degradation — to bolster that blasphemy,
the very negation and denial of Christ's teachings, that the All Wise and
Most Merciful, the Infinite Father, has decreed that so many of His creatures
must be poor in order that others of His creatures to whom He wills the good
things of life should enjoy the please and virtue of doling out alms! "The
poor ye have always with you," said Christ; but all His teachings supply
the limitation, "until the coming of the Kingdom." In that kingdom
of God on earth, that kingdom of justice and love for which He taught His
followers to strive and pray, there will be no poor. — Social Problems — Chapter
8: That We All Might Be Rich.
WE naturally despise poverty; and it is reasonable that we should. I do
not say — I distinctly repudiate it — that the people who are
poor are poor always from their own fault, or even in most cases; but it
ought to be so. If any good man or woman had the power to create a world,
it would be a sort of a world in which no one would be poor unless he was
lazy or vicious. But that is just precisely the kind of a world that this
is; that is just precisely, the kind of a world that the Creator has made.
Nature gives to labor, and to labor alone; there must be human work before
any article of wealth can be produced; and, in a natural state of things,
the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did
not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of nature, that we
are accustomed to think of a working-man as a poor man. — The Crime
... go to "Gems from George"
Kris Feder: Progress and Poverty
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
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