Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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When a significant portion of our society lives without leisure to enjoy their lives, must spend significantly more than 40 hours a week to simply provide the most basis needs of their families, something is wrong. How do we correct this? Where is the key to creating a society in which parents can provide for themselves and their children without spending the majority of their waking hours earning a living?

Georgists see the connection between the privatization of the growing value of our best land and the lack of leisure and security for a large subset of our society. When landholders as landholders get rich without lifting a finger, that wealth does not come out of thin air; it comes at the expense of their fellow human beings. But this is not a difficult problem to solve, and solving it will relieve a number of other problems: urban sprawl, excessive fuel usage, housing affordability, excessive taxes on productive activity, and many others.

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. ...

But I shall not deny, and do not wish to lose sight of the fact, that while thus preventing waste and thus adding to the efficiency of labor, the equalization in the distribution of wealth that would result from the simple plan of taxation that I propose, must lessen the intensity with which wealth is pursued. It seems to me that in a condition of society in which no one need fear poverty, no one would desire great wealth — at least, no one would take the trouble to strive and to strain for it as men do now. For, certainly, the spectacle of men who have only a few years to live, slaving away their time for the sake of dying rich, is in itself so unnatural and absurd, that in a state of society where the abolition of the fear of want had dissipated the envious admiration with which the masses of men now regard the possession of great riches, whoever would toil to acquire more than he cared to use would be looked upon as we would now look on a man who would thatch his head with half a dozen hats.

And though this incentive to production be withdrawn, can we not spare it? Whatever may have been its office in an earlier stage of development, it is not needed now. The dangers that menace our civilization do not come from the weakness of the springs of production. What it suffers from, and what, if a remedy be not applied, it must die from, is unequal distribution!

Nor would the removal of this incentive, regarded only from the standpoint of production, be an unmixed loss. For, that the aggregate of production is greatly reduced by the greed with which riches are pursued, is one of the most obtrusive facts of modern society. While, were this insane desire to get rich at any cost lessened, mental activities now devoted to scraping together riches would be translated into far higher spheres of usefulness. ... read the whole chapter

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 13 Effect of Remedy Upon Social Ideals (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX: Effects of the Remedy — 4. Of the changes that would be wrought in social organization and social life)

To remove want and the fear of want, to give to all classes leisure, and comfort, and independence, the decencies and refinements of life, the opportunities of mental and moral development, would be like turning water into a desert. The sterile waste would clothe itself with verdure, and the barren places where life seemed banned would ere long be dappled with the shade of trees and musical with the song of birds. Talents now hidden, virtues unsuspected, would come forth to make human life richer, fuller, happier, nobler. For

  • in these round men who are stuck into three-cornered holes, and three-cornered men who are jammed into round holes;
  • in these men who are wasting their energies in the scramble to be rich;
  • in these who in factories are turned into machines, or are chained by necessity to bench or plow;
  • in these children who are growing up in squalor, and vice, and ignorance, are powers of the highest order, talents the most splendid.

They need but the opportunity to bring them forth.

Consider the possibilities of a state of society that gave that opportunity to all. Let imagination fill out the picture; its colors grow too bright for words to paint.

  • Consider the moral elevation, the intellectual activity, the social life.
  • Consider how by a thousand actions and interactions the members of every community are linked together, and how in the present condition of things even the fortunate few who stand upon the apex of the social pyramid must suffer, though they know it not, from the want, ignorance, and degradation that are underneath.
  • Consider these things and then say whether the change I propose would not be for the benefit of every one — even the greatest landholder? ... read the whole chapter

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

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. ... read the whole letter

Jeff Smith: Share Rent, Transform Society

Now the public is paying for private parties. That is not fair. Look at the economy. Take taxes off homes, and they become more affordable. Have some kind of land charge, and housing stock increases as sites get developed. Affordable housing helps stabilize neighborhoods. In places that do have the land tax, i.e., Australia and New Zealand, they have fewer disputes with assessment. Assessors say their job is so much easier now. If land is less profitable and less of a political football, it is less tense in local politics. 

  • If you take taxes off labor and capital, more investment flows into jobs, and we would have close to full employment, so labor could demand full market value for services. We could double the income of the average worker with no loss in standard of living. 
  • If fewer demands are placed on government by citizens, it doesn't have to borrow so much.
  • If you reduce the amount of tax on the economy, and reduce the amount of redeemable notes, then we should be able to eliminate inflation. It is unmasked. You can see lower prices; the cost of living goes down. It will change social relationships.
  • Labor and capital make up, with higher wages for labor, lower taxes for capital, and more investment funds.
  • Labor can negotiate from a position of strength.
  • Capital might want to share management decisions and spread that risk of liability to workers. It tends to reduce hierarchy and increase equality in society. 

What other social relations might change? Increase land ownership participation in community and it benefits community, with town hall meetings and block parties. Those kinds of communities have less crime. Pittsburgh has six times greater land tax than improvements, more affordable housing, and less crime.

The main indicator of economic health is called the GDP. A good measure would be leisure, the amount of time off from labor to maintain a comfortable standard of living. If we shift, it would shrink the work week, and help get rid of rush hour traffic.  ... read the whole article

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 2: A Short History of Capitalism (pages 15-32)

Why isn’t economic growth making us happier? There are many possibilities, and they’re additive rather than exclusive.

  • One is that, once material needs are met, happiness is based on comparative rather than absolute conditions. If your neighbors have bigger houses than you do, the fact that yours is smaller diminishes your happiness, even though your house by itself meets your needs. In the same way, more income wouldn’t make you happier if other people got even more. That’s why an affluent country can get richer without its citizens getting happier.
  • A second reason is that surplus capitalism foments anxiety. Millions live one paycheck, or one illness, away from disaster. When disaster strikes, the safety nets beneath them are thin. And everyone sees jobs vanishing as capital scours the planet for cheap labor.
  • Another reason is that surplus capitalism speeds up life and creates great stress. Humans didn’t evolve to multitask, sit in traffic jams, or work, shop, and pay bills 24/7. We need rest, relaxation, and time for companionship and creativity. Surplus capitalism can’t give us enough of those things.
  • Similarly, its nonstop marketing message — you’re no good without Brand X — breeds the opposites of gratitude and contentment, two widely acknowledged precursors of happiness. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average American encounters about three thousand such messages each day. No wonder we experience envy, greed, and dissatisfaction. ... read the whole chapter



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