Henry George: Political
Dangers (Chapter 2 of Social Problems,
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Liberty is natural. Primitive perceptions are of the equal rights of the citizen, and political organization always starts from this base. It is as social development goes on that we find power concentrating, in institutions based upon the equality of rights passing into institutions which make the many the slaves of the few. How this is we may see. In all institutions which involve the lodgment of governing power there is, with social growth, a tendency to the exaltation of their function and the centralization of their power, and in the stronger of these institutions a tendency to the absorption of the powers of the rest. Thus the tendency of social growth is to make government the business of a special class. And as numbers increase and the power and importance of each become less and less as compared with that of all, so, for this reason, does government tend to pass beyond the scrutiny and control of the masses. The leader of a handful of warriors, or head man of a little village, can command or govern only by common consent, and anyone aggrieved can readily appeal to his fellows. But when a tribe becomes a nation and the village expands to a populous country, the powers of the chieftain, without formal addition, become practically much greater. For with increase of numbers scrutiny of his acts becomes more difficult, it is harder and harder successfully to appeal from them, and the aggregate power which he directs becomes irresistible as against individuals. And gradually, as power thus concentrates, primitive ideas are lost, and the habit of thought grows up which regards the masses as born but for the service of their rulers.
 Thus 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 payrolls 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.
 It is not merely positively, but negatively, that great aggregations of wealth, whether individual or corporate, tend to corrupt government and take it out of the control of the masses of the people. "Nothing is more timorous than a million dollars — except two million dollars." Great wealth always supports the party in power, no matter how corrupt it may be. It never exerts itself for reform, for it instinctively fears change. It never struggles against misgovernment. When threatened by the holders of political power it does not agitate, nor appeal to the people; it buys them off. It is in this way, no less than by its direct interference, that aggregated wealth corrupts government, and helps to make politics a trade. Our organized lobbies, both legislative and Congressional, rely as much upon the fears as upon the hopes of moneyed interests. When "business" is dull, their resource is to get up a bill which some moneyed interest will pay them to beat. So, too, these large moneyed interests will subscribe to political funds, on the principle of keeping on the right side of those in power, just as the railroad companies deadhead President Arthur when he goes to Florida to fish.
 The more corrupt a government the easier wealth can use it. Where legislation is to be bought, the rich make the laws; where justice is to be purchased, the rich have the ear of the courts. And if, for this reason, great wealth does not absolutely prefer corrupt government to pure government, it becomes none the less a corrupting influence. A community composed of very rich and very poor falls an easy prey to whoever can seize power. The very poor have not spirit and intelligence enough to resist; the very rich have too much at stake. ... read the entire essay