Lead us not into temptation
"Taxation must not lead men into temptation, by requiring trivial
oaths, by making it profitable to lie, to swear falsely, to bribe or to
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)
From whence springs this lust for gain, to gratify which men tread everything
pure and noble under their feet; to which they sacrifice all the higher possibilities
of life; which converts civility into a hollow pretense, patriotism into a
sham, and religion into hypocrisy; which makes so much of civilized existence
an Ishmaelitish warfare, of which the weapons are cunning and fraud?
Does it not spring from the existence of want? Carlyle somewhere says that
poverty is the hell of which the modern Englishman is most afraid. And he is
right. Poverty is the openmouthed, relentless hell which yawns beneath civilized
society. And it is hell enough. The Vedas declare no truer thing than when
the wise crow Bushanda tells the eagle-bearer of Vishnu that the keenest pain
is in poverty. For poverty is not merely deprivation; it means shame, degradation;
the searing of the most sensitive parts of our moral and mental nature as with
hot irons; the denial of the strongest impulses and the sweetest affections;
the wrenching of the most vital nerves. You love your wife, you love your children;
but would it not be easier to see them die than to see them reduced to the
pinch of want in which large classes in every highly civilized community live?
The strongest of animal passions is that with which we cling to life, but it
is an everyday occurrence in civilized societies for men to put poison to their
mouths or pistols to their heads from fear of poverty, and for one who does
this there are probably a hundred who have the desire, but are restrained by
instinctive shrinking, by religious considerations, or by family ties.
From this hell of poverty, it is but natural that men should make every effort
to escape. With the impulse to self-preservation and self-gratification combine
nobler feelings, and love as well as fear urges in the struggle. Many a man
does a mean thing, a dishonest thing, a greedy and grasping and unjust thing,
in the effort to place above want, or the fear of want, mother or wife or children.
And out of this condition of things arises a public opinion which enlists,
as an impelling power in the struggle to grasp and to keep, one of the strongest
perhaps with many men the very strongest springs of human action. The desire
for approbation, the feeling that urges us to win the respect, admiration,
or sympathy of our fellows, is instinctive and universal. Distorted sometimes
into the most abnormal manifestations, it may yet be everywhere perceived.
It is potent with the veriest savage, as with the most highly cultivated member
of the most polished society; it shows itself with the first gleam of intelligence,
and persists to the last breath. It triumphs over the love of ease, over the
sense of pain, over the dread of death. It dictates the most trivial and the
most important actions.
Now, men admire what they desire. How sweet to the storm-stricken seems
the safe harbor; food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, warmth to the
rest to the weary, power to the weak, knowledge to him in whom the intellectual
yearnings of the soul have been aroused. And thus the sting of want and
the fear of want make men admire above all things the possession of riches,
to become wealthy is to become respected, and admired, and influential.
Get money — honestly, if you can, but at any rate get money! This is
the lesson that society is daily and hourly dinning in the ears of its members.
Men instinctively admire virtue and truth, but the sting of want and the
of want make them even more strongly admire the rich and sympathize with
the fortunate. It is well to be honest and just, and men will commend it;
who by fraud and injustice gets him a million dollars will have more respect,
and admiration, and influence, more eye service and lip service, if not
heart service, than he who refuses it. The one may have his reward in the
he may know that his name is writ in the Book of Life, and that for him
is the white robe and the palm branch of the victor against temptation; but
other has his reward in the present. ... read the whole chapter
Henry George: The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge
To show briefly why we urge this change,
let me treat (1) of its expediency, and (2) of its justice.
From the Single Tax we may expect these advantages:
1. It would dispense with a whole
army of tax gatherers and other officials which present taxes require, and
place in the treasury a much larger portion of what is taken from people,
while by making government simpler and cheaper, it would tend to make it
purer. It would get rid of taxes which necessarily promote fraud,
perjury, bribery, and corruption, which lead men into temptation, and which
the nation can least afford to spare — honesty and conscience. Since
land lies out-of-doors and cannot be removed, and its value is the most readily
ascertained of all values, the tax to which we would resort can be collected
with the minimum of cost and the least strain on public morals.
2. It would enormously increase the production of wealth--
(a) By the removal of the burdens that now weigh upon
industry and thrift. If we tax houses, there will be fewer and poorer
houses; if we tax machinery, there will be less machinery; if we tax
trade, there will be less trade; if we tax capital, there will be less
capital; if we tax savings, there will be less savings. All the taxes
therefore that we would abolish are those that repress industry and lessen
wealth. But if we tax land values, there will be no less land.
(b) On the contrary, the taxation of land values has the
effect of making land more easily available by industry, since
it makes it more difficult for owners of valuable land which they
themselves do not care to use to hold it idle for a large future
price. While the abolition of taxes on labor and the products of
labor would free the active element of production, the taking of
land values by taxation would free the passive element by destroying
speculative land values and preventing the holding out of use of
land needed for use. If any one will but look around today and
see the unused or but half-used land, the idle labor, the unemployed
or poorly employed capital, he will get some idea of how enormous
would be the production of wealth were all the forces of production
free to engage.
(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.
(d) The unjust distribution which is giving us the hundred-fold
millionaire on the one side and the tramp and pauper on the other,
generates thieves, gamblers, and social parasites of all kinds, and
requires large expenditure of money and energy in watchmen, policemen,
courts, prisons, and other means of defense and repression. It
kindles a greed of gain and a worship of wealth, and produces a
bitter struggle for existence which fosters drunkenness, increases
insanity, and causes men whose energies ought to be devoted to
honest production to spend their time and strength in cheating
and grabbing from each other. Besides the moral loss, all this
involves an enormous economic loss which the Single Tax would save.
(e) The taxes we would abolish fall most heavily on the
poorer agricultural districts, and tend to drive population and
wealth from them to the great cities. The tax we would increase
would destroy that monopoly of land which is the great cause of
that distribution of population which is crowding the people too
closely together in some places and scattering them too far apart
in other places. Families live on top of one another in cities
because of the enormous speculative prices at which vacant lots
are held. In the country they are scattered too far apart for social
intercourse and convenience, because, instead of each taking what
land he can use, every one who can grabs all he can get, in the
hope of profiting by its increase in value, and the next man must
pass farther on. Thus we have scores of families living under a
single roof, and other families living in dugouts on the prairies
afar from neighbors--some living too close to each other for moral,
mental, or physical health, and others too far separated for the
stimulating and refining influences of society. The wastes in health,
in mental vigor, and in unnecessary transportation result in great
economic losses which the Single Tax would save. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Condition
of Labor — An
Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
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.
Nor do we hesitate to say that this way of securing the equal right to the
bounty of the Creator and the exclusive right to the products of labor is
the way intended by God for raising public revenues. For we are not atheists,
who deny God; nor semi-atheists, who deny that he has any concern in politics
It is true as you say — a salutary truth too often forgotten — that “man
is older than the state, and he holds the right of providing for the life
of his body prior to the formation of any state.” Yet, as you too perceive,
it is also true that the state is in the divinely appointed order. For He
who foresaw all things and provided for all things, foresaw and provided
that with the increase of population and the development of industry the
organization of human society into states or governments would become both
expedient and necessary.
No sooner does the state arise than, as we all know, it needs revenues.
This need for revenues is small at first, while population is sparse, industry
rude and the functions of the state few and simple. But with growth of population
and advance of civilization the functions of the state increase and larger
and larger revenues are needed.
Now, He that made the world and placed man in it, He that pre-ordained civilization
as the means whereby man might rise to higher powers and become more and
more conscious of the works of his Creator, must have foreseen this increasing
need for state revenues and have made provision for it. That is to say: The
increasing need for public revenues with social advance, being a natural,
God-ordained need, there must be a right way of raising them — some
way that we can truly say is the way intended by God. It is clear that this
right way of raising public revenues must accord with the moral law.
It must not take from individuals what rightfully belongs to individuals.
It must not give some an advantage over others, as by increasing the prices
of what some have to sell and others must buy.
It must not lead men into temptation, by requiring trivial oaths, by making
it profitable to lie, to swear falsely, to bribe or to take bribes.
It must not confuse the distinctions of right and wrong, and weaken the
sanctions of religion and the state by creating crimes that are not sins,
and punishing men for doing what in itself they have an undoubted right to
It must not repress industry. It must not check commerce. It must not punish
thrift. It must offer no impediment to the largest production and the fairest
division of wealth. ...
To take land values for the state, abolishing all taxes on the products of
labor, would therefore leave to the laborer the full produce of labor;
to the individual all that rightfully belongs to the individual. It would
impose no burden on industry, no check on commerce, no punishment on thrift;
it would secure the largest production and the fairest distribution of
wealth, by leaving men free to produce and to exchange as they please,
without any artificial enhancement of prices; and by taking for public
purposes a value that cannot be carried off, that cannot be hidden, that
of all values is most easily ascertained and most certainly and cheaply
collected, it would enormously lessen the number of officials, dispense
with oaths, do away with temptations to bribery and evasion, and
abolish man-made crimes in themselves innocent. ...
When Christ told the rich young man who sought him to sell all he had
and to give it to the poor, he was not thinking of the poor, but of the young
man. And I doubt not that among the rich, and especially among the self-made
rich, there are many who at times at least feel keenly the folly of their
riches and fear for the dangers and temptations to which these
expose their children. But the strength of long habit, the prompting
of pride, the excitement of making and holding what have become for them
the counters in a game
of cards, the family expectations that have assumed the character of rights,
and the real difficulty they find in making any good use of their wealth,
bind them to their burden, like a weary donkey to his pack, till they stumble
on the precipice that bounds this life. ... read
the whole letter