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Mark Twain

Henry George, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain were probably the most famous three people of their day, outside of those who were elected to public office. Their contributions were a major influence on our society. Mark Twain can clearly be counted among those who saw clearly the validity and significance of Henry George's ideas.

Archimedes (1887)

"Give me whereon to stand", said Archimedes, "and I will move the earth." The boast was a pretty safe one, for he knew quite well that the standing place was wanting, and always would be wanting. But suppose he had moved the earth, what then? What benefit would it have been to anybody?
...I know of a mechanical force more powerful than anything the vaunting engineer of Syracuse ever dreamed of. It is the force of land monopoly; it is a screw and lever all in one; it will screw the last penny out of a man's pocket, and bend everything on earth to its own despotic will. Give me the private ownership of all the land, and will I move the earth? No; but I will do more. I will undertake to make slaves of all the human beings on the face of it. Not chattel slaves exactly, but slaves nevertheless. What an idiot I would be to make chattel slaves of them. I would have to find them salts and senna when they were sick, and whip them to work when they were lazy.

No, it is not good enough. Under the system I propose the fools would imagine they were all free. I would get a maximum of results, and have no responsibility whatever. They would cultivate the soil; they would dive into the bowels of the earth for its hidden treasures; they would build cities and construct railways and telegraphs; their ships would navigate the ocean; they would work and work, and invent and contrive; their warehouses would be full, their markets glutted, and:

The beauty of the whole concern would be
That everything they made would belong to me.
It would be this way, you see: As I owned all the land, they would of course, have to pay me rent. They could not reasonably expect me to allow them the use of the land for nothing. I am not a hard man, and in fixing the rent I would be very liberal with them. I would allow them, in fact, to fix it themselves. What could be fairer? Here is a piece of land, let us say, it might be a farm, it might be a building site, or it might be something else - if there was only one man who wanted it, of course he would not offer me much, but if the land be really worth anything such a circumstance is not likely to happen. On the contrary, there would be a number who would want it, and they would go on bidding and bidding one against the other, in order to get it. I should accept the highest offer - what could be fairer? Every increase of population, extension of trade, every advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know, increase the value of land, and the competition that would naturally arise would continue to force rents upward, so much so, that in many cases the tenants would have little or nothing left for themselves.

Suppose I am the owner of an estate and 100 slaves, all the land about being held in the same way by people of the same class as myself. It is a profitable business, but there are many expenses and annoyances attached to it. I must keep up my supply of slaves either by buying or breeding them. ...

from an address to Congress on copyrights:

(Twain was arguing the injustice that land titles are perpetual but that copyrights are not. He lampoons the oft used claim that people are entitled to be enriched by land monopoly because of their foresight in realizing that the land will increase in value.)

I put a supposititious case, a dozen Englishmen who travel through South Africa and camp out, and eleven of them see nothing at all; they are mentally blind. But there is one in the party who knows what this harbor means and what the lay of the land means. To him it means that some day a railway will go through here, and there on that harbor a great city will spring up. That is his idea. And he has another idea, which is to go and trade his last bottle of Scotch whiskey and his last horse-blanket to the principal chief of that region and buy a piece of land the size of Pennsylvania.

The Lowest Animal"

Man is the only animal that robs his helpless fellow of his country -- takes possession of it and drives him out of it or destroys him. Man has done this in all the ages. There is not an acre of ground on the globe that is in possession of its rightful owner, or that has not been taken away from owner after owner, cycle after cycle, by force and bloodshed.

Man is the only Slave. And he is the only animal who enslaves. He has always been a slave in one form or another, and has always held other slaves in bondage under him in one way or another. In our day he is always some man's slave for wages, and does that man's work, and this slave has other slaves under him for minor wages, and they do his work. The higher animals are the only ones who do their own work and provide their own living.

Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people's countries, and to keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" -- with his mouth.

Twain on Cecil Rhodes as a land monopolizing enslaver

What is the secret of his [Cecil Rhodes's] formidable supremacy?

  • One says it is his prodigious wealth--a wealth whose drippings in salaries and and in other ways support multitudes and make them his interested and loyal vassels;
  • another says it is his personal magnetism and his persuasive tongue, and that these hypnotize and make happy slaves of all that drift within the circle of their influence;
  • another says it is his majestic ideas, his vast schemes for the territorial aggrandizement of England, his patriotic and unselfish ambition to spread her beneficent protection and her just rule over the pagan wastes of Africa and make luminous the African darkness with the glory of her name; and
  • another says he wants the earth, wants it for his own, and that the secret belief that he will get it and let his friends in on the ground floor is *the* secret that rivets so many eyse on him and keeps him in the zenith...
I admire him, I frankly confess it; and when his time comes I shall buy a piece of the rope as a keepsake... The great bulk of the savages must go. The white man wants their lands, and all must go excepting such percentage of them as he will need to do his work for him on terms determined by himself. Since history has removed the element of guesswork from this matter and made it certainty, the humanest way of diminishing the black population should be adopted, not the old, cruel ways of the past. Mr. Rhodes and his gangs have been following the old ways. They have been chartered to rob and slay, and they lawfully do it, but not in a compassionate and Christian spirit. They rob the Mashonas and the Matabeles of a portion of their territories in the hallowed old style of "purchase" for a song, and then they force a quarrel and take the rest by strong hand. They rob the natives of their cattle under the pretext that all the cattle in the country belonged to the king whom they have tricked and assassinated. They issue "regulations" requiring the incensed and harrassed natives to work for the white settlers, and neglect their own affairs to do it. This is slavery, and it is several times worse than was the American slavery which used to pain England so much; for when the Rhodesian slave is sick, superannuated, or otherwise disabled, he must support himself or starve--his master is under no obligation to support him.

The reduction of the population by Rhodesian methods to the desired limit is a return to the old-time slow-misery and lingering-death system of a discredited time and a crude "civilization." We humanely reduce an overplus of dogs by the swift method of chloroform; the Boer humanely reduced an overplus of blacks by swift suffocation; the nameless but right-hearted Australian pioneer humanely reduced his overplus of aboriginal neighbors by a sweetened swift death concealed in a poisoned pudding. All these are admirable, and worthy of praise; you and I would rather suffer either of these deaths thirty times over on thirty successive days than linger out one of the Rhodesian twenty-year deaths, with its daily burden of insult, humiliation, and forced labor for a man whose entire race the victim hates. Rhodesia is a happy name for that land of piracy and pillage, and puts the right stain upon it.

-- from *Following the Equator*

Roughing It,  Volume I: Chapter XXII: The Air The Angels Breathe   -- 1871

(Last two paragraphs of chapter)

"I superintended again, and as soon as we had eaten breakfast we got in the boat and skirted along the lake-shore about three miles and disembarked. We liked the appearance of the place, and so we claimed some three hundred acres of it and stuck our "notices" on a tree. It was yellow-pine timber-land -- a dense forest of trees a hundred feet high and from one to five feet through at the butt. It was necessary to fence our property or we could not hold it. That is to say, it was necessary to cut down trees here and there and make them fall in such a way as to form a sort of inclosure (with pretty wide gaps in it). We cut down three trees apiece, and found it such heartbreaking work that we decided to "rest our case" on those; if they held the property, well and good; if they didn't, let the property spill out through the gaps and go; it was no use to work ourselves to death merely to save a few acres of land. Next day we came back to build a house -- for a house was also necessary, in order to hold the property. We decided to build a substantial log house and excite the envy of the Brigade boys; but by the time we had cut and trimmed the first log it seemed unnecessary to be so elaborate, and so we concluded to build it of saplings. However, two saplings, duly cut and trimmed, compelled recognition of the fact that a still modester architecture would satisfy the law, and so we concluded to build a "brush" house. We devoted the next day to this work, but we did so much "sitting around" and discussing, that by the middle of the afternoon we had achieved only a half-way sort of affair which one of us had to watch while the other cut brush, lest if both turned our backs we might not be able to find it again, it had such a strong family resemblance to the surrounding vegetation. But we were satisfied with it.

We were landowners now, duly seized and possessed, and within the protection of the law. Therefore we decided to take up our residence on our own domain and enjoy that large sense of independence which only such an experience can bring.

[from Chapter XXIII]:

We never slept in our "house." It never occurred to us, for one thing; and besides, it was built to hold ground, and that was enough. We did not wish to strain it.

with thanks to Dan Sullivan

see also
THE TWAIN THAT MOST AMERICANS NEVER MEET, by Norman Solomon http://www.progress.org/archive/sol23.htm



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