|Wealth and Want
|... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
This bit of fluff was written by my
grandmother, who went on to
write light fiction published in popular magazines of the 40's and
50's. It was intended for people who were already familiar with
HG's ideas. Family lore has it that my grandfather, when buying his
original copy of Progress & Poverty, was concerned
that it might
somehow be socialism, and in case that turned out to be the case, he
did not want a penny of his money to support anything socialistic, so
he went out of his way to purchase the Modern Library edition.
by Marjorie Carter
The Freeman, September 1941
It is palpably absurd for me to attempt to introduce you, of all people in this world, to Henry George. You knew him before I did, and I'd be the first to admit that you know him far, far better than I ever shall. Economics has always had an unfortunate connotation, as far as I am concerned. Economics has always meant, oops! I'm overdrawn again. After some slight unpleasantness, and promises of better behavior, things get straightened out, and there is a lull, until I forget to debit here and credit there, and then economics rears its ugly head again.
That of course may not be economics in its best sense, but it is economics as far as I am concerned, and while I do not want to appear pig-headed, I am afraid it always will be.
But as far as the introduction goes, I did not mean to introduce you; this is my own introduction to Henry George I am talking about.
Women, as you may know, are highly intuitive beings. So it was with considerable dismay that I heard my husband, one stormy night in February, announce that he was going out.
"Bruce! In this howling blizzard?" I protested, and how rightly, I leave you to discover.
"What's a little blizzard?" he asked in a crusading voice. "Did you see this thing that came in the mail the other day? From the Henry George School of Social Science?"
"I saw it, but I didn't read it." I tried to sound brisk, intelligent, and rather busy-doing-something-else-ish but he went on explaining.
Of course, as things turned out, it would be highly unwise, I am sure, for me to admit that at the time he thought the whole scheme might be the least bit subversive, and that it was Duty and not Pleasure that was driving him out into the night, and so I shall skip to the next time we mentioned Henry George, because I was asleep when he came home.
In our family, we do not speak until after morning coffee – it has been a custom for generations – but after the second cup, the following morning, Bruce said explosively, "He's got something, do you know it?" "Who has?" I inquired with pardonable nervousness.
"That George. And that teacher. That class is good. I am certainly sorry you didn't get to the first meeting."
(I saw then that I was as good as sitting in the subsequent meetings. My intuition proved correct.)
"Oh, the Henry George thing – was anyone I know there?"
"No, but there will be!" Bruce sounded cryptic and firm. I have learned to distrust that sound, not that it has ever done me the least good. "The first thing to do is to get hold of a copy of Progress and Poverty and read it. This is going to mean study, Anne, and plenty of it. I have made a list of the people I think may be interested, and – oh, oh! I've got to run!"
And run he did, leaving me among the shards of what had been a perfectly good morning.
Dinner that night grew cold, while Bruce explained to the boys and me that money was not wealth, nor was a wild duck flying in the air. Our younger said, Well, was it poverty? But that seemed wrong, too. When, however, he tried to tell us that a ploughed field was not land, whereas a whale might fairly be considered land, we decided to go up to the course in a body, and see what they were doing to Daddy.
Have I said that the group met once a week? A week is a very short time. While the boys and I brightened the lunch table contemplating whether immigration restrictions were necessary to prevent surplus of population, and what employers paid labor out of, days passed by.
When our copy of Progress and Poverty reached us, it was Friday.
Bruce meanwhile, by what means I do not know, had extracted promises from about twelve of our friends to go to the meeting on the following Monday. Bruce is a perfectionist. He felt that all twelve should have considered the questions in Lesson I and have read about fifty pages of the book, before they went to the meeting, in fairness to the people who had gone the first time. So we spent a perfectly mad weekend, dividing one book among twelve people, who lived all over Jersey.
The institution of matrimony was the only thing that saved us – a number of them were married to each other, so it meant, actually, dividing by seven. Sunday night, we reft the book from Couple Five at six o'clock and delivered it to Couple Six. Monday morning, Couple Seven had it. I am a little embarrassed to say that in the excitement, I had not read it myself, but I planned to do so on Monday afternoon, when Seven brought it back.
Monday morning, Mrs. Five called up and said that while Mr. Five had finished the assignment, Mrs. Five (these designations, just in case they fit any of the people you know, are purely arbitrary) had not yet cracked it, and wanted it Monday afternoon. In sheer self-defense, I refused, and we lost a potential Georgist thereby, but of that more later.
With the facility of youth, the children had already changed their attitudes on what is wealth. It no longer was merely an increase in allowance, to them! This was a distinct advance in social thinking, I felt, as I pay the allowances out of my house money.
From what I was able to learn before the meeting, most of these people who had been our friends for years, and with whom Bruce had shared the first fine flush of his enthusiasm, now regarded us with half-concealed horror, as who should ask, Is this couple (who has always voted as we do, and usually played the same contract conventions) suddenly gone Communist?
Just as the boys and I wanted Bruce straightened out about whales, the rest of them must have decided to attend this meeting to rescue him from the Toils. But for whatever reason, the second meeting, as Bruce had foretold, was littered with people we knew.
The Moderator worked patiently with us, and you could almost sense the tense jaws relaxing as the evening wore on – we did not seem to be being seduced into fascist or communist thinking. But the cautious alertness remained – perhaps that was to come later! Everyone was most intent – Bruce was not more interested than numbers of the people he had bludgeoned into attending the meeting, and one and all joined in a happy little game of definitions. I have rather prided myself on my vocabulary, so I had skipped that part of the book as rudimentary, and for my pains I was thrown off going around the first curve. These were all economic definitions, and every hair was split four ways.
When we finished the definitions, we galloped to the first of the questions in Lesson Two. My friend, Mrs. Five, who hadn't read the text, you remember, drew a little beauty: Does it seem to be a fact that wages and interest rise and fall together or conversely?
Now I have played golf with Mrs. Five, and have always been taken with the way she whanged her drive down the fairway. I have always thought of her as a well-built, substantial person. It was therefore surprising to me to follow the impersonal glance of the Moderator, and see her, small and defenseless, shrinking into the funeral chair which had been allotted to her for the evening.
"I am not prepared," she said, weakly.
"Well, think of it algebraically," suggested the Moderator.
Mrs. Five was far beyond thinking of it algebraically or any other way. Think of the position! As the French always seem to say in translation, figure to yourself! Mrs. Five, like myself, has for one of her major problems whether to show aces first or jump right to the slam, and suddenly she is requested to think algebraically in public about wages and interest, rising and falling either together or conversely. I do feel that Mrs. Five's repartee might, in this crisis, have been more brilliant, more varied, but it is my duty to give it as it occurred.
"I really," protested Mrs. Five, "am not prepared – "
"Even so, could you not consider it as a problem in simple proportion?" inquired the Moderator, immoderately.
But Mrs. Five had had enough. She took the firm line. "I dislike proportion," she said regally – and I regret to tell you that this was Mrs. Five's final contribution to the Henry George study group – somehow she never returned. I regret my part in this, deeply.
Well, the class is going on – nicely, too, I am sure. But the impression the Henry George School of Social Science has made on me as individual and on us as a family, is no mere fleeting one. It has changed our home life, our table talk, our avocations (for who could go lightheartedly of an evening in spring to drive a coupla pails of golf balls, when there was still Blackstone to be read in connection with next week's assignment?) and it has practically obliterated our social life, our friends now dividing like all Gaul, into (a) those who disagree with George and have no further truck with us when asked to analyze their reasons for disagreeing, and (b) those who think, like Bruce, that he ‘has something there' and who discuss it delightedly far into the night, and (c) those who never attended the meetings, stalwart souls, and who wonder vaguely what has come over us, but run too fast to be told.
But, anyhow, this was my introduction to Henry George, and as for me, I really think economics is just what I always suspected it was.
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper