Wealth and Want
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Binding other Generations

We need to think about the ways in which our behavior binds future generations, for good or for ill. The current national debt, rising significantly, is limiting the opportunities of future generations of Americans.

On the flip side, we could transform society for future generations if we started adopting land value taxation as our primary means of providing for our common spending.

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

Either the land of Ireland rightfully belongs to the Irish landlords, or it rightfully belongs to the Irish people; there can be no middle ground.

  • If it rightfully belongs to the landlords, then is the whole agitation wrong, and every scheme for interfering in any way with the landlords is condemned.
  • If the land rightfully belongs to the landlords, then it is nobody else's business what they do with it, or what rent they charge for it, or where or how they spend the money they draw from it, and whoever does not want to live upon it on the landlords' terms is at perfect liberty to starve or emigrate.
  • But if, on the contrary, the land of Ireland rightfully belongs to the Irish people, then the only logical demand is, not that the tenants shall be made joint owners with the landlords, not that it be bought from a smaller class and sold to a larger class, but that it be resumed by the whole people.

To propose to pay the landlords for it is to deny the right of the people to it. The real fight for Irish rights must be made outside of Ireland; and, above all things, the Irish agitators ought to take a logical position, based upon a broad, clear principle which can be everywhere understood and appreciated. To ask for tenant-right or peasant proprietorship is not to take such a position; to concede that the landlords ought to be paid is utterly to abandon the principle that the land belongs rightfully to the people.

To admit, as even the most radical of the Irish agitators seem to admit, that the landlords should be paid the value of their lands, is to deny the rights of the people. It is an admission that the agitation is an interference with the just rights of property. It is to ignore the only principle on which the agitation can be justified, and on which it can gather strength for the accomplishment of anything real and permanent. To admit this is to admit that the Irish people have no more right to the soil of Ireland than any outsider. For, any outsider can go to Ireland and buy land, if he will give its market value. To propose to buy out the landlords is to propose to continue the present injustice in another form. They would get in interest on the debt created what they now get in rent. They would still have a lien upon Irish labor.

And why should the landlords be paid? If the land of Ireland belongs of natural right to the Irish people, what valid claim for payment can be set up by the landlords? No one will contend that the land is theirs of natural right, for the day has gone by when men could be told that the Creator of the universe intended his bounty for the exclusive use and benefit of a privileged class of his creatures – that he intended a few to roll in luxury while their fellows toiled and starved for them. The claim of the landlords to the land rests not on natural right, but merely on municipal law – on municipal law which contravenes natural right. And, whenever the sovereign power changes municipal law so as to conform to natural right, what claim can they assert to compensation? Some of them bought their lands, it is true; but they got no better title than the seller had to give. And what are these titles? Titles based on murder and robbery, on blood and rapine–titles which rest on the most atrocious and wholesale crimes. Created by force and maintained by force, they have not behind them the first shadow of right. That Henry II and James I and Cromwell and the Long Parliament had the power to give and grant Irish lands is true; but will any one contend they had the right? Will any one contend that in all the past generations there has existed on the British Isles or anywhere else any human being, or any number of human beings, who had the right to say that in the year 1881 the great mass of Irishmen should be compelled to pay – in many cases to residents of England, France, or the United States – for the privilege of living in their native country and making a living from their native soil? Even if it be said that might makes right; even if it be contended that in the twelfth, or seventeenth, or eighteenth century lived men who, having the power, had therefore the right, to give away the soil of Ireland, it cannot be contended that their right went further than their power, or that their gifts and grants are binding on the men of the present generation. No one can urge such a preposterous doctrine. And, if might makes right, then the moment the people get power to take the land the rights of the present landholders utterly cease, and any proposal to compensate them is a proposal to do a fresh wrong.

Should it be urged that, no matter on what they originally rest, the lapse of time has given to the legal owners of Irish land a title of which they cannot now be justly deprived without compensation, it is sufficient to ask, with Herbert Spencer, at what rate per annum wrong becomes right? Even the shallow pretense that the acquiescence of society can vest in a few the exclusive right to that element on which and from which Nature has ordained that all must live, cannot be urged in the case of Ireland. For the Irish people have never acquiesced in their spoliation, unless the bound and gagged victim may be said to acquiesce in the robbery and maltreatment which he cannot prevent. Though the memory of their ancient rights in the land of their country may have been utterly stamped out among the people of England, and have been utterly forgotten among their kin on this side of the sea, it has long survived among the Irish. If the Irish people have gone hungry and cold and ignorant, if they have been evicted from lands on which their ancestors had lived from time immemorial, if they have been forced to emigrate or to starve, it has not been for the want of protest. They have protested all they could; they have struggled all they could. It has been but superior force that has stifled their protests and made their struggles vain. In a blind, dumb way, they are protesting now and struggling now, though even if their hands were free they might not at first know how to untie the knots in the cords that bind them. But acquiesce they never have.

Yet, even supposing they had aquiesced, as in their ignorance the working-classes of such countries as England and the United States now acquiesce, in the iniquitous system which makes the common birthright of all the exclusive property of some. What then? Does such acquiescence turn wrong into right? If the sleeping traveler wake to find a robber with his hand in his pocket, is he bound to buy the robber off – bound not merely to let him keep what he has previously taken, but pay him the full value of all he expected the sleep of his victim to permit him to get? If the stockholders of a bank find that for a long term of years their cashier has been appropriating the lion's share of the profits, are they to be told that they cannot discharge him without paying him for what he might have got, had his peculations not been discovered? ... read the whole article


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