Wealth and Want
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Most of us want to live in association with others. As Henry George described in The Savannah, the advantages of living near others are considerable. When some of us can afford to keep more land than we need, as a nest egg for our individual future, or for the advantage of our grandchildren, others must commute long distances to get from work we need and enjoy to land we can afford to live on, and we may be forced in the process to live in relatively isolated places, where there is less infrastructure (e.g., sewers, city water, paid firefighters) and fewer amenities (e.g., a choice of grocery stores, a well-stocked library, established schools). We spend our time and money commuting, and have less to show for it.

Of course some of us value being in a rural location, and would freely choose that option even if others were available to us. But many of us would prefer to live in association with others, with the benefits of community.


H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 4: Land Speculation Causes Reduced Wages

In communities like the United States, where the user of land generally prefers, if he can, to own it, and where there is a great extent of land to overrun, this cause operated with enormous power.

The immense area over which the population of the United States is scattered shows this. The man who sets out from the Eastern Seaboard in search of the margin of cultivation, where he may obtain land without paying rent, must, like the man who swam the river to get a drink, pass for long distances through half-tilled farms, and traverse vast areas of virgin soil, before he reaches the point where land can be had free of rent i.e., by homestead entry or pre-emption. He (and, with him, the margin of cultivation) is forced so much farther than he otherwise need have gone, by the speculation which is holding these unused lands in expectation of increased value in the future. And when he settles, he will, in his turn, take up, if he can, more land than he can use, in the belief that it will soon become valuable; and so those who follow him are again forced farther on than the necessities of production require, carrying the margin of cultivation to still less productive, because still more remote points.

If the land of superior quality as to location were always fully used before land of inferior quality were resorted to, no vacant lots would be left as a city extended, nor would we find miserable shanties in the midst of costly buildings. These lots, some of them extremely valuable, are withheld from use, or from the full use to which they might be put, because their owners, not being able or not wishing to improve them, prefer, in expectation of the advance of land values, to hold them for a higher rate than could now be obtained from those willing to improve them. And, in consequence of this land being withheld from use, or from the full use of which it is capable, the margin of the city is pushed away so much farther from the center.

But when we reach the limits of the growing city the actual margin of building, which corresponds to the margin of cultivation in agriculture — we shall not find the land purchasable at its value for agricultural purposes, as it would be were rent determined simply by present requirements; but we shall find that for a long distance beyond the city, land bears a speculative value, based upon the belief that it will be required in the future for urban purposes, and that to reach the point at which land can be purchased at a price not based upon urban rent, we must go very far beyond the actual margin of urban use. ... read the whole chapter

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 12. Effect of Remedy Upon Various Economic Classes (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX: Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 3. Of the effect upon individuals and classes)

When it is first proposed to put all taxes upon the value of land, all landholders are likely to take the alarm, and there will not be wanting appeals to the fears of small farm and homestead owners, who will be told that this is a proposition to rob them of their hard-earned property. But a moment's reflection will show that this proposition should commend itself to all whose interests as landholders do not largely exceed their interests as laborers or capitalists, or both. And further consideration will show that though the large landholders may lose relatively, yet even in their case there will be an absolute gain. For, the increase in production will be so great that labor and capital will gain very much more than will be lost to private landownership, while in these gains, and in the greater ones involved in a more healthy social condition, the whole community, including the landowners themselves, will share.

  • It is manifest, of course, that the change I propose will greatly benefit all those who live by wages, whether of hand or of head -- laborers, operatives, mechanics, clerks, professional men of all sorts.
  • It is manifest, also, that it will benefit all those who live partly by wages and partly by the earnings of their capital -- storekeepers, merchants, manufacturers, employing or undertaking producers and exchangers of all sorts from the peddler or drayman to the railroad or steamship owner -- and
  • it is likewise manifest that it will increase the incomes of those whose incomes are drawn from the earnings of capital. ...

...But the great gain of the working farmer can be seen only when the effect upon the distribution of population is considered. The destruction of speculative land values would tend to diffuse population where it is too dense and to concentrate it where it is too sparse; to substitute for the tenement house, homes surrounded by gardens, and fully to settle agricultural districts before people were driven far from neighbors to look for land. The people of the cities would thus get more of the pure air and sunshine of the country, the people of the country more of the economies and social life of the city. If, as is doubtless the case, the application of machinery tends to large fields, agricultural population will assume the primitive form and cluster in villages. The life of the average farmer is now unnecessarily dreary. He is not only compelled to work early and late, but he is cut off by the sparseness of population from the conveniences, and amusements, the educational facilities, and the social and intellectual opportunities that come with the closer contact of man with man. He would be far better off in all these respects, and his labor would be far more productive, if he and those around him held no more land than they wanted to use. While his children, as they grew up, would neither be so impelled to seek the excitement of a city nor would they be driven so far away to seek farms of their own. Their means of living would be in their own hands, and at home. ...

In short, the working farmer is both a laborer and a capitalist, as well as a landowner, and it is by his labor and capital that his living is made. His loss would be nominal; his gain would be real and great. In varying degrees is this true of all landholders. Many landholders are laborers of one sort or another. This measure would make no one poorer but such as could be made a great deal poorer without being really hurt. It would cut down great fortunes, but it would impoverish no one.

Wealth would not only be enormously increased; it would be equally distributed. I do not mean that each individual would get the same amount of wealth. That would not be equal distribution, so long as different individuals have different powers and different desires. But I mean that wealth would be distributed in accordance with the degree in which the industry, skill, knowledge, or prudence of each contributed to the common stock. The great cause which concentrates wealth in the hands of those who do not produce, and takes it from the hands of those who do, would be gone. The inequalities that continued to exist would be those of nature, not the artificial inequalities produced by the denial of natural law. The nonproducer would no longer roll in luxury while the producer got but the barest necessities of animal existence. ... read the whole chapter

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)

To remove want and the fear of want, to give to all classes leisure, and comfort, and independence, the decencies and refinements of life, the opportunities of mental and moral development, would be like turning water into a desert. The sterile waste would clothe itself with verdure, and the barren places where life seemed banned would ere long be dappled with the shade of trees and musical with the song of birds. Talents now hidden, virtues unsuspected, would come forth to make human life richer, fuller, happier, nobler. For

  • in these round men who are stuck into three-cornered holes, and three-cornered men who are jammed into round holes;
  • in these men who are wasting their energies in the scramble to be rich;
  • in these who in factories are turned into machines, or are chained by necessity to bench or plow;
  • in these children who are growing up in squalor, and vice, and ignorance, are powers of the highest order, talents the most splendid.

They need but the opportunity to bring them forth.

Consider the possibilities of a state of society that gave that opportunity to all. Let imagination fill out the picture; its colors grow too bright for words to paint.

  • Consider the moral elevation, the intellectual activity, the social life.
  • Consider how by a thousand actions and interactions the members of every community are linked together, and how in the present condition of things even the fortunate few who stand upon the apex of the social pyramid must suffer, though they know it not, from the want, ignorance, and degradation that are underneath.
  • Consider these things and then say whether the change I propose would not be for the benefit of every one — even the greatest landholder? ... read the whole chapter

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

God’s laws do not change. Though their applications may alter with altering conditions, the same principles of right and wrong that hold when men are few and industry is rude also hold amid teeming populations and complex industries. In our cities of millions and our states of scores of millions, in a civilization where the division of labor has gone so far that large numbers are hardly conscious that they are land-users, it still remains true that we are all land animals and can live only on land, and that land is God’s bounty to all, of which no one can be deprived without being murdered, and for which no one can be compelled to pay another without being robbed. But even in a state of society where the elaboration of industry and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need for private possession of land wide-spread, there is no difficulty in conforming individual possession with the equal right to land. For as soon as any piece of land will yield to the possessor a larger return than is had by similar labor on other land a value attaches to it which is shown when it is sold or rented. Thus, the value of the land itself, irrespective of the value of any improvements in or on it, always indicates the precise value of the benefit to which all are entitled in its use, as distinguished from the value which, as producer or successor of a producer, belongs to the possessor in individual right.

To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common ownership it is only necessary therefore to take for common uses what value attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. The principle is the same as in the case referred to, where a human father leaves equally to his children things not susceptible of specific division or common use. In that case such things would be sold or rented and the value equally applied.

It is on this common-sense principle that we, who term ourselves single-tax men, would have the community act.

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. ....read the whole letter

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

MENTAL power is the motor of progress, and men tend to advance in proportion to the mental power expended in progression — the mental power which is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the improvement of methods, and the betterment of social conditions. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress

To compare society to a boat.  Her progress through the water will not depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force required for baling, or any expenditure of force in fighting among themselves or in pulling in different directions.

Now, as in a separated state the whole powers of man are required to maintain existence, and mental power is only set free for higher uses by the association of men in communities, which permits the division of labor and all the economies which come with the co-operation of increased numbers, association is the first essential of progress. Improvement becomes possible as men come together in peaceful association, and the wider and closer the association, the greater the possibilities of improvement. And as the wasteful expenditure of mental power in conflict becomes greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an equality of rights is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice) is the second essential of progress.

Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality (or justice, or freedom — for the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition of the moral law) prevents the dissipation of this power in fruitless struggles. — Progress & Poverty — Book X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress ... go to "Gems from George"

Nic Tideman: The Structure of an Inquiry into the Attractiveness of A Social Order Inspired by the Ideas of Henry George
 I. Ethical Principles

A. People own themselves and therefore own what they produce.
B. People have obligations to share equally the opportunities that are provided by nature.
C. People are free to interact with other competent adults on whatever terms are mutually agreed.
D. People have obligations to pay the costs that their intrusive behaviors impose on others.

II. Ethical Questions
A. What is the relationship between justice (as embodied in the ethical principles) and community (or peace or harmony)?
B. How are the weak to be provided for?
C. How should natural opportunities be shared?
D. Who should be included in the group among whom rent should be shared equally?
E. Is there an obligation to compensate those whose presently recognized titles to land and other exclusive natural opportunities will lose value when rent is shared equally?
F. Can a person who is occupying a per capita share of land reasonably ask to be left undisturbed indefinitely on that land?
G. What is the moral status of "intellectual property?"
H. What standards of environmental respect can people reasonably require of others?
I. What forms of land use control are consistent with the philosophy of Henry George?
III. Efficiency Questions
A. Would public collection of the rent of land provide enough revenue for an appropriate public sector?
B. How much revenue could public collection of rent raise?
C. Is it possible to assess land with sufficient accuracy?
D. How much growth can a community expect if it shifts taxes from improvements to land?
E. To what extent does the benefit that one community receives from shifting taxes from buildings to land come at the expense of other communities?
F. What is the impact of land taxes on land speculation?
G. How, if at all, does the impact of shifting the source of public revenue to land change if it is a whole nation rather than just a community that makes the shift?
H. Is there a danger that the application of Henry George's ideas would lead to a world of over-development?
I. How would natural resources be managed appropriately if they were regarded as the common heritage of humanity?    Read the whole article
Bill Batt: How Our Towns Got That Way   (1996 speech)
Because our society is characterized by suburban sprawl and is therefore motor vehicle dependent, community is destroyed. George Kennan expresses this well in the book cited earlier, but it is more empirically documented in a recent article entitled "Bowling Alone", which David Broder of the Washington Post considered the most important academic article of 1995. The author of that piece, Harvard Professor Bob Putnam, shows that our communal relationships are declining, and that an ever smaller proportion of the population is involved in social activities of a cooperative and communal nature. As Tocqueville noted, this used to be the unique strength of American society; we're now losing it. Suburban sprawl and the automobile play a large part in this. And the reason we have these land-use configurations is in good part, to my way of thinking, due to our property tax policies and our subsidies to motor vehicle transportation.

It doesn't take much reflection to realize that the practices which we are following are unsustainable. This is true not only environmentally but also economically and socially. Author James Howard Kunstler recently has described in his book Home from Nowhere how our cities are becoming not only ugly but unlivable. The irony is also that, by having followed the legacy of classical economics, we could easily have provided for all our government services through taxes based on land value.... read the whole article

Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
The more cohesive the development of communities is, the greater the synergy exists among its members. Sprawl development not only increases the cost of transportation and other infrastructure needed to service these sites, it also reduces the extent to which people are accessible to one another. There is considerable indication that American society is losing this elusive quality of community. When Harvard professor Robert Putnam published his celebrated article Bowling Alone in January, 1995, it was remarkable as much for the resonance that it generated throughout the nation as for the message itself. David Broder of the Washington Post pronounced Bowling Alone the most important academic article that year. Putnam argued that our communal relationships are declining, and that an ever smaller proportion of the population is involved in social activities of a cooperative and communal nature.54 We used to be a nation of joiners; increasingly now we’re a nation of loners. As Tocqueville noted 150 years ago, affiliative groups used to be the unique strength of American society.55 Several hypotheses were offered in this and subsequent studies to explain the decline in the civic engagement of Americans — various demographic changes, technological innovations such as television, the changing role of government, the cultural revolution, and so on. The land-use and transportation patterns that have evolved in the post-war period are a factor as well. The concepts of neighborhood and community today no longer mean the same thing as they did in the past. ...

Much of the loss of scale communities is due to the fact that transportation planners have reconfigured the urban areas of the country to serve the automobile.58 It stems from a fundamental confusion between what geographers call accessibility and mobility. This distinction is explained particularly well in a recent text, The Geography of Urban Transportation:
Accessibility refers to the number of opportunities, also called activity sites, available within a certain distance or travel time. Mobility refers to the ability to move between different activity sites (e.g., from home to a grocery store).59  ....

On the other hand, collection of economic rent, whether it be from the use of land sites, fossil fuels, fishing grounds, solar and wind energy settings, electromagnetic spectrum frequencies, airport landing timeslots, and or even air sinks facilitates their highest and best use while leaving less attractive settings unaffected. Where there exists the possibility that environmentally sensitive sites or resources might otherwise be exploited, then is the appropriate time to institute focused CAC approaches, and with more attentive and efficient administration for all involved. The practice of concentrating economic activity in the more limited footprint that pricing creates is consistent with approaches taken in ecological economics. This is because the economy is recognized as only one component of human experience and the world system, not coterminous with it. Daly, for instance, draws concentric circles to illustrate the proper setting of the economic system — inside the social and cultural system which itself exists in a greater ecosystem. Collection of economic rent has a centrifugal and concentrating effect on human activity and hence upon the ecosystem itself. It has a benign effect on ecosystems insofar as it effectuates a steep and identifiable market gradient between areas of heavy socio-economic activity and those that bring no price at all. And yet by facilitating closer contact between members of the human community, it also fosters exchanges of a nature that are outside the market economy — family relationships and neighborhood activity.... read the whole article
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)
One cannot look, it seems to me, through nature — whether one looks at the stars through a telescope, or have the microscope reveal to one those worlds that we find in drops of water. Whether one considers the human frame, the adjustments of the animal kingdom, or any department of physical nature, one must see that there has been a contriver and adjuster, that there has been an intent. So strong is that feeling, so natural is it to our minds, that even people who deny the Creative Intelligence are forced, in spite of themselves, to talk of intent; the claws on one animal were intended, we say, to climb with, the fins of another to propel it through the water.

Yet, while in looking through the laws of physical nature, we find intelligence we do not so clearly find beneficence. But in the great social fact that as population increases, and improvements are made, and men progress in civilisation, the one thing that rises everywhere in value is land, and in this we may see a proof of the beneficence of the Creator.

Why, consider what it means! It means that the social laws are adapted to progressive humanity! In a rude state of society where there is no need for common expenditure, there is no value attaching to land. The only value which attaches there is to things produced by labour. But as civilisation goes on, as a division of labour takes place, as people come into centres, so do the common wants increase, and so does the necessity for public revenue arise. And so in that value which attaches to land, not by reason of anything the individual does, but by reason of the growth of the community, is a provision intended — we may safely say intended — to meet that social want.

Just as society grows, so do the common needs grow, and so grows this value attaching to land — the provided fund from which they can be supplied. Here is a value that may be taken, without impairing the right of property, without taking anything from the producer, without lessening the natural rewards of industry and thrift. Nay, here is a value that must be taken if we would prevent the most monstrous of all monopolies. What does all this mean? It means that in the creative plan, the natural advance in civilisation is an advance to a greater and greater equality instead of to a more and more monstrous inequality.... Read the whole speech

Weld Carter: An Introduction to Henry George
The Ethics of Taxation
It was but a short step from the ethics of property to the ethics of taxation. George's position here was that as labor and capital rightfully and unconditionally own what they produce, no one can rightfully appropriate any of their earnings; nor can the State. On the other hand, land value is always a socially created value, never the result of action by the owner of the land. Therefore this is a value that must be taken by society; otherwise, those who comprise the social whole are deprived of what is rightfully theirs. Furthermore, to charge the owner for this value, in the form of taxation, is only to collect from him the precise value of the benefit he receives from society.

As to the justice of taxes on products, George spoke 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." 

Of the justice of taxes on land values, he said, "Adam Smith speaks of incomes as 'enjoyed under the protection of the state'; and this is the ground upon which the equal taxation of all species of property is commonly insisted upon -- that it is equally protected by the state. The basis of this idea is evidently that the enjoyment of property is made possible by the state -- that there is a value created and maintained by the community, which is justly called upon to meet community expenses. Now of what values is this true? Only of the value of land. This is a value that does not arise until a community is formed, and that, unlike other values, grows with the growth of the community. It exists only as the community exists. Scatter again the largest community, and land, now so valuable, would have no value at all. With every increase of population the value of land rises; with every decrease it falls. ...

"The tax upon land values is, therefore, the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, that value which is the creation of the community. It is the application the common property to common uses."  ...read the whole article

Bill Batt: Stemming Sprawl: The Fiscal Approach

SPRAWL DEVELOPMENT CONFIGURATIONS are not natural. Were it not for incentives to the contrary, people would choose to live and work in close proximity. This has been well documented in studies of every era and place.[1] Only when incentives are put in place that induce people to live in other circumstances do they choose settlement patterns that are remote, less accessible, and alienating. Only in the industrial era and after have outlying areas become more attractive. Tracing the history of such developments makes it clear that they are a response to less livable conditions of urban life as they have evolved — the pollution of air and water, loss of nature, loss of privacy, housing deficiencies, and so on. In more recent years, differentials in taxation and the quality of services (such as schools) have also played a role in making the suburbs more attractive. ... read the whole article

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 5: Reinventing the Commons (pages 65-78)

Trust and liquidity, I eventually realized, are just two small rivulets in an enormous river of common wealth that encompasses nature, community, and culture. Nature’s gifts are all those wondrous things, living and nonliving, that we inherit from the creation. Community includes the myriad threads, tangible and intangible, that connect us to other humans efficiently. Culture embodies our vast store of science, inventions, and art. ...

Social Assets
The value of community and cultural assets has been less studied than that of natural assets. However, we can get an order of magnitude by considering a few examples.

The Internet has contributed significantly to the U.S. economy since the 1990s. It has spawned many new companies (America Online, Amazon.com, Ebay, to name a few), boosted sales and efficiency of existing companies, and stimulated educational, cultural, and informational exchange. How much is all that worth?

There’s no right answer to this question.However, a study by Cisco Systems and the University of Texas found that the Internet generated $830 billion in revenue in 2000. Assuming the asset value of the Internet is 16.5 times the yearly revenue it generates, we arrive at an estimated value of $13 trillion. Another valuable social asset is the complex system of stock exchanges, laws, and communications media that makes it possible for Americans to sell stock easily. Assuming that this socially created “liquidity premium” accounts for 30 percent of stock market capitalization, its value in 2006 was roughly $5 trillion. If that much equity were put in a mutual fund whose shares belonged to all Americans, the average household would be $45,000 richer.

Not-for-profit cultural activities also pump billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.A 2002 study by Americans for the Arts found that nonprofit art and cultural activities generate $134 billion in economic value every year, including $89 billion in household income and $24 billion in tax revenues. Using the 16.5 multiplier suggests that America’s cultural assets are worth in excess of $2 trillion.

These three examples alone add up to about $20 trillion. The long list of other social assets — including scientific and technical knowledge, our legal and political systems, our universities, libraries, accounting procedures, and transportation infrastructure — suggest that the total value of our social assets is comparable in magnitude to that of our natural assets. ... read the whole chapter

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 7: Universal Birthrights (pages 101-116)

Capitalism and community aren’t natural allies. Capitalism’s emphasis on individual acquisition and consumption is usually antithetical to the needs of community. Where capitalism is about the pursuit of self-interest, community is about connecting to — and at times assisting — others. It’s driven not by monetary gain but by caring, giving, and sharing.

While the opportunity to advance one’s self-interest is essential to happiness, so too is community. No person is an island, and no one can truly attain happiness without connection to others. This raises the question of how to promote community. One view is that community can’t be promoted; it either arises spontaneously or it doesn’t. Another view is that community can be strengthened through public schools, farmers’ markets, charitable gifts, and the like. It’s rarely imagined that community can be built into our economic operating system. In this chapter I show how it can be — if our operating system includes a healthy commons sector. ... read the whole chapter




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