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

As for thoroughgoing socialism, which is the more to be honored as having the courage of its convictions, it would carry these vices to full expression. Jumping to conclusions without effort to discover causes, it fails to see that oppression does not come from the nature of capital, but from the wrong that robs labor of capital by divorcing it from land, and that creates a fictitious capital that is really capitalized monopoly. It fails to see that it would be impossible for capital to oppress labor were labor free to the natural material of production; that the wage system in itself springs from mutual convenience, being a form of cooperation in which one of the parties prefers a certain to a contingent result; and that what it calls the “iron law of wages” is not the natural law of wages, but only the law of wages in that unnatural condition in which men are made helpless by being deprived of the materials for life and work. It fails to see that what it mistakes for the evils of competition are really the evils of restricted competition — are due to a one-sided competition to which men are forced when deprived of land. While its methods, the organization of men into industrial armies, the direction and control of all production and exchange by governmental or semi-governmental bureaus, would, if carried to full expression, mean Egyptian despotism.

We differ from the socialists in our diagnosis of the evil and we differ from them as to remedies. We have no fear of capital, regarding it as the natural handmaiden of labor; we look on interest in itself as natural and just; we would set no limit to accumulation, nor impose on the rich any burden that is not equally placed on the poor; we see no evil in competition, but deem unrestricted competition to be as necessary to the health of the industrial and social organism as the free circulation of the blood is to the health of the bodily organism — to be the agency whereby the fullest cooperation is to be secured. We would simply take for the community what belongs to the community, the value that attaches to land by the growth of the community; leave sacredly to the individual all that belongs to the individual; and, treating necessary monopolies as functions of the state, abolish all restrictions and prohibitions save those required for public health, safety, morals and convenience. ... read the whole letter

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix: FAQ

Q38. Is there no danger that under the single tax scheming men of great intellect would be able to take advantage of their less intelligent brethren, and by the competitive system corral everything as they do now?
A. If they did, it would not be by the competitive system, but because the competitive system was still imperfectly developed. Competition is freedom, and such a thing as you suggest could not be done where freedom prevailed. I believe that the single tax would perfect competition. If it did, and at any rate to the extent that it did, every one would get what he earned. ... read the book


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

Co-operation and Competition

MANY if not most of the writers on political economy have treated exchange as a part of distribution. On the contrary, it belongs to production. It is by exchange, and through exchange, that man obtains, and is able to exert, the power of co-operation which, with the advance of civilization, so enormously increases his ability to produce wealth. — The Science of Political Economyunabridged: Book III, Chapter 11, The Production of Wealth: The Office of Exchange in Productionunabridged Chapter 9, The Office of Exchange in Production

THEY who, seeing how men are forced by competition to the extreme of human wretchedness, jump to the conclusion that competition should be abolished, are like those who, seeing a house burn down, would prohibit the use of fire.

The air we breathe exerts upon every square inch of our bodies a pressure of fifteen pounds. Were this pressure exerted only on one side, it would pin us to the ground and crush us to a jelly. But being exerted on all sides, we move under it with perfect freedom. It not only does not inconvenience us, but it serves such indispensable purposes that, relieved of its pressure, we should die.

So it is with competition. Where there exists a class denied all right to the element necessary to life arid labor, competition is one-sided, and as population increases must press the lowest class into virtual slavery, and even starvation. But where the natural rights of all are secured, then competition, acting on every hand — between employers as between employed, between buyers as between sellers — can injure no one.

On the contrary it becomes the most simple, most extensive, most elastic, and most refined system of co-operation that, in the present stage of social development, and in the domain where it will freely act, we can rely on for the co-ordination of industry and the economizing of social forces.

In short, competition plays just such a part in the social organism as those vital impulses which are beneath consciousness do in the bodily organism. With it, as with them, it is only necessary that it should be free. The line at which the state should come in is that where free competition becomes impossible — a line analogous to that which in the individual organism separates the conscious from the unconscious functions. There is such a line, though extreme socialists and extreme individualists both ignore it. The extreme individualist is like the man who would have his hunger provide him food; the extreme socialist is like the man who would have his conscious will direct his stomach how to digest it. — Protection or Free Trade, chapter 28 econlib
... go to "Gems from George"

Henry George: The Great Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy  (1889)

Mr Hyndman quarrels with competition. (Hear, hear.) He wants to abolish it, but to abolish competition would be to abolish freedom. (Loud applause and cries of “No, no.”) How can you abolish competition except by saying to man, “Thou shalt not”? How can you abolish competition save by preventing men from doing what they have a perfect right to do – (“No, no,” and hear, hear) – and what it is for the interest of the community that they should do? Why, today, what are the grievances that the working classes everywhere justly complain of? The restriction of competition. It is monopoly, and monopoly simply means the restriction of competition. (Hear, hear.)

How is competition to be abolished? We have a right to ask the Social Democrats what they propose to do, and how they propose to do it. All I can find in their platform that goes to the social question is this: “The production of wealth to be regulated by society in the common interests of all its members.” (Cheers.) “The means of production, distribution, and exchange to be declared and treated as collective or common property.” (Hear, hear.)

They propose to take everything – (laughter and hear, hear) – not merely that which belongs of natural right to all men equally – namely, the land – but also that which by natural right belongs to the man who has produced it. (Hear, hear.) How are they to get possession of it? By buying it or by taking it? If by taking it, it is a big job. (Hear, hear and laughter.) If by buying it, what are you doing but taking the capital from the masses in order to give it to those people whom you now say hold the capital?

You say the nation ought to abolish competition. Why you could not abolish competition without subjecting man to the worst form of tyranny – (Hear, hear and “No, no”) – and without stopping all progress.
  • It is where competition is not permitted that there is stagnation. (Hear, hear.) It is the competition of manufacturer with manufacturer that leads to the adoption of inventions in manufactures.
  • It is the competition of steamship owner with steamship owner that gives you those greyhounds of the sea.
  • It is the competition of producer with producer, it is the competition of tradesman with tradesman that brings to such a city as this all that is necessary to supply its wants. (Dissent, and cries of “Order” and cheers.)
What we want is full competition. (Hear, hear.) What we want to do is to abolish monopolies, and it is to these monopolies, and not to the earnings of capital, that the great fortunes to which my opponent has alluded are due.  ...

Capital is wealth produced by labour from land, used again in increasing the production of wealth. And not only will it not hurt labour to leave to capital its full reward but we must leave to capital its full natural reward, if we would have a progressive community – (cheers) – and if we would give each what is his due. (Hear, hear.) What the labourers have to fight against is not competition – (hear hear and “Yes”) – but the restriction of production to their injury. Let there be competition all around from the highest to the lowest, fencing in no class against competition. Abolish monopoly everywhere, put all men on an equal footing and then trust to freedom. In that way we would have the most delicate system of co-operation that can possibly be devised by the wit of man.

The fight of labour is not against capital; it is against monopoly. Why just think of that state of things. when all the means of production belong to the community and all production is regulated by the State, when every individual would have, his work, his time of work, and everything else prescribed for him; when it would be utterly impossible for men to employ themselves! To abolish competition you must have restriction; you must call on the coercive powers of the State. How else are you going to do it? Supposing you organise industry in the way our friends dream of, if any individuals go outside of this organization and propose to compete with it, how are you going to stop their competition but by coming in with the strong arm of the law, and putting an end to it? Why such a state of society, instead of being the ideal to which the Anglo-Saxon community ought to aspire, would be going back to a worse despotism than, that of ancient, Egypt. (Applause and cries of “No, no.”)  ...

What I want to know is about the other things. How are all trades going to be organised? You are going to begin with one here and there, you are going to end competition a little at a time·– a piece here and a piece there. Wherever you end competition you give some special privilege. Monopoly in what does it consist? In the abolition of competition. What are the things of which you complain in Government? The absence of competition. Your House of Lords is not opposed to competition; it is fenced in by monopoly (Loud applause.) So wherever you find a special privilege, there you find it a special privilege because competition is excluded.

What was the essence of slavery to which Mr. Hyndman has alluded? The prohibition of competition; so no one else could employ the slave save his owner – the slave was not free to compete with owner. (Hear, hear.) If you men seriously think of these things you will see that the Social Democratic Federation vaguely proposes, if it were possible to carry it out, would inevitably result in the worst system of slavery. (Loud cries of “No; no,” and “Order”)

Simply imagine a state of things in which no one could work save under State control, in which no one could display any energy save under the control of a board of officials, and ask yourselves who this board of officials are likely to be. Socialism begins at the wrong end; it pre-supposes pure government; its dream is simply of a benevolent tyranny (“No, no.”)  ...  Read the entire article


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