Joseph Malins: The Ambulance
Down in the Valley
So many of the things we try to do
today in relation to poverty fall into one of two categories.
Either they are little adhesive bandages, things which help
fix the problem very locally, for a few people or a few families, but which
too expensive to be replicated on any larger scale. Or they are fences,
which prevent a few selected people from being the ones who
fall into poverty or continue in poverty but do nothing to change the
overall number of people who are in poverty, nothing to prevent more
people from being impoverishedy.
Both seem to operate from the assumption that the primary problem is
a problem with the particular individuals, rather than a problem inherent
in the way we structure our society and our economy. It would be
painful to admit that there is something signficant wrong with our
structure. We don't have to seek agreement from large numbers of
people to seek to help a few people.
Our faith organizations — one of the places from which social change
might have come — are preoccupied with offering bandages, and some
work hard to build fences. But they aren't looking for the root
causes (or to use Freire's phrase, they aren't looking upstream), perhaps
because to do so might alienate some of their larger donors. As you read
suggestions of what government can do, or what the wealthy can do, think also
of faith should
Layer after layer of little adhesive bandages form a cast, but they
don't heal the problem. Instead, it festers.
Or, to go to the ambulance
drivers and fence builder analogy, how should we allocate our
time? Driving ambulances at the bottom of the cliff, building
fences at the top of the cliff, or illuminating and working 'round the
clock to tear down the cliff? This website
provides the megawatt lighting! Are you up to the demolition task? Or are you content
to sit and watch the cliff grow larger, and willing to help pay for more fences
more ambulances, and hope your grandchildren can afford to do the same?
To consider two popular images, let's think about "random acts of kindness"
and "the starfish on the beach." The bumpersticker says we should
practice random acts of kindness, and that's fine, but it would be finer
if we would first — or simultaneously — devote ourselves
wholeheartedly and singlemindedly to creating justice. And once that is
done, our random
of kindness would
be in the
mode of added extras, rather than charity. The starfish story describes the
difference that the person who walks the sand, throwing back beached
starfish, makes to those particular starfish, even if they only manage to
help a tiny fraction of all the starfish then on the beach. Shall
we work to establish justice, or simply to help individually as many as possible
of those who suffer from injustice?
"Random acts of kindness" and "starfish"
are basicly conservative statements: let's not change the system, just
relieve some individual pain. Georgist thought is radical, seeking to find
of the problem and remove it, creating justice for all, but, as the quote
on the front page says, telling the truth, without regard for who might
not like to hear it, is not just radical, it is also conservatism at
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant,
But over its terrible edge there had slipped,
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley." ...
"Oh he's a fanatic," the others
"Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He'd dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We'll support them forever.
Aren't we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?"
But the sensible few, who are
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.
Better guide well the young than
reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
"To rescue the fallen is good, but 'tis best
To prevent other people from falling."
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence 'round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley. ... Read
the whole poem and commentary
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
Poverty is widespread and pitiable. This we know. Its general manifestations
are so common that even good men look upon it as a providential provision
for enabling the rich to drive camels through needles' eyes by exercising
the modern virtue of organized giving.32 Its occasional manifestations in
recurring periods of "hard times"33 are like epidemics of a virulent
disease, which excite even the most contented to ask if they may not be the
next victims. Its spasms of violence threaten society with anarchy on the
one hand, and, through panic-stricken efforts at restraint, with loss of
liberty on the other. And it persists and deepens despite the continuous
increase of wealth producing power.34
32. Not all charity is contemptible. Those charitable people, who, knowing
that individuals suffer, hasten to their relief, deserve the respect and
affection they receive. That kind of charity is neighborliness; it is love.
And perhaps in modern circumstances organization is necessary to make it
effective. But organized charity as a cherished social institution is a different
thing. It is not love, nor is it inspired by love; it is simply sanctified
selfishness, at the bottom of which will be found the blasphemous notion
that in the economy of God the poor are to be forever with us that the rich
may gain heaven by alms-giving.
Suppose a hole in the sidewalk into which passers-by continually
fall, breaking their arms, their legs, and sometimes their necks. We should
people who, without thought of themselves, went to the relief of the sufferers,
binding the broken limbs of the living, and decently burying the dead. But
what should we say of those who, when some one proposed to fill up the hole
to prevent further suffering, should say, "Oh, you mustn't fill up that
hole! Whatever in the world should we charitable people do to be saved if
we had no broken legs and arms to bind, and no broken-necked people to bury?"
Of some kinds of charity it has been well said that they
form of self-righteousness which makes us give to others the things that
already belong to them." They suggest the old nursery rhyme:
"There was once a considerate crocodile,
Which lay on a bank of the river Nile.
And he swallowed a fish, with a face of woe,
While his tears flowed fast to the stream below.
'I am mourning,' said he. 'the untimely fate
Of the dear little fish which I just now ate.'"
Read Chapter viii of "Social Problems," by Henry George, entitled, "That
We All Might Be Rich."
... read the book
D. C. MacDonald: Preface
(1891?) to Ogilvie's Essay
Professor Ogilvie, who came
after Locke, devotes himself in this treatise to one subject - Birthright in land,
it may be called. And the Author may be justly styled - The Euclid of
Land Law Reform. He has left little or nothing unsolved in connection
with the Land Question. He has given us a true base line — man’s
right to the raw material of the earth, to the air, to the water, to
the rays of the sun, and all natural products — from which we can work
out any problem, and by which we can test the “title and measure” of
every man’s property. Resting on this baseline — man’s natural rights
— he represents to us the perpendicular line of man's right to labour,
“with security of reaping its full produce and just reward.” Here
have the question in a nutshell. Take away the base line, and you have
no right to labour, and no produce or reward, except what may be meted
out by the usurper of your natural rights. You have to beg for leave to
toil! We thus see clearly how the robbery of labour may be prevented,
and how impossible it is to put a stop to such robbery while the
industrial classes neglect to claim and exercise their natural right --
their right to an equal share in the earth, and all its natural
Strikes against low wages, high
rents, unjust taxation, absurd
conflicts between capital and labour, rebellions against this or that
form of government, are futile skirmishes, and very frequently
the suicidal cock-fighting order, at which the real enemy, elevated on
a grand stand, simply laugh. To
contend successfully with these evils,
society must learn to begin at the source thereof. While
content to remain deprived of their natural rights, they must pay
whatever ransom the brigands
who have seized these rights choose to demand. Not only is industry
robbed, taxed, and crippled, but the brigand, as dog-in-the-manger,
very often puts an entire stop to it, and thus the happiness and
comfort of millions of mankind, who are willing to work, are curtailed
or wholly sacrificed, and misery and starvation reign instead. I am
somewhat afraid to say hard things against brigandage. An institution
that is still propped up by Law and Order, and supported (or winked at)
on almost every hand by the avowed servants of Jesus Christ, must be
touched with a “gentle hand.” William Ogilvie has done so in the Essay
now before us. Although a landlord himself, he did not disregard the
truth, and it will be found that his pen was guided by an impartial and
benevolent spirit.Read the entire preface
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
14 Liberty, and Equality of Opportunity (in the unabridged P&P: Part
X: The Law of Human Progress — Chapter 5: The Central Truth)
The reform I have proposed accords with all that is politically, socially,
or morally desirable. It has the qualities of a true reform, for it will
make all other reforms easier. What is it but the carrying out in letter
of the truth enunciated in the Declaration of Independence — the "self-evident" truth
that is the heart and soul of the Declaration —"That all men
are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"
These rights are denied when the equal right to land — on which and
by which men alone can live — is denied. Equality of political rights
will not compensate for the denial of the equal right to the bounty of
nature. Political liberty, when the equal right to land is denied, becomes,
increases and invention goes on, merely the liberty to compete for employment
at starvation wages. ...
Our primary social adjustment is a denial of justice. In allowing one man
to own the land on which and from which other men must live, we have made them
his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on. This
is the subtle alchemy that in ways they do not realize is extracting from the
masses in every civilized country the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting
a harder and more hopeless slavery in place of that which has been destroyed;
that is bringing political despotism out of political freedom, and must soon
transmute democratic institutions into anarchy.
It is this that turns the blessings of material progress into a curse. It
is this that crowds human beings into noisome cellars and squalid tenement
houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that goads men with want and consumes
them with greed; that robs women of the grace and beauty of perfect womanhood;
that takes from little children the joy and innocence of life's morning.
Civilization so based cannot continue. The eternal laws of the universe forbid
it. ... read the whole
Henry George: The
Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy (1889)
Thirdly, we agree with him that
the remedies proposed for the present state of things, those which find
favour at the present time, economy in governments, limitation of
families, better education for the working classes (which simply means
better wage-slaves for the capitalists), greater industry by the
workers (which simply means an increase of production for the
capitalists to take and the landlords to share), thrift and temperance.
Thrift because, under present conditions, as Mr George would admit,
mere thrift cannot change the conditions under which the mass of the
working population and many of the middle class have to suffer. Even
temperance will not alter the, economic conditions in which the people
live. It may be an individual virtue; it may be an individual
advantage; but it will not make the wage-slave less a wage-slave; nor
the cottier tenant of Ireland less at the mercy of the landlord. (Hear,
hear.) Trade unions will not attain that object. There Mr George and I
would agree. Co-operative societies which; at present; are merely for
distribution, more general distribution of land by way of peasant
proprietary, are also remedies which are useless under the present
condition of things. That takes our friends who support Mr George a
very long way, as I shall presently show. ... Read the entire article
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
Or, to state the same thing in another way: Land being necessary to life
and labor, its owners will be able, in return for permission to use it,
to obtain from mere laborers all that labor can produce, save enough to
enable such of them to maintain life as are wanted by the landowners and
Thus, where private property in land has divided society into a landowning
class and a landless class, there is no possible invention or improvement,
whether it be industrial, social or moral, which, so long as it does not
affect the ownership of land, can prevent poverty or relieve the general
conditions of mere laborers. For whether the effect of any invention or improvement
be to increase what labor can produce or to decrease what is required to
support the laborer, it can, so soon as it becomes general, result only in
increasing the income of the owners of land, without at all benefiting the
mere laborers. In no event can those possessed of the mere ordinary power
to labor, a power utterly useless without the means necessary to labor, keep
more of their earnings than enough to enable them to live. ...
I have already referred generally to the defects that attach to all socialistic
remedies for the evil condition of labor, but respect for your Holiness dictates
that I should speak specifically, even though briefly, of the remedies proposed
or suggested by you.
Of these, the widest and strongest are that the state should restrict the
hours of labor, the employment of women and children, the unsanitary conditions
of workshops, etc. Yet how little may in this way be accomplished.
A strong, absolute ruler might hope by such regulations to alleviate the
conditions of chattel slaves. But the tendency of our times is toward democracy,
and democratic states are necessarily weaker in paternalism, while in the
industrial slavery, growing out of private ownership of land, that prevails
in Christendom today, it is not the master who forces the slave to labor,
but the slave who urges the master to let him labor. Thus the greatest difficulty
in enforcing such regulations comes from those whom they are intended to
benefit. It is not, for instance, the masters who make it difficult to enforce
restrictions on child labor in factories, but the mothers, who, prompted
by poverty, misrepresent the ages of their children even to the masters,
and teach the children to misrepresent.
But while in large factories and mines regulations as to hours, ages, etc.,
though subject to evasion and offering opportunities for extortion and corruption,
may be to some extent enforced, how can they have any effect in those far
wider branches of industry where the laborer works for himself or for small
All such remedies are of the nature of the remedy for overcrowding that
is generally prescribed with them — the restriction under penalty of
the number who may occupy a room and the demolition of unsanitary buildings.
Since these measures have no tendency to increase house accommodation or
to augment ability to pay for it, the overcrowding that is forced back in
some places goes on in other places and to a worse degree. All such remedies
begin at the wrong end. They are like putting on brake and bit to hold in
quietness horses that are being lashed into frenzy; they are like trying
to stop a locomotive by holding its wheels instead of shutting off steam;
like attempting to cure smallpox by driving back its pustules. Men do not
overwork themselves because they like it; it is not in the nature of the
mother’s heart to send children to work when they ought to be at play;
it is not of choice that laborers will work under dangerous and unsanitary
conditions. These things, like overcrowding, come from the sting of poverty.
And so long as the poverty of which they are the expression is left untouched,
restrictions such as you indorse can have only partial and evanescent results.
The cause remaining, repression in one place can only bring out its effects
in other places, and the task you assign to the state is as hopeless as to
ask it to lower the level of the ocean by bailing out the sea.
Nor can the state cure poverty by regulating wages. It is as much beyond
the power of the state to regulate wages as it is to regulate the rates of
interest. Usury laws have been tried again and again, but the only effect
they have ever had has been to increase what the poorer borrowers must pay,
and for the same reasons that all attempts to lower by regulation the price
of goods have always resulted merely in increasing them. The general rate
of wages is fixed by the ease or difficulty with which labor can obtain access
to land, ranging from the full earnings of labor, where land is free, to
the least on which laborers can live and reproduce, where land is fully monopolized.
Thus, where it has been comparatively easy for laborers to get land, as in
the United States and in Australasia, wages have been higher than in Europe
and it has been impossible to get European laborers to work there for wages
that they would gladly accept at home; while as monopolization goes on under
the influence of private property in land, wages tend to fall, and the social
conditions of Europe to appear. Thus, under the partial yet substantial recognition
of common rights to land, of which I have spoken, the many attempts of the
British Parliament to reduce wages by regulation failed utterly. And so,
when the institution of private property in land had done its work in England,
all attempts of Parliament to raise wages proved unavailing. In the beginning
of this century it was even attempted to increase the earnings of laborers
by grants in aid of wages. But the only result was to lower commensurately
what wages employers paid.
The state could maintain wages above the tendency of the market (for as
I have shown labor deprived of land becomes a commodity), only by offering
employment to all who wish it; or by lending its sanction to strikes and
supporting them with its funds. Thus it is, that the thoroughgoing socialists
who want the state to take all industry into its hands are much more logical
than those timid socialists who propose that the state should regulate private
industry — but only a little.
The same hopelessness attends your suggestion that working-people should
be encouraged by the state in obtaining a share of the land. It is evident
that by this you mean that, as is now being attempted in Ireland, the state
shall buy out large landowners in favor of small ones, establishing what
are known as peasant proprietors. Supposing that this can be done even to
a considerable extent, what will be accomplished save to substitute a larger
privileged class for a smaller privileged class? What will be done for the
still larger class that must remain, the laborers of the agricultural districts,
the workmen of the towns, the proletarians of the cities? Is it not true,
as Professor De Laveleye says, that in such countries as Belgium, where peasant
proprietary exists, the tenants, for there still exist tenants, are rack-rented
with a mercilessness unknown in Ireland? Is it not true that in such countries
as Belgium the condition of the mere laborer is even worse than it is in
Great Britain, where large ownerships obtain? And if the state attempts to
buy up land for peasant proprietors will not the effect be, what is seen
today in Ireland, to increase the market value of land and thus make it more
difficult for those not so favored, and for those who will come after, to
get land? How, moreover, on the principle which you declare (36), that “to
the state the interests of all are equal, whether high or low,” will
you justify state aid to one man to buy a bit of land without also insisting
on state aid to another man to buy a donkey, to another to buy a shop, to
another to buy the tools and materials of a trade — state aid in short
to everybody who may be able to make good use of it or thinks that he could?
And are you not thus landed in communism — not the communism of the
early Christians and of the religious orders, but communism that uses the
coercive power of the state to take rightful property by force from those
who have, to give to those who have not? For the state has no purse of Fortunatus;
the state cannot repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes; all that the
state can give, it must get by some form or other of the taxing power. And
whether it gives or lends money, or gives or lends credit, it cannot give
to those who have not, without taking from those who have.
But aside from all this, any scheme of dividing up land while maintaining
private property in land is futile. Small holdings cannot coexist with the
treatment of land as private property where civilization is materially advancing
and wealth augments. We may see this in the economic tendencies that in ancient
times were the main cause that transformed world-conquering Italy from a
land of small farms to a land of great estates. We may see it in the fact
that while two centuries ago the majority of English farmers were owners
of the land they tilled, tenancy has been for a long time the all but universal
condition of the English farmer. And now the mighty forces of steam and electricity
have come to urge concentration. It is in the United States that we may see
on the largest scale how their power is operating to turn a nation of landowners
into a nation of tenants. The principle is clear and irresistible. Material
progress makes land more valuable, and when this increasing value is left
to private owners land must pass from the ownership of the poor into the
ownership of the rich, just as diamonds so pass when poor men find them.
What the British government is attempting in Ireland is to build snow-houses
in the Arabian desert! to plant bananas in Labrador!
There is one way, and only one way, in which working-people in our civilization
may be secured a share in the land of their country, and that is the way
that we propose — the taking of the profits of landownership for the
Charity is indeed a noble and beautiful virtue, grateful to man and approved
by God. But charity must be built on justice. It cannot supersede justice.
What is wrong with the condition of labor through the Christian world is
that labor is robbed. And while you justify the continuance of that robbery
it is idle to urge charity. To do so — to commend charity as a substitute
for justice, is indeed something akin in essence to those heresies, condemned
by your predecessors, that taught that the gospel had superseded the law,
and that the love of God exempted men from moral obligations.
All that charity can do where injustice exists is here and there to mollify
somewhat the effects of injustice. It cannot cure them. Nor is even what
little it can do to mollify the effects of injustice without evil. For what
may be called the superimposed, and in this sense, secondary virtues, work
evil where the fundamental or primary virtues are absent. Thus sobriety is
a virtue and diligence is a virtue. But a sober and diligent thief is all
the more dangerous. Thus patience is a virtue. But patience under wrong is
the condoning of wrong. Thus it is a virtue to seek knowledge and to endeavor
to cultivate the mental powers. But the wicked man becomes more capable of
evil by reason of his intelligence. Devils we always think of as intelligent.
But worse perhaps than all else is the way in which this substituting of
vague injunctions to charity for the clear-cut demands of justice opens an
easy means for the professed teachers of the Christian religion of all branches
and communions to placate Mammon while persuading themselves that they are
serving God. Had the English clergy not subordinated the teaching of justice
to the teaching of charity — to go no further in illustrating a principle
of which the whole history of Christendom from Constantine’s time to
our own is witness — the Tudor tyranny would never have arisen, and
the separation of the church been averted; had the clergy of France never
substituted charity for justice, the monstrous iniquities of the ancient
régime would never have brought the horrors of the Great Revolution;
and in my own country had those who should have preached justice not satisfied
themselves with preaching kindness, chattel slavery could never have demanded
the holocaust of our civil war.
No, your Holiness; as faith without works is dead, as men cannot give to
God his due while denying to their fellows the rights be gave them, so charity
unsupported by justice can do nothing to solve the problem of the existing
condition of labor. Though the rich were to “bestow all their goods
to feed the poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would
continue while property in land continues.
Take the case of the rich man today who is honestly desirous of devoting
his wealth to the improvement of the condition of labor. What can he do?
- Bestow his wealth on those who need it? He may help some who deserve
it, but will not improve general conditions. And against the good he may
do will be the danger of doing harm.
- Build churches? Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the
vice that is born of it breeds.
- Build schools and colleges? Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity
of private property in land, increased education can effect nothing for
mere laborers, for as education is diffused the wages of education sink.
- Establish hospitals? Why, already it seems to laborers that there are
too many seeking work, and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure.
- Build model tenements? Unless he cheapens house accommodations he but
drives further the class he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodations
he brings more to seek employment and cheapens wages.
- Institute laboratories, scientific schools, workshops for physical
experiments? He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting
on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as between
the upper and the nether millstone.
- Promote emigration from places where wages are low to places
where they are somewhat higher? If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate
will soon turn on him to demand that such emigration shall be stopped as
reducing their wages.
- Give away what land he may have, or refuse to take rent for
it, or let it at lower rents than the market price? He will simply make new landowners
or partial landowners; he may make some individuals the richer, but he
will do nothing to improve the general condition of labor.
- Or, bethinking himself of those public-spirited citizens of
classic times who spent great sums in improving their native cities,
shall he try
to beautify the city of his birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten
narrow and crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let
him open tramways and bring in railroads, or in any way make beautiful
and attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not
be that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will
it not be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of
his benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to landowners?
Why, even the mere announcement that he is going to do such things will
start speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.
What, then, can the rich man do to improve the condition of labor?
He can do nothing at all except to use his strength for the abolition of
the great primary wrong that robs men of their birthright. The justice of
God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute anything else for it. ... read the whole letter
Henry George: How
to Help the Unemployed (1894)
EPIDEMIC of what passes for charity is sweeping over the land.
From New York, where the new and massive United Charities Building,
the million-dollar gift of one philanthropist, gives stately evidence
that the battle against actual starvation has permanently transcended
the powers of a municipality that appropriates to it millions
annually and of the unorganized giving of greater millions; and from
Chicago, where the corridors of the City Hall and the doors of
churches have been thrown open for the shelter of those so poor as to
welcome such a bed, to Seattle, on Puget Sound, or Tampa, on the
Mexican Gulf, -- all who have anything to give are being asked to
- Municipalities, churches, boards of trade, real-estate
associations, labor unions and merchants' organizations are giving
and asking for charity funds.
- Officials are surrendering a percentage
on their salaries, policemen, railroad operatives, the employees of
large business establishments, factory hands, and even day laborers,
are docking themselves of part of their pay, and trades dinners being
given up to swell charity subscriptions.
- There are charity balls,
charity parties, charity entertainments, and charity funds of all
- One great paper in New York is raising an old-clothes
and another great paper a bread fund, and in Ashland, Wis., they have
made a charity mincepie twenty-two feet in circumference and a
quarter of a ton in weight.
- The politicians are always large givers
of alms, politicians of the Tammany type especially; but even Tammany
has special relief committees at work.
- One of the chiefs of New
York's "400" calls on each pupil of the public schools for a daily
contribution of a cold potato and a slice of bread for the organized
feeding of the hungry; and to complete the parallel with the "bread
and circuses" of the dying Roman republic, he also asks that the
churches be opened and their organs played every afternoon, so that
to free food may be added free music!
Yet there has been no disaster
of fire or flood, no convulsion of
nature, no destruction by public enemies. The seasons have kept their
order, we have had the former and the latter rain, and the earth has
not refused her increase. Granaries are filled to overflowing, and
commodities, even these we have tried to make dear by tariff, were
never before so cheap.
The scarcity that is distressing and frightening the whole
is a scarcity of employment. It is the unemployed for whom charity is
asked: not those who cannot or will not work, but those able to work
and anxious to work, who, through no fault of their own, cannot find
work. So clear, indeed, is it that of the great masses who are
suffering in this country to-day, by far the greater part are honest,
sober, and industrious, that the pharisees who preach that poverty is
due to laziness and thriftlessness, and the fanatics who attribute it
to drink, are for the moment silent.
Yet why is it that men able to work and willing to work cannot
find work? It is not strange that the failure to work should bring
want, for it is only by work that human wants are satisfied. But to
say that widespread distress comes from widespread inability to find
employment no more explains the distress than to say that the man
died from want of breath explains a sudden death. The pressing
question, the real question, is, What causes the want of
This, however, is the question
that the men of light and leading,
the preachers, teachers, philanthropists, business men and editors of
great newspapers, who all over the country are speaking and writing
about the distress and raising funds for the unemployed, show no
anxiety to discover. Indeed, they seem
averse to such inquiry. "The
cause of the want of employment," they say, tacitly or openly, "is
not to be considered now. The present duty is to keep people from
starving and freezing, or being driven to break in and steal. This is
no time for theories. It is a time for alms."
This attitude, if one considers
it, seems something more than
strange. If in any village a
traveller found the leading men
clustered about the body of one who had clearly come to untimely
death, yet anxious only to get it buried; making no inquiry into the
cause of death, and even discouraging inquiry, would he not suspect
them of knowing more of that cause than they cared to admit?
this army of unemployed is as unnatural as is death in the prime of
life and vigor of every organ and faculty. Nay, it involves
presumption of wrong as clearly as cut throat or shattered skull.
more unnatural than that alms should be asked, not for the
maimed, the halt and the blind, the helpless widow and the tender
orphan, but for grown men, strong men, skilful men, men able to work
and anxious to work! What more unnatural than that labor -- the
producer of all food, all clothing, all shelter -- should not be
exchangeable for its full equivalent in food, clothing, and shelter;
that while the things it produces have value, labor, the giver of all
value, should seem valueless! ... Read the entire
Henry George: Causes
of Business Depression (1894)
Socialists, Populists and
charity mongers -- the people who would
apply little remedies for a great evil are all "barking up
the wrong tree." The upas
of our civilization is our treatment
of land. It is that which is converting even the march of invention
into a blight.
Henry George: Concentrations
of Wealth Harm America
(excerpt from Social Problems)
all political problems lies the social problem of the
distribution of wealth. This our people do not generally recognize,
and they listen to quacks who propose to cure the symptoms without
touching the disease. "Let us elect good men to office," say the
quacks. Yes; let us catch little birds by sprinkling salt on their
tails! ... Read the entire article
Henry George: The Wages of
I have already referred generally
to the defects that attach
to all socialistic remedies for the evil condition of labor. I will
now, specifically, but briefly, refer to some proposals which have a
wide and strong appeal.
That the State should step in
- to prevent overwork;
- to restrict
the employment of women and children;
- to secure sanitary conditions in
- to regulate wages;
- to encourage settlement, and the
acquisition of land by working-men; and
- the formation of working-men’s
The tendency and spirit of these
remedial suggestions lean
unmistakably to socialism – extremely moderate Socialism it is true,
yet Socialism still. And how little may in this way be accomplished!...
All such remedies begin at the
wrong end. They are like
putting on brake and bit to hold in quietness horses that are being
lashed into frenzy; like trying to stop a locomotive by holding its
wheels, instead of shutting off steam.
Men do not overwork themselves
because they like it; it is not
in the nature of the mother’s heart to send children to work when they
ought to be at play; not of choice will laborers work in dangerous and
These things, like overcrowding,
come from the sting of
poverty. And so long as the poverty of which they are an expression is
left untouched, such restrictions can have only partial and evanescent
results. The cause remaining, repression in one place can only bring
out its effects in other places, and the task assigned to the State is
as hopeless as to ask it to lower the level of the ocean by bailing out
the sea. ...
Though the rich were to “bestow
all their goods to feed the
poor and give their bodies to be burned,” poverty would continue while
property in land continued.
Take the case of the rich man today
who is honestly desirous of devoting his wealth to the improvement of
the condition of labor. What can he do?
- Bestow his wealth on
those who need it?
He may help some who deserve it, but he will not improve general
conditions. And against the good he may do will be the danger of doing
- Build churches?
Under the shadow of churches poverty festers and the vice that is born
of it breeds!
- Build schools and
Save as it may lead men to see the iniquity of private property in
land, increased education can effect nothing for mere laborers, for as
education is diffused the wages of education sink!
- Establish hospitals?
Why, already it seems to laborers that there are too many seeking work,
and to save and prolong life is to add to the pressure!
- Build model tenements?
Unless he cheapens house accommodation he but drives further the class
he would benefit, and as he cheapens house accommodation he brings more
to seek employment, and cheapens wages!
- Institute laboratories,
scientific schools, workshops far physical experiments?
He but stimulates invention and discovery, the very forces that, acting
on a society based on private property in land, are crushing labor as
between the upper and the nether millstone!
- Promote emigration from
places where wages are low to places where they are somewhat higher?
If he does, even those whom he at first helps to emigrate will soon
turn on him and demand that such emigration shall be stopped as
reducing their wages!
- Give away what land he
may have, or refuse to take rent for it, or let it at lower rents than
the market price?
He will simply make new landowners or partial landowners; he may make
some individuals the richer, but he will do nothing to improve the
general condition of labor.
Or, bethinking himself of
public-spirited citizens of classic times who spent great sums in
improving their native cities, shall he try to beautify the city of his
birth or adoption? Let him widen and straighten narrow and
crooked streets, let him build parks and erect fountains, let him open
tramways and bring in railways, or in any way make beautiful and
attractive his chosen city, and what will be the result? Must it not be
that those who appropriate God’s bounty will take his also? Will it not
be that the value of land will go up, and that the net result of his
benefactions will be an increase of rents and a bounty to
landowners? Why, even the
mere announcement that he is going to do such things will start
speculation and send up the value of land by leaps and bounds.
What, then, can the rich man do
to improve the condition of labor?
He can do nothing at
except to use his strength for the abolition of the great primary wrong
that robs men of their birthright.
The justice of God laughs at the attempts of men to substitute
anything else for it! ...
read the whole article
Henry George: The
Land Question (1881)
... But the fatal defect of all these schemes as remedial
that they do not go to the cause of the disease.What they propose to
do, they propose to do for merely one class
of the Irish people – the agricultural tenants. Now, the
agricultural tenants are not so large nor so poor a class (among them
are in fact many large capitalist farmers of the English type) as the
agricultural laborers, while besides these there are the laborers of
other kinds – the artisans, operatives, and poorer classes of the
cities. What extension of tenant-right or conversion of
tenant-farmers into partial or absolute proprietors is to benefit
them? Even if the number of owners of Irish soil could thus be
increased, the soil of Ireland would still be in the hands of a
class, though of a somewhat larger class. And the spring of Irish
misery would be untouched. Those who had merely their labor would be
as badly off as now, if not in some respects worse off. Rent would
soon devour wages, and the injustice involved in the present system
would be intrenched by the increase in the number who seemingly
profit by it. ...
And here is the danger in the
adoption of measures not based upon
correct principles. They fail not only to do any real and permanent
good, but they make proper measures more difficult. Even
if a majority of the people of Ireland were made the owners of
the injustice to the minority would be as great as now, and wages
would still tend to the minimum, which in good times means a bare
living, and in bad times means starvation. Even were it possible
to cut up the soil of Ireland into those little patches into which
soil of France and Belgium is cut in the districts where the
morcellement prevails, this would not be the attainment of a just
and healthy social state. But it would make the attainment of a
healthy social state much more difficult. ... read the whole article
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George,
a themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
"Wise" and "Babes"
IT is as bad for a man to think that he can know nothing as to think he knows
all. There are things which it is given to all possessing reason to know, if
they will but use that reason. And some things it may be there are, that — as
was said by one whom the learning of the time sneered at, and the high priests
persecuted, and polite society, speaking through the voice of those who knew
not what they did, crucified — are hidden from the wise and prudent and
revealed unto babes. — A Perplexed
THAT thought on social questions is so confused and perplexed, that the aspirations
of great bodies of men, deeply though vaguely conscious of injustice, are in
all civilized countries being diverted to futile and dangerous remedies, is largely
due to the fact that those who assume and are credited with superior knowledge
of social and economic laws have devoted their powers, not to showing where the
injustice lies but to hiding it; not to clearing common thought but to confusing
it. — A Perplexed Philosopher (Conclusion)
POLITICAL economy is the simplest of the sciences. It is but the intellectual
recognition, as related to social life, of laws which in their moral aspect men
instinctively recognize, and which are embodied in the simple teachings of him
whom the common people heard gladly. But, like Christianity, political economy
has been warped by institutions which, denying the equality and brotherhood of
man, have enlisted authority, silenced objection, and ingrained themselves in
custom and habit of thought. — Protection or Free Trade, Chapter
1 econlib ... go
to "Gems from George"
Clarence Darrow: The Land Belongs
To The People (1916)
This earth is a little raft moving in the endless sea of space, and the
mass of its human inhabitants are hanging on as best they can. It is as if
raft filled with shipwrecked sailors should be floating on the ocean, and
a few of the strongest and most powerful would take all the raft they could
and leave the most of the people, especially the ones who did the work,
hanging to the edges by their eyebrows. These men who have taken possession
raft, this little planet in this endless space, are not even content with
taking all there is and leaving the rest barely enough to hold onto, but
so much of themselves and their brief day that while they live they must
make rules and laws and regulations that parcel out the earth for thousands
after they are dead and, gone, so that their descendants and others of
their kind may do in the tenth generation exactly what they are doing today — keeping
the earth and all the good things of the earth and compelling the great
mass of mankind to toil for them.
Now, the question is, how are you going to get it back? Everybody who thinks
knows that private ownership of the land is wrong. If ten thousand men
can own America, then one man can own it, and if one man may own it he may
all that the rest produce or he may kill them if he sees fit. It is inconsistent
with the spirit of manhood. No person who thinks can doubt but that he
was born upon this planet with the same birthright that came to every man
like him. And it is for him to defend that birthright. And the man who
will not defend it, whatever the cost, is fitted only to be a slave. The
to the people — if they can get it — because if you cannot
get it, it makes no difference whether you have a right to it or not, and
can get it, it makes no difference whether you have a right to it or not,
you just take it. The earth has been taken from the many by the few. It
difference that they had no right to it; they took it.
Now, there are some methods of getting access to the earth which are easier
than others. The easiest, perhaps, that has been contrived is by means of taxation
of the land values and land values alone; and I need only say a little upon
that question. One trouble with it which makes it almost impossible to achieve,
is that it is so simple and so easy. You cannot get people to do anything that
is simple; they want it complex so they can be fooled.
Now the theory of Henry George and of those who really believe in the common
ownership of land is that the public should take not alone taxation from
the land, but the public should take to itself the whole value of the land
has been created by the public — should take it all. It should be a part
of the public wealth, should be used for public improvements, for pensions,
and belong to the people who create the wealth — which is a strange doctrine
in these strange times. It can be done simply and easily; it can be done by
taxation. All the wealth created by the public could be taken back by the public
and then poverty would disappear, most of it at least. The method is so simple,
and so legal even — sometimes a thing is legal if it is simple — that
it is the easiest substantial reform for men to accomplish, and when it
is done this great problem of poverty, the problem of the ages, will be
solved. We may need go farther. ... read
the whole article
Clarence Darrow: How to Abolish
Unfair Taxation (1913)
Everybody nowadays is anxious to help do something for the poor, especially
they who are on the backs of the poor; they will do anything that is not
fundamental. Nobody ever dreams of giving the poor a chance to help themselves.
in this state have passed a law prohibiting women from working more than
eight hours in one day in certain industries — so much do women love
to work that they must be stopped by law. If any benevolent heathen see fit
here and do work, we send them to gaol or send them back where they came
All these prohibitory laws are froth. You can only cure effects by curing
the cause. Every sin and every wrong that exists in the world is the product
of law, and you cannot cure it without curing the cause. Lawyers, as a class,
are very stupid. What would you think of a doctor, who, finding a case of malaria,
instead of draining the swamp, would send the patient to gaol, and leave the
swamp where it is? We are seeking to improve conditions of life by improving
No man created the earth, but to a large extent all take from the earth
a portion of it and mould it into useful things for the use of man. Without
man cannot live; without access to it man cannot labor. First of all, he
must have the earth, and this he cannot have access to until the single tax
It has been proven by the history of the human race that the single tax
does work, and that it will work as its advocates claim. For instance, man
from Europe, filled with a population of the poor, and discovered the great
continent of America. Here, when he could not get profitable employment,
he went on the free land and worked for himself, and in those early days
were no problems of poverty, no wonderfully rich and no extremely poor — because
there was cheap land. Men could go to work for themselves, and thus take the
surplus off the labor market. There were no beggars in the early days. It was
only when the landlord got in his work — when the earth monopoly was
complete — that the great mass of men had to look to a boss for a
All the remedial laws on earth can scarcely help the poor when the earth
is monopolized. Men must live from the earth, they must till the soil, dig
coal and iron and cut down the forest. Wise men know it, and cunning men
know it, and so a few have reached out their hands and grasped the earth;
say, "These mines of coal and iron, which it took nature ages and ages
to store, belong to me; and no man can touch them until he sees fit to pay
the tribute I demand". ... read the whole speech
Martin Luther King, Jr: Where
Do We Go From Here? (1967)
Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence
of multiple evils:
- lack of education restricting job opportunities;
- poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative;
- fragile family relationships which distorted personality development.
The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked
one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved
educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family
counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination
these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.
While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage.
In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of
the past all have another common failing -- they are indirect. Each seeks to
solve poverty by first solving something else.
I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective
-- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed
measure: the guaranteed income. ...
We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead
of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty
is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal
on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability,
will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional
weapon of cash to use in their struggle.
Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably
will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual
will flourish when the decisions concerning his life and in his own hands,
when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he
know that he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts between
husband, wife and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human
worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated....
Our nation's adjustment to a new mode of thinking will be facilitated if we
realize that for nearly forty years two groups in our society have already
been enjoying a guaranteed income. Indeed, it is a symptom of our confused
social values that these two groups turn out to be the richest and the poorest.
The wealthy who own securities have always had an assured income; and their
polar opposite, the relief client, has been guaranteed an income, however miniscule,
through welfare benefits. ...
Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed
annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I
say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars
a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars
to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God's children
on their own two feet right here on earth. ...
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where
do we go from here," that we honestly face the fact that the Movement
must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American
society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask
the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And
when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the
economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that
you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that
more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.
We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's market place.
But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars
needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my
when you deal with this,
- you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?"
- You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?"
- You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay
water bills in a world that is two thirds water?"
These are questions that must be asked. ... read the book excerpt
and whole speech
John Dewey: Steps to Economic Recovery
The one thing uppermost in the minds of everybody today is the appalling existence
of want in the midst of plenty, of millions of unemployed in the midst of idle
billions of hoarded money and unused credit, as well as factories and mills
deteriorating for lack of use, of hunger while farmers are burning grain for
Henry George called attention to this situation over fifty years ago. The
contradiction between increasing plenty, increase of potential security--and
actual want and insecurity is stated in the title of his chief work, Progress
and Poverty. That is what his book is about. It is a record of the fact that
as the means and appliances of civilization increase, poverty and insecurity
also increase. It is an exploration of why millionaires and tramps multiply
together. It is a prediction of why this state of affairs will continue; it
is a prediction of the plight in which the nation finds itself to-day. At the
same time it is the explanation of why this condition is artificial, man-made,
unnecessary, and how it can be remedied. So I suggest that as a beginning of
the first steps to permanent recovery there be a nationwide revival of interest
in the writings and teachings of Henry George and that there be such an enlightenment
of public opinion that our representatives in legislatures and public places
be compelled to adopt the changes he urged. ...
Go to the work of Henry George himself and learn how many of the troubles
from which society still suffers, and suffers increasingly, are due to the
fact that a few have monopolized the land, and that in consequence they have
the power to dictate to others access to the land and to its products -- which
include waterpower, electricity, coal, iron and all minerals, as well as the
foods that sustain life -- and that they have the power to appropriate to their
private use the values that the industry, the civilized order, the very benefactions,
of others produce. This wrong is at the very basis of our present social and
economic chaos, and until it is righted, all steps toward economic recovery
may be temporarily helpful while in the long run useless. ...
Consequently instead of attempting a technical explanation of the moral and
economic philosophy of Henry George, I want to urge my hearers to acquaint
themselves with his own works, to study them and then to organize to see that
his principle is carried into effect. What are the most evident sore spots
of the present? The answer is clear. Unemployment; extreme inequality in the
distribution of the national income; enormous fixed charges in the way of interest
on debts; a crazy, cumbrous, inequitable tax system that puts the burden on
the consumer, and the ultimate producer, and lets off the parasites, exploiters
and the privileged, -- who ought to be relieved entirely of their gorged excess,
-- very lightly, and indeed in many cases, as in that of the tariff, pays them
a premium for imposing a burden on honest industry and on the means of production;
a vicious and incompetent banking system, with billions of money, the hope
for the future of millions of hard-working peoples, still locked up, while
the depositors lose their homes and walk the streets in vain; the greater part
of our population, in the nation of the earth most favored by nature, still
living either in slums or in homes without the improvements indispensable to
a healthy and civilized life.
You cannot study Henry George without learning how intimately each of these
wrongs and evils is bound up with our land system. One of our great national
weaknesses is speculation. Everybody recognizes that fact in the stock market
orgy of our late boom days. Only a few realize the extent to which speculation
in land is the source of many troubles of the farmer, the part it has played
in loading banks and insurance companies with frozen assets and compelling
the closing of thousands of banks, nor how the high rents, the unpayable mortgages
and the slums of the cities are connected with speculation in land values.
All authorities on public works hold that the most fruitful field for them
is slum clearance and better housing. Yet only a few seem to realize that with
our present situation this improvement will put a bonus in the pockets of landlords,
and the land speculator will be the one to profit financially--for after all,
buildings are built on land.
So with taxation. There are all sorts of tinkering going on, but the tinkers
and patchers shut their eyes to the fact that the socially produced annual
value of land -- not of improvements, but of ground-rent value -- is about
five billion dollars, and that its appropriation by those who create it, the
community, would at once relieve the tax burden and ultimately would solve
the tax problem. Of late the federal government has concerned itself with the
problems of home ownership, but again by methods of tinkering that may easily
in the long run do more harm than good. The community's acquisition of its
own creation, ground-rent value, would both reduce the price of land and entirely
eliminate taxes on improvement, thus making ownership easier. And how anyone
expects to solve the unemployment question by putting the sanction of both
legality and high pecuniary reward upon the ability of the few to keep the
many from equal access to land and to the raw material, without which labor
is impossible, I do not see -- and no one else does. For the tinkerers assume
that unemployment must continues, only with government assistance to those
who are necessarily out of work. By all means let us help those that
now need it, but for the future let us prevent the cause instead of merely
the effects. ...
I do not claim that George's remedy is a panacea that will cure by itself
all our ailments. But I do claim that we cannot get rid of our basic troubles
without it. I would make exactly the same concession and same claim that Henry
George himself made:
"I do not say that in the recognition of the equal and unalienable
right of each human being to the natural elements from which life must be
supported and wants satisfied, lies the solution of all social problems.
I fully recognize that even after we do this, much will remain to do. We
might recognize the equal right to land, and yet tyranny and spoilation be
continued. But whatever else we do, as along as we fail to recognize the
equal right to the elements of nature, nothing will avail to remedy that
unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth which is fraught with
so much evil and danger. Reform as we may, until we make this fundamental
reform, our material progress can but tend to differentiate our people into
the monstrously rich and frightfully poor. Whatever be the increase of wealth,
the masses will still be ground toward the point of bare subsistence — we
must still have our great criminal classes, our paupers and our tramps, men
and women driven to degradation and desperation from inability to make an
honest living." ... read the whole
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 1: Time to Upgrade (pages 3-14)
All thought processes start with premises and flow to conclusions. Here
are the main premises of this book.
1. WE HAVE A CONTRACT ...
2. WE ARE NOT ALONE ...
3. ILLTH HAPPENS ...— Poverty, pollution, despair,
and ill-health — what John Ruskin called
illth — is the dark side of capitalism. This dark side needs to be
4. FIX THE CODE, NOT THE SYMPTOMS — If we want to reduce illth on an economy-wide scale, we need to change the
code that produces it. Ameliorating symptoms after the fact is a losing strategy.
Unless the code itself is changed, our economic machine will always create
more illth than it cleans up. Moreover, illth prevention is a lot cheaper
than illth cleanup.
5. REVISE WISELY ...
6. MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING ...
7. GET THE INCENTIVES RIGHT ...
If you disagree with any of these premises, you’re unlikely to fancy
my conclusions. If, on the other hand, these premises make sense to you,
then welcome to these pages. I won’t bore you with statistics, or tell
you, yet again, that our planet is going to hell; I’m tired, as I suspect
you are, of numbers and gloom. Nor will I tell you we can save the planet
by doing ten easy things; you know it’s not that simple. What I will
tell you is how we can retool our economic system, one step at a time, so
that after a decent interval, it respects nature and the human psyche, and
still provides abundantly for our material needs.
Perhaps capitalism will always involve a Faustian deal of some sort: if
we want the goods, we must accept the bads. But if we must make a deal with
the devil, I believe we can make a much better one than we presently have.
We’ll have to be shrewd, tough, and bold.
But I’m confident that, if we understand how to get a better deal,
we will get one. After all, our children and lots of other creatures are
counting on us. ... read
the whole chapter