Wealth and Want
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Human Desires

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)

From whence springs this lust for gain, to gratify which men tread everything pure and noble under their feet; to which they sacrifice all the higher possibilities of life; which converts civility into a hollow pretense, patriotism into a sham, and religion into hypocrisy; which makes so much of civilized existence an Ishmaelitish warfare, of which the weapons are cunning and fraud?

Does it not spring from the existence of want? Carlyle somewhere says that poverty is the hell of which the modern Englishman is most afraid. And he is right. Poverty is the openmouthed, relentless hell which yawns beneath civilized society. And it is hell enough. The Vedas declare no truer thing than when the wise crow Bushanda tells the eagle-bearer of Vishnu that the keenest pain is in poverty. For poverty is not merely deprivation; it means shame, degradation; the searing of the most sensitive parts of our moral and mental nature as with hot irons; the denial of the strongest impulses and the sweetest affections; the wrenching of the most vital nerves. You love your wife, you love your children; but would it not be easier to see them die than to see them reduced to the pinch of want in which large classes in every highly civilized community live? The strongest of animal passions is that with which we cling to life, but it is an everyday occurrence in civilized societies for men to put poison to their mouths or pistols to their heads from fear of poverty, and for one who does this there are probably a hundred who have the desire, but are restrained by instinctive shrinking, by religious considerations, or by family ties.

From this hell of poverty, it is but natural that men should make every effort to escape. With the impulse to self-preservation and self-gratification combine nobler feelings, and love as well as fear urges in the struggle. Many a man does a mean thing, a dishonest thing, a greedy and grasping and unjust thing, in the effort to place above want, or the fear of want, mother or wife or children.

And out of this condition of things arises a public opinion which enlists, as an impelling power in the struggle to grasp and to keep, one of the strongest perhaps with many men the very strongest springs of human action. The desire for approbation, the feeling that urges us to win the respect, admiration, or sympathy of our fellows, is instinctive and universal. Distorted sometimes into the most abnormal manifestations, it may yet be everywhere perceived. It is potent with the veriest savage, as with the most highly cultivated member of the most polished society; it shows itself with the first gleam of intelligence, and persists to the last breath. It triumphs over the love of ease, over the sense of pain, over the dread of death. It dictates the most trivial and the most important actions. ...

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)

Your Holiness seems to assume that there is some just rate of wages that employers ought to be willing to pay and that laborers should be content to receive, and to imagine that if this were secured there would be an end of strife. This rate you evidently think of as that which will give working-men a frugal living, and perhaps enable them by hard work and strict economy to lay by a little something.

But how can a just rate of wages be fixed without the “higgling of the market” any more than the just price of corn or pigs or ships or paintings can be so fixed? And would not arbitrary regulation in the one case as in the other check that interplay that most effectively promotes the economical adjustment of productive forces? Why should buyers of labor, any more than buyers of commodities, be called on to pay higher prices than in a free market they are compelled to pay? Why should the sellers of labor be content with anything less than in a free market they can obtain? Why should working-men be content with frugal fare when the world is so rich? Why should they be satisfied with a lifetime of toil and stinting, when the world is so beautiful? Why should not they also desire to gratify the higher instincts, the finer tastes? Why should they be forever content to travel in the steerage when others find the cabin more enjoyable?

Nor will they. The ferment of our time does not arise merely from the fact that working-men find it harder to live on the same scale of comfort. It is also and perhaps still more largely due to the increase of their desires with an improved scale of comfort. This increase of desire must continue. For working-men are men. And man is the unsatisfied animal.

He is not an ox, of whom it may be said, so much grass, so much grain, so much water, and a little salt, and he will be content. On the contrary, the more he gets the more he craves. When he has enough food then he wants better food. When he gets a shelter then he wants a more commodious and tasty one. When his animal needs are satisfied then mental and spiritual desires arise.

This restless discontent is of the nature of man — of that nobler nature that raises him above the animals by so immeasurable a gulf, and shows him to be indeed created in the likeness of God. It is not to be quarreled with, for it is the motor of all progress. It is this that has raised St. Peter’s dome and on dull, dead canvas made the angelic face of the Madonna to glow; it is this that has weighed suns and analyzed stars, and opened page after page of the wonderful works of creative intelligence; it is this that has narrowed the Atlantic to an ocean ferry and trained the lightning to carry our messages to the remotest lands; it is this that is opening to us possibilities beside which all that our modern civilization has as yet accomplished seem small. Nor can it be repressed save by degrading and embruting men; by reducing Europe to Asia.

Hence, short of what wages may be earned when all restrictions on labor are removed and access to natural opportunities on equal terms secured to all, it is impossible to fix any rate of wages that will be deemed just, or any rate of wages that can prevent working-men striving to get more. So far from it making working-men more contented to improve their condition a little, it is certain to make them more discontented.

Nor are you asking justice when you ask employers to pay their working-men more than they are compelled to pay — more than they could get others to do the work for. You are asking charity. For the surplus that the rich employer thus gives is not in reality wages, it is essentially alms. ...

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: The Wages of Labor

Why should buyers of labor, any more than buyers of commodities, be called on to pay higher prices than in a free market they are compelled to pay? Why should the sellers of labor be content with anything less than in a free market they can obtain?

Why should working-men be content with frugal fare when the world is so rich? Why should they be satisfied with a lifetime of toil and stinting when the world is so beautiful? Why should not they also desire to gratify the higher instincts, the finer tastes? Why should they be for ever content to travel in the steerage when others find the cabin more enjoyable?

Nor will they! The ferment of our time does not arise merely from the fact that working-men find it harder to live on the same scale of comfort. It is also and perhaps still more largely due to the increase of their desires with an improved scale of comfort. This increase of desire must continue. For man is ever unsatisfied!

He is not an ox, of whom it may be said, so much grass, so much grain, so much water, and a little salt, and he will be content. On the contrary, the more he gets the more he craves.

When he has enough food, then he wants better food. When he gets a shelter, he wants a more commodious and tasty one.

When his animal needs are satisfied, then mental and spiritual desires arise.

This restless discontent is of the nature of man – of that nobler nature that separates him from the animals by so immeasurable a gulf, and shows him to be indeed created in the likeness of God! ...  read the whole article

Henry George: Progress & Poverty: Introductory: The Problem

It must be within the province of political economy to give such an answer. For political economy is not a set of dogmas. It is the explanation of a certain set of facts. It is the science which, in the sequence of certain phenomena, seeks to trace mutual relations and to identify cause and effect, just as the physical sciences seek to do in other sets of phenomena. It lays its foundations upon firm ground. The premises from which it makes its deductions are truths which have the highest sanction; axioms which we all recognize; upon which we safely base the reasoning and actions of every-day life, and which may be reduced to the metaphysical expression of the physical law that motion seeks the line of least resistance--viz., that men seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion. Proceeding from a basis thus assured, its processes, which consist simply in identification and separation, have the same certainty. In this sense it is as exact a science as geometry, which, from similar truths relative to space, obtains its conclusions by similar means, and its conclusions when valid should be as self-apparent. And although in the domain of political economy we cannot test our theories by artificially produced combinations or conditions, as may be done in some of the other sciences, yet we can apply tests no less conclusive, by comparing societies in which different conditions exist, or by, in imagination, separating, combining, adding or eliminating forces or factors of known direction.

I propose in the following pages to attempt to solve by the methods of political economy the great problem I have outlined. I propose to seek the law which associates poverty with progress, and increases want with advancing wealth; and I believe that in the explanation of this paradox we shall find the explanation of those recurring seasons of industrial and commercial paralysis which, viewed independent of their relations to more general phenomena, seem so inexplicable. Properly commenced and carefully pursued, such an investigation must yield a conclusion that will stand every test, and as truth will correlate with all other truth. For in the sequence of phenomena there is no accident. Every effect has a cause, and every fact implies a preceding fact. ... read the entire chapter

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

BUT is there not some line the recognition of which will enable us to say with something like scientific precision that this man is rich and that man is poor; some line of possession which will enable us truly to distinguish between rich and poor in all places and conditions of society; a line of the natural mean or normal possession, below which in varying degrees is poverty, and above which in varying degrees is wealthiness? It seems to me that there must be. And if we stop to think of it, we may see that there is. If we set aside for the moment the narrower economic meaning of service, by which direct service is conveniently distinguished from the indirect service embodied in wealth, we may resolve all the things which directly or indirectly satisfy human desire into one term service, just as we resolve fractions into a common denominator. Now is there not a natural or normal line of the possession or enjoyment of service? Clearly there is. It is that of equality between giving and receiving. This is the equilibrium which Confucius expressed in the golden word of his teaching that in English we translate into "reciprocity."  Naturally the services which a member of a human society is entitled to receive from other members are the equivalents of those he renders to others. Here is the normal line from which what we call wealthiness and what we call poverty take their start. He who can command more service than he need render, is rich. He is poor, who can command less service than he does render or is willing to render: for in our civilization of today we must take note of the monstrous fact that men willing to work cannot always find opportunity to work. The one has more than he ought to have; the other has less. Rich and poor are thus correlatives of each other; the existence of a class of rich involves the existence of a class of poor, and the reverse; and abnormal luxury on the one side and abnormal want on the other have a relation of necessary sequence. To put this relation into terms of morals, the rich are the robbers, since they are at least sharers in the proceeds of robbery; and the poor are the robbed. This is the reason, I take it, why Christ, Who was not really a man of such reckless speech as some Christians deem Him to have been, always expressed sympathy with the poor and repugnance of the rich. In His philosophy it was better even to be robbed than to rob. In the kingdom of right doing which He preached, rich and poor would be impossible, because rich and poor in the true sense are the results of wrong-doing. And when He said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven," He simply put in the emphatic form of Eastern metaphor a statement of fact as coldly true as the statement that two parallel lines can never meet. Injustice cannot live where justice rules, and even if the man himself might get through, his riches — his power of compelling service without rendering service — must of necessity be left behind. If there can be no poor in the kingdom of heaven, clearly there can be no rich. And so it is utterly impossible in this, or in any other conceivable world, to abolish unjust poverty, without at the same time abolishing unjust possessions. This is a hard word to the softly amiable philanthropists, who, to speak metaphorically, would like to get on the good side of God without angering the devil. But it is a true word nevertheless. — The Science of Political Economy unabridged: Book II, Chapter 19, The Nature of Wealth: Moral Confusions as to Wealthabridged: Part II, Chapter 15, The Nature of Wealth: Moral Confusions as to Wealth

... go to "Gems from George"

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

46. It is because man desires bread that he constructs ovens, builds fires in them, grinds flour, digs or evaporates salt, prepares yeast, or carries water to the doughtrough. And going farther back, it is because he desires bread that he raises grain, erects mills, and produces machinery for bread-making. This is plain enough in a community of one like that of Robinson Crusoe. But it is just as true in a community of millions. In the community of one the solitary individual performs all the steps necessary to produce bread because he wants bread. In the great society individuals divide their work, some doing one part and others other parts; but the motive, still the same, is the desire of the community for bread. All the processes of industry to the extent that they are directed to the production of bread, whether they be in the departments of mining, of lumbering, of railroading, of navigation, of engineering, of farming, of storekeeping, of baking, or what not, are steps or stages in bread-making; and every artificial object produced for the purpose of facilitating bread-making is to that extent unfinished bread. But bread itself, from the time it comes into the possession of the consumer (for it is not complete until the final deliverer has accomplished his work regarding it), is a finished object. The essential difference, then, between the artificial objects that are classified as product,' and those that are classified as "factors" is that the former are finished and the latter are unfinished. ...

At this point we find all essential differences distinguished. Every factor of industry and every material object of desire that can be imagined falls into one or another of the four classes of the chart. 48 And from mere inspection of the chart we may see, what was promised when we began its construction, that in searching for the source of one of the objects that satisfy human wants we have discovered the source of all. For it is self-evident that the material wants of men are satisfied in no other way than by the consumption of finished artificial objects, technically called Wealth; and the chart shows that such objects have their source in a combination of the three "factors," namely: (1) the activities of man, technically termed "Labor;" (2) natural objects external to man, technically termed Land; and (3) unfinished artificial objects, technically termed Capital.

48. For example : Flour, which is unfinished bread, and therefore unfinished wealth — Capital, appears upon analysis to be a compound of grain, a mill site, and a miller. The mill site and the miller are respectively land and labor; but the grain and the mill are unfinished wealth — Capital, and may be further analyzed. Passing the mill for the moment to analyze the grain, we find it composed of a farmer, a farm site, and farming improvements and implements. The farm site, like the mill site, is land ; and the farmer, like the miller, is labor; but the improvements and implements, like the mill and the grain, are unfinished wealth — Capital, and may be still further analyzed. And so on.

If analyzed to the last, every constituent of bread, and every constituent of that constituent, would resolve into labor and land. To follow them step by step would be tedious work and require much special knowledge. It would involve consideration of factories and factory sites, stores and store sites, railroads and railroad sites, mining and mines, lumbering and forests, rivers, docks, oceans, and ships. But analysis in full detail is not necessary. The conclusion is self-evident the moment it is understood.

But while these three factors combined produce all the material objects that tend to satisfy human wants, they do not constitute the ultimate source of those objects. Our analysis is not yet ended; our chart is still incomplete.

Reflection assures us that all artificial objects, finished and unfinished, resolve upon final analysis into the two factors, the activities of man and natural external objects ; or, in technical language, all Wealth, finished and unfinished, resolves upon final analysis into Labor and Land. Therefore, Capital is in final analysis eliminated as a factor of production. It expresses nothing which the two remaining factors do not imply; for it is by the conjunction of those two factors that Capital itself is produced. 49 Unfinished artificial objects and their technical term, Capital, should, therefore, be erased from the chart. Following is the result ...

Wealth is produced solely by the application of Labor to Land.51

50. It may at first seem like a great waste of time and space to have gone through this long analysis for no other purpose at last than to demonstrate the self-evident fact that land and labor are the sole original factors in the production of Wealth. But it will have been no waste if it enables the reader to firmly grasp the fact. Nothing is more obvious, to be sure. Nothing is more readily assented to. Yet by layman and college professor and economic author alike, this simple truth is cast adrift at the very threshold of argument or investigation, with results akin to what might be expected in physics if after recognizing the law of gravitation its effects should be completely ignored.

51. There is ample authority among economic writers for this conclusion.

Professor Ely enumerates Nature, Labor, and Capital as the factors of production, but he describes Capital as a combination of Nature and Labor — Ely's Introduction, part ii, ch. iii.

Say describes industry as " nothing more or less than human employment of natural agents." — Say's Trea., book i, ch. ii.

And though John Stuart Mill and numerous others speak of Land, Labor, and Capital as the three factors of production, as does Professor Jevons, most of them, like Jevons, recognize the fact, though in their reasoning they often fail to profit by it, that Capital is not a primary but a secondary requisite. See Jevons's Pol. Ec., secs. 16, 19.

Henry George says: "Land, labor, and capital are the factors of production. The term land includes all natural opportunities or forces; the term labor, all human exertion; and the term capital, all wealth used to produce more wealth. . . Capital is not a necessary factor in production. Labor exerted upon land can produce wealth without the aid of capital, and in the necessary genesis of things must so produce wealth before capital can exist." — Progress and Poverty, book iii, ch. i.

Also : "The complexities of production in the civilized state, in which so great a part is borne by exchange, and so much labor is bestowed upon materials after they have been separated from the land, though they may to the unthinking disguise, do not alter the fact that all production is still the union of the two factors, land and labor."— Id., ch. viii.

By intelligent observers no authority is needed. In all the phenomena of human life, whether primitive or civilized, the lesson of the chart stands out in bold relief. Nothing can be produced without Labor and Land, and nothing can be named which under any circumstances enters into productive processes that is not resolvable into either the one or the other. To satisfy all human wants mankind requires nothing but human labor and natural material, and each of them is indispensable.

This is the final analysis. In the union of Labor, which includes all human effort,52 with Land, which includes the whole material universe outside of man,53 we discover the ultimate source of Wealth, which includes all the material things that satisfy want.54 And that is the first great truth upon which the single tax philosophy is built.

52. The term labor includes all human exertion in the production of wealth." — Progress and Poverty, book i, ch. ii.

53. "The term land necessarily includes, not merely the surface of the earth as distinguished from the water and the air, but the whole material universe outside of man himself, for it is only by having access to land, from which his very body is drawn, that man can come in contact with or use nature." — Progress and Poverty, book i, ch. ii.

54. "As commonly used the word 'wealth ' is applied to anything having exchange value. But ... wealth, as alone the term can be used in political economy, consists of natural products that have been secured, moved, combined, separated, or in other ways modified by human exertion, so as to fit them for the gratification of human desires." — Progress and Poverty, book i, ch ii.

... read the book


a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World

Beneath all ideologies, there are basic factors and relationships that underlie economic behavior. To understand the (otherwise inexplicable) omission of attention to land's economic importance, it is useful to go back to these basics.
  • The term "Land" refers to the whole material universe, exclusive of people and their products. Not the creation of human labor, yet essential to labor, it is the raw material from which all wealth is fashioned. It includes not only soil and minerals, but water, air, natural vegetation and wildlife, and all natural opportunities -- even those yet to be discovered. It is a passive factor of production, yielding wealth only when labor is applied to it.
  • Labor includes all human powers, mental and physical, used directly or indirectly to produce goods or to render service in exchange. Labor is often thought of as work that is done for hire, at fixed wages, mainly excluded from the risk-taking and decision-making that is normally classed under the heading of "entrepreneurship". Yet labor, properly understood, includes all human exertion in production -- including mental exertion. The payment to labor is called Wages. And it is important to remember that the payment, or return, to labor does not include any returns that are the result of monopoly.
  • Capital is the economic term that is most profoundly misunderstood and confused. For the term to make sense in any systematic analysis of wealth distribution, we must define capital in its classical sense as "wealth which is used to aid in further production, instead of being directly consumed." Since production is not completed until the product is in the hands of the consumer, products on their way to market, or "wealth in the course of exchange," are also considered capital.

Now, the objective of all economic behavior is the satisfaction of human desires. Human beings always seek to satisfy their desires with the least exertion: this self-evident proposition lies at the heart of our concepts of economic value and exchange. The primary thing needed for satisfaction is, of course, the tangible things, made from natural resources, that satisfy human desires and have exchange value. Things that meet these four fundamental criteria are termed "wealth". But money, bonds, and mortgages are but claims upon and measures of this value; they are not the wealth they symbolize.

A clear understanding of these basic definitions points immediately to the primacy of land as an economic factor. Human beings have inescapable material needs of food, clothing and shelter. Regardless of how long a chain of exchanges they may pass through in a modern economy, these things ultimately have their source in the land; they can come from nowhere else. Human beings need land in order to live. But if we must pay rent to a private land "owner" for access to the gifts of nature, it amounts to being charged a fee for our very right to live. Read the whole synopsis


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