as God's Provisioning
Our laws and traditions, if looked at closely, would reveal
that we treat the natural creation as if it was rightly private property,
the private treasure of whomever has obtained title to it, either
by war, by gift or by purchase. But if we stop to think about it, even
is hard to justify the privatization of the economic value of the
natural creation — either by allowing some to pollute what we all
depend on or by allowing titleholders to privatize the vast majority
of the economic
value to the natural creation.
Georgists, however, be they religiously oriented or atheists, recognize
the natural creation as our common treasure, and its economic value as
a fountain whose flows belong to all of us, to be shared equally.
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
As to the right of ownership, we hold: That —
Being created individuals, with individual wants and powers, men are individually
entitled (subject of course to the moral obligations that arise from such
relations as that of the family) to the use of their own powers and the enjoyment
of the results. There thus arises, anterior to human law, and deriving its
validity from the law of God, a right of private ownership in things produced
by labor — a right that the possessor may transfer, but of which to
deprive him without his will is theft.
This right of property, originating in the right of the individual to himself,
is the only full and complete right of property. It attaches to things produced
by labor, but cannot attach to things created by God.
Thus, if a man take a fish from the ocean he acquires a right of property
in that fish, which exclusive right he may transfer by sale or gift. But
he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the ocean, so that he may
sell it or give it or forbid others to use it.
Or, if he set up a windmill he acquires a right of property in the things
such use of wind enables him to produce. But he cannot claim a right of property
in the wind itself, so that he may sell it or forbid others to use it.
Or, if he cultivate grain he acquires a right of property in the grain his
labor brings forth. But he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the
sun which ripened it or the soil on which it grew. For these things are of
the continuing gifts of God to all generations of men, which all may use,
but none may claim as his alone.
To attach to things created by God the same right of private ownership that
justly attaches to things produced by labor is to impair and deny the true
rights of property. For a man who out of the proceeds of his labor is obliged
to pay another man for the use of ocean or air or sunshine or soil, all of
which are to men involved in the single term land, is in this deprived of
his rightful property and thus robbed.
As to the use of land, we hold: That —
While the right of ownership that justly attaches to things produced by
labor cannot attach to land, there may attach to land a right of possession.
As your Holiness says, “God has not granted the earth to mankind in
general in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they
please,” and regulations necessary for its best use may be fixed by
human laws. But such regulations must conform to the moral law — must
secure to all equal participation in the advantages of God’s general
bounty. The principle is the same as where a human father leaves property
equally to a number of children. Some of the things thus left may be incapable
of common use or of specific division. Such things may properly be assigned
to some of the children, but only under condition that the equality of benefit
among them all be preserved.
In the rudest social state, while industry consists in hunting, fishing,
and gathering the spontaneous fruits of the earth, private possession of
land is not necessary. But as men begin to cultivate the ground and expend
their labor in permanent works, private possession of the land on which labor
is thus expended is needed to secure the right of property in the products
of labor. For who would sow if not assured of the exclusive possession needed
to enable him to reap? who would attach costly works to the soil without
such exclusive possession of the soil as would enable him to secure the benefit?
This right of private possession in things created by God is however very
different from the right of private ownership in things produced by labor.
The one is limited, the other unlimited, save in cases when the dictate of
self-preservation terminates all other rights. The purpose of the one, the
exclusive possession of land, is merely to secure the other, the exclusive
ownership of the products of labor; and it can never rightfully be carried
so far as to impair or deny this. While any one may hold exclusive possession
of land so far as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others,
he can rightfully hold it no further.
Thus Cain and Abel, were there only two men on earth, might by agreement
divide the earth between them. Under this compact each might claim exclusive
right to his share as against the other. But neither could rightfully continue
such claim against the next man born. For since no one comes into the world
without God’s permission, his presence attests his equal right to the
use of God’s bounty. For them to refuse him any use of the earth which
they had divided between them would therefore be for them to commit murder.
And for them to refuse him any use of the earth, unless by laboring for them
or by giving them part of the products of his labor he bought it of them,
would be for them to commit theft. ... read the whole letter
Henry George: Thy
Kingdom Come (1889 speech)
Think of what Christianity
teaches us; think of the life and
death of Him who came to die for us! Think of His teachings, that we
are all the equal children of an Almighty Father, who is no respecter
of persons, and then think of this legalised injustice — this
denial of the most important, most fundamental rights of the children
of God, which so many of the very men who teach Christianity uphold;
nay, which they blasphemously assert is the design and the intent of
the Creator Himself.
Better to me, higher to me, is
the atheist, who says there is no
God, than the professed Christian who, prating of the goodness and
the Fatherhood of God, tells us in words as some do, or tells us
indirectly as others do, that millions and millions of human
creatures — [at this point a child was heard crying]
— don’t take the little thing out — that millions and
millions of human beings, like that little baby, are being brought
into the world daily by the creative fiat, and no place in this world
provided for them.
Aye! Tells us that, by the laws
of God, the poor are created in
order that the rich may have the unctuous satisfaction of dealing out
charity to them, and attributes to the laws of God the state of
things which exists in this city of Glasgow, as in other great cities
on both sides of the Atlantic, where little children are dying every
day, dying by hundreds of thousands, because having come into this
world — those children of God, with His fiat, by His decree
— they find that there is not space on the earth sufficient for
them to live; and are driven out of God’s world because they
cannot get room enough, cannot get air enough, cannot get sustenance
I believe in no such god. If I
did, though I might bend before
him in fear, I would hate him in my heart. Not room for the little
children here! Look around any country in the civilised world; is
there not room enough and to spare? Not food enough? Look at the
unemployed labour, look at the idle acres, look through every country
and see natural opportunities going to waste. Aye! That Christianity
puts on the Creator the evil, the injustice, the degradation that are
due to humanity’s injustice is worse, far worse, than atheism.
That is the blasphemy, and if there be a sin against the Holy Ghost,
that is the unpardonable sin!
Why, consider: “Give us this day
our daily bread.” I
stopped in a hotel last week — a hydropathic establishment. A
hundred or more guests sat down to table together. Before they ate
anything, a man stood up, and, thanking God, asked Him to make us all
grateful for His bounty. And it is so at every mealtime — such
an acknowledgement is made over well-filled boards. What do we mean
If Adam, when he got out of Eden, had sat down and commenced to
pray, he might have prayed till this time without getting anything to
eat unless he went to work for it. Yet food is God’s bounty. He
does not bring meat and vegetables all prepared. What He gives are
the opportunities of producing these things — of bringing them
forth by labour. His mandate is — it is written in the Holy
Word, it is graven on every fact in nature — that by labour we
shall bring forth these things. Nature gives to labour and to nothing
What God gives are the natural elements that are indispensable
to labour. He gives them, not to one, not to some, not to one
generation, but to all. They are His gifts, His bounty to the whole
human race. And yet in all our civilised countries what do we see?
That a few people have appropriated these bounties, claiming them as
theirs alone, while the great majority have no legal right to apply
their labour to the reservoirs of Nature and draw from the
Thus it happens that all over the
civilised world that class
that is called peculiarly ‘the labouring class’ is the poor
class, and that people who do no labour, who pride themselves on
never having done honest labour, and on being descended from fathers
and grandfathers who never did a stroke of honest labour in their
lives, revel in a superabundance of the things that labour brings
forth. ... Read the whole
Henry George: Salutatory, from
the first issue of The Standard (1887)
I begin the publication of this paper in response to many urgent requests,
and because I believe that there is a field for a journal that shall serve
as a focus for news and opinions relating to the great movement, now beginning,
for the emancipation of labor by the restoration of natural rights.
The generation that abolished chattel slavery is passing away, and the political
distinctions that grew out of that contest are becoming meaningless. The work
now before us is the abolition of industrial slavery.
What God created for the use of all should be utilized for the benefit of
all; what is produced by the individual belongs rightfully to the individual.
The neglect of these simple principles has brought upon us the curse of widespread
poverty and all the evils that flow from it. Their recognition will abolish
poverty, will secure to the humblest independence and leisure, and will lay
abroad and strong foundation on which all other reforms may be based. To secure
the full recognition of these principles is the most important task to which
any man can address himself today. It is in the hope of aiding in this work
that I establish this paper.
I believe that the Declaration of Independence is not a mere string of glittering
generalities. I believe that all men are really created equal, and that the
securing of those equal natural rights is the true purpose and test of government.
And against whatever law, custom or device that restrains men in the exercise
of their natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness I shall
raise my voice. ... read the whole column
James Kiefer: James Huntington and
the ideas of Henry George
Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty,
argued that, while some forms of wealth are produced by human activity, and
are rightly the property of the producers (or those who have obtained them
from the previous owners by voluntary gift or exchange), land and natural
resources are bestowed by God on the human race, and that every one of the
N inhabitants of the earth has a claim to 1/Nth of the coal beds, 1/Nth of
the oil wells, 1/Nth of the mines, and 1/Nth of the fertile soil. God wills
a society where everyone may sit in peace under his own vine and his own
The Law of Moses undertook to implement this by making the ownership of
land hereditary, with a man's land divided among his sons (or, in the absence
of sons, his daughters), and prohibiting the permanent sale of land. (See
Leviticus 25:13-17,23.) The most a man might do with his land is sell the
use of it until the next Jubilee year, an amnesty declared once every fifty
years, when all debts were cancelled and all land returned to its hereditary
Henry George's proposed implementation is to tax all land at about 99.99%
of its rental value, leaving the owner of record enough to cover his bookkeeping
expenses. The resulting revenues would be divided equally among the natural
owners of the land, viz. the people of the country, with everyone receiving
a dividend check regularly for the use of his share of the earth (here I
am anticipating what I think George would have suggested if he had written
in the 1990's rather than the 1870's).
This procedure would have the effect of making the sale price of a piece
of land, not including the price of buildings and other improvements on it,
practically zero. The cost of being a landholder would be, not the original
sale price, but the tax, equivalent to rent. A man who chose to hold his "fair
share," or 1/Nth of all the land, would pay a land tax about equal to
his dividend check, and so would break even. By 1/Nth of the land is meant
land with a value equal to 1/Nth of the value of all the land in the country.
Naturally, an acre in the business district of a great city would be worth
as much as many square miles in the open country. Some would prefer to hold
more than one N'th of the land and pay for the privilege. Some would prefer
to hold less land, or no land at all, and get a small annual check representing
the dividend on their inheritance from their father Adam.
Note that, at least for the able-bodied, this solves the problem of poverty
at a stroke. If the total land and total labor of the world are enough to
feed and clothe the existing population, then 1/Nth of the land and 1/Nth
of the labor are enough to feed and clothe 1/Nth of the population. A family
of 4 occupying 4/Nths of the land (which is what their dividend checks will
enable them to pay the tax on) will find that their labor applied to that
land is enough to enable them to feed and clothe themselves. Of course, they
may prefer to apply their labor elsewhere more profitably, but the situation
from which we start is one in which everyone has his own plot of ground from
which to wrest a living by the strength of his own back, and any deviation
from this is the result of voluntary exchanges agreed to by the parties directly
involved, who judge themselves to be better off as the result of the exchanges.
Some readers may think this a very radical proposal. In fact, it is extremely
conservative, in the sense of being in agreement with historic ideas about
land ownership as opposed to ownership of, say, tools or vehicles or gold
or domestic animals or other movables. The laws of English-speaking countries
uniformly distinguish between real property (land) and personal property
(everything else). In this context, "real" is not the opposite
of "imaginary." It is a form of the word "royal," and
means that the ultimate owner of the land is the king, as symbol of the people.
Note that English-derived law does not recognize "landowners." The
term is "landholders." The concept of eminent domain is that the
landholder may be forced to surrender his landholdings to the government
for a public purpose. Historically, eminent domain does not apply to property
other than land, although complications arise when there are buildings on
the land that is being seized.
I will mention in passing that the proposals of Henry George have attracted
support from persons as diverse as Felix Morley, Aldous
Huxley, Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Winston
Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, William
F Buckley Jr, and Sun Yat-sen. To the Five Nobel Prizes authorized by
Alfred Nobel himself there has been added a sixth, in Economics, and the
Henry George Foundation claims eight of the
Economics Laureates as supporters, in whole or in part, of the proposals
of Henry George (Paul Samuelson, 1970; Milton Friedman,
1976; Herbert A Simon, 1978; James Tobin, 1981; Franco Modigliani, 1985;
James M Buchanan, 1986; Robert M Solow, 1987; William
S Vickrey, 1996).
The immediate concrete proposal favored by most Georgists today is that
cities shall tax land within their boundaries at a higher rate than they
tax buildings and other improvements on the land. (In case anyone is about
to ask, "How can we possibly distinguish between the value of the land
and the value of the buildings on it?" let me assure you that real estate
assessors do it all the time. It is standard practice to make the two assessments
separately, and a parcel of land in the business district of a large city
very often has a different owner from the building on it.) Many cities have
moved to a system of taxing land more heavily than improvements, and most
have been pleased with the results, finding that landholders are more likely
to use their land productively -- to their own benefit and that of the public
-- if their taxes do not automatically go up when they improve their land
by constructing or maintaining buildings on it.
An advantage of this proposal in the eyes of many is that it is a Fabian
proposal, "evolution, not revolution," that it is incremental and
reversible. If a city or other jurisdiction does not like the results of
a two-level tax system, it can repeal the arrangement or reduce the difference
in levels with no great upheaval. It is not like some other proposals of
the form, "Distribute all wealth justly, and make me absolute dictator
of the world so that I can supervise the distribution, and if it doesn't
work, I promise to resign." The problem is that absolute dictators seldom
resign. ... read the whole article
Weld Carter: A Clarion Call to Sanity, to Honesty, to
... Our problem today, as
yesterday, and the days before, back to the
earliest recorded times, is POVERTY.
There are times when this problem
is lesser. We call these
"booms." There are also times when the problem is greatly
exacerbated. These are called "busts." But, as the Bible says, "the
poor have ye always with ye." ...
Let us begin this study of the
likely causes of our troubles by
asking two questions:
- Are we over-populated?
- Are the earth's
resources inadequate for this population?
Our stage, of course, for
making this study will be this world of ours, for it is upon this
world that the drama of human living is played out, with all its joys
and all its sorrows, with all its great achievements and all its
failures, with all its nobilities and all its wickedness.
Regardless of its size relative to
other planets, with its
circumference of about twenty-five thousand miles, to any mere mortal
who must walk to the station and back each day, it is huge. Roughly
ninety-six million miles separate the sun from the earth on the
latter's eliptical journey around the sun. At this distance, the
earth makes its annual journey in its elliptical curve and it spins
on its own canted axis. Because of this cant, the sun's rays are
distributed far more evenly, thus minimizing their damage and
maximizing their benefits.
Consider the complementarity of
nature in the case of the two
forms of life we call vegetable and animal, in their respective uses
of the two gases, oxygen and carbon dioxide, the waste product of
each serving as the life-giving force of the other. Any increase in
the one will encourage a like response in the other.
Marvel at the manner in which
nature, with no help from man or
beast, delivers pure water to the highest lands, increasing it as to
their elevation, thus affording us a free ride downstream and free
power as we desire it. Look with awe at the variety and quantity of
minerals with which this world is blessed, and finally at the
fecundity nature has bestowed so lavishly throughout both animal and
vegetable life: Take note of the number of corn kernels from a single
stalk that can be grown next year from a single kernel of this year's
crop; then think of the vastly greater yields from a single cherry
pit or the seeds of a single apple, or grape or watermelon; or,
turning to the animal world, consider the hen who averages almost an
egg a day and the spawning fish as examples of the prolificacy that
is evident throughout the whole of the animal world, including
If this marvelous earth is as rich
in resources as portrayed in
the foregoing paragraph, then the problem must be one of
- how is the land distributed among the earth's
- how are its products in turn distributed?
Land is universally treated as
either public property or private
property. Wars are fought over land. Nowhere is it treated as common
George has described this world as a "well-provisioned
when one considers the increasingly huge daily withdrawals of such
provisions as coal and petroleum as have occurred say over the past
one hundred years, one must but agree with this writer. But this is
only a static view. Consider the suggestion of some ten years ago
that it would require the conversion of less than 20% the of the
current annual growth of wood into alcohol to fuel all the motors
then being fueled by the then-conventional means. The dynamic picture
of the future is indeed awesome, and there is every indication that
that characteristic has the potential of endless expansion. So how
is it that on so richly endowed a Garden of Eden as this world of
ours we have only been able to make of it a hell on earth for vast
numbers of people?... read the whole essay
Martin Luther King, Jr: Where
Do We Go From Here? (1967)
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 friends,
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
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