I'm willing to bet that most readers who come
to this website have given up any hope that there is a way to abolish
poverty. But there
is, through understanding the structures that create it, and then
correcting those structures. Your great-grandparents probably knew; these
ideas were widely discussed 120
years ago, and
inspired thousands of people and many movements, though none were powerful
to get them implemented, in the face of powerful special interests.
Why should this century be any more amenable
to the ideas? In part because of technological
progress, the very thing
that, under our current structures has helped to create poverty! Because
we can read about them for free, at the moment we want to, and discuss
them freely with others who are also interested, and share them readily
about the common good. We can share ideas and build a new consensus — perhaps
the best analogy is to the movement to abolish chattel slavery in the 19th
century (and that analogy is closer than might be obvious to those who
are newly acquainted with these ideas) — that if America is to
live up to its principles and its self-evident truths, we must implement
Not only will poverty be abolished, but also some of our other
pressing problems, including housing affordability and urban sprawl,
with all its ills for our lives, for the environment and for world peace.
And we could once again be worthy of serving as a beacon of genuine freedom
countries, by example. No words needed!
I am heartened by the first two paragraphs from the prologue to David
Brion Davis's Inhuman
Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World:
In 1770, on the eve of the American Revolution, African
American slavery was legal and almost unquestioned throughout the
New World. The ghastly slave trade from Africa was still expanding
and for many decades had been shipping five Africans across the Atlantic
for every European immigrant to the Americas. An imaginary "hemispheric
traveler" would have seen black slaves in every colony from
Canada and New England all the way south to Spanish Peru and Chile.
In the incomparably rich colonies in the Caribbean, they often constituted
population majorities of 90 percent or more. But in 1888, one hundred
and eighteen years later, when Brazil finally freed all its slaves,
the institution had been outlawed throughout the Western Hemisphere.
This final act of liberation, building on Abraham
Lincoln's emancipation achievement in the American Civil War, took
place only a century after the creation of the first antislavery
societies in human history — initially small groups in such
places as Philadelphia, London, Manchester, and New York. The
abolition of New World slavery depended in large measure on a major
transformation in moral perception — on the emergence of writers,
speakers, and reformers, beginning in the mid-eighteenth century,
who were willing to condemn an institution that had been sanctioned
for thousands of years and who also strove to make human society
something more than an endless contest of greed and power. [emphasis
We can change this institution — land
monopoly capitalism — too, you
The truth to which we were led in the politico-economic branch of our
inquiry is as clearly apparent in the rise and fall of nations and the
growth and decay of civilizations, and it accords with those deep-seated
recognitions of relation and sequence that we denominate moral perceptions.
Thus are given to our conclusions the greatest certitude and highest
This truth involves both a menace and a promise. It shows that the evils
arising from the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth, which are
becoming more and more apparent as modern civilization goes on, are not
incidents of progress, but tendencies which must bring progress to a
halt; that they will not cure themselves, but, on the contrary, must,
unless their cause is removed, grow greater and greater, until they sweep
us back into barbarism by the road every previous civilization has trod.
But it also shows that these evils are not imposed by natural laws; that
they spring solely from social maladjustments which ignore natural laws,
and that in removing their cause we shall be giving an enormous impetus
The poverty which in the midst of abundance
pinches and embrutes men, and all the manifold evils which flow from
it, spring from a denial of
justice. In permitting the monopolization of the opportunities
which nature freely offers to all, we have ignored the fundamental law
of justice — for,
so far as we can see, when we view things upon a large scale, justice
seems to be the supreme law of the universe. But by sweeping away
this injustice and asserting the rights of all men to natural opportunities,
we shall conform ourselves to the law —
we shall remove the great cause of unnatural inequality in the distribution
of wealth and power;
we shall abolish poverty;
tame the ruthless passions of greed;
dry up the springs of vice and misery;
light in dark places the lamp of knowledge;
give new vigor to invention and a fresh impulse to discovery;
substitute political strength for political weakness; and
make tyranny and anarchy impossible.
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 and spirit 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
inalienable 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
becomes, as population increases and invention goes on, merely
the liberty to compete for employment at starvation wages. This
we have ignored. And so
there come beggars in our streets and tramps on our roads; and
poverty enslaves men who we boast are political sovereigns; and
want breeds ignorance that our schools cannot enlighten; and
citizens vote as their masters dictate; and
the demagogue usurps the part of the statesman; and
gold weighs in the scales of justice; and
in high places sit those who do not pay to civic virtue even the
compliment of hypocrisy; and
the pillars of the republic that we thought so strong already bend
under an increasing strain.
We honor Liberty in name and in form. We set up her statues and sound
her praises. But we have not fully trusted her. And with our growth so
demands. She will have no half service!
Liberty! it is a word to conjure with, not
to vex the ear in empty boastings. For Liberty means Justice, and Justice
is the natural law — the
law of health and symmetry and strength, of fraternity and co-operation.
They who look upon Liberty as having accomplished
her mission when she has abolished hereditary privileges and given men
the ballot, who think
of her as having no further relations to the everyday affairs
of life, have not seen her real grandeur — to them the poets who
have sung of her must seem rhapsodists, and her martyrs fools! As the
lord of life, as well as of light; as his beams not merely pierce
the clouds, but support all growth, supply all motion, and call forth
from what would otherwise be a cold and inert mass all the infinite
of being and beauty, so is liberty to mankind. It is not for
an abstraction that men have toiled and died; that in every age the witnesses
have stood forth, and the martyrs of Liberty have suffered.
We speak of Liberty as one thing, and of virtue, wealth, knowledge,
invention, national strength, and national independence as other things.
But, of all these, Liberty is the source, the mother, the necessary condition.
Only in broken gleams and partial light has the sun of Liberty yet beamed
among men, but all progress hath she called forth. ...
In our time, as in times before, creep on the insidious forces that,
producing inequality, destroy Liberty. On the horizon the clouds begin
to lower. Liberty calls to us again. We must follow her further; we must
trust her fully. Either we must wholly accept her or she will not stay.
It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that
they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty
themselves of the opportunities and means of life; they must stand on
equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature. Either this, or Liberty
withdraws her light! Either this, or darkness comes on, and the very
forces that progress has evolved turn to powers that work destruction.
This is the universal law. This is the lesson of the centuries. Unless
its foundations be laid in justice the social structure cannot stand.
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,
made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress
goes on. This is the subtile 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. Ruins of dead empires testify,
witness that is in
every soul answers, that it cannot be. It is something grander
than Benevolence, something more august than Charity — it is Justice herself that
demands of us to right this wrong. Justice that will not be denied; that
cannot be put off — Justice that with the scales carries
the sword. Shall we ward the stroke with liturgies and prayers?
we avert the
decrees of immutable law by raising churches when hungry infants
moan and weary mothers weep? ... read the
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
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
George: Thou Shalt Not Steal (1887
We are told, in the first place,
by the newspapers, that you cannot abolish poverty because there is not
wealth enough to go around. We are told that if all the wealth of the
United States were divided up there would only be some eight hundred
dollars apiece. Well, if that is the case, all the more monstrous is
the injustice which today gives some people millions and tens of
millions, and even hundreds of millions. If there really is so little,
then the more injustice in these great fortunes.
But we do not propose to abolish poverty by dividing up wealth.
We propose to abolish poverty by setting at work that vast army of men
— estimated last year to amount in this country alone to one million —
that vast army of men only anxious to create wealth, but who are now,
by a system which permits dogs-in-the-manger to monopolize God’s
bounty, deprived of the opportunity to toil.
Then, again, they tell us you cannot abolish poverty, because
poverty always has existed. Well, if poverty always has existed, all
the more need for our moving for its abolition. It has existed long
enough. We ought to be tired of it; let us get rid of it. But I deny
that poverty, such poverty as we see on earth today, always has
We propose to abolish poverty, to tear it up by the roots, to
open free and abundant employment for every person. We propose to
disturb no just right of property. We are defenders and upholders of
the sacred right of property — that right of property which justly
attaches to everything that is produced by labor; that right which
gives to all people a just right of property in what they have produced
— that makes it theirs to give, to sell, to bequeath, to do whatever
they please with, as long as in using it they do not injure any one
else. That right of property we insist upon; that, we would uphold
against all the world.
To a house, a coat, a book — anything produced by labor — there
is a clear individual title, which goes back to the person who made it.
That is the foundation of the just, the sacred right of property. It
rests on the right of people to the use of their own powers, on their
right to profit by the exertion of their own labor; but who can carry
the right of property in land that far?
Who can claim a title of absolute ownership in land? Until one
who claims the exclusive ownership of a piece of this planet can show a
title originating with the Maker of this planet; until that one can
produce a decree from the Creator declaring that this city lot, or that
great tract of agricultural or coal land, or that gas well, was made
for that one person alone — until then we have a right to hold that the
land was intended for all of us.
Natural religion and revealed religion alike tell us that God is
no respecter of persons; that He did not make this planet for a few
individuals; that He did not give it to one generation in preference to
other generations, but that He made it for the use during their lives
of all the people that His providence brings into the world. If this be
true, the child that is born tonight in the humblest tenement in the
most squalid quarter of New York, comes into life seized with as good a
title to the land of this city as any Astor or Rhinelander. ... 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)
LABOR may be likened to a man who as he carries home his
earnings is waylaid by a series of robbers. One demands this much,
and another that much, but last of all stands one who demands all
that is left, save just enough to enable the victim to maintain life
and come forth next day to work. So long as this last robber remains,
what will it benefit such a man to drive off any or all of the other
Such is the situation of labor today throughout the civilized world. And the
robber that takes all that is left, is private property in land. Improvement,
no matter how great, and reform, no matter how beneficial in itself, cannot help
that class who, deprived of all right to the use of the material elements, have
only the power to labor — a power as useless in itself as a sail without
wind, a pump without water, or a saddle without a horse. — Protection
or Free Trade — Chapter 25: The Robber That Takes All That Is Left
- econlib | abridged
THERE is but one way to remove an evil — and that is, to remove its cause.
Poverty deepens as wealth increases, and wages are forced down while
productive power grows, because land, which is the source of all wealth and the
field of all labor, is monopolized. To extirpate poverty, to make wages what
justice commands they should be, the full earnings of the laborer, we must therefore
substitute for the individual ownership of land a common ownership. Nothing else
will go to the cause of the evil — in nothing else is there the slightest
hope. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VI, Chapter 2, The Remedy: The True Remedy
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 Wealth • abridged:
Part II, Chapter 15, The Nature of Wealth: Moral Confusions as
THE law of human progress, what is it but the moral law? Just
as social adjustments promote justice, just as they acknowledge
the equality of right between man and man, just as they insure
to each the perfect liberty which is bounded only by the equal
liberty of every other, must civilization advance. Just as they
fail in this, must advancing civilization come to a halt and recede.
Political economy and social science cannot teach any lessons that
are not embraced in the simple truths that were taught to poor
fishermen and Jewish peasants by One who eighteen hundred years
ago was crucified — the simple truths which, beneath the
warpings of selfishness and the distortions of superstition, seem
to underlie every religion that has ever striven to formulate the
spiritual yearnings of man. — Progress & Poverty — Book
X, Chapter 3, The Law of Human Progress
THE poverty which in the midst of abundance pinches and embrutes
men, and all the manifold evils which flow from it, spring from
a denial of justice. In permitting the monopolization of the opportunities
which nature freely offers to all, we have ignored the fundamental
law of justice — for, so far as we can see, when we view
things upon a large scale, justice seems to be the supreme law
of the universe. But by sweeping away this injustice and asserting
the rights of all men to natural opportunities, we shall conform
ourselves to the law — we shall remove the great cause of
unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth and power; we
shall abolish poverty; tame the ruthless passions of greed; dry
up the springs of vice and misery; light in dark places the lamp
of knowledge; give new vigor to invention and a fresh impulse to
discovery; substitute political strength for political weakness;
and make tyranny and anarchy impossible. — Progress & Poverty — Book
X, Chapter 5, The Law of Human Progress: The Central Truth
... go to "Gems from George"
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis
F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
In "Progress and Poverty," after reaching his conclusion
that command of the land which is necessary for labor is command
of all the fruits of labor save enough to enable labor to exist,
Henry George says:
So simple and so clear is this truth that to fully see it once
is always to recognize it. There are pictures which, though looked
at again and again, present only a confused labyrinth of lines
or scroll-work — a landscape, trees, or something of the
kind — until once attention is called to the fact that
these things make up a face or a figure. This relation once recognized
is always afterward clear. 111 It is so in this case. In the
light of this truth all social facts group themselves in an orderly
relation, and the most diverse phenomena are seen to spring from
one great principle.
111. This idea of the concealed picture was
graphically illustrated with a story by Congressman James G.
Maguire, at that time a Judge of the Superior Court of San
Francisco, in a speech at the Academy of Music, New York City,
in 1887. In substance he said:
"I was one day walking along Kearney Street
in San Francisco, when I noticed a crowd around the show window
of a store, looking at something inside. I took a glance myself
and saw only a very poor picture of a very uninteresting landscape.
But as I was turning away my eye caught the words underneath
the picture, 'Do you see the cat?' I looked again and more
closely, but saw no cat in the picture. Then I spoke to the
"'Gentlemen,' I said, 'I see no cat in
that picture. Is there a cat there?'
Some one in the crowd replied:
"'Naw, there ain't no cat there. Here's
a crank who says he sees the cat, but nobody else can see it.'
Then the crank spoke up:
'I tell you there is a cat there, too. It's
all cat. What you fellows take for a landscape is just nothing
more than the outlines of a cat. And you needn't call a man
a crank either, because he can see more with his eyes than
"Well," the judge continued, "I
looked very closely at the picture, and then I said to the
man they called a crank:
"'Really, sir, I cannot make out a cat.
I can see nothing but a poor picture of a landscape.'
"'Why, judge,' he exclaimed, 'just look
at that bird in the air. That's the cat's ear.'
I looked, but was obliged to say:
'I am sorry to be so stupid, but I can't make
a cat's ear of that bird. It is a poor bird, but not a cat's
"'Well, then,' the crank urged, 'look at
that twig twirled around in a circle. That's the cat's eye.'
But I couldn't make an eye of it.
'Oh, then,' said the crank a little impatiently,
'look at those sprouts at the foot of the tree, and the grass.
They make the cat's claws.'
"After another deliberate examination,
I reported that they did look a little like a claw, but I couldn't
connect them with a cat.
"Once more the crank came back at me. 'Don't
you see that limb off there? and that other limb under it?
and that white space between? Well, that white space is the
"I looked again and was just on the point
of replying that there was no cat there so far as I could see,
when suddenly the whole cat burst upon me. There it was, sure
enough, just as the crank had said; and the only reason that
the rest of us couldn't see it was that we hadn't got the right
point of view. But now that I saw it I could see nothing else
in the picture. The landscape had disappeared and a cat had
taken its place. And, do you know, I was never afterward able,
upon looking at that picture, to see anything in it but the
From this story as told by Judge Maguire, has
come the slang of the single tax agitation. To "see the
cat " is to understand the single tax.
Many events subsequent to his writing have gone to prove that
Henry George was right. Each new phase of the social problem makes
it still more clear that the disorderly development of our civilization
is explained, not by pressure of population, nor by the superficial
relations of employers and employed, nor by scarcity of money,
nor by the drinking habits of the poor, nor by individual differences
in ability to produce wealth, nor by an incompetent or malevolent
Creator, but, as he has said, by "inequality in the ownership
of land." And each new phase makes it equally clear that the
remedy for poverty is not to be found in famine and disease and
war, nor in strikes which are akin to war, nor in the suppression
of strikes by force of arms, nor in the coinage of money, nor in
prohibition or high license, nor in technical education, nor in
anything else short of approximate equality in the ownership of
land. This alone secures equal opportunities to produce, and full
ownership by each producer of his own product. This is justice,
this is order. And unless our civilization have it for a foundation,
new forms of slavery will assuredly lead us into new forms of barbarism.112
112. "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 subtile 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. Ruins of dead empires
testify, and the witness that is in every soul answers, that
it cannot be. It is something grander than Benevolence, something
more august than Charity — it is justice herself that
demands of us to right this wrong. justice that will not be
denied; that cannot be put off — justice that with the
scales carries the sword." — Progress and Poverty,
book x, ch. v. ...
Q25. What good would the single tax do to the poor? and how?
A. By constantly keeping the demand for labor above the supply
it would enable them to abolish their poverty.
... read the book
Bill Batt: The
Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
The Georgist main agenda, as
earlier noted, is economic justice.
If one searches the term “economic justice” online, the first site that
will appear is the Georgist website, progress.org.
The starting point
is that people are entitled to what they earn, but only to what they
The fruits of the commons generated in rent might also be distributed
to citizens equally if not used to finance the general services of
government. In practice this means the abolition of those taxes that
represent an unjust capture of one’s personal property — taxes such as
income, sales, and other nuisance taxes. It accepts, to be sure, the
need to collect user fees, Pigouvian taxes, and perhaps sumptuary (sin)
taxes. It argues aggressively for the collection of economic rent in
support of government and, for any remaining surplus, its distribution
as a citizens’ dividend. The justification for the collection of
rent has several grounds:
- the first is to preclude the entitlement of
windfall gains to those who have unfairly captured monopoly control of
parts of what are rightfully the public commons.
- A second reason is to
enhance the efficiency of economic productivity which the failure to
collect rent prevents. It is not just that monopoly control of commons
sites drives less attractive and less valuable land into production
because the primary choices are unavailable; it is also that the use of
alternative taxes leads to a deadweight loss in the economy which
reduces the wealth of every citizen except the monopoly titleholder.The
proper collection of land rent leads to increases in economic
efficiency in a way that wages are not artificially depressed and more
opportunities arise in the labor market.
The result of these factors
leads to a greater equality in the income of each person.... 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
that is not fundamental. Nobody ever dreams of giving the poor
a chance to help themselves. The reformers 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 to
come here and do work, we send them to gaol or send them back
where they came from.
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 land man cannot live; without access to it man
cannot labor. First of all, he must have the earth, and this he cannot
access to until the single tax is applied. 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 turned
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 there 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 job.
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 the 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; and they 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
I know of a woman — I have never had
the pleasure of making her acquaintance, because she lives in a lunatic
asylum, which does not happen
to be on my visiting list. This woman has been mentally incompetent
from birth. She is well taken care of, because her father left her when
died the income of a large farm on the outskirts of a city. The
city has since grown and the land is now worth, at conservative estimate,
about twenty million dollars. It is covered with office buildings,
the greater part of the income, which cannot be spent by the
woman, is piling up at compound interest. The woman enjoys good health,
may be worth a hundred million dollars before she dies.
I choose this case because it is one about which there can be no disputing;
this woman has never been able to do anything to earn that twenty million
dollars. And if a visitor from Mars should come down to study the situation,
which would he think was most insane, the unfortunate woman, or the society
which compels thousands of people to wear themselves to death in order
to pay her the income of twenty million dollars?
The fact that this woman is insane makes it
easy to see that she is not entitled to the "unearned increment" of the land she owns.
But how about all the other people who have bought up and are holding
for speculation the most desirable land? The value of this land increases,
not because of anything these owners do — not because of any useful
service they render to the community — but purely because
the community as a whole is crowding into that neighborhood and
have use of the
The speculator who bought this land thinks that he deserves the increase,
because he guessed the fact that the city was going to grow that way.
But it seems clear enough that his skill in guessing which way the community
was going to grow, however useful that skill may be to himself, is not
in any way useful to the community. The man may have planted trees, or
built roads, and put in sidewalks and sewers; all that is useful work,
and for that he should be paid. But should he be paid for guessing what
the rest of us were going to need?
Before you answer, consider the consequences
of this guessing game. The consequences of land speculation are tenantry
and debt on the farms,
and slums and luxury in the cities. A great part of the necessary
land is held out of use, and so the value of all land continually increases,
until the poor man can no longer own a home. The value of farm
increases; so year by year more independent farmers are dispossessed,
because they cannot pay interest on their mortgages. So the land
becomes a place of serfdom, that land described by the poet, "where wealth
accumulates and men decay." The great cities fill up with
festering slums, and a small class of idle parasites are provided
fortunes, which they do not have to earn, and which they cannot
intelligently spend. ...
In Philadelphia, as in all our great cities, are enormously wealthy
families, living on hereditary incomes derived from crowded slums. Here
and there among these rich men is one who realizes that he has not earned
what he is consuming, and that it has not brought him happiness, and
is bringing still less to his children. Such men are casting about for
ways to invest their money without breeding idleness and parasitism.
Some of them might be grateful to learn about this enclave plan, and
to visit the lovely village of Arden, and see what its people are doing
to make possible a peaceful and joyous life, even in this land of bootleggers
and jazz orchestras. ... read the
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.
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. ...
Two conditions are indispensable if we are to ensure that the guaranteed income
operates as a consistently progressive measure.
First, it must be pegged to the median
income of society, not the lowest levels of income. To guarantee an income
at the floor would simply perpetuate
welfare standards and freeze into the society poverty conditions.
Second, the guaranteed income must be
dynamic; it must automatically increase as the total social income grows.
Were it permitted to remain
growth conditions, the recipients would suffer a relative
decline. If periodic reviews disclose that the whole national income
has risen, then the guaranteed
income would have to be adjusted upward by the same percentage.
Without these safeguards a creeping retrogression would occur, nullifying
the gains of security
This proposal is not a "civil rights" program,
in the sense that that term is currently used. The program would benefit
all the poor, including
the two-thirds of them who are white. I hope that both Negro and white
will act in coalition to effect this change, because their combined strength
be necessary to overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate.
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.
John Kenneth Galbraith has estimated that
$20 billion a year would effect a guaranteed income, which he describes
as "not much more than we will
spend the next fiscal year to rescue freedom and democracy and religious
liberty as these are defined by 'experts' in Vietnam."
The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity,
which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of
the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy
is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It
is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading
human life by clinging to archaic thinking.
The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel
and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when
men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil
or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us
to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.
... read the book excerpt
and whole speech