Henry George: The
Crime of Poverty (1885 speech)
What more unnatural than this?
There is nothing in nature like this poverty which today curses us. We
see rapine in nature; we see one species destroying another; but as a
general thing animals do not feed on their own kind; and, wherever we
see one kind enjoying plenty, all creatures of that kind share it. No
man, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and
the great majority lean. No man ever saw a flock of birds, of which two
or three were swimming in grease and the others all skin and bone. Nor
in savage life is there anything like the poverty that festers in our
In a rude state of society there are seasons of want, seasons
when people starve; but they are seasons when the earth has refused to
yield her increase, when the rain has not fallen from the heavens, or
when the land has been swept by some foe – not when there is plenty.
And yet the peculiar characteristic of this modern poverty of ours is
that it is deepest where wealth most abounds.
Why, today, while over the civilised world there is so much
distress, so much want, what is the cry that goes up? What is the
current explanation of the hard times? Overproduction! There are so
many clothes that men must go ragged, so much coal that in the bitter
winters people have to shiver, such over-filled granaries that people
actually die by starvation! Want due to over-production! Was a greater
absurdity ever uttered? How can there be over-production till all have
enough? It is not over-production; it is unjust distribution. ...
If the animals can reason what
must they think of us? Look at one
of those great ocean steamers ploughing her way across the Atlantic,
against wind, against wave, absolutely setting at defiance the utmost
power of the elements. If the gulls that hover over her were thinking
beings could they imagine that the animal that could create such a
structure as that could actually want for enough to eat? Yet, so it
is. How many even of those of us who find life easiest are there who
really live a rational life? Think of it, you who believe that there
is only one life for man—what a fool at the very best is a man
to pass his life in this struggle to merely live? And you who
believe, as I believe, that this is not the last of man, that this is
a life that opens but another life, think how nine tenths, aye, I do
not know but ninety-nine-hundredths of all our vital powers are spent
in a mere effort to get a living; or to heap together that which we
cannot by any possibility take away. Take the life of the average
workingman. Is that the life for which the human brain was intended
and the human heart was made? Look at the factories scattered through
our country. They are little better than penitentiaries. ... read the whole speech
Al Hartheimer: Affordable Housing and the Land
Value Tax Perspective
In addition, more recently, in the Fifties, new high-rise housing was built
for the poor. Those buildings were destroyed by the tenants and for a long
time stood as empty shells, then the government spent more millions rehabilitating
them, and today they do house some of the poor. It would have been better
and cheaper if the "Pruitt-Igoe" solution had been used, that is, blow up
the buildings and get rid of them entirely.
More recently, having learned that the poor do not want to be housed in high-rise
buildings, the government has financed low-rise row houses, garden apartments
and single-family houses. These have been more successful, but they all have
what to me is a great disadvantage: they ghetto-ize
the poor. There have been many other
programs, with which you are undoubtedly more familiar than I am, for providing
affordable housing. But the supply has never been able to catch up with the
demand, and that's where we are now. ...
After expending billions of our tax dollars on an unending variety of programs,
we still have the problem that there is not enough "affordable housing".
Why is that? It is because all of the solutions for the problem have been
If you don't have enough housing, build houses! If the banks won't lend money,
guarantee the loans! And
so it goes. None of the solutions have recognized
the economic root
cause of the problem. And that's what we're going to discuss. Now, however,
I want to describe the typical small American city today.
Usually there is a "downtown," usually consisting of the City Hall, some banks,
some office buildings, some museums, some institutional buildings like the YMCA,
and a regional hospital. There are also some stores, but the big department stores
have gone to the suburbs and
the "big-box" stores, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the rest, are nowhere to be
seen. There are also some residences, most likely for the poor and some for
but the middle class has fled. And then
there is vacant land, lots of it. ... read the whole article
Martin Luther King, Jr: Where
Do We Go From Here? (1967)
... I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most
effective -- the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely
discussed measure: the guaranteed income. ...
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.
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