Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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Poverty amid Wealth

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 civilisation.

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