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Henry George: The Crime of Poverty (1885 speech)
But I have not time to enter into further details. I can only ask you to think upon this thing, and the more you will see its desirability. As an English friend of mine puts it: "No taxes and a pension for everybody;" and why should it not be? To take land values for public purposes is not really to impose a tax, but to take for public purposes a value created by the community. And out of the fund which would thus accrue from the common property, we might, without degradation to anybody, provide enough to actually secure from want all who were deprived of their natural protectors or met with accident, or any man who should grow so old that he could not work. All prating that is heard from some quarters about its hurting the common people to give them what they do not work for is humbug. The truth is, that anything that injures self-respect, degrades, does harm; but if you give it as a right, as something to which every citizen is entitled to, it does not degrade. Charity schools do degrade children that are sent to them, but public schools do not.
But all such benefits as these, while great, would be incidental. The great thing would be that the reform I propose would tend to open opportunities to labour and enable men to provide employment for themselves. That is the great advantage. We should gain the enormous productive power that is going to waste all over the country, the power of idle hands that would gladly be at work. And that removed, then you would see wages begin to mount. It is not that everyone would turn farmer, or everyone would build himself a house if he had an opportunity for doing so, but so many could and would, as to relieve the pressure on the labour market and provide employment for all others. And as wages mounted to the higher levels, then you would see the productive power increased. The country where wages are high is the country of greatest productive powers. Where wages are highest, there will invention be most active; there will labour be most intelligent; there will be the greatest yield for the expenditure of exertion. The more you think of it the more clearly you will see that what I say is true. I cannot hope to convince you in an hour or two, but I shall be content if I shall put you upon inquiry. ... read the whole speech
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
Publisher's pamphlet, circa 1970:
Apart from Free Trade, the great economic and social issues were taxation and the alleviation of poverty. The Liberals were concerned to remove the basic cause of the problem -- not just to mitigate its undesirable effects.
It was the American economist Henry George who, towards the end of the 19th century, had examined the paradox of the age in his Progress and Poverty. His principles had a major impact, first upon the radicals of Scotland and Ireland, including Campbell Bannerman himself; and later upon the policy of the Liberal Party.
Henry George propounded that whilst people have the right to possess what they produce, or receive in exchange for their work, there is no such right to private ownership of the elements upon which all depend -- air, water, sunshine and land. Indeed, George held the right of access to these basic elements as strong and equal as the right to life itself, and that if private ownership of basic elements is permitted, suppression and exploitation of one class by another is inevitable. The consequent injustice must become more acute as the community develops.
Thus it became a major point of Liberal policy to shift taxation from production, and to raise taxation upon the value of land, on the basis that this value, as witnessed by the tremendously high prices even then demanded for commercial land, is created not by any individual but by the existence and work of the whole community. A natural source thus arises from which the community may meet its growing needs without discouraging production or inhibiting the growth of earnings.
The justice and practicality of this proposition can rarely if ever have enjoyed a more brilliant advocate than Winston Churchill, and today's reader is left to wonder how different might be the present state of Britain had the forces of social change pursued these principles to their enactment. ...
The People's Rights tells a very different story and comes now not as a document of historic interest but as a challenge to politicians, indeed to the entire electorate, to consider again the causes of poverty and the basic issues of social and economic justice. Perhaps current disillusionment with politics springs from a sense that if justice in the community can only be achieved at the expense of individual liberty, the price -- especially in terms of ever-increasing taxation and bureaucracy -- is too high to pay.
As a proposition that justice in the community and the freedom of the individual are complementary and that taxes may be raised without undermining either, The People's Rights comes as a major contribution to current political and economic thought. Indeed it deserves a place in the annals of Man's struggle for freedom and yearning for a society in which the genius of every person would be nurtured and the liberty of every person respected. ... Read the whole piece
Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
This leads to still a third important dimension of ecological economics: the belief that human fulfillment in the final analysis comes not from consumption and exploitation of natural resources and material goods. Because the concept of an ecological footprint is so important, retreating to a less imposing and more respectful relationship with the earth leads to an interest in a lifestyle that has come to be known as “voluntary simplicity.” 113 It grows from greater compatibility and appreciation of nature, an ability to live in harmony with it, and a capacity to enjoy community with the environment and its natural beauty. Higher levels of human realization and actualization arise from communal interaction, and from the pursuit of wisdom and relationships. It is no accident that ecological economics has made frequent reference to still another emergent tradition of economic philosophy now known as humanistic economics. This latter builds on the thinking of Abraham Maslow and the human potential movement born of the 1970s.114 In that framework, material needs are gradually supplanted by social needs which are ultimately surpassed by moral needs and spiritual awareness.115 ...
The grant of land sites and other natural resources to individuals and corporations in leasehold rather than freehold has an additional advantage beyond the revenue collected in rent to support the general purposes of government. This is the restoration of ownership of the earth to all people: what in Georgist terms and in classical philosophy is their birthright. Acknowledgment that the earth belongs to us all, and is both our entitlement and our responsibility, has the effect of enfranchising the people of the earth everywhere, perhaps ennobling them as well. At a time in human history when the incomes of the world’s people are increasingly disparate, and where wealth is even more unequally distributed, it must be recognized that titles to the resources of the earth are the most unequally, and unjustly, distributed of all.132 Recognition of this truth may come as a revelation; indeed it may well be revolutionary in some circles. But restoration of birthrights to which all people have a just and proper claim may be the single most important and effective means by which to facilitate and ensure sustainable economic policies worldwide.
All this leads to the likelihood also that personal growth can also be enhanced by the forgoing factors: greater community facility, greater identification with “the commons,” and greater access to nature all enrich human experience. Georgists argue that more intensive use of land sites, more efficient use of (and hence reduced consumption of) material resources, and greater regard for the value of time will add character to human life by encouraging mental capital more than by physical capital. Enjoyment from reading books or exploring the internet may finally trump snowmobiles and stock car racing. This value-added dimension of human awareness comports with the environmentalist argument that it is the lack of access to nature that frequently makes people regard it as an instrument. ... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Peace, Justice and Economic Reform
These components of the classical liberal conception of justice are held by two groups that hold conflicting views on a companion issue of great importance: how are claims of exclusive access to natural opportunities to be established?
John Locke qualified his statement that we own what we produce with his famous "proviso" that there be "as much and as good left in common for others." A few pages later, writing in the last decade of the seventeenth century, he said that private appropriations of land are actually not restricted, because anyone who is dissatisfied with the land available to him in Europe can always go to America, where there is plenty of unclaimed land. Locke does not address the issue of rights to land when land is scarce.
One tradition in classical liberalism concerning claims to land is that of the "homesteading libertarians," as exemplified by Murray Rothbard, who say that there is really no need to be concerned with Locke's proviso. Natural opportunities belong to whoever first appropriates them, regardless of whether opportunities of equal value are available to others.
The other tradition is that of the "geoists," as inspired if not exemplified by Henry George, who say that, whenever natural opportunities are scarce, each person has an obligation to ensure that the per capita value of the natural opportunities that he leaves for others is as great as the value of the natural opportunities that he claims for himself. Any excess in one's claim generates an obligation to compensate those who thereby have less. George actually proposed the nearly equivalent idea, that all or nearly all of the rental value of land should be collected in taxes, and all other taxes should be abolished. The geoist position as I have expressed it emphasizes the idea that, at least when value generated by public services is not an issue, rights to land are fundamentally rights of individuals, not rights of governments.
There are two fundamental problems with the position of homesteading libertarians on claims to land. The first problem is the incongruity with historical reality. Humans have emerged from an environment of violence. Those who now have titles to land can trace those titles back only so far, before they come to events where fiat backed by violence determined title. And the persons who were displaced at that time themselves had titles that originated in violence. If there ever were humans who acquired the use of land without forcibly displacing other humans, we have no way of knowing who they were or who their current descendants might be. There is, in practice, no way of assigning land to the legitimate successors of the persons who first claimed land. And to assign titles based on any fraction of history is to reward the last land seizures that are not rectified.
The second fundamental problem with the position of the homesteading libertarians is that, even if there were previously unsettled land to be allocated, say a new continent emerging from the ocean, first grabbing would make no sense as a criterion for allocating land.
It would be inefficient, for one thing, as people stampeded to do whatever was necessary to establish their claims. But that is not decisive because, if we are concerned with justice, it might be necessary for us to tolerate inefficiency. But the homesteading libertarian view makes no sense in terms of justice. "I get it all because I got here first," isn't justice.
Justice -- the balancing of the scales -- is the geoist position, "I get exclusive access to this natural opportunity because I have left natural opportunities of equal value for you." (How one compares, in practice, the value of different natural opportunities is a bit complex. If you really want to know, you can invite me back for another lecture.)
Justice is thus a regime in which persons have the greatest possible individual liberty, and all acknowledge an obligation to share equally the value of natural opportunities. Justice is economic reform--the abolition of all taxes on labor and capital, the acceptance of individual responsibility, the creation of institutions that will provide equal sharing the value of natural opportunities.
Getting back to where we started, is it true that, "If you want peace-- real peace--you should work for justice?" and if so why? Well, it's half true. To see why, consider what peace is, and how one might create it.
Peace is unity and harmony. Peace is people recognizing that we are all parts of one another, that it is always for ourselves that the bell tolls.
What keeps us from attaining peace? One of the greatest hindrances to the attainment of peace -- real peace -- is that resistance that so many of us feel to tolerating oppression and injustice. When we know that we, or others we care for, have been treated unjustly, it is ever so difficult to attain a state of unity and harmony with others. The leap to peace is so much easier from a position of justice. So, even though peace and justice are very disparate things, and peace is much the more attractive one, still it make sense, if you want to help people reach peace, to work for justice.
But the reason that this is only half true is that, in fact, justice is not actually necessary to your attainment of peace. If you want peace for yourself, you can have it, at any time, in any circumstances in which you find yourself. Whether you are treated justly or not, you are a part of the being that is all humanity. Each person's joy is your joy. Each person's grief is your grief. You don't have to wait until you are treated justly to see this.
So if you want a peace for others, then work for justice. Work for freedom. Work for the elimination of all taxes on the productive things that people do. Work for equality in the right to benefit from natural opportunities. All these things will make it easier for people to make the leap to peace.
But if you want peace for yourself, simply have it. Read the entire article
Martin Luther King, Jr: Where Do We Go From Here? (1967)
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper