|Wealth and Want
|... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
Jeff Smith: Steve Cord
Robert H. Browne: Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time (about 1851), quoting Lincoln
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 6: The Remedy (in the unabridged: Books VI: The Remedy and VII: Justice of the Remedy)
Henry George: Salutatory, from the first issue of The Standard (1887)
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)
... Aye! When a person sees that, then there arises that hope of the coming of the kingdom that carried the gospel through the streets of Rome, that carried it into pagan lands, that made it, against the most ferocious persecution, the dominant religion of the world.
Early Christianity did not mean, in its prayer for the coming of Christ’s kingdom, a kingdom in heaven, but a kingdom on earth. If Christ had simply preached of the other world, the high priests and the Pharisees would not have persecuted Him, the Roman soldiery would not have nailed His hands to the cross. Why was Christianity persecuted? Why were its first professors thrown to wild beasts, burned to light a tyrant’s gardens, hounded, tortured, put to death by all the cruel devices that a devilish ingenuity could suggest? Not that it was a new religion, referring only to the future. Rome was tolerant of all religions. It was the boast of Rome that all gods were sheltered in her Pantheon; it was the boast of Rome that she made no interference with the religions of peoples she conquered.
What was persecuted was a great movement for social reform — the gospel of justice — heard by common fishermen with gladness, carried by labourers and slaves into the imperial city of Rome. The Christian revelation was the doctrine of human equality, of the fatherhood of God, of the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. It struck at the very basis of that monstrous tyranny that then oppressed the civilised world; it struck at the fetters of the captive, and at the bonds of the slave, at that monstrous injustice which allowed a class to revel on the proceeds of labour, while those who did the labour fared scantily.
That is the reason why early Christianity was persecuted. And when they could no longer hold it down, then the privileged classes adopted and perverted the new faith, and it became, in its very triumph, not the pure Christianity of the early days, but a Christianity that, to a very great extent, was the servitor of the privileged classes.
And, instead of preaching the essential Fatherhood of God, the essential brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, its high priests grafted onto the pure truths of the gospel the blasphemous doctrine that the All-Father is a respecter of persons, and that by His will and on His mandate is founded that monstrous injustice which condemns the great mass of humanity to unrequited hard toil. There has been no failure of Christianity. The failure has been in the sort of Christianity that has been preached. ... Read the whole speech
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 5: The Basic Cause of Poverty (in the unabridged: Book V: The Problem Solved)
Henry George: The Land Question (1881)
What is the slave-trade but piracy of the worst kind? Yet it is not long since the slave-trade was looked upon as a perfectly respectable business, affording as legitimate an opening for the investment of capital and the display of enterprise as any other. The proposition to prohibit it was first looked upon as ridiculous, then as fanatical, then as wicked. It was only slowly and by hard fighting that the truth in regard to it gained ground. Does not our very Constitution bear witness to what I say? Does not the fundamental law of the nation, adopted twelve years after the enunciation of the Declaration of Independence, declare that for twenty years the slave-trade shall not be prohibited nor restricted? Such dominion had the idea of vested interests over the minds of those who had already proclaimed the inalienable right of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!
I was born in a Northern State, I have never lived in the South, I am not yet gray; but I well remember, as every American of middle age must remember, how over and over again I have heard all questionings of slavery silenced by the declaration that the negroes were the property of their masters, and that to take away a man's slave without payment was as much a crime as to take away his horse without payment. And whoever does not remember that far back, let him look over American literature previous to the war, and say whether, if the business of piracy had been a flourishing business, it would have lacked defenders? Let him say whether any proposal to stop the business of piracy without compensating the pirates would not have been denounced at first as a proposal to set aside vested rights?... read the whole article
From a letter by George M. Jackson, St. Louis. Dated August 15, 1885. Reprinted in Social Problems, by Henry George.
Henry George: Ode to Liberty (1877 speech)
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 subtle 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. Shall we ward the stroke with liturgies and prayers? Shall we avert the decrees of immutable law by raising churches when hungry infants moan and weary mothers weep? ... read the whole speech and also Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 14 Liberty, and Equality of Opportunity (in the unabridged P&P: Part X: The Law of Human Progress — Chapter 5: The Central Truth)Henry George: The Crime of Poverty (1885 speech)
Now, think of it — is not land monopolisation a sufficient reason for poverty? What is man? In the first place, he is an animal, a land animal who cannot live without land. All that man produces comes from land; all productive labour, in the final analysis, consists in working up land; or materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit them for the satisfaction of human wants and desires. Why, man's very body is drawn from the land. Children of the soil, we come from the land, and to the land we must return. Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore he who holds the land on which and from which another man must live, is that man's master; and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing slavery — we have not abolished slavery; we have only abolished one rude form of it, chattel slavery. There is a deeper and a more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him with the name of freedom. Poverty! want! they will sting as much as the lash. Slavery! God knows there are horrors enough in slavery; but there are deeper horrors in our civilised society today. Bad as chattel slavery was, it did not drive slave mothers to kill their children, yet you may read in official reports that the system of child insurance which has taken root so strongly in England, and which is now spreading over our Eastern States, has perceptibly and largely increased the rate of child mortality! — What does that mean?
Robinson Crusoe, as you know, when he rescued Friday from the cannibals, made him his slave. Friday had to serve Crusoe. But, supposing Crusoe had said, "O man and brother, I am very glad to see you, and I welcome you to this island, and you shall be a free and independent citizen, with just as much to say as I have except that this island is mine, and of course, as I can do as I please with my own property, you must not use it save upon my terms." Friday would have been just as much Crusoe's slave as though he had called him one. Friday was not a fish, he could not swim off through the sea; he was not a bird, and could not fly off through the air; if he lived at all, he had to live on that island. And if that island was Crusoe's, Crusoe was his master through life to death. ... read the whole speech
Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal (1887 speech)
People do not have a natural right to demand employment of another, but they have a natural right, an inalienable right, a right given by their Creator, to demand opportunity to employ themselves. And whenever that right is acknowledged, whenever the people who want to go to work can find natural opportunities to work upon, then there will be as much competition among employers who are anxious to get people to work for them, as there will be among people who are anxious to get work.
Wages will rise in every vocation to the true rate of wages — the full, honest earnings of labor. That done, with this ever increasing social fund to draw upon, poverty will be abolished, and in a little while will come to be looked upon — as we are now beginning to look upon slavery — as the relic of a darker and more ignorant age.
I remember — this man here remembers (turning to Mr. Redpath, who was on the platform) even better than I, for he was one of the men who brought the atrocities of human slavery home to the heart and conscience of the north — I well remember, as he well knows, and all the older men and women in this audience will remember, how property in human flesh and blood was defended just as private property in land is now defended; how the same charges were hurled upon the men and women who protested against human slavery as are now made against the men and women who are intending to abolish industrial slavery.
We remember how some dignitaries and rich members of the churches branded as a disturber, almost as a reviler of religion, any priest or any minister who dared to get up and assert God’s truth — that there never was and there never could be rightful property in human flesh and blood.
So, it is now said that people who protest against this system, which is simply another form of slavery, are people who propose robbery. Thus the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," they have made "Thou shalt not object to stealing." When we propose to resume our own again, when we propose to secure its natural right to every child that comes into being, such people talk of us as advocating confiscation — charge us with being deniers of the rights of property. The real truth is that we wish to assert the just rights of property, that we wish to prevent theft.
Chattel slavery was incarnate theft of the worst kind. That system which made property of human beings, which allowed one person to sell another, which allowed one person to take away the proceeds of another’s toil, which permitted the tearing of the child from the mother, and which permitted the so-called owner to hunt with bloodhounds the person who escaped from the owner’s tyranny — that form of slavery is abolished. To that extent, the command, "Thou shalt not steal," has been vindicated; but there is another form of slavery.
We are selling land now in large quantities to certain English lords, who are coming over here and buying greater estates than the greatest in Great Britain or Ireland. We are selling them land; they are buying land. Did it ever occur to you that they do not want that land? They have no use whatever for American land; they do not propose to come over here and live on it. They cannot carry it over there to where they do live.
It is not the land that they want. What they want is the income from it. They are buying it not because they themselves want to use it, but because by and by, as population increases, numbers of American citizens will want to use it, and then they can say to these American citizens: "You can use this land provided you pay us one-half of all you make upon it." What we are selling those foreign lords is not really land; we are selling them the labor of American citizens; we are selling them the privilege of taking, without any return for it, the proceeds of the toil of our children.
So, here in New York, you will read in the papers every day that the price of land is going up. John Jones or Robert Brown has made a hundred thousand dollars within a year in the increase in the value of land in New York. What does that mean? It means he has the power of getting many more coats, many more cigars, dry goods, horses and carriages, houses or much more food and wine. He has gained the power of taking for his own a great number of these products of human labor.
But what has he done? He has not done anything. He may have been off in Europe or out west, or he may have been sitting at home taking it easy. If he has done nothing to get this increased income, where does it come from? The things I speak of are all products of human labor — someone has to work for them. When a man who does no work can get them, necessarily the people who do work to produce them must have less of the products of human labor than they ought to have. ... read the whole article
Henry George: The Great Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy (1889)
Wherever you end competition you give some special privilege. Monopoly in what does it consist? In the abolition of competition. What are the things of which you complain in Government? The absence of competition. Your House of Lords is not opposed to competition; it is fenced in by monopoly (Loud applause.) So wherever you find a special privilege, there you find it a special privilege because competition is excluded.
What was the essence of slavery to which Mr·Hyndman has alluded? The prohibition of competition; so no one else could employ the slave save his owner – the slave was not free to compete with owner. (Hear, hear.) If you men seriously think of these things you will see that the Social Democratic Federation vaguely proposes, if it were possible to carry it out, would inevitably result in the worst system of slavery. (Loud cries of “No; no,” and “Order”)
Simply imagine a state of things in which no one could work save under State control, in which no one could display any energy save under the control of a board of officials, and ask yourselves who this board of officials are likely to be. Socialism begins at the wrong end; it pre-supposes pure government; its dream is simply of a benevolent tyranny (“No, no.”) ... Read the entire articleHenry George: The Wages of Labor
I have already referred generally to the defects that attach to all socialistic remedies for the evil condition of labor. I will now, specifically, but briefly, refer to some proposals which have a wide and strong appeal.
That the State should step in to prevent overwork; to restrict the employment of women and children; to secure sanitary conditions in workshops; to regulate wages; to encourage settlement, and the acquisition of land by working-men; and the formation of working-men’s associations.
The tendency and spirit of these remedial suggestions lean unmistakably to socialism – extremely moderate Socialism it is true, yet Socialism still. And how little may in this way be accomplished!
A strong, absolute ruler might hope by such regulations to alleviate the conditions of chattel slaves. But the tendency of our times is toward democracy, and democratic States are necessarily weaker in paternalism, while, in the industrial slavery growing out of private ownership of land that prevails in Christendom today, it is not the master who forces the slave to labor, but the slave who urges the master to let him labor.
Thus, the greatest difficulty in enforcing such regulations comes from those whom they are intended to benefit. It is not, far instance, the masters who make it difficult to enforce restrictions on child labor in factories, but the mothers, who, Prompted by poverty, misrepresent the ages of their children even to the masters and teach the children to misrepresent. ...
In speaking of measures for improving social conditions, it seems to us that in the teachings of morality is to be found the highest practicality, and that the question, What is wise may always safely be subordinated to the question, what is right?
But expressed moral truths are deprived of all practical meaning when accompanied by unjust sanctions as when the American people, while they legalised chattel slavery, were accustomed to read solemnly on every national anniversary the declaration which asserts: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
What did this truth mean on the lips of men who asserted that one man was the rightful property of another man who had bought him, who asserted that the slave was robbing the master in running away, and that the man or the woman who helped the fugitive to escape, or even gave him a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, was an accessory to theft, on whose head the penalties of the State should be visited?
Now, consider the moral aspect of the present condition of labor.
What is “the question of the hour,” the question that is filling minds with painful apprehension? Reduced to its lowest expression it is the poverty of men willing to work. And what is the lowest expression of this phrase? It is that they lack bread – for in that one word we most concisely and strongly express all the manifold material satisfactions needed by humanity, the absence of which constitutes poverty.
Now, what is the prayer of Christendom – the universal prayer; the prayer that goes up daily and hourly wherever the name of Christ is honoured; that ascends from the high altar of St. Peter’s at Rome, and that is repeated by the youngest child that the poorest Christian mother has taught to lisp a request to her Father in Heaven? It is: “Give us this day our daily bread!” Yet, where this prayer goes up, daily and hourly, men lack bread! Why?
Here is the answer, the only true answer! If men lack bread, it is not that God has not done His part in providing it. If men willing to labor are cursed with poverty, it is not that the storehouse has failed, that the supply He has promised for the daily wants of His children is not here in abundance.
It is, that, “impiously violating the benevolent intentions of their Creator,” men have made land private property, and thus have given into the exclusive ownership of the few the provision that a bountiful Father has made for all! ...
We ask for consideration of our proposals, and we would seek to promote discussion along the line of greatest importance – the line of morality.
We have no solicitude for the truth, knowing that it is of the nature of truth always to prevail over error where discussion goes on.
And the truth for which we stand has now made such progress in the minds of men that it must be heard; that it can never be stifled; that it must, go on conquering and to conquer!
Faster than ever the world is moving! ... 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)
Mark Twain Archimedes
I know of a mechanical force more powerful than anything the vaunting engineer of Syracuse ever dreamed of. It is the force of land monopoly; it is a screw and lever all in one; it will screw the last penny out of a man's pocket, and bend everything on earth to its own despotic will. Give me the private ownership of all the land, and will I move the earth? No; but I will do more. I will undertake to make slaves of all the human beings on the face of it. Not chattel slaves exactly, but slaves nevertheless. What an idiot I would be to make chattel slaves of them. I would have to find them salts and senna when they were sick, and whip them to work when they were lazy.
No, it is not good enough. Under the system I propose the fools would imagine they were all free. I would get a maximum of results, and have no responsibility whatever. They would cultivate the soil; they would dive into the bowels of the earth for its hidden treasures; they would build cities and construct railways and telegraphs; their ships would navigate the ocean; they would work and work, and invent and contrive; their warehouses would be full, their markets glutted, and:
That everything they made would belong to me.
It would be this way, you see: As I owned all the land, they would of course, have to pay me rent. They could not reasonably expect me to allow them the use of the land for nothing. I am not a hard man, and in fixing the rent I would be very liberal with them. I would allow them, in fact, to fix it themselves. What could be fairer? Here is a piece of land, let us say, it might be a farm, it might be a building site, or it might be something else - if there was only one man who wanted it, of course he would not offer me much, but if the land be really worth anything such a circumstance is not likely to happen. On the contrary, there would be a number who would want it, and they would go on bidding and bidding one against the other, in order to get it. I should accept the highest offer - what could be fairer? Every increase of population, extension of trade, every advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know, increase the value of land, and the competition that would naturally arise would continue to force rents upward, so much so, that in many cases the tenants would have little or nothing left for themselves. ... Read the whole pieceA.J.O. [probably Mark Twain]: Slavery
Suppose I am the owner of an estate and 100 slaves, all the land about being held in the same way by people of the same class as myself. ...
Suddenly a brilliant idea strikes me. I reflect that there is no unoccupied land in the neighbourhood, so that if my laborers were free they would still have to look to me for work somehow. ...
Most of them think they would like to have a piece of land and work it for themselves, and be their own masters. ...
"But," softly I observe, "you are going too fast. Your proposals about the tools and seed and your maintenance are all right enough, but the land, you remember, belongs to me. You cannot expect me to give you your liberty and my own land for nothing. That would not be reasonable, would it?" ...
Still I am ready to do what I promised — "to employ as many as I may require, on such terms as we may mutually and independently agree." ...
So they all set to at the old work at the old place, and on the old terms, only a little differently administered; that is, that whereas I formerly supplied them with food, clothes, etc., direct from my stores, I now give them a weekly wage representing the value of those articles, which they will henceforth have to buy for themselves. ...
Instead of being forced to keep my men in brutish ignorance, I find public schools established at other people's expense to stimulate their intelligence and improve their minds, to my great advantage, and their children compelled to attend these schools. The service I get, too, being now voluntarily rendered (or apparently so) is much improved in quality. In short, the arrangement pays me better in many ways.
But I gain in other ways besides pecuniary benefit. I have lost the stigma of being a slave driver, and have, acquired instead the character of a man of energy and enterprise, of justice and benevolence. I am a "large employer of labour," to whom the whole country, and the labourer especially, is greatly indebted, and people say, "See the power of capital! These poor labourers, having no capital, could not use the land if they had it, so this great and far-seeing man wisely refuses to let them have it, and keeps it all for himself, but by providing them with employment his capital saves them from pauperism, and enables him to build up the wealth of the country, and his own fortune together."
Whereas it is not my capital that does any of these things. ...
But now another thought strikes me. Instead of paying an overseer to work these men for me, I will make him pay me for the privilege of doing it. I will let the land as it stands to him or to another — to whomsoever will give the most for the billet. He shall be called my tenant instead of my overseer, but the things he shall do for me are essentially the same, only done by contract instead of for yearly pay. ....
For a moderate reduction in my profits, then — a reduction equal to the tenant's narrow margin of profit — I have all the toil and worry of management taken off my hands, and the risk too, for be the season good or bad, the rent is bound to be forthcoming, and I can sell him up to the last rag if he fails of the full amount, no matter for what reason; and my rent takes precedence of all other debts. ...
If wages are forced down it is not I that do it; it is that greedy and merciless man the employer (my tenant) who does it. I am a lofty and superior being, dwelling apart and above such sordid considerations. I would never dream of grinding these poor labourers, not I! I have nothing to do with them at all; I only want my rent -- and get it. Like the lillies of the field, I toil not, neither do I spin, and yet (so kind is Providence!) my daily bread (well buttered) comes to me of itself. Nay, people bid against each other for the privilege of finding it for me; and no one seems to realise that the comfortable income that falls to me like the refreshing dew is dew indeed; but it is the dew of sweat wrung from the labourers' toil. It is the fruit of their labour which they ought to have; which they would have if I did not take it from them.
This sketch illustrates the fact that chattel slavery is not the only nor even the worst form of bondage. When the use of the earth — the sole source of our daily bread — is denied unless one pays a fellow creature for permission to use it, people are bereft of economic freedom. The only way to regain that freedom is to collect the rent of land instead of taxes for the public domain.
Once upon a time, labour leaders in the USA, the UK and Australia understood these facts. The labour movements of those countries were filled with people who fought for the principles of 'the single tax' on land at the turn of the twentieth century. But since then, it has been ridiculed, and they have gradually yielded to the forces of privilege and power — captives of the current hegemony — daring no longer to come to grips with this fundamental question, lest they, too, become ridiculed.
And so the world continues to wallow in this particular ignorance — and in its ensuing poverty and debt. Read the whole essay
Fred E. Foldvary — The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent
The United Nations Millennium Declaration was adopted by the world's leaders at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that the Declaration "captured the aspirations of the international community for the new century" and spoke of a "world united by common values and striving with renewed determination to achieve peace and decent standards of living for every man, woman and child."
All UN Member States pledged to achieve several Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015, including
(1) reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day;
(2) reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger; and
(3) by 2020, achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.
The basic framework for these goals was set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Article I states that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Article 25 says that
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by the General Assembly on December 16, 1966 and entered into force on January 3, 1976. The Covenant proclaims these economic human rights, among others:
Nearly every UN member state has signed and ratified this important Covenant. The United States, Cambodia and Liberia have signed but not ratified it. Our government, founded upon clearly articulated political human rights, is floundering in the field of economic human rights. .
The US Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans living below the poverty line jumped by 1.3 million to 35.9 million or 12.5 percent of the population last year. ...
There is a significant lack of decent affordable housing in the United States. ...
Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security for 2002. It was no surprise given the recent increases in poverty that hunger and food insecurity rose for the third year in a row. ...
The wealth gap is increasing in the US. According to the latest Federal Reserve data, the top 1% of the population has $2 trillion more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.
Perceptions of the causal factors of these statistics and the suffering of so many who lack basic necessities in this wealthy country are most often simplistic explanations - these people lack money and they lack money because they lack jobs or their wages are too low, or housing costs are too high. For those concerned about the growing wealth gap in America and worldwide, and the resultant poverty, homelessness, hunger and food insecurity, the dilemma usually bogs down into supply or demand side efforts to find solutions. But the root cause is a deeper injustice.
The primary cause of the enormous and growing wealth gap is that the land and natural resources of the earth are treated as if they are mere market commodities from which a few are allowed to reap massive private profits or hold land and resources out of use in anticipation of future profits. Henry George, the great 19th century American political economist and social philosopher, proposed a solution to a problem that too few understood at the time and too few understand today. Early Christian teachings drew upon deep wisdom teachings of the Jubilee justice tradition when they addressed this problem. The problem is the Land Problem.
The Land Problem takes two primary forms: land price escalation and concentrated land ownership.
In order to show that there was NO NEED for land reform in Central America because our land in the US is even more concentrated in ownership than Central America, Senator Jesse Helms read these facts into the Congressional Record in 1981:
The basic human need for food and shelter requires access of labor to land. With access to land people can produce the basic requirements of life. Access to land provides an enabling environment for life itself and thus meets the minimum requirement of love, meaning fairness in human relations based on the fundamental equal right to exist. The Land Problem in its two forms - the inequitable ownership and control of land and natural resources and the treatment of land as a market commodity - is the root cause of the great amount of human deprivation and suffering from lack of the basic necessities of life. And yet the human right to the earth is missing from the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Human Rights.
Democratic governance has not yet concerned itself with a "first principle" question. This question concerns property rights in land - property rights in the earth itself. The question is, "Who Should Own the Earth?" The question of "Who Should Own the Earth?" is a fundamental question. In venues when this question is asked, the answer is always the same. The answer is, "everyone should own the earth and on an equal basis as a birthright."
The right to the earth has yet to be pronounced in human rights covenants. Democracy is unclear, ethically weak, and on shaky ground when it comes to the question of the right to the land and resources of the earth. Democracy as presently constituted lacks this most fundamental and basic human right - the equal right to earth. The right to the earth is the great undiscovered revolution in both American and global politics. ...
We must not forget that mainstream institutionalized Christianity once promulgated the doctrine that the right of some humans to hold other humans as slaves was encoded in the Bible. After much struggle and centuries of suffering, it gradually dawned on the majority of people that slavery was unjust and it was abolished. A similar awakening regarding the land problem lies in our future, hopefully the near future. The vision for a just land ethic was held by several great sages of our own recent history. Their statements could be useful to us today.
Thomas Jefferson - The earth is given as a common stock for men to labor and live on.
Abraham Lincoln - The land, the earth God gave to man for his home, sustenance, and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water, if as much. An individual, company, or enterprise should hold no more than is required for their home and sustenance. All that is not used should be held for the free use of every family to make homesteads, and to hold them as long as they are so occupied.
Henry George - 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 subtle 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. ...
Avila, again in Ownership: Early Christian Teachings, wrote:
On first reading Henry George (Progress and Poverty) almost twenty years ago when doing research for this volume, I was particularly struck by the similarity of his arguments, and even analogies, to those of the fourth century Christian philosophers on the topic of land ownership.
Henry George, the great American political economist and land rights philosopher (1839-1897), eloquently confronted the enigma of the wealth gap in his masterwork Progress and Poverty and set forth both an ethical and practical method for holding and sharing the land as a sacred trust for all.
To abolish these taxes would be to lift the whole enormous weight of taxation from productive industry. The needle of the seamstress and the great manufactory; the cart-horse and the locomotive; the fishing boat and the steamship; the farmer's plow and the merchant's stock, would be alike untaxed. All would be free to make or to save, to buy or to sell, unfined by taxes, un-annoyed by the tax-gatherer. Instead of saying to the producer, as it does now, "The more you add to the general wealth the more shall you be taxed!" the state would say to the producer,
"Be as industrious, as thrifty, as enterprising as you choose, you shall have your full reward! You shall not be fined for making two blades of grass grow where one grew before; you shall not be taxed for adding to the aggregate wealth.
In an economic system such as ours which uses money as a medium of exchange, land and resources come to have monetary value. In asserting that the gifts of nature are common property and should be equitably shared by all, George saw that in a just society the ownership of land and natural resources would be conditional upon the cash payment to all of a fairly assessed tax, or land rent, for the exclusive right to God's gifts. Thus the collection of land rent for the community as a whole would replace the taxation of productive endeavors. Those with more and/or better located land would pay more into the common fund, while those with little or no land would pay much less or nothing at all.
As George explained it:
...the value of land is at the beginning of society nothing, but as society develops by the increase of population and the advance of the arts, it becomes greater and greater. In every civilized country, even the newest, the value of the land taken as a whole is sufficient to bear the entire expenses of government. In the better developed countries it is much more than sufficient. Hence it will not be enough merely to place all taxes upon the value of land. It will be necessary, where rent exceeds the present governmental revenues, commensurately to increase the amount demanded in taxation, and to continue this increase as society progresses and rent advances.
The author of Common Sense was onto the same idea when he said:
Men did not make the earth...It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property...Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds. - Tom Paine
Enormous sums are currently accruing as unearned income to a relatively few individuals, families and corporations who are holding large amounts of land, very valuable and well-located land, and natural resources as their own exclusive private property. These enormous land values and resource rents are also accruing as unearned income to banks holding mortgages based on exploitative compound interest rates. It may be of interest to note that the word "mortgage" means "dead hand." Truly, when one must work so many years of one's life to pay off a mortgage, one productive hand is as if dead in terms of producing for oneself, as the labor of that hand pays the mortgage. For the 33% of citizens (40 million people) in the United States who are renters, there is not even equity ownership to look forward to after a life of labor. For the more than three million homeless people in American and the multi-millions who are homeless around the world, what Henry George said in 1879 holds true today:
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.
Not only is the land ethic of Old and New Testament prophets and Henry George virtually the same, the policy approach of "resource rent for revenue" also known as "land or site value taxation" has its corollary in the approach called for by the ancient rabbis in their discussions about the finer and little known details of Jubilee. ...
Had the land problem been addressed in the south after the Civil War, a more equitable distribution of wealth and overall prosperity would have been the likely result. It can be instructive to review this earlier effort to secure land rights in America.
On March 3, 1865, just weeks before the end of the Civil War and almost a year prior to the ratification of the 13th Amendment, the Freedmen's Bureau was created by Congress. According to Section 4 of the First Freedmen's Bureau Act, this agency
shall have authority to set apart for use of loyal refugees and freedmen such tracts of land within the insurrectionary states as shall have been abandoned or to which the United States shall have acquired title by confiscation or sale, or otherwise; and to every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman, as aforesaid there shall be assigned not more than forty acres of such land.
Introduced into Congress by Thaddeus Stevens this portion of the Freedmen's Bureau Act was defeated by Congress on February 5, 1866 "by a vote of 126 to 36."
Lands which had been distributed to freedmen were reclaimed and returned to the previous owners. There was to be no land reform for the South. Northern industrialists feared that giving land to freedmen and poor whites in the South could have led to similar demands for land by the people in the North, which, if implemented, would assuredly have greatly limited the supply of cheap labor available for factory work in the industrial North.
Abraham Lincoln sounded a warning when he said in 1865:
Corporations have been enthroned.... An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people...until wealth is aggregated in a few hands...and the Republic is destroyed. ...
The band-aid safety nets of the 1940s and 50s are unravelling and a new Gilded Age is upon us. The wealth gap is growing. Wages for nearly everyone have stagnated or are declining. Ever escalating land values push housing prices beyond the capacity of millions to secure adequate shelter. Worldwide, a billion people live in degrading destitution lacking basic needs. Local conflicts and global wars are waged for control of land and natural resources. Tax funds that could build a world that works for everyone instead are being directed to biochemical weapons research, building space laser weaponry, and neo-colonial warfare.Lindy Davies: Ownership and the Law
It has been said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes and that the power to tax is the power to create or destroy. The story of the birth of Jesus is on one level the story of a family on a long and onerous journey to pay taxes imposed by the Romans upon the people of the land. We urgently need to establish land tenure and tax policies based on the deepest wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition - a truth based on the perception of the unity of life, that all is created by God, and on the realization of the brotherhood and sisterhood of the one humanity. The privilege of holding large amounts of land or highly valuable land as individual private property needs to be a conditional, not an absolute right. For justice to prevail, the right to exclusive access to land must be granted only upon payment of full and fairly assessed land value taxes and resource rents.
We have at hand a powerful solution and a way to secure a world of peace and plenty. We need to constitute democratic governance on the firm foundation of equal rights to the land and resources of the earth, an "earth rights democracy" which removes the burden of taxes from the backs of those who labor and instead directs government to collect the value of our common wealth for the benefit of all. A morally correct form of taxation may not lead to everlasting life, but it WILL promote and sustain the conditions for lives worth living on planet earth. Read the whole article
President Bush's announcement of his vision for an "ownership society" met with thunderous cheers at the Republican Convention, and much eye-rolling elsewhere. The Bush Administration would like to start by encouraging private ownership of our retirement funds and our health-care decisions. They want to get the heavy hand of government out of such things and unleash the tremendous efficiency of millions upon millions of Self-Interested Individual Actors, the husky, brawling, broad-shouldered capitalism that made this country great. Prosperity depends on the security of private property and the potency of individual initiative! This is the self-evident truth that has been obscured by Hollywood Socialists, Democratic Girlie-men and purveyors of the Homosexual Agenda.
We should realize, however, that this is hardly a new initiative. It is really just the latest wave of an argument that has raged throughout the history of the United States, about just what -- if anything -- and on what basis -- if any -- the government can require us to surrender what we possess. There are some people out there -- and actually a fair number, after all -- who don't view the Bush Administration's privatization proposals as extremist at all -- but, rather, too soft. ...
Unfortunately, though, the law is not at all clear. Thomas Jefferson fudged the topic in the United States Declaration of Independence, inserting "the pursuit of happiness" where people expected the more loaded term "property". The Bill of Rights, however, is strong on property rights. It provides for security of "persons, houses, papers, and effects," that "private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation" and that rights not specifically prohibited are reserved to the states or to the people. In fact, the US Constitution was so bullish on property that it provided for private property in human beings, a principle made explicit in Dred Scott vs. Sandford and many other cases.
Slavery was made unconstitutional by means of the 13th Amendment in 1865. This, however, left much to be resolved, and the Congress had a very difficult job -- perhaps, in strictly logical terms, an impossible job -- in drafting Amendment number fourteen. ...
The 14th amendment reaffirms the rights of life, liberty and property, and binds the states to the same due process and equal protection restrictions as the federal government. However, it places the Constitution's first limit on the right of property, stating that the United States or any state shall not pay "any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave". This could be seen as somewhat fishy in terms of the Fifth Amendment. After all the 13th amendment had taken the slaveholders' property three years before. Had not the Supreme Court ruled that slaves were property and had to be returned to their owners, even if they escaped to non-slaveholding states?
Although it would have been impracticable (to say the least) to enforce the Takings Clause to the tune of the market value of some four million human beings, that was what the Constitution required the government to do. ...
The next amendment to the Constitution following the Reconstruction Amendments was another milestone in the debate over property rights. The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, allows Congress to “lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived” -- contravening the restriction of this practice that had been laid out in Article I. The “from whatever source derived” part has been making people scream bloody murder ever since. ...
The original advocates of the income tax (many of them Single Taxers) sought to tax accumulation, not industry and initiative. They saw that the massive concentration of wealth among a privileged few was harmful to the nation, and they persuaded the states to accept a progressive tax that would compel robber barons to pay for public goods while letting entrepreneurs gain from their contributions to overall prosperity. And yet, over the years, a tax on income “from whatever source derived” came, one loophole at a time, to be a tax on exactly those productive, hardworking, middle-class people that it was designed to help. ...
In most people's minds, after all, land is the most solid and important kind of property; in fact, the word "property" in general conversation most often means "land". However, it has long been recognized that sometimes privately-held land must be taken for public purposes. The principle of eminent domain is not (particularly) controversial. If the state wants to put a highway through your house, it must pay you the fair market value of your property. ...
This decision was important because it extended the Takings doctrine beyond physical seizure to the taking of value -- but it was also relatively uncontroversial in that the state legislature had removed all of the parcel's market value. ...
If government were to be held liable for every single action that took away a portion of real estate value, it could scarcely do anything at all. That might be how some of the most strident militia-folk would like it. However, it would certainly not suit real estate owners in general -- who, while they might not enjoy paying for government, do benefit from the things that government does.
What the property-rights folks are forgetting (or disregarding) is that if a piece of land has a market value, that means that the net benefits conferred upon it by the community (which includes the government) are greater than the net costs. Location value is far and away the most important component of land value -- and location value is almost entirely the result of services and infrastructure that the government provides. ...
It's no accident that the issue of "regulatory takings" is such a stew of contradictions. Indeed, the terms of the argument deny the possibility of coherence (in much the same way as they did in 1868). Land is not the fruit of human labor, and its value is not the result of any actions taken by its owner. Therefore, private property in land is an entirely different sort of phenomenon than private property in the products of labor -- and as long as the law fails to recognize this fact, it cannot hope to make sense of the issue of "regulatory takings". ...
It could be suggested that "the conditions of the grant" could, without doing any violence to the secure right of private property, require the payment to the community of the land's rental value, to cover the cost of the community's expenses which, it turn, provide the land's value in the first place. That would, of course, require a clearer definition of the moral basis of property that the United States has ever been able to come to. Yet -- think of it for a moment -- what would have happened if the original Bill of Rights had articulated the individual's absolute right to property only in the products of labor -- and the community's right to the community-created value of the land?
It would have saved us an awful lot of trouble. True, the "slavery" states would have balked at joining the union under those rules. But under them, the nation would have been so prosperous that they would quite soon have seen the advantage of joining. We would have avoided the Civil War, and probably even World War I -- it is dazzling to think about how different -- and vastly better -- our history would have been, had the Framers taken the brave step of setting forth the moral basis of property along these lines.
It's interesting that we use the word "own" to mean two different things: the sense of possession, and the sense of personal acknowledgment, as in "owning up" to one's responsibilities. The relationship between the two was once closer than it now seems to be; the word "ought" is an archaic past participle of "owe". As we consider how to arrange our "ownership society", we'd do well to remember what we "ought" -- and bring the two senses of the word back together. Read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Global Economic Justice, followed by Creating Global Economic Justice
The Functions of a Theory of Justice
What is the use of a theory of justice? A theory is an abstraction. By itself, it can't make anything happen. But when a theory of justice takes root in us, it modulates our emotional responses to distributive outcomes. If you should come to realize that the theory of justice to which you subscribe says that something you thought you wanted to do is unjust, you will find that course of action no longer so appealing. If you come to a new realization that justice is on your side, you are likely to feel emboldened and ready to persist despite obstructions.
If you should come to the realization that justice requires of you a course of action that you had not planned on, you will feel a pull in that direction, and if you do not follow through, you are likely to feel guilty. If your theory of justice informs you that another person is treated unjustly, even a stranger, you are likely to feel compassion for that person, and you may also feel a chivalrous impulse to take up that person's cause and seek redress of the injustice. It was because of feelings of injustice that slavery was abolished and women were granted the right to vote.
As the world shrinks, nations impinge upon one another in more and more ways, providing applications for a theory of justice among nations. ... Read the whole articleThe Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881)
Human Slavery Once Generally Accepted.
Slavery is found to have existed, as a social institution, in almost all nations, civilised as well as barbarous, and in every age of the world, up almost to our own times. We hardly ever find it in the state of a merely passing phenomenon, or as a purely temporary result of conquest or of war, but always as a settled, established and recognised state of social existence, in which generation followed generation in unbroken succession, and in which thousands upon thousands of human beings lived and died. Hardly anyone had the public spirit to question its character or to denounce its excesses; it had no struggle to make for its existence, and the degradation in which it held its unhappy victims was universally regarded as nothing worse than a mere sentimental grievance.
On the other hand, the justice of the right of property which a master claimed in his slaves was universally accepted in the light of a first principle of morality. His slaves were either born on his estate, and he had to submit to the labour and the cost of rearing and maintaining them to manhood, or he acquired them by inheritance or by free gift, or, failing these, he acquired them by the right of purchase -- having paid in exchange for them what, according to the usages of society and the common estimation of his countrymen, was regarded as their full pecuniary value. Property, therefore, in slaves was regarded as sacred, and as inviolable as any other species of property.
Even Christians Recognised Slavery.
So deeply rooted and so universally received was this conviction that the Christian religion itself, though it recognised no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between slave or freeman, cautiously abstained from denouncing slavery itself as an injustice or a wrong. It prudently tolerated this crying evil, because in the state of public feeling then existing, and at the low standard of enlightenment and intelligence then prevailing, it was simply impossible to remedy it.
Thus then had slavery come down almost to our own time as an established social institution, carrying with it the practical sanction and approval of ages and nations, and surrounded with a prestige of standing and general acceptance well calculated to recommend it to men's feelings and sympathies. And yet it was the embodiment of the most odious and cruel injustice that ever afflicted humanity. To claim a right of property in man was to lower a rational creature to the level of the beast of the field; it was a revolting and an unnatural degradation of the nobility of human nature itself.
That thousands upon thousands of human beings who had committed no crime, who had violated no law, and who had done no wrong to anyone, should be wantonly robbed of their liberty and freedom; should be deprived of the sacred and inalienable moral rights, which they could not voluntarily abdicate themselves; should be bought and sold, like cattle in the markets; and should be worked to death, or allowed to live on at the whim or caprice of their owner, was the last and most galling injustice which human nature could be called on to endure.
The World's Approval Cannot Justify Injustice.
To arrest public attention, and fix its gaze effectively on the intrinsic character and constitution of slavery, was to seal its doom; and its death knell was sounded in the indignant cry of the great statesman who "denied that man could hold property in man." Twenty millions of British money were paid over to the slave owners as compensation for the loss of property to which they had no just title, and slavery was abolished forever. Read the whole letter
Nic Tideman: Being Just While Conceptions of Justice are Changing
The paper argues that there are a variety of factors that attenuate claims for compensation and make a justifiable system of compensation so complex that it may be unworkable. But if there is to be a system of compensation, the one justifiable source of funds to finance it is assets that have been acquired by appropriating or buying land and then selling it. ...
The issue of compensation will be examined by considering some idealized cases, identifying the principles they exhibit, and then asking how those principles apply to the circumstances in which modern societies are likely to find themselves. ... Read the whole article
Constitutions must be amendable, to allow for the possibility of incorporating new moral insights into them. This impinges on the protection of expectations, including those regarded as property. Protection of property rights is achieved by constitutional restrictions on the ability of voters and legislators to reduce the value of property by regulation, taxation or expropriation. But such restrictions also prevent voters and legislatures from reflecting new moral insights in legislation, if those insights would reduce the value of property. There have been times in the past when moral development has compelled societies to change laws in ways that reduced the value of property (e.g., elimination of slavery). We cannot guarantee that there will be no future advances in our moral evolution that would require similar changes in laws, reducing or eliminating the value of what we now consider property. Looking forward to the possibility of such moral advances, we should design constitutions that permit amendments to reflect new moral insights, while prohibiting legislators (or voters in referenda) from passing laws that redistribute in ways not explicitly sanctioned by the constitution.
The Possibility of New Moral Insights that Necessitate Redistribution
Three hundred years ago virtually no one questioned the propriety of slavery. Even John Locke, that most articulate advocate of human freedom, invested in slaves. But over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, amid extreme controversy in some times and places, slavery was nearly eliminated from the world. With a bit of a lag, a consensus gradually evolved among humanity that slavery was wrong, indeed that no distinctions in civil rights based on race could be justified.
Two hundred years ago almost no one thought that women should be allowed to vote. Amid extreme controversy in some times and places, they were granted voting rights. Now virtually no one argues that women should be denied any rights that men have. We have not yet arrived at a consensus about what equality of the sexes means, but we are near a consensus that we should strive for it. ...
The next point to be made is that it would not be reasonable to expect constitutional changes that reflect new moral understandings to be made as approximate Pareto improvements. It would have been possible to end slavery in a way that made almost no one noticeably worse off as compared to their expected utilities under slavery. It would merely have been necessary to declare the slaves free, provided that they made reasonable progress on paying debts to their former masters equal to their market value as slaves, and that they used their first earnings to buy insurance policies that would compensate their former masters in the event that they died or became incapacitated before they finished paying the debts. But such an end to slavery would never have satisfied the impulse that pushed for its abolition.
Ending slavery was not an issue of economic efficiency or voter preferences. Slavery needed to be ended because so many people could not in good conscience participate in a legal system that enforced slavery. If slavery was wrong, there was no basis for requiring persons subjected to slavery to purchase their freedom. They had to be recognized as unconditionally free. Others would need to bear the loss from the fact that those formerly recognized as the owners of slaves would no longer be allowed to appropriate the product of slave labor. Who should bear the loss?
In addressing this question, it is helpful to employ ideas from the theory of accidents. We now see that the perpetuation of slavery was a moral accident. To reduce the likelihood of future moral accidents, it is sensible to assign the costs of accidents to some or all of the persons who could have prevented them. Costs might also reasonably be assigned to anyone who benefitted from the accidents. Among the prominent candidates for bearing the cost would be those who captured people and sold them into slavery, those who bought, sold and transported slaves, those who held slaves, those who passed and enforced laws perpetuating slavery, those who bought products produced with slave labor, those who sold goods to persons involved in the selling or holding of slaves, etc. Anyone who received an inheritance derived from slavery could be called upon to relinquish it as well. Emphatically not on the list are the slaves themselves and any person who came of age without an inheritance after slavery ended. They did not cause slavery. Thus it was wrong of Britain, in ending slavery in the 1830s, to compensate those who were historically regarded as the owners of slaves with funds from general revenues, and with a rule permitting them to work the slaves for a few more years, during which many slaves were worked to death.
There are particular advantages to assigning the cost of the end of slavery to those who thought of themselves as slave owners. It is administratively more efficient than other possibilities, because in means leaving the costs where they fall. More importantly, the idea that slavery might be seen to be wrong, and that then the costs of ending slavery might be left where the fall, provides a continuing incentive for those involved in slavery to cease.
Contrary arguments can be made. ... Read the whole articleNic Tideman: The Case for Taxing Land
I. Taxing Land as Ethics and EfficiencyNic Tideman: The Shape of a World Inspired by Henry George
II. What is Land?
III. The simple efficiency argument for taxing land
IV. Taxing Land is Better Than Neutral
V. Measuring the Economic Gains from Shifting Taxes to Land
VI. The Ethical Case for Taxing Land
VII. Answer to Arguments against Taxing Land
There is a case for taxing land based on ethical principles and a case for taxing land based on efficiency principles. As a matter of logic, these two cases are separate. Ethical conclusions follow from ethical premises and efficiency conclusions from efficiency principles. However, it is natural for human minds to conflate the two cases. It is easier to believe that something is good if one knows that it is efficient, and it is easier to see that something is efficient if one believes that it is good. Therefore it is important for a discussion of land taxation to address both question of efficiency and questions of ethics.
This monograph will first address the efficiency case for taxing land, because that is the less controversial case. The efficiency case for taxing land has two main parts. ...
To estimate the magnitudes of the impacts that additional taxes on land would have on an economy, one must have a model of the economy. I report on estimates of the magnitudes of impacts on the U.S. economy of shifting taxes to land, based on a mathematical model that is outlined in the Appendix.
The ethical case for taxing land is based on two ethical premises: ...
The ethical case for taxing land ends with a discussion of the reasons why recognition of the equal rights of all to land may be essential for world peace.
After developing the efficiency argument and the ethical argument for taxing land, I consider a variety of counter-arguments that have been offered against taxing land. For a given level of other taxes, a rise in the rate at which land is taxed causes a fall in the selling price of land. It is sometimes argued that only modest taxes on land are therefore feasible, because as the rate of taxation on land increases and the selling price of land falls, market transactions become increasingly less reliable as indicators of the value of land. ...
Another basis on which it is argued that greatly increased taxes on land are infeasible is that if land values were to fall precipitously, the financial system would collapse. ...
Apart from questions of feasibility, it is sometimes argued that erosion of land values from taxing land would harm economic efficiency, because it would reduce opportunities for entrepreneurs to use land as collateral for loans to finance their ideas. ...
Another ethical argument that is made against taxing land is that the return to unusual ability is “rent” just as the return to land is rent. ...
But before developing any of these arguments, I must discuss what land is. ...
The Ethical Case for Taxing Land
The ethical case for taxing land is based on two premises. The first is that people have rights to themselves. This has not been controversial since the end of slavery, so I will simply assume that this is agreed. The second premise is that all people have equal rights to natural opportunities. This is not so widely agreed.
Natural opportunities include not only land, but also water, fish in oceans and rivers, the frequency spectrum, minerals, virgin forests, and geosynchronous orbits. Some natural opportunities, such as the opportunity to use the oceans for transport, are most valuable to people when all are allowed to use them as they wish. (This does not imply that their value is greatest when all can pollute as they wish.) Other natural opportunities, such as most plots of land, are most valuable when one person has exclusive use of them. ... Read the whole article
I. Social Justice as the Climax and Logical Foundation of Progress and Poverty
II. The Functions of a Theory of Justice
III. Applying George's Theory of Justice to Land Rights Among Nations
IV. Applying George's Theory of Justice to Some Other Connections Among Nations
V. Differences in Ability and in Wealth
VI. Resources that Fluctuate over Time
VII. Justice Among Nations with Respect to Population Growth
VIII. What to Do When Some Nations Fail to Fulfill Their Obligations
IX. Justice Within Nations
How would the world look if its political institutions were shaped by the conception of social justice advanced by Henry George?
Henry George was one of the most famous reformers of the late 19th century. Ever since the 1879 publication of his book, Progress and Poverty, his ideas have inspired people working for economic and social reform all around the world. He is most famous for proposing the abolition of all taxes except for a tax on the value of land. But I will argue that the single tax on land was not George's most important contribution, and that the power of his thinking can be best appreciated by focusing on the theory of social justice that he used to explain why a single tax on land is just.
First I will argue that George's theory of social justice provides the dramatic climax as well as the logical foundation of Progress and Poverty.
Next, I will discuss the functions of a theory of justice.
Then I will address the question of what George's theory of social justice implies for relations among nations.
Finally, I will ask what constitutes justice within nations, in a world where relations among nations are governed by George's theory of social justice. ...
I. Social Justice as the Climax and Logical Foundation of Progress and Poverty
While George wrote a number of books -- the precise number depends on how you count -- the most powerful statement of his ideas is Progress and Poverty, a volume that he divided into ten Books.
I believe that the most significant lasting impact of Progress and Poverty will come from the conception of justice in Chapter 1 of Book VII, a chapter titled "The Injustice of Private Property in Land." From a dramatic perspective, this chapter is the cenptral component of the climax of the work.
The climax begins with the second of the two chapters of Book VI. In the first chapter of Book VI, George analyzes six different proposed remedies for persistent poverty and explains why they are inadequate. In the second chapter, which consists of just three pages, he asserts that the only effective remedy for the relief of poverty and the unacceptable distribution of wealth is to "make land common property."
George's choice of words here may have been unnecessarily inflammatory.
When people see this phrase, they generally presume that George was proposing public ownership of land. In fact he rejected public ownership of land. What he actually meant was that we must recognize that land is everyone's common heritage, and we must develop institutions that reflect this. In any case, he recognized that his assertion would sound outrageous to many of his readers, and he promises to defend it:
The laws of the universe are harmonious. And if the remedy to which we have been led is the true one, it must be consistent with justice; it must be practical of application; it must accord with the tendencies of social development and must harmonize with other reforms.
Accordingly, Book VII is concerned with the justice of making land common property, Book VIII deals with the method and practicality of making land common property -- not by public ownership of land, but by abolishing other taxes and financing government by public collection of the rent of land, and Book IX explores economic consequences of this remedy.
The first chapter of Book VII thus plays the crucial role of overcoming the reader's inclination toward knee-jerk rejection of George's startling idea. And George is prepared with a theory of justice in powerful language:
What constitutes the rightful basis of property? What is it that enables a man justly to say of a thing, "It is mine!" From what springs the sentiment which acknowledges his exclusive right against all the world? Is it not, primarily, the right of a man to himself, to the use of his own powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions? Is it not this individual right, which springs from and is testified to by the natural facts of individual organization --the fact that each particular pair of hands obey a particular brain and are related to a particular stomach; the fact that each man is a definite, coherent, independent whole--which alone justifies individual ownership? As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete form belongs to him.
George then argues that if ownership is derived from labor, then no one can own land, since no one produced it:
This right of ownership that springs from labor excludes the possibility of any other right of ownership. If a man be rightfully entitled to the produce of his own labor, then no one can be rightfully entitled to the ownership of anything which is not the produce of his labor, or the labor of someone else from whom the right has passed to him. If production give to the producer the right to exclusive possession and enjoyment, there can rightfully be no exclusive possession and enjoyment of anything not the production of labor, and the recognition of private property in land is a wrong.
If we are all here by the equal permission of the creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty -- with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers. This is a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others. There is in nature no such thing as a fee simple in land. There is on earth no power which can rightfully make a grant of exclusive ownership in land. If all existing men were to unite to grant away their equal rights, they could not grant away the right of those who follow them.
To summarize George's rights-based theory of justice: Each person has an exclusive right to his or her productive powers. We understand this intuitively, and on this basis accept the idea that people own what they produce. But if this is what ownership means, then no one can claim to own land, since no one produced it. People do have rights to the productive opportunities that nature offers, which are here for our use, but the rights of each person are limited by the equal rights of all other persons.
A careful analyst might object that there are some logical gaps in George's theory of justice. Logically, a right of ownership of things based on the right of each person to his or her productive powers does not preclude a right of ownership of natural opportunities on some other basis. We could mean by ownership only those rights that are derived from the right of each person to his or her productive powers, but we could also mean something broader and more complex.
The easiest way to repair this gap in George's theory is to specify that rather than having just one axiom, that each person has a right to his or her productive powers, he actually has two, the second one being that all persons have equal rights to natural opportunities.
A second logical gap occurs when George asserts that because people have rights to their productive powers, they own what they produce. This would follow only if they also had rights to the natural opportunities that they appropriate in the process of production. It is possible that the natural resources component of what a person produces is more than his share, considering the equal rights of everyone to all that nature offers. This caveat can be conceded without jeopardizing the two axioms, that each person has an exclusive right to his or her productive powers, and all persons have equal rights to the productive opportunities that nature offers.
This pair of axioms is the logical starting point of George's ideas. His proposal for the abolition of all taxes except a tax on land is a consequence that follows from them. Coercive taxes on the act of producing or on income from productive effort are unjust because people have rights to their productive powers. On the other hand, taxes on the rental value that land would have if it were not improved are not unjust, since this value is not produced by human effort. Support of government spending from this source is a convenient way of giving expression to the equal rights of all to natural opportunities. ...
V. Differences in Ability and in Wealth
Suppose that a nation appropriates only its share of natural opportunities but is richer than other nations because its citizens are, on average, more highly talented or harder working than the citizens of other nations. Does justice require the richer nation to compensate the others? By Henry George's theory of social justice, definitely not! Each person has an exclusive right to his or her productive powers. Therefore the nation as a whole has a right to the product of its citizens' talents, no matter how greatly this product exceeds that of the citizens of other nations. The citizens of a rich nation may feel compassion for those who are poorer than themselves, and therefore contribute to poor nations as a matter of charity, but justice does not compel them to do so.
What about a greater income that arise from greater wealth? This requires more elaborate analysis. When greater wealth is the result of greater saving from the product of talent or from the product of a nation's share of natural opportunities, then a nation with greater wealth is fully entitled to the greater income that comes from it. However, when greater wealth is the result of a history of theft or of unjustifiably large appropriations from the natural opportunities that are everyone's common heritage, then the nation that possesses that wealth cannot rightly claim either the income from the wealth or the wealth itself.
To achieve justice, the wrongful appropriations must be rectified. The unjustly acquired wealth must be restored from those from whom it was taken, or if that is not possible, shared among all nations. To the extent that persons who are still alive received past income from this wealth, that income must be disgorged.
When George addressed this issue in Progress and Poverty, he suggested that all such past misappropriations be forgiven, that the generation whom he addressed be content to receive their shares of future rent. But the desirability of such a policy is a matter that the dispossessed of any era must decide for themselves. Justice does not require them to forego such rectification. ...
Only if we have a standard of justice that is independent of history can we expect to end such actions. Henry George's theory of economic justice -- that every persons his a right to his or her productive powers, and that all persons have equal rights to all natural opportunities -- provides a simple formula around which opinion about the shape of a peaceful world can coalesce. This may seem hopelessly optimistic. But no other theory that I have seen has anything like the clarity, coherence and power of this theory.
The theory needs a simple name. I suggest calling this theory, this perspective on social justice the Geoliberal perspective. Liberal for its commitment to individual liberty. Geo- for its attention to land, for its planetary perspective, and for its reliance on the ideas of George. If you like these ideas, I invite you call yourself a geoliberal. I invite you to help me work out its implications, to explain geoliberalism to others, and develop a public dialogue about its value and implications. As Henry George said, "Until there be correct thought, there cannot be right action; and when there is correct thought, right action WILL follow." Read the whole articleHenry George: The Land for the People (1889 speech)
... It is not a local matter, it is a worldwide matter. It is not a matter than interests merely the people of Ireland, the people of England and Scotland or of any other country in particular, but it is a matter that interests the whole world. What we are battling for is the freedom of mankind; what we are struggling for is for the abolition of that industrial slavery which as mud enslaves men as did chattel slavery. It will not take the sword to win it. There is a power far stronger than the sword and that is the power of public opinion. When the masses of men know what hurts them and how it can be cured when they know what to demand, and to make their demand heard and felt, they will have it and no power on earth can prevent them What enslaves men everywhere is ignorance and prejudice.
If we were to go to that island that we imagined, and if you were fools enough to admit that the land belonged to me, I would be your master, and you would be my slaves just as thoroughly, just as completely, as if I owned your bodies, for all I would have to do to send you out of existence would be to say to you "get off my property." That is the cause of the industrial slavery that exists all over the world, that is the cause of the low wages, that is the cause of the unemployed labor.
HOW can you remedy it? Only by going to first principles. only by asserting the natural rights of man. ... Read the whole speechHenry George: How to Help the Unemployed (1894)
"Scarcity of employment" is a comparatively new complaint in the United States. In our earlier times it was never heard of or thought of. There was "scarcity of employment " in Europe, but on this side of the Atlantic the trouble -- so it was deemed by a certain class -- was "scarcity of labor." It was because of this "scarcity of labor " that negroes were imported from Africa and indentured apprentices from the Old Country, that men who could not pay their passage sold their labor for a term of years to get here, and that that great stream of immigration from the Old World that has done so much to settle this continent set in. Now, why was there "scarcity of employment" on one side of the Atlantic and "scarcity of labor" on the other? What was the cause of this difference, of which all other social and political differences were but consequences? Adam Smith saw it, and in his "Wealth of Nations" states it, but it did not need an Adam Smith for that, as everyone who knew anything of the two countries knew it. It was, that in this country land was cheap and easy to get, while in Europe land was dear and hard to get. Land has been steadily growing dear in the United States, and as a consequence we hear no longer of "scarcity of labor." We hear now of "scarcity of employment."
In the first quarter of this century an educated and thoughtful Englishman, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, visited this country. He saw its great resources, and noted the differences between the English-speaking society growing up here and that to which he had been used. Viewing everything from the standpoint of a class accustomed to look on the rest of mankind as created for their benefit, 'what he deemed the great social and economic disadvantage of the United States was "the scarcity of labor." It was to this he traced the rudeness of even what he styled the upper class, its want of those refinements, enjoyments, and delicacies of life common to the aristocracy of England. How could an English gentleman emigrate to a country where labor was so dear that he might actually have to black his own boots; so dear that even the capitalist might have to work, and no one could count on a constant supply ready to accept as a boon any opportunity to perform the most menial, degrading, and repulsive services? Mr. Wakefield was not a man to note facts without seeking their connection. He saw that this "scarcity of labor" came from the cheapness of land where the vast area of the public domain was open for settlement at nominal prices. A man of his class and time, without the slightest question that land was made to be owned by landlords, and laborers were made to furnish a supply of labor for the upper classes, he was yet a man of imagination. He saw the future before the English-speaking race in building up new nations in what were yet the waste spaces of the earth. But he wished those new nations to be socially, politically, and economically newer Englands; not to be settled as the United States had been, from the "lower classes" alone, but to contain from the first a proper proportion of the "upper classes" as well. He saw that "scarcity of employment" would in time succeed "scarcity of labor" even in countries like the United States by the growth of speculation in land; but he did not want to wait for that in the newer Britains which his imagination pictured. He proposed at once to produce such salutary "scarcity of employment " in new colonies as would give cheap and abundant labor, by a governmental refusal to sell public land, save at a price so high as to prevent the poorer from getting land, thus compelling them to offer their labor for hire.
This was the essential part of what was once well known as the Wakefield plan of colonization. It is founded on a correct theory. In any country, however new and vast, it would be possible to change "scarcity of labor" into "scarcity of employment" by increasing the price put on the use of land. If three families settled a virgin continent, one family could command the services of the others as laborers for hire just as fully as though they were its chattel slaves, if it was accorded the ownership of the land and could put its own price on its use. Wakefield proposed only that land should be held at what he called "a sufficient price" -- that is, a price high enough to keep wages in new colonies only a little higher than wages in the mother-country, and to produce not actual inability to get employment on the part of laborers, but only such difficulty as would keep them tractable, and ready to accept what from his standpoint were reasonable wages. Yet it is evident that it would only require a somewhat greater increase in the price of land to go beyond this point and to bring about in the midst of abundant natural opportunities for the employment of labor, the phenomena of laborers vainly seeking employment. Now, in the United States we have not attempted to create "scarcity of employment" by Wakefield's plan. But we have made haste by sale and gift to put the public domain in the hands of private owners, and thus allowed speculation to bring about more quickly and effectually than he could have anticipated, more than Wakefield aimed at. The public domain is now practically gone; land is rising to European prices, and we are at last face to face with social difficulties which in the youth of men of my time we were wont to associate with "the effete monarchies of the Old World." Today, as the last census reports show, the majority of American farmers are rack-rented tenants, or hold under mortgage, the first form of tenancy; and the great majority of our people are landless men, without right to employ their own labor and without stake in the land they still foolishly speak of as their country. This is the reason why the army of the unemployed has appeared among us, why by pauperism has already become chronic, and why in the tramp we have in more dangerous type the proletarian of ancient Rome. Read the entire article
Henry George: Concentrations of Wealth Harm America (excerpt from Social Problems) (1883)
The rise in the United States of monstrous fortunes, the aggregation of enormous wealth in the hands of corporations, necessarily implies, the loss by the people of governmental control. Democratic forms may be maintained, but there can be as much tyranny and misgovemment under democratic forms as any other -- in fact, they lend themselves most readily to tyranny and misgovernment. Forms count for little. The Romans expelled their kings, and continued to abhor the very name of king. But under the name of Caesars and Imperators, that at first meant no more than our "Boss," they crouched before tyrants more absolute than kings. We have already, under the popular name of "bosses," developed political Caesars in municipalities and states. If this development continues, in time there will come a national boss. We are young; but we are growing. The day may arrive when the "Boss of America" will be to the modem world what Caesar was to the Roman world. This, at least, is certain: Democratic government in more than name can exist only where wealth is distributed with something like equality -- where the great mass of citizens are personally free and independent, neither fettered by their poverty nor made subject by their wealth. There is, after all, some sense in a property qualification. The man who is dependent on a master for his living is not a free man. To give the suffrage to slaves is only to give votes to their owners. That universal suffrage may add to, instead of decreasing, the political power of wealth we see when mill-owners and mine operators vote their hands. The freedom to earn, without fear or favor, a comfortable living, ought to go with the freedom to vote. Thus alone can a sound basis for republican institutions be secured. How can a man be said to have a country where he has no right to a square inch of soil; where he has nothing but his hands, and, urged by starvation, must bid against his fellows for the privilege of using them? When it comes to voting tramps, some principle has been carried to a ridiculous and dangerous extreme. I have known elections to be decided by the carting of paupers from the almshouse to the polls. But such decisions can scarcely be in the interest of good government.
Beneath all political problems lies the social problem of the distribution of wealth. This our people do not generally recognize, and they listen to quacks who propose to cure the symptoms without touching the disease. "Let us elect good men to office," say the quacks. Yes; let us catch little birds by sprinkling salt on their tails! ... Read the entire article
Henry George: Moses, Apostle of Freedom (1878 speech)
In the full blaze of the nineteenth century, when every child in our schools may know as common truths things of which the Egyptian sages never dreamed; when the earth has been mapped and the stars have been weighed; when steam and electricity have been pressed into our service, and science is wresting from nature secret after secret – it is but natural to look back upon the wisdom of three thousand years ago as an adult looks back upon the learning of a child.
And yet, for all this wonderful increase of knowledge, for all this enormous gain of productive power, where is the country in the civilised world in which today there is not want and suffering – where the masses are not condemned to toil that gives no leisure, and all classes are not pursued by a greed of gain that makes life an ignoble struggle to get and to keep? Three thousands years of advances, and still the moan goes up: "They have made our lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service!" Three thousand years of advances! and the piteous voices of little children are in the moan.
Over ocean wastes far wider than the Syrian desert we have sought our promised land – no narrow strip between the mountains and the sea, but a wide and virgin continent. Here, in greater freedom, with vaster knowledge and fuller experience, we are building up a nation that leads the van of modern progress. And yet while we prate of the rights of humanity there are already many among us thousands who find it difficult to assert the first of natural rights – the right to earn an honest living; thousands who from time to time must accept of degrading charity or starve.
We boast of equality before the law; yet notoriously justice is deaf to the call of those who have no gold and blind to the sin of those who have. ... read the whole speechBill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
Hence it becomes important, critically important, to understand the meaning of “ownership” and “property” in the Georgist lexicon. But it is not difficult, for they continue to have their classical meanings, just as for John Locke, Adam Smith, and all the major forerunners and thinkers of classical economics until the advent of neoclassical economics. What was the meaning of ownership and property in their classical sense? Property was the product of human labor and capital, and that alone. Items of property were household goods, personal attire, armaments, and similar such goods. Property belonged in the category of capital. Land was not part of property, but rather was its own category. Land, broadly defined, belonged to everyone and was the common heritage of all humanity.15 One could no more “own” land than one could own water, air, or other parts of nature, at least in the sense of ownership that people often use today. Much like the native-American concept of ownership, it was part of what was classically called “the commons.” 16 “What is this you call property?” Massasoit, a leader of the Wampanoag, asked the Plymouth colonists whom he had befriended in the 1620s. “It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish, and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs to him?” 17 Indeed Georgists see a moral equivalency between monopoly ownership of land and nature and the ownership of slaves! ... read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper