Wealth and Want
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The Great Paradox
  • Why are salaries in new countries always higher than in old ones?
  • Why do progress and poverty not only appear together, but also drift farther and farther apart?
  • Why are public as well as private charity impotent in solving the problem with any permanence?
  • Why do beggars, tramps and prostitutes cluster around millionaires' districts?

Many of us wonder about these things, but have given up thinking it might be possible to change these "facts of life." But they aren't immutable, if we come to understand the underlying cause.

You've come to the right website. Keep reading!

Karl Williams:  Social Justice In Australia: INTRODUCTORY KIT

In broadening one's understanding of Geonomics, the newcomer repeatedly encounters the name of Henry George. Since George did not discover Geonomics (but rather rediscovered it quite independently), why is his name so prominent?

Firstly, George's writings enlarged Geonomics - its details and full consequences - far more than any single person before or since. Secondly, his persuasiveness and sheer character popularised these reforms enormously, building up a sweeping tide of millions in the late 1800s. Thirdly, George's concepts were clearly a living, integral part of his being, and his writings are better understood with the understanding of his peculiar personal surroundings.

But there's one more reason - George's remarkable life. The singular uniqueness of George's life and training, bizarre as compared to the biographies of other thinkers, must be grasped by anyone interested in his ideas. It is certainly unusual for a noted philosopher to have been a sailor and a printer, a journalist, tramp, worldwide lecturer and political candidate.

In the goldfields of California and British Columbia, George had the unique opportunity of studying the formation of a civilization - the change of an encampment into a thriving metropolis. He saw towns of tents and mud change into fine cities of paved streets and decent housing, with tramways and buses. And as he saw the appearance of wealth, he noted the first appearance of real poverty. He saw human degradation forming as an integral part of the rise of leisure and prosperity, and he felt compelled to discover the cause of this awful paradox.

Born in Philadelphia in 1839, George broke away from his restrictive family at the earliest opportunity, sailing the world at the age of 16. His restless and ever-inquisitive nature took him to the west coast where, after a spell in the goldfields of Canada, he based himself in San Francisco. From a type-setter he became a newspaper editor, and was soon churning out fierce condemnations of the social problems of his day. In particular he became a strong critic of mining interests, political corruption and land speculation.

But it was a visit to New York which really galvanised his reformist resolve, where he was shocked by the co-existence of wealth and poverty. The result was the book Progress and Poverty in 1879, which is the all-time bestseller on economics and, in its day, was the most widely-read English book in the world after the bible. In a nutshell, his fundamental remedy for poverty was a tax/rental levied on the value of land exclusive of improvements, and the simultaneous abolition of all taxes which fall upon industry and thrift.

Despite his growing public profile and his reputation as a magnetic public speaker, George never had (or cared for) personal wealth. In fact, his early years of dire poverty - to the point of starvation for himself and his young family - were major character-builders. Even during the height of his much-acclaimed world lecture tours, he never forgot his roots and what he saw as his calling. A passage from a poem by Louis Untermeyer has been said to well reflect George's sentiments:

    Open my ears to music; let
    Me thrill with Spring's first flutes and drums -
    But never let me dare forget
    The bitter ballads of the slums.

    Open my eyes to visions girt
    With beauty, and with wonder lit -
    But let me always see the dirt,
    And all that spawn and die in it.

George ran for mayor of New York in 1886 and was nearly elected. He died in 1897 at the height of his second campaign for mayor of New York. During his lifetime, he became the third most famous man in the United States, only surpassed in public acclaim by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain (himself an outspoken supporter of Georgist economics). Leo Tolstoy's appreciation stressed the logic of George's exposition: "The chief weapon against the teaching of Henry George was that which is always used against irrefutable and self-evident truths. This method, which is still being applied in relation to George, was that of hushing up."

His ideas stand: he who makes should have; he who saves should enjoy; what the community produces belongs to the community for communal uses; and God's earth, all of it, is the right of the people who inhabit the earth.  Read the entire article

Karl Williams:  Social Justice In Australia: ADVANCED KIT
"We ought to tax all idle land the way Henry George said - tax it heavily so that its owners have to make it productive." - Henry Ford, (1863 - 1947)
"I believe that Henry George was one of those really great thinkers produced by our country." - Franklin D. Roosevelt, (1882 - 1945)

Beyond knowing that Henry George had all the experience he needed in terms of poverty, odd-jobbing, writing and publishing, the life of this man of vision can be read elsewhere. On finding himself out of work in Philadelphia, he followed the trail of the forty-niners to San Francisco. Two expeditions in search of gold produced nothing but hunger and disappointment.

For a long time an idea was turning over in his head.
  • Why are salaries in new countries always higher than in old ones?
  • Why do progress and poverty not only appear together, but also drift farther and farther apart?
  • Why are public as well as private charity impotent in solving the problem with any permanence?
  • Why do beggars, tramps and prostitutes cluster around millionaires' districts?
In San Francisco he had seen the growth of progress together with poverty. A trip to New York showed him the process in its full maturity. The shocking contrast between the most bare-faced opulence with the most abject squalor turned into an obsession the need to find an answer to the old question.

But he did not find that answer in New York. He found it in San Francisco a few months later. During a horse ride in the hills east of the city he dismounted to let the animal rest. Just to start conversation he asked a teamster what the value of land was in the district. "I don't know," answered the man, "but there is a man over there asking 1000 dollars for an acre." What was happening "over there" for an acre of land to be worth a fortune in the California of 1869?

The transcontinental railway was about to arrive. The land value throughout Oakland was being catapulted to the stars with speculators vying with each other to secure land titles before the arrival of those who would need land to live and work.

In a flash, George understood. Land value increases with the increase in population, and those who needed land had to pay for the privilege of using it. But the land is the primary source of all that human beings need to live. If there is such a thing as a universal right to life, there must also be a universal right to the Global Commons necessary for life. He who owns ends up controlling the destiny of him who works. Words like "republicanism" or "democracy" may be high-sounding, but empty.

The remedy suggests itself. To restore the control of land to those who use it, it is enough to take the rent of it as a social charge with which to defray public expenditure. The rent of land, instead of ending up in private pockets, would pay for defence, administration and the social services. Put it another way, let whoever occupies land pay in proportion to the quantity and quality of value subtracted from the common resources of nature, not for value added on them by his/her own exertion. And let all receive the value of those resources in the form of public services. Nobody would thus be defrauded of the fruits of their labour, and the load of taxation would cease to fall on production.

There was nothing new in that flash of understanding. He had independently arrived at the conclusions of feudalism, of Quesnay and of Turgot, without having ever heard of the three.

He began studying and writing. In 1879, at 40, he finished Progress and Poverty. The book is still in print, by far outselling all the works of Marx put together and has been translated into the major world languages.

In the 1880s and 1890s Henry George had captivated much of the English-speaking world with his books and hundreds of public speeches. The merit of Henry George is therefore not originality but an uncommon clear argument backed by a polished expression that makes of the book a classic of both economics and literature. Why is its author then not better known? Because he championed the efficiency of Land Value Taxation so well and identified the underlying cause of social injustice so successfully that he had to be stopped.

And he was stopped, by the so-called neo-classical economists bankrolled by vested interests. ...   Read the entire article

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