Lead us not into temptation ... don't let us be tempted to take
from our neighbor — poor or rich — that which is rightly his:
that which he created through his labor — that from which he earns
his living. Similarly, don't let us be tempted to allow individuals or corporations
property of the commons: the value of the land and the natural creation,
and the value of the social surplus.
When we straighten out our incentives, and
stop allowing some of us to steal from others, a lot of our most
serious social, economic and justice problems will evaporate.
As to what constitutes robbery, it is, we will both agree, the taking or
withholding from another of that which rightfully belongs to him. That which
rightfully belongs to him, be it observed, not that which legally belongs
to him. ...
The repetition of a wrong may dull the moral sense, but will not make it
right. A robbery is no less a robbery the thousand millionth time it is committed
than it was the first time.
— Henry George, Property in Land
Seems to me that a “right” is something everyone should have,
like life, liberty, free speech, rewards of working and saving. A privilege
is something A can only have by depriving B et al. Those with privileges
have sought to expand the meaning of “right” to include their
— Mason Gaffney (correspondence, May, 2006)
A house and the lot on which it stands are alike property, as being
the subject of ownership, and are alike classed by the lawyers as real
estate. Yet in nature and relations they differ widely.
The one is produced by human labor,
and belongs to the class in political economy styled wealth.
The other is a part of nature, and
belongs to the class in political economy styled land.
The essential character of the one class of things is that they embody
labor, are brought into being by human exertion, their existence or nonexistence,
their increase or diminution, depending on man. The essential character
of the other class of things is that they do not embody labor, and exist
irrespective of human exertion and irrespective of man; they are the
field or environment in which man finds himself; the storehouse from
which his needs must be supplied, the raw material upon which and the
forces with which alone his labor can act.
The moment this distinction is realized, that moment is it seen that
the sanction which natural justice gives to one species of property is
denied to the other.
For as labor cannot produce without the use of land, the denial of the
equal right to the use of land is necessarily the denial of the right
of labor to its own produce. If one man can command the land upon which
others must labor, he can appropriate the produce of their labor as the
price of his permission to labor. The fundamental law of nature, that
her enjoyment by man shall be consequent upon his exertion, is thus violated.
The one receives without producing; the others produce without receiving.
The one is unjustly enriched; the others are robbed. ... read
the whole chapter
But great as they thus appear, the advantages of a transference of all public
burdens to a tax upon the value of land cannot be fully appreciated until
we consider the effect upon the distribution of wealth.
Tracing out the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth which appears
in all civilized countries, with a constant tendency to greater and greater
inequality as material progress goes on, we have found it in the fact that,
as civilization advances, the ownership of land, now in private hands, gives
a greater and greater power of appropriating the wealth produced by labor
Thus, to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and indirect,
and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it went, to counteract
this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far as to take in taxation
the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would be totally destroyed. Rent,
instead of causing inequality, as now, would then promote equality. Labor
and capital would then receive the whole produce, minus that portion taken
by the state in the taxation of land values, which, being applied to public
purposes, would be equally distributed in public benefits.
That is to say, the wealth produced in every community would be divided
into two portions.
- One part would be distributed in wages and interest between individual
producers, according to the part each had taken in the work of production;
- the other part would go to the community as a whole, to be distributed
in public benefits to all its members.
In this all would share equally — the weak with the strong, young
children and decrepit old men, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, as well
as the vigorous. And justly so — for while one part represents
the result of individual effort in production, the other represents the
power with which the community as a whole aids the individual.
Thus, as material progress tends to increase rent, were rent taken by the
community for common purposes the very cause which now tends to produce inequality
as material progress goes on would then tend to produce greater and greater
Who can say to what infinite powers the wealth-producing capacity of labor
may not be raised by social adjustments which will give to the producers
of wealth their fair proportion of its advantages and enjoyments! With present
processes the gain would be simply incalculable, but just as wages are high,
so do the invention and utilization of improved processes and machinery go
on with greater rapidity and ease.
But I shall not deny, and do not wish to lose sight of the fact, that
while thus preventing waste and thus adding to the efficiency of labor,
in the distribution of wealth that would result from the simple plan
of taxation that I propose, must lessen the intensity with which wealth
is pursued. It
seems to me that in a condition of society in which no one need fear
poverty, no one would desire great wealth — at least, no one would
take the trouble to strive and to strain for it as men do now. For, certainly,
spectacle of men who have only a few years to live, slaving away their
time for the sake of dying rich, is in itself so unnatural and absurd,
a state of society where the abolition of the fear of want had dissipated
the envious admiration with which the masses of men now regard the possession
of great riches, whoever would toil to acquire more than he cared to
use would be looked upon as we would now look on a man who would thatch
with half a dozen hats.
And though this incentive to production be withdrawn, can we not spare it?
Whatever may have been its office in an earlier stage of development, it
is not needed now. The dangers that menace our civilization do not come from
the weakness of the springs of production. What it suffers from, and what,
if a remedy be not applied, it must die from, is unequal distribution!
Nor would the removal of this incentive, regarded only from the standpoint
of production, be an unmixed loss. For, that the aggregate of production
is greatly reduced by the greed with which riches are pursued, is one of
the most obtrusive facts of modern society. While, were this insane desire
to get rich at any cost lessened, mental activities now devoted to scraping
together riches would be translated into far higher spheres of usefulness.
... read the whole chapter
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum
As to the right of ownership, we hold: That —
Being created individuals, with individual wants and powers, men are individually
entitled (subject of course to the moral obligations that arise from such
relations as that of the family) to the use of their own powers and the
enjoyment of the results. There thus arises, anterior to human law, and
deriving its validity from the law of God, a right of private ownership
in things produced by labor — a right that the possessor may transfer,
but of which to deprive him without his will is theft.
This right of property, originating in the right of the individual to
himself, is the only full and complete right of property. It attaches to
things produced by labor, but cannot attach to things created by God.
Thus, if a man take a fish from the ocean he acquires a right of property
in that fish, which exclusive right he may transfer by sale or gift. But
he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the ocean, so that he may
sell it or give it or forbid others to use it.
Or, if he set up a windmill he acquires a right of property in the things
such use of wind enables him to produce. But he cannot claim a right of
property in the wind itself, so that he may sell it or forbid others to
Or, if he cultivate grain he acquires a right of property in the grain
his labor brings forth. But he cannot obtain a similar right of property
in the sun which ripened it or the soil on which it grew. For these things
are of the continuing gifts of God to all generations of men, which all
may use, but none may claim as his alone.
To attach to things created by God the same right of private ownership
that justly attaches to things produced by labor is to impair and deny
the true rights of property. For a man who out of the proceeds of his labor
is obliged to pay another man for the use of ocean or air or sunshine or
soil, all of which are to men involved in the single term land, is in this
deprived of his rightful property and thus robbed. ...
Thus Cain and Abel, were there only two men on earth, might by agreement
divide the earth between them. Under this compact each might claim exclusive
right to his share as against the other. But neither could rightfully continue
such claim against the next man born. For since no one comes into the world
without God’s permission, his presence attests his equal right to
the use of God’s bounty. For them to refuse him any use of the earth
which they had divided between them would therefore be for them to commit
murder. And for them to refuse him any use of the earth, unless by laboring
for them or by giving them part of the products of his labor he bought
it of them, would be for them to commit theft. ...
God’s laws do not change. Though their applications may alter with
altering conditions, the same principles of right and wrong that hold when
men are few and industry is rude also hold amid teeming populations and
complex industries. In our cities of millions and our states of scores
of millions, in a civilization where the division of labor has gone so
far that large numbers are hardly conscious that they are land-users, it
still remains true that we are all land animals and can live only on land,
and that land is God’s bounty to all, of which no one can be deprived
without being murdered, and for which no one can be compelled to pay another
without being robbed. But even in a state of society where the elaboration
of industry and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need
for private possession of land wide-spread, there is no difficulty in conforming
individual possession with the equal right to land. For as soon as any
piece of land will yield to the possessor a larger return than is had by
similar labor on other land a value attaches to it which is shown when
it is sold or rented. Thus, the value of the land itself, irrespective
of the value of any improvements in or on it, always indicates the precise
value of the benefit to which all are entitled in its use, as distinguished
from the value which, as producer or successor of a producer, belongs to
the possessor in individual right.
To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common
ownership it is only necessary therefore to take for common uses what value
attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. The principle
is the same as in the case referred to, where a human father leaves equally
to his children things not susceptible of specific division or common use.
In that case such things would be sold or rented and the value equally
It is on this common-sense principle that we, who term ourselves single-tax
men, would have the community act.
We do not propose to assert equal rights to land by keeping land common,
letting any one use any part of it at any time. We do not propose the task,
impossible in the present state of society, of dividing land in equal shares;
still less the yet more impossible task of keeping it so divided.
We propose — leaving land in the private possession of individuals,
with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it — simply
to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of
the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements
on it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public
revenues, we would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of
now levied on the products and processes of industry — which taxes,
since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements
of the right of property.
This we propose, not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a
conforming of human regulations to the will of God.
God cannot contradict himself nor impose on his creatures laws that clash.
If it be God’s command to men that they should not steal — that
is to say, that they should respect the right of property which each one
has in the fruits of his labor;
And if he be also the Father of all men, who in his common bounty has
intended all to have equal opportunities for sharing;
Then, in any possible stage of civilization, however elaborate, there
must be some way in which the exclusive right to the products of industry
may be reconciled with the equal right to land.
If the Almighty be consistent with himself, it cannot be, as say those
socialists referred to by you, that in order to secure the equal participation
of men in the opportunities of life and labor we must ignore the right
of private property. Nor yet can it be, as you yourself in the Encyclical
seem to argue, that to secure the right of private property we must ignore
the equality of right in the opportunities of life and labor. To say the
one thing or the other is equally to deny the harmony of God’s laws.
But, the private possession of land, subject to the payment to the community
of the value of any special advantage thus given to the individual, satisfies
both laws, securing to all equal participation in the bounty of the Creator
and to each the full ownership of the products of his labor. ...
Nor do we hesitate to say that this way of securing the equal right to
the bounty of the Creator and the exclusive right to the products of labor
is the way intended by God for raising public revenues. For we are not
atheists, who deny God; nor semi-atheists, who deny that he has any concern
in politics and legislation.
It is true as you say — a salutary truth too often forgotten — that “man
is older than the state, and he holds the right of providing for the life
of his body prior to the formation of any state.” Yet, as you too
perceive, it is also true that the state is in the divinely appointed order.
For He who foresaw all things and provided for all things, foresaw and
provided that with the increase of population and the development of industry
the organization of human society into states or governments would become
both expedient and necessary.
No sooner does the state arise than, as we all know, it needs revenues.
This need for revenues is small at first, while population is sparse, industry
rude and the functions of the state few and simple. But with growth of
population and advance of civilization the functions of the state increase
and larger and larger revenues are needed.
Now, He that made the world and placed man in it, He that pre-ordained
civilization as the means whereby man might rise to higher powers and become
more and more conscious of the works of his Creator, must have foreseen
this increasing need for state revenues and have made provision for it.
That is to say: The increasing need for public revenues with social advance,
being a natural, God-ordained need, there must be a right way of raising
them — some way that we can truly say is the way intended by God.
It is clear that this right way of raising public revenues must accord
with the moral law.
It must not take from individuals what rightfully belongs to individuals.
It must not give some an advantage over others, as by increasing the prices
of what some have to sell and others must buy.
It must not lead men into temptation, by requiring trivial oaths, by making
it profitable to lie, to swear falsely, to bribe or to take bribes.
It must not confuse the distinctions of right and wrong, and weaken the
sanctions of religion and the state by creating crimes that are not sins,
and punishing men for doing what in itself they have an undoubted right
It must not repress industry. It must not check commerce. It must not
punish thrift. It must offer no impediment to the largest production and
the fairest division of wealth.
Let me ask your Holiness to consider the taxes on the processes and products
of industry by which through the civilized world public revenues are collected — the
octroi duties that surround Italian cities with barriers; the monstrous
customs duties that hamper intercourse between so-called Christian states;
the taxes on occupations, on earnings, on investments, on the building
of houses, on the cultivation of fields, on industry and thrift in all
forms. Can these be the ways God has intended that governments should raise
the means they need? Have any of them the characteristics indispensable
in any plan we can deem a right one?
All these taxes violate the moral law. They take by force what belongs
to the individual alone; they give to the unscrupulous an advantage over
the scrupulous; they have the effect, nay are largely intended, to increase
the price of what some have to sell and others must buy; they corrupt government;
they make oaths a mockery; they shackle commerce; they fine industry and
thrift; they lessen the wealth that men might enjoy, and enrich some by
Yet what most strikingly shows how opposed to Christianity is this system
of raising public revenues is its influence on thought.
Christianity teaches us that all men are brethren; that their true interests
are harmonious, not antagonistic. It gives us, as the golden rule of life,
that we should do to others as we would have others do to us. But out of
the system of taxing the products and processes of labor, and out of its
effects in increasing the price of what some have to sell and others must
buy, has grown the theory of “protection,” which denies this
gospel, which holds Christ ignorant of political economy and proclaims
laws of national well-being utterly at variance with his teaching. This
theory sanctifies national hatreds; it inculcates a universal war of hostile
tariffs; it teaches peoples that their prosperity lies in imposing on the
productions of other peoples restrictions they do not wish imposed on their
own; and instead of the Christian doctrine of man’s brotherhood it
makes injury of foreigners a civic virtue.
“By their fruits ye shall know them.” Can anything more clearly
show that to tax the products and processes of industry is not the way
God intended public revenues to be raised?
But to consider what we propose — the raising of public revenues
by a single tax on the value of land irrespective of improvements — is
to see that in all respects this does conform to the moral law.
Let me ask your Holiness to keep in mind that the value we propose to
tax, the value of land irrespective of improvements, does not come from
any exertion of labor or investment of capital on or in it — the
values produced in this way being values of improvement which we would
exempt. The value of land irrespective of improvement is the value that
attaches to land by reason of increasing population and social progress.
This is a value that always goes to the owner as owner, and never does
and never can go to the user; for if the user be a different person from
the owner he must always pay the owner for it in rent or in purchase-money;
while if the user be also the owner, it is as owner, not as user, that
he receives it, and by selling or renting the land he can, as owner, continue
to receive it after he ceases to be a user.
Thus, taxes on land irrespective of improvement cannot lessen the rewards
of industry, nor add to prices,* nor in any way take from the individual
what belongs to the individual. They can take only the value that attaches
to land by the growth of the community, and which therefore belongs to
the community as a whole.
* As to this point it may be well to add that all economists
are agreed that taxes on land values irrespective of improvement or use — or
what in the terminology of political economy is styled rent, a term distinguished
from the ordinary use of the word rent by being applied solely to payments
for the use of land itself — must be paid by the owner and cannot
be shifted by him on the user. To explain in another way the reason given
in the text: Price is not determined by the will of the seller or the will
of the buyer, but by the equation of demand and supply, and therefore as
to things constantly demanded and constantly produced rests at a point
determined by the cost of production — whatever tends to increase
the cost of bringing fresh quantities of such articles to the consumer
increasing price by checking supply, and whatever tends to reduce such
cost decreasing price by increasing supply. Thus taxes on wheat or tobacco
or cloth add to the price that the consumer must pay, and thus the cheapening
in the cost of producing steel which improved processes have made in recent
years has greatly reduced the price of steel. But land has no cost of production,
since it is created by God, not produced by man. Its price therefore is
1 (monopoly rent), where land is held in close monopoly, by what the owners
can extract from the users under penalty of deprivation and consequently
of starvation, and amounts to all that common labor can earn on it beyond
what is necessary to life;
2 (economic rent proper), where there is no special monopoly, by what the
particular land will yield to common labor over and above what may be had
by like expenditure and exertion on land having no special advantage and
for which no rent is paid; and,
3 (speculative rent, which is a species of monopoly rent, telling particularly
in selling price), by the expectation of future increase of value from
social growth and improvement, which expectation causing landowners to
withhold land at present prices has the same effect as combination.
Taxes on land values or economic rent can therefore never be shifted by
the landowner to the land-user, since they in no wise increase the demand
for land or enable landowners to check supply by withholding land from
use. Where rent depends on mere monopolization, a case I mention because
rent may in this way be demanded for the use of land even before economic
or natural rent arises, the taking by taxation of what the landowners were
able to extort from labor could not enable them to extort any more, since
laborers, if not left enough to live on, will die. So, in the case of economic
rent proper, to take from the landowners the premiums they receive, would
in no way increase the superiority of their land and the demand for it.
While, so far as price is affected by speculative rent, to compel the landowners
to pay taxes on the value of land whether they were getting any income
from it or not, would make it more difficult for them to withhold land
from use; and to tax the full value would not merely destroy the power
but the desire to do so.
To take land values for the state, abolishing all taxes on the products
of labor, would therefore leave to the laborer the full produce of labor;
to the individual all that rightfully belongs to the individual. It would
impose no burden on industry, no check on commerce, no punishment on thrift;
it would secure the largest production and the fairest distribution of
wealth, by leaving men free to produce and to exchange as they please,
without any artificial enhancement of prices; and by taking for public
purposes a value that cannot be carried off, that cannot be hidden, that
of all values is most easily ascertained and most certainly and cheaply
collected, it would enormously lessen the number of officials, dispense
with oaths, do away with temptations to bribery and evasion, and abolish
man-made crimes in themselves innocent.
But, further: That God has intended the state to obtain the revenues it
needs by the taxation of land values is shown by the same order and degree
of evidence that shows that God has intended the milk of the mother for
the nourishment of the babe.
See how close is the analogy. In that primitive condition ere the need
for the state arises there are no land values. The products of labor have
value, but in the sparsity of population no value as yet attaches to land
itself. But as increasing density of population and increasing elaboration
of industry necessitate the organization of the state, with its need for
revenues, value begins to attach to land. As population still increases
and industry grows more elaborate, so the needs for public revenues increase.
And at the same time and from the same causes land values increase. The
connection is invariable. The value of things produced by labor tends to
decline with social development, since the larger scale of production and
the improvement of processes tend steadily to reduce their cost. But the
value of land on which population centers goes up and up. Take Rome or
Paris or London or New York or Melbourne. Consider the enormous value of
land in such cities as compared with the value of land in sparsely settled
parts of the same countries. To what is this due? Is it not due to the
density and activity of the populations of those cities — to the
very causes that require great public expenditure for streets, drains,
public buildings, and all the many things needed for the health, convenience
and safety of such great cities? See how with the growth of such cities
the one thing that steadily increases in value is land; how the opening
of roads, the building of railways, the making of any public improvement,
adds to the value of land. Is it not clear that here is a natural law — that
is to say a tendency willed by the Creator? Can it mean anything else than
that He who ordained the state with its needs has in the values which attach
to land provided the means to meet those needs? ...
That the value attaching to land with social growth is intended for social
needs is shown by the final proof. God is indeed a jealous God in the sense
that nothing but injury and disaster can attend the effort of men to do
things other than in the way he has intended; in the sense that where the
blessings he proffers to men are refused or misused they turn to evils
that scourge us. And just as for the mother to withhold the provision that
fills her breast with the birth of the child is to endanger physical health,
so for society to refuse to take for social uses the provision intended
for them is to breed social disease.
For refusal to take for public purposes the increasing values that attach
to land with social growth is to necessitate the getting of public revenues
by taxes that lessen production, distort distribution and corrupt society.
It is to leave some to take what justly belongs to all; it is to forego
the only means by which it is possible in an advanced civilization to combine
the security of possession that is necessary to improvement with the equality
of natural opportunity that is the most important of all natural rights.
It is thus at the basis of all social life to set up an unjust inequality
between man and man, compelling some to pay others for the privilege of
living, for the chance of working, for the advantages of civilization,
for the gifts of their God. But it is even more than this. The
very robbery that the masses of men thus suffer gives rise in advancing
to a new robbery. For the value that with the increase of population and
social advance attaches to land being suffered to go to individuals who
have secured ownership of the land, it prompts to a forestalling of and
speculation in land wherever there is any prospect of advancing population
or of coming improvement, thus producing an artificial scarcity of the
natural elements of life and labor, and a strangulation of production that
shows itself in recurring spasms of industrial depression as disastrous
to the world as destructive wars. It is this that is driving men
from the old countries to the new countries, only to bring there the same
It is this that causes our material advance not merely to fail to improve
the condition of the mere worker, but to make the condition of large classes
positively worse. It is this that in our richest Christian countries is
giving us a large population whose lives are harder, more hopeless, more
degraded than those of the veriest savages. It is this that leads so many
men to think that God is a bungler and is constantly bringing more people
into his world than he has made provision for; or that there is no God,
and that belief in him is a superstition which the facts of life and the
advance of science are dispelling. ...
Thus, that any species of property is permitted by the state does not
of itself give it moral sanction. The state has often made things property
that are not justly property, but involve violence and robbery. For instance,
the things of religion, the dignity and authority of offices of the church,
the power of administering her sacraments and controlling her temporalities,
have often by profligate princes been given as salable property to courtiers
and concubines. At this very day in England an atheist or a heathen may
buy in open market, and hold as legal property, to be sold, given or bequeathed
as he pleases, the power of appointing to the cure of souls, and the value
of these legal rights of presentation is said to be no less than £17,000,000.
Or again: Slaves were universally treated as property by the customs and
laws of the classical nations, and were so acknowledged in Europe long
after the acceptance of Christianity. At the beginning of this century
there was no Christian nation that did not, in her colonies at least, recognize
property in slaves, and slaveships crossed the seas under Christian flags.
In the United States, little more than thirty years ago, to buy a man gave
the same legal ownership as to buy a horse, and in Mohammedan countries
law and custom yet make the slave the property of his captor or purchaser.
Yet your Holiness, one of the glories of whose pontificate is the attempt
to break up slavery in its last strongholds, will not contend that the
moral sanction that attaches to property in things produced by labor can,
or ever could, apply to property in slaves.
Your use, in so many passages of your Encyclical, of the inclusive term “property” or “private” property,
of which in morals nothing can be either affirmed or denied, makes your
meaning, if we take isolated sentences, in many places ambiguous. But reading
it as a whole, there can be no doubt of your intention that private property
in land shall be understood when you speak merely of private property.
With this interpretation, I find that the reasons you urge for private
property in land are eight. Let us consider them in order of presentation.
1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (RN,
paragraph 5) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of
reason. (RN, paragraphs 6-7.) ...
3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (RN,
paragraph 8.) ...
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (RN,
paragraphs 9-10.) ...
5. That private property in land has the support of the common opinion
of mankind, and has conduced to peace and tranquillity, and that it is
sanctioned by Divine Law. (RN, paragraph 11.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private property
in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (RN, paragraphs 14-17.) ...
7. That the private ownership of land stimulates industry, increases wealth,
and attaches men to the soil and to their country. (RN, paragraph 51.)
8. That the right to possess private property in land is from nature, not
from man; that the state has no right to abolish it, and that to take the
value of landownership in taxation would be unjust and cruel to the private
owner. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (9-10.)
Your Holiness next contends that industry expended on land gives a right
to ownership of the land, and that the improvement of land creates benefits
indistinguishable and inseparable from the land itself.
This contention, if valid, could only justify the ownership of land by
those who expend industry on it. It would not justify private property
in land as it exists. On the contrary, it would justify a gigantic no-rent
declaration that would take land from those who now legally own it, the
landlords, and turn it over to the tenants and laborers. And if it also
be that improvements cannot be distinguished and separated from the land
itself, how could the landlords claim consideration even for improvements
they had made?
But your Holiness cannot mean what your words imply. What you really mean,
I take it, is that the original justification and title of landownership
is in the expenditure of labor on it. But neither can this justify private
property in land as it exists. For is it not all but universally true that
existing land titles do not come from use, but from force or fraud?
Take Italy! Is it not true that the greater part of the land of Italy
is held by those who so far from ever having expended industry on it have
been mere appropriators of the industry of those who have? Is this not
also true of Great Britain and of other countries? Even in the United States,
where the forces of concentration have not yet had time fully to operate
and there has been some attempt to give land to users, it is probably true
today that the greater part of the land is held by those who neither use
it nor propose to use it themselves, but merely hold it to compel others
to pay them for permission to use it.
And if industry give ownership to land what are the limits of this ownership?
If a man may acquire the ownership of several square miles of land by grazing
sheep on it, does this give to him and his heirs the ownership of the same
land when it is found to contain rich mines, or when by the growth of population
and the progress of society it is needed for farming, for gardening, for
the close occupation of a great city? Is it on the rights given by the
industry of those who first used it for grazing cows or growing potatoes
that you would found the title to the land now covered by the city of New
York and having a value of thousands of millions of dollars?
But your contention is not valid. Industry expended on land gives ownership
in the fruits of that industry, but not in the land itself, just as industry
expended on the ocean would give a right of ownership to the fish taken
by it, but not a right of ownership in the ocean. Nor yet is it true that
private ownership of land is necessary to secure the fruits of labor on
land; nor does the improvement of land create benefits indistinguishable
and inseparable from the land itself. That secure possession is necessary
to the use and improvement of land I have already explained, but that ownership
is not necessary is shown by the fact that in all civilized countries land
owned by one person is cultivated and improved by other persons. Most of
the cultivated land in the British Islands, as in Italy and other countries,
is cultivated not by owners but by tenants. And so the costliest buildings
are erected by those who are not owners of the land, but who have from
the owner a mere right of possession for a time on condition of certain
payments. Nearly the whole of London has been built in this way, and in
New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Sydney and Melbourne, as well
as in continental cities, the owners of many of the largest edifices will
be found to be different persons from the owners of the ground. So far
from the value of improvements being inseparable from the value of land,
it is in individual transactions constantly separated. For instance, one-half
of the land on which the immense Grand Pacific Hotel in Chicago stands
was recently separately sold, and in Ceylon it is a not infrequent occurrence
for one person to own a fruit-tree and another to own the ground in which
it is implanted.
There is, indeed, no improvement of land, whether it be clearing, plowing,
manuring, cultivating, the digging of cellars, the opening of wells or
the building of houses, that so long as its usefulness continues does not
have a value clearly distinguishable from the value of the land. For land
having such improvements will always sell or rent for more than similar
land without them.
If, therefore, the state levy a tax equal to what the land irrespective
of improvement would bring, it will take the benefits of mere ownership,
but will leave the full benefits of use and improvement, which the prevailing
system does not do. And since the holder, who would still in form continue
to be the owner, could at any time give or sell both possession and improvements,
subject to future assessment by the state on the value of the land alone,
he will be perfectly free to retain or dispose of the full amount of property
that the exertion of his labor or the investment of his capital has attached
to or stored up in the land.
Thus, what we propose would secure, as it is impossible in any other way
to secure, what you properly say is just and right — ”that
the results of labor should belong to him who has labored.” But private
property in land — to allow the holder without adequate payment to
the state to take for himself the benefit of the value that attaches to
land with social growth and improvement — does take the results of
labor from him who has labored, does turn over the fruits of one man’s
labor to be enjoyed by another. For labor, as the active factor, is the
producer of all wealth. Mere ownership produces nothing. A man might own
a world, but so sure is the decree that “by the sweat of thy brow
shalt thou eat bread,” that without labor he could not get a meal
or provide himself a garment. Hence, when the owners of land, by virtue
of their ownership and without laboring themselves, get the products of
labor in abundance, these things must come from the labor of others, must
be the fruits of others’ sweat, taken from those who have a right
to them and enjoyed by those who have no right to them.
The only utility of private ownership of land as distinguished from possession
is the evil utility of giving to the owner products of labor he does not
earn. For until land will yield to its owner some return beyond that of
the labor and capital he expends on it — that is to say, until by
sale or rental he can without expenditure of labor obtain from it products
of labor, ownership amounts to no more than security of possession, and
has no value. Its importance and value begin only when, either in the present
or prospectively, it will yield a revenue — that is to say, will
enable the owner as owner to obtain products of labor without exertion
on his part, and thus to enjoy the results of others’ labor.
What largely keeps men from realizing the robbery involved in private
property in land is that in the most striking cases the robbery is not
of individuals, but of the community. For, as I have before explained,
it is impossible for rent in the economic sense — that value which
attaches to land by reason of social growth and improvement — to
go to the user. It can go only to the owner or to the community. Thus those
who pay enormous rents for the use of land in such centers as London or
New York are not individually injured. Individually they get a return for
what they pay, and must feel that they have no better right to the use
of such peculiarly advantageous localities without paying for it than have
thousands of others. And so, not thinking or not caring for the interests
of the community, they make no objection to the system.
It recently came to light in New York that a man having no title whatever
had been for years collecting rents on a piece of land that the growth
of the city had made very valuable. Those who paid these rents had never
stopped to ask whether he had any right to them. They felt that they had
no right to land that so many others would like to have, without paying
for it, and did not think of, or did not care for, the rights of all.
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private property
in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (14-17.)
With all that your Holiness has to say of the sacredness of the family
relation we are in full accord. But how the obligation of the father to
the child can justify private property in land we cannot see. You reason
that private property in land is necessary to the discharge of the duty
of the father, and is therefore requisite and just, because —
It is a most sacred law of nature that a father must provide food and
all necessaries for those whom he has begotten; and, similarly, nature
dictates that a man’s children, who carry on, as it were, and continue
his own personality, should be provided by him with all that is needful
to enable them honorably to keep themselves from want and misery in the
uncertainties of this mortal life. Now, in no other way can a father effect
this except by the ownership of profitable property, which he can transmit
to his children by inheritance. (14.)
Thanks to Him who has bound the generations of men together by a provision
that brings the tenderest love to greet our entrance into the world and
soothes our exit with filial piety, it is both the duty and the joy of
the father to care for the child till its powers mature, and afterwards
in the natural order it becomes the duty and privilege of the child to
be the stay of the parent. This is the natural reason for that relation
of marriage, the groundwork of the sweetest, tenderest and purest of human
joys, which the Catholic Church has guarded with such unremitting vigilance.
We do, for a few years, need the providence of our fathers after the flesh.
But how small, how transient, how narrow is this need, as compared with
our constant need for the providence of Him in whom we live, move and have
our being — Our Father who art in Heaven! It is to him, “the
giver of every good and perfect gift,” and not to our fathers after
the flesh, that Christ taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily
bread.” And how true it is that it is through him that the generations
of men exist! Let the mean temperature of the earth rise or fall a few
degrees, an amount as nothing compared with differences produced in our
laboratories, and mankind would disappear as ice disappears under a tropical
sun, would fall as the leaves fall at the touch of frost. Or, let for two
or three seasons the earth refuse her increase, and how many of our millions
would remain alive?
The duty of fathers to transmit to their children profitable property
that will enable them to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties
of this mortal life! What is not possible cannot be a duty. And how is
it possible for fathers to do that? Your Holiness has not considered how
mankind really lives from hand to mouth, getting each day its daily bread;
how little one generation does or can leave another. It is doubtful if
the wealth of the civilized world all told amounts to anything like as
much as one year’s labor, while it is certain that if labor were
to stop and men had to rely on existing accumulation, it would be only
a few days ere in the richest countries pestilence and famine would stalk.
The profitable property your Holiness refers to, is private property in
land. Now profitable land, as all economists will agree, is land superior
to the land that the ordinary man can get. It is land that will yield an
income to the owner as owner, and therefore that will permit the owner
to appropriate the products of labor without doing labor, its profitableness
to the individual involving the robbery of other individuals. It is therefore
possible only for some fathers to leave their children profitable land.
What therefore your Holiness practically declares is, that it is the duty
of all fathers to struggle to leave their children what only the few peculiarly
strong, lucky or unscrupulous can leave; and that, a something that involves
the robbery of others — their deprivation of the material gifts of
This anti-Christian doctrine has been long in practice throughout the
Christian world. What are its results?
Are they not the very evils set forth in your Encyclical? Are they not,
so far from enabling men to keep themselves from want and misery in the
uncertainties of this mortal life, to condemn the great masses of men to
want and misery that the natural conditions of our mortal life do not entail;
to want and misery deeper and more wide-spread than exist among heathen
savages? Under the régime of private property in land and in the
richest countries not five per cent of fathers are able at their death
to leave anything substantial to their children, and probably a large majority
do not leave enough to bury them! Some few children are left by their fathers
richer than it is good for them to be, but the vast majority not only are
left nothing by their fathers, but by the system that makes land private
property are deprived of the bounty of their Heavenly Father; are compelled
to sue others for permission to live and to work, and to toil all their
lives for a pittance that often does not enable them to escape starvation
What your Holiness is actually, though of course inadvertently, urging,
is that earthly fathers should assume the functions of the Heavenly Father.
It is not the business of one generation to provide the succeeding generation “with
all that is needful to enable them honorably to keep themselves from want
and misery.” That is God’s business. We no more create our
children than we create our fathers. It is God who is the Creator of each
succeeding generation as fully as of the one that preceded it. And, to
recall your own words (7), “Nature [God], therefore, owes to man
a storehouse that shall never fail, the daily supply of his daily wants.
And this he finds only in the inexhaustible fertility of the earth.” What
you are now assuming is, that it is the duty of men to provide for the
wants of their children by appropriating this storehouse and depriving
other men’s children of the unfailing supply that God has provided
The duty of the father to the child — the duty possible to all fathers!
Is it not so to conduct himself, so to nurture and teach it, that it shall
come to manhood with a sound body, well-developed mind, habits of virtue,
piety and industry, and in a state of society that shall give it and all
others free access to the bounty of God, the providence of the All-Father?
In doing this the father would be doing more to secure his children from
want and misery than is possible now to the richest of fathers — as
much more as the providence of God surpasses that of man. For the justice
of God laughs at the efforts of men to circumvent it, and the subtle law
that binds humanity together poisons the rich in the sufferings of the
poor. Even the few who are able in the general struggle to leave their
children wealth that they fondly think will keep them from want and misery
in the uncertainties of this mortal life — do they succeed? Does
experience show that it is a benefit to a child to place him above his
fellows and enable him to think God’s law of labor is not for him?
Is not such wealth oftener a curse than a blessing, and does not its expectation
often destroy filial love and bring dissensions and heartburnings into
families? And how far and how long are even the richest and strongest able
to exempt their children from the common lot? Nothing is more certain than
that the blood of the masters of the world flows today in lazzaroni and
that the descendants of kings and princes tenant slums and workhouses.
But in the state of society we strive for, where the monopoly and waste
of God’s bounty would be done away with and the fruits of labor would
go to the laborer, it would be within the ability of all to make more than
a comfortable living with reasonable labor. And for those who might be
crippled or incapacitated, or deprived of their natural protectors and
breadwinners, the most ample provision could be made out of that great
and increasing fund with which God in his law of rent has provided society — not
as a matter of niggardly and degrading alms, but as a matter of right,
as the assurance which in a Christian state society owes to all its members.
Thus it is that the duty of the father, the obligation to the child, instead
of giving any support to private property in land, utterly condemns it,
urging us by the most powerful considerations to abolish it in the simple
and efficacious way of the single tax.
This duty of the father, this obligation to children, is not confined
to those who have actually children of their own, but rests on all of us
who have come to the powers and responsibilities of manhood.
For did not Christ set a little child in the midst of the disciples, saying
to them that the angels of such little ones always behold the face of his
Father; saying to them that it were better for a man to hang a millstone
about his neck and plunge into the uttermost depths of the sea than to
injure such a little one?
And what today is the result of private property in land in the richest
of so-called Christian countries? Is it not that young people fear to marry;
that married people fear to have children; that children are driven out
of life from sheer want of proper nourishment and care, or compelled to
toil when they ought to be at school or at play; that great numbers of
those who attain maturity enter it with under-nourished bodies, overstrained
nerves, undeveloped minds — under conditions that foredoom them,
not merely to suffering, but to crime; that fit them in advance for the
prison and the brothel?
If your Holiness will consider these things we are confident that instead
of defending private property in land you will condemn it with anathema!
8. That the right to possess private property in land is from nature,
not from man; that the state has no right to abolish it, and that to take
the value of landownership in taxation would be unjust and cruel to the
private owner. (51.)
This, like much else that your Holiness says, is masked in the use of
the indefinite terms “private property” and “private
owner” — a want of precision in the use of words that has doubtless
aided in the confusion of your own thought. But the context leaves no doubt
that by private property you mean private property in land, and by private
owner, the private owner of land.
The contention, thus made, that private property in land is from nature,
not from man, has no other basis than the confounding of ownership with
possession and the ascription to property in land of what belongs to its
contradictory, property in the proceeds of labor. You do not attempt to
show for it any other basis, nor has any one else ever attempted to do
so. That private property in the products of labor is from nature is clear,
for nature gives such things to labor and to labor alone. Of every article
of this kind, we know that it came into being as nature’s response
to the exertion of an individual man or of individual men — given
by nature directly and exclusively to him or to them. Thus there inheres
in such things a right of private property, which originates from and goes
back to the source of ownership, the maker of the thing. This right is
anterior to the state and superior to its enactments, so that, as we hold,
it is a violation of natural right and an injustice to the private owner
for the state to tax the processes and products of labor. They do not belong
to Caesar. They are things that God, of whom nature is but an expression,
gives to those who apply for them in the way he has appointed — by
But who will dare trace the individual ownership of land to any grant
from the Maker of land? What does nature give to such ownership? how does
she in any way recognize it? Will any one show from difference of form
or feature, of stature or complexion, from dissection of their bodies or
analysis of their powers and needs, that one man was intended by nature
to own land and another to live on it as his tenant? That which derives
its existence from man and passes away like him, which is indeed but the
evanescent expression of his labor, man may hold and transfer as the exclusive
property of the individual; but how can such individual ownership attach
to land, which existed before man was, and which continues to exist while
the generations of men come and go — the unfailing storehouse that
the Creator gives to man for “the daily supply of his daily wants”?
Clearly, the private ownership of land is from the state, not from nature.
Thus, not merely can no objection be made on the score of morals when it
is proposed that the state shall abolish it altogether, but insomuch as
it is a violation of natural right, its existence involving a gross injustice
on the part of the state, an “impious violation of the benevolent
intention of the Creator,” it is a moral duty that the state so abolish
So far from there being anything unjust in taking the full value of landownership
for the use of the community, the real injustice is in leaving it in private
hands — an injustice that amounts to robbery and murder.
And when your Holiness shall see this I have no fear that you will listen
for one moment to the impudent plea that before the community can take
what God intended it to take — before men who have been disinherited
of their natural rights can be restored to them, the present owners of
land shall first be compensated.
For not only will you see that the single tax will directly and largely
benefit small landowners, whose interests as laborers and capitalists are
much greater than their interests as landowners, and that though the great
landowners — or rather the propertied class in general among whom
the profits of landownership are really divided through mortgages, rent-charges,
etc. — would relatively lose, they too would be absolute gainers
in the increased prosperity and improved morals; but more quickly, more
strongly, more peremptorily than from any calculation of gains or losses
would your duty as a man, your faith as a Christian, forbid you to listen
for one moment to any such paltering with right and wrong.
Where the state takes some land for public uses it is only just that those
whose land is taken should be compensated, otherwise some landowners would
be treated more harshly than others. But where, by a measure affecting
all alike, rent is appropriated for the benefit of all, there can be no
claim to compensation. Compensation in such case would be a continuance
of the same in another form — the giving to landowners in the shape
of interest of what they before got as rent. Your Holiness knows that justice
and injustice are not thus to be juggled with, and when you fully realize
that land is really the storehouse that God owes to all his children, you
will no more listen to any demand for compensation for restoring it to
them than Moses would have listened to a demand that Pharaoh should be
compensated before letting the children of Israel go.
Compensated for what? For giving up what has been unjustly taken? The
demand of landowners for compensation is not that. We do not seek to spoil
the Egyptians. We do not ask that what has been unjustly taken from laborers
shall be restored. We are willing that bygones should be bygones and to
leave dead wrongs to bury their dead. We propose to let those who by the
past appropriation of land values have taken the fruits of labor to retain
what they have thus got. We merely propose that for the future such robbery
of labor shall cease — that for the future, not for the past, landholders
shall pay to the community the rent that to the community is justly due.
You assume that the labor question is a question between wage-workers
and their employers. But working for wages is not the primary or exclusive
occupation of labor. Primarily men work for themselves without the intervention
of an employer. And the primary source of wages is in the earnings of labor,
the man who works for himself and consumes his own products receiving his
wages in the fruits of his labor. Are not fishermen, boatmen, cab-drivers,
peddlers, working farmers — all, in short, of the many workers who
get their wages directly by the sale of their services or products without
the medium of an employer, as much laborers as those who work for the specific
wages of an employer? In your consideration of remedies you do not seem
even to have thought of them. Yet in reality the laborers who work for
themselves are the first to be considered, since what men will be willing
to accept from employers depends manifestly on what they can get by working
You assume that all employers are rich men, who might raise wages much
higher were they not so grasping. But is it not the fact that the great
majority of employers are in reality as much pressed by competition as
their workmen, many of them constantly on the verge of failure? Such employers
could not possibly raise the wages they pay, however they might wish to,
unless all others were compelled to do so.
You assume that there are in the natural order two classes, the rich and
the poor, and that laborers naturally belong to the poor.
It is true as you say that there are differences in capacity, in diligence,
in health and in strength, that may produce differences in fortune. These,
however, are not the differences that divide men into rich and poor. The
natural differences in powers and aptitudes are certainly not greater than
are natural differences in stature. But while it is only by selecting giants
and dwarfs that we can find men twice as tall as others, yet in the difference
between rich and poor that exists today we find some men richer than other
men by the thousandfold and the millionfold.
Nowhere do these differences between wealth and poverty coincide with
differences in individual powers and aptitudes. The real difference between
rich and poor is the difference between those who hold the tollgates and
those who pay toll; between tribute-receivers and tribute-yielders.
In what way does nature justify such a difference? In the numberless varieties
of animated nature we find some species that are evidently intended to
live on other species. But their relations are always marked by unmistakable
differences in size, shape or organs. To man has been given dominion over
all the other living things that tenant the earth. But is not this mastery
indicated even in externals, so that no one can fail on sight to distinguish
between a man and one of the inferior animals? Our American apologists
for slavery used to contend that the black skin and woolly hair of the
negro indicated the intent of nature that the black should serve the white;
but the difference that you assume to be natural is between men of the
same race. What difference does nature show between such men as would indicate
her intent that one should live idly yet be rich, and the other should
work hard yet be poor? If I could bring you from the United States a man
who has $200,000,000, and one who is glad to work for a few dollars a week,
and place them side by side in your antechamber, would you be able to tell
which was which, even were you to call in the most skilled anatomist? Is
it not clear that God in no way countenances or condones the division of
rich and poor that exists today, or in any way permits it, except as having
given them free will he permits men to choose either good or evil, and
to avoid heaven if they prefer hell. For is it not clear that the
division of men into the classes rich and poor has invariably its origin
and fraud; invariably involves violation of the moral law; and is really
a division into those who get the profits of robbery and those who are
robbed; those who hold in exclusive possession what God made for all, and
those who are deprived of his bounty? Did not Christ in all his utterances
and parables show that the gross difference between rich and poor is opposed
to God’s law? Would he have condemned the rich so strongly as he
did, if the class distinction between rich and poor did not involve injustice — was
not opposed to God’s intent?
It seems to us that your Holiness misses its real significance in intimating
that Christ, in becoming the son of a carpenter and himself working as
a carpenter, showed merely that “there is nothing to be ashamed of
in seeking one’s bread by labor.” To say that is almost like
saying that by not robbing people he showed that there is nothing to be
ashamed of in honesty. If you will consider how true in any large view
is the classification of all men into working-men, beggar-men and thieves,
you will see that it was morally impossible that Christ during his stay
on earth should have been anything else than a working-man, since he who
came to fulfil the law must by deed as well as word obey God’s law
See how fully and how beautifully Christ’s life on earth illustrated
this law. Entering our earthly life in the weakness of infancy, as it is
appointed that all should enter it, he lovingly took what in the natural
order is lovingly rendered, the sustenance, secured by labor, that one
generation owes to its immediate successors. Arrived at maturity, he earned
his own subsistence by that common labor in which the majority of men must
and do earn it. Then passing to a higher — to the very highest — sphere
of labor, he earned his subsistence by the teaching of moral and spiritual
truths, receiving its material wages in the love-offerings of grateful
hearers, and not refusing the costly spikenard with which Mary anointed
his feet. So, when he chose his disciples, he did not go to landowners
or other monopolists who live on the labor of others, but to common laboring-men.
And when he called them to a higher sphere of labor and sent them out to
teach moral and spiritual truths, he told them to take, without condescension
on the one hand or sense of degradation on the other, the loving return
for such labor, saying to them that “the laborer is worthy of his
hire,” thus showing, what we hold, that all labor does not consist
in what is called manual labor, but that whoever helps to add to the material,
intellectual, moral or spiritual fullness of life is also a laborer.*
* Nor should it be forgotten that the investigator,
the philosopher, the teacher, the artist, the poet, the priest, though
not engaged in
of wealth, are not only engaged in the production of utilities and
satisfactions to which the production of wealth is only a means, but
by acquiring and
diffusing knowledge, stimulating mental powers and elevating the moral
sense, may greatly increase the ability to produce wealth. For man
does not live by bread alone. . . . He who by any exertion of mind or
to the aggregate of enjoyable wealth, increases the sum of human knowledge,
or gives to human life higher elevation or greater fullness — he
is, in the large meaning of the words, a “producer,” a “working-man,” a “laborer,” and
is honestly earning honest wages. But he who without doing aught to make
mankind richer, wiser, better, happier, lives on the toil of others — he,
no matter by what name of honor he may be called, or how lustily the priests
of Mammon may swing their censers before him, is in the last analysis but
a beggar-man or a thief. — Protection or Free Trade, pp. 74-75.
In assuming that laborers, even ordinary manual laborers, are naturally
poor, you ignore the fact that labor is the producer of wealth, and attribute
to the natural law of the Creator an injustice that comes from man’s
impious violation of his benevolent intention. In the rudest stage of the
arts it is possible, where justice prevails, for all well men to earn a
living. With the labor-saving appliances of our time, it should be possible
for all to earn much more. And so, in saying that poverty is no disgrace,
you convey an unreasonable implication. For poverty ought to be a disgrace,
since in a condition of social justice, it would, where unsought from religious
motives or unimposed by unavoidable misfortune, imply recklessness or laziness. ... read the whole letter
Henry George: The Wages of
Thus Cain and Abel, were there only two
men on earth, might by agreement divide the earth between them. Under this
compact each might claim exclusive right to his share as against the other.
But neither could rightfully continue such claim against the next child born.
For since no one comes into the world without God's permission, his presence
attests his equal right to the use of God’s bounty. For them to refuse
him any use of the earth which they had divided between them would therefore
be for them to commit murder. And for them to refuse him any use of the earth,
unless by laboring for them or by giving them part of the products of his
labor he bought It of them, would be for them to commit theft. ... read the whole article
Henry George: Thou Shalt Not
Steal (1887 speech)
"Thou shalt not steal." That means, of
course, that we ourselves must not steal. But does it not also mean that
we must not suffer anybody else to steal if we can help it?
"Thou shalt not steal." Does it not also mean: "Thou shalt not suffer
thyself or anybody else to be stolen from?" If it does, then we, all of us,
rich and poor alike, are responsible for this social crime that produces poverty.
Not merely the people who monopolize the land — they are not to blame
above anyone else, but we who permit them to monopolize land are also parties
to the theft.
The Christianity that ignores this social responsibility has really
forgotten the teachings of Christ. Where He in the Gospels speaks of the judgment, the
question which is put to the people is never, "Did you praise me?" "Did you
pray to me?" "Did you believe this or did you believe that?" It is only this: "What
did you do to relieve distress; to abolish poverty?" To those who are
condemned, the Judge is represented as saying: "I was ahungered and ye gave
me no meat, I was athirst and ye gave me no drink, I was sick and in prison
and ye visited me not." Then they say, "Lord, Lord, when did we fail to do
these things to thee?" The answer is: "Inasmuch as ye failed to do it to the
least of these, so also did ye fail to do it unto me; depart into the place
prepared for the devil and his angels."
On the other hand, what is said to the blessed is: "I was ahungered
and ye gave me meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me drink, I was naked and ye
clothed me, I was sick and in prison and ye visited me." And when they say: "Lord,
Lord, when did we do these things to thee?" The
answer is: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me."
Here is the essential spirit of Christianity.
The essence of its teaching is not "Provide for your own body and save your
own soul!" but "Do what you can to make this world a better world for all!" It
was a protest against the doctrine of "each for himself and the devil takes
the hindermost!" It was the proclamation of a common fatherhood of God and
a common brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women. This was why the rich
and powerful, the high priests and the rulers persecuted Christianity with
fire and sword. It
was not religion (what in so many of our churches today is called religion)
that pagan Rome sought to tear out — it was the doctrine of the equality
of human rights!
Now imagine, when we men and women of today go before that awful bar,
that there we should behold the spirits of those who in our time under this
accursed social system were driven into crime; of those who were starved in
body and mind; of those little children who, in this city of New York, are
being sent out of the world by thousands when they have scarcely entered it — because
they do not get food enough, nor air enough; because they are crowded together
in these tenement districts under conditions in which all diseases rage and
Supposing we are confronted with those souls, what will it avail us
to say that we individually were not responsible for their earthly conditions?
What, in the spirit of the parable of Matthew, would be the reply from the
Judgment seat? Would it not be: "I provided for them all. The earth that I
made was broad enough to give them room. The materials that are placed in it
were abundant enough for all their needs. Did you or did you not lift up your
voice against the wrong that robbed them of their fair share in the provision
made for all?"
"Thou shalt not steal!" It is theft, it is robbery that is producing
poverty and disease and vice and crime among us. It is by virtue of laws that
we uphold; and those who do not raise their voices against that crime, they
are accessories. The standard has now been raised, the cross of the new crusade
at last is lifted. Some of us, aye, many of us, have sworn in our hearts that
we will never rest as long as we have life and strength until we expose and
abolish that wrong. We have declared war upon it. Those who are not with us,
let us count them against us. For us there will be no faltering, no compromise,
no turning back until the end. ... read the whole article
Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial
Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)
He began as a protectionist. As he moved on he saw that liberty meant something
more than simply the abolition of chattel slavery. He saw that liberty also
meant, not merely the right to freely labor for oneself, but the right to freely
exchange one's production, and, from a protectionist, William Lloyd Garrison
became a free trader. (Cheers)
And now, when the first is gone, the second comes forward, to take one further
step to realize that for perfect freedom there must also be freedom in the
use of natural opportunities. (Hear, hear, and cheers)
We have come . . . to the same point by converging lines. Why is freedom
of trade good? Simply that trade — exchange — is but a mode of production.
Therefore, to secure full free trade we must also secure freedom to the natural
opportunities of production. (Hear, hear) Our production—what is it?
We produce from what? From land. All human production consists but in working
up the raw materials that we find in nature — consists simply in changing
in place, or in form, that matter which we call land. To free production there
must be no monopoly of the natural element. Even in our methods we agree primarily
on this essential point — that everyone ought to be free to exert
his labor, to retain or to exchange its fruits, unhampered by restrictions,
by the tax gatherer. (Hear, hear) . . .
Chattel slavery, thank God, is abolished at last. Nowhere, where the American
flag flies, can one man be bought, or sold, or held by another. (Cheers) But
a great struggle still lies before us now. Chattel slavery is gone; industrial
slavery remains. The effort, the aim of the abolitionists of this time is to
abolish industrial slavery. (Cheers)
The free trade movement in England was a necessary step in this direction.
The men who took part in it did more than they knew. Striking at restrictions
in the form of protection, aiming at emancipating trade by reducing tariffs
to a minimum for revenue only, they aroused a spirit that yet goes further.
There sits, in the person of my friend, Mr. Briggs [Thomas Briggs], one
of the men of that time, one of the men who, not stopping, has always aimed
a larger freedom, one of the men who today hails what we in the United
States call the single tax movement, as the natural outcome and successor
of the movement
which Richard Cobden led.39 (A voice: "Three cheers for Mr. Briggs," and
The People who say that such terrible things would follow the institution
of the single tax are simply like the people who had predicted terrible
things to follow the building of railroads and the abolition of chattel slavery.
I remember, and Mr. Garrison well remembers, the day when in the United
States all the arguments that are used in this country against the single
used against the abolition of chattel slavery, even down to the "poor
We used to be told — I was only a boy then — we used to be told,
when William Lloyd Garrison, father of this man, was the best denounced man
on two continents, that it might be well if we could find the people who originally
brought these slaves from Africa, to make them give them up. "But," it
was urged, "these negroes are owned by people who paid their money for
them. (Laughter) Would you take away from a man without any compensation the
property that he bought?" (Laughter) Then we used to be told, as you are
told now, about that hard working mechanic. "Here is a hard working laboring
man. He has toiled early and late, and he has bought a slave to help him. Are
you going to take a man's slave without compensation and rob him of the products
of his labor?" (Laughter) So they say today of the English mechanic, or
English laborer, who has bought himself a little bit of land. And then we used
to be told: "Here is a man who worked hard and saved his money, and he
invested in half-a-dozen slaves. He died, and those slaves are the only means
of subsistence the widow has to support his orphan children. Would you emancipate
those slaves, and let that poor widow and those little orphans starve to death?" (Laughter)
Slavery and Slavery
It is the old, old story! And no wonder, for property in land is just as
absurd! just as monstrous as property in human beings. (Hear, hear, and cheers)
difference does it make whether you enslave a man by making his flesh and
blood the property of another, or whether you enslave him by making the property
of another that element on which and from which he must live if he is to
at all? (A voice: "None whatever!" and cheers)
Why, in those old days slave ships used to set out from this town of Liverpool
for the coast of Africa to buy slaves. They did not bring them to Liverpool;
they took them over to America. Why? Because you people were so good, and
the Englishmen who had got to the other side of the Atlantic, and had settled
were so bad? Not at all. I will tell you why the Liverpool ships carried
slaves to America and did not bring them back to England. Because in America
was sparse and land was plentiful. Therefore to rob a man of his labor — and
that is what the slaveowner wanted the slave for — you had got to catch
and hold the man. That is the reason the slaves went to America. The reason
they did not come here, the reason they were not carried over to Ireland was
that here population was relatively dense, land was relatively scarce and could
easily be monopolized, and to get out of the laborer all that his labor could
furnish, save only wages enough to keep him alive even the slaveowner had to
give this — it was only necessary to own land.
What is the difference, economically speaking, between the slaves of South
Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi, and Georgia and the free peasantry of
Ireland or the agricultural laborer of England? (Cheers) Go to one of those
in the slave days, and there you would find a planter, the owner of five
hundred slaves, living in elegant luxury, without doing a stroke of work,
fine mansion, horses, [and a] carriage — all the things that work
produces, but doing none of it himself. The people who did the work were
living in negro
huts, on coarse food; they were clothed in coarse raiment. If they ran
away, he had the privilege of chasing them back, tying them up and whipping
and making them work.
Come to this side of the Atlantic, in a place where you saw the same state
of development. There you found also five hundred people living in little cabins,
eating coarse food, clothed in coarse raiment, working hard, yet getting only
enough of the things that work produces to keep them in good times, when bad
times came having to appeal to the world for charity. But you found among those
little cabins, too, the lordly mansion of the man who did no work. (Hear, hear,
You found the mansion; you did not often find the man. (Laughter and cheers)
As a general rule he was off in London, or in Paris, enjoying himself on the
fruits of their labor. (Hear, hear) He had no legal right to make them work
for him. Oh! no. If they ran away he could not put bloodhounds on their track
and bring them back and whip them; but he had, in hunger, in starvation, a
ban dog40 more swift, more keen, more sure than the bloodhound of the south.
The slaveowner of the south — the owner of men — had to make those
men work for him. He went to all that trouble. The landlord of Ireland did
not have to make men work for him. He owned the land, and without land men
cannot work; and so men would come to him — equal children of the Creator,
equal citizens of Great Britain — would come to him, with their hats
in their hands, and beg to be allowed to live on his land, to be allowed
to work and to give to him all the produce of their work, except enough
keep them alive, and thank him for the privilege. . . . read
the whole speech
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a
themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
THE term Labor includes all human exertion in the production of wealth,
whatever its mode. In common parlance we often speak of brain labor and hand
labor as though they were entirely distinct kinds of exertion, and labor
is often spoken of as though it involved only muscular exertion. But in reality
any form of labor, that is to say, any form of human exertion in the production
of wealth above that which cattle may be applied to doing, requires the human
brain as truly as the human hand, and would be impossible without the exercise
of mental faculties on the part of the laborer. Labor in fact is only physical
in external form. In its origin it is mental or on strict analysis spiritual. — The
Science of Political Economy unabridged:
Book III, Chapter 16: The Production of Wealth, The Second Factor of Production — Labor • abridged:
Part III, Chapter 10: Order of the Three Factors of Production
IT seems to us that your Holiness misses its real significance in intimating
that Christ in becoming the son of a carpenter and Himself working as a carpenter
showed merely that "there is nothing to be ashamed of in seeking one's bread
by labor." To say that is almost like saying that by not robbing people He showed
that there is nothing to be ashamed of in honesty. If you will consider how true
in any large view is the classification of all men into working-men, beggar-men
and thieves, you will see that it was morally impossible that Christ during His
stay on earth should have been anything else than a working-man, since He who
came to fulfill the law must by deed as well as word obey God's law of labor.
See how fully and how beautifully Christ's life on earth illustrated this law.
Entering our earthly life in the weakness of infancy, as it is appointed that
all should enter it, He lovingly took what in the natural order is lovingly rendered,
the sustenance, secured by labor, that one generation owes to its immediate successors.
Arrived at maturity, He earned His own subsistence by that common labor in which
the majority of men must and do earn it. Then passing to a higher — to
the very highest-sphere of labor. He earned His subsistence by the teaching of
moral and spiritual truths, receiving its material wages in the love offerings
of grateful hearers, and not refusing the costly spikenard with which Mary anointed
his feet. So, when He chose His disciples, He did not go to land-owners or other
monopolists who live on the labor of others but to common laboring men. And when
He called them to a higher sphere of labor and sent them out to teach moral and
spiritual truths He told them to take, without condescension on the one hand,
or sense of degradation on the other, the loving return for such labor, saying
to them that the "laborer is worthy of his hire," thus showing, what we hold,
that all labor does not consist in what is called manual labor, but that whoever
helps to add to the material, intellectual, moral, or spiritual fulness of life
is also a laborer. - The Condition of Labor
NOR should it be forgotten that the investigator, the philosopher, the teacher,
the artist, the poet, the priest, though not engaged in the production of wealth,
are not only engaged in the production of utilities and satisfactions to which
the production of wealth is only a means, but by acquiring and diffusing knowledge,
stimulating mental powers and elevating the moral sense, may greatly increase
the ability to produce wealth. For man does not live by bread alone. He is not
an engine, in which so much fuel gives so much power. On a capstan bar or a topsail
halyard a good song tells like muscle, and a "Marseillaise" or a "Battle Hymn
of the Republic" counts for bayonets. A hearty laugh, a noble thought, a perception
of harmony, may add to the power of dealing even with material things.
He who by any exertion of mind or body adds to the aggregate of enjoyable wealth,
increases the sum of human knowledge or gives to human life higher elevation
or greater fulness — he is, in the large meaning of the words, a "producer," a "working-man," a "laborer," and
is honestly earning honest wages. But he who without doing aught to make mankind
richer, wiser, better, happier, lives on the toil of others — he, no matter
by what name of honor he may be I called, or how lustily the priests of Mammon
may swing their censers before him, is in the last analysis but a beggarman or
a thief. — Protection or Free Trade, Chapter 7 econlib
THE poverty to which in advancing civilization great masses of men are
condemned, is not the freedom from distraction and temptation which
sages have sought and philosophers have praised: it is a degrading and
embruting slavery, that cramps the higher nature, dulls the finer
feelings, and drives men by its pain to acts which the brutes would
refuse. It is into this helpless, hopeless poverty, that crushes
manhood and destroys womanhood, that robs even childhood of its
innocence and joy, that the working classes are being driven by a force
which acts upon them like a resistless and unpitying machine. The
Boston collar manufacturer who pays his girls two cents an hour may
commiserate their condition, but he, as they, is governed by the law of
competition, and cannot pay more and carry on his business, for exchange
is not governed by sentiment. And so, through all intermediate
gradations, up to those who receive the earnings of labor without
return, in the rent of land, it is the inexorable laws of supply and
demand, a power with which the individual can no more quarrel or
dispute than with the winds and the tides, that seem to press down the
lower classes into the slavery of want.
But, in reality, the cause is that which always has, and always must result in
slavery — the monopolization by some of what nature has designed for all.
. . . Private ownership of land is the nether millstone. Material progress is
the upper millstone. Between them; with an increasing pressure, the working classes
are being ground. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 2, Justice of the Remedy: Enslavement of laborers the ultimate result
of private property in land
IT is not in the relations of capital and labor; it is not in the pressure
of population against subsistence that an explanation of the unequal development
of our civilization is to be found. The great cause of inequality in the
distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land. The ownership
of land is the great fundamental fact which ultimately determines the social,
the political and, consequently, the intellectual and moral condition of
a people. And it must be so. For land is the habitation of man, the storehouse
upon which he must draw for all his needs, the material to which his labor
must be applied for the supply of all his desires; for even the products
of the sea cannot be taken, the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces
of nature utilized, without the use of land or its products. On the land
we are born, from it we live, to it we return again — children of the
soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field. — Progress & Poverty — Book
V, Chapter 2: The Problem Solved: The persistence of poverty amid advancing
THERE is nothing strange or inexplicable in the phenomena that are now perplexing
the world. It is not that material progress is not in itself a good, it is
not that nature has called into being children for whom she has failed to provide;
it is not that the Creator has left on natural laws a taint of injustice at
which even the human mind revolts, that material progress brings such bitter
fruits. That amid our highest civilization men faint and die with want is not
due to the niggardliness of nature, but to the injustice of man. Vice and misery,
poverty and pauperism, are not the legitimate results of increase of population
and industrial development; they only follow increase of population and industrial
development because land is treated as private property — they are the
direct and necessary results of the violation of the supreme law of justice,
involved in giving to some men the exclusive possession of that which nature
provides for all men. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 1, Justice of the Remedy: Injustice of private property in land ... go
to "Gems from George"
Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism
of Natural Taxation, from Principles of
Natural Taxation (1917)
Q22. What is privilege?
A. Strictly defined, privilege is, according to the Century Dictionary, "a
special and exclusive power conferred by law on particular persons or classes
of persons and ordinarily in derogation of the common right."
Q23. What is today the popular conception of privilege?
A. That it is the law-given power of one man to profit at another man's expense.
Q24. What are the principal forms of privilege?
A. The appropriation by individuals, or by public service corporations, of
the net rent of land created by the growth and activity of the community
without payment for the same. Also, the less important privileges connected
with patents, tariff, and the currency.
Q25. Where in does privilege differ from capital?
A. Capital is a material thing, a product of labor, stored-up wages; an instrument
of production paid for in human labor, and destined to wear out. Capital
is the natural ally of labor, and is harmless except as allied to privilege.
Privilege is none of these, but is an intangible statutory power, an unpaid-for
and perpetual lien upon the future labor of this and succeeding generations.
Capital is paid for and ephemeral. Privilege is unpaid for and eternal. A
man accumulated in his profession $5,000 capital, which he invested in land
in Canada. Ten years later he sold the same land for $200,000. Here is an
instance of $5,000 capital allied with $195,000 privilege. This illustrates
that privilege and not capital is the real enemy of labor.
Q26. How may franchises be treated?
A. Franchise privileges may be abated, or gradually abolished by lower rates,
or by taxation, or by both, in the interest of the community.
Q27. Why should privilege be especially taxed?
A. Because such payment is fairly due from grantee to the grantor of privilege
and also because a tax upon privilege can never be a burden upon industry
or commerce, nor can it ever operate to reduce the wages of labor or increase
prices to the consumer.
Q28. How are landlords privileged?
A. Because, in so far as their land tax is an "old" tax, it is a
burdenless tax, and because their buildings' tax is shifted upon their tenants;
most landlords who let land and also the tenement houses and business blocks
thereon avoid all share in the tax burden.
Q29. How does privilege affect the distribution of wealth?
A. Wealth as produced is now distributed substantially in but two channels,
privilege and wages. The abolition of privilege would leave but the one proper
channel, viz., wages of capital, hand, and brain. ... read the whole article
Lindy Davies: Land
We were talking about the tendency for landowners to use land as an investment — a
sensible thing to do — not to use it now if they don't need to, but to
think in terms of enjoying its increase in value over time. We even identified
that as the key to the problem of poverty. But — good heavens, what
can we do about that? Isn't that just how the economy works? Isn't the private
ownership of land a basic part of a modern economy? How can we do without
an important institution?
Or in other words — won't the poor always be with us?
Not necessarily. It has been plain, since very earliest days of civil society,
that the private ownership of land leads to exploitation and great extremes
of wealth and poverty. And, since the time of the Book of Leviticus, we have
had a pretty good idea of what to do about it. In that book were recorded
the words "The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is Mine,
for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."
This ideal was codified into a remarkable three-stage program for economic
justice and social harmony: the land laws of Leviticus. The stages were:
1. The Sabbath. Every seventh day was the Lord's day;
people were enjoined to keep it holy and refrain from work. Now, we were
told in Sunday school that this was all about going to church, but, as so
often happens, our teachers missed the deeper significance. Kids who try
to get out of, say, taking out the garbage on the Sabbath realized that the
prohibition was really against gainful work; folks were still allowed to
weed the garden and stuff.
What the Sabbath did was to force people to focus on things that had
meaning beyond striving and striving to get ahead. Indeed, if one did
work on the
Sabbath, while one's neighbors did not, one could become wealthier, at
their expense — which was why the Sabbath was a very big deal:
one of the ten commandments.
2. The Sabbatical. Every seventh year, the fields
were to lie fallow — thus recognizing the right of the earth
itself to be protected against depletion and misuse. And, in the
sabbatical year, debts were to be forgiven. A debt that could not
be paid off
after six years was well on the way to becoming a usurious burden,
a guaranteed flow from the labors of one into the coffers of another.
The canceling of debts in the seventh year was designed to ensure
that nobody got too far ahead, or too far behind.
3. The Jubilee. Even seven times seven years (actually,
every 50th year), each family could return to its original allotment,
or heritage, of land — even if it had been sold in the meantime.
Under biblical law, then, land could not be sold for ever — never
for more than a single generation.
Now it is interesting to note that the economic vision presented in the
bible is not a precursor of communism. Two of the ten commandments explicitly
the institution of private property, and the prophets consistently railed
against landlords and rulers who robbed the people of the fruits of their
laws of Leviticus, which Jesus said he "came not to destroy but to fulfill," envisioned
a community in which everyone was secure in his own home and property, "beneath
his vine and fig tree".
(Incidentally, the quote on the American Liberty Bell, from Leviticus,
chapter 25, was a direct reference to these principles : "Proclaim liberty throughout
the land and to all the people thereof." It was a reference to the Jubilee,
and the freedom it provided was from debt and servitude.)
The division is clear: there is to be a sacred right of private property
in the things that are made by people. But people were not to own the things
that were made by God. The 7th commandment sums up both principles in 4 words: Thou
shalt not steal.
Modern society has looked away from these principles, calling them quaint,
naive, inapplicable to the complexities of our time — yet, modern society
finds itself mired in chronic economic and social problems for which it can
find no solutions — and which threaten to pull down all the advances
of civilization into a dark age — occasioned by some combination of
war, financial implosion or ecological collapse.
If there is any way out of this dark future, it can only come by way of solving
the problem of land and justice.
Fortunately, there exists a plan for that.
This plan takes the shape of a "fiscal reform", because it applies
a definition of the relationship between the individual and the society that
is consistent with both economic efficiency and moral law. It calls for us
to respect the right of labor to create and to save wealth, and we acknowledge
that the value of land is created not by its “owners”, but by
the entire community.
Therefore, we will abolish all taxes on income, products and sales — and
collect the full rental value of land and other natural resources for public
revenue. ... read
the whole speech
Bill Batt: The
Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
In the Georgist
view, this economic rent is the public’s birthright,47 and
the failure to collect it and to use it to pay for the general costs of
government services is a moral as well as a public policy lapse.
Georgists regard the private
confiscation of public wealth as mistaken
policy if not actually an immoral transgression — in a word, theft! He
himself was an advocate of the public owning and protecting “the
commons” and what is today often called “natural capital.” Studies
shown that if economic rent were collected in full as well as other
appropriate revenues such as user fees and green taxes, the total
income would likely be enough to pay not only the costs of all
government services but provide a citizens’ dividend of significant
amounts as well.48 Statistical
data is difficult to compile, but what studies have been attempted to
date indicate that economic rent in all its forms and from all its
comprises approximately a third of the economy as it is currently
Arrangements such as these are to the followers of Henry
George a far more efficient and moral system of public finance. ... read the whole article
Weld Carter: An
Introduction to Henry George
The Ethics of Taxation
It was but a short step from the ethics of property to the ethics of taxation.
George's position here was that as labor and capital rightfully and unconditionally
own what they produce, no one can rightfully appropriate any of their earnings;
nor can the State. On the other hand, land value is always a socially created
value, never the result of action by the owner of the land. Therefore this
is a value that must be taken by society; otherwise, those who comprise
the social whole are deprived of what is rightfully theirs. Furthermore,
to charge the owner for this value, in the form of taxation, is only to
collect from him the precise value of the benefit he receives from society.
As to the justice of taxes on products,
George spoke of "...all taxes now levied on the products and processes of
industry -- which taxes, since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold
to be infringements of the right of property."
justice of taxes on land values, he said, "Adam Smith speaks of incomes
as 'enjoyed under the protection of the state'; and this is the ground
upon which the equal taxation of all species of property is commonly insisted
upon -- that it is equally protected by the state. The basis of this idea
is evidently that the enjoyment of property is made possible by the state
-- that there is a value created and maintained by the community, which
is justly called upon to meet community expenses. Now of what values is
this true? Only of the value of land. This is a value that does not arise
until a community is formed, and that, unlike other values, grows with
the growth of the community. It exists only as the community exists. Scatter
again the largest community, and land, now so valuable, would have no value
at all. With every increase of population the value of land rises; with
every decrease it falls. ...
"The tax upon land values is, therefore,
the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only upon those who receive
from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion
to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use
of the community, that value which is the creation of the community. It is
the application the common property to common uses." ...read the whole article
Robert H. Browne: Abraham Lincoln
and the Men of His Time
“Christ knew better than we that 'No man having put his hand to the
plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God;' nor is many man doing
his duty who shrinks and is faithless to his fellow-men. Now a word more
about Abolitionists and new ideas in Government, whatever they may be: We
are all called Abolitionists now who desire any restriction of slavery or
believe that the system is wrong, as I have declared for years. We are called
so, not to help out a peaceful solution, but in derision, to abase us, and
enable the defamers to make successful combinations against us. I never was
much annoyed by these, less now than ever. I favor the best plan to restrict
the extension of slavery peacefully, and fully believe that we must reach
some plan that will do it, and provide for some method of final extinction
of the evil, before we can have permanent peace on the subject. On other
questions there is ample room for reform when the time comes; but now it
would be folly to think that we could undertake more than we have on hand. But
when slavery is over with and settled, men should never rest content while
oppressions, wrongs, and iniquities are in force against them.
“The land, the earth that God gave to man for his home, his
sustenance, and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation,
society, or unfriendly Government, any more than the air or the water,
if as much. An individual company or enterprise requiring land should hold
no more in their own right than is needed for their home and sustenance,
and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of
their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it
creates an exclusive monopoly. All that is not so 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.
“A reform like this will be worked out some time in the future.
The idle talk of foolish men, that is so common now, on 'Abolitionists,
agitators, and disturbers of the peace,' will find its way against it,
with whatever force it may possess, and as strongly promoted and carried
on as it can be by land monopolists, grasping landlords, and the titled
and untitled senseless enemies of mankind everywhere.” ... read