Wealth and Want
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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 to privatize that which is rightly the 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 privileges. — 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

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 11 Effect of Remedy Upon the Sharing of Wealth (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 2: Of the Effect Upon Distribution and Thence Upon Production

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 and capital.

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 increased 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 equality.

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, the equalization 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, the 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, that in 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 his head 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 Novarum (1891)

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 use it.

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 applied.

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 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.

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 to do.

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 impoverishing others.

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 fixed —

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 communities 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 curses. 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. You urge:

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 God.

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 and pauperism.

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 for all.

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 labor.

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 it.

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 for themselves.

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 in force 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 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 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 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 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 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 Labor

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 destroy.

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, unvexed 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 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 cheers) ...

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. Why 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 tax were used against the abolition of chattel slavery, even down to the "poor widow argument."

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) What 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 live 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 there, 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 population 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 slave states 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, having a 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 them 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, and groans)

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. (Cheers)

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 to merely 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 wealth

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 and Justice

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 such 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 support the institution of private property, and the prophets consistently railed against landlords and rulers who robbed the people of the fruits of their labor. The 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 have 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 sources comprises approximately a third of the economy as it is currently calculated.49 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." 

Of the 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 extended excerpts


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