|Wealth and Want|
|... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.|
|Home||Essential Documents||Themes||All Documents||Authors||Glossary||Links||Contact Us|
I know of a mechanical force more powerful than anything the vaunting engineer of Syracuse ever dreamed of. It is the force of land monopoly; it is a screw and lever all in one; it will screw the last penny out of a man's pocket, and bend everything on earth to its own despotic will. Give me the private ownership of all the land, and will I move the earth? No; but I will do more. I will undertake to make slaves of all the human beings on the face of it. Not chattel slaves exactly, but slaves nevertheless. What an idiot I would be to make chattel slaves of them. I would have to find them salts and senna when they were sick, and whip them to work when they were lazy.
No, it is not good enough. Under the system I propose the fools would imagine they were all free. I would get a maximum of results, and have no responsibility whatever. They would cultivate the soil; they would dive into the bowels of the earth for its hidden treasures; they would build cities and construct railways and telegraphs; their ships would navigate the ocean; they would work and work, and invent and contrive; their warehouses would be full, their markets glutted, and:
That everything they made would belong to me.
It would be this way, you see: As
I owned all the land, they would
of course, have to pay me rent. They could not reasonably expect me
to allow them the use of the land for nothing. I am not a hard man,
and in fixing the rent I would be very liberal with them. I would
allow them, in fact, to fix it themselves. What could be fairer? Here
is a piece of land, let us say, it might be a farm, it might be a
building site, or it might be something else - if there was only one
man who wanted it, of course he would not offer me much, but if the
land be really worth anything such a circumstance is not likely to
happen. On the contrary, there would be a number who would want it,
and they would go on bidding and bidding one against the other, in
order to get it. I should accept the highest offer - what could be
fairer? Every increase of population, extension of trade, every
advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know, increase the
value of land, and the competition that would naturally arise would
continue to force rents upward, so much so, that in many cases the
tenants would have little or nothing left for themselves.... Read
the whole piece
"A. J. O." (probably Mark Twain) Slavery
Suppose I am the owner of an estate and 100 slaves, all the land about being held in the same way by people of the same class as myself. It is a profitable business, but there are many expenses and annoyances attached to it. I must keep up my supply of slaves either by buying or breeding them. I must pay an overseer to keep them continually to their work with a lash. I must keep them in a state of brutish ignorance (to the detriment of their efficiency), for fear they should learn their rights and their power, and become dangerous. I must tend them in sickness and when past work. And the slaves have all the vices and defects that slavery engenders; they have no self-respect or moral sense; they lie, they steal, they are lazy, shirking work whenever they dare; they do not care what mischief their carelessness occasions me so long as it is not found out; their labor is obtained by force, and given grudgingly; they have no heart in it. All these things worry me. ...
Suddenly a brilliant idea strikes me. I reflect that there is no unoccupied land in the neighbourhood, so that if my laborers were free they would still have to look to me for work somehow. ...
So they all set to at the old work at the old place, and on the old terms, only a little differently administered; that is, that whereas I formerly supplied them with food, clothes, etc., direct from my stores, I now give them a weekly wage representing the value of those articles, which they w ill henceforth have to buy for themselves.
There is a difference, too, in some other respects, indicating a moral improvement in our relations. I can no longer curse and flog them. But then I don’t want to; it’s no longer necessary; the threat of dismissal is quite as effective, even more so; and much more pleasant for me.
I can no longer separate husband from wife, parent from child. But then again, I don’t want to. There would be no profit in it; leaving them their wives and children has the double advantage of making them more contented with their lot, and giving me greater power over them, for they have now got to keep these wives and children out of their own earnings.
My men are now as eager as ever to come to me to work as they formerly were to run away from work. I have neither to buy or breed them; and if any suddenly leave me, instead of letting loose the bloodhounds, I have merely to hold up a finger or advertise, and I have plenty of others offering to take their place. I am saved the expense and worry of incessant watching and driving. I have no sick to attend, or worn-out pensioners to maintain. If a man falls ill there is nothing but my good nature to prevent my turning him off at once; the whole affair is a purely commercial transaction -- so much wages for so much work. The patriarchal relation of slave-owner and slave is gone, and no other has taken its place. When the man is worn out with long service I can turn him out with a clear business conscience, knowing that the State will see that he does not starve.
Instead of being forced to keep my men in brutish ignorance, I find public schools established at other people’s expense to stimulate their intelligence and improve their minds, to my great advantage, and their children compelled to attend these schools. The service I get, too, being now voluntarily rendered (or apparently so) is much improved in quality. In short, the arrangement pays me better in many ways.
But I gain in other ways besides pecuniary benefit. I have lost the stigma of being a slave driver, and have, acquired instead the character of a man of energy and enterprise, of justice and benevolence. I am a "large employer of labor," to whom the whole country, and the laborer especially, is greatly indebted, and people say, "See the power of capital! These poor laborers, having no capital, could not use the land if they had it, so this great and far-seeing man wisely refuses to let them have it, and keeps it all for himself, but by providing them with employment his capital saves them from pauperism, and enables him to build up the wealth of the country, and his own fortune together."
Whereas it is not my capital that does any of these things. It is not my capital but the laborer’s toil that builds up my fortune and the wealth of the country. It is not my employment that keeps him from pauperism, but my monopoly of the land forcing him into my employment that keeps him on the brink of it. It is not want of capital that keeps the laborer from using the land, but my refusing him the use of the land that prevents him from acquiring capital. All the capital he wants to begin with is an axe and a spade, which a week’s earnings would buy him, and for his maintenance during the first year, and at any subsequent time, he could work for me or for others, turnabout, with his work on his own land. Henceforth with every year his capital would grow of itself, and his independence with it, and that this is no fancy sketch, anyone can see for himself by taking a trip into the country, where he will find well-to-do farmers who began with nothing but a spade and an axe (so to speak) and worked their way up in the manner described.
But now another thought strikes me. Instead of paying an overseer to work these men for me, I will make him pay me for the privilege of doing it. I will let the land as it stands to him or to another – to whomsoever will give the most for the billet. He shall be called my tenant instead of my overseer, but the things he shall do for me are essentially the same, only done by contract instead of for yearly pay. ...
For a moderate reduction in my profits, then – a reduction equal to the tenant’s narrow margin of profit – I have all the toil and worry of management taken off my hands, and the risk too, for be the season good or bad, the rent is bound to be forthcoming, and I can sell him up to the last rag if he fails of the full amount, no matter for what reason; and my rent takes precedence of all other debts. All my capital is set free for investment elsewhere, and I am freed from the odium of a slave owner, notwithstanding that the men still toil for my enrichment as when they were slaves, and that I get more out of them than ever. If I wax rich while they toil from hand to mouth, and in depressed seasons find it hard to get work at all; it is not, to all appearances, my doing, but merely the force of circumstances, the law of nature, the state of the labor market – fine sounding names that hide the ugly reality.
If wages are forced down it is not I that do it; it is that greedy and merciless man the employer (my tenant) who does it. I am a lofty and superior being, dwelling apart and above such sordid considerations. I would never dream of grinding these poor laborers, not I! I have nothing to do with them at all; I only want my rent -- and get it. Like the lilies of the field, I toil not, neither do I spin, and yet (so kind is Providence!) my daily bread (well buttered) comes to me of itself. Nay, people bid against each other for the privilege of finding it for me; and no one seems to realise that the comfortable income that falls to me like the refreshing dew is dew indeed; but it is the dew of sweat wrung from the laborers’ toil. It is the fruit of their labor which they ought to have; which they would have if I did not take it from them.
This sketch illustrates the fact that chattel slavery is not the only nor even the worst form of bondage. When the use of the earth – the sole source of our daily bread – is denied unless one pays a fellow creature for permission to use it, people are bereft of economic freedom. The only way to regain that freedom is to collect the rent of land instead of taxes for the public domain.
Once upon a time, labor leaders in the USA, the UK and Australia understood these facts. The labor movements of those countries were filled with people who fought for the principles of ‘the single tax’ on land at the turn of the twentieth century. But since then and they have gradually yielded to the forces of privilege and power daring no longer to come to grips with this fundamental question, lest they, too, become ridiculed. And so the world continues to wallow in this particular ignorance – and in its ensuing poverty and debt. Read the whole piece
Henry George: In Liverpool: The Financial Reform Meeting at the Liverpool Rotunda (1889)
to email this page to a friend: right click, choose "send"
Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper