Wealth and Want
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Women have long been in the workplace, though at one time most were not there by choice; 125 years ago, children were also employed in many of our largest cities.

When middle-class and upper-middle class women entered the workplace in large numbers in the second half of the 20th century, most seemed to be seeking self-actualization. But within not more than 20 years, we've reached the point that most women, even those with several young children, no longer see themselves as having a real economic choice about whether to work. The cost of living has risen — and particularly the cost of housing — as documented by Elizabeth Warren and Amelian Tyagi in their recent book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke. Middle class families no longer have the built-in insurance provided by having only one spouse employed, they have less discretionary income than did their parents' generation, and they have higher fixed costs, including child care. The large group of two-income families have bid up housing costs. Families with only one income earner simply can't compete with them, whether it be a single-parent family or a family which chooses to keep one parent at home with the children.

It gives one pause to consider how different life might be for millions of Americans if, before women entered the workforce in search of career satisfaction, we had moved to land value taxation. Instead of the price of housing being bid up, creating big winners and lots of losers, the commons would have collected some of the land value increase — and left the wages in the pockets of those who earned them.

The next horizon? Enough leisure, for both men and women, at all points on the income and wealth spectrums, to enjoy life, rather than simply being workers.

Henry George: Ode to Liberty  (1877 speech)

Our primary social adjustment is a denial of justice. In allowing one man to own the land on which and from which other men must live, we have made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material progress goes on. This is the subtle alchemy that in ways they do not realize is extracting from the masses in every civilized country the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting a harder and more hopeless slavery in place of that which has been destroyed; that is bringing political despotism out of political freedom, and must soon transmute democratic institutions into anarchy.

It is this that turns the blessings of material progress into a curse. It is this that crowds human beings into noisome cellars and squalid tenement houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that goads men with want and consumes them with greed; that robs women of the grace and beauty of perfect womanhood; that takes from little children the joy and innocence of life’s morning.  ...

In the very centers of our civilization today are want and suffering enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel his nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it? Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundredfold! Would poverty be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would accrue would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the material universe could be utilized only through land. And land, being private property, the classes that now monopolize the bounty of the Creator would monopolize all the new bounty. Land owners would alone be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend to the starvation point!

This is not merely a deduction of political economy; it is a fact of experience. We know it because we have seen it. Within our own times, under our very eyes, that Power which is above all, and in all, and through all; that Power of which the whole universe is but the manifestation; that Power which maketh all things, and without which is not anything made that is made, has increased the bounty which men may enjoy, as truly as though the fertility of nature had been increased.
  • Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the service of mankind.
  • To the inner ear of another was whispered the secret that compels the lightning to bear a message around the globe.
  • In every direction have the laws of matter been revealed; in every department of industry have arisen arms of iron and fingers of steel, whose effect upon the production of wealth has been precisely the same as an increase in the fertility of nature.
What has been the result? Simply that land owners get all the gain. The wonderful discoveries and inventions of our century have neither increased wages nor lightened toil. The effect has simply been to make the few richer; the many more helpless! Can it be that the gifts of the Creator may be thus misappropriated with impunity? Is it a light thing that labor should be robbed of its earnings while greed rolls in wealth — that the many should want while the few are surfeited? Turn to history, and on every page may be read the lesson that such wrong never goes unpunished; that the Nemesis that follows injustice never falters nor sleeps! Look around today. Can this state of things continue? May we even say, “After us the deluge!” Nay; the pillars of the state are trembling even now, and the very foundations of society begin to quiver with pent-up forces that glow underneath. The struggle that must either revivify, or convulse in ruin, is near at hand, if it be not already begun. The fiat has gone forth! With steam and electricity, and the new powers born of progress, forces have entered the world that will either compel us to a higher plane or overwhelm us, as nation after nation, as civilization after civilization, have been overwhelmed before. It is the delusion which precedes destruction that sees in the popular unrest with which the civilized world is feverishly pulsing only the passing effect of ephemeral causes. Between democratic ideas and the aristocratic adjustments of society there is an irreconcilable conflict. Here in the United States, as there in Europe, it may be seen arising.
  • We cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to tramp.
  • We cannot go on educating boys and girls in our public schools and then refusing them the right to earn an honest living.
  • We cannot go on prating of the inalienable rights of man and then denying the inalienable right to the bounty of the Creator.
Even now, in old bottles the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental forces gather for the strife! ... read the whole speech

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

It is the year of grace 1881, and of the Republic the 105th. The girl who has brought in coal for my fire is twenty years old. She was born in New York, and can neither read nor write. To me, when I heard it, this seemed sin and shame, and I got her a spelling-book. She is trying what she can, but it is uphill work. She has really no time. Last night when I came in, at eleven, she was not through scrubbing the halls. She gets four dollars a month. Her shoes cost two dollars a pair. She says she can sew; but I guess it is about as I can. In the natural course of things, this girl will be a mother of citizens of the Republic.

Underneath are girls who can sew; they run sewing-machines with their feet all day. I have seen girls in Asia carrying water-jugs on their heads and young women in South America bearing burdens. They were lithe and strong and symmetrical; but to turn a young woman into motive power for a sewing-machine is to weaken and injure her physically. And these girls are to rear, or ought to rear, citizens of the Republic.

But there is worse and worse than this. Go out into the streets at night, and you will find them filled with girls who will never be mothers. To the man who has known the love of mother, of sister, of sweetheart, wife, and daughter, this is the saddest sight of all.

The ladies of the Brooklyn churches – they are getting up petitions for the suppression of Mormon polygamy; they would have it rooted out with pains and penalties, trampled out, if need be, with fire and sword; and their reverend Congressman-elect is going, when he takes his seat, to introduce a most stringent bill to that end; for that a man should have more wives than one is a burning scandal in a Christian country. So it is; but there are also other burning scandals. As for scandals that excite talk, I will spare Brooklyn a comparison with Salt Lake. But as to ordinary things: I have walked through the streets of Salt Lake City, by day and by night, without seeing what in the streets of New York or Brooklyn excites no comment. Polygamy is unnatural and wrong, no doubt of that, for Nature brings into the world something over twenty-two boys for every twenty girls. But is not a state of society unnatural and wrong in which there are thousands and thousands of girls for whom no husband ever offers? Can we brag of a state of society in which one citizen can load his wife with more diamonds than an Indian chief can put beads on his squaw, while many other citizens are afraid to marry lest they cannot support a wife – a state of society in which prostitution flourishes? Polygamy is bad, but is it not better than that? Civilization is advancing day by day; never was such progress as we are making! Yet divorces are increasing and insanity is increasing. What is the goal of a civilization that tends toward free love and the madhouse? ... . read the whole article

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

I AM convinced that we make a great mistake in depriving one sex of voice in public matters, and that we could in no way so increase the attention, the intelligence and the devotion which may be brought to the solution of social problems as by enfranchising our women. Even if in a ruder state of society the intelligence of one sex suffices for the management of common interests, the vastly more intricate, more delicate and more important questions which the progress of civilization makes of public moment, require the intelligence of women as of men, and that we never can obtain until we interest them in public affairs. And I have come to believe that very much of the inattention, the flippancy, the want of conscience, which we see manifested in regard to public matters of the greatest moment, arises from the fact that we debar our women from taking their proper part in these matters. Nothing will fully interest men unless it also interests women. There are those who say that women are less intelligent than men; but who will say that they are less influential? — Social Problems — Chapter 22: Conclusion

... go to "Gems from George"




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