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Henry George
Classical economics
Henry George.jpg
Henry George
Birth September 21, 1839(1839-09-21)
Death October 29, 1897 (aged 58)
Nationality American
Contributions Georgism; studied land as a factor in economic inequality and business cycles; proposed land value tax

Henry George (September 21, 1839 – October 29, 1897) was an American writer, politician and political economist, who was the most influential proponent of the land value tax, also known as the "Single Tax" on land. He inspired the philosophy and economic ideology known as Georgism, which is that everyone owns what they create, but that everything found in nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all humanity. His most famous work is Progress and Poverty written during 1879; it is a treatise on inequality, the cyclic nature of industrial economies and possible remedies.

Contents

Biography

George was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a lower-middle class family, the second of ten children of Richard S. H. George and Catharine Pratt (Vallance) George. His formal education ended at age 14 and he went to sea as a foremast boy at age 15 in April 1855 on the Hindoo, bound for Melbourne and Calcutta. He returned to Philadelphia after 14 months at sea to become an apprentice typesetter before settling in California. After a failed attempt at gold mining he began work with the newspaper industry during 1865, starting as a printer, continuing as a journalist, and ending as an editor and proprietor. He worked for several papers, including four years (1871-1875) as editor of his own newspaper San Francisco Daily Evening Post.

In California, George became enamored of Annie Corsina Fox, an eighteen-year-old Australian girl who had been orphaned and was living with an uncle. The uncle, a prosperous, strong-minded man, was opposed to his niece's impoverished suitor. But the couple, defying him, eloped and married during late 1861, with Henry dressed in a borrowed suit and Annie bringing only a packet of books. The marriage was a happy one and four children were born to them. Fox's mother was Irish Catholic, and while George remained an Evangelical Protestant, the children were raised Catholic. On November 3, 1862 Annie gave birth to future United States Representative from New York, Henry George, Jr. (1862 - 1916). Early on, with two sons born by 1865, the family was near starvation, but George's increasing reputation and involvement in the newspaper industry lifted them from poverty.

George began as a Lincoln Republican, but then became a Democrat, once losing an election to the California State Assembly. He was a strong critic of railroad and mining interests, corrupt politicians, land speculators, and labor contractors.

One day during 1871 George went for a horseback ride and stopped to rest while overlooking San Francisco Bay. He later wrote of the revelation that he had:

I asked a passing teamster, for want of something better to say, what land was worth there. He pointed to some cows grazing so far off that they looked like mice, and said, 'I don't know exactly, but there is a man over there who will sell some land for a thousand dollars an acre.' Like a flash it came over me that there was the reason of advancing poverty with advancing wealth. With the growth of population, land grows in value, and the men who work it must pay more for the privilege.[1]

Furthermore, on a visit to New York City, he was struck by the apparent paradox that the poor in that long-established city were much worse off than the poor in less developed California. These observations supplied the theme and title for his 1879 book Progress and Poverty, which was a great success, selling over 3 million copies. In it George made the argument that a sizeable portion of the wealth created by social and technological advances in a free market economy is possessed by land owners and monopolists via economic rents, and that this concentration of unearned wealth is the main cause of poverty. George considered it a great injustice that private profit was being earned from restricting access to natural resources while productive activity was burdened with heavy taxes, and indicated that such a system was equivalent to slavery - a concept somewhat similar to wage slavery.

George was in a position to discover this pattern, having experienced poverty himself, knowing many different societies from his travels, and living in California at a time of rapid growth. In particular he had noticed that the construction of railroads in California was increasing land values and rents as fast or faster than wages were rising.

Policy proposals

Henry george old.gif
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Monopolies

George advocated taxation, regulation or state ownership of natural monopolies. He supported a state-run telegraph service and municipal control of water supplies. On railroads he was more flexible, sometimes suggesting that rolling stock could be operated privately so long as the tracks were owned by the state. He was very critical of state-sanctioned monopolies and advocated they be dismantled if possible, for example, by replacing patents with government-supported incentives for invention and scientific investigation.

Chinese immigration

Some of George's earliest articles to gain him fame were on his opinion that Chinese immigration should be restricted.[2] Although he thought that there might be some situations in which immigration restriction would no longer be necessary and admitted his first analysis of the issue of immigration was "crude", he defended many of these statements for the rest of his life.[3] In particular he argued that immigrants accepting lower wages had the undesirable effect of forcing down wages generally. He acknowledged, however, that wages could only be driven down as low as whatever alternative for self-employment was available.

The Single Tax on Land

Henry George is best known for his argument that the economic rent of land should be shared by society rather than being owned privately. The clearest statement of this view is found in Progress and Poverty: "We must make land common property."[4] Although this could be done by nationalizing land and then leasing it to private parties, George preferred taxing unimproved land value, in part because this would be less disruptive and controversial in a land where titles have already been granted to individuals. With this "single tax" the state could avoid having to tax any other types of wealth or transaction. Introducing a large land value tax causes the value of land titles to decrease correspondingly, but George did not believe landowners should be compensated, and described the issue as being analogous to compensation of former slave owners.

Modern economists like the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize winner Milton Friedman agree that Henry George's land tax is potentially beneficial because unlike other taxes, land taxes do not impose an excess burden on the economy, and thus stimulate more rapid economic growth. Modern-day environmentalists have agreed with the idea of the earth as the common property of humanity – and some have endorsed the idea of ecological tax reform, including substantial taxes or fees on pollution as a replacement for "command and control" regulation.

Free Trade

George was opposed to tariffs, which were at the time both the major method of protectionist trade policy and an important source of federal revenue (the federal income tax having not yet been introduced). Later in his life, free trade became a major issue in federal politics and his book Protection or Free Trade was read into the Congressional Record by five Democratic congressmen.

Secret Ballots

George was one of the earliest, strongest and most prominent advocates for adoption of the Australian Ballot in the U.S.A. [5]

Political career

The grave of Henry George, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

During 1880, now a popular writer and speaker[6], George moved to New York City, becoming closely allied with the Irish nationalist community despite being of English ancestry. From there he made several speaking journeys abroad to places such as Ireland and Scotland where access to land was (and still is) a major political issue. During 1886 George campaigned for mayor of New York City as the candidate of the United Labor Party, the short-lived political society of the Central Labor Union. He polled second, more than the Republican candidate Theodore Roosevelt. The election was won by Tammany Hall candidate Abram Stevens Hewitt by what many of George's supporters believed was fraud. In the 1887 New York state elections George came in a distant third in the election for Secretary of State of New York. The United Labor Party was soon weakened by internal divisions: the management was essentially Georgist, but as a party of organised labor it also included some Marxist members who did not want to distinguish between land and capital, many Catholic members who were discouraged by the excommunication of Father Edward McGlynn, and many who disagreed with George's free trade policy. Against the advice of his doctors, George campaigned for mayor again during 1897, this time as an Independent Democrat. He died of a stroke four days before the election. An estimated 100,000 people attended his funeral.

Subsequent influence

In the United Kingdom during 1909, the Liberal Government of the day attempted to implement his ideas as part of the People's Budget. This caused a crisis which resulted indirectly in reform of the House of Lords. George's ideas were also adopted to some degree in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, and Taiwan. In these countries, governments still levy some type of land value tax, albeit with exemptions.

Hong Kong is perhaps the best example of the successful implementation of a high land value tax. The Hong Kong government generates more than 35% of its revenue from land taxes, and keeps its other tax rates low.[7]

Although both advocated worker's rights, Henry George and Karl Marx were antagonists. Marx saw the Single Tax platform as a step backwards from the transition to communism.[8] On his part, Henry George predicted that if Marx's ideas were tried the likely result would be a dictatorship.[9]

Henry George's popularity decreased gradually during the 20th century, and he is little known today. However, there are still many Georgist organizations in existence. Many people who still remain famous were influenced by him. For example, George Bernard Shaw [2], Leo Tolstoy [3] [4] , Sun Yat Sen [5], Herbert Simon [6], and David Lloyd George. A follower of George, Lizzie Magie, created a board game called The Landlord's Game in 1904 to demonstrate his theories. After further development this game led to the modern board game Monopoly. [7]

J. Frank Colbert, a newspaperman, a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and later the mayor of Minden, joined the Georgist movement during 1927. During 1932, Colbert addressed the Henry George Congress at Memphis, Tennessee.

Also notable is Silvio Gesell's Freiwirtschaft [8], in which Gesell combined Henry George's ideas about land ownership and rents with his own theory about the money system and interest rates and his successive development of Freigeld.

In his last book, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?, Martin Luther King, Jr referenced Henry George in support of a guaranteed minimum income.[9] George's influence has ranged widely across the political spectrum. Noted progressives such as consumer rights advocate (and U.S. Presidential candidate) Ralph Nader [10] and Congressman Dennis Kucinich [11] have spoken positively about George in campaign platforms and speeches. His ideas have also received praise from conservative journalists William F. Buckley, Jr. [12] and Frank Chodorov [13], as well as free-market economists such as Milton Friedman [14], Fred E. Foldvary [15] and Stephen Moore [16]. The libertarian political and social commentator Albert Jay Nock [17] was also an avowed admirer, and wrote extensively on the Georgist economic and social philosophy.

Mason Gaffney, an American economist and a major Georgist critic of neoclassical economics, argued that neoclassical economics was designed and promoted by landowners and their hired economists to divert attention from George's extremely popular philosophy that since land and resources are provided by nature, and their value is given by society, they - rather than labor or capital - should provide the tax base to fund government and its expenditures.[10]

The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation [18], an incorporated "operating foundation," also publishes copies of George's work on economic reform and sponsors academic research into his policy proposals[19].

Economic contributions

George developed what he saw as a crucial feature of his own theory of economics in a critique of an illustration used by Frédéric Bastiat in order to explain the nature of interest and profit. Bastiat had asked his readers to consider James and William, both carpenters. James has built himself a plane, and has lent it to William for a year. Would James be satisfied with the return of an equally good plane a year later? Surely not! He'd expect a board along with it, as interest. The basic idea of a theory of interest is to understand why. Bastiat said that James had given William over that year "the power, inherent in the instrument, to increase the productivity of his labor," and wants compensation for that increased productivity.

George did not accept this explanation. He wrote, "I am inclined to think that if all wealth consisted of such things as planes, and all production was such as that of carpenters -- that is to say, if wealth consisted but of the inert matter of the universe, and production of working up this inert matter into different shapes, that interest would be but the robbery of industry, and could not long exist." But some wealth is inherently fruitful, like a pair of breeding cattle, or a vat of grape juice soon to ferment into wine. Planes and other sorts of inert matter (and the most lent item of all—- money itself) earn interest indirectly, by being part of the same "circle of exchange" with fruitful forms of wealth such as those, so that tying up these forms of wealth over time incurs an opportunity cost.

George's theory had its share of critiques. Austrian school economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, for example, expressed a negative judgment of George's discussion of the carpenter's plane. On page 339 of his treatise, Capital and Interest, he wrote:

In the first place, it is impossible to support his distinction of the branches of production into two classes, in one of which the vital forces of nature are supposed to constitute a special element which functions side by side with labour, and in the other of which this is not true. [...] The natural sciences have long since proved to us that the cooperation of nature is universal. [...] The muscular movements of the person using the plane would be of little use, if they did not have the assistance of the natural forces and properties of the plane iron.

Later, George argued that the role of time in production is pervasive. In "The Science of Political Economy", he writes:[11]

[I]f I go to a builder and say to him, "In what time and at what price will you build me such and such a house?" he would, after thinking, name a time, and a price based on it. This specification of time would be essential.... This I would soon find if, not quarreling with the price, I ask him largely to lessen the time.... I might get the builder somewhat to lessen the time... ; but only by greatly increasing the price, until finally a point would be reached where he would not consent to build the house in less time no matter at what price. He would say [that the house just could not be built any faster]....

The importance ... of this principle that all production of wealth requires time as well as labor we shall see later on; but the principle that time is a necessary element in all production we must take into account from the very first.

According to Oscar B. Johannsen, "Since the very basis of the Austrian concept of value is subjective, it is apparent that George's understanding of value paralleled theirs. However, he either did not understand or did not appreciate the importance of marginal utility."[12]

Another spirited response came from British biologist T.H. Huxley in his article "Capital - the Mother of Labour," published in 1890 in the journal The Nineteenth Century. Huxley used the principles of energy science to undermine George's theory, arguing that, energetically speaking, labor is unproductive.

George's early emphasis on the "productive forces of nature" is now dismissed even by otherwise Georgist authors.

Notes

  1. ^ Quoted in Nock, Albert Jay. "Henry George: Unorthodox American, Part I".
  2. ^ "Chinese immigration". Library of Economics and Liberty.
  3. ^ ."Second Period:Formulation of the Philosophy", www.henrygeorge.org
  4. ^ George, Henry (1879). "2". Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth. VI. New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. ISBN 0914016601. http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/George/grgPP26.html. Retrieved 2008-05-12.  
  5. ^ 'Jill Lepore' (2008-10-13). "'Rock, Paper, Scissors: How we used to vote'". New Yorker. New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/13/081013fa_fact_lepore.  
  6. ^ According to his granddaughter Agnes de Mille, Progress and Poverty and its successors made Henry George the third most famous man in the USA, behind only Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. [1]
  7. ^ "'Land Tax' and high land prices in Hong Kong". Policy Papers. Hong Kong Democratic Foundation. http://www.hkdf.org/pr.asp?func=show&pr=24. Retrieved 2008-05-12.  
  8. ^ Karl Marx - Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge in Hoboken
  9. ^ Henry George's Thought [1878822810] - $49.95 : Zen Cart!, The Art of E-commerce
  10. ^ Gaffney, Mason and Harrison, Fred. The Corruption of Economics. (London: Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd., 1994) ISBN 085638162X (hardback), ISBN 0856381530 (paperback).
  11. ^ Cited in Yeager, Leland B. Henry George and Austrian economics - History of Thought. The American journal of economics and sociology (Am. j. econ. sociol.) ISSN 0002-9246.
  12. ^ Johannsen, Oscar B. Henry George and the Austrian economists. The American journal of economics and sociology (Am. j. econ. sociol.) ISSN 0002-9246. Abstract.

See also

References

"Henry George" by Charles Albro Barker, Oxford University Press 1955 and Greenwood Press 1974. ISBN 0-8371-7775-8

  • George, Henry. (1881). Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth; The Remedy. Kegan Paul (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 9781108003612)

Bibliography

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

If thinking men are few, they are for that reason all the more powerful. Let no man imagine that he has no influence. Whoever he may be, and wherever he may be placed, the man who thinks becomes a light and a power.

Henry George (September 2, 1839October 29, 1897) was an American political economist.

Contents

Sourced

To prevent government from becoming corrupt and tyrannous, its organization and methods should be as simple as possible, its functions be restricted to those necessary to the common welfare, and in all its parts it should be kept as close to the people and as directly within their control as may be.
What is the use of objecting to the word when we have the thing? The man who gives me employment, which I must have or suffer, that man is my master, let me call him what I will.
We have made, and still are making, enormous advances on material lines. It is necessary that we commensurately advance on moral lines. Civilization, as it progresses, requires a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit.
Social reform is not to be secured by noise and shouting; by complaints and denunciation; by the formation of parties, or the making of revolutions; but by the awakening of thought and the progress of ideas. Until there be correct thought, there cannot be right action; and when there is correct thought, right action will follow.
The great work of the present for every man, and every organization of men, who would improve social conditions, is the work of education — the propagation of ideas. It is only as it aids this that anything else can avail.
Whoever becomes imbued with a noble idea kindles a flame from which other torches are lit, and influences those with whom he comes in contact, be they few or many. How far that influence, thus perpetuated, may extend, it is not given to him here to see.
As Mazzini said … it is around the standard of duty rather than around the standard of self-interest that men must rally to win the rights of man. And herein may we see the deep philosophy of Him who bade men love their neighbors as themselves.
In that spirit, and in no other, is the power to solve social problems and carry civilization onward.

Progress and Poverty (1879)

Full text online at Wikisource - 1912 edition online
  • At the beginning of this marvelous era it was natural to expect, and it was expected, that labor-saving inventions would lighten the toil and improve the condition of the laborer; that the enormous increase in the power of producing wealth would make real poverty a thing of the past. ... It is true that disappointment has followed disappointment, and that discovery upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither lessened the toil of those who most need respite, nor brought plenty to the poor. But there have been so many things to which it seemed this failure could be laid, that up to our time the new faith has hardly weakened. We have better appreciated the difficulties to be overcome; but not the less trusted that the tendency of the times was to overcome them.
    Now, however, we are coming into collision with facts which there can be no mistaking. From all parts of the civilized world come complaints of industrial depression; of labor condemned to involuntary idleness; of capital massed and wasting; of pecuniary distress among businessmen; of want and suffering and anxiety among the working classes. All the dull, deadening pain, all the keen, maddening anguish, that to great masses of men are involved in the words "hard times," afflict the world to-day. This state of things, common to communities differing so widely in situation, in political institutions, in fiscal and financial systems, in density of population and in social organization, can hardly be accounted for by local causes.
    • Introductory : The Problem
  • That there is a common cause, an that it is either what we call material progress or something closely connected with material progress, becomes more than an inference when it is noted that the phenomena we class together and speak of as industrial depression are but intensifications of phenomena which always accompany material progress, and which show themselves more clearly and strongly as material progress goes on. Where the conditions to which material progress everywhere tends are the most fully realized—that is to say, where population is densest, wealth greatest, and the machinery of production and exchange most highly developed — we find the deepest poverty, the sharpest struggle for existence, and the most of enforced idleness.
    • Introductory : The Problem
  • It is true that wealth has been greatly increased, and that the average of comfort, leisure, and refinement has been raised; but these gains are not general. In them the lowest class do not share. I do not mean that the condition of the lowest class has nowhere nor in anything been improved; but that there is nowhere any improvement which can be credited to increased productive power. I mean that the tendency of what we call material progress is in nowise to improve the condition of the lowest class in the essentials of healthy, happy human life. Nay, more, that it is still further to depress the condition of the lowest class. The new forces, elevating in their nature though they be, do not act upon the social fabric from underneath, as was for a long time hoped and believed, but strike it at a point intermediate between top and bottom. It is as though an immense wedge were being forced, not underneath society, but through society. Those who are above the point of separation are elevated, but those who are below are crushed down.
    • Introductory : The Problem
  • I propose in this inquiry to take nothing for granted, but to bring even accepted theories to the test of first principles, and should they not stand the test, freshly to interrogate facts in the endeavor to discover their law.
    I propose to beg no question, to shrink from no conclusion, but to follow truth wherever it may lead.
    Upon us is the responsibility of seeking the law, for in the very heart of our civilization to-day women faint and little children moan. But what that law may prove to be is not our affair. If the conclusions that we reach run counter to our prejudices, let us not flinch; if they challenge institutions that have long been deemed wise and natural, let us not turn back.
    • Introductory : The Problem
  • It is as to whether its services or uses are to be exchanged or not which makes a tool an article of capital or merely an article of wealth. Thus, the lathe of a manufacturer used in making things which are to be exchanged is capital, while the lathe kept by a gentleman for his own amusement is not.
  • It is too narrow an understanding of production which confines it merely to the making of things. Production includes not merely the making of things, but the bringing of them to the consumer. The merchant or storekeeper is thus as truly a producer as is the manufacturer, or farmer, and his stock or capital is as much devoted to production as is theirs.
  • 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, of that value which is the creation of the community. It is the application of the common property to common uses. When all rent is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will the equality ordained by Nature be attained. No citizen will have an advantage over any other citizen save as is given by his industry, skill, and intelligence; and each will obtain what he fairly earns. Then, but not till then, will labor get its full reward, and capital its natural return.
  • To admit that labor needs protection is to acknowledge its inferiority; it is to acquiesce in an assumption that degrades the workman to the position of a dependent, and leads logically to the claim that the employee is bound to vote in the interest of the employer who provides him with work.
  • The methods by which a trade union can alone act, are necessarily destructive; its organization is necessarily tyrannical.[1]

Social Problems (1883)

Full text online
  • A great change is going on all over the civilized world similar to that infeudation which, in Europe, during the rise of the feudal system, converted free proprietors into vassals, and brought all society into subordination to a hierarchy of wealth and privilege. Whether the new aristocracy is hereditary or not makes little difference. Chance alone may determine who will get the few prizes of a lottery. But it is not the less certain that the vast majority of all who take part in it must draw blanks. The forces of the new era have not yet had time to make status hereditary, but we may clearly see that when the industrial organization compels a thousand workmen to take service under one master, the proportion of masters to men will be but as one to a thousand, though the one may come from the ranks of the thousand. "Master"! We don't like the word. It is not American! But what is the use of objecting to the word when we have the thing? The man who gives me employment, which I must have or suffer, that man is my master, let me call him what I will.
    • Ch. 5 : The March of Concentration
  • No amount of force will break an egg-shell if exerted on one side alone. So capital could not squeeze labor as long as labor was free to natural opportunities, and in a world where these natural materials and opportunities were as free to all as is the air to us, there could be no difficulty in finding employment, no willing hands conjoined with hungry stomachs, no tendency of wages toward the minimum on which the worker could barely live. In such a world we would no more think of thanking anybody for furnishing us employment than we here think of thanking anybody for furnishing us with appetites.
    That the Creator might have put us in the kind of world I have sought to imagine, as readily as in this kind of a world, I have no doubt. Why he has not done so may, however, I think, be seen. That kind of a world would be best for fools. This is the best for men who will use the intelligence with which they have been gifted. Of this, however, I shall speak hereafter. What I am now trying to do by asking my readers to endeavor to imagine a world in which natural opportunities were "as free as air," is to show that the barrier which prevents labor from freely using land is the nether millstone against which labor is ground, the true cause of the difficulties which are apparent through the whole industrial organization.
    • Ch. 13 : Unemployed Labor
  • To prevent government from becoming corrupt and tyrannous, its organization and methods should be as simple as possible, its functions be restricted to those necessary to the common welfare, and in all its parts it should be kept as close to the people and as directly within their control as may be.
    • Ch. 17 : The Functions of Government
  • More is given to us than to any people at any time before; and, therefore, more is required of us. We have made, and still are making, enormous advances on material lines. It is necessary that we commensurately advance on moral lines. Civilization, as it progresses, requires a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider, loftier, truer public spirit. Falling these, civilization must pass into destruction. It cannot be maintained on the ethics of savagery. For civilization knits men more and more closely together, and constantly tends to subordinate the individual to the whole, and to make more and more important social conditions.
  • I ask no one who may read this book to accept my views. I ask him to think for himself.
    Whoever, laying aside prejudice and self-interest, will honestly and carefully make up his own mind as to the causes and the cure of the social evils that are so apparent, does, in that, the most important thing in his power toward their removal. This primary obligation devolves upon us individually, as citizens and as men. Whatever else we may be able to do, this must come first. For "if the blind lead the blind, they both shall fall into the ditch."
    Social reform is not to be secured by noise and shouting; by complaints and denunciation; by the formation of parties, or the making of revolutions; but by the awakening of thought and the progress of ideas. Until there be correct thought, there cannot be right action; and when there is correct thought, right action will follow. Power is always in the hands of the masses of men. What oppresses the masses is their own ignorance, their own short-sighted selfishness.
    • Ch. 21 : Conclusion
  • The great work of the present for every man, and every organization of men, who would improve social conditions, is the work of education — the propagation of ideas. It is only as it aids this that anything else can avail. And in this work every one who can think may aid — first by forming clear ideas himself, and then by endeavoring to arouse the thought of those with whom he comes in contact.
    • Ch. 21 : Conclusion
  • Many there are, too depressed, too embruted with hard toil and the struggle for animal existence, to think for themselves. Therefore the obligation devolves with all the more force on those who can. If thinking men are few, they are for that reason all the more powerful. Let no man imagine that he has no influence. Whoever he may be, and wherever he may be placed, the man who thinks becomes a light and a power. That for every idle word men may speak they shall give an account at the day of judgment, seems a hard saying. But what more clear than that the theory of the persistence of force, which teaches us that every movement continues to act and react, must apply as well to the universe of mind as to that of matter? Whoever becomes imbued with a noble idea kindles a flame from which other torches are lit, and influences those with whom he comes in contact, be they few or many. How far that influence, thus perpetuated, may extend, it is not given to him here to see. But it may be that the Lord of the Vineyard will know.
    • Ch. 21 : Conclusion
  • The progress of civilization necessitates the giving of greater and greater attention and intelligence to public affairs. And for this reason 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.
    • Ch. 21 : Conclusion
  • I am firmly convinced, as I have already said, that to effect any great social improvement, it is sympathy rather than self-interest, the sense of duty rather than the desire for self-advancement, that must be appealed to. Envy is akin to admiration, and it is the admiration that the rich and powerful excite which secures the perpetuation of aristocracies.
    • Ch. 21 : Conclusion
  • As man is so constituted that it is utterly impossible for him to attain happiness save by seeking the happiness of others, so does it seem to be of the nature of things that individuals and classes can obtain their own just rights only by struggling for the rights of others.
    • Ch. 21 : Conclusion
  • Those who are most to be considered, those for whose help the struggle must be made, if labor is to be enfranchised, and social justice won, are those least able to help or struggle for themselves, those who have no advantage of property or skill or intelligence, — the men and women who are at the very bottom of the social scale. In securing the equal rights of these we shall secure the equal rights of all.
    Hence it is, as Mazzini said, that it is around the standard of duty rather than around the standard of self-interest that men must rally to win the rights of man. And herein may we see the deep philosophy of Him who bade men love their neighbors as themselves.
    In that spirit, and in no other, is the power to solve social problems and carry civilization onward.
    • Ch. 21 : Conclusion

A Perplexed Philosopher (1892)

  • In truth the right to the use of land is not a joint or common right, but an equal right; the joint or common right is to rent, in the economic sense of the term.
  • Men must have rights before they can have equal rights. Each man has a right to use the world. ... The equality of this right is merely a limitation arising from the presence of others with like rights. Society, in other words, does not grant, and cannot equitably withhold from any individual, the right to the use of land. That right exists before society and independently of society, belonging at birth to each individual, and ceasing only with his death. Society itself has no original right to the use of land. … The function of society with regard to the use of land only begins where individual rights clash, and is to secure equality between these clashing rights of individuals.

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1911 encyclopedia

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From LoveToKnow 1911

HENRY GEORGE (1839-1897), American author and political economist, was born in Philadelphia, Penn., on the 2nd of September 1839. He settled in California in 1858; removed to New York, 1880; was first a printer, then an editor, but finally devoted all his life to economic and social questions. In 1871 he published Our Land Policy, which, as further developed in 1879 under the title of Progress and Poverty, speedily attracted the widest attention both in America and in Europe. In 1886 he published Protection or Free Trade. Henry George had no political ambition, but in 1886 he received an independent nomination as mayor of New York City, and became so popular that it required a coalition of the two strongest political parties to prevent his election. He received 68,000 votes, against 90,000 for the coalition candidate. His death on the 29th of October 1897 was followed by one of the greatest demonstrations of popular feeling and general respect that ever attended the funeral of any strictly private citizen in American history. The fundamental doctrine of Henry George, the equal right of all men to the use of the earth, did not originate with him; but his clear statement of a method by which it could be enforced, without increasing state machinery, and indeed with a great simplification of government, gave it a new form. This method he named the Single Tax. His doctrine may be condensed as follows: The land of every country belongs of right to all the people of that country. This right cannot be alienated by one generation, so as to affect the title of the next, any more than men can sell their yet unborn children for slaves. Private ownership of land has no more foundation in morality or reason than private ownership of air or sunlight. But the private occupancy and use of land are right and indispensable. Any attempt to divide land into equal shares is impossible and undesirable. Land should be, and practically is now, divided for private use in parcels among those who will pay the highest price for the use of each parcel. This price is now paid to some persons annually, and it is called rent. By applying the rent of land, exclusive of all improvements, to the equal benefit of the whole community, absolute justice would be done to all. As rent is always more than sufficient to defray all necessary expenses of government, those expenses should be met by a tax upon rent alone, to be brought about by the gradual abolition of all other taxes. Landlords should be left in undisturbed possession and nominal ownership of the land, with a sufficient margin over the tax to induce them to collect their rents and pay the tax. They would thus be transformed into mere land agents. Obviously this would involve absolute free trade, since all taxes on imports, manufactures, successions, documents, personal property, buildings or improvements would disappear. Nothing made by man would be taxed at all. The right of private property in all things made by man would thus be absolute, for the owner of such things could not be divested of his property, without full compensation, even under the pretence of taxation. The idea of concentrating all taxes upon ground-rent has found followers in Great Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand. In practical politics this doctrine is confined to the "Single Tax, Limited," which proposes to defray only the needful public expenses from ground-rent, leaving the surplus, whatever it may be, in the undisturbed possession of land-owners.

The principal books by Henry George are: Progress and Poverty (1879), The Irish Land Question (1881), Social Problems (1884), Protection or Free Trade (1886), The Condition of Labor (1891), A Perplexed Philosopher (1892), Political Economy (1898). His son, Henry George (b. 1862), has written a Life (1900). For the Single Tax theory see Shearman's Natural Taxation (1899). (T. G. S.)


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