"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 men who monopolize land — they are not to blame above any one 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 men 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 not meat, I was athirst and ye gave me not 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 you?" The answer is, "Inasmuch as ye failed to do it to the least of these, so also did you 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 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 a better world for all!" It was a protest against the doctrine of "each for himself and devil take the hindermost I" It was the proclamation of a common fatherhood of God and a common brotherhood of men. This was why the rich and the powerful, the high priests and the rulers, persecuted Christianity with fire and sword. It was not what in so many of our churches to-day is called religion that pagan Rome sought to tear out — it was what in too many of the churches of to-day is called "socialism and communism," 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 that in this city of New York are being sent out of the world by thousands when they have scarcely entered it — because they did not get food enough, nor air enough, nor light 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 what I provided 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 he who does not raise his voice against that crime, he is an accessory. 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 so 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.
There is no need for poverty in this world, and in our civilization. There is a provision made by the laws of the Creator which would secure to the helpless all that they require, which would give enough and more than enough for all social purposes. These little children that are dying in our crowded districts for want of room and fresh air, they are the disinherited heirs of a great estate.
Did you ever consider the full meaning of the significant fact that as progress goes on, as population increases and civilization develops, the one thing that ever increases in value is land ? Speculators all over the country appreciate that. Wherever there is a chance for population coming; wherever railroads meet or a great city seems destined to grow; wherever some new evidence of the bounty of the Creator is discovered, in a rich coal or iron mine, or an oil well, or a gas deposit, there the speculator jumps in, land rises in value and a great boom takes place, and men find themselves enormously rich without ever having done a single thing to produce wealth.
Now, it is by virtue of a natural law that land steadily increases in value, that population adds to it, that invention adds to it; that the discovery of every fresh evidence of the Creator's goodness in the stores that He has implanted in the earth for our use adds to the value of land, not to the value of anything else. This natural fact is by virtue of a natural law — a law that is as much a law of the Creator as the law of gravitation. What is the intent of this law ? Is there not in it a provision for social needs ? That land values grow greater and greater as the community grows and common needs increase, is there not a manifest provision for social needs — a fund belonging to society as a whole, with which we may take care of the widow and the orphan and those who fall by the wayside — with which we may provide for public education, meet public expenses, and do all the things that an advancing civilization makes more and more necessary for society to do on behalf of its members?
Today the value of the land in New York City is over a hundred millions annually. Who has created that value? Is it because a few landowners are here that that land is worth a hundred millions a year? Is it not because the whole population of New York is here? Is it not because this great city is the center of exchanges for a large portion of the continent? Does not every child that is born, everyone that comes to settle in New York, does he not add to the value of this land? Ought he not, therefore, to get some portion of the benefit? And is he not wronged when, instead of being used for that purpose, certain favored individuals are allowed to appropriate it?
We might take this vast fund for common needs, we might with it make a city here such as the world has never seen before — a city spacious, clean, wholesome, beautiful —a city that should be full of parks; a city without tenement houses; a city that should own its own means of communication, railways that should carry people thirty or forty miles from the city hall in a half hour, and that could be run free, just as are the elevators in our large buildings; a city with great museums, and public libraries, and gymnasiums, and public halls, paid for out of this common fund, and not from the donations of rich citizens. We could out of this vast fund provide as a matter of right for the widow and the orphan, and assure to every citizen of this great city that if he happened to die his wife and his children should not come to want, should not be degraded with charity, but as a matter of right, as citizens of a rich community, as coheirs to a vast estate, should have enough to live on. And we could do all this, not merely without imposing any tax upon production; not merely without interfering with the just rights of property, but while at the same time securing far better than they are now the rights of property and abolishing the taxes that now weigh on production. We have but to throw off our taxes upon things of human production; to cease to fine a man that puts up a house or makes anything that adds to the wealth of the community; to cease collecting taxes from people who bring goods from abroad or make goods at home, and put all our taxes upon the value of land — to collect that enormous revenue due to the growth of the community for the benefit of the community that produced it.
LVTfan here. That was an excerpt from one of my favorite speeches, by Henry George (entitled "Thou Shalt Not Steal.")
Now consider the newest evidence from the Federal Reserve Board's 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, as reported in a too little noted paper issued a few months ago entitled "Ponds and Streams: Wealth and Income
in the U.S., 1989 to 2007"
- 1% of our households hold over 1/3 of America's wealth.
- 10% of our households possess over 70% of America's wealth.
- The other 90% get to split the remaining 28.5%
- The bottom 50% of us have only 2.5% of that net worth.
Ranked by income:
- 1% of our households receive 21.4% of the income
- 10% of our households receive 47.2% of the income
- The other 90% of our households get to split 52.8% of the income
- The bottom 50% of our households have only 14.6% of that income.
Coheirs to a vast estate. Hmmm. In America?
Thou shalt not steal, yes. But also "Thou shalt not suffer thyself or anybody else to be stolen from."
The first step is to understand the nature of the theft that is structural, legal, even respected and treated as reflective of personal or corporate virtue. Shine a light on it. A Mount-Rushmore-at-night illumination.