THE aggregate produce of the labor of a savage tribe is
small, but each member is capable of an independent life. He
can build his own habitation, hew out or stitch together his
own canoe, make his own clothing, manufacture his own
weapons, snares, tools and ornaments. He has all the
knowledge of nature possessed by his tribe — knows what
vegetable productions are fit for food, and where they maybe
found; knows the habits and resorts of beasts, birds, fishes
and insects; can pilot himself by the sun or the stars, by
the turning of blossoms or the mosses on the trees; is, in
short, capable of supplying all his wants. He may be cut off
from his fellows and still live; and thus possesses an
independent power which makes him a free contracting party
in his relations to the community of which he is a member.
Compare with this savage the laborer in the lowest ranks of civilized society, whose life is spent in producing but one thing, or oftener but the infinitesimal part of one thing, out of the multiplicity of things that constitute the wealth of society and go to supply even the most primitive wants; who not only cannot make even the tools required for his work, but often works with tools that he does not own, and can never hope to own. Compelled to even closer and more continuous labor than the savage, and gaining by it no more than the savage gets — the mere necessaries of life — he loses the independence of the savage. He is not only unable to apply his own powers to the direct satisfaction of his own wants, but, without the concurrence of many others, he is unable to apply them indirectly to the satisfaction of his wants. He is a mere link in an enormous chain of producers and consumers, helpless to separate himself, and helpless to move, except as they move. The worse his position in society, the more dependent is he on society; the more utterly unable does he become to do anything for himself. The very power of exerting his labor for the satisfaction of his wants passes from his own control, and may be taken away or restored by the actions of others, or by general causes over which he has no more influence than he has over the motions of the solar system. The primeval curse comes to be looked upon as a boon, and men think, and talk, and clamor, and legislate as though monotonous manual labor in itself were a good and not an evil, an end and not a means. Under such circumstances, the man loses the essential quality of manhood — the godlike power of modifying and controlling conditions. He becomes a slave, a machine, a commodity — a thing, in some respects, lower than the animal.
I am no sentimental admirer of the savage state. I do not get my ideas of the untutored children of nature from Rousseau, or Chateaubriand, or Cooper. I am conscious of its material and mental poverty, and its low and narrow range. I believe that civilization is not only the natural destiny of man, but the enfranchisement, elevation, and refinement of all his powers, and think that it is only in such moods as may lead him to envy the cud-chewing cattle, that a man who is free to the advantages of civilization could look with regret upon the savage state. But, nevertheless, I think no one who will open his eyes to the facts, can resist the conclusion that there are in the heart of our civilization large classes with whom the veriest savage could not afford to exchange. It is my deliberate opinion that if, standing on the threshold of being, one were given the choice of entering life as a Terra del Fuegan, a black fellow of Australia, an Esquimaux in the Arctic Circle, or among the lowest classes in such a highly civilized country as Great Britain, he would make infinitely the better choice in selecting the lot of the savage. For those classes who in the midst of wealth are condemned to want, suffer all the privations of the savage, without his sense of personal freedom; they are condemned to more than his narrowness and littleness, without opportunity for the growth of his rude virtues; if their horizon is wider, it is but to reveal blessings that they cannot enjoy. — Progress & Poverty — Book V, Chapter 2: The Problem Solved: The Persistence of Poverty Amid Advancing Wealth
See the corresponding passage in Bob Drake's abridgement ...http://progressandpoverty.org/files/henrygeorge.drake/pchp23.htm
A primitive tribe may not produce much wealth, but all members are capable of an independent life. Each shares all the knowledge possessed by the tribe. They know the habits of animals, birds, and fishes. They can make their own shelter, clothing, and weapons. In short, they are all capable of supplying their own wants. The independence of all of the members makes them free contracting parties in their relations with the community.
Compare this savage with workers in the lowest ranks of civilized society. Their lives are spent in producing just one thing or, more likely, the smallest part of one thing. They cannot even make what is required for their work; they use tools they can never hope to own. Compelled to oppressive and constant labor, they get no more than the savage: the bare necessaries of life. Yet they lose the independence the savage keeps.
Modern workers are mere links in an enormous chain of producers and consumers. The very power of exerting their labor to satisfy their needs passes from their control. The worse their position in society, the more dependent they are on society. Their power may be taken away by the actions of others. Or even by general causes, over which they have no more influence than they have over the motion of the stars.
Under such circumstances, people lose an essential quality: the power of modifying and controlling their condition. They become slaves, machines, commodities. In some respects, they are lower than animals.
I am no sentimental admirer of the savage state. I do not get my ideas of nature from Rousseau. I am aware of its material and mental lack, its low and narrow range. I believe that civilization is the natural destiny of humanity, the elevation and refinement of our powers.
Nevertheless, no one who faces the facts can avoid the conclusion that -- in the heart of our civilization -- there are large classes that even the sorriest savage would not want to trade places with. Given the choice of being born an Australian aborigine, an arctic Eskimo, or among the lowest classes in a highly civilized country such as Great Britain, one would make an infinitely better choice in selecting the lot of the savage.
Those condemned to want in the midst of wealth suffer all the hardships of savages, without the sense of personal freedom. If their horizon is wider, it is only to see the blessings they cannot enjoy.