Land Value Taxation will solve many of the 21st century's most serious social, economic and environmental problems, and promote justice, fairness and sustainability. We CAN have a world in which all can prosper.
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George Here are links to online editions of George's landmark book, Progress & Poverty, including audio and a number of abridgments -- the shortest is 30 words! I commend this book to your attention, if you are concerned about economic justice, poverty, sprawl, energy use, pollution, wages, housing affordability. Its observations will change how you approach all these problems. A mind-opening experience!
Henry George: Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy This is perhaps the most important book ever written on the subjects of poverty, political economy, how we might live together in a society dedicated to the ideals Americans claim to believe are self-evident. It will provide you new lenses through which to view many of our most serious problems and how we might go about solving them: poverty, sprawl, long commutes, despoilation of the environment, housing affordability, wealth concentration, income concentration, concentration of power, low wages, etc. Read it online, or in hardcopy.
Bob Drake's abridgement of Henry George's original: Progress and Poverty: Why There Are Recessions and Poverty Amid Plenty -- And What To Do About It! This is a very readable thought-by-thought updating of Henry George's longer book, written in the language of a newsweekly. A fine way to get to know Henry George's ideas. Available online at progressandpoverty.org and http://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
Where Else Might You Look?
Wealth and Want The URL comes from the subtitle to Progress & Poverty -- and the goal is widely shared prosperity in the 21st century. How do we get there from here? A roadmap and a reference source.
Reforming the Property Tax for the Common Good I'm a tax reform activist who seeks to promote fairness and reduce poverty. Let's start with the enabling legislation and state requirements for the property tax. There are opportunities for great good!
“Families born by accident, rather than design, are bad for men, bad for women and really bad for kids,” said Kathryn Edin, a poverty researcher at Harvard.
“Rising inequality and declining prospects for people at the bottom have created a situation where it doesn’t matter that much for these teenagers,” she said of the very low-income teenagers who are more likely to have a child. “It does not seem like their life prospects are going to be significantly harmed by having a child, because they’re so disadvantaged already.”
"Your great city church stands yonder — your grand cathedral. It is named after a tent-maker — after the man who said "If a man will not work, neither shall he eat." Let us suppose the Apostle Paul coming amongst us and seeing how people lived. We will not suppose his going to the West-end and seeing how those got on who never did a stroke of work in their lives, but we will imagine him paying a visit to certain of our societies, and finding them engaged in devising means to help the poor. "Why do they not work?" would be the Apostle's first and natural question. If he were told that there was no work for them to do, what would he say? 'No work? Why do they not go out and catch some fish?' 'Oh the fish are PRESERVED -- and the game is PRESERVED.' The Apostle might go on to ask, 'Then why do they not cultivate the land?' 'Oh, the land is OWNED,' would have to be the answer. I thought of this, could not help thinking of it, as I traveled over miles and miles of land in coming here. 'The land is owned,' would be the answer given to the Apostle, and what would he say to such a state of society?"
Poverty is a diabolical predicament that not only makes scarce one’s physical comforts, but drains away one’s spiritual strength. It damages hopes and dreams, and having deficits among those things is when the soul begins to die.
This is a single paragraph from an excellent piece by Charles Blow.
Many people seem to think that poverty is -- must be! -- the result of personal failings. It is worth considering that poverty is the output of a certain structure designed to produce wealth for the few.
I hope he will explore what Georgists believe is the only way to end poverty: removing the economic structures whose effect is to impoverish many in order to enrich a relative few.
That analysis and solution can be found in "Progress and Poverty" and "Social Problems," by Henry George, and underlies several of his speeches, including "The Crime of Poverty," "Thou Shalt Not Steal" and "Thy Kingdom Come," all available online.
One might also explore Walt Rybeck's "Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle," and the newly published "Mason Gaffney Reader" (about which more, soon), both available from the Henry George Institute and Amazon.
What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.
There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).
Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.
It’s an old story; we really need a new one.
But perhaps Buffett's most important observation is this one:
"Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left."
To which I can only insert ... "and are benefiting from."
He also points out,
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
I hope Mr. Buffett will take the time to read Henry George's "Progress and Poverty." He might be better able to identify the particular structures that create and maintain poverty and the concentrations of wealth, income and power. And, based on that last sentence, I think Buffett would appreciate the final section of P&P. (Bob Drake's 2006 abridgment is a fine starting place, but the unabridged is a pleasure of its own.)
WHOSE fault is it that social conditions are
such that men have to make that terrible choice between what
conscience tells them is right, and the necessity of earning
a living? I hold that it is the fault of society; that it is
the fault of us all. Pestilence is a curse. The man who
would bring cholera to this country, or the man who, having
the power to prevent its coming here, would make no effort
to do so, would be guilty of a crime. Poverty is worse than
cholera; poverty kills more people than pestilence, even in
the best of times. Look at the death statistics of our
cities; see where the deaths come quickest; see where it is
that the little children die like flies — it is in the
poorer quarters. And the man who looks with careless eyes
upon the ravages of this pestilence; the man who does not
set himself to stay and eradicate it, he, I say, is guilty
of a crime. — The Crime of Poverty
WE are so accustomed to poverty that even in
the most advanced countries we regard it as the natural lot
of the great masses of the people; that we take it as a
matter of course that even in our highest civilization large
classes should want the necessaries of healthful life, and
the vast majority should only get a poor and pinched living
by the hardest toil. There are professors of political
economy who teach that this condition of things is the
result of social laws of which it is idle to complain!
There are ministers of religion who preach that this is the
condition which an all-wise, all-powerful Creator intended
for His children! If an architect were to build a theater so
that not more than one-tenth of the audience could see and
hear, we should call him a bungler and a botcher. If a man
were to give a feast and provide so little food that
nine-tenths of his guests must go away hungry, we should
call him a fool, or worse. Yet so accustomed are we to
poverty, that even the preachers of what passes for
Christianity tell us that the great Architect of the
Universe, to whose infinite skill all nature testifies, has
made such a botch job of this world that the vast majority
of the human creatures whom He has called into it are
condemned by the conditions he has imposed to want,
suffering, and brutalizing toil that gives no opportunity
for the development of mental powers — must pass their lives
in a hard struggle to merely live! — Social Problems — Chapter 8:
That We All Might Be Rich
OR let him go to Edinburgh, the "modern Athens," of which
Scotsmen speak with pride, and in buildings from whose
roofs a bowman might strike the spires of twenty churches he
will find human beings living as he would not keep his
meanest dog. Let him toil up the stairs of one of those
monstrous buildings, let him enter one of those "dark
houses," let him close the door, and in the blackness think
what life must be in such a place. Then let him try the
reduction to iniquity. And if he go to that good charity
(but, alas! how futile is Charity without Justice!) where
little children are kept while their mothers are at work,
and children are fed who would otherwise go hungry, he may
see infants whose limbs are shrunken from want of
nourishment. Perhaps they may tell him, as they told me, of
that little girl, barefooted, ragged, and hungry, who, when
they gave her bread, raised her eyes and clasped her hands,
and thanked our Father in Heaven for His bounty to her. They
who told me that never dreamed, I think, of its terrible
meaning. But I ask the Duke of Argyll, did that little
child, thankful for that poor dole, get what our Father
provided for her? Is He so niggard? If not, what is it, who
is it, that stands, between such children and our Father's
bounty? If it be an institution, is it not our duty to God
and to our neighbor to rest not till we destroy it? If it be
a man, were it not better for him that a millstone were
hanged about his neck and he were cast into the depths of
the sea? — The
Reduction to Iniquity (a reply to the Duke of Argyll) -- at page 25 -- originally in The
Nineteenth Century, July, 1884.
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.
FIVE centuries ago the wealth-producing power of England, man for man, was small indeed compared with what it is now. Not merely were all the great inventions and discoveries which since the Introduction of steam have revolutionized mechanical industry then undreamed of, but even agriculture was far ruder and less productive. Artificial grasses had not been discovered. The potato, the carrot, the turnip, the beet, and many other plants and vegetables which the farmer now finds most prolific, had not been introduced. The advantages which ensue from rotation of crops were unknown. Agricultural implements consisted of the spade, the sickle, the flail, the rude plow and the harrow. Cattle had not been bred to more than one-half the size they average now, and sheep did not yield half the fleece. Roads, where there were roads, were extremely bad, wheel vehicles scarce and rude, and places a hundred miles from each other were, in difficulties of transportation, practically as far apart as London and Hong Kong, or San Francisco and New York, are now.
The hospitals (of England) are full of the ancient. . . . The
almshouses are filled with old laborers. Many there are who get
their living with bearing burdens, but more are fain to burden the
land with their whole bodies. Neither come these straits upon men
always through intemperance, ill-husbandry, indiscretion, etc.; but
even the most wise, sober and discreet men go often to the wall when
they have done their best. . . The rent-taker lives on the sweet
morsels, but the rent-payer eats a dry crust often with watery eyes.
—Robert Cushman, Plymouth, 1621, in Young's "Chronicles of the
THE DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH BY THOMAS G. SHEARMAN. II.
An Irish landlord, writing to the London Times, called particular attention to the fact
that, in case all the landlords should be expelled, the whole of
Ireland, outside of the large towns, would be left without a single
person whose annual income would exceed $1,500. To the wealthy
landlord who owns the Times,
this appalling fact seems to afford such conclusive proof of the
desolation and misery which would follow home rule that he deems it
superfluous to add a word of comment. He considers it quite enough
to say that no such state of things exists in any civilised country.
That it should be eventually brought about in Ireland, he evidently
believes, must be considered by every sane man as one of the most
frightful disasters which could befall the human race.
I am writing in Germany, the country from which have proceeded the
most important additions to the intellectual wealth of the world
during the last fifty years. The man who knows nothing of the
contributions made to history, to theology, to science, whether
abstract or applied, by German students, knows practically nothing
at all. What have been the income of the men who have thus enriched
the world! Rarely so much as $1,500; generally not half that amount.
Some of the world-famous German scholars accomplished their great
achievements on an income of less than $600 a year.
New England developed a marvelous degree of intellectual activity in
the colonial period of our history, though confined within a narrow
circle. But that was a period of small incomes and very little
accumulated wealth; nor did the few wealthy men contribute anything
of importance to the intellectual or moral development of the
people. What have the wealthy Irish landlords done for the
development of the Irish people in religion, morality or intellect?
What contribution has any wealthy Irish landlord ever made to
literature, science, art or high thought of any kind? What benefit
have these men of wealth conferred upon any part of the world in any
direction? They have just held a solemn meeting to answer these
questions, and their own testimony affords the best evidence against
them. They claim to have advised their tenants to improve their
stock, to introduce better methods of cultivation and to qualify
themselves generally to pay higher rents, while they themselves have
set excellent examples to their inferiors by taking good care of
Many years ago a practical joker inserted an advertisement in a
daily paper to the following effect: "Wanted, by a young gentleman
of good birth and breeding, board in a respectable family, where his
Christian example would be considered sufficient compensation for
his board." The Irish landlords do not advertise, but they get
precisely that for which the young man advertised in vain. Their
Christian example, however, has been chiefly directed toward
hunting, horse racing and hard drinking. Certainly, down to a period
less than fifty years ago, all accounts of Ireland agreed in this;
and except that the drinking is conducted with more moderation,
there seems no reason to believe that there has been any change.
A paragraph from "To Destroy the Rum Power," by Henry George, in the February, 1890, issue of The Arena. (The full article follows this single eloquent paragraph.) --
"Almost universal sobriety," wrote Adam
Smith in Kirkaldy, somewhere in the early seventies of the eighteenth
century. Writing as the wonderful nineteenth century nears its final
decade and in the great metropolis of a mighty nation then unborn, I
can say no more, if as much. The temperance question does not stand
alone. It is related — nay, it is but a phase, of the great social
question. By abolishing liquor
taxes and licenses we may drive the "rum power" out of politics, and
somewhat, I think, lessen intemperance. Thus we may get rid of an
obstacle to the improvement of social conditions and increase the
effective force that demands improvement. But without the improvement
of social conditions we cannot hope to abolish intemperance.
Intemperance today springs mainly from that unjust distribution of
wealth which gives to some less and to others more than they have
fairly earned. Among the masses it is fed by hard and monotonous toil,
or the still more straining and demoralizing search for leave to toil;
by overtasked muscles and overstrained nerves, and under-nurtured
bodies; by the poverty which makes men afraid to marry and sets little
children at work, and crowds families into the rooms of tenement
houses; which stints the nobler and brings out the baser qualities; and
in full tide of the highest civilization the world has yet seen, robs
life of poetry and glory of beauty and joy. Among the classes it finds
its victims in those from whom the obligation to exertion has been
artificially lifted; who are born to enjoy the results of labor without
doing any labor, and in whom the lack of stimulus to healthy exertion
causes moral obesity, and consumption without the need of productive
work breeds satiety. Intemperance is abnormal. It is the vice of those
who are starved and those who are gorged. Free trade in liquor would
tend to reduce it, but could not abolish it. But free trade in
everything would. I do not mean a sneaking, half-hearted, and
half-witted "tariff reform," but that absolute, thorough free trade,
which would not only abolish the custom house and the excise, but would
do away with every tax on the products of labor and every restriction
on the exertion of labor, and would leave everyone free to do whatever
did not infringe the ten commandments.
It is worth noting that Frances Willard, a major figure in the temperance movement, published, in 1896, An Up-to-Date Catechism. She saw the connection between poverty and intemperance, and recognized that the Single Tax could make all the difference in making life better.
Here's George's full article follows (check out the corset analogy!):
This excerpt from an 1890 article in The Arena seems relevant as we look at gun violence and other contemporary problems created by lack of employment and income -- and hope.
It would be far better for society if instead of speculating on the
forms of punishment we turned our attention to the means of preventing
the crimes for which we punish the offenders. It has been observed that
most of the murders occur among the poor people, and upon the top floors
of tenement houses; that is to say, among the poorest of the poor. The
connection between poverty and the crime of murder, like the connection
between poverty and all other crime, is demonstrably close. If we could
cure the social disease of poverty, the seeds of crime would be
destroyed. The people rarely think of this. They think it is our
business to punish crime; but it is our best business to prevent it. Our
present organization of society manufactures criminals faster than we
can possibly take care of them. Poverty degrades men; it robs them of
leisure, which is absolutely necessary for the development of mind, and
the proper control of the passions; it keeps the people hungry and
fierce; it imbrutes them; it makes Ishmaels of them — their hand is
against society as the hand of society is against them. Plant a
generation of paupers, and you will reap a crop of criminals.
If we are wise we will turn our attention to the most important problem
of this or any age: how to so enrich the people that the temptations to
crime will be minified to the last possible degree. The solution of the
problem is as simple as it is important. For every millionaire we shall
have a thousand tramps; for every monopolist we shall have a hundred
burglars; for every woman who lives in idleness upon the fruit of
others’ toil, filched from them under the name of interest or rent, we shall have a score of prostitutes; for
every vacant land owner and money limiter — the twin man-starvers — we
shall have a murderer. One is the seed from which the other grows.
Eliminate your monopolists, the king of whom is the owner of vacant
land, and your problem of crime is settled. With open opportunities for
men to apply their labor to natural wealth productions, tenfold more
wealth would be produced and equitably distributed; and with wealth many
times multiplied and equitably distributed, a criminal would be more of
a curiosity than the original three-toed horse.
If memory serves, Hugh Pentecost was an Episcopal priest, perhaps in Newark. The title of the article from which these paragraphs come is "The Crime of Capital Punishment."
I like the word "minified." Maybe there is a useful slogan there: Minify Taxation! ("To make smaller or less significant; reduce.") We could collect the revenue we need with lower taxes were we to concentrate our taxes on land value, in all its manifestations. And in the process, we would reduce poverty, reduce the cost of living, reduce wealth concentration, reverse sprawl, naturally create employment and self-employment opportunities, and stabilize our economy. It seems to me that any one of these goals is worthy, and if this reform would move us closer to any of these goals, it is worth pursuing.
And, importantly, with less need to rely on a social safety net, spending could be signficantly reduced.
The land question . . . means hunger, thirst, nakedness, notice to
quit, labor spent in vain, the toil of years seized upon, the
breaking up of homes, the miseries, sicknesses, deaths of parents,
children, wives; the despair and wildness which spring up in the
hearts of the poor, when legal force, like a sharp harrow, goes over
the most sensitive and vital right of mankind. All this is contained
in the land question.
— CARDINAL MANNING, Letter to Earl
Grey (1868), Miscellanies, Vol. I.; p. 251
Millions of human creatures are housed worse than the cattle and
horses of many a lord or squire. Nearly, a million of the London
poor need re-housing; the medical authority has reported against
141,000 houses as insanitary, in which the poor are huddled
together, in numbers varying from four to twelve and more in a
single room. What delicacy, modesty or self-respect can be expected
in men and women whose bodies are so shamefully packed together?
— CARDINAL VAUGHAN, Inaugural
Address to the Annual Conference of the Catholic Truth Society at
Stockport, published in the St. Vincent de Paul Quarterly, New
York, November, 1892, p 286.
The final sentence: "The law of gravitation is not more clearly demonstrable than the law of taxation which Henry George, the Newton of Political Science, has revealed to the world."
Another from The American Cooperator (1903):
A Work for the Church
Rev. Herbert S. Bigelow
the average church-member what is the mission of the church? He has a
readymade phrase for you. He says it is to "save souls." In the
theological seminaries young men are taught that to he good preachers,
they must have a "passion for souls." A certain missionary society of a
church in this city reported at the end of the year, "Two souls saved
and one sanctified."
it the paramount duty of the church to save souls? That depends on what
is meant by the phrase. Save them from what? From hell, of course. Is
it the mission of the church to save souls from hell? That depends upon
the location of hell. Do you mean by hell some place of torment in the
next world or do you mean the torment of body, mind and soul that is
produced in this world, by greed of gain, and slavish prejudice, and
bigotry and hate, by oppressive monopolies, and corrupting power, and
take no stock in your God-made hell, but I know there is a hell on
earth which man has made. Here on this earth I have witnessed the
torture of the damned. Let us storm one hell at a time and the nearest
there are many church members who do not know what we mean by a hell on
earth. They are able to go to the sea-shore in the heat of summer. They
can go to Florida or California and eat strawberries in winter.
seldom come in contact with poverty. From the very air they breathe,
they have imbibed the prejudice that poverty is mostly a result of
depravity; that for the "deserving poor," there is no help but charity;
that the masses who toil are by nature unfit for a happier lot; that the
man who imposes an extra tax of two cents a gallon on oil and
contributes a million to a university is a paragon of virtue, and the
institutions which make it possible for him to do this are ordained of
of these more comfortable churchmembers visited recently in Cincinnati.
She heard men in the street crying "Coal, coal!" She asked what it was
they were selling. When told, she expressed amazement that the people of
Cincinnati did not buy their coal in the ton. She declared she had
never heard of such a thing. Indeed she was certain that in Cleveland
where she lived, there was no coal sold by the bushel. This woman is
typical of her class. Within a narrow sphere, she is generous to a
fault. There is no question about the genuineness of her piety. She will
shed sincere tears over the tragic sufferings of the Nazarene, and
contribute for the preaching of the gospel in foreign parts, but of the
appalling misery in her own city and of its cause, she is as grossly
ignorant as the Australian Bushman is of the doctrine of salvation by
duty of the church to save souls? Yes, it is the duty of the church to
save the souls of men and women from that ignorance and indifference
which makes them oblivions of the sufferings of their fellowmen.
every great city you will find a little group of earnest men and women
who are trying to bring to the notice of the public, the desperate
conditions under which their brothers and sisters live and to show the
economic cause of this destitution and its remedy. And while such bands
are few and weak, you will find scattered here and there and everywhere
thru the city, churches, often costly edifices, religious organizations,
representing a vast expenditure of wealth and energy. All the reformers
in the city could not contribute for their work what is paid in a year
to one of these clergymen. Fancy how things would begin to move if this
tremendous energy were directed toward the solution of the problem of
poverty! If all this thought and sentiment and power of wealth were only
hitched to this car of progress, how the wheels would start out of the
Edwards used to say to his audience: ''The God that holds you over the
pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over
the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you
burns like fire. . . . It would be a wonder if some who are now present
should not be in hell in a very short time . . . There is reason to
think that there are many in this congregation, now hearing this
discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all
long as men believed in that sort of a God, they naturally expected the
church to help them flee from the wrath to come. But from the various
sources of modern thought has come a better thought of God. He is still
the Creator but he is not the bungler. He made a good world. This world
is "lapt in universal law." In his benevolence, the Creator contrived
these laws so that in the keeping of them, men should find great reward.
Hell on earth-is due to the breaking of these laws. To learn to obey
them, is to find heaven here.
teach men these laws is the mission of the church. There is no law of
the Decalogue which is more self-evident than the law that the land is
the inheritance of all and its monopoly by the few a crime against the
many. The law of gravitation is not more clearly demonstrable than the
law of taxation which Henry George, the Newton of Political Science, has
revealed to the world.
... many Americans are facing the likelihood of not having sufficient income in retirement unless they increase their savings, work longer, or significantly decrease their expenditures in retirement if they hope to make ends meet.
The Employee Benefits Research Institute recently published an analysis of 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances data. It demonstrates how few people have the traditional defined-benefit retirement plans, and the account balances people of various demographics have in their individually-directed retirement accounts.
Here are some statistics worth considering as we think about the effects of a system which permits a few of us to capture a large share of the nation's net worth and a large share of its income, and to unduly influence our elections with advertising which works to conceal and reinforce the structures of that system:
38% of all families -- of all ages -- had a family member with a retirement plan. [Figure 2]
of those 38%, 18% had only a defined benefit plan; 61% had only a defined contribution plan; 21% had both. 82% had a 401(k) type plan, and of that 82%, 22% also had a defined benefit plan
Among those families whose head was 55-64, 43% had a member with a retirement plan; among those 45-54, 53% did.
Interestingly, the top 75% of the net worth spectrum all had rates in the 41% to 46% range; in the bottom 25%, only 21%.
Among families whose head was under 65 and working, 52% had a member participating in a retirement plan [Figure 3].
Among households with income abov e $100,000, 76% had retirement plans; in the $50,000 to $100,000 income range, 64%; in the lower income groups, the rate ranged from 44% down to 9%
In the 55-64 age group, 59% had a retirement plan; in the 45-54 group, 61%.
Within this working-age universe, similar trends held: the top 50% had roughly 61-67% availability of employment-related retirement plans; for the next 25%, only 53%; for the bottom 25% of working families, only 29%.
IRAs and Keogh plans: 28% had one or both; median value, $40,000 (up from $34,574 in 2007). Among those 55-64, 41% had one or both; median value $60,000 (down from $68,101); among those 45-54, 29% had one or both; median value $40,000, up from $37,717. [Figure 5]
Even among those in the top 10% of the net worth spectrum, only 77% had IRA or Keogh accounts, median value $200,,000, up from $142,487 in 2007; in the next 15% of the net worth spectrum, median value was $60,000.
Of all families, 64% had some sort of retirement account from a current or previous employer (down from 66% in 2007)
Retirement assets in Defined Contribution plans and IRAs typically [that is, at the median] represent 61% to 66% of total financial assets, which is to say that most have less in mutual funds, stocks, checking and other accounts than they do in their retirement accounts. [Figure 8]
Only in the top 10% do retirement assets represent less than half of financial assets.
As is typical of median/average ratios, average holdings are considerably higher -- that is, the holdings of the top few are huge, and most of us are below average. The average balance is $173,232; in the top 10% of the net worth spectrum, average balances are $519,034. For the next 15% of us, the average balance is 147,061 -- well below the average of all of us! [Figure 9] Recall from Figure 6 that 64% of us have such a plan; the other 36% have no balance at all (and likely a significant percentage have very small account balances).
For those in the 65-74 age group, the average balance is $324,199; for those in the 55-64 group, the average balance is $297,903.
For those in the top 10%, average account balance is $519,034. One might reasonably guess that the top 5% have the lion's share of this.
It might be worth noting that a 70 year old must withdraw at least 1/27 of his IRA per year. Based on that 65-74 age group average balance, that's $12,000 per year. (Another rule of thumb says that if one only withdraws 3% per year, one's account should last forever. That would be $9,725 per year, for that "average" -- not median -- family in the 65-74 age group.
Enough said. Time to circle back to the study's conclusion:
... many Americans are facing the likelihood of not having sufficient income in retirement unless they increase their savings, work longer, or significantly decrease their expenditures in retirement if they hope to make ends meet.
What public policy reforms might one suggest based on these data points?
Find a way to raise wages for ordinary workers
Find a way to lower the cost of living for ordinary workers and retirees
Find a way to reduce the sum of the taxes we pay and the costs of housing without reducing the public goods which those taxes provide (unless it is by reducing the demand for social safety net
If you have other suggestions, I'd like to hear them.
But the reason for this blog is that I believe I have found the public policy reform which would accomplish these goals, in collecting the lion's share of the annual rental value of our land, and in collecting for the commons certain other kinds of natural public revenue which our current system permits to accrue to individuals and corporations. I didn't invent it. Henry George is the clearest exponent of it, but not the first or last. Is it perfect? No, but it is vastly superior to what we've got now, and I believe it is consistent with the ideals to which Americans pay the most honor.
Henry George is the most famous American popular economist you've never heard of, a 19th century cross between Michael Lewis, Howard Dean and Ron Paul. Progress and Poverty, George's most important book, sold three million copies and was translated into German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew and Mandarin. During his lifetime, George was probably the third best-known American, eclipsed only by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. He was admired by the foreign luminaries of the age, too -- Leo Tolstoy, Sun-Yat Sen and Albert Einstein, who wrote that "men like Henry George are unfortunately rare. One cannot image a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice." George Bernard Shaw described his own thinking about the political economy as a continuation of the ideas of George, whom he had once heard deliver a speech.
Later, she writes,
George found most mysterious about the economic consequences of the
industrial revolution was that its failure to deliver economic
prosperity was not uniform -- instead it had created a winner-take-all
society: "Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others
find it hard to get a living at all. The 'tramp' comes with the
locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of
'material progress' as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and
magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by
uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow
of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns
and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied."
diagnosis was beguilingly simple -- the fruits of innovation weren't
widely shared because they were going to the landlords. This was a very
American indictment of industrial capitalism: at a time when Marx was
responding to Europe's version of progress and poverty with a wholesale
denunciation of private property, George was an enthusiastic supporter
of industry, free trade and a limited role for government. His culprits
were the rentier rich, the landowners who profited hugely from
industrialization and urbanization, but did not contribute to it.
had such tremendous popular appeal because he addressed the obvious
inequity of 19th century American capitalism without disavowing
capitalism itself. George wasn't trying to build a communist utopia. His
campaign promise was to rescue America from the clutches of the robber
barons and to return it to "the democracy of Thomas Jefferson." That
ideal -- as much Tea Party as Occupy Wall Street -- won support not only
among working class voters and their leaders, like Samuel Gompers, but
also resonated with many small businessmen. Robert Ingersoll, a
Republican orator, attorney and intellectual, was a George supporter. He
urged his fellow Republicans to back his man and thereby "show that
their sympathies are not given to bankers, corporations and
I commend the entire post, adapted from Freeland's new book, Plutocrats. It ends with these paragraphs:
today urgently needs a 21st century Henry George -- a thinker who
embraces the wealth-creating power of capitalism, but squarely faces the
inequity of its current manifestation. That kind of thinking is missing
on the right, which is still relying on Reagan-era trickle-down
economics and hopes complaints about income inequality can be silenced
with accusations of class war. But the left isn't doing much better
either, preferring nostalgia for the high-wage, medium-skill
manufacturing jobs of the post-war era and China-bashing to a serious
and original effort to figure out how to make 21st century capitalism
work for the middle class.
and the technology revolution aren't going away -- and thank goodness
for that. Industrialization didn't go away either. But between 1886,
when George lost the mayoral race, and the presidency of FDR, American
progressives invented, fought for and implemented a broad range of new
social and political institutions to make capitalism serve the whole of
society -- ranging from trust-busting, to the income tax, to the welfare
are living in an era of comparably tumultuous economic change. The
great challenge of our time is to devise the new social and political
institutions we need to make the new economy work for everyone. So far,
that is a historic task neither party is taking on with enough energy,
honesty or originality."
Along the same lines, you might find interesting an earlier post here, an article by Thomas Shearman entitled "Henry George's Mistakes." (He was a co-founder of Shearman & Sterling, and went on to write some excellent articles on plutocracy in The Standard, October, 1887.)
To such a point have we been brought by an artificial system of
society, that we must either deny altogether the right of the poor
to their just proportion of the fruits of the earth, or afford them
some means of subsistence out of them by the institution of positive
— SIR WALTER SCOTT, St. Ronan's
Well, Chap. XXXII., Note G.
To such a point have we been brought by an artificial system of
society, that we must either deny altogether the right of the poor
to their just proportion of the fruits of the earth, or afford them
some means of subsistence out of them by the institution of positive
— SIR WALTER SCOTT, St. Ronan's
Well, Chap. XXXII., Note G.
I'm reading through the first issues of Henry George's newspaper, "The Standard," a weekly which was published in NYC beginning in January, 1887. It was started shortly after the mayoral race of 1886 (chronicled in Post & Leubuscher's December, 1886 book), and in the 4th issue there is a very explicit article about the role that Rome was attempting to play in NYC politics by removing from the priesthood an activist priest, the much-loved Dr. Edward McGlynn, of St. Stephen's Church, on 28th Street in Manhattan, the largest parish in the city. (This was before the creation of New York City by combining the five boroughs.)
For over 20 years, McGlynn had been living among New York's poor, hearing the confessions of the poor, and knew how hard their lives were. He knew the situation in Ireland which had brought many of them to the U. S., and when he read Henry George's 1879 book, "Progress and Poverty," he found the cause of their suffering, and saw how to correct the underlying cause of poverty.
The article to which I refer is entitled, "From a Brooklyn Priest"
The Body of the
Catholic Clergy Sympathize With Dr. McGlynn
The Brooklyn Times prints an interesting
interview with “a well known parish priest” of that city. His
name is not given "for obvious reasons,” but those acquainted
with the Catholic clerics of Brooklyn have little difficulty in
attributing it to the most popular and influential of the
Catholic clergy of that city. We make the following extracts:
“The sympathy of the body of the Catholic clergy in New
York and Brooklyn is undoubtedly with Dr. McGlynn. I have talked
with a great many of my brother priests of both cities on the
matter, and almost without exception, they have taken Dr.
McGlynn's side in the controversy, though they would be loth to
do so publicly for manifest reasons. The sentiment of the body
of the Catholic clergy of the two cities is that whatever has
been done in Dr. McGlynn's case has been done by inspiration from this side. Of course the question at issue does
not at all touch matters of faith. It is purely a question of
discipline. The authorities at Rome know little or nothing of
the real state of affairs at this side of the Atlantic except as
they are inspired by the archbishop of the different provinces.
Archbishop Corrigan is in daily communication with Rome by
cable, and the views of the controversy between Dr. McGlynn and
his superior that are entertained at Rome pending the personal
appearance of Dr. McGlynn in the Eternal City, are the views of
the archbishop of New York that are telegraphed and written
“I do not mean to imply that Archbishop Corrigan would
willfully misrepresent the situation here, but I do say that Dr.
McGlynn, with all his experience as a priest in the American
metropolis, with all his practical knowledge of the condition of
the poor and of the working classes in that city, is a better
judge of the political needs of the masses in New York than
Archbishop Corrigan is, who has spent the greater part of his
career as an ecclesiastic in the state of New Jersey; and I hold
that Dr. McGlynn and every other Catholic priest has the right
to take an active part in the politics of the country. To say
that a man of the acknowledged piety and the blameless life of
Dr. McGlynn sympathizes with anything that smacks of communism
or anarchy is the veriest nonsense to anyone who knows him — and
who does not know everything about him today? Dr. McGlynn, as a
priest, knows the awful burdens which the laboring classes of
New York city have to bear through political misrule and the
corrupt combination of capital to oppress them. He knows how
anomalous that condition of things is which allows one man to
accumulate a hundred millions of dollars within 25 years and compels another to work for a dollar a day, nay, while
thousands, anxious for work, are starving for the lack of it.
Hence his support of the candidate of the labor party for mayor.
Dr. McGlynn did not believe that anarchy or communism would
follow in the wake of the election of Henry George to the
mayoralty of New York any more than he believed that Mr. George,
as the chief executive of the municipal government across the
East river could put his land theories into practical operation
in the metropolis. Any possible change in the government of New
York city must be a change for the better, so far as the poor
“If the bishops of the dioceses in the United States
were taken by Rome from among the clergy of these dioceses who
thoroughly understand the social and political conditions of
their people, there would be none of these disciplinary
troubles. What sense is there in sending an Italian priest to
Canada or an Irish priest to Guatemala as bishop? Or why should
a bishop be transferred from a city in the state of New Jersey
to preside over the archdiocese of New York when there are many
able and holy priests in the metropolis worthy of election to
the prelacy who have spent their lives among the masses of the
people? In countries where the canonical law of the church is in
practical application the parish priests of a diocese in which
the bishopric becomes vacant send three names to Rome by majority
vote. One is set down as dignus, or worthy, another as dignior,
or more worthy, and a third as dignissimus, or most worthy. Any
one of the three may be selected, and it sometimes happens that
it is the lowest on the list who is chosen. The pope has the
absolute power to go outside the list sent to him from the
diocese in which a vacancy occurs, but it is a power rarely
exercised and only for the most exigent reasons. If the canon
law applied in America, which is only yet a missionary country
and subject to the propaganda at Rome, Dr. McGlynn could not
have been turned out of St. Stephen's church as he has been and
his salary would have run on despite his suspension until his
case was finally decided at Rome.
“It is most unfortunate that the canon law does not
apply in the United States, and that the political, social and
educational situation in this country is not better understood
at Rome. Wealthy Catholic politicians have too much to say on
church policy in this country; and unfortunately that is today
the trouble in New York city. The masses of the Catholic clergy
say, 'Hands off.' As long as bishops, with whom wealthy
politicians are most powerful, practically say who shall be
elected to the prelacy in the United States there will be a
chance for trouble among the laity.
“I am satisfied that if a majority of the Catholic
clergy of the dioceses of New York and Long Island could do it
Dr. McGlynn would have been elected archbishop and Archbishop
Corrigan would have been allowed to remain in New Jersey. I
unhesitatingly say that if the votes of the Catholic clergy in
these two dioceses could do it Dr. McGlynn would be restored to
St. Stephen's parish tomorrow. No old priest of New York city
wanted to succeed Dr. McGlynn in that parish, for they all knew
how his congregation idolized him. I am also free to say that if
Archbishop Corrigan had not been brought from the state of New
Jersey to New York city this trouble would never have occurred.
“Mgr. Preston is the bitterest foe that Dr. McGlynn has
in the diocese of New York. I do not mean to imply that the
monsignor entertains personal animosity toward the ex-rector of
St. Stephen's church, but he is utterly opposed to what Dr.
McGlynn stands for as an American citizen. Mgr. Preston is an
aristocrat and the associate of aristocrats. Even converts to
the Catholic church who know Father Preston well have admitted
that the monsignor dearly loves the privileges which attach to
church dignitaries in Catholic countries, and is inclined to ape
the civil ceremonial of such communities in his intercourse with
his flock. Dr. McGlynn is poor, is of the poor and loves to
associate with the poor. He is in this respect the antithesis
of Mgr. Preston, and the latter is a confidential adviser of
This article, more than anything else I've read, brings home to me the extent to which the rich manage even the Church for the benefit of the rich, to the detriment of the poor. When a priest who seeks to correct the unjust structures is deprived of his priesthood because he might upset the privileges of the rich, the country and the church are both in trouble.
When churches benefit from contributions from wealthy contributors, they will tend to act to enforce the structures which enrich those wealthy contributors, rather than rocking the boat in any way. When economic structures funnel the community's wealth into a relative few pockets, the Church will tend to embrace those pockets, not challenge the structures. Money in elections is not the only corrupting force.
The nobility and gentry and even those holy men, the abbots, not
content with the old rents that their farms yielded, nor thinking it
enough that they, living at their ease, do no good to the public,
resolve to do it hurt instead of good. . . . As if
forest and parks had swallowed up too little of the land, those
worthy countrymen turn the best inhabited places into solitude.
As I listen to the 2012 party platforms, I am reminded of what they ought to be focused on, embodied pretty well in this platform from 1886-87.
PLATFORM OF THE UNITED PARTY.
Adopted at Syracuse August 19, 1887.
We, the delegates of the united labor party of New York, in state
convention assembled, hereby reassert, as the fundamental platform of
the party, and the basis on which we ask the co-operation of citizens of
other states, the following declaration or principles adopted on
September 23, 1886, by the convention of trade and labor associations of
the city of New York, that resulted in the formation of the united
"Holding that the corruptions of government and the impoverishment of
labor result from neglect of the self-evident truths proclaimed by the
founders of this republic that all men are created equal and are endowed
by their Creator with unalienable rights, we aim at the abolition of a
system which compels men to pay their fellow creatures for the use of
God’s gifts to all, and permits monopolizers to deprive labor of natural
opportunities for employment, thus filling the land with tramps and
paupers and bringing about an unnatural competition which tends to
reduce wages to starvation rates and to make the wealth producer the
industrial slave of those who grow rich by his toil.
'“Holding, moreover, that the advantages arising from social growth and
improvement belong to society at large, we aim at the abolition of the
system which makes such beneficent inventions as the railroad and
telegraph a means for the oppression of the people and the
aggrandizement of an aristocracy of wealth and power. We declare the
true purpose of government to be the maintenance of that sacred right of
property which gives to every one opportunity to employ his labor, and
security that he shall enjoy its fruits; to prevent the strong from
oppressing the weak, and the unscrupulous from robbing the honest; and
to do for the equal benefit of all such things as can be better done by
organized society than by individuals; and we aim at the abolition of
all laws which give to any class of citizens advantages, either
judicial, financial, industrial or political, that are not equally
shared by all others."
We call upon all who seek the emancipation of labor, and who would make
the American union and its component states democratic commonwealths of
really free and independent citizens, to ignore all minor differences
and join with us in organizing a great national party on this broad
platform of natural rights and equal justice. We do not aim at securing
any forced equality in the distribution of wealth. We do not propose
that the state shall attempt to control production, conduct
distribution, or in any wise interfere with the freedom of the
individual to use his labor or capital in any way that may seem proper
to him and that will not interfere with the equal rights of others. Nor
do we propose that the state shall take possession of land and either
work it or rent it out. What we propose is not the disturbing of any man
in his holding or title, but by abolishing all taxes on industry or its
products, to leave to the producer the full fruits of his exertion and
by the taxation of land values, exclusive or improvements, to devote to
the common use and benefit those values, which, arising not from the
exertion of the individual, but from the growth of society, belong
justly to the community as a whole. This increased taxation of land, not
according to its area, but according to its value, must, while
relieving the working farmer and small homestead owner of the undue
burdens now imposed upon them, make it unprofitable to hold land for
speculation, and thus throw open abundant opportunities for the
employment of labor and the building up of homes.
While thus simplifying government by doing away with the horde of
officials required by the present system of taxation and with its
incentives to fraud and corruption, we would further promote the common
weal and further secure the equal rights of all, by placing under public
control such agencies as are in their nature monopolies: We would have
our municipalities supply their inhabitants with water, light and heat;
we would have the general government issue all money, without the
intervention of banks; we would add a postal telegraph system and postal
savings banks to the postal service, and would assume public control
and ownership of those iron roads which have become the highways of
While declaring the foregoing to be the fundamental principles and aims
of the united labor party, and while conscious that no reform can give
effectual and permanent relief to labor that does not involve the legal
recognition of equal rights, to natural opportunities, we nevertheless,
as measures of relief from some of the evil effects of ignoring those
rights, favor such legislation as may tend to reduce the hours of labor,
to prevent the employment of children of tender years, to avoid the
competition of convict labor with honest industry, to secure the
sanitary inspection of tenements, factories and mines, and to put an end
to the abuse of conspiracy laws.
We desire also to so simplify the procedure of our courts and diminish
the expense of legal proceedings, that the poor may be placed on an
equality with the rich and the long delays winch now result in
scandalous miscarriages of justice may be prevented.
And since the ballot is the only means by which in our Republic the
redress of political and social grievances is to besought, we especially
and emphatically declare for the adoption of what is known as the
“Australian system of voting,” an order that the effectual secrecy of
the ballot and the relief of candidates for public office from the heavy
expenses now imposed upon them, may prevent bribery and intimidation,
do away with practical discriminations in favor of the rich and
unscrupulous, and lessen the pernicious influence of money in politics.
In support or these aims we solicit the co-operation of all patriotic
citizens who, sick of the degradation of politics, desire by
constitutional methods to establish justice, to preserve liberty, to
extend the spirit of fraternity, and to elevate humanity.
They ate up Earth and promised you The Heaven of an empty shell! 'Twas theirs to say: 'twas yours to do, On pain of everlasting Hell! They rob and leave you helplessly For help of Heaven to cry and call; Heaven did not make your misery; The Earth was given for all.
— GERALD MASSEY, The Earth for All, My Lyrical Life, 2d Series, p. 232.
Wherever there is in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on.
— THOMAS JEFFERSON (1785), Ford's Writings of Jefferson, Vol. VII., 36.
How hard it is for the very poor to have engendered in their hearts that love of home from which all domestic virtues spring, when they live in dense and squalid masses where social decency is lost, or rather never found.
— CHARLES DICKENS, Old Curiosity Shop, Chap. XXXVIII.
"Instead of subduing poverty by helping and inducing the poor to go out and inherit the earth, many of us wish to keep them crowded here, because their poverty is their inducement to labour for us rich."
— JEAN INGELOW, Words spoken by Giles Brandon; Off the Skelligs.
Without ties to bind the people to the land, they have been driven, especially of late years, in ever increasing multitudes to the towns. Here they have herded apart from the better classes, forming an atmosphere and a society marked on the one hand by an absence of all the elevating influences of wealth, education and refinement, and on the other by the depressing presence of almost a dead level of poverty, ignorance and squalor. They are not owners either of the scraps of land on which they live or of the tenements which cover them; but they are rackrented by the agents of absentee landlords, who know less of them than Dives knew of Lazarus.
— CARDINAL VAUGHAN, Inaugural Address to the Annual Conference of the Catholic Truth Society, Stockport; published in the St. Vincent de Paul Quarterly, New York, November, 1899; p. 286.
Thou, O Lord, providest enough for all men with Thy most liberal and bountiful hand, but whereas Thy gifts are, in respect of Thy goodness and free favour, made common to all men, we (through our naughtiness, niggardship and distrust), do make them private and peculiar. Correct Thou the thing which our inequity hath put out of order, and let Thy goodness supply that which our niggardliness hath plucked away.
— A Prayer for Them That Be in Poverty, from Queen Elizabeth's Private Prayer Book (1578).
At the outdoor mass you held in Wroclaw in Poland during your recent visit to that country, you said the following very true and sincere words:
"The Earth is capable of feeding everyone. Why therefore -- here at the end of the 20th century -- should thousands of people die from starvation" -- "Pray solidarity will prevail over the unrestrained thirst for profit and ways to handle laws of trade, which do not take into consideration inalienable human rights".
It was the same concern about the greed of the wealthy and the plight of the poor, that your predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, expressed in his Encyclical Letter of 1891, 'Rerum Novarum'. Yet, in the more than hundred years that have past, if there has been a change, it has been for the worse!
The wealth is there. The growth of industry and the discoveries of science about which Pope Leo spoke, are even more fantastic and surprising than he would have imagined in his most inspired dreams. The enormous fortunes of individuals, of which he also spoke, have become more enormous. Yet the poverty is still there. Even in countries that are considered wealthy, people are homeless and live in cardboard boxes; people die, not just by the thousands as your Holiness said in Wroclaw, but by the millions, from poverty related diseases, malnutrition and starvation. You are indeed right to ask the question:
THE EXCLUSION FROM THE GIFTS OF GOD
As your Holiness will know, the Encyclical Letter of 1891 was not only an attack on socialism, but also a strong defence of the right to hold land as private property, a right that Pope Leo XIII claimed to be natural.
But the right to hold land includes the right for the owner to exclude other people from it, and, as all usable land in industrially developed countries is owned in that way, people without such a right will be unable to enjoy the gifts of God unless they accept the conditions exacted of them by a landowner. Neither can they work, reside nor relax without land, and again they have to accept conditions exacted by a landowner.
Normally the landowner will ask people to pay the market-determined site rental, which is high because of the many excluded people who want land, or he will offer to let them work at a market-determined wage, which is low because of many excluded people wanting a working place.
Some people, in fact -- as a consequence of the many excluded -- a growing number of people, can neither qualify for a job nor afford to pay the site rental, and they have to live on the streets, on the roads, at the dumping grounds or wherever they can find a poor shelter, some clothes and a little to eat. Some of them find that crime and prison give them a better life than there is available through the legal opportunities open to them.
In some countries Social Security is implemented to mitigate the cruel consequences of the exclusion of people from the gifts of God. The Social Security bill is not paid by landowners, but by entrepreneurs, wage earners, pensioners, savers and consumers.
In other countries only private charity is available to relieve the hardships.
But neither Social Security nor charity will change the basic injustice that causes the horrible conditions of the people excluded, that increases the site rentals to be paid for the use of land, and reduces net-wages, widening the gap between poor and rich. The basic cause of these evils has to be destroyed.
Political leaders from all over the world, including representatives of the Holy See, agreed at the United Nations conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) at Istanbul last year, that:
"The failure to adapt, at all levels, appropriate rural and urban land policies and land management practices remains a primary cause of inequity and poverty".
LETTER TO POPE LEO XIII
Allow us, your Holiness, to point to the Open Letter of September 11th, 1891, written in New York by Henry George and sent to your predecessor his Holiness Pope Leo XIII, as a response to 'Rerum Novarum'.
Published as a book this Open Letter has been read by many thousands, and still today the book is sold and read.
Henry George did consider 'inalienable human rights' and 'unrestrained thirst for profit and ways to handle laws of trade'. On exactly this background he spoke for all people's equal rights to the gifts of God.
To maintain this right for everybody and at the same time to allow exclusive right for some to own land as private property, he advocated that people who are given the exclusive right to own land -- and thereby the right to exclude other people from the gifts of Nature -- should pay a compensation to the people they exclude (in fact to all citizens).
The compensation, as a duty to be paid by the landowners, should be the market-determined rentals of the sites from which they can exclude others. This being a fair charge of justice as the rentals are not due to efforts or investments made by the landowners, but due to the development of society and to the growth of the population of human beings, all wanting a place to work, and a place to reside.
The rentals should be collected from all landowners by society, and the revenue should be used to the benefit of all citizens. In that way, Henry George emphasized, all citizens would be able to get their equal share of the gifts of God.
HOLY INCENTIVES OR HOLLOW FALSEHOOD
We do agree with your Holiness and with Henry George that people have private right to property created by man, the right to the fruits of their labour; and also that people can achieve private right to exclusive possession of land, from which they can exclude other people.
But we find it logically inconsistent to believe that people have equal right to life and to be on the Earth, when at the same time some of them have exclusive right to own land as private property without paying compensation to those people whom they exclude from their land.
Your Holiness' sincere words, as quoted initially in this letter, accord with Rerum Novarum of 1891 and with the Habitat II statement quoted above, but they will only become true if your Holiness will succeed in urging on the rulers/governments of this world to collect the annual market-determined Site Rentals of all land in their countries, and distribute the revenue thus acquired to the benefit of all their citizens.
If your Holiness could succeed in persuading the governments to do so, all people on Earth would gain equal access to the gifts of Nature, and true solidarity would become a reality. If not, all statements about equal right to life, to work, to education and to residence, will continue being hollow and false; and our successors will not see a change for the better; on the contrary, they will see the gap between very rich people and alienated poor people grow bigger, and the problems of poverty grow more serious than they are today.
We pray your Holiness may succeed in convincing the governments of this world of the importance of public collection of the annual market rental of all land, and the revenue to be used for equal benefit of all the citizens, thus to provide far all human beings, equal rights to the gifts of Nature.
Let this become the manifestation of the new Millennium, the 2000 year anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. Let it become a Jubilee in the original meaning of the word, striking unjust shackles from society; thereby preparing a new age of humanity, a social life in friendship and peace.
This is from Joseph Dana Miller, the editor of the Single Tax Year Book (1917), and it is a concise statement which might help make clear why I think this such an important reform in the 21st century.
Men have a right to land because they cannot live without it and because no man made it. It is a free gift of nature, like air, like sunshine. Men ought not to be compelled to pay other men for its use. It is, if you please, a natural right, because arising out of the nature of man, or if you do not like the term, an equal right, equal in that it should be shared alike. This is no new discovery, for it is lamely and imperfectly recognized by primitive man (in the rude forms of early land communism) and lamely and imperfectly by all civilized communities (in laws of "eminent domain", and similar powers exercised by the State over land). It is recognized by such widely differing minds as Gregory the Great and Thomas Paine (the religious and the rationalistic), Blackstone and Carlyle (the legal and the imaginative). All points of view include more or less dimly this conception of the peculiar nature of land as the inheritance of the human race, and not a proper subject for barter and sale.
This is the philosophy, the principle. The end to be sought is the establishment of the principle -- equal right to land in practice. We cannot divide the land -- that is impossible. We do not need to nationalize it that is, to take it over and rent it out, since this would entail needless difficulty. We could do this, but there is a better method.
The principle, which no man can successfully refute or deny even to himself, having been stated, we come now to the method, the Single Tax, the taking of the annual rent of land -- what it is worth each year for use -- by governmental agency, and the payment out of this fund for those functions which are supported and carried on in common -- maintenance of highways, police and fire protection, public lighting, schools, etc. Now if the value of land were like other values this would not be a good method for the end in view. That is, if a man could take a plot of land as he takes a piece of wood, and fashioning it for use as a commodity give it a value by his labor, there would be no special reason for taxing it at a higher rate than other things, or singling it out from other taxable objects. But land, without the effort of the individual, grows in value with the community's growth, and by what the community does in the way of public improvements. This value of land is a value of community advantage, and the price asked for a piece of land by the owner is the price of community advantage. This advantage may be an excess of production over other and poorer land determined by natural fertility (farm land) or nearness to market or more populous avenues for shopping, or proximity to financial mart, shipping or railroad point (business centers), or because of superior fashionable attractiveness, (residential centers). But all these advantages are social, community-made, not a product of labor, and in the price asked for its sale or use, a manifestation of community-made value. Now in a sense the value of everything may be ascribed to the presence of a community, with an important difference. Land differs in this, that neither in itself nor in its value is it the product of labor, for labor cannot produce more land in answer to demand, but can produce more houses and food and clothing, whence it arises that these things cost less where population is great or increasing, and land is the only thing that costs more.
To tax this land at its true value is to equalize all people-made advantages (which in their manifestation as value attach only to land), and thus secure to every man that equal right to land which has been contended for at the outset of this definition.
From this reform flow many incidental benefits -- greater simplicity of government, greater certainty and economy in taxation, and increased revenues.
But its greatest benefit will be in the abolition of involuntary poverty and the rise of a new civilization. It is not fair to the reader of a definition to urge this larger conclusion, the knowledge of which can come only from a fuller investigation and the dawning upon his apprehension of the light of the new vision. But this conclusion follows as certainly as do the various steps of reasoning which we have endeavored to keep before the reader in this purely elementary definition.
With the darkening approach of another ice-hard Saturday night in western Maine, the man on the telephone was pleading for help, again. His tank was nearly dry, and he and his disabled wife needed precious heating oil to keep warm. Could Ike help out? Again?
Ike Libby, the co-owner of a small oil company called Hometown Energy, ached for his customer, Robert Hartford. He knew what winter in Maine meant, especially for a retired couple living in a wood-frame house built in the 19th century. But he also knew that the Hartfords already owed him more than $700 for two earlier deliveries.
The oil man said he was very sorry. The customer said he understood. And each was left to grapple with a matter so mundane in Maine, and so vital: the need for heat. For the rest of the weekend, Mr. Libby agonized over his decision, while Mr. Hartford warmed his house with the heat from his electric stove’s four burners.
“You get off the phone thinking, ‘Are these people going to be found frozen?’ ” Mr. Libby said. No wonder, he said, that he is prescribed medication for stress and “happy pills” for equilibrium.
Two days later, Mr. Libby told his two office workers about his decision. Diane Carlton works the front desk while her daughter-in-law, Janis, handles accounts. But they share the job of worrying about Ike, whose heart, they say, is too big for his bantam size and, maybe, this business.
The Hartford case “ate him,” Janice Carlton recalled. “It just ate him.”
Mr. Libby drove off to make deliveries in his oil truck, a rolling receptacle of crumpled coffee cups and cigarette packs. Diane Carlton, the office’s mother hen, went home early. This meant that Janis Carlton was alone when their customer, Mr. Hartford, stepped in from the cold. He had something in his hand: the title to his 16-year-old Lincoln Town Car.
Would Hometown Energy take the title as collateral for some heating oil? Please?
Maine is in the midst of its Republican presidential caucus, the state’s wintry moment in the battle for the country’s future. But at this time of year, almost nothing matters here as much as basic heat.
While federal officials try to wean the country from messy and expensive heating oil, Maine remains addicted. The housing stock is old, most communities are rural, and many residents cannot afford to switch to a cleaner heat source. So the tankers pull into, say, the Portland port, the trucks load up, and the likes of Ike Libby sidle up to house after house to fill oil tanks.
This winter has been especially austere. As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.
That's 130 gallons.
... Robert and Wilma Hartford settled into the porous old house, just
outside of Dixfield, a few months ago, in what was the latest of many
moves in their 37-year marriage. Mr. Hartford was once a stonemason who
traveled from the Pacific Northwest to New England, plying his trade.
Those wandering days are gone. Mr. Hartford, 68, has a bad shoulder,
Mrs. Hartford, 71, needs a wheelchair, and the two survive on $1,200 a
month (“Poverty,” Mrs. Hartford says). So far this year they have
received $360 in heating assistance, he said, about a quarter of last
Mr. Hartford said he used what extra money they had to repair broken
pipes, install a cellar door, and seal various cracks with Styrofoam
spray that he bought at Walmart. That wasn’t enough to block the cold,
of course, and the two oil deliveries carried them only into early
I seem to remember one of the presidential candidates just this week telling us that he wasn't particularly worried about the poor; that there are safety nets and he's willing to repair them if necessary.
Porous old houses do not make sense. We need to fix the incentives so that there is sufficient winter housing for all of us in homes that they can afford to occupy, to heat, to furnish.
Houses depreciate over time. We tend to forget that. And we fail to notice the effect that has on human beings. This story helps make it a little clearer.
One of the blogs I read from time to time had some wonderful graphics in a post from a few days ago. It is made more poignant by the 1/26 entry, which speaks to the effects of poverty and economic insecurity which are so widespread today.
Here's a lift from the more recent post, which starts with some lyrics from Bon Jovi from a few decades ago:
Once upon a time not so long ago: Tommy used to work on the docks; union's been on strike He's down on his luck - It's tough, so tough. Gina works the diner all day, working for her man She brings home her pay for love for love.
She says: We've got to hold on to what we've got 'Cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not. We've got each other and that's a lot for love - We'll give it a shot.
We're half way there - Livin' on a prayer Take my hand and we'll make it I swear - livin' on a prayer.
Thinking that 'all you need is love'. All you need is each other. Living in the moment and for the moment. Unrealistic but boundless hope that you'll make it (I swear). Even if you have nothing and the future is uncertain but you're 'livin' on a prayer'.
Those sentiments are not confined by time. Change the words slightly, slow down the tempo, add a tinkling piano and an orchestra and you've got:
"I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" . . . .
Gee, but it's tough to be broke, kid. It's not a joke, kid, it's a curse. My luck is changing, it's gotten from simply rotten to something worse Who knows, some day I will win too. I'll begin to reach my prime. Now though I see what our end is, All I can spend is just my time.
I can't give you anything but love, baby. That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby.
"Let's Face The Music and Dance".
There may be trouble ahead But while there's moonlight and music And love and romance Let's face the music and dance
Here's the thing: Some of us see the dark underside of these romantic songs.
"Just two kids in love" can look frighteningly unromantic when you have no permanent place to live. Not knowing where your next meal will come from. No health insurance and you become ill or have an accident. Not even a suitcase to schlep your clothes from wherever you are to wherever you may be going, so you use black plastic garbage bags.
And then, if (or when) a baby enters the picture, it's not so romantic anymore.
I've been working with a young couple who are really struggling. In their 20's. They met online. She left her home in the North to be with him in the South. He's in construction. The work dried up after a month. They moved to Delaware in search of a work. He found it, though it didn't last long so he got another job but not in construction. Right after Christmas, his hours went from 30-40 to 16. Per week. At $8.50 per hour.
She got pregnant. They lived with friends - a few weeks here, a few weeks there. She got food stamps. They applied for housing. She had a baby. Two weeks early. By C-section. Now, they need a place to live, no longer able to stay a few weeks with friends here and there. She says she's not afraid to be homeless, but fears "they'll take my baby from me."
Yes, they should have thought of all of these things. Months ago. They didn't. Which happens. More often than we care to think about. They're both adults with the choice to "live on a prayer". But now, there's the baby. Reality has set it and it is often a very rude visitor.
The thing about life in Lower, Slower Delaware is that there are shelters, I've discovered. Shelters for men. Shelters for women. Shelters for women and their children.
There are no shelters for families. Because, you know, the folks in power have "family values" but do not necessarily value families.
Thankfully, a consortium of churches in the Lewes-Rehoboth area have pooled resources to begin a community resource center which provides families with hotel rooms while the family works with the State to find employment and permanent homes. Which can take up to 24 months.
These kids are the very definition of "living on a prayer". Which is often hard to distinguish from "magical thinking". Which is a short hop, skip and a jump from looking positively delusional. . . .
The graphics follow. I'm grateful that they were all together on a single page, and I'm agreement with the text which connects them.
Today's economic problems aren't new. America's economy crashed in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907, 1920, 1930, 1955, 1973, 1981, 1990, 2001, 2008.... each crash different in detail, but similar overall: People willing and able to work could not find the opportunity they needed and were thus thrown into poverty. And even in good times, millions of willing American workers remain unemployed. The cause of economic difficulty is no mystery. Nor is the remedy. Philosophers, and even some economists, have understood for decades what opportunity really is and how it can be assured for all. One of the greatest writers on this subject was Henry George, and his book,Progress & Poverty, provides an excellent framework for understanding the problems we face today.
This is from the announcement of a 5-Saturday course which uses "Progress and Poverty" as its textbook, offered at the Blue Island Public Library, starting at the end of January. It is being offered by Chuck Metalitz and David Harrell of the Henry George School of Chicago.
The page continues,
Course Outline We start with a discussion of the problem: Why has our nation, despite its enormous productive power, failed to provide to everyone the opportunity to earn a living wage? And why does our economy crash periodically, causing even more poverty and economic misery? We evaluate current explanations, and find them unsatisfactory. Using the tools of classical economic analysis, we determine the fundamental natural laws which limit how much people can earn, and see how progress can actually worsen poverty. Does that mean technological progress must be stopped? Of course not. Reasoning from morality as much as practicality, Henry George proposes a pro-liberty, anti-privilege public policy which can end poverty while increasing the general level of prosperity. We discuss and evaluate this proposal, in theory and in practice, for the 21st century. The main text we use is Henry George's original Progress & Poverty. For several years after its original publication in 1879, this book was an American best-seller. Although the original 19th-century text is a classic, many of our students choose instead to read an edition “abridged for modern readers.” You will be amazed how George's analysis is spot-on to 21st-century issues. Supplementary notes are also provided to clarify and update as needed. And the instructor will thoroughly discuss all the important points in the class. What you will learn
You will learn a method of reasoning that is useful in understanding all sorts of community problems.
You will know the mechanism by which poverty tends to worsen as the economy progresses, and why programs aimed at alleviating poverty are unlikely to succeed.
You will see the inherent contradictions which cause most “economic development” programs to fail.
You will understand the fundamental cause of the ongoing financial crises.
You will know why similar crises occur repeatedly, every decade or two.
You will recognize that honest and efficient government, improved public education, and many other desirable reforms cannot by themselves bring prosperity nor end poverty.
You will have a better understanding of the economic system under which we live.
You will know how Liberty and Justice are essential elements of any system which works for everybody.
You will have understand and have evaluated for yourself a method of method of public finance which many claim would end poverty and prevent financial collapses.
What you won't learn
You won't learn any sure-fire method for getting rich. However, you will gain knowledge which may help you prosper personally.
You won't learn a magic formula for peace and prosperity. But you will have a better understanding of concepts which are essential for making peace and prosperity possible.
If you're in or near Chicago, check out the class. (You'll also find classes in NYC.) Otherwise, you might explore these ideas on your own.
Progress & Povertyat the Henry George School Where adults learn how the economy really works Henry George School of Chicago 28 E Jackson Blvd #1004; Chicago 60604hgchicago.org 312/362-9302 Anti-privilege, pro-liberty education since 1934
The economic downturn is driving more and more families into the ranks of the poor and the “near poor” who barely make it from paycheck to paycheck. This pattern is chillingly clear from the rising numbers of formerly middle-class children now qualifying for free or low-cost meals under the federally financed school lunch program.
A recent analysis of federal data by The Times showed that the number of children receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million in the last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase. During that period, nearly a dozen states — including Nevada, Florida, Tennessee and New Jersey — experienced increases of 25 percent or more. In New York City, as of last month, a little more than 62 percent of the city’s children were eligible for free lunch — up from around 57 percent in 2007.
Under federal rules, children from families with incomes up to 130 percent of the poverty level — $29,055 for a family of four — are eligible for free meals; those in four-member families that earn up to $41,348 qualify for a reduced-cost lunch. School systems across the country are doing a better job registering needy families for the lunch program, thanks to a 2004 law that requires them to match enrollment lists with lists of welfare and food-stamp recipients. While that has brought in more students, experts say the bad economy is the main factor for the increase.
The federal government spent nearly $11 billion on this program in fiscal 2010 and is likely to spend more in 2011. While critics of safety-net programs will inevitably complain about the cost, the real problem is that so many millions of American children need this help.
This came by email today, from my friend Mike Curtis, and, with his permission, I'm sharing it here:
Dear friends and acquaintances:
I am daily reminded of the passage: “the only thing that is necessary for evil to prevail is for too many good men to do nothing” I just heard on the radio that science is advancing in the realm medicine, energy, and agricultural. We are now able to multiply productivity in manufacturing due to the use of robotics. Yet in spite of all the gains in material progress poverty is increasing.
“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.”
“This association of poverty with progress is the great enigma of our times. It is the central fact from which spring industrial, social, and political difficulties that perplex the world, and with which statesmanship and philanthropy and education grapple in vain. From it come the clouds that overhang the future of the most progressive and self-reliant nations. It is the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts to our civilization and which not to answer is to be destroyed. So long as all the increased wealth which modern Progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans from its foundations, and every new story but hastens the final catastrophe. To educate men who must be condemned to poverty, is but to make them restive; to base on a state of most glaring social inequality political institutions under which men are theoretically equal, is to stand a pyramid on its apex.”
Henry George 1879 (Progress and Poverty)
I am not running for political office, but if I can enlighten anyone, I believe my efforts will have been worth it. The following my reaction to the prevailing wisdom from all the presidential candidates, including the one in the White House.
If you think my thoughts are worth consideration, please let me know, and forward them to others. If you think I’m wrong, please let me know where I went wrong.
Taxes kill jobs
"Taxes kill jobs" is the message of political candidates. The American economic system causes unemployment and recessions; that is true, but without revenue and the role of government the U.S. would surely be a third world country.
However, there is one tax system that actually creates jobs. It’s not based on the socialistic principle of “Ability to Pay,” like most of our taxes. It’s based on the value of the “Benefits Received” by the tax payer. It’s doesn’t confiscate a percentage of income, taking more from those who have a greater income, even when the benefits they receive are the same as others. It doesn’t tax wages, which are the earned income of labor; it doesn’t tax buildings, machines, or inventories, which were acquired from the people who made them; It doesn’t tax sales or consumption, which is the only reason anyone produces anything.
It is simply a charge for the value of the opportunities to which the taxpayer has been given exclusive control. It is a tax on the value of land. It can be taxed at 100% without in any way adding to the cost of production. It doesn’t add to the value of land or the value of things produced on the land. It simply collects what would otherwise go to the holders of land as an un-earned income when the land is actually used.
It insures that the government has ample revenue for the legitimate needs of society, while limiting the government to those values which cannot be attributed to the efforts of individuals or corporations, but are socially created by the community as a whole and attach to the land. It cannot be evaded, because the land cannot be hidden.
The reason wages no longer rise as inventions and new technologies increase the results of labor is because people have no independent way to employ themselves.
If you’re among the least skilled workers, no matter how little machines cost or how much those machines increase the results of your labor, you have to bid against other people who want the same job; the result is that wages tend to a bare minimum -- superseded by the legal Minimum Wage.
For workers with superior skills and knowledge, those with whom employers can increase their profits, it is simply a matter of supply and demand. The higher the pay, the greater the incentive to learn the skill and acquire the knowledge. The wages of any qualified worker will be determined by two opposing factors. First, the demand for the goods or services they produce will encourage employers to offer wages that tend to equal the greater value of their contribution to the product or service. But, as the higher pay stimulates others to acquire similar skills and knowledge the increased supply of superior workers competing against each other, brings wages down until the wages that reward the special skill are no longer high enough to stimulate others to acquire the same skill and knowledge required for the job. Remember when computer programers earned twice what they do now? The supply increased and their wages went down. They still make more than the average worker, because it’s not so easy to learn computer programing. The supply has not exceeded the demand.
Although the vast majority of workers have no way to employ themselves, and the general level of wages haven’t increased in 40 years, it is not a natural law that wages will always tend to remain static. The United States has 700,000 square miles of arable land. That is less than 450 people per square mile. France has more than 850. The U.K. has more than 2,500 and Japan has more than 7,500 people per square mile.
All production takes place on land. The reason why more workers are looking for employment than landowners are looking for workers is that an enormous portion of the arable land in America is unused or grossly under used; simply held as an asset.
Suppose that cities were developed to their full potential. The slums with empty houses and abandoned factories were redeveloped to their full potential; the surface parking lots were replaced with multi-story parking garages; the grossly underdeveloped sites in the high-rise business districts were put to their highest and best use. Suppose the suburbs were carefully planed and developed with wooded and open parkland instead of relying on land speculators posing as farmers to provide open space; suppose we eliminated sprawl with its leapfrogging patterns that increase the cost of the infrastructure, waste land, and separate people from work and social relations; suppose we created a disincentive to hold idle, mineral land that increases in value. That is to say: What would happen if the majority of now privately held idle land was put to good use? It would generate an increase in the demand for labor and create job opportunities for everyone who was willing and able to work.
What is required is a shift from confiscatory taxation, which we now have, to a revenue system that is based on the value of land, which measures the value of the benefits received by landholders from society. Land values include the surface rights, mineral rights, and all other natural opportunities like the electromagnetic spectrum used for communications.
Under this proposal, the rental value has to be paid whether the land is used or not. While the payment of rent is a payment for a benefit received, for those who leave their land idle, it becomes a penalty, and that insures an ample supply of land for all who need or want to use it.
It also insures that all workers and the owners of productive capital get to keep everything they produce by taking advantage of the natural opportunities that are equally available to everyone else.
If you've just arrived at this page, this is the first (last) of perhaps 10 items I've picked up from reading a year's worth of an 1895-6 weekly called The San Jose Letter. I'm amazed how topical they are 115 years later!
From The San Jose Letter, of November 28, 1896:
THE SUPERFICIAL REFORMER.
A great fault of the human family today, when starting out on reform measures, is to battle with effects and neglect the primary causes of the evil. What man, be he the most uneducated tiller of the soil, would start out to eradicate weeds by cutting them off at the surface of the ground? Would he not dig down and remove the roots? And yet all the great reform parties, temperance people and labor organizations, are fighting effects, all claiming to be right, while the "ignis fatuus" is luring them on to their own destruction.
What, then, is the primary cause of the evil that is today filling our jails and insane asylums, making prostitutes of women and placing a premium upon drunkenness and suicide, while the products of industry are taxed to their utmost to keep up this damnable retrograde movement of our civilization? Are these the results of man's development in freedom, or are they the results of present conditions over which he has, or thinks he has, no control? Cannot this entire brood of evils be laid at the door of poverty and want, the result of bad laws? Anything, therefore, that will better man's condition will certainly lesson crime. Such a state of affairs is what the single tax will bring about. It has already been shown that taxing a thing has a tendency to discourage it, hence we are going to stop taxing industry and production, because these are the mainstays of existence, and to discourage them is to say that we have no right to that which nature decreed should be ours, but our entire revenue for community purposes, we propose to take from land values created by reason of the presence of the community.
—George W. Loehr in National Single Taxer.
If we don't go to the root of the problem, we and our descendants are going to be spending centuries trimming the weeds.
"Radical" has an honorable root: Radix, radicis --the root! Radish, radius, eradicate, radical ...
The current conversation about "tax reform" seems to mostly consist of arguing about federal income tax brackets. It doesn't go to the root of the problem. Most of those carrying on the conversation wouldn't know the root if they stumbled across it.
And what is this lowest man who holds the fate of the world in his hands; whom we must lift or perish? He is landless, workless, poverty stricken, degraded, drunken, dishonest. In a word overflowing with plenty, he lacks everything. In a world of brightness, he and his cower in a cellar, or burrow in a sun-abandoned court. With abundance of pure air, they breathe only the foul.
Let us go to this man, whom we have thus painted in somberest hues; loveless, imbruted, dirty, lazy. What shall we do with him?
Let me rehearse some of the favorite processes of the philanthropic tread-mill so amiably worked by the well-meaning, though willfully blind, in their efforts to "raise the fallen":
Preaching Jesus to his soul.
Giving soap and water to his filth.
Compelling him, willy-nilly, to work.
Exhorting him to abstinence.
Giving his children a taste of heaven on earth, with a treat of fresh air (sending them back again to hell of foul air).
Building airy tenements for his occupation.
Providing for his immediate wants in food, fuel, clothing and physic.
Although these do not exhaust the enumeration, they are typical and must suffice. But they are all wrong wrong, wrong.
What! Wrong to preach Jesus to the fallen? Yes, wrong to preach Jesus to them, until we practice Jesus ourselves.
What a mockery to preach Jesus to the fallen man, with the proceeds of his stolen rights in our pockets, in the suit of clothes we wear, and in the meal we enjoyed before we went forth to meet him. The first lesson in religion we can give him is an object lesson in the restoration of his lost inheritance in the earth. The first sermon he hears us preach should be one exhorting ourselves to repentance, confession, and restitution. Having obeyed and thus done the first duty in the premises, it remains for us to aid our fallen and defrauded brother in recovering the ground from which we have thrust him.
And this fallen man is not hurt harmlessly. He is the fly in the ointment of our wealth. He is the barrier to the realization of our social dreams. To secure ourselves we must secure him. The oneness of industry in its best conception is impossible until we have made this our brother one with ourselves. In some sad respects we trace evidences of our relationship. Is he sinful? So are we. Has he fallen? So have we. He was robbed and fell. We robbed and fell. Clearly our first duty is to "restore the pledge, given again that we have robbed." We can restore; he cannot recover; he is helpless; only we can help.
Until the lowest man and his rights are practically dealt with, and his opportunities to rise assured, we shall suffer; depressions, crashes, anxiety, overcompetition, aggravated covetousness, will mar all our industry.
We produce as individuals; we suffer as an organism. No man liveth to himself. The need of one is the calamity of all.
We have taken our brother's inheritance — the right to the use of the earth — and we make merchandise out of it. Let us agree to pay into the public treasury the whole annual value of the land we use in city or county, only retaining the proceeds of our own industry. Having agreed to and carried out this act of simple justice, no one will hold, can hold, land for profit. He must use or abandon it. The abandoned estates will then be available for our brother now landless, hopeless, degraded. Then, and only then, can we preach Jesus to him.
We are many members in one body. Which of us can be hurt and not bring hurt on the rest? In this sense, in the sense of sharing in suffering, the oneness of industry is perfect.
This appeared in a California weekly 115 years ago. Much of it could have been written in 2011. Does this mean that these problems are eternal, necessary and simply can't be avoided?
Or does it mean that when we continue to maintain the structures that create these problems, we ought not to be surprised that the problem continues to show up?
These problems can be solved -- and prevented -- by a simple, logical, just, efficient reform of our tax structure. But almost none of our elected representatives are the least bit familiar with it. You might send yours a copy of Walt Rybeck's book, "Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle," if you think yours might have an open mind.
Young Men and Their Opportunities The San Jose Letter, February 1, 1896
But what are young men to do for a living? Did it ever occur to you that thousands of young Americans between the ages of 16 and 21 are pondering over that very question? What are they to do, indeed? Shall they study for a profession? Scores of young professional men in San Jose are not earning enough to pay their office rent, young lawyers, doctors, dentists, waiting for the practice that does not come.
The professions are overcrowded, some one says, let them learn a trade. What trade, pray? Would you have any of them learn the carpenter's trade, for instance? The valley is over-run with idle carpenters. Would you have them become house painters? Every other tramp one meets appears to be a painter. Would you have them learn the printer's trade? A dozen idle printers are clammoring for every place.
I was talking with a gentleman who is in the hardware business the other day. This question of idle young men came up. The merchant got down a list containing probably a score of names. Applicants, he told me, for a chance to learn the plumber's trade. "I have not a place," he said, "for one in twenty of them. They offer to work for nothing, if permitted to learn the trade. But idle journeymen apply for work every day."
It is so with every trade that may be named. Plenty of young men are fitting themselves for a $20 job, by spending months in learning shorthand and type writing. There was a time when a book-keeper could earn a living-assuring salary. He cannot now. Book-keepers, good enough for any average retail business, are hunting $40 jobs.
What are the young Americans of this generation to do, then? Such as have parents to furnish them with a home can work for $20 a month. Those with no home cannot compete with home-cheapened labor. The result is, San Quentin is filling up with young fellows under 25 years of age. Most of our tramps appear to be under 30.
Since the land is filled with idle doctors one can safely conclude that none want for medical assistance and advice. Since idle carpenters are begging for work, the people of America must have all the houses they want. There can be no more plumbing to do, for plumbers are idle; no houses that need painting for painters are tramping the country seeking work, no one without bread for there is no sale for breadstuffs, and bakers are without employment.
But, strange to say, hundreds of men are suffering for the services of the idle doctors. Families are shelterless, while carpenters are begging to build them houses. Men and women and children are suffering for bread while bread-stuffs rot, and bakers starve to death because they can find no one who can command their services.
Doctor A wants to build a house, and carpenter B is anxious to build it for him; but the house is not built. In the meantime Carpenter B's children die for the lack of medical assistance. Blacksmith C is unable to furnish his family with wood, for he "has no work." However, Wood-dealer D sees his horses go lame because he cannot afford to have them shod.
A very interesting state of affairs, is it not? Work that should be done, and plenty of it; while the young men of the nation are drifting to State prisons and the road because they can find no work.
This condition of affairs is new in America. Hungry men startle the well-fed, until they, too, hunger for the luxuries that once seemed necessities, then they are more than startled.
Along with this an evil is growing up in America that cannot be too earnestly condemned; it is that of the steadily growing custom of giving charity. The recipient of charity is demoralized. The American laborer wants work, not charity. When you give him charity you sink him to a condition lower than that of the negro slave. I know philantropists who employ Chinese, while white labor goes begging for a purchaser, who pompously "pay the white man's butcher bill." The white man wants to pay his own butcher bill, and demands work that will enable him to do it.
The evil results of this charity are doubled when school children are taught to "give to the poor." San Francisco has been turned into a pauper-making, pauper-sustaining educational institution. The papers reek with "charity," and the children are given lessons in pauperizing their elders. A year ago last winter the children were encouraged to feed the men employed at $1 a day in the Golden Gate Park. What did this mean? It meant that the children were made accustomed to see laboring Americans want for food, while the laborers, although working ten hours a day, were obliged to stoop to accept charity, and charity at the hands of children. It is very pathetic, this picture of Susie or Johnnie giving a ham sandwich or a piece of sponge cake to a hungry laboring American — a pretty picture, if you like; but the children are not benefited by it and the laborer can know no greater degradation. But, what are the young men who are leaving schools, colleges and universities each year to do for a living? Must the majority of them become objects of charity, to be given work, charity work, at wages which will not sustain life, only to be helped out of the difficulty by a lot of idle society women, who have nothing better to do than to take up the fad, charity; and by a parcel of school children who are encouraged in doing their little towards the ultimate pauperization of the American laborer?
This was most likely written by Franklin Hichorn, editor of The San Jose Letter.
I first encountered Edmund Vance Cooke at a conference in 2003, when Everett Gross stood up at an "open mic" session and recited his poem "Uncivilized," from memory. Some of his poems do not appeal to me in the least, but some catch my attention. This was published in "The Public," December 1906, as a reprint from the Saturday Evening Post.
We thank Thee. Yea, in the even tone Of those who are glad of the goods they own. We thank Thee. Yea, that Thou hast preferred And blessed us more than the common herd. We thank Thee, part with the heart's intention. But most, let us own, with the lip's convention.
"We thank Thee." Lord! what a selfish prayer. Thanks! — while a beggar's breast is bare? Thanks that our own full feast is spread While another creature is lacking bread? Thanks that our full-fed blood runs warm, While a starveling baby breasts the storm?
Thanksgiving! The word is a godless taunt From the "House of Have" to the "House of Want." Until I share my uttermost crust With sinner or saint, with jailed or just, I will not clamor to God and raise My complacent eyes — and call it praise.
Why, what am I, that Thou givest a feast Which Thou hast not shared with Thy worst and least? I look at the world and I see the yield For all from forest and mine and fleld. And because I have seized a share, shall I Cry out Thanksgiving — and only cry?
Thanks? Nay, for though I am cloyed, I know The taste of the hungering want. And though My limbs are whole, I can feel the crack Of the bloody bones on the torture-rack. I have looked in the pit and have not feared, But I know the shrink of the soul it seared.
Yes, yes; I am even as you — of those Who can not, or will not, heal these woes. I am what I am, but I will not be At one with the smug-lipped Pharisee Who praises his God for his earthly gain, While Misery stares through the window-pane.
I've not yet begun to watch the Ken Burns PBS series on Prohibition, other than a few snippets I've caught at odd times. (I look forward to watching the programs in order and in quiet.) But in the first segment, I did hear the name Frances Willard and something that made me google her name along with that of Henry George, on the chance that there was some connection. And I did find some interesting things.
Frances Willard, whose name we associate with the Womans Christian Temperance Union, was apparently also a Single Taxer. She saw the Single Tax as the way to end poverty, which she saw as a key cause of inebriation.
A few quotes:
"We used to say intemperance was the cause of poverty; now we have completed the circle of truth by saying poverty causes intemperance, and that the underpaid, undersheltered, wage-earning teetotaler deserves a thousand times more credit than the teetotaler who is well paid, well fed and well sheltered.
"In the slums they drink to forget; we would make life something they would gladly remember; so would you. Our objects are the same; let us clasp hands in the unity of spirit and the bond of peace."
source: NYT, 1895-06-20
from What Frances E. Willard Said:
May God crown with success the three great movements of our time which are fast passing out of the hands of philanthropists and into those of statesmen, viz., the temperance, the woman, and the labor questions, all of which are equal fractions of that one mighty whole — the human question.
The labor question is our question. Prostrate and crushed under the mountains of injustice that are piled upon the poor, lies the degraded woman to whom financial independence, equal pay for equal work, has often proved the lifting lever to a rehabilitated life.
quoted in "Land and Freedom" (volume 33):
'I SEE in Henry George's proposal an effort to establish a principle which, when established, will do more to lift humanity from the slough of poverty, crime and misery than all else; and in this I recognize it as one of the greatest forces working for temperance and morality.
from Miss Willard's address to the national WCTU convention in Baltimore, 1896:
In her address to the National W. C. T. U. convention held at Baltimore last week, Miss Willard said: -- We can no longer ignore the fact that, as the Scripture saith, 'the destruction of the poor is their poverty.' White ribbon women must be the sworn foes of monopoly, of landlordism, and every other form of class legislation. For one, I believe that the land belongs to the people, and while the farmer's domain should not be interfered with, since he turns it to a beneficent use, a propaganda of education should have devised whereby the single tax and the issue of all money by the Government itself should become two of the central planks in the platform of the party of the future.
Speaking at another meeting Miss Willard: -- Poverty is disease; it is disintegration; it has no right to be; and when men and women wake out of sleep, and see themselves as the criminals they are, nothing in the world will be so sure of actual extermination as the cursed thing called poverty -- the cradle of crime, the father of filth, the mother of misery. In the past we have comforted ourselves with looking upon it as the effect of wrong-doing, but have now aroused ourselves to the study of its cause. We are determined to burn to its last infectious atom the stench of the slums, and the temptation to lead a bad life with which poverty haunts the dream of boyhood, handicaps the purposes of youth, and enthralls the life of manhood.
For myself, twenty-one years of study and observation have convinced me that poverty is a prime cause of intemperance, and that misery is the mother, and hereditary appetite the father, of the drink hallucination.
We once said that intemperance was the cause of poverty; now we have completed the circle of truth by saying poverty causes intemperance, and the underpaid, underfed, undersheltered, wage-earning teetotaler deserves a thousand times more credit than the teetotaler who is well paid, well fed, and well cared for.
Ten years ago I could not have said it honestly; five years ago I could not have said it helpfully; but now I ceaselessly declare that I believe it to be the right and duty of the white-ribbon women to help abolish poverty in the larger sense of that great phrase.
This simple change in taxation would also force land at present held out of use for speculative profit into use, and thus prevent the monopolist from becoming rich at the expense of the public. The value which attaches to the land on which any community lives, is created by that community from year to year, not by any individual, and is thus the legitimate fund from which all public revenue should come."
from an Australian newspaper, 1898, LTE, quoting Frances Willard:
"I believe the present economic condition of the country, the misery of millions of our people, the vast number of the unemployed, call for reforms which, if they could be brought about, would vastly diminish the tendency to drink, and that one of those reforms of far-reaching and unspeakable beneficence is the single tax, as set forth by its great apostle Henry George."
and finally, from the Oxford Observer, a two-parter from July, 1897:
The Oxford Observer. PUBLISHED WEEKLY. SATURDAY JULY 17th. 1897
AN UP-TO-DATE CATECHISM. By Miss Frances E.Willard.
Who made the earth? God.
For whom was it made? For the use and sustenance of all his children, each one of whom has an equal right to its enjoyment.
How do we know that each has this equal right? Without the use of the earth no human being can exist. As each has an equal right to existence, it follows that each has an equal right to the earth.
Some persons claim to 'own' land. Where did they get their titles to it? All such titles in this country were derived from foreign kings or queens who claimed to own "America."
How did these foreign governments get this alleged right? Through open violence or fraud.
Have the people of one generation any right to give away or sell that which was made for all generations? No; the earth belongs to the living; the dead have no right therein.: (Thomas Jefferson.)
If any man claims to "own" land, has he a moral title to it? No; and it makes no difference whether he has purchased or inherited it, his title cannot be better than his from whom he derived. it.
To whom does the land of this country belong? To all the people of this country and to unborn generations.
It is necessary that each should have an equal portion of land in order that the rights, of all may be secured? No; that would be impracticable and unnecessary. The same end may be accomplished by taking the rent of land for public expenses.
To be continued.
Oxford Observer, Volume VIII, 24 July 1897
An Up-to-Date Catechism by Miss Frances E. Willard
As the value of land is produced by the community it should go to the community.
Can this be done without disturbing existing social institutions? Yes; by abolishing other forms of taxation and increasing the tax on land values.
How would this system compare with our present system of taxation? It would decrease the cost and simply the functions of Government. A tax on land values is the ideal system of taxation. -- (New York Times)
You would, then, remove all taxation from buildins and improvements? Yes; the more improvements we have the better for the community. Our present system of taxation checks production; a tax on land values would stimulate production by abolishing the tax on improvements.
How would the placing of all taxation upon land values affect the farmer? It would reduce his taxes very largely. The farmer is the worst taxed workingman in the country; he not only pays largely through indirect taxation on everything he consumes, but he is also heavily taxed on improvements. A tax on land values would be very large in the cities, or where land values are high, and the tax on agricultural land would be very small.
How would it affect the house owner? He would gain greatly, for the greater part of tax which he now pays is based upon the value of his house which is usually much greater than the value of the land. Of this, as well as of all indirect taxation, he would be relieved.
Would the placing of all taxation upon land values improve the condition of these who work? Yes. If land were taxed to its full rental value no one could afford to hold valuable land idle; the holder must either use it himself or allow others to use it. This would create a great demand for labour, and all wages would rise.
How would it affect the temperance question? Through abolition of poverty it would solve the temperance question; poverty and the vice which springs from poverty, are the great causes of intemperance.
This catechism was published along with something of Henry George's by the Darlington Single Tax League in the 1920s. Google Books has a page for it, but does not provide the text.
For some other Single Tax catechisms, check out thesingletax.com, the shorter pieces.
Re “Poverty Rate Soars to Highest Level Since 1993” (front page, Sept. 14): I know this is heresy, but why don’t we increase taxes on the wealthy and spend this money on infrastructure projects to put unemployed people to work?
ROBIN LEVIN San Francisco, Sept. 14, 2011
And consider what would happen: the infrastructure projects would increase the value of the land served by them, and make things work better in those communities, as reliable streets and bridges and other worthwhile projects do.
Who owns that land? Is it local folks, who one might hope would spend their infrastructure-created windfall locally (but who might simply use it to buy additional land, benefiting the seller, be he absentee, local, corporate, whatever)? Is it REITs? Sovereign wealth funds?
Now suppose that instead of leaving all that infrastructure-created wealth in the pockets of the landowners, local communities wised up and collected some significant fraction of it (without raising taxes on buildings in the process: the really wise communities would take this opportunity to reduce or eliminate the taxes on the buildings!) for public purposes. What do you think would happen?
I suspect that the vacant lots in town would soon start to disappear. They wouldn't leave town. They'd get built on, when their carrying costs as vacant lots rose and the disincentive to build was decreased or eliminated. That would create jobs.
Depending on what the market wanted, it would also create housing, and creating housing also leads to creating jobs to service those homes -- plumbers, electricians, painters, home improvement of various kinds.
But it might not be the high-end housing we're used to seeing; not McMansions, but more modest homes. Not luxury condos but housing for people of all ages and stages, and not just for the highest-income people but for people of more modest means.
Sounds like a virtuous circle to me. Natural Public Revenue.
But if you like the current approach, by all means tell us why we should stick with it. (California's Prop 13 is an extreme case of suppressing this wise form of taxation. Look where it has gotten them!)
Open it in another window, let it fill the screen, scrolling if necessary to see it in full -- and then continue reading here.
It comes from a 2006 article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled "The Height of Inequality," which lays out very well the extent of the income inequality we have in America, though it starts with an explanation done in 1971 by Dutch economist Jan Pen, describing the distribution of income in the British economy at that time. (I've put part of it into bullet format.) It begins,
In 1971, Jan Pen, a Dutch economist, published a celebrated treatise with a less-than-gripping title: Income Distribution. The book summoned a memorable image. This is how to think of the pattern of incomes in an economy, Pen said (he was writing about Britain, but bear with me). Suppose that every person in the economy walks by, as if in a parade. Imagine that the parade takes exactly an hour to pass, and that the marchers are arranged in order of income, with the lowest incomes at the front and the highest at the back. Also imagine that the heights of the people in the parade are proportional to what they make: those earning the average income will be of average height, those earning twice the average income will be twice the average height, and so on. We spectators, let us imagine, are also of average height.
Pen then described what the observers would see. Not a series of people of steadily increasing height—that’s far too bland a picture. The observers would see something much stranger. They would see, mostly, a parade of dwarves, and then some unbelievable giants at the very end.
As the parade begins, Pen explained, the marchers cannot be seen at all. They are walking upside down, with their heads underground—owners of loss-making businesses, most likely.
Very soon, upright marchers begin to pass by, but they are tiny. For five minutes or so, the observers are peering down at people just inches high—old people and youngsters, mainly; people without regular work, who make a little from odd jobs.
Ten minutes in, the full-time labor force has arrived: to begin with, mainly unskilled manual and clerical workers, burger flippers, shop assistants, and the like, standing about waist-high to the observers. And at this point things start to get dull, because there are so very many of these very small people. The minutes pass, and pass, and they keep on coming.
By about halfway through the parade, Pen wrote, the observers might expect to be looking people in the eye—people of average height ought to be in the middle. But no, the marchers are still quite small, these experienced tradespeople, skilled industrial workers, trained office staff, and so on—not yet five feet tall, many of them. On and on they come.
It takes about forty-five minutes—the parade is drawing to a close—before the marchers are as tall as the observers. Heights are visibly rising by this point, but even now not very fast.
In the final six minutes, however, when people with earnings in the top 10 percent begin to arrive, things get weird again. Heights begin to surge upward at a madly accelerating rate. Doctors, lawyers, and senior civil servants twenty feet tall speed by. Moments later, successful corporate executives, bankers, stockbrokers—peering down from fifty feet, 100 feet, 500 feet.
In the last few seconds you glimpse pop stars, movie stars, the most successful entrepreneurs. You can see only up to their knees (this is Britain: it’s cloudy). And if you blink, you’ll miss them altogether.
As Garrison Keillor ironically informs his listeners, not every child can be above average. But when it comes to incomes, the great majority can very easily be below average. A comparative handful of exceptionally well-paid people pulls the average up. As a matter of arithmetic, the median income—the income of the worker halfway up the income distribution—is bound to be less than average.
This is true in every economy, but in some more than others. Back when Pen wrote his book, incomes were already more skewed in America than in Britain. Over the past thirty-five years, and especially over the past ten, that top-end skewness has greatly increased. The weirdness of the last half minute of today’s American parade—even more so the weirdness of the last few seconds, and above all the weirdness of the last fraction of a second—is vastly greater than that of the vision, bizarre as it was, described by Pen.
The article goes on to point out that (1) at the time, the US giants were even taller than the British ones; (2) that in the intervening years, a highly disproportionate share of US income has gone to make the giants taller yet in proportion to the rest of us. It quotes a study suggesting that a large share of the top income earners were sports and media celebrities and top corporate executives. 13,000 people in the 99.99th percentile, with total earnings of $83 billion in 2001. (an average of $6.4 million, so some are much higher, many a lot lower.) In 2001, there were probably relatively few Hedge Fund managers pocketing billions each (and their incomes are likely not shown as wages, but rather as "capital" gains, taxed at less than all but our lowest wage earners must pay in federal income taxes, and not subject to Social Security or Medicare taxes.
Most of us, as the article points out, have a big problem with sports or media celebrities receiving large incomes, considering it a "perfecting of the labor market." But how is it that corporate executives get to harvest so much? We know about hand-picked board compensation committees which reward their pickers with high incomes, whether or not performance has been strong. But do we think about just how it is that there is so much for them to work with? Do we know why so little goes to the rest of the parade in wages? We're so used to the situation that we no longer examine it. Even your family's college economics major probably has never been exposed to a serious examination of the question. Air to the bird, water to the fish -- just the environment we live in, not even interesting enough to study, until it no longer supports life.
Professor Stiglitz told a packed UQ Centre that Australia's economic stimulus package was the best designed in the world.
AND he said natural resources - coal, iron ore - should be properly valued at market just like the electromagnetic spectrum.
The government auctions the spectrum to the highest bidders who want to operate mobile phone networks, cable companies, television and radio stations.
Basically, a country - like Australia - will end up poor if doesn't get the best price for its assets - and natural assets are not renewable, once they are gone they are gone. If the proceeds from the sale of these assets are not invested in infrastructure to support and grow other sectors the economy (manufacturing and value-adding, goods creation) then a country and it's people will not prosper - HELLO! HELLO! Drowning not waving.
"It should be subtracted from Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," he said. "You are selling off assets at a very low price if you don't have adequate taxes on mining - you are being cheated," he said to audience applause.
He thinks resources should be auctioned off to the highest bidder - the free market at work. Of course, the mining industry will make all kinds of threats.
To everyone's amusement he joked about how mining companies bamboozled, threatened and bribed governments of developing, fragile nations.
"I assume that's not the case in Australia," he mused.
To prosper, a country needs to set up a stabilization fund (from a mining tax, if not a resources auction) for nation building.
This is what he calls an investment fund for building infrastructure and to grow value-adding industries, maintain education, job creation.
Not only that but the sell-off of natural resources should appear on a country's accounts as a kind of depreciation of assets - otherwise the accounts are not accurate. ...
He made these comments at the end of the oration after he explained the difference between the financial sector and the economy - the economy is not the financial sector.
The financial sector (the banks and regulators) are the culprits behind the global financial crisis which has crippled the global economy. Apparently, moneylenders have been skimming 40 percent of the profits from companies that actually make and produce things. His big point was that this is not really the role of the financial sector. The financial sector's job is to support economic growth, not cripple it.
"Finance is a means to an end," he said. "The lack of balance between the financial sector and the economic sector was actually the real problem in this economic crisis (NOT the real estate bubble)."
So how do we create more competition for the services of workers? How do we create more opportunity for all to employ themselves if they don't like their chances with other employers? To find out, explore this blog, explore the ideas associated with the name of 19th century economist and philosopher Henry George.
Political economy is the science which deals with the natural laws governing the production and distribution of valuable goods and services. I'll also reference Adam Smith's definition:
Political economy considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator proposes two distinct objects, first, to supply a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public service. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.
In a recent column in the NYT, entitled "Description is Prescription", David Brooks made references to Tolstoy, and it sent me looking to see whether a book I remembered was available via Google Books. The book was written in 1905 by Bolton Hall, and it is entitled "What Tolstoy Taught." Its next-to-last chapter, "The Great Iniquity," follows. (Below this post is the final chapter from Hall's book.)
(This history-making article, dated July, 1905, first appeared in the London Times of August 1, 1905. We give the essence of the article verbatim as it appeared in the Times, for which it was translated from the Russian by V. Tchertkoff (editor of the Free Age Press, Christchurch, Hants, England), and I. F. H. It is expressly declared to be free from copyright. — Ed.)
Russia is living through an important time destined to have enormous results. One need only for a time free oneself from the idea which has taken root amongst our intellectuals, that the work now before Russia is the introduction into our country of those same forms of political life which have been introduced into Europe and America, and are supposed to insure the liberty and welfare of all the citizens — and to simply think of what is morally wrong in our life, in order to see quite clearly that the chief evil from which the whole of the Russian people are unceasingly and cruelly suffering cannot be removed by any political reforms, just as it is not up to the present time removed by any of the political reforms of Europe and America. This evil — the fundamental evil from which the Russian people, as well as the peoples of Europe and America, are suffering — is that the majority of the people are deprived of the indisputable natural right of every man to use a portion of the land on which he was born. It is sufficient to understand all the criminality, the sinfulness of the situation in this respect, in order to understand that until this atrocity, continuously committed by the owners of the land, shall cease, no political reforms will give freedom and welfare to the people, but that, on the contrary, only the emancipation of the majority of the people from that land-slavery in which they are now held can render political reforms, not a plaything and a tool for personal aims in the hands of politicians, but the real expression of the will of the people.
The other day I was walking along the highroad to Tula. It was on the Saturday of Holy Week; the people were driving to market in lines of carts, with calves, hens, horses, cows (some of the cows were being conveyed in the carts, so starved were they). A young peasant was leading a sleek, well-fed horse to sell.
"Nice horse," said I.
"Couldn't be better," said he, thinking me a buyer. "Good for plowing and driving."
"Then why do you sell it?"
"I can't use it. I've only two allotments. I can manage them with one horse. I've kept them both over the winter, and I'm sorry enough for it. The cattle have eaten everything up, and we want money to pay the rent."
"From whom do you rent?"
"From Maria Ivanovna; thanks be to her she let us have it. Otherwise it would have been the end of us."
"What are the terms?"
"She fleeces us of fourteen roubles. But where else can we go? So we take it."
A woman passed driving along with a boy wearing a little cap. She knew me, clambered out, and offered me her boy for service. The boy is quite a tiny fellow with quick, intelligent eyes.
"He looks small, but he can do everything," she says.
"But why do you hire out such a little one?"
"Well, sir, at least it'll be one mouth less to feed. I have four besides myself, and only one allotment. God knows, we've nothing to eat. They ask for bread and I've none to give them."
With whomsoever one talks, all complain of their want and all similarly from one side or another come back to the sole reason. There is insufficient bread, and bread is insufficient because there is no land.
"What is man?" says Henry George in one of his speeches. [lvtfan note: The Crime of Poverty, 1885 -- NYC in February, per NYT article; Burlington, Iowa in April]
"In the first place, he is an animal, a land animal who cannot live without land. All that man produces comes from the land; all productive labor, in the final analysis, consists in working up land, or materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit them for the satisfaction of human wants and desires. Why, man's very body is drawn from the land. Children of the soil, we come from the land, and to the land we must return. Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore he who holds the land on which and from which another man must live is that man's master; and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing slavery — we have not abolished slavery; we have only abolished one rude form of it, chattel slavery. There is a deeper and more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him in the name of freedom.
"Did you ever think (says Henry George in another part of the same speech) of the utter absurdity and strangeness of the fact that all over the civilized world the working classes are the poor classes? Think for a moment how it would strike a rational being who had never been on the earth before, if such an intelligence could come down, and you were to explain to him how we live on earth, how houses and food and clothing and all the many things we need were all produced by work, would he not think that the working people would be the people who lived in the finest houses and had most of everything that work produces? Yet, whether you took him to London or Paris, or New York, or even to Burlington, he would find that those called the working people were the people who lived in the poorest houses."
The same thing, I would add, takes place in a yet greater degree in the country. Idle people live in luxurious palaces, in spacious and fine abodes. The workers live in dark and dirty hovels.
"All this is strange — just think of it. We naturally despise poverty, and it is reasonable that we should. . . . Nature gives to labor, and to labor alone; there must be human work before any article of wealth can be produced; and in the natural state of things the man who toiled honestly and well would be the rich man, and he who did not work would be poor. We have so reversed the order of nature that we are accustomed to think of the working man as a poor man. . . . The primary cause of this is that we compel those who work to pay others for permission to do so. You may buy a coat, a horse, a house; there you are paying the seller for labor exerted, for something that he has produced, or that he has got from the man who did produce it; but when you pay a man for land, what are you paying him for? You are paying for something that no man has produced; you pay him for something that was here before man was, or for a value that was created, not by him individually, but by the community of which you are a part."
It is for this reason that the one who has seized the land and possesses it is rich, whereas he who cultivates it or works on its products is poor.
"We talk about over-production. How can there be such a thing as over-production while people want? All these things that are said to be over-produced are desired by many people. Why do they not get them ? They do not get them because they have not the means to buy them; not that they do not want them. Why have not they the means to buy them? They earn too little. When the great mass of men have to work for an average of $1.40 a day, it is no wonder that great quantities of goods cannot be sold.
"Now, why is it that men have to work for such low wages? Because if they were to demand higher wages there are plenty of unemployed men ready to step into their places. It is this mass of unemployed men who compel that fierce competition that drives wages down to the point of bare subsistence. Why is it that there are men who cannot get employment? Did you ever think what a strange thing it is that men cannot find employment? Adam had no difficulty in finding employment, neither had Robinson Crusoe; the finding of employment was the last thing that troubled them.
"If men cannot find an employer, why cannot they employ themselves? Simply because they are shut out from the element on which human labor can alone be exerted. Men are compelled to compete with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot find a piece of God's world on which to work without paying some other human creature for the privilege.
"Men pray to the Almighty to relieve poverty. But poverty comes not from God's laws — it is blasphemy of the worst kind to say that; it comes from man's injustice to his fellows. Supposing the Almighty were to hear the prayer, how could He carry out the request so long as His laws are what they are? Consider, the Almighty gives us nothing of the things that constitute wealth; He merely gives us the raw material, which must be utilized by men to produce wealth. Does He not give us enough of that now? How could He relieve poverty even if He were to give us more? Supposing in answer to these prayers He were to increase the power of the sun, or the virtue of the soil? Supposing He were to make plants more prolific, or animals to produce after their kind more abundantly ? Who would get the benefit of it? Take a country where land is completely monopolized, as it is in most of the civilized countries, who would get the benefit of it ? Simply the landowners. And even if God in answer to prayer were to send down out of the heavens those things that men require, who would get the benefit?
"In the Old Testament we are told that when the Israelites journeyed through the desert they were hungered, and that God sent manna down out of the heavens. There was enough for all of them, and they all took it and were relieved. But supposing that the desert had been held as private property, as the soil of Great Britain is held, as the soil even of our new States is being held; suppose that one of the Israelites had a square mile, and another one had 20 square miles, and another one had 100 square miles, and the great majority of the Israelites did not have enough to set the soles of their feet upon which they could call their own — what would become of the manna? What good would it have done to the majority? Not a whit. Though God had sent down manna enough for all, that manna would have been the property of the landholders, they would have employed some of the others perhaps to gather it up into heaps for them, and would have sold it to their hungry brethren. Consider it; this purchase and sale of manna might have gone on until the majority of Israelites had given all they had, even to the clothes off their backs. What then? Then they would not have had anything to buy manna with, and the consequences would have been that while they went hungry the manna would have lain in great heaps, and the landowners would have been complaining of the over-production of manna. There would have been a great harvest of manna and hungry people, just precisely the phenomenon that we see today.
"I do not mean to say that even after you had set right this fundamental injustice there would not be many things to do; but this I do mean to say, that our treatment of land lies at the bottom of all social questions. This I do mean to say, that, do what you please, reform as you may, you never can get rid of widespread poverty so long as the element on which and from which all men must live is made the private property of some men. It is utterly impossible. Reform government; get taxes down to the minimum; build railroads; institute cooperative stores; divide profits, if you choose, between employers and employed — and what will be the result? The result will be that the land will increase in value — that will be the result — that and nothing else. Experience shows this. Do not all improvements simply increase the value of land — the price that some must pay others for the privilege of living?"
The same, I shall add, do we unceasingly see in Russia. All landowners complain of the unprofitableness and expense of their estates, whilst the price of the land is continually rising. It cannot but rise, since the population is increasing and land is a question of life and death for this population.
And therefore, the people surrender everything they can, not only their labor, but even their lives, for the land which is being withheld from them.
There used to be cannibalism and human sacrifices; there used to be religious prostitution and the murder of weak children and of girls; there used to be bloody revenge and the slaughter of whole populations, judicial tortures, quarterings, burnings at the stake, the lash; and there have been, within our memory, "running the gauntlet" and slavery, which have also disappeared. But if we have outlived these dreadful customs and institutions, this does not prove that institutions and customs do not exist amongst us which have become as abhorrent to enlightened reason and conscience as those which have in their time been abolished and have become for us only a dreadful remembrance. The way of human perfecting is endless, and at every moment of historical life there are superstitions, deceits, pernicious and evil institutions already outlived by men and belonging to the past; there are others which appear to us in the far mists of the future; and there are some which we are now living through and whose overliving forms the object of our life. Such in our time is capital punishment and all punishment in general. Such is prostitution, such is flesh eating, such is the work of militarism, war, and such is the nearest and most obvious evil, private property in land.
The evil and injustice of private property in land have been pointed out a thousand years ago by the prophets and sages of old. Later progressive thinkers of Europe have been oftener and oftener pointing it out. With special clearness did the workers of the French Revolution do so. In latter days, owing to the increase of the population and the seizure by the rich of a great quantity of previously free land, also owing to general enlightenment and the spread of humanitarianism, this injustice has become so obvious that not only the progressive, but even the most average people cannot help seeing and feeling it. But men, especially those who profit by the advantages of landed property — the owners themselves, as well as those whose interests are connected with this institution — are so accustomed to this order of things, they have for so long profited by it, have so much depended upon it, that often they themselves do not see its injustice, and they use all possible means to conceal from themselves and others the truth which is disclosing itself more and more clearly, and to crush, extinguish, and distort it, or, if these do not succeed, to hush it up.
But what has happened? Notwithstanding that at the time of their appearance the English writings of Henry George spread very quickly in the Anglo-Saxon world, and did not fail to be appreciated to the full extent of their great merit, it very soon appeared that in England, and even in Ireland, where the crying injustice of private landed property is particularly manifest, the majority of the most influential educated people, notwithstanding the conclusiveness of Henry George's arguments and the practicability of the remedy he proposes, opposed his teaching. Radical agitators like Parnell, who at first sympathized with George's scheme, very soon shrank from it, regarding political reforms as more important. In England almost all the aristocrats were against it, also, amongst others, the famous Toynbee, Gladstone, and Herbert Spencer — that Spencer who in his "Social Statics" at first most categorically asserted the injustice of landed property, and then, renouncing this view of his, bought up the old editions of his writings in order to eliminate from them all that he had said concerning the injustice of landed property.
The chief weapon against the teaching of Henry George was that which is always used against irrefutable and self-evident truths. This method, which is still being applied in relation to George, was that of hushing up. This hushing up was effected so successfully that a member of the English Parliament, Labouchere, could publicly say, without meeting any refutation, that "he was not such a visionary as Henry George. He did not propose to take the land from the landlords and rent it out again. What he was in favor of was putting a tax on land values." That is, whilst attributing to George what he could not possibly have said, Labouchere, by way of correcting these imaginary fantasies, suggested that which Henry George did indeed say.
People do not argue with the teaching of George, they simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree.
Yet, notwithstanding all, the truth that land cannot be an object of property has become so elucidated by the very life of contemporary mankind that in order to continue to retain a way of life in which private landed property is recognized there is only one means — not to think of it, to ignore the truth, and to occupy oneself with other absorbing business. So, indeed, do the men of our time.
Political workers of Europe and America occupy themselves for the welfare of their nations in various matters: tariffs, colonies, income taxes, military and naval budgets, socialistic assemblies, unions, syndicates, the election of presidents, diplomatic connections — by anything save the one thing without which there cannot be any true improvement in the condition of the people — the reestablishment of the infringed right of all men to use the land. Although in the depth of their souls political workers of the Christian world feel — cannot but feel — that all their activity, the commercial strife with which they are occupied, as well as the military strife in which they put all their energies — can lead to nothing but a general exhaustion of the strength of nations; still they, without looking forward, give themselves up to the demand of the minute, and, as if with the one desire to forget themselves, continue to turn round and round in an enchanted circle out of which there is no issue.
However strange this temporary blindness of the political workers of Europe and America, it can be explained by the fact that in Europe and America people have already gone so far along a wrong road that the majority of their population is already torn from the land (in America it has never lived on the rural land) and lives either in factories or by hired agricultural labor, and desires and demands only one thing — the improvement of its position as hired laborers. It is therefore comprehensible that to the political workers of Europe and America — listening to the demands of the majority — it may seem that the chief means for the improvement of the position of the people consists in tariffs, trusts, and colonies, but to the Russian people in Russia, where the agricultural population composes 80 percent of the whole nation, where all this people request only one thing — that opportunity be given them to remain in this state — it would seem it should be clear that for the improvement of the position of the people something else is necessary.
The people of Europe and America are in the position of a man who has gone so far along a road which at first appeared the right one, but which the further he goes the more it removes him from his object, that he is afraid of confessing his mistake. But the Russians are yet standing before the turning of the path and can, according to the wise saying, "ask their way while yet on the road."
If Russian political workers do speak about land abuse, which they for some reason call the "agrarian" question — probably thinking that this silly word will conceal the substance of the matter — they speak of it, not in the sense that private landed property is an evil which should be abolished, but in the sense that it is necessary in some way or other, by various patchings and palliatives, to plaster up, hush up, and pass over this essential, ancient, and cruel, this obvious and crying injustice, which is awaiting its turn for abolition not only in Russia, but in the whole world.
People have driven a herd of cows, on the milk products of which they are fed, into an enclosure. The cows have eaten up and trampled the forage in the enclosure, they are hungry, they have chewed one another's tails, they low and moan, imploring to be released from the enclosure and set free in the pastures. But the very men who feed themselves on the milk of these cows have set around the enclosure plantations of mint, of plants for dyeing purposes, and of tobacco; they have cultivated flowers, laid out a racecourse, a park, and a lawn tennis ground, and they do not let out the cows lest they spoil these arrangements. But the cows bellow, get thin, and the men begin to be afraid that the cows may cease to yield milk, and they invent various means of improving the condition of these cows. They erect sheds over them, they introduce wet brushes for rubbing the cows, they gild their horns, alter the hour of milking, concern themselves with the housing and treating of invalid and old cows, they invent new and improved methods of milking, they expect that some kind of wonderfully nutritious grass they have sown in the enclosure will grow up, they argue about these and many other varied matters, but they do not, cannot — without disturbing all they have arranged around the enclosure — do the only simple thing necessary for themselves as well as for the cows, take down the fence and grant the cows their natural freedom of using in plenty the pastures surrounding them.
Acting thus, men act reasonably, but there is an explanation of their action; they are sorry for the fate of all they have arranged around the enclosure. But what shall we call those people who have set nothing around the fence, but who, out of imitation of those who do not set free their cows, owing to what they had arranged around the enclosure, also keep their cows inside the fence, and assert that they do so for the welfare of the cows themselves?
Precisely thus act those Russians, both Governmental and anti-Governmental, who arrange for the Russian people, unceasingly suffering from the want of land, every kind of European institution, forgetting and denying the chief thing: that which alone the Russian people requires — the liberation of the land from private property, the establishment of equal rights on the land for all men.
The true bread-supporters of these European parasites are the laborers they do not see in India, Africa, Australia, and partly in Russia. But it is not so for us Russians; we have no colonies where slaves invisible to ourselves feed us for our manufacturing produce. Our bread-winners, suffering, hungry, are always before our eyes, and we cannot transfer the burden of our iniquitous life to distant colonies, that slaves invisible to us should feed us. Our sins are always before us.
And behold, instead of entering into the needs of those who support us, instead of hearing their cries and endeavoring to satisfy them, we, instead of this, under pretext of serving them, also prepare, according to the European sample, socialistic organizations for the future, and in the present occupy ourselves with what amuses and distracts us, and appears to be directed to the welfare of the people out of whom we are squeezing their last strength in order to support us, their parasites.
One need only enter into the unceasing sufferings of millions of the people; the dying out from want of the aged, women, and children, and of the workers from excessive work and insufficient food — one need only enter into the servitude, the humiliations, all the useless expenditures of strength, into the deprivations, into all the horror of the needless calamities of the Russian rural population which all proceed from insufficiency of land — in order that it should become quite clear that all such measures as the abolition of censorship, of arbitrary banishment, etc., which are being striven after by the pseudo-defenders of the people, even were they to be realized, would form only the most insignificant drop in the ocean of that want from which the people are suffering.
There was a time when In the name of God and of true faith in Him men were destroyed, tortured, executed, beaten in scores and hundreds of thousands. We, from the height of our attainments, now look down upon the men who did these things.
But we are wrong. Amongst us there are many such people, the difference lies only here — that those men of old did these things then in the name of God, and of His true service, whilst now those who commit the same evil amongst us do so in the name of "the people," "for the true service of the people." And as amongst the former there were men insanely self-convinced that they knew the truth, and there were others, hypocrites, taking up their position under the pretext of serving God, and there was a crowd without consideration following the more dexterous and bold, so also now those who do evil in the name of serving the people consist of men insanely self-convinced that they alone know the truth — of hypocrites and of the crowd. Much evil have the self-proclaimed servants of God done in their time, thanks to the teaching which they called Theology, but the servants of the people, thanks to the teaching which they call Science, if they have done less evil, it is only because they have not yet had time to do it, but already on their conscience there lie rivers of blood and great divisions and exasperation amongst men.
Of all indispensable alterations of the forms of social life there is in the life of the world one which is most ripe, one without which not a single step forward in improvement in the life of men can be accomplished. The necessity of this alteration is obvious to every man who is free from preconceived theories. This alteration is not the work of Russia alone, but of the whole world. All the calamities of mankind in our time are connected with this condition.
[This is perhaps an example of Tolstoy's general statements; so broad as to seem absurd at first glance. But it is clear that every improvement in the condition of the earth, whether agricultural, mechanical, political, social, ethical, educational or even religious, must go eventually and mainly to the benefit of the owners of the earth. If, then, Tolstoy's idea is correct, that our land system is the root of our economic evils; all the "improvements" which go to make it less hideous, result in the main in strengthening the system.—Ed.]
Without religion one cannot really love men, and without loving men one cannot know what they require, and what is more, and what is less necessary for them. Only those who are not religious, and therefore do not truly love, can invent trifling, unimportant improvements in the condition of the people without seeing that chief evil from which others are suffering, and which they themselves are partly producing. Only such people can preach more or less cleverly-constructed abstract theories supposed to render the people happy in the future, and not see the sufferings the people are bearing in the present and which demand immediate and practical alleviation. As it were, a man who has deprived a hungry man of his food is giving him his counsel (and that of a very doubtful character) as to how he should get food in the future, without deeming it necessary immediately to share with him that part of his own abundance consisting of the food he has actually taken away from the man.
Fortunately, great beneficial movements in humanity are accomplished not by parasites feeding on the life-blood of the people, whatever they may call themselves — Governments, Revolutionists, or Liberals — but by religious people — that is, by people who are serious, simple, laborious, and who live not for their own profit, vanity, or ambition, and not for the attainment of external results, but for the fulfillment before God of their human vocation.
Such men, and only such, by their noiseless but resolute activity, move mankind forward. Such men will not, desiring to distinguish themselves in the eyes of others, invent this or that improvement in the condition of the people (there can be an endless number of such improvements, and they are all insignificant if the chief thing is not done), but will endeavor to live in accordance with the law of God, with conscience, and in endeavoring to live so they will naturally come across the most obvious transgression of this law, and for themselves, and for others will search for the means of freeing themselves from it.
"Great social reforms," says Mazzini, "always ve been and will be the result of great religious movements."
And such is the religious movement which is now pending for the Russian people, for all the Russian people, for the working classes deprived of land as well as, and especially for, the big, medium, and small landowners, and for all those hundreds of thousands of men who, although they do not directly possess land, yet occupy an advantageous position, thanks to the compulsory labor of the people who are deprived of land.
This sin can be undone, not by political reform, nor socialistic schemes for the future, nor by revolutions in the present, and still less by philanthropic assistance or governmental organization for the purchase and distribution of land among the peasants. Such palliative measures only distract attention from the essence of the problem and thus retard its solution.
No artificial sacrifices are necessary, no concern about the people — there is only necessary the consciousness of this sin by all those who commit or participate in it, and the desire of freeing themselves from it.
It is only necessary that the undeniable truth which the best men of the people always knew and know — that the land cannot be the exclusive property of some, and that the non-admission to the land of those who are in need of it is a sin — that this truth should become generally recognized by all men; that people should become ashamed of retaining the land from those who want to feed themselves from it; that it should become a shame in any way to participate in this retention of the land from those who need it, a shame to possess land, a shame to profit by the labor of men compelled to work only because they have been deprived of their legitimate right to the land.
Possessing hundreds, thousands, scores of thousands of acres, trading in land, profiting one way or the other by landed property, and living luxuriously, thanks to the oppression of the people, possible through this cruel and obvious injustice — to argue in various committees and assemblies about the improvement of the conditions of the peasant's life without surrendering one's own exclusively advantageous position growing from this injustice, is not only an unkind but a detestable and evil thing, equally condemnable by common sense, honesty and Christianity. It is necessary, not to invent cunning devices for the improvement of men deprived of their lawful right to the land, but to understand one's own sin in relation to them, and before all else to cease to participate in it, whatever this may cost. Only such moral activity of every man can and will contribute to the solution of the question now standing before humanity.
The land question has at the present time reached such a state of ripeness as fifty years ago was reached by the question of serfdom. Exactly the same is being repeated. As at that time men searched for the means of remedying the general uneasiness and dissatisfaction which were felt in society, and applied all kinds of external governmental means, but nothing helped nor could help whilst there remained the ripening and unsolved question of personal slavery, so also now no external measures will help or can help until the ripe question of landed property be solved. As now measures are proposed for adding slices to the peasants' land, for the purchase of land by the aid of banks, etc., so then also palliative measures were proposed and enacted, material improvements, rules about three days' labor, and so forth. Even as now the owners of land talk, about the injustice of putting a stop to their criminal ownership, so then people talked about the unlawfulness of depriving owners of their serfs. As then the Church justified the serf right, so now that which occupies the place of the Church — Science — justifies landed property. Just as then slave owners, realizing their sin more or less, endeavored in various ways without undoing it to mitigate it, and substituted the payment of a ransom by the serfs for direct compulsory work for their masters and moderated their exactions from the peasants, so also now the more sensitive landowners, feeling their guilt, endeavor to redeem it by renting their land to the peasants on more lenient conditions, by selling it through the peasant banks, by arranging schools for the people, ridiculous houses of recreation, magic-lantern lectures and theaters.
The question will be solved, not by those who will endeavor to mitigate the evil or to invent alleviations for the people or to postpone the task of the future, but by those who will understand that, however one may mitigate a wrong, it remains a wrong, and that it is senseless to invent alleviations for a man we are torturing, and that one cannot postpone when people are suffering, but should immediately take the best way of solving the difficulty and immediately apply it in practice. And the more should it be so that the method of solving the land problem has been elaborated by Henry George to such a degree of perfection that, under the existing State organization and compulsory taxation, it is impossible to invent any other better, more just, practical, and peaceful solution.
"To beat down and cover up the truth that I have tried tonight to make clear to you [said Henry George], selfishness will call on ignorance. But it has in it the germinative force of truth, and the times are ripe for it. . . . The ground is plowed; the seed is set; the good tree will grow. So little now; only the eye of faith can see it."
And I think Henry George is right, that the removal of the sin of landed property is near, that the movement called forth by Henry George was the last birth-throe, and that the birth is on the point of taking place; the liberation of men from the sufferings they have so long borne must now be realized. Besides this, I think (and I would like to contribute to this, in however small a measure) that the removal of this great universal sin — a removal which will form an epoch in the history of mankind — is to be effected precisely by the Russian Slavonian people, who are, by their spiritual and economic character, predestined for this great universal task — that the Russian people should not become proletarians in imitation of the peoples of Europe and America, but, on the contrary, that they should solve the land question at home by the abolition of landed property, and show other nations the way to a rational, free and happy life, outside industrial, factory, or capitalistic coercion and slavery — that in this lies their great historical calling.