Friday, August 17, 2012

Henry George: We must make land common property - inch by inch

In "Progress and Poverty" (1879) on page 295, Henry George wrote the following:
We have traced the unequal distribution of wealth which is the curse and menace of modern civilization to the institution of private property in land. We have seen that so long as this institution exists no increase in productive power can permanently benefit the masses; but, on the contrary, must tend still further to depress their condition. We have examined all the remedies, short of the abolition of private property in land, which are currently relied on or proposed for the relief of poverty and the better distribution of wealth, and have found them all inefficacious or impracticable.

There is but one way to remove an evil—and that is to remove its cause. Poverty deepens as wealth increases, and wages are forced down while productive power grows, because land, which is the source of all wealth and the field of all labor, is monopolized. To extirpate poverty, to make wages what justice commands they should be, the full earnings of the laborer, we must therefore substitute for the individual ownership of land a common ownership. Nothing else will go to the cause of the evil—in nothing else is there the slightest hope.

This, then, is the remedy for the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth apparent in modern civilization, and for all the evils which flow from it:

We must make land common property.

We have reached this conclusion by an examination in which every step has been proved and secured. In the chain of reasoning no link is wanting and no link is weak. Deduction and induction have brought us to the same truth—that the unequal ownership of land necessitates the unequal distribution of wealth. And as in the nature of things unequal ownership of land is inseparable from the recognition of individual property in land, it necessarily follows that the only remedy for the unjust distribution of wealth is in making land common property.

But this is a truth which, in the present state of society, will arouse the most bitter antagonism, and must fight its way, inch by inch.

This is one of the earliest that I've seen that is word for word exactly the kind of thing that a modern progressive will say. Early reform/progressives took time to become the uniform statists that we would recognize in the early 20th century progressives to today.(and it's likely that George himself is no different - I am hardly the George expert, knowing every minute detail) But in just these short few paragraphs, we have the following:

Government stealing of property - while that theft is mis-labeled as 'justice'? Check.

Incessant focus on 'the unequal distribution of wealth'? Check.

But most importantly, "inch by inch". The directive is given: You must make progress!

1 comment:

  1. "Unequal distribution of wealth" can indeed be a problem, for example, insider traders. Or outright thieves of all stripes.(besides governmental property nationalizers)

    But likewise "unequal distribution" can equally be a benefit. One could easily construct an analogy concerning two brothers, one chooses to be a carpenter, and the other chooses to be a brain surgeon. In this instance, it's good that the wealth is not "distributed" equally.(In this instance, the word distribution doesn't really apply - "earn" becomes the proper word. Different labor has different value)

    But regarding making progress inch by inch, it's little wonder why the British Fabians took to George so fondly. See