Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.

Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:10 am


Hitherto, it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.

—John Stuart Mill.

Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,
And that cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows;
The young birds are chirping in the nest;
The young fawns are playing with the shadows;
The young flowers are blowing toward the west—
But the young, young children, O, my brothers,
They are weeping bitterly!
They are weeping in the playtime of the others,
In the country of the free.

—Mrs. Browning.


In identifying rent as the receiver of the increased production which material progress gives, but which labor fails to obtain; in seeing that the antagonism of interests is not between labor and capital, as is popularly believed, but is in reality between labor and capital on the one side and land ownership on the other, we have reached a conclusion that has most important practical bearings. But it is not worth while to dwell on them now, for we have not yet fully solved the problem which was at the outset proposed. To say that wages remain low because rent advances is like saying that a steamboat moves because its wheels turn around. The further question is, What causes rent to advance? What is the force or necessity that, as productive power increases, distributes a greater and greater proportion of the produce as rent?

The only cause pointed out by Ricardo as advancing rent is the increase of population, which by requiring larger supplies of food necessitates the extension of cultivation to inferior lands, or to points of inferior production on the same lands, and in current works of other authors attention is so exclusively directed to the extension of production from superior to inferior lands as the cause of advancing rents that Mr. Carey (followed by Professor Perry and others) has imagined that he has overthrown the Ricardian theory of rent by denying that the progress of agriculture is from better to worse lands.39

Now, while it is unquestionably true that the increasing pressure of population which compels a resort to inferior points of production will raise rents, and does raise rents, I do not think that all the deductions commonly made from this principle are valid, nor yet that it fully accounts for the increase of rent as material progress goes on. There are evidently other causes which conspire to raise rent, but which seem to have been wholly or partially hidden by the erroneous views as to the functions of capital and genesis of wages which have been current. To see what these are, and how they operate, let us trace the effect of material progress upon the distribution of wealth.

The changes which constitute or contribute to material progress are three: (1) increase in population; (2) improvements in the arts of production and exchange; and (3) improvements in knowledge, education, government, police, manners, and morals, so far as they increase the power of producing wealth. Material progress, as commonly understood, consists of these three elements or directions of progression, in all of which the progressive nations have for some time past been advancing, though in different degrees. As, considered in the light of ma227terial forces or economies, the increase of knowledge, the betterment of government, etc., have the same effect as improvements in the arts, it will not be necessary in this view to consider them separately. What bearing intellectual or moral progress, merely as such, has upon our problem we may hereafter consider. We are at present dealing with material progress, to which these things contribute only as they increase wealth-producing power, and shall see their effects when we see the effect of improvements in the arts.

To ascertain the effects of material progress upon the distribution of wealth, let us, therefore, consider the effects of increase of population apart from improvement in the arts, and then the effect of improvement in the arts apart from increase of population.
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:11 am


The manner in which increasing population advances rent, as explained and illustrated in current treatises, is that the increased demand for subsistence forces production to inferior soil or to inferior productive points. Thus, if, with a given population, the margin of cultivation is at 30, all lands of productive power over 30 will pay rent. If the population be doubled, an additional supply is required, which cannot be obtained without an extension of cultivation that will cause lands to yield rent that before yielded none. If the extension be to 20, then all the land between 20 and 30 will yield rent and have a value, and all land over 30 will yield increased rent and have increased value.

It is here that the Malthusian doctrine receives from the current elucidations of the theory of rent the support of which I spoke when enumerating the causes that have combined to give that doctrine an almost undisputed sway in current thought. According to the Malthusian theory, the pressure of population against subsistence becomes progressively harder as population increases, and although two hands come into the world with every new mouth, it becomes, to use the language of John Stuart Mill, harder and harder for the new hands to supply the new mouths. According to Ricardo’s theory of rent, rent arises from the difference in productiveness of the lands in use, and as explained by Ricardo and the economists who have followed him, the advance229 in rents which, experience shows, accompanies increasing population, is caused by the inability of procuring more food except at a greater cost, which thus forces the margin of population to lower and lower points of production, commensurately increasing rent. Thus the two theories, as I have before explained, are made to harmonize and blend, the law of rent becoming but a special application of the more general law propounded by Malthus, and the advance of rents with increasing population a demonstration of its resistless operation. I refer to this incidentally, because it now lies in our way to see the misapprehension which has enlisted the doctrine of rent in the support of a theory to which it in reality gives no countenance. The Malthusian theory has been already disposed of, and the cumulative disproof which will prevent the recurrence of a lingering doubt will be given when it is shown, further on, that the phenomena attributed to the pressure of population against subsistence would, under existing conditions, manifest themselves were population to remain stationary.

The misapprehension to which I now refer, and which, to a proper understanding of the effect of increase of population upon the distribution of wealth, it is necessary to clear up, is the presumption, expressed or implied in all the current reasoning upon the subject of rent in connection with population, that the recourse to lower points of production involves a smaller aggregate produce in proportion to the labor expended; though that this is not always the case is clearly recognized in connection with agricultural improvements, which, to use the words of Mill, are considered “as a partial relaxation of the bonds which confine the increase of population.” But it is not involved even where there is no advance in the arts, and the recourse to lower points of production is clearly the result of the increased demand of an increased population. For increased population, of itself, and230 without any advance in the arts, implies an increase in the productive power of labor. The labor of 100 men, other things being equal, will produce much more than one hundred times as much as the labor of one man, and the labor of 1,000 men much more than ten times as much as the labor of 100 men; and, so, with every additional pair of hands which increasing population brings, there is a more than proportionate addition to the productive power of labor. Thus, with an increasing population, there may be a recourse to lower natural powers of production, not only without any diminution in the average production of wealth as compared to labor, but without any diminution at the lowest point. If population be doubled, land of but 20 productiveness may yield to the same amount of labor as much as land of 30 productiveness could before yield. For it must not be forgotten (what often is forgotten) that the productiveness either of land or labor is not to be measured in any one thing, but in all desired things. A settler and his family may raise as much corn on land a hundred miles away from the nearest habitation as they could raise were their land in the center of a populous district. But in the populous district they could obtain with the same labor as good a living from much poorer land, or from land of equal quality could make as good a living after paying a high rent, because in the midst of a large population their labor would have become more effective; not, perhaps, in the production of corn, but in the production of wealth generally—or the obtaining of all the commodities and services which are the real object of their labor.

But even where there is a diminution in the productiveness of labor at the lowest point—that is to say, where the increasing demand for wealth has driven production to a lower point of natural productiveness than the addition to the power of labor from increasing popu231lation suffices to make up for—it does not follow that the aggregate production, as compared with the aggregate labor, has been lessened.

Let us suppose land of diminishing qualities. The best would naturally be settled first, and as population increased production would take in the next lower quality, and so on. But, as the increase of population, by permitting greater economies, adds to the effectiveness of labor, the cause which brought each quality of land successively into cultivation would at the same time increase the amount of wealth that the same quality of labor could produce from it. But it would also do more than this—it would increase the power of producing wealth on all the superior lands already in cultivation. If the relations of quantity and quality were such that increasing population added to the effectiveness of labor faster than it compelled a resort to less productive qualities of land, though the margin of cultivation would fall and rent would rise, the minimum return to labor would increase. That is to say, though wages as a proportion would fall, wages as a quantity would rise. The average production of wealth would increase. If the relations were such that the increasing effectiveness of labor just compensated for the diminishing productiveness of the land as it was called into use, the effect of increasing population would be to increase rent by lowering the margin of cultivation without reducing wages as a quantity, and to increase the average production. If we now suppose population still increasing, but, between the poorest quality of land in use and the next lower quality, to be a difference so great that the increased power of labor which comes with the increased population that brings it into cultivation cannot compensate for it—the minimum return to labor will be reduced, and with the rise of rents, wages will fall, not only as a proportion, but as a quantity. But unless the descent in232 the quality of land is far more precipitous than we can well imagine, or than, I think, ever exists, the average production will still be increased, for the increased effectiveness which comes by reason of the increased population that compels resort to the inferior quality of land attaches to all labor, and the gain on the superior qualities of land will more than compensate for the diminished production on the quality last brought in. The aggregate wealth production, as compared with the aggregate expenditure of labor, will be greater, though its distribution will be more unequal.

Thus, increase of population, as it operates to extend production to lower natural levels, operates to increase rent and reduce wages as a proportion, and may or may not reduce wages as a quantity; while it seldom can, and probably never does, reduce the aggregate production of wealth as compared with the aggregate expenditure of labor, but on the contrary increases, and frequently largely increases it.

But while the increase of population thus increases rent by lowering the margin of cultivation, it is a mistake to look upon this as the only mode by which rent advances as population grows. Increasing population increases rent, without reducing the margin of cultivation; and notwithstanding the dicta of such writers as McCulloch, who assert that rent would not arise were there an unbounded extent of equally good land, increases it without reference to the natural qualities of land, for the increased powers of co-operation and exchange which come with increased population are equivalent to—nay, I think we can say without metaphor, that they give—an increased capacity to land.

I do not mean to say merely that, like an improvement in the methods or tools of production, the increased power which comes with increased population gives to the same labor an increased result, which is equivalent233 to an increase in the natural powers of land; but that it brings out a superior power in labor, which is localized on land—which attaches not to labor generally, but only to labor exerted on particular land; and which thus inheres in the land as much as any qualities of soil, climate, mineral deposit, or natural situation, and passes, as they do, with the possession of the land.

An improvement in the method of cultivation which, with the same outlay, will give two crops a year in place of one, or an improvement in tools and machinery which will double the result of labor, will manifestly, on a particular piece of ground, have the same effect on the produce as a doubling of the fertility of the land. But the difference is in this respect—the improvement in method or in tools can be utilized on any land; but the improvement in fertility can be utilized only on the particular land to which it applies. Now, in large part, the increased productiveness of labor which arises from increased population can be utilized only on particular land, and on particular land in greatly varying degrees.

Here, let us imagine, is an unbounded savannah, stretching off in unbroken sameness of grass and flower, tree and rill, till the traveler tires of the monotony. Along comes the wagon of the first immigrant. Where to settle he cannot tell—every acre seems as good as every other acre. As to wood, as to water, as to fertility, as to situation, there is absolutely no choice, and he is perplexed by the embarrassment of richness. Tired out with the search for one place that is better than another, he stops—somewhere, anywhere—and starts to make himself a home. The soil is virgin and rich, game is abundant, the streams flash with the finest trout. Nature is at her very best. He has what, were he in a populous district, would make him rich; but he is very poor. To say nothing of the mental craving, which would lead him to welcome the sorriest stranger, he234 labors under all the material disadvantages of solitude. He can get no temporary assistance for any work that requires a greater union of strength than that afforded by his own family, or by such help as he can permanently keep. Though he has cattle, he cannot often have fresh meat, for to get a beefsteak he must kill a bullock. He must be his own blacksmith, wagonmaker, carpenter, and cobbler—in short, a “jack of all trades and master of none.” He cannot have his children schooled, for, to do so, he must himself pay and maintain a teacher. Such things as he cannot produce himself, he must buy in quantities and keep on hand, or else go without, for he cannot be constantly leaving his work and making a long journey to the verge of civilization; and when forced to do so, the getting of a vial of medicine or the replacement of a broken auger may cost him the labor of himself and horses for days. Under such circumstances, though nature is prolific, the man is poor. It is an easy matter for him to get enough to eat; but beyond this, his labor will suffice to satisfy only the simplest wants in the rudest way.

Soon there comes another immigrant. Although every quarter section of the boundless plain is as good as every other quarter section, he is not beset by any embarrassment as to where to settle. Though the land is the same, there is one place that is clearly better for him than any other place, and that is where there is already a settler and he may have a neighbor. He settles by the side of the first comer, whose condition is at once greatly improved, and to whom many things are now possible that were before impossible, for two men may help each other to do things that one man could never do.

Another immigrant comes, and, guided by the same attraction, settles where there are already two. Another, and another, until around our first comer there are a235 score of neighbors. Labor has now an effectiveness which, in the solitary state, it could not approach. If heavy work is to be done, the settlers have a log-rolling, and together accomplish in a day what singly would require years. When one kills a bullock, the others take part of it, returning when they kill, and thus they have fresh meat all the time. Together they hire a schoolmaster, and the children of each are taught for a fractional part of what similar teaching would have cost the first settler. It becomes a comparatively easy matter to send to the nearest town, for some one is always going. But there is less need for such journeys. A blacksmith and a wheelwright soon set up shops, and our settler can have his tools repaired for a small part of the labor it formerly cost him. A store is opened and he can get what he wants as he wants it; a post-office, soon added, gives him regular communication with the rest of the world. Then come a cobbler, a carpenter, a harness-maker, a doctor; and a little church soon arises. Satisfactions become possible that in the solitary state were impossible. There are gratifications for the social and the intellectual nature—for that part of the man that rises above the animal. The power of sympathy, the sense of companionship, the emulation of comparison and contrast, open a wider, and fuller, and more varied life. In rejoicing, there are others to rejoice; in sorrow, the mourners do not mourn alone. There are husking bees, and apple parings, and quilting parties. Though the ballroom be unplastered and the orchestra but a fiddle, the notes of the magician are yet in the strain, and Cupid dances with the dancers. At the wedding, there are others to admire and enjoy; in the house of death, there are watchers; by the open grave, stands human sympathy to sustain the mourners. Occasionally, comes a straggling lecturer to open up glimpses of the world of science, of literature, or of art; in election times,236 come stump speakers, and the citizen rises to a sense of dignity and power, as the cause of empires is tried before him in the struggle of John Doe and Richard Roe for his support and vote. And, by and by, comes the circus, talked of months before, and opening to children whose horizon has been the prairie, all the realms of the imagination—princes and princesses of fairy tale, mail-clad crusaders and turbaned Moors, Cinderella’s fairy coach, and the giants of nursery lore; lions such as crouched before Daniel, or in circling Roman amphitheater tore the saints of God; ostriches who recall the sandy deserts; camels such as stood around when the wicked brethren raised Joseph from the well and sold him into bondage; elephants such as crossed the Alps with Hannibal, or felt the sword of the Maccabees; and glorious music that thrills and builds in the chambers of the mind as rose the sunny dome of Kubla Khan.

Go to our settler now, and say to him: “You have so many fruit trees which you planted; so much fencing, such a well, a barn, a house—in short, you have by your labor added so much value to this farm. Your land itself is not quite so good. You have been cropping it, and by and by it will need manure. I will give you the full value of all your improvements if you will give it to me, and go again with your family beyond the verge of settlement.” He would laugh at you. His land yields no more wheat or potatoes than before, but it does yield far more of all the necessaries and comforts of life. His labor upon it will bring no heavier crops, and, we will suppose, no more valuable crops, but it will bring far more of all the other things for which men work. The presence of other settlers—the increase of population—has added to the productiveness, in these things, of labor bestowed upon it, and this added productiveness gives it a superiority over land of equal natural quality where there are as yet no settlers. If no land remains to be237 taken up, except such as is as far removed from population as was our settler’s land when he first went upon it, the value or rent of this land will be measured by the whole of this added capability. If, however, as we have supposed, there is a continuous stretch of equal land, over which population is now spreading, it will not be necessary for the new settler to go into the wilderness, as did the first. He will settle just beyond the other settlers, and will get the advantage of proximity to them. The value or rent of our settler’s land will thus depend on the advantage which it has, from being at the center of population, over that on the verge. In the one case, the margin of production will remain as before; in the other, the margin of production will be raised.

Population still continues to increase, and as it increases so do the economies which its increase permits, and which in effect add to the productiveness of the land. Our first settler’s land, being the center of population, the store, the blacksmith’s forge, the wheelwright’s shop, are set up on it, or on its margin, where soon arises a village, which rapidly grows into a town, the center of exchanges for the people of the whole district. With no greater agricultural productiveness than it had at first, this land now begins to develop a productiveness of a higher kind. To labor expended in raising corn, or wheat, or potatoes, it will yield no more of those things than at first; but to labor expended in the subdivided branches of production which require proximity to other producers, and, especially, to labor expended in that final part of production, which consists in distribution, it will yield much larger returns. The wheat-grower may go further on, and find land on which his labor will produce as much wheat, and nearly as much wealth; but the artisan, the manufacturer, the storekeeper, the professional man, find that their labor expended here, at the center of exchanges, will yield them much more than if238 expended even at a little distance away from it; and this excess of productiveness for such purposes the landowner can claim just as he could an excess in its wheat-producing power. And so our settler is able to sell in building lots a few of his acres for prices which it would not bring for wheat-growing if its fertility had been multiplied many times. With the proceeds, he builds himself a fine house, and furnishes it handsomely. That is to say, to reduce the transaction to its lowest terms, the people who wish to use the land build and furnish the house for him, on condition that he will let them avail themselves of the superior productiveness which the increase of population has given the land.

Population still keeps on increasing, giving greater and greater utility to the land, and more and more wealth to its owner. The town has grown into a city—a St. Louis, a Chicago or a San Francisco—and still it grows. Production is here carried on upon a great scale, with the best machinery and the most favorable facilities; the division of labor becomes extremely minute, wonderfully multiplying efficiency; exchanges are of such volume and rapidity that they are made with the minimum of friction and loss. Here is the heart, the brain, of the vast social organism that has grown up from the germ of the first settlement; here has developed one of the great ganglions of the human world. Hither run all roads, hither set all currents, through all the vast regions round about. Here, if you have anything to sell, is the market; here, if you have anything to buy, is the largest and the choicest stock. Here intellectual activity is gathered into a focus, and here springs that stimulus which is born of the collision of mind with mind. Here are the great libraries, the storehouses and granaries of knowledge, the learned professors, the famous specialists. Here are museums and art galleries, collections of philosophical apparatus, and all things rare, and valuable,239 and best of their kind. Here come great actors, and orators, and singers, from all over the world. Here, in short, is a center of human life, in all its varied manifestations.

So enormous are the advantages which this land now offers for the application of labor that instead of one man with a span of horses scratching over acres, you may count in places thousands of workers to the acre, working tier on tier, on floors raised one above the other, five, six, seven and eight stories from the ground, while underneath the surface of the earth engines are throbbing with pulsations that exert the force of thousands of horses.

All these advantages attach to the land; it is on this land and no other that they can be utilized, for here is the center of population—the focus of exchanges, the market place and workshop of the highest forms of industry. The productive powers which density of population has attached to this land are equivalent to the multiplication of its original fertility by the hundred fold and the thousand fold. And rent, which measures the difference between this added productiveness and that of the least productive land in use, has increased accordingly. Our settler, or whoever has succeeded to his right to the land, is now a millionaire. Like another Rip Van Winkle, he may have lain down and slept; still he is rich—not from anything he has done, but from the increase of population. There are lots from which for every foot of frontage the owner may draw more than an average mechanic can earn; there are lots that will sell for more than would suffice to pave them with gold coin. In the principal streets are towering buildings, of granite, marble, iron, and plate glass, finished in the most expensive style, replete with every convenience. Yet they are not worth as much as the land upon which they rest—the same land, in nothing changed, which when our first settler came upon it had no value at all.

That this is the way in which the increase of population powerfully acts in increasing rent, whoever, in a progressive country, will look around him, may see for himself. The process is going on under his eyes. The increasing difference in the productiveness of the land in use, which causes an increasing rise in rent, results not so much from the necessities of increased population compelling the resort to inferior land, as from the increased productiveness which increased population gives to the lands already in use. The most valuable lands on the globe, the lands which yield the highest rent, are not lands of surpassing natural fertility, but lands to which a surpassing utility has been given by the increase of population.

The increase of productiveness or utility which increase of population gives to certain lands, in the way to which I have been calling attention, attaches, as it were, to the mere quality of extension. The valuable quality of land that has become a center of population is its superficial capacity—it makes no difference whether it is fertile, alluvial soil like that of Philadelphia; rich bottom land like that of New Orleans; a filled-in marsh like that of St. Petersburg, or a sandy waste like the greater part of San Francisco.

And where value seems to arise from superior natural qualities, such as deep water and good anchorage, rich deposits of coal and iron, or heavy timber, observation also shows that these superior qualities are brought out, rendered tangible, by population. The coal and iron fields of Pennsylvania, that to-day are worth enormous sums, were fifty years ago valueless. What is the efficient cause of the difference? Simply the difference in population. The coal and iron beds of Wyoming and Montana, which to-day are valueless, will, in fifty years from now, be worth millions on millions, simply because, in the meantime, population will have greatly increased.

It is a well provisioned ship, this on which we sail through space. If the bread and beef above decks seem to grow scarce, we but open a hatch and there is a new supply, of which before we never dreamed. And very great command over the services of others comes to those who as the hatches are opened are permitted to say, “This is mine!”

To recapitulate: The effect of increasing population upon the distribution of wealth is to increase rent, and consequently to diminish the proportion of the produce which goes to capital and labor, in two ways: First, By lowering the margin of cultivation. Second, By bringing out in land special capabilities otherwise latent, and by attaching special capabilities to particular lands.

I am disposed to think that the latter mode, to which little attention has been given by political economists, is really the more important. But this, in our inquiry, is not a matter of moment.
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:14 am


Eliminating improvements in the arts, we have seen the effects of increase of population upon the distribution of wealth. Eliminating increase of population, let us now see what effect improvements in the arts of production have upon distribution.

We have seen that increase of population increases rent, rather by increasing the productiveness of labor than by decreasing it. If it can now be shown that, irrespective of the increase of population, the effect of improvements in methods of production and exchange is to increase rent, the disproof of the Malthusian theory—and of all the doctrines derived from or related to it—will be final and complete, for we shall have accounted for the tendency of material progress to lower wages and depress the condition of the lowest class, without recourse to the theory of increasing pressure against the means of subsistence.

That this is the case will, I think, appear on the slightest consideration.

The effect of inventions and improvements in the productive arts is to save labor—that is, to enable the same result to be secured with less labor, or a greater result with the same labor.

Now, in a state of society in which the existing power of labor served to satisfy all material desires, and there was no possibility of new desires being called forth by the opportunity of gratifying them, the effect of labor243-saving improvements would be simply to reduce the amount of labor expended. But such a state of society, if it can anywhere be found, which I do not believe, exists only where the human most nearly approaches the animal. In the state of society called civilized, and which in this inquiry we are concerned with, the very reverse is the case. Demand is not a fixed quantity, that increases only as population increases. In each individual it rises with his power of getting the things demanded. Man is not an ox, who, when he has eaten his fill, lies down to chew the cud; he is the daughter of the horse leech, who constantly asks for more. “When I get some money,” said Erasmus, “I will buy me some Greek books and afterward some clothes.” The amount of wealth produced is nowhere commensurate with the desire for wealth, and desire mounts with every additional opportunity for gratification.

This being the case, the effect of labor-saving improvements will be to increase the production of wealth. Now, for the production of wealth, two things are required—labor and land. Therefore, the effect of labor-saving improvements will be to extend the demand for land, and wherever the limit of the quality of land in use is reached, to bring into cultivation lands of less natural productiveness, or to extend cultivation on the same lands to a point of lower natural productiveness. And thus, while the primary effect of labor-saving improvements is to increase the power of labor, the secondary effect is to extend cultivation, and, where this lowers the margin of cultivation, to increase rent. Thus, where land is entirely appropriated, as in England, or where it is either appropriated or is capable of appropriation as rapidly as it is needed for use, as in the United States, the ultimate effect of labor-saving machinery or improvements is to increase rent without increasing wages or interest.

It is important that this be fully understood, for it shows that effects attributed by current theories to increase of population are really due to the progress of invention, and explains the otherwise perplexing fact that labor-saving machinery everywhere fails to benefit laborers.

Yet, to grasp fully this truth, it is necessary to keep in mind what I have already more than once adverted to—the interchangeability of wealth. I refer to this again, only because it is so persistently forgotten or ignored by writers who speak of agricultural production as though it were to be distinguished from production in general, and of food or subsistence as though it were not included in the term wealth.

Let me ask the reader to bear in mind, what has already been sufficiently illustrated, that the possession or production of any form of wealth is virtually the possession or production of any other form of wealth for which it will exchange—in order that he may clearly see that it is not merely improvements which effect a saving in labor directly applied to land that tend to increase rent, but all improvements that in any way save labor.

That the labor of any individual is applied exclusively to the production of one form of wealth is solely the result of the division of labor. The object of labor on the part of any individual is not the obtainment of wealth in one particular form, but the obtainment of wealth in all the forms that consort with his desires. And, hence, an improvement which effects a saving in the labor required to produce one of the things desired, is, in effect, an increase in the power of producing all the other things. If it take half a man’s labor to keep him in food, and the other half to provide him clothing and shelter, an improvement which would increase his power of producing food would also increase his power of providing clothing and shelter. If his desires for245 more or better food, and for more or better clothing and shelter, were equal, an improvement in one department of labor would be precisely equivalent to a like improvement in the other. If the improvement consisted in a doubling of the power of his labor in producing food, he would give one-third less labor to the production of food, and one-third more to the providing of clothing and shelter. If the improvement doubled his power to provide clothing and shelter he would give one-third less labor to the production of these things, and one-third more to the production of food. In either case, the result would be the same—he would be enabled with the same labor to get one-third more in quantity or quality of all the things he desired.

And, so, where production is carried on by the division of labor between individuals, an increase in the power of producing one of the things sought by production in the aggregate adds to the power of obtaining others, and will increase the production of the others, to an extent determined by the proportion which the saving of labor bears to the total amount of labor expended, and by the relative strength of desires. I am unable to think of any form of wealth, the demand for which would not be increased by a saving in the labor required to produce the others. Hearses and coffins have been selected as examples of things for which the demand is little likely to increase; but this is true only as to quantity. That increased power of supply would lead to a demand for more expensive hearses and coffins, no one can doubt who has noticed how strong is the desire to show regard for the dead by costly funerals.

Nor is the demand for food limited, as in economic reasoning is frequently, but erroneously, assumed. Subsistence is often spoken of as though it were a fixed quantity; but it is fixed only as having a definite minimum. Less than a certain amount will not keep a246 human being alive, and less than a somewhat larger amount will not keep a human being in good health. But, above this minimum, the subsistence which a human being can use may be increased almost indefinitely. Adam Smith says, and Ricardo indorses the statement, that the desire for food is limited in every man by the narrow capacity of the human stomach; but this, manifestly, is true only in the sense that when a man’s belly is filled, hunger is satisfied. His demands for food have no such limit. The stomach of a Louis XIV., a Louis XV., or a Louis XVI., could not hold or digest more than the stomach of a French peasant of equal stature, yet, while a few rods of ground would supply the black bread and herbs which constituted the subsistence of the peasant, it took hundreds of thousands of acres to supply the demands of the king, who, besides his own wasteful use of the finest qualities of food, required immense supplies for his servants, horses and dogs. And in the common facts of daily life, in the unsatisfied, though perhaps latent, desires which each one has, we may see how every increase in the power of producing any form of wealth must result in an increased demand for land and the direct products of land. The man who now uses coarse food, and lives in a small house, will, as a rule, if his income be increased, use more costly food, and move to a larger house. If he grows richer and richer he will procure horses, servants, gardens and lawns, his demand for the use of land constantly increasing with his wealth. In the city where I write, is a man—but the type of men everywhere to be found—who used to boil his own beans and fry his own bacon, but who, now that he has got rich, maintains a town house that takes up a whole block and would answer for a first-class hotel, two or three country houses with extensive grounds, a large stud of racers, a breeding farm, private track, etc. It certainly takes at least a thousand247 times, it may be several thousand times, as much land to supply the demands of this man now as it did when he was poor.

And, so, every improvement or invention, no matter what it be, which gives to labor the power of producing more wealth, causes an increased demand for land and its direct products, and thus tends to force down the margin of cultivation, just as would the demand caused by an increased population. This being the case, every labor-saving invention, whether it be a steam plow, a telegraph, an improved process of smelting ores, a perfecting printing press, or a sewing machine, has a tendency to increase rent.

Or to state this truth concisely:

Wealth in all its forms being the product of labor applied to land or the products of land, any increase in the power of labor, the demand for wealth being unsatisfied, will be utilized in procuring more wealth, and thus increase the demand for land.

To illustrate this effect of labor-saving machinery and improvements, let us suppose a country where, as in all the countries of the civilized world, the land is in the possession of but a portion of the people. Let us suppose a permanent barrier fixed to further increase of population, either by the enactment and strict enforcement of an Herodian law, or from such a change in manners and morals as might result from an extensive circulation of Annie Besant’s pamphlets. Let the margin of cultivation, or production, be represented by 20. Thus land or other natural opportunities which, from the application of labor and capital, will yield a return of 20, will just give the ordinary rate of wages and interest, without yielding any rent; while all lands yielding to equal applications of labor and capital more than 20248 will yield the excess as rent. Population remaining fixed, let there be made inventions and improvements which will reduce by one-tenth the expenditure of labor and capital necessary to produce the same amount of wealth. Now, either one-tenth of the labor and capital may be freed, and production remain the same as before; or the same amount of labor and capital may be employed, and production be correspondingly increased. But the industrial organization, as in all civilized countries, is such that labor and capital, and especially labor, must press for employment on any terms—the industrial organization is such that mere laborers are not in a position to demand their fair share in the new adjustment, and that any reduction in the application of labor to production will, at first, at least, take the form, not of giving each laborer the same amount of produce for less work, but of throwing some of the laborers out of work and giving them none of the produce. Now, owing to the increased efficiency of labor secured by the new improvements, as great a return can be secured at the point of natural productiveness represented by 18, as before at 20. Thus, the unsatisfied desire for wealth, the competition of labor and capital for employment, would insure the extension of the margin of production, we will say to 18, and thus rent would be increased by the difference between 18 and 20, while wages and interest, in quantity, would be no more than before, and, in proportion to the whole produce, would be less. There would be a greater production of wealth, but land owners would get the whole benefit, subject to temporary deductions, which will be hereafter stated.

If invention and improvement still go on, the efficiency of labor will be still further increased, and the amount of labor and capital necessary to produce a given result further diminished. The same causes will lead to the utilization of this new gain in productive power for the249 production of more wealth; the margin of cultivation will be again extended, and rent will increase, both in proportion and amount, without any increase in wages and interest. And, so, as invention and improvement go on, constantly adding to the efficiency of labor, the margin of production will be pushed lower and lower, and rent constantly increased, though population should remain stationary.

I do not mean to say that the lowering of the margin of production would always exactly correspond with the increase in productive power, any more than I mean to say that the process would be one of clearly defined steps. Whether, in any particular case, the lowering of the margin of production lags behind or exceeds the increase in productive power, will depend, I conceive, upon what may be called the area of productiveness that can be utilized before cultivation is forced to the next lowest point. For instance, if the margin of cultivation be at 20, improvements which enable the same produce to be obtained with one-tenth less capital and labor will not carry the margin to 18, if the area having a productiveness of 19 is sufficient to employ all the labor and capital displaced from the cultivation of the superior lands. In this case, the margin of cultivation would rest at 19, and rents would be increased by the difference between 19 and 20, and wages and interest by the difference between 18 and 19. But if, with the same increase in productive power the area of productiveness between 20 and 18 should not be sufficient to employ all the displaced labor and capital, the margin of cultivation must, if the same amount of labor and capital press for employment, be carried lower than 18. In this case, rent would gain more than the increase in the product, and wages and interest would be less than before the improvements which increased productive power.

Nor is it precisely true that the labor set free by each250 improvement will all be driven to seek employment in the production of more wealth. The increased power of satisfaction, which each fresh improvement gives to a certain portion of the community, will be utilized in demanding leisure or services, as well as in demanding wealth. Some laborers will, therefore, become idlers and some will pass from the ranks of productive to those of unproductive laborers—the proportion of which, as observation shows, tends to increase with the progress of society.

But, as I shall presently refer to a cause, as yet unconsidered, which constantly tends to lower the margin of cultivation, to steady the advance of rent, and even carry it beyond the proportion that would be fixed by the actual margin of cultivation, it is not worth while to take into account these perturbations in the downward movement of the margin of cultivation and the upward movement of rent. All I wish to make clear is that, without any increase in population, the progress of invention constantly tends to give a larger proportion of the produce to the owners of land, and a smaller and smaller proportion to labor and capital.

And, as we can assign no limits to the progress of invention, neither can we assign any limits to the increase of rent, short of the whole produce. For, if labor-saving inventions went on until perfection was attained, and the necessity of labor in the production of wealth was entirely done away with, then everything that the earth could yield could be obtained without labor, and the margin of cultivation would be extended to zero. Wages would be nothing, and interest would be nothing, while rent would take everything. For the owners of the land, being enabled without labor to obtain all the wealth that could be procured from nature, there would be no use for either labor or capital, and no possible way in which either could compel any share of the wealth pro251duced. And no matter how small population might be, if anybody but the land owners continued to exist, it would be at the whim or by the mercy of the land owners—they would be maintained either for the amusement of the land owners, or, as paupers, by their bounty.

This point, of the absolute perfection of labor-saving inventions, may seem very remote, if not impossible of attainment; but it is a point toward which the march of invention is every day more strongly tending. And in the thinning out of population in the agricultural districts of Great Britain, where small farms are being converted into larger ones, and in the great machine-worked wheat-fields of California and Dakota, where one may ride for miles and miles through waving grain without seeing a human habitation, there are already suggestions of the final goal toward which the whole civilized world is hastening. The steam plow and the reaping machine are creating in the modern world latifundia of the same kind that the influx of slaves from foreign wars created in ancient Italy. And to many a poor fellow as he is shoved out of his accustomed place and forced to move on—as the Roman farmers were forced to join the proletariat of the great city, or sell their blood for bread in the ranks of the legions—it seems as though these labor-saving inventions were in themselves a curse, and we hear men talking of work, as though the wearying strain of the muscles were, in itself, a thing to be desired.

In what has preceded, I have, of course, spoken of inventions and improvements when generally diffused. It is hardly necessary to say that as long as an invention or an improvement is used by so few that they derive a special advantage from it, it does not, to the extent of this special advantage, affect the general distribution of wealth. So, in regard to the limited monopolies created by patent laws, or by the causes which give the same character to railroad and telegraph lines, etc. Although252 generally mistaken for profits of capital, the special profits thus arising are really the returns of monopoly, as has been explained in a previous chapter, and, to the extent that they subtract from the benefits of an improvement, do not primarily affect general distribution. For instance, the benefits of a railroad or similar improvement in cheapening transportation are diffused or monopolized, as its charges are reduced to a rate which will yield ordinary interest on the capital invested, or kept up to a point which will yield an extraordinary return, or cover the stealing of the constructors or directors. And, as is well known, the rise in rent or land values corresponds with the reduction in the charges.

As has before been said, in the improvements which advance rent, are not only to be included the improvements which directly increase productive power, but also such improvements in government, manners, and morals as indirectly increase it. Considered as material forces, the effect of all these is to increase productive power, and, like improvements in the productive arts, their benefit is ultimately monopolized by the possessors of the land. A notable instance of this is to be found in the abolition of protection by England. Free trade has enormously increased the wealth of Great Britain, without lessening pauperism. It has simply increased rent. And if the corrupt governments of our great American cities were to be made models of purity and economy, the effect would simply be to increase the value of land, not to raise either wages or interest.
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:17 am


We have now seen that while advancing population tends to advance rent, so all the causes that in a progressive state of society operate to increase the productive power of labor tend, also, to advance rent, and not to advance wages or interest. The increased production of wealth goes ultimately to the owners of land in increased rent; and, although, as improvement goes on, advantages may accrue to individuals not land holders, which concentrate in their hands considerable portions of the increased produce, yet there is in all this improvement nothing which tends to increase the general return either to labor or to capital.

But there is a cause, not yet adverted to, which must be taken into consideration fully to explain the influence of material progress upon the distribution of wealth.

That cause is the confident expectation of the future enhancement of land values, which arises in all progressive countries from the steady increase of rent, and which leads to speculation, or the holding of land for a higher price than it would then otherwise bring.

We have hitherto assumed, as is generally assumed in elucidations of the theory of rent, that the actual margin of cultivation always coincides with what may be termed the necessary margin of cultivation—that is to say, we have assumed that cultivation extends to less productive points only as it becomes necessary from the fact that natural opportunities are at the more productive points fully utilized.

This, probably, is the case in stationary or very slowly progressing communities, but in rapidly progressing communities, where the swift and steady increase of rent gives confidence to calculations of further increase, it is not the case. In such communities, the confident expectation of increased prices produces, to a greater or less extent, the effects of a combination among land holders, and tends to the withholding of land from use, in expectation of higher prices, thus forcing the margin of cultivation farther than required by the necessities of production.

This cause must operate to some extent in all progressive communities, though in such countries as England, where the tenant system prevails in agriculture, it may be shown more in the selling price of land than in the agricultural margin of cultivation, or actual rent. But in communities like the United States, where the user of land generally prefers, if he can, to own it, and where there is a great extent of land to overrun, it operates with enormous power.

The immense area over which the population of the United States is scattered shows this. The man who sets out from the Eastern seaboard in search of the margin of cultivation, where he may obtain land without paying rent, must, like the man who swam the river to get a drink, pass for long distances through half-tilled farms, and traverse vast areas of virgin soil, before he reaches the point where land can be had free of rent—i.e., by homestead entry or pre-emption. He (and, with him, the margin of cultivation) is forced so much farther than he otherwise need have gone, by the speculation which is holding these unused lands in expectation of increased value in the future. And when he settles, he will, in his turn, take up, if he can, more land than he can use, in the belief that it will soon become valuable; and so those who follow him are again forced farther on255 than the necessities of production require, carrying the margin of cultivation to still less productive, because still more remote points.

The same thing may be seen in every rapidly growing city. If the land of superior quality as to location were always fully used before land of inferior quality were resorted to, no vacant lots would be left as a city extended, nor would we find miserable shanties in the midst of costly buildings. These lots, some of them extremely valuable, are withheld from use, or from the full use to which they might be put, because their owners, not being able or not wishing to improve them, prefer, in expectation of the advance of land values, to hold them for a higher rate than could now be obtained from those willing to improve them. And, in consequence of this land being withheld from use, or from the full use of which it is capable, the margin of the city is pushed away so much farther from the center.

But when we reach the limits of the growing city—the actual margin of building, which corresponds to the margin of cultivation in agriculture—we shall not find the land purchasable at its value for agricultural purposes, as it would be were rent determined simply by present requirements; but we shall find that for a long distance beyond the city land bears a speculative value, based upon the belief that it will be required in the future for urban purposes, and that to reach the point at which land can be purchased at a price not based upon urban rent, we must go very far beyond the actual margin of urban use.

Or, to take another case of a different kind, instances similar to which may doubtless be found in every locality. There is in Marin County, within easy access of San Francisco, a fine belt of redwood timber. Naturally, this would be first used, before resorting for the supply of the San Francisco market to timber lands at a much256 greater distance. But it yet remains uncut, and lumber procured many miles beyond is daily hauled past it on the railroad, because its owner prefers to hold for the greater price it will bring in the future. Thus, by the withholding from use of this body of timber, the margin of production of redwood is forced so much farther up and down the Coast Range. That mineral land, when reduced to private ownership, is frequently withheld from use while poorer deposits are worked, is well known, and in new States it is common to find individuals who are called “land poor”—that is, who remain poor, sometimes almost to deprivation, because they insist on holding land, which they themselves cannot use, at prices at which no one else can profitably use it.

To recur now to the illustration we made use of in the preceding chapter: With the margin of cultivation standing at 20, an increase in the power of production takes place, which renders the same result obtainable with one-tenth less labor. For reasons before stated, the margin of production must now be forced down, and if it rests at 18, the return to labor and capital will be the same as before, when the margin stood at 20. Whether it will be forced to 18 or be forced lower depends upon what I have called the area of productiveness which intervenes between 20 and 18. But if the confident expectation of a further increase of rents leads the land owners to demand 3 rent for 20 land, 2 for 19, and 1 for 18 land, and to withhold their land from use until these terms are complied with, the area of productiveness may be so reduced that the margin of cultivation must fall to 17 or even lower; and thus, as the result of the increase in the efficiency of labor, laborers would get less than before, while interest would be proportionately reduced, and rent would increase in greater ratio than the increase in productive power.

Whether we formulate it as an extension of the margin257 of production, or as a carrying of the rent line beyond the margin of production, the influence of speculation in land in increasing rent is a great fact which cannot be ignored in any complete theory of the distribution of wealth in progressive countries. It is the force, evolved by material progress, which tends constantly to increase rent in a greater ratio than progress increases production, and thus constantly tends, as material progress goes on and productive power increases, to reduce wages, not merely relatively, but absolutely. It is this expansive force which, operating with great power in new countries, brings to them, seemingly long before their time, the social diseases of older countries; produces “tramps” on virgin acres, and breeds paupers on half-tilled soil.

In short, the general and steady advance in land values in a progressive community necessarily produces that additional tendency to advance which is seen in the case of commodities when any general and continuous cause operates to increase their price. As, during the rapid depreciation of currency which marked the latter days of the Southern Confederacy, the fact that whatever was bought one day could be sold for a higher price the next, operated to carry up the prices of commodities even faster than the depreciation of the currency, so does the steady increase of land values, which material progress produces, operate still further to accelerate the increase. We see this secondary cause operating in full force in those manias of land speculation which mark the growth of new communities; but though these are the abnormal and occasional manifestations, it is undeniable that the cause steadily operates, with greater or less intensity, in all progressive societies.

The cause which limits speculation in commodities, the tendency of increasing price to draw forth additional supplies, cannot limit the speculative advance in land values, as land is a fixed quantity, which human agency258 can neither increase nor diminish; but there is nevertheless a limit to the price of land, in the minimum required by labor and capital as the condition of engaging in production. If it were possible continuously to reduce wages until zero were reached, it would be possible continuously to increase rent until it swallowed up the whole produce. But as wages cannot be permanently reduced below the point at which laborers will consent to work and reproduce, nor interest below the point at which capital will be devoted to production, there is a limit which restrains the speculative advance of rent. Hence speculation cannot have the same scope to advance rent in countries where wages and interest are already near the minimum, as in countries where they are considerably above it. Yet that there is in all progressive countries a constant tendency in the speculative advance of rent to overpass the limit where production would cease, is, I think, shown by recurring seasons of industrial paralysis—a matter which will be more fully examined in the next book.
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:26 am


To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it. White parasols, and elephants mad with pride are the flowers of a grant of land.—Sir Wm. Jones’ translation of an Indian grant of land, found at Tanna.

The widow is gathering nettles for her children’s dinner; a perfumed seigneur, delicately lounging in the Œil de Bœuf, hath an alchemy whereby he will extract from her the third nettle, and call it rent.



Our long inquiry is ended. We may now marshal the results.

To begin with the industrial depressions, to account for which so many contradictory and self-contradictory theories are broached.

A consideration of the manner in which the speculative advance in land values cuts down the earnings of labor and capital and checks production leads, I think, irresistibly to the conclusion that this is the main cause of those periodical industrial depressions to which every civilized country, and all civilized countries together, seem increasingly liable.

I do not mean to say that there are not other proximate causes. The growing complexity and interdependence of the machinery of production, which makes each shock or stoppage propagate itself through a widening circle; the essential defect of currencies which contract when most needed, and the tremendous alternations in volume that occur in the simpler forms of commercial credit, which, to a much greater extent than currency in any form, constitute the medium or flux of exchanges; the protective tariffs which present artificial barriers to the interplay of productive forces, and other similar causes, undoubtedly bear important part in producing and continuing what are called hard times. But, both from the consideration of principles and the observation of phenomena, it is clear that the great initiatory cause262 is to be looked for in the speculative advance of land values.

In the preceding chapter I have shown that the speculative advance in land values tends to press the margin of cultivation, or production, beyond its normal limit, thus compelling labor and capital to accept of a smaller return, or (and this is the only way they can resist the tendency) to cease production. Now, it is not only natural that labor and capital should resist the crowding down of wages and interest by the speculative advance of rent, but they are driven to this in self-defense, inasmuch as there is a minimum of return below which labor cannot exist nor capital be maintained. Hence, from the fact of speculation in land, we may infer all the phenomena which mark these recurring seasons of industrial depression.

Given a progressive community, in which population is increasing and one improvement succeeds another, and land must constantly increase in value. This steady increase naturally leads to speculation in which future increase is anticipated, and land values are carried beyond the point at which, under the existing conditions of production, their accustomed returns would be left to labor and capital. Production, therefore, begins to stop. Not that there is necessarily, or even probably, an absolute diminution in production; but that there is what in a progressive community would be equivalent to an absolute diminution of production in a stationary community—a failure in production to increase proportionately, owing to the failure of new increments of labor and capital to find employment at the accustomed rates.

This stoppage of production at some points must necessarily show itself at other points of the industrial network, in a cessation of demand, which would again check production there, and thus the paralysis would communicate itself through all the interlacings of industry and263 commerce, producing everywhere a partial disjointing of production and exchange, and resulting in the phenomena that seem to show overproduction or overconsumption, according to the standpoint from which they are viewed.

The period of depression thus ensuing would continue until (1) the speculative advance in rents had been lost; or (2) the increase in the efficiency of labor, owing to the growth of population and the progress of improvement, had enabled the normal rent line to overtake the speculative rent line; or (3) labor and capital had become reconciled to engaging in production for smaller returns. Or, most probably, all three of these causes would co-operate to produce a new equilibrium, at which all the forces of production would again engage, and a season of activity ensue; whereupon rent would begin to advance again, a speculative advance again take place, production again be checked, and the same round be gone over.

In the elaborate and complicated system of production which is characteristic of modern civilization, where, moreover, there is no such thing as a distinct and independent industrial community, but geographically or politically separated communities blend and interlace their industrial organizations in different modes and varying measures, it is not to be expected that effect should be seen to follow cause as clearly and definitely as would be the case in a simpler development of industry, and in a community forming a complete and distinct industrial whole; but, nevertheless, the phenomena actually presented by these alternate seasons of activity and depression clearly correspond with those we have inferred from the speculative advance of rent.

Deduction thus shows the actual phenomena as resulting from the principle. If we reverse the process, it is as easy by induction to reach the principle by tracing up the phenomena.

These seasons of depression are always preceded by seasons of activity and speculation, and on all hands the connection between the two is admitted—the depression being looked upon as the reaction from the speculation, as the headache of the morning is the reaction from the debauch of the night. But as to the manner in which the depression results from the speculation, there are two classes or schools of opinion, as the attempts made on both sides of the Atlantic to account for the present industrial depression will show.

One school says that the speculation produced the depression by causing overproduction, and point to the warehouses filled with goods that cannot be sold at remunerative prices, to mills closed or working on half time, to mines shut down and steamers laid up, to money lying idly in bank vaults, and workmen compelled to idleness and privation. They point to these facts as showing that the production has exceeded the demand for consumption, and they point, moreover, to the fact that when government during war enters the field as an enormous consumer, brisk times prevail, as in the United States during the civil war and in England during the Napoleonic struggle.

The other school says that the speculation has produced the depression by leading to overconsumption, and point to full warehouses, rusting steamers, closed mills, and idle workmen as evidences of a cessation of effective demand, which, they say, evidently results from the fact that people, made extravagant by a fictitious prosperity, have lived beyond their means, and are now obliged to retrench—that is, to consume less wealth. They point, moreover, to the enormous consumption of wealth by wars, by the building of unremunerative railroads, by loans to bankrupt governments, etc., as extravagances which, though not felt at the time, just as the spendthrift does not at the moment feel the impairment265 of his fortune, must now be made up by a season of reduced consumption.

Now, each of these theories evidently expresses one side or phase of a general truth, but each of them evidently fails to comprehend the full truth. As an explanation of the phenomena, each is equally and utterly preposterous.

For while the great masses of men want more wealth than they can get, and while they are willing to give for it that which is the basis and raw material of wealth—their labor—how can there be overproduction? And while the machinery of production wastes and producers are condemned to unwilling idleness, how can there be overconsumption?

When, with the desire to consume more, there co-exist the ability and willingness to produce more, industrial and commercial paralysis cannot be charged either to overproduction or to overconsumption. Manifestly, the trouble is that production and consumption cannot meet and satisfy each other.

How does this inability arise? It is evidently and by common consent the result of speculation. But of speculation in what?

Certainly not of speculation in things which are the products of labor—in agricultural or mineral productions, or manufactured goods, for the effect of speculation in such things, as is well shown in current treatises that spare me the necessity of illustration, is simply to equalize supply and demand, and to steady the interplay of production and consumption by an action analogous to that of a fly-wheel in a machine.

Therefore, if speculation be the cause of these industrial depressions, it must be speculation in things not the production of labor, but yet necessary to the exertion of labor in the production of wealth—of things of fixed quantity; that is to say, it must be speculation in land.

That land speculation is the true cause of industrial depression is, in the United States, clearly evident. In each period of industrial activity land values have steadily risen, culminating in speculation which carried them up in great jumps. This has been invariably followed by a partial cessation of production, and its correlative, a cessation of effective demand (dull trade), generally accompanied by a commercial crash; and then has succeeded a period of comparative stagnation, during which the equilibrium has been again slowly established, and the same round been run again. This relation is observable throughout the civilized world. Periods of industrial activity always culminate in a speculative advance of land values, followed by symptoms of checked production, generally shown at first by cessation of demand from the newer countries, where the advance in land values has been greatest.

That this must be the main explanation of these periods of depression, will be seen by an analysis of the facts.

All trade, let it be remembered, is the exchange of commodities for commodities, and hence the cessation of demand for some commodities, which marks the depression of trade, is really a cessation in the supply of other commodities. That dealers find their sales declining and manufacturers find orders falling off, while the things which they have to sell, or stand ready to make, are things for which there is yet a widespread desire, simply shows that the supply of other things, which in the course of trade would be given for them, has declined. In common parlance we say that “buyers have no money,” or that “money is becoming scarce,” but in talking in this way we ignore the fact that money is but the medium of exchange. What the would-be buyers really lack is not money, but commodities which they can turn into money—what is really becoming scarcer, is267 produce of some sort. The diminution of the effective demand of consumers is therefore but a result of the diminution of production.

This is seen very clearly by storekeepers in a manufacturing town when the mills are shut down and operatives thrown out of work. It is the cessation of production which deprives the operatives of means to make the purchases they desire, and thus leaves the storekeeper with what, in view of the lessened demand, is a superabundant stock, and forces him to discharge some of his clerks and otherwise reduce his demands. And the cessation of demand (I am speaking, of course, of general cases and not of any alteration in relative demand from such causes as change of fashion), which has left the manufacturer with superabundant stock and compelled him to discharge his hands, must arise in the same way. Somewhere, it may be at the other end of the world, a check in production has produced a check in the demand for consumption. That demand is lessened without want being satisfied, shows that production is somewhere checked.

People want the things the manufacturer makes as much as ever, just as the operatives want the things the storekeeper has to sell. But they do not have as much to give for them. Production has somewhere been checked, and this reduction in the supply of some things has shown itself in cessation of demand for others, the check propagating itself through the whole framework of industry and exchange. Now, the industrial pyramid manifestly rests on the land. The primary and fundamental occupations, which create a demand for all others, are evidently those which extract wealth from nature, and, hence, if we trace from one exchange point to another, and from one occupation to another, this check to production, which shows itself in decreased purchasing power, we must ultimately find it in some268 obstacle which checks labor in expending itself on land. And that obstacle, it is clear, is the speculative advance in rent, or the value of land, which produces the same effects, as in fact, it is, a lock-out of labor and capital by land owners. This check to production, beginning at the basis of interlaced industry, propagates itself from exchange point to exchange point, cessation of supply becoming failure of demand, until, so to speak, the whole machine is thrown out of gear, and the spectacle is everywhere presented of labor going to waste while laborers suffer from want.

This strange and unnatural spectacle of large numbers of willing men who cannot find employment is enough to suggest the true cause to whomsoever can think consecutively. For, though custom has dulled us to it, it is a strange and unnatural thing that men who wish to labor, in order to satisfy their wants, cannot find the opportunity—as, since labor is that which produces wealth, the man who seeks to exchange labor for food, clothing, or any other form of wealth, is like one who proposes to give bullion for coin, or wheat for flour. We talk about the supply of labor and the demand for labor, but, evidently, these are only relative terms. The supply of labor is everywhere the same—two hands always come into the world with one mouth, twenty-one boys to every twenty girls; and the demand for labor must always exist as long as men want things which labor alone can procure. We talk about the “want of work,” but, evidently, it is not work that is short while want continues; evidently, the supply of labor cannot be too great, nor the demand for labor too small, when people suffer for the lack of things that labor produces. The real trouble must be that supply is somehow prevented from satisfying demand, that somewhere there is an obstacle which prevents labor from producing the things that laborers want.

Take the case of any one of these vast masses of unemployed men, to whom, though he never heard of Malthus, it to-day seems that there are too many people in the world. In his own wants, in the needs of his anxious wife, in the demands of his half-cared-for, perhaps even hungry and shivering children, there is demand enough for labor, Heaven knows! In his own willing hands is the supply. Put him on a solitary island, and though cut off from all the enormous advantages which the co-operation, combination, and machinery of a civilized community give to the productive powers of man, yet his two hands can fill the mouths and keep warm the backs that depend upon them. Yet where productive power is as its highest development they cannot. Why? Is it not because in the one case he has access to the material and forces of nature, and in the other this access is denied?

Is it not the fact that labor is thus shut off from nature which can alone explain the state of things that compels men to stand idle who would willingly supply their wants by their labor? The proximate cause of enforced idleness with one set of men may be the cessation of demand on the part of other men for the particular things they produce, but trace this cause from point to point, from occupation to occupation, and you will find that enforced idleness in one trade is caused by enforced idleness in another, and that the paralysis which produces dullness in all trades cannot be said to spring from too great a supply of labor or too small a demand for labor, but must proceed from the fact that supply cannot meet demand by producing the things which satisfy want and are the object of labor.

Now, what is necessary to enable labor to produce these things, is land. When we speak of labor creating wealth, we speak metaphorically. Man creates nothing. The whole human race, were they to labor forever, could270 not create the tiniest mote that floats in a sunbeam—could not make this rolling sphere one atom heavier or one atom lighter. In producing wealth, labor, with the aid of natural forces, but works up, into the forms desired, pre-existing matter, and, to produce wealth, must, therefore, have access to this matter and to these forces—that is to say, to land. The land is the source of all wealth. It is the mine from which must be drawn the ore that labor fashions. It is the substance to which labor gives the form. And, hence, when labor cannot satisfy its wants, may we not with certainty infer that it can be from no other cause than that labor is denied access to land?

When in all trades there is what we call scarcity of employment; when, everywhere, labor wastes, while desire is unsatisfied, must not the obstacle which prevents labor from producing the wealth it needs, lie at the foundation of the industrial structure? That foundation is land. Milliners, optical instrument makers, gilders, and polishers, are not the pioneers of new settlements. Miners did not go to California or Australia because shoemakers, tailors, machinists, and printers were there. But those trades followed the miners, just as they are now following the gold diggers into the Black Hills and the diamond diggers into South Africa. It is not the storekeeper who is the cause of the farmer, but the farmer who brings the storekeeper. It is not the growth of the city that develops the country, but the development of the country that makes the city grow. And, hence, when, through all trades, men willing to work cannot find opportunity to do so, the difficulty must arise in the employment that creates a demand for all other employments—it must be because labor is shut out from land.

In Leeds or Lowell, in Philadelphia or Manchester, in London or New York, it may require a grasp of first271 principles to see this; but where industrial development has not become so elaborate, nor the extreme links of the chain so widely separated, one has but to look at obvious facts. Although not yet thirty years old, the city of San Francisco, both in population and in commercial importance, ranks among the great cities of the world, and, next to New York, is the most metropolitan of American cities. Though not yet thirty years old, she has had for some years an increasing number of unemployed men. Clearly, here, it is because men cannot find employment in the country that there are so many unemployed in the city; for when the harvest opens they go trooping out, and when it is over they come trooping back to the city again. If these now unemployed men were producing wealth from the land, they would not only be employing themselves, but would be employing all the mechanics of the city, giving custom to the storekeepers, trade to the merchants, audiences to the theaters, and subscribers and advertisements to the newspapers—creating effective demand that would be felt in New England and Old England, and wherever throughout the world come the articles that, when they have the means to pay for them, such a population consumes.

Now, why is it that this unemployed labor cannot employ itself upon the land? Not that the land is all in use. Though all the symptoms that in older countries are taken as showing a redundancy of population are beginning to manifest themselves in San Francisco, it is idle to talk of redundancy of population in a State that with greater natural resources than France has not yet a million of people. Within a few miles of San Francisco is unused land enough to give employment to every man who wants it. I do not mean to say that every unemployed man could turn farmer or build himself a house, if he had the land; but that enough could and would do272 so to give employment to the rest. What is it, then, that prevents labor from employing itself on this land? Simply, that it has been monopolized and is held at speculative prices, based not upon present value, but upon the added value that will come with the future growth of population.

What may thus be seen in San Francisco by whoever is willing to see, may, I doubt not, be seen as clearly in other places.

The present commercial and industrial depression, which first clearly manifested itself in the United States in 1872, and has spread with greater or less intensity over the civilized world, is largely attributed to the undue extension of the railroad system, with which there are many things that seem to show its relation. I am fully conscious that the construction of railroads before they are actually needed may divert capital and labor from more to less productive employments, and make a community poorer instead of richer; and when the railroad mania was at its highest, I pointed this out in a political tract addressed to the people of California;40 but to assign to this wasting of capital such a widespread industrial dead-lock seems to me like attributing an unusually low tide to the drawing of a few extra bucketfuls of water. The waste of capital and labor during the civil war was enormously greater than it could possibly be by the construction of unnecessary railroads, but without producing any such result. And, certainly, there seems to be little sense in talking of the waste of capital and labor in railroads as causing this depression, when the prominent feature of the depression has been the superabundance of capital and labor seeking employment.

Yet, that there is a connection between the rapid con273struction of railroads and industrial depression, any one who understands what increased land values mean, and who has noticed the effect which the construction of railroads has upon land speculation, can easily see. Wherever a railroad was built or projected, lands sprang up in value under the influence of speculation, and thousands of millions of dollars were added to the nominal values which capital and labor were asked to pay outright, or to pay in installments, as the price of being allowed to go to work and produce wealth. The inevitable result was to check production, and this check to production propagated itself in a cessation of demand, which checked production to the furthest verge of the wide circle of exchanges, operating with accumulated force in the centers of the great industrial commonwealth into which commerce links the civilized world.

The primary operations of this cause can, perhaps, be nowhere more clearly traced than in California, which, from its comparative isolation, has constituted a peculiarly well-defined community.

Until almost its close, the last decade was marked in California by the same industrial activity which was shown in the Northern States, and, in fact, throughout the civilized world, when the interruption of exchanges and the disarrangement of industry caused by the war and the blockade of Southern ports is considered. This activity could not be attributed to inflation of the currency or to lavish expenditures of the General Government, to which in the Eastern States the comparative activity of the same period has since been attributed; for, in spite of legal tender laws, the Pacific Coast adhered to a coin currency, and the taxation of the Federal Government took away very much more than was returned in Federal expenditures. It was attributable solely to normal causes, for, though placer mining was declining, the Nevada silver mines were being opened, wheat and274 wool were beginning to take the place of gold in the table of exports, and an increasing population and the improvement in the methods of production and exchange were steadily adding to the efficiency of labor.

With this material progress went on a steady enhancement in land values—its consequence. This steady advance engendered a speculative advance, which, with the railroad era, ran up land values in every direction. If the population of California had steadily grown when the long, costly, fever-haunted Isthmus route was the principal mode of communication with the Atlantic States, it must, it was thought, increase enormously with the opening of a road which would bring New York harbor and San Francisco Bay within seven days’ easy travel, and when in the State itself the locomotive took the place of stage coach and freight wagon. The expected increase of land values which would thus accrue was discounted in advance. Lots on the outskirts of San Francisco rose hundreds and thousands per cent., and farming land was taken up and held for high prices, in whichever direction an immigrant was likely to go.

But the anticipated rush of immigrants did not take place. Labor and capital could not pay so much for land and make fair returns. Production was checked, if not absolutely, at least relatively. As the transcontinental railroad approached completion, instead of increased activity symptoms of depression began to manifest themselves; and, when it was completed, to the season of activity had succeeded a period of depression which has not since been fully recovered from, during which wages and interest have steadily fallen. What I have called the actual rent line, or margin of cultivation, is thus (as well as by the steady march of improvement and increase of population, which, though slower than it otherwise would have been, still goes on) approaching the speculative rent line, but the tenacity with which a275 speculative advance in the price of land is maintained in a developing community is well known.41

Now, what thus went on in California went on in every progressive section of the Union. Everywhere that a railroad was built or projected, land was monopolized in anticipation, and the benefit of the improvement was discounted in increased land values. The speculative advance in rent thus outrunning the normal advance, production was checked, demand was decreased, and labor and capital were turned back from occupations more directly concerned with land, to glut those in which the value of land is a less perceptible element. It is thus that the rapid extension of railroads is related to the succeeding depression.

And what went on in the United States went on in a greater or less obvious degree all over the progressive world. Everywhere land values have been steadily increasing with material progress, and everywhere this increase begot a speculative advance. The impulse of the primary cause not only radiated from the newer sections of the Union to the older sections, and from the United States to Europe, but everywhere the primary cause was acting. And, hence, a world-wide depression of industry and commerce, begotten of a world-wide material progress.

There is one thing which, it may seem, I have overlooked, in attributing these industrial depressions to the speculative advance of rent or land values as a main and276 primary cause. The operation of such a cause, though it may be rapid, must be progressive—resembling a pressure, not a blow. But these industrial depressions seem to come suddenly—they have, at their beginning, the character of a paroxysm, followed by a comparative lethargy, as if of exhaustion. Everything seems to be going on as usual, commerce and industry vigorous and expanding, when suddenly there comes a shock, as of a thunderbolt out of a clear sky—a bank breaks, a great manufacturer or merchant fails, and, as if a blow had thrilled through the entire industrial organization, failure succeeds failure, and on every side workmen are discharged from employment, and capital shrinks into profitless security.

Let me explain what I think to be the reason of this: To do so, we must take into account the manner in which exchanges are made, for it is by exchanges that all the varied forms of industry are linked together into one mutually related and interdependent organization. To enable exchanges to be made between producers far removed by space and time, large stocks must be kept in store and in transit, and this, as I have already explained, I take to be the great function of capital, in addition to that of supplying tools and seed. These exchanges are, perhaps necessarily, largely made upon credit—that is to say, the advance upon one side is made before the return is received on the other.

Now, without stopping to inquire as to the causes, it is manifest that these advances are, as a rule, from the more highly organized and later developed industries to the more fundamental. The West Coast African, for instance, who exchanges palm oil and cocoanuts for gaudy calico and Birmingham idols, gets his return immediately; the English merchant, on the contrary, has to lay out of his goods a long while before he gets his returns. The farmer can sell his crop as soon as it is277 harvested, and for cash; the great manufacturer must keep a large stock, send his goods long distances to agents, and, generally, sell on time. Thus, as advances and credits are generally from what we may call the secondary, to what we may call the primary industries, it follows that any check to production which proceeds from the latter will not immediately manifest itself in the former. The system of advances and credits constitutes, as it were, an elastic connection, which will give considerably before breaking, but which, when it breaks, will break with a snap.

Or, to illustrate in another way what I mean: The great pyramid of Gizeh is composed of layers of masonry, the bottom layer, of course, supporting all the rest. Could we by some means gradually contract this bottom layer, the upper part of the pyramid would for some time retain its form, and then, when gravitation at length overcame the adhesiveness of the material, would not diminish gradually and regularly, but would break off suddenly, in large pieces. Now, the industrial organization may be likened to such a pyramid. What is the proportion which in a given stage of social development the various industries bear to each other, it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to say; but it is obvious that there is such a proportion, just as in a printer’s font of type there is a certain proportion between the various letters. Each form of industry, as it is developed by division of labor, springs from and rises out of the others, and all rest ultimately upon land; for, without land, labor is as impotent as would be a man in void space. To make the illustration closer to the condition of a progressive country, imagine a pyramid composed of superimposed layers—the whole constantly growing and expanding. Imagine the growth of the layer nearest the ground to be checked. The others will for a time keep on expanding—in fact, for the moment, the tendency278 will be to quicker expansion, for the vital force which is refused scope on the ground layer will strive to find vent in those above—until, at length, there is a decided overbalance and a sudden crumbling along all the faces of the pyramid.

That the main cause and general course of the recurring paroxysms of industrial depression, which are becoming so marked a feature of modern social life, are thus explained, is, I think, clear. And let the reader remember that it is only the main causes and general courses of such phenomena that we are seeking to trace or that, in fact, it is possible to trace with any exactness. Political economy can deal, and has need to deal, only with general tendencies. The derivative forces are so multiform, the actions and reactions are so various, that the exact character of the phenomena cannot be predicted. We know that if a tree is cut through it will fall, but precisely in what direction will be determined by the inclination of the trunk, the spread of the branches, the impact of the blows, the quarter and force of the wind; and even a bird lighting on a twig, or a frightened squirrel leaping from bough to bough, will not be without its influence. We know that an insult will arouse a feeling of resentment in the human breast, but to say how far and in what way it will manifest itself, would require a synthesis which would build up the entire man and all his surroundings, past and present.

The manner in which the sufficient cause to which I have traced them explains the main features of these industrial depressions is in striking contrast with the contradictory and self-contradictory attempts which have been made to explain them on the current theories of the distribution of wealth. That a speculative advance in rent or land values invariably precedes each of these sea sons of industrial depression is everywhere clear. That they bear to each other the relations of cause and effect,279 is obvious to whomsoever considers the necessary relations between land and labor.

And that the present depression is running its course, and that, in the manner previously indicated, a new equilibrium is being established, which will result in another season of comparative activity, may already be seen in the United States. The normal rent line and the speculative rent line are being brought together: (1) By the fall in speculative land values, which is very evident in the reduction of rents and shrinkage of real estate values in the principal cities. (2) By the increased efficiency of labor, arising from the growth of population and the utilization of new inventions and discoveries, some of which almost as important as that of the use of steam we seem to be on the verge of grasping. (3) By the lowering of the habitual standard of interest and wages, which, as to interest, is shown by the negotiation of a government loan at four per cent., and as to wages is too generally evident for any special citation. When the equilibrium is thus re-established, a season of renewed activity, culminating in a speculative advance of land values will set in.42 But wages and interest will not recover their lost ground. The net result of all these perturbations or wave-like movements is the gradual forcing of wages and interest toward their minimum. These temporary and recurring depressions exhibit, in fact, as was noticed in the opening chapter, but intensifications of the general movement which accompanies material progress.
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:28 am


The great problem, of which these recurring seasons of industrial depression are but peculiar manifestations, is now, I think, fully solved, and the social phenomena which all over the civilized world appall the philanthropist and perplex the statesman, which hang with clouds the future of the most advanced races, and suggest doubts of the reality and ultimate goal of what we have fondly called progress, are now explained.

The reason why, in spite of the increase of productive power, wages constantly tend to a minimum which will give but a bare living, is that, with increase in productive power, rent tends to even greater increase, thus producing a constant tendency to the forcing down of wages.

In every direction, the direct tendency of advancing civilization is to increase the power of human labor to satisfy human desires—to extirpate poverty, and to banish want and the fear of want. All the things in which progress consists, all the conditions which progressive communities are striving for, have for their direct and natural result the improvement of the material (and consequently the intellectual and moral) condition of all within their influence. The growth of population, the increase and extension of exchanges, the discoveries of science, the march of invention, the spread of education, the improvement of government, and the amelioration of manners, considered as material forces, have all a direct tendency to increase the productive power of labor—not281 of some labor, but of all labor; not in some departments of industry, but in all departments of industry; for the law of the production of wealth in society is the law of “each for all, and all for each.”

But labor cannot reap the benefits which advancing civilization thus brings, because they are intercepted. Land being necessary to labor, and being reduced to private ownership, every increase in the productive power of labor but increases rent—the price that labor must pay for the opportunity to utilize its powers; and thus all the advantages gained by the march of progress go to the owners of land, and wages do not increase. Wages cannot increase; for the greater the earnings of labor the greater the price that labor must pay out of its earnings for the opportunity to make any earnings at all. The mere laborer has thus no more interest in the general advance of productive power than the Cuban slave has in advance in the price of sugar. And just as an advance in the price of sugar may make the condition of the slave worse, by inducing the master to drive him harder, so may the condition of the free laborer be positively, as well as relatively, changed for the worse by the increase in the productive power of his labor. For, begotten of the continuous advance of rents, arises a speculative tendency which discounts the effect of future improvements by a still further advance of rent, and thus tends, where this has not occurred from the normal advance of rent, to drive wages down to the slave point—the point at which the laborer can just live.

And thus robbed of all the benefits of the increase in productive power, labor is exposed to certain effects of advancing civilization which, without the advantages that naturally accompany them, are positive evils, and of themselves tend to reduce the free laborer to the helpless and degraded condition of the slave.

For all improvements which add to productive power as282 civilization advances consist in, or necessitate, a still further subdivision of labor, and the efficiency of the whole body of laborers is increased at the expense of the independence of the constituents. The individual laborer acquires knowledge of and skill in but an infinitesimal part of the varied processes which are required to supply even the commonest wants. 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 may be found; knows the habits and resorts of beasts, birds, fishes, and insects; can pilot himself by the sun or the stars, by the turning of blossoms or the mosses on the trees; is, in short, capable of supplying all his wants. He may be cut off from his fellows and still live; and thus possesses an independent power which makes him a free contracting party in his relations to the community of which he is a member.

Compare with this savage the laborer in the lowest ranks of civilized society, whose life is spent in producing but one thing, or oftener but the infinitesimal part of one thing, out of the multiplicity of things that constitute the wealth of society and go to supply even the most primitive wants; who not only cannot make even the tools required for his work, but often works with tools that he does not own, and can never hope to own. Compelled to even closer and more continuous labor than the savage, and gaining by it no more than the savage gets—the mere necessaries of life—he loses the independence of the savage. He is not only unable to apply his own powers to the direct satisfaction of his own wants, but, without the concurrence of many others,283 he is unable to apply them indirectly to the satisfaction of his wants. He is a mere link in an enormous chain of producers and consumers, helpless to separate himself, and helpless to move, except as they move. The worse his position in society, the more dependent is he on society; the more utterly unable does he become to do anything for himself. The very power of exerting his labor for the satisfaction of his wants passes from his own control, and may be taken away or restored by the actions of others, or by general causes over which he has no more influence than he has over the motions of the solar system. The primeval curse comes to be looked upon as a boon, and men think, and talk, and clamor, and legislate as though monotonous manual labor in itself were a good and not an evil, an end and not a means. Under such circumstances, the man loses the essential quality of manhood—the godlike power of modifying and controlling conditions. He becomes a slave, a machine, a commodity—a thing, in some respects, lower than the animal.

I am no sentimental admirer of the savage state. I do not get my ideas of the untutored children of nature from Rousseau, or Chateaubriand, or Cooper. I am conscious of its material and mental poverty, and its low and narrow range. I believe that civilization is not only the natural destiny of man, but the enfranchisement, elevation, and refinement of all his powers, and think that it is only in such moods as may lead him to envy the cud-chewing cattle, that a man who is free to the advantages of civilization could look with regret upon the savage state. But, nevertheless, I think no one who will open his eyes to the facts can resist the conclusion that there are in the heart of our civilization large classes with whom the veriest savage could not afford to exchange. It is my deliberate opinion that if, standing on the threshold of being, one were given the choice of entering284 life as a Tierra del Fuegan, a black fellow of Australia, an Esquimaux in the Arctic Circle, or among the lowest classes in such a highly civilized country as Great Britain, he would make infinitely the better choice in selecting the lot of the savage. For those classes who in the midst of wealth are condemned to want suffer all the privations of the savage, without his sense of personal freedom; they are condemned to more than his narrowness and littleness, without opportunity for the growth of his rude virtues; if their horizon is wider, it is but to reveal blessings that they cannot enjoy.

There are some to whom this may seem like exaggeration, but it is only because they have never suffered themselves to realize the true condition of those classes upon whom the iron heel of modern civilization presses with full force. As De Tocqueville observes, in one of his letters to Mme. Swetchine, “we so soon become used to the thought of want that we do not feel that an evil which grows greater to the sufferer the longer it lasts becomes less to the observer by the very fact of its duration;” and perhaps the best proof of the justice of this observation is that in cities where there exists a pauper class and a criminal class, where young girls shiver as they sew for bread, and tattered and barefooted children make a home in the streets, money is regularly raised to send missionaries to the heathen! Send missionaries to the heathen! it would be laughable if it were not so sad. Baal no longer stretches forth his hideous, sloping arms; but in Christian lands mothers slay their infants for a burial fee! And I challenge the production from any authentic accounts of savage life of such descriptions of degradation as are to be found in official documents of highly civilized countries—in reports of Sanitary Commissioners and of inquiries into the condition of the laboring poor.

The simple theory which I have outlined (if indeed it285 can be called a theory which is but the recognition of the most obvious relations) explains this conjunction of poverty with wealth, of low wages with high productive power, of degradation amid enlightenment, of virtual slavery in political liberty. It harmonizes, as results flowing from a general and inexorable law, facts otherwise most perplexing, and exhibits the sequence and relation between phenomena that without reference to it are diverse and contradictory. It explains why interest and wages are higher in new than in older communities, though the average, as well as the aggregate, production of wealth is less. It explains why improvements which increase the productive power of labor and capital increase the reward of neither. It explains what is commonly called the conflict between labor and capital, while proving the real harmony of interest between them. It cuts the last inch of ground from under the fallacies of protection, while showing why free trade fails to benefit permanently the working classes. It explains why want increases with abundance, and wealth tends to greater and greater aggregations. It explains the periodically recurring depressions of industry without recourse either to the absurdity of “overproduction” or the absurdity of “overconsumption.” It explains the enforced idleness of large numbers of would-be producers, which wastes the productive force of advanced communities, without the absurd assumption that there is too little work to do or that there are too many to do it. It explains the ill effects upon the laboring classes which often follow the introduction of machinery, without denying the natural advantages which the use of machinery gives. It explains the vice and misery which show themselves amid dense population, without attributing to the laws of the All-Wise and All-Beneficent defects which belong only to the short-sighted and selfish enactments of men.

This explanation is in accordance with all the facts.

Look over the world to-day. In countries the most widely differing—under conditions the most diverse as to government, as to industries, as to tariffs, as to currency—you will find distress among the working classes; but everywhere that you thus find distress and destitution in the midst of wealth you will find that the land is monopolized; that instead of being treated as the common property of the whole people, it is treated as the private property of individuals; that, for its use by labor, large revenues are extorted from the earnings of labor. Look over the world to-day, comparing different countries with each other, and you will see that it is not the abundance of capital or the productiveness of labor that makes wages high or low; but the extent to which the monopolizers of land can, in rent, levy tribute upon the earnings of labor. Is it not a notorious fact, known to the most ignorant, that new countries, where the aggregate wealth is small, but where land is cheap, are always better countries for the laboring classes than the rich countries, where land is dear? Wherever you find land relatively low, will you not find wages relatively high? And wherever land is high, will you not find wages low? As land increases in value, poverty deepens and pauperism appears. In the new settlements, where land is cheap, you will find no beggars, and the inequalities in condition are very slight. In the great cities, where land is so valuable that it is measured by the foot, you will find the extremes of poverty and of luxury. And this disparity in condition between the two extremes of the social scale may always be measured by the price of land. Land in New York is more valuable than in San Francisco; and in New York, the San Franciscan may see squalor and misery that will make him stand aghast. Land is more valuable in London than in New York;287 and in London, there is squalor and destitution worse than that of New York.

Compare the same country in different times, and the same relation is obvious. As the result of much investigation, Hallam says he is convinced that the wages of manual labor were greater in amount in England during the middle ages than they are now. Whether this is so or not, it is evident that they could not have been much, if any, less. The enormous increase in the efficiency of labor, which even in agriculture is estimated at seven or eight hundred per cent., and in many branches of industry is almost incalculable, has only added to rent. The rent of agricultural land in England is now, according to Professor Rogers, 120 times as great, measured in money, as it was 500 years ago, and 14 times as great, measured in wheat; while in the rent of building land, and mineral land, the advance has been enormously greater. According to the estimate of Professor Fawcett, the capitalized rental value of the land of England now amounts to £4,500,000,000, or $21,870,000,000—that is to say, a few thousand of the people of England hold a lien upon the labor of the rest, the capitalized value of which is more than twice as great as, at the average price of Southern negroes in 1860 would be the value of her whole population were they slaves.

In Belgium and Flanders, in France and Germany, the rent and selling price of agricultural land have doubled within the last thirty years.43 In short, increased power of production has everywhere added to the value of land; nowhere has it added to the value of labor; for though actual wages may in some places have somewhat risen, the rise is clearly attributable to other causes. In more places they have fallen—that is, where it has been possible for them to fall—for there is a minimum below288 which laborers cannot keep up their numbers. And, everywhere, wages, as a proportion of the produce, have decreased.

How the Black Death brought about the great rise of wages in England in the Fourteenth Century is clearly discernible, in the efforts of the land holders to regulate wages by statute. That that awful reduction in population, instead of increasing, really reduced the effective power of labor, there can be no doubt; but the lessening of competition for land still more greatly reduced rent, and wages advanced so largely that force and penal laws were called in to keep them down. The reverse effect followed the monopolization of land that went on in England during the reign of Henry VIII., in the inclosure of commons and the division of the church lands between the panders and parasites who were thus enabled to found noble families. The result was the same as that to which a speculative increase in land values tends. According to Malthus (who, in his “Principles of Political Economy,” mentions the fact without connecting it with land tenures), in the reign of Henry VII., half a bushel of wheat would purchase but little more than a day’s common labor, but in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, half a bushel of wheat would purchase three days’ common labor. I can hardly believe that the reduction in wages could have been so great as this comparison would indicate; but that there was a reduction in common wages, and great distress among the laboring classes, is evident from the complaints of “sturdy vagrants” and the statutes made to suppress them. The rapid monopolization of the land, the carrying of the speculative rent line beyond the normal rent line, produced tramps and paupers, just as like effects from like causes have lately been evident in the United States.

“Land which went heretofore for twenty or forty pounds a year,” said Hugh Latimer,289 “now is let for fifty or a hundred. My father was a yeoman, and had no lands of his own; only he had a farm at a rent of three or four pounds by the year at the uttermost, and thereupon he tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had walk for a hundred sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine; he was able and did find the King a harness with himself and his horse when he came to the place that he should receive the King’s wages. I can remember that I buckled his harness when he went to Blackheath Field. He kept me to school; he married my sisters with five pound apiece, so that he brought them up in godliness and fear of God. He kept hospitality for his neighbors and some alms he gave to the poor. And all this he did of the same farm, where he that now hath it payeth sixteen pounds rent or more by year, and is not able to do anything for his Prince, for himself, nor for his children, nor to give a cup of drink to the poor.”

“In this way,” said Sir Thomas More, referring to the ejectment of small farmers which characterized this advance of rent, “it comes to pass that these poor wretches, men, women, husbands, orphans, widows, parents with little children, householders greater in number than in wealth, all of these emigrate from their native fields, without knowing where to go.”

And so from the stuff of the Latimers and Mores—from the sturdy spirit that amid the flames of the Oxford stake cried, “Play the man, Master Ridley!” and the mingled strength and sweetness that neither prosperity could taint nor the ax of the executioner abash—were evolved thieves and vagrants, the mass of criminality and pauperism that still blights the innermost petals and preys a gnawing worm at the root of England’s rose.

But it were as well to cite historical illustrations of the attraction of gravitation. The principle is as universal and as obvious. That rent must reduce wages, is as clear as that the greater the subtractor the less the290 remainder. That rent does reduce wages, any one, wherever situated, can see by merely looking around him.

There is no mystery as to the cause which so suddenly and so largely raised wages in California in 1849, and in Australia in 1852. It was the discovery of the placer mines in unappropriated land to which labor was free that raised the wages of cooks in San Francisco restaurants to $500 a month, and left ships to rot in the harbor without officers or crew until their owners would consent to pay rates that in any other part of the globe seemed fabulous. Had these mines been on appropriated land, or had they been immediately monopolized so that rent could have arisen, it would have been land values that would have leaped upward, not wages. The Comstock lode has been richer than the placers, but the Comstock lode was readily monopolized, and it is only by virtue of the strong organization of the Miners’ Association and the fears of the damage which it might do, that enables men to get four dollars a day for parboiling themselves two thousand feet underground, where the air that they breathe must be pumped down to them. The wealth of the Comstock lode has added to rent. The selling price of these mines runs up into hundreds of millions, and it has produced individual fortunes whose monthly returns can be estimated only in hundreds of thousands, if not in millions. Nor is there any mystery about the cause which has operated to reduce wages in California from the maximum of the early days to very nearly a level with wages in the Eastern States, and that is still operating to reduce them. The productiveness of labor has not decreased, on the contrary it has increased, as I have before shown; but, out of what it produces labor has now to pay rent. As the placer deposits were exhausted, labor had to resort to the deeper mines and to agricultural land, but monopolization of these being permitted,291 men now walk the streets of San Francisco ready to go to work for almost anything—for natural opportunities are now no longer free to labor.

The truth is self-evident. Put to any one capable of consecutive thought this question:

“Suppose there should arise from the English Channel or the German Ocean a No-man’s land on which common labor to an unlimited amount should be able to make ten shillings a day and which should remain unappropriated and of free access, like the commons which once comprised so large a part of English soil. What would be the effect upon wages in England?”

He would at once tell you that common wages throughout England must soon increase to ten shillings a day.

And in response to another question, “What would be the effect on rents?” he would at a moment’s reflection say that rents must necessarily fall; and if he thought out the next step he would tell you that all this would happen without any very large part of English labor being diverted to the new natural opportunities, or the forms and direction of industry being much changed; only that kind of production being abandoned which now yields to labor and to landlord together less than labor could secure on the new opportunities. The great rise in wages would be at the expense of rent.

Take now the same man or another—some hard-headed business man, who has no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him: “Here is a little village; in ten years it will be a great city—in ten years the railroad will have taken the place of the stage coach, the electric light of the candle; it will abound with all the machinery and improvements that so enormously multiply the effective power of labor. Will, in ten years, interest be any higher?”

He will tell you,292 “No!”

“Will the wages of common labor be any higher; will it be easier for a man who has nothing but his labor to make an independent living?”

He will tell you, “No; the wages of common labor will not be any higher; on the contrary, all the chances are that they will be lower; it will not be easier for the mere laborer to make an independent living; the chances are that it will be harder.”

“What, then, will be higher?”

“Rent; the value of land. Go, get yourself a piece of ground, and hold possession.”

And if, under such circumstances, you take his advice, you need do nothing more. You may sit down and smoke your pipe; you may lie around like the lazzaroni of Naples or the leperos of Mexico; you may go up in a balloon, or down a hole in the ground; and without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota to the wealth of the community, in ten years you will be rich! In the new city you may have a luxurious mansion; but among its public buildings will be an almshouse.

In all our long investigation we have been advancing to this simple truth: That as land is necessary to the exertion of labor in the production of wealth, to command the land which is necessary to labor, is to command all the fruits of labor save enough to enable labor to exist. We have been advancing as through an enemy’s country, in which every step must be secured, every position fortified, and every by-path explored; for this simple truth, in its application to social and political problems, is hid from the great masses of men partly by its very simplicity, and in greater part by widespread fallacies and erroneous habits of thought which lead them to look in every direction but the right one for an explanation of the evils which oppress and threaten the civilized world. And back of these elaborate fallacies and misleading theories is an active, energetic power, a power293 that in every country, be its political forms what they may, writes laws and molds thought—the power of a vast and dominant pecuniary interest.

But so simple and so clear is this truth, that to see it fully once is always to recognize it. There are pictures which, though looked at again and again, present only a confused labyrinth of lines or scroll work—a landscape, trees, or something of the kind—until once the attention is called to the fact that these things make up a face or a figure. This relation once recognized, is always afterward clear. It is so in this case. In the light of this truth all social facts group themselves in an orderly relation, and the most diverse phenomena are seen to spring from one great principle. It is not in the relations of capital and labor; it is not in the pressure of population against subsistence, that an explanation of the unequaled development of our civilization is to be found. The great cause of inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land. The ownership of land is the great fundamental fact which ultimately determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral condition of a people. And it must be so. For land is the habitation of man, the storehouse upon which he must draw for all his needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for the supply of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be taken, the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized, without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from it we live, to it we return again—children of the soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all that belongs to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit. Material progress cannot rid us of our dependence upon land; it can but add to the power of producing wealth from land; and hence, when land is monopolized, it might go on to infinity without294 increasing wages or improving the condition of those who have but their labor. It can but add to the value of land and the power which its possession gives. Everywhere, in all times, among all peoples, the possession of land is the base of aristocracy, the foundation of great fortunes, the source of power. As said the Brahmins, ages ago—

“To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it. White parasols and elephants mad with pride are the flowers of a grant of land.”
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:34 am


A new and fair division of the goods and rights of this world should be the main object of those who conduct human affairs.

—De Tocqueville.

When the object is to raise the permanent condition of a people, small means do not merely produce small effects; they produce no effect at all.

—John Stuart Mill.


In tracing to its source the cause of increasing poverty amid advancing wealth, we have discovered the remedy; but before passing to that branch of our subject it will be well to review the tendencies or remedies which are currently relied on or advocated. The remedy to which our conclusions point is at once radical and simple—so radical that, on the one side, it will not be fairly considered so long as any faith remains in the efficacy of less caustic measures; so simple that, on the other side, its real efficacy and comprehensiveness are likely to be overlooked, until the effect of more elaborate measures is estimated.

The tendencies and measures which current literature and discussions show to be more or less relied on or advocated as calculated to relieve poverty and distress among the masses may be divided into six classes. I do not mean that there are so many distinct parties or schools of thought, but merely that, for the purpose of our inquiry, prevailing opinions and proposed measures may be so grouped for review. Remedies which for the sake of greater convenience and clearness we shall consider separately are often combined in thought.

There are many persons who still retain a comfortable belief that material progress will ultimately extirpate poverty, and there are many who look to prudential restraint upon the increase of population as the most efficacious means, but the fallacy of these views has al298ready been sufficiently shown. Let us now consider what may be hoped for:

I. From greater economy in government.

II. From the better education of the working classes and improved habits of industry and thrift.

III. From combinations of workmen for the advance of wages.

IV. From the co-operation of labor and capital.

V. From governmental direction and interference.

VI. From a more general distribution of land.

Under these six heads I think we may in essential form review all hopes and propositions for the relief of social distress short of the simple but far-reaching measure which I shall propose.

I.—From Greater Economy in Government.

Until a very few years ago it was an article of faith with Americans—a belief shared by European liberals—that the poverty of the down-trodden masses of the Old World was due to aristocratic and monarchical institutions. This belief has rapidly passed away with the appearance in the United States, under republican institutions, of social distress of the same kind, if not of the same intensity, as that prevailing in Europe. But social distress is still largely attributed to the immense burdens which existing governments impose—the great debts, the military and naval establishments, the extravagance which is characteristic as well of republican as of monarchical rulers, and especially characteristic of the administration of great cities. To these must be added, in the United States, the robbery involved in the protective tariff, which for every twenty-five cents it puts in the treasury takes a dollar and it may be four or five out of the pocket of the consumer. Now, there seems to be an evident connection between the immense sums thus taken from the people and the privations of the lower299 classes, and it is upon a superficial view natural to suppose that a reduction in the enormous burdens thus uselessly imposed would make it easier for the poorest to get a living. But a consideration of the matter in the light of the economic principles heretofore traced out will show that this would not be the effect. A reduction in the amount taken from the aggregate produce of a community by taxation would be simply equivalent to an increase in the power of net production. It would in effect add to the productive power of labor just as do the increasing density of population and improvement in the arts. And as the advantage in the one case goes, and must go, to the owners of land, in increased rent, so would the advantage in the other.

From the produce of the labor and capital of England are now supported the burden of an immense debt, an Established Church, an expensive royal family, a large number of sinecurists, a great army and great navy. Suppose the debt repudiated, the Church disestablished, the royal family set adrift to make a living for themselves, the sinecurists cut off, the army disbanded, the officers and men of the navy discharged and the ships sold. An enormous reduction in taxation would thus become possible. There would be a great addition to the net produce which remains to be distributed among the parties to production. But it would be only such an addition as improvement in the arts has been for a long time constantly making, and not so great an addition as steam and machinery have made within the last twenty or thirty years. And as these additions have not alleviated pauperism, but have only increased rent, so would this. English land owners would reap the whole benefit. I will not dispute that if all these things could be done suddenly, and without the destruction and expense involved in a revolution, there might be a temporary improvement in the condition of the lowest class; but such300 a sudden and peaceable reform is manifestly impossible. And if it were, any temporary improvement would, by the process we now see going on in the United States, be ultimately swallowed up by increased land values.

And, so, in the United States, if we were to reduce public expenditures to the lowest possible point, and meet them by revenue taxation, the benefit could certainly not be greater than that which railroads have brought. There would be more wealth left in the hands of the people as a whole, just as the railroads have put more wealth in the hands of the people as a whole, but the same inexorable laws would operate as to its distribution. The condition of those who live by their labor would not ultimately be improved.

A dim consciousness of this pervades—or, rather, is beginning to pervade—the masses, and constitutes one of the grave political difficulties that are closing in around the American republic. Those who have nothing but their labor, and especially the proletarians of the cities—a growing class—care little about the prodigality of government, and in many cases are disposed to look upon it as a good thing—“furnishing employment,” or “putting money in circulation.” Tweed, who robbed New York as a guerrilla chief might levy upon a captured town (and who was but a type of the new banditti who are grasping the government of all our cities), was undoubtedly popular with a majority of the voters, though his thieving was notorious, and his spoils were blazoned in big diamonds and lavish personal expenditure. After his indictment, he was triumphantly elected to the Senate; and, even when a recaptured fugitive, was frequently cheered on his way from court to prison. He had robbed the public treasury of many millions, but the proletarians felt that he had not robbed them. And the verdict of political economy is the same as theirs.

Let me be clearly understood. I do not say that gov301ernmental economy is not desirable; but simply that reduction in the expenses of government can have no direct effect in extirpating poverty and increasing wages, so long as land is monopolized.

Although this is true, yet even with sole reference to the interests of the lowest class, no effort should be spared to keep down useless expenditures. The more complex and extravagant government becomes, the more it gets to be a power distinct from and independent of the people, and the more difficult does it become to bring questions of real public policy to a popular decision. Look at our elections in the United States—upon what do they turn? The most momentous problems are pressing upon us, yet so great is the amount of money in politics, so large are the personal interests involved, that the most important questions of government are but little considered. The average American voter has prejudices, party feelings, general notions of a certain kind, but he gives to the fundamental questions of government not much more thought than a street-car horse does to the profits of the line. Were this not the case, so many hoary abuses could not have survived and so many new ones been added. Anything that tends to make government simple and inexpensive tends to put it under control of the people and to bring questions of real importance to the front. But no reduction in the expenses of government can of itself cure or mitigate the evils that arise from a constant tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth.

II.—From the Diffusion of Education and Improved Habits of Industry and Thrift.

There is, and always has been, a widespread belief among the more comfortable classes that the poverty and suffering of the masses are due to their lack of industry, frugality, and intelligence. This belief, which at once302 soothes the sense of responsibility and flatters by its suggestion of superiority, is probably even more prevalent in countries like the United States, where all men are politically equal, and where, owing to the newness of society, the differentiation into classes has been of individuals rather than of families, than it is in older countries, where the lines of separation have been longer, and are more sharply, drawn. It is but natural for those who can trace their own better circumstances to the superior industry and frugality that gave them a start, and the superior intelligence that enabled them to take advantage of every opportunity,44 to imagine that those who remain poor do so simply from lack of these qualities.

But whoever has grasped the laws of the distribution of wealth, as in previous chapters they have been traced out, will see the mistake in this notion. The fallacy is similar to that which would be involved in the assertion that every one of a number of competitors might win a race. That any one might is true; that every one might is impossible.

For, as soon as land acquires a value, wages, as we have seen, do not depend upon the real earnings or product of labor, but upon what is left to labor after rent is taken out; and when land is all monopolized, as it is everywhere except in the newest communities, rent must drive wages down to the point at which the poorest paid class will be just able to live and reproduce, and thus wages are forced to a minimum fixed by what is called the standard of comfort—that is, the amount of necessaries and comforts which habit leads the working classes to demand as the lowest on which they will consent to maintain their numbers. This being the case, industry,303 skill, frugality, and intelligence can avail the individual only in so far as they are superior to the general level—just as in a race speed can avail the runner only in so far as it exceeds that of his competitors. If one man work harder, or with superior skill or intelligence than ordinary, he will get ahead; but if the average of industry, skill, or intelligence be brought up to the higher point, the increased intensity of application will secure but the old rate of wages, and he who would get ahead must work harder still.

One individual may save money from his wages by living as Dr. Franklin did when, during his apprenticeship and early journeyman days, he concluded to practice vegetarianism; and many poor families might be made more comfortable by being taught to prepare the cheap dishes to which Franklin tried to limit the appetite of his employer Keimer, as a condition to his acceptance of the position of confuter of opponents to the new religion of which Keimer wished to become the prophet,45 but if the working classes generally came to live in that way, wages would ultimately fall in proportion, and whoever wished to get ahead by the practice of economy, or to mitigate poverty by teaching it, would be compelled to devise some still cheaper mode of keeping soul and body together. If, under existing conditions, American mechanics would come down to the Chinese standard of living, they would ultimately have to come down to the Chinese standard of wages; or if English laborers would content themselves with the rice diet and scanty clothing of the Bengalee, labor would soon be as ill paid in England as in Bengal. The introduction of the potato into Ireland was expected to improve the condition of the poorer classes, by increasing the difference between the304 wages they received and the cost of their living. The consequences that did ensue were a rise of rent and a lowering of wages, and, with the potato blight, the ravages of famine among a population that had already reduced its standard of comfort so low that the next step was starvation.

And, so, if one individual work more hours than the average, he will increase his wages; but the wages of all cannot be increased in this way. It is notorious that in occupations where working hours are long, wages are not higher than where working hours are shorter; generally the reverse, for the longer the working day, the more helpless does the laborer become—the less time has he to look around him and develop other powers than those called forth by his work; the less becomes his ability to change his occupation or to take advantage of circumstances. And, so, the individual workman who gets his wife and children to assist him may thus increase his income; but in occupations where it has become habitual for the wife and children of the laborer to supplement his work, it is notorious that the wages earned by the whole family do not on the average exceed those of the head of the family in occupations where it is usual for him only to work. Swiss family labor in watch making competes in cheapness with American machinery. The Bohemian cigar makers of New York, who work, men, women, and children, in their tenement-house rooms, have reduced the prices of cigar making to less than the Chinese in San Francisco were getting.

These general facts are well known. They are fully recognized in standard politico-economic works, where, however, they are explained upon the Malthusian theory of the tendency of population to multiply up to the limit of subsistence. The true explanation, as I have sufficiently shown, is in the tendency of rent to reduce wages.

As to the effects of education, it may be worth while to say a few words specially, for there is a prevailing disposition to attribute to it something like a magical influence. Now, education is only education in so far as it enables a man more effectively to use his natural powers, and this is something that what we call education in very great part fails to do. I remember a little girl, pretty well along in her school geography and astronomy, who was much astonished to find that the ground in her mother’s back yard was really the surface of the earth, and, if you talk with them, you will find that a good deal of the knowledge of many college graduates is much like that of the little girl. They seldom think any better, and sometimes not so well as men who have never been to college.

A gentleman who had spent many years in Australia, and knew intimately the habits of the aborigines (Rev. Dr. Bleesdale), after giving some instances of their wonderful skill in the use of their weapons, in foretelling changes in the wind and weather and in trapping the shyest birds, once said to me: “I think it a great mistake to look on these black fellows as ignorant. Their knowledge is different from ours, but in it they are generally better educated. As soon as they begin to toddle, they are taught to play with little boomerangs and other weapons, to observe and to judge, and, when they are old enough to take care of themselves, they are fully able to do so—are, in fact, in reference to the nature of their knowledge, what I should call well-educated gentlemen; which is more than I can say for many of our young fellows who have had what we call the best advantages, but who enter upon manhood unable to do anything either for themselves or for others.”

Be this as it may, it is evident that intelligence, which is or should be the aim of education, until it induces and enables the masses to discover and remove the cause of306 the unequal distribution of wealth, can operate upon wages only by increasing the effective power of labor. It has the same effect as increased skill or industry. And it can raise the wages of the individual only in so far as it renders him superior to others. When to read and write were rare accomplishments, a clerk commanded high respect and large wages, but now the ability to read and write has become so nearly universal as to give no advantage. Among the Chinese the ability to read and write seems absolutely universal, but wages in China touch the lowest possible point. The diffusion of intelligence, except as it may make men discontented with a state of things which condemns producers to a life of toil while non-producers loll in luxury, cannot tend to raise wages generally, or in any way improve the condition of the lowest class—the “mud-sills” of society, as a Southern Senator once called them—who must rest on the soil, no matter how high the superstructure may be carried. No increase of the effective power of labor can increase general wages, so long as rent swallows up all the gain. This is not merely a deduction from principles. It is the fact, proved by experience. The growth of knowledge and the progress of invention have multiplied the effective power of labor over and over again without increasing wages. In England there are over a million paupers. In the United States almshouses are increasing and wages are decreasing.

It is true that greater industry and skill, greater prudence, and a higher intelligence, are, as a rule, found associated with a better material condition of the working classes; but that this is effect, not cause, is shown by the relation of the facts. Wherever the material condition of the laboring classes has been improved, improvement in their personal qualities has followed, and wherever their material condition has been depressed, deterioration in these qualities has been the result; but nowhere307 can improvement in material condition be shown as the result of the increase of industry, skill, prudence, or intelligence in a class condemned to toil for a bare living, though these qualities when once attained (or, rather, their concomitant—the improvement in the standard of comfort) offer a strong, and, in many cases, a sufficient, resistance to the lowering of material condition.

The fact is, that the qualities that raise man above the animal are superimposed on those which he shares with the animal, and that it is only as he is relieved from the wants of his animal nature that his intellectual and moral nature can grow. Compel a man to drudgery for the necessities of animal existence, and he will lose the incentive to industry—the progenitor of skill—and will do only what he is forced to do. Make his condition such that it cannot be much worse, while there is little hope that anything he can do will make it much better, and he will cease to look beyond the day. Deny him leisure—and leisure does not mean the want of employment, but the absence of the need which forces to uncongenial employment—and you cannot, even by running the child through a common school and supplying the man with a newspaper, make him intelligent.

It is true that improvement in the material condition of a people or class may not show immediately in mental and moral improvement. Increased wages may at first be taken out in idleness and dissipation. But they will ultimately bring increased industry, skill, intelligence, and thrift. Comparisons between different countries; between different classes in the same country; between the same people at different periods; and between the same people when their conditions are changed by emigration, show, as an invariable result, that the personal qualities of which we are speaking appear as material conditions are improved, and disappear as material conditions are depressed. Poverty is the Slough of Despond308 which Bunyan saw in his dream, and into which good books may be tossed forever without result. To make people industrious, prudent, skillful, and intelligent, they must be relieved from want. If you would have the slave show the virtues of the freeman, you must first make him free.

III.—From Combinations of Workmen.

It is evident from the laws of distribution, as previously traced, that combinations of workmen can advance wages, and this not at the expense of other workmen, as is sometimes said, nor yet at the expense of capital, as is generally believed; but, ultimately, at the expense of rent. That no general advance in wages can be secured by combination; that any advance in particular wages thus secured must reduce other wages or the profits of capital, or both—are ideas that spring from the erroneous notion that wages are drawn from capital. The fallacy of these ideas is demonstrated, not alone by the laws of distribution as we have worked them out, but by experience, so far as it has gone. The advance of wages in particular trades by combinations of workmen, of which there are many examples, has nowhere shown any effect in lowering wages in other trades, or in reducing the rate of profits. Except as it may affect his fixed capital or current engagements, a diminution of wages can benefit, and an increase of wages injure an employer only in so far as it gives him an advantage or puts him at a disadvantage as compared with other employers. The employer who first succeeds in reducing the wages of his hands, or is first compelled to pay an advance, gains an advantage, or is put at a disadvantage in regard to his competitors, which ceases when the movement includes them also. So far, however, as the change in wages affects his contracts or stock on hand, by changing the relative cost of production, it may be to him a real309 gain or loss, though this gain or loss, being purely relative, disappears when the whole community is considered. And, if the change in wages works a change in relative demand, it may render capital fixed in machinery, buildings, or otherwise, more or less profitable. But, in this, a new equilibrium is soon reached; for, especially in a progressive country, fixed capital is only somewhat less mobile than circulating capital. If there is too little in a certain form, the tendency of capital to assume that form soon brings it up to the required amount; if there is too much, the cessation of increment soon restores the level.

But, while a change in the rate of wages in any particular occupation may induce a change in the relative demand for labor, it can produce no change in the aggregate demand. For instance, let us suppose that a combination of the workmen engaged in any particular manufacture raise wages in one country, while a combination of employers reduce wages in the same manufacture in another country. If the change be great enough, the demand, or part of the demand, in the first country will now be supplied by importation of such manufactures from the second. But, evidently, this increase in importations of a particular kind must necessitate either a corresponding decrease in importations of other kinds, or a corresponding increase in exportations. For, it is only with the produce of its labor and capital that one country can demand, or can obtain, in exchange, the produce of the labor and capital of another. The idea that the lowering of wages can increase, or the increase of wages can diminish, the trade of a country, is as baseless as the idea that the prosperity of a country can be increased by taxes on imports, or diminished by the removal of restrictions on trade. If all wages in any particular country were to be doubled, that country would continue to export and import the same things,310 and in the same proportions; for exchange is determined not by absolute, but by relative, cost of production. But, if wages in some branches of production were doubled, and in others not increased, or not increased so much, there would be a change in the proportion of the various things imported, but no change in the proportion between exports and imports.

While most of the objections made to the combination of workmen for the advance of wages are thus baseless, while the success of such combinations cannot reduce other wages, or decrease the profits of capital, or injuriously affect national prosperity, yet so great are the difficulties in the way of the effective combinations of laborers, that the good that can be accomplished by them is extremely limited, while there are inherent disadvantages in the process.

To raise wages in a particular occupation or occupations, which is all that any combination of workmen yet made has been equal to attempting, is manifestly a task the difficulty of which progressively increases. For the higher are wages of any particular kind raised above their normal level with other wages, the stronger are the tendencies to bring them back. Thus, if a printers’ union, by a successful or threatened strike, raise the wages of typesetting ten per cent. above the normal rate as compared with other wages, relative demand and supply are at once affected. On the one hand, there is a tendency to a diminution of the amount of typesetting called for; and, on the other, the higher rate of wages tends to increase the number of compositors in ways the strongest combination cannot altogether prevent. If the increase be twenty per cent., these tendencies are much stronger; if it is fifty per cent., they become stronger still, and so on. So that practically—even in countries like England, where the lines between different trades are much more distinct and difficult to pass than in countries like the311 United States—that which trades’ unions, even when supporting each other, can do in the way of raising wages is comparatively little, and this little, moreover, is confined to their own sphere, and does not affect the lower stratum of unorganized laborers, whose condition most needs alleviation and ultimately determines that of all above them. The only way by which wages could be raised to any extent and with any permanence by this method would be by a general combination, such as was aimed at by the Internationals, which should include laborers of all kinds. But such a combination may be set down as practically impossible, for the difficulties of combination, great enough in the most highly paid and smallest trades, become greater and greater as we descend in the industrial scale.

Nor, in the struggle of endurance, which is the only method which combinations not to work for less than a certain minimum have of effecting the increase of wages, must it be forgotten who are the real parties pitted against each other. It is not labor and capital. It is laborers on the one side and the owners of land on the other. If the contest were between labor and capital, it would be on much more equal terms. For the power of capital to stand out is only some little greater than that of labor. Capital not only ceases to earn anything when not used, but it goes to waste—for in nearly all its forms it can be maintained only by constant reproduction. But land will not starve like laborers or go to waste like capital—its owners can wait. They may be inconvenienced, it is true, but what is inconvenience to them, is destruction to capital and starvation to labor.

The agricultural laborers in certain parts of England are now endeavoring to combine for the purpose of securing an increase in their miserably low wages. If it was capital that was receiving the enormous difference between the real produce of their labor and the pittance312 they get out of it, they would have but to make an effective combination to secure success; for the farmers, who are their direct employers, can afford to go without labor but little, if any, better than the laborers can afford to go without wages. But the farmers cannot yield much without a reduction of rent; and thus it is between the land owners and the laborers that the real struggle must come. Suppose the combination to be so thorough as to include all agricultural laborers, and to prevent from doing so all who might be tempted to take their places. The laborers refuse to work except at a considerable advance of wages; the farmers can give it only by securing a considerable reduction of rent, and have no way to back their demands except as the laborers back theirs, by refusing to go on with production. If cultivation thus comes to a dead-lock, the land owners would lose only their rent, while the land improved by lying fallow. But the laborers would starve. And if English laborers of all kinds were united in one grand league for a general increase of wages, the real contest would be the same, and under the same conditions. For wages could not be increased except to the decrease of rent; and in a general dead-lock, land owners could live, while laborers of all sorts must starve or emigrate. The owners of the land of England are by virtue of their ownership the masters of England. So true is it that “to whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it.” The white parasols and the elephants mad with pride passed with the grant of English land, and the people at large can never regain their power until that grant is resumed. What is true of England, is universally true.

It may be said that such a dead-lock in production could never occur. This is true; but true only because no such thorough combination of labor as might produce it is possible. But the fixed and definite nature of land313 enables land owners to combine much more easily and efficiently than either laborers or capitalists. How easy and efficient their combination is, there are many historical examples. And the absolute necessity for the use of land, and the certainty in all progressive countries that it must increase in value, produce among land owners, without any formal combination, all the effects that could be produced by the most rigorous combination among laborers or capitalists. Deprive a laborer of opportunity of employment, and he will soon be anxious to get work on any terms, but when the receding wave of speculation leaves nominal land values clearly above real values, whoever has lived in a growing country knows with what tenacity land owners hold on.

And, besides these practical difficulties in the plan of forcing by endurance an increase of wages, there are in such methods inherent disadvantages which workingmen should not blink. I speak without prejudice, for I am still an honorary member of the union which, while working at my trade, I always loyally supported. But, see: The methods by which a trade union can alone act are necessarily destructive; its organization is necessarily tyrannical. A strike, which is the only recourse by which a trade union can enforce its demands, is a destructive contest—just such a contest as that to which an eccentric, called “The Money King,” once, in the early days of San Francisco, challenged a man who had taunted him with meanness, that they should go down to the wharf and alternately toss twenty-dollar pieces into the bay until one gave in. The struggle of endurance involved in a strike is, really, what it has often been compared to—a war; and, like all war, it lessens wealth. And the organization for it must, like the organization for war, be tyrannical. As even the man who would fight for freedom, must, when he enters an army, give up his personal freedom and become a314 mere part in a great machine, so must it be with workmen who organize for a strike. These combinations are, therefore, necessarily destructive of the very things which workmen seek to gain through them—wealth and freedom.

There is an ancient Hindoo mode of compelling the payment of a just debt, traces of something akin to which Sir Henry Maine has found in the laws of the Irish Brehons. It is called, sitting dharna—the creditor seeking enforcement of his debt by sitting down at the door of the debtor, and refusing to eat or drink until he is paid.

Like this is the method of labor combinations. In their strikes, trades’ unions sit dharna. But, unlike the Hindoo, they have not the power of superstition to back them.

IV.—From Co-operation.

It is now, and has been for some time, the fashion to preach co-operation as the sovereign remedy for the grievances of the working classes. But, unfortunately for the efficacy of co-operation as a remedy for social evils, these evils, as we have seen, do not arise from any conflict between labor and capital; and if co-operation were universal, it could not raise wages or relieve poverty. This is readily seen.

Co-operation is of two kinds—co-operation in supply and co-operation in production. Now, co-operation in supply, let it go as far as it may in excluding middlemen, only reduces the cost of exchanges. It is simply a device to save labor and eliminate risk, and its effect upon distribution can be only that of the improvements and inventions which have in modern times so wonderfully cheapened and facilitated exchanges—viz., to increase rent. And co-operation in production is simply a reversion to that form of wages which still prevails in the315 whaling service, and is there termed a “lay.” It is the substitution of proportionate wages for fixed wages—a substitution of which there are occasional instances in almost all employments; or, if the management is left to the workmen, and the capitalist but takes his proportion of the net produce, it is simply the system that has prevailed to a large extent in European agriculture since the days of the Roman Empire—the colonial or metayer system. All that is claimed for co-operation in production is, that it makes the workman more active and industrious—in other words, that it increases the efficiency of labor. Thus its effect is in the same direction as the steam engine, the cotton gin, the reaping machine—in short, all the things in which material progress consists, and it can produce only the same result—viz., the increase of rent.

It is a striking proof of how first principles are ignored in dealing with social problems, that in current economic and semi-economic literature so much importance is attached to co-operation as a means for increasing wages and relieving poverty. That it can have no such general tendency is apparent.

Waiving all the difficulties that under present conditions beset co-operation either of supply or of production, and supposing it so extended as to supplant present methods—that co-operative stores made the connection between producer and consumer with the minimum of expense, and co-operative workshops, factories, farms, and mines, abolished the employing capitalist who pays fixed wages, and greatly increased the efficiency of labor—what then? Why, simply that it would become possible to produce the same amount of wealth with less labor, and consequently that the owners of land, the source of all wealth, could command a greater amount of wealth for the use of their land. This is not a matter of mere theory; it is proved by experience and by existing facts. Improved methods and improved machinery have the same effect that co-operation aims at—of reducing the cost of bringing commodities to the consumer and increasing the efficiency of labor, and it is in these respects that the older countries have the advantage of new settlements. But, as experience has amply shown, improvements in the methods and machinery of production and exchange have no tendency to improve the condition of the lowest class, and wages are lower and poverty deeper where exchange goes on at the minimum of cost and production has the benefit of the best machinery. The advantage but adds to rent.

But suppose co-operation between producers and land owners? That would simply amount to the payment of rent in kind—the same system under which much land is rented in California and the Southern States where the land owner gets a share of the crop. Save as a matter of computation it in no wise differs from the system which prevails in England of a fixed money rent. Call it co-operation, if you choose, the terms of the co-operation would still be fixed by the laws which determine rent, and wherever land was monopolized, increase in productive power would simply give the owners of the land the power to demand a larger share.

That co-operation is by so many believed to be the solution of the “labor question” arises from the fact that, where it has been tried, it has in many instances improved perceptibly the condition of those immediately engaged in it. But this is due simply to the fact that these cases are isolated. Just as industry, economy, or skill may improve the condition of the workmen who possess them in superior degree, but cease to have this effect when improvement in these respects becomes general, so a special advantage in procuring supplies, or a special efficiency given to some labor, may secure advantages which would be lost as soon as these improvements became so general as to affect the general relations of distribution. And the truth is, that, save possibly in educational effects, co-operation can produce no general results that competition will not produce. Just as the cheap-for-cash stores have a similar effect upon prices as the co-operative supply associations, so does competition in production lead to a similar adjustment of forces and division of proceeds as would co-operative production. That increasing productive power does not add to the reward of labor, is not because of competition, but because competition is one-sided. Land, without which there can be no production, is monopolized, and the competition of producers for its use forces wages to a minimum and gives all the advantage of increasing productive power to land owners, in higher rents and increased land values. Destroy this monopoly, and competition could exist only to accomplish the end which co-operation aims at—to give to each what he fairly earns. Destroy this monopoly, and industry must become the co-operation of equals.

V.—From Governmental Direction and Interference.

The limits within which I wish to keep this book will not permit an examination in detail of the methods in which it is proposed to mitigate or extirpate poverty by governmental regulation of industry and accumulation, and which in their most thorough-going form are called socialistic. Nor is it necessary, for the same defects attach to them all. These are the substitution of governmental direction for the play of individual action, and the attempt to secure by restriction what can better be secured by freedom. As to the truths that are involved in socialistic ideas I shall have something to say hereafter; but it is evident that whatever savors of regulation and restriction is in itself bad, and should not be resorted to if any other mode of accomplishing the same end presents itself. For instance, to take one of the simplest and mildest of the class of measures I refer to—a graduated tax on incomes. The object at which it aims, the reduction or prevention of immense concentrations of wealth, is good; but this means involves the employment of a large number of officials clothed with inquisitorial powers; temptations to bribery, and perjury, and all other means of evasion, which beget a demoralization of opinion, and put a premium upon unscrupulousness and a tax upon conscience; and, finally, just in proportion as the tax accomplishes its effect, a lessening in the incentive to the accumulation of wealth, which is one of the strong forces of industrial progress. While, if the elaborate schemes for regulating everything and finding a place for everybody could be carried out, we should have a state of society resembling that of ancient Peru, or that which, to their eternal honor, the Jesuits instituted and so long maintained in Paraguay.

I will not say that such a state as this is not a better social state than that to which we now seem to be tending, for in ancient Peru, though production went on under the greatest disadvantages, from the want of iron and the domestic animals, yet there was no such thing as want, and the people went to their work with songs. But this it is unnecessary to discuss. Socialism in anything approaching such a form, modern society cannot successfully attempt. The only force that has ever proved competent for it—a strong and definite religious faith—is wanting and is daily growing less. We have passed out of the socialism of the tribal state, and cannot re-enter it again except by a retrogression that would involve anarchy and perhaps barbarism. Our governments, as is already plainly evident, would break down in the attempt. Instead of an intelligent award of duties and earnings, we should have a Roman distribu319tion of Sicilian corn, and the demagogue would soon become the Imperator.

The ideal of socialism is grand and noble; and it is, I am convinced, possible of realization; but such a state of society cannot be manufactured—it must grow. Society is an organism, not a machine. It can live only by the individual life of its parts. And in the free and natural development of all the parts will be secured the harmony of the whole. All that is necessary to social regeneration is included in the motto of those Russian patriots sometimes called Nihilists—“Land and Liberty!”

VI.—From a More General Distribution of Land.

There is a rapidly growing feeling that the tenure of land is in some manner connected with the social distress which manifests itself in the most progressive countries; but this feeling as yet mostly shows itself in propositions which look to the more general division of landed property—in England, free trade in land, tenant right, or the equal partition of landed estates among heirs; in the United States, restrictions upon the size of individual holdings. It has been also proposed in England that the state should buy out the landlords, and in the United States that grants of money should be made to enable the settlements of colonies upon public lands. The former proposition let us pass for the present; the latter, so far as its distinctive feature is concerned, falls into the category of the measures considered in the last section. It needs no argument to show to what abuses and demoralization grants of public money or credit would lead.

How what the English writers call “free trade in land”—the removal of duties and restrictions upon conveyances—could facilitate the division of ownership in agricultural land, I cannot see, though it might to some320 extent have that effect as regards town property. The removal of restrictions upon buying and selling would merely permit the ownership of land to assume more quickly the form to which it tends. Now, that the tendency in Great Britain is to concentration is shown by the fact that, in spite of the difficulties interposed by the cost of transfer, land ownership has been and is steadily concentrating there, and that this tendency is a general one is shown by the fact that the same process of concentration is observable in the United States. I say this unhesitatingly in regard to the United States, although statistical tables are sometimes quoted to show a different tendency. But how, in such a country as the United States, the ownership of land may be really concentrating, while census tables show rather a diminution in the average size of holdings, is readily seen. As land is brought into use, and, with the growth of population, passes from a lower to a higher or intenser use, the size of holdings tends to diminish. A small stock range would be a large farm, a small farm would be a large orchard, vineyard, nursery, or vegetable garden, and a patch of land which would be small even for these purposes would make a very large city property. Thus, the growth of population, which puts land to higher or intenser uses, tends naturally to reduce the size of holdings, by a process very marked in new countries; but with this may go on a tendency to the concentration of land ownership, which, though not revealed by tables which show the average size of holdings, is just as clearly seen. Average holdings of one acre in a city may show a much greater concentration of land ownership than average holdings of 640 acres in a newly settled township. I refer to this to show the fallacy in the deductions drawn from the tables which are frequently paraded in the United States to show that land monopoly is an evil that will cure itself. On the contrary, it is obvious that the321 proportion of land owners to the whole population is constantly decreasing.

And that there is in the United States, as there is in Great Britain, a strong tendency to the concentration of land ownership in agriculture is clearly seen. As, in England and Ireland, small farms are being thrown into larger ones, so in New England, according to the reports of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the size of farms increasing. This tendency is even more clearly noticeable in the newer States and Territories. Only a few years ago a farm of 320 acres would, under the system of agriculture prevailing in the northern parts of the Union, have anywhere been a large one, probably as much as one man could cultivate to advantage. In California now there are farms (not cattle ranges) of five, ten, twenty, forty and sixty thousand acres, while the model farm of Dakota embraces 100,000 acres. The reason is obvious. It is the application of machinery to agriculture and the general tendency to production on a large scale. The same tendency which substitutes the factory, with its army of operatives, for many independent hand-loom weavers, is beginning to exhibit itself in agriculture.

Now, the existence of this tendency shows two things: first, that any measures which merely permit or facilitate the greater subdivision of land would be inoperative; and, second, that any measures which would compel it would have a tendency to check production. If land in large bodies can be cultivated more cheaply than land in small bodies, to restrict ownership to small bodies will reduce the aggregate production of wealth, and, in so far as such restrictions are imposed and take effect, will they tend to diminish the general productiveness of labor and capital.

The effort, therefore, to secure a fairer division of wealth by such restrictions is liable to the drawback of322 lessening the amount to be divided. The device is like that of the monkey, who, dividing the cheese between the cats, equalized matters by taking a bite off the biggest piece.

But there is not merely this objection, which weighs against every proposition to restrict the ownership of land, with a force that increases with the efficiency of the proposed measure. There is the further and fatal objection that restriction will not secure the end which is alone worth aiming at—a fair division of the produce. It will not reduce rent, and therefore cannot increase wages. It may make the comfortable classes larger, but will not improve the condition of those in the lowest class.

If what is known as the Ulster tenant right were extended to the whole of Great Britain, it would be but to carve out of the estate of the landlord an estate for the tenant. The condition of the laborer would not be a whit improved. If landlords were prohibited from asking an increase of rent from their tenants and from ejecting a tenant so long as the fixed rent was paid, the body of the producers would gain nothing. Economic rent would still increase, and would still steadily lessen the proportion of the produce going to labor and capital. The only difference would be that the tenants of the first landlords, who would become landlords in their turn, would profit by the increase.

If by a restriction upon the amount of land any one individual might hold, by the regulation of devises and successions, or by cumulative taxation, the few thousand land holders of Great Britain should be increased by two or three million, these two or three million people would be gainers. But the rest of the population would gain nothing. They would have no more share in the advantages of land ownership than before. And if, what is manifestly impossible, a fair distribution of the land323 were made among the whole population, giving to each his equal share, and laws enacted which would interpose a barrier to the tendency to concentration by forbidding the holding by any one of more than the fixed amount, what would become of the increase of population?

Just what may be accomplished by the greater division of land may be seen in those districts of France and Belgium where minute division prevails. That such a division of land is on the whole much better, and that it gives a far more stable basis to the state than that which prevails in England, there can be no doubt. But that it does not make wages any higher or improve the condition of the class who have only their labor, is equally clear. These French and Belgian peasants practice a rigid economy unknown to any of the English-speaking peoples. And if such striking symptoms of the poverty and distress of the lowest class are not apparent as on the other side of the channel, it must, I think, be attributed, not only to this fact, but to another fact, which accounts for the continuance of the minute division of the land—that material progress has not been so rapid.

Neither has population increased with the same rapidity (on the contrary it has been nearly stationary), nor have improvements in the modes of production been so great. Nevertheless, M. de Laveleye, all of whose prepossessions are in favor of small holdings, and whose testimony will therefore carry more weight than that of English observers, who may be supposed to harbor a prejudice for the system of their own country, states in his paper on the Land Systems of Belgium and Holland, printed by the Cobden Club, that the condition of the laborer is worse under this system of the minute division of land than it is in England; while the tenant farmers—for tenancy largely prevails even where the morcellment is greatest—are rack-rented with a mercilessness unknown in England, and even in Ireland, and the324 franchise “so far from raising them in the social scale, is but a source of mortification and humiliation to them, for they are forced to vote according to the dictates of the landlord instead of following the dictates of their own inclination and convictions.”

But while the subdivision of land can thus do nothing to cure the evils of land monopoly, while it can have no effect in raising wages or in improving the condition of the lowest classes, its tendency is to prevent the adoption or even advocacy of more thorough-going measures, and to strengthen the existing unjust system by interesting a larger number in its maintenance. M. de Laveleye, in concluding the paper from which I have quoted, urges the greater division of land as the surest means of securing the great land owners of England from something far more radical. Although in the districts where land is so minutely divided, the condition of the laborer is, he states, the worst in Europe and the renting farmer is much more ground down by his landlord than the Irish tenant, yet “feelings hostile to social order,” M. de Laveleye goes on to say, “do not manifest themselves,” because—

“The tenant, although ground down by the constant rise of rents, lives among his equals, peasants like himself who have tenants whom they use just as the large land holder does his. His father, his brother, perhaps the man himself, possesses something like an acre of land, which he lets at as high a rent as he can get. In the public house peasant proprietors will boast of the high rents they get for their lands, just as they might boast of having sold their pigs or potatoes very dear. Letting at as high a rent as possible comes thus to seem to him to be quite a matter of course, and he never dreams of finding fault with either the land owners as a class or with property in land. His mind is not likely to dwell on the notion of a caste of domineering landlords, of “bloodthirsty tyrants,” fattening on the sweat of impoverished tenants and doing no work themselves; for those who drive the hardest bargains are not the great land owners but his own fellows. Thus, the distribution of a number of small properties among the peasantry forms a kind of rampart and safe325guard for the holders of large estates, and peasant property may without exaggeration be called the lightning conductor that averts from society dangers which might otherwise lead to violent catastrophes.

“The concentration of land in large estates among a small number of families is a sort of provocation of leveling legislation. The position of England, so enviable in many respects, seems to me to be in this respect full of danger for the future.”

To me, for the very same reason that M. de Laveleye expresses, the position of England seems full of hope.

Let us abandon all attempt to get rid of the evils of land monopoly by restricting land ownership. An equal distribution of land is impossible, and anything short of that would be only a mitigation, not a cure, and a mitigation that would prevent the adoption of a cure. Nor is any remedy worth considering that does not fall in with the natural direction of social development, and swim, so to speak, with the current of the times. That concentration is the order of development there can be no mistaking—the concentration of people in large cities, the concentration of handicrafts in large factories, the concentration of transportation by railroad and steamship lines, and of agricultural operations in large fields. The most trivial businesses are being concentrated in the same way—errands are run and carpet sacks are carried by corporations. All the currents of the time run to concentration. To resist it successfully we must throttle steam and discharge electricity from human service.
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:35 am


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 in327 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. It will be necessary, therefore, to meet the objections of those who, even when driven to admit this truth, will declare that it cannot be practically applied.

In doing this we shall bring our previous reasoning to a new and crucial test. Just as we try addition by subtraction and multiplication by division, so may we, by testing the sufficiency of the remedy, prove the correctness of our conclusions as to the cause of the evil.

The laws of the universe are harmonious. And if the remedy to which we have been led is the true one, it must be consistent with justice; it must be practicable of application; it must accord with the tendencies of social development and must harmonize with other reforms.

All this I propose to show. I propose to meet all practical objections that can be raised, and to show that this simple measure is not only easy of application; but that it is a sufficient remedy for all the evils which, as modern progress goes on, arise from the greater and greater inequality in the distribution of wealth—that it will substitute equality for inequality, plenty for want, justice for injustice, social strength for social weakness, and will open the way to grander and nobler advances of civilization.

I thus propose to show that the laws of the universe do not deny the natural aspirations of the human heart; that the progress of society might be, and, if it is to continue, must be, toward equality, not toward inequality; and that the economic harmonies prove the truth perceived by the Stoic Emperor—

“We are made for co-operation—like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.”
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:36 am


Justice is a relation of congruity which really subsists between two things. This relation is always the same, whatever being considers it, whether it be God, or an angel, or lastly a man.



When it is proposed to abolish private property in land the first question that will arise is that of justice. Though often warped by habit, superstition, and selfishness into the most distorted forms, the sentiment of justice is yet fundamental to the human mind, and whatever dispute arouses the passions of men, the conflict is sure to rage, not so much as to the question “Is it wise?” as to the question “Is it right?”

This tendency of popular discussions to take an ethical form has a cause. It springs from a law of the human mind; it rests upon a vague and instinctive recognition of what is probably the deepest truth we can grasp. That alone is wise which is just; that alone is enduring which is right. In the narrow scale of individual actions and individual life this truth may be often obscured, but in the wider field of national life it everywhere stands out.

I bow to this arbitrament, and accept this test. If our inquiry into the cause which makes low wages and pauperism the accompaniments of material progress has led us to a correct conclusion, it will bear translation from terms of political economy into terms of ethics, and as the source of social evils show a wrong. If it will not do this, it is disproved. If it will do this, it is proved by the final decision. If private property in land be just, then is the remedy I propose a false one; if, on the contrary, private property in land be unjust, then is this remedy the true one.

What constitutes the rightful basis of property? What is it that enables a man justly to say of a thing, “It is mine?” From what springs the sentiment which acknowledges his exclusive right as against all the world? Is it not, primarily, the right of a man to himself to the use of his own powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions? Is it not this individual right, which springs from and is testified to by the natural facts of individual organization—the fact that each particular pair of hands obey a particular brain and are related to a particular stomach; the fact that each man is a definite, coherent, independent whole—which alone justifies individual ownership? As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete form belongs to him.

And for this reason, that which a man makes or produces is his own, as against all the world—to enjoy or to destroy, to use, to exchange, or to give. No one else can rightfully claim it, and his exclusive right to it involves no wrong to any one else. Thus there is to everything produced by human exertion a clear and indisputable title to exclusive possession and enjoyment, which is perfectly consistent with justice, as it descends from the original producer, in whom it vested by natural law. The pen with which I am writing is justly mine. No other human being can rightfully lay claim to it, for in me is the title of the producers who made it. It has become mine, because transferred to me by the stationer, to whom it was transferred by the importer, who obtained the exclusive right to it by transfer from the manufacturer, in whom, by the same process of purchase, vested the rights of those who dug the material from the ground and shaped it into a pen. Thus, my exclusive right of ownership in the pen springs from the natural right of the individual to the use of his own faculties.

Now, this is not only the original source from which333 all ideas of exclusive ownership arise—as is evident from the natural tendency of the mind to revert to it when the idea of exclusive ownership is questioned, and the manner in which social relations develop—but it is necessarily the only source. There can be to the ownership of anything no rightful title which is not derived from the title of the producer and does not rest upon the natural right of the man to himself. There can be no other rightful title, because (1st) there is no other natural right from which any other title can be derived, and (2d) because the recognition of any other title is inconsistent with and destructive of this.

For (1st) what other right exists from which the right to the exclusive possession of anything can be derived, save the right of a man to himself? With what other power is man by nature clothed, save the power of exerting his own faculties? How can he in any other way act upon or affect material things or other men? Paralyze the motor nerves, and your man has no more external influence or power than a log or stone. From what else, then, can the right of possessing and controlling things be derived? If it spring not from man himself, from what can it spring? Nature acknowledges no ownership or control in man save as the result of exertion. In no other way can her treasures be drawn forth, her powers directed, or her forces utilized or controlled. She makes no discriminations among men, but is to all absolutely impartial. She knows no distinction between master and slave, king and subject, saint and sinner. All men to her stand upon an equal footing and have equal rights. She recognizes no claim but that of labor, and recognizes that without respect to the claimant. If a pirate spread his sails, the wind will fill them as well as it will fill those of a peaceful merchantman or missionary bark; if a king and a common man be thrown overboard, neither can keep his head above water except by swim334ming; birds will not come to be shot by the proprietor of the soil any quicker than they will come to be shot by the poacher; fish will bite or will not bite at a hook in utter disregard as to whether it is offered them by a good little boy who goes to Sunday-school, or a bad little boy who plays truant; grain will grow only as the ground is prepared and the seed is sown; it is only at the call of labor that ore can be raised from the mine; the sun shines and the rain falls, alike upon just and unjust. The laws of nature are the decrees of the Creator. There is written in them no recognition of any right save that of labor; and in them is written broadly and clearly the equal right of all men to the use and enjoyment of nature; to apply to her by their exertions, and to receive and possess her reward. Hence, as nature gives only to labor, the exertion of labor in production is the only title to exclusive possession.

2d. This right of ownership that springs from labor excludes the possibility of any other right of ownership. If a man be rightfully entitled to the produce of his labor, then no one can be rightfully entitled to the ownership of anything which is not the produce of his labor, or the labor of some one else from whom the right has passed to him. If production give to the producer the right to exclusive possession and enjoyment, there can rightfully be no exclusive possession and enjoyment of anything not the production of labor, and the recognition of private property in land is a wrong. For the right to the produce of labor cannot be enjoyed without the right to the free use of the opportunities offered by nature, and to admit the right of property in these is to deny the right of property in the produce of labor. When non-producers can claim as rent a portion of the wealth created by producers, the right of the producers to the fruits of their labor is to that extent denied.

There is no escape from this position. To affirm that335 a man can rightfully claim exclusive ownership in his own labor when embodied in material things, is to deny that any one can rightfully claim exclusive ownership in land. To affirm the rightfulness of property in land, is to affirm a claim which has no warrant in nature, as against a claim founded in the organization of man and the laws of the material universe.

What most prevents the realization of the injustice of private property in land is the habit of including all the things that are made the subject of ownership in one category, as property, or, if any distinction is made, drawing the line, according to the unphilosophical distinction of the lawyers, between personal property and real estate, or things movable and things immovable. The real and natural distinction is between things which are the produce of labor and things which are the gratuitous offerings of nature; or, to adopt the terms of political economy, between wealth and land.

These two classes of things are in essence and relations widely different, and to class them together as property is to confuse all thought when we come to consider the justice or the injustice, the right or the wrong of property.

A house and the lot on which it stands are alike property, as being the subject of ownership, and are alike classed by the lawyers as real estate. Yet in nature and relations they differ widely. The one is produced by human labor, and belongs to the class in political economy styled wealth. The other is a part of nature, and belongs to the class in political economy styled land.

The essential character of the one class of things is that they embody labor, are brought into being by human exertion, their existence or non-existence, their increase or diminution, depending on man. The essential character of the other class of things is that they do not embody labor, and exist irrespective of human exertion336 and irrespective of man; they are the field or environment in which man finds himself; the storehouse from which his needs must be supplied, the raw material upon which, and the forces with which alone his labor can act.

The moment this distinction is realized, that moment is it seen that the sanction which natural justice gives to one species of property is denied to the other; that the rightfulness which attaches to individual property in the produce of labor implies the wrongfulness of individual property in land; that, whereas the recognition of the one places all men upon equal terms, securing to each the due reward of his labor, the recognition of the other is the denial of the equal rights of men, permitting those who do not labor to take the natural reward of those who do.

Whatever may be said for the institution of private property in land, it is therefore plain that it cannot be defended on the score of justice.

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world and others no right.

If we are all here by the equal permission of the Creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty—with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers.46 This is a right which is337 natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others. There is in nature no such thing as a fee simple in land. There is on earth no power which can rightfully make a grant of exclusive ownership in land. If all existing men were to unite to grant away their equal rights, they could not grant away the right of those who follow them. For what are we but tenants for a day? Have we made the earth, that we should determine the rights of those who after us shall tenant it in their turn? The Almighty, who created the earth for man and man for the earth, has entailed it upon all the generations of the children of men by a decree written upon the constitution of all things—a decree which no human action can bar and no prescription determine. Let the parchments be ever so many, or possession ever so long, natural justice can recognize no right in one man to the possession and enjoyment of land that is not equally the right of all his fellows. Though his titles have been acquiesced in by generation after generation, to the landed estates of the Duke of Westminster the poorest child that is born in London to-day338 has as much right as has his eldest son.47 Though the sovereign people of the State of New York consent to the lauded possessions of the Astors, the puniest infant that comes wailing into the world in the squalidest room of the most miserable tenement house, becomes at that moment seized of an equal right with the millionaires. And it is robbed if the right is denied.

Our previous conclusions, irresistible in themselves, thus stand approved by the highest and final test. Translated from terms of political economy into terms of ethics they show a wrong as the source of the evils which increase as material progress goes on.

The masses of men, who in the midst of abundance suffer want; who, clothed with political freedom, are condemned to the wages of slavery; to whose toil labor-saving inventions bring no relief, but rather seem to rob them of a privilege, instinctively feel that “there is something wrong.” And they are right.

The wide-spreading social evils which everywhere oppress men amid an advancing civilization spring from a great primary wrong—the appropriation, as the exclusive property of some men, of the land on which and from which all must live. From this fundamental injustice flow all the injustices which distort and endanger modern development, which condemn the producer of wealth to339 poverty and pamper the non-producer in luxury, which rear the tenement house with the palace, plant the brothel behind the church, and compel us to build prisons as we open new schools.

There is nothing strange or inexplicable in the phenomena that are now perplexing the world. It is not that material progress is not in itself a good; it is not that nature has called into being children for whom she has failed to provide; it is not that the Creator has left on natural laws a taint of injustice at which even the human mind revolts, that material progress brings such bitter fruits. That amid our highest civilization men faint and die with want is not due to the niggardliness of nature, but to the injustice of man. Vice and misery, poverty and pauperism, are not the legitimate results of increase of population and industrial development; they only follow increase of population and industrial development because land is treated as private property—they are the direct and necessary results of the violation of the supreme law of justice, involved in giving to some men the exclusive possession of that which nature provides for all men.

The recognition of individual proprietorship of land is the denial of the natural rights of other individuals—it is a wrong which must show itself in the inequitable division of wealth. For as labor cannot produce without the use of land, the denial of the equal right to the use of land is necessarily the denial of the right of labor to its own produce. If one man can command the land upon which others must labor, he can appropriate the produce of their labor as the price of his permission to labor. The fundamental law of nature, that her enjoyment by man shall be consequent upon his exertion, is thus violated. The one receives without producing; the others produce without receiving. The one is unjustly enriched; the others are robbed. To this fundamental wrong we340 have traced the unjust distribution of wealth which is separating modern society into the very rich and the very poor. It is the continuous increase of rent—the price that labor is compelled to pay for the use of land, which strips the many of the wealth they justly earn, to pile it up in the hands of the few, who do nothing to earn it.

Why should they who suffer from this injustice hesitate for one moment to sweep it away? Who are the land holders that they should thus be permitted to reap where they have not sown?

Consider for a moment the utter absurdity of the titles by which we permit to be gravely passed from John Doe to Richard Roe the right exclusively to possess the earth, giving absolute dominion as against all others. In California our land titles go back to the Supreme Government of Mexico, who took from the Spanish King, who took from the Pope, when he by a stroke of the pen divided lands yet to be discovered between the Spanish or Portuguese—or if you please they rest upon conquest. In the Eastern States they go back to treaties with Indians and grants from English Kings; in Louisiana to the Government of France; in Florida to the Government of Spain; while in England they go back to the Norman conquerors. Everywhere, not to a right which obliges, but to a force which compels. And when a title rests but on force, no complaint can be made when force annuls it. Whenever the people, having the power, choose to annul those titles, no objection can be made in the name of justice. There have existed men who had the power to hold or to give exclusive possession of portions of the earth’s surface, but when and where did there exist the human being who had the right?

The right to exclusive ownership of anything of human production is clear. No matter how many the hands through which it has passed, there was, at the beginning of the line, human labor—some one who, having procured341 or produced it by his exertions, had to it a clear title as against all the rest of mankind, and which could justly pass from one to another by sale or gift. But at the end of what string of conveyances or grants can be shown or supposed a like title to any part of the material universe? To improvements such an original title can be shown; but it is a title only to the improvements, and not to the land itself. If I clear a forest, drain a swamp, or fill a morass, all I can justly claim is the value given by these exertions. They give me no right to the land itself, no claim other than to my equal share with every other member of the community in the value which is added to it by the growth of the community.

But it will be said: There are improvements which in time become indistinguishable from the land itself! Very well; then the title to the improvements becomes blended with the title to the land; the individual right is lost in the common right. It is the greater that swallows up the less, not the less that swallows up the greater. Nature does not proceed from man, but man from nature, and it is into the bosom of nature that he and all his works must return again.

Yet, it will be said: As every man has a right to the use and enjoyment of nature, the man who is using land must be permitted the exclusive right to its use in order that he may get the full benefit of his labor. But there is no difficulty in determining where the individual right ends and the common right begins. A delicate and exact test is supplied by value, and with its aid there is no difficulty, no matter how dense population may become, in determining and securing the exact rights of each, the equal rights of all. The value of land, as we have seen, is the price of monopoly. It is not the absolute, but the relative, capability of land that determines its value. No matter what may be its intrinsic qualities, land that is no better than other land which may be had for the using342 can have no value. And the value of land always measures the difference between it and the best land that may be had for the using. Thus, the value of land expresses in exact and tangible form the right of the community in land held by an individual; and rent expresses the exact amount which the individual should pay to the community to satisfy the equal rights of all other members of the community. Thus, if we concede to priority of possession the undisturbed use of land, confiscating rent for the benefit of the community, we reconcile the fixity of tenure which is necessary for improvement with a full and complete recognition of the equal rights of all to the use of land.

As for the deduction of a complete and exclusive individual right to land from priority of occupation, that is, if possible, the most absurd ground on which land ownership can be defended. Priority of occupation give exclusive and perpetual title to the surface of a globe on which, in the order of nature, countless generations succeed each other! Had the men of the last generation any better right to the use of this world than we of this? or the men of a hundred years ago? or of a thousand years ago? Had the mound-builders, or the cave-dwellers, the contemporaries of the mastodon and the three-toed horse, or the generations still further back, who, in dim æons that we can think of only as geologic periods, followed each other on the earth we now tenant for our little day?

Has the first comer at a banquet the right to turn back all the chairs and claim that none of the other guests shall partake of the food provided, except as they make terms with him? Does the first man who presents a ticket at the door of a theater, and passes in, acquire by his priority the right to shut the doors and have the performance go on for him alone? Does the first passenger who enters a railroad car obtain the right to scatter his343 baggage over all the seats and compel the passengers who come in after him to stand up?

The cases are perfectly analogous. We arrive and we depart, guests at a banquet continually spread, spectators and participants in an entertainment where there is room for all who come; passengers from station to station, on an orb that whirls through space—our rights to take and possess cannot be exclusive; they must be bounded everywhere by the equal rights of others. Just as the passenger in a railroad car may spread himself and his baggage over as many seats as he pleases, until other passengers come in, so may a settler take and use as much land as he chooses, until it is needed by others—a fact which is shown by the land acquiring a value—when his right must be curtailed by the equal rights of the others, and no priority of appropriation can give a right which will bar these equal rights of others. If this were not the case, then by priority of appropriation one man could acquire and could transmit to whom he pleased, not merely the exclusive right to 160 acres, or to 640 acres, but to a whole township, a whole State, a whole continent.

And to this manifest absurdity does the recognition of individual right to land come when carried to its ultimate—that any one human being, could he concentrate in himself the individual rights to the land of any country, could expel therefrom all the rest of its inhabitants; and could he thus concentrate the individual rights to the whole surface of the globe, he alone of all the teeming population of the earth would have the right to live.

And what upon this supposition would occur is, upon a smaller scale, realized in actual fact. The territorial lords of Great Britain, to whom grants of land have given the “white parasols and elephants mad with pride,” have over and over again expelled from large districts the native population, whose ancestors had lived on the land344 from immemorial times—driven them off to emigrate, to become paupers, or to starve. And on uncultivated tracts of land in the new State of California may be seen the blackened chimneys of homes from which settlers have been driven by force of laws which ignore natural right, and great stretches of land which might be populous are desolate, because the recognition of exclusive ownership has put it in the power of one human creature to forbid his fellows from using it. The comparative handful of proprietors who own the surface of the British Islands would be doing only what English law gives them full power to do, and what many of them have done on a smaller scale already, were they to exclude the millions of British people from their native islands. And such an exclusion, by which a few hundred thousand should at will banish thirty million people from their native country, while it would be more striking, would not be a whit more repugnant to natural right than the spectacle now presented, of the vast body of the British people being compelled to pay such enormous sums to a few of their number for the privilege of being permitted to live upon and use the land which they so fondly call their own; which is endeared to them by memories so tender and so glorious, and for which they are held in duty bound, if need be, to spill their blood and lay down their lives.

I refer only to the British Islands, because, land ownership being more concentrated there, they afford a more striking illustration of what private property in land necessarily involves. “To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it,” is a truth that becomes more and more apparent as population becomes denser and invention and improvement add to productive power; but it is everywhere a truth—as much in our new States as in the British Islands or by the banks of the Indus.
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Re: Progress and Poverty, by Henry George

Postby admin » Tue Apr 14, 2020 3:37 am


If chattel slavery be unjust, then is private property in land unjust.

For let the circumstances be what they may—the ownership of land will always give the ownership of men, to a degree measured by the necessity (real or artificial) for the use of land. This is but a statement in different form of the law of rent.

And when that necessity is absolute—when starvation is the alternative to the use of land, then does the ownership of men involved in the ownership of land become absolute.

Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them.

In the one case, as the other, the one will be the absolute master of the ninety-nine—his power extending even to life and death, for simply to refuse them permission to live upon the island would be to force them into the sea.

Upon a larger scale, and through more complex relations, the same cause must operate in the same way and to the same end—the ultimate result, the enslavement of laborers, becoming apparent just as the pressure increases which compels them to live on and from land which is treated as the exclusive property of others. Take a country in which the soil is divided among a number of346 proprietors, instead of being in the hands of one, and in which, as in modern production, the capitalist has been specialized from the laborer, and manufactures and exchange, in all their many branches, have been separated from agriculture. Though less direct and obvious, the relations between the owners of the soil and the laborers will, with increase of population and the improvement of the arts, tend to the same absolute mastery on the one hand and the same abject helplessness on the other, as in the case of the island we have supposed. Rent will advance, while wages will fall. Of the aggregate produce, the land owner will get a constantly increasing, the laborer a constantly diminishing share. Just as removal to cheaper land becomes difficult or impossible, laborers, no matter what they produce, will be reduced to a bare living, and the free competition among them, where land is monopolized, will force them to a condition which, though they may be mocked with the titles and insignia of freedom, will be virtually that of slavery.

There is nothing strange in the fact that, in spite of the enormous increase in productive power which this century has witnessed, and which is still going on, the wages of labor in the lower and wider strata of industry should everywhere tend to the wages of slavery—just enough to keep the laborer in working condition. For the ownership of the land on which and from which a man must live is virtually the ownership of the man himself, and in acknowledging the right of some individuals to the exclusive use and enjoyment of the earth, we condemn other individuals to slavery as fully and as completely as though we had formally made them chattels.

In a simpler form of society, where production chiefly consists in the direct application of labor to the soil, the slavery that is the necessary result of according to some the exclusive right to the soil from which all must live, is plainly seen in helotism, in villeinage, in serfdom.

Chattel slavery originated in the capture of prisoners in war, and, though it has existed to some extent in every part of the globe, its area has been small, its effects trivial, as compared with the forms of slavery which have originated in the appropriation of land. No people as a mass have ever been reduced to chattel slavery to men of their own race, nor yet on any large scale has any people ever been reduced to slavery of this kind by conquest. The general subjection of the many to the few, which we meet with wherever society has reached a certain development, has resulted from the appropriation of land as individual property. It is the ownership of the soil that everywhere gives the ownership of the men that live upon it. It is slavery of this kind to which the enduring pyramids and the colossal monuments of Egypt yet bear witness, and of the institution of which we have, perhaps, a vague tradition in the biblical story of the famine during which the Pharaoh purchased up the lands of the people. It was slavery of this kind to which, in the twilight of history, the conquerors of Greece reduced the original inhabitants of that peninsula, transforming them into helots by making them pay rent for their lands. It was the growth of the latifundia, or great landed estates, which transmuted the population of ancient Italy, from a race of hardy husbandmen, whose robust virtues conquered the world, into a race of cringing bondsmen; it was the appropriation of the land as the absolute property of their chieftains which gradually turned the descendants of free and equal Gallic, Teutonic and Hunnish warriors into colonii and villains, and which changed the independent burghers of Sclavonic village communities into the boors of Russia and the serfs of Poland; which instituted the feudalism of China and Japan, as well as that of Europe, and which made the High Chiefs of Polynesia the all but absolute masters of their fellows. How it came to pass that the Aryan shepherds and warriors348 who, as comparative philology tells us, descended from the common birthplace of the Indo-Germanic race into the lowlands of India, were turned into the suppliant and cringing Hindoo, the Sanscrit verse which I have before quoted gives us a hint. The white parasols and the elephants mad with pride of the Indian Rajah are the flowers of grants of land. And could we find the key to the records of the long-buried civilizations that lie entombed in the gigantic ruins of Yucatan and Guatemala, telling at once of the pride of a ruling class and the unrequited toil to which the masses were condemned, we should read, in all human probability, of a slavery imposed upon the great body of the people through the appropriation of the land as the property of a few—of another illustration of the universal truth that they who possess the land are masters of the men who dwell upon it.

The necessary relation between labor and land, the absolute power which the ownership of land gives over men who cannot live but by using it, explains what is otherwise inexplicable—the growth and persistence of institutions, manners, and ideas so utterly repugnant to the natural sense of liberty and equality.

When the idea of individual ownership, which so justly and naturally attaches to things of human production, is extended to land, all the rest is a mere matter of development. The strongest and most cunning easily acquire a superior share in this species of property, which is to be had, not by production, but by appropriation, and in becoming lords of the land they become necessarily lords of their fellow-men. The ownership of land is the basis of aristocracy. It was not nobility that gave land, but the possession of land that gave nobility. All the enormous privileges of the nobility of medieval Europe flowed from their position as the owners of the soil. The simple principle of the ownership of the soil produced, on the one side, the lord, on the other, the vassal—the one having all rights, the other none. The right of the lord to the soil acknowledged and maintained, those who lived upon it could do so only upon his terms. The manners and conditions of the times made those terms include services and servitudes, as well as rents in produce or money, but the essential thing that compelled them was the ownership of land. This power exists wherever the ownership of land exists, and can be brought out wherever the competition for the use of land is great enough to enable the landlord to make his own terms. The English land owner of to-day has, in the law which recognizes his exclusive right to the land, essentially all the power which his predecessor the feudal baron had. He might command rent in services or servitudes. He might compel his tenants to dress themselves in a particular way, to profess a particular religion, to send their children to a particular school, to submit their differences to his decision, to fall upon their knees when he spoke to them, to follow him around dressed in his livery, or to sacrifice to him female honor, if they would prefer these things to being driven off his land. He could demand, in short, any terms on which men would still consent to live on his land, and the law could not prevent him so long as it did not qualify his ownership, for compliance with them would assume the form of a free contract or voluntary act. And English landlords do exercise such of these powers as in the manners of the times they care to. Having shaken off the obligation of providing for the defense of the country, they no longer need the military service of their tenants, and the possession of wealth and power being now shown in other ways than by long trains of attendants, they no longer care for personal service. But they habitually control the votes of their tenants, and dictate to them in many little ways. That “right reverend father in God,” Bishop Lord Plunkett, evicted a number of his poor Irish tenants because they would not send350 their children to Protestant Sunday-schools; and to that Earl of Leitrim for whom Nemesis tarried so long before she sped the bullet of an assassin, even darker crimes are imputed; while, at the cold promptings of greed, cottage after cottage has been pulled down and family after family forced into the roads. The principle that permits this is the same principle that in ruder times and a simpler social state enthralled the great masses of the common people and placed such a wide gulf between noble and peasant. Where the peasant was made a serf, it was simply by forbidding him to leave the estate on which he was born, thus artificially producing the condition we supposed on the island. In sparsely settled countries this is necessary to produce absolute slavery, but where land is fully occupied, competition may produce substantially the same conditions. Between the condition of the rack-rented Irish peasant and the Russian serf, the advantage was in many things on the side of the serf. The serf did not starve.

Now, as I think I have conclusively proved, it is the same cause which has in every age degraded and enslaved the laboring masses that is working in the civilized world to-day. Personal liberty—that is to say, the liberty to move about—is everywhere conceded, while of political and legal inequality there are in the United States no vestiges, and in the most backward civilized countries but few. But the great cause of inequality remains, and is manifesting itself in the unequal distribution of wealth. The essence of slavery is that it takes from the laborer all he produces save enough to support an animal existence, and to this minimum the wages of free labor, under existing conditions, unmistakably tend. Whatever be the increase of productive power, rent steadily tends to swallow up the gain, and more than the gain.

Thus the condition of the masses in every civilized country is, or is tending to become, that of virtual slavery under the forms of freedom. And it is probable that of all kinds of slavery this is the most cruel and relentless. For the laborer is robbed of the produce of his labor and compelled to toil for a mere subsistence; but his taskmasters, instead of human beings, assume the form of imperious necessities. Those to whom his labor is rendered and from whom his wages are received are often driven in their turn—contact between the laborers and the ultimate beneficiaries of their labor is sundered, and individuality is lost. The direct responsibility of master to slave, a responsibility which exercises a softening influence upon the great majority of men, does not arise; it is not one human being who seems to drive another to unremitting and ill-requited toil, but “the inevitable laws of supply and demand,” for which no one in particular is responsible. The maxims of Cato the Censor—maxims which were regarded with abhorrence even in an age of cruelty and universal slave-holding—that after as much work as possible is obtained from a slave he should be turned out to die, become the common rule; and even the selfish interest which prompts the master to look after the comfort and well-being of the slave is lost. Labor has become a commodity, and the laborer a machine. There are no masters and slaves, no owners and owned, but only buyers and sellers. The higgling of the market takes the place of every other sentiment.

When the slaveholders of the South looked upon the condition of the free laboring poor in the most advanced civilized countries, it is no wonder that they easily persuaded themselves of the divine institution of slavery. That the field hands of the South were as a class better fed, better lodged, better clothed; that they had less anxiety and more of the amusements and enjoyments of life than the agricultural laborers of England there can be no doubt; and even in the Northern cities, visiting slaveholders might see and hear of things impossible under what they called their organization of labor. In the Southern States, during the days of slavery, the master who would have compelled his negroes to work and live as large classes of free white men and women are compelled in free countries to work and live, would have been deemed infamous, and if public opinion had not restrained him, his own selfish interest in the maintenance of the health and strength of his chattels would. But in London, New York, and Boston, among people who have given, and would give again, money and blood to free the slave, where no one could abuse a beast in public without arrest and punishment, barefooted and ragged children may be seen running around the streets even in the winter time, and in squalid garrets and noisome cellars women work away their lives for wages that fail to keep them in proper warmth and nourishment. Is it any wonder that to the slaveholders of the South the demand for the abolition of slavery seemed like the cant of hypocrisy?

And now that slavery has been abolished, the planters of the South find they have sustained no loss. Their ownership of the land upon which the freedmen must live gives them practically as much command of labor as before, while they are relieved of responsibility, sometimes very expensive. The negroes as yet have the alternative of emigrating, and a great movement of that kind seems now about commencing, but as population increases and land becomes dear, the planters will get a greater proportionate share of the earnings of their laborers than they did under the system of chattel slavery, and the laborers a less share—for under the system of chattel slavery the slaves always got at least enough to keep them in good353 physical health, but in such countries as England there are large classes of laborers who do not get that.48

The influences which, wherever there is personal relation between master and slave, slip in to modify chattel slavery, and to prevent the master from exerting to its fullest extent his power over the slave, also showed themselves in the ruder forms of serfdom that characterized the earlier periods of European development, and aided by religion, and, perhaps, as in chattel slavery, by the more enlightened but still selfish interests of the lord, and hardening into custom, universally fixed a limit to what the owner of the land could extort from the serf or peasant, so that the competition of men without means of existence bidding against each other for access to the means of existence, was nowhere suffered to go to its full length and exert its full power of deprivation and degradation. The helots of Greece, the métayers of Italy, the serfs of Russia and Poland, the peasants of feudal Europe, rendered to their landlords a fixed proportion either of their produce or their labor, and were not generally squeezed past that point. But the influences which thus stepped in to modify the extortive power of land ownership, and which may still be seen on English estates where the landlord and his family deem it their duty to send medicines and comforts to the sick and infirm, and to look after the well-being of their cottagers, just as the Southern planter was accustomed to look after his negroes, are lost in the more refined and less obvious form which serfdom assumes in the more complicated processes of modern production, which separates so354 widely and by so many intermediate gradations the individual whose labor is appropriated from him who appropriates it, and makes the relations between the members of the two classes not direct and particular, but indirect and general. In modern society, competition has free play to force from the laborer the very utmost he can give, and with what terrific force it is acting may be seen in the condition of the lowest class in the centers of wealth and industry. That the condition of this lowest class is not yet more general, is to be attributed to the great extent of fertile land which has hitherto been open on this continent, and which has not merely afforded an escape for the increasing population of the older sections of the Union, but has greatly relieved the pressure in Europe—in one country, Ireland, the emigration having been so great as actually to reduce the population. This avenue of relief cannot last forever. It is already fast closing up, and as it closes, the pressure must become harder and harder.

It is not without reason that the wise crow in the Ramayana, the crow Bushanda, “who has lived in every part of the universe and knows all events from the beginnings of time,” declares that, though contempt of worldly advantages is necessary to supreme felicity, yet the keenest pain possible is inflicted by extreme poverty. The poverty to which in advancing civilization great masses of men are condemned, is not the freedom from distraction and temptation which sages have sought and philosophers have praised; it is a degrading and embruting slavery, that cramps the higher nature, dulls the finer feelings, and drives men by its pain to acts which the brutes would refuse. It is into this helpless, hopeless poverty, that crushes manhood and destroys womanhood, that robs even childhood of its innocence and joy, that the working classes are being driven by a force which acts upon them like a resistless and unpitying machine. The355 Boston collar manufacturer who pays his girls two cents an hour may commiserate their condition, but he, as they, is governed by the law of competition, and cannot pay more and carry on his business, for exchange is not governed by sentiment. And so, through all intermediate gradations, up to those who receive the earnings of labor without return, in the rent of land, it is the inexorable laws of supply and demand, a power with which the individual can no more quarrel or dispute than with the winds and the tides, that seem to press down the lower classes into the slavery of want.

But in reality, the cause is that which always has and always must result in slavery—the monopolization by some of what nature has designed for all.

Our boasted freedom necessarily involves slavery, so long as we recognize private property in land. Until that is abolished, Declarations of Independence and Acts of Emancipation are in vain. So long as one man can claim the exclusive ownership of the land from which other men must live, slavery will exist, and as material progress goes on, must grow and deepen!

This—and in previous chapters of this book we have traced the process, step by step—is what is going on in the civilized world to-day. Private ownership of land is the nether millstone. Material progress is the upper millstone. Between them, with an increasing pressure, the working classes are being ground.
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