Henry George - Progress and Poverty
Why, despite advances in production, does poverty and low-pay persist? - This is the question Henry George tries to answer in Progress and Poverty.
Although originally published in 1879, his observations are so relevant it might have been published yesterday - that is, apart from the old fashioned language and weirdly religious conclusion.
Do any of these quotes strike a chord?
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 tendancy to the forcing down of wages.
What has destroyed every previous civilisation has been the tendancy to the unequal distribution of wealth and power.
And when the disparity of condition increases, so does universal sufferage make it easy to seize the source of power, for the greater is the proportion of power in the hands of those who feel no direct interest in the conduct of government; who, tortured by want and embruted by poverty, are ready to sell their votes to the highest bidder or follow the most blatant demagogue; or who, made bitter by hardships, may even look upon profligate and tyrannous government with the satisfaction we may imagine the proletarians and slaves of Rome to have felt as they saw a Caligula or Nero raging among the rich patricians.
Civilisation is co-operation.
I felt, after reading this, that Henry George may have glimpsed some truth behind persistent poverty, but I'm left wondering how to apply it. The obscenely rich today seem to appropriate wealth through other monopolies than land - or, if it can be traced to land, it's very indirect.
Not satisfied with identifying the problem, he also proposes a solution: convert all existing tax into land tax. It's a rough sketch at best. He accepts people need to secure the benefit of improvements to land, but I was left wondering about the more emotional security requried from a home.
Once rent has been taxed, he doesn't say how best to spend it either. It's not even obvious to me that rent wouldn't simply increase if landholders still controlled access to land and therefore production.
Still, despite it's flaws and old fashioned writing it was a very interesting read. I certainly have a greater awareness of the importance of land.
Such are slaves, whose value represents merely the power of one class to appropriate the earnings of another class. Such are lands, or other natural opportunities, the value of which is but the result of the acknowledgment in favor of certain persons of an exclusive right to their use, and which represents merely the power thus given to the owners to demand a share of the wealth produced by those who use them.
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?