Progress and Poverty

Henry George
George, Henry
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First Pub. Date
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Co.
Pub. Date
Includes an introduction by Henry George, Jr.

1. It is true that the poorest may now in certain ways enjoy what the richest a century ago could not have commanded, but this does not show improvement of condition so long as the ability to obtain the necessaries of life is not increased. The beggar in a great city may enjoy many things from which the backwoods farmer is debarred, but that does not prove the condition of the city beggar better than that of the independent farmer.

Book I, Chapter 1

2. This seems to me true of Mr. Thornton's objections, for while he denies the existence of a predetermined wage fund, consisting of a portion of capital set apart for the purchase of labor, he yet holds (which is the essential thing) that wages are drawn from capital, and that increase or decrease of capital is increase or decrease of the fund available for the payment of wages. The most vital attack upon the wage fund doctrine of which I know is that of Professor Francis A. Walker (The Wages Question, New York, 1876), yet he admits that wages are in large part advanced from capital—which, so far as it goes, is all that the stanchest supporter of the wage fund theory could claim while he fully accepts the Malthusian theory. Thus his practical conclusions in nowise differ from those reached by expounders of the current theory.

3. Some Leading Principles of Political Economy Newly Expounded, Chapter 1, Part 2.

4. Times of commercial panic are marked by high rates of discount, but this is evidently not a high rate of interest, properly so called, but a high rate of insurance against risk.

5. For instance McCulloch (Note VI to Wealth of Nations) says: "That portion of the capital or wealth of a country which the employers of labor intend to or are willing to pay out in the purchase of labor, may be much larger at one time than another. But whatever may be its absolute magnitude, it obviously forms the only source from which any portion of the wages of labor can be derived. No other fund is in existence from which the laborer, as such, can draw a single shilling. And hence it follows that the average rate of wages, or the share of the national capital appropriated to the employment of labor falling, at an average, to each laborer, must entirely depend on its amount as compared with the number of those amongst whom it has to be divided." Similar citations might be made from all the standard economists.

6. We are speaking of labor expended in production, to which it is best for the sake of simplicity to confine the inquiry. Any question which may arise in the reader's mind as to wages for unproductive services had best therefore be deferred.

Book I, Chapter 2

7. This was recognized in common speech in California, where the placer miners styled their earnings their "wages," and spoke of making high wages or low wages according to the amount of gold taken out.

8. Money may be said to be in the hands of the consumer when devoted to the procurement of gratification, as, though not in itself devoted to consumption, it represents wealth which is; and thus what in the previous paragraph I have given as the common classification would be covered by this distinction, and would be substantially correct. In speaking of money in this connection, I am of course speaking of coin, for although paper money may perform all the functions of coin, it is not wealth, and cannot therefore be capital.

Book I, Chapter 3

9. "Industry is limited by capital.... There can be no more industry than is supplied with materials to work up and food to eat. Self-evident as the thing is, it is often forgotten that the people of a country are maintained and have their wants supplied not by the produce of present labor, but of past. They consume what has been produced, not what is about to be produced. Now, of what has been produced a part only is allotted to the support of productive labor, and there will not and cannot be more of that labor than the portion so allotted (which is the capital of the country) can feed and provide with the materials and instruments of production."—John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, Book I, Chap. V, Sec. I.

10. I speak of labor producing capital for the sake of greater clearness. What labor always procures is either wealth, which may or may not be capital, or services, the cases in which nothing is obtained being merely exceptional cases of misadventure. Where the object of the labor is simply the gratification of the employer, as where I hire a man to black my boots, I do not pay the wages from capital, but from wealth which I have devoted, not to reproductive uses, but to consumption for my own satisfaction. Even if wages thus paid be considered as drawn from capital, then by that act they pass from the category of capital to that of wealth devoted to the gratification of the possessor, as when a cigar dealer takes a dozen cigars from the stock he has for sale and puts them in his pocket for his own use.

Book I, Chapter 4

11. Political Economy for Beginners, by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Chap. III, p. 25.

12. The words quoted are Ricardo's (Chap. II); but the idea is common in standard works.

Book I, Chapter 5

13. New Zealand and its Inhabitants, Rev. Richard Taylor. London, 1855. Chap. XXI.

Book II, Chapter 1

14. Principles of Political Economy, Book II, Chap. IX, Sec. VI.—Yet notwithstanding what Mill says, it is clear that Malthus himself lays great stress upon his geometrical and arithmetical ratios, and it is also probable that it is to these ratios that Malthus is largely indebted for his fame, as they supplied one of those high-sounding formulas that with many people carry far more weight than the clearest reasoning.

15. The effect of the Malthusian doctrine upon the definitions of capital may, I think, be seen by comparing (see pp. 32, 33, 34) the definition of Smith, who wrote prior to Malthus, with the definitions of Ricardo, McCulloch and Mill, who wrote subsequently.

16. Address before Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, 1872. Report U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1873.

17. Origin of Species, Chap. III.

18. Note IV to Wealth of Nations.

Book II, Chapter 2

19. Malthus' other works, though written after he became famous, made no mark, and are treated with contempt even by those who find in the Essay a great discovery. The Encyclopædia Britannica, for instance, though fully accepting the Malthusian theory, says of Malthus' Political Economy: "It is very ill arranged, and is in no respect either a practical or a scientific exposition of the subject. It is in great part occupied with an examination of parts of Mr. Ricardo's peculiar doctrines, and with an inquiry into the nature and causes of value. Nothing, however, can be more unsatisfactory than these discussions. In truth Mr. Malthus never had any clear or accurate perception of Mr. Ricardo's theories, or of the principles which determine the value in exchange of different articles."

20. I say considerable country, because there may be small islands, such as Pitcairn's Island, cut off from communication with the rest of the world and consequently from the exchanges which are necessary to the improved modes of production resorted to as population becomes dense, which may seem to offer examples in point. A moment's reflection, however, will show that these exceptional cases are not in point.

21. As may be seen from the map in H. H. Bancroft's "Native Races," the State of Vera Cruz is not one of those parts of Mexico noticeable for its antiquities. Yet Hugo Fink, of Cordova, writing to the Smithsonian Institute (Reports 1870), says there is hardly a foot in the whole State in which by excavation either a broken obsidian knife or a broken piece of pottery is not found; that the whole country is intersected with parallel lines of stones intended to keep the earth from washing away in the rainy season, which shows that even the very poorest land was put into requisition, and that it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the ancient population was at least as dense as it is at present in the most populous districts of Europe.

22. I take these figures from the Smithsonian Report for 1873, leaving out decimals. MM. Behm and Wagner put the population of China at 446,500,000, though there are some who contend that it does not exceed 150,000,000. They put the population of Hither India at 206,225,580, giving 132.29 to the square mile; of Ceylon at 2,405,287 Or 97.36 to the square mile; of Further India at 21,018,062, or 27.94 to the square mile. They estimate the population of the world at 1,377,000,000, an average of 26.64 to the square mile.

23. History of Civilization, Vol. I, Chap. 2. In this chapter Buckle has collected a great deal of evidence of the oppression and degradation of the people of India from the most remote times, a condition which, blinded by the Malthusian doctrine he has accepted and made the cornerstone of his theory of the development of civilization, he attributes to the ease with which food can there be produced.

24. Indian Recreations. By Rev. Wm. Tennant. London, 1804. Vol. I, Sec. XXXIX.

25. Miss Nightingale (The People of India, in "Nineteenth Century" for August, 1878) gives instances, which she says represent millions of cases, of the state of peonage to which the cultivators of Southern India have been reduced through the facilities afforded by the Civil Courts to the frauds and oppressions of money lenders and minor native officials. "Our Civil Courts are regarded as institutions for enabling the rich to grind the faces of the poor, and many are fain to seek a refuge from their jurisdiction within native territory," says Sir David Wedderburn, in an article on Protected Princes in India, in a previous (July) number of the same magazine, in which he also gives a native State, where taxation is comparatively light, as an instance of the most prosperous population of India.

26. See articles in "Nineteenth Century" for October, 1878, and March, 1879.

27. Prof. Fawcett, in a recent article on the Proposed Loans to India, calls attention to such items as £1,200 for outfit and passage of a member of the Governor General's Council; £2,450 for outfit and passage of Bishops of Calcutta and Bombay.

28. Florence Nightingale says 100 per cent. is common, and even then the cultivator is robbed in ways which she illustrates. It is hardly necessary to say that these rates, like those of the pawnbroker, are not interest in the economic sense of the term.

29. The seat of recent famine in China was not the most thickly settled districts.

Book II, Chapter 4

30. Principles of Political Economy, Book I, Chap. XIII, Sec. 2.

31. The rate up to 1860 was 35 per cent. each decade.

Book III, Chapter 2

32. In speaking of the value of land I use and shall use the words as referring to the value of the bare land. When I wish to speak of the value of land and improvements I shall use those words.

33. I do not mean to say that the accepted law of rent has never been disputed. In all the nonsense that in the present disjointed condition of the science has been printed as political economy, it would be hard to find anything that has not been disputed. But I mean to say that it has the sanction of all economic writers who are really to be regarded as authority. As John Stuart Mill says (Book II., Chap. XVI.), "there are few persons who have refused their assent to it, except from not having thoroughly understood it. The loose and inaccurate way in which it is often apprehended by those who affect to refute it is very remarkable." An observation which has received many later exemplifications.

34. According to McCulloch the law of rent was first stated in a pamphlet by Dr. James Anderson of Edinburgh in 1777, and simultaneously in the beginning of this century by Sir Edward West, Mr. Malthus, and Mr. Ricardo.

35. Buckle (Chap. II., History of Civilization) recognizes the necessary relation between rent, interest, and wages, but evidently never worked it out.

Book III, Chapter 3

36. This is really said of profits, but with the evident meaning of returns to capital.

Book III, Chapter 6

37. This equalization will be effected by the equation of prices.

38. This last, which is analogous to the element of risk in profits, accounts for the high wages of successful lawyers, physicians, contractors, actors, etc.

Book IV, Chapter 1

39. As to this, it may be worth while to say: (1) That the general fact, as shown by the progress of agriculture in the newer States of the Union and by the character of the land left out of cultivation in the older, is that the course of cultivation is from the better to the worse qualities of land. (2) That, whether the course of production be from the absolutely better to the absolutely worse lands or the reverse (and there is much to indicate that better or worse in this connection merely relates to our knowledge, and that future advances may discover compensating qualities in portions of the earth now esteemed most sterile), it is always, and from the nature of the human mind, must always tend to be, from land under existing conditions deemed better, to land under existing conditions deemed worse. (3) That Ricardo's law of rent does not depend upon the direction of the extension of cultivation, but upon the proposition that if land of a certain quality will yield something, land of a better quality will yield more.

Book V, Chapter 1

40. The Subsidy Question and the Democratic Party, 1871.

41. It is astonishing how in a new country of great expectations speculative prices of land will be kept up. It is common to hear the expression, "There is no market for real estate; you cannot sell it at any price," and yet, at the same time, if you go to buy it, unless you find somebody who is absolutely compelled to sell, you must pay the prices that prevailed when speculation ran high. For owners, believing that land values must ultimately advance, hold on as long as they can.

42. This was written a year ago. It is now (July, 1879) evident that a new period of activity has commenced, as above predicted, and in New York and Chicago real estate prices have already begun to recover.

Book V, Chapter 2

43. Systems of Land Tenure, published by the Cobden Club.

43e. Editor's Note: The original reads "... that an explanation of the unequaled development of our civilization is to be found." We have changed "unequaled development" to "unequal development" based on the context and on our belief that the original is either a typo, or an instance where language usage has changed so much as to potentially reverse the author's probable intent, or perhaps is what could be termed a "Freudian slip."

Book VI, Chapter 1

44. To say nothing of superior want of conscience, which is often the determining quality which makes a millionaire out of one who otherwise might have been a poor man.

45. Franklin, in his inimitable way, relates how Keimer finally broke his resolution and ordering a roast pig invited two lady friends to dine with him, but the pig being brought in before the company arrived, Keimer could not resist the temptation and ate it all himself.

Book VII, Chapter 1

46. In saying that private property in land can, in the ultimate analysis, be justified only on the theory that some men have a better right to existence than others, I am stating only what the advocates of the existing system have themselves perceived. What gave to Malthus his popularity among the ruling classes—what caused his illogical book to be received as a new revelation, induced sovereigns to send him decorations, and the meanest rich man in England to propose to give him a living, was the fact that he furnished a plausible reason for the assumption that some have a better right to existence than others—an assumption which is necessary for the justification of private property in land, and which Malthus clearly states in the declaration that the tendency of population is constantly to bring into the world human beings for whom nature refuses to provide, and who consequently "have not the slightest right to any share in the existing store of the necessaries of life"; whom she tells as interlopers to begone, "and does not hesitate to extort by force obedience to her mandates," employing for that purpose "hunger and pestilence, war and crime, mortality and neglect of infantine life, prostitution and syphilis." And to-day this Malthusian doctrine is the ultimate defense upon which those who justify private property in land fall back. In no other way can it be logically defended.

47. This natural and inalienable right to the equal use and enjoyment of land is so apparent that it has been recognized by men wherever force or habit has not blunted first perceptions. To give but one instance: The white settlers of New Zealand found themselves unable to get from the Maoris what the latter considered a complete title to land, because, although a whole tribe might have consented to a sale, they would still claim with every new child born among them an additional payment on the ground that they had parted with only their own rights, and could not sell those of the unborn. The government was obliged to step in and settle the matter by buying land for a tribal annuity, in which every child that is born acquires a share.

Book VII, Chapter 2

48. One of the anti-slavery agitators (Col. J. A. Collins) on a visit to England addressed a large audience in a Scotch manufacturing town, and wound up as he had been used to in the United States, by giving the ration which in the slave codes of some of the states fixed the minimum of maintenance for a slave. He quickly discovered that to many of his hearers it was an anti-climax.

Book VII, Chapter 3

49. Principles of Political Economy, Book I, Chap. 2, Sec. 6.

50. Social Statics, page 142. [It may be well to say in the new reprint of this book (1897) that this and all other references to Herbert Spencer's "Social Statics" are from the edition of that book published by D. Appleton & Co., New York, with his consent, from 1864 to 1892. At that time "Social Statics" was repudiated, and a new edition under the name of "Social Statics, abridged and revised," has taken its place. From this, all that the first "Social Statics" had said in denial of property in land has been eliminated, and it of course contains nothing here referred to. Mr. Spencer has also been driven by the persistent heckling of the English single tax men, who insisted on asking him the questions suggested in the first Social Statics, to bring out a small volume, entitled "Mr. Herbert Spencer on the Land Question," in which are reprinted in parallel columns Chap. IX of Social Statics with what he considers valid answers to himself as given in "Justice," 1891. This has also been reprinted by D. Appleton & Co., and constitutes, I think, the very funniest answer to himself ever made by a man who claimed to be a philosopher.]

Book VII, Chapter 4

51. The influence of the lawyers has been very marked in Europe, both on the Continent and in Great Britain, in destroying all vestiges of the ancient tenure, and substituting the idea of the Roman law, exclusive ownership.

52. Latifundia perdidere Italiam.—Pliny.

53. Andrew Bisset, in "The Strength of Nations," London, 1859, a suggestive work in which he calls the attention of the English people to this measure by which the land owners avoided the payment of their rent to the nation, disputes the statement of Blackstone that a knight's service was but for 40 days, and says it was during necessity.

Book VIII, Chapter 1

54. The fixed rent under the lease to the Alaska Fur Company is $55,000 a year, with a payment of $2.62½ on each skin, which on 100,000 skins, to which the take is limited, amounts to $262,500—a total rent of $317,500.

Book VIII, Chapter 3

55. Following the habit of confounding the exclusive right granted by a patent and that granted by a copyright as recognitions of the right of labor to its intangible productions, I in this fell into error which I subsequently acknowledged and corrected in the Standard of June 23, 1888. The two things are not alike, but essentially different. The copyright is not a right to the exclusive use of a fact, an idea, or a combination, which by the natural law of property all are free to use; but only to the labor expended in the thing itself. It does not prevent any one from using for himself the facts, the knowledge, the laws or combinations for a similar production, but only from using the identical form of the particular book or other production—the actual labor which has in short been expended in producing it. It rests therefore upon the natural, moral right of each one to enjoy the products of his own exertion, and involves no interference with the similar right of any one else to do likewise.

The patent, on the other hand, prohibits any one from doing a similar thing, and involves, usually for a specified time, an interference with the equal liberty on which the right of ownership rests. The copyright is therefore in accordance with the moral law—it gives to the man who has expended the intangible labor required to write a particular book or paint a picture security against the copying of that identical thing. The patent is in defiance of this natural right. It prohibits others from doing what has been already attempted. Every one has a moral right to think what I think, or to perceive what I perceive, or to do what I do—no matter whether be gets the hint from me or independently of me. Discovery can give no right of ownership, for whatever is discovered must have been already here to be discovered. If a man make a wheelbarrow, or a book, or a picture, he has a moral right to that particular wheelbarrow, or book, or picture, but no right to ask that others be prevented from making similar things. Such a prohibition, though given for the purpose of stimulating discovery and invention, really in the long run operates as a check upon them.

Book IX, Chapter 3

56. Besides the enormous increase in the productive power of labor which would result from the better distribution of population there would be also a similar economy in the productive power of land. The concentration of population in cities fed by the exhaustive cultivation of large, sparsely populated areas, results in a literal draining into the sea of the elements of fertility. How enormous this waste is may be seen from the calculations that have been made as to the sewage of our cities, and its practical result is to be seen in the diminishing productiveness of agriculture in large sections. In a great part of the United States we are steadily exhausting our lands.

Book X, Chapter 1

57. In semi-scientific or popularized form this may perhaps be seen in best, because frankest, expression in "The Martyrdom of Man," by Winwood Reade, a writer of singular vividness and power. This book is in reality a history of progress, or, rather, a monograph upon its causes and methods, and will well repay perusal for its vivid pictures, whatever may be thought of the capacity of the author for philosophic generalization. The connection between subject and title may be seen by the conclusion: "I give to universal history a strange but true title—The Martyrdom of Man. In each generation the human race has been tortured that their children might profit by their woes. Our own prosperity is founded on the agonies of the past. Is it therefore unjust that we also should suffer for the benefit of those who are to come?"

58. "The Study of Sociology"—Conclusion.

59. Winwood Reade, "The Martyrdom of Man."

60. Herbert Spencer's definition of Evolution, "First Principles," p. 396.

Book X, Chapter 2

61. Wordsworth, in his "Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle" has in highly poetical form alluded to this influence:

    Armor rusting in his halls
    On the blood of Clifford calls:
    "Quell the Scot," exclaims the lance;
    "Bear me to the heart of France,"
    Is the longing of the shield.

Book X, Chapter 3

62. How easy it is for ignorance to pass into contempt and dislike; how natural it is for us to consider any difference in manners, customs, religion, etc., as proof of the inferiority of those who differ from us, any one who has emancipated himself in any degree from prejudice, and who mixes with different classes, may see in civilized society. In religion, for instance, the spirit of the hymn—

    "I'd rather be a Baptist, and wear a shining face,
    Than for to be a Methodist and always fall from grace,"

is observable in all denominations. As the English Bishop said, "Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is any other doxy," while the universal tendency is to classify all outside of the orthodoxies and heterodoxies of the prevailing religion as heathens or atheists. And the like tendency is observable as to all other differences.

63. The Sandwich Islanders did honor to their good chiefs by eating their bodies. Their bad and tyrannical chiefs they would not touch. The New Zealanders had a notion that by eating their enemies they acquired their strength and valor. And this seems to be the general origin of eating prisoners of war.

Book X, Chapter 4

64. See Macaulay's letter to Randall, the biographer of Jefferson.

65. It is also, it seems to me, instructive to note how inadequate and utterly misleading would be the idea of our civilization which could be gained from the religious and funereal monuments of our time, which are all we have from which to gain our ideas of the buried civilizations.

66. Statistics which show these things are collected in convenient form in a volume entitled "Deterioration and Race Education," by Samuel Royce, which has been largely distributed by the venerable Peter Cooper of New York. Strangely enough, the only remedy proposed by Mr. Royce is the establishment of kindergarten schools.

67. In point of constructive statesmanship—the recognition of fundamental principles and the adaptation of means to ends, the Constitution of the United States, adopted a century ago, is greatly superior to the latest State Constitutions, the most recent of which is that of California—a piece of utter botchwork.

Book X, Conclusion

68. Let us not delude our children. If for no other reason than for that which Plato gives, that when they come to discard that which we told them as pious fable they will also discard that which we told them as truth. The virtues which relate to self do generally bring their reward. Either a merchant or a thief will be more successful if he be sober, prudent, and faithful to his promises; but as to the virtues which do not relate to self—

    "It seems a story from the world of spirits,
    When any one obtains that which he merits,
    Or any merits that which he obtains."

End of Notes

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