© 2022 Eddyburg
Henry George
Progress and Poverty (english text)
31 Marzo 2004
Henry George, Progress and Poverty. An inquiry into the cause of industrial depression and of the increase of want with the increase of wealth. The Remedy, abridged by A.W. Madsen, published by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. (Selected passages)

The term land necessarily includes not merely the surface of the earth as distinguished from the water and the air, but the whole material universe outside of man himself, for it is only by having access to land, from which his very body is drawn, that man can come in contact with or use nature. The term land embraces, in short, all natural materials, forces, and opportunities, and, therefore, nothing that is freely supplied by nature can properly be classed as capital. A fertile field, a rich vein of ore, a falling stream which supplies power, may give to the possessor advantages equivalent to the possession of capital, but to class such things as capital would be to put an end to the distinction between land and capital, and, so far as they relate to each other, to make the two terms meaningless.

[Chapter 2: The importance of defining terms]

Here, let us imagine, is an unbounded savannah, stretching off in unbroken sameness of grass and flower, tree and rill, till the traveller tires of the monotony. Along comes the waggon 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, he labours 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, waggonmaker, carpenter, and cobbler - in short, a "jack of all trades and master of none." He cannot have his children schooled; 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 labour 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 that his labour will only suffice to satisfy 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 neighbour. 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 a score of neighbours. Labour 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 scion set up shops, and our settler can have his tools repaired for a small part of the labour they 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.

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 labour 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 labour 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 labour bestowed upon it, and this added productiveness gives it a superiority over land of equal natural quality where as yet there are no settlers.

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 centre 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 centre 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 labour expended in raising corn, or wheat, or potatoes, it will yield no more of those things than at first. But to labour expended in the subdivided branches of production that require proximity to other producers and especially to labour expended in that final part of production which consists in distribution, it will yield much larger returns. The wheatgrower may go further on and find land on which his labour will produce as much wheat, and nearly as much wealth. But the artisan, the manufacturer, the storekeeper, the professional man, find that their labour expended here, at the centre of exchanges, will yield them much more than if 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 to that 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 favourable facilities; the division of labour 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 storehouse and granaries of knowledge, the learned professors, the famous specialists. Here are museums and art galleries, and all things rare and valuable, the best of their kind. Here come great actors, and orators, and singers, from all over the world. Here, in short, is a centre of human life, in all its varied manifestations.

So enormous are the advantages which this land now offers for the application of labour 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 storeys from the ground, while underneath the surface of the earth engines are throbbing with pulsations that exert the force of thousands of horses.

All those advantages adhere to the land; it is on this land and no other that they can be utilized, for here is the centre of population-the focus of exchanges, the market place and workshop of the highest forms of industry. The productive powers that density of population has attached to this land are equivalent to the multiplication of its original fertility by the hundredfold and the thousandfold.

[Chapter 12: The unbounded savannah]

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? Or the moundbuilders, or the cave-dwellers, the contemporaries of the mastodon and the three-toed horse, or the generations still further back who, in dim aeons that we can only think of 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 present a ticket at the door of a theatre, 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 railway carriage obtain the right to scatter his baggage over all the seats and compel the passengers who come in after him to stand up?

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 railway carriage may spread 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 that 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 that 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 a few acres, but to a whole township, a whole country, a whole continent.

[Chapter 20: The rightful basis of property]

I do not propose either the purchase or the confiscation of private property in land. The first would be unjust; the second, needless. Let the individuals who now hold it still retain, if they want to, possession of what they are pleased to call their land. Let them continue to call it their land. Let them buy and sell, and bequeath and devise it. It is not necessary to confiscate land; it is only necessary to confiscate rent.

Nor to take rent for public uses is it necessary that the state should bother with the letting of lands. It is not necessary that any new machinery should be created. The machinery already exists. Instead of extending it, all we have to do is to simplify and reduce it. By making use of this existing machinery, we may, without jar or shock, assert the common right to land by taking rent for public uses.

We already take some rent in taxation. We have only to make some changes in our modes of taxation to take it all.

Therefore, what I propose is - to appropriate rent by taxation

In form, the ownership of land would remain just as now. No owner of land need be dispossessed, and no restriction need be placed upon the amount of land any one could hold. For, rent being taken by the state in taxes, land, no matter in whose name it stood or in what parcels it was field, would be really common property, and every member of the community would participate in the advantages of its ownership.

Now, insomuch as the taxation of rent, or land values, must necessarily be increased just as we abolish other taxes, we may put the proposition into practical form by proposing to abolish all taxation save that upon land values.

As we have seen, the value of land is at the beginning of society nothing, but as society develops by the increase of population and the advance of the arts, it becomes greater and greater. Hence it will not be enough merely to place all taxes upon the value of land. It will be necessary, where rent exceeds the present governmental revenues, to increase commensurately the amount demanded in taxation, and to continue this increase as society progresses and rent advances. But this is so natural and easy a matter, that it may be considered as involved, or at least understood, in the proposition to put an taxes on the value of land.

Wherever the idea of concentrating all taxation upon land values finds lodgment sufficient to induce consideration, it invariably makes way, but there are few of the classes most to be benefited by it, who at first, or even for a long time afterwards, see its full significance and power. It is difficult for working-men to get over the idea that there is a real antagonism between capital and labour. It is difficult for small farmers and homestead owners to get over the idea that to put all taxes on the value of land would be to tax them unduly. It is difficult for both classes to get over the idea that to exempt capital from taxation would be to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. These ideas spring from confused thought. But behind ignorance and prejudice there is a powerful interest, which has hitherto dominated literature, education and opinion. A great wrong always dies hard, and the great wrong which in every civilized country condemns the masses of men to poverty and want will not die without a bitter struggle.

[Chapter 16: The enigma resolved – The first Great Reform]

La traduzione italiana è qui

Who is Henry George? Here you find a biography


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