George was a famous 19th century American whose main work, Progress
and Poverty, was first published in 1879. Although a bestseller
in its day, selling over three million copies worldwide and becoming
the best selling book of its time excepting the bible, his work
is not widely known today.
In essence, the book's enquiry was to
question why, amidst all the wealth-creating ability of modern
industrial economies, poverty and inequality were so prevalent.
The parallels between today and the late 19th century are many,
strong and important.
Throughout his life Henry George gained a
deep understanding of global economics, which led him to propose
a more just way to organise things.
Because, in George's view, all
wealth was produced by the combination of natural resources and
human effort, then the exclusive ownership of the natural resources
inevitably leads to an international economic set up where all
the wealth flows to the 'owners' of the natural resources. Those
dispossessed of any ownership of resources can exist only on the
sale of their labour, and the ruthless forces of the competitive
marketplace will always lead the returns for the sale of labour
to be reduced to bare survival level. George demonstrated that
wages for the sale of human effort would always tend to reduce
to the level at which, for the same expenditure of effort, a living
could be made at the margins of cultivation where no rent need
to be paid for the use of natural resources. This is happening
on a global basis today just as it was in his day. The poverty
and injustice attached to the lives of people today who do not
own any natural resources is very apparent in every country.
admidst all the wealth-creating ability of modern industrial economies
are poverty and equality still so prevalent?"
A change in taxation
Henry George proposed that all taxation on human activity, effort
and possession should be gradually reduced, and at the same time
gradually increase taxation solely on the exclusive use of the
natural resources, which he argued were legally as well as morally
the property of the whole of humanity as a planetary community.
any given time it is the humans who are alive on the planet who
are responsible for doing a good job of husbandry of the planet.
Holders of the right to the exclusive use of parts of the planet
need to pay a market determined 'rent' for the use of those natural
resources, this rent to be paid to the whole community of the planet
through revenue-raising authorities similar to those currently
in existence, i.e., the tax man. Therefore the things needing to
be taxed would include the privileged or exclusive use of land
and sea, including everything found in or under it, as well as
the air, taking into account the maintenance of its quality.
was careful to differentiate between the land and the structures
or improvements on the land which were the legitimate property
of the people who built or owned them, and so were not to be subject
Hope for the future?
Our present political economic system would do well to transform
itself in this direction. By taxing the earth's geographical,
physical resources rather than the efforts and/or property gained
by the people, we could arrive at a more just economy, whereby
all who require a stake in the planet should be able to have
such a stake. By following the direction Henry George argued
for, the immense wealth which humanity can create would be shared
justly by fair returns for the effort each individual or group
exerts, thus bringing about a more economically just and sustainably
thriving world. The environmental future of the planet would
be more secure because self interest would at last be conjoined
with the interests of planetary husbandry and international economic
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