Henry George (September 2, 1839 – October 29, 1897)
was an American political economist and the most influential proponent
of the "Single Tax" on land. He is the author of Progress
and Poverty, written in 1879.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, George went to sea, before the mast,
at age 15 in April 1855 on the Hindoo. He returned to Philadelphia after
14 months at sea to become an apprentice typesetter before settling
in California. After a failed attempt at gold mining he started to work
his way up through the newspaper industry, starting as a printer and
ending up an editor and proprietor. Some of his earliest articles to
gain him fame were on his opinion that Chinese immigration should be
restricted. He later retracted those early writings.
On a trip to New
York City George was struck by the apparent paradox that the poor in
that long-established city were much worse off than the poor in less
developed California. This paradox supplied the theme and title for
his 1879 book Progress and Poverty, which was a huge success, selling
over 3 million copies. In it George made the argument that a sizeable
portion of the wealth created by social and technological advances in
a free market economy is captured by land owners and monopolists via
economic rents, and that this concentration of unearned wealth is the
root cause of poverty. George considered it a great injustice that private
profit was being earned from restricting access to natural resources
while productive activity was burdened with heavy taxes, and held that
such a system was equivalent to slavery - a concept somewhat similar
to wage slavery. The appropriation of oil royalties by magnates of petrol-rich
countries may be seen as an equivalent form of rent-seeking activity:
since natural resources are given freely by Nature rather than being
products of human labor or entrepreneurship, no single individual should
be allowed to acquire unearned revenues by monopolizing their commerce.
The same holds true about every other mineral and biological raw resource.
George was in a
position to discover this pattern, having experienced poverty himself,
knowing many different societies from his travels, and living in California
at a time of rapid growth. In particular he had noticed that the construction
of railroads in California was pushing up land values and rents as fast
or faster than wages were rising.
best known for advocating the abolition of all taxes save those on land
value. By doing so, the state could avoid having to tax any other types
of wealth or transaction. The clearest statement of this view is found
in Progress and Poverty: "We must make land common property."
. George formulated a comprehensive set of economic policies. He
was highly critical of restrictive patents and copyrights (though he
amended his views on the latter when it was explained to him that copyrights
do not constrain independent reinvention in the manner of patents).
He also advocated the replacement of patents with government supported
incentives for invention and scientific investigation and dismantling
of monopolies when possible – and taxation or regulation of natural
monopolies. Overall, he advocated a combination of unfettered free markets
and significant social programs made possible by economically efficient
taxes on land rent and monopolies. Modern economists like the 1976 Nobel
Memorial Prize winner Milton Friedman agree that Henry George's land
tax is potentially beneficial because unlike other taxes, land taxes
impose no excess burden on the economy, and thus stimulate more rapid
economic growth. Modern day environmentalists have resonated with the
idea of the earth as the common property of humanity – and some
have endorsed the idea of ecological tax reform, including substantial
taxes or fees on pollution as a replacement for "command and control"
Death and subsequent
In 1886 George ran for mayor of New York City, and polled second (ahead
of Theodore Roosevelt). He ran again in 1897, but died 4 days before
the election. An estimated 100,000 people attended his funeral.
According to his
grand-daughter Agnes de Mille, Progress and Poverty and its successors
made Henry George the third most famous man in the USA, behind only
Mark Twain and Thomas Edison.  He was also popular as a speaker,
even making several speaking trips abroad to places such as Ireland
and Scotland where access to land was (and still is) a major political
issue. His ideas were taken up to some degree in South Africa, Taiwan,
Hong Kong, and Australia – where state governments still levy
a land value tax, albeit low and with many exemptions. An attempt by
the Liberal Government of the day to implement his ideas in 1909 as
part of the People's Budget caused a crisis in Britain which led indirectly
to reform of the House of Lords. Henry George was familiar with the
work of Karl Marx – and predicted that if Marx's ideas were tried
the likely result would be a dictatorship.
Henry George's popularity
declined in the 20th century; however, there are still many Georgist
organizations in existence, and many people who do remain famous were
heavily influenced by him, such as George Bernard Shaw , Leo Tolstoy
 , Sun Yat Sen , Herbert Simon , and David Lloyd George. A
follower of George, Lizzie Magie, created a board game called The Landlord's
Game in 1904 to demonstrate his theories. After further development
this game led to the modern board game, Monopoly. 
Notable is also
Silvio Gesell's Freiwirtschaft , in which Gesell combined Henry George's
ideas about land ownership and rents with his own theory about the money
system and interest rates and his successive development of Freigeld.
In his last book,
Martin Luther King referenced Henry George in support of a guaranteed
minimum income. George's influence has ranged widely across the
political spectrum. Noted progressives such as consumer rights advocate
(and frequent U.S. Presidential candidate) Ralph Nader  and Congressman
Dennis Kucinich  have positively mentioned George in campaign platforms
and/or speeches. His ideas have also received praise from conservative
journalists William F. Buckley, Jr.  and Frank Chodorov , as
well as free-market economists such as the aforementioned Milton Friedman
, Fred E. Foldvary  and Stephen Moore . The libertarian
political and social commentator Albert Jay Nock  was also an avowed
admirer, and wrote extensively on the Georgist economic and social philosophy.
The Henry George
Foundation of America, a 501 (c) 4 non-profit foundation, was founded
in 1926 by some of the leading lights of the progressive Democratic
Party in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh Mayors Scully and McNair,
City Assessor Percy Williams, State Senator and Allegheny County Democratic
Chairman Bernard B. McGinnis, and Councilman George Evans (driving force
behind Buhl Planetarium). Its national office is now located in Philadelphia,
where Henry George was born.
The Center for the
Study of Economics, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit educational foundation,
was established in 1980 as the sister organization of the Henry George
Foundation of America. Its mission is to research land value taxation,
to assist governments in implementation and to study the effect of land
based property taxation where used. It suggests implementation where
appropriate but does not support political candidates or become involved
in the electoral process. The Center also gathers and disseminates articles,
studies and monographs on the subject of land based taxation.
The Henry George
Foundation of America and The Center for the Study of Economics played
instrumental roles in helping nearly 20 Pennsylvania cities transform
their local property tax into a revenue source which taxes land value
more and improvement value less. As a pilot for a North American Land
Value Tax Project, these organizations have created the Maryland Land
Value Tax Project has a means of allowing citizens, elected officials
and policy analysts to estimate the net property tax change effects
of an incremental implementation of Henry George's land value tax.
The Robert Schalkenbach
Foundation , an incorporated "operating foundation," also
publishes copies of George's work on economic reform and sponsors academic
research into his policy proposals.
George developed what he saw as a crucial feature of his own theory
of economics in a critique of an illustration used by Frédéric
Bastiat in order to explain the nature of interest and profit.
Bastiat had asked
his readers to consider James and William, both carpenters. James has
built himself a plane, and has lent it to William for a year. Would
James be satisfied with the return of an equally good plane a year later?
Plainly not! He'd expect a board along with it, as interest. The key
to a theory of interest is to understand why. Bastiat said that James
had given William over that year "the power, inherent in the instrument,
to increase the productivity of his labor," and wants compensation
for that increased productivity.
George didn't accept
this explanation. He wrote, "I am inclined to think that if all
wealth consisted of such things as planes, and all production was such
as that of carpenters -- that is to say, if wealth consisted but of
the inert matter of the universe, and production of working up this
inert matter into different shapes, that interest would be but the robbery
of industry, and could not long exist." But some wealth is inherently
fruitful, like a pair of breeding cattle, or a vat of grape juice soon
to ferment into wine, or ... land. Planes and other sorts of inert matter
(and the most lent item of all -- money itself) earns interest indirectly,
only by being part of the same social "circle of exchange"
with fruitful forms of wealth such as those.
drew its share of critiques. Austrian school economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk,
for example, expressed a negative judgment on George's discussion of
the carpenter's plane:
In the first place,
it is impossible to support his distinction of the branches of production
into two classes, in one of which the vital forces of nature are supposed
to constitute a special element which functions side by side with labour,
and in the other of which this is not true. [...] The natural sciences
have long since proved to us that the cooperation of nature is universal.
[...] The muscular movements of the person using the plane would be
of little use, if they did not have the assistance of the natural forces
and properties of the plane iron.
response came from British biologist T.H. Huxley in his article "Capital
- the Mother of Labour," published in 1890 in the journal The Nineteenth
Century. Huxley used the principles of energy science to undermine George's
theory, arguing that, energetically speaking, labor is unproductive.
of interest is now dismissed even by some otherwise Georgist authors,
who see it as mistaken and irrelevant to his ideas about land and free
Henry George was
born in Philadelphia in 1839, into a relatively poor but very spiritual
family. He left school before graduating, initially apprenticing as
a typesetter. Tiring of this he sought adventure and joined the crew
of a merchant ship. Sailing around the globe, he ended up in San Francisco,
where he spent time as a gold prospector but returned to his earlier
craft as a typesetter and printer. By the 1860s George had become a
crusading journalist. He wrote for several newspapers and eventually
became the owner of the San Francisco Evening Post.
in world events and history sent him to the library and an intense period
studying the works of the great political economists. What he found
was a science in great need of consistency and clarity. He decided to
take on the challenge of improving on the work of his predecessors and
contemporaries. His first book, Our Land and Land Policy (1870), set
the stage for the work that became his great masterpiece, which he titled
Progress and Poverty and was forced to self-publish in 1879. A New York
publisher then issued a second printing, and positive reviews generated
interest in the book.
Henry George moved
to New York City to promote his book, lecturing to increasingly larger
and larger groups. Over the next two decades he became one of the late
nineteenth century's most respected champions for reform. In his first
two books George explained that the reason so many people lived in total
misery was because their natural birthright -- access to land -- had
been systematically taken away. However, instead of urging an uprising
against landowners and government, George made a case for peaceful,
yet permanent change by removing all taxes on what people produced with
their labor and the capital goods used in production.
He championed the
idea proposed a century before by Thomas Paine, that those who held
title to land owed to the rest of the members of society a ground rent
for this privilege. As George became a recognized public figure and
others flocked to his side, his proposal to collect ground rent was
increasingly referred to as the single tax (although not a tax at all,
but actually a user fee society ought to collect from anyone who is
given exclusive use of any part of nature). Progress and Poverty was
reprinted over and over in inexpensive editions. Just during George's
life the book was purchased by several millions of people all around
the globe after being translated into numerous languages.
fame spread most rapidly throughout the English-speaking world outside
of the United States. He accepted an assignment from an Irish-American
newspaper to visit Ireland and report on the agitation for independence
from the United Kingdom. George eventually made several trips to Ireland,
Scotland and England, where he lectured extensively and became the catalyst
for a new political movement to bring an end to land monopoly and remove
barriers to trade. He also lectured in Australia and New Zealand. Along
the way, George was twice nominated by his supporters to run for the
office of mayor of the City of New York. He started a newspaper, The
Standard, and hammered away at the issues of the day. He also continued
to write books: Social Problems (1883), Protection or Free Trade (1886),
A Perplexed Philosopher (1892) and Science of Political Economy (1897),
which was not published until after his death. Henry George died while
campaigning for mayor of New York City, the victim of exhaustion. He
had dedicated his very existence to solving the most troublesome problems
faced by humanity. His works are monuments to the pursuit of truth.
GEORGE, HENRY (1839-1897),
social reformer, was born on 2 September 1839 in Philadelphia, United
States of America, the first son of Richard Samuel Henry George and
his wife Catherine Pratt, née Vallance. Brought up in a puritanical
family George was educated at Mrs Graham's school, Mount Vernon Grammar
School, the Episcopal Academy and after five months at high school became
a messenger boy and then a clerk. In 1855 he sailed for Melbourne in
the crew of the Hindoo, went on to India and thence to America in April
1856. In December he was in San Francisco where in 1858-59, between
bouts of gold-prospecting, he worked as a typesetter. He joined the
Methodists and on 3 December 1861 married Annie Corsina, Sydney-born
daughter of Major John Fox and his wife Elizabeth, née McCloskey.
Irregular employment kept them poor until he became managing editor
of the San Francisco Times in 1866. By then he had perfected a simple
but emotional literary style studded with biblical allusions. A maturing
curiosity for social and political problems had emerged in 1865 when
he turned from protection to free trade. In 1868 his article 'What the
Railroad Will Bring Us' analysed the tendency to concentrate increasing
national wealth in fewer hands, a conviction confirmed by a visit to
New York. He was an active Democrat but his pamphlet, Our Land and Land
Policy (1871), argued against private ownership of land, exposed the
predatory nature of rent and stressed the need for a tax on land values
only. In 1879 his definitive Progress and Poverty won him repute as
a leading American reformer. In 1880 he settled in New York. In 1880-89
he made several visits to Britain and with the publication of Social
Problems (1883) became an international figure.
spread to Australia chiefly through the Bulletin in 1883. In 1887 the
Land Nationalisation League was founded in Sydney to propagate his and
A. R. Wallace's beliefs. Reformed in 1889 as the Single Tax League it
was led by F. Cotton, John Farrell, E. W. Foxall, C. L. Garland, W.
Johnson and P. Meggy. In America in 1889 Garland arranged for George
to visit Australia and with Farrell as campaign director he arrived
in Sydney on 6 March 1890 in the Mariposa. His reforming appeal was
still strong but his remedies had been devastatingly criticized even
by Australians. His antagonism to socialism and trade unionism alienated
much working-class and radical support at a time of political and industrial
turbulence and his objections to private property frightened land-owners.
Above all, his free-trade views, even in New South Wales, isolated him
from the rising tide of protection. This diverse but powerful hostility
was increased by the intense fervour of George's supporters: at a banquet
on 7 March Garland had introduced him with 'Ecce Homo!' The result of
his campaign in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and New South
Wales was negligible. The Bulletin especially, the Sydney Morning Herald
and the Age helped to ensure that Georgeism had no future in Australia.
He left in June 1890 and died on 28 October 1897 in New York and was
buried in Greenwood cemetery, Brooklyn.
has been overrated by several historians and publicists. None of his
doctrines was original and all were theoretically and practically flawed
however beguilingly propagated. His views on leasehold and taxation
of unimproved land value were held independently by many Australians
and their partial legislative adoption owed little to George. His central
ideas of the 'unearned increment' and single tax are now historical