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GEORGE, HENRY, an American political economist, was born at Philadelphia, September 2, 1839; died at New York, October 29, 1897. He attended the public schools until 1853, when he went into a counting-room, and then to sea, learning something of printing in the meanwhile. In 1858 he reached California, where he became a reporter and afterward editor of various papers, among them the “San Francisco Times and Post.” In August, 1880, he removed to New York. He spent a year in England and Ireland, in 1881 and 1882. Mr. George is chiefly known through his addresses and books upon economic questions, in which he attributes the evils of society to the treatment of land as subject to full individual ownership, and contends that, while the possession of land should be left to the individual, it should be subject to the payment to the community of land values proper, or economic rent. This doctrine, now known as The Single Tax, aims at abolishing all taxes for raising revenues except a tax levied on the value of land irrespective of improvements. He has published “Our Land and Land Policy” (1871); “Progress and Poverty” (1879); “ Irish Land Question” (1881); “Social Problems” (1883); “ Property in Land” (1884); “ Protection or Free Trade" (1886); “ The Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII.” (1891); and “A Perplexed Philosopher” (Herbert Spencer) (1892). Mr. George visited Great Britain again in 1883–84, 1884-85, and 1889, lecturing on economic questions, particularly that of land ownership, and in 1890 made a similar tour through Australia. Between 1887 and 1890 Mr. George published the “Standard,” a weekly paper, in New York.
THE ENSLAVEMENT OF LABORERS THE ULTIMATE RESULT
OF PRIVATE PROPERTY IN LAND.
(From "Progress and Poverty.") IF chattel slavery be unjust, then is private property in land unjust.
For let the circumstances be what they may - -the ownership of land will always give the ownership of men, to a degree
1 Copyright, 1879, by Heury George. Used by permission of Doubleday and McClure Co.
measured by the necessity (real or artificial) for the use of land. This is but a statement in different form of the law of rent.
And when that necessity is absolute — when starvation is the alternative to the use of land, then does the ownership of men involved in the ownership of land become absolute.
Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them.
In the one case, as the other, the one will be the absolute master of the ninety-nine – his power extending even to life and death, for simply to refuse them permission to live upon the island would be to force them into the sea.
Upon a larger scale, and through more complex relations, the same cause must operate in the same way and to the same end the ultimate result, the enslavement of laborers, becoming apparent just as the pressure increases which compels them to live on and from land which is treated as the exclusive property of others. Take a country in which the soil is divided among a number of proprietors, instead of being in the hands of one, and in which, as in modern production, the capitalist has been specialized from the laborer, and manufactures and exchange, in all their many branches, have been separated from agriculture. Though less direct and obvious, the relations between the owners of the soil and the laborers will, with increase of population and the improvement of the arts, tend to the same absolute mastery on the one hand and the same abject helplessness on the other, as in the case of the island we have supposed. Rent will advance, while wages will fall. Of the aggregate produce, the land owner will get a constantly increasing, the laborer a constantly diminishing share. Just as removal to cheaper land becomes difficult or impossible, laborers, no matter what they produce, will be reduced to a bare living, and the free competition among them, where land is monopolized, will force them to a condition which, though they may be mocked with the titles and insignia of freedom, will be virtually that of slavery.
There is nothing strange in the fact that, in spite of the enormous increase in productive power which this century has witnessed, and which is still going on, the wages of labor in the lower and wider strata of industry should everywhere tend to the wages of slavery — just enough to keep the laborer in working condition. For the ownership of the land on which and from which a man must live is virtually the ownership of the man himself, and in acknowledging the right of some individuals to the exclusive use and enjoyment of the earth, we condemn other individuals to slavery as fully and as completely as though we had formally made them chattels.
In a simpler form of society, where production chiefly consists in the direct application of labor to the soil, the slavery that is the necessary result of, according to some, the exclusive right to the soil from which all must live, is plainly seen in helotism, in villeinage, in serfdom.
Chattel slavery originated in the capture of prisoners in war, and, though it has existed to some extent in every part of the globe, its area has been small, its effects trivial, as compared with the forms of slavery which have originated in the appropriation of land. No people as a mass have ever been reduced to chattel slavery to men of their own race, nor yet on any large scale has any people ever been reduced to slavery of this kind by conquest. The general subjection of the many to the few, which we meet with wherever society has reached a certain development, has resulted from the appropriation of land as individual property. It is the ownership of the soil that everywhere gives the ownership of the men that live upon it. It is slavery of this kind to which the enduring pyramids and the colossal monuments of Egypt yet bear witness, and of the institution of which we have, perhaps, a vague tradition in the biblical story of the famine during which the Pharaoh purchased up the lands of the people. It was slavery of this kind to which, in the twilight of history, the conquerors of Greece reduced the original inhabitants of that peninsula, transforming them into helots by making them pay rent for their lands. It was the growth of the latifundia, or great landed estates, which transmuted the population of ancient Italy from a race of hardy husbandmen, whose robust virtues conquered the world, into a race of cringing bondsmen; it was the appropriation of the land as the absolute property of their chieftains which gradually turned the descendants of free and equal Gallic, Teutonic, and Hunnish warriors into colonii and villeins, and which changed the independent burghers of Sclavonic village communities into the boors of Russia and the gerfs of Poland; which instituted the feudalism of China and Japan, as well as that of Europe, and which made the High Chiefs of Polynesia the all but absolute masters of their fellows. How it came to pass that the Aryan shepherds and warriors who, as comparative philology tells us, descended from the common birthplace of the Indo-Germanic race into the lowlands of India, were turned into the suppliant and cringing Hindoo, the Sanscrit verse which I have before quoted gives us a hint. The white parasols and the elephants mad with pride of the Indian Rajah are the flowers of grants of land. And could we find the key to the records of the long-buried civilizations that lie entombed in the gigantic ruins of Yucatan and Guatemala, telling at once of the pride of a ruling class and the unrequited toil to which the masses were condemned, we should read, in all human probability, of a slavery imposed upon the great body of the people through the appropriation of the land as the property of a few of another illustration of the universal truth that they who possess the land are masters of the men who dwell upon it.
The necessary relation between labor and land, the absolute power which the ownership of land gives over men who cannot live but by using it, explains what is otherwise inexplicable — the growth and persistence of institutions, manners, and ideas 80 utterly repugnant to the natural sense of liberty and equality.
When the idea of individual ownership, which so justly and naturally attaches to things of human production, is extended to land, all the rest is a mere matter of development. The strongest and most cunning easily acquire a superior share in this species of property, which is to be had, not by production, but by appropriation, and in becoming lords of the land they become necessarily lords of their fellow-men. The ownership of land is the basis of aristocracy. It was not nobility that gave land, but the possession of land that gave nobility. All the enormous privileges of the nobility of mediæval Europe flowed from their position as the owners of the soil. The simple principle of the ownership of the soil produced, on the one side, the lord, on the other, the vassal - the one having all rights, the other none. The right of the lord to the soil acknowledged and maintained, those who lived upon it could do so only upon his terms. The manners and conditions of the times made those terms include services and servitudes, as well as rents in produce or money, but the essential thing that compelled them was the ownership of land. This power exists wherever the ownership of land exists, and can be brought out wherever the competition for the use of land is great enough to enable the landlord to make his own terms. The English landowner of to-day has, in the law which recognizes his exclusive right to the land, essentially all the power which his predecessor the feudal baron had. He might command rent in services or servitudes. He might compel his tenants to dress themselves in a particular way, to profess a particular religion, to send their children to a particular school, to submit their differences to his decision, to fall upon their knees when he spoke to them, to follow him around dressed in his livery, or to sacrifice to him female honor, if they would prefer these things to being driven off his land. He could demand, in short, any terms on which men would still consent to live on his land, and the law could not prevent him so long as it did not qualify his ownership, for compliance with them would assume the form of a free contract or voluntary act. And English landlords do exercise such of these powers as in the manners of the times they care to. Having shaken off the obligation of providing for the defence of the country, they no longer need the military service of their tenants, and the possession of wealth and power being now shown in other ways than by long trains of attendants, they no longer care for personal service. But they habitually control the votes of their tenants, and dictate to them in many little ways. That “right reverend father in God,” Bishop Lord Plunkett, evicted a number of his poor Irish tenants because they would not send their children to Protestant Sunday-schools; and to that Earl of Leitrim for whom Nemesis tarried so long before she sped the bullet of an assassin, even darker crimes are imputed; while, at the cold promptings of greed, cottage after cottage has been pulled down and family after family forced into the roads.
The principle that permits this is the same principle that in ruder times and a simpler social state enthralled the great masses of the common people and placed such a wide gulf between noble and peasant. Where the peasant was made a serf, it was simply by forbidding him to leave the estate on which he was born, thus artificially producing the condition we supposed on the island. In sparsely settled countries this is necessary to produce absolute slavery, but where land is fully occupied, competition may produce substantially the same conditions. Between the condition of the rack-rented Irish peasant and the Russian serf, the advantage was in many things on the side of the serf. The gerf did not starve,