While poverty in Britain is not as widespread as it was a century ago, there is still a great deal of poverty here, and much more in some other parts of the world. Inevitably poverty encourages crime, and so everybody is threatened.
In very primitive hunter-gatherer societies, life may be “nasty, brutish and short”, but there is not a great gap between rich and poor. That gap is first seen in agricultural societies, where land is partitioned. Some people get a lot of land, others get little or none. Nobody can live without access to land and its products, and so landless people are at the mercy of those who own land. Great wealth and great poverty go hand in hand. Most of the things we see about us can be created anew to meet demand. Land is of finite quantity, and cannot be created. The “law of supply and demand” does not operate with land.
In modern society, the demand for land is not confined to the need for land to grow food. Land in cities – housing land, industrial land, land for shops and other business purposes, land for leisure and so on – is often even more in demand, and the price of those kinds of land is usually vastly greater than the price of agricultural land.
But there are still many people with little or no land. Some of those people have scarce and marketable skills of one kind or another, which enable them to earn a comfortable living. In a country like Britain, most people who lack those skills, or who cannot use them for one reason or another, are supported by the remainder of society through what we call the “Welfare State”. Life is not pleasant for them, and they are really in poverty, but their condition is often more or less tolerable. There are some people in Britain, and a great many people in certain other countries, who cannot call on a “Welfare State”. Those people experience profound poverty. They are hungry, ill-clad, badly housed, often without fuel, prone to avoidable disease. If they can get jobs at all, they are prepared to work for a pittance.
And vet all around them are great quantities of valuable land. Most of that land is owned by other people who, if they care, can sell it for large sums of money, which they can then use to buy anything they need.
But where did those people get their land from? They did not make it, nor did anybody from whom they bought it or inherited it make the land. It derives from the common fund of nature, and no human being has a better title to that fund than any other human being.
Here is the vital clue to the eradication of poverty. There is no need to take away anybody’s property. All that is necessary is to require somebody who owns land to pay an annual tax related to the value of that land. “Land”, for this purpose, means the site alone. It does not include any buildings or crops or machinery standing on the land. Those things were put there by human effort, and it is right that people who created them, or acquired them from others who created them, should be free to enjoy them. This tax on land values would not be an addition to existing taxation, but a replacement for much of it. It would provide the money for an effective eradication of poverty,
The effect of shifting the tax burden on to the value of land will be to bring land which is today left idle for speculative purposes on to the market. The owner of valuable land will not wish to go on paying the land value tax for land from which he derives ne benefit. He will probably either put it to good use himself or dispose of it to others who will do so. When the land is used productively, it will produce an increased demand for workers. That will cut down unemployment, which is a major cause of povertv. Thus land value taxation will deliver a “double whammy” to poverty.
George, Henry: Crime of Poverty
George, Henry: Progress and Poverty. This is available in many editions. A recent edition, edited and abridged by Bob Darke, Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, New York 2010
George, Henry: Science of Political Economy (abridged) Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, New York 2004
George, Henry: Social Problems Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, New York 1996
George, Susan: How the other half dies: the real reasons for world hunger. Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1976
Hammond, J.L. and B: The Town Labourer. Longmans, London 1978
Hammond, J.L. and B.: The Village Labourer. Longmans, London
Harrison, Fred: The silver bullet. International Union for Land Value Taxation, London 2008
Jackson, Ben: Poverty and the Planet. Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1994