Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
Progress and Poverty
Henry George (1839–1897)
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George. Single taxers hold this, the chief work of the author, to be the Bible of the new cult. It was written in the years 1877–79, and the MS. was hawked about the country and refused by all publishers till the author, a practical printer, had the plates made, doing a large part of the composition himself. It was then brought out by Appletons in 1879. He seeks, in the work, to solve a problem and prescribe a remedy. The problem is: “Why, in the midst of a marvelous progress, is grinding poverty on the increase?” In the solution he begins with the beginning of political economy, takes issue with accepted authority, and claims that the basis law is not the selfishness of mankind, but that “man seeks to gratify his desires with the least exertion.” Using this law as physicists do the law of gravitation, he proceeds to define anew, capital, rent, interest, wealth, labor, and land. All that is not labor, or the result of labor, is land. Wealth is the product of labor applied to land. Interest is that part of the result of labor which is paid to capital for its use for a time; capital is the fruit of labor, not its employer; rent is the tax taken by the landholder from labor and capital, which must be paid before capital and labor can divide. The problem is solved, he declares, when it is found that the constantly increasing rent serves so to restrict the rewards of capital and labor that wage, the laborer’s share of the joint product, becomes the least sum upon which he can subsist and propagate. The laborer would refuse such a wage; but as it is the best he can do, he must accept. Were the land public property he could refuse, and transfer his labor to open land and produce for himself. As he cannot do this, he must compete with thousands as badly off as is he; hence poverty, crime, unrest, and all social and moral evils.  1
  The remedy is to nationalize the land,—make it public property; leaving that already in use in the possession of those holding it, but confiscating the rent and abolishing all other forms of taxation. He declares taxation upon anything but land to be a penalty upon production; so he would tax that which cannot be produced or increased or diminished,—i.e., land. This, he claims, would abolish all speculation in land, would throw it open to whomever would use it. Labor, having an opportunity to employ itself, would do so, or to a large enough extent to increase production; and as man is a never-satisfied animal, increased production would bring increased exchange; hence prosperity, health, wealth, and happiness.  2

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