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Henry George

Green MP Caroline Lucas is supporting an annual land value tax, based on its market price, but, of course, with many "new" ideas this one has been proposed before. Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”

Henry George's book "Progress and Poverty" was very popular. The book's starting point was man's God-given right to the land. Private property in land was unjust as it restricted access to the land. As technological progress increased industrial production, the benefits, George argued, went not to the labourers or even to the capitalists but to the landlords in the form of increased rent. The remedy proposed in Progress and Poverty was the raising by the state of a tax equivalent to the rental value of the land. Not only would this "single" tax compensate the poor labourer for his lost birth right to the land, but it would obviate the need for other forms of taxation and be politically more acceptable than full land nationalisation.

Scotland proved the most receptive to his message. It was here after all with the Crofters' Revolt raging and the cities crowded with Highland and Irish exiles that the unacceptable face of landlordism was most apparent and keenly resented. The Presbyterian Scots also responded to the religious strain in Georgism. The Scottish Land Restoration League, a purely Georgite body was established in Glasgow with branches in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. "The land question" Henry George wrote to an English friend, "will never go to sleep in Auchtermuchty."

Marx describes Henry George in a letter to Friedrich Sorge, 30 June 1881:
“Theoretically the man is utterly backward! He understands nothing about the nature of surplus value and so wanders about in speculations which follow the English model but have now been superseded even among the English, about the different portions of surplus value to which independent existence is attributed--about the relations of profit, rent, interest, etc. His fundamental dogma is that everything would be all right if ground rent were paid to the state. (You will find payment of this kind among the transitional measures included in The Communist Manifesto too.) This idea originally belonged to the bourgeois economists; it was first put forward (apart from a similar demand at the end of the eighteenth century) by the earliest radical followers of Ricardo, soon after his death. I said of it in 1847, in my work against Proudhon: “We can understand that economists like Mill” (the elder, not his son John Stuart, who also repeats this in a somewhat modified form) “Cherbuliez, Hilditch and others have demanded that rent should be paid to the state in order that it may serve as a substitute for taxes. This is a frank expression of the hatred which the industrial capitalist dedicates to the landed proprietor, who seems to him a useless and superfluous element in the general total of bourgeois production.”
We ourselves, as I have already mentioned, adopted this appropriation of ground rent by the state among numerous other transitional measures, which, as we also remarked in the Manifesto, are and must be contradictory in themselves.
But the first person to turn this desideratum
[requirement] of the radical English bourgeois economists into a socialist panacea, to declare this procedure to be the solution of the antagonisms involved in the present method of production, was Colins, a former old Hussar officer of Napoleon’s, born in Belgium, who in the latter days of Guizot and the first of Napoleon the Less, favoured the world from Paris with some fat volumes about this “discovery” of his. Like another discovery he made, namely, that while there is no God there is an “immortal” human soul and that animals have “no feelings.” For if they had feelings, that is souls, we should be cannibals and a realm of righteousness could never be founded upon earth. His “anti-landownership” theory together with his theory of the soul, etc., have been preached every month for years in the Parisian Philosophie de l’Avenir [Philosophy of the Future] by his few remaining followers, mostly Belgians. They call themselves “rational collectivists” and have praised Henry George. After them and besides them, among other people, the Prussian banker and former lottery owner Samten from East Prussia, a shallow-brained fellow, has eked out this “socialism” into a thick volume.
All these “socialists” since Colins have this much in common that they leave wage labour and therefore capitalist production in existence and try to bamboozle themselves or the world into believing that if ground rent were transformed into a state tax all the evils of capitalist production would disappear of themselves. The whole thing is therefore simply an attempt, decked out with socialism, to save capitalist domination and indeed to establish it afresh on an even wider basis than its present one.
This cloven hoof (at the same time ass’s hoof) is also unmistakably revealed in the declamations of Henry George. And it is the more unpardonable in him because he ought to have put the question to himself in just the opposite way: How did it happen that in the United States, where, relatively, that is in comparison with civilised Europe, the land was accessible to the great mass of the people and to a certain degree (again relatively) still is, capitalist economy and the corresponding enslavement of the working class have developed more rapidly and shamelessly than in any other country!
On the other hand George’s book, like the sensation it has made with you, is significant because it is a first, if unsuccessful, attempt at emancipation from the orthodox political economy.
H. George does not seem, for the rest, to know anything about the history of the early American anti-renters,** who were rather practical men than theoretical. Otherwise he is a talented writer (with a talent for Yankee advertisement too) as his article on California in the Atlantic proves, for instance. He also has the repulsive presumption and arrogance which is displayed by all panacea-mongers without exception."

Of course George never held much store by Marx describing him as “a most superficial thinker, entangled in an inexact and vicious terminology,” and as “the prince of muddleheads.”

Engels explains the differences between their theories and Henry George in the preface of the American edition of The Condition of the Working-Class in England, New York, 1887.

“If Henry George declares land-monopolization to be the sole cause of poverty and misery, he naturally finds the remedy in the resumption of the land by society at large. Now, the Socialists of the school of Marx, too, demand the resumption, by society, of the land, and not only of the land but of all other means of production likewise. But even if we leave these out of the question, there is another difference. What is to be done with the land? Modern Socialists, as represented by Marx, demand that it should be held and worked in common and for common account, and the same with all other means of social production, mines, railways, factories, etc.; Henry George would confine himself to letting it out to individuals as at present, merely regulating its distribution and applying the rents for public, instead of, as at present, for private purposes. What the Socialists demand, implies a total revolution of the whole system of social production; what Henry George demands, leaves the present mode of social production untouched, and has, in fact, been anticipated by the extreme section of Ricardian bourgeois economists who, too, demanded the confiscation of the rent of land by the State. It would of course be unfair to suppose that Henry George has said his last word once for all. But I am bound to take his theory as I find it.”

But Engels also argued that for the sake of the unity of the budding American labor movement, it was best not to dwell on the weaknesses of Henry George since organisations such as the Knights of Labor “…That the first programme of this party is still confused and highly deficient, that it has set up the banner of Henry George, these are inevitable evils but also only transitory ones. The masses must have time and opportunity to develop and they can only have the opportunity when they have their own movement–no matter in what form so long as it is only their own movement–in which they are driven further by their own mistakes and learn wisdom by hurting themselves...My preface will of course turn entirely on the immense stride made by the American working man in the last ten months, and naturally also touch H.G. [Henry George] and his land scheme. But it cannot pretend to deal exhaustively with it. Nor do I think the time has come for that. It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat, than that it should start and proceed from the beginning on theoretically perfectly correct lines. There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than "durch Schaden klug werden" [to learn by one's own mistakes]. And for a whole large class, there is no other road, especially for a nation so eminently practical as the Americans. The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist, H.G. or Powderly, will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own. Therefore I think also the K[nights] of L[abour] a most important factor in the movement which ought not to be pooh-poohed from without but to be revolutionised from within, and I consider that many of the Germans there have made a grievous mistake when they tried, in face of a mighty and glorious movement not of their creation, to make of their imported and not always understood theory a kind of alleinseligmachendes dogma and to keep aloof from any movement which did not accept that dogma. Our theory is not a dogma but the exposition of a process of evolution, and that process involves successive phases. To expect that the Americans will start with the full consciousness of the theory worked out in older industrial countries is to expect the impossible. What the Germans ought to do is to act up to their own theory --if they understand it, as we did in 1845 and 1848--to go in for any real general working-class movement, accept its faktische starting points as such and work it gradually up to the theoretical level by pointing out how every mistake made, every reverse suffered, was a necessary consequence of mistaken theoretical views in the original programme; they ought, in the words of The Communist Manifesto, to represent the movement of the future in the movement of the present. But above all give the movement time to consolidate, do not make the inevitable confusion of the first start worse confounded by forcing down people's throats things which at present they cannot properly understand, but which they soon will learn. A million or two of workingmen's votes next November for a bona fide workingmen's party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform. The very first attempt--soon to be made if the movement progresses--to consolidate the moving masses on a national basis will bring them all face to face, Georgites, K. of L., Trade Unionists, and all; and if our German friends by that time have learnt enough of the language of the country to go in for a discussion, then will be the time for them to criticise the views of the others and thus, by showing up the inconsistencies of the various standpoints, to bring them gradually to understand their own actual position, the position made for them by the correlation of capital and wage labour. But anything that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the workingmen's party--no matter what platform--I should consider a great mistake, and therefore I do not think the time has arrived to speak out fully and exhaustively either with regard to H.G. or the K. of L."

  William Morris was more sanguine about Henry George.

"This eloquent and enthusiastic American writer and agitator has been among us for three months working hard to push what he believes to be the true remedy for our terrible social ills, some acknowledgment of which at least he has forced from the better part of the middle-classes. It is impossible not to feel sympathy and regard for a man of this kind, in whose most bitter attacks there is still an attractive kindliness, and whose earnest faith and simplicity cover over with a rude eloquence the grave mistakes which to others seem to lie at the foundation of all his teaching. It is indeed refreshing in days like these, when cynicism and contempt for all self-sacrifice are so often taken as the test marks of the higher culture, to find a man who, rising from among the workers, throws the glamour of his own sincerity over the most callous and forces them to look into the misery around them, of which misery indeed many of the highly critical and refined are the direct cause, For what he has done here in England we owe Henry George our sincerest thanks: he himself has earned our deep esteem. His book has stirred men and women of the middle-class to think of what must be called revolution as something possible and beneficent, and has even stirred some of them to act in a sort of way; ineffectual as their palliatives must be for the remedy of the wrongs which their class has created. It is not unlikely that a more logical and correct thinker, a more rigid economist would have failed where he has so far succeeded. People read between the lines of his book, not his economical errors, but his deep love of truth and his never-ceasing desire to benefit his fellow-men. The feelings were swept away by "Progress and Poverty," the reason came limping lamely after to offer hopeless expostulation. And as with his writing so with his speaking. That winning frankness and genuine sincerity which ring through his every utterance have gone straight to the hearts of his English audiences on all occasions save when he was speaking at the would-be home of culture and refinement If the land question at this hour is more clearly before the people than any other this is in great part due to Mr. Henry George. No doubt he came at a favourable time as his book was published at a moment when it Was likely to attract attention. Unless circumstances favour the writer or the orator his labour as all history shows is vain for his own epoch. But this in no wise takes away from the merit of his work or detracts from the honour due to labours in the cause of the people. Granted that the depression throughout the country and the serious state of our agricultural industry helped Mr. George to an attentive hearing, he never spared himself but strove as we are striving to stir an apathy which has lasted almost unbroken for over thirty years.

For ourselves we will confess that we looked with some misgiving to his visit now drawing to a close. Mr. George's high qualities are themselves a drawback from our point of view. We feared - and the fear may still prove far from groundless - that the capitalists of this country wealthy, powerful, organised as they are, would make common cause with Mr. George and, anxious to save the proceeds of their own still worse methods of plunder, would on the one hand show a tendency to throw the landlords overboard as Jonahs frpm the craft now owned and chiefly manned by themselves, and on the other would pit Mr. George as the reasonable and moral reformer against the unreasonable and immoral revolutionists, of which we form a part. They have not done so. It is therefore unnecessary that we should here enlarge upon the grave differences which exist between Mr. George and ourselves. We too desire to overthrow the landlord domination; we too have worked for years to get back the land for the people; we too are altogether at one with Mr. George to his eloquent denunciations of the Ducal robbers echo have rendered Scotland a wilderness, and the English garrison who have reduced the Irish to serfdom. In our own country also the grip of the land grabber is over us all; and commons and heaths of unmatched beauty and wildness have been enclosed for farmers or jerry-built upon by speculators in order to swell the ill gotten revenues of some covetous aristocrat or greedy money-bags; while any real improvement in our great towns, where the lodging of the working class is an acknowledged disgrace to civilisation, is rendered impossible by the fancy prices of land caused by competition ground rents. To every anathema which Mr. George has launched against these cormorants of our health, happiness and comfort we heartily chant Amen. But we cannot finish, nay we cannot even begin, here. The worst enemies of the people to-day are those whom our " Prophet of California" leaves untouched by his denunciations and unscathed by his sarcasm. To Mr. George the robber of a hundred is a villain indeed: the dexterous annexer of many thousands may pass full pocketed on his way as a benefactor of his race. We cannot help thinking that their, to us, unexpected and surely impolitic treatment of Mr. George should teach him a lesson; they have universally repudiated him; with the cynical impudence of attacked "interests" they have called the ten commandments to their aid and have freely used the words theft and spoliation against one of the honestest men alive.

But our guest returns to his own people and our heartiest good wishes for the health and welfare of him and his go with him. However much and seriously we may differ from him, we feel that his enemies are ours also, and that his end like ours is the winning of a due share of happiness and refinement for the workers of the world we English Socialists therefore give a hearty, farewell to our friend and noble fellow-worker the American Henry George."


Justice, 5th April 1884

Some Related Trivia 

Board Games

 The official history of Monopoly, as told by Hasbro, which owns the brand, states that the board game was invented in 1933 by an unemployed steam-radiator repairman and part-time dog walker from Philadelphia named Charles Darrow. Darrow had dreamed up what he described as a real estate trading game whose property names were taken from Atlantic City, the resort town where he’d summered as a child. Patented in 1935 by Darrow and the corporate game maker Parker Brothers, Monopoly sold just over 2 million copies in its first two years of production, making Darrow a rich man and likely saving Parker Brothers from bankruptcyMonopoly's forerunner was "The Landlord's Game," created by Lizzie Magie, inspired by Henry George, who believed in the abolition of land-ownership and created a powerful movement to make this a reality. Many of George's devotees played The Landlord's Game, learning about the evils of real-estate and rentiers, and they modified the rules together, creating the game as we know it, changing its name to "monopoly" (all lower-case). Then "an unemployed steam-radiator repairman and part-time dog walker from Philadelphia named Charles Darrow" copied it, patented it, and sold it to Parker Brothers. The game’s true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George. 


LVTfan said…
Magie had invented The Landlord's Game by 1902; see

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