Progress and Poverty

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Progress and Poverty
Author Henry George
Country United States
Language English
Subject Capitalism, Georgism, Tax policy
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 406
ISBN 1-59605-951-6
Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty.

Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy was written by Henry George in 1879. The book is a treatise on the cyclical nature of an industrial economy and its remedies.


Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy seeks to explain why poverty exists notwithstanding widespread advances in technology and even where there is a concentration of great wealth such as in cities.

George saw how technological and social advances (including education and public services) increased the value of land (natural resources, urban locations, etc.) and, thus, the amount of wealth that can be demanded by the owners of land from those who need the use of land. In other words: the better the public services, the higher the rent is (as more people value that land).The tendency of speculators to increase the price of land faster than wealth can be produced to pay has the result of lowering the amount of wealth left over for labor to claim in wages, and finally leads to the collapse of enterprises at the margin, with a ripple effect that becomes a serious business depression entailing widespread unemployment, foreclosures, etc.

In Progress and Poverty, George examines various proposed strategies to prevent business depressions, unemployment and poverty, but finds them unsatisfactory. As an alternative he proposes his own solution: a single tax on land values. This would be a tax on the annual value of land held as private property. It would be high enough to allow for all other taxes—especially upon labor and production—to be abolished. George argued that a land value tax would give landowners an incentive to use the land in a productive way, thereby employing labor and creating wealth, or to sell the land to those who could and would themselves use the land in a productive way. This shift in the bargaining balance between resource owners and laborers would raise the general level of wages and ensure no one need suffer involuntary poverty.

Soon after its publication, over three million copies of Progress and Poverty were bought. By 1936, it had been translated into thirteen languages and at least six million copies had been sold.[1]


The following excerpt represents the crux of George's argument and view of political economy.[2]

"Take now... some hard-headed business man, who has no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him: "Here is a little village; in ten years it will be a great city-in ten years the railroad will have taken the place of the stage coach, the electric light of the candle; it will abound with all the machinery and improvements that so enormously multiply the effective power of labor. Will in ten years, interest be any higher?" He will tell you, "No!" "Will the wages of the common labor be any higher...?" He will tell you, "No the wages of common labor will not be any higher..." "What, then, will be higher?" "Rent, the value of land. Go, get yourself a piece of ground, and hold possession." And if, under such circumstances, you take his advice, you need do nothing more. You may sit down and smoke your pipe; you may lie around like the lazzaroni of Naples or the leperos of Mexico; you may go up in a balloon or down a hole in the ground; and without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota of wealth to the community, in ten years you will be rich! In the new city you may have a luxurious mansion, but among its public buildings will be an almshouse."

An often cited passage from Progress and Poverty is The Unbound Savannah in which George discusses how the building of a community increases the value of land.[3]

Notable recognition[edit]

Albert Einstein wrote this about his impression of Progress and Poverty: "Men like Henry George are rare unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice. Every line is written as if for our generation. The spread of these works is a really deserving cause, for our generation especially has many and important things to learn from Henry George. It almost seems to me as if you had no conception to what high degree the work of Henry George is appreciated by serious, thinking people."[4]

In the Classics Club edition forward, John F. Kieran wrote that "no student in that field [economics] should be allowed to speak above a whisper or write above three lines on the general subject until he has read and digested Progress and Poverty."[5] Kieran also later listed Progress and poverty as one of his favorite books.[6]

After reading selections of Progress and Poverty, Helen Keller wrote of finding "in Henry George’s philosophy a rare beauty and power of inspiration, and a splendid faith in the essential nobility of human nature."[7]

Philip Wicksteed wrote that Progress and Poverty had opened "a new heaven and a new earth"[8] and that it was “by far the most important work in its social consequences that our generation or century [1882] has seen.”[9] Alfred Russel Wallace later echoed this opinion when hailing Progress and Poverty as "undoubtedly the most remarkable and important book of the present century," placing it even above Darwin's Origin of Species.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hecht, Charles. "E. Haldeman-Julius A Confused Economist". Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers (2000) 186, Penguin.
  3. ^ George, Henry (1879). Progress and Poverty. Chapter 19
  4. ^ Sklar, Dusty. "Henry George and Zionism". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Kieran, John. "Forward to the Book Progress and Poverty by Henry George". Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Dirda, Michael (2004). An open book : coming of age in the heartland. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0393326144. 
  7. ^ "Progress & Poverty". Robert Schalkenbach Fdn..
  8. ^ Laurent, John. Henry George's Legacy in Economic Thought. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Pub., 2005
  9. ^ Flatau, Paul (2004-06-22). "Jevons's one great disciple: Wicksteed and the Jevonian revolution in the second generation". History of Economics Review 40 (Summer, 2004). 
  10. ^ Buder, Stanley. Visionaries and Planners: The Garden City Movement and the Modern Community. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]