Friday, December 5, 2014

Princes of Yen: Central Banks and the Transformation of the Economy

The Editor of Political Economy Research worked in Japan in the 1980's and 1990's and watching this film brought back many memories - it is a remarkable story by Professor Richard Werner and all the more important because it is true.

This film may be one  hour thirty minutes long but if you watch this film you will advance your knowledge by years not hours.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Chinese Question - Henry George revisited

In May 1869, the New York Tribune published an article by Henry George detailing his views on the “Chinese Question.”  Arguing that the introduction of Chinese immigrants into the labour market “[was] to the interest of capital and opposed to the interests of labor,” George initially detailed his objections to Chinese immigrants on economic grounds.

While others argued that the employment of Chinese immigrants would not harm the existing labour force, George suggested; “If this position is correct, then the knotty labor question is indeed solved; the interests of labor and capital are indeed identical.”  However, for the George the position did not seem correct.

Rather for George, the “Labor Question” remained unsolved.
The low wages that Chinese immigrants received and the assumption that all profits, rents, and alike would be reduced by the same proportion as the reduction in wages, was to George a manifestly absurd fallacy.

Instead, he argued that “when we speak of a reduction of wages in any general and permanent sense, we mean this, if we mean anything – that in the division of the joint production of labor and capital, the share of labor is to be smaller, that of capital larger.” Adding, “this is precisely what the reduction of wages consequent upon the introduction of Chinese labor means.”  From this juncture in the article, the meaning of Chinese labour took a racial turn. “The population of our country [is] welded into a homogeneous people,” George declared, preceding to note that, “to a certain extent the Chinese become quickly Americanized; but this Americanization is only superficial.”

The superficiality of Chinese Americanization implied a lack of willingness to become citizens and in general a transient and temporary nature of being.  This condition, in George’s eyes, was unwelcome in a nation being reconstructed.  “A population born in China, expecting to return to China, living here in a little China of its own, and without the slightest attachment to the country” declared George, were

  “utter heathens, treacherous, sensual, cowardly and cruel.”

For George the future of the United States looked bleak because of the Chinese.  

He argued that, “they will bring no women with them (and probably will not for a little while yet) except those for the purposes of prostitution; and the children of these, of whom there are some hundreds in California, will exercise upon the whole mass but little perceptible influence, while they will be in all respects as essentially Chinese as though born and reared in China.”⁠1 

The solution to the “knotty labor question” was apparent to George; the Chinese must be excluded from the United States.

Henry George, who had been inspired by the work of British philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill, decided to sent a copy of his article to Mill.⁠2  Mill responded to George in a letter published in the National Standard during July 1870.

The reply agreed in principle with the economic side of George’s polemic, but also laid out a plea to regard Chinese immigrants as citizens.

If an “overwhelming” influx of Chinese immigrants occurred, Mill believed that it would be “economically injurious to the mass population; that it must diminish their wages, and reduce them to a lower stage of physical comfort and well-being.”

In Mill’s mind, the severity of an influx was such that workers should rally against immigration, stating that, “if the working-men have not combined to prevent this, it is time they should.”

However, Mill also believed that granting immigrants citizenship was a principle that should be upheld, declaring that “every immigrant of every race must be admitted citizenship.”  In an appeal to George, Mill argued that admitted citizenship would strengthen the labour movement.  Mill insisted that, “all men equal, equally free to carve each his own career, and entitled to all the aid his fellows can give.”⁠3

New York Tribune, May 1, 1869.
Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 100-103.
National Standard, July 30, 1870.


The Influence of Henry George in England, by John A. Hobson

                                                   John A. Hobson

The social philosophy of the "West-End club contains a doctrine of "agitation" which easily explains the influence of such a man as Henry George. "Agitation" thus interpreted implies neither a genuine grievance in the agitated, nor an honest purpose in the agitator; for the one is substituted an irrational discontent, for the other a mere lust for popularity and power.

The agitator thus conceived is an uninstructed "spouter," who plays upon a natural fund of envy and cupidity latent in the masses, stimulating an attack upon the established order of things. By such foolish and dishonest means, somehow or other, dangerous social forces are generated, threatening the material and moral prosperity of society.

Quite unsupported by history or psychology, this doctrine is completely satisfactory to those who hold it.

Yet it is evidently of such a nature as not to merit serious refutation.

Deriving something from nothing, assigning an effect without anything that can be called a cause, it stands upon the same level of irrationality with that " rationalism" to which the religions of the world are nothing but recurrent bubbles of illusion created by a persistent human capacity for error.

Plain contradiction is the only appropriate refutation. It must, therefore, suffice to say that an agitation can only succeed if there is something to agitate, some real, deep-grounded passion or conviction to which an appeal can be made, the product of the pressure of some genuine need or aspiration.

Henry George was indeed distinctively a great" agitator," but in order to understand the nature of his power, it is best to turn first to the matter agitated, and afterwards to the mode of his agitation.

The specifically economic character of George's "mission" is its peculiar note. But we must recognise at the outset that the substance of George's land theory and policy was nothing new; he is not to be looked upon as a fanatic, who conjured out of his imagination, or his private experience, some brand-new doctrine which he sought to impose upon the popular mind.

Those who would thus conceive him are forgetful or ignorant of the tenor of the peculiarly English science of Political Economy, which, from John Locke to J. S. Mill, may be regarded as continually engaged in undermining the ideas of justice and social utility attaching to private property in land.

The anomalous position of the landowner received early emphasis in English theories of "Distribution."

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith never tires of pointing the contrast between labourers and capitalists, who receive their remuneration for services personally rendered, and landowners who do nothing for the rent they take.

He also plainly indicates the power of the landowner to enhance his taxation of the rising national wealth. "Every improvement in the circumstances of the society tends, either directly or indirectly, to raise the real rent of land, to increase the real wealth of the landlord, his power of purchasing the labour, or the produce of the labour, of other people."

It is significant that from the heterogeneous armoury of Ricardo, not only the social democrat, but the land nationaliser draws his most effective weapons.

The more rigorous formulation of the law of rent obliged Ricardo to take a step in advance of Adam Smith, by assigning to landowners the economic power to take not merely an absolutely larger rent, but a constantly growing proportion of the national wealth at the expense of the industrial classes.

 "The economical progress of a society constituted of landlords, capitalists, and labourers tends to the progressive enrichment of the landlord class; while the cost of the labourers' subsistence tends on the whole to increase and profits to fall."

It only remained for J. S. Mill to impart a fuller meaning to this theory by illustrating the power of the landowner to take in enhanced rent the results definitely due to the skill and energy of other persons, and to develop a curative policy of taxation of " unearned increment."

These allusions to the most prominent teachers of political economy will suffice to show that the trend of economic theory in this country has been to lay stress upon the opposition of interests between landowners and other industrial classes, and to impute to the former an increasing power to extort from the latter a growing proportion of the wealth produced by them.

It is true that most political economists, sometimes induced by a proper regard for the limits of science, sometimes by timidity, have abstained from the plain advocacy of a remedy, and have contented themselves with pointing out the theoretic powers of landowners to reap where they have not sown.

But the margin between theory and practice is here peculiarly thin, and not only Mill, but other teachers of political economy, both in England and on the Continent, have stepped from the indicative mood of economic science into the imperative mood of politics in advocating social defence against the antisocial powers of the landowner.

George did not even originate the policy of the "Single-tax" on land most distinctively associated with his name.

The small step from the physiocratic doctrine that all taxation was, in fact, borne by rent, to the position that all taxation ought to be so borne, was taken by more than one would-be reformer of this century.

The real importance of Henry George is derived from the fact that he was able to drive an abstract notion, that of economic rent, into the minds of a large number of "practical" men, and to generate therefrom a social movement.

It must be understood that the minds into which George dropped his seed were, for the most part, "virgin soil"; the teaching of economists to whom allusion has been made had never reached the ear of most of them, or had passed unheeded.

The populariser of a new idea requires for his task a certain capacity of dramatic exaggeration. This is needed to teach, it is still more needed if the direct object of the teacher is to incite to action.

In this work personality and opportunity alike favoured Henry George.

Keenly intelligent, genial and sympathetic, his nature contained that flavour of obstinacy which borders on fascination, and which is rightly recognised as essential to the missionary.

A passionate attachment to the cause of the poor, derived from the experiences of a varied life, was the true source of his power with tongue and pen.

The habit of speaking and of writing in America is less restrained than ours, the academic influences are weaker, even in the intellectual world more dramatic modes of expression are practised. Henry George had all the popular gifts of the American orator and journalist, with something more. Sincerity rang out of every utterance.

Sparing in book knowledge, he had hammered out his thoughts upon the forge of personal experience, and showed them hot from the hammer, rude and unfinished in form.

For this very reason Progress and Poverty, a stumbling block to responsible politicians, to the economic professor foolishness, struck the common mind of the thinking people with convincing and dramatic force.

The influence of this first book of serious economic import which ever reached the outer circle of the English reading public, is not to be slighted.

It is a matter of deep significance that such a book should have reached a circulation of far upwards of a hundred thousand copies. Upon the pressure of the early popularity of his book, Henry George threw the weight of his present personality, and his great gifts as orator and debater secured his influence, and widely advertised his doctrines at a time particularly favourable to their reception.

His dialectic may not have satisfied the trained critic in economic issues, but the persuasive and effective illustrations which it carried were well calculated to impress the average man.

Nor is this designed as a depreciatory criticism.

The refusal to qualify, the dramatic exaggeration, even the argumentum ad hominem are justifiable and indeed necessary instruments in such work of education.

A single illustration brings home the nature of this power.

When Henry George was present at a meeting of the Lords' Committee upon Sweating, a number of miserable workers from Cradley Heath were there for examination, George turned to a friend and said, "Why have you brought these people here? To find out why they are poor? "Why, here is the cause," pointing to the noble lords who constituted the committee, "and here is the effect," pointing to the witnesses.

But while a powerful, perhaps a fanatical, passion motived his career as agitator, it never dominated his speech or writing. He was essentially argumentative in method; though passionate rhetorical appeals are not infrequent, such passages were appendages to, and not substitutes for, reasoning.

Henry George clearly understood that his business was to teach men to think who were not in the habit of thinking on such matters, and few writers upon economic subjects are so lucid, simple, and consecutive in their presentation of an argument.

For this very reason, those who find his "economics" faulty and reject his conclusions, are able to lay their finger upon the precise points of error, which the critics of more involved and more metaphysical exponents of revolutionary doctrine, as, for example, Marx, are notoriously incapable of doing.

Bright, pointed, and vigorous, he never failed to make his meaning understood, and he must rank extremely high as a teacher who first brought home to a large section of the public the need and the interest of economic study.

A certain dramatic opportuneness attending the advent of Progress and Poverty gave to Henry George the public ear. A voice from the Far West of America, a land of boundless promise, where, if anywhere, it might seem that freedom and material progress were secure possessions of honest labour, announced grinding poverty, the squalor of congested city life, unemployment, and utter helplessness.

Though huge tracts of uncultivated land awaited the spade and plough, the willing and able hands which could work the soil were shut out of all access to the raw materials of wealth. California and the rich West had fallen into the hands of private owners, wealthy syndicates, or domineering railway companies, taken from the people, sold for an old song, or assigned as a gift to persons who had no intention of occupying or working the land, but who held it for profit.

Hence in the newest portion of the bright New World, amidst a sparse population of civilised white men, perhaps better educated and more energetic than any other people in the world, endowed with political freedom and institutions of self-government, the same social maladies arose which the sanguine temperament of America had hitherto regarded as natural results of congestion, misgovernment, or incapacity in the effete old world.

The picture which George presented, even if highly coloured, was substantially correct, though his analysis of causes was defective, and it dealt a severe shock to that doctrine of progress by the normal development of industrialism upon the existing basis of property which prophets of free trade had preached for two generations in this country.

When Progress and Poverty appeared, the vast majority of those who seriously concerned themselves with "the condition of the people " in this country believed that the expansion of education and intelligence among the working classes, the growth of thrift and of other organised habits of self-help, improved administration of the Poor Law and of charitable energy, assisted by the higher wages which, it was held, must follow the rapid development of modern methods of production, were gradually reducing the sum of poverty and misery, and that the unfettered action of these forces sufficed for the gradual and safe solution of the darkest social problems.

Although the thinking members of the working classes had never thoroughly accepted this laisser-faire theory of the doctrinaire radical and the political free trader, they had unconsciously absorbed some of its complacency and its disbelief in the need of governmental action.

Henry George shook this complacency, and, what is more, he gave definiteness to the feeling of discontent by assigning an easily intelligible economic cause.

It is not without significance thatProgress and Poverty appeared in the year 1879, which marks the turn in the tide of agricultural prosperity in this country.

The following years of gradually deepening depression brought rural land questions more and more to the front and that divorcement of the people from the soil, which formed the kernel of the social problem according to George, assumed increasing prominence.

The phenomenally rapid growth of large industrial towns, with their close concentration of working population, the direct and obvious result of our free trade policy, had been quickly ripening the land question in the towns, and the rising standard of sanitation and of other civic needs was driving home to municipal reformers a sense of conflict between the public interest of the town and the private interests of the owners of town land.

The pressure of these forces had awakened a good deal of incoherent sentiment directed against landlordism.

George welded this loose sentiment into a coherent positive conviction.

So far as his appeal was directed to personal and obvious interests, England was even a more favourable field than the United States.

For in America, notwithstanding the encroachment of large landownership and the growth of mortgages and tenancy, a very large proportion of citizens had a direct stake in the land. England, on the other hand, is vested in a smaller number of owners than any other country of equal population, and nowhere else have the vast majority of actual cultivators so slight a property or interest in the land they cultivate.

Thus a peculiarly effective presentment of the iniquity of landlordism, dramatically concentrated in a small class, was possible in England.

Moreover, George's ability enabled him to fully utilise that advantage which land grievances possess over most other economic issues, their susceptibility to powerful concrete local illustration.

Many of our towns belong to a few noblemen or wealthy persons who are familiar personages, and whose actual economic power is visibly and constantly exercised.

The nature of economic rent and the power of the landowner can thus be made clear to the meanest intelligence.

To some it has seemed strange that the highly exaggerated power which George assigned to landowners should have gained acceptance among any class of Englishmen.

By what is termed the " Crusoe method " of illustration, it was not difficult for George to show that a single landowner or a small body of landowners might, by a ruthless use of their economic might as controllers of the raw material of wealth and the conditions of physical subsistence, keep down in utter servitude the rest of the population, taking in rent the results of all improvements in the arts of industry, and leaving to the producers only so much of the produce as would keep them alive and in working efficiency.

Some have found it hard to understand that many in this country should accept a theory which posits the landowner as the "residual claimant" in the scheme of distribution, and assigns him the power to take every increase of wealth beyond the minimum requisite to sustain labour and capital. The most casual reflection upon the recent course of English industrial history would seem to make it evident that other classes have partaken, and more fully than the landowners, in the immense growth of industrial wealth during this century.

If England were enclosed by a ring fence of prohibitive tariffs, if all the land were engaged in producing food and other raw materials of wealth, if the full powers to draw economic rents were rigidly enforced, George's contention would have some tolerably close relation to the truth.

But the merest tyro in economic thinking must perceive that the power of competing landowners to tax the manufacturing and commercial classes falls far short of their power over the agricultural and mining classes, and that even in the latter case the constant expansion of the area of production of food and raw materials for our market clips the wings of English land-lordism.

Those who regard the nationalisation of the land of England as a cure for all the ills that states are heir to, ignore the leading feature of our modern commercial policy, its internationalism. Grant their major premiss, that common ownership and control of land will secure equality of economic opportunities for all citizens and cut away the natural supports of all industrial monopolies, can such a consummation be attained for us by nationalising the land of England? Is not the land of America, China, Egypt, Russia, and all other countries, which by trade intercourse supply us with food and materials of manufacture, as integral a part of England for economic purposes as the land of Kent or Devon?

No ultimate solution of the land question or any other social problem is even theoretically possible upon a strictly national basis.

Neither the theory which posits " land" as the residual claimant in distribution, nor the policy which assumes that political limits are coterminous with economic limits, can gain any wide and permanent acceptance among thoughtful people.

The adoption of George's theoretic position, so far as it has gained ground, must be imputed to a certain tendency among lovers of abstract reasoning to swallow premisses which will yield a compact and portable body of judgments conformable to certain preconceived opinions. Even such notable thinkers as Ricardo and J. S. Mill, we saw, stopped only a little short of George's conclusions when they closed their eyes to the facts of industrial life and abandoned themselves to an abstract analysis of rent.

Indeed, this fallacy of a residual claimant is not by any means confined to land nationalisers. The whole structure of economic science is honeycombed by the fallacy of a theory of distribution which assumes that of the three factors of production, land, labour, and capital, two of them may be considered to be fixed charges upon the product, while the third is in the position to take all the surplus that remains after the others are paid off.

The Marxian Socialists practically place capital in this position. Other " orthodox" economists - General Walker, for example - give the place to labour. Henry George and his followers merely play the third remaining variation of the fallacy.

But George's true influence is not rightly measured by the small following of theorists who impute to landlords this supreme power of monopoly. Large numbers who would not press this extreme contention are disciples of Henry George because they regard unqualified private ownership of land to be the most obviously unjust and burdensome feature in our present social economy.

The spirit of humanitarian and religious appeal which suffuses Progress and Poverty wrought powerfully upon a large section of what I may call typical English moralists. In my lectures upon Political Economy about the country, I have found in almost every centre a certain little knot of men of the lower-middle or upper-working class, men of grit and character, largely self-educated, keen citizens, mostly nonconformists in religion, to whom Land Nationalisation, taxation of unearned increment, or other radical reforms of land tenure, are doctrines resting upon a plain moral sanction.

These free-trading Radical dissenters regard common ownership of and equal access to the land as a "natural right," essential to individual freedom.

It is this attitude of mind which serves to explain why, when both theoretic students of society and the man in the street regard Land Nationalisation as a first and a large step in the direction of Socialism, organized Socialists regard the followers of Henry George with undisguised hostility and contempt.

In fact, Land Nationalisation stands upon two widely different and philosophically inconsistent bases. To those who take their stand upon the "natural rights " of the individual it is the coping-stone of a free-trade policy.

Equal access to the resources of nature seems essential, if liberty to labour and to accumulate property is to be equally secured to all.

To such thinkers "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof," constitutes at once sound morality and useful policy: that an absentee landowner should take away the value which God or man's labour has imparted to land appears a plain violation of honesty and a direct discouragement to industry. "To every one the right to work on land and to enjoy the full fruits of his labour," -this sums up the Individualist basis of Land Nationalisation.

Such men sternly repudiate the notion of extending public ownership and control to capital, and of " nationalising " all the instruments of production.

Land and labour they hold are the only original requisites of wealth-production: let each man own himself and have an equal use of nature with every other man. and all will be well.

George himself stood out boldly in his repudiation of Socialism and entered a strong and ingenious defence of profit and interest. 

How comes it, then, that Georgism is so closely associated in the public mind with Socialism?

It is not due to mere laxity of thought. For while George has many followers who stand by his ideal of full free trade, there are many more to whom Progress and Poverty has been a stepping-stone to a more or less formal Socialism.

This is explained by the other basis of Land Nationalisation, the recognition not of the rights of the individual, but of the definitely social origin and character of land-values, the apprehension of the truth that they spring from and embody, not merely the energy of this or that tenant or labourer, but the common activities of an organised society, and the constantly growing material needs of an increasing population.

This idea of rent as a definitely social product emerges with tolerable frequency in George's writings, but it does not form the main strand of his argument; his appeal is more usually to individual than to social rights. 

He, therefore, never fully confronted the question which takes this shape: "Are not all values, those which reside in forms of capital as well as in land, due to the operation of social forces, arising from the needs and activities of organised society, and not resoluble into the results of the action of the several units which form the society?"

The answer to such a question depends upon the conception we form of the relation of individuals to one another in society - i.e., of the organic character imputed to society. George never clearly faced this question.

Among his followers many have accustomed themselves to draw their arguments, now from the Individualist now from the Socialist armoury, and to stand aloof from the wider issue.

Others accept Land Nationalisation either as avowed Individualists or as Socialists.

The rift is curiously visible in the policy of the two English societies which attack the land question as a whole.

The Land Nationalisation Society, though rejecting the "no compensation" policy of George, visibly clings to the idea of individual rights, claiming for every citizen the option to occupy a definite piece of land with full effective proprietorship.

The Land Restoration League, on the other hand, fastens its eyes definitely upon the social origin of rent and land-values, and seeks to secure this public property by process of taxation.

The influence of George is not, however, to be measured by the number or zeal of the advocates of a wholesale policy of nationalisation of the land. It is rather to be traced in the energy which, during the last fifteen years, has freely flowed into many channels of land reform.

Heroic remedies are little to the taste of Englishmen: a more discriminative logic rules their policy. The spirit of reform awakened by Henry George manifested itself, not in one, but in many movements directed to the redress of specific grievances and the attainment of specific aspirations in connection with the land. For practical purposes, therefore, there is not one land question, but many.

Town and country, agriculture, mines, manufacture, transport, residential and industrial use, each discloses its own set of problems claiming study and solution.

A vast reticulation of separate organisations has arisen to enforce existing laws and to secure further legislation curtailing the powers of landowners; societies for the preservation of existing public rights over footpaths and commons; for the protection of tenant rights and the attainment of freedom of cultivation and security of property in improvements; for the registration of titles to land and mortgages; for the abolition of tithes, the enfranchisement of leasehold land, abolition of entail, and the removal of all other barriers which separate land from other forms of property, and prevent its free transfer.

Many of these movements are not in just line with the tenor of George's policy, but all of them have been vitalised by the spirit of his agitation.

No one can fail to perceive in every legislative and administrative body in the country, from the House of Commons to the Board of Guardians and the Parish Council, an increased desire to confront, in a more liberal public spirit, the particular problems of land policy which lie within their purview.

In various ways and at various paces these numerous land-issues are ripening in England. Size and the pressure of social needs are bringing a few of them rapidly to the front of the political platform. Though England will never attack the land question en bloc, certain large sections have visibly advanced during the last few years.

 The demand for effective national control of the railroads, our modern highways, is the most definite advance towards a policy of nationalisation, and probably commands a wider and more heterogeneous support than any other movement of radical reform. In the field of municipal politics, the taxation of ground rents and values has already won the complete formal adherence of one great political party, while the justice of taxation of "unearned increment" from public improvements may be considered to have gained an even wider theoretic recognition.

Practical difficulties, however, in enforcing public claims by the instrument of taxation are generating a powerful support for a policy of municipal ownership, which receives material assistance from the successful experience of several of our most progressive municipalities. Corresponding to this growing tendency to recognise the utility of municipal ownership and control of town lands, is the tendency to seek some solution for the more urgent rural grievances, by placing more power to acquire the ownership or practical control of agricultural land in the hands of locally elected bodies.

While a clearer apprehension of the complexity of the land question has thus led practical reformers to resolve unity into multiplicity, it is not difficult to discern a cohesive and co-operative character underlying these several movements of land reform.

Most of them are definitely, and in part consciously, aiming to secure that fuller public property in the resources of nature, that fuller social control over the uses of land for human industry and human enjoyment which found in Henry George their most powerful advocate.

No doubt it is easy to impute excessive influence to the mouthpiece of a rising popular sentiment. George, like other prophets, cooperated with the " spirit of the age."

But after this just allowance has been made, Henry George may be considered to have exercised a more directly powerful formative and educative influence over English radicalism of the last fifteen years than any other man.
J. A. Hobson

The Nationalisation of the Land written by Marx in March April 1872

A Paper read at the Manchester Section of the International Working Men's Association;
Written: by Marx in March-April 1872;
Published: in The International Herald No. 11, June 15, 1872;
On-line version: Taken from the newspaper;
Transcribed: by

The property in the soil is the original source of all wealth, and has become the great problem upon the solution of which depends the future of the working class.

I do not intend discussing here all the arguments put forward by the advocates of private property in land, by jurists, philosophers and political economists, but shall confine myself firstly to state that they have tried hard to disguise the primitive fact of conquest under the cloak of "Natural Right".

If conquest constituted a natural right on the part of the few, the many have only to gather sufficient strength in order to acquire the natural right of reconquering what has been taken from them.

In the progress of history the conquerors found it convenient to give to their original titles, derived from brute force, a sort of social standing through the instrumentality of laws imposed by themselves.

At last comes the philosopher and demonstrates that those laws imply and express the universal consent of mankind.

If private property in land be indeed founded upon such an universal consent, it will evidently become extinct from the moment the majority of a society dissent from warranting it.

However, leaving aside the so-called "rights" of property, I assert that the economical development of society, the increase and concentration of people, the very circumstances that compel the capitalist farmer to apply to agriculture collective and organised labour, and to have recourse to machinery and similar contrivances, will more and more render the nationalisation of land a "Social Necessity", against which no amount of talk about the rights of property can be of any avail.

The imperative wants of society will and must be satisfied, changes dictated by social necessity will work their own way, and sooner or later adapt legislation to their interests.

What we require is a daily increasing production and its exigencies cannot be met by allowing a few individuals to regulate it according to their whims and private interests, or to ignorantly exhaust the powers of the soil.

All modern methods, such as irrigation, drainage, steam ploughing, chemical treatment and so forth, ought to be applied to agriculture at large. But the scientific knowledge we possess, and the technical means of agriculture we command, such as machinery, etc., can never be successfully applied but by cultivating the land on a large scale.

If cultivation on a large scale proves (even under its present capitalist form, that degrades the cultivator himself to a mere beast of burden) so superior, from an economical point of view, to small and piecemeal husbandry, would it not give an increased impulse to production if applied on national dimensions?

The ever-growing wants of the people on the one side, the ever-increasing price of agricultural produce on the other, afford the irrefutable evidence that the nationalisation of land has become a social necessity.

Such a diminution of agricultural produce as springs from individual abuse, will, of course, become impossible whenever cultivation is carried on under the control and for the benefit of the nation.
All the citizens I have heard here today during the progress of the debate, on this question, defended the nationalisation of land, but they took very different views of it.

France was frequently alluded to, but with its peasant proprietorship it is farther off the nationalisation of land than England with its landlordism.

In France, it is true, the soil is accessible to all who can buy it, but this very facility has brought about a division into small plots cultivated by men with small means and mainly relying upon the land by exertions of themselves and their families.

This form of landed property and the piecemeal cultivation it necessitates, while excluding all appliances of modern agricultural improvements, converts the tiller himself into the most decided enemy to social progress and, above all, the nationalisation of land.

Enchained to the soil upon which he has to spend all his vital energies in order to get a relatively small return, having to give away the greater part of his produce to the state, in the form of taxes, to the law tribe in the form of judiciary costs, and to the usurer in the form of interest, utterly ignorant of the social movements outside his petty field of employment; still he clings with fanatic fondness to his bit of land and his merely nominal proprietorship in the same.

In this way the French peasant has been thrown into a most fatal antagonism to the industrial working class.

Peasant proprietorship being then the greatest obstacle to the nationalisation of land, France, in its present state, is certainly not the place where we must look to for a solution of this great problem.

To nationalise the land, in order to let it out in small plots to individuals or working men's societies, would, under a middle-class government, only engender a reckless competition among themselves and thus result in a progressive increase of "Rent" which, in its turn, would afford new facilities to the appropriators of feeding upon the producers.

At the International Congress of Brussels, in 1868, one of our friends [C├ęsar De Paepe, in his report on land property: meeting of the Brussels Congress of the International Working Men's Association of Sept. 11 1868] said:

"Small private property in land is doomed by the verdict of science, large land property by that of justice. There remains then but one alternative. The soil must become the property of rural associations or the property of the whole nation. The future will decide that question."

I say on the contrary; the social movement will lead to this decision that the land can but be owned by the nation itself.

To give up the soil to the hands of associated rural labourers, would be to surrender society to one exclusive class of producers.

The nationalisation of land will work a complete change in the relations between labour and capital, and finally, do away with the capitalist form of production, whether industrial or rural.

Then class distinctions and privileges will disappear together with the economical basis upon which they rest.

To live on other people's labour will become a thing of the past. There will be no longer any government or state power, distinct from society itself!

Agriculture, mining, manufacture, in one word, all branches of production, will gradually be organised in the most adequate manner.

National centralisation of the means of production will become the national basis of a society composed of associations of free and equal producers, carrying on the social business on a common and rational plan.

Such is the humanitarian goal to which the great economic movement of the 19th century is tending.

Monday, November 10, 2014

William Morris on Henry George (1884)

                      William Morris

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, p. 2.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Tenacity of the Free Market Ideology - Fred Block

Fred Block discusses his book “The Power of Market Fundamentalism,” which extends the work of the great political economist Karl Polanyi to explain why free market dogma recovered from disrepute after the Great Depression and World War II to become the dominant economic ideology of our time


In INET's complete interview with UC Davis Professor of Sociology Fred Block, he talks about the role of the US government in innovation, and how it can be better fostered.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stephen Kinsella: Austerity Defangs the Celtic Tiger

Interesting discussion of demographics and the economy - Political Economy Research

Friday, September 12, 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Karl Marx on Henry George

Marx to Friedrich Adolph Sorge
In Hoboken


Published: Gesamtausgabe, International Publishers, 1942;
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

[London,] 20 June, 1881

... Before your copy of Henry George [1] arrived I had already received two others, one from Swinton [2] and one from Willard Brown; [3] I therefore gave one to Engels and one to Lafargue. Today I must confine myself to a very brief formulation of my opinion of the book. Theoretically the man [Henry George][1] 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 Manifestotoo.) 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 ParisianPhilosophie 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.

1. Marx is referring to Henry George, Progress and Poverty [available at Ludwig von Mises Institute — MIA].
2. John Swinton (1830-1901) — American journalist of Scottish descent, socialist, editor of several New York newspapers, friend of Marx.
3. Willard Brown — American journalist, socialist.
* GEORGE, HENRY (1839-97) American bourgeois economist, earlier a sailor, gold-digger and printer. He was the founder of the land reform movement.
** Settlers in New York State in the ’thirties and ’forties of the 19th century who refused to pay rent for their land and shot down the sheriffs’ officers who came to enforce payment. The no-renters numbered thousands and turned the scale at several elections.