Sunday, February 08, 2009

Excerpt: Progress and Poverty

I am reading through Henry George's Progress and Poverty a second time, and am currently in the chapter in which he examines various proposed remedies to the problem of the expanding wealth gap and the extreme poverty of the lowest classes, pointing out their deficiencies. On passage in particular jumped out at me, since it tears down a current practice that many accept as an article of faith. In Book VI, Chapter 1, page 277:

As to the truths that are involved in socialistic ideas I shall have something to say hereafter; but it is evident that whatever savours of regulation and restriction is in itself bad, and should not be resorted to if any other mode of accomplishing the same end presents itself. For instance, to take one of the simplest and mildest of the class of measures I refer to—a graduated tax on incomes. The object at which it aims, the reduction or prevention of immense concentrations of wealth, is good; but this means involves the employment of a large number of officials clothed with inquisitorial powers; temptations to bribery, and perjury, and all other means of evasion, which beget a demoralisation of opinion, and put a premium upon unscrupulousness and a tax upon conscience; and, finally, just in proportion as the tax accomplishes its effect, a lessening in the incentive to the accumulation of wealth, which is one of the strong forces of industrial progress.

I just wanted to share that. Note that the work, itself, is not simply a bashing of socialism, but rather a book that examines the problem of the link between progress and increasing poverty, and ends by proposing a solution simpler, more economically sound, but also more radical than socialism.

2 comments:

Edward J. Dodson said...

It is too bad Henry George did not live longer than his 59 years. He might have been able to lead a more sustained movement to adopt his ideas.

Tarvok said...

Actually, up to this point, I have known little about Henry George, biographically. I knew he published Progress and Poverty late in the nineteenth century, and that he ran for... some important post in New York, in which he beat out Theodore Roosevelt.

But I followed your link, and read up on your post. I think the primary difficulty lay not so much in Henry George's insufficient lifespan, but rather in the fact that his ideas challenge the interests of the ruling directly... the opposition it arouses is very powerful, and it doesn't even have to challenge Geoism directly... but rather simply by preventing a truly public hearing via control of the various forms of mass media. (An example: the railroad buying out the newspaper he edited.)