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Progress and Poverty - Henry George

Written in 1877 He has a very negative view of what we now call “democracy”!

Where the disparity of wealth increases then universal suffrage makes it easy for the rich to seize the source of power for the greater proportion of power is in the hands of those who are ready to sell their votes to the highest bidder or follow the lead of the most blatant demagogue;

Given a community in which one class is too rich to be shorn of its luxuries and another so poor that a few dollars on election day will seem more than any abstract consideration.......then power must pass into the hands of jobbers who will buy and sell it as the Praetorians sold Roman purple.

Where there is gross inequality in wealth then the more democratic government the worse it will be.

To give suffrace to tramps, to paupers, to men to whom the chance to labour is a boon, to men who must beg or steal or starve; is to invoke destruction. To put power in the hands of men embittered and degraded by poverty is to tie firebrands to foxes and set them loose in the standing corn....

Even the accidents of hereditary succession or selection by lot may occasionally put the wise and just in power but in a corrupt democracy the tendency is always to give power to the worst. The most unscrupulous command success, the best gravitate to the bottom while the worst rise to the top. The vile will only be ousted by the viler. As national characteristics gradually assimilate the qualities that win power and respect that demoralization of opinion goes on which eventually transforms races of freemen into races of slaves.

Where men are habitually seen to raise themselves by corrupt qualities to wealth and power then tolerance of these qualities finally becomes an admiration. Finally when a whole people become corrupt it is left but for the ploughshares of fate to bury them out of sight.

This transformation is not a thing of the far future. It has already begun in the United States and is going on under our very eyes. Men of the highest character and ability are compelled to eschew politics; the arts of the jobber count for more than the reputation of the statesman; voting is done recklessly and the power of money is increasing.....

HG believes that most of the problems in the world arise because of the private ownership of land. When the value of land is vastly increased by industry and “progress” the benefits should be shared by the whole community. Land taxes are the only way to achieve this.


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