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Henry George in England

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George, Henry, 1839-1897; Industrialization--England; Poverty--England--19th century; George, Henry, 1839-1897. Progress and poverty.


The forward rush of the Industrial Revolution had already by the tum of the 19th century silenced the hand looms in England and sent their operators to the city and its factories. Once there, the masses and their government fell prey to all the problems attendant to rapid and disorderly industrialization of which high rent, periodic unemployment, and labor unrest were just a few. The fundamental homogeneous outlook which the British had always somehow maintained in the face of other crises was now threatened anew. This was a new misery that gripped the land. It struck hardest at those who had bread enough but, because of extended suffrage, a free press, and better education, had developed wants that had grown faster than their incomes . Taking note of the situation in 1883, Arnold Toynbee was to write "It is this very improvement in the material condition of the people that constitutes the problem ... for until people have raised themselves a little they cannot be really discontented." 1 The ideals of the French enlightenment which consumed all of Europe had, of course, found audience in England, and of these it was "Equality" that was especially in the minds of the artisan group. Strangely enough, it was an American, Henry George, who seemed to provide the answer.

In 1879, George published a book entitled, Progress and Poverty. It was really a compilation and expansion of the ideas he had previously expressed in lectures , newspaper articles, and pamphlets over the years . The inspiration of the book was the seemingly paradoxical union of progress with poverty. When only eighteen years of age the question had been aroused in his mind in conversation with an old miner who had suggested that as the country grew in population and material prosperity, the condition of those who had to work for a living would grow, not better, but worse. Carrying the theme into Progress and Poverty George wrote: "It is this fact - that want appears where productive power is greatest and the production of wealth is largest - that constitutes the enigma which perplexes the civilized world, and which we are trying to unravel." 2 The main point of his thesis was that rent was responsible for poverty by allowing the landowner to absorb the wealth and progress produced by the laboring classes . "The increase of productive power does not increase wages - because it does increase the value of land . Rent swallows up the whole gain and pauperism accompanies progress ."

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