WHY ECONOMIC DISTRESS?

Copernicus overturned the Ptolemaic system, which had held its ground for 1400 years, when he demonstrated that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the sun around the earth. This change of relativity threw upon a chastened scientific world the task of reconstructing the whole field of astronomy, for the ancient school, in its endeavour to prove that its explanation of the phenomena of the heavens was correct, had, under the leadership and guidance of its greatest scientists, evolved perhaps the most extraordinary jumble of “learned” theories and conclusions that had ever emanated from the mind of man.

Henry George rendered a similar service to the science of political economy as that rendered by Copernicus to astronomy. The great truth that George made plain was that in economics, not capital, but land, is the central sun. This truth is already making obsolete the fallacy current among social reformers and politicians that our economic system revolves around capital, and that land is but a subsidiary orb.

To make a comparison between the economic and the solar systems, George may be said to have shown the relative degrees of importance to be: Land, the sun; Labour, the earth; and capital, the moon, a satellite of the earth. In this order are true relations in proportion established, and harmony is secured in our study of the economic heavens.

George showed land as the centre, and how the orbits of the other economic spheres are regulated thereby, and their relation thereto; that all wealth is produced from land by labour; that labour employs capital, its product. Referring to rent, wages and interest, he states:- “The primary division of wealth is dual, not tripartite. Capital is but a form of labour, and its distinction from labour is, in reality, but a subdivision.” He showed that wages are determined by land, and not by capital; that the “Wage Fund” is a myth, and that our social troubles arise not from the oppression of labour by capital, as so commonly held, but from the absence of a just land system.

The deductions that must follow from the general understanding of George’s teaching–that land is the central sun–are clearly seen afar off by those whose interests are in land monopoly. This explains the efforts made to stay the spread of this “dangerous doctrine.” Organised and liberally financed opposition is already showing its head in the United States. Our leading journals are silent upon, or else rule that the principles laid down by George are beneath consideration, and have been completely refuted. But when, where, and by whom, we never hear.

Economists, too proud to accept George’s reconstruction of political economy, following mediaeval methods, continue confusing students’ minds by adding to existing involved theories new presentations, requiring for their comprehension the ability to solve algebraic formulae as complicated in their own field, as the exploded Ptolemaic “eccentrics” and “epicycles.” Leading politicians audaciously proclaim as “unsolvable” the “problem of unemployment,” which “problem” study of George’s writings easily solves. Socialists wave aside the importance due to the great centre, land, and concentrate their attention on the little epicycle of capital.

But truth is mighty and shall prevail. Civilisation, now it has received the clue from George, will yet extricate itself from the web of false political economy in which it is now enmeshed. The world is learning that the essential, preeminent task before it is to justly settle the land question by securing to all equal right of possession and access to land, and that this can be achieved if we, in the words of George, “take for the community the value that attaches to land by the growth of the community.” Further, that we “leave sacredly to the individual all that belongs to the individual.” That is, that the present mass of taxation–a confiscation of -private property, which would never have been tolerated had the people’s right to land rent for revenue been understood and recognised–must be swept away. Only when the land question is thus settled will true economic relations be established between men. Then will our descendants look back upon these “Dark Ages,” as we now do upon the Middle Ages with their absurd philosophies: our present popular economic ideas being as crude and foolish as the old notion that the sun revolved around the earth.

It would be wrong to reproach only the man-in-the-street, Socialists and Labour men, for not being enlightened on the true importance and solution of the land question. The “Capitalist class,” so called, is also still in the Ptolemaic era of political economy. Accepting the old Capital-centric teaching, and ignoring the land question, Capitalists take up the challenge of their opponents in the “class war,” so called, and form federations of Employers to fight the “enemies of Capitalism” Even when they and their “opponents” meet in Peace Conference, neither “Capital” nor “Labour” has the up-to-date knowledge that their interests are common, that they are co-operators in production, and that the villain of the piece, the landlord, who robs them both, should be brought upon the carpet. Apparently, neither side has enough economic understanding to even note the landlord’s absence from the field of interrogation, to be· asked why he, who creates none, should be the recipient of so much, or, indeed, any, wealth?

 It is not right to be severe. Many good men of the Labour school have given their best days to devising complicated schemes in the endeavour to bring some method into their archaic, Ptolemaic system, and they are bewildered when shown Capital dethroned from its centre in the “economic firmament” as the “oppressor of Labour”. Capitalists, too, having become so inured to seeing the seeing the rent they pay for land constantly rising, while the average returns to Capital remain ever much the same, that it appears to them like flying in the face of Providence to question this state of things.

Till the economic darkness now prevailing in the minds of the general public, and of “Capital” and “Labour,” is dispelled by the clear light emanating from the knowledge of Henry George’s teachings, rising discontent, strikes by Labour, lock-outs by Capital, social upheavals, threats of Communism and revolution, the dread of coming chaos must prevail.

 Right thinking is necessary to right action, and right action is necessary early to save the situation. Unless economic knowledge takes the place of present-day ignorance, our civilisation will not much longer bear the, ever-increasing strain upon it. There will be little excuse if it goes down. Henry George’s “Progress and Poverty, an Inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions, and of increase of want with increase of wealth, the Remedy” has been circulated now for 50 years, and has been translated into many languages. Says Professor John Dewey, one of the foremost educationalists of the United States: “It is through fusion of insight into actual facts and forces, with recognition of their bearing upon what makes life worth living, that constitutes Henry George one of the world’s greatest social philosophers.

Not to be acquainted with George’s teachings; not to be striving for their establishment in society today; not to be working for free Labour and Capital from the stranglehold of land monopoly, is a crime against mankind. “He will hear, to him the clarions of the battle call.”

“After all, nobody does implicitly believe in landlordism.”  – Herbert Spencer.

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The above article appeared in the May 1929 issue of the Australian Georgist magazine, PROGRESS. It was unattributed.

In deference to rent-seeking interests, the world of economics continues to see the sun rotating about a static earth. Who gets its publicly-generated rent doesn’t really matter.

At this point, you’ll either have experienced a mindful awakening, or else prefer to remain in comfortable disbelief.