A Plea for Endowments

Henry Ware Allen

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June 1937]

THE battle of the ages is that which has been waged by prophets and other well wishers for humanity and is at the present time most commonly manifested by endowments and benefactions and current contributions for charity. If it is your purpose, or within your power, to provide such an endowment in your will or during your life time, you are earnestly asked to consider carefully the demands of justice rather than charity. More specifically, the good work that is now being effectively carried on by the Schalkenbach Foundation and the Henry George School of Social Science in New York City. Better than to augment the huge donations already made to charity, a social disease, are endowments or contributions to the cause of justice.

At best, charity is a necessary evil. It always follows poverty, and poverty is a disease of modern civilization. According to Confucius, "Where there is justice, there is no poverty"; and, it may be added, where there is no poverty, there is no institutional charity. A million dollars is but a trifle in the daily activities of American charities, but a million dollars may be used in the cause of justice so effectually that it will mark a forward step in the progress of civilization from poverty to genuine prosperity. It may be safely stated that a thousand dollars intelligently applied to the promotion of justice will do more lasting good than a million dollars given to charity.

The extirpation of poverty is not the gigantic task that it may seem to be. Poverty is an unnatural phenomenon. There is no poverty in primitive communities. The requirements of the savage are few and easily satisfied. He suffers no poverty. There are no slums in the jungle. There was no poverty in England until the present system of private ownership of ground rents became effective. According to Henry George:

"When all the productive arts were in the most primitive state, when the most prolific of our modern vegetables had not been introduced, when the breeds of cattle were small and poor, when there were hardly any roads and transportation was exceedingly difficult, when all manufacturing was done by hand in that rude time the condition of the labourers of England was far better than it is today."

And there is no logical excuse for the existence of poverty in our civilization today. On the contrary, the improvements made during the past few hundred years and especially during the past hundred years in labor-saving machinery and modern methods of transportation have multiplied many times the efficiency of human labor in its application to the creation of wealth. This should have made poverty impossible.

It was this enigma in social conditions which challenged the head and the heart of Henry George, and acting with true chivalry for the disinherited, he took upon himself a solemn vow that he would not rest until he had discovered the cause and the cure for poverty. His search was richly rewarded. His conclusions were recorded in his masterpiece, "Progress and Poverty," and these have never been successfully challenged. Just as Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravitation, so Henry George discovered an even more important natural law, that which controls community needs for revenue and the satisfaction of those needs and consequent prosperity. Wherever this philosophy has been put into practice, even in a limited way, it has fully justified the claims made for it.

For poverty is the greatest curse that afflicts mankind. It is the greatest hindrance to that heaven on earth which Christian people pray for and which we have every reason to believe was intended by the Creator for His children. Poverty is the parent of crime. Human nature is good and there is a divine spark in every human being. But, obeying the first law of nature, a man will rob others before allowing himself or his family to starve. Poverty is responsible for destitution, disease, and premature death, for illiteracy, child labor, and delinquency, for preventing the marriage of young people, for family separations, and for suicide; in short, for most of the misery which afflicts modern society. The abolition of poverty, therefore, will constitute the greatest social improvement ever experienced. To perpetuate the huge operations of organized charity while tolerating the existence of poverty is like fertilizing a garden full of weeds, instead of first removing the weeds, where a splendid crop might otherwise be harvested. The intelligent farmer would, of course, extirpate the weeds; and that is just what should be done with the economic causes of poverty, thereby liberating the beneficent forces of nature. Charity simply perpetuates poverty. Is it not worse than futile, therefore, to favor charity at the expense of justice?

It is urged, therefore, that you conclude to assist in the promotion of justice by arranging an endowment or contribution for the work now being successfully carried on by the Schalkenbach Foundation and the Henry George School of Social Science in New York City.