How We Georgists See the State of the World

Charles O'Connor Hennessy

[Address delivered at the Fourth International Conference of the International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade, Edinburgh, Scotland, 29 July 1929]

I AM happy that the honour has again come to me to preside over a meeting of the followers of Henry George from many parts of the world. We are glad to be in this historic and picturesque city, famed for literature and learning, with its reminders of great men of the past who have laboured here for education, for science, for human progress and for liberty. And those of you who are native to this land, and who may seek for genealogical clues to the greatness of particular men, must find interest in the fact that from Scotland, and from over the border in Yorkshire, came the ancestors of Henry George, the great citizen of the world whose philosophy of justice and social regeneration has brought us together in this Conference. Coming as the followers of a philosopher who was as well a great economist, and a lover of justice and the rights of men, we would associate ourselves particularly with the names of Adam Smith and Patrick Edward Dove, who lived and lie buried in this city. Nor would we wish to forget Thomas Muir, Thomas F. Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margard and Joseph Gerrald, those martyrs of the struggle for political liberty in this part of the world whose monument rises nearby, in the Old Calton Burying Ground.


I think I may speak for those who have come from lands beyond the seas-from the European Continent, from the United States and Canada, or from the far-away Australian States, in saying that we feel ourselves in a congenial atmosphere here, not merely because Britain has always yielded a generous response to liberal ideas and ideals, but because, in Scotland particularly, there has never been a scarcity of men to speak bravely and labour faithfully for the cause of economic freedom and social justice which we aim here to represent. I trust it will not be deemed out of place if I, as a citizen of another country, may take the liberty to congratulate ourselves upon the happy circumstance that here in Great Britain, as three years ago when we met in Denmark, we find a Government in power that seems friendly to the cause which we are assembled here to promote. In Copenhagen we were honoured by having the chambers of Parliament opened for our deliberations, and were the recipients of messages of generous sympathy for our aims and purposes from eminent Cabinet Ministers of the Danish kingdom. At the beginning of our deliberations here in Scotland, we pause to give thanks to those Members of the British Parliament, one hundred or more in number, who have done us the honour to send messages acclaiming our meeting here. And if we may not enjoy the privilege, as we did in Denmark, of hearing a sympathetic address from the Finance Minister of the country, we must not fail to acknowledge our sense of indebtedness to Mr. Philip Snowden, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has recently in a fine foreword to the new abridgment of Henry George's "Protection or Free Trade," strongly commended the study of that enlightening book to his fellow-countrymen. Surely the world is growing toward Henry George .


One of the purposes of this Conference is to celebrate in suitable manner the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first publication of that immortal classic, "Progress and Poverty." Recently Professor John Dewey, noted American philosopher, writing about this book, declared that he found in it " the analysis of the scientist combined with the sympathies and aspirations of a great lover of mankind." It was fifty years ago that Henry George first revealed the insidious forces and tendencies that seemed to him to threaten the progress of any civilization which aims at the elevation and happiness of the human family. At the very heart of the way of life of the organized peoples of the world he found ominous signs of the canker of decay. He demonstrated the cause and proposed the cure for what was and is the matter with the world. He vividly delineated the enigma of the persistence of poverty amid increased and increasing wealth. Where civilization was manifesting itself in vast accumulations in the hands of individuals, in great institutions devoted to learning or to religion, in stores of the book knowledge of the ages, in the progress of the arts and sciences, in the inventions and discoveries designed to magnify the effectiveness of labour, to improve communication and facilitate co-operation between peoples, to lighten toil and brighten human lives - there, where these things were most in evidence, he pointed to the anomaly of millions of people in every country struggling for a living, or steeped in degrading poverty. To the widespread social and economic dislocation which he revealed, it was not difficult to trace the unspeakable slums of great cities, the warfare of classes, the prevalence of vice, crime and preventable disease, as well as most of the ills, material and spiritual - even unto the curse of War - from which the world has suffered and is suffering.


We are here from many countries to bear witness that a half-century after the first appearance of Henry George's fearful diagnosis of a vast social disease, the symptoms still persist. The cure remains to be applied. The social anatomist who to-day would strike below the surface of the body of human society as it exists in all civilized countries> must find there a conflict of forces that may well be taken to foreshadow disintegration and disaster to the social fabric. As in 1879, when this book was written, we can discern widespread social unrest in the world. Industrial depression and unemployment are common to many countries, and even in the nominally "prosperous" United States great numbers live in poverty, or close to its border line, and remedies for unemployment are now being sought in still more restrictive immigration laws, and in prohibitive tariff taxes.

Henry George predicted that the enormous increase in the power to produce wealth which had marked his century, due to invention and discovery and the improvement of communications, would continue to go on with accelerating" ratio. This has come true to an enormous extent in all so-called civilized countries - most especially in the United States of America. But without the establishment of economic freedom in the processes of producing wealth and justice in its distribution, he predicted that increased wealth must benefit the few rather than the many. It would have, broadly speaking, no tendency to extirpate poverty and the social evils which poverty engenders, no influence in elevating society as a whole or in lightening the burdens of those compelled to toil for a living. Again his prophesy has been realized. For increasing wealth, and the condition that is referred to as national prosperity, far from assuring contentment and abundance for all, has tended only to widen the gulf between the very rich and the very poor, and to make more intense the struggle for existence that engages the lives of millions of human beings, even in richest America.


If I would appear to single out my own country, the country of Henry George, as to-day's most terrible example of perverted social progress, it is not because I would have you believe that the average American citizen is less intelligent, less moral, or less humane than the citizen of any other country. No informed or observant person, in my opinion, could sustain such a contention. Nor would I wish it to be inferred that American statesmenship is to-day more blind or more backward than the statesmanship of other countries. I do not believe anything of that sort. We followers of Henry George would indict no particular country, nor accuse particular individuals anywhere. We seek to arraign at the bar of the enlightened public opinion of the world an evil system, long sanctioned by the statesmen and accepted by a majority of the people of all civilized countries.

But if I am to attempt (by way of vindicating the wisdom and the prescience of Henry George) to delineate the effects of material progress and prosperity upon the condition and the tendencies of present-day civilization everywhere, I must, of necessity, put the United States of America in the very foreground of the picture. For the United States is now, by far, the richest and most powerful of the nations. It seems to have reached a veritable high tide of material success, and to be realizing as a result those effects which, in our opinion, must naturally, and in all countries, flow from the maintenance of the fundamental injustice of the private monopoly of a country's natural resources, which injustice, as Henry George demonstrated by unanswerable argument and analysis, is the basic cause of poverty amid progress.


It is common knowledge that American private fortunes are reaching a magnitude unparalleled in historic times. And while many of the greatly rich spend large sums of money in vulgar ostentation and display, or in wanton wastefulness or extravagance, not a few are seeking, by works of mercy and charity, to ameliorate the conditions that afflict the less fortunate. Many of these rich people, also, out of a public and benevolent spirit, or animated in some cases, perhaps, by the very embarrassment of their riches, are giving generously to institutions of art and science, of education and religion. So that, in the United States, one of the results of great material progress is that we are coming to have the most liberally endowed colleges, art galleries, libraries, and churches in the world.

Has all this, one may ask, made for a better, happier, more cultured America? I am sorry to say that many facts seem to prove that the very contrary is true. I refer to facts that relate not only to the necessity for vast expenditures in public and private charities, but facts about high living costs and small incomes for the great majority of workers on the farms or in the factories; facts about the low and cynical or irreligious mental outlook of great masses of the American people; facts about strikes and unemployment, failed banking institutions and the prevailing quest after unearned fortune through wild speculation in land values, on the race track or in the stock market; facts about unfit and inadequate housing conditions, especially in our cities, where are planted the seeds of corrupt politics, of crime and of all moral and physical degradation.


Is all this an overdrawn picture, an exaggeration of the facts? I assure you it is the solemn truth - truth that any serious investigator, American or European, may discover for himself, if he will but look below the surface appearances of the widespread American scene. I make my statements with a sober sense of my responsibility as an American business man, and respecting the honour and dignity of the high office to which you have called me in this international organization. I cannot stop to marshal the evidence here, but I may mention one striking significant fact of recent happening. I refer to the report of the Crime Commission of that learned, respected and conservative body, the American Bar Association. This report tells us that a steady increase in crime and in disrespect for law has been growing for the last thirty years. These eminent lawyers give appalling statistics of the crimes of violence and against property that are rampant in the large cities of the country, where wealth and poverty are brought into sharpest contrasts. This Bar Association report declares that no less than twelve thousand persons in the United States meet violent death by murder every year. British delegates to this Conference and those from the Continent and from far countries overseas will tell us, no doubt, that these symptoms of social decay which may be observed in the richest country in the world, are, in greater or less intensity, to be observed in London, Manchester, Glasgow, and even here in Edinburgh; in Paris and Berlin, in places so diverse and so distant as Melbourne and Toronto. So it still remains true that material progress in every civilized land seems to carry the seeds of its own destruction. "In the shadow of college, library and museum," warned Henry George, "are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied."


It was the late Duke of Argyll, a noted Scotsman, who first attached the name of " prophet" to Henry George. Of old, in the Scripture, it was said that a prophet was not without honour except in his own country. As an American, I am sorry to say that this is true in large degree of this great man, whose writings have influenced men and governments in many countries beside his own. In the light of the history of the fifty years that have gone since "Progress and Poverty" first appeared, no comprehending reader of it may now doubt the extraordinary accuracy of the thought and vision of its author; that he was seer as well as prophet - an unerring diagnostician of the social and economic ailments of the world and of their cure, an inspired preacher of the eminence is now coming to be recognized by discerning leaders of thought, even in his own land. New editions of his books are appearing, and in many American colleges and universities where, in the past, his teachings have been avoided, young men and women now are learning the lessons that he taught. The great truth that he sought to make plain is slowly but surely, we believe, making its way to the minds of men. We believe it to be a truth most potent for social welfare everywhere, a truth the recognition of which by mankind generally would regenerate and revivify human associations everywhere. This truth is that the social and economic dislocations which afflict the world arise because of that fundamental violation of natural law involved in the denial to human beings of their equal and inalienable rights to the use of the Earth. Out of this perversion of natural law and this denial of fundamental human rights sanctioned by the governments of the world, arises in every country the great issues comprehended in the Land Question and its portentous implications. These issues will, I hope, be appropriately dealt with in a declaration which will be offered for the approval of this Conference.


Because this is an international gathering, and because good men and women in every part of the world are now actively concerning themselves about questions of Peace and War, of Disarmament, of Conciliation and Arbitration, we would point out how vital to any permanent settlement of such questions is the solution of the economic problems to which we would first direct attention. More than ten years ago there came to an end that world tragedy which for evil destructiveness was without parallel in the history of humanity. It sacrificed millions of lives, mostly the lives of young men. Millions more were brutally maimed for life. Suffering and privation were shared not only by the soldiers who survived, but in many countries, by civilian populations who, even to this day, must struggle with the weight of war debts, ruinous taxes and paralyzed industries. No wonder, then, that people everywhere have been voicing the hope that War as an institution may soon be banished from the world, so that people, relieved from the burdens and fears of preparing for new wars, might pursue normal and happy lives hereafter. As never before, thoughtful men and women have been brought to realize that savagery and barbaric ruthlessness are of the very nature of modern war; that it grows by what it feeds upon and that not the least of its evils is the destructive psychology which it creates - the vast and insidious lies and hates that destroy the spirit of amity between friendly peoples. Nor must we forget that the men in my country and in yours whose profession it is to improve the technique and effectiveness of War, have given us hints of unmentionable horrors and barbarities when next the world goes to war.


Here again, as at Copenhagen three years ago, this Conference will be moved to. warn the friends of World Peace not to be deceived by appearances. Peace is not in sight, and War and all that it means in burdens to be borne in the present and in moral and material horrors and losses to be faced in the future, still remains with the world. True, there has been at Locarno a solemn gesture of worthy intention and good-will between the nations. But Locarno must always seem somewhat unrelated to reality so long as governments take no steps to remove the root causes of poverty in every country. From the perversion or interference with natural laws flow the social and political phenomena involved in industrial depression, unemployment, the warfare of classes at home, the struggle for international markets and privileges abroad; international fears and jealousies, and those selfish national policies which aim to advance the welfare of one people by rendering injury to another.

True, we have had the Kellogg-Briand Pact to outlaw War, which has been hailed, in my country at least, as a triumph of peace-making diplomacy. How seriously, may we ask, can sensible men and women regard this Pact of Paris if they would frankly view it in the light, not only of its qualifications and reservations, but of the undeniable fact that War and the preparations for War remain the greatest industry of most of the large and so-called civilized nations which subscribe to this Treaty. The dominant political party, which in the United States sponsored this Peace gesture, is the same which now builds new battleships, and, in the interest of powerful privileged classes is proposing new tariff barriers against the friendly commerce of the world; proposals that have already evoked formal protests by the representatives of many nations, and angry threats of reprisal from Europe and South America.


Let us who are followers of Henry George, citizen of the world, who hated war not only for what it is in itself but because he loved justice and his fellow-men, here again declare that war can never be banished by mere denunciation or renunciation, by treaties that make gestures, however sincere, of friendship and good-will, nor by any formula of disarmament that politicians, however honest, may be able to devise. These, we believe, are the ways of blindness and futility, as any critical or reflective thinking must, we think, reveal.

Since we last met, there has been held the World Economic Conference at Geneva summoned by the League of Nations, to which fifty nations sent representatives. It deliberated for some weeks in 1927, and adjourned, after agreement upon a striking statement respecting the interdependence of the economic causes of war and industrial depression. An increase in the number and the altitude of tariff barriers set up in Europe since the Peace of Versailles was agreed upon as one of the chief sources of Europe's economic troubles. The President, Monsieur Theunis of Belgium, summarized the European situation in a few words: -

"The main trouble now," said M. Theunis, "is neither any material shortage of the resources of nature, nor any inadequacy in man's power to exploit them. It is all, in one form or another, a maladjustment; not an insufficient productive capacity, but a series of impediments to the full utilization of that capacity. The main obstacles to economic revival have been the hindrances opposed to the free flow of labour, capital and goods."

Well, what may we ask, has been accomplished by the governments of the world toward the removal of those "main obstacles to economic revival" pointed out two years ago in the unanimous report of the representatives of the fifty nations who composed the World Economic Conference? The answer is - practically nothing. The spirit of selfishness, greed and fear seems still to dominate international politics. The menace of industrial depression, of unemployment, and of new wars remains with the world.


And how about the proposals for Disarmament, to which so many good and sincere people in every country attach so great importance as measures for ending War? At the time when we were in session in Denmark the League of Nations was, on motion of a distinguished Frenchman, setting up a Commission on Disarmament to establish the basis upon which the danger of new conflicts might be reduced, by limiting or abolishing the machinery of wars. This movement, it appears to some of us, seems to be based upon an idealism that ignores the realities. It seems a proposal for doctoring the symptoms of a disease while leaving the disease itself untouched. It is now more than ten years since, at Versailles, Monsieur Clemenceau speaking for the allied and associated nations, which had imposed a peace of conquest and disarmament upon the losing side in the World War, solemnly made the pledge that the nations of the winning side would also begin to disarm. It is well to recall the solemn words of Premier Clemenceau: -

"The disarmament of Germany also constitutes the first step towards that general reduction and limitation of armaments which it will be one of the first duties of the League of Nations to urge."

We may now recall that this promise to disarm was also embodied in the League Covenant, and in the body of the Peace Treaties as well. Now what, may we ask, has been accomplished toward Disarmament? Seven years after Versailles, in 1926, the assembly of the League of Nations set up the Commission on Disarmament. Six times since then, earnest men of different nationalities, including my own, have gathered around the council table at Geneva and have sought to find through this formula the way out of war. The result of it all has been nothing more effective for peace than what your Manchester Guardian referred to as "speeches, discouragement and futility."


Just before I left New York the newspaper cables from this side reported a speech in Sheffield of the First Lord of the British Admiralty, Mr Alexander, voicing the sentiment that " Britishers need not fear that the Labour Government will sacrifice security in the haste for Disarmament." The First Lord was, I believe, making reference to the question of accord with the Government of the United States on matters of naval limitation as between the two great English-speaking nations. On my side of the ocean the same sort of fear prevails. It seems to reflect feelings that are the opposite of faith and trust in the mutual pacific covenants of the Kellogg pact. The late President of the United States, Mr Coolidge, in addressing a great audience last Armistice Day, said that "we must be careful not to sacrifice preparedness in our desire for Peace." This state of mind, ten years after the dreadful lessons of the Great War that was to end war, ten years after the founding of the League of Nations, and within a year after the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, is not common to the English-speaking peoples alone. Across the Channel, France now maintains the greatest war-making machine on the Continent, and in the pursuit of this ideal of preparedness and security, also maintains an army in the Rhineland. In Italy, the armed forces on the sea and land and in the air are constantly growing, and Italian dictatorship tells us that it is not for offence, but for security, that these conditions are maintained.

We would call upon statesmenship to look behind war, and the armaments and instruments of war, for the economic dislocations which pervert the normal course of the lives of human beings and of nations alike. We would ask statesmen to face frankly the question of the meanings of the signs of the times. Is the road that people call Civilization leading the human family upward toward life, happy and abundant for everybody, or downward to some hell for rich and poor alike?


Men may cry "Peace! Peace!" but there can be no lasting peace until the root causes of War are recognized and removed; until the peoples may be led to accept a new and simple philosophy of human relationships - that of equal rights for all, freedom for all, justice for all. Political peace and economic war are irreconcilable. There can be no political peace at home or abroad unless it is founded upon co-operation in freedom and in mutual friendship and respect. There can be no security that will endure, until justice is established at home and abroad. We would not disparage the efforts nor impeach the sincerity of those who labour for Disarmament or for Conciliation. We feel that they are engaged in the most difficult if not impossible of labours, which, even if successful, would but serve as palliatives, rather than a cure.

We honour, also, those fine spirits of the League of Nations, who sincerely labour for Peace; especially the spokesmen in the League Assembly of those smaller nations, whose statesmen, we believe, can see more clearly and speak more bravely about the political realities of these times. Nor are we disposed to underestimate the good work that has been done in strengthening the machinery and broadening the jurisdiction of the World Court for the adjudication of disputes between nations. But these things at this time seem to us to be of small avail. The most helpful approach to a true and peaceful concert of nations in the interest of permanent World Peace must lie, as Professor Dewey recently pointed out, not in the field of political diplomacy, but along the road of economic freedom and justice that leads to a realization of the common interests of the peoples of the world.


All this we believe can be translated into living truth and reality whenever men of faith and good-will are ready for it. For Henry George was more than a moral idealist and scientific expositor of the eternal verities of political economy as applied to human relationships. He was more than a universal humanist, whose philosophy could win a Tolstoy in Russia, a Sun Yat Sen in China, and enthusiastic followers in every civilized land. He was, beyond all this, a farseeing statesman and skilful politician, who clearly delineated the progressive steps which might be taken in any country to advance the ultimate translation into the law of the land of the principles of economic justice. But he counselled political education before politics; the awakening of the public mind to a realization of the justice and necessity of a great change, flight thinking, he believed, could best be advanced through public discussion, whenever policies or proposals involving these principles had reached the arena of practical politics, as they have in Great Britain and in Denmark at this time. He proposed a simple political formula aimed at the evils of land monopoly, whereby the restrictions upon and obstructions to the production and distribution of wealth might gradually be removed, and the blessings of economic freedom ultimately be established throughout the world. It is a formula that accords not only with justice and expediency, but which is not unfamiliar to the people of all self-governing countries. This formula we briefly express in the statement of the objects which this Union of ours is organized to promote and advance. These objects are Land Value Taxation and Free Trade. We aim to open the door of opportunity to capital and labour alike by abolishing every tax or impost, internal or external, that interferes with the freedom of men to employ their highest capacities in the production or exchange of wealth.


A philosopher has given currency to the pregnant aphorism that "the power to tax is the power to destroy." And we, being convinced that common and equal rights to the use of land are indispensable to freedom and effectiveness in the production of wealth and to justice in its distribution, aim to destroy land monopoly through the processes of taxation. That is, we would resort for public revenues to taxes upon the values given to particular land sites by the competition for their use made necessary by the activities and the growth of community life. By the operation, as it were, of a beneficent natural law we find that the value of land tends constantly to rise as demand for its use is increased by the manifold activities of organized communities - by the results of public expenditure, by all the amenities and conveniences of what is called civilized life. That is, land values, arising out of the association and co-operation of people, are essentially a community product. By every test then, of logic or of equity, the policy we advocate justifies itself. To quote Henry George, "We would simply take for the community what belongs to the community, and leave sacredly to the individual all that belongs to the individual."


And in the international field we aim to teach the world that the highest interests of the people of every land are identical with the interests of the people of every other land ; that human interests are interwoven and interdependent, and that only under conditions of freedom, of mutual trust, and of friendly co-operation may men or nations attain to the highest destiny, material or spiritual, that God makes possible for them. In brief, it is our purpose as an organization, in the interest of peace, prosperity and human happiness, to extend the area of freedom in every land, not only because we are convinced that this is the way to uplift the material welfare of mankind, but also because it accords with justice and the moral law. Here in the language of our inspired teacher is the conclusion of the whole matter: -

"That we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us ; that we should respect the rights of others as scrupulously as we would have our own rights respected, is not a mere counsel of perfection to individuals, but it is the law to which we must conform social institutions and national policies if we would secure the blessings of abundance and peace."

And, taking note of our place of meeting to-day, I think I may well conclude by expressing what is in the hearts of all of us, wherever our homelands may be, in the lines of a famous poem, recently publicly quoted by no less a person than Herbert Hoover, President of the United States:

"Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that,

That man to man, the warld o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that."