An Examination of [Henry] George's position
as a Systematic Economist
Robert Scott Moffat
[The full title of this book reads: Mr. Henry
George: An Examination of Mr George's position as a Systematic
Economist; and a Review of the Competitive and Socialistic Schools of
Economy, published in 1885]
Mr. Henry Georqe has become so great an authority in this country on
the most vital economic questions of the day, that it is somewhat
surprising our leading economists should have deemed his theories,
which involve such vast organic changes, worthy of so little notice.
An attitude of lofty indifference to criticism, and of contempt for
rival theories, may become those who lay claim to scientific
certitude; but besides that a practical science cannot afford to
despise a popular opponent, the pretensions of our received economy to
deal with the burning questions of the day, cannot, by its most
devoted disciples, be ranked very high. In fact it assumes towards
those questions a position purely negative, and depreciative of any
attempt to remedy acknowledged evils. To the difficulties which
surround us it has no economic key. It has pronounced its last word in
freedom of competition.
For anything beyond, it ceases to be a practical science, and
contents itself with the "thou shalt not" of a moral one.
Thus orthodox economy has condemned itself; for freedom of
competition, as I have elsewhere said, is no more a solution of the
economic questions of the day than liberty to marry (from the
Malthusian point of view, which our economists accept), is of the
problem of population.
The unsolved economic questions of the day will manifestly, until
solved, remain the great economic questions of the future; and the
place and time for their solution is here and now. The labour of our
economists has been to establish in England a model economic State,
and the natural destiny of England has, with or without their aid,
been accomplishing their desire. Wherever peace is permanently
established, and industry prevails over anarchy, the general
industrial organization of England is sure to prevail. The "unrestricted
competition," so dear to the hearts of bur economists, may not be
adopted; but still competition will be the vitalizing principle of
industrial organization throughout the civilized world.
Now it is in the competitive organization, in the purest form in
which it has ever been exemplified, the purest possibly in which it
will ever be seen, for perfect freedom of competition is an economic
dream,, that the evils have arisen for which our economists, in their
concern for their pet theory, forbid us to seek a remedy. The dismal
prospect thus presents itself that with the spread of our industrial
organization, these irremediable evils will everywhere be propagated.
Mr. George has thus shown sound judgment in bringing his economical
theories to the test of English industrial organization. He stands
thus between the past and the future, in the very centre of a great
and silent revolution, which is going on independently of all teaching
or authority. He sees rightly that America must become substantially
an economic England. He dreads the prospect, and he comes to England
to avert it. Mr. George professes to have found the solution of our
unsolved problems, and he is accordingly prepared to prescribe the
remedy for the evils involved in our industrial development. The
nature of the situation thus gives Mr. George a prima fade
claim on our attention.
If the nature of Mr. George's remedy should indispose any one to
listen to him -- if, perchance, there are those who are not prepared
to believe that the ills of society can be remedied by a change in the
incidence of taxation -- I have another claim to urge on his behalf.
Mr. George, as a system-maker, in which capacity I wish to invite
attention to him, is the legitimate continuator and developer of
Ricardo, the great system-maker of orthodox economy. Ricardo, unlike
some of his successors, did not relegate the problem of population to
a remote future. He perceived in our system the evils of which Mr.
George complains; but as he attributed them to the law of population
as their source, he, like our modern economists, who, for the most
part, seem to consider them as purely accidental, regarded them as
Mr. George and Ricardo, however, both trace these evils to the same
proximate cause, the aggressive nature of rent; but the former is able
to take a more hopeful view of the case, because he regards this not
as a necessity, but as a defect of industrial organization. This
correction apart, I hope to show that Mr. George, in his processes of
reasoning and construction of dogma, is a legitimate follower of the
English master of economical method.
It is an interesting but difficult inquiry where Mr. George acquired
his economical ideas. It is possible, by comparison with previous
speculations, to discover what amount of actual originality his scheme
presents; but the question I refer to is, what amount of originality
had it in Mr. George's mind?
As a combination Mr. George's book is, perhaps, as original a
contribution as has ever been offered to any science. Yet his method,
with a difference that will be duly noted, is Ricardo's, and there is
hardly a particular doctrine in his book that has not been previously
propounded by some one. Even his great remedy itself is the cardinal
doctrine of Quesnay and the physiocratic school, and was propounded in
this country before them by John Locke, and subsequently to them by
Throughout his system of doctrines, too, there is hardly one which
has not its counterpart in some previous system. He might have
borrowed from Malthus (for whom his contempt is profound) and from
MacCulloch, as well as from Adam Smith, Ricardo, Chalmers, and J. S.
Mill. Although my book, The Economy of Consumption, preceded
his by a very brief interval, I have found in Mr. George's book
doctrines, or developments of doctrine, special to it.
Has Mr. George diligently collected all these things, or has he
re-discovered them for himself? I believe the latter to be in the main
the true explanation, chiefly because of the special originality of
Mr. George's setting of his apparent "cribs." The sublimity
his transformations impart to the commonest doctrines remind one that
the accusation of plagiarism was brought against Handel.