Henry George

Joseph A. Schumpeter

[Reprinted from History of Economic Analysis,
Oxford University Press, NY, 1954, pp. 864-865]

...But we cannot afford to pass by the economist whose individual success with the public was greater than that of all others on our list, Henry George.(1) The points about him that are relevant for a history of analysis are these. He was a self-taught economist, but he WAS an economist. In the course of his life, he acquired most of the knowledge and of the ability to handle an economic argument that he could have acquired by academic training as it then was. In this he differed to his advantage from most men who proffered panaceas. Barring his panacea (the Single Tax) and the phraseology connected with it, he was a very orthodox economist and extremely conservative as to methods. They were those of the English 'classics', A. Smith being being his particular favourite. Marshall and Bohm-Bawerk he failed to understand. But up to and including Mill's treatise, he was thoroughly at home in scientific economics; and he shared none of the current misunderstandings or prejudices concerning it. Even the panacea - nationalization not of land but of the rent of land by a confiscatory tax - benefited by his competence as an economist, for he was careful to frame his 'remedy' in such a manner as to cause the minimum injury to the efficiency of the private-enterprise economy. Professional economists who focused attention on the single-tax proposal and condemned Henry George's teaching, root and branch, were hardly just to him. The proposal itself, one of the many descendants of Quesnay's impot unique, though vitiated by association with the untenable theory that the phenomenon of poverty is entirely due to the absorption of all surpluses (2) by the rent of land, is not ECONOMICALLY unsound, except in that it involves an unwarranted optimism concerning the yield of such a tax. In any case, it should not be put down to nonsense. If Ricardo's vision of economic evolution had been correct, it would even have been obvious wisdom. And obvious wisdom is in fact what George said in 'Progress and Poverty' (ch. 1, Book IX) about the economic effects to be expected from a removal of fiscal burdens - if such a removal were feasible.


  1. Henry George (1939-97) is too familiar a figure to need introduction. Besides Progress and Poverty (1879) only the posthumously published 'Science of Political Economy' (1897) need be mentioned here. His 'Complete Works', with a 'Life' were edited by his son (1906-11). A scholarly appreciation of all the backgrounds and affinities of the Georgian doctrine may be found in E. Teilhac's 'Pioneers of American Thought' (1936), ch. III.
  2. Business profits he analyzed into a premium of risk, wages and interest, exactly like Mill; therefore he did not consider them to be disposable surpluses.