The Crowning Discovery of Henry George

Eliza Stowe Twitchell

[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review, November-Decmeber 1915]

Mr. C. B. Fillebrown, in a booklet recently published states that Henry George's chief contribution to the movement (Single Tax) was to give it "the breath of life." His contention is that since Ricardo developed the law of rent, and Mill advocated the taxation of ground rents, that therefore Henry George added nothing new to the sum of human knowledge.

This statement coming from a deep student of the works of Henry George and one of the strongest and most practical protagonists of his doctrines, should not go unchallenged. But it deserves more; it deserves a clear, comprehensive statement of what was the chief contribution of Henry George to the scientific knowledge of the 19th century.

I have long held that it was his discovery of the law of wages, and showing the relation between it and the law of rent.

The discovery of a scientific truth is not the discovery of something new, but the discovery of a relation as old as nature herself, though this relation was never before known; hence Henry George defined truth as a relation. When Copernicus discovered the true relation of the earth to the sun, he discovered a truth that had always existed, always would exist, yet a law of nature until then unknown to mankind. The same was true when Newton discovered the relation of size and distance to force.

Before Henry George wrote Progress and Poverty it had been taken for granted that nature's law related only to the kingdoms below man. The world was astounded, most scholars are still incredulous when told that nature's laws hold as firm and true in the economic and industrial world as in the physical.

This discovery changed, or will yet change the philosophic and religious thinking of mankind, "making" (as Henry George 80 beautifully said) "that faith which trusts, but cannot see a living thing," proving that the Author of their higher laws is a God of benevolence and justice.

Moreover, the possibilities which the discovery of this law of nature holds for the uplifting of mankind out of poverty, crime, selfishness, disease and or war is beyond the wildest imagination to conceive.

Henry George's discovery of the law of wages and its true relation to the law of rent overthrew the superstitions of the schools regarding "the law of wages" and also that wages are paid out by capital.

It also overthrew nearly the whole teachings of socialism, that wages will not rise by a natural law, but must be forced up by strikes, or by legislature enactments, such as minimum wages. To one who understands this law, it seems as technical for government to fix the price of wages, as to fix the price of wheat.

In this great discovery is found also the true answer to the contention that competition must be destroyed.

This Truth Broadly Stated

There are two great channels of distribution, each are distinct from the other in that each has a different cause or origin. These two channels are ground rents and wages. The term wages includes profits and capital. Wages are produced by the added value labor gives to the raw material in producing wealth. Wages have a labor value, while ground rents have a labor-saving value. They are produced by industrial and civic betterments, by invention, morals and general progress.

The channels of ground rents are to-day flowing into great lakes of monopoly or privilege, so called because those few who are receiving them are privileged by law so to do, yet they did not produce them.

This deep seated injustice produces a condition of speculative rents, which forces down the rate of wages. This is their relation. Too high rents make too low wages, and profits.

Change the channel of ground rents by Taxation and wages will rise by a natural law to their economic level.

The Federation of Labor after spending thousands of dollars on a strike, going through untold suffering, rejoices greatly when the Corporation is forced to come to their terms, and they receive a rise of ten per cent, yet here, without a strike, just by knowledge of this law, and a use of the ballot, a rise of fifty per cent in wages, and an equal benefit to capital can be effected.

No one saw with clearer vision than Henry George that this great economic law was also a law of justice among men No one saw with clearer vision that for men to shape their civic institutions in disobedience to this law would be to bring about the overthrow of civilization by means of war and anarchy; but to form their laws in obedience to this, would be to bring such peace and prosperity that he likened it to the New Jerusalem seen by John of Patmos.

No wonder his soul was stirred to high purpose. No wonder his eloquence gave "the breath of life" to a cause for which at last the time was ripe.