The Crowning Discovery of Henry George
Eliza Stowe Twitchell
[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review,
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
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
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.